Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Weekend In Paris

So for Valentines Day my awesome girlfriend, Gerri, got us a trip to Paris for the weekend.  Pretty sweet huh?!  Yeah, I thought so too!  We planned out some fun things to do and tried to cram in as much as we could in 3 short days.  The list included drink wine, eat cheese, see some sites, drink more wine and walk around and just take it all in.

Paris and I didn't get off to a good start though.  The plane was delayed due to weather and then on the train ride into the city it just stopped, for like a half hour on the tracks.  WTF?!  And the view on the way into the city was less than stellar.  There was graffiti along every inch of the tracks and the amount of garbage strewn about was unreal.  Maybe I'm a bit spoiled from living in Munich and Minneapolis, two of the cleanest cities around, but this was ridiculous.  Then the underground rail stations stunk and the trains were packed with people.  Our first stop after dropping our stuff at the hotel was lunch.  We had read about a cafe, Le Comptoir du Relais, that was supposed to have the best croque monsieur around.  Well, keeping with the theme of the day I was underwhelmed at best by the sandwich.  In all fairness, my expectations were a little skewed and I didn't have the best attitude at the time.  It was a really good sandwich, I was just expecting magnificent.

After lunch we walked through some great little neighborhoods.  We found a cool shirt shop with some very unique fabrics.  The one I really wanted though was out of my size.  Bummer.  On the bridge across the Seine to the Louvre I was surprised to find thousands of locks attached.  I had never heard of this before but apparently couples write their names on the lock and after locking it to the bridge, throw the key into the Seine.

The Louver just got a quick walk by as we had many other things to see.  Plus, it's immense!  I don't think you could get through it, and do the exhibits justice, in a long weekend.

We walked all the way down to the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs-Elysees.  With a couple of detours for wine and cognac of course.  But we eventually made it just in time to miss a ceremony around the eternal flame.  Had we known about the ceremony we probably would have picked up the pace a bit.

Then it was off to have an amazing dinner.  Just how amazing was unknown as we were eating truffles for the first time.  Black truffles were in season and Gerri wanted to try them out.  She had made reservations at Terres de Truffes.  We arrived to find that we were the only people there.  We literally had the entire 20 table restaurant to ourselves until a trio of retirees showed up a half hour after us.  It's hard to explain what a truffle tastes like and how amazing it is.  I can only compare it to bacon.  Our waiter, Alex, told us that truffles are best experienced with simple ingredients and directed us to order as such.  We started with a carrot and pea soup with truffles.  Then had poached egg in a cream sauce with truffles and scrambled eggs with truffles.  They were both out of this world!  The reason I likened it to bacon was because with the eggs it added a savory, salty, somewhat smokey taste that went so well I could only think of bacon and how amazing it is with eggs.  We then moved on to the main course of jack potatoes with truffles and a fettucini alfredo with truffles.  They were equally as amazing but very rich.  We could barely finish them but couldn't find the will to stop because they were so decadent.  For dessert we had a hot cheese with truffle and a truffle creme with chantilly lace and berries.  All in all it was an amazing experience but I think going forward I can only handle one course with truffles.  They are outstanding and I think everyone should splurge on a truffle dinner!

The next day we went to check out Notre Dame and the view from Sacre-Coeur Basilica.  We stopped for some amazing fromage crepes as well as some vin chaud (hot spiced wine).

Later that night we headed over to see the Eiffel Tower.  It's quite a site to see at night.  I knew it was impressive but didn't know just quite how much until I saw it up close.  We decided to climb the 670 stairs to the second level and the plan was to take the lift to the top from there.  Unfortunately we arrived at the second level a bit to late and they had closed the lift so we weren't actually able to go all the way to the top.  The view was still pretty impressive from the second floor though.  Check it out!

The last day we just kind of walked around and enjoyed the city.  Had some drinks and tried the local cheeses.  The last day was gorgeous weather.  Sun and 40º, perfect for seeing the city.  And even though Paris and I didn't get off to a great start, we made up in the end.  It's a beautiful city that has a lot to offer.  Oh and one thing that I was very struck by; everyone always says that Parisians are extremely rude, I couldn't disagree more!  There were plenty of opportunities for people to be rude to us but I found the people to be extremely pleasant and friendly.  Even at places that had received poor reviews from other travelers.  I can honestly say I didn't have one bad experience with the French.  It was a pleasant surprise.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cultural Differences Part 1


Usually a day I reserved for doing the crappy things that I didn't like doing the rest of the week.  You know, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, long runs for training, that kind of stuff.  But I never really felt restricted on what I could do.  Unless of course you ran out of beer.  In Minnesota there were no liquor sales on Sundays.  

