Going on in Munich: July 2010

As usual, my travel schedule will be calming down with the heat of summer, so I’m on the lookout for local fun here in Munich. After a very rainy June, the entire city is excited to sit outside under the chestnut trees and drink beer, but there are actually other fun ways to entertain oneself in the city of beer gardens, too.

Munich Filmfest (until July 3). The Filmfest started last week but you can still catch the end of it – movies are playing through Saturday. There are several international categories, and you can find plenty of films in English or subtitled in English. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a director’s talk, too.

Soccer Watching (until July 11). The World Cup is being viewed pretty much everywhere in Munich. Most biergartens and restaurants offer screens large and small. There’s a big screen set up for the German games at Bordeauxplatz, and at Wittelsbacherplatz you can find Siemens Soccer City.

Open Artist Studios (July 10-11). During Kunst im Karrèe dozens of artists open their Schwabing studios to the public. My feet ached after two days of pounding the pavement last year, but it was worth it. I recommend checking out the artists in advance (online or get a catalog) so you can target the ones who look most interesting to you.

Christopher Street Day (July 17-18). It’s almost time for the annual invasion of Marienplatz by racing drag queens. More gay pride fun than you can shake a big, throbbing stick at.

Tollwood (July 1-25). Hippie shopping, international food, and lots of concerts. This year’s highlights include the Pet Shop Boys, Norah Jones, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and, uh, Michael Bolton.

What will you be doing this July?

Road trip to Croatia: Rovinj

After Opatija we continued our journey along the Istrian coast, stopping for lunch in Pula and then landing in Rovinj for our last evening in Croatia.

I’m finding myself at a loss for words when it comes to Rovinj. The photos do a better job of communicating my thoughts.

Rovinj’s old town is on a small peninsula surrounded by deep blue sea and nearby islands. Its narrow, windy cobblestone streets are decorated with picturesque laundry and stray cats.

We booked at apartment with Casa Garzotto (which also has hotel rooms), and it did not disappoint. The renovated 400-year-old building offered a delightful mix of comfort and adorableness.

We also received excellent recommendations from the staff at Casa Garzotto, who steered us to wonderful food, gelato, and sunset views.

My pasta with truffles at Scuba was delicious. We came across fresh truffles several times during our Croatian adventures, and they delighted me every time.

We enjoyed a nice sunset walk along the coast before settling in with a bottle of local wine and some cushions on the white rock cliffs by the sea. Rovinj was definitely my favorite stop in Istria.

So there’s some kind of big soccer thingy going on?

Kidding, kidding. I am actually a big fan of the World Cup. It’s almost the only sporting event I can say that about. Professional league sports of all kinds bore me to tears, but the World Cup is different. And the fact that Glenn Beck is against it is kind of the icing on the cake.

Take this year’s event, and all its interesting angles. South Africa gets a chance to step onto the world stage. Desmond Tutu gets to wear adorable supporter gear. The world gets introduced to a new instrument. Sound nerds get to figure out how to cancel out the sound of said instrument. And then there are all the beautiful abs.

The North Korean team is another fascinating part of this years’ tournament. They have proven themselves to be worthy athletes, losing to number-one-in-the-world Brazil by a very respectable 2 to 1. They are, on average, a couple inches shorter than the South Koreans. Their fan section is small and uniform, and possibly consists of paid Chinese actors.

And then there’s the whole matter of whom to cheer for. After all, your country is only playing in a small number of the total games. Who else do you support, and why? We watched the US-England game in a beer garden, and I was surprised that the mostly-German crowd was so heavily cheering for the US. I watch games played by Germany or the US with great interest, but I find myself alternately wanting them to win or lose at any given moment. I used to be a loyal Italy fan, but I’ve found my allegiance to them flailing this year, too.

I love a good underdog, and found myself being happy for Slovenia in their tie with the US, the country with the highest population in the tournament. Slovenia, on the other hand, has a population smaller than that of Brooklyn. And going back to North Korea, I simultaneously want them to win and lose. I wish happiness and success for the individuals whom are being repressed by a crazy dictator, but I don’t want the crazy dictator to be able to derive any pleasure or glory from the success of his team. Maybe what I really want is for their team to do fairly well, and then for all of them to defect. Any chance of that?

Munich, like many cities around the world, is in party mode this month. Beer gardens and restaurants fill up with eager fans. Wearing face paint and clown wigs in public is suddenly OK. Companies let their employees leave early to watch Germany play. The beer* is flowing. Life is good, especially when the German team is winning, but even near-goals are celebrated with vigor.

As I type this, somewhere outside my window a vuvuzela is being played in time with the ringing church bells. I am happy that it’s just one.

Is the World Cup catching your interest this summer?

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* And by beer, I mean the regular old Munich beer that always flows here. No one here seems to have heard of Hasseröder, the Official German World Cup Beer, except for me.

