Destinations

Continuing to Explore Buenos Aires

Greetings again from Buenos Aires! It took a day of resting, but we’ve both recovered from the lingering effects of a long couple days of travel. It’s easy to pick up a nasty case of jet lag and a general rundown feeling after traveling on three buses and two 8+ hour intercontinental flights. Now, we’re ready to hit the streets running! We started yesterday with an excellent, free walking tour of the downtown area of Buenos Aires. Our guide Virigina was animated, informative, opinionated (in a good way!) and lively. It’s not the first time we’ve stumbled across a free walking or biking tour that has been simply exceptional. Given Virginia’s enthusiasm, amount of information delivered and the fact that the tour was was entirely in English, the Free Buenos Aires Walking Tour was exponentially superior to the Tangol van tour we took the day before. Although central Buenos Aires is considerably sleepier on a Saturday, we still managed to enjoy the sites and cover a good chunk of the area on foot.

Virginia – our awesome Buenos Aires Free Walking Tour Guide!

The first thing we quickly learned on our tour is that Portenos – residents of Buenos Aires- absolutely love protests, marches and demonstrations. The protests are almost always peaceful and somewhat well organized, but they are also nearly non-stop. Brooke and I have already seen half a dozen different groups in action since our arrival and that doesn’t include the permanent encampment of Falkland Island War veterans rooted right next door to the Casa Rosada (the central government’s “Pink House”). We’re likely seeing more protests since our hotel is close to the city center, but were also told that as many as 20 loud, vocal gatherings like these happen each week. What are they protesting? It ranges, but just about every conceivable topic is covered. Yesterday, a large crew was gathering in remembrance of the two year anniversary of the death of former Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner. Given their propensity for protests and their insane devotion to football, I think that the next time Argentina wins (or loses) the World Cup, the only calm place to be around here is Uruguay. Speaking of football, there is a “Superclassic” match today between the city’s two top teams that is the biggest thing happening in town. Every television in town seems to be tuned to the game.

Over the course of the walking tour we were able to take in some of the Bueno Aires architecture which is a blend of Italian, Spanish and French influences. The city, which just celebrated its bicentennial, has tons of grand 19th century buildings and homes, many with grand balconies. Our tour led us through some of the small green spaces that are scattered throughout town with adjoining fountains which only function sporadically. BA even has its own, iconic towering “oblesico” monument built in the 1930’s that does a good impression of a mini Washington Monument.

Sadly, the Obelisk, like several of Bueno Aires’ old, grand moments and statues, is placed well behind fences. It’s a shame, but given the excessive graffiti found throughout the city and the number of homeless looking for a place to sleep, it’s clear why they are there. So far. we’re actually seeing more graffiti in Buenos Aires than we’ve seen in almost any other city. Everything from banks to subway cars to historic buildings are tagged. What makes the vandalism unique is that it is often comprised of phrases rather than images and it is almost always political in nature. Another way to protest? Perhaps, but it is ugly. Yesterday we saw a cross walk where even the white painted strips were hit. From city to city, we’ve seen so many otherwise nice buildings ruined by spray paint. About three percent of it is captivating, quality art, but the rest just makes a place look trashy. We’ve come to the conclusion that whomever invented spray paint should be strung up by their toes and whacked by pillows repeatedly.

Overall, it was a great tour of the area. Virgina even told us why the Pink House is painted pink. (Spoiler: no one really knows why). The tour did end on a bit of a uncomfortable note as a creepy, drooling homeless dude followed closely behind members of our tour group at the obelisk plaza. It’s hard to ignore the significant homeless and poverty issues prevalent throughout the city. Traffic and Congestion also seem to be a persistent issue all over town. In fact, we learned during our tour that due to the lousy traffic, the president flies into the city by helicopter every day from her house outside of town. Brooke then pointed out that she could just live in the city, but I seemed to be the only one to think that was a good idea.

After the tour, Brooke and I found ourselves meandering down one of the pedestrian streets looking for lunch. Along the way, we bypassed a surprisingly large number of Burger King’s and McDonald’s. In fact, I’ve been so seeing many Mickey D’s and BKs that I’m starting to think I’m seeing the same location twice. Later, we took the free tour of the Casa Rosada. Lovely building, but most of it was partitioned off since it’s a functional government building. We spent about 15 minutes trying our best to translate the biographies under the portraits for famous Central and South American leaders.

But enough sight seeing! Later last evening, the time had come do to what everyone who visits Argentina must do: Tango! Well, we’re not actually going to Tango (classes come later this week), but we did attend one of the iconic shows and dinners at El QuerandiEl Querandi – one of many old Tango Halls in the city. It was a great experience and a rare treat to have a nice, full night out. Over a tasty dinner of empanadas (I just can’t get enough empanadas), steak and flan, Brooke and I marveled that after all this time traveling, we still haven’t run out of things to talk about or gotten tired of each other’s company. I’d say that bodes well for our life together.

