A Do-Re-Mi Day Trip

As Dani and I planned the itinerary for our time in Munich, we looked at a few possible day trips to get out of the city and see some of the other cool stuff that Germany has to offer. I was originally most interested in visiting Schloss Neuschwanstein, that giant castle that was supposedly the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle, but given that it is a Mecca for Instagram “influencers” (and wannabes) and knowing that it would be likely overrun with people all vying for the same exact shot, I decided against it. A deal on GetYourGuide for a day trip to Salzburg, Austria, however…well, it piqued my interest. We hadn’t realized how close Munich actually is to Salzburg (a mere 2 hours on the train) and being pretty big fans of The Sound of Music, we decided to go for it. Popping over to Salzburg for the day also offered an added bonus: another country to cross off our “visited” list!ACS_0003

The morning of our day trip we had enough time to grab breakfast and a coffee before wandering over to the meeting point at the train station. Once we boarded the train, our guide, Maxine, gave us a historical overview of Salzburg and also talked quite a lot about The Sound of Music and the different places around town where key scenes were filmed. Dani and I have a tradition of watching the movie every year around Christmas time, so we were definitely excited to see the locations in real life! The trip itself was quick and just before we rolled into the train station, we got a stunning view of Salzburg from the train – fortress atop the hill and all.

Our guide started us on a walking tour, and the first stop were the Mirabell gardens, where much of the iconic “Do-Re-Mi” sequence from The Sound of Music was filmed. We had a few free minutes to wander through the garden, then met back up with the group to head over to the Old Town. We’ve seen a lot of Old Towns, living in Europe, and Salzburg definitely didn’t disappoint. Mozart’s birth house, the tiny corner cafés, the winding streets with the iron shop signs hanging out front…it was so charming! Maxine gave us a thorough tour of the main sights of the Old Town, and we finished in front of St. Peter Stiftskulinarium, one of the oldest restaurants in the world. It was first mentioned in a letter to Charlemagne in 803 A.D. Maxine had taken the liberty of making a lunch reservation for our group, but given that it’s kind of a pricey place, Dani and I opted out and hit the market for a quick bite instead so we could maximize our three hours of free time.

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We knew we wanted to see the Sound of Music abbey, which is at the top of the hill, just next to the fortress so after our snack, we set out through the old town to find the trail to the top. Thankfully it wasn’t too challenging of a walk and we made it up the hill to the abbey relatively quickly. We spent some time poking around the outside and inside the smaller chapel; everything was peaceful and quiet. Of course we couldn’t stop ourselves quoting the moving as we stood at the gate where the Von Trapp children come to see Maria after her sudden departure from the Von Trapp household. Unfortunately, there was some cloudiness/fog/pollution that day, so the view of the Austrian alps from the abbey – which is magnificent, or so we heard – was somewhat obscured.

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Coming back down from the abbey, we stopped to split a beer at one of Austria’s oldest breweries, Stiegl, founded in 1492 and supposedly frequented by Mozart. While we were there, we ran into Maxine, our guide, who let us know that lunch at the restaurant had run a little longer than she’d thought, so we had the option to stay one hour longer in Salzburg if we so chose. Score! With the extra time, decided to go for Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) at a little family-owned café that our guide recommended, where we indulged in two different kinds of cake and milchkaffee.

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After our afternoon dessert, there wasn’t a ton of time left before our departure, so we did what we do best – went and sat next to the Salzach river and enjoyed the sun. Unfortunately our train ride home – though beautiful, as the fog/cloudiness had lifted and we could see the mountains and countryside – and our enthusiasm from the day were marred when an accident on the train tracks delayed our already late return to Munich by about another hour. Then, as we were sitting on the tracks, came the news that Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was burning. Joy tempered, we returned back to our hotel.

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Reflecting on our day in Salzburg now, however, I can only smile! We knew we would enjoy it, but like our experience in Poland, we had no idea just how lovely Salzburg would actually be. It definitely has inspired us to visit Austria again in the future, and to perhaps spend a little bit more time in the countryside.

 

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Spring Break in Munich

We kicked off our weeklong spring break (two weeks for Dani!) by hopping on a quick flight over to Munich, Germany. You’ll remember from our trip to Krakow that technically, we have been to Munich before, but this time we actually went there on purpose!

