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!


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

Japanese Baseball!

Tokyo Dome ScoreboardIf you had asked me back in June what was a “must do” on our trip, I would have said hitting up some international sporting events. Cricket, Rugby or even Sumo Wrestling. Want to see some sports live and in action. Yesterday, our evening in Tokyo brought us the highlight of the day and one of my favorite moments of the trip so far – attending a Yomiuri Giants baseball game at the Tokyo Dome!

Holy crap on a stick, this was cool! It was baseball…in Japan. Brooke and I had an amazing time watching the game against The Hiroshima Carp (one of only 12 other teams in the league.) Wow, what an experience. Our seats were relatively high up, but the entire space was relatively small for a dome so we could see it all. The Giants wear the exact same colors of the San Francisco Giants and the team had six mascots running around the field. Six of them! Also of note were that ALL of the beer vendors were women. There were working hard: hustling up and down the aisles with min-kegs strapped to their back and big smiles and colorful outfits. And, yeah, the beers may still cost $10, but at least it was a high quality Asahi brew served by a very cute girl!

...And there were two more mascots after this!Tigers fans are loud and amazingBut the most eye-popping part of the baseball game was the crowd. Through every inning, a small brass band and loud drum led the entire stadium in a wide variety of cheers, songs and chants. Hard to do it justice in this post, but the enthusiasm and energy was infectious and constant. Every batter had his own song and when a homerun was hit – look out – the roof almost came off the place. I’ve never seen anything like it! It was like a college football game with a drum corps and even a vocal (but polite) visitors section. Remarkable. I love baseball in the states, always have, and now I think I love baseball in Japan.

The game play was exactly the same as in America and it was a high-quality competitive match up. As good as any MLB game (and there were some American players on each team). No 7th inning stretch, but there was plenty of singing. We never could find the bullpen- believe it to be behind the stands. And, sure, the Tokyo Dome is a little bit on the older side, but who cares?  With a nearly sold out crowd and those never-ending chants, the good guys won 5-0. To celebrate the win, the home team lined up and bowed to the fans! We never knew what was going to happen next. After the game, player #25 Takahashi was honored for hitting his 300th home run. At least we think that’s what was going on…baseball may be an international language, but the signs and announcements were still in Japanese. After a small ceremony, he rode on the back of a golf-cart and threw out several autographed baseballs to eager fans waiting in the outfield stands! The game is so fan friendly that it’s dizzying. A night out at the ballpark was anything but ordinary and an absurd amount of fun. Go Giants!


Brooke and Phil at Tokyo Dome!

Categories: Destinations, Eating, Exploring, Japan, Landmarks, Self Guided Tours, Sports, Temples, Tokyo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tokyo, Towers, Temples and Back Alley Restaraunts

Our first Japanese TempleI begin this update from Japan by asking for your forgiveness in advance. This is going to be a long blog post. There is just no way around it. Our second full day in Japan was so full and amazing, that we have a lot to share. Today was our designated Tokyo day and the entire day was spent exploring just a bit of this mammoth, expansive city. Even had an encounter with a giant Pikachu. We spent the better part of 13 hours absorbing Japanese culture from district to district. Lucky for us, you can’t really go wrong in Tokyo. With a town this gigantic, just about every neighborhood offers something capitivating, interesting and worth mentioning in a ridiculously long blog post.

Eating in TokyoWe started our day in the well-visited district of Asakusa which is likely best known for it’s Senso-Ji temple complex and hundreds of tiny, cute shops in Nakamise-Dori. Once off the train, we grabbed lunch at a beckoning seemingly-Japanese restaraunt. The language barrier struck again because I’m pretty sure that we might have actually eaten at a Chinese restaurant. The jury is still out. We had pangs of regrets later on because we passed dozens of food booths that we’re hawking delicious smelling, exotic street meat. We strolled from shop to shop, investigating endless keepsake and souvenier options (we’re overdue for some new chopsticks and Brooke thinks I would look good in a Kimono) and enjoyed the sites despite the scorching sun. We even saw some interesting plaques that gave us some handy pointers on how to Ninja Proof our new home in Louisville.