The show itself was entertaining and fun. A live four piece band walked us through the history of tango while the numbers alternated between traditional tango singers and impressive tango dancers. Taking in a dance performance isn’t usually on the top of my list, but these guys were good. We preferred the dancing to the singing, but it was a wonderful show all around. The meal came with a couple of bottles of wine which also were rather wonderful. We’re getting a head start on our guidebooks advice to enjoy at least one bottle of wine per day while in Argentina!

-Phil

Categories: Argentina, At Night, City Visits, Destinations, Tango, Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Goodbye Highlands

Sadly, today was our third and final day in the Highlands of Scotland with Rabbie’s Tour.  It seems like twice an hour we turn to each other and say, “I’m so glad we decided to do this tour!”  We have learned so much and had an overall more rich experience because we did this with an expert.  Rabbie’s (or another tour of its kind) is definitely the way to go for anyone out there thinking of taking trip to the Highlands.

Our guide, Doug, telling us the legend of how the Cuillin Hills were formed.

The day greeted us with clear blue skies and loads of sunshine, something we aren’t terribly used to here in Scotland.  We began with a drive down from Portree into the heart of the Cuillin Hills.  There are two major parts of these, one is called the Red Cuillins and the other is the Black Cuillins.  Like everything in Scotland, there is a legend about why these hills look the way they do presently.  It is a bit too long and involved to share here, and I really couldn’t do it justice by trying to write it out anyway.  Suffice it to say, it had everything to do with a battle between an arrogant giant and an Amazonian woman, both too prideful to admit defeat to one another.  Of course they ultimately fell in love, but that is neither here nor there.  The rigidity of the top of the hills is said to be made from their hacking away at one another in battle.

The history of Scotland is steeped in legends of this kind, but occasionally there are true stories to go along with them.  In this case, Doug told us of a young gurkha from Nepal who visited the Highlands.  When he stopped in for an orange juice at a local pub he was ridiculed for not drinking whiskey.  He explained to the man that he was not in Scotland to drink, he was there to visit their beautiful hills.  The man replied with disbelief, “Hills?  Those are no hills, those are mountains.  It would take me all day to climb to the top and back down again.”  The man from India was amused and replied, “That is no mountain.  I could make it to the top and back in less than an hour.”  The Highlander believed this man to be a liar, trying to make a fool out of him, so the gurkha decided to show him.  He took off his shoes and socks and began running up the hill.  He made it up and back in 59 minutes.  Amazed the Highlander insisted they share a whiskey together.  As they sipped, a man from another clan walked in and when he was told about this amazing feat, he didn’t believe it for a minute.  The two Scots began to argue and it looked as though a fight was going to break out.  The gurkha, wanting to avoid a fight, jumped between them and said he would prove it.  Again, he took off his socks and shoes and ran up the hill and back down.  This time, it only took him 58 minutes!  This all took place in 1902, but years later the story inspired the locals to begin a race up this same hill.  The Glamaig Hill Race draws hundreds of runners each summer.  Of course, they run with shoes and socks, but the record time for this 4.5 mile, 2500 foot run is 44 minutes and 27 seconds.  We failed to get a picture of the hill.  To see what it looks like, click here. Pretty impressive!

There are tons of stories centered upon the Highlands, both truth and legend.  We were also told the story of the Sisters of Kintail.  To make a very long story short, these 5 sisters were waiting for 5 brothers who were supposed to come for them from Ireland.  They waited so long, their father was worried they would lose their beauty.  He enlisted the help of a seer, who turned them into mountains so they would be beautiful for all eternity.  And they really are spectacular.  In fact, this may be the most beautiful part we saw in the Highlands.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that the fall colors are in full effect, the sun was shining bright and the weather was wonderfully mild.  We have taken some amazing photos here in Scotland, but the ones looking out on the 5 Sisters of Kintail are my favorite.

The 5 Sisters of Kintail showing their eternal beauty.

We continued to wind our way down toward Edinburgh.  We made a quick stop to see some “Hairy Coos”.  These long-haired cows are everywhere, and they look so much different from the ones most of us are used to seeing at home that we decided it was worth a short photo stop.  We then made the obligatory stop in Loch Ness, where we were told of some strange and unusual happenings, but none of us was inspired enough to swim in the loch or even go on a boat ride trying to find Nessie.  Instead, we had a leisurely lunch with some new friends.  As I have already said, one of the best parts of Rabbie’s tours is the small group size.  We only had 14 people in our group, plus our guide, Doug.  This allowed for some great time with everyone and we met some really great people.  We found ourselves spending much of our time with Melissa and Crystal, two women from Minneapolis (though Crystal now lives in London).  We had tons in common and are all excited to have made new friends.  We are already toying with the idea of another trip together, or at least a meet-up in our respective home cities.

