Friday, September 26, 2008

Food. It's what's for eating.

Food is quite possibly going to be my downfall while I'm here. That or stockings.

See, I like to try new things, and when I'm in a place like the Victuals Market of Munich, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of new things to try. From fruit stands to vegetable stands to meatshops to honey shops to bakeries...for a sensualist like me, it's maddening.

So today I had my first bratwurst and my first taste of sauerkraut. The brat was delicious, of course, but the wasn't bad, but my tastebuds definitely aren't used to the flavor. Every bite I took startled me all over again.

The seafood portion of the market had a stall where you could pick out fresh fish and get them to cook it for you right there. I spied some shrimp big as lobster tails (no joke) and got those sauteed in garlic and butter and spent a couple of extra Euros on a glass of sparkling wine. If you're reading this and don't know me, you should know I don't drink alcohol (and therefore have no alcohol tolerance) so casually buying a glass of anything is a big deal for me. The goal is to work up to a mini mug of beer before I leave Bavaria; it would be sad, truly, to have come all this way and not sample what the region is famous for.

After the shrimp, I had an apricot jam filled doughnut and a cappucino, and later I had a chocolate covered cherry steeped in some kind of alcohol. Gods. If indulgence is a sin, then I'm a sinner through and through because I'm not holding back.

But that's not all. Yesterday, I had a rum, raisin, and hazelnut chocolate bar, the vanilla creme filled doughnut from Oktoberfest (rivals Krispy Kreme, it's so good, and I don't say that lightly), and several Bavarian pretzel sandwiches. Oh, the pretzels...before now, I've only had cheap and pasty imitations. The pretzels here are amazing, and they're everywhere.

A small, plain pretzel (about the size of one you'd buy from a mall vendor back home) are around half a Euro. Buy it with butter and that's about 1 Euro. With butter and cheese is 1.5 Euro. And you can keep going until you have Bavarian pretzel sandwiches with everything from tomato and mozzarella to three different kinds of meat on them. And the pretzels come in sizes other than small; at Oktoberfest, in some of the beer tents, I saw pretzels the size of hubcaps.

Random: BMW manufactures the citybuses here.

I'm back on my preplanned schedule which is reassuring because 1) I like direction and 2) I don't like finding last minute accomodation. Now that I've seen the city, I'm ready to venture outside it. Tomorrow, I go to Dachau and hopefully I'll be able to post about my experience there soon.

Oh, oh! I forgot to mention, I saw the German chancellor today, Chancellor Merkel. She was giving some kind of speech in Marienplantz and it was crazy. Police everywhere (police here carry the largest batons I've ever seen--not that I've seen many--they stretch from hip to knee), people everywhere, cameras everywhere. I need to find an English language newssource to see what all the hubbub was about.

The cafe is about to close so I have to leave, but I should be able to come back later on this week and finish my updates. Ciao.

Thursday, September 25, 2008



Today, obviously, I went to Oktoberfest. Before I begin, I have to explain to you my method of wandering around new cities. I basically start in the direction of the biggest, oldest, most important looking building, and, once there, look for the next biggest, oldest, most important looking building and wander off in that new direction. Sometimes I take side streets because they look cool, or hop on a bus going to a completely random place. I've found that this approach not only makes me learn my way around, it (more often that not) brings me directly to the sights I want to see. Which is exactly what happened today.

Usually I have my map when I wander but today, I forgot it. As it was cold, windy, and rainy, I really didn't want to walk the several blocks back to my hotel to retrieve it, not least of which was because I didn't trust myself to leave to leave my warm, dry, windless room again. Completely directionless, I stumbled into what appeared to be an Arabic-speaking neighborhood before spotting a church at the end of a long street and heading in that direction. Churches make for excellent landmarks, by the by; you can spot their spires from almost anywhere.

I make it to the church (stopping to get a butter filled Bavarian pretzel along way--Yum!) only to find that it was locked tight. My dissapointment was soon replaced with curiousity when the faint strains of "Oom-Pah" music began to reach my ears. Starting off in this new direction, I soon found myself face to face with a huge wooden wagon stacked high with beer barrels and decorated with assorted flowers and verdant wreaths and drawn by six of the brawinest horses I have ever seen. The impressive sight was diminished only slightly by the steamy, grassy, poo balls the horses dropped every few feet or so.

