MonthJuly 2011

Hamburg

Day 194

As one of the largest port cities in Europe, we got a chance to go to Hamburg to see its beauty.  We went there by car and saw much of the historical part of the city as well as took a ferry ride along the coast of the Elbe River and walked along the city’s canals.  The weather was pretty much raining for the whole time we were there.  As my friend put it, “when you go to Hamburg, plan for rain”.

The Drive

We left work at around noon to pick up our rental car.  It took us a bit longer than we expected because we had to go grocery shopping so we could have lunch and dinner in the car on the way there for our 6 hour drive (or so we thought).  The drive ended up taking 8 hours because of a stau (traffic jam).

The car we got from the rental company was a Mercedes-Benz C220.  When we got into the car, it smelled like new and being in such a new car for a road trip was undoubtedly awesome. We only got this car because it was the cheapest car with automatic transmission available.  I guess the Renault that we got last time was booked for today.  I wish that I got the chance to drive it though.

On the way there, we got to see a lot of the German countryside (as anyone typically does when going from one major city to another).  On the grass plains and knolls, we saw countless villages, farms, vineyards, and the like.  We even saw farms of wind turbines and solar panels.

After a few hours of driving, we stopped a few times.  We stopped at a rest area and at this middle-of-nowhere village.  The GPS guided us off the highway and into this village just to avoid the traffic jam.  For the first third of the trip, I sat in the front while three of my friends had to squish together in the back.  When it was my turn to sit in the back, I didn’t really feel the discomfort while I was reading on my friend’s Kindle.  I ended up going through about 90 pages of Band of Brothers.  Maybe the book was so interesting that I just completely zoned out of the real world for a little bit.

We reached our hostel at around 9 at night and parked the car.  After moving our stuff into our room, we began our sightseeing tour of Hamburg.

Reeperbahn

Our first destination was the Reeperbahn street.  Similar to Amsterdam, this area is one of the most famous red light districts in the world.  The whole area was full of sex shops, strip clubs, and brothels.  On the street corner, many women wearing fanny packs kept trying to approach tourists and we figured that these women were all prostitutes (that stuff is legal in Germany).

One of the more peculiar things was that there was a church that stood pretty much in the core of the whole area.  Really convenient for people to go to confess their sins I guess.

We meant to find a bar here for a drink, but pretty much all of the places reeked with pungent cigarette smoke or was way too loud.  Two of my biggest pet peeves in one place.  We ended up just going back to the hostel instead.

In order to keep up my “try-as-much-kinds-of-beer-as-possible mentality”, I tried a type of beer called Astra Urtyp.  It tasted horrible – too much of hops flavour.  Some of the others drank a few more beers and got tequila shots before heading out again.  As usual, I went to sleep.  The next morning, I found that they returned at around 5:30 in the morning.

The Rathaus

At around 11, on a cloudy day with a large and persistent ocean breeze (it was super cold even with my jacket on), we showed up at the meeting point for the walking tour – a Starbucks.  This tour company receives some sort of sponsorship from them.  Our tour guide, didn’t look like a German, and when he spoke, a clear Northern USA accent came about – apparently, he had been living in Germany for some time.  He led us to the first destination of the tour – the Rathaus (city hall).

Located by the Alster River, this rathaus replaced the old one that was destroyed in the fire of 1842.  This building looked quite similar in form to other city halls, like the one in Munich and Vienna, with a clock tower-like structure that extended directly above the main entrance.  Right above the gate of the main entrance, the Hamburgers proudly displayed their coat of arms that depicted the old fortress of Hammaburg (where the city got its name) that used to exist in the area before its destruction by the Vikings.  Once more this coat of arms was displayed on the clock tower of the rathaus, just beneath a large antiquated mechanical clock.  Statues of German Kaisers decorated the side of the building as each one stood in a line just beneath the rooftop.

In front of the building was a giant courtyard and during World War II, a bomb landed here, but didn’t explode.  If it had, the rathaus would have been badly damaged.  The bomb was defused and the timing mechanism removed from the bomb is now on display in the rathaus.  In the courtyard, the Hamburgers held the Stuttgart Wine Festival, which apparently coincided with the Hamburg Fish Market in Stuttgart.  Here, people set up tents selling South German cuisine – the kind of German food that I’m always used to eating. 

Along the Alster River stood a giant stone plaque engraved with a message saying that 40000 sons of the city gave their life for us all.  Everyday, people going to the rathaus are reminded of the tragedy that befell the country.  Beside it, swans, ducks and other birds frolicked about and went on with their day to day lives.


Buildings on the other side of the river formed a canal much like in Amsterdam.  Canals could be seen throughout much of the city and in fact, the city holds the world record for having the most amount of bridges.  At first I thought Amsterdam’s 900 bridges was a lot, but apparently Hamburg has around 2300.

St. Peter’s Church

Although, not so significant as a work of architecture, many believe this place to be the site of where the old Hammaburg fortress once existed.  When we stood at the entrance of this church, the tour guide said, “welcome to the highest point of Hamburg!”  I looked around and just saw a gentle slope and nothing more.  I guess Hamburg must not have any mountains! 


Besides being a church, this building once served as a stables for Napoleon’s forces.  Not long after the Napoleonic Wars, the church was destroyed in the fire of 1842.  Despite the fire, much of the art in the building was saved including the lion shaped door knocker – the oldest artifact in the city.  At the back of the church, vegetation grew along the brick walls over the years and not far beside it, a wooden sign stood with directions to various places for pilgrimages.

Expressionist Architecture

During the height of Hamburg’s power in sea trade, many firms set up offices in the city.  Many of these firms had buildings resembling the architecture style of the expressionists – elements of the building’s exterior would reflect the purpose of the building.  For example, in one of the accounting houses for sea trade, one could see elements of the building protruding from its side in the shape of a caravel or an anchor.

In another building, known as the Chilehaus, held the shape of a ship and above the front entrance, there were various objects representing the country of Chile.  Similarly, in the Afrikahaus, there was a giant statue of a tribesman wielding a spear and behind the statue on the gate, was a sculpture of a plant indigenous to Africa.

We also visited the Patriotische Gesellschaft (no idea what that is in English), but this building too had examples of the expressionist art.  Statues of caravels and Poseidon stood on the roof.

