Paris Part 1: Ooh La La

Back to travel recapping, which, I gotta be honest, even I am getting a little bit sick of.  Shall we get this over with?

Our first full day in Paris (Tuesday) began with a trip to the Louvre in the morning, in an attempt to beat the crazy tour group crowds to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc. etc. and so forth.  In retrospect, I don’t think it matters how early you get to anything in Paris: tour groups are there before you, guaranteed (sidenote: I always spell “guaranteed” wrong on the first try.  Always).

I can’t emphasize enough how motherclucking ginormous the Louvre is.  There are four floors, and I feel like each wing is multiple football fields long, with weird winding staircases throughout that make you confused and weepy and wishing you had just left the Louvre to the Da Vinci Code instead.  Tom Hanks made it to the Mona Lisa in record freaking time in that movie.  I don’t buy it.

Speaking of the Mona Lisa, here she is, surrounded by tour groups.  The number of photos I have of famous attractions in Paris is limited to how many times I was willing to stick my elbows out and fight for a front row view, which is to say, not many.

I left that tourist’s scalp in the photo, for authenticity’s sake.  The Mona Lisa is not large, but not postcard-sized, which I had been lead to believe that it was.  The astonishing thing is that on the wall opposite the Mona Lisa is The Wedding at Cana, which is 21 feet tall and 33 feet wide.  It’s ridiculous.

We wove our way through hundreds of other Renaissance-era paintings, that look as vivid today as they probably did in the 1500’s.  Nothing looked run down or aged.  Art preservation is fascinating.

After getting lost in the Egyptian wing, having a minor panic attack, and finally finding our way to Very Important Piece Of Art #2, the Venus de Milo, it was elbows out time again.

Victory is mine.

We spent some time wandering through Napoleon’s apartments before leaving the Louvre and heading to the Musée d’Orsay, which I have no pictures of whatsoever because photography is not allowed inside of it.  But we did see a lot of Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cesanne…I could go on.  I really, really loved the Orsay.  Maybe because it was smaller, less crowded, and more logically laid out than the Louvre OH SNAP!

{not my photo, FYI}

We implemented a hard and fast rule while visiting Paris: a mandatory bottle of wine every 4 hours.  This was essential to our survival, as it kept us (me) from trying to do too much at once, and also, we were all more pleasant when seated and boozy.  Additionally, Bordeaux is super cheap and tasty in Paris, so if you go there, drink it up!  I miss it already.

We went back to the Louvre in the evening, because our museum pass allowed it and our apartment guide told us that it is open late on certain nights of the week.  We leisurely walked through some of the more obscure corridors, hunted for particularly suggestive paintings that the boys wanted to view, and finally bid the Louvre adieu once they kicked us out.

It was my brilliant idea to walk down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe (it’s possible that we missed a wine break, which is where I became disoriented).  I know now that these two sites are more than 2 miles apart, which is not a desirable distance to cover after wandering through museums all day.  And can I just say, as glamorous as the Champs-Élysées is portrayed to be in movies and such, it’s just a busy street full of H&Ms and Disney Stores…it was like an outdoor shopping mall.  Maybe I was just too tired to appreciate it.  But it was exhausting.

We tried our hardest to find a legitimate cafe where we could eat dinner, but ended up heading to McDonald’s, relieved to be off of our feet with food in front of us.  Foreign fast food is so interesting to me, and Mickey D’s Paris did not disappoint.  They have a whole separate dessert bar inside, with good little macarons and such.  So fancy.

Hubs had the McBaguette, which it pretty much what you see above.  I don’t know if it was any better than a regular burger, but according to him, it hit the spot just fine.  Also to note: McDonald’s fries taste the same pretty much everywhere.

For some reason, about 1,000 cop cars drove down the Champs-Élysées with their sirens blaring while we watched from the 2nd floor of McDonald’s in astonishment.  Maybe it was an impromptu police parade, or maybe it had something to do with the presidential election that was going on at the time.  I guess we’ll never know.

We finally made it to the Arc de Triomphe, took a quick gander, then wisely jumped on the metro and headed back to homebase.

I want to be brief enough not to bore you, but also lengthy enough that I go over everything I want to look back and remember, so I’m going to cut myself off here rather than squeeze another day in Paris into this post.  As a preview, Thursday involved Versailles, stinky cheese, Notre Dame, and devils.  You’ve been warned.