I was going to title this post “Mediocre Munich” because, to be honest, we both felt kind of meh about it, but I changed my mind once I was reminded of Nomadic Matt’s recent blog post about globalization. The fact that I feel kind of “blah” about Munich is not really about Munich at all, but rather my warped tourist’s perception of what I thought Munich should be. The reality did not match the myth that I had created for myself, which isn’t Munich’s fault at all. It’s mine. Munich does not owe me shit.

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That said, Munich was fine. We had a good time, but it’s not a place I feel particularly compelled to go back to. We got in to the city really late on Saturday evening and went straight to our hotel, so that we could be up and at ’em for our 10 AM free walking tour. The walking tour was a basic introduction to the city, but we enjoyed our guide so much that during the tour’s short bathroom break, we immediately booked his afternoon Third Reich-themed walking tour, which was just as excellent. So the bulk of our first day was devoted to learning more about Munich itself, and we did enjoy ourselves quite a lot on the walking tours, though the weather left a bit to be desired. In fact, it was cold! 

Naturally, we used the cold weather as an excuse to hang out in Munich’s most famous beer hall, the Hofbrauhaus, both in between our two walking tours and right afterward. Is it touristy and ridiculous? Yes. Did we care? Not even slightly. I mean, the beers were as big as our heads!

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The very next day we took a day trip to Salzburg, and then we had one more full day in Munich before we took off to Brussels. We chose to spend the majority of it at the Viktualienmarkt, a huge open-air market in the center of town that also has a beer garden right at its center. It’s much more frequented by the locals and quite reasonably priced. By this time, the weather had greatly improved, so we didn’t mind spending a few hours outdoors in the beer garden at all. After, we went to the Royal Residence museum and then popped over to spend a few minutes in the Englischer garten, Munich’s version of Parc de la tête d’or.

The part that sort of soured me on Munich, though, was how we were treated by the people there. We got the royal tourist treatment on several occasions – and not in a good way. There were certain things going in that we expected, like being brought and charged for a bottle of water at dinner instead of getting a pitcher of tap water, because I lacked the German skills to specifically ask for a pitcher. The same kind of thing happens in Paris, though because I speak French we are usually able to avoid that kind of price gouging for tourists. But in Munich we just felt like we were being constantly ripped off – a bottle of water was twice as expensive on our bill than what was shown on the menu. Our meals were more expensive – on two occasions at two separate restaurants, our servers heard us speaking English and swapped our German menus for English ones, which had higher prices. And on two occasions at two separate restaurants, when the dinner bill came the waiters “reminded” us that, “the price doesn’t include tip! How much would you like to tip me – 20 percent??” which not only is far from the general European practice of rounding up to an even figure on the bill, but is just a tacky way to communicate. And our cab ride to the airport the morning we left (public transit didn’t run that early) was seventy euros for a twenty-six minute ride. I couldn’t help but compare it to my experiences in both New York and Paris, where a cab ride to the airport (often up to an hour of driving, especially in Paris) has never cost me more than 50 bucks.

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So yeah, we left Munich feeling a little underwhelmed and turned off. I don’t want to make generalizations about a place and its people – I’m sure if we spent more time there, off the beaten tourist track, that we would have a much different view. Talking to the locals we encountered in the Viktualienmarkt was really the highlight of our experience in Munich, and I would have enjoyed a lot more of that and a lot less feeling like the “stupid American abroad” trope. Perhaps we’ll go back one day – to Germany, certainly, there’s just so much to see and experience – but for now, we say auf wiedersehen.

 

Delicious Krakow

I know this post is super late, given that we traveled to Krakow in November, but I just really have to talk about our food tour experience since it was such a great one. We’re food tour people – I’ve posted about our amazing experience in Rome here – and food tours have become our go-to activity in new places that we visit. It’s a fun way to see a city, and the guides typically make excellent restaurant recommendations for places that provide quality food and are authentic and not too overtaken by tourists.

We knew we definitely wanted to do a food tour while we were in Krakow, and we opted to book through Delicious Poland. They’re locally owned and operated, and though the company has expanded to include tours in other cities like Wroclaw and Warsaw, it was created in Krakow. In fact, our guide for our food tour through Kazimierz, the city’s former Jewish quarter, was the company’s CEO/co-founder, Kamila.