World War II Stuff

While on the tour, the guide pointed out a plaque on the side of a building and on it was information saying that the building was once the location of the firm that manufactured the Zyklon B gas that killed millions of people in the death camps.  This plaque used to be located at the main entrance of the building, but the building owners and people working there did not want a daily reminder of those atrocities.  To counteract this, they used a different entrance as the main one instead.


Another destination, the Church of Saint Nicholas was one of the many buildings destroyed during the instead bombing raids on Hamburg.  The church did not get a complete repair after the war, but instead it now stands as a memorial – another reminder of the devastation of World War II.

Deichstrasse

Located near a large network of canals, this area of the city is the oldest part of Hamburg.  Undoubtedly, this area was filled with old architecture and complete with the cobblestone roads that are so prevalent in Europe.  The building style also resembled a lot of 18th and 19th century architecture. 


There would have been more buildings in this area, but through several fires and bombings, much of it was destroyed.  In fact, one of the buildings here was where the fire of 1842 started.  It must have been reconstructed since then.

Speicherstadt

Literally translated, the title means a “city of warehouses”, which indeed is what the area was for – storing cargo.  Back in the day, this area used to be where the Hamburgers traded without having to deal with customs tariffs.

As the size of cargo ships got larger, these buildings began to be obsoleted as many of these cargo ships could not fit in the narrow city canals.

HafenCity

Probably the most modern part of the city, this district serves as a playground for architects.  Much of the buildings here don’t follow any sort of mainstream design ideas – lots of buildings here looked really bizarre.

One building to note though, is the concert house under construction.  It has the shape of ocean waves to represent the city’s rich history of sea trade.  Originally budgeted for 100 million euros, due to construction delays and other unfortunate events, the cost of the building is now nearing 500 million euros.

Before this area became popular, the city had trouble getting people to move here, so they rented out flats here for as low as 500 euros a month, but now people can’t rent a flat here for anything less than 3000 euros a month.

Shopping and Food

After our tour, some of my friends couldn’t stand the freezing ocean wind anymore and decided they had to go buy a hoodie.  The wind was so strong that the clouds weren’t just floating across anymore.  There was like a wind speed of about 20 km/h.  We walked around the old town and found an H&M.  I looked around inside and to my surprise, I found that the prices at this H&M seemed to be a lot higher than Stuttgart.  Otherwise, I most probably would have bought something there.

Later on, we went back to the old part of Hamburg for traditional Hamburg cuisine.  We entered a restaurant that had a theme of sailing.  The wall had on display some schematics and black and white photos of various types of ships.  The color scheme of the place even coincided with the stereotypical blue and white colour combination of sailors. We went to eat at around 3, so it was kind of empty at the time.

The food I tried here was Labskaus – a dish typically served in Northern Germany and according to Wiki, “the main ingredients are salted meat or corned beef, potatoes, and onion. Some – non-traditional – recipes put beetroot, pickled gherkin, or even herring into it.”  Mine was served with beetroot and pickled herring, which was typical of the Hamburg style.

Hamburg Hafen

After our meal, we went to the harbour for a ferry ride along the Elbe River.  The ferry drove along the coastline and gave us a really good view of the city.  We rode the ferry from HafenCity all the way to the beach near the Elbtunnel.  In addition to the city scape, we even saw a docked submarine and a cruise ship about to begin its journey.  The travellers on the ship happened to be doing their lifeboat safety drill as we passed by so the people on the two ships happily waved to each other.


The ocean wind we felt on the ship was so strong that I probably needed a winter coat to keep warm.  The wind even caused the waves to be strong enough such that water splashed onto the deck of the boat and onto everyone standing on it.

On the other side of the river, miles of cranes lined up the shore, ready to unload any cargo on ships that docked.  What we were seeing was the second largest port in Europe, the largest being the one in Rotterdam.

Bar District

Supposedly, this area is known as the bar district (at least that’s what we called it).  Despite its name though, there was a really tight concentration of bars here, but the cost of beer was even more than Stuttgart.

At the bar/restaurant, I ordered an apple strudel to help combat my hunger from walking around all day instead of going for beer like everyone else did (although I did have a little bit).  The apple strudel I got wasn’t that expensive and it looked and tasted amazing.

Fish Market

The next morning, we went to the fish market – Hamburg is famous for it.  However, we got there a little late, so by the time we got there, a lot of the places were closing down.  As a last ditch attempt to sell more stuff, a lot of shops there started giving people really good deals on food like selling a whole box of fruit for only 1 euro.  I would have bought it if I could eat all of that.  A pile of garbage behind all these people went to show how much food they sold that day.

Although the market by named says “fish”, people sold all sorts of things in addition to fish.  Many sold bread, cheese, and various types of meat.  I wondered if I’d see something similar to the wurst man I saw a while back, but I didn’t.

The market even had an indoor beer garden with a live band playing.  It was quite a nice place.  If only we were there early enough.

Driving Home

As I probably should have known, I could not resist the urge to drive.  I ended up taking the wheel for about half an hour and managed to get the Benz up to 200 km/h.  While driving at that speed though, the steering wheel was really shaky.  I felt that if the car ran over a pebble or something like that, the car would just plunge into the side of the road.  If it wasn’t for that, I would have reached the car’s top speed.

Before I started driving though, we stopped at a rest area.  When we took a good look at the back seat of the car and noticed a giant mess of crumbs from all our snacking during the trip.  I don’t think I had any to do with that since I never considered myself to be a messy eater.  Just as we finished commenting about the messiness of the car, one of my friends had apparently stepped on dog poop and got it in the car.  It smelled horrible.  He even got it onto another friend’s pants.  He cleaned it up right away, but a faint smell of the poop lingered in the car for the rest of the journey.  It’s a shame that the car rental company gave us a car smelling like new just so we’d give it back with a bad smell.

In another rest area near Frankfurt, we stopped for a bite to eat and went up to the observation tower there to look at the Frankfurt skyline.  That was a nice sight except for the giant high voltage line that blocked part of the view.  By then we were already pretty much 3/4 of the way home.  I continued reading Band of Brothers on the Kindle and managed to get through about 65% of the book in total.  We got back into Stuttgart at around 7:30 in the evening, returned the car, and went home.

