A Travellerspoint blog

October 2013

Ein Prosit Zum (A Toast To) Oktoberfest!

sunny 18 °C
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The traditional drinking song of Oktoberfest which is played every 20 minutes all day, every day:
"Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit.
OANS ZWOA DREI! G'SUFFA!"

English translation of Ein Prosit:
"A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times
A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times.
ONE TWO THREE! DRINK UP!"

Foodie moment

Oktoberfest is known a lot more for its beer than its food, but saying that, there is plenty of traditional Bavarian food available at the fest (for a hefty fee). Each tent not only serves beer, but also have hot food available too. However it is common knowledge that people under the influence of beer tend to forget about eating until it is too late. That is where the pretzel girls come in handy. Every few minutes a girl dressed in a Dirndl (traditional dress) comes walking by with a basket full of pretzels, jolting your memory back into gear, reminding you of your need to eat. To say that I had a couple of pretzels during my drinking sessions at the fest would be an understatement.

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Cultural moment

Being at Oktoberfest is simply an awesome experience, one that is enhanced by that fact the nearly every single person is dressed for the occasion in the traditional costumes. These are the Dirndl (a colourful dresses with apron) for women and the Lederhosen (leather overalls) for men. It was fantastic to see that everyone puts in the effort and gets dressed up, making the whole experience a giant dress up party. The one time we went for a short drink without costumes (because we came directly from a day at Dachau) we felt excluded, so we were really happy that we had our costumes for the majority of our time spent there. There are thousands and thousands of costumes available in the city (not cheap, some starting at around 100 euros each!) which really encourages people to get into the occasion and join in the fun. If we ever have a dress up party at home, we at least have some costumes to wear again!

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Wow moment

Imagine a place that is half fairground, half beer festival. A place where everyone is in dressed in bright colours, and some of the best beer in the world is served table at a time in one litre glasses. Where total strangers become best friends, singing and 'prosting' on long wooden tables. A place where women wear curve enhancing dresses, and men dress in leather. A place where the smell of pretzels and roast chicken are permanently in the air. It is the place of dreams, and this place is Oktoberfest in Munich.

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What can I say! It was everything that I had heard it would be and was looking forward to. I have always wanted to go ever since I saw the huge tents full of thousand of people having a great time on a TV documentary. Now we were finally here! The event is held on grounds that have 2 identifiable sections; the main street with the drinking tents (14 large tents that hold 1000s of people each at a time) and the fair ground section with rides and roller coasters. We spent most of our time in the beer tents, our favourite being the Augustiner-Festhalle. It was the first tent we went to on the first day and we were very lucky to get into it only because of Lisa's genius idea...

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We had just missed out on getting into the Schottenhamel tent after lining up for hours in the morning and we had nowhere else to go, because by that stage everything else was full and you will only get served beer if you are sitting at a table in a tent. So Lisa came up with the genius idea to follow a group of local girls that ended up walking around the back of the Augustiner tent and into the back entrance after the front was closed. We got in against all odds and were greeted by a lovely fraulein (beer waitresses that can carry over 20 steins at a time!) that somehow found us 2 seats on a table where we made friends with 2 New Zealanders and 2 Chicagoans and 3 slightly strange Germans. We still had to wait 1 1/2 hours before the beer taps started flowing however, because no beer is allowed to be served until the mayor comes and taps the first keg at 12pm. Once the rocket exploded overhead symbolising the opening of the fest and the brass band did a lap of honour inside the tent, the beer began to flow.

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Over the next 3 days that we visited we drank an average of 4 litres of beer each, our best being 5 litres each over a whole day, enough to put us in a jolly old mood, join in with everyone singing and dancing on the tables and chairs and make friends with total strangers. We visited 4 tents total; Augustiner, Schottenhamel, Löwenbräu and Hofbräu. It was a fantastic experience overall and would love to go again!

