Tag Archives: beer

16 hours in German limbo – What to do when you lose your passport.

17 Jan

You’re on a train, sleeping. Next thing, you’re tumbling out of said train onto a freezing platform with bags and clothing flying everywhere and as you’re rubbing your bleary eyes, the train is disappearing from sight.

What country is this? No idea.

Look around. The LED board for a train that’s just pulled up says Hamburg, so this is either Germany or near Germany. Lets hop on that train.

Shit. A bag is missing.

A bag with passports. Two passports. An iPad. A purse. A camera. God knows what else.

Panic. Get off train. Get on train back to first station. Worldly possessions gone. Lost. Missing. Finito. Pulverised.

Life as we know it has ended.

Slight overreaction. Life is still passing us by, but minute by panic-stricken minute.

We happened upon German-Danish border town Flensburg completely by accident, you could even say it was the last place on earth we wanted to be, because at the time, that’s what it felt like. I have since come up with a number of less agreeable locations, such as further than three metres from shore at any of Perth’s shark/stinger infested beaches (I am terrified of both equally) or in the real life version of that movie Human Centipede that I’m too scared to watch.

We were attempting to make the routine passage from Prague to Brussels, then eventually on to Amsterdam, on an overnight train, changing in Cologne, Germany, which on the natively printed ticket, read Koln.

Mistake # 1. Returning to Prague in the first place. Fraught with disaster, but that’s a story for another time.

Mistake # 2. Not realising that the train was to split into three in the middle of the night, with each carriage creaking away toward the far reaching corners of the continent. Opposite corners.

Mistake # 3. Trusting the train conductor when she tells you that, not only are you in the correct carriage, but that she’s been ‘waiting for you.’

See now that already sounds a bit creepy.

Instead of closing in on decadent truffles and perfectly poured pints, unbeknownst to this pair of weary travellers who had already crashed the rightful cabin of a surprised young Syrian guy, innocently claiming it as our own, as we slept, the train split and we began hurtling north toward Danish seaport Kolding.

In our measly defence, if the Danish train conductor who stamped our tickets couldn’t tell her Koln’s from her Kolding’s, then how were we supposed to?

When 6 am crept around and nobody else on the train was preparing to disembark except us, Nic queried our lovely conductor who promptly threw us off the train, which is how we ended up in harbourside Flensburg.

With only a few rather aloof border police coming off night shift to help us, our options were looking slim. The closest Australian Embassy was in Berlin and an emergency passport would take a week at absolute best, which meant our long-waited and fully booked Amsterdam visit would be down the toilet.

After a futile trip into the town centre for Internet, we made our sorry way back to the train station, where a new shift of much friendlier Police had arrived. They brewed us strong black coffee in police service mugs we were tempted to keep before realising that would not help our case.

They contacted the Danish train service, who, after a nerve wracking wait, called to say hey had found our bag, untouched, in the carriage we had been ejected from, still heading through Kolding towards Copenhagen.

All we had to do was stand on the same platform at 10: 20pm that night and wait for the returning train bound for, you guessed it, Amsterdam, to glide in. Winning!

No camera meant no photos during the 12-hour Flensburg hiatus, but I did manage to have my hair cut and coloured and we bought Pick-up Sticks (Mikado) from the €1 shop, which we played while eating half frozen microwaved Curry Wurst at the train station cafe.

Everything fell into place beautifully. Brussels was a write-off, so we bought tickets for the Holland-bound train carrying our bag, waited on the still freezing platform for 10:20 pm to roll around and enjoyed an emotional reunion on board.

After almost three months on the road, we had learned how to travel by train. The hard way.

Celebratory beers after being reunited with our passports 16 hours later.
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Where can I find beer brewed by monks, John Lennon and a clock that wishes your death each hour? I’m glad you asked – Prague, September 29 – October 4, 2012

21 Oct

THERE’S no way that this blog post reviewing our time in Prague could begin with anything other than food and drink.

