May 28, 2013

Germans Know How To Party After Game Wins!

I've been quite inactive here lately, but I've been busy with...well, traveling mostly, among other things. The first three weekends in May were spent traveling. But this past weekend we just had to stay in Munich.


Because it was the Champions League Final and Bayern Munich was playing. I am not a sports nerd, but I do watch soccer...or well, football as the Europeans call it, from time to time. My favourite team is Spain. And boy have I been lucky in the sports department with Spain being the current World Cup and Euro Cup champions?! Among these club football teams, I root for Real Madrid mainly, and then Barcelona. I followed their games and it was very heart breaking to see both my Spanish teams lose in the semi-finals to German teams. 

But heartbreaks aside, Saturday was quite festive in Munich. The entire city was going nuts all day. We were in Marienplatz for some shopping, and there were hordes of people singing and walking around, cheering for the game tonight. I have never seen the city so packed and buzzing with such excitement.

Needless to say, all restaurants with TVs were booked, so we decided to watch the game at our place with a couple of our friends. It was an exciting game, more so made by Umair and his conversations with the Bayern players. 

In the end, we won. And the reason why I was rooting for Bayern Munich is to experience this: 

Just 10 minutes walking from where we live is the street where these guys party after every win. The cops close off the roads to the cars and the long stretch of a road becomes a pedestrian only party area. The above video gives you an idea of how packed the street gets. There's singing, there's music, there's honking...tons and tons of honking, and a lot of smoke and fire. Yep, just like at new year's, they lit up fireworks on their own. But this time wasn't scary! Just smokey. 

And they also do weird things:

It was a lot of fun actually, just seeing these Germans go crazy happy. Also fun to finally experience what it's like to win in Germany. And the best part was - there was zero violence during the celebrations. No one smashed car windows or shop windows. They just sang and danced and jumped and lit fireworks. Till the early hours of morning. 

And when Umair and I were walking home, while crossing the street, a group of very drunk Germans stopped and waited for the green walking man, even though the road was made pedestrians only. Gotta love how these Germans follow rules to the tee, regardless of the situation. 

I have to say I absolutely love living in the city, we have access to everything so easily. I'm not sure if I can ever go back to the suburban life. Maybe in the far future. 

All in all, an entertaining night. 

Smoke! And there's a Cup!

May 8, 2013

Slovenia: Little Wonder of Europe

One random day:

Umair: Let's go to Ljubljana.
Me: Lbuj...jnan...what??
Umair: Ljubljana, it's the capital of Slovenia.
Me: Oh...Slovenia.

Slovenia. You know the small country that was once a part of Yugoslavia? Yes, no one really talks about Slovenia. And if you're visiting Europe, Slovenia will most likely not be in your itinerary. It never crossed our minds either. We've done Czech Republic within Eastern European countries. And we wanted to visit Hungary and Croatia. But Slovenia? 

You know when you walk into something not expecting much but then stumble upon something amazing? That is how I feel about Slovenia. The countryside is beautiful with lush greens, blue lakes and the Julian Alps. The capital, Ljubljana, is a perfect palette of pastels and charm. 

Our trip was a short weekend trip - 1.5 days. We took the night train and arrived to Ljubljana at 6AM. After checking in, instead of catching up on our sleep, we decided to take the 8AM bus to Lake Bled. We wanted to see as much as we could in the little time that we had.

Lake Bled is a small lake, bordered by Julian Alps with a castle perched high on a mountain, and a tiny island with a church. It is about 60km from Ljubljana.

Castle perched on top, and Julian alps behind.

We got there at 9.30, so it was not crowded. It was a warm and nice day, and as soon as I stepped out of our bus, I could almost feel fresh, alpine-ish air all around me. It's so lovely and serene, just strolling around the lake. 

To get to the small island with a church, you take a pletna, gondola like boats, because motor boats and ferries are not allowed on this lovely lake. 

It takes about 20 minutes to get to the island. The island is tiny, it has a set of staircases leading up to the church. 

After spending about 30 minutes on the island, we took our pletna back to the main land. Next up was Vintgar gorge, which was really my number one thing to do in Slovenia. We had limited time, and the buses running to Vintgar gorge had not-very-helpful schedules. To add, no bus actually went to the gorge, you had to walk 20 minutes in the countryside to get to the gorge. Which was fine.  

Until we got there, and realized we were in countryside. All alone. With cows. And no directions or signs leading to Vintgar. Which made me wonder....

Me: How come it's just the two of us going to see the gorge? Surely people want to see the gorge??
Umair: Hmm, maybe it's too early in the morning?
*Two cars pass by us*
Both of us: Oh right, we are in the countryside, WHO walks around countryside? You drive. Duh! 

