Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hobbits and Hellions

As I'm sure many of you already know, I have another blog, Hobbits and Hellions. I started it last semester for my young adult materials class, and I'm trying to keep it going now that the class is over. I review young adult materials, mostly books. Though a few of the ones I reviewed last semester are duds, most are really good. If you are a young adult, know a young adult, or just like reading young adult books, you may find something that interests you. If you have any suggestions of books that I should read and/or review, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Now THIS is the fanciest castle ever

Two of the fanciest, actually. On the Tuesday of our Bavarian vacation (Bavarication?) Franz took off work and drove us to the village of Hohenschwangau, which boasts the famous castles Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. (Let's abbreviate these compound-word monstrosities, shall we? It'll be HSG and NSS from now on.)

HSG was the country retreat of King Maximilian II and his family. A fortress called Schwanstein had stood on the site since the 12th century, but it was in ruins when Maximilian bought the land in 1832. Final additions to his new castle went on until 1855. NSS was one of the pet projects of Maximilian's son and successor, Ludwig II (aka "Mad King Ludwig"). It was finished in 1886, the year of Ludwig's death. He lived there for a total of just 172 days (starting in 1884). Apparently no one cared to live in it after he died, because it was almost immediately opened to the public for tours.

First we toured HSG. It's a fairly small, modest castle, as these things go. The building on the left is the one we toured, and contains the king's and queen's rooms. The princes' rooms were in the building on the right.



Sadly, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the castle. The rooms are decorated in a very consistent style--"Romantic" or "Neogothic"--and the original furniture is still there. The walls are painted with pastel-hued scenes from legends; the ceilings, though not high, are decoratively ribbed like a Gothic cathedral's; and each room contains a beautiful tiled stove in a unique color. There are also lots of swans (Schwan=swan) in the paintings, on the chandeliers, and among the knickknacks. Secret (or at least discreet) passageways abound. The stoves are designed to be fed from the back, so the royal occupants get warmth but no smoke or ash. So half-size hallways, entered through quarter-size doors, run through the walls among the rooms to provide access to the backs of the stoves. A hidden spiral staircase links the king's and queen's bedrooms. I guess they actually liked each other.

Ludwig didn't make many changes when he became king and moved into his father's rooms. But he did cause holes to be cut in the ceiling of his room and crystal panes to be installed so the stars in the scene painted there could actually shine on him. (This, of course, necessitated servants placing oil lamps over the holes from the floor above.) He even made a sliding panel so he could adjust the phase of the moon. According to our tour guide this helped him sleep better. Perhaps that's what the naked women on the walls were for, too.   

We lunched at one of the few places open in the village on traditional foods of the region. I had my second Käsespätzle of the trip and Tyler had his sixth pretzel, served this time with two different spreads made from animal fats (yum!). (Since it didn't come up in the previous posts, I'll take the opportunity to mention here that Tyler and I ate TEN PRETZELS EACH over the course of five days. Pretzels really are better in Bavaria.)

During our lunch the morning's rain kindly let up, just in time for the walk up to NSS. Tyler and I were perhaps even more interested in the natural scenery than in the castles.


The lake on the left is an amazing blue-green color.
Artsy shot from the walk
We decided not to tour NSS (since the interior was never completely finished or furnished, there's not as much to see as in HSG), but we did look at it from lots of different angles. The red part at the front is the gatehouse.



View from inside the courtyard
Though it was officially closed, we rebelliously climbed the barriers to get to the path up to the Marienbrücke (Mary's bridge), the best place for views of NSS.

Bad luck on the scaffolding, again!
It was still just mid-afternoon when we got back down to the car, so Franz took as to see another of the sights of the region. This time it was a place we'd never heard of before, Wieskirche. On the drive over Franz told us several times that the church wasn't much to look at on the outside.

What are you talking about, Franz? This is quite pretty.
Then he amended his opionion--the outside isn't much to look at, compared to the inside.

Das stimmt, Franz! (You're right!)
My first impression was of rainbow colors, so I was pleased to see an actual rainbow on the ceiling.
Notice the traditional straw star ornaments on the Christmas tree.
Rococo organ
The Wieskirche is a pilgrimage church. All this splendor was made for the sake of a rather ugly little wooden statue of Christ that is reported to have wept real tears and healed people.

Finally, here's a panoramic picture Tyler made of the view from the Marienbrücke.You may want to click on it (links to Flickr) to see it at full size.