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What we learnt today

After a few days at Oktoberfest there is one thing that we all agreed with, there is no possible way that an event of that scale and with that much alcohol could be successfully run in either Australia or the UK. The drinking culture here is completely different. Drinking is not seen simply as a means to get drunk, but enjoyed for other reasons; being social, excuses to eat good food and the great music and atmosphere found in the beer halls. During our time there we saw very little violence, couples arguing or people being sick, and considering the number of people there and the volume of alcohol drunk, that is quite amazing! I don't have the same faith in my fellow country-people to handle their booze in the same way!

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Speaking of the beers, there are 2 sizes in Germany; "One" and "Half". One being 1 litre and half being half a litre. It is not uncommon for the local experts to knock down 10 or more litres of beer in one sitting and continuous visitations to the same beer hall every week over 3 years will earn you a permanent place as a VIP with your picture on the wall and your very own special beer stein locked away waiting for you. Miss one week though, and unfortunately you're back to square one in your quest for beer drinking immortality.

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Posted by travellinglise 04:56 Archived in Germany Tagged munich oktoberfest Comments (4)

Munchin' in München (Munich)

overcast 15 °C
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"Of one thing there is no doubt: if Paris makes demands of the heart, then Munich makes demands of the stomach" - Rachael Johnson

Foodie moment

At our walking tour guide's recommendation we decided to have dinner at the Augustiner am Platzl restaurant in the city centre. All of the beer houses only serve one brand of beer (this one serving Augustiner beer), and each names their resturant after the beer they serve. This means you have to be careful you find the right restaurant (and give the correct full name if meeting someone there!) or you could end up at any of dozens of 'Augustiner' restaurants around the city. Being a few days before the start of Oktoberfest the place was packed and we had almost given up on the idea of finding a table before I spotted one hidden in a corner and dived on it. The quality of the food was fantastic (as always meat and potato heavy) and the servings huge. We had the Pork Knuckle cooked 2 ways (roasted and pickled) and 1/4 Roast Duck (If that is the size of a quarter duck then I'm scared of the size of German ducks!). Washed down with a couple of half litre glasses of beer we literally rolled out of the place after, Food coma!

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Cultural moment

When you think of Germany, its unfortunately impossible to not think of the World Wars. However, the city of Munich shows very few traces of that terrible time. There are little to no memorials to do with the wars, and those that are around are very hard to find and even recognise that they are memorials. There are still traces of Nazi history if you know what your are looking for. Some people criticise them for ignoring the truth and hiding their history, but they say that large recognisable monuments can become touristy features for the wrong reasons and anyone serious about remembering their history will find the ones that are there. For example, our guide had to point out one piece known as the Golden Path, which is a small path of golden bricks in Viscardigasse street. You wouldn't know it if you were standing on it, but it represents the alternative route that some citizens walked to avoid having to heil a monitored Nazi swastika sign that was on the main corner up ahead. Eventually Viscardigasse street was guarded by a Gestapo guard, and notes would be taken about citizens who walked down it. If you were caught not saluting the Swastika as you passed or intentionally avoiding passing it, you would be punished. This could include being sent to a concentration camp, so taking the street represented by the Golden Path was a incredibly risky choice for those who wanted to maintain a sense of honour and humanity.

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Another sombre place, that not everyone would recognise, is the Odeonsplatz. Here on the steps between the 2 lions is where Hitler gave his most recognisable speeches to the masses. It is exactly the same today as it was then, minus all of the Nazi propaganda and symbolism. It was a very strange feeling standing in the same place where Hitler spread his hatred by giving his frightening screaming speeches.