Melissa, Crystal, Phil and Brooke after dipping our heads under Bride’s Veil falls.

Alas, we had to say goodbye to the Highlands, goodbye to Crystal and Melissa, and goodbye to Doug and his myriad stories which lasted to the moment we arrived in Edinburgh.  We absolutely loved this tour and we are now considering finding something similar on our next stop in Argentina.  We have one more day in Scotland and we will be sad to leave it.  This 10 day country stop has certainly met and even exceeded our expectations.   We can certainly see ourselves coming back here someday.  Until then, slàinte mhath!

–Brooke

The “hairy coos” of the Highlands.

New friends enjoying drinks together in Portree.

These gorgeous views are everywhere across the Highlands.

Brooke tries Irn Bru, Scotland’s most popular soft drink. Tastes like cream soda with a splash of bubble gum. Very sugary!

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Exploring, Friends, Landmarks, Reflections, Scotland, Tours, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sun Shines on Edinburgh

After a rainy arrival in Edinburgh yesterday, we were happy to see the sun shining bright this morning.  Sure, there were clouds looming in the distance–this is Scotland in October, after all.  Now that we are seeing it by the light of day, it is clear how different Edinburgh is from Glasgow.  It immediately feels older, more preserved and more traditional.  It also has beautiful views at every turn.  One minute we find ourselves peering over a bridge down to a beautiful park, the next we are staring up to hills lined with Gothic style buildings.  Wanting to take full advantage of this sunny-ish day, we made a list full of possible things to do and decided to start where any visit to this city should:  Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle is impossible to miss.  It sits upon the highest point in the city, rising high for all to see.  Although we were told this is a “can’t miss” attraction, we were a bit turned off by the steep admission price of £14.50 per person.  That price makes it one of the most expensive attraction in town, and we questioned if this was the best use of our time and money.  After a little more research, we decided it was worth it and climbed the steep hill toward the entrance gate.  Visually striking, this castle is a labyrinth of twisting, turning cobblestone streets.  Upon entrance, we learned a short guided tour is included in the price of admission.  Already feeling the ticket was paying for itself, we stuck around to meet Gavin, an awesome and charismatic tour guide who gave us the basics of the castle grounds.  First covering the age of the castle, and the many different iterations it has gone through over the years, Gavin regaled us with stories of Scottish history as though he were performing a well-rehearsed play.  He took jabs at the British in all the appropriate places and spent a good five minutes railing Mel Gibson for his portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart.  Actually, he landbasted almost every fact about this film including the title character.  Braveheart is actually the name given to Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace.  His passionate stance against the film is more a symptom of his love for Scottish history than his hatred of Mel Gibson (thought it’s a close call).  As we toured the castle grounds with Gavin, he explained that the castle is still used as a military base today.  Besides the few buildings still in use by the military, most of the remainder of the grounds have been turned into museum exhibits.  We visited the National War Museum, the Prisons of War exhibit, and the Honours of Scotland.  In this last exhibit, we viewed the history of the Scottish crown jewels–the sword, the scepter and the crown.  These are the oldest crown jewels in Europe and they sit beside the Stone of Destiny.  This stone has been used for centuries as the seat of the incoming king or queen at the moment of coronation.  It was stolen from Scotland over 700 years ago by the British and not returned until 1996.  Gavin is still a wee bit upset about this!

One of the highlights of the Edinburgh Castle was watching the One O’Clock Gun.  A tradition reaching back hundreds of years, the one o’clock time signal used to be done with a flag being hoisted in the air and then dropping exactly at one in the afternoon.  This helped railroad workers and ship’s captains to keep their times accurate before clocks were what they are today.  However, the weather in Edinburgh is not known for always being crystal clear and it wasn’t always possible for people to see the flag.  They incorporated the firing of a gun so the signal would be clear, even when the weather was bad.  Though no longer needed, the tradition continues every day at 1pm. Perched at the castle wall, a soldier comes out, loads the gun and fires off into the distance.  Surprisingly, there are a number of places around the world who still continue this tradition, including Ft. Henry in the United States.  One of the best parts of watching the gun fire is the gorgeous view from the spot where the gun sits.  We could see across the entire city, to the Firth of Forth and over to the island of Fife.  We were grateful it was a clear day.  Before we left the castle grounds, we made sure to head to St. Margaret’s Chapel, not only the oldest building on the grounds, but also the oldest in Edinburgh.  It was probably built around 1130 and it takes approximately 30 seconds to soak in the entire space.  Still, it was worth stopping in.  All in all, Edinburgh Castle was expensive, but worth the price of admission.  The guided tour was really wonderful, and we both feel like we have learned so much more about Scottish National History in this one visit than we did during our entire time in Glasgow.