The Pronunciation of the Word “The”

Day 189

During a conversation with one of my German friends, the topic of the use of articles in languages came up and my friend told me that in his English class, he learned two different pronunciations of the word “the”.  One way, the way that most people should be familiar to, is pronounced like “thUH”, while the other had a “thEE” sound.  He also mentioned that he learned that these two ways of saying the word had a “rule” associated with it.  He said that the “thUH” pronunciation was used for words that had an opening sound of a consonant while the “thEE” pronunciation was used for words with an opening sound of a vowel.  For example, he would say “thUH” car, and “thEE” others.  There’s also “thUH” time, or “thEE” hour.  I learned no such rule in any of my English classes as far as I was concerned.  It didn’t matter to me which pronunciation people used.

I too noticed that some people say “the” differently, but I had no idea there was a pattern.  I tried it for myself, but I couldn’t really test it while thinking about it.  Eventually, as we kept talking, I found myself following this same pattern.  I followed this pattern without even knowing it.  I probably did this since I learned how to speak English.  I didn’t do it just once, but on multiple occasions.  I wondered how it could be that I followed the pattern so implicitly.

I sought to find out why this was.  Eventually, I learned that this was a difference between British English and American English.  Many Americans would simply say “thUH” for everything (maybe except for some who have a more Northern accent for English).  The distinction in the pronunciation lie in British English.  Me being from Canada, similarly follow this aspect of British English.  Now whenever I use the word “the”, I often find myself thinking about which way I said it.

First Time Playing Badminton Again in Like 5 Years

Day 188

It turns out that at my work place, there exists a small gymnasium and in there, the company holds badminton games every week.  After discovering this, my friends and I went to try it out.  I hadn’t played badminton for about five years and it took me a little bit to get back into the groove again.  We started off with some light rallying and as we kept playing it just escalated to smashing the birdie back and forth (I never knew I could even smash the birdie).  Even though we played on a small court with a low ceiling, we learned to adjust the power of the shots such that we wouldn’t hit the ceiling or hit it way out of bounds.  It took a bit of work to adjust the smashing power though.  It led us to not use that much power for any of our hits, so the birdie never moved very fast.  Driving the birdie was next to impossible too.  If the opponent missed the birdie, it would just go out because of the small court.  After getting used to the court, we began to play real games, but we  butchered the serving really bad.  We totally forgot how it was supposed to work for scoring, who’s turn it was to serve and when players switched positions.  We kind of just made up our own rules scoring rules.  But, the real rules did come back to us and we played that way for the duration.  It was really great getting to play this game again.  Definitely a fun two hours.  I think I’m going to go every week now.

The Hamburg Fish Market and the German Wurst Man

Day 187

While walking around Stuttgart last Thursday, my friends and I went to the Hamburg Fish Market.  Normally, a street market in Stuttgart isn’t that interesting, but this one was different.  A fish market from Hamburg meant quality fish.  Geographically, the city of Stuttgart is landlocked, and the most commonly bought seafood is frozen.  I don’t know what other people think, but I would definitely eat fresh fish over frozen fish.

Even though by name, the market sold fish, some retailers sold chocolate desserts like chocolate/caramel bananas and strawberries.  They even had a giant beer garden set up for people to eat and drink.  While people ate, a band would play music.  Out of the entire event, what stood out most to me was the man selling German sausages.

This man had gathered a large crowd when he started yelling loudly about what a great deal he had.  This man would fill up giant bags of sausages and sell them for only 20 euros.  Each bag looked like they were about 3-4 kilos.  What an amazing deal in terms of euros/weight.  The guy would yell something in German and then if nobody bought it, he’d add more sausages into the bag until someone bought it.  To further entice people to buy, he’d take sausages and throw them into the crowd.  It was such a weird sight.  A fat guy just throwing sausages into the crowd.

His giant belly must have been all the beer he drank and the sausages he ate.  It’s so stereotypically German.  While holding the sausages in his hand, he’d go on about what kind of sausages he was selling (apparently he had elk meat sausages too), and he sold so many bags of them.  I think the guy selling cheese nearby adopted this wurst man’s strategy of stuffing cheese in bags (except he didn’t throw them, so that’s not as cool).

Eventually, he took notice of our group and call out to me, “you with the hat!”  I guess I stood out of the crowd because of my fedora (or maybe because I’m Chinese).  I walked up to him and he handed me this stick of pepperoni (I think that’s what it was) and started saying something to me that I didn’t understand.  This man yelled so loud that it seemed like he was screaming at me the whole time.  I looked over to my friends and they yelled back with a translation saying, “give him your hat!”, but I heard “in your hat”.  I was really confused at this point.  Why would I put the sausage in my hat?  Soon after, I realized what he wanted and he ended up wearing the hat for a brief moment before handing it back (it didn’t suit him at all).  I’m pretty sure he dirtied the hat with his greasy fingers too, which I wasn’t too happy about, but I guess it’s all in good fun.  It was a really strange experience though, but at least I got free food out of it.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Day 186

Since we never got to go to Neuschwanstein because of that rainy day, we went yesterday because it was so sunny.  We all woke up super early to take the 7:17 train out of Stuttgart and I ended up sleeping for most of the journey (sleeping at 1 the night before didn’t help).

Four and a half hours and 3 train transfers later, we arrived in the town of Füssen, and from there we took a bus to Hohenschwangau.  All of these German towns had a really old style of architecture – even older than the ones I see around Stuttgart.  It’s almost as if Band of Brothers used these houses for filming their show.

On the train to Füssen, we could already see that pretty much most people on board were tourists all heading to the same place.  It seemed as if the sole purpose of this town is for tourism, despite its rich history.  The nearby municipalities of Schwangau and Hohenschwangau were the same too.  Tourists were everywhere, and taking photos of everything (myself included).  From Hohenschwangau, we could already look up the hill to see a glimpse of Neuschwanstein Castle and the Bavarian Alps.

We could also see the less popular castle, Hohenschwangau Castle from Hohenschwangau.  By itself, that castle looked really great, but when put beside Neuschwanstein, it just doesn’t compare.

We went to the ticket center to hopefully get tickets for the tour of the inside, and when we reached the ticket counter after 40 minutes of waiting, we found out all the tours we wanted were full.  We even tried to get tours in languages we didn’t know like French because we just wanted to see the inside, but those were full too.  The only ones left were too late in the evening for us to go since it would conflict with our train back.  We had no choice but to only see the outside. 