Boasting the world’s best beer, some of it brewed by monks high on a hill, and a delectable standard of cuisine with a pleasingly Eastern European price tag, I couldn’t find one thing to complain about in this charming Central European City. Unless of course you count leaving it.

Even when our bellies were full of meaty, starchy goodness and we’d had one too many Pilsner Urquell, we could take our food coma wandering through the tranquil, cobbled laneways of Praha’s Old Town (Stare Mesto) to watch the sun set over the skyline at the Vltava River and the world was right again.
20121021-001952.jpg Late afternoon by the Vltava River
20121021-002126.jpg Prague skyline
20121021-002330.jpg Winding streets

Such was the spell that this charming little city cast over me, I even thought the ‘I Heart Praha’ merchandise that I detested in every other city was lovely, not cheesy and I wanted to buy it all. (I didn’t buy any of it, by the way).

We took the almost obligatory free walking tour through the streets of Old and New Towns and the Jewish Quarter on our first morning, guided by the informative and animated Czech native Karel, whose moniker is one of the 400 accepted birth-names in the Czech Republic. Apparently authorities have relaxed the rules a little in the last few years but it was once almost impossible for new parents to name their child outside this list, which is inscribed onto one of Prague’s main tourist draw cards, the hourly-animating Astronomical Clock (built in 1410) in the centre of Old Town.
20121021-001646.jpg The Astronomical Clock, complete with hourly moving, bell jangling, death-wishing Apostles.

We were introduced to the Czech enthusiasm for literary export Franz Kafka, taking in a Museum and monuments honouring the ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘The Trial’ author and a number of cafe’s and eateries themed in a nod to his Modernist works. A mention was also spared for a personal favourite author of mine, the still living, but now French naturalised Milan Kundera.

And when we thought Prague’s artistic offerings couldn’t get much quirkier, there was Cubist architecture. The Czech’s were the only nation to take this Picasso-esque movement and turn it into buildings. Prague is home to two Cubist buildings and the world’s only Cubist cafe – complete with glasses, chairs, tableware and cutlery designed to a Cubist tee. It doesn’t look fantastic, but it’s unique.
20121021-001841.jpg Cubist building with cafe underneath

Now, is anybody hungry?

All the food in Europe was spoiled for us on our first night in Prague at an ironic riverside pub called Atmosphere (Atmoska). While the establishment was without music and displayed sparse decoration to create any, well, you know… the food was amazing. And to check whether it wasn’t just luck that sent my perfectly browned pork tenderloin with bechamel sauce, mushrooms, leek and parmesan (A$8.50) and Nic’s Pikantule – potatoes roasted in butter with bacon, onion, garlic, parsley, seasoned with thyme and feta cheese, with grilled chicken breast, mushrooms, and a pinch of tabasco (A$7) from the heavens, we went back again and it was still amazing. A half a kilogram basket of hot, crispy, herby, fried potato slices with aioli for A$4 – yes please.
20121021-002220.jpg Food at Atmosphere

We popped our Goulash cherries, eating the hearty meat soup from bread-bowls at Betlemska, a traditional Czech restaurant with faces carved out of the chair backs. We walked past later that evening to see a wedding reception underway there.
20121021-002243.jpg Goulash at Betlemska

On a Sandeman’s Beer Tour we ate more Goulash, the chilli kind this time (the beginning of a Goulash love affair), with potato pancakes at tank-pub U Templare, where the equally delightful beer is brewed in-house, cannot be bottled and contains no chemicals or preservatives.
20121021-002305.jpg Tanks at ‘U Templare’ pub
20121021-002258.jpg Chilli Goulash with potato pancakes

The tour set us back only about A$15, four drinks included, with our New Zealand-born tour guide Rachel taking us to four pubs including the Prague Beer Museum. The pub has 30 beers on tap and a corresponding menu that resembles a telephone book, which in the candle-lit corner where our group was seated, was really hard to read. I tried grapefruit beer (quite nice), a beer called ‘Demon’ and forgot to try the chocolate beer. We finished off at the Vodka Bar, which doubles as a museum of communist-era relics.
20121021-002251.jpg Prague Beer Museum, 30 beers on tap!

