Saturday, 17 December 2011

More Skiing Photos

One of the few times all three of us were on our feet

That´s more like it

And that

Lily struggling up the hill

Nürnberg Christmas Markets

I have been averaging at rate of two christmas markets a day since arriving in Europe which isn´t hard to do because there is one in every square in Germany and Austria. The biggest, and therefore most crowded, of these, is the one in Nürnberg, Germany. We decided to do a daytrip there yesterday so we caught the equally as crowded train there and spent the day shuffling from store to store with our elbows out. The only savoury food you can buy on any christmas market is a bratwurst so as vegetarians, Lily and I spent the day nibbling bags of warm, caramalised almonds. Yum yum :) We spent the rest of the evening walking around the city which is wonderfully old and the structure of which looks like an M.C. Escher painting. The train ride home was even more crowded, so we resorted to sitting on the filthy floor in between carriages with our backs resting on a constantly opening and closing door, with the smell of the toilet to contend with and the trolly lady wheeling a wagon of drinks over our feet at regular intervals. Oh, and the train ride is two hours long. We felt like we were in the middle of Asia not Europe, a continent which prides itself on cleanliness and sophistication. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful day :)

Cross Country Skiing

Today I had quite possibly the most fun I've had in a year. It didn't start off so great at 4am in Switzerland but 7 hours and 6 trains later, we arrived in Munich to be whisked off in Jutta's sad excuse for a car to the mountains for a day of cross country skiing. I'm not sure where exactly we ended up but I can tell you that it was cold, covered in a blanket of meter-deep snow, empty and very beautiful. The rest of the group were enrolled in a beginners course which is probably where lily and I should have been too but deciding that we were too cheap, arrogant and independent to take part, we grabbed ourselves the equipment needed and set off to the beginning of the track. Ten minutes later, we were still standing in the same spot staring dumbly at the skis we were somehow meant to clip onto our boots. This was when the group sidled up to us in their shiny new skis strapped securely to their boots and giggled for a while as we performed a one legged dance which ended with us splayed out on the ice in various uncomfortable positions or five meters down the hill. Eventually the instructor took pity on us and helped us into the equipment before smugly pointing out that the straps on our boots were not meaning to be hanging as decorations on the side but rather done up like a five year olds trainers. Having had enough of their cheek, we turned around and pushed ourselves down the first hill which ended with even more snow down our pants. In total, it took us two and a half hours to complete one lap of the half-hour track, a good half hour of which was spent watching lily take two steps up a hill before face planting and sliding back down to the bottom before Jutta had to come over and push her up it while I laughed at her from the top. In fact, I don't think i have ever managed to laugh for an entire day straight but this was definitely such an occasion. We realised early on that the trick was not to take ourselves too seriously and ended up having the best time of our lives. After our first lap we had a much needed hot chocolate break at the wooden cabin and consumed 15 euro pancakes which were ordered with, cooked by and delivered by the same strange man who felt the need to change his apron for each of these tasks, while two overweight sausage dogs wrestled at his feet. He also kept playing bartender with himself and skulling many pints of beers when he thought no one was watching. At least they were good pancakes.

Chur, Switzerland

Don't get me wrong, I am all for the no planning, take it as it comes sort of travel but after one too many missed trains, frantic rushes and stressful realisations I have come to accept that a little organisation is necessary if you do not want to end up in a foreign city in the middle of the night with no credit to call anyone and not a cent in your wallet. I'm not going to go into detail but our trip to Switzerland resembled this scenario with a few "I'm going I be sick"s and "what the f*** are we going to do now?"s thrown in. Fear not, with much aimless walking and tipping the contents of our bags on the ground, we arrived in Chur in the middle of the night. We stayed for four nights in lily's uncles apartment and did nothing but go for walks around the small city and surrounding mountains, read lots of books, watch lots of movies and eat way too much rice. In fact, we didn't eat anything but plain for three days straight because we had no money and everything in Switzerland is very expensive. Everything except rice that is.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Graz, Austria

After getting off to the amazing start of missing my train to Austria by one minute, crying over my non-refundable ticket, falling flat on my face because my huge bag was slung over my shoulder in a manner totally inappropriate for its size, picking myself off the floor with whatever dignity I had left before crying some more to the woman at the ticket counter until she gave me the ticket to the next train for free (whether it was because she felt sorry for me or simply wanted to get me away, I do not know), I finally arrived in Austria, much later than planned, dumped my bags on Lily and Katie and let them carry me home.

The rest of my week was much more successful and I quickly fell in love with Austria. The entire country is full of quaint, colourful houses which line cobbled streets and rivers, stone churches and forts which sit on top of green hills, old men roasting chestnuts on every corner and trams. All of this set against the backdrop of the Alps.

We stayed with a woman named Barbara who has three older daughters and lives in a suburb just outside Graz but only 20 minutes away from the city centre by tram. We spent a lot of time cooking in her kitchen because eating out was never factored into our budget, so we made spätzle. Lots and lots of spätzle. For those of you that don´t know, spätzle are a sort of tiny dumpling/pasta which you can melt with cheese, fry with butter and breadbrumbs or put in soups. I´d post a recipe but Lily and I are renowned for throwing things together in a bowl and hoping for the best. Our spätzle are no exception. 

