Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Feast for the Princess that I am

Chirstmas Eve—not Christmas Day, in Germany is the big day of celebration, and that night, my hotel was only serving guests a special holiday meal—nothing à la carte nor room service (as they were running a skeleton crew).
Now, this backpacker brings only essentials when traveling the world, and when traveling by myself, I don’t go places that necessitate nice clothing. Thankfully, I was able to dress up jeans and a black t-shirt with a corduroy blazer, scarf, and a pair of burgundy kitten-heeled ballet slippers I had just bought in Berlin. It wasn’t anything like the fur and leather* on display in the dining room, but was much better than my soon to be retired Pumas. Alone, I was hopping for a small table in a back corner, or perhaps, at a table of other mish-mash diners: I was seated at my own booth in the dead center of the dining room. Now, I have an amazing ability to completely zone out, and move into my own little world, but warding off stares from fellow diners proved too difficult, and I was not able to enjoy myself as much as I would’ve liked. So, I ordered a carafe of wine J.
Then, as if the evening had not been humiliating enough, the host asked me if I wouldn’t mind sharing my table with a few late-to-check-in guests. “Sure,” I grumbled drinking more wine. Enter a young Japanese couple. He spoke English and she understood it, and we exchanged a few pleasantries. Overhearing from the next table, a middle-aged Irish couple joined in, and the five of us passed the rest of the remaining two courses making fun of the French (regardless of the fact that there was a French couple sitting right behind me), and how, for the Japanese, at Christmastime, it is tradition to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken. *shrug* Richard and Mary (the Irish couple) live near the Black Forest while she finishes her doctorate in German History. They were affable and offered me lots of tips on Rothenburg and the surrounding area (they spend every Christmas here). I will see them several times throughout the next several days.
The 5-course dinner, 35 centiliters of the house red, and a bottle of table water (because, like France, tap-water doesn’t exist in Germany) cost me just a little under 60 euros, and was worth every cent. I retired to my room and watched Christmas Eve celebrations being televised from all over the country.

*What is it with European women—okay, the men too, pouring themselves into leather pants (I saw someone in a unitard—that was… um, er… disturbing: it zipped up from the ankle to the chin)? These women tend to be much to old to sport the second skin look, and adding a fur hat to your head? It doesn’t make you look fashionable or rich. Just tacky.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Nuremburg + Rothenburg = 1 Hell of a Day

An intended early start was actually me waking around 10:30 (no chance of making the 7:30 a.m. to Rothenburg Ob de Tauber), eating a leisure breakfast of leftover everything I hadn’t already eaten (didn’t want to pack it, didn’t want to waste it), and checking out around noon. I caught the 12:50 to Ausbach where I got on a connection to Stusbach, and finally, the 20 minute commuter to Rothenburg (on the Tiber). I had a reservation at the Top Goldenes Fass Hotel for 3 nights at 77 euros/night. I was under the impression that this particular establishment was inside the medieval city walls and an “authentic” Rothenburg experience. Sadly, it was neither.
But before I continue, let us take a moment to understand why this was such a problem for Serena…
Last May, before leaving for Paris, my sister and I had begun plans for Christmas in Italy. She loves Italy and I’ve never been. We were going to ‘full court press’ several cities and gorge on gelato and vino. Unfortunately, grad school has proven to be more difficult than she had anticipated; she was unable to join me for the break. No one was able to join me for the break.
I did receive a few invitations (from friends/family), but all too late to prepare or save up. Going home was not an option. I had my heart set on Christmas in Europe. I was going to have Christmas in Europe.
After perusing the Rick Steves’ Website, and flipping through my Lonely Planet guide, I decided on Bavaria with a few days in Berlin. I was going to hostel my way through Bavaria with the exception of wherever I stayed for the holiday: I wanted to treat myself and stay somewhere really nice for Christmas—if I was going it alone, I was going it alone in style. I was going to stay in a clean, cozy room, with a bathtub, and spend hours in it pruning the tips of my fingers and toes. I was going to sleep naked under the toasty down comforter, and walk barefoot on the carpeted floors*.
So, fast-forward to Christmas Eve day…
The Top Goldenes Fass was a clean and tidy establishment with a friendly staff dressed in floral aprons with ruffles on the shoulders, and feathered mullets on their heads. The lobby and restaurant were decorated with wicker baskets full of silk flowers, cows, and scary, handmade Christmas elves. My room, small but tidy, had red veneered furniture, polyester bed linens, and a view of the gravel parking lot. They did not have Internet services. They did not have spa services.
You might be wondering why I was upset—and I was upset. I was very upset. This was the German equivalent of a Super 8, or Red Roof. It was nothing like its online description (no lectures, please. I am aware of the risk one runs booking online). I hated it. Spent about 5 minutes getting angry at reception, dropped my stuff off in my room, and headed into the Old Town to find another.
And therein lies my mistake. I should’ve taken one look at the lobby, and turned and ran. But I actually checked-in and gave them all of my information.
I did find another room—easily, in the hotel I had originally tried to stay in, but couldn’t book online. The Reichs Kuchenmiester Hotel is situated in the heart of the city. It is an ancient building with ambiance coming out of its carved wood-paneled ass. The staff was professional and clean cut. They all spoke English, German, and French. The hotel has a sauna, pool, and gym; and it has an arrangement with a day spa a few doors down. It was exactly what the Top Goldenes Fass was not.
I took their last room, and returned to the Top to check-out. I walked through the front door, and immediately went to reception. I told the woman at the front desk I was happy to pay for this evening as I had already checked in, and hadn’t given her the required 24-hour notice, but did not expect to pay for the two remaining nights. I was, however, happy to pay the nominal cancellation fee of 20 euros. Surprised, she looked at me, and said, “I am not going to charge you a cancellation fee; you have already checked-in. But I do have to charge you for tonight and tomorrow.” After discussing with her how unreasonable this was (I was giving her notice with a smile), she left to talk to her manager, returned and charged me 158 euros for two nights.
Nauseous from anger and burned from the second impulsive room change in several days, I stormed to my new room, and stewed for a few hours. But this was where I wanted to stay. I decided to forget about it until the tourist office opened the next day, and dress for dinner.