From the base of the mountain, we proceeded on foot and arrived at the gate of the castle after about 10-15 minutes. For once, the attraction we went to visit wasn’t under some kind of maintenance. Since I had walked up to the castle a lot faster than the rest of my group, I went ahead and went inside to the castle courtyard.


The castle courtyard also had a spectacular view of the surrounding area.  Looking further up the mountain, I could see a lot of parachuters slowly drifting down.  Those people probably had a better view of the castle than everyone else on the ground.  When I went back to the castle gate, I found that the rest of the group still hadn’t caught up yet and I probably spent almost 30 minutes up there.  I had no idea what took them so long, but it turned out that they walked really slow and made a lot of random stops.  After meeting up with them, we walked along the forest trail to the Marienbrücke, and that was where we arrived at the location where all the iconic photos of the castle were taken.  According to Wiki, this castle was the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Before taking any pictures of the castle, we had to fight through the rather large crowd of tourists that also wanted to take these iconic shots for themselves (I can’t say that I wasn’t one of them).  Eventually, I got on and enjoyed the view of the castle and the surrounding area.

After crossing the bridge, I climbed up a hill to get an even better view and that’s when I stumbled on a cross placed on the edge of the cliff.  Apparently, someone had died here and it was probably from falling off the mountain or something.  That made me feel a bit uneasy, since falling off was definitely in the realm of possibility.

From the bridge, we saw that people were down in the gorge and it seemed like a nice place so we took the trail down as well.  On the way down, we passed by a waterfall and two my friends decided that they’d go swimming in it.  The water looked super cold too.  Regardless, they climbed down and started swimming in there in just their underwear.  Some of the tourists walking by were kind of shocked to see that.  Some weren’t very impressed, but others found it amusing.  A funny thing about that was that people didn’t take any pictures of the waterfall because the two swimmers would be ruining the picture.  They swam in there for about 10 minutes before getting back out and once they did, we continued down to the bottom of the gorge.  The water at the bottom was so amazingly clear and looked so clean.  It was reminiscent of the time I went to Banff National Park when I was 10.

Along the shore, people had stacked stones together to build towers and they were scattered everywhere.  I tried building my own, but I failed quite epically.

It was soon time for us to leave for our train back to Stuttgart so we continued following the trail down the mountain.  The path down went along the creek where the water flowed down the mountain and that was quite nice to see.  The way the water crashed down looked kind of like white water rafting, except that there wasn’t enough space for it.

Eventually, the trail led back into town near a residential area.  The houses here too looked really old.  More architectural styles that Band of Brothers probably used.

After about 15 minutes of walking, we ended up back in Hohenschwangau.  From there, we took the train back.  At the train station, I saw the largest mass of people ever waiting for a train.  Pretty much all of these people were tourists too. 

Needless to say, it wasn’t very comfortable on that train.  All the seats had been taken up and most people had to stand in the aisles and that wasn’t great at all.  I ended up standing in the train for about an hour and fifteen minutes.  The train didn’t have air conditioning either, so here we all were, getting blasted by the sun without any ventilation for all the warm bodies in the train.  The loud drunk people and the screaming little kids didn’t make it better either.

After getting off that train to wait for our connecting train in Buchloe, we went to go buy some food at a local cafe.  While buying our food, we chatted with the owner for a little bit and it turned out that he used to work in Vancouver and lived on Robson Street.  Small world.  Unfortunately, we were in a bit of a hurry so we had to just buy our food and go.  Originally, the 20 minutes we had would have been sufficient for buying food, but the guy (not the guy we chatted with, but someone else) trying to give us our bill took the longest time ever doing it.  He literally stood at the cash register and stared out into space as if he didn’t know how to do his job.  Then he’d press a few buttons on the register (wrong buttons), and the machine just gave an unhappy beeping noise.  I had never seen anybody work so slow before.  It’s almost as if he worked with zero efficiency.  Even worse was that he forgot my order too.  My friends ended up sharing their food with me (I was really hungry).  After getting our food, we sprinted back to the train station and caught our train.  On the train back, I ended up sleeping since I was so tired from walking around all day (and was probably still under the effects of sleep deprivation from the night before too).

After my nap, I ended up taking random photos of the countryside and playing cards with the others until we reached Stuttgart again.  It was a nice trip, but it is a shame that we never got to visit the inside of the castle.

Vienna

Day 183

Using the Germanwings “Blind Booking” promotion, which randomly (kind of if you don’t know how to work the system by seeing which flights are full) selects a destination from a predetermined list for passengers at a fixed price.  Using this promotion, we got to fly to Vienna.

We were even planning to go to Budapest as a day trip from Vienna, but that turned out to be too expensive, and that there was plenty in Vienna to see.

Flight to Vienna

While waiting for our flight at Stuttgart International, we saw two double sized Foosball tables set up to go along with the Women’s World Cup Soccer.  By double sized, I mean that instead of only four rotating sets of players per side there were eight per side.  They took up so much space that one had to quickly hop to the other size to control the other set of players.

We played this for a little bit until the rest of our party arrived.  Once everyone arrived, we went to get our boarding passes and then to the security checkpoint.  One thing that really surprised me there was that the airport security wasn’t very strict at all.  All I did was go through the metal detector and got my backpack checked by the X-Ray.  They didn’t open it up/search it or anything like that.  They didn’t do that to anyone.  They didn’t check my bag for liquids either.  People could easily smuggle prohibited items on the plane.  Once we passed the security checkpoint, we waited until we could board.

We boarded a small Airbus A319, which looked like it could probably only fit about 100 people on it.  I noticed that each passenger was given a barf bag (I’ve heard of people getting nosebleeds while flying, but not nausea).  On one side of the barf bag, there was a chart that showed at what levels of nausea would cause one to puke and the caption that was written for the top level was “the price of our competitors”.  I’m guessing that their price is so low that people will puke?  Either way, I thought it was pretty comical.  To be fair though, Ryanair typically has lower airfares in my experience (I hope I didn’t sound like I’m advertising these airlines).  The flight itself took only about an hour.  The plane went up to 28000 ft. briefly before having to descend again.

Food

Since we arrived in the evening, we got hungry pretty quickly after dropping off our stuff at the hostel.  We looked around for a restaurant to try some Viennese food.  Apparently, Vienna is known for their Wienerschnitzel.  With that in mind, that’s what we ordered.  Every single one of us in our group ordered that except for the guy who was vegetarian.