It was a lot of this. Highland soldiers and royalty. Over and over again.

Continuing our bit of Scottish History, we visited the National Portrait Gallery.  This free museum is filled with portraits and sculptures of all the famous folks of Scotland, from Bonnie Prince Charlie to Sean Connery.  Unfortunately, the galleries holding portraits of modern members of Scottish culture were closed to prepare for an upcoming exhibit.  So, we walked around viewing portrait after portrait of James the VI, James the VII, James Edward Stuart–there were lots of James’.  We both enjoy portraits, but after a while they all started running together and we were just about done with visiting museums.

With a sprinkle beginning to fall, we decided it was time to head to the grocery store.  It was finally time to take advantage of our wonderful Air BnB home and cook dinner for ourselves.  I can’t express the comfort we both felt in cruising the aisles of the grocery store for ingredients.  Our hostess is away for the duration of our stay, so we have her apartment to ourselves.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it almost felt like being at home tonight.  A fire burning in the fireplace and rain falling outside, we warmed up by cooking a familiar dish, drinking a bottle of wine and watching my favorite Masterpiece Mystery series, Inspector Lewis. Neither of us has been homesick much on our trip, but this evening made us both long for the comforts of home.  We’ve already decided to cook tomorrow night, too, before heading out on a Literary Pub Tour.  We are really looking forward to it.  Cross your fingers that the rain stays at bay again tomorrow!

–Brooke

Yep, we’re in Scotland!

A view of Edinburgh and out to the Firth of Forth.

Phil meets a bagpiper.

Gorgeous views from the castle walls.

Categories: Budget, castles, City Visits, Destinations, Europe, Homesick, Landmarks, Museums, Relaxing, Scotland, Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Glasgow, Scotland

GlasgowWhen we told people we would be heading to Glasgow, almost all of them asked, “Will you got to Edinburgh?”  Time after time people told us there isn’t much to do in Glasgow and we shouldn’t spend too much time here.  After spending the day exploring this city, we are so chock-full of things we want to do that we are considering extending our stay one more day.  Filled with great food and culture, Glasgow appears to be a wonderful city with tons for us to see and do.

We began our day the way anyone should while in Scotland–with a traditional breakfast. Pulled in by the sign that said “Scottish Breakfast £2.99”, we sat down in Wetherspoons.  I went for the breakfast wrap, but Phil is in full Scottish mode and ordered the Traditional Breakfast.  When his plate came, it was a feast of all things protein:  fried egg, fried sausage, bacon, and beans on toast.  Figuring this to be the perfect way to start our day in Scotland, we cleared our plates and then headed into the city.

As you have seen if you’ve read other blog posts, we really enjoy the Hop-on/Hop-off City Sightseeing bus tours.  Doing this upon arrival to a new city really helps to understand the layout and what it has to offer.  In the past, we have always had the pre-recorded tours.  This allows for greater flexibility as the tours can be given in several different languages.  This company also has that option, but the bus we got on had a live tour guide.  It didn’t take us long to realize how much better a live tour is than a pre-recorded one.  Having grown up in Glasgow, this gentleman could speak to the way things were when he was a boy compared to today.  He kept us updated on current events regarding construction projects and city news.  Most importantly, he was much more entertaining than a recording.  His dry sense of humor had us questioning a few times whether he was joking or not.  On the tour, we explored the city’s centre, west end and river front.  We were unaware of Glasgow’s rich ship building history and learned that the town still engages in this trade today.

After the tour, we stopped for a warm bowl of soup to warm us up because let me tell you–it is cold here.  Maybe 45 degrees today, everyone seemed cheered that at least the sun was shining.  Our tour guide joked that we were all baking in the hot sun at the top of the bus and added that maybe the sun would come out again in another 3 years.  In fact, all day we heard joke after joke about the gray, rainy, cold weather which is commonplace here.  We realize we might be very lucky to be graced by sunshine today and we should enjoy it while we can. (The weather for the rest of the week looks like a lot of rain.)  Once sufficiently warmed by some sweet corn chowder, we ventured back into the cold only briefly to head to the City Chambers, the headquarters of Glasgow’s City Council.  This beautiful old building is situated in the center of the city, just off George Square.  When we heard they offered free tours of the interior, we figured it would be a great way to learn a little bit more about the city’s history.  The building was completed in 1888 and is a display of decadence and wealth.  It has two staircases, the white and the black, so named for the material which was used in building them.  In days of old, only the wealthy nobility and royals were allowed to use the white marble staircase.  The other was reserved for servants and working class visitors. On our tour we visited the banquet hall, the council chamber and the art gallery, where each Lord Provost throughout history has a portrait hanging.  All in all, our tour was really interesting and a good start in helping us to understand the Scottish brogue (I swear, sometimes it sounds like a totally foreign language).