* luxuries I am currently without in Caen.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Nuremburg I

I left Berlin not really having seen much of anything. Sure, I had a great time, and I saw stuff, but not nearly as much as I wanted. I’m afraid I fell victim to the amenities of the Adrema. I found myself addicted to Sadam’s trial and a huge shower with hours of hot water (that is not to say that I was somehow in need of a hot shower after watching said trial coverage—that is not to say that at all). I rolled into town around 6 p.m. Unlike the directions David’s of Berlin gave me, I found the Lett M Sleep Hostel very easily. It is located inside the old medieval city walls and about 400 meters from the train station (or one Underground stop), right next to the wall, in fact. I checked in, paid 3 euros for sheets (why didn’t I bring my bag?), and 30 euros for 2 nights. I was assigned a bed in the all-female dorm, “Vive La Trance” (I have no idea).
After spending close to $400 in Berlin, I was eager to pinch as many pennies possible, and headed, next, to a grocery for supplies. I picked up some cream cheese (!), deli meat (!), bread, a couple mangos, a couple tomatoes (the veggie section was less than spectacular), chocolate, and sour cream and onion chips (!). I didn’t realize how much I was missing certain items in France.
Getting to the supermarket, I had exited the city walls and walked around them. turning, I decided to walk along the inside. The inside perimeter is quite and dark. Not scary, but peaceful. I was enjoying a few chips and the fresh night air when I almost walked into a black patent stripper heel dangling on a toe connected to a bare leg hanging out of a window. I looked up to see a half-naked woman falling out of her bra, smoking a cigarette, and glaring at me. She heard someone coming and thought I might be a potential client. I snapped out of my little world and looked up and down the wall. I was not alone in the street. It was full of loitering men avoiding eye contact with each other and horrified to see me. In the buildings opposite the wall, scantily clad women were hanging out of every first and ground floor window. One block was home to young white girls dressed as everything from a naughty Christmas elf, to school girls, school marms, and Bavarian barmaids. The next housed black women wearing white and fluorescent colors under a black light, after that, a mish mash of the old and toothless, to the fat and ugly. I was compelled to stop, at one point—against my better judgement, and stare as an old whore with tits around her waist attempted to mount a bar stool. She kept (in vain) jumping to hoist herself up, and in doing so, launching her breasts over her shoulders, a couple times coming close to hitting her chin. I found myself, mouth agape, gawking at this woman for several seconds, until a man, eyes averted, bolted across my path. Um…er, eeww.
I dropped off my food at the hostel and headed to the famous Christmas market in the center of town. The thing is, it’s not really in the center of town. It is in every part of town—okay not the red light district part of town, but everywhere else. Booths and booths, block after block. All carrying homemade arts, ornaments, nativity and dollhouse furnishings, flowers, vegetables, food, food, and more food. Oddest of all? Little doll-type people made of dates, prunes, and walnut shells mounted on round chips of wood. Thousands of them every two or three booths. Apparently, they are unique to Nuremburg, and each one handmade by the proprietor of the booth from which they are sold. They ranged in price from 2.50 euros to 30 euros for intricate wedding toppers and were clothed in quilting scraps, with hair, button noses, etc. At first glance, I was horrified by these little novelties, but after shopping around for them, I think they are adorable. After finishing my souvenir shopping* I headed back to the hostel for a mango and bed.

