Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mealtime

At races in Asia, they always try to accommodate the western riders at breakfast time by serving western dishes. Mostly, this is scrambled eggs and what seems to be an attempt at bacon. 

Here in the US we are staying in a house with a couple of teams. As a result, we have a range of nationalities under one roof. There are Argentinians, Germans, kiwis, Australians, an Austrian, Swiss and Hong Kong rider. 

Meal times are especially interesting as we search for the comfort foods that we are all used to. As a result, mealtimes have a mixture of flavours. From hotdogs and burgers to tortillas and dips to bratwurst and sauerkraut. Everyone is catered for... well almost. 

Our Hong Kong rider is struggling a little with western food and is missing the dishes he is used to. After racing so much in Asia, this is somewhat of a backflips on the usual. So for the next meal, we are venturing out to the local Chinese restaurant and we will see how it compares to the real thing. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

New York!

I've seen a LOT of movies. And I mean a LOT. After watching so many movies, the settings in them have become somewhat of a virtual world that I think of as more of a movie set than anything real.

Yesterday, I took a walk through midtown Manhattan and some of the things I've seen became a reality.

From the Rockefeller Building to the Trump Tower to Central Park to the Empire State Building. I felt like I was in a bit of a cinematic cliche as I said things like 'Take me to 18th and Broadway please.' and made jokes about Sex and the City as I walked down Madison Avenue.

All in all, it was a surreal feeling. New York City is one crazy and intense place and is one giant tourist attraction. In 5hrs I saw a tiny fraction of it but saw so much at the same time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

German surfer

Here in Munich, the nearest ocean in 845km away and even then it is probably very different to the beaches and huge waves we have back home but a few days ago I saw a guy riding through the city in a full body wetsuit and a surfboard strapped to the side of his scooter. It was a bizarre thing to see. Surfing in Germany???

As it turns out, there is! In the Englischer Garten (English Garden), a small man made waterway called the Eisbach (ice brook) flows through the park. With a well constructed creek bed, the Eisbach forms a standing wave that is roughly 1m high and people have been surfing it since 1972. People flock to the gardens to take their turn at surfing the wave and it has even prompted the opening of a couple of surf shops in Munich.

But beware, surfing the wave is done at your own risk as a law was recently passed allowing the use of the standing wave but also stating any liability in the case of an accident is totally on the surfer! Prior to this law, there was often a lot of trouble with the authorities as they threatened to destroy the wave. Now, with permission granted, the locals have embraced it and it has become a sub-culture here in Munchen. I wonder what is German for ‘dude’ and ‘radical’??

Here is some footage I found on Youtube of the wave in action...


Planking

There are some crazy fads out there. Things that I would not consider doing in my wildest dreams that somehow manage to go viral and become an internet craze. One that I saw recently was 'hockern' and is a cross between skate-boarding and extreme sitting. I laughed the first time I saw it but it is so popular now that there is even an annual 'hocktoberfest'. Check out some videos on youtube and you will laugh at how bizzare it is.

In the last week I have discovered another fad. If you have been reading the news lately you may have noticed that a young man died in Brisbane after he fell from a balcony whilst 'planking'. This got me wondering exactly what he was doing and after some research, it seems he was indulging in the latest 'craze' called planking.

Planking is the action of lying face down with arms to the sides of the body, in unusual public spaces and photographing it. The Planking Australia group on Facebook has announced 25 May 2011 as the inaugural annual Planking Day, to encourage new and group planking. So after our brewery tour recently, we decided to have a crack at it ourselves. However, we did limit ourselves to relatively low to the ground planking for safety reasons.

Here are some shots from our planking night in Munchen...

Despite how fun, stupid and ridiculous planking is, I don't think that I will be getting heavily involved in it any time soon. I think I might stick with plain and normal cycling. Or maybe I could combine the two and create 'plank-cycling'???...
Or maybe not.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beer education

Ask any German person, or anyone around Germany for that matter, and they will tell you that Bavarians are a strange lot. In ‘Bayern’, as it’s called in Germany, they have their own way of life that is different to every other part of Germany. They are extremely proud of this and their traditions and Bavarians actually consider themselves Bavarian first and German second.