After switching our luggage from our previous night’s hotel to our new Air BnB stay, we went looking for our first pint of the day.  We discovered The Grove, an old man bar if ever there was one.  With horse racing on the TV screen and talk of the Scotland v. Belgium football game tomorrow, it was a great place for a drink.  Phil opted for a Guinness while I tried a Belhaven, all for a mere £5.  At this price, I imagine we’ll be back here again tomorrow! From here, we went to a place called Neighborhood Bar to take advantage of their 2-for-1 deal on dinner.  Then, we headed to the famed King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut for some live music.  We haven’t really caught too many live shows on the trip yet, and King Tut’s is known for having all kinds of different bands each night of the week. (Their claim to fame is being the bar where Oasis was discovered.)  The lineup tonight consisted of bands we have never heard of, but that is half the fun of going to a show like this anyway.  The first act, Jonny Jack, was a young rock band.  Well rehearsed, they played together tightly, but their music wasn’t terribly original.  The lead singer’s voice reminded us of Rob Thomas from his Matchbox 20 days.  Next was a solo artist named Luke Sital-Singh, who played slow, sad songs on his guitar that would have been perfect if we were terribly depressed.  His voice was great, but the songs started to all sound the same after a while.  The headlining act, Fossil Collective, seems to have been around a while since they definitely had some regular fans there to catch the show.  Following the footsteps of many other modern bands, they have a multi-vocal, full harmonic sound along with their many guitars.  They sound a bit similar to Grizzly Bear with a voice like My Morning Jacket.

But the gem of the night was Cherry Grove.  We knew we were in for a treat when they began setting up their stage.  Instruments include your basic keyboard and guitar, but then they also had a violin, harp and accordion.  These incredibly talented musicians played a great set.  Sometimes with vocals, sometimes only instruments, they modernized traditional music and instruments in a creative and innovative way.  They seemed to genuinely have fun on stage, and you got the sense that they probably all met at a music conservatory because they have mastered their instruments.  They were releasing their first EP tonight, and it was clear to see that much of the audience came to see them.  The show would have been worth it even if Cherry Grove was the only band we saw.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut has a midnight curfew to respect their neighbors, so once the bands were done we walked home, huddled together to keep warm.  We are so pleased with our first day in Glasgow and we can’t wait for all that we have in store for tomorrow.  We will do a nice variety of museums, exploration, and sport.  As long as we don’t freeze first!

–Brooke

Beautiful view of the Clyde River.

Phil in the City Chambers.

Brooke always wants to be in charge.

One Lord Provost chose to have his portrait done by an artist with a very unique style. It is very intriguing.

Categories: Bars, Beer, City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Eating, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Music, Scotland, Tours | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Prost From Munich!

Hello again from Munich! We’re thoroughly enjoying our time in Germany thus far as we attempt to experience as much as possible over our short three day stay. So far, so good. After some of the more complicated & confusing cities we’ve visited, tackling Munich has been a cake walk. Getting around is a breeze and our single snag was based on the confusing labeling of the “S” and “U” subway system. We’re still not sure why seemingly identical systems have two different labels, but we have to give the public transportation system credit. The subway has remarkable accessibility through ramps, escalators and elevators. Plus, friendly dogs on public transportation is a very common site. Additionally on the helpful side, we’ve found that a majority of Munich residents speak English and speak it incredibly well. Although, once again we have to be head’s up pedestrians because we’re back to dodging bikers in bike lanes similar to Copenhagen. We’re also trying to make the most of our breakfasts because we realize that we’re winding down our time in regions known for delicious morning pastries. Our most important discovery however is that we’ve also cracked the code on exactly what the traditional German outfits are all about. For lack of a classier description, Lederhosen are essential festive drinking clothes.

Through a happy coincidence, the apartment we had booked happened to be just down the street from a local brewery and beer hall. And what trip to Munich would be complete without a visit to a traditional beer hall? We spent an evening in the Lowenbrau Beer Hall – a lively, fun place that was just our speed. Every item on the menu makes for a big, heavy meal that is complimented by gargantuan glasses of delicious, full-bodied beers. The sprawling beer hall, just one of many in Munich, was packed with a boisterous crowd of everyone from tables of regulars who keep their own personal steins locked up at the restaurant to tour-bus sized groups of visitors. Between bites of sausages and german meatloaf (that was really more like a giant slab of cooked ham), we struck up a conversation with a neighboring table of visiting gynecologists and compared notes on musicians popular in Germany such as Anastasia, The Scorpions and, yes, David Hasselhoff. We also learned a lot about Munich’s own Lowenbrau. Loosely Translated as “Lion’s Beer”, Lowenbrau has been in production since the 1300’s and is one of only six beers sold at Oktoberfest. Why? Because all Oktoberst beers must be brewed in Munich. Not surprisingly, but still somewhat sadly, Lowenbrau recently joined the global Anheuser-Busch InBev family of beers.

