The Sights of Munich

One of the great things I realized before my trip is that I actually know a fair number of people who have already traveled to Munich. So with the help of their suggestions, Julie, and Tripadvisor, Michael and I prepared to explore Munich. Unfortunately, Julie couldn’t join us because she had to work, but she was more than happy to help us form a rough plan of what we should do. So, with the help of Google Maps Michael and I set off at around 10 am in search of Julie’s recommended breakfast food, schnittlauch breze, a pretzel with cream cheese and chives. Our destination: Rischart Café in Marienplatz.

First things first, we went down to the S-Bahn and bought a partner ticket. In Munich, a partner ticket is valid for 2-5 people, covers all public transportation, and all you need to do is validate it (simply get a date stamp). The trip to Marienplatz didn’t take too long, but because Michael and I effectively know no German (we decided to pronounce the German ß as a b since we struggled to remember that it is actually a double s sound) we contented ourselves with trying to pronounce schnittlauch breze and just gesturing hopefully at the bakery display. Thankfully our message was somehow conveyed, and we were happy to sit down and consume our first pieces of German food.

After breakfast, we took a quick walk around New Town Hall (Neus Rathaus) before walking to St. Peter’s Church and preparing to climb up the church tower. When we asked Julie about whether or not the tower was worth a climb, she said that it was but that we should avoid going up when the bells were ringing. We duly asked how often that happened and were told that it was every 15 minutes. Because we didn’t want to leave the tower with our ears ringing and because there were a number of stairs, we were quite happy to take a break on our way up once we began to approach the quarter mark. We eventually made it to the top, though because there was no clear traffic system things got quite clogged on some parts of our way up–as Julie accurately put it: this causes the tower to be a bit of a fire hazard. But we made it! The weather was misty and gloomy all day so we didn’t linger in the tower, but we did manage to get a few great views.

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Afterwards, we went to the Munich Residence. To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed when I first saw the building. Michael and I agreed that the facade could have definitely been spruced up. Funnily enough, we later realized that we had entered the Residence from the back, which meant that we missed some of the more imposing grandeur that you get with the front of the building. But we were ultimately undeterred by what we thought was the building’s plain exterior and bought a combination ticket to see the Residence, Treasury, and Cuvilliés Theatre. I believe that our walk through the Residence alone took us a good two or so hours. Many of the rooms were stunning although not all of them were well decorated. Michael and I had a fun time noticing the many different ways the signs said that a particular room had been “destroyed in World War Two and reconstructed afterwards.” The Germans are clearly masters of synonyms. We also had fun noticing the room names. Who knew that people needed not just one antechamber, but an antechamber to the antechamber. We particularly liked one of the rooms which was called the Room of Justice.

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I think the room that actually shocked us the most was one that at first glance seemed to store fancy cabinets.  We were in for a bit of a surprise. It wasn’t until I noticed one cabinet whose doors had fairly clear glass that I paid attention to what was actually inside. My guess was that it was a human bone. At this point, I grabbed Michael and asked him what he thought it was. I figured Michael’s pre-med knowledge would let me know if I was delusional. Michael also guessed that it was a bone, and it wasn’t until I looked to my right and saw what was unmistakably a human hand that we realized we had walked into a reliquaries room. Sure enough, once we left the room we saw a sign that we had blissfully ignored on our way in telling us that our guesses were correct.

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Once we had finished with the Residence we walked to the Treasury and admired some royal jewelry before going to Cuvilliés Theatre and heading out. On our way out, we noticed that many people were casually rubbing the lion statues that guarded several of the Residence’s entrances. Not wanting to feel left out, we did as well. The Internet now tells me that rubbing the lions is supposed to bring you good luck, so I suppose we did the right thing even if the two of us were clueless as to what we were doing.

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One of my good friends from home had told me that we should go to the English Garden and drink beer at the Chinese tower. Having worked up an appetite at this point, we headed directly to the tower to consume pretzels, beer, and sausages. Thanks to a tip from my friend, we noticed that you pay a 1 euro deposit for the beer steins, so Michael and I happily decided to keep the steins as souvenirs. The German family sitting next to us definitely gave us a few judgmental looks as they saw us stash the steins away and walk off with them.

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Now feeling both successful and comfortably full, the two of us decided to try our luck at the Pinakothek Museum. To be frank, I’m a huge Impressionist fan and was not overly excited by some of the older works that are stored in the museum. We also realized that about half of the museum was closed for repairs, severely limiting the amount of art we could see. It was only as we were about to head out that we realized that there are actually multiple Pinakothek Museums. We had gone to the Alte Pinakothek.