When we weren´t cooking, we were walking around the city, persuading shop assistants to replace our worn out boots, buying warmer clothes and seeing friends. It was our friend Kati´s birthday while we were there and she had a Turkish-themed party with lots of yummy food, cocktails and shisa. All three of which we had too much of so we ended up leaving early, doing the two hour walk home and waking up with blisters on our feet. 

Lily and I got a lift to Munich via this website which is sort of like hitchhiking minus the standing on the side of the road for hours with your thumb stuck out and a cheezy grin plastered on your face. It´s called Mitfahrgelegenheit and I highly recommend it to anyone travelling around Europe because it is 100 000 times cheaper, faster and more reliable than European trains.  

Juliet and her many Romeos

So this is how the story goes...Once upon a time there was a bank in the centre of Munich which was partnered with a bank in Verona. As a tribute to the great love story which orginated in the city, the bank in Verona had a statue of Romeo and Juliet outside it. As a gift, the bank in Verona once gave the other bank an identical statue of their beloved Juliet. The idea was that people should place a bouquet of flowers at her feet and then stroke her cheek. In return, they would be blessed with love. Deciding that this was not where the public´s priorities lay, a new legend was created: forget the flowers, just stroke her breast and you will be blessed with an eternity of fun in the bedroom. Take a look at the colour of the brass and guess which legend prevailed. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

Bike Riding in Munich

My introduction to Munich happened on a bike and to be honest, it is definitely the best way to see the city. Unlike in Sydney where a lone bike rider will be beeped and abused until he gets off the road, even the buses in Munich must give way to bike riders and slowly chug along behind them if the bike rider decides he wants to ride in the middle of the road. It´s definitely my sort of city. 

 My aunty Jutta and I cycled for kilometers along the Isa river which runs directly through the middle of the city until we got to yet another park (the city is full of them) and refueled ourselves with warm sugar-roasted almonds at a christmas market. Then we rode to The Wave which is basically a choppy canal right in the middle of the city where people jump into freezing water and surf as best you can in a land-locked city whilst a bunch of spectators take photos of them. I was admittedly one of those spectators and you can see a photo below:

The Wave

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Hiking the Alps

Munich is a wonderful city. The two best things about it are the following:

1) It is so close to the Alps


2) It houses an incredibly proactive bunch of people and organise all sorts of group outings with strangers on a daily basis

So today, combining the two, Jutta and I did the thirty minute drive to the base of the mountains with a group of ten people. Wrapped in various layers of clothing we begun the long haul upwards which was so exhausting we quickly removed all but the first jacket. The rocks were slippery and much of the track was very muddy from the rain so needless to say, I slipped more than once. The scenery was however, so incredibly beautiful and overwhelming that it was all worth it a hundred times over. Our path went to the top of three mountains but at the top of the second it begun raining so we quickly retreated to a hut nearby for a much needed hot chocolate. The highest point we reached was 1344m above sea level at the top of the third mountain which is a baby mountain compared to the rest of the Alps but was enough for my Sydney lungs which are used to breathing at 0m above sea level. It is hiking tradition to eat a chocolate at every summit you reach, which is marked by a cross, and the chocolates are supplied by a member of the group. I think this is wonderful.

We begun the steep climb downwards and celebrated at the bottom with more chocolate and shots (I could get used to this) before making our way to a nearby christmas market for glühwein (warm, spiced red wine) and maroni (roasted chestnuts). The hike took us just over five hours and was AMAZING.

The Group

Top of the first summit

Who says you can´t have art on top of a mountain?

Post-hiking boots

Attempting to clean my boots

Cheers to a good day

Glühwein at a christmas market

Braving the German Bath House

So the thing with Germans is they like to get naked. Watch any German TV station for five minutes and you will see what I mean. Their bath houses are no exception. In fact, it´s not so much a custom as it is a strictly enforced rule. After a five hour hike in the Alps, every muscle in my body hurt and I was freezing so when Jutta suggested that we head straight to this beautiful old bath house in town I quickly agreed. Only once we were standing in front of the entrance to the wonderful world of spas, saunas, steam rooms and pools did I remember this condition of entry. Four years ago, my thirteen year old self disregarded the rule and I received many disapproving stares until I was asked to either strip or leave by the attendant. Of course, I left. At fifteen, it was much the same story. However, at seventeen, I decided it was time to face my fear of swimming completely naked in a room full of strangers and so, I had to bare all. 

The bath house WAS beautiful with high domed ceilings and elaborate tiling and individual wooden change rooms. The steam room was my favourite because vision was slightly hindered once inside and half an hour gave my muscles the recovery they so desperately needed and my skin the best detox it ever had. In the end I got used to all the naked people around me but after an hour I was more than happy to put my swimmers back on and plunge into the public swimming pool outside.