In Germany though, they are serious about their Sundays being a day of rest.  Grocery stores, department stores, fast food chains, they're all closed.  The only thing that's open are locally owned restaurants and cafes.  Recently a German court upheld the law to restrict trade on Sundays as sacrosanct.  

So instead of hiding in their houses behind TV's and piles of laundry, the Germans really get out and enjoy the day!  My girlfriend, Gerri, and I recently went to meet some friends to go ice skating by a palace.  I was expecting a few people as it was a sunny day but what I found was surprising.  There were thousands of people outside enjoying the day.  Families, couples, friends, singles, young, old, canine all just out having a great time being together.  There was ice skating, curling, hockey, sledding, and if you didn't like any of that there were plenty of people just walking around and watching.  We stopped at one of the outdoor stands to get a glühwein and a bratwurst.  

It was awesome to see everyone out enjoying the day.  I know we do this kind of stuff in the States a little bit but this is on a totally different level.  There was no special event or movie being filmed, just thousands of Bavarians enjoying a Sunday afternoon.  And it's like this every Sunday.  I love it!  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Munich?

That's a legit question.  And to be honest, Munich wasn't anywhere on the wish list even for cities to visit.  But in early 2011 our annual Bolder Options marathon destination was announced and it was Berlin.  The race was on September 25th.  Well I had heard of Oktoberfest and thought I'd check dates to see if it would be possible to catch it on either side of the race and wouldn't you know, I was going to be there smack dab in the middle of it!  Well, being the aspiring professional drinker that I am, I wasn't about to let an opportunity to visit the drinking Mecca pass me by!  Some of my geography aficionado readers might point out that Berlin and Munich are nowhere near each other.  In fact they are 600km (372 miles) apart.  But never fear, my love of beer runs deep, and a mere 1 hour plane ride (or 6 hours on the autobahn as it were) wasn't going to keep me from the most epic beer festival in all of history!  So I promptly phoned my friend Chris and told him that he needed to come with me.  We booked flights, hotels and alerted our friend Thatz in Munich that the Dynamic Drinking Duo was on their way.

Some may question my judgement in booking Oktoberfest prior to my marathon in Berlin.  Fair point.  But aside from my comedic reasoning that I was using Oktoberfest to "carb up", there was another reason.  I had registered to run the Twin Cities Marathon the weekend after Berlin and I wasn't about to run a marathon, party for a week and then run another.  I wanted to have a rest week in between.

We arrived in Munich on September 16th.  We got settled and went out but kept it pretty low key as we were saving our strength for the marathon drinking session that is the first day of Oktoberfest.  It's an sight to behold.  14 tents that hold 10,000 people each with overflow seating outside each tent for at least another 2,000.  6 million visitors come to Oktoberfest over the course of 17 days.  7 million liters of beer are served.  On the first day there is a parade with horse drawn carriages to bring in the first kegs of beer.  At noon, the first keg is ceremoniously tapped and a canon is fired signaling the start of the festival.

Some people arrive at 6am to wait for a table.  Chris, Thatz and I showed up right at noon and met up with some of his coworkers.  The first person we were introduced to was Gerriann, and that's where this little adventure of mine really begins.  I immediately asked Thatz if he was interested in her because it's not my style to come as a visitor and cock block my friends on their home turf.  He said I had the all clear and at that moment my trip changed. We had a great time hanging out during Oktoberfest that day.  Later on in the night we ran off to explore the Wiesn together.  They have carnival games and rides and we tried to hit up as many as we could.

I had such a good time I asked her out on a date for Monday.  We wound up doing a happy hour with a few other people and this time I asked her if she wanted to go to Prague with me in the morning as I was going to stop there on my way to Berlin.  She said "absolutely" and we went to Prague on Tuesday!  On Wednesday she had to return to Munich and I had to be on my way to Berlin so we said our goodbyes not knowing when we were going to see each other again, if ever.  She sent me an email on the ride home saying that we needed to meet up again soon.  I invited her to Berlin but she wasn't able to make it but suggested I come down to Munich for the last 3 days of my trip.  It took me all of about 5 minutes to book a flight back to Munich.  I bailed on the marathon (partly because I sprained my ankle at Oktoberfest) and went back to hang out with Gerri.

So in a nutshell that's why Munich.  I met a girl, fell in love, yada yada yada, and now I live in Munich.  It's been amazing so far.  I've been here a little over 4 weeks and I'm really happy I wound up in such a cool city.  My maternal grandfather was 100% German which makes me 25% German.  There are definitely some cultural differences that I'm getting used to but all in all I feel pretty comfortable.  And I'm super pumped to be in the center of Europe and have the opportunity to travel.  Next weekend Gerri and I are off to explore Paris along with French wines and cheese.  I'll post some interesting stuff on that when we return.  Ciao!