Thursday, 31 July 2008

at the end of the road.

First impressions: jaywalking, cars that stop at zebra crossing, pedestrian crossing signals with sound effects, Volvo policecars, coffee with real milk, a language that sounds half German half Greek, a population with perfect (and I do mean perfect) English.

How to look Swedish and 18-25:
Step 1: Be young & hot, blonde, tanned and lithe.
Step 2: Have an attitue that of course you are fabulous, why would you even ask? And no, I don't try.
Step 3: Wear (super) short shorts, huge baggy tshirt, flat shoes (either basic black or white 1920s tennis shoes, roman sandals or 80s inspired hi-tops). You may substitute (super) tight jeans or a (super) short tight skirt.
Step 4: You must have floppy hair
Step 5: (Optional). Wear giant glasses. GIANT, preferably ugly glasses. Find some aviator-shape wire rimmed ones that your Dad wore in the early 80s.
Step 6: Aim for a look which is a mix of early 20th century fop, early 1980s punk, and trenchcoat wearing serial killer.
Step 7: Look vaguely ridiculous. It doesn't matter if you've sucessfuly completed Steps 1 & 2.

...and the rest.
I arrived on Sunday and on the plane sat next to a Queenslander living further north in Sweden. Funny how that happens. The girl on my other side offered me a ride to my hotel. I politely declined, remembering the rule about not accepting rides from strangers, but later regretted it, when the train from the airport to the train station cost $70 return.

My hotel room is in the basement which means I'm getting good quality sleep since I'm not being woken up by the light. When I arrived I was feeling nasty after having been in transit for 7 hours (only 1.5 of which was actually in the air...oh how I love flying). I discovered that the hotel has a gym, and decided that a run on the treadmill would make me feel better. Went for a run in jeans and socks, since I didn't bring any exercise gear. I did feel better, but the next day I felt worse. I definitely do not recommend using a treadmill with no shoes - it will bugger up your legs and feet good and proper.

On my first day proper I visited some beautiful markets and then went for a walk around the island which is the old part of town, 'Gamla Stan'. It was very pretty and quaint, and I had a coffee at a place where i sat beside some painfully cool locals. Although it took me about 15 minutes into their conversation to realise they were locals - they were speaking English so perfectly I only eventually figured it out by their too uniform television accents. I bought some green glass 70s teacups and tried some Daim icecream. Despite sunburn cream, I got vaguely burnt, something that hasn't happened for a while.

On day 2 I took a cruise around the archipelago in the morning. It was quite nice and relaxing, if a little cold. I didn't realise that Stockholm was built on a series of islands - you are literally never more than a few minutes walk to the sea. I went and had a delicious vegetarian smorgasbord lunch at a place called Herman's on the Sodermalm island, with a beautiful view of the 'city' island. I stayed on Sodermalm and went 'shopping' in the trendy district there (in quotation marks becuase I didn't actually buy anything). Saw lots of bright young things kitted out according to the instructions above. Got back to the hotel and worked out I walked over 15kms that day.

On day 3 I enjoyed a coffee by the water, until a (very) old Swedish man decided I looked in need of company and sat himself at my table. He was dressed according to the instructions above. (Ok, no, not really, but he was blonde and tanned, and definitely had step 2 down). Decided it was time to get moving for the day, so I went to the National museum and saw their design collection (they have my glasses!), the Wasa museum which is all about a 17th century warship that sank in the harbour and has been rediscovered, and the Skansen open air museum, which is like a Swedish Sovereign Hill. All were very cool.

As Nick said, Stockholm is very nice. It's clean and safe and everyone seems happy and relaxed. It's right on the water, and the weather was fortunately beautiful. There's lots of things to do, but if you're feeling lazy, there's also lots of nice spots to just stop and have a coffee.

And now: back to blighty.

Monday, 28 July 2008

doing the supermarket trip in Sveeden.

From left, clockwise:
Sota; Salta; Plopp; Japp; Polly; Lakerol; Skotte; Brejk; Extra

Sota: 3 flavours of little bears (red, green & yellow), quite tasty but with a texture like old snakes - a bit too crumbly

Salta: Little licorice pellets in what is presumably a cat shape. Not as bad as most licorice.

Plopp: Interesting name. Caramel filled chocolate like a caramelo Koala in square form. Tastes very artificial though, and oddly like something you'd buy at the show.

Japp: Budget Mars bar

Polly: 'With a taste of chocolate, arrak, buttertoffee and vanilla'. Oh man, this one is nasty. It tastes like chocolate coated melting plastic. Apparently arrak is some kind of liqour - not one I want to try now.

