Read, Write, Run, Roam

Archive for December, 2010

Eat, Celebrate, Shop: Munich, Germany

If Vienna was Eat, Pray, Love, Munich was Drink, Celebrate, Shop. We only had two nights and one full day in Munich, so we decided to make the most of it. The first night, we hopped the subway to Marienplatz to fortify ourselves with gluhwein and bratwurst. We were in the middle of a huge Christmas market, but Muz had another tourist attraction on his mind: Hofbrauhaus.

Hofbrauhaus has a long and interesting history. Over 400 years ago, the Duke of Bavaria ordered his court to reduce the costs of importing beer from Einbeck. The solution? Build a local brewery called Hofbrauhaus. (A beer stimulus program, if you will.) Over the years, it has served everyone from Mozart to Mark Twain. It also has a darker history as the site of the National Socialist party’s 25 theses, which later became Nazi party doctrine. Muz wasn’t interested in the history, though. He was interested in the beer.

We ordered our pints, our sausages, and the biggest pretzel I’ve ever seen. A band played and people danced or sang along. Hofbrauhaus is known for its giant beers and tent at Octoberfest, but what I enjoyed most was the camaraderie. At large, family-style tables, we talked to Bavarians, a Japanese tourist, and this guy:

The next day, we toured the Christmas markets in Marienplatz and the English garden. The markets in Germany were the nicest we saw during the trip. In addition to food stands, there were handcrafted wooden toys, ornaments and other trinkets.  There are no bargains at the Christmas market, though. If anything, you’re paying a little extra to shop in the festive atmosphere. But how many times can you say you bought your nutcracker under a glockenspiel? More importantly, how fast can you say that five times in a row?

glockenspiel glockenspiel glockenspiel glockenspiel glockenspiel

Munich takes their bratwurst, their beer, and their Christmas seriously. It was our kind of city.



Eat, Pray, Love II: Vienna, Austria (Part Two)

We’ve talked about prayers. We’ve covered eating. And if you’re going to have the EPL sequel in Austria, there has to be a love interest. The bad news: there was no Javier Bardem sighting in Vienna. The good news: there were lots of other beautiful sights to fall in love with.

Vienna is a lovely city. Groundbreaking news, I know, but bear with me. I had heard it was beautiful, but I didn’t understand the fuss until I was there myself. The architecture and layout of the city is designed to make people swoon. Every time I turned a corner, there was another building to gawk at or statues to admire. Even lampposts were decorated to make one stop and take notice.

But I don’t fall in love with classical architecture, RHOB! I want something edgier.

Not to worry, Vienna has something for everyone. Meet Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the artist-turned-architect behind HundertwasserHaus.

Hundertwasser (FH) was the “bad boy of architecture” from the 1950s-1990s. He rejected the symmetry and rational planning of Vienna, taking his cues from another architecture rebel, Adolf Loos. FH believed that buildings should be wild and curved, like nature itself. His work is best reflected in the HundertwasserHaus , which has undulating floors, green roofs and trees growing inside the building.

Ladies, you’ll have to come correct if you want to impress FH-the building was mobbed when Muz and I paid a visit. (You’ll also have to be a psychic to impress FH-he died in 2000.)

But RHOB, I don’t care about architecture! What I love is shopping!

Hon, Vienna is all about your needs. There are several pedestrian avenues that feature everything from Cartier and Chanel to Zara and H&M.  The stores are gorgeous and at Christmastime, the light displays are almost as pretty as the merchandise.

Vienna’s temperatures were hardly those of Bali-but between its buildings, art, and my handsome Muz beside me, it was a city to fall in love with. We’ll definitely return-when the horses drawing carriages don’t have to wear hats.

Eat, Pray, Love: Vienna, Austria (Part One)

Vienna's supersized treats

If there’s ever a sequel to Eat, Pray, Love, it could be set entirely in Vienna. The churches, the food, and the city itself (with Muz, of course) are worthy of a book and movie. Since blogs are the lazy man’s novel, here’s my version.

The praying part I already covered, so I’ll skip that (that was my least favorite part of the book anyway). Let’s go right to eating, shall we?

We went to Vienna as part of a Christmas market tour in Europe. The markets are beautifully lit and feature kiosks selling goods, mulled wine and food. We bought a mug of gluhwein and started food shopping. Spiced bread and sweet dumplings satisfied our sweet tooth, but we also loved the savory and salty kartoffelpuffer. It’s basically a McDonald’s hash brown to the 10th degree.

I'm lovin' it

Vienna was freezing, so we decided to move our food tour indoors. We first visited Greichenbeisl, a 500-year old restaurant. The name of the place has changed through the centuries, but the great service and delicious house wine made it eternally excellent. We would have stayed for dinner (the food looked great) but decided to save our calories for Vienna’s famed desserts.

Two shops are often cited as must-visits for dessert: Sacher and Demel. Both are known for their sweets. They’re also known for suing each other to determine who could sell the “original” sachertorte, a chocolate cake with apricot jam.

Dessert settled by lawsuit? This warmed our cold little Juris Doctorate hearts. Sacher won the lawsuit, so we decided to go there first.

The cake that launched a hundred lawyers

The verdict? It was nice but not exceptional. We preferred Sacher’s history to its cake. Eduard Sacher opened the hotel in 1876. When he died, his 21-year old “Real Housewife” Anna turned it legendary. She opened discreet dining rooms for men and their “dates” and entertained aristocrats with a cigar in her mouth and pugs by her side. If you want to enjoy Sacher, skip the pastry, drink in the Blue Room, and imagine the illicit meetings and raunchy parties of its past. Save the pastry for Demel-because you’ll need the room.