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Wow moment

The city centre of Munich is a really nice place to walk around. There are traffic free roads for pedestrians and the main squares (Marienplatz being the largest) are joined together by wide streets packed with shops and restaurants. During our walking tour we got to investigate much of the city. The majority of the city has been rebuilt, due to it being all but flattened by Allied bombings during WWII. Much of this has been done by referencing old photographs taken by the Nazi's (which they took as an alternative to showing any weakness to their public by sandbagging buildings or moving artworks to safe places!). Due to the effort put into rebuilding Munich as it was, it still has an old world feel to it. However, you can still see signs of economic crisis after the war in the way that some of the buildings have been rebuilt, examples being that their bricks and columns have been painted on! Our guide brought to our attention that Germany has only recently in the last few years paid off its debts for WWI, let alone WWII. Lucky for them they have big companies such as BMW which helped bring them out of economic ruin, and actually make Bavaria one of the wealthiest regions in the world.

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What we learnt today

In the centre of Marinplatz stands the impressive Old town Hall and in its clock tower is the famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel. We arrived in the square just before noon, and noticing the hoards of tourists standing looking up with cameras at the ready, I instantly followed suit. What followed was only beaten in tediousness by the Astronomical clock in Prague and perhaps the light show in Hong Kong. The music in the Rathaus-Glockenspiel started to play..... nothing happened or moved until about 5 minutes of music has occurred. Finally the characters in the Glockenspiel started to move, some turned slowly (apparently dancing?), some moved joltily from one side to the other (apparently joisting?).. this happened for a another 5 minutes or so. At this point I admit, the magic was not working for me, and my back was killing from bending back to film it, so we gave up and left. Apparently we missed the big finale where some sort of bird comes out and makes a noise... hmmm, I think we'll live with the disapointment missing that!!

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Posted by travellinglise 06:45 Archived in Germany Tagged munich Comments (0)

Pilsen - A Hidden Foodie Haven

rain 9 °C
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"I am not a glutton - I am an explorer of food" - Erma Bombeck

Foodie moment

Although the town of Pilsen did not match with our expectations, the food there blew them out of the water. The brewery company Plzensky Prazdroj own three restaurants in the town of Pilsen. After being recommended one and having a great meal at another we decided to dedicate our anniversary celebrations to trying all three!

Na Spilce Restaurant is situated at the Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery. The restaurant is held in the former fermentation cellar and is the largest pub in Bohemia, seating 550 people. Mark had been eyeing off the Goulash served in bread loaf in a few places, so he ordered that here. This was the only meal we had in this chain of restaurants which was a little disappointing. I ordered the recommended dish from the front of the menu, which was to become a tradition for me in each of the restaurants, and was a sure winner every time. I had Pork cubes roasted with onion and dark beer, křimice cabbage and red cabbage, potato and Bohemian dumplings with onion. The dumplings were the best I had tasted in our whole trip and when the whole meal came to $11 AU total we couldn't complain!!

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Na Parkánu Bar was a recommendation from Trip Advisor and we decided to go here for our 2 yr Anniversary meal. After not being able to reserve a table booking (there was a football match between the local side and Manchester city on so everything was full) we decided to just turn up whilst the match was on (and hence the supporters were at the game) and see if they would slot us in. Sure enough the place was pretty quiet and we were told as long as we left by 10.30 pm when the match ended and the tables were all reserved for post match drinking, we could use a table. We ordered The Brewers Platter (Stewed smoked pork loin end, roast sausage, roast pork, white sausage, mustard, horseradish and spicy cabbage) and a 500g Roasted pork belly on the bone with mustard, pickle, horseradish and spicy cabbage. Typical traditional Czech fare, still sticking with lots of cabbage and pork, but the best cabbage and pork we had had!! We rolled out with very full tummies as the Man City supporters rolled in to celebrate their win.

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Finding no reason to not complete the trifecta we sought out the final restaurant in the chain for lunch the next day. U Salzmannů Restaurant is in the centre of the town of Pilsen and touts itself as the oldest restaurant in Pilsen. Once again the food served up was exceptional and the delicious dark Czech beer made for a great farewell to Pilsen, our unexpected foodie haven! This time we had Honey-glazed pork ribs roasted with onion served with garlic and spicy sauce and Pork tenderloin strips with heavy cream sauce with beer, cheese and spring onion. I could have eaten a tub of the garlic sauce on its own!! These were probably our favourite dishes of our time in Pilsen. Yummy!!!!! (I want it now!)