The next morning, eager to get outside and see more of Munich, we took the train to Olympic Park – home of the 1972 Olympic Games. It was such a sensational place and we’re now considering relocating to Munich for the park alone. The city has done a phenomenal job of repurposing the massive complex to serve as a central city location for green space, sporting events, community pool, concerts and truly something for everyone. In fact, our visit came the day before the Munich Marathon which started in the park and ended right in the middle of the Olympic Stadium. Forking over a few Euro allowed us to take a trip to the top of the Olympic Tower. It may have been just another tower to see on our trip (and we’ve seen several), but “Olympiaturm” delivered the best view in Munich with a stunning 360 degree viewing platform. From this tallest point in the city, we could see for the first time the large number of parks and forests scattered through small neighborhoods that continued out into the horizon. There was also a strangely placed and largely forgettable Rock museum at the top of the tower.

After the tower, we elected to take the “Adventure Tour” of Olympic Park. Not sure where the adventure came in unless the German word for Adventure really means “stand around and listen”, but it was still interesting. Our easy-going, enthusiastic guide delivered the tour in both German and English, but Brooke and I are pretty sure that only about 25% of what he had said in German got translated to English. Nevertheless, it was a great background on the design and history of the unique stadium and complex. Highlights included seeing the swimming complex where Mark Spitz broke all of those Olympic Records years ago and visiting a locker room that was used by the local Football Club for years. For us, it was just an old empty locker room, but the rest of the tour group was buzzing about excitable while taking photos of signs that players had used this particular rack. We found it interesting that no mention was made of the tragedy involving the Israeli athletes, but to be fair we didn’t visit the Olympic Housing section.

Ready to get off our feet, we headed back to the city center to see some of the Marienplatz area and take a quick trip to the legendary Hofbrau House. We were disenchanted at first its touristy location (right next to the Hard Rock Cafe) and the teeming crowds, but we’re glad we went in. We grabbed a seat along side others on a bench and we had giant steins, pretzels and sausages in no time. What a fun, iconic and tremendous place! The lesson there is just because a location is the most well-known touristy place in town, doesn’t mean its not worth a visit. So, all in all, we feel like we have made solid use of our three days in Munich. It’s been a great city to visit and fall feels like the perfect time to be in this part of Germany. Still, what’s taken some getting used to is that we’ve found Germans to be incredibly friendly, but the language always makes it sound like they are angry or yelling. It reminded us of this hilarious old Dana Carvey/Steve Carell sketch. Now, we have a train ride to Stutgart, a very short night’s sleep and then (after a connecting flight through Amsterdam) off to Scotland!

-Phil

That's a lot of polls to control!

The World’s Largest Foosball Table! Part of The Olympic Stadium. Could get some great games going here!

Munich’s Olympic Park

View of the BMW Headquarters and Museum from atop the Olympic Tower

Brooke soaking up the whole Beer Hall experience!

Categories: Beer, City Visits, Destinations, German, Oympics, Parks, Self Guided Tours, Sports, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In Munich, we Bought a BMW…

We wish!…tour. A BMW tour.  You thought we bought a car?  Not even close, but more about that later!  For now, here we are in Munich, Germany and in some ways it is exactly what we expected–stores filled with lederhosen, BMWs cruising the streets, beer and sausages everywhere you turn.  We even met some really cool guys from a German TV show.  Weird, but cool.  Really, what more could a girl ask for?  Sure, we are in Munich one week after the end of its famous Oktoberfest, but it doesn’t matter.  This is still a great city with lots for first time visitors like us to see and do.

These asked us questionsWe got here before dawn yesterday, tired but ready to explore this new city.  After storing our luggage (thank goodness for these services at every train station we’ve been to), we decided to walk toward the Deutches Museum.  We’ve met several people who highly recommended this science and technology museum, so it seemed like a great way to spend our time while we waited to check into our room.  This giant museum spans five floors and covers everything from microelectronics to aeronautics and the history of sailing in Germany.  We especially loved seeing the cross section of an airplane which shows us just how little space is taken up by passengers and how much room there is for cargo.  We also found the ethical questions regarding genetic testing really interesting–this was partly due to the creepy yet intriguing faces speaking to us from the wall.  After pressing a button, they told of their dilemmas regarding genetic testing and then we voted if we agreed or disagreed with the choice.  It was interesting to see how our opinion compared to others who had taken the survey before.  While there were many exhibits that were interactive and innovative, the longer we were there, the sleepier I got.  I found my eyelids getting very heavy as I read the information below each exhibit.  While Phil wandered around in fascination, I kept looking for benches where I could rest my very weary body.  At this point I realized I didn’t get quite as much sleep on the train as I imagined, and I needed to rest.  At my request, we left the museum earlier than planned and checked into our room.

