Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Last year I made a gift guide with ideas for creative types in your life, which included 20x200.

They have many stunning small editions of original artwork- including the one that I just purchased today (above) from Shaun Sundholm.

I can't wait to find a special place for this print. How fun it is to be an art patron - even on a small scale.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Oktoberfest Tips

Since I live in Munich, Oktoberfest is a common topic and a large reason people visit. Suddenly our delightful and efficient subway system swells to maximum capacity and renders anything in the vicinity of Theresenwiese useless for the few weeks that Oktoberfest lasts.

When + Why? 
First things first - Oktoberfest begins in September.
2010: September 18 - October 4 (this is the 200th anniversary!)
2011: September 17 - October 3
2012: September 22 - October 7

It's the celebration of what must have been an elaborate wedding reception that was so amazing it continues on today. People here often refer to it as 'Wies'n'. It's sensory overload and what many Americans would consider a glorified fair.

Go super early if you want a chance at getting a table. Even then many are reserved, so you will have to squeeze in or find one that's open. You have to be seated at a table to be served, so that can also be an issue.

From what I understand the best time to get a table is on Monday after the first weekend, when everyone is partied out. This is according to the cab drivers, who I assume have a slump on the first Monday. Even though many tables are reserved they are open through the early part of the day and free for the taking, so go early!

Oktoberfest is free to roam through, however beer prices climb each year...

Here are the prices from the past couple years:
2009 = 8.10-8.60€ / liter
2010 = 8.40-8.90€ / liter.

It's easy to drop a lot of cash, although it tends to be a wonderful time. 

As a side note, many of the biergartens offer their special Oktoberfest brews for a bit less. Yes, you'll miss out on some of the camaraderie, but I doubt you'll want to spend a week straight guzzling beers - especially at such steep prices and the biergartens are something not to be missed. 

How can you reserve a table?
Well you're going to need a lot of friends and a fair amount of money. Reservations are done many months in advance towards the beginning of the year and it certainly helps to know people. If you're a tourist you can pretty much bank on not getting a reservation, but it doesn't mean you're out on the fun.

The reason it's a fair amount of money is because you receive vouchers towards food and drink purchases, so you're essentially paying for things up front so the tent owners get their money. 

You can read more information on the Official Oktoberfest site

The tents are all very different (here are photos of the interiors + exteriors). It's worth trying to walk around and walk in, even if there are no seats in the place. If there are seats you will probably want to grab them while you can. When choosing tents it's best to pick by the beer selection... avoid drinking logos with animals or tools.

You're in luck if you're a group of ladies, however you might get harassed a bit. Last year we had offers for golf lessons, free tickets to a Beatles Experience show, and my friend even had a marriage proposal from a Norweigen guy. 1. Hippodrom - smallest of the tents and a bit of 'see and be seen' atmosphere. It seems the TV stations are always there... as are those who want to mingle 

2. Armbrustschützen-Festhalle - 'crossbow shooting tent' - this is ultra traditional with the oompah music and all.

3. Hofbräu-Festzelt - The place to go if you want to hang out with Americans or Australians. It's a frat party atmosphere. This tent was also clearly the smelliest after the smoking ban.

4. Hacker-Festzelt - This tent is very beautiful and it appears as though you're sitting under the sky.

5. Schottenhamel - This is the tent that starts it all at noon on the first day. The Mayor taps the kegs here before the others can begin. It tends to be very traditional and cosy since they have unique square tables and a favorite among all.

6. Winzerer Fähndl - Cosy Paulaner tent with the enormous beer on top.

7. Schützen-Festzelt - Löwenbräu tent right under the Lady Bavaria statue.

8. Käfer's Wies'n-Schänke - A posh tent with higher end food, due to being owned by one of the gourmet groceries in town.

9. Weinzelt - wine tent with an older clientele and late hours.

10. Löwenbräu-Festhalle - least popular among locals (or maybe that's just my opinion). You're probably going to regret sitting outside and hearing the Lion rawr 'Löwenbräu' every few minutes.

11. Bräurosl -  traditional and untraditional Hacker Pschorr tent. This tent is popular for gay men, especially on the first Sunday of the fest.

