Frohe Weihnachten from Muenchen!

December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, everyone!

found a wreath for our hotel rom! 🙂

We’ve been listening to church bells the past 24 hours from the main plaza just a few blocks away, ushering in the celebration of Christmas on the afternoon of December 24th. (Germans celebrate Christmas with family the afternoon and evening of the 24th, and cap it off with Midnight Mass.)

Part of my early Christmas celebration started with this cocktail…

I think that one of the first German words my traveling partners mastered was “Apotheke”–pharmacy. There’s a great Apotheke across the street from where we’re staying with some very kind English-speaking pharmacists, helping me through a very bad upper-respiratory infection. I’ve tried not to let it slow me down too much, but I invested in a lot of chemical help to get me through the last few days of the trip. It’s certainly cut down on the congestion and wheezing.

Moving along… we packed a lot of market sightseeing into the first day in town, since a lot of Munich is closed on the 24th/25th. Our hotel is near the Viktualienmarkt, a fantastic year-round farmers’ market (with great fresh-squeezed juice booths!):

They even sell American Fitness Cups there!

We also went out to a more international Christmas market (Tollwood), set on the grounds where Oktoberfest is held:

don't know what the arch is suppsed to be, but looks interesting

We also enjoyed the last of our French goodies. We picked up some macarons in France–initially bought one big single one from a bakery, which was fantastic, and then bought a box of smaller ones at the Strasbourg train station. This is what remained:

Amazing macarons from France. Pistachio, caramel, lemon, chocolate.

A few shots of the elaborate New Town Hall on Marienplatz, with the city’s main Christmas market below:

The 25th is still a holiday, so the city is shut down other than a few coffee shops (and the Hofbrauhaus, hooray!). I made plans for a church/architecture walking tour around town that didn’t require our entering buildings, so that we could still be tourists. (And conveniently, a coffee shop wasn’t far from the end, so we could warm up!) There was no rain, which made this possible…

Bruce dressed up for Christmas!

Synagogue--base designed to look like Jerusalem's Wailing Wall

Totally empty plaza across from the synagogue. More tourists would be out later... it was just a little early (11am? not that early!)

The fancy Asam Kirche, in a shopping district plopped in between a Starbucks, Body Shop, Timberland...


Theatinerkirche (on Odeonsplatz)

Where Christmas markets go to die (they end on the 24th here)

Hofgarten, a public garden off of Odeonsplatz



Sign found off of the Hofgarten... 😉

Is the Finanzgarten where money grows on trees?

We then went on to the Englischer Garten–miles upon miles of park and trails. And… our Christmas gift? The sun came out! It made a few hours’ appearance for us. Hooray!

Englischer Garten

Today’s walk ended with a climb up St. Peter’s Churchtower on Marienplatz (we weren’t going to do it on a cloudy day, but it ended up clearing!), so here are a bunch of pictures from the top…

I’ve done a lot of tour-guiding on this trip… but as I close our adventures, I can’t say that it’ll become more than an avocation. In other words, I doubt this sign in Strasbourg is telling my future…

for those not in the know, my initials are BEY. But I doubt I'll be living in France giving tours anytime soon.

We finished this trip the same way we finished our last trip to Germany–visiting the Hofbrauhaus for dinner! It’s so fun sitting at the large communal tables and meeting people from all over the world!

Oompah band on break... even they drink up!

Our table--we had great conversation with some students on vacation from China!

See you across the pond, everyone! Merry Christmas!


Strasbourg, C’est Tres Jolie!

December 22, 2011

Our next stop was the city of Strasbourg, in a region of France heavily influenced by Germany. This region, called Alsace, is near the German border. One of its main cities is Strasbourg.

The main part of town is an island surrounded by the Ill River (hm, any coincidence I came down with a fever here?) and most of the buildings are small-town village cute! Little park areas invite us to sit and picnic, but not when it’s cold enough for the snow on the grass not to have melted yet. This city will need a return visit in warmer weather!

Let me show you why…

A narrow, cute shopping street

We took a few pics of the cathedral, too…

Interesting train station in this city: glass structure surrounding a more classical neo-Gothic building (which you can’t see here, but you can see it at night). At night, colored lights illuminate both structures, revealing the internal building (but not well captured on photo, unfortunately). Here are some daytime shots of the glass shell:

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to spend a day in this lovely city! Stop by, if you can!


December 20, 2011

Luxembourg is small. (OK, maybe not as small as Liechtenstein… or San Marino… you can’t walk across Luxembourg in a day, for instance.) I really knew nothing about it other than its location, and that the locals speak primarily French.

And this is why I decided we’d stop over for about 3 hours to break up our train trip from Brussels to Strasbourg. (Besides… it’s a new country to add to the tally!) We walked through Luxembourg City (the capital) and I had no idea what a lovely old town they have!