Neuschwanstein Panorama

Huzzah for Franz! Huzzah for Bavaria! And Huzzah for Mad King Ludwig!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hitting the Slopes

On the Saturday of our trip to Bavaria, Franz and Doro took us to the Alps to enjoy some snow. It was pretty overcast, so the views of the mountains weren't amazing, but the quantity of powdery snow was phenomenal. Behold Sara in her white puffy coat and I in my green less-puffy coat:


In Bavaria (and, presumably, in other snowy, mountainous regions of Germany), they take very seriously the obligation to take their small children to the snow. Hence there is lots of sledding. Not the wimpy American-style sledding where you haul your saucer up a hill and slide down for seven seconds. No, this is hard-core yet family-friendly sledding where you hike up a hill (2-6 kilometers long), go rest in the lodge and eat and drink Bavarian specialties and get warm, then rent a sled and slide THE WHOLE WAY DOWN. Yes, we slid for over a mile back down to the car and had a blast doing it. Slightly precarious as the uphill hikers and downhill sledders were on the same track, but in the end there was no blood on the snow.

This is how sledding should be, America! And photo credits to Franz.

By the way, the Bavarian drink I had in the lodge originated in Austria and is called Almdudler (pronounced variously ALM-dood-leh and OIM-dood-leh, for no reason I can discern). It's a somewhat herby lemonade and I'm in love.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An unexpected vacation in Munich

After our trip to London for New Year's, I was hoping to get back to work collecting data on various paintings and other precious artifacts. I had made arrangements with a museum/conservation institute in Munich (Bavaria) to measure several paintings in their collection from Monday through Wednesday. I have a good friend, Franz, who worked in my lab in Berkeley for a year, who is currently in Munich, so we made arrangements to go to Munich on the Friday before the measurements to spend the weekend with Franz and his girlfriend Dorothee. All was well until Thursday (before we left) when I got an email from the museum saying that we couldn't come make measurements. This had two serious consequences:
1. The lab was no longer paying for my train ticket and per diem.
2. I no longer had to work in Munich, thus extending our holiday vacation virtually a full week.
In my opinion, the trade-off was totally worth it.

After our sledding excursion on Saturday (which was so special that it merits a separate post), Franz and Doro took us around the city on Sunday. We saw the beautiful tower of the Rathaus (city hall, for those who have forgotten), pictured here.


Since its construction in 1908, the Glockenspiel on the tower has delighted audiences at least daily with a 12-15 minute mechanical dance/presentation the represents two stories from the 16th century. First (on the top deck) is a depiction of Duke Wilhelm V's marriage to Renata of Lorraine (1568). There is a life-sized jousting match in honor of the newlyweds, pitting Bavaria against Lothringen. Guess who wins?

The bottom deck shows the Schäfflerstanz (the coopers' dance). From Wikipedia:
According to myth, 1517 was a year of plague in Munich. The coopers are said to have danced through the streets to "bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions." The coopers remained loyal to the duke and their dance came to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times. By tradition, the dance is performed in Munich every seven years. This was described in 1700 as "an age-old custom," but the current dance was defined only in 1871. The dance can be seen during Fasching (German Carnival): the next one is in 2012.
Did you catch that? 2012? This year? Want to come see the Glockenspiel?


We have some short movies of the Rathausglockenspiel in action here and here.

Munich was an astoundingly beautiful city. There were abundant stair-stepped roofs:


Those roofs were even more apparent from the aerial view afforded by Alter Peter's church tower:



Here you see tour guide Franz giving Sara a church-tower-by-church-tower description of the city, with Doro in the red hat offering backup.


I think this may be one of the best pictures I've ever taken: the Münchener Rathausturm (city hall tower in Munich) in front of the red-roofed cityscape. The yellow church in the middle of the picture is the Theatine Church, built in the late 17th century in a beautiful high-Baroque style with a facade completed nearly 100 years later in a Rococo style. Both the outside and inside of this church were amazing.


A highlight of any visit to Munich (apparently) includes a trip to one of the Brauhäuser, the brewery-houses that dot the city. Franz and Doro took us to the Hofbräuhaus, a state-owned (!) brewery founded by our very own and recently married Duke Wilhelm V (1568). These brewery-houses are really cool: they have huge open areas with tables for people to gather, dance, sing, play music, play cards (and possibly other games). Some tables occasionally get reserved for community groups, and all tables get covered in beer. Hofbräuhaus has a section in the front for the Steine (giant beer mugs) for all of the famous people in Munich. If you're a mayor or other dignitary, you get your own Stein-storage locker at the Haus. Sara, Franz, and Doro have already picked out their spots (there weren't many empty ones left).