What puzzled me about that meal was that the restaurant served the schnitzel with rice.  I thought it would be served with something like potatoes.  I guess that’s the choice of the restaurant.  It didn’t matter to me though since I just wanted the schnitzel.  The schnitzel itself was basically a huge piece of boneless pork coated in breadcrumbs that was fried (not deep fried).  I thought it tasted good, but it wasn’t amazing to me.  Pork isn’t that high up on my favourites.

A Bit of Relaxation (Kind Of)

After our meal, we went to a park to relax a little bit by throwing a Frisbee around.  It was kind of strange to me since we hadn’t done any real sightseeing yet and it seemed as if the others went to Vienna to throw a Frisbee around.  They even went to the grocery store to buy a few six packs of beer!  We all had the impression that Vienna was a really classy city, but what we were doing didn’t really seem classy at all.

While we played Frisbee, we noticed an insane amount of flies, mosquitos and other pesky insects.  Apparently, the others encountered the same thing when they biked to Austria one time.  These flies flew around in groups and were so annoying, especially the mosquitos that kept buzzing around my ear.

Schloß Schönbrunn by Night

After about an hour of Frisbee, we walked a little further to the schloss.  The schloss used to be the imperial summer residence back in the day.  It is now one of the most famous monuments and one of the most visited attractions in the country.  Since we arrived really late, the schloss had already closed and the guard there told us to leave when we tried to enter.  We ended up taking pictures from the outside.  Since there was nobody around to take a group picture for us, we set up an improvised tripod using the box from a six-pack of beer and used the camera timer.

Afterward, on our way back to the hostel, we came across two guys from Prague asking us if the park was a good place to sleep.  We were all kind of puzzled since we figured everyone would just book a hostel or something like that.  When we mentioned going to a hostel, one of the guys just made the subtle finger rubbing gesture to show that it was out of their budget.  While talking to them, a friend of mine with a beer in his hand just said “na zdraví”, which meant “cheers” in Czech and the guy was really surprised that he knew it (we learned that from Prague).  We ended up directing them to the park and then went back to the hostel to meet up with another friend who was joining us later on.  He came by train since he decided to come with us after we had already arranged our transportation.  Once we met up, a few people in our group decided to go a bar and somehow ended up back at the hostel at around 3 am.

Wien Mitte

The next morning (glad I went to sleep instead), we took a trip to the city center, which is usually where a lot of the touristy stuff is.  One of our friends decided to take a nap at the hostel instead since he came back so late the night before.  The first place we went to was the St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  What annoyed me a lot here was that the cathedral was under maintenance.  The face of the cathedral we were supposed to see had a large construction cover over it.  The inside, however, was super nice.

After seeing the church, we just walked in a random direction until we saw something cool.  The worst part about walking that day was that the temperature was at least 30 degrees Celsius.  It was like walking around Las Vegas in the middle of summer (ok maybe not as bad).  I didn’t pack any shorts and ended up partially rolling up my jeans.  I even took some paper to make a fan out of it.

One thing I noticed that was very common was that the locals here really liked wearing fedoras and giant hipster glasses (more prominent at least, but it’s not like they’re everywhere).  Even better was that they looked good in them.  It really added to that impression of classiness that we had from the beginning.  Even the H&M stores looked classier than the ones in Germany.  The way the Austrians spoke German sounded a lot nicer too.  It sounded more “clean” because they spoke slower and enunciated more unlike the Swabian German that I’m used to hearing.  Apparently, Vienna is tied with Vancouver for cities with the best quality of life.  I can see that.

Memorial for Mozart

Afterward, we headed to the Hofburg Palace.  Along the way, we came across a memorial to Mozart.  It was a statue of him posing majestically and in front of the statue was a garden with flowers arranged in the shape of a treble clef.

I guess when it comes to Austrian music, Mozart is a big deal since he was born in Salzburg.

Maria-Theresien-Platz

After we walked a little bit more, we reached the Maria-Theresien-Platz. This area contains two of Vienna’s major museums: the national history museum and the art history museum (more classy stuff).  While I was there, I took a picture of both buildings, but looking more closely at the pictures, it seems like the two buildings are almost identical.

At the center, there was a giant statue that basically acted as a giant shade and a lot people just crowded there.  It was reallyyyyyyyyy hot that day.  While headed to the Hofburg Palace, we came across a public water fountain, which gathered a rather large crowd of people.  The funniest thing about that water fountain was that it had the words “Wiener Wasser” (literally “Viennese Water” in German) printed on it.  Maybe I’m immature, but I still think it’s funny.  Maybe even funnier, the water from that machine tasted really good.

Hofburg Vienna

Eventually, we ended up the Hofburg Palace, the former home of some of the most powerful people in Austrian history, such as the rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Currently, it is the residence of the President of Austria.  In contrast to the Schloß Schönbrunn, this was their winter palace.

Outside the palace, there was the Volksgarten for people to enjoy.  In the garden, there were flowers (typical of a garden I guess), and the Theseustempel, which was intended to be a replica of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.

After walking around this area, we reached the government district of the city.

The Parliament and Rathaus

Although we only walked by the parliament (why we didn’t spend time there I don’t know), I did manage to get a quick shot of the building.  Walking a little further, we reached the rathaus (city hall).  Both of these buildings had really impressive architecture.  Looking back at the photos, the Austrian parliament building bears some resemblance to the German Reichstag and the rathaus bears some resemblance to the Munich Rathaus.

When we were there, the city had set up a giant screen and a bunch of chairs for the open air theatre for opera and concert films.  We planned to check it out later, but we never got to that.  We also met up with our friend who chose to nap at the hostel instead of coming with us to see the tourist sights (sucks that he missed out).

The Burgtheater

Across from the rathaus, was the Burgtheater, one of the most important German language theatres (the ones for plays and not movies) in the world.

Near the top of the building, there were busts of famous playwrights such as Goethe and Schiller.  They even had a bust of Shakespeare, even though he wrote English plays.

Liechtenstein Museum

Our next destination was the Liechtenstein Museum.  Along the way, we passed the University of Vienna and the Votive Church.  Eventually, after walking several blocks, we reached the museum.

The museum mostly contained old works of art and also a really impressive horse carriage used by family members of the House of Liechtenstein.  Also in the museum was an old library.  The interior of the library looked like something out of Harry Potter – full of old books (but without the dust and the screaming people).