Why don’t I just show you the pictures… (note no rain or snow!)

Bridges/viaducts led over a valley with small houses and businesses, connecting the modern city to the Old Town. We were standing on a bridge, here

Into the valley

More valley, from viaduct

A courtyard in Old Town

Of course, we walked through the small Christmas market...

Found a community band playing everything from carols to The Twist! The three guys with hats in front were "dancers". 😉

Parliament building, a few blocks from market square

We continued through the Old Town area to get some more scenery…

we got a hill workout 🙂


Bruges (or, Brugge, depending on your language…)

December 20, 2011

The Flemish call it Brugge, but most (the French speaking, and the outside world) call it Bruges. It’s a charming canal town an hour northwest of Brussels, and we took a train there for the day to see what all the fuss was about. After days of skyscrapers, subways, and big cities, this would be a welcome change!

To get to the Brussels Noord train station, we walked by the Botanical Garden…

Jardin botanique, Brussels. Close to where we stayed!

On the train… what was this? SUN!!!

A station on the way to Bruges--a bike "parking lot". They take their bike commuting seriously...

And when we got there–still sunny! First thing we did was tour an old (still working) brewery, and we climbed to the top of the building to get some great town overview shots:

From there, we just walked round the town, full of canals and cute architecture… (and, American accents. This is where I found the most American tourists. I think Rick Steves and other “backdoor” travel people have put Bruges on the map, possibly too much so… and I felt it was too discovered. If it was like this in the middle of December, I don’t want to return in summer! Anyway, still got some fantastic pictures…. 😉

City hall

Alas, the weather was not to hold… late afternoon, we were caught in a rainstorm, which quickly gave way to hail. We stood under an archway for a while until it passed, and continued on our way… but the sun was never to reappear (and the remaining photos reflect this).

Cool bench design on the edge of old town (serpent)

One final note before I finish this post: we ate dinner at a Greek restaurant right off of the main plaza (recommended by fellow travelers we chatted with in Brussels–the restaurant is called Olive Tree, and it’s very good). It’s owned by a Greek family, and by the middle of dinner, I recalled how to say “good evening” in Greek (which I confirmed with my mom, who traveled to Greece earlier this year–I learned it a long time ago, don’t remember why). On our way out, I told the hosts “kalispera” (well…. in our alphabet) and I loved the look of pleasant surprise I got from them! I think I’m going to work on “good evening” in a handful of languages to use in ethnic restaurants…. just another way to connect with people. 🙂

Bonjour, Brussels!

December 18, 2011

Before we move on to Brussels, I need to share my moment of pride: our last night in Cologne, we ate in a more locals neighborhood at a little takeaway Thai place. The staff didn’t really speak English….. so rather than the “Deutschlish” that I’ve been using (well… 90% English, 10% Deutsch) with locals, I placed our order (after a lot of thinking and a lot of summoning of bravery) in German. And yes, we got what we wanted–no deep-fried shoe leather or anything! 😉 (My brain was exhausted… but I did it!)

The weather was pretty miserable when we got in… rain and wind, temps in the 30’s… but we still braved it all and walked our way over to the main market when we got in town.

Passed the Drug Opera (drugstore? probably) on the way!

The Christmas market in Brussels had an ice monster! (inflatable...)

Also had an interesting carousel where you could ride relics from the past (t-rex, ancient insect, weather balloon, etc)

Eventually, the wind and rain gave way to wind and snow… we still made our best attempt to enjoy the market!

there seemed to be speakers in the towers, playing music (lots of '80's pop)

The next day, we went out to Bruges (one hour by train) and we got a few hours’ sun break!!! (before the hail storm….) I’ll post about that separately, but will finish up on Brussels here (the day after the Bruges day).

Our Bruges day ended fairly clear, so we were hopeful… but we began our last day in Brussels and Belgium overcast. Hopped on a subway out to the Atomium, which is a blown-up structure of an iron atom outside the city, built for the world’s fair in 1958 when we thought atomic energy was the wave of the future. I, of course, needed a picture.

Unfortunately, when we emerged from below ground at the station, the snow was heavily coming down…

It's usually not this greyed out--there was this much snow!

I hadn't even been outside more than 3-4 minutes, and I'm covered!

Ah, such ominous weather early in the day, and we hoped it wouldn’t ruin our plans. What could we do but make the best of what we had…

Took the subway over to the EU Headquarters (couldn’t leave Brussels without stopping by) and we were welcomed by this subway station (also the site of the European Commission):

Hm, high class for foreign dignitaries!! They go all-out.