12. Augustiner-Festhalle - very popular with the locals. This is Munich's beer - yes, they all technically are, but this is a favorite.  
13. Spatenbräu-Festhalle (Ochsenbraterei) - Ox specialities. Each ox has a name and you can read who is being served up daily, when it was born, and how much it weighed.

14. Fischer-Vroni - catering to fish specialities and even sushi. 

More information on the tents and Oktoberfest can be found here.

As with all of the food here - it is very meat heavy. If you are a meat eater or lover, you will probably find things you'd enjoy. 

As a vegetarian you can enjoy pretzels, obatzda (a delicacy that is a mixture of cheeses, (primarily camembert), onions, spices, and butter), or spätzle. 

There are also plenty of places to buy spiced nuts and those gingerbread hearts you will see everywhere, although I'm told while the gingerbread is completely edible you're not supposed to eat it (probably because it doesn't taste that great). 

If you get tired of Bavarian food or want to eat where locals eat look at the Munich Visitor's Guide.

Tracht (lederhosen + dirndl) is the traditional attire for the Oktoberfest. It's fun to dress like the locals and there are a variety of places to purchase inexpensive tracht (especially along 'Tal' between Marienplatz and Isartor), however there are quite a few rules to making it work and not looking like you're in a Halloween costume. Funky tights and shoes being one of the worst fashion faux pas. 

Tracht can be seen as Bavarian formal wear - remember this is for Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen's ongoing wedding reception. Some ultra traditional wedding parties still wear this when they are getting married, so gym shoes etc. look really ridiculous. 

There's even a particular way to tie your apron ladies, to denote if you are a virgin (middle), single (left), married / taken (right), or widow / waitress (back). I don't know who wants to advertise being a virgin at the Oktoberfest, but that's local lore and I've never seen it - you can take that for what it's worth. 

For a hotel I would get something close to one of the S-bahn lines or near the U4/ U5 if possible. Also close by is the U3 /U6. 

 Those are the lines to get to the Oktoberfest, although there are plenty of others with the tram as well. You're probably going to need to get on that pronto, because hotels get super expensive and book out very fast.

Even better is figuring out the walking route from your hotel to the Wies'n. 

If you have a super tight budget you can try to book online with Wombats once they open their online reservations June 1 at Noon (Central European Time). 

They do have several double rooms if you're not wanting to sleep in a room with drunken strangers, but you really have to be quick. I'm also not certain what the alternative is, because not having a hotel or place to stay in June leaves slim pickings. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Salt Chocolate

One of my biggest guilty pleasures is salt chocolate. Slowly I can see that it's becoming more mainstream, because I am seeing more companies manufacture it - even the salt companies. That puts me in a bit of a conundrum, because of course I have to try them all.

Here are some of the latest:

in't veld (Berlin) - milk + dark 75%

chocolate orgánico (Spain) - dark 70%

sal de ibiza (Spain / Germany) - dark 70%

domori (Italy) - milk

solnce (Slovenia) - dark 62%

The other new thing I've noticed is in trends is beer and chocolate. That seems especially fitting here in Munich. I still think it's rather unfortunate that the breweries here don't offer tours like the champagne houses in Reims.

There is a combination of the two at a seminar here in Munich on 5 June, at Stolberg Schokoladen for 49€ / person. You can find more information at der biersommelier.

While in Salzburg I picked up a bar of the Bachhalm Schloss Eggenberg bierschokolade. Evidently they even bottle their own beer to go with it, but they didn't have any available.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Munich has done it again. For being such a glorified village of a city we really have some incredible cultural opportunities here. Now there's another option on the block - Museum Brandhorst.

While it was under construction I always called it the 'colored pencil museum', because the exterior is an interesting array of colored ceramic pieces. There's no doubt that it's a place of creativity. Inside the collection you can see pieces ranging from some of my favorites including Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Damien Hirst.

There is evidently a lot of excitement, because you had to sign up for a time slot for free admission through Sunday and it's fully booked. Within a few hours time the online time slots were triple the capacity. I prefer to visit museums without being herded through, so my tip is to check it out for the normal 7€ or on a Sunday for only 1€.

If you're not in the Munich area, you can check out some of the pieces here and read more about the museum here.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Right now we are planning to take advantage of the lagging economy and take a few months off to travel. It may be 2 months, it may be 3 - depending of course on the flexibility of Stefan's job, but it will definitely be exciting.