Lakerol: Orange flavoured little lollies - like hard tiny wine gums. With real fruit juice! But sugar free, somehow...

Scotte: Chocolate bar with chocolate truffle filling and fruit & nuts. Quite nice but a bit sickly.

Brejk: chocolate, wafer, rice bubbles caramel. Not bad but not rocking my world either.

Extra: Extra seems to be doing a good job of making these drops in a 'local' flavour in every country I've been to. This is not my favourite. I suppose the licorice and rasberry flavours go together ok, but as someone who doesn't like licorice much, let alone artificial licorice flavoured things, this seems like a bit of a waste of good raspberry flavour. Nb. I also found cactus & raspberry, and pear later. The pear is amazing and I stocked up.

Jaffa drink: carbonated, tastes just like the OJ iceblocks you could get in the 80s.

Puck: Oh, these crazy Nords, everything in licorice. Who else would think to make a vanilla icecream, with gooey licorice blobs, covered in salty licorice flavoured chocolate? I should make it clear here that I usually don't like licorice much, although I do sometimes like aniseed flavoured things - fennel for example is one of my favourite veggies. So once I got past the weirdness of there being salty in my icecream, this was pretty good! I think this is one combo where the sweet/salty thing pays off - they kind of balance each other out, and it's quite refreshing.

I also tried pickled herring - well, I had to really, didn't I. It appeared at the breakfast buffet. The sharpness of the vinegar sets of the rotten fish flavour quite nicely actually - if you like the flavour of rotten fish. Which I happen not to. I had to quarantine the neighbouring scrambled egg in the end.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

being rocked to her socks by Berlin.

Made it out of Hamburg ok, and arrived in Berlin. Found my hotel - it was lovely, beautiful, amazing, wonderful. Funnily enough, staying in a place where I felt perfectly comfortable actually inspired me to get out more, so on my first day I found the motivation to go on a 3.5 hour walking tour of the city. It was pretty cool, we saw all the big stuff: the brandenburg gate, the tv tower, the wall, checkpoint charlie, the reichstag, the holocaust memorial, the spot where Hitler commited suice (now a carpark), the French plaza, the opera house. The tour guide was a bit of an arrogant American, but it did away with the need to fill my time up with 'culture' so it freed up the rest of my time.

Friday was a shopping day - I headed around Berlin to the funky stores that the internet told me about. I managed to spend a lot of money without actually buying much, so it was kind of lucky that everything was so overwhelmingly cool that I couldn't choose anything. I had a delicious breakfast at the Jules Verne cafe (oh the Germans, they love their quark) and a delicious vietnamese lunch and apple/mint/soda at Monsieur Vuong, and it seemed that everywhere I went I would find interesting streets with cool things to look at. In the evening I went to see a performance of La Boheme, which was unfortuantley in German, but I suppose it was either that or Italian so it wouldn't've made much difference. But now i can say i saw a proper German music, and it was pretty good if not amazing (thought it's the off season, so even that's a compliment). Got back to the hotel, decided I needed a drink (it had been 30 degrees that day) so went to the vending machine and found it sold bottles of Beck's for 2 euro, and the machine even had a bottle opener built in! I felt like a total bogan walking to my room open beer in hand, but I guess that's Germany for you, and it's totally ok there. Although I'm not sure if graduating to drinking alone is a good or bad thing...

Saturday I packed in yet more culture after having decided not to get sucked into that again. Honestly - it's so easy to feel you have to go and see x, y, z, but in the end you get overwhelmed and don't see as much as if you'd just bought a coffee and people watched. Well, Jules Verne for breakfast again, the gardens of the Charlottenberg castle, then the Bauhaus Archiv (which now has the honour of being the lamest museum I've been to - the gift shop was about the same size as the museum! Lucky I scammed a student ticket, and even it was barely worth it!), a cute shop called rsvp paper where i found some awesome postcards. In the evening I went to see the Blue Man Group (more for Arrested Development that anything) which was pretty cool (a lot of percussion and paint involved) but in the end more gimicky than artistic. Also, there was a lot of audience participation which I do hate, because I don't enjoy myself and I just want it to hurry up and FINISH so i don't have to feel nervous about being chosen and made a fool out of. Afterwards I went to the Pergamon museum and learned all about the Babylonians, before stopping off at an old man bar and having a 'Berliner weiss, rot' which is apparently a Berlin speciality, except it was brought to them by the French who call it a Monaco, and it's what we would call 'red cordial in beer'. Still, due to the superior German beer, it does actually taste better than anywhere else.