We got outside (still mix of snow and rain) and took a few pictures of buildings… but ten minutes later, we were done. I guess we can say that we were there…

EU plaza

EU plaza

When we got back to the subway station, a sign clearly indicated it’s undergoing renovations and will be done by May… but note the graffiti 🙂

I guess locals think this renovation is taking forever...

Despite the weather, we moved on to a few outdoor activities… and we emerged victorious! The sun was starting to come out as we exited the station!!! We walked around a few less touristy neighborhoods…

Christmas tree made from water bottles! (and SUN!!!)

Same tree (and city) from higher up

The following are pictures of the old Palace of Justice. In the late 1800’s, it was the biggest building on the continent. When it was no longer the largest, they moved to another location.

A street cleaner named Glutton?

Many Brussels metro stations have their own unique artwork, which was quite nice.

Botanique Station artwork (near where we stayed)

St. Katherine Station (near the Christmas Market)

highly recommended seafood restaurant... we loved it here! (Rugbyman #2)

One last view of the market at night before we leave...

Moving on from waffles and lambics! (never thought a warm cherry lambic would actually be warming and refreshing at the same time…)

Cologne day two

December 18, 2011

One of the great things about Cologne was that each of their Christmas markets had a different character. One, right along the Rhine River, had a more nautical theme (and we picked up a “fish bratwurst”, and they had more seafood offerings in general).

I don't feel so badly! I'm not the only one needing German practice (note the last-minute added N)

Mustard Museum

The Mustard Museum was across the street from this market. Germans take their mustard seriously–it’s what they put on their sausages!

We continued on a self-guided walking tour through Old Town…

Cologne had the best street musicians of anywhere I’ve been (they rank up there with Manhattan). This group played a spot-on Bach’s Toccata in D Minor…

One of the busiest train bridges in Europe (over the Rhine)

Escape from shopping!!!

Cologne is apparently the shopping city in Germany. I found the escape route signs amusing over their main shopping street.

This is where Eau de Cologne got started...

Then, we took some time inside the cathedral. Lots of pictures to follow…

Tomorrow–we move on to a new country!

Cologne/Koeln day one

December 17, 2011

Our next adventure took us to the west side of the country, to the city of Cologne, or Koeln, as locals call it (imagine that there is an umlaut over the o… and take out the e… then, it may be more recognizable?). Again, the driving force of each city visit was to experience the Christmas markets, but we also took time to see the sights in each area, such as one of the largest cathedrals on the continent:

Bruce liked this shot--thought the cleaned area felt inviting, while the dirty area felt more foreboding

This was pretty much the view from the train station across the way...

... this train station.

We wandered the market under the cathedral (which was fine, but nothing unusual) and saw an entertaining band: bass, drums, trumpet, and accordion:

The backdrop behind the band, including the cathedral and the lighting.

I just needed something to drink to get through it all… each market has its own souvenir mug (for gluhwein and all hot drinks). You pay a deposit for it when you buy a drink, and you can choose to keep the mug, or you can return the mug and get your deposit back (I just don’t want to carry more stuff around).

I need a drink!!!

We walked around the cathedral and Old Town area for a few more photos that night…

Believe it or not… that was all in the first four or so hours in town!

Berlin Part Zwei

December 15, 2011

Oh, I failed to mention yesterday that the gluhwein booths–at least at the larger markets–sell quite the variety of alcoholic beverages. You can get your gluhwein with a shot of amaretto, with a shot of rum, some had gluhbier (a mulled cherry beer, I think)… and then, there was a drink that I was tempted to try: eierpunsch. My very limited German tells me that eier=eggs, so I was thinking that this would be an alcoholic eggnog.

I should know, by now, that nothing about these drinks is mildly alcoholic. Yes, it was slightly custardy and had whipped cream on top, but no one else could tolerate it–so I slugged back this warm, creamy, boozy drink! (Later, I found out it was their version of eggnog with white wine, rum, and orange juice. Hardly any juice!!!) I figure… we came to the markets to try things, right? 🙂

Day 2 in Berlin: history (seeing wall remnants along with maintained “kill zone”), another major market, stopping by a famous chocolate shop which does chocolate sculptures of Berlin landmarks, warming up with hot drinks at our new favorite coffee shop…

Then, at loose ends before dinner, we wandered toward the TV Tower, just to check out a new (to us) neighborhood. And guess what–we found a Christmas market that felt a lot more geared toward locals!

This market had pony rides...

And best yet, no crowds!

Market with church and TV Tower in the background

Take a ride on the ferris wheel at this market!

It was too cold to even think about it, though.

I could still watch the ice skaters and stay warm on the sidelines.

A drink booth at this market, where the vendors dressed in costume.

Look closely to see the ferris wheel under the TV Tower!!