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Cultural moment

As mentioned earlier there was a Champions league match between Pilsen and Manchester City on whilst we were in town. This meant this otherwise sleepy small town was suddenly full to the brim with loud, excitable Mancunians chanting, drinking and shouting. On the other side though we saw (and heard) very few Pilsen supporters around town before the match. A few small groups walking to the ground and some groups in the pub quietly watching the game while we ate dinner. I'm sure there were plenty of Pilsen supporters at the game but they were either massively outnumbered or significant quieter than their counterparts from England!! I could hazard a guess at which of those scenarios is most likely....

Wow moment

The number one thing to do in Pilsen, and the place that originally put it on the map, is to visit the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. Its is a huge beer factory that has been operating since 1839. Its so large in size that while on the tour we had to catch a bus to get around the brewery grounds. We started our tour in the new part of the factory where the beer is bottled and put into cans and bottles via giant automated machines.

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We then travelled to another part which was the older building (a new multi million euro building is being used now) where they made the beer. In here we got to see the giant copper vats in which the beer is fermented. There was also an interactive museum where we learnt about the processes involved in making the beer.

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Finally we headed into the underground tunnels, which stretched for miles and miles under the brewery and town. Here we were able to see all of the beer fermenting in the traditional wooden barrels, and even got to try some open barrel fermented beer especially brewed for tour groups only. The whole experience was a blast, and learning and seeing the entire beer process was really interesting.

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What we learnt today

Whilst dining at Na Splice we found our new favourite beer. It wasn't the famous Pilsner Urquell lager (which we weren't actually a huge fan of) but instead it was the Velkopopovický Kozel dark beer. It opened my eyes to the 'dark' side of beer and I haven't looked back since!

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Posted by travellinglise 08:35 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged pilsen plsen pilsner_urquell_brewery Comments (0)

Czech It Out, It's The Castle!

overcast 16 °C
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Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws –Franz Kafka

Foodie moment

Since we spent most of the day today on the other side of the river at the castle, we were in unknown territory when it came to choosing a place to eat. Lucky for us we had the Trip Advisor app on my phone, so by using that we managed to find a nice restaurant of whose name I can't remember sorry. We had the chance to finally order some of the well known garlic soup, which was great! I then had the meat plate which has sausages. pork and dumplings (who would have guessed!) and Lisa had something a bit different with a pork stir fry Asian style. We also had once again our old friend Shopska Salad!

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Cultural moment

As you're probably aware by now, Prague does meat, lots of meat, really really well. Its impossible to escape the smells of roasting pork from where ever you are in the city as there are spit roasts cooking everywhere. I was in a constant state of hunger just wanting to sink my teeth into a big juicy leg of pork or ham. We couldn't work out how any of the locals could keep their relatively skinny physiques, either they have different genes than us, or they just don't eat the food that the tourists eat. I'm pretty sure I put on a couple of kilograms in just the 3 days we were there.

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Wow moment

Today we went to Prague Castle, the most dominant feature on the city's horizon, which sits on a hill overlooking the old town and river. We hiked up the quite steep road to get the the front gate upon which we were then presented with the best views of Prague so far. The castle itself is more of a walled city, with many large medieval buildings throughout. The most impressive being the St. Vitus Cathedral which is incredibly tall, its spires soaring over the tops of all the other buildings. As surprising as it may sound, we didn't go into any of the buildings or take any tours. We couldn't justify the prices and it was really busy with uncountable amounts of tour groups stampeding around. We did get to see the change of the guard however, closer than I probably should have been, being only a meter or two from the soldiers. We also walked around the Royal Gardens and moat and even got to witness a robotic lawn mower!