Berlin is actually a pretty ugly city - after being flattened during WW2, and then being split in half by the cold war, most of it's pretty new and boxy. But the funny thing is, it feels more inspiring than almost every other city I've visited. Perhaps it feels young and forward looking since it's still in the process of defining itself. But it was great to be somewhere so exciting that I would walk for 10 hours and still feel like doing something in the evening rather than holing up in my hotel room for some zone out time.

Oh fiddlesticks! I forgot to have a Berliner!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

hating Hamburg with a passion.


Arrive and find my hotel. It is 100m from the station which is excellent for navigating, but unfortunately it's a dodgy area. Heard of the Reeperbahn? Yeah, well, it's not that dodgy, but this city sustains some serious grime and some of it is out my front door. Drug dealers and prostitutes, ahoy there! Find my room is a smoking room and smells. Ask to be shifted and they move me to another smoking room, only with the scent masked by super strong air freshener. Hmmm. Pay E10 for 3 hours of internet. I have no ensuite and have to share a toilet and bathroom with the floor. This is more annoying than it otherwise would be, since for a lower price i could be staying in a youth hostel with the same (or more) facilities. Oy vey.

Decide to get out of the hotel. Go to the post office and thankfully get served by an American and don't have to butcher the German language for postage stamps. Go for a walk up the street on the other side of the train station - the main shopping street I think. Ponder some shoes, play in the lego shop. Have a bagel for dinner. Contemplate whether I'd rather stay outside or go back to the hotel. I'd rather stay outside, but don't fancy walking back to the hotel after dark. Go back to the hotel. Learn how to play all the games on my computer until sleep time.

Sleep badly. Get up at 7am. Decide the risk of running into my dodgy neighbour whilst wearing a towel is not worth the trade off of walking around in my own filth all day, so skip shower. Have a look on the internet and ask at the tourist office about what is fun to do in Hamburg - not a lot of promising information. Visit the Rathaus - it's impressive but not in an interesting square like they usually are. I decide to go to the botanic gardens and the art gallery, and hope that the (large amount of) walking in between will turn up something cool, as it usually does. It doesn't. Hamburg has the most homeless people I've seen since San Francisco, and the saddest beggars since China. On my walk I'm pretty sure I see a leper, picking his scabby feet. Shudder. Big respect for Jesus.

The gardens are nice, and have a good Japanese garden. In hindsight i should've taken a book and stayed there all day since the weather was nice. The art gallery is not terrible but not that interesting either, especially considering how many art galleries i've seen now. The floorplan is totally useless and I wander round completely aimlessly, occasionally butting like pong into attendants who tell me I can't go this way because it's a special exhibition, for which I have not paid. I find the Chilehaus which is apparently the most famous building in Hamburg. It is rather unimpressive. Try to find a nice spot for a good coffee and people watching. This proves impossible, so i settle for a bad but large coffee and view of a wall and stretch it for an hour. Go to a department store and put on my new favourite perfume in an attempt to drown out the smell of the hotel room I'm heading back to. Arrive at hotel. Realise how (relatively) few photos I've taken of Hamburg, and note that this is an indicator of how much this city sucks. Kill time until sleep time. Get up, get on train to Berlin.

Monday, 21 July 2008

climbing a tree.


Found my hotel: rather dated but spick and span. Get up early, gorge on free breakfast (muesli, cornflakes, moist delicious heavy German grain bread, tomatoes, eggs, yoghurt). In a hurry to meet Gerald - Germans are always 5 minutes early. Notice a red line on the ground - think it divides the footpath for pedestrians and cyclists. Realise a minute later that it corresponds to the red line on my map and is a tourist trail, leading exactly where i need to go! Stop off at a roofless church on the way - empty as a war memorial. Meet Gerald at the 'New' Rathaus - built around 1900 but looks older. See the 3d town models in the foyer - one from now, one from right after the war (what a mess), one from right before the war, and one from the 17th century, when it was a tiny town surrounded by a wall and a moat. Take the elevator up the curve of the dome and get a view on the town.

Go to the Marktkirche - where my great great great great great grandparents were married. Talk to the man and find that I need to get on a train if I want more information on my ancestors. Get on U-bahn and off again successfully, and find the church archives. Find the entry in the church ledger for the olds' wedding - on microfiche in beautiful but barely legible script, but unfortunately nothing else - no clues on who came before them - the end of the line. Ride the U-bahn back into town illegally - both ticket machines are broken. Go back to the Marktkirche and have a good look around and take approximately eleventy billion photos. It is very large and high, but is mostly red brick (including the floor) and appears to have been badly damaged in the war and never restored to the former glory shown in photos hanging on the wall. I donate my unpaid U-bahn ticket price to the new organ project. Outside there is a bookshelf with a glass door - i think you can take or donate books as you like.