Because we still had a bit of time left in our day, we decided to also see the Pinakothek der Moderne. I personally enjoyed the modern art museum much more. While I wasn’t a fan of all of the art on display, I enjoyed looking at most of the paintings and at the furniture and the design work that was featured. To top it all off, having been yelled at by a security guard in the Alte for getting too close to one of the paintings, I felt a bit smug when it wasn’t me, but another couple, who managed to set off one of the alarms in the Moderne. After about an hour, Michael and I were finally ready to call it quits on the sightseeing. We only had one last stop in mind: a traditional German beer house.

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So with dinner and beer on our minds we made our way to Hofbrauhaus. One of my friends had told us that “it was AMAZING. MINDBLOWING. Get the pork knuckle or whatever that was. It was ridiculous” so our expectations were quite high. Hofbrauhaus was hilarious. It was a quintessential tourist trap with Germans dressed in traditional garb, traditional German music playing, and a clientele that had to be at least fifty percent Asian tourists. It was hard not to laugh and to love the place at the same time. At my friend’s suggestion, Michael and I did order pork knuckle and it was in fact delicious. We also had a liter of beer each, or in my case a radler (lemonade and beer combined). Considering that I had enough trouble drinking out of my liter stein using just one hand, I was impressed by the waiters and waitresses who ran around the place carrying six or more of them in each hand. While the entire experience was fun, both Michael and I concluded that our favorite part was a man who came on stage and managed to create some sort of music using a whip. It was pretty much the only performance that managed to make most people quiet down, and one that we got to experience not once, but twice. I unfortunately did not take a video, but I guess that’s what YouTube and other tourists are for. Enjoy!

Off to Munich: Stranger Danger on Planes

I was told a few months ago that I one of my Friday classes was cancelled so I was really excited to plan my first trip out of Norway. It just so happens that one of my college roommates, Julie, happens to be working full time in Munich and was happy to host me. So I eagerly booked my flights and even managed to get another friend, Michael, to come along. Because Michael was flying in from a different city, we agreed to meet at Julie’s suggested airport location, Airbräu, which also happens to be a beer garden.

When I actually boarded my flight to Munich I think I was in a state of disbelief since it hadn’t really sunk in that I was 1) leaving the country 2) seeing some friendly faces in the very immediate future. I reached a second stage of disbelief when the only other person in my row happened to be American. Now, I’m generally not the sort of person who talks to people on planes. It’s not something that I’m opposed to, but it generally isn’t something that I seek out. In this case, having seen so few Americans in Norway, I was more than happy to chat with my aisle mate. Little did I know that the conversation would eventually take a turn. While the conversation started out with the standard get to know you questions (Where are you from? What do you do? Why are you going to Munich?) it morphed into getting career advice and the suggestion that I should take a Myers Briggs test to identify my strengths. While the conversation became a bit preachy I decided to simply nod along and thank the man when he said that he would pray for me. If only it had stopped there.  As the plane was about to make its descent into Munich, my aisle mate turned to me and asked me if he could give me one last piece of advice. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but it was not for this person to give me a lecture on chastity and the virtues of saving oneself for marriage. Luckily the plane was just about to land, so I didn’t have to do much other than courteously nod my head and smile, but as soon as I disembarked I rushed to meet Michael so that I could tell someone about my plane ride. Needless to say, both Julie and Michael told me that I should stop talking to people on planes. Lesson learned: no airplane buddies.

After Michael and I met up, we snacked and drank for a bit at the beer garden and the local McDonald’s before following Julie’s incredibly precise instructions to her apartment. The trip took us about an hour, but overall things were fairly navigable. We managed to ride both the S-bahn (subway) and the bus without a hitch. Luckily the ticket for the S-bahn happens to also work on Munich’s tram (U-bahn) and bus system, though to be honest our bus driver took so much pity on us somewhat lost Americans that he waved us onto the bus without bothering to check our ticket.

While the trip to Munich was not the smoothest trip that I’ve ever had, it was nice to end the day lounging in Julie’s enormous couch, talking with friends, and exchanging strange airplane stories.

The Scream and More

My last day in Oslo was done in a bit of a rush since I needed to catch an afternoon flight, but I still managed to cram in a few things before I raced to the airport. My first stop of the day was to the headquarters of WiMP, a high fidelity music streaming competitor to Spotify. One of our TEDx speakers from the week before happened to be the CEO of WiMP’s parent company, Aspiro Group, and he invited me to grab coffee with him while I was in Oslo. After about an hour of good chitchat, I left and made my way towards the Nasjonalmuseet (The National Museum).