Somehow I don’t think I was supposed to take pictures of any of these things.  I took a close look at a lot of these books, and there were titles from a variety of genres like science and literature.

Mozart’s Requiem at the Karlskirche

Knowing that later in the evening, we would be going to see Mozart’s Requiem being performed at the Karlskirche, we went back to the hostel to wash up before heading out (we felt so sweaty and gross for pretty much the whole day).  While we waited for the others, we played a few games of Pool at the hostel.  Originally, the concert was supposed to be at the Vienna State Opera (at least that’s what the website said), so we were kind of disappointed when we found out that the performance would be at a church (even if it was near where Mozart died).

After we bought our tickets, we proceeded inside and enjoyed the design of the interior of the church.  When I walked in, I was totally surprised by how impressive the inside of the church was.  I did not expect something so amazing, especially the design of the altar.  The bright light around it made it even more amazing.

While listening to the concert and the sound of the violins, I felt a strong urge to take up violin.  It’s also something I always wanted to learn, but I wasn’t sure if I’d end up sticking with it.  The concert wasn’t quite as I good as I expected it to be.  I felt that the concert in Prague sounded a lot better, but it might have been because of the acoustics of the room.  The church we were had didn’t have very good room acoustics.  However, the singers sounded really good.  Despite that, the audience liked their performance a lot and clapped for a few minutes.  Some people even stood up and clapped.  After the concert, we came out in the middle of a thunderstorm some distance away.  I tried to take photographs of a lightning bolt, but I couldn’t react fast enough with the camera to get the shot (even on long exposure).

Wombat Hostel Bar

For some reason, when we got back to the hostel at night, we went down to the bar and started drinking.  Maybe it was because we wanted to take advantage of their amazing deal for shots – 1 shot for 1 euro.  We ended up having six shots in an hour – not counting the Jaegerbombs we had before that.  We ended up mixing a lot of different shots together like Tequila, Whiskey, Vodka, Schnapps, and Gin.  I forgot the last one.  Now that I think about it, the last one we had was Sambuca, which tasted like liquorice and it sucked, but I think the Schnapps were worse.

The coolest part about the Jaegerbombs was how the bartender arranged them.  He arranged the glass of red bull in a line while a shot of Jaeger sat in between two glasses.  He knocked over one shot into another and they all fell in the glass of red bull like dominoes.  After having so many shots among all of us, we could almost build a pyramid using only shot glasses.  We could have, if someone didn’t break one.  When the bartender saw us, he was really surprised at how many shots we had, but I think he just felt super uneasy at how we tried to build a shot glass pyramid.  At the end of all of that, I didn’t really feel dizzy – maybe the alcohol hadn’t got to me yet.  The others then decided they wanted to go out to another bar, but I declined and went to sleep instead.  I didn’t feel like coming back super late and not having energy for the next day’s adventure.

The next morning, I found out some of us came back at around 3, while others came back at around 4 or 5.  One of our friends didn’t even end up sleeping at the hostel and ended up sleeping outside at a cafe.  That was REALLY bizarre.  I would never do something like that.  Because they came back so late, some of them ended up missing the hostel breakfast and slept in until around 12 pm.

Those of us that had breakfast got to enjoy a great breakfast buffet.  The hostel had a sandwich maker so we stuffed as much stuff in our sandwich as possible and got the whole sandwich toasted.  I never thought cheese, salami, ham, cucumbers, and peppers in a toasted sandwich could be so good.  I think I had around 3 of them.

Schloß Schönbrunn by Day

Since we weren’t able to go to the schloss at night that day, we returned to the schloss after we had the breakfast at the hostel.  Just like the day before, the temperature was super hot (probably about 35 degrees or so).  From the outside, the schloss just looked like the same setup as the Neues Schloss in Stuttgart.  It had the same U-shape and the fountains out front.  However, we found that the schloss had a giant garden in the back, kind of like a smaller version of the one in Versailles.  It also had a labyrinth with walls of hedges and also had a zoo. 


Behind the garden, at 60 meters in elevation higher, there was the Gloriette structure. From there, we got a nice view of the whole city.  Inside the building was a cafe and it had really delicious ice cream (although it was kind of expensive).  Outside the building, a bunch of people set up tripods with their DSLR’s and everyone had these filters for their lens to tweak with the color of the photographs since the sky was so bright.


We could even go up to the top to get an even better view.  On our way up, we bumped into someone we knew from Bosch, but at the time I didn’t know for certain who that was.  It was only afterward when I realized it and by that time, it was already too late to say hi.  When we finished seeing the Palace, we took the metro to Danube Island (Donauinsel) for a bit of relaxation (hard to call it that when the weather feels like fire).

Donauinsel

The metro station here was in the middle of a giant bridge and when we walked out, we saw two people just sitting on the edge of it.  All of a sudden, one guy just jumped into the water and started swimming.  And then the second guy followed and made a giant splash when he hit the water.  It must have been at least 25 meters or something like that.


On one side of the shore, one could see the older part of Vienna and on the opposite side, the newer part.  There were quite a few high-rises on waterfront property.  On one shore, there was a set of trampolines set up over the water and that was really cool.  The whole area had tons of tropical themed cocktail bars and seafood restaurants.  That really gave the place a huge tropical vibe.  One of the things that people do in tropical areas is swim in the water and that’s what some of us did.  I didn’t though.  I don’t even know how to swim (I wouldn’t swim in a dirty river anyway).  None of them brought any swimming trunks or anything like that, so they just went in with underwear (kind of strange if you ask me).

While people swam, I walked around exploring the area and saw a TV tower.  Near the top, there was a walkway that protruded from the building and apparently it’s used for bungee jumping.  I don’t think I’d have the balls to jump off that.  After everyone finished their swim in the river (it was a little bit dirty too), we went to the Vienna State Opera.

Wiener Staatsoper

We arrived pretty late, so all the tours of the inside were already over.  We only looked around the outside and figured out what time the tour would be for the next day, which we did end up going to.

We also found out that the opera has a “summer vacation” in July and August.  The only shows there during the summer months aren’t part of the state opera and are just borrowing the location.

Sand in the City

Since there wasn’t anything to see in the evening, we ended up going to the Sand in the City, which was just a collection of cocktail bars and pubs in a place that had a beach feel (minus the water).  The whole area literally had sand all over and many people sat in beach chairs.