At the Hofbräuhaus, Sara and I both got one of our very favorite German foods: Käsespätzle. I won't describe it in too much detail here (since we don't have any trips planned and we need to save material for future blog posts), but it's like macaroni and cheese with extra deliciousness. And crispy onions. It's amazing. Also, I had my second non-alcoholic beer in a month! After reading my vivid description of my last near-beer experience, you're probably wondering why? Basically, Bavaria is the home of good beer, Franz knows good food, and after I told him that I had a near-beer in Köln, he told me that of course is tasted awful--it IS awful! Of course the WEIßbier is much better, even refreshing like a light, sparkling apple juice. Well, Franz, you are right. The Weißbier is MUCH better than the beer in Köln, no questions. Perhaps even a hint of sparkling apple juice is detectable. However, it's still just not that good. So, after two near-beers from the land of beer, I can conclusively say that I just don't like non-alcoholic beer. And, not drinking the other variety, beer just isn't going to play a role in my life. But I had the experience. Twice. Which was exactly two time more than I really needed, I suppose.

Another must-see in Munich, which we saw on Monday, is the Residenz, the former royal palace of Bavarian monarchs (construction begun in 1385, actively used as a palace from 1508, and converted to a public museum in 1918). Don't let the name "Residenz" fool you: this wasn't just a regular place for living, this is the largest castle-palace-museum-treasury conglomeration I've ever seen. It was labyrinthine and gargantuan and awesome. We started in the Schatzkammer (treasury) for some really gorgeous relics, and we'd now like to present a few exhibits, including this small selection of royal crowns:




(The pearly one is for Julia.)

Next, we have a travel kit of Marie Louise of Austria, the second wife of Napoleon. It includes service for four, travel toiletries, writing and seeing kits, several secret compartments, a measuring rod, a screwdriver, and implements for basic dental work.


Not in the treasury, this room in the Residenz palace appears to be decorated entirely in seashells.


These three final photos show some of the more breathtaking rooms of the Residenz. The first is the largest Renaissance interior north of the Alps, an room for antiques belonging to Duke Albrecht V. It is 66 meters (over 216 feet) long and full of elaborate busts and paintings.


Next is the private chapel of Duke Maximilian I, the Ornate Chapel. The title says it all. (The photo captures some of the ceiling and the porcelain cabinet on one of the walls.)


Lastly, a room for the family history aficionados, the Ancestral Gallery, full of over 100 portraits of members of the Wittelsbach family. Apparently, Karl Albrecht (in 1726) was hoping to curry favor with important people by demonstrating how well connected his family, and consequently he, had become by marriage. His plan worked: in 1742 in Frankfurt he was crowned Emperor Karl VII of the Holy Roman Empire. Do your family history, kids.


Munich is a beautiful city, one that we hope to revisit soon. (I anticipate that at least I will be coming back to do the measurements that were so abruptly taken from me.) Franz, Doro, you will forever be on the list of awesome friends/tour guides that make living in and traveling around Europe a wonderful experience. Noch mal, dankeschön!

P.S. A few funny things deserved photographs. Like this shout-out to our friends in Northern California.


Or these 1970s inspired ads for a German cola brand AfriCola. A little sweeter than regular Coke, but with almost two-and-a-half times the caffeine, who can complain? (Except for Franz and Sara who were in the car with me for over an hour after I had one...)


Monday, January 16, 2012

New Year's Eve and More in London

Before I begin recounting our escapades in London, I need to make some acknowledgements. First, the wonderful Ken, Susan, and Louisa, who housed, fed, and played cards with us. Second, my sister Laura, who gave us lots of great tips on how to make the most of our trip. (As you'll see below, we did a pretty good job of following her advice, at least for the first couple of days.) Finally, my sister Julia, who gave me a Harry Potter shirt to wear to Platform 9 3/4. That's the back of it in the picture. Tyler was too embarrassed by my dorky pose in the picture where the front of the shirt is showing to put it on the blog. I'm not ashamed, though, so that one's on Facebook.


After the mandatory photo op at King's Cross we went to Angel Islington, where Susan had told us we would find a burrito place. And lo, we did find the burrito place, and at the Chilango by Angel Station we did eat our first burritos in six long months of burrito exile. And it came to pass that we went back twice more in the course of our stay, for a total of three times in four days. And it was good. Can I get a hallelujah?

Burrito-induced happy-sad face. This was not for the benefit of the camera, it's what my face naturally did. If it had been a Gordo's burrito, I probably would have cried.
To kill time before we could meet up with Ken and Susan, we took a piece of Laura's advice and hopped on a double-deck bus. The bus took us through the West End and into the fancy Kensington/Chelsea area. It was a great way to see a bit of the city (without having to schlep our bags around)--you can see the facades of buildings a lot better from the top deck than you can from the ground.