Europe Continued: Safety First!

On Monday, our last day in Munich, we checked out of our micro-hotel, stashed our bags, and headed out into the city to kill the last 10 hours of the German leg of our trip.  One of the items on the boys’ bucket lists was to take a tour of a German brewery (any German brewery would do), so we hit up Paulaner to see how 4-ingredient beer is made.

We got to wear really sexy reflective vests, so that we wouldn’t be lost in the underground beer tunnels.  There is beer running through those pipes right this second.

The most unsettling part of the tour was when they showed us the original barrels that were used to brew Paulaner.  See that hole at the bottom?  Somebody had to CRAWL INSIDE THE BARREL to clean it out between batches.  I’m so scared.

We received a “snack” at the end of the tour, which consisted of giant pretzels, a hunk of bologna loaf the size of my face, and MORE potato salad.  Oh plus a weißbier, which is the German version of Blue Moon (or Blue Moon is the American version of weißbier, whatever).

We met a nice Canadian couple during the tour, and by met, I mean none of us spoke German so we were addressed separately from the rest of the tour group.  The wife was French-Canadian, and made us really nervous about being outcasts in Paris when she told us that Parisians are rude to her because although she speaks fluent French, her accent is not Parisian.  Again, so scared.

After souvenir shopping, presumably eating some stuff, and  stopping at Augustiner in the evening, we finally headed to the train station to find our overnight couchette.  A couchette is a compartment on a train with beds in it.  Some have 2, some have 4, ours had 6.  Kinda like this:

The bottom bunk was so close to the middle bunk that it was impossible to sit up on it without feeling like Quasimodo (foreshadowing!).  But since we hit the lottery and had nobody sleeping in the middle two beds, we were able to slide them up (after getting scolded by the hall monitor for tinkering with them at all) and have a little sitting area.

By little sitting area, I mean knee-to-knee, face-to-face, all up in each others’ business kind of sitting area.

It was a special night.  I might be crazy, but it was actually fun.

The British man who came around to check our tickets reminded us to lock the doors, because overnight trains are breeding grounds for shady people doing shady things (not us, obviously, but all of the other shady people on the train).  It was super comforting.

Our train arrived in Paris over an hour late the next morning, so we had to rush across the city on the metro, with all of our luggage during Parisian rush hour, then run 3 blocks through the pouring rain to the apartment we rented (via homeaway.com), which was up a 5-story spiral staircase (at least it makes cool picture?).

{Note on the metro: from what we read, the cheapest way to get around the city for an abbreviated stay is to buy books of 10 tickets at a time, which will run you about €11.  Each ticket will get you in/out of the metro once.}

We settled into the apartment, which had a fully functional kitchen with a washing machine, separate toilet and shower rooms, a separate bedroom and a living room with beds for 4 people total.  It was a great place, relatively affordable, and coincidentally owned by an American couple, so if you’re interested in where it is and how to rent it, email me and I’ll be happy to share all the details with you.

Our first order of business was to see the Eiffel Tower, which was only a 5 minute walk from the apartment.  I think it hit me then that we were really in Paris, ready to eat croissants and drink Bordeaux until we were bleu dans le visage.

{I would’ve centered this shot but there are about 50 tourists on segways just outside of the frame on the left.}

We spent the rest of the day on foot, getting lost, drinking wine, finding the Louvre, Notre Dame, and Shakespeare & Company bookstore, before stumbling through (not drunkenly, but lostily) the Latin Quarter on our way back home.  You’d think we would just be able to shoot for the Eiffel Tower, but it’s not always visible, and the streets through Paris are hella windy.  Nothing is a straight shot.

We saw and did so much in Paris that it’ll be really, really ridiculously good-looking difficult to recap succinctly.  I’ll do my best to include relevant travel tips without boring you to death.

Onward!

Munich Part 2: Off to Salzburg

On Sunday, day 3 of our trip across the pond, we took the train from Munich to Salzburg, Austria, home of Mozart and The Sound of Music and Probably Other Things Too.  Fun fact: You can buy a Bayern ticket for only €29 and take UP TO 5 PEOPLE anywhere in the greater-Germany area for 24 hours.  It’s a steal compared to a train from Paris to Brussels…but more on that later.