Having done several food tours, Dani and I have a pretty good idea of what we like and this one ticked all the boxes. It was a group experience, but small – there were only six of us, plus Kamila. We’ve been on larger tours and we’ve been on smaller tours where it was just us and the guide, and we definitely like the group atmosphere – there is just something fun about discovering and sharing new food with other people. But the one thing that we really loved about this particular tour through Krakow was that we tried foods that were totally traditional to Poland and that we also would probably never have tried on our own. I mean, everyone likes pierogies and potato pancakes – but pickled herring? Chilled beet soup? In all honesty, I would never order either at a restaurant, but I’m so glad we had the opportunity to try them on our food tour and that the food choices were not tailored to the palates of finicky tourists.

So, what did we eat?

We kicked off the tour at a pierogi take-out joint and sampled four different kinds of pierogies, three savory and one sweet. As it was getting close to the Christmas holidays, Kamila explained that the pierogies she chose were typical of those served at Christmas time in Krakow, and she explained how they are typically made (it sounds super tedious). From there, we walked further into Kazimierz and stopped at a restaurant where we the aforementioned chilled beet soup, which was surprisingly delicious and not at all “earthy’ tasting as one normally expects with beets. We also had zurek, a hot soup made from a sourdough starter. It reminded me a lot of the dill pickle soup at the Polish-American restaurant my family frequents. I’m not sure why I was initially put off by the idea of a sour soup, given that I quite like the dill pickle version, but the zurek was excellent.

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From there, we went to a Polish vodka bar where we sampled two different kinds of vodka – one traditional/plain, and one flavored – accompanied by herring and other small bites, like smoked sheep’s milk cheese. I’ll be honest: this stop was my least favorite, food-wise, as I’m just not normally a fish person under the best of circumstances and herring is quite particular. But it’s typical in Poland to have herring alongside vodka, as the grease of the fish complements the bite of the alcohol, so I tried it. Final verdict: herring is not for me, but Dani liked it (as did the others in our group) so definitely don’t be put off by my unpopular take. I’m glad Kamila included this stop on the tour, since herring is everywhere in Krakow, so it added authenticity to the whole experience.

Wisely, we took some time to “walk it off” before heading over to a craft brewery, Ursa Maior. Krakow is big-time into craft beer (definitely NOT a problem for us) and this brewery in particular was cool for two reasons: one, the head brewer is a woman and two, they only serve their own beer, which is 100% vegan, natural, and locally made. Not much else to say on this stop – we love beer, so we loved it (obviously).

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Finally, we had our stop for dinner at a restaurant where Dani and I had actually stopped for a light lunch earlier in the day…whoops. No matter – we were more than happy to eat there again because the food was amazing. We had a beef goulash and potato pancakes, followed up by a dessert (which I unfortunately don’t remember) and kompot, a juice made from a variety of boiled fruits.

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It’s hard to make this look appetizing in a photo, but believe me, it was delicious.

To say that we left fat and happy would be an understatement. And, as a little side note and shout out to our awesome guide, Kamila, she helped me read the instructions on the cold medicine I had bought earlier in the day. She also recommended a great paczki place that we tried the very next morning (there was no way I was going to Krakow and not getting paczki). I went with Kamila’s suggestion of rose jam filling and all I can say is that the Michigan paczki market needs to get on board with that particular flavor, STAT.

Really, we can’t recommend Delicious Poland enough. This is not a sponsored post – we just know a good food tour when we see one, and this is right up there with our epic experience in Rome. If you ever find yourself in Poland, check them out – you won’t regret it!

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I see you looking at my donut, pigeon.

A Week in Paris

Regardless of whether or not I decided to participate in the Lyon exchange this year, I knew I wanted to go to Paris this August. It’s not really the ideal time to visit the city, as things tend to shut down while the Parisians leave the city for their annual vacances (or maybe that DOES make it the ideal time to visit…) but I wanted to come to celebrate my 30th birthday, which is at the beginning of the month. We were actually pleasantly surprised to find that it was not too overrun by tourists – perhaps it was just late enough in the month that most families had already gone back home to prepare for a return to school and work. Then again, for this particular trip to Paris, Dani and I opted to avoid doing most of the touristy things as we both have been here several times before. Also, having a dog back at our AirBnB meant that we had to limit how much time we spent out and about so that Lucie didn’t feel too neglected.