Also here was a shisha bar.  People got to take the hookah to their table and just smoked it until it ran out.  I didn’t know what shisha was at first, but I found out that it really is just flavoured tobacco inhaled through a hose from the hookah.  I figured I’d try a little bit.

It didn’t have the pungent odour of cigarettes and just had apple flavoured smoke.  I didn’t really like the taste, but I did learn how to blow smoke rings and that was the cool part.  It’s not something I’d do any again though.  Not long after doing the shisha, I must have had a strong allergic reaction to it.  My nose ended up being plugged for hours and I couldn’t stop sneezing even though I only had three puffs.  When I went to bed, my nose was still plugged.

Tour of the Wiener Staatsoper

The next morning, we went on a tour to the inside of the opera house.  The interior of the building had such an intricate design.  A lot of the design had a theme too.  For example, above the busts of famous playwrights and composers, was a painting of a scene from their most famous opera.  The interior could have looked even nicer, but parts of it were destroyed during World War II.


The tour guide showed us around most of the building too.  One room in particular, the Tea Salon, was a lot nicer than all of the others.  Apparently, the royalty used to use that room.  Nowadays, the room is used for super special occasions or when the media needs a really nice background to show when doing interviews for the opera. 

The tour guide also showed us some of the intermission rooms, which weren’t as nice since they were part of the reconstructed portion of the building.


While there, the tour guide explained to us the history of the place (which I don’t remember), and little factoids like how there’s an underground tunnel to the building that stores the costumes and how trucks deliver set pieces and other materials before shows.  Finally, the tour led us to the main auditorium of the opera house.


Apart from the movie theatre style seats, there were balcony seats all around on many different floors.  The tour guide explained how much different seats in the opera cost and apparently they can go up to tens of thousands of euros.  Behind each seat was also a display for subtitles, since the lyrics of the opera weren’t always in German.  Together, I think the capacity of the theatre could be about 2000 people, not counting the standing spaces.  We even got to go backstage to see some of the mechanisms on the stage.  The tour guide explained how the multiple platforms could move such that the stage scenery could be exchanged on the fly.  Coming to this place was probably the best part of the whole trip.

Flying Home

We ended up killing time at a park with the Frisbee before we had to go to the airport.  We didn’t do much else.  There weren’t anymore attractions that we wanted to see or had time to see.  When our flight came, we went on it and just went home.  We all pretty much had the disappointed feeling of “oh man, we have to go to work the next day.”

A Day at the Zoo

Day 181

The day after my friends and I went to Berchtesgaden, we went to Wilhelma, the Stuttgart Zoological Botanical Gardens.  It has a fancy name, but it basically is a zoo with exhibits for other life such as plants and insects.

Seeing as how I’ve never been to a zoo before (at least I don’t remember), but I have been to the safari and Biodome in Quebec, this trip to the zoo was quite interesting for me.

To get in, my friends used their student ID’s to get a student discount, but I however, didn’t have my ID anymore since I lost it.  I ended up using a letter of enrolment from my university to prove my student identity.  The best part about doing that was that I managed to communicate what I wanted speaking only German.

When we entered, we looked on the park map to see the best route we could use to see everything, but since the zoo had a plan for that, we decided to follow it.  It had a strange system of showing visitors which path to follow.  The intended path was marked by a yellow elephant with a direction to walk in and the path back to the beginning was marked by a blue elephant.  We tried our best to follow this route, but we didn’t really manage too well.  We still ended up diverging from the path.

Our first destination was a group of greenhouses that had plants from all over the world, but in particular, we saw a lot of cacti.  For some reason, the people at the zoo really like cacti.

Moving on, we saw a flock of flamingos just chilling there.  They didn’t really do much except just stand there and drink water.  We did get to see some flamingos standing on one leg just like what a lot of animal documentaries show.

Moving further along, we saw a peacock just wandering around the park.  We didn’t get to see it open its tail, but it was still pretty cool to see one live.  It kept trying to move away from the little kids that kept trying to chase it, but I still got a picture.  Apparently, according to Wiki, the umbrella term for the animal is “peafowl”, while the name “peacock” only refers to the male peafowl.

While we walked around the zoo (while deviating from the yellow elephant path), we came across a lot of signs that pointed to the “Titanenwurz”, which in English means “Titanum”, the tall and large plant local to Sumatra that has a smell similar to rotting corpses when it blooms.  Apparently, this zoo holds the world record for the tallest Titanum plant during blooming.

Moving further along, we ended up indoors and the only lights that illuminated the inside were a set of blue lamps inside a display.  In the display, there were bats.  Some of them hung there while others flew around randomly.  They didn’t shriek or make any noises for echolocation or anything like that though.  They were also bigger than I thought they were.

Moving further along, we came across plants that reminded me very much of Pokémon.  I guess the Pokémon were modeled after this plant.

The next part was the best part of the zoo: monkeys.  The monkeys here were really small and all they did was jump around from one branch to another.  While I was taking pictures of them, I moved my camera a little too close and it tried to grab my camera strap.  I felt its fingers brush against my hand before I moved my camera away.  While watching the monkeys, I kept hearing little kids yelling “baby monkeys!” in German.

There were other monkeys too, but those weren’t as interesting because they mostly just sat around eating (especially the apes).  Next, we moved on to see the more exotic animals – the big cats.  For some reason, these animals weren’t really in the mood to do anything.  Instead of sitting around like the monkeys, the big cats pretty much were just lying there.  None of the cats did anything special except the leopard when it got up to eat.


Next we saw other exotic animals like okapi (never even heard of this animal before) and various African/South Asian animals.  It was pretty cool to see an elephant duck down to grab food with its nose to eat.  I’ve never seen anything like that before.  The giraffes were cool too, but they weren’t quite as tall as I expected, but maybe these ones are of a different species or are just younger.  The rhino wasn’t very cool either since the zoo staff got rid of its horn, but maybe it’s safer that way.  But then again, a pissed off hippo could probably destroy a rhino.