Five Storied PagodaWe finally happened across the giant, bustling temple complex. Although rebuilt in the 1960’s, Senso-Ji had an impressive collection of gates, temples and pagodas. We even took part in some rituals when we threw 100 yen in the well, said a prayer, and received a fortune based on the Japanese character for luck. There were also rituals involving burning incense and washing with temple water that were popular among the visitors. The temple complex, complete with giant lantern that could replace Lady Liberty’s torch, was a great visit.

From Asakusa, we set our sites on the newly-completed Sky Tree Town tower. Opened this past spring, Sky Tree is…well…a giant tower. Impressively tall, notably modern and complete with an entertainment complex that includes an aquarium, planetarium and crazy toy store that looks like a Tim Burton dream (this is where I saw Pikachu). The tower was packed with excited, massive crowds to fill every space. The cost to get to the top of to the tower was enough alone to dissuade us, but if that didn’t do it, the ridiculously long line would have.

The Sky Tree Town Tower Thing

Two distinct nickname: Memory Lane or Piss AlleyOur last stop of the night, was in the neighborhood of Shinjuku – with 3 million commuters going through here each day, it is home of one of the city’s largest train stations. The hustle and bustle of Shinjuku at 10:30 PM on a Friday night makes Grand Central Station look like a backwater bus stop. Once again, we learned that just taking that extra step around the corner will take you all kinds of places. We looked down a narrow and appealing alley and ended up in what they call a Yakitori style restaurant. We learned later that the alley has been called both “Memory Lane” and “Piss Alley” – which should tell you something right there. After being beckoned into a itty-bitty restaurant smack-dab against a dozen clones, we were ushered upstairs to an even smaller dining area that barely held eight people.

Kempai for New FriendsThis was a dinner like no other made up of kebabs and long sitting crowds. You know you’re having an authentic experience when the other guests are so fascinated by your presence that they ask to take pictures of YOU! The various chicken kebabs we’re tasty and “oyshikata.” When we ordered beer, we received a “White Hoppy” and “Black Hoppy” in a bottle. The waitress, in broken English, suggested we mix it with at least 1 to 2 parts water that she had brought to the table. I loaded my glass with this water, poured in the beer and sampled. Hilarity (and a touch of drunkenness) ensued when it turns out that the water….was Sake. Let’s just say it was a much stronger “beer” than I was expecting. On the long train ride home in the middle of a beautiful summer night, Brooke and I reflected that the Yakitori were shady enough to be fun, but not shady enough to make you nervous.

Today was the epitome of what we want out of our Round The World trip. Sensational new discoveries and unexpected cultural experiences. Just a great day! And it is only our second day in Japan! We’re finding our way around with greater ease by the hour. The endless amount of well marked signs is a big help. Although it’s an interesting puzzle trying to find a pattern of why some signs are in English and why some have zero English. As a bonus, we’ve even able to master a few handy phrases. As we shut down for the evening, I asked Brooke, “What will see tomorrow?” Her answer: “Everything!” Tomorrow: Kyoto!


Gates welcoming us to shopping/temples in Tokyo

one small restaurant

Table for 10? How about restaurant for 10! I look like a giant in this place…

Pika Pika

Holy crap, it’s a life size, hugable pokemon. Pika Pika!

Categories: Destinations, Eating, Exploring, Japan, Landmarks, Self Guided Tours, Sports, Temples, Tokyo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Our Spaceship and more!

When planning our trip to New Zealand, we knew we would probably have to rent a car. Our research showed us that Kiwis rely heavily on driving, and public transportation options are limited outside of the larger cities. Since we are traveling on a budget, we didn’t want to spend exorbitant amounts on a car rental, so we looked through all the brochures we had and then discovered: Spaceships!

Our NZ HomeYou may or may not know that campers and campervans are very popular in both New Zealand and Australia. Lots of people who travel are looking for outdoor adventure and these provide that flexibility. The Spaceship considers itself the Swiss Army Knife of campervans. Housed in a Toyota minivan is our daily transportation as well as our nightly accomodations, if we so desire. There is a double bed complete with linens, a small refrigerator and cookstove, pots and pans and a DVD player and screen. The back of the van opens up and can be covered with a tent to provide more space. There is also an awning that can be put up on the passenger side door to provide shade. It is pretty awesome. Are we now planning to camp every night? Not necessarily. But campgrounds are in abundance here and it is nice to know that option is available to us. It is also a major bonus that we are in the off season: the Spaceship was by far the most affordable car rental we found at $29 NZD a day.