Demel was our last stop before leaving town. The pastry case looked so amazing, we couldn’t decide which two desserts we wanted. So we got three.

Why settle?

The verdict? Heavenly. These were the best desserts I’ve had in a long time. Belgrade has great sweets so consider this high praise. We stuffed ourselves silly and left Vienna before we ate ourselves to death.

Vienna-a city where you’ll eat things you love-and pray that your pants fit the next morning.

Well, that’s one way to work off Christmas Cookies…

It figures that the only locals I’ve seen running here are doing it for stunt instead of sport.

Eh, who am I kidding? They’re probably tourists.


Church on Sunday: St. Nicholas Church, Zemun

I can’t imagine a better Sunday to highlight a church named after St. Nicholas. The Church of the Holy Father Nicholas is the oldest church in Zemun, a suburb of Belgrade. The church was constructed in the first part of the 1700s-I’ve found conflicting years-and has the most beautiful iconostasis I’ve ever seen. Of course, my photos do it no justice. I’m going blame it on the scaffolding.

Yep, it's obviously the scaffolding ruining my photo

Zemun sits across the Sava from stari grad, the oldest part of urban Belgrade. At one point Zemun was part of Austria-Hungary, but became Serbian in 1918. The Hapsburg influence is evident in the architecture throughout Zemun’s old town.  Zemun also features a great river path that features splavs, floating restaurants and bars. I look forward to spending more time there when the weather gets warm. That should happen in about six weeks, right? RIGHT?

Srecan Bozic!

Before you think my keyboard went haywire, that means Merry Christmas in Serbian. I think. Maybe my teacher is trying to mess with me, and I just titled this blog post monkey poopypants.

This Christmas, we went to the green market to pick up provisions for our dinner. The green market is awesome because almost everything is straight from the farm. However, this means precaution is in order: I keep a close eye on my greens for slugs, and I’ve washed what looked like chicken manure off my eggs. Despite that, the food is worth it. So I marched to the market for my Christmas chicken.

I was worried that our chicken would be too organic, so I asked if all the giblets were removed. “Of course,” was the reply. When I came home I realized I should have asked if the NECK was still going to be on the bird. I had seen the neck on the chicken, but I thought that it would be removable. Why? Because that’s how Whole Foods does it.

I know, city girl, privileged, yadda yadda yadda. Say what you will. Chicken necks are gross. I asked muz, my hunter husband, to remove it. He refused but encouraged me to hack it off. Phrases like “you have to saw it” were used. I pretended I was Dexter and hacked away.

Thankfully, I managed to get the job done. The chicken was delicious* and we had a great dinner. Merry Christmas to family and friends, fair and fowl.


* Preheat oven to 450 with roasting pan in oven. Brush bird with rosemary infused olive oil (or regular olive oil). Stuff cavity with halved onion and rosemary. Put 1/2 cup white wine (I think you could sub wine with chicken stock) and 3 cloves of garlic, crushed, in the roasting pan. Throw in rest of onion on bottom of roasting pan.  Place bird in pan and do not touch for 40 minutes-that’s the most important part. Test thigh for correct temperature, let rest for 10 minutes. Delish, and relatively effortless. Expect smoke when you remove bird-open the windows! Recipe adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, revised version.

Tidings of comfort and joy: Christmas Playlist

Srecan Bozic!

Behold, the first live tree Christmas tree for Muz and RHOB. And when I say live, I mean it. The tree is potted and we will return it to a nursery in the next few weeks. If we manage to keep it alive, that is.

The men who delivered our tree probably think we’re nuts to rent a tree for a month. Christmas trees aren’t common in Serbia. Instead, they have a yule log (badnjak) and bundled wheat. Does anyone else remember that NYC TV station that showed a burning log all Christmas Eve? I wonder if the station manager was Serbian…

Anyway, to get Serbians and Americans in the Christmas spirit, I tried to find a Serbian version of Jingle Bells. My teacher said it was one of the few carols we would recognize, but a quick internet search has proved fruitless. Maybe it’s for the best. I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas carols, at least in the U.S. I love them for the first two weeks I hear them on the radio, and then I can’t change the station fast enough.

Plus, if I hear too many versions of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” I’m reminded of a terrible three weeks working at The Limited in December, 1996. It was an awful job: rude customers, pompous managers, and clothing that I was forced to buy at a tiny discount. But what I truly hated was that they would play the same Christmas CD all day, over and over. Ugh. The company could sell a million $79.90 fleece rugby shirts, but was too cheap to buy a second CD of Christmas songs.

And yet, The Limited Christmas CD still couldn’t kill my love for a particularly cheesy song I’ve included below. That’s right, I’m giving you my Christmas playlist-one that you will not hear at a psuedo-preppy clothing store. Any favorite you think I should add? Let me know in the comments.

Christmas Playlist:

Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto (James Brown)
Everybody’s Waiting for the Man with the Bag (Kay Starr Remix from Merry Mixmas)
Charlie Brown Christmas (Remix by Colossus)
Baby, it’s Cold Outside (Ray Charles and Betty Carter)
I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm (Kay Starr remix on Christmas Remixed)
Christmas Wrapping (The Waitresses)
Father Christmas (The Kinks)
Christmas in Hollis (Run DMC)
All I Want for Christmas is You (Mariah Carey) (Straight from The Limited Christmas CD!)
Peace on Earth (Bing Crosby and David Bowie)
This Christmas (Donny Hathaway)
Fairytale of New York (Pogues and Kirsty McColl)
Merry Christmas, Baby (Springsteen-but I rec’d John Lee Hooker’s version too)
Happy Xmas (John Lennon)