The zoo also had some less interesting animals such as cows, chickens, lambs and various other farm animals that people eat on a regular basis.  This was probably the most boring part of the zoo.  These animals smelled absolutely terrible and weren’t very interesting to look at.  The cows here were only penned in by a electrified rope (which my friend touched and received quite a nasty shock – that was quite hilarious).  The next bunch of animals were saw were the bears.  Seeing the bears promptly reminded me of Stephen Colbert’s famous quote, “bears are godless killing machines!”  They do look quite menacing, except for the polar bear, who didn’t really feel like doing anything at all.  Maybe it was too hot or something.

The zoo even had some animals from Australia like crocodiles/alligators (I know the difference between them, but I don’t know how to “see” the difference) and kangaroos.  We didn’t get to see the kangaroos up close because some zoo personnel were cleaning the area at the time.

At this point, I realized that the zoo was a lot bigger than I thought.  We had already walked around for about 3 hours but there was still so much more to see.  Here are some more animals we saw.



Here comes the nastiest part of the exhibits – the insects.  Here they showed a lot of just purely disgusting pests like cockroaches, although, there were some cool ones like the insect that is able to disguise itself as a leaf.  They camouflaged themselves so well that it was almost impossible to see them.  However, on the more pleasant side, butterflies are always nice to see.



To finish our adventure at the zoo, we saw penguins.  I had no idea that there are some species of penguins that can survive such warm temperatures (or maybe all of them can – I don’t know).

After about 5 hours of walking around the zoo, we saw almost everything.  By now, our legs were very tired and we didn’t really have the energy to walk around anymore.  Instead, we did have enough energy for video games because afterward, we all went back to my flat for a good Team Fortress 2 (thanks to Valve for making this game free to play) LAN party.

Road Trip to the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden

Day 173

From watching the TV show Band of Brothers, I learned of the Eagle’s Nest, a surprise birthday gift for Adolf Hitler for his 50th birthday.  Situated on the ridge on the Hoher Göll (or Kehlstein Mountain) at an elevation of over 1800m in Obersalzburg, Berchtesgaden, the house served as a private retreat for Hitler.

Because this area was so remote and hard to access by train, we chose to rent a car to drive there for a day trip that Saturday.  In our group of three, only one person could legally drive.  I had lost my driver’s license and my other friend only had a learner’s license.  Our car reservation said we were supposed to get a Mercedes A Class (the cheapest car they had with automatic transmission), but we got a Renault Megane instead.  I think that worked out better for us though because I think that car was a little bit roomier.

Originally, we were supposed to leave at 9 in the morning, but we had to make a stop at our friend’s house to pick up someone, because he apparently partied too hard and crashed at another friend’s place.  He was quite hungover when he got in the car and he stayed that way for pretty much the whole trip.  I was invited to that party too, but I didn’t go precisely because I didn’t want to end up like the way he did.

I set a course to the Eagle’s Nest on the GPS and off we went.  Originally, our route involved going through Austria, but I had to modify the route such that we stayed in Germany because we didn’t want to have to purchase a vignette (it’s an identifier on the car you pay for that lets you drive in that country if the car isn’t from there). 

We all knew that some parts of the Autobahn had no speed limit, but we had yet to see this for ourselves.  Near the outskirts of the city, there were still speed limits, but as we got further, those limits disappeared.  Although for a lot of the journey there, we couldn’t really make use of that since there were traffic jams all over the place.

The drive ended up taking nearly six hours rather than the four hours that Google Maps told me.  And for the whole journey, my hungover friend slept in the back on his side while I chatted with the driver so that he wouldn’t get so bored.

When we arrived, we parked the car near the Berchtesgaden railway station and proceeded to take the bus up (the house itself is only accessible by bus).  We left Stuttgart at around 10, and reached the top of the Eagle’s Nest at around 4:30 in the evening.

As the bus went up the mountain, we began to see the view getting nicer and nicer.  I guess it was kind of like seeing an airplane lift off and watching the houses below getting smaller and smaller.


The bus dropped us off at the entrance to the elevator up to the main building and when we got out of the bus, we all felt the chilling rain that started.  I don’t know what the temperature was at the time, but it felt like it was less than five degrees.  Before leaving the house in the morning, I knew it’d be cold up there, but apparently it was colder than I thought.  For the whole time that I was up there, my extremities were super cold, but at least the rest of my body was warm enough.  Luckily the rain had stopped when we took the gold-plated elevator up to the house itself. 

After the end of the war, the house was denazified, and converted into a restaurant.  All that remains is the architecture.  The house itself isn’t really that amazing looking, but it has historical significance.  Also, the view from up there is amazing.  What surprised me was how accurate Band of Brother’s portrayed the house.  They pretty much built a set that looks exactly like the real thing and even had scenes where they tried to get up the mountain (and that mountain looked really similar too).

There was nothing on the mountain except for this one house.  And from there, we could see Salzburg (about 35 km away) and other nearby towns.  We could also see the Königssee and other mountains in the Bavarian Alps.  Because of the rain earlier, there were still some rainclouds hovering around, and with the rain, we also got to see a rainbow.  The best part about that was that we were at so high of an elevation, we got to look down at the rainbow.



We only stayed up there for less than an hour because we had to take the last bus back down, but that was okay though.  It was nice for me to be able to visit the Eagle’s Nest and enjoy the view from the mountain (even if it was damn cold).  It’s also a place where most North American tourists won’t be able to go because it’s so remote and that there are so many more popular places to go for them.

On the way home, the roads had a lot less traffic than earlier, which let us really try out the Autobahn.  My friend had reached the car’s top speed of around 190 to 195 km/h (perfectly legal by the way).  The whole time he drove, I had a really strong urge to have a try myself, but I didn’t have my driver’s license.  After we gassed up the car, I couldn’t resist the urge anymore and so I drove.  We all knew that if anything happened, we’d be pretty screwed.  Because of that, I didn’t drive for very long.  I probably only drove for about 20 minutes. 

Even though there was no speed limit, I felt quite uneasy driving at 190 km/h and it just didn’t feel right.  I didn’t really feel that I had control of the car, but that might have been because I hadn’t driven for six months.  It was fun while it lasted I guess.  Even though our car was going pretty fast, we saw a few Benz’s and Porsches go by at speeds of over 200 km/h.  They just zoomed right past us.

After three and a half hours of driving, we safely arrived back in Stuttgart.  It was great being able to see the Eagle’s Nest (even if for such a short time).  It was one of those places that I had to see before I left Europe.  Driving on the Autobahn was great too and now I can say that I’ve done that.  It was a great trip.

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