Things I did and did not do this week

I DID host a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people, and it was wonderful.

I DID NOT make a turkey. The lovely and multi-talented Headbang8 and Kim tackled that task. Everyone was quite impressed with the outcome. I hear the job involved sawing off necks (alas, no photos of that).

I DID make a couple pumpkin pies from scratch, meaning I started with an actual pumpkin. Four of them, actually. And I made NPR’s most unusual cranberry relish, which people seemed to love, horseradish and all.

I DID enjoy the fact that Munich’s Christmas markets are finally open. We started the season with some gloriously flaming feuerzangenbowle at Tollwood.

And last but not least, I MOST CERTAINLY DID NOT participate in this week’s Moment of Starlings flashmob, even though there’s a photo in Friday’s Münchner Merkur of someone who looks curiously like me gleefully stopping traffic by stringing tape through an intersection. I also did not waltz in front of the US consulate or participate in a sleep-in at the Haus der Kunst. But I imagine the whole event looked something like this.

I’m looking forward to the next flashmob on Wednesday. If you’d like to play along, you can sign up to participate on the Urbanauten website. I did.

Andorra: almost adorable

What a bizarre little country, Andorra. Nestled into the mountainous terrain between Spain and France, Andorra is basically a series of tiny little mountain towns. They’re completely unlike, say, Swiss mountain towns, in that each town consists of a small cluster of giant buildings. No cozy wooden mountain huts in sight. As a trade off there were some cute crossing signal men.

We decided that Solden was the cutest of the Andorran towns we drove through, with its pretty stone buildings lining the street. It, like pretty much every other town in Andorra, seemed to be gearing up for the coming ski season.

Catalan is the official language in Andorra, but there’s plenty of French and Spanish around, too. With all those other languages taking precedence, there’s a little less English around than you find in other Western European countries.

Andorra is known for its low taxes, and is thus a big shopping destination for luxury goods, liquor, and gasoline. We were stopped by French customs agents on our way back into France. As we pulled up next to a car that was being thoroughly searched by several agents, we were happy that we had nothing but a bottle of whisky and a jar of Spanish olives to declare.

On our way home from Andorra we stopped in Foix, France, for dinner. After wandering around the old town’s narrow, cobblestoned streets to take in the offerings, we settled on the very popular Le Jeu de l’Oie (17, rue Lafaurie). There was no English menu but the staff was very friendly and humored our crappy French language abilities. I had a delicious cheese plate. Mmmmmm French cheese.

France: public hygene, art, and tarts in Albi

Albi is a charming old town about an hour’s drive from Toulouse. Its architecture is a fascinating mixture of tumbling down ruins, beautifully-restored old brick houses, and modern embellishments.

The public showers were open and ready for business. How convenient that you can tell that smelly person sitting next to you on the bus, “Here’s a euro, please go have a shower on me.” Of course he’d probably use it instead to buy a bottle of yummy local wine.

I’m usually in a perpetual state of church burn-out, but Albi’s was worth a visit. We paid a couple euros for an audioguide which did a good job of pointing out some amazing details, such as the richly-colored ceiling frescoes which have never been restored.

The big highlight of Albi is the Toulouse Lautrec Museum. Albi was his birthplace, and the museum holds an excellent collection of his paintings and prints.

The museum is housed in the former bishop’s palace. I’m sure these fancy gardens must have helped the bishop do god’s will or something.

Street signs in Albi are posted in two languages, French and Occitan. It’s amazing how many languages you’ve never heard of you can find lurking around Europe.

We ended the day with a fabulous dinner at Ambroisie, a cute little restaurant specializing in tarts.

Schwarm: flashmobbing in Munich

Back home in Munich, and the fun continues. Last night we participated in Moment of Starlings, a flash mob event that momentarily bewildered many a passerby downtown.

We received information on the meeting point by SMS about an hour before the event was to start. After crowding into a bookstore to listen to an introduction and receive some general instruction, we were off. Text messages with new instructions arrived sporadically over the next hour and a half, and the crowd of a hundred or so people was delighted to do the bidding of our unseen puppet master.

I loved the looks on bystanders’ faces as we slalomed through the Isartor Sbahn station in a long, single-file line and then ran up the down escalator. Well, about half of us did. That is one long-ass escalator. Pant pant.

After some general swarming and barking at a giant turbine, an SMS told us to go pick up a pillow and congregate in a dry fountain. You can imagine what happened next (actually you don’t have to, since I have these nifty photos of it).

At the end we were rewarded with some Glühwein. And we got to keep all of the feathers clinging to our clothes, hair, and faces. Lucky us.