We're thoroughly looking forward to the prospect of all of this, however it's also slightly daunting because it seems as though we won't have much planning time if we end up going this Fall. That is part of the reason that I am trying to spend time researching and learning about unique and beautiful places that I wouldn't want to miss along the way.

Since Stefan has Star Alliance Senator status from Lufthansa, we are going with their Air Pass or Around the World Fare, unless we travel around Europe or the US.

We've both written out a list of dream places and now we simply need to figure out the best plan of action.

Here is some of our thinking:

North America 50 States / Canada -

  • If we travel to the US we can visit a lot of friends and family as well as hopefully make it to a wedding in Chicago. 
  • We always wanted to drive across the US or visit all 50 states and possibly some parts of Canada.
  • It would be very affordable given the exchange rate. 
  • I can show Stefan some of my favorite places that he's never been to. 
Places we'd like to visit:
Anchorage, Alaska
Bryce Canyon, Utah
White Sands, New Mexico
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
San Antonio, Texas
Denver, Colorado
Savannah, Georgia
Ben + Jerry's Factory, Vermont

Europe + The Mediterranean -
  • There are a few countries in Western Europe that we still haven't been to, as well as most of Eastern Europe. 
  • We live here, so we should make the most of it and really see everything we can. 
  • We have our car, inexpensive flights, and the trains.
  • Time permitting we'd also go to Morocco and Israel. 
Places we'd like to visit:
Turkey - Istanbul + Pamukkale
Croatia - especially Plitvicka Jezera + Dubrovnik
Italy - Matera + Burano
N. Ireland - Giant's Causeway
Greece - Athens + Santorini and the islands
The Baltic States
Morocco - Chefchaouen, Essaouira, + Marrakesh

Asia+ Oceania -
  • Stefan has traveled to a few countries, however I've only visited The Maldives. 
  • Completely different culture.
  • The Euro is strong compared to the various currencies.
  • The only con is that I would like more time to prepare for a trip to Asia since I am less familiar with it. 
Places we'd like to visit:
Taj Mahal
Nepal / Bhutan
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Seoul + the DeMilitarized Zone
Hong Kong
Cambodia - Siem Reap
New Zealand
Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, + Polynesia

Obviously a trip around the world would include a variety of these places and we are always open for suggestions of your favorite places. 

I put a poll on the right and I'm interested to hear your opinions, which you can enter under 'other'.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

life changes

Apologizes for not writing more frequently or responding to your comments in a more timely manner. I truly appreciate them and it's so nice when people take the time to comment or give my blog an award, but lately I have felt awful that I haven't been able to devote the same energy back. I promise I'm working on it!

I have to say I'm still surprised it's not just my family and friends from home who occasionally read this, which is extremely flattering, if not slightly intimidating.

Lately many people in my world have been facing big life changing struggles. As Stefan's Oma says, "Luck doesn't always fall on one side." Sometimes it means picking up the pieces, changing life plans, or making the most of time with loved ones.

Times like this call for appreciating the little things, which I often have to remind myself. That alone isn't always easy being so far away from home and leading such an unpredictable life, but there's a beauty in knowing that support can come from the most unlikely of sources. It's one of those beautiful moments of life beginning again.

It makes me think of the hermit crabs in the Maldives. Every single day there was so much action on the shore line. Upon closer inspection I would see the tiny crabs fighting to move into a new shell. Even for the little guys life isn't easy, but everyone fights on, gradually getting stronger and more colorful over time.

All of these little battles are tedious and demanding, but they are what make us appreciate the wonderful things of life and the moments that bring us joy. They add color to our lives as well, and shape us into interesting and complex people.

At the end of the day it's important to be thankful - even for the smallest things, and to realize how difficult life can be for everyone from time to time.

Friday, May 15, 2009


At the Auer Dult I found a fantastic old book about Salzburg. It's given me so much more information to include on my tours that I haven't found anywhere else. The information is probably more exciting for me than my tour groups, because I actually get to see the excavations and changes.

I can always tell if people are interested in the topic by how much their eyes are glazing over or if they wander off to take photos. Often times English is not their mother language or they do not speak English very well, so I'm sure it's exhausting for them to take everything in.