They have their own unique customs and traditions (the most famous that you are probably aware of is the lederhosen and durndl dress) and they even have their own words that are used in Bavaria only (Just like how down south they call a popper a ‘fruit box’ and how Kiwis call an esky a ‘chilly-bin). They have a love for the outdoors unlike any other part of Germany and have some laws (that I will mention later) that are very unique to this part of the world.
 
The one thing that Bavaria is most famous for and also gives it some very interesting traditions is... if you haven’t guessed it yet... BEER. Yes, Bavarians LOVE beer. The state of Bavaria is the world’s 3rd biggest consumer of beer and in Bavaria alone, they drink twice as much beer as the rest of Germany. In fact, over 30% of Europe’s breweries are within 3hrs of Munich with a total of almost 900 breweries in Bavaria. Why do I know these numbers? Well, last night, we decided to get ‘educated’ and took a brewery tour.

So where does this love of beer stem from? Well, it turns out that you can thank the Catholic Monks for all the beer in Bavaria. During the season of lent, when the monks would fast for 40 days, they were only permitted to drink what was then called ‘liquid bread’. This was a concoction of water, hops and barley that the monks brewed in their cellars. Little did they know that yeast fungus growing on the walls and ceiling would make its way into the mixture causing it to ferment and turn into beer. On average, the ‘liquid bread’ would be around 12% alcohol!

The Pope wanted to know what the monks were drinking so a barrel of beer was sent to the Pope in Rome. This trip took a few weeks and by the time the barrel reached Rome, the beer had gone off. The Pope took one sip and said it was the worst thing he had ever tasted and if the Monks wanted to drink it, they could. But they were only permitted to drink a maximum of 5L per day! Soon, monasteries popped up everywhere, each producing its own beer and this is how the love of beer was born.

Beer in Bavaria has been brewed the same way since 1487 and is also the basis for the world’s oldest food law called the Munchner Reinheitsgebot or Bavarian beer purity law. This law was established in 1516 and states that beer must be brewed in a certain way with only 3 ingredients; Water, hops and barley. In 1906, the Royal family gave permission to use wheat and the discovery of yeast meant that beer could now have up to 5 ingredients. Back home in Australia, you can buy a beer that has an expiry date that is almost 2yrs away, but the Bavarian beer purity law prevents the use of preservatives and this ‘real’ beer only lasts up to 6 months. Fortunately, most brews are consumed within a week!

The most well-known celebration of beer in Bavarian and the entire world, is a festival in September called Oktoberfest. It marks the celebration of Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Princess Therese in October 1810. It was originally a 2 week celebration that ended in an exciting horse race. Ludwig decided that this celebration should occur every year and after 50 years, the horse race disappeared and the festival became more about beer. The celebrations were moved to September to take advantage of the warmer weather and today it is the biggest festival in the world. At Ludwig’s wedding, 35000 people attended and last year, over 6.4million people came with 1.3million litres of beer consumed in the first 2 days!

If you are planning on going to Oktoberfest, don’t expect to sample beers from all over the region. Only the top 6 beers in Bavaria are served at Oktoberfest with the most popular being Augustinerbrau which makes up 72% of all beer consumed in Bavaria. Unfortunately, you can’t just brew your own beer in your back yard and sell it at Oktoberfest. To become a ‘brewmaster’ in Bavaria is a 5 year course with the most renowned school being just outside of Munich.

Our beer tour ended at the famous Hofbrauhaus, the Royal family’s beer house that was opened to the public in 1828. Today, it is the 2nd most visited place in Germany to drink beer with 3400 seats and serving over 12000L of beer per day! The best part is, they only serve beer by the litre!  

When it first opened to the public, people came so often that they decided to install lockers to leave your stein or mug in. Today, there are 650 of these lockers and it only costs around 3 Euro per year to have one. Problem is, the only way to get one, is to have it handed down through your family for the last 200 years! In fact, even to become a ‘regular’ takes 15 years and only after that can you reserve a table!

So that is a crash course in beer in Bavaria. I will leave you with my most favourite law... it is legislated that you are allowed to consume 1L of beer per day at work. Generally, if you drink any more than this, they say just don’t let it affect your job. In fact, at the BMW factory, they have beer vending machines in the hallways!

Running late

There are a lot of things to do in München and if you include the greater Bavarian state, the list is extremely long. If you were to ask me what are the top 10 things that I recommend you see and do while in Munich, I honestly couldn't shorten the list enough. Fortunately, we have a book that does it for us..!

