December 31, 2009

Salzburg Trip

We took a trip to Salzburg for a couple days and enjoyed the city very much. It has a great city plan with a river winding through it and the old city on one bank. There was plenty of pedestrian areas and squares for people to gather. The hilltop fortress, Hohensalzburg, had amazing views to the Alps and the city below. We even met a real-life gangster... thankfully, only armed with his teeth (not to his teeth :-). You'll just have to check out our photos in the link below. Unfortunately, we didn't get to do a Sound of Music tour, but maybe next time we go there with guests.

Short Trip to Salzburg

December 29, 2009

Walking around town

Greg and I enjoy exploring the local areas when we have a mild, sunny winter day. Here are a few glimpses of Munich downtown near dusk (and one of the interior of the Villa Stuck museum and one of Santa Scoots). Enjoy!

December 28, 2009

Last Days of Safta's Visit

Sorry for the delay, but Greg and I were having planning issues. Finally, we decided to spend the next two days in Salzburg, then return to Munich for New Year's Eve, and from there, go to Verona (ITALY!!!) for a couple days. No more travel procrastination for us!

The little Gremlin and his library Lonely Planet--it came in very useful!

Our last couple days with Safta were more relaxed. On Tuesday, we spent the morning doing some long-neglected chores and grocery shopping. Later, we went into town to the Residenz museum, but only had time to see the treasury. That in itself was comprehensive and well-worth seeing. We walked over to the Fairy Tale Christkindlmarkt in the Residenz courtyard and ate Greg's first roasted chestnuts (the verdict: "they're okay, but a little dry"-GG). Safta wanted a big beer and sausage so we went to the Augustiner beerhall (see picture at the end).

Left to right: The cow udder ketchup and mustard containers at the sausage stand; the crown jewels in the Residenz treasury.

On Wednesday, we took a daytrip to Regensburg with our Irish friend, Treasa, her daughters and mother-in-law. It was a mad house on the trains as people left Munich to go to their hometowns across Germany (it was the day before Christmas Eve). But we had gotten seats early so we didn't need to stand up for the whole train ride like others did.
Views of Regensburg: Cathedral and looking back on the town from the bridge
Regensburg has wonderful medieval architecture, a large cathedral and a cool bridge spanning the river... perfect for my grandmother. We spent much of our day walking around town, halfway over the bridge, walking through the cathedral and grabbing lunch at an Italian place set in a former 17th century chapel. We came home exhausted.
On Christmas Eve, we relaxed in the morning as the only thing we had to do was go to a concert at 4 pm. It was not a typical Christmas-y type concert with its three musicians: a tenor, a organist and a trumpeter. But it was a lovely nonetheless. Greg and I especially liked when the organist turned evil and took the organ to full capacity. They ended the concert with two American classics, too.

Safta enjoying the big beer (it was really Greg's). Her sausage platter came later.

Those were our last days of Safta's visit. In a few days, I'll be able to tell you all about our adventures in Salzburg. Happy New Year's!

December 24, 2009

Safta Rachel's Visit to Munich

Here are the highlights in images and words of my grandma's visit to Munich. Safta and I started the vacation without Greg because he was finishing his last day of school. We hit the Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz, the Jewish museum and synagogue, and tried the Asam church (beautiful baroque chapel) but it was closed.

View of the Rathaus and part of Marienplatz's Christkindlmarkt at sunset

The next day we actually were able to get in and see some of the church as well as another larger church, Theatinerkirche, in Odeonsplatz. Along the way, we stopped by a gallery showing amazing black and white photos from New York in the 1940's and 50's (think Breakfast at Tiffany's). We also stopped by the Alte Pinakothek, which houses the older paintings and is one of the three Pinakotheks in the area.

Koeningsplatz near the ancient museums and close to the Pinakotheks

Sunday was museum day!! We began the day with two museums of ancient greek, roman and egyptian artifacts. The Greek and Roman museum was interesting because it had been heavily bombed during the war and when they rebuilt it, they couldn't paint the same level of decoration or detail to it. So instead they showcased photos of what it looked like before the war.