Salzburg was rainy but otherwise picturesque, and not very crowded, probably because it was Sunday, and raining.  We bought a Salzburg card, then took a bus (the wrong bus at first) from the train station to the edge of town, and then began wandering around.  Salzburg is not very big so wandering will allow you to see pretty much everything.

First stop was Mozart’s birthplace.  It was birthplacey.  Empty rooms with fun facts about Mozart and replicas of his tiny pianos and whatnot.  What struck me was how much they glossed over his death.  It was all, “Mozart is the most famous composer of all time,” and then when he was 35, “he got a fever and then he died, oh well”.

Our next stop was at Furst, home of the original Mozart balls.  They are hand-rolled chocolate balls with pistachio marzipan in the center.  Hubs was ready to trade our firstborn for a wheelbarrow full of them.  I thought they were all right.

{Apologies for my Grandma hands…that was my nickname in high school.  Because I had really nice friends.}

Fun fact: The word for “jewelry” in German is “schmuck”.  They have a lot of schmuck shops in Salzburg.

The other thing they have a lot of in Salzburg is giant, super ornate churches.  Like three ginormous ones all in the center of town.  They put all other churches to shame in their opulence.  Most of them were originally built over 1,000 years ago, although they’ve been reconstructed numerous times over the years.  It’s amazing to see history go back so far when you’re from a much younger country.  I don’t have any pictures of the insides, but here are some of the outsides.

That last one was taken from inside the Catacombs, which are old worship spaces that were carved into the side of a mountain.  It’s basically like climbing old, slippery stairs while caving.  Apparently the Von Trapp family hid out here in the Sound of Music?  We meant to watch the movie in preparation for our trip, but we ran out of time/didn’t feel like it.

From the catacombs, we headed up a tram car to The Fortress, which doesn’t really need an explanation.  Except it’s also called Hohensalzburg Castle, so I guess we saw a castle!

The Fortress offers great views of Salzburg, the surrounding area, and the Alps.  So pretty.  I spend about 5 minutes getting a good panoramic shot from the Fortress, but I can’t find the software that I need to stitch the images together.  So no panoramic for you.

One terrifying aspect of the fortress that I was not prepared for was the Marionette Museum that is housed inside.  I won’t go into detail, other than that there were marionettes everywhere.

After coming down the mountain, we went in search of sustenance, and came upon a restaurant called Finger Foods.  Two of us ordered the burger and fries.  They came in cones.  I don’t think this is a Salzburg thing, as much as it is just a weird restaurant thing.  It was bizarre and unexpectedly messy.  The cone that the burger is in is edible.

More wandering brought us back across the river to see the Mirabell Gardens before we took a wine break, caught a bus back to the train station, and headed for Munich.

Salzburg was a nice, easy breezy break from Munich, which is not so hectic itself.  It was a great day to get away and recharge our batteries before spending our last day in Munich and embarking on the Greatest Journey Of Our Time, an overnight train to Paris.

More to come!

Frühlingsfest in Munich: Sweet Caroline Edition

As previously mentioned, I recently took a trip to Europe with my husband and two of our friends.  We flew from Atlanta to Munich on a Thursday night, and then the madness began.

After our red eye flight landed early Friday morning, we dropped off our luggage and set off to kill about 5 hours until check-in.  This was mostly spent drinking (coffee, beer, what have you), eating (pretzels with butter in them, called “Butterring”), and checking our email using the free wifi at the Apple store.  Fun fact: German keyboards do not have the “@” symbol on them.  Try emailing your parents without it.

We made a stop at the famous Hofbrauhaus for a few beers.  Contrary to what I’d read about it, we found a table fairly easily and got what we needed, thanks to a friend that joined us from northern Germany.  I’d like to take this moment to call out the fact that our friend Greg, who is supposedly a small-town midwestern boy, has friends in both Germany AND Paris.  I am suspicious that he may not be who he says he is.

We finally checked into our hotel, which was cozy, to say the least.  This is literally the entire hotel room.  I’ve cropped out nothing.  On the plus side, it was super cheap.

