Friday, April 27, 2012

Adventures in April: A Recap

    Well, it's April 27, and as tomorrow morning I shall be gallivanting off into adventure (sounds a lot more exciting than it is, I promise you), I shall gainfully attempt to give you a final April blog before going. Ready, GO!

    That being said, now I need to figure out what I actually need to say! Pause whilst I run back to my penultimate entry:

    Geschafft (achieved!). The last two weeks have been, as is fairly customary in my life, fairly hum-drum and typisch, punctuated by brief spurts of incredible excitement!

    I won't keep you hanging. Remember that girl I talked so much about two blogs ago? Yes, of course you do, devoted blog readers! (Her name's Andrea and she's a friend from California, a Fulbrighter in Vienna, and generally just an awesome person. Yes, I know you already knew that. Don't worry.) Anyway, just two weeks after we had excellent Viennese adventures, the tables were turned and she came to visit me! Though sadly 'twas for a mere 25 hours and 48 minutes (like almost exactly), it was a great time and a much-needed (and very welcome!) pick-me-up from the doldrums my mood's been spending a lot of time in lately.

   So last Friday she got a rideshare from Vienna and arrived at the bus stop just outside my house at about 6 o'clock in the evening, and we set off to do what little sightseeing we could that evening! Which wasn't much, I'll be honest; our sights (and tastebuds) were much more oriented toward the promise of Indian food for dinner rather than some old churches.

   I'll interject briefly to say that unlike a lot of American tourist attractions (Vegas, NYC, and LA, to name a few), European tourist-y cities, as beautiful as they are, only really live up to (and often exceed) their potential when the conditions are good. A tip for all you future travelers: save your European trips for the summer, don't waste your time sightseeing in the rain, and once the sun sets, you're better off absorbing culture in a pub than outside trying to explore. Pretty much every city I've been to lacks a lot of charm in the rain/cold/dark.

     So instead of attempting to shove much Munich culture down Andrea's throat, we headed for my favorite Indian (and favorite in general, too) restaurant and settled down to a couple hours of pigging out. This place is freaking delicious. Not terribly cheap, but definitely worth the money, in my opinion! Once sated on chicken tikka masala, bombay potatoes, and garlic naan, we headed out (into the pouring rain, ughh) to meet Leigh at the nearby Hofbräuhaus. Leigh and Andrea have been fated to meet several times before, but tragic (not really) circumstances always intervened, so it was nice to finally have it happen!

     The Hofbräuhaus is, let's be honest, one of the great tourist traps in Munich, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun, and has excellent beer, food, and is always a comfortable 75 degrees inside (and occasionally warmer), very welcome when it's drizzly and COLD outside. We settled in for a comfortable evening of probably too much beer and chatting, only occasionally interrupted by the rather pathetic flirtation attempts of the Italians sitting next to us.

    At a fairly reasonable hour, we braved the U-Bahn home (my host family kindly consented to let Andrea crash with me for the night) and slept in far too late the next day (Saturdays rock).

    Fortunately for us, the tourism gods smiled upon our day, and the sun was out and shining, while not warmly, per se, at least comfortably. We packed Andrea's stuff, printed out her train tickets, and headed out to see the city.

   Though I'm sure it would eventually get old, it's a lot of fun playing tour guide! I also realized that I've had a sad lack of visitors here in Munich (ahem, that's to all of you! I'll show you around too! Seriously!), and the last time I really got to play tour guide and point out all the main, fun attractions was back in September! When, let's face it, I was still more of a tourist than anything as well. Since we only had about 6 hours before Andrea's train took off, we stuck to the main things (the nice thing about Munich is that most things of great interest are contained with about a two square kilometer area, so one can be a very efficient tourist when one so desires. Not that I recommend only visiting Munich for six hours at a time, but it is doable!). We started off with panini and coffees (the weather (and the temperature inside) was kind enough to permit iced drinks!) at San Francisco Coffee Company, took a look around Odeonsplatz, site of the 1933 Beer Hall Putsch, then headed into the Hofgarten and on through the Englischer Gartens.