Greg looking like a priest in the Pinakothek der Moderne
(and doesn't Safta kind of look like Julie Andrews here, right?)

After Pakistani food, we stopped by the Pinakothek der Moderne, which was amazing. It's large, colorful (well, at least many of the paintings were) and ranged from German expressionist painters to designers to Chinese wood architecture to more modern art installations.

The next day we went to Chiemsee to see Ludwig II's Versailles-wannabe Herrenchiemsee palace. Let me tell you this: they do not heat the palace in the winter and you could feel it. But the grounds were beautiful, covered with fresh powdery snow, and the inside was extravagant and a homage to the French kind, Louis XIV. Greg especially enjoyed the mammoth-size hot tub and table that could be lowered through the floor. That night we dined with Nami and Gil (aunt and uncle on the other side of the family) at an Italian restaurant.

Snacking on the warm boat to Herreninsel and Herrenchiemsee

Fun times at Herreninsel

As this post is getting quite long, I will stop here and write another post tomorrow about what we've done from Tuesday until today. Merry Christmas to those that celebrate!

Safta enjoying her first cup of Gluehwein
(and not our only picture of her drinking alcohol...stay tuned!)

December 13, 2009

Turtle Cookies Debut in Munich

I was reminded of these cookies when a new co-worker of mine asked for our favorite Christmas cookies for a design or something. She demanded that we all didn't respond with Lebkuchen or gingerbread. Well, I had something different for her--Turtle cookies! Greg's mom, Priscilla, makes these fabulous cookies right around Christmas time. They're called Turtle cookies because they look just like turtles with little pecan flippers and chocolate-covered "shells."

They are easy to make and fairly quick, too. So if you're in need of some Christmas cookies, let me know and I'll send you the recipe. A certain German co-worker asked for it once she saw the picture. Kudos Priscilla!

Tollwood, the Alternative Chriskindlmarkt

A weekend or two ago, Greg and I headed to Tollwood to check out the Chriskindlmarkt on the grounds of Oktoberfest. This time, we took the metro together so we wouldn't get lost (for the backstory, see our separate versions of Oktoberfest here and here).

Tollwood encompasses an outdoor food area packed with groups enjoying their gluehwein and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks; ethnic food tent with food from Thailand, India, Africa and the Middle East; indoor bazaar filled with handmade and non-handmade gifts; and a music tent. We unfortunately decided to go when it was super-crowded, a Saturday night, so the lines were long. But we eventually enjoyed some falafel and couscous, lychee juice, crepes with cinnamon and sugar, fragrant gluehwein and swing music. We even have a commemorative cup that made its way home with us. ;-)

Music in the Metro

We were out with our German neighbors the other night and the topic of Germany's numerous rules came up. Our neighbor mentioned that the musicians in the subway need to get special permission to play. I never really gave much thought to the musicians we have along the entryway to our metro station although it's always fun to guess what we'll get today--accordian, flute, or violin. I'm still waiting for some bongos to show up though. :-)

Apparently, there is a regulatory office that authorizes the street musicians and performers in the tourist areas to do their work. They only give out something like 20 permits a day and every day a performer wants to perform, they have to go to this government office for the permit. They play for a government official and if they're deemed good enough and there are still permits left for that day, they are allowed to play. But just for that day. The next day, they have to apply again. If they do get a permit, they are supposed to display it for all to see.

In any case, I love walking down the tunnel lined with bikes (even now!) with music enveloping you, welcoming you into the shelter of the station's entryway.

First Schnee in Munich!

We woke up yesterday morning to the dazzling sight of snow on the streets of Munich. I've been waiting for this for weeks and finally, it came!! Not much, but enough to stick to the ground. It must have snowed just for Hanukkah, which started the night before. ;-) I've heard from friends in the States that it's been very cold, but here it really hasn't gotten much below 20 degrees fahrenheit yet.
All bundled up, ready to go to the store

This is my favorite shot because the berries look cartoon-drawn eyes and nose, and the snow top looks just like a beehive hair-do!