Something new that I learned: During one of the WWII bombings (16 occured from 1944-1945) that destroyed 40% of the city, Mozartplatz was hit, however it also revealed 6 foot thick walls of a Roman temple beneath the ground. There was also an inscription stating 'Here lies happiness, let no evil enter'. This city really has so much history and I wish it came with glass floors.

These are the things I ponder while I admire the little details and enjoy Demel ice cream at Mozartplatz (this time I had raspberry and grapefruit basil). If you go to Salzburg you must try their ice cream - it's nothing short of amazing. The flavors are as intense as the colors, but they are not saccharine or overly sweet. Even my tourists full heartedly agreed that it's delicious.

All of the small things do make Salzburg feel like a city where a musical could burst out on the street at any minute - and not just because of the Sound of Music. The blue skies, the little birds, the open plazas, the colorful flowers, and the charming cafés give it a movie set feeling.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tilt Shift

I'm so in love with this website that Rachel posted on her blog. It's called Tilt Shift Maker and it enables common folk like myself, that don't have a specially designed tilt shift camera to create beautiful photos that look like they are miniatures. After I spent way more time than I care to admit using the site, here are a few of my favorites...

Rome + Cairo

East Greenland


The trick is to find photos where the focus is on the foreground with a large depth of field and it also helps if there is some height. I'd still like to try bokeh.

I really need to decide what kind of camera to get, which was my birthday gift way back in January. Any recommendations?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Stefan picked a restaurant out of our date jar and we made reservations for his birthday dinner at the Grinzekatze. This was the restaurant that was featured on a German TV program called 'Mein Restaurant', where five teams of two in five different cities set out to open a restaurant. Each week people were voted off.

We had met Toby, who was the Munich contestant, last year at a drink mixology course. It just so happened he and his wife were the Munich team that won the entire show.

The Grinzekatze has an Alice in Wonderland theme. The restaurant itself is nice, however the longer we sat there the more I noticed the odd details. Not odd in the Alice in Wonderland sense, but just odd as if it was a set restaurant trying to be a real one. Stefan also commented he wasn't sure what was going on with the decor - it was an attempt at being modern, but with lots of little tchotchkes. The wall paintings were a bit haphazard, which is a shame, because it could be a nicer place. Looks aside, we came to try the food.

The menu is small and the prices are rather high for the quality of the food. Another oddity was that the food looked different from table to table and there wasn't consistency. Some were garnished, while others weren't and the portion sizes weren't the same. I've never seen that at a restaurant.

There was a large crowd and they were turning people away - this was on a Wednesday night. Despite all of the hype, I think this restaurant will go in the same folder as the Gesellschaftsraum. Both are gimmicky and the food was mediocre. It was nice to have tried it, but it won't stand out in my mind as a place to return to.

Black Pearl Cake

I've had this recipe for the Vosges Haut Chocolate inspired Black Pearl cake patiently waiting in my 'recipes to try' folder for what seems like ages. Everyone that reviews it says it's a lot of work, but extremely decadent and delicious. Thankfully Stefan's birthday gave me the perfect occasion to make it.

Typically I try to make things in small portions, so making a cake is more daunting. After halving the recipe it seemed more manageable, especially for the two of us.

It has some interesting ingredients (wasabi, ginger, and black sesame seeds) for a bit of an Asian flair. Even if you don't like wasabi, I'd recommend trying the recipe. You probably wouldn't even guess it was in the cake unless someone told you. As a side note, I doubled the amount since many reviewers suggested doing so. 

The directions are easy to follow and it does help if you make the ganache and syrup the day before to break up the time. I didn't add all of the sugar the recipe called for and it was still delicious. I'll definitely be making this again.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cheap Date

Munich has a distinct little area of town called Kunstpark / Kultfabrik, which is right behind the Ostbahnhof. It's said to be the largest club complex in Europe. We frequent the area simply to go to Mitte Meer and while we were there we noticed a billboard for Kantine.

With the power of advertising in full effect, not only did we see they have wood fired pizza, but they offer most of the pizzas on the menu for just 3.30€ on Tuesdays after 6PM. I'll admit it's not the best pizza I've ever had, but it's decent - especially for the same price as a frozen pizza. On other nights of the week they have other specials, however we haven't tried them.