The bar had a cheeky tip jar, the sign on which read ‘Bad Tippers support prohibition.’
A fortnight-longCzech-wide ban on the sale of hard liquor over 20% alcohol content had been lifted just days previously, after 19 people died anddozens more became seriously ill after drinking vodka and rum laced with methanol.
20121021-002312.jpg Tip Jar at the Vodka Bar

After learning to ‘Prost’ in Germany, we now had to learn the more detailed Czech technique of Na Zdravi, where the two glasses must touch at the top, then the bottom, then onto the table before drinking. Eye contact must be made, or… seven years bad sex.

In between all of this eating out, (which sounds extravagant, but with chef-prepared mains at about A$7 and beers at less than A$2/.5L, it was almost cheaper to eat out than in) there was plenty of naughty snacking on street food. Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know about our enthusiasm for this phenomena. In Prague, the very best wares from a small cart in the main square, came in the warm, sweet, hollow form of the Trdelnik. Made from dough, sugar and walnut, fresh from the spit and sometimes filled wit Nutella, they are amazing. There are also stands selling Czech ham with bread, sausages, potato salad, burgers, crepes, Gyros, fried potato cut into a spiral and served on a stick or around a sausage and the somewhat less compelling Langos – a large deep fried greasy flat bread topped with garlic, tomato sauce and cheese. I wish I had given that one a miss, but overwhelmingly, Czech food wins.
20121021-002228.jpg Trdlnik
20121021-002236.jpg Langos and spiral potato with sausage

Our last day in Prague coincided with a walk across the historic Charles Bridge (construction started 1357) to the very hilly Lesser Town (Mala Strana), home to the Petrin television tower, Prague Castle, the colourful John Lennon memorial wall, plenty of very expensive cars (The Czech Republic is Europe’s biggest methylamphetamine producer), an awesome mirror maze and the Strahov Monastery and Brewery.
20121021-002322.jpg Crossing Charles Bridge to Lesser Town
20121021-002344.jpg John Lennon wall
20121021-002408.jpg Dodge Challenger parked on the street
20121021-004159.jpg 63.5m Petrin tower… Or is it the Eiffel Tower?
20121021-004219.jpg View of River Vltava from the top of the Petrin Tower, after 296 steps
20121021-004339.jpg View of Prague’s old defence wall from the top of the Petrin tower… Did I mention those 296 steps?

To our disappointment, the Strahov monks who brew the famous beer don’t work at the restaurant and the beer wasn’t that great, but the monk/beer novelty and the pork knuckle and beer flavoured cheese on toast we ate while watching a Korean travel documentary crew filming made the visit well worth it.
20121021-002354.jpg Meal at Strahov Bewery
20121021-002400.jpg Strahov Brewery

Without trying to be insensitive, homelessness has been a source of great intrigue to us on this holiday, probably because the homeless are so visible here. In Prague, they beg differently to anywhere we have seen. They kneel on the concrete for hours, bowing with their heads down, almost touching the ground and their arms up and hands cupped, waiting for change. No matter how many cities I visit or how many homeless people I pass, I am never desensitised to their plight. Happily though, I later heard that an initiative called ‘Pragulic’ had recently started, where the homeless run tours for about A$10, giving visitors an insight into the cities’ gritty underbelly, the unknown backstreets and the reality for Prague’s homeless community.

HOSTEL
Hostel Bridge

    Pros:

Perfect central location near Charles Bridge, friendly staff, kettle with free tea and coffee in the room.

    Cons:

Really uncomfortable beds!

TIME SPENT SO FAR…
In the air – 24.5 hours
Total travelling including flights, buses, airport time – about 75 hours

PROST Bitches!!! Oktoberfest, Munich, September 24-29, 2012

14 Oct

EVER heard the saying quality over quantity? Well, with more than 6.9 million litres of beer consumed this year during 16 days in Munich, Germany, Oktoberfest is definitely not the time for that old adage.
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Bier Bier Bier!