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What we learnt today

The Lennon Wall in Prague is a wall that graffiti artists from all over the world have used as a supposed memorial to the Beatles artist John Lennon and all things love and peace. We went out of our way to find the wall, which is hidden in a side alley, and were pretty disappointed with what we actually saw. I'm sure in its day the wall actually had some meaningful pieces of art, but today its pretty much just a messy wall where people come to tag their name or anything else unrelated to John Lennon. You have to actually look hard to find anything Lennon related at all. They should probably think about changing the name to the Fred Wall as his name stands out the most!

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We also learnt the the Charles Bridge is a whole lot better when you are looking at it, not from it. It's lost a lot of its romanticism with all of the comic sketch artists and beggars working in teams lining the sides. Luckily it is made of stone because there were 1000's of tourists (I know we are tourists too) walking along it. The view was amazing however and if you were keen enough to get up for sunrise, its meant to be spectacular.

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Posted by travellinglise 08:29 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague charles_bridge prague_castle lennon_wall Comments (0)

Have No Fear, It's Czech Beer... You're In The Clear!

semi-overcast 16 °C
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"In Prague, pork is king ... Welcome to Porkopolis, the land that vegetables forgot" - Anthony Bourdain

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Foodie moment

After a confident recommendation from our helpful walking tour guide, we headed off to Prazska street where both the Beer Museum and LocaL Restaurant resides. LocaL Restaurant is a bigger than average restaurant that serves traditional cuisine. Yeah, more meat and taters! We had the beef cheek goulash with potato dumplings and the duck with apple cabbage and onion mash potatoes. Unfortunately, although the beef goulash was really nice, it was extremely on the skimpy side, with only no more than 4 pieces of meat. It was more like gravy soup with a garnish of beef chunks. Bummer! The duck however was substantially satisfying.

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Cultural moment

After our lunch we crossed the street to check out the Beer Museum, which is in actual fact nothing like a museum and everything like a normal bar. What's special about it however is that it has 30 local beers available on tap! Now we're talking! The lovely waitress suggested we try the samplers, available in 5 or 10 glasses. We started off with a 5'er, but before we left Prague and after 2 visits to the Beer Museum, we had tasted over half the beers on offer. The tasting glasses are not a typical small size either, 150ml, enough for more than just a taste. On our second visit to the bar, it was later at night, and it was very very busy, the locals must know a good place when they find one. My favourite was the BERNARD ČERNÁ LAVINA, a dark chocolate beer and Lisa's was the blueberry beer ČERNÁ HORA MODRÁ LUNA.

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Wow moment

Once again, its hard to pin point a single wow moment for Prague when the entire city (the old part anyway) is a wow moment in itself. We got to see a lot more of it today on our free walking tour and got an awesome overview from the lookout point at the metronome monument. It really is a spectacular city.

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Another wow moment, for slightly different reasons, is the metronome monument hill and surrounding parklands. Once (from what I can imagine) a beautiful place, it now has become more like an abandoned concrete jungle, taken over by skateboarders and graffiti artists. Its a "Wow" in the fact that the council could let it get into this much disrepair. It's gotten to the point where the skaters have ripped up the concrete stairs to build their own ramps and jumps. Pretty cool in a dystopian kind of way.

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What we learnt today

Lots and lots learnt today on our free walking tour, however since I was too lazy to take notes, only one comes to mind. On the previously mentioned hill and parklands there used to be a statue, one of Stalin, which was built at the time of soviet rule. The story goes that in the process of its construction the citizens became so unhappy with its overbearing egocentric ugliness that the poor sculptor Otakar Švec actually committed suicide. It stood for 7 years to the embarrassment of the Czech government, until it was decided that it could stand no more. It was then that 800 kilograms of explosives were used to symbolically destroy the statue, upon which Stalin's head rolled all the way down the hill and into the river below to cheers from the watching crowds. In its spot was built a new monument, that of the giant metronome meant to represent time lost during communism, but even that seems to be reaching its end of days as the creaking rusting sounds it produces are like it's own mechanical death rattle and creepy to say the least.

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Posted by travellinglise 14:05 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague stalin beer_museum metronome Comments (0)

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