Some things we have already done, some things we cannot do due to the season or other reasons but most are fantastic ideas.

One reoccurring suggestion is that you check out the Rathaus Glockenspiel. Essentially, it is a very old, giant cuckoo clock that sits high atop the council building in the centre of münchen. It has 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures and every day at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. in summer, it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century.

This means, every day at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. in summer, huge masses of tourists stand at the base of the glockenspiel with their arms raised in the air pointing their cameras at it.

The other day, I was fortunate to be there at midday to witness this congregation of tourists. From around 11.30am, huge amounts of people gather and look for the best vantage point. Some are lucky enough to get a seat at adjacent cafes but this requires major forethought. As the clock hit 12, everybody held up their cameras in anticipation... but nothing happened.

Over the next ten minutes, more and more arms began to tire and cameras were lowered. Then at 12.10pm, the glockenspiel suddenly came to life. Everybody cheered.



Bells chimed for around ten minutes. It seemed to go on forever. It took so long in fact, that many tourists gave up on holding up their cameras and left. After 15min, I too had had enough and left the scene. By the end of the chiming, the tourists had cleared out, obviously a little disappointed and everything was back to normal. No doubt though, it will all happen again at 5pm.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Black Friday

I'm not a superstitious person. Heck, I'd walk backwards under a ladder inside with an open umbrella whilst kicking a black cat. So, for me, Friday the 13th was just like any other day and just like any other day, we went for a ride.

We didn't have the greatest day though. After only 3km, Ben got a puncture. The first puncture we have had since... well since as long as we've been here.

Then, a further 10km down the road on a back street in the middle of no where with a 30kph speed limit and no traffic, a police officer flagged us down and gave us a €15 fine each for not riding on the adjacent bike path.

If you ever find yourself riding a bike in Munchen, here is a tip: OBEY THE BLUE SIGNS! If they are not blue, don't worry about it, but if you see anything like the sign below, you must ride on the path. Ooorrr.... You could just go by the old saying... Its only illegal if you get caught. In fact, the police officer agreed that it was a stupid rule but also said, '...it's the law'.

50km later and we find ourselves lost and eventually do an extra 15km loop to end up back exactly where we started.

Another 30km later and we find ourselves on the wrong side of a huge lake which adds a further 15km or so onto our trip. And just to top it off, we had a head wind the entire way home.

Great day out.

Cash for cans

Have you ever used the cash for cans scheme? When I was a kid, the soccer club I played for used to collect aluminum cans (mainly from the drunk parents on the sidelines) and take them to scrap metal depots in exchange for $$. They would send the junior players out to check the rubbish bins for cans like an army of street urchins. I never knew if it was a lucrative venture but after some research, today you would be lucky to get AU$5 for a garbage bag full. Definitely does not seem worth the effort.

Queensland doesn't offer much for recycling. All they give you is a clean conscience and a bin with a yellow lid. Everytime I finish a drink and see the '10c if recycled in South Australia symbol' I can't help but feel a little ripped off; and also think of that Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Newman try to smuggle cans interstate in a USPS van to get more money.

In Germany, however, it is very different. Almost every drink container comes with what's called 'pfand' on it. Essentially, it's a small fee that's included in the price fir the bottle or can. When you return the bottle, you get your pfand back. some bottles will give you back a pfand of up to €0.25!

This means you are paying for the product only and not the packaging. It also means that everyone is a lot more inclined to recycle. There are no cans and bottles littering the streets because they are literally worth money and people pick them up. No one smashes bottles on the ground after a night out so when you ride around you don't have to look out for glass. And no one tears the labels off bottles because pfand relies on the barcode. Seems like a pretty good system to me.

After a week of saving our bottles at home, we took two bags full to the supermarket. You put the bottles into a hole in the wall and it tallies up your pfand before giving you a voucher for the amount. Our two bags full got us €4.53 in pfand.

Doesn't seem like much, you think?let me put it this way... A 500ml beer costs €0.47 so you could buy 9 beers and still have change. That's 4.5L of beer. And if you return the bottles afterwards, you will get another €0.72 back in pfand!

Our wonderful premier, Anna Bligh considered a cash for cans scheme... over a year ago. But she was worried that it would affect Brisbane's 'effective' curbside pick up. Considering, in Australia the rate of reclaimed recyclable material is only 38%, I don't think she has much to worry about.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Big day out.