With more than 200 years history under its’ beer-belly sized belt, the annual festival of the frothy stuff has gained infamy into the world’s far reaching corners, but nowhere more so than in Australia, with thousands from the sunny continent making the more than 14,000 kilometre pilgrimage in pursuit of the amber liquid each year.

Oktoberfest has become something of a rite if passage for young Aussies, and, having made it myself this year, it’s easy to see why.

Firstly, where Australia in recent years has condemned and legislated against a culture of binge drinking, Oktoberfest facilitates it, welcomes it with open arms. (Perhaps in foolish overestimation of the personal responsibility factor of its’ overseas tourists.)

I was apprehensive at the thought of five days of drinking beer in one-litre portions amongst a crowd of large Bavarian men, but was eased into proceedings on our first night by a visit to Hofbrauhaus, a large beer hall in Munich, outside the festival grounds.

Established way back in 1859, in 1920 Hofbrauhaus was the location of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party inauguration speech and painted swastikas, remnants of this horrific time in modern history remain on the high, pitched ceilings of the hall, hidden under huge red and yellow wheels which were painted in place after the war. This knowledge, in contrast with the loud and carefree merriment ensuing inside the building, leaves a strange feeling.

Wearing a newly-purchased dirndl, complete with apron and long socks, in keeping with the boys’ (Nic, Luke and Kurt) traditional lederhosen, I shared brotwurst, sauerkraut, crispy skinned pork and German potatoes, quickly learned to ‘Prost,’ (the German way of saying cheers) and downed a couple of litres (called a Mass in German) of the frothy stuff until we were threatened with removal from the establishment by a large and angry waiter and Kurt jumped out of the window.
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Pork and potato dumpling from Hofbrauhaus

I could finish this blog post here, because the rest of Oktoberfest was basically a ramped-up extension of this night, but I would like to explain a bit further into the magic and appeal behind this giant playground of excess for adults.

Day two, 9 am and the boys are back in (or perhaps still wearing) their lederhosen, which could by this time have been mistaken for a second skin – such was their emotional attachment to the traditional German folk-ware along with the difficulty in actually removing the heavy suede shorts.

We meander our way by foot to the festival, which takes place at Theresienwiese, a meadow south-west of central Munich. Now, to eat and to choose which beer hall out of the 14 huge and impressive structures to hand our souls over to for the day.

Breakfast consists of a chicken schnitzel slapped into white bread (other days brotwurst, or some other dead, cooked or cured animal or a pretzel) and by 10.30 am we are seated at a long timber table in the red and yellow-themed Hippodrom tent, ‘Prosting’ with our first litres of beer. The aim is to be seated as early as possible each day, because by around midday, the halls, some seating 10,000 punters with increasingly glazed eyes, are full. And by full, I mean resembling a single giant, many armed, many legged, shouting, singing, beer devouring monster.
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Hippodrom hall

The bringing of beers at Oktoberfest is an exciting spectacle in itself. Hall staff, mainly buxom women, can be witnessed in awe, carrying up to eight beers at a time. At eight kilograms of liquid weight, plus another 1.3 kilos for each glass (more than 18 kg total!), combined with squeezing through drunk and disorderly merry-makers, this is no mean feat. They wear whistles around their necks to part the crowds and stern expressions on their faces. They are amazing and should probably be tipped more generously.

Beers cost about €10/litre and ordering anything less than a litre is sacrilege.