Start walking back to the train station (near my hotel) and go in the wrong direction. Half an hour later start again, and make it finally - the weather is dreadful (cold, windy and rainy) and I need to change. Walk to the Berngarten - it is a good 3-4kms and in good weather could be lovely, but it is not good weather. Find the orchid house and take approximately eleventy billion more photos. At least it is warm in here.

Walk back to the city and eventually duck into a few shops to try and beat the weather. End up buying a pair of shorts in a fit of unsubstantiated optimism about the European summer. Meet Gerald and Olga by the Opera House for dinner. We go to the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Germany, and it is delicious. The Germans like quark. (Note to self: try the banana/cinnamon/nut/honey breakfast with quark instead of ricotta). Walk home in the dark and don't feel scared.

I think 1 day here was enough. Hannover is a dull town that got bombed a lot and is now modern and boring. It is like Canberra if Canberra wasn't the capital. However, I had one mostly nice day. There is a lot of green everywhere and huge public gardens. In good weather it could be stunning. And it makes a world of difference having kind people to show you around.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

relieved to have a friend once more.


Arrived: first night spitty horrible weather - I think it's following me around. Either the map or the roads are wrong, becuase i find my hostel street a lot sooner than i should have and it is a lot longer than it should've been. An odd area - expensive row houses, some nicely done up, some clearly graffitid student digs. Stay in the hostel alone for the first night - don't find it any friendlier than any of the hotels - only with shared bathrooms. However it is nice - very basic but clean, but i get paranoid about bedbugs and do some (unconstructive) internet reasearch to calm myself down resulting in a sleepless night.

Saturay Nhan arrives, weather still horrible. We wander into the centre of the city and look around in the markets (green cheese!). Have a great pea and sausage soup with soy sauce - the Bremen version of a pie floater? Go on a tour of the Beck's factory which nhan is surprisingly interested in. Try all the different kinds of Becks' (including the non-alcoholic and girly flavoured ones) as well as Haake-Beck - the local beer. Get rained on (again) on the way out - seek refuge in a Spanish cafe and end up staying for dinner. Back to the hotel and Nhan falls asleep litereally in mid conversation (i thought that only happened in enid blyton).

Sunday: sleep in. Check out, dump stuff at the train station. Go for a wander through the squares of the old town (incl the statue of the Bremen musicians). Find pastrys for breakfast - Nhan asks what something is and the lady turns to me for help translating. HA! Wander down (art deco alley) Boetcherstrasse and then through the Schnoor (cute germany/touristy alleys) and have lunch - clear veg soup and sausage for me and weird speciality for Nhan (minced meat mixed with stuff, an egg, a pickle, beetroot, herring). Rain stops starts stops starts stops, we wander to the student district and reflect that it seems like a really cool place, but unfortunately, being a sunday in europe, everthing is closed. Might have been a better choice for lunch. We have icecream - 'spring mascarpone' for me and 'grass' for Nhan. We stop for a drink (honey/milk, honey/lemon) and I help the waiter's english, and he helps my german. Everyone's happy.

Back to the train station, nhan gets more pastries & tries a mezzo mix. I get on my train with no hassles, nhan leaves for the tram.

Next stop: Hannover.

Friday, 18 July 2008

bringing the (bad) weather with her.

Well between my disorganisation, and Nuremberg's, we didn't see a lot of each other.

On Wednesday night when I got in, I met Thomas' friend Stefan who took me on a whirlwind tour of the city. He took me up to the top of a carpark for the best view of the city, to Luitpoldhain - the big Nazi rally ground (the one from all the pictures), to have the local finger-sized oven-grilled sausages, and to turn the fountain wishing ring (both the tourist and the local version).

On thursday night I had a big sleep in, and at lunch time had a wander around town. I went to the handicraft town - a little area of the town that still has it's medieval feel (not sure if it's real or reconstructed) where handmade things are made and sold. I made a quick trip to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (it would've been longer but they randomly decided to close early) and saw the music exhibit, the pharmaceuticals exhibit and the medieval furniture exhibit. All were very cool and again I wished I'd had longer. The museum is built around the remains of an old church(?) so it's quite interesting to wander around as it feels very modern, and then suddenly you find yourself in a very very old part. (Quite the nightmare for navigating too).

I also tried the lebkuche - a specialty spice cake from the region, created in the times when Nuremberg was an important point on the trade route from India. It tasted about halfway between a gingerbread biscuit and a fruit cake.