As for the area, it's is sort of strange. It reminds me of Daytona, Florida, without it's somewhat redeeming quality - the beach. There are loads of night clubs and seedy signage, but once you get past that you'll find Kantine in the middle. The restaurant itself made us feel like we stepped back into America, because of the sheer size.

The area is very ramshackle looking, because most these clubs and bars are housed in what used to be factories. At night it's cleverly disguised with bright lights, a multitude of different types of music, and cheap drinks to draw people in. Between Kultfabrik and Optimalwerk (located down the street / through the parking lot) there are well over 40 different venues to drink your life away and mingle with other party people.

Since Stefan and I are content being old and boring we simply go for the pizza and are home before the party crowd arrives.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fire Rainbow

Yesterday I called my Grandma's house to chat with everyone and wish them a Happy Mother's Day. It's so nice to catch the entire family in one place. It really makes me miss those American family get togethers.

As they passed the phone around I kept hearing about the most beautiful rainbow and how unique it was. Once my sister sent me a picture I immediately recognized it as a rare Fire Rainbow, thanks to the WebEcoist.

Isn't it so beautiful? I never realized wishing my Mom a beautiful day would end up being so special!

They said it was stretched out and slowly became thinner. It only lasted 15 or 20 minutes, so it was definitely great they caught it.

Another work of art is the Sistine Chapel puzzle that my Grandma finally finished. She said it took 5 or 6 weeks from when she began and it was so much work that she thinks she'll be glueing it and having it framed.

Sounds like a wonderful get together had by all... wish I could have been there too!

(photo courtesy of my sister Meem)

happy birthday mom!

Not everyone gets to celebrate their birthday and mother's day in the same week (and occasionally the same day). Then again, not everyone is as special as her!

♥ Love you Mom!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

When Mother's Day rolls around I always think 'what would my Mom enjoy today?' Last year we went to the biergarten to enjoy the beautiful day in her honor and decided to do the same this year. She does love a good beer from time to time and once again it was a great day to enjoy outside.

We started the day with breakfast on our balcony. I defrosted my very last Naga cookie from Vosges. My mom and I share a love for these and unfortunately they are out of stock on their website, so I wasn't able to send any her way.

Another thing that I am immensely proud of, that always reminds me of my Mom, is my basil plant. I cannot believe I have my very own - and it's growing! Just last weekend I was talking to Stefan's Mom about it and she said, 'these aren't meant to last, you just throw it away when it's done.' My Mom grows the most insane bushels of organic basil.

I'll admit that I don't really have a green thumb, despite the fact my grandparents owned a green house, which is why I usually stick to fresh cut flowers. Stefan even surprised me with a beautiful bouquet for completing my 'Zertifikat Deutsch' (German language test). How sweet is he?

What's funny is virtually any time my mother in law comes to visit, she brings a plant. Stefan received an early birthday gift - a hanging plant for our balcony, yet I was the one given directions on how to care for it and this time - fertilizer. I don't take it as insult, but more of a personal challenge to actually keep it alive. So far, so good.

Our visit to the biergarten this afternoon was wonderful, except we had to celebrate with a sign instead of a real Mom like the neighboring tables. We packed our brotzeit and shared my favorite spätzel at Nockherberg, as the sun shined through the beautiful canopy.

Hope you have as beautiful of a day Mom!

Monday, May 4, 2009


We went to visit my in-laws this weekend. It's nice to get out of the city from time to time, especially when we can go visit them close to the Alps.

Once we reached the Allgäu I noticed the fields and rolling hills were virtually all a vibrant yellow. I asked Stefan what the crop was as we sped down the Autobahn at 135mph (215 km/h), and he responded they were Löwenzahn (Dandelions). Never in my life have I seen dandelions look so beautiful.

They reminded me of the rabbit I had growing up and how he loved to eat dandelions. His little nose would become lightly tinted yellow from the pollen. Unfortunately I didn't see any bunnies frolicking about, but that could be due to the fact these flowers were so tall.

Thankfully the cows were out enjoying the weather. The light brown ones are my favorite and they are always plentiful in the Allgäu - aren't they adorable?