At about midday,the locals order a standard lunch of quarter chicken and chips to prime themselves for the coming hours of drinking. I say the locals, because the non-German tourists are either too excited by all the strange and wonderful menu options or cannot read the language well enough to choose sensible chicken, and end up ordering €66 platters consisting predominantly of radish. (Our rookie error…)
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€66 platter :/

By early afternoon all plates have been cleared and empty beer mugs are accumulating fast on the tables, alongside the battered feet of a few extra-keen revellers. Most people are by now standing on benches or are otherwise packed into the aisles between tables with little breathing room. Everyone is in traditional dress and singing, usually the wrong words to folk song after folk song and it is not unusual to see the entire brass band in the centre of each hall each scull a litre of beer in perfect harmony. It is a loud, excessive, merry congregation, the ruckus resembling that of an evangelist church service, but the worship taking place here is to none other but the beer.
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Crowds…
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…and more crowds
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Old and new friends

Over the course of the next few days, we manage to consume upward of five litres of beer each day (me five or six, the boys seven or eight or really who knows how much?) and manage to stake out a number of halls including decent stints at the Hofbrau, Schottenhamel Spatenbrau and Hippodrom, with a brief foray into the Lowebrau tent from memory, before spilling out into the crisp night air to contend with yet more crowds and a carnival atmosphere of brightly lit fair rides, the wafting smells of hot food and the gleaming spoils of the many souvenir shops. We devour our fair share of brotwurst, chilli wurst, schnitzel, ham, steak and hot chips (pommes) and make dozens of new, if fleeting, friends. We learn German songs and then quickly forget the words, replacing them with ‘…something in Germaaaannnnn’ We lose each other in the madness and we are reunited, sometimes minutes, often hours later.
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Festival lights
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Schottenhamel-Spatenbrau hall
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Hofbrau hall
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Hippodrom hall

Even in all the excitement, a few festival goers really managed to stand out… We watched this guy (we don’t know him!) stumble past with half a chicken, drop the chicken, pick up the chicken, drop the chicken again – behind a rubbish bin, then pick it up, dust it off and start eating it.
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Despite the ridiculous quantity of liquid we consumed each day – to the point that my kidneys were hurting – we did not once wake up with a hangover, thanks to the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, (thank you Beer Gods!) which limits ingredients to water, hops, malt and yeast – no chemicals or preservatives.

The day before we leave for Prague, having already extended our time in Munich by two days, we plan for a final blowout with two of Nic’s high school friends, Joe and Will and Mary, a new friend from Dublin, Ireland. Circumstances dictate we can’t get to the festival until after 3 pm and by the time we arrive the entrance to the Hofbrau hall (Hofbraufestzelt) is already packed about 10 persons deep and about 10 metres across with thirsty revellers clamouring to get in. We stand packed like sardines in the hot sun, periodically being pushed back in a pack by fearful security guards shouting in German, one of whose face has turned so red he looks like he is going to explode. From our understanding it seems like they are saying ‘It is closed!’ but we wait and occasionally a beer wench comes outside and chooses a small group to enter the hall. Half an hour ticks by and we are still crammed together, sweating being pushed around and wondering if we will be here until dark. Suddenly, the guards remove the barrier rope and shout something along the lines of ‘Everybody in!.’ The crowd surges and then stampedes forward through the too-narrow doors of the hall . And the fun starts.
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Joe, Will, Nic – last day of festivities

Oktoberfest organisers estimated that 6.4 million people attended this year’s event, with more than 2500 of those requiring medical treatment in the first week. Luckily we all came out unscathed, any residual liver damage aside, but at least one Canadian festival goer was not so lucky, the man dying after being hit by a tram.
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Real Bavarian girl and boy!

HOSTEL
Smart Stay Station Hostel

    Pros:

Excellent, young staff, good bar/restaurant, good price considering festival time, decent €6.50 breakfast, great atmosphere. Perfect location close to Munich HBF train station and all amenities.

    Cons:

Central heating too close to the beds, too hot at night.

MUNICH
We didn’t manage a walking tour of the City, nor a visit to Dachau concentration camp memorial, which I was really keen to do. But from our brief experience of Munich, we found it incredibly clean, with great shopping, many fountains and friendly people.
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Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Marienplatz, Munich

TIME SPENT SO FAR…
In the air – 24.5 hours
Total travelling including flights, buses, airport time – about 66 hours