When is the last time you spent a day at a theme park? Not as a young child, but as an adult. When you are a kid, you don't consider the logistics of such an event and just run around overstimulated by all the bright colours and neon lights, hyped up on fairy floss and dagwood dogs. However, as an adult, there is a lot more planning involved. What attractions do you want to see? How many attractions can you fit in? Where will you have lunch? What else do you need to bring? How will you get there? When is the last public transport? How much will it all cost? What snacks do I need to bring etc etc etc. And the list is endless if you are taking children with you. At the end of the day, you feel absolutley exhausted and need another day off just to recover. Yesterday was one of these days.

On Sunday, I had a race near Vienna, so we decided that Emily would come along and we would stay an extra day and spend Monday as tourists before catching the train back to Munich. Monday began at 5.30am. Emily was keen to make the most of of short time in Vienna so we were up for an early walk before breakfast. During this time, we checked out the Volksgarten, a huge church I have forgotten the name of, the Rathaus, Nationale Bibliotek, Mozart monument, Gates of the Heroes (where the Romans would return from victorious battles), the National Museum and a plethora of statues and other grand buildings.

After breakfast, we had around 6hrs to fill and rather than wonder around aimlessly, we decided to spend our time in one place, so that we could explore it thoroughly. The place we decided on was the Schonbrunn Castle.

Schönbrunn Palace served as the summer residence for the last imperial family of Vienna. Today it is a VERY popular tourist attraction with numerous things to see and do. So many, in fact, that we had to limit ourselves to just five...

The first was a tour of the palace state rooms. Upon entry, you receive an audio guide which you hold to your ear as you walk through the rooms to hear the explanations of each one. This made it look like everyone was talking on a mobile phone as they walked around. There were 40 rooms in total on the tour and every one was different. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed and although I tried to take some sneaky ones, they turned out too blurry because I couldn't hold the camera still for long enough. So here are some examples from elsewhere...

Next, we made our way to the Private Garden beside the Palace. The picture says it all.

Following this we crammed in lunch at the restaurant at the entrance to the Zoo within the palace gardens before making our way to the Gloriette at the top of the hill in the gardens behind the palace.

Then on the way back down, we stopped at the garden maze, which to my surprise, was far more complicated than I first thought. I even resorted to trying to take photos over the top of the hedges in attempt to get an idea of where I had to go.

Finally, we went to the one thing that Emily had been looking forward to all day. The Apfelstrusel demonstration. Here, they demonstrated how to make apple strusel and even gave their tried and tested recipe. I was more concerned with the free samples.



Following this, it was time for our six hour train ride back to Munich. I was exhausted and slept well on the train ride. We arrived home at 11pm and crashed into bed. Today, I am still exhausted and need a weekend to get over the weekend. The crazy thing is, we only did the classic tour which took 6hrs - the Gold Tour takes 2 days!!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Surroundings

When you live somewhere long enough, you tend to take your surroundings for granted. In Brisbane, I never really appreciated the sites and buildings around me. Some of you may be wondering what I am talking about or even scoffing at the idea that Brisbane has anything worth absorbing. I am talking about the things that tourists come to see, the things that non-Brisbanites are impressed by. The Brisbane river, Mt Coot-tha, Southbank, hidden cafes, the Museum, GOMA, etc, etc, etc. When I was at home, I would go 6 months without even looking at a beach, yet others pay thousands of dollars to visit them.

When I first arrived in Munich, I pretty much walked around with my jaw on the ground as I was surrounded by amazing architecture and history. Its the kind of history that I am used to only seeing on the television and movies. To me, 'medieval' was just a fair down at the park where people dressed up like characters from the movie Merlin and pretended to have sword fights and joust. I never really considered that it was once a reality.


Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit a castle which again was something I only ever saw on television. I felt like I was stepping onto the set of a movie as I walked through the grand entrance of the massive walls that surrounded the castle. The closest thing we have in Australia is the rabbit proof fence.

As I travel around, I am still amazed at all things I see. Even riding back into the city is impressive as you go past huge buildings that have been there longer than Australia has been in existence. Despite this, I can't help but feel that the locals have become used to living with these surrounds. Seeing it every day means it just becomes part of the background. The funny thing is, they would probably be impressed by Mt Coot-tha, which in hind-sight, seems a little bit over rated when you compare it to the Alps.