Did I mention that the day we arrived in London was New Year's Eve? That night we headed down to the Thames to watch the fireworks from right behind the London Eye. They were actually shot off from the ferris wheel, so we were close enough to get firework detritus in our eyes. It was the best firework show either of us had ever seen. The whole thing was like the finale of a normal show. There was none of this wimpy one-at-a-time business--there were 5, 10, 20 fireworks going off at a time throughout the 15-minute display.


On Sunday, our only plan was to go the the organ concert at St. Paul's. (Touring St. Paul's is ludicrously expensive, but services, including concerts, are free.) But since we were awake by 10:30--early!--we had time to go to the Tate Modern first. In addition to a whole bunch of surrealist paintings, we saw some very cool installations. At first glance, this one looked like a pile of gravel.


It's actually a pile of individually handcrafted porcelain sunflower seeds. The artist is Ai Weiwei of China, who was arrested and held by the Chinese government for a couple of months in 2010.

This piece is by Do Ho Suh. There's a video about it here, if you're interested. It's unusual for us to find installations at all appealing, so we felt very cultured.


When I visited London a few years ago I bought a CD of music played on the St. Paul's organ for Tyler. (We were dating at the time.) Tyler loves the organ, and the one at St. Paul's is particularly fantastic. Not that I know anything about organs, except that playing one in an echoey church is kind of like playing the whole church. And St. Paul's is a very big, very echoey church.


Here's Occupy London, greeting us at the entrance to St. Paul's. This wasn't all--we saw a larger encampment somewhere else, too. I'm a little fuzzy on the distinction between the two.


On Sunday night we played Oh Hell (alternately called Mormon Bridge, Shucky Darn, and many other names, I'm sure) with Ken and Susan. I won. Twice.

Monday was surprisingly lovely, weather-wise. We went to Camden Market, which was crazier and cooler than I could have imagined. There are tons of facades like these on the way to the main market area.


The market hall is located right next to this canal. See the funny little boats that look a bit like floating VW buses? On the other side of the bridge this picture was taken from is a little lock for the little boats. Kind of hilarious, but pretty cool.


We were very restrained--all we bought at Camden Market was lunch (Indian for me, Moroccan for Tyler) and some handmade doughnuts. Here are some of the things I wanted to buy: tatted flower earring, antique hats, London-themed piggy banks, a cool skirt with a bird on it, a knitted jacket with a Union Jack pattern. See? Very restrained.

After the market we lumbered through Regent's Park eating our donuts. We were extremely full. Tyler took some nice pictures.


Our path through Regent's Park led right to Baker's Street!


We've been loving the BBC's new Sherlock series. (For the uninitiated, 221B Baker St. is Sherlock Holmes' address. Tyler's brother Jaren recommended the BBC series to us. We watched the first season with him over Christmas, then caught the first episode of the second season when it fortuitously aired while we were in London. Sadly, we must now wait till May to see the rest.)

This is Grosvenor Square, the very fanciest place to stay in London if you're a character in a Regency romance novel by the great Georgette Heyer. It's still a rather fancy place.


After Grosvenor Square we walked even more to get to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where we saw many nice things, but principally snuffboxes. These four beauties belonged to Frederick the Great. Historians, can there be any further doubt that the man was gay? I think not.


Most wonderful piece of jewelry I have ever seen. There were matching earrings, too. Swoon!


As you can see, Monday was an on-foot odyssey. The rest of the trip was rather more slothful. On Tuesday we didn't leave the house until after noon. We left at just the wrong moment, too, getting caught in a downpour on the way to the bus stop that left us drenched. We went to Portobello Road and spent some time in a bakery with hot chocolate warming up. Though there were no stalls open because of the rain, we did see lovely colorful houses and lots of cute shops.

And that's where the pictures run out. We spent the rest of Tuesday walking around Oxford Street, which, as Laura would say, is nice, "but it's no Fifth Avenue." For dinner Ken and Susan took us to an amazing Turkish restaurant, and then we played cards again. (We also played on Monday night. We hadn't been able to play cards for a long, long time!)

On Wednesday we took a nice walk on Stoke Newington Church Street (in the neighborhood where we were staying) and bought some used books, from a bookstore selling exclusively books in English! It was very exciting. Then it was time to get our last burrito of the trip and get on the train. We left quite a few sights unseen and a few burritos uneaten, so we'll have to go back.