Today I had no more luck with the tourist stuff. I tried to go and see the dungeon under the Rathaus - turning up at 10am on the dot, as instructed by the lady who told me I couldn't see it yesterday becuase they were closing an hour early (are we sensing a theme?). But this time a differently lady told me the tours were only possible with groups of 5 or more! So I decided to go up to the Kaiserburg complex, which it turns out you can only see on a tour, of wait for it, 5 or more people! Still, it was nice to go up there and wander around the outside of the buildings. It's at the high point of the city too, so there are nice views over the rest of the town.

I chickened out on going to Doku-Zentrum - a big museum on the rise of Hitler & Nazi-ism. Maybe I should've, but I kind of decided that in the end I'm not the kind of person that could go and find it 'interesting'. I would find it really upsetting I'm sure, and I just didn't want to go there. I already know a lot about the war, holocaust etc, and I think I already know what I would see there. I don't think I"m just closing my eyes to it by opting out - rather choosing to focus on the happier things in life instead.

Anyway, all my plans having fallen through, I bit the bullet and put the map in my pocket. I wandered around aimlessly, and actually found some pretty cool things - cute little shops, intereting sculptures and fountains, the river.

Not many pictures this time around - I left my camera charger adaptor (of all things) in Konstanz and there was a bit of a gap between my battery dying and it catching up with me. All's well now though.

I am finding travelling to be rather hard on the stomach. I like food, as we all know, but I do not like paying large amounts of money for average food - something it's very easy to do as a tourist. Thus I have been making friends with Mr Pizza, Mr Falafel, and Mr Muesli Bar. I'm over it already - looking forward to being somewhere with a kitchen again.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

going a little crazy at Woolworth.

Back row: Fruity smarties, Ruppaner Hecker Dunkel Beer, Bodensee Obstler Schnapps, Capsicum Chips, Africola, Lichee Bionade, Bloodorange and Pink Grapfruit ACE juice.

Lying down (clockwise): Rittersport Yoghurt chocolate, Wunderbar, Nussini bar, lemon yoghurt Mentos, Mr Tom Nutbar, Duplo bar, Lime Yogurette.

Fruity Smarties: Are Haribo and Nestle part of the same company? I don't care, because HELLO! these are so good. They're smartie shell on the outside, and gummibear on the insite (no chocolate). I dont normally like gummibears, but these are so fruity and sweet Iam totally converted: banana, peach, orange, apple, strawberry, grape, lemon. One can have too many, however...

Beer: coming soon.

Schnapps: coming soon.

Capsicum chips: So apparently the germans have two chip flavours - paprika,and everything else. These taste just like bbq. Yum.

Afri cola: Schweppes cola in a cooler bottle.

Bionade: Flavoured mineral water. My friend likes this a lot, but although I found it refreshing, to me it was too bland and sickly sweet all at once.

ACE juice: Excellent. A beautiful bright red colour, just like normal ace juice, only with a slight grapefruity tang extra.

Rittersport Yoghurt: Jeez, I dont know what it is, but the Germans, they like their things yoghurt flavoured. I even saw yoghurt flavoured deoderant! This one unforunatelz is not so good - like slightly tangy top deck. A bit sickly.

Wunderbar: Just like a snickers only more creamy and less crunchy. Advertised as peanutbutter/caramel - crunch given by rice bubbles.

Nussini: Layers of nutella and wafer. La-me.

Lemon Yoghurt Mentos: flavour of the year! Pretty much just like regular lemon only they're white and not so tangy. Ok.

Mr Tom Nutbar: Peanut brittle. Wha-ever.

Duplo bar: Chocolate wafer. La-me.

Yogurette: tied for favourite with the gummi smarties. Yum-o. Chocolate coated, roses-texture filling with the flavour of lemon-gelati. Can't wait to try the strawberry one. (Later: tried the strawberry - not so good. The lime was better).

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

really hanging out for the day when roaming wireless broadband is standard on mobile phones, and she can use google maps on the go to not get so lost.

Munich: Day 1, Monday

Up bright and early, caught the Catamaran to the other side of the lake to get my train to Munich. All went smoothly, but possibly because I was so busting the entire train ride that I really only had the brainspace to make the correct changes - not to overthink it and stuff it up, or to start panicking.

The panicking and the overwhelming sense of loneliness set in pretty much when I arrived in my (really very nice if basic) hotel room. I'm beginning to sense that this is just a permanent fixture when I'm travelling alone, and I'm just going to have to do my best to crumple it down into a tight little ball in the bottom of my abdomen and attempt to ignore it. I think today it was worse because the contrast with being somewhere comfortable with friends, having people to talk to, was starker than usual. Well, a valuable lesson has been learned - travelling alone sucks. But hey, it's only for two weeks, and I guess it's another friggin' growth opportunity. (Thanks universe, I've had enough for one year).