Croatia: the four-hour Istrian lunch

Valsabbion kept showing up in my research of restaurants in Istria. It’s the kind of place where the dishes are small and fancy, and there are a lot of courses. I love that kind of restaurant. I asked if they could accommodate a vegetarian. They could. I reserved.

Valsabbion is a hotel and restaurant located near the giant harbor in Pula, down at the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula. The immediate area was disappointingly uninteresting for wandering around, but that was fine: we were there to dine.

We settled into the outdoor table that would be our base for the afternoon and accepted an aperitif of local sparkling wine. The men chose a seven-course prix fixe menu that would set the pace for our meal. We were warned it would take several hours. That was OK, we had time. We chose a local rosé to complement our meals, and we were off.

My delight started with the appetizers, presented in a series of little glasses and spoons which contained tasty spreads of local veggies, cubes of local cheeses, and interesting little fried creations.

My next course was a sort of vegetable lasagna with an abundance of fresh truffles.

Next came a layered cup of local wild asparagus, a poached egg, and a wild asparagus puree. Continue reading

Road trip to Croatia: Opatija and Lovran

Our drive from Zagreb to Istria was relatively quick and painless, and it took us through some picturesque hills. The first coastal city we passed was Rijeka, whose communist-era skyscrapers had us cursing Tito. Luckily Opatija’s architecture was more visually pleasing.

Hotel Imperial was built in 1885; circa 1970, it seems, they decided they had the money to modernize one part of the hotel, and they chose the reception desk. The ceiling of our room was approximately 50 feet tall; the furnishings, including the mattresses, might have been original. The coffee at breakfast was undrinkable. Overall not my favorite hotel, but it had its old world charms, and its location in the center of town was most convenient.

Opatija is a reasonably cute little seaside town, if a little generic in its appeal. My favorite spot was the Lido beach bar (M. Tita 156), one of the nicest settings I’ve ever seen for sitting by the sea and drinking. We also enjoyed a decent dinner at Vongola, a restaurant on the water.

One morning we put on our walking shoes and headed off to Lovran via the Franz Josef Promenade, a 12-kilometer-long paved walking path by the sea.

At times it resembled an Eastern Bloc ode to cement, but for the most part the promenade offered up a nice stroll past some lovely views.

In Lovran we enjoyed a yummy lunch of fresh seafood at Bellavista before wandering through the small maze of buildings that makes up Lovran’s old town, which was tumbledown in the most picturesque way possible. A leisurely coffee by the sea topped off our visit. We hopped a bus back to Opatija for the evening’s activities.

So far Croatia is living up to its ‘The Mediterranean as it once was’ slogan.

Road trip to Croatia: Zagreb

Allow me to fast forward to June, which began with a little vacation in Croatia with the Regensbloggers. Our time was limited, so we only did the very top: Zagreb and the Istrian Peninsula. It proved to be a delicious first glance at a country that I’m looking forward to visiting again soon. Continue reading

London keeps calling

Let’s see, where was I? From Italy I’ll skip ahead a few months to March, when I went back to London for another week of BritFun. This was the trip where a charming old chap tried to pick up my friend Em and I. Naturally, there are other trip highlights to report, too, so let me get on that.

The timing of this trip was designed to coincide with a David Sedaris* reading. Did you know he recently moved to London? Not that I’m stalking him or anything. It was fun to finally learn what Hugh looks like, though. Dapper.

That wasn’t even our only trip to the theater district; we also took in a (very affordable) matinee showing of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring James Earl Jones. Oh, that voice. TKTS won’t tell you this, but some theaters release some half-price tickets at the box office shortly before a performance.

We visited a couple of London’s amazing museums, including the National Portrait Gallery (which I love so much I want to marry it – Judi Dench and the Tudors all under one roof); the Tate Britain (where we intended to see a special exhibit involving elephant dung but we got lost in the joys of the permanent collection instead – especially the John Singer Sargent and Francis Bacon rooms); and the Victoria & Albert (for a small but interesting exhibit on high-tech art). We also did plenty of gallery hopping. London oozes art.

And of course we ate some delicious things, including giant thalis at Masala Zone and sushi at about a dozen places. Alas, my note-taking was a little lax when it came to all the great restaurants and pubs. There was also tea at Sketch, whose waitresses were decidedly unfriendly but I am going to go back soon anyway because 1) they have a staircase covered in blood and 2) I didn’t get to use the pod toilets yet. Plus I am hoping their macaroni and cheese is good.

Besides all that, we took some wonderful walks. Em has a deck of cards, each one featuring a different fun walk through London, and they came in quite handy for coaxing us into new, different neighborhoods. One walk was through the hipster and sex shop district; another was through the judicial area, where the barristers buy their wigs. Alas, we didn’t see anyone wearing one. There’s a goal for my next trip.

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* If you are unfamiliar with David Sedaris, go get yourself one of his books right now. Preferably an audiobook. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a good one to start with. You will pee your pants.

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