December 10, 2009


Jaywalking here is just not done. The Bavarians feel very strongly about their traffic rules. Although there are some rules they break fairly often (e.g., talking on their cell phone while driving or smoking in non-smoking areas in the metro), this is one that is sacred to them. They wait patiently at the lights, not even looking down the street to see if there's an opening they can take advantage of.

I've only ever seen teens and young hipsters do it. Greg and I jaywalk on a regular basis though. And we don't even have to hold hands to cross either! It's not that we don't respect the rule--we understand the purpose for those who have trouble seeing the cars or can't walk across the street quickly enough. But we're young, healthy, spry things who can make it across the street fine without a little green man showing us the way.

However, sometimes the peer pressure from the crowd is so great that I do wait at the light. That's why I think this social more isn't going away any time soon.

December 6, 2009

St. Nikolaus Day

My German teacher explained that today is St. Nikolaus day here. St. Nikolaus however is not the same as Santa Claus, although they look similar with their red clothes and white beards. St. Nikolaus is a religious figure and has on a bishop's hat, carries a curled staff and has a golden book that lists the good and naughty children.
Here he is in the doll version
(thanks to Gertrud K. on Flickr)

The children leave out their shoes and if they're good, they'll receive sweets, lebkuchen cookies, nuts, and mandarins. If they've been bad in the last year, then Krampus--St. Nikolaus's filthy, branch-wielding sidekick--will stick branches in their shoes and in the past, used to beat them.

Here he is next to the Santas.
(Thanks to Denni Schnapp from Flickr)

The only one in our household that has to worry about Krampus is Scoots. I've warned him that if he walks me up at 5 am again, I'm going to call Krampus over to straighten him out. And it won't matter that St. Nikolaus day is over because I'm sure he'll make a special exception for a certain grey-haired cat.

December 3, 2009

For you guys, I collect

To be honest, I didn't know what to write about on this blog for the longest time. And some might argue at the end of this post that I still didn't have a real topic to write about. Oh well!

Today, as I watched a guy walking along the subway platform with a shrink-wrapped Christmas tree (?!?!), I had an epiphany of sorts. First, I was so glad that someone was taking something weird on the subway (but that's really another post all together). And second, lately images have stuck out in mind as though they're reminding me of daily things I should be telling the people back at home about. However, I don't think even if I was at home, I would try to describe these images out loud.

But in any case, here are my mental images of this week that I've collected for you.
  • Yesterday evening, I waited for Greg at the metro station near my aunt's house and was looking at the almost full moon through the trees. Then as I looked away, I noticed a fog had thrown itself around everyone and everything near me. Cars blurred in the distance and people bundled in their coats faded in the mist. The fog by itself turned everything into a sort of fairy tale land, magical in its own way.
  • I had an evil-sounding subway car driver today. It was like he was imitating the Count on Sesame Street (whatever they call it here-- I'm guessing Sesamstrasse). Eins....ha ha ha...Zwei....ha ha ha....Drei....ha ha ha. You get the picture, except with subway stop and "keep away from the door"-type comments. Wouldn't it be nice if he was some broke, has-been actor who became a subway driver and lives now for the sole enjoyment of scaring small children and yippy dogs?
  • This evening, Greg had Scoots curled up in the crook of his arm, just chilling on the sofa, reading his e-mails. Scoots hasn't done that since we moved to Munich, but he used to do it at home in Aurora, CO. It's also sweet when I look over and Scoots is headbutting and giving glasses kisses to Greg (leaving his smudges on Greg's glasses like a granny leaves lipstick stains on her grandchild's cheeks) while purring nonstop.
I hope you enjoyed the random images, but I guess if you don't, that's okay too. At least Greg's mom and my mom will be happy (mostly because I mentioned cute things that Scoots is doing).

November 29, 2009

Our First Thanksgiving and Pre-Christmas

Every day, I pass by Christmas trees for sale already in the local square. Chriskindlmarkts, or Weihnachtsmarkts, abound. Lights have been strung up around the city. Decorations for the tree glitter and gleam in all the store windows. Greg allows me to play Christmas classics at home. All we're missing is snow!