At this point, Dad chimed in and pointed out that it's a HOLIDAY and that means I get to do whatever makes me happy. If that means being outgoing and climbing all the churches in town then fine, and if it means sitting in my hotel room and reading the internet, well, that's fine too (although regrettably, the latter is a lot cheaper to do at home). So I did do the latter for a while, and eventually levered myself up to go and see a little of the city.

My first impression is that it's a little bit like Lyon, and we all know how much I liked it there. It feels pretty industrial, and all the people are a bit grey and harried looking. But I ventured into the city centre/old town, and found there's actually some pretty incredible buildings. Notably, the (new?) Rathaus which leaves the Paris Hotel de Ville (and in fact, every other one that I've seen) for dead and has a big 'glockenspiel' that plays 3 times a day. I also found the famous food markets here. They were mostly closed by the time I got there, but I think they'd be worth exploring another day. They seem a bit smaller than the central markets, and it's all outside in semi-permanent buildings, but also a bit posher, with more interesting specialty produce.

I found a soup place, and ordered something random, and had myself with a nice dinner of chicken broth with maultaschen (german ravioli). I also had an apfelsaftshorle which is apple juice with something fizzy mixed in (can't quite decide if it's soda water or lemonade) and it's quite a concept I can get behind. You can also order a wine shorle (sweet/lemonade or sour/not sure haven't ordered it) and there's a beer shorle (ie. a shandy) but it's got a different name. If the Germans do it to beer though, it must be ok.

Tomorrow I will try and get up at a suitable hour, and visit the Neuschwanstein castle.

Munich: Day 2, Tuesday
Actually, very little of this was spent in Munich. Just a tasty piece of pizza at about 7am when I got back to the city. I left at 9am to visit the Schloss Neuschwanstein, and due to the super incompatible train/bus timetables it took me the ENTIRE day to do a 35 minute tour. Talk about your tourist trap! So much for German efficiency... Anyway, the castle was pretty cool - cooler inside than out I would say, but no photography inside so I can't share that. Only about 10 rooms in the castle were finished, and all the walls are painted with scenes from Arthurian/Wagnerian type fables. And I do mean all the walls. There's some pretty incredible woodcarving going on there too. It's in a nice spot too, balancing on the top of a hill - a beautiful green foresty walk to get up there. It was the inspiration for the Disney logo castle apparently, and you can kind of see why. Although it goes both ways, because the castle was inspired by fables itself, so I suppose it's a bit circular. I'm tired now. That's all I have to say about today.

Except that 'Schloss Neuschwanstein' is a name clearly chosen to make English speakers sound like that episode of Lano & Woodley where Lano accidentally mocks the lady with the speech impediment.

Oh and also, American tourists. Oh. My. Gawd. Here's a (loud) moment from the castle today:

'You know, maybe crazy King Ludwig wasn't as crazy as everyone thought'.
'Why do you say that?'
'Well, he was obviously very religious...'.

Riiiiight. Becuase there have been absolutely no religious nutters in history. Ever.

Munich: Day 3, Wednesday
So today I actually got some stuff done, partly because the curtains in my hotel room were woefully inadequate and I woke up naturally at about 7am (unheard of) and partly because I realised I had less than a day left in Munich and had barely seen anything.

I had a (expensive, but at least big) coffee in the main square and watched the big glockenspiel/music box type thing at the Rathaus. It's an old mechanised scene on the front of the building that comes to life at 11am. There's chimes that play a song, and there's a king and queen who watch a joust, one knight knocks the other one off and wins, and then a whole heap of lower dolls do a little dance. Really moving (when you think about how impressive it must've been when it was first made) and kind of underwhelming all at the same time.

Keeping in mind Dad's advice about doing whatever I want to do, even if it's not what you're supposed to do on holiday I went to H&M. And tried very hard not to spend any money since it's rapidly dwindling, but was quite unsuccessful. At least the average item price was about AUD$10. Anyway, I suppose I should point out that I'm feeling a lot better today than on Monday. Still not totally comfortable (and Oh how exhausted I am already), but maybe I'm slowly getting used to this solo travelling gig.

I went for a quick tour of the Schatzkammer which is the little museum where they keep the old crown jewels and stuff. Pretty impressive and my camera totally cracked under the pressure of a million photos of shiny things. You can visit the rest of the palace too, which looked pretty awesome but I was on a time budget and I'm kind of getting over looking at old and beautiful places right now...