Turning to my left, I saw sea of women in dirdnls and men in lederhosen and realized I'd stumbled quite accidentally into Oktoberfest. My first impression was "This is just like Georgia State Fair only with fewer pigs and more beer." My second impression was "This is nothing like the Georgia State Fair."

The carnival like atmosphere was there, but there was something more, a feeling harder to pinpoint. It was like someone decided to throw a huge party and invite a few thousand of their closest friends. Everyone seemed happy and happy to be there. The whole thing made me smile immediately.

There were beer tents of course, filled to the brim with busty lasses clutching a half dozen beer mugs in each hand, people sitting at long wooden tables slinging back long draughts, bands playing what I guess was traditional German music (while drinking entire glasses of beer between songs and between verses too if they could manage it), and even some people dancing on tables.

Aside from the beer tents there was a midway with carnival games and rides whose only purpose seemed to be making people throw up all that beer. There was plenty of food too. Most of the stalls seemed to fall into three main categories: roasted and sweetened nuts, bavarian pretzels, and assorted pastries. There were also quite a few sausage stands of course, but they seemed to be quite outnumbered by these other three. Some of the pastry stands sold what appeared to be gingerbread hearts covered in icing; it seemed that men would buy the hearts and give them to their female sweethearts.

Not really wanting a beer (the beer tents aren't really set up for people traveling alone), I found the pastry and coffee tent and bought a mug of steaming coffee with a vanilla creme filled doughnut. Heaven. While on the midway, I bought a ferris wheel ticket so I could take a ride to the top and look over everything. After a few hours, I was tired of swimming through the sea of people, but I have to say, it was quite an enjoyable experience and I'm very, very glad I went.

Plans for the rest of my time in Munich include the Glockenspiel, daytrips to Dachau, Salzburg, and Neuschwanstein Castle, and a train trip to the Black Forest if I can manage it before heading off to Amsterdam.

Friday, September 19, 2008


I didn't update my journal, either paper or online, yesterday. My stomach feels a bit queasy; I'm not sure why.

I did something very, very stupid today (stupid in the financial sense, not the personal safety one). I forgot to check my Eurail pass for discounts which means I spent twice as much as I should have on my ferry ticket. As Aki sensibly pointed out to me, it would have been cheaper for me to fly back to Stockholm. I hate it when I don't think and I hate it when I miss obvious things; it makes me annoyed with myself.

Helsinki was quite nice, not least of which was because I met up with L.'s friend Aki who very generously showed me around and let me crash on his couch. We saw (and I am likely to get the names wrong here), the Helsinki Cathedral, the Russian cathedral, the market on the shore, the fortress island complex of Suomelinna, and the Tower to get a view of the city.

The highlight of the day thought was going to Fazer Cafe, a posh little place I'd passed the day before, but hadn't stopped at and so couldn't stop thinking about.

I quite believe the cake I had at Fazer is going to be the closest thing I have to sex for quite some time. I ordered a jewel-like, glistening, raspberry topped sweet, filled with custard, and nesting on a crust which tasted exactly like shortbread cookies. I wish my writing weren't so blunt so I could convey the full splendor of that dessert, but I'll try as best I can.

As good as that confection looked (like a ruby, only better because it was edible) the taste...oh gods, the taste. First, there was the tart sharpness of the raspberries prickling my tongue and making me salivate, followed by the smooth, sweet, creaminess of the custard, warming in my mouth and spreading across my tongue as it melted, and finally the crisp bite of the shortbread, a textural contrast with both the jellied consistency of the raspberries and the sensuous richness of the custard.

The first taste made me dissolve into a puddle in my chair, and the feeling didn't diminish with each subsequent bite. Over and over again, there was the tartness, the creaminess, and the crispy finish, every taste as intense as the last. For the first time, I understood the full meaning of the phrase, "Having your cake and eating it too."

The mint macchiato afterward, with it's harsh yet flavorful bittnerness, felt how I imagine a cigarette would feel after an evening of great sex. After the whole thing, I left the cafe with an improbably inappropriate grin on my face, stumbling into the street.

I'm on the ferry for the rest of the night, and don't imagine I will have much to report whilst I'm in the middle of some unknown body of water. Tomorrow, I'm back in Stockholm, and will see the VasaMuseet, Nobel Museum, Ikea, and the Ice Bar before moving on to Copenhagen, the birthplace of The Little Mermaid (squeeee!!!).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Thing I'm glad I pashmina shawl--functions as a shawl, scarf, and headwrap.