Today my family (with my other aunt, Smadar, who is visiting from Israel) visited Bad Toelz to see the Chriskindlmarkt there. Almost every city has one going until December 24th. But this one was supposed to be an especially traditional market. Booths lined the cobblestoned streets, selling everything from wood cut-out decorations to chocolates to scarves to gluehwein (a mixture of red wine and spices supposed to keep you warm).

We did in fact try out the gluehwein as well as the latkes and apple sauce dish, pide (covered pizza-like food often with bacon or potatoes and cheese), and chocolate covered strawberries and bananas (this I think is not traditional ;-). People were walking around, snacking on roasted chestnuts, sugared nuts, meter-long sausages on baguettes, and meat sandwiches.

In terms of artistry, I wasn't very impressed. The only booth that attracted me was the colorful bird houses. I think it would be much nicer to go at night when all the lights are out though. I know of at least two more markets that we'll hit up here before I give my final review of them. Bad Toelz as a city was beautiful with the river winding through it and the Alps nearby.

And although we didn't do much, I thought I should send out an update on our Thanksgiving. Germans know that it's an American holiday and that we eat turkey, but not much more than that. I actually had to remind myself that it was Thanksgiving! Greg and I didn't have time to plan anything with friends so just the two of us had dinner at a great restaurant near my new workplace. However, it was nothing like drenching everything (stuffing, mashed potatoes and yams) with cranberry sauce and digging in with family and friends. Enjoy the left-overs for us!

November 24, 2009

Starting Work Tomorrow

This afternoon, after about 6 weeks of waiting, I picked up my work permit. I will start work tomorrow as the part-time community manager at an online community for independent and online authors in the US. The company is based in Munich with an established online community in Germany and a fledgling one in the US.

I'll be sure to keep everyone updated as to funny German work habits and interesting stories.

For now, I do have one short German idiosyncracy to share: crazy hair colors. I saw an older lady walking down the street the other day with what looked like a wig.

"Must be a wig," I remember thinking because it was a color that naturally could not live on anyone's head! It's hard to explain it exactly, but it was between lavender and fuschia. But really, I think I've seen just about every hair color under the sun--blue streaks, florescent purple, fire-engine red, neon green. To add to your mental picture, the hair's usually teased up and dry due to the over-dyeing of it.

My hypothesis is that it's a way to exert their devil-may-care attitude in a country where people generally do not stand out that much. Over all, I really enjoy seeing what hair colors I'll come upon that day. It's sort of like a safari in the city.

November 12, 2009

Being Crafty

It's not easy being a craftster in Germany. There are no big box craft stores like Michael's or Hobby Lobby so if you need something, you have to go to ten different places to find it. One shop might only sell fabric and ribbons; another embroidery thread and hoop; another just beads and jewelry-making materials. I've started to get the idea of who sells what where, but I still have a lot of exploring left to do. In any case, here is a review of my latest creative exploits from the last few months.

Greg's mom sent us a wonderful anniversary present: this fabric of a tree of life (like the one in our wedding huppah). I added some ties to hang it and sewed the edges to turn it into a wall hanging.
I finally did something with all those conkers/buckeye nuts/chestnuts I had. Greg drilled them and then I strung them all up on yarn. I also drew little faces on them, too. They were up near my curtains, but the yarn wasn't strong enough so they fell within the week. I guess I just need something sturdier.

Since we both love pictures, I created this photo hanger for our main room. The great thing is that the photos can be easily changed if we want to move them around or add new ones.
Greg and I collected some branches from fallen trees near my aunt's house and I tied them together with pretty yarn to make a jewelry rack. I used ordinary nails as hangers.

I handwrapped this glass jar with the same yarn to create this little technicolor vase. Here's where I got the idea (I used strong glue instead of a glue gun though)

Ah, my handstitched apron from leftover pillowcases! This one is still a work in progress because Greg ripped a hole in the bottom part of the apron. I found some lovely pink flowery fabric to use in its place though. Greg says he'll still wear it so I might have to upload pictures of him modeling it.

