Saturday, January 14, 2006

It has been a while since J! and I posted on the blog, so I figured I’d give a quick and dirty version of the last three weeks.

Dec. 23-Dec. 31:

My family came out for a delightful visit and a nice, relaxing cruise up the Rhine River. The cruise included stops in Frankfurt am Main, Mainz, Köln, Düsseldorf, Nijmegen, and Amsterdam. Highlights of the cruise included:
- Xmas with the family
- food, three times a day, and hot tea any time you wanted it
- a home-hosted dinner with Hans and Cily Muyderman, from the lovely town of Nijmegen in The Netherlands. (I stole a great vegetarian casserole recipe from Hans, and if I can make it as well as he did I’ll post it some time).
- attempting to pronounce Nijmegen correctly (“no, no, it’s ‘aghhhh’ in the back of the throat!’”)
- a fabulous stained glass window in Stevenskerk (also in Nijmegen) by artist Mark Mulders
- visiting the Roman Praetorium in Köln, which has been restored and is actually underground and provides access to the old Roman sewer.
- an amateur choir made up mostly of Dutch men who were all about 60+ and looked as though they’d spent their whole lives at sea. Plus, their musical accompaniment was a man who played the accordion! So fun!
- the Commerzbank skyscraper in Frankfurt, which was designed by Sir Norman Foster. According to our guides, the skyscraper was designed specifically with Germans in mind. Germans, evidently, dislike artificial air conditioning, and so all the windows in the building can be opened. To cool the air, the Commerzbank has “wintergardens,” in which trees and plants create fresh oxygen. Some of the trees in the wintergardens were so large that they had to be flown in by helicopter to the top of the building and brought inside through the elevator shafts.

Still needs work:
- the Lorelei. Anyone who visits Germany will eventually hear the Lorelei heralded as a major tourist attraction. People (including your tourist guides) will give you a long spiel about a hair-brushing siren, tragically drowned sailors, and treacherous river waters. Don’t believe them! The Lorelei is actually a cliff. And what’s more, it looks so much like all the other cliffs in this particular area, that they’ve had to label it with a big sign that reads, “LORELEI.” That said, if you want to see some amazing castles, take a river cruise up the Rhine between Mainz and Köln. You can also see them by train (as Arrr! and I discovered, upon returning to Mainz from Amsterdam) but the boat ride gives you a better view.
- Amsterdam. I know, I know . . . but if you visited Amsterdam during a sleet storm, you’d probably agree with me on this one. At any rate, there was a distinct lack of tulips. If you want canals, I’d say go to Venice, but that’s my own personal biased opinion. However, I’m willing to give Amsterdam the benefit of the doubt and say that it is probably much nicer in the spring or summer. Or anytime without sleet.
- Baroque duets for piano and recorder. Really, this goes without saying, doesn’t it? This “entertainment” was provided by Grand Circle, and the lovely couple who performed for us really seemed to be enjoying themselves, which was actually quite fun to watch. But let me just point out that there is a reason why the recorder, as an instrument, went out of fashion about, oh, three centuries ago. At one point during the concert, the pair got away from the Baroque music for a bit and played a Brazilian carnival piece (transposed for recorder and piano). This was pretty much the only song I liked, but it prompted my father, startled by the sudden change in tempo, to wake up and proclaim (rather loudly), “What kind of Baroque is this?” There was much rude giggling about this from the family and various staff members.
- the Red Light District. More tasteful than Vegas . . . it’s essentially just like any other shopping district in town, with a lot of (seemed to me) young American guys who had just come straight form a nearby “coffeeshop.”

Jan. 6-9, 2006

For our last trip together before Arr!’s visit came to an end, we all valiantly tried to get Ryanair flights to some sunny, beachy location. Sadly, we struck out on Sardinia and anywhere in Spain or Portugal. DeutscheBahn, however, gave us a great deal on train tickets to München (where the average temperature was hovering somewhere around 1 degree Celsius). What München lacked in warm weather, though, it distinctly made up for in beer. Lots of it. As responsible tourists, we felt it our duty to sample as much of the local culture as possible, which translates to about 7 liters in three days. Not too bad, given that we didn’t even make it to the hostel’s own bar (open from “8 pm to ????”) and stuck mostly to breweries like Augustiner Keller and the Hofbrauhaus. I liked Augustiner Keller better—quieter, better beer (I thought) and noticeably fewer annoying Australian guys. Also, Augustiner Keller has a great salmon dish, for anyone planning on visiting.

