Tuesday, October 27, 2009

September 28, 2009 (Southern Germany)

I am currently on a train from Fussen, Germany to Munich, where Oktoberfest is in full force. I am toting a spiffy little vest that I bought at a second hand store, and I have high hopes for a felt hat when I get to Munich. The problem with attending Oktoberfest is that I can’t actually take anything that I buy with me. If I could easily carry some things with me, then I would be in a pair of Lederhosen faster than Clark Kent becomes Superman.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, is wearing the traditional German garb in this area. On my way through Switzerland, I saw hordes of people returning from or going to Oktoberfest with their costumes on. It’s much easier for them to have these costumes, though, because they attend this thing yearly. There’s no way that you can buy a costume just for one year. For a full male get-up, it costs about 250 Euro, which is about $375…yikes! Thus, my 10 Euro vest will have to do. There are so many stores that sell the outfits and they must make money hand over fist.

Anyways, I’ll rewind a bit back to Switzerland, where I had the distinct pleasure of the most picturesque train ride in Europe. I rode the Golden Panoramic line that took me from Spiez, Switzerland, through Interlaken and up into Lake Lucerne. The mountains and the lakes were towering above my little train and the waters surrounding were aqua-marine blue, literally. I couldn’t believe my eyes, because I’ve never seen mountain water so blue. It looked Caribbean. But, I guess that’s the Swiss Alps for you.

When I arrived in Lucerne, I immediately noticed the prices, which were in Swiss Francs. For a cheap entrée at a restaurant, you will pay around $17-20, The only things that seem to be relatively cheap are some of the Swiss cheeses or milk. Otherwise, forget it. Despite the prices, the city was unbelievable. It’s a town of only 58,000, but it’s the most beautiful town I’ve ever been to. First of all, I’ve found that I love typical Alpine architecture, which I find to have a lot of Gothic to new-Gothic architecture mixed in (my favorite). Second, I just really enjoy the feeling of being trapped amongst towering mountains. The town, the lake, and some of the fortress like buildings made me feel like I should be entering the mines of Morya in Lord of the Rings. Even the simplest thing as a bathroom was hidden down some passageway with an arched, stained, and iron-banded door. It’s the kind of place where you expect little elven-jewelers and craftsmen to be darting about in small, green, felt pants with golden specs perched on their pointy noses. How is that for imagery? Along the banks of the river are cream colored, gray, and muted green buildings, with long brown timbers visible on the outside. The skyline is littered with pointy spires. It was certainly a contrast to the fruity colored and rounded Verona in Italy. I liked this much, much more. Also, though, the town was very modern behind it’s rustic façade. You would walk by book stores and coffee shops to find that the entire wall was an automatic sliding door…I’m talking a 15 ft. sliding door. The first time it happened to me, I got the feeling of awakening some great beast that I had previously thought inanimate. Moving on, there were watches and knives in every golden-lit display case, some with price tags of 35,000-40,000 francs (comparable in dollars). The latest fall and winter designs were on display. I can only imagine how beautiful that place is in the winter time with every surface gingerly covered with downy snow. If this all wasn’t enough to secure Lucerne as the most beautiful place in my aesthetic, there is a very long and picturesque covered bridge that spans the lake, with a rounded, medieval-looking stone building jutting out of the water off to the side. The bridge was painted with all sorts of war scenes and fairy tales at the peak of the roof…about every 10 ft. or so.

In Lucerne, I stayed at a Korean hostel named “Twins Minbok,” which was very interesting and cheap…that’s why I picked it. It was located in a very modern building with an ice-rink and dance studios below, and consisted of a male dorm, a female dorm, and a large central area with computers, a kitchen and a bunch of tables. Here, I got to eat fried rice and an egg for breakfast, take off my shoes and put on the house sandals when I walked in, and try Korean whiskey (offered to me by a group of Korean guys who didn’t speak English).

The easiest and cheapest way for me to eat in Lucerne was to make curry. So, my stay in Lucerne was both Alpine and Asian…interesting.

I also visited the Rosengart gallery while in Lucerne, which housed a bunch of Picasso’s works, many of them his earlier ones. Before visiting, I didn’t know anything about Picasso, but I left with a good knowledge of his life and his contributions, and I also think that I kind of like him, despite my aversion to modern art. What I especially liked about this museum is that they had a huge display of Picasso in photographs at different points in his life, most of them candid. I learned about him and his family, which really helped to solidify Picasso in my mind. More museums should do this.

One of the most memorable experiences from my stay in Lucerne was sitting by the waterside at this medieval looking restaurant sipping a very fruity Riesling and eating battered and fried apples (that sounds pretentious, I know, but believe me, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing when I order a wine). There were mallard ducks and swans swimming to my left and I had a clear view of the opposite shoreline and the covered bridge. All of a sudden, though, two swans broke into a heated race down the lake, which sounded like horses galloping as their wings slapped against the water. I couldn’t believe it.

I will definitely return to Lucerne in the future, and I will definitely ski the Alps. I wouldn’t mind living in Switzerland either.

After Switzerland, I hopped a seven hour train ride to Fussen, Germany, the home of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. I was quite relieved to find that I could eat a filling meal for less than $10. And boy did I eat while I was there. I ate lake pike in dill sauce, turkey schnitzel (saving the veal for elsewhere), liver and pancake soup, liver loaf, Bavarian sausages with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes, a roasted leg of pork with sauerkraut and a potato dumpling, a nice hot chocolate, Goulasch soup, a plum pastry, and, of course, beer. It was all really different than the past cuisines, but extremely delicious. It completely fits my style, which is man style…big piece of meat and some hearty sides. Once again, though, a shock to the digestive tract.

The highlight of this town, though, was what lay outside the little cobbled streets and shops. Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles can be experienced on the mountainsides neighboring the town. Neuschwanstein is the castle that Disney modeled their Cinderella castle after, if that gives you any sort of picture. It is set against a mountainside and has thick gray walls with pointy, rounded towers, and parapets all around. A picture would do this more justice. Neuschwanstein castle was the last of King Ludwig’s castles that he built across Bavaria. He actually only finished the 2nd and the 4th floors before he was declared insane by the other powers “that were” (does that work?). You see, they declared him insane because he was draining the country’s funds by building these castles for himself. They needed an excuse to take him out of power, thus the insanity accusation. After accusing him, they put him under the supervision of psychiatrists in another of his castles, where he spent most of his time. The psychiatrists had holes drilled in walls and doors, so they could view him wherever he went. King Ludwig ended up drowning in a neighboring lake at the age of 52 with one of his psychiatrists. They’re not exactly sure whether it was accidental or calculated, but I think calculated.