That's it for now! My mom wanted pictures of Scoots so here you go. Big hugs for all!

November 4, 2009

Istanbul Art Inspirations

I hope you all are getting a good (if not somewhat roundabout) idea of what our trip was like in Istanbul. One thing I was surprised about was how much I felt inspired as a craftster by the artwork we saw everyday in Istanbul. I took these photos from objects that inspired me in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. I plan to use them in my latest crafty endeavors--embroidery! I think the interlocking geometric shapes and complex designs could have some really cool uses in hand stitching. I'll make sure to showcase some of my completed projects here in the next few weeks.

And here's my favorite take-home inspiration of all--the beautiful embroidered teal scarf I picked up.

Obscure Istanbul Memories by Greg (Editorial Comments by Ayelet)

Our letter for today is "S." As Ayelet and I explored Istanbul, I wanted to make sure I would take a moment to write about some of the obscure parts of our trip that most travel books don't mention.
  • Seatbelts - Apparently being away from cars has taken away Ayelet's knowledge of seatbelts as the first thing she said on our Turkish Airways flight was "Does your seatbelt work?" I gladly provided a tutorial. [Editor note: These were *not* normal seat belts we were dealing with, folks. Sadly, I have no photographic evidence to show you how crazy they were. I think Greg figured it out only moments before I did. ]
  • Subways - After thinking that Munich was a big city, we entered the realm of 12 million people in Istanbul. On more than one occasion we got to be part of a Turkish sandwich as we rode through the city on its mass transit.
  • Street signs - Getting around Istanbul proved to be a bit difficult at first as we often had to guess what street we were on. The city didn't want to make up its mind whether signs should be posted on buildings, on street signs, or the favorite choice - posted invisibly. [Editor: We always got where we were going, but we just took in more of the "sights" along the way.]

  • Street cats - If you are looking for a good souvenir, there are many furry little guys running all over the city. You could create a "Cute Cat Book" for all of the places we saw them sleep. [Editor: Here's my favorite--we spotted this sleeping stray in a dry place out of the rain.]
  • Sock bags - I bet you have never had a family snicker at you at the airport because you were putting plastic bags on your feet. Thankfully, my mom taught me at a young age that a plastic bag will keep a sock dry even in a wet shoe. Ayelet and I raided our dirty laundry after a windy, down-pouring last day in the city, but I only had one pair of shoes. So, if your hotel in Istanbul has free "S"lippers in the room like ours did, shove them in somewhere as you might need them when you least expect it. [Editor: Boy, do those plastic bags crinkle around when walking! ;-) ]

Superb - my recommendation for the city as we had a great trip with many lasting memories.

November 2, 2009

Breakfast and Hotel in Istanbul

We started off every day at our hotel's breakfast buffet, which was very different from one in the States. Rows of olives, dried fruits and cereal to put with yogurt (no milk in sight), big bowls of jams and honey, different breads, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, mild beyaz peynir cheese and hard cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, and various desserts including chocolate cake (made me think of Bill Cosby's monologue about chocolate cake for breakfast). Yes, Greg had chocolate cake every morning. The only reason you don't see it in his plate in the photo on the right is because he went back for it after finishing everything else.

The rooms in this hotel were clean and cozy (read between the lines here: tiny, but comfortable for our needs). It was well-situated and quiet at night, which was all we needed.

Greg touching both sides of the room--it was that small! However, I think we expected this because of the reviews we had read of other hotels in Istanbul. Walking down the streets in Sultanahmet (the old city district with many of the key sights), the majority of the hotels were smaller like ours. There were no 10-story behemoths that you might see in other cities because there simply wasn't room for them. The houses were so scrunched together and the streets were already so tight... it would have been impossible. Plus, when you're in Istanbul, there's no reason to hang out in your hotel. You hang out at the cafes and restaurants along the way.

Comparing Istanbul and Munich

Turkey had once been on our list to move to so we naturally were comparing Istanbul and Munich often on this trip.
  • Munich: so clean, well-paved, rule-bound, organized.
  • Istanbul: so chaotic, full with people, free-spirited, many sidewalks and streets in disrepair, entrepreneurial.

