After Oktoberfest, Brett and I traveled to Cologne, Germany where I attended a tradeshow called Photokina. It's the largest photography show in the world, with about 160,000 attendees. We were in Hall 5, so every morning I was able to practice my limited Germany by saying "Halle funf bitte" or "Hall 5 please" to the taxi driver.
This was my 4th Photokina but I'm always struck by the beauty of the town. The gothic cathedral towers over the town and the Rheine, and I was lucky enough to have a view of both from my hotel. Unfortunately for my boss, he had a view of another brick building - but I wasn't about to switch rooms :-)
In the US we have a clothing store called "Forever 21" that serves the youth market. Not to be outdone, the Germans have taken it down a notch with "Forever 18." I'm sure it has something to do with the lowered drinking age in Europe but it's still amusing.
Last Saturday Brett and I met some friends from San Francisco at Oktoberfest in Munich. In addition to the beer tents there were rides, food stalls, souvenir shops and a parade. It was opening day and people started arriving at the beer tents early in order to secure a seat. We arrived at 9AM and the tent we chose was already FULL - 3 hours before they were even serving beer. What makes it even crazier to me is that some tents can hold up to 10,000 people! I guess the people of Munich love their beer.
The festival is attended by locals and international tourists alike, and everyone had fun showing off their dirndls and lederhosen (leather pants). Some men even wore "calf warmers" to show off their calves, which are considered the sexiest part of the male body in Bavaria.
At noon a rolling cheer went from tent to tent and they started serving the beer. The oompah bands started playing and the festival began. Waitresses carried 5-10 liters of beer at a time to the tables of thirsty festival goers. It was an impressive sight. These women had biceps of steel! With each glass easily weighing 5pounds, Oktoberfest is a fun way to do strength training for your arms :-)
When we were in Munich we ate a LOT. Soft pretzels as thick as my wrist and pork and potato products galore. Amazingly we ate almost everything on these plates, from the sausages and sauerkraut mashed potatoes to the cheese spaetzle and red cabbage. Yum.
Last Thursday Brett and I took an overnight train to Munich so we could attend Oktoberfest. On Friday we attended Dachau, which is a former concentration camp outside of town. It's a sobering experience to walk the grounds, and the photos and stories of the activities at the camp are truly horrifying. We're glad we went, despite the somber experience. This photo is of the memorial sculpture at the event. Nearby, the words "Never forget" are displayed on a wall in multiple languages. I can't think of better words.
Today I noticed 3 bicycles "pulled over" on the side of the bike lane while police offers wrote tickets. An additional officer had his eyes trained on the stop light. Their crime? Running a red light. I'm just waiting for my first jaywalking ticket.
One other interesting traffic tidbit? There's no right on red in Holland. Not for bikers or cars. I guess I need to read the bike driving manual here. I made that mistake a few weeks ago and didn't even know I was breaking the law. Whoops!
This week we had to work late one night so my boss ordered pizza. I was on a conference call when I noticed that the pizza box had "Damn tasty" printed across the top. In looking at the box further I saw that the guarantee printed on the side used the word "damn" twice more. That's a lot of damns. Somehow I don't think that would fly in the US. It wasn't as funny as the "Big Americans" pizza box at the grocery store, but this one still made me chuckle.
While in Belgium we made a point of going to the grocery store. It's one of our favorite attractions in every country we visit. It was a Carrefour Express, which is part of a French chain. Given the French influence it was no big surprise to find Cassoulet in a can. We also continue to find interesting potato chip flavors - from Shwarma to Pickle to Ketchup flavors. You could almost make a burger by combining those 3.
I mentioned in an earlier post that french fries or "frites" are popular in Belgium. They definitely take them seriously there, even selling a special "frite" potatoes in the produce section. As a lover of all things potato and fried, I heartily approve.
Brett was in heaven this weekend. Overwhelmed with all the choices, but a happy man. The Brussels Belgian beer festival had 40 of the top Belgian brewers on hand with tastings of their top beers. The festival was held on the Grand Place, which is this huge square set between massive (and massively beautiful) buildings. There were lots of festivities, like:
The beer tents
The beer parade. Some carriages even had special holsters for the beer built into the sides, kind of like a cup holder for cars!
The beer parade stilt walkers. They ranged in height, with kids on the shorter ones, but the guys at the end were WAY up there! I'm sure they had to practice proper falling technique when training to use those stilts, as the cobblestone streets of Brussels aren't exactly level.
The other cool thing about the beer in Belgium was special glassware for each beer. Not just special shapes, but the logos and labels matched for every beer. Not an easy feat for a bar with 400 beers. But I think Brett's favorite stop was the local beer store. Aisles and aisles of just Belgian beers. Our backpacks were pretty heavy by the end of the day.
A local organization was doing free blood alcohol content testing on the square. Brett's number wasn't too bad - but he definitely wasn't legal to drive in Belgium where the legal limit is .49 (compared to Virginia's .8). Brett was told not to drive in Belgium. Good thing we took the train :-)
When I was in Brussels 11 years ago, I did the bare minimum. Photo of the Mannekin Pis (pissing boy) statue? Check. Photo of Grand Place (huge square in Central Brussels)? Check. Cone of frites and a Belgian waffle? Check. Then I got on a train and went to Germany. I think I was in Brussels for all of 3 hours. I didn't give the place a chance. This time around, we spent 2 days in Belgium and I have to say that Brussels is under rated, and Brugge (the other town we visited) is a real gem. These are sentiments echoed by many Belgians we met who were visibly disappointed after they heard that we were only in their country for a weekend. Rest assured, we'll be back.
The holy grail of Belgium includes Beer, Frites (French Fries), Mussels, and of course chocolate. They do them all well, but the Belgians have elevated Beer and Chocolate to an art form. Literally.
This chocolate is sold in a special "collection" with displays behind museum glass.
Think these are olives? Try chocolate covered almonds made to look like olives.
Want a pine cone? It's chocolate too.
Maybe you'd like a chocolate lunch? That's what the restaurant behind the fountain is serving. I like to think the statue is looking longingly at a chocolate shop :-)
For the non chocolate lovers, candy was plentiful too. I loved looking in the shop windows as the displays were very creative. I can only imagine what they're like around the holidays.
I think we had chocolates from 7 shops this weekend. I'd go back to Wittamer, Pierre Marcolini and Neuhaus in a heartbeat - but they're still no match for our gold standard, swiss chocolatier Teuscher.
When I leave the office each night, I often see some resident bunnies living by the tram tracks. They happily munch away at clover in the field nearby. I find it interesting because my office is in a relatively urban area - and also because this isn't my first rabbit encounter in Amsterdam.
Holly used to like to watch the 10-15 resident rabbits at Schiphol airport, and then one night when we were walking with friends in Nieuw Sloten, we came upon another large group.
They don't look wild either. They're black, white, spotted, brown, etc and look like the ones you'd find at a pet store. Maybe people get them as pets and then let them go? Regardless, they're really cute and I just want to hold them whenever I see them.
The other thing I see a lot of? Metal tree trunks. I thought they might be shelter for the bunnies but heard that they're an art project.
1) Stroopwaffels by the case. Buy 5 cases get 1 free. This was AFTER you've dropped off your bags and gone through passport control (they do security scanning at the gates). Who has room for 5 cases of stroopwaffles in their carry on? Don't get me wrong - Stroopwaffels are delicious. They're little wafer cookies with soft caramel inside - but even if you loved them the offer seems a little impractical. Look at the size of those boxes!
2) Buy 2 large Heineken and get a pair of free flip flops. I guess that would help get you in vacation mode.. ..