Tuesday, 28 February 2012

What's in YOUR Fairytale? Guess what's not in mine!

This past weekend, Matt and I went to Füssen, Germany. There is quite a short list of attractions to see in Füssen, but the two that sit at the top of the list, make this spot a very popular tourist destination. They are the Neuschwanstein Castle and the Hohenschwangau Castle.

After the guide at the tourist office strongly recommended we do NOT go to the castles on a Sunday (the lines are much too long since all the stores are closed on Sunday’s in Germany) Matt and I hopped on the jam packed city bus, just down the road from the tourist office. This was the second best choice we could have made. Everyone else had boarded at the previous stop, the main station. When we arrived at the castle, we were the first off the bus and first in line for castle tickets. This meant we were able to join the next scheduled English tour that began within the next 30 minutes. By the time we left the cash, there was a line up behind us to the edge of the door…I am sure those at the end of the line missed the first scheduled tour.
We walked the 5 or 10 minutes up the hill to Hohenschwangau. We had about 15 minutes before the tour was scheduled to begin so we took the opportunity to walk around the castle and take a few photos, and that’s when we saw it… The legendary Neuschwanstein Castle, the one that looks like it came straight out of a fairy tale and is said to have “inspired Walt Disney to create the Magic Kingdom”. However, despite the large amount of fog engulfing the castle, we noticed there was something wrong with this view…

Can you see it?

But we will come back to this later.

On with the tour of Hohenschwangau! This castle was built in 1837 for King Maximilian II of Bavaria and was later taken over by his son King Ludwig II of Bavaria. As this castle is under 200 years old, it is not your stereotypical old stone castle with grey walls. The castle is gorgeous inside and out and contains brightly coloured walls, pillars, and pictures and original furniture. As photographs are not permitted inside the castle, I will not be spoiling the tour for you. 

The outside of Hohenschwangau however, looks like this. Still pretty on Winter's harsh canvas.

 Once the tour was finished, we had a few minutes to take some outside photos before embarking on the 40 minute walk up hill to Neuschwanstein. Oh ya, the buses up the hill don’t run in the winter, so you can either walk or wait for a horse drawn carriage to pull you up. At the 30 minute mark, you can stop to purchase some souvenirs, grab a small drink or snack and either unload from or load onto the horse drawn carriages depending on your direction as this is where they stop. During the last 10 minute stretch, after we rounded a large corner, we were finally presented with a full view of the western and northern walls of the castle. The problem also came into full view. 

Can you see it now?
Yep, it’s covered in scaffolding. We were really disappointed. I was really disappointed after reading and hearing about how it REALLY looked like it belonged in a fairytale. I’m sorry, but none of my fairytale images have scaffolding in them. Two minutes later, we overheard a tour guide telling his group that the scaffolding had actually been there since 2001, but that the eastern and southern sides were free of this blockage. Well that’s a bit of good news, I thought. We eventually made it to the top and I got to see the bit of brick still showing. 

I had to crop a bit off from the right because it contained a random AND scaffolding.

Neuschwanstein was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Building began in 1869, but as the king wanted this castle to be perfect, it was not even finished by the time of his death in 1886. Again, the castle was gorgeous. It had the original furniture including his wood carved bed which took 4 carpenters 4 years to complete and brightly coloured, walls, pictures, and pillars. 

Here’s where the second disappointment came. It also contained a number of rooms that echoed, a very large group of tourists straining to here the guide, and 3 jackasses having their own little side conversation the entire time, making hearing the guide, almost impossible at times. I was ticked. I really wished my mom had been there to “pull a Cheryl” and tell them to shut up! If you know her, you know she would have said something and it would have gone either a little like this:

 “Hey guys…” All of her speeches to people adding their own soundtrack start this way…

“The rest of us paid for this tour as well, but we can’t enjoy it over your carrying on, so shut up or I’ll come over there and help you to do it” 

Or like this: 

“Hey guys…could ya shut up for 30 minutes so the rest of us can hear the tour?” 

The ladder is the general speech given to the movie chatterers and the first is generally reserved for the large drunk parties managing to scream over a musical concerts sound output. I’m not sure where castle tour fits into that.