After napping to soften the blow of getting no sleep on an overnight flight, we rallied and headed to Theresenweisen, the Oktoberfest grounds.  It was a rain-soaked ghosttown.

I almost regretted making the trip to Munich for Fruhlingsfest, until we found the beer tent.  People!  Music!  Beer and meat and potato salad!  We were home.

We walked in an were seated at a picnic table that we shared with various people throughout the evening.  Some spoke English, some didn’t, but everybody was friendly and we did lots of “Prost!”ing.

We observed the thousands of people wearing lederhosen and singing traditional German songs while standing on tables and clinking their glasses.  After hearing one song that mostly consisted of people shouting “Joanna!”, we tried to think of what American song inspired people to sing along in a similar fashion, and came up with “Sweet Caroline”.

And then the band played “Sweet Caroline”, and everyone in the tent knew all of the words.  It was super surreal.

We ordered a bottle of prosecco…I hereby declare this a “mistake”.

After hours (I’m not sure how many) of drinking and celebrating, the tent shut down and we headed out to ride the bumper cars and take a ride in the ferris wheel sans hubs (heights are no friend of his).  Drunk bumper cars might be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

The next morning, we got up and headed back to “The ‘Weisen” for the big flea market that occurs on the first Saturday of every Fruhlingsfest.  Maybe I should’ve thought a little bit harder about what a flea market usually entails, but it was basically just hundreds of German people selling their junk.  It was crowded and stressful, so we didn’t stick around.

The grounds were swarming with people on Saturday morning, and due to the ruckus the night before, none of us had the stomach for any more rides or roller coasters, so we headed out, unsure if we’d return to the festival again before departing for Paris.

Spoiler alert: we didn’t.  Did we miss out?  Maybe.  But we had so much fun on Friday night that we felt like we’d experienced the festival in all its glory, and we didn’t want to taint those memories with a second, less epic experience.

We spent the rest of Saturday exploring Munich, perusing the Viktualienmarkt for fresh gouda, bread, and fruit,

strolling through the Englischer Gardens, Munich’s version of Central Park,

watching surfers tackle the artificial waves in the river,

and having a beer at the Chinese beer garden.

Followed by a traditional German dinner at Ratskeller, aka “Rat Killer”, which is weirdly in the basement of the giant, gorgeous old churchy building in the center of the Marienplatz.

We got up Sunday morning and headed to Salzburg, home of Mozart and the Sound of Music, but mostly just Mozart.  I’d say 99.9% Mozart and 0.1% Sound of Music.  They really love their Mozart there.

Stay tuned.

Hallo and Bonjour and So On

Confession: I was out of the country over the past 2 weeks.  In the interest of our house not getting looted and our dog not getting kidnapped while we were gone, I neglected to mention my specific plans on the world wide web, but if you know me in the world wide world, you were probably aware of the impending adventures.  Shall we recap?  Okay!

The entire trip was born of the desire to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, without actually dealing with crowds and tourists (even though we ourselves are tourists, I know).  When we discovered Fruhlingsfest, the Spring Festival on the Oktoberfest grounds, we started dreaming about flying to Munich in April with two of our friends.  That was in late 2010.  So this had been a long time coming.

My husband is a huge German enthusiast – beer and weiner schnitzel and pretzels – but I’ve always been more partial to the, how do you say, feminine parts of Europe.  I insisted that we also make a stop in Paris if we were flying over the ocean, and everyone obliged.

So the trip had two parts: 4 full days in Munich (with a day trip to Salzburg, Austria), an overnight train to Paris, then 5.5 days in Paris (with a day trip to Brussels, Belgium).  The trip flew by and was packed with sights to see, drinks to drink, and food to consume.  There was also some stalking of the Apple store to check email, some freaking out about the Louvre being a total effing maze, and copious attempts to speak the local languages, which went…okay.

I had a blast and wouldn’t change a thing, except for maybe the size of our hotel room in Munich, which was hella cozy, and the fact that we didn’t buy our train tickets to Brussels in advance, because that shit was expensive.  Other than that, these memories will last a lifetime.

More to come as I go back through pictures and am able to process everything.  I usually get bummed about going back to work at the end of an amazing vacation, but this one takes the cake and I am super depressed to be back in my cubicle 40+ hours per week.  But such is life.

Stay tuned…