Still, we managed to get up to quite a lot while we were in the City of Lights; some days even felt positively busy. Here are some of the highlights:

Lunch in the Marais with Dani’s niece – The day we arrived in Paris also happened to be Dani’s niece’s last day in France before returning to London to fly home. She was on a trip with two of her friends, and we managed to meet up with them in the Marais for lunch – the best falafel on the planet (well, at least in France) – and a quick walk around the neighborhood. Unfortunately we were absolutely exhausted after our flight and the experience of hauling our massive suitcases over to the bag check at Gare de Lyon, as we couldn’t check into our AirBnB until later in the afternoon. Did I mention that I also had to carry Lucie in a bag around my neck nearly the entire time? So we probably weren’t as fun as we could have been, had we been a bit more fresh – but it was still fun to show the girls one of our favorite spots in Paris.

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Sainte Chapelle and Dani’s first galette – Still exhausted but not wanting to waste our day, we took the train into the city (our AirBnB was just outside of Paris proper) and went to Sainte Chapelle, which Dani had never seen and I had only been to once. There was almost no line! The last time I went, the stained glass windows had been partially under restoration, so it was nice to see them in their full glory. After, we wandered down the rue Saint-André-des-Arts and Dani had her first galette – a savory crêpe. She opted for cheese and caramelized onion filling, which was delicious.

The 130th birthday party – When I was 18 and spending the summer in New York City, I had the great fortune to meet my aunt Christine’s two close friends, Liz and Andrew. At the time that I met them, they were planning a move from New York to Paris and I assumed that it would be the last I saw of them; fortunately, through a weird/serendipitous series of events, we’ve managed to keep in touch over the years and I have had the great privilege to visit them several times on various trips to Paris. They very graciously offered to host a “130th birthday party” during our trip, as I turned 30 and Christine and Andrew both celebrated their 50th birthdays this year. As always we had a fabulous time and way, way too much wine.

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Photos aren’t allowed inside, unfortunately!

A night at thMoulin Rouge – My only other birthday request was for tickets to see the show at the Moulin Rouge, which Dani happily obliged. We had a fancy dinner at Le Bon Bock, which claims to bethe oldest restaurant in Montmartre, hosting the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso (among others), which was delicious and, thankfully, not overly touristy. Afterward we had a quick cocktail at Lulu White Drinking Club which was delightful and I will for sure be adding that to my list of must-visit places in Paris. It was off to the cabaret after that, and while I won’t spoil the experience for anyone else who is thinking of going, I will say that it was kitschy, fun, and totally worth doing, if only just to say you did. One unexpected highlight of the show was watching a dancer shout at a woman in the audience for filming a number on her cell phone, which is prohibited, while in the middle of performing a number. Yowza.

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At Lulu White

Montmartre Food Tour – We really love a good food tour, so on a whim I booked the last two spots on a morning tour of Montmartre. It turned out to be really wonderful – not quite as good as Rome, maybe, but excellent in its own right. Our group was small and friendly, our guide was great and knowledgeable, and we were extremely well fed (and nearly drunk) when all was said and done. Plus, we’ll never pass up an opportunity to spend a few more hours in Montmartre.

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General flânerie – Since we weren’t in a big rush to see and do anything in particular (other than our trip to the Moulin), we really enjoyed taking some small strolls around the city. Our AirBnB was not too far away from the Bois de Boulogne, so we packed a little lunch and took the dog over one day, which was nice for all of us. Another day we hopped on the metro and got off at Notre Dame and went up to the top of the Cathedral to take in the view of Paris and the different gargoyles and chimeras, then afterward just wandered over to the Louvre, through Tuileries, and down the rue Saint-Honoré. We had a nice late lunch, ate macarons from Pierre Hermé, went shopping, and just enjoyed the fact that we had nowhere else to be other than exactly where we were. It was perfect.

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A French teacher, eating a French treat. You can’t see it, but the Eiffel Tower was just off to my right. Cliché or what?

Overall, it was a great week to get ourselves primed and ready for the year ahead. We’ve been in Lyon for a few days now and are trying to settle into more of a routine of daily life vs. constant vacation mode, but with school still out of session and us still feeling like tourists, it’s definitely a work in progress. We’ve needed to remind ourselves to slow down a bit – after all, we’ll be here for a year, so there’s no need to rush about and try to do and see everything all at once.