However, I was too afraid to interrupt and draw the group’s attention to myself. So I tried to move a little closer. We were also a little disappointed that some of the people thought they were above the "no photos" rule. A large string of people had digital SLR cameras slung around their necks and hung down to their waist. They attempted to hide amongst the large group, aim their waists at some part of the room and click the little button. I have news for you, you aren’t being as conspicuous as you think you are, your expensive SLR camera may be better than mine, but it still makes a sound when the picture is being taken. Everyone can hear it.The security guard who has just been kind enough to yell a general "no photos, please!" was talking to you.

But despite being annoyed by the other tourist’s stupidity, the castles were definitely worth the trip. And now that I have come home and read more about the two castles, I have found an additional Neuschwanstein website, the one that mentions it’s covered in scaffolding, and the scaffolding is only scheduled to be there until the end of 2012. So future German tourists, you might get the full fairytale vision that I had been hoping for!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Czech Food Diary

The idea for a food diary was inspired when one of my close friends from home asked me what the food was like in Germany. She wanted to know what the traditional dishes were, how they were served, etc. I did my best to describe the food, in terms of what it looked like or what it might be similar to in Canada to which she replied, “I need pictures!” I promised I would start photographing my food and put together a little diary to satisfy her craving. While I have started to do this for the German food, I have yet to sample all of the important dishes, so the German food diary has yet to be compiled. However, I went to Prague, Czech Republic this past weekend and as I only had 2 and a half days to sample ALL of the traditional dishes, I did my best to try plenty of different things. While I would like to say that I just loooove to try new food, it’s really not true. I know what I like and when it comes down to choosing something I know I will definitely like or something new that I am not overly sure about, time and time again, I’ll go with what I know. It’s the reason why my German food diary is so far behind. I am not the biggest pork fan, but I do love the German Weiner Schnitzel and I choose it every time we go out over the other pork dishes. I always try a bite of Matt’s pork dish but I am always happy that I ordered the Schnitzel instead. But when I only had two and a half days in Prague, I thought of my friend and how she would want photo evidence. So while the Weiner Schnitzel is a popular Czech dish, I opened my mind to new food and left the schnitzels for Germany. …oh and I also managed to snag a few photos of the dishes that I might have been willing to try as well, just for her pleasure,  so she could get the full picture.

And so, without further adieu, here it is, a photo diary of all the Czech dishes I opened my mind to this past weekend, and a few of the others I might have if I could have spread it out over a week. I dedicate this post to Julia. 

Pancake with ice cream, fruits, whipped cream, caramel, and nuts.

I am not sure how "Czech" this dish is, but it's what I had for breakfast the first morning. It's what was on the menu at the traditional Czech food restaurant. It's also actually a crepe, but the menu said pancake. The fruits are hidden underneath and consisted of: pineapple, grapefruit, and something else that was a bit sour. These are my least favourite fruits, but the ice cream was good!

Beef Goulash with bread dumplings.
The dumplings are not quite what I expected, but they were pretty delicious, and they did an excellent job of soaking up the beefy sauce. Unfortunately, I was really sick during my weekend in Prague, having picked up a stomach virus from the kids. The stomach pains I had during this meal were fairly awful and I really just wanted to lie down at the table. It's one thing to have to force down a bad meal, but it's really sad trying to force down something so delicious. 

South Bohemian cream-of-potato soup with mushrooms.
The soup was delicious. This dish was recommended by our tour guide, something her mom use to make when she was a little girl and something she still makes at home today. I was feeling much better by this point, and I enjoyed every last drop.

Potato dumplings stuffed with smoked meat, cabbage, and bacon. 
The potato dumplings are a lot heavier than the bread dumplings and I was only able to eat 3/4 of the meal. It also left me feeling very full and was the last Czech dish I was personally able to ingest. 

Light Beer, enough said
Of course we can't forget that the Czech Republic brews some excellent beers and that they should be ordered with your meal. 

On this brings me to two other dishes I didn't have personally but might have been interesting choices:

Roast beef with cream sauce and bread dumplings.
Somewhat similar to the Beef Goulash I had, this is a dish that Matt ordered. The bite I had was delicious. 

Pork Knuckle with bread dumplings and sauer kraut.
Ya, that's a BIG PIECE OF PORK! I don't know the guy who ordered this, but he was part of our tour group and we all ended up sitting together for lunch afterwards, so I asked if I could photograph his meal. The outer shell all sort of came off in one big piece and he didn't think his stomach would be able to break it down, so he just ate the pork inside. He said it was good.

Overall, I ordered THREE THINGS that I wouldn't have normally ordered and really enjoyed them all.