As we walked over toward this market on Alexanderplatz, we took a few shots of decorated buildings…

Snowflakes! and lit archways across the way from Alexanderplatz.

We started walking back toward the city center to find dinner, and guess what–within a few feet, another market!!

Another market just around the corner! They're everywhere!

The following day, we had to leave one of my favorite cities (sadface!!), but…. there’s always a new place to explore! Part of what made us feel so welcome this time around was Daisy, one of the innkeepers where we stayed at Pension Peters. She was always so charming, bubbly, energetic, smiling… I don’t have enough adjectives to describe how wonderful Daisy is. We all had a picture taken with her before we left, and she and her brother wished us a gute Reise.

Sharon Yool, Daisy, Brooke Yool, Bruce Caruthers

Berlin Part Eins

December 14, 2011

This is what I was waiting for!!!

Berlin has been one of my favorite cities since my first visit 3 1/2 years ago. I so looked forward to coming back and seeing what it was like in the winter!

(However, winter has been mild here, and there has been no snow so far on our trip. That’s fine by me, since even the rain and wind chills me to the bone enough when we’re outdoors a lot. Hence the blog title… more gluhwein!)

Our first night, we didn’t get in until 4–and Berlin is far enough north that 4pm=sunset. Still, we found a small Christmas market in our neighborhood (at the base of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedichtnes-Kirche). The market was small, but it had a variety of booths! It was not packed with people! These markets hold promise! Hooray!!! 🙂

The various neighborhoods were also wearing their Christmas decorations:


(oh, and an aside: my band friends will appreciate this one: )

Jim, can you get this gig for US next year?

The next day, we gave my mom an overview on an organized walking tour (and refreshed our memories on the geography and some of the details. And–met a wonderful tour guide who’s willing to help us with a sublet when we stay in Berlin for a few months sometime in the next few years! If you didn’t know we had that plan….. cat’s out of the bag.)

Stops on the tour included…

the Berliner Dom

the Altes Museum

(I am standing on a lawn, above, where hundreds formerly gathered for Nazi party rallies)

Brandenburger Tor

and the famous landmark–the Brandenburg Gate. It was rainy and windy by the end, so we headed indoors for a few other sites…

But I’m always quick to find ice cream.

brooke eating ice cream display

I actually didn’t get any ice cream here–we took the subway to a Turkish restaurant in former East Berlin that we remembered from our last trip.

More markets and sightseeing tomorrow!

Day 1-2: Nuremberg

December 14, 2011

We landed in Munich, but immediately took a train north to Nuremberg (our trip will end in Munich). The Christmas Market (Weinachtsmarkt) in Nuremberg is touted as one of the most popular in the country, so why not stop by?

(And, if we happened not to like it, the city was the headquarters for the Nazi party, so we figured that there would be other things to see there over the course of a day.)

After a first night’s semi-sleep (at a great hotel–the Nuernberger Trichter), we first visited the Nazi Documentation Center to get a dose of history on our way into the city:

Nazi Documentation Center

Nazi Documentation Center, where we learned about how the Nazi party came to power

Then, on to the famous market… (the hail didn’t start until we were partway through)

Crowds at the Christmas Market...

so crowded!!!

The hordes of people….. felt like sardines! And they didn’t stop…

crowds, again!
(granted, it was a Saturday afternoon, but not even a hail storm kept people away!)

Of course, having heard about gluhwein, we all had to try it, and shared one. I’m not a big drinker, but it sure was nice to warm me up. (It would not be my last warm alcoholic beverage of the trip.)

A view of all of the booths from overhead…

The crowds continued… we didn’t spend a lot of time in this market, because it really felt like the same five booths repeated twenty times… (mostly wood-carved toys, lebkuchen, gluhwein, sausages, knitted scarves… occasionally candles. Drat, that makes six.) At this point, we were glad that I’d booked us into all major cities, in case all of the markets were this disappointing.

We continued away from the market, walking through Old Town Nuremberg, but it was still so full of crowds…

finally, an empty area!

We looked one direction down the river and saw no one, but the other direction, alas…

more market!

The masses through Old Town

We then went into a little craftworks area… maybe it wouldn’t be so crowded if they didn’t sell gluhwein. 🙂

Craft Market... the buildings were cute!

We briefly got out of Old Town and walked around a small part of the old fortification wall

but eventually went back for dinner. The wall-to-wall people continued into the night…

night crowds

night crowds

but… that’s not the end of the story, luckily. Our next stop ended up being a lot more peaceful and relaxing, and that’s not the alcohol speaking…

Really, I'd only had one gluhwein up until this point!

I may look dazed here, but maybe I didn’t have enough coffee… or I was hoping to find a better Christmas market. Well… not to rid you of the suspense, but they’re much better elsewhere. Read on!