I have been a big fan of Improv Everywhere for years, so I was super excited to get to participate in a flash mob myself. Although our performance was nowhere near the caliber of a Grand Central freeze, nor as meticulously coordinated as a Best Gig Ever, it wasn’t bad for a group of beginners. The organizers did a great job coordinating the various moving parts, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

This was the second of four planned flash mobs. The next one is on November 25th and will be part of the Spielart Theater Festival in Munich. See the website to find out how to sign up. You’ll need to understand at least a little German or go with someone who does; all of the instructions are sent out in German, but I’m sure you could find someone at the event who will help translate if you need it. Or you can just follow the swarm.

Squeezing the fun out of London

I have had the good fortune to go to London twice this year, with more trips planned soon. Such an infinitely entertaining city, with friendly people and charming accents. I could spend years there and not get bored. This time I was hosted by the lovely and talented Em and her husband Jeremy. You might notice a certain similarity between this post and one on her blog.

Em just moved to London, so it was fun to get to explore her new city with her. We found a local pub with her favorite beer (I use this term loosely) on tap and another one with a fun-filled pub quiz night. Our all-American team did surprisingly well given how many questions had to do with English soccer and Mr. Bean. Still, I recommend that they recruit some locals for next week.

I don’t usually like shopping but even that is more fun in London, especially when there are kitschy blow-up Christmas decorations overhead. There’s no Thanksgiving in Europe to hold back the Christmas stuff, so it starts appearing as soon as the whether gets nippy.

My trip happened to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day. Unfortunately we didn’t see any bonfires, but there were fireworks all over the place. Next time I’m hoping for some effigies. Even if I have to make them myself.

A lot of our time was spent wandering aimlessly. One can do this all day in London, passing from one neighborhood to another while being constantly entertained. And if you happen to wander into a museum or gallery or two along the way, all the better.

One of our days of wandering centered around Rivington Street, an area full of galleries, cafes, and artsy little shops. We had a cheap and delicious lunch at Cargo while admiring the graffiti art. We took in some wonderful exhibits at Rivington Place and White Cube. Later on we stopped for coffee on the animal-print sofas of Zigfrid von Underbelly and spent about an hour photographing ourselves in the mirrored mosaic bathroom.

Another highlight of the trip was our many bus rides across town. When you’re not in a hurry, it’s much more fun to travel on the top level of a red bus than deep underground. Especially if you get the front seat, and you’re traveling west into a glorious sunset.

Oktoberfest 2009 day 16: Das Schützen Festzelt

Somehow we managed to survive another whole Oktoberfest, concluding with a day in the Schützen Festzelt. This is the largest tent at Oktoberfest, and they really know how to pack in the people.

As we were ordering up our first round of beers the tent shook with a mighty loud boom. Everyone jumped a bit except for the waitress, who calmly explained that they were doing some last-day-of-Oktoberfest ceremonial shooting over on the steps to the Bavaria statue, right next to the tent. There were more booms to come, so we might as well get used to it.

The feel and atmosphere inside the Schützen Festzelt was similar to that in the other large beer tents, and the food was about average for Oktoberfest tent food. Unlike most of the other tents, though, this tent had wines (and even weinschorle) on the menu in addition to beer. Can’t wait to bring Em there next year.

The creepy mannequins attached to the walls were pretty cool, too.

The Kaiserschmarrn looked better than it tasted.

And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen: another year of Oktoberfest behind us. Whew.

Oktoberfest 2009 day 13: Weinzelt, good and bad

After a couple nice visits last year, I was really looking forward to our evening reservation at the Weinzelt this year. Overall it was a fabulously fun Oktoberfest night, but my esteem for this tent has dropped considerably. I’ll have to be on the lookout for a new favorite.

The main reason I love the Weinzelt is because almost all of the tables are booths, meaning there is a nice barrier between you and the asses of the drunk, sweaty, squirmy guys sitting at the table behind you. This little detail increases my enjoyment of a long session at Oktoberfest considerably. Another nice touch is that the Weinzelt stays open an hour later than the other tents.

The Weinzelt, per its name, serves a decent selection of wines instead of Oktoberfest beer. You can get weißbier at the Weinzelt, but not all night long (I forget at what time they actually stopped serving it). The food at the Weinzelt is top-notch, but comes with a similarly high price tag (evening reservations are around €80 per person). While I very much enjoyed my dinner, fine food seems kind of out of place at Oktoberfest. There’s so much else going on around you that it’s hardly possible to give your meal the attention and appreciation it deserves.

The worst part of the evening was getting into the tent: only one door was open, and there was a giant crowd of angry, drunk, reservation-holding people all shoving to get into it while asshole security guards looked on and offered no assistance. It was a horrendous experience, even by Oktoberfest standards. And from what I’ve heard from other people, this is pretty much standard practice at the Weinzelt on popular evenings. If you can’t be bothered to allow customers into your tent in a way which does not squish the air out of their lungs, I’m not sure I can be bothered to fork over money for an evening reservation at your tent again. No matter how cute your flashing pink bunny ears, nor how awesome you Oktoberfest band’s renditions of Lady Gaga songs.

We’ll see which parts I remember most when next year’s Oktoberfest comes around.

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