Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring Break 2!

The second spring break was an adventure that I wish I was still on. I didn't want that vacation to end, which is unlike most other vacations I take. Usually, after a week or so shuffling between hotels and hostels, after longs hours in transit, and after having been on my feet for more than half the day, every day, I'm ready for the comforts of home. This time was different however. Many hypotheses could be put fourth about exactly why that is the case, but in my mind there are no theories, only a simple answer.
I am certain that what made the vacation was my Dad. I had been looking forward to seeing him for a while and finally giving him a huge bear hug when I arrived in Munich confirmed my suspicion that this was going to be perfect.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Fist, getting to Munich.
My last night in Venice was hectic. It was a friend of mine's (Katy's) birthday, and, having been challenged the week before at Ingrid's birthday party that no one could successfully throw a surprise party for her, Laura (another friend) and I, rose to the occasion. That afternoon, while saying that I would need to get to sleep early for my early flight, we prepared. Our first thought was to make cupcakes- easier to eat and less to clean up, right? However, Italy has no cupcake baking materials of any sort. Plan B- regular cake. Then recruiting Fullerton and Cris, armed with balloons, sparklers, and the cake that I made, we surprised her at a little overlook at the northern end of Cannaregio, looking out into the lagoon. The party was a spectacular success, with the slight hiccup that we all thought someone else was bringing cutlery. In then end, we ate the cake via scooping it up with the plastic cups we brought. Our original plan of cupcakes ended up working out, despite our best efforts perhaps.
The next morning I took everything that was left in my fridge (bottle of milk, leftover salami, and an orange), my suitcase, and caught the bus to the airport. All was going smoothly until my flight went fowl.
I love puns.
In all seriousness however, a seagull flew into the engine turbine of my plane as it was landing the flight before mine. Needless to say, the plane was not going to take off for some time. After some rescheduling and a short train ride, I arrived in Munich around 3 PM that afternoon.
This brings us right back to my introduction, wherefrom I shall now continue.
I have not been to many German cities, I confess. I have spent many hours in the Frankfort airport and have visited my Uncle Herman in Hanau twice, but Munich instantly caught me as a very livable city. Wide sidewalks were filled with people eating outside in the sun, enjoying a beer and pretzel. The city seemed very new and moving, with a large youthful population. Perhaps living in a decaying city like Venice has made everywhere around seem more alive. Either way, Dad and I spent the afternoon visiting the major churches of the city and wandering through the central historical area. Much of it was bombed out in WW2, but in spite of this, they have rebuilt marvelously. Clearly, German nationalism had taken on a variety of more sinister forms, but it's so powerful because they have much to be proud of. That night we dinned at one of the places local munchers are most proud of: the Hofbrau. There I surprised my Dad when I asked, "aren't you going to finish that?", looking at the pork knuckle we were sharing. He responded, "Alex, I ate all the meat off of it". "Well, what about this part?" "That's all fat" "Oh." I then continued to eat one of the best parts of the knuckle. I can take these health risks because I know I'm not going to be back in Germany for a while.
The next day we got up and hopped on a bus after a stupendous breakfast. We were off to see the castles of Crazy King Ludwig 2nd. I write crazy with a capital C for a reason. Let me list as few of his more outstanding character traits:
- He was nocturnal, and read at least one book every night.
- In order to eat alone, he had a table that could be set from the floor below and raised up to him.
- He was obsessed with Wagner and Germanic epics.
- He was equally obsessed with peacocks, horses, and swans.
- Never married or had any children, although he was engaged once after falling desperately in love with an Austrian princess. He later cancelled the marriage having postponed it many times.
- He built fair-tale castles that inspired Disney in their wonder and scope.
Today he is often referred to as the Märchenkönig, or Fairy-tale king. All in all he was a strange man in life. His death was fitting coincidentally. After having been pronounced mentally unfit for governing by a psychologist, Ludwig, who was an extremely proficient swimmer, was found dead in a nearby pond. That psychologist was found next to him. He is said to have drowned, although the exact nature of his death still remains a mystery.
Odd a duck as he was, he have Dad and I plenty to talk about that day. The first castle we visited was Linderhof Palace. If you can imagine Versailles, but on a miniature scale, not much bigger than your average 2 story house in an suburban area. The palace completed first, and was Ludwig's primary residence. Every of every room was overdone with gilded moulding, statuettes, and giant porcelain peacocks. This is where he had his "magic table" to serve him meals and a pond nearby for his swans. His most famous castle we visited was Neuswanstein. Built nestled within mountains, and overlooking his childhood home of Hohenschwangau, this "romanesque" castle is in the site of a real medieval castle. However, in order to build his "more authentic" fairy-tale caste, the original was torn down. Ludwig died before this castle could be completed but it is still a masterpiece of the imagination. All the interiors are decorated with frescos depicting Wagners opera and norse sagas. This is with the exception of his mosaic throne room, that has a fascinating neo-byzantine style.