I walked through the English garden, which was sort of cool, and again, sort of underwhelming. It's a huge big park in the middle of the city, and if I lived there i'm sure i would love love love it. But as a tourist was just a big park really. Grass and trees. Not as impressive as central park, purely because the city surrounding it is not nearly as mad, and not as pretty as a lot of the other (admittedly smaller) gardens I've seen (including the ones next door in Munich!). There were also these guys surfing on the river that runs through it - mad mad mad. There was really only one (repetitive) wave, and it kind of smelled pretty funky too.

I went to the Deutsches museum, which is a big science museum. I had only an hour and a half left, and I really wish I'd had a whole day (and a German/English nerd friend to explain it all to me). There were rooms for everything scienc-y, from the history of paper making, to the extraction of oil & natural gas - all with actual historical machines (yes, some of them were very very big). There was a section for musical instruments, and there must've been at least 50 pianos (or piano type things), and even a bassoon section with a paper-mache contrabasophon! I also really liked the room with the wind & water mills. Apparently there's even a coal mine shaft that goes 200m underground but I didn't find it. Anyway, that was super cool and I would really recommend it.

Heading back to the bahnhof to get on my train to Munich I grabbed a falafel from teh Viktuelenmarkt as a late late lunch.

In the end I actually quite liked Munich. There are surprisingly lots of grand old buildings (not sure how many have been rebuilt and how many are original) and the streets are wide and there's lots of green. It's still a big stinky city, but I think it's a bit more elegant than many. I particularly liked their system of bike lanes too, whereby the footpath was extremely wide and the half of it (or 1/3 or whatever) closest to the road is divided off for cyclists. It seems a lot safer to me to have the cyclists on the foopath not the road and there did seem to be a lot of cyclists. (I wonder if maybe this is acutally a German thing, not a Munich thing).

Actually, I think maybe it is. I'm in Nuremberg now, and it seems the same here.

Have I mentioned the flags? European countries seem to love their flags, and in France and Spain their respective flags were everywhere. In Germany there are flags everywhere but it's always a big bunch from lots of different countries. Apparently they're still scared about seeming too nationalistic... I guess that's understandable, although kind of a shame, but it does feel a lot friendlier as a visitor to see all the flags of the world around the place, and not just the one that's not your own.

I'm beginning to think there are two kinds of places: the first where people rush around so busy that they don't remember to enjoy life, and the second where people go a bit slower and enjoy being out on the streets, seeing what's happening, having a coffee in the sun and reading a book etc. Usually the big cities are the former and smaller places are the latter, but not always. But I think the former kind, even if there are heaps of amazing things to see, doesn't feel so good, even to a tourist. I'm wondering now which kind Adelaide will be interesting to see when I get back.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

psyching herself up.

This last week in Konstanz has been a rather quiet one, as a lot of the week was spent in other cities, and my time here has been taken up with planning the next few weeks.

I finished my 2 hour tour of the town (it only took me 3 days in the end), and went on a little boat cruise of the lake. My final conclusion is similar to my first impression: Konstanz really is a very sweet little city. I will miss the bells ringing every hour, and the beautiful clear lake 100m down the street.

On Thursday I did a day trip to Zurich (ha!). The weather was perfect which made my day of wandering through the old town very pleasant. I visited 3 churches in all: first the Grossmunster, founded by Charlemagne where I climbed the tower for a view of the city. I have climbed a lot of towers, and it must be doing my bum some good by now! This church also had a beautiful organ with little golden angels all over it. Then I made my way to the Fraumunster, which has some wonderful stained glass windows made by Chagal. Here I found a purse left behind with 100 francs in it, and gave in to the old lady selling postcards. We had a little chat in French (because her English wasn't so good, and my German was worse) and she was so thankful that I'd handed it in! Honestly - it's a worry when it's expected behaviour to steal money in a church! Finally I went to St Peter's Church which has the largest clockface in Europe.

I wandered around the city a little, picking my way through the windy, hilly streets (mostly not on my map) and had a great lunch at Hitl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe. It was actually pretty posh - white tablecloths and chandeliers, and it was a little on the pricey side, but it was completely delicious. I had some kind of Malaysian eggplant curry, which actually tasted more like a Maroccan tagine, and a homemade organeade. I found myself sitting at a huge dining table in the middle, across from an ex-pat Australian! We had a bit of a chat, and she endorsed my afternoon plan to go to the art gallery. The art gallery itself was quite nice, although they all seem to have slightly underwhelming collections after the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay. On the other hand, it was very quiet and I could actual enjoy the experience. They have a funny exhibition going at the moment where modern artists create works in and around the older permanent exhibitions. My favourite was some graffiti below an old landscape painting, arguing that it was too good to be the work of the attributed painter!