We didn’t order this monstrosity! It belonged to the man next to us and he actually ate the entire thing (plus a salad beforehand).

After a lovely, and very much needed nap, we ventured out for a late dinner.  Excited that we are in Germany and it is finally acceptable to have a hamburger again, we chose Burger House based on the extremely positive reviews on TripAdvisor. This was our first foray onto the Munich public transportation system and after our ticket debacle in Budapest, we weren’t taking any chances.  Like good citizens, we bought out tickets and validated them.  We would not be burned again.  It is a good thing we did all this because as soon as we got on the train a group of ticket control agents boarded and started checking tickets.  Exhilaration rushed through us.  We were pretty sure we did all that we needed to do, but it was our first time and we couldn’t be positive.  When they checked our tickets, I wanted to shout, “Yeah, just try to say something to me!”  They nodded and moved on.  Never again will we be caught without the right ticket!

Our good mood continued when we finally found Burger House.  As soon as we walked in we were surrounded by the sights and sounds of an awesome restaurant.  Not too big, maybe 12 tables in all, people drank beer and ate their food looking truly happy to be there.  We were barely able to snag a seat at the bar, just eeking in before their 10pm closing time which seems early to us.  I’m so glad we made it because this was easily the best burger we’ve had since we left New York.  It is amazing what can happen when simple, fresh ingredients are prepared well.  The man next to us ordered the Triple Classic Burger and actually finished it.  Quite a feat.  The burger, coupled with our first taste of delicious German beer, made for the perfect first dinner in Munich.

Customers wait on the stairs to go down to their brand new BMW. What a thrill!

This morning we woke up refreshed and ready to tackle the city head on.  We tried to get tickets for a tour of the BMW plant, but they require 3 weeks notice.  We didn’t even know we would be in Munich as of 3 weeks ago, so we figured we would just check out the museum and the BMW Welt.  Phil has great nostalgia for BMW and today’s visit has only made it worse.  Now I’m worried he’s going to go back to the U.S. and buy and old 3-Series.  The BMW Welt is basically a giant showroom with current BMW and Rolls Royce (also part of BMW Motor Group) models.  Admittedly, it was fun walking around and dreaming about which car we would buy.  Even though they weren’t on display (and aren’t what most people think of when they think BMW), I think I’d go with a Mini-Cooper.  They are so cute.  I know I would look awesome cruising around in a red one.  Before heading to the museum, we checked to see if there were any last minute openings on the tour and lucky for us, there were!  We took a guided tour of the museum, the plant and the welt.  This tour is incredibly comprehensive and is something we would definitely recommend to anyone visiting Munich.  The museum is modern and shows the long history of BMW, from its days of making aircraft engines to making high performance cars and motorbikes.  It would have been a great visit all on its own, but in addition we visited the plant.  Here in Munich, they only make the 3-series and we got to see many steps of the process.  From welding the body parts together, placing the body on the drive shaft and the process of painting the body, we saw so much more than we did when we visited the Mazda plant in Japan.  In some ways, this was almost too much information and we were begging for a break or at least a stop at the restroom.  When we didn’t get that, we figured we’d hang in through the last part, which was the welt.  We weren’t expecting much, since we had already looked around earlier.  What we didn’t see before was the floor upstairs where customers come to pick up their brand new BMW.  Each day people come here and are greeted with the car they have been waiting for.  They come down a giant staircase and their car is spinning platform waiting for them.  After having their photo snapped by a professional, they jump inside and learn the ins and outs of their new vehicle.  It was really neat to watch.  One car was even waiting with a big red bow.  It took me a while to believe that this present wasn’t destined for me.  What a great surprise that would have been.

Upon leaving the BMW tour, the cold October rain began to settle in.  We decided to take a break from being tourists and head back to the apartment where we are staying.  We did manage to head back out for an awesome dinner at a local brewery, but we will tell you all about that tomorrow.  Until then, go out and have a delicious German beer and some knockwurst and think of us here in Munich.

–Brooke

A store selling primarily stylish lederhosen. Is this in fashion? We aren’t sure.

Excuse me, could we please have a bigger bottle of mayonnaise? This won’t be enough.

On the subway, the rider has to open the door using the handle or else it won’t open at all. Very old fashioned!

A clay model at the BMW museum. Designers still use this technique to create new cars.

Phil’s new best friend? A water spout statue at Marienplatz

Categories: Bars, Beer, City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Driving, Europe, Trains, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Near Perfection

I've got my flippy-floppies on.Visiting Dubrovnik has been near perfection.  I know that sounds a bit extreme, but it is true.  This paradise in the Adriatic Sea has been relaxing, beautiful and affordable.  Although often mobbed by cruise passengers during the day, being here during the off season has thinned the crowds and made this an idyllic experience.