Highlights in München:

- the Maß. This is Bavarian for “huge glass of beer that requires two hands to lift.” Actually, it is a liter of beer. Think of it as the original beer barbell—you can work your biceps while you drink!

- Meininger Hostel. A great hostel, on the whole—nice staff, a fusball table, The Daily Show on tv, and their heaters even worked (more than I can say for the hostel we stayed in at Venice, which had a power outage when we plugged in the space heater). Watch out for the showers, though.

- Füssen is an enchanting town outside of Münich, most famous for being near Castle Neuschwanstein. I don’t know what it is like in the summer, but in the winter, after a snow storm, it is beautiful.

Could’ve been better:

- Castle Neuschwanstein. Built by “mad” King Ludwig II (whose penchants for Wagner and swans proved a somewhat tragic combination), the castle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Germany. It is supposedly the model for Disneyland’s castle and is thought by some people to be the most photographed building in the world. It is exceptionally beautiful, especially in the winter, but the tour is terrible. If you would like to see the castle, go—it is a great experience. If you actually want to learn anything about the castle, though, check out a book from your local library. The tours of both castles (you can also visit Hohenschwangau, which is just down the hill), last about 15 minutes each. Trust me, if you visit during the winter time, you’ll spend more time huddled by the heater in the gift shop than you will in the actual castle. On the plus side, if you visit Hohenschwangau, you can see some salt and a loaf of bread that was given to Prince Regent Luitpold by the Volga Germans. The bread, at this point, is 115 years old and in remarkably good shape. Evidently, it wasn’t very tasty bread, though, because hardly any of it was actually eaten.

- the distinct lack of easy-access tobogganing in Füssen. Since you have to walk up a huge hill to get to the castle, the least they could do is integrate with the nearby ski resort, and rent you a sled to get back down. Evidently they haven’t gotten this far, though, in tourist development in Füssen. They’re still fairly focused on the castles, I think. The boys and I were forced, instead, to remain unsatisfied with our attempts to sled down a hill near my apartment in Mainz using a pizza box and a plastic Ikea bag.

In other news, Arr! has, sadly, returned home to Phoenix. J! and I have been drinking a lot less since he left, and we miss him terribly. On the other hand, there’s a lot less sausage around the apartment now. I’m hoping that we can entice him back in the spring with promises of biergartens and trips to Sardinia.

Also, I got a cute new pair of shoes.

And, we can now watch German tv. Well, actually, we only get one channel, but I have high hopes. James Bond is on tonight: “Mein Name ist Bond. James Bond.” Pretty soon I’ll be fluent in anything relating to cooking shows and international surveillance.

Mermione and the Colonel, in beautiful Frankfurt am Main.

Papa and I have a chat in lovely Stevenskerk, Nijmegen

Mummy and me!

Oh no! Jesus accidentally left his wallet in Nijmegen!

A gargoyle in Köln with a bit of a nose drip.

One of Marc Mulders' very cool windows. It is hard to see here, but in the top window of the trefoil, there is a fish.

Notice the blue tag on my bag? It reads, "Lost! Need directions!" My brothers evilly conspired against me to place such tags on my bag, at least once a day. So, here we are enjoying a tour of Mainz (where I live!) while I look like schmuck tourist. There are entirely too many pictures like this one from our trip. They triumphed in Nijmegen, where I walked into a store, set off an alarm and the store clerk attempted to demagnetize my bag before I realized they'd struck again. She very politely asked, upon seeing the tag on my bag, if I were returning home that day.

The Praetorium in Köln. The different lights indicate different parts of the building. The yellow light, for example, shows outside walls. The blue lights indicate inner rooms. The part pictured above is only one small segment of the outer wall on the bottom floor of the Praetorium.

The cathedral in Köln.

The Lorelei! See what I mean?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Been to Hamburg (great train station) and Ahrensburg (it has the white Castle) on business. They were great. People were mostly nice and speak English.
Some older people were still reluctant to speak to English people.

11:26 PM

Blogger d said...

I just looked up Ahrensburg, since I've never been there. The slogan on the Ahrensburg website is, "Hamburgs schöne Nachbarin" (Hamburgs beautiful neighbor). I get the impression Ahrensburg isn't very large. But the castle looks neat. Maybe we'll check it out.

10:29 AM


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