*I typically stay away from buying souvenirs—especially when backpacking. There just isn’t the space. Also, I really find it hard to justify spending money on crap to give as gifts to other people. Postcards and pictures: that’s my motto. But as this was Christmas, and as several people I know have always wanted to see the Nuremburg Market, I did splurge a little.

Nuremburg Part II or How the Reich Stole Christmas

I had planned an early start. I was going to visit all 14 of the featured attractions inside the city walls after a trip the Nazi Rally grounds and museum, but per usual, I slept in. After a long, unnecessary tram trip (do not take the #9 Tram in the direction of Thon—that is the wrong ‘end of line’), I made it to the museum. The building itself is a modern addition to the coliseum built as part of a larger complex intended to both intimidate, and flaunt the power of the Reich. It remains the largest example of Nazi architecture standing. The entrance to the museum is scary, brilliant but scary…
Unfortunately, the rest of the museum isn’t nearly as impressive; an audio guide is free with admission, and absolutely necessary for those of us who don’t speak German, and all there is. One moves from wall to wall “reading” different nuggets of information with the occasional video and blown-up photo. There are little to no exhibits (in the traditional sense), artifacts, memorabilia. Just wall after wall of words. In German.

The whole experience put me in kind of a bad mood, for several reasons: 1.) It was a museum about the following the rise of Hitler’s power, his armed forces, and even a few jewels from his concentration camps. 2.) As interesting as it could have been, it wasn’t 3.) and because of that, sooooooo boring. 4.) The whole thing added two hours to my late start. 4b.) It was rainy and cold outside, so 4c.) I wasn’t able to walk the 2 k.m. to the Zepplin Field where all the action took place. Hhmpf.
I took a bus back to town—knowing simply that it was headed into the city walls—and not any idea where. I hopped off when I saw an old church and went inside. I’ve seen my fair share of European churches/cathedrals, and they all sort of blur together unless I am able to identify them by their history and/or cultural signification (a bit of a buff, I am).

As I didn’t have a guide to any of the churches, their architecture, or their reliquary, I just walked around and enjoyed the handmade Christmas decorations. Seeing these Bavarian churches (okay, no onion domes*, but as they are in Bavaria, they count) all decked out for the season was something to behold—and each one was so different. I loved it.
That afternoon, I walked around town for several hours, spent even more time and money at the market and ate the following:
2 Nuremburg sausages (which really equals four as they serve two skinny little sausages on one roll)
3 deep-fried hashbrown-type patties with applesauce
1 serving of nougat
1 shish of chocolate-covered fruit
1 mug (shaped like Santa’s boot hand-painted with scenes from the market—which I got to keep!) of glüwien.
1giant mug of hot chocolate
1 piece of spice cake
It was a dark, miserable day with cold, icy drizzle and wind which was seemingly unaffected by the large buildings across its path, but I was able to take some great photos, lose my way back to the Lett M Sleep, only to once again find myself between the wall of medieval brick and mortar, and a wall of half-naked, skanky women. I was easily able to find my way from there. Thank God for landmarks.
I took a nap and chatted with a bunkmate. Marissa from Australia spoke a little German and gave me a few tips. She also introduced me to a few other hostelmates. They were all headed out to a local pub and invited me along. There was no crazy partying in Nuremburg, there was actually no partying of any kind. One pint of Guinness—what is it with people flocking to Irish pubs—1.) they’re everywhere—would you really rather go there than a…oh, I dunno: a German pub? 2.) We had met some rather intriguing (and nice to look at) local boys, but after losing them in the shuffle (some ass from our little int’l group insisted on moving down tha’ the pub instead of the agreed upon bar, I really wasn’t in the mood to party, and was back in bed by midnight.
I really enjoyed my stay in Nuremburg. Had I the time (and choice), I would’ve stayed an extra day there. The people I met at the Lett M Sleep, and my experiences in town left me content to have stayed a while longer, see more churches (maybe go to a Christmas service), check out some of the other landmarks, museums, and galleries (of which there are a lot of in the area).

*I am told that Catholic churches in the heart of Bavaria all feature onion domes, while the Protestant houses of worship tend to be much more subdued and… well, Protestant.