Look at that shoreI would have been truly happy just sitting on the terrace looking out at the passing boats, kayakers and swimmers, but there are plenty of activities to occupy our time away from the apartment.  Having already walked the city’s walls and explored much of what is housed inside Old Town, we thought today we should venture out onto the water.  Dubrovnik has a plethora of water activities, including snorkeling, scuba diving, sea kayaking and island hopping tours.  Because we have very little time here, we didn’t want to spend the whole day dedicated to one activity such as a three island tour, so we opted for a 50-minute cruise along the shore of Dubrovnik which also goes around a nearby island turned national park.  It seems each time we turn a corner or get another perspective on the city, the views are even more beautiful.  As we cruised the shoreline, we glimpsed people taking a dip in the sea or enjoying a drink at bars just outside the city walls.  Sailing around the island, we saw caves begging for exploration and natural private shelves in the rock where people could sunbathe wearing nothing but a little SPF.  We neared the shore and spotted a group of kayakers jumping from a cliff into the beautiful blue water.  All around us people radiated happiness and relaxation.  After spending ten days constantly on the go in Turkey, our friends Jack and Jon were thrilled to end their vacation in this way.

The beach in the rocks – only accessible by kayak and complete with cliff divers!

Scattered among the rocks, you can see our bar.

After sailing the high seas, we decided we couldn’t let our last day pass without heading to our favorite bar one more time.  As a bar (drinks, service, music), Cafe Bar Bard is relatively average, really.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  And yet this is probably the most extraordinary bar I’ve been to.  Chairs settle on rocks, while people lay around in swimsuits, occasionally jumping in for a swim.  However, it is the view which makes this place so wonderful.  Save a few boats and a nearby island, there is nothing but wide-open sea as far as the eye can see.  As it turned darker with clouds, Jon kept taking photo after photo amazed at how the sky kept changing its shape and form, each time a bit more beautiful.

It is not only the natural beauty that entrances visitors to Dubrovnik.  The city itself has white marble streets and buildings making it seem like something from a movie set or a painting.  The marble literally sparkles at night and we all wonder if it secretly gets buffed when no one is around. It certainly has marks of age and wear from pedestrians trampling on it for centuries, but considering the age of the construction, it is remarkable how well it has held its beauty.  The perfect setting for any wedding, we were not surprised when we saw two wedding couples  getting photos and celebrating their nuptials.  Our Air BnB host, Boris, informed us that  getting married in Dubrovnik has become quite popular and people come from all over the world to say “I do” in this beautiful place.  Of course, this has not always been the case.  Boris also shared stories about the war in 1991 when Croatia was attacked by the Yugoslav People’s Army.  He was here in Dubrovnik during a three month siege with no water, electricity or other resources. Boris watched the Old Town get bombed and saw the fortress at the top of the hill be destroyed.  The same fortress where, just last night, we watched a gorgeous sunset.  He spoke of this time with lingering amazement and recalled foraging the town gardens for food and spending $40 for 2 eggs to give his mother so she would not starve.  Knowing Dubrovnik was actively engaged in war 20 years ago makes it even more remarkable that it has restored itself to a beautiful marvel.

For our final night, we wanted to have a slow evening filled with wine, food and friends.  After getting kicked out of one restaurant because we were only going to order drinks, we combed through the menus trying to ignore the barrage of “barkers” trying to entice us to eat in their establishment.  We finally chose one and started our evening.  After finishing a bottle of wine, we decided on some appetizers.  The friendly staff and tempting food at the next table convinced us to stay for dinner rather than moving on to another option.  We are glad we did.  The food was good, not great, but the atmosphere was warm and inviting.  Our server brought us delicious bread with “Dalmatian” Sauce which is not made from cute, spotted dogs but  rather a combination of olive oil, parsley and garlic.  Yum.  We were even offered blankets as the evening chilled and the rain began to set in.  A nice long meal with drinks and dishes slowly being served in a great setting. All in all, it was a perfect end to a perfect day in this perfect city.

Now we must say goodbye to our friends as they head back home to real life.  It was really wonderful to spend time with Jack; it was like having a little piece of home here with us in Croatia.  Tomorrow, we board our return flight to Zagreb then grab the overnight train to Munich, Germany.  Time is moving so quickly and we are trying to savor every moment.  Luckily, we have no shortage of beautiful photographs to help us recall our experiences here and elsewhere.

–Brooke

Jack enjoying his wine over our last dinner in Dubrovnik

A look at the gleaming marble of the old city at night. Beautiful!

One of our views of Old Town. Yeah, this might be going on the cover of our Round The World photo book!

Categories: City Visits, Croatia, Destinations, Eastern Europe, Eating, Friends, Reflections, Relaxing, Surprises, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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