   As I said, the weather obliged. It was gorgeous out, and the gardens were, while definitely not full, offering a decent amount of sunbathers and sporters. We stopped to see the surfers, headed out into the main gardens, meandered down the Isar, admired the Monopteros, and bought ice cream cones from a conveniently placed little balloon-festooned cart (I couldn't resist that rhyme, sorry).

Some photos (which, yes, are all on my facebook as well. Sorry for the repetition.):

Temple to Diana, Hofgarten

Sunbathers on the Isar



    After pausing to admire the oom-pa band at the Chinesischer Turm, we hopped quickly on a bus and an U-Bahn to get down to Marienplatz. We dutifully popped into a couple of churchs (the cathedral and St. Michael's, to be exact), sneakily side-tripped into an H&M, and wended our way back to the beer garden at the Viktualienmarkt. If you need a refresher course, the Viktualienmarkt is Munich's open-air market, dating back to very early 1800s, and a wonderful place to go to find exotic cheeses, oils, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, and so on (though I'll give you the fairly obvious caveat that the prime location adds a euro or two to the average price). The beer garden there, if I recall correctly, is the only state-run beer garden in the city, so it has the advantage of serving beer from all of the breweries (which sounds not that exciting, but in Munich, every restaurant/beer garden is linked to just one brewery, so all the beer available there will only be, for example, varieties of Augustiner beer). It's also huge, and excellently located! Tables with tablecloths indicate the restaurant section, but cloth-less tables are for picnickers, and you buy your beer and bring whatever food you have along! We'd purchased some strawberries from a street vendor and had those along with our beer (remember: in Germany, beer goes with everything. I'll also, just to enforce the point that beer is always acceptable, tell you that this beer garden opens at 9 AM.).

     Though I don't spend a whole lot of time in beer gardens (the seasons and weather is to blame, not any personal prejudice), the atmosphere there is really special. The thing Americans hear (and dread) about Germany is that when there's not a table available, it's not only acceptable, it's expected to ask to sit at someone else's table. This happens in restaurants, cafes, and everywhere, really. At a beer garden, especially a popular one on a beautiful day, if you don't have the nerve to ask someone to scoot a little bit, you're going to be drinking standing up. We found a corner of a table across from a middle-aged German couple and settled down with our goodies. The fun part about sitting with strangers + alcohol? You can hardly help but make friends with the people around you. We had an excellent time conversing with the couple across from us, visitors from Karlsruhe, and our conversation ranged from how Munich is gemütlicher (an untranslatable word running along the lines of comfortable, home-like, kinder to the spirit) than Vienna, how the politics in the US scared us, to the things one learns in a beer garden! (And this was all in German. Score us!) When they left, their place was taken by a trio of young French and Spanish businessmen, who wanted to hear all about what it was really like being singers. It was definitely a fun experience. 

    Alas, all good things come to an end, and we finished our beers, bid farewell to our new friends, and headed off to the main train station to deposit Andrea on her train back to Vienna. I rounded off the evening by reading at Hugendubel's and then heading home.

    The week since has been fairly unexciting, but there's one important part. On Monday, the temperature was about 55 degrees. On Tuesday, it poured the entire day and stayed in the 40s. On Wednesday, we broke 60 degrees. But oh, Thursday and today have been GLORIOUS. It's currently a beautiful 74 degrees and I got a sunburn sitting out with my cappuccino. Oh spring, how I love thee! 

    I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's jump back to Monday. April 20th marked the beginning of a joyous Munich tradition (in my opinion, at least): Frühlingsfest! This festival of spring runs for two and a half weeks in late April and early May, and is a miniature version of Oktoberfest (also on the Theresienwiese). There are beer tents, carnival rides, incredibly unhealthy and delicious food offerings (cotton candy, crepes, roasted nuts...), and people in dirndls and lederhosen soaking up the ambience. I almost wish I could have gone to Frühlingsfest before taking on Oktoberfest; it's much smaller and less intimidating. 