To finish the day I wandered the streets a little more, and found myself at the Lindenhof, which is a little park at the highest point in the old city, which a sweet view over the town.

Back in Konstanz, I had a delicious pizza dinner with Kathy and Thomas and some of their friends from Hannover, and then a stroll along the lake as the sun set. Olga caught a cricket as big as my thumb in a little jar she had in her handbag. It was very green.

This weekend, we travelled to Freiburg. I was quite keen to go there, since it's where two of my music teachers studied, and it was not at all what I expected. It was a lot bigger than I expected, and the first impressions outside of the train station weren't that positive. But the old city is one of the prettiest I've seen so far, and the quaint medieval canals (gutters) and old paving won me over in the end. It seems to be quite the student city, which gave it a really relaxed air too. Unfortunately, the weather was not so kind as Zurich, and it rained and rained and rained and rained. We had a lot of icecream and coffees, and got quite giggly amusing ourselves when we couldn't venture out from under the big cafe umbrellas (lots of silly photos, paper boat races in the canals, mimicking the accents of all the other tourists wandering around). When the sun came out, we visited the Cathedral which was quite an interesting and pretty one, being made from red stone, which is different than any I've seen so far. We wandered around the old town and the church food market, had a huge German meal (german pork dumplings, sauerkraut, potato salad & pretzel soup) and huge German beer to match. On Sunday we had an equally huge breakfast (bagels, egg, yoghurt, fruit, cheese, tomato, pain au chocolat) and then took the cable car up the mountain into the spectacular black forest. I was amazed at how many different trees there are - I expected one type of pine tree but it was a huge mix of huge huge huge trees.

Then it was back to Konstanz, late in the day. We had a bit of a train mishap (missed our station) so we got home quite late, and slept in the next day. TodayI tried to organise myself a bit and had a final dinner at a nice Indian restaurant where I introduced Kathy and Tom to the deliciousness of Palak Paneer.

And tomorrow I'm off on a whirlwind tour of Germany...

Monday, 7 July 2008

listening to bells, thunder and a piano accordian.

I made it out of Paris and am recuperating in Konstanz with some warmly hospitable and welcoming friends. I don´t think I could´ve chosen a more contrasting place to Paris, or a better place for a little tlc and chillout time. It all looks so ridiculously German, and although it doesnt have any famous sights, is a perfect pretty town, just right for wandering and relaxing.

Right now it´s a clear but cloudy day, and outside my window there´s an (impressivelz good) accordian player squeezing out the Baroque´s greatest hits. This week there´s also been string quartets, and a white hippy didgeridoo player.

On my first day here, we went and paddled in the river - so clear I saw a fish swim right by my legs.

On the second few days I walked the city - I´m taking myself on a tour following the plan given by the tourist office. It´s supposed to take 2 hours, but with my sense of direction it´s 2 days and not finished yet. It´s a lovely little town, with winding alleys and old corners, so it´s not such a shame getting lost. The ´cbd´is car-free too, which thankfully reduces my chances of getting hit while I look up and marvel, and forget to pay attention to the more practical aspects of wandering the streets.

I´ve had a (big, milky) coffees in a lovelz little place called 'Das Vogelhaus' (The Birdhouse) which has seating on different raised levels, and climbed the M√ľnster (Cathedral) to enjoy the view of the city. On the day that I visited it, they were tuning the big organ, giving the huge space an eerie feel as the pipes wheezed out bland, out-of-tune notes.

I visited the Isle of Meinau, the flower island, owned by a duchess and always in bloom. We saw a huge smiling flower topiary, and a giant dwarf, and took a million photos in the 'Schmetterlinghaus'.

We had dinner in Meersburg, taking the ferry across the lake and climbing it's old hilly streets.

I've eaten lots and lots of icecream, of course trying the stranger flavours first, like walnut, and cinnamon. I've been practicing my (very basic) German, and so far everyone has been super polite, I've gotten what I wanted, and only once has someone switched into English for me.

I've had applejuice mixed with soda-water, wine mixed with soda water, and beer mixed with lemonade. I visited the biggest beer-garden in Konstanz, and (by chance I'm told...yeah right!) there was an oom-pah band playing, all dressed up in red waistcoats and leggings, and alternating playing with drinking (and sometimes just doing both at once). I took a 5 minute walk and straddled the Swiss/German border.

This week hopefully I will take a boat-ride around the lake, make a day-trip to Zurich, and visit Freiburg. Then upwards to the rest of Germany.