But there is something so peaceful and lovely about walking in the countryside, lost, asking for directions from any living soul we can find. If we weren't so short on time, I would've loved to explore more Slovenian countryside on foot.

Julian Alps, so pretty.

Alps peaking through the lush greens.

Walking in crazy heat, completely lost, uphill, downhill, short on time....I mumbled to myself that the gorge better be worth all this effort.

And then we were there. And yes, the parking lot of the gorge had ton and ton of cars. Was it worth all the effort and running around? Well, the pictures speak for themselves. 

It's a 1.6km gorge, with wooden bridges and walkways built around the rocks to walk on. It was heavenly. 

Because we were there early during the day, it wasn't so crowded. Or else, I imagine it to be pretty difficult walking around. It gets really narrow in some parts so traffic coming from both sides cannot walk at the same time. And for tall people like me, I had to constantly be aware of the rocks above me so not to bang my head on them. It was very hard to be aware though, I couldn't take my eyes off the water. The gorge ends with a waterfall.

So out of this world, the feeling when walking through the gorge. All you heard was the sound of rushing water, birds chirping, and footsteps on the wood. I had just started envisioning me living on the gorge...

....when I was brought back to the world by Umair's hurried voice stating we had to get back to our bus. Oh right. Get back to the real world. 

So off we went walking through the up and down hills of the beautiful Slovenian countryside to catch our bus. 

Back in Ljubljana, we set off to explore the tiny city. You know what I said about having no expectations and stumbling upon something amazing? Slovenia can make you feel that way not once but many times.

Ljubljana is a very small city, we covered it all by foot. Apparently tourists can't even take public transport easily because payments are made through cell phones. Strange. 

I love the feeling of starting to explore a new city, not knowing what it has to offer (okay I have a fairly good idea because I do my research before going, but still). So we were walking to the city centre, when we encountered the first of the many bridges - the Dragon bridge. 

The street led us to Ljubljana's main square, Presernov Trg, where sits an adorable pink Baroque church, adjacent to the Triple Bridge.

The church

Triple Bridge taken from the steps of the church. It's not as clear, but there's three bridges connecting the streets.

My favourite part of Ljubljana was the cafe culture. Rivers flow in many European cities; Paris, Florence, Prague, Salzburg and many many more....but what I loved about Ljubljana's river and bridges was that on both sides of all the bridges were cobblestone streets lined with cafes after cafes. It was a pedestrian only zone. It gave the city such a charming vibe.

Another thing I loved was the pastel palette of the city. The pink church, the buildings in old town, Ljubljana is all pastels. They even had little pink benches around.

Absolute love! I am so grateful that I got a chance to live in Europe, because it just opens doors to so many beautiful places, which I would otherwise have not been able to visit. Slovenia is an absolute gem. And after recently being to Italy, Slovenia was such a contrast in terms of tourist population. I actually liked it - less people around, a more relaxed feel, and of course, cheaper prices! Slovenians all speak such fluent and perfect English, something that really isn't as common in Germany, or at least in Munich. 

Clear reflection of the church and triple bridge at night, beautiful .

PS - it's pronounced Lyublyana. 

May 2, 2013

Once Upon a Time in Bavaria

Yesterday was Labour Day in all of Europe, so Umair had a day off. And when you are living in Bavaria and the weather is gorgeous, it is silly not to take advantage of a day off. Bavaria has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty and culture, easy travel is an added bonus. So we decided to take a day trip down to Chiemsee - a small town with freshwater lake, around an hour train ride from Munich. In Chiemsee, there is an island where the eccentric King Ludwig of Bavaria built his Versailles-like Palace. But before I get to that palace, I would like to talk about, among other things, my love for Disney. 

I am a Disney fan, yes, still. Please do not age discriminate. Nor give me judgmental looks. A couple of months ago, they were showing Cinderella on Disney channel here and I was singing along with the mice..

We can do it, we can do it
We can help our Cinderelly
We can make her dress so pretty

...when I realized Umair was giving me the weirdest look and asking me what on earth was I watching. I gave him a look back that said get out of the rock you live under and continued singing.

Anyway, I grew up watching Disney fairy tales. And don't mind going back and watching Little Mermaid or Aladdin once in a while. I do realize the ridiculousness of those Disney fairy tales, but harm in indulging in a bit of ridiculousness sometimes ;). Also, watching Disney movies makes me nostalgic and gives me warm and fuzzy feelings. I always drooled over the castles shown in the Disney movies. Because well....who does not drool over castles?! And then, last summer, I got my chance to visit a Disney castle! Where I played my own fairy tale in my head....dancing to 'tale as old as time' with my Beast... 