    So Monday night, I met with Leigh and Daniel and we set out to enjoy the sights of Frühlingsfest. An hour or so passed in the Hippodrom tent, with quite a few Maßes (Bayrisch for a liter of beer; the only size beer comes in at festivals) and half a roasted chicken to split between us, listening to the band play old German favorites like Sweet Caroline, Bad Romance, and YMCA. Seriously. There were also, of course, several thousand rounds of Ein Prostchen (a beerhall standard for everyone to cheers; check out this video if you've never heard it: ). Then we headed out into the night, had some crepes, and even went on a terrifyingly spinny ride that probably wasn't the greatest idea after all that beer. It was an excellent night.

Beer + pretzels + lederhosen = love. Germany is so simple. 

Hippodrom Festzelt

I may have to go back and buy one of these
Post-spinning ride 

     Wednesday night was another adventure into the depths of Bavarian culture. If you're a football fan at all (that's football by the rest of the world's standards, not America's), you probably are aware the championship is swiftly approaching, and Wednesday night the Bavarian team, FC Bayern, played their final match against Real Madrid to see who will head to the championships. So like good Münchners, headed out to a beer garden to watch the televised match, liters of beer in hand. Though I will be the first to admit my knowledge of soccer is pretty slim, I can follow what's going on. And it's pretty fun being plunked into the domain of one of the greatest football teams! I trust you know the results right now, but I'll tell you that FC Bayern won on eleven-meter kicks and will go on to play Chelsea in the Champions-League final in three weeks. Huzzah!!

Terrible dark picture just post the final kicks.

   In kiddie news: all is well. I'm currently waiting for Anne to bring Kilian and his best friend Ben over so I can watch them while she goes to dancing with Cliona. Cliona has nearly mastered riding her bike WITHOUT training wheels (at 3 1/2! I'm sold on Laufrads, man. 3 and a freaking half.). My host dad took a short day yesterday after a trip to the dentist so we helped him put together Kilian's grown-up bed and spent a good hour at the part watching Cliona practice. What a champ! There have been a lot more food squabbles lately; my host mom has decided that we're spoiling the kids by giving them various hot meals for dinner (you may recall the Germans believe in only one "hot" meal a day, and theirs is lunch), so now all they're permitted is toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich or bread and cheese. Makes prep easier for me, but when the kids won't eat it...well, it's a little frustrating. I'd be sick of it too, so I really can't blame them. Kilian and I had a fight last night while I was babysitting; we were playing checkers before bed, and when he realized I'd trapped both of his remaining pieces, he started crying about how I always win, et cetera et cetera, so I put the game away (sore losers are ANNOYING, even if they're six), which prompted several "I HATE YOUs". Always fun to hear. Luckily I've basically learned the secret to dealing with kids is actually talking to them, so we got it worked out and him put to bed in relative harmony. (No new photos, sorry.)

    Two weeks ago I got the chance to have dinner with Leigh's cousins and their kids, who were here visiting! It was a lot of fun, and way too nice to be with a normal family (not that my host family isn't great, but as sell-out as it is to say, I miss American families). They're also blog readers of mine, so a shout-out to the Dunns! It was wonderful to meet you, and I hope you have a great stay in Deutschland! 

    Shout-out number two: Chapman is presenting their opera this weekend, and I'm so sad I can't be there! Congratulations, all of you! Go see it, everyone else!

    As I mentioned waaaaay up at the top of this entry, tomorrow I take off for a long weekend (Tuesday is Germany's labor day, so four day weekend, here I come!) of choir rehearsal at a hotel/resort place a couple of hours outside of Munich. Don't know many details yet, but hopefully will be a successful weekend! I'll keep you posted. 

    Now it's upstairs to greet the kiddies. See you all in May!

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