The following day we were to take off to Salzburg, but before leaving we visited the Old Gallery museum. This was an excellent decision as we not only had a fantastic lunch there, but we saw some stupendous paintings. That afternoon we arrived in Salzburg. After dining at the Hotel's recommended location we decided to take a walk. Dad began recognizing the street we were on and said that he thought there was a great brewery around the corner.
We walked for another 20 minutes, through some dark alleys, and there was not a soul in sight. We were about ready to give up when we noticed a small lighted sign at the top of this hill saying Augistinerbrau. Climbing up the hill, we entered through this tiny door. Passing through labyrinthine halls, we began to hear a low rumbling. Eventually, we found our way to a hive of activity, stands selling all sorts of austrian favorites and of course, the Augustinian brew. We even ran into an old friend, Margaret Burch there. It was a night full of surprises. The next morning we visited the museum, residence, and major castle. Every night we went to restaurants that Margaret recommended, and every one was great. The last day we spent visiting the theater and the local Steigl Brewery. Our final night in Salzburg, we had this desert called a Nockrel. Three giant souffle puffs, symbolizing the three hills of Salzburg, sat on top of a layer of fruit of the forest. It was light and delicious. The following morning we were off to Vienna.
Vienna is an amazingly charming city. Simply arriving into that city from the train station, you could see it. Hustle and bustle. Growth. New steel and glass next to medieval stone and Baroque marble. The afternoon we arrived we visited a part of the Hofburg complex. This city-within-a-city's worth of palaces, offices, museums, gardens, stables, and archives is dense beyond compare. I was stunned as I walked around it that it was all part of the same building. It was like Versailles, being smushed into the middle of paris. It wasn't nearly as elegant as the Louvre, but it was certainly bigger. It now holds over 7 different museums, the old Imperial apartments, the famous viennese stables, and the President's offices. Here we learned about Vienna's odd monarch, the tragic and melancholic Sisi, Queen Elizabeth. She was widely recognized as one of the most beautiful women in the world, and she was granted by the king to travel away from court for most of her life. She studied hungarian and greek, had an intense workout regime, and generally abhorred courtly life. She was killed by an italian anarchist in 1898. That night we met up with Victoria Hill, one of my best friends at Wake. From her we got the insider's look into the city. We had dinner at this restaurant that must have been 7 stories underground. We could see the side of a medieval well that now made up part of the wall.
The next day we visited Schönbrunn Palace, where we learned about Sisi's husband, Franz Joseph's life and routine. That man had many virtues to admire. The man was up by 4 am every morning and would attend all court ceremony into the night. He would eat while ministers gave him reports from all over his empire. He handled almost all problems himself. He set apart one hour every day to listen to any common complain that regular people had and wanted him to address. He was said to be remarkably intelligent, friendly, and a workaholic. Sadly, the woman he loved wanted more than anything to be away from court, and he knew it was his duty to be there. He put his country's well being before his personal desires. His house was pretty, but the exterior was especially dull compared to other palaces we'd recently seen. The gardens were not too impressive either, however the hill in the back yard lent one spectacular views over Vienna. After that we visited the art history museum before meeting up with Victoria for dinner again.
The next day we visited the home of Prince Eugene of Savoy, of the the greatest military commanders in Austrian, if not European history. Napoleon considered him one of the 7 best, so that must count for something. His leadership defeated the Turks as they were bombarding Vienna, broke the siege of Budapest, and freed eastern Europe from the tyranny of Ottoman rule, while also beating Louis XIVth's ambitious plans for taking over Europe as well. He also had fantastic taste in architecture it seems, as his palace was beautiful and filled with a number of stunning works of art. The house has been called the Belvedere palace because of it's beauty.
That night we hopped on a train to Venice, about which too much has been written already. We stayed at my house, Casa Artom on the Grande Canal next to the Peggy Guggenheim.
I was sad to see Dad go and I can't wait for the next trip we'll take together. I truly loved every minute of our adventure and I look forward to going home all the more now. Hopefully this has let you in on something you didn't know about all these places. Here's some advice though. When you go- bring your dad!