Okay there was no Beast. It was just me and my 2 lovely sisters who were visiting Europe last summer.

And okay it wasn't exactly a Disney castle, but it was the very castle that became the inspiration for Walt Disney's fairy tale castles; the Neuschwanstein Castle.

picture off google image

picture off google image

Inside the castle grounds.

Situated on a high hill above a village, surrounded by gorgeous alps and lake, this 19th century Romanesque castle was the first of its kind, with the many towers and an innovative structure. It is situated close to a small village, Fussen, which is a 2 hour train ride from Munich. It was built by King Ludwig of Bavaria.The construction started in 1869. But the castle was never completed due to the sudden, mysterious death of King Ludwig.

King Ludwig. He was quite an interesting character. He was engaged to the princess of Vienna, I believe, but broke off the engagement because he was actually gay. Because of his love for castles, swans and romance, he is also called Swan King or Fairy tale King. He was only 19 when he became king.

The Bavarians were not very happy with Ludwig getting castles after castles constructed, especially because the Bavarian economy at that time was in bad shape. However, in Mr. Ludwig's defense, it is said that he used his personal money for the castles. 

Ludwig liked to keep to himself, avoid the public and live a life of mystery. Well, his love for mystery also led to his death being a mystery. Apparently, the government advisors wanted Ludwig off the throne, and thus plotted against him. This is what they did: they got doctors to report Ludwig as clinically insane and therefore incompetent to be king, without running any proper medical reports. And so Ludwig was forced to resign. A day after, he was found dead in lake Starnberg, which is pretty close to Munich. He was a great swimmer, so drowning doesn't seem to be a possibility. But the mysterious king of Bavaria died a mysterious death leaving his Neuchwanstein Castle unfinished.

Not exactly a fairy tale ending for a king who believed in fairy tales, now is it?

Imagine building the gorgeous castle and not being able to live in it. I've seen the inside, and too bad we're not allowed to take pictures but I kid you not the man had leather toilet seats in his washroom! And marble swans for sink faucets. The technology used in the castle was supposed to be very advanced for that time.   

He built another castle, Linderhof, for himself as well. I have yet to see this one!

His 3rd castle is what we saw yesterday in Chiemsee. We took a ferry to the island called Herrencheimsee, which is also the castle's name. Much like the Neuschwanstein, Herrenchiemsee was also left unfinished due to the sudden death of Ludwig and due to lack of funding. This castle is supposed to be a copy of Versailles Palace, and while there are similarities, it's got nothing on the Versailles! However, what's so awesome about this castle is that this is all there is on the island on lake Chiemsee. An entire island for Mr. Ludwig, and all the island's got is a castle!

One of the fountains by the castle - CREEPY CREEPY! 

So our Labour day was spent admiring the labour of many hardworking engineers, architects and builders; and admiring Ludwig's eccentric ways of life. Maybe a tiny part of the day was also spent with me having a conversation with Ludwig in my head...

Me: Buddy Wig, you were living a fairy tale! You were a king, you've got castles...
Ludwig: Yeah but when I mysteriously died, my prince never came to save me.
Me: Your prince...right. Too bad. But here's an idea! Let's build a castle more romantic and bigger than Neusch, and have a huge field with marigold flowers around it! But no swans. I want tortoises.
Ludwig: Anything for you. Where were you all my life? I never had anyone who understood my love for castles...
Me: I apologize, I was in North America and clueless about living the Bavarian dream. But let's get the project started - we wouldn't want an unfinished castle now, would we.
Umair: What are you thinking?
Me: Oh...umm, I don't understand this menu. 

Which actually was true. I've now started to read the menu on my own without Umair having to translate every single item to English. But yesterday's fish menu was extensive and very confusing to my already consumed brain. The sweet waitress tried her very best to explain each fish item on the menu to me.

After lunch, we walked around the promenade of Chiemsee for a bit before heading back...

...where I mentally checked off the number of castles I've seen since last summer. Way too many for my own good! I've seen the ones in Edinburgh, Munich, Meersburg, Vienna, Prague, 3 in Bavaria, Versailles...that's 9 already!

The next one I see is the one Umair is building for me. Shush, no need to laugh. He is building one for me. With fields of marigold flowers.

But in all seriousness, my favourite castle so far has to be the Neuschwanstein Castle. I think it is one of the top most popular castles in Europe, and definitely one of the biggest tourist spots in Germany.

Moral of the story? Don't mock or question someone who's building castles upon castles despite economic issues, because years from now those castles will be helping your economy! 

Castle next to Neuschwanstein where Ludwig spent his childhood

the area around both the castles is gorgeous with serene blue lake bordered by alps.