Thing I wish I'd brought...thermal underwear. Maybe a cell phone. It's a toss-up.

Thing I appreciate...not needing an internal passport to travel within my country's borders.

Thing I don't appreciate...being monolingual.

Thing I like the most...(almost) everything. Sometimes I can't believe I'm really doing this!

Thing I dislike the most...the cold. Seriously. It's fucking cold.

By the by...

In case you haven't noticed, the times on my journal entries are utterly wrong. All my entries are in chronological order but as I can only update my blog en masse, I write my posts longhand in a paper journal and then transcribe them to the 'net once I have computer access.

Just on the off chance you were wondering...


I'm in Helsinki now. The hotel I'm staying at is in the city center, per my preference; it tends to cost a bit more, but it's also a bit easier to navigate.

I didn't know that Marimekko was a Finnish company. There's a store practically on every corner and I'm in love with their prints. My beanbag chair is a Marimekko pattern for those who've seen it. Sadly, I can't afford any of their really nice things, but I did pick up a daily planner for 2009 (it was pricey but I told myself it would amoritize over time, plus I'd be reminded of my Europe trip everytime I used it) and a couple of things for a certain sugarbaby.

There's also a grocery store closeby which is good news as now I can pick up certain items I'm consuming frequently like tea and bread. I figure tomorrow, I'll buy some fruit, cheese, bread, honey, and perhaps some olive oil. Not only will that give me something to graze on during the day, but I'll have something to eat while I'm in transit.

More walking around tomorrow and a 15 hour overnight ferry to Sweden the day after that.

For now, I think I'm going to have herring for dinner. Again. Good thing I like fish.

And I'm out.

I'm on the train to Helsinki, perhaps two hours away from my final destination and my demeanor is much improved.

My cabin was with a nice married couple who practiced their English with me, and graciously allowed me to practice my decrepit Russian with them. Upon finding out I went all the way to Russia, but hadn't drunk any vodka, they promptly produced a bottle (like magic!) and started pouring shots. They also shared their bread, meat, cheese, fruit, chocolate, and tomato juice with me.

I think they sensed I was a drinking lightweight as they insisted I have a sandwich and a glass of tomato juice after every shot. They would say in thickly accented English, "Eat, Cora, eat," but once I had finished my sandwich and juice, they would immediately pour another shot. I had four shots total.

In retrospect, I wonder if I was being very stupid by accepting food and drink from strangers, but I had a good feeling from them, especially the woman and they helped the 13 hour train ride pass a bit faster. All the same, I slept with my purse under my pillow and my backpack latched to the railing.

In the morning, the train attendant knocked on all the cabins and told us to get ready for customs. All bathrooms were locked as were all the doors between train compartments. An announcement was made that the train was under customs control and we were to sit in our assigned cabins until customs was over.

The process was much less painless than I expected. I told the customs agent that I did not speak Russia (this is, quite possibly, my best phrase in Russian) and responded to all his questions with "I don't understand" (also said in Russian). Satisfied that I was a dumbass who couldn't possibly have the sense to smuggle anything out of anywhere, they quickly left me alone.

My travel companions were less fortunate. The customs agents gave them much grief over the bottle of vodka, and made them fill out several forms but were still unsatisfied. Only when my companions gave them money did they leave our cabin.

About an hour that, we reached the Finland border and Finnish customs. The officials seemed genuinely surprised to see an American passport, and asked several useless questions ("Where are you from?" "America.") before returning it. About a half hour later, they came back and asked to see it again, bringing "an expert in American passports" with them. The "expert" studied the passport very intensely, asking me to take off my glasses and headscarf (I woke up with a serious case of nappy head and so had tied my shawl over my hair). They consulted with each other in Finnish, flipped through my passport several times in each direction, stared at me, and then, finally satisfied, handed my passport back.

I exchanged e-mail addresses with the female half of the couple and then my trip was over.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the hotel bellhop (in his street clothes) escorted me to the train station last night as my train did not depart until 11 p.m. I noticed that no one, no one at all, bothered me during the walk. Not a glance, not a stare, not a request (or mobbing) for pictures, not a shove. Nothing. It was a relief and only reaffirmed that I was right in my decision to leave.