The last bit about Istanbul corresponds to their drive to work. Walking through the Grand Bazaar, we were met with many inviting calls (both relevant and irrelevant). "Where are you from?" "Yes?" "Excuse me, EXCUSE ME!" "Is it my turn yet?" (to which Greg replied "No.") and "For you, this price." We ended up with a beautiful silk woven tablecloth and mother-of-pearl inlaid backgammon board--our mutual anniversary presents.

Even the tour guides jockeyed for our attention and money. They could pretty much speak any language you could throw at them--English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, etc. I don't know why, but they pegged us for Germans. Maybe it was Greg's light hair or the fact we were wearing leather shows instead of sneakers, or Greg's rain jacket that he bought in Munich. We probably looked like the Germans I often see on the streets. They honestly look as though any second they could go on a hike with their hiking shoes, hiking pants, fleece vests, and waterproof sporty jackets. I always think "But where are they going to go hiking? We're in the middle of a city!"

I digress, but in any case, each city is beautiful in its own way. You can see our photos here or through the image below.

Istanbul Fall 2009

Tomorrow: I'm helping Greg post about obscure things from our vacation so stay tuned!

Traveling to a Muslim Country

On day one, the nearby mosques' minerats with their loud blasts of pre-dawn calls to prayer seemed like they would put a damper on our trip. By the morning of day two, I didn't even hear them. We had so many mosques near our hotel, it was unreal. I could count 4 spires from our room, 11 from the rooftop breakfast area. Neither of us had ever traveled to a Muslim country (although I had been to Jordan when I was much younger, but don't remember much of the differences). Naturally, we had preconceptions of what it would be like.

Minerats accentuating the Blue Mosque

Hearing different views from people who've traveled there, we didn't really know what to expect. Could we hold hands on the street? Would men harass at me if I didn't wear a headscarf? Could Greg get a beer at dinner? The answers: yes, no, yes.

Although Turkey is a Muslim country, Istanbul is very cosmopolitan. We saw plenty of women with headscarves, but there also were many who dressed just like we do in the States. People mostly drank tea, but there were those who drank alcohol. Almost everyone we interacted with knew multiple languages and was very friendly. Obviously, we stood out as foreigners, but we were never so different that we stopped traffic. In fact, I would say we got a healthy fill of jay-walking, which is heavily frowned upon in Munich.

The one thing I treasured from this trip was not only how different a Muslim country could be, but also how inspiring and refreshing it was to be there.

November 1, 2009

Our Trip to Istanbul: Part One

One year ago today, Greg and I were married surrounded by family and friends. We decided to celebrate our anniversary with a trip to Istanbul and it was a beautiful vacation. Greg and I will be posting more detailed account of our travels in the next week or so, but here's a quick overview of what we did.
  • The first night we arrived and toured the Blue Mosque and then stopped off for our first cup of tea and game of backgammon at a streetside cafe.

  • On the second day, we went to the Aya Sofya and the Basilica Cisterns. After a quick rest, we headed to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. We also visited the Grand Bazaar that afternoon.

  • On Thursday, we visited the Topkapi Palace and walked through the Harem and the palace's insane treasury containing jewels and bejeweled treasures alike that make today's rich and famous look like common peasants. After that, we headed over to the Spice Bazaar, which looked to be closed (probably due to Turkish Republic Day) and over the Galata Bridge to Beyoglu, the modern side. We did get excellent turkish delight on Thursday as well.

  • We took at ferry down the Bosphorous strait on Friday and climbed up to see the Black Sea from a castle's ruins. That night, we had a great dinner at a small hole-in-the-wall place with a charming owner.

  • On our last day, it rained. And a lot of it. With wind included. We found our way to the Kariye Musezi museum of religious mosaics and then basically went to the airport.

All in all, it was a great vacation and we'll tell you more about it later. Right now, my bed awaits. I've left you with a picture taken our first night of the Blue Mosque. Good night!