Rome: Bite by Bite

There are few things I love to do more while traveling than eat really good food. Looking up restaurant recommendations, and asking for recommendations from locals, is one of my favorite ways to prepare for a trip. And what better place to stuff myself to the gills on amazing food than Italy?

One thing to know about Rome: it’s jam-packed with tourists. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it can make finding real, authentic restaurants – ones at which an actual Italian would eat  – kind of difficult. And I don’t take eating crummy food very lightly!

So when Dani came across Eating Italy Food Tours – well, let’s just say we signed up, no questions asked. We chose the Twilight Trastevere tour, which is an evening walking tour through one of the coolest neighborhoods in Rome. Trastevere is still relatively off the beaten track for most tourists (though that’s changing) and it’s where you’ll find a lot of Rome’s young people hanging out well into the night. You may even catch a glimpse of Owen Wilson, who lives in the neighborhood!

Our tour was amazing, and it remains to this day one of our absolute best travel memories. Our group was small, only 12 people, and we stopped at SEVEN different places over the course of three and a half hours. At each stop we sampled a variety of traditional Italian cuisine and wine. Let me tell you – I thought we’d be having tiny samples of everything, but by the sixth stop on our tour – a sit-down dinner! – I was stuffed. And there was still one more stop afterward for gelato! Did I mention that this tour also includes a full glass of wine at several stops, including as many bottles as we could drink at dinner?

Oh yeah. Now that’s my kind of tour.

So, what’d we eat?

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On the terrace at da Enzo.

1. Da Enzo al 29 – Our first stop was at the family-owned restaurant da Enzo al 29. There, we got to know our guide, Sebastiana, a bit better and were able to chat with the other members of the group while we dined on prosciutto, melon and cheese and toasted the beginning of our tour with a nice glass of prosecco. This particular trattoria has award-winning food but is almost impossible to get into for dinner without a reservation – try it at lunchtime, instead!

2. Next we stopped by the wine cellar of Spirito di Vino, a restaurant that prides itself on being part of Italy’s “slow food” movement, which started as a reaction against Rome’s first McDonald’s and the concept of fast food. The wine cellar also happens to be 150 years older than the Colosseum and is also where the statue of Apoxyomenos was found. You can see Apoxyomenos now in the Vatican museum. At Spirito di Vino we sampled two varieties of red wine and four small samples of food that included an amazing baked spaghetti and roasted pork over apples, while taking in the eery (but awesome!) atmosphere of their wine cellar.

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In the wine cellar of Spirto di Vino

3. Feeling a little heady from three glasses of wine, we wandered slowly to Biscottificio Innocentea famous family-owned cookie factory where the owner Stefania loaded us up with sweet treats. The buttery lemon-filled cookies were my personal favorite, with the Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but good) hazelnut meringues as a close second.

4. I Suppli – a tiny, hole-in-the-wall snack shop where we were able to munch on a Roman classic called suppli, a deep-fried ball of bolognese sauce and mozzarella cheese. We washed it down with a square of pizza rosa, a cheeseless and slightly spicy red pie that I still fantasize about sometimes.

5. Antica Caciara – Porchetta. Pork that’s been heavily salted, seasoned, and slow-roasted for hours over a woodfire spit. Need I say anything more? I think not.

6. Dinner at a local Osteria – Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the osteria at which we ate dinner (I know, dinner, after all of that)! Of course I couldn’t refuse a few servings of cacio e pepi, gnocchi or the breaded ravioli. To say nothing of the wine!

7. Fatamorgana – Shockingly, we had all managed to save room (however little) for dessert: gelato! Fatamorgana is a local gelateria that serves up the real stuff which, unfortunately, is less and less common as quick-and-easy gelato mix has become relatively popular. Want to know if the gelateria you’re visiting is authentic? Check out their version of pistachio – if it’s the real deal, the pistachio gelato will be brown-ish in color (as is the real nut). If it’s bright green, it’s probably not real!

The tour lasted about 4 hours and was the absolute highlight of our time in Rome – I absolutely cannot recommend it enough for anyone planning on visiting the area.

Buono apetito!