Once we picked up our Spaceship named Vela, we continued out of Auckland and began our journey south. This seems simple enough, except they drive on the left side of the road here and the steering wheel is on the right hand side of the car. It doesn’t seem like this would be that hard, but suddenly turning left and right takes a lot of thinking first. Luckily, Phil agreed to be our inaugural driver. He really did an awesome job, though he occasionally veered a little too close to the edge of the road. I can’t blame him–everything is so different. Merging traffic comes in from the left, you pass slow cars on the right. Turn signal is on the right of the steering wheel, windsheild wipers on the left. It didn’t help that we were taking some crazy, winding roads to get to Raglan, today’s destination. It felt a bit treacherous at points, and when we saw a car had flipped on its side after taking sharp turn around the hills, we decided we should definitely be a bit more cautious and watch our speed.

The coolest hostel in RaglanLuckily, Astronaut Phil piloted us safely to Raglan, a surf town just west of Hamilton. We took a long walk along the black sand beach where we saw a woman training her horse and a rainbow gracing the sky. Of course, often when there is a rainbow, there is rain. Unfortunately, we were about a 45 minute walk from the hostel when it began pouring. We looked like drowned rats when we returned. Luckily, Raglan Backpackers is a really nice hostel and they have electric blankets on each bed. Yes, please! We spent the next hour warming up and drying off.

Brooke in RaglanWe ended our night at the Harbour View Hotel Sports Bar which was packed with locals who came out to cheer on the Hamilton Chiefs in the Super Rugby finals match against the Sharks. We didn’t really know what was happening, but after about 15 minutes, we picked up on the basics and we are smart enough to follow the flow of the crowd. They cheer. We cheer. They boo. We boo. Not too hard. Besides, it doesn’t take any practice wincing at some of the hits they laid on each other. Have you ever seen rugby? Geez, that sport is violent. Now I understand why people think American football is for wimps.

That's not our dog!Tomorrow we board our Spaceship and continue our journey. It is amazing–everyday we see something new. What will it be tomorrow? I can’t wait to find out!

–Brooke (Astronaut in training)

Astronaut Training

Just before the rain
Raglan Backpackers

Gorgeous Scenery
Categories: Budget, City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Driving, Exploring, Hotels, New Zealand, Sports, Transportation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

New Zealand and The Olympics

As with many things, timing is playing a big role in our Round the World Trip. In this case, the timing is presenting a unique situation for us to watch the 2012 Summer Olympics from another country’s point of view. Specifically, New Zealand, which is where we will be stationed for the duration of the games.

Every four years (every two if you count the winter games), I’ve watched the triumphs and trials of the Olympics through a decidedly American lens. Catching the ubiquitous and never-aging Bob Costas deliver endless profiles of American athletes who have overcome adversity to be on this grand stage. It is cool. It is inspiring to cheer for the red, white and blue. It gets the heart racing from time to time. But it also gets a tad predictable.

Go Kiwis!We are really eager to see how the Olympics are presented & televised from another country’s viewpoint.  The New Zealand National Team is sending roughly 1/3rd as many athletes as the United States is sending. For a country that has approximately 1% of the population that the United States does (4 million as opposed to 314 million), that’s not too shabby.  They have 185 men and women competing in 15 sports.

In 2004 and 2008, New Zealand won medals in Rowing, Cycling, Sailing and Canoeing; all events in which they are perpetually favorites. I can name the entire US Men’s Basketball Team and many on the US Men’s Swimming Team, but I don’t know a single thing about how one earns a gold medal in Canoeing. I’m assuming it takes more than not flipping over the canoe, but it is a world I know nothing about. I’m excited at the prospect of finding myself in a Kiwi bar collectively yelling with others at the TV at 2:00 AM (due to the London time difference) cheering on the New Zealand Sailing Team race towards the finish line. Man, we have a lot of exciting things to look forward to on this tip.

On a related note, I’m also hoping that while abroad, I can finally learn what in blue blazes the game of Cricket is all about.

Categories: Diversions, New Zealand, Sports | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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