IMG_1218  IMG_1220I’m generally a pretty big fan of art museums, and was excited to finally go to the National Museum. The thing that I really wanted to see was Munch’s The Scream, but because I still had plenty of time before my flight, I was able to go through the entire museum. I definitely felt a hint of sadness walking through. I took AP Art History my senior year of high school and unfortunately most of what I learned has managed to leak out of my brain. That being said, one thing I really enjoyed about the museum was seeing and learning a bit more about Norwegian painters. My AP studies more or less skipped over Scandinavian artists with the huge caveat of Edvard Munch.

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I will say that one of the great things about the National Museum is that it’s actually quite small. It only took up about 1.5 floors so it wasn’t too time consuming to walk around.

Afterwards, I decided to go to Bygdøy and try my luck at the Fram Museum. The water ferry that my family took last time was closed but I managed to find a bus that more or less took me straight there. I had seen the Fram Museum from a distance the last time I was in Oslo, and my assumption was that since it was a small building, it would take me about an hour tops. Once I walked into the museum I rapidly realized that the 30 minutes I had allocated myself would be wholly insufficient. The Fram Museum is notable for housing the Polarship Fram, a boat was used by Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen on their North Pole expedition and Amundsen’s South Pole expedition (it is the boat that helped Amundsen be the first person to reach the South Pole). The Fram Museum also houses the Gjøa, the first ship to navigate the entire Northwest Passage. Because my time was limited, I contented myself with simply watching the 15 minute film on these two large ships and then taking a quick walk around the Fram. While I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked at the Fram Museum, I definitely intend to revisit it the next time I’m in Oslo.

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Back to Oslo

Last week I was excited to go to Oslo for a quick trip. I woke up early on the day that my train was scheduled to depart and rode the bus down to Trondheim’s Central Station. In calculating what bus I should take I relied on the bus system’s website to help me pick a bus that would get me to the station about 10 minutes ahead of time. What I hadn’t counted on was the early morning rush and its effect on traffic. By the time my bus actually pulled into the station my train was due to depart and I ran (and may have also aggressively pushed and shoved) until I got to my platform. There was no train.

But it turns out all was not lost! Apparently the train was delayed by an hour so there was really no need for me to run or have a panic attack over missing the train. When the train finally did pull into the station, I gratefully sank into my seat and settled in for the 6.5 hour journey. It was another lovely train trip. I’m pretty much convinced at this point that ugly train rides don’t exist in Norway.

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Since I did have a long train ride I was able to check out the transportation system in Oslo before I arrived. It’s incredibly similar to the way the system works in Trondheim. In both cities, there are two main apps that you can use on your smartphone to help you navigate. In Trondheim they are: AtB Reise and AtB Mobillett (in case you were wondering AtB is short for “from A to B”). In Oslo, the apps are RuterReise and RuterBillett. AtB Reise and RuterReise will give you a map of the available bus/tram stops and will help you plan a route to your intended destination. AtB Mobillett and RuterBillett help you actually purchase public transportation tickets.

One of this year’s Roving Scholars, Lud, happens to have a guest room in his apartment and graciously allowed me to stay with him while I was in Oslo. So, my first action item after getting off the train was to actually get to Lud’s home. Thankfully Lud provided me with excellent directions and I was able to take the tram over. The thing that surprised me with the transportation system in Oslo is that no one seems to actually check your tickets. I was quite surprised that most people simply got on and sat down. It was a bit strange to be in such a trusting environment.

After a delicious dinner with Lud and quite a bit of catching up, the two of us grabbed the tram back down to the city center. Our destination: the Oslo Opera House. I loved my last trip to the Opera House and was excited to go again, this time to watch Don Giovanni. In the tradition of most Asian kids I played piano growing up and have listened to the Don Giovanni Overture many many times. I was excited to put this piece of music in context as well as to experience such a famous piece of opera.

There is a good summary of Don Giovanni done by the Met Opera but it can more or less be summarized by saying that Don Giovanni is a womanizer who pisses off everyone in the opera before being dragged into hell after refusing to repent for his sins. I would say that the opera revolves around appetites–hunger for food, women, respect, and depending on the character, redemption.

The first thing that Lud and I really noticed about the opera was how even though the set appeared to be depicting an older time period, all of the costumes that the characters wore were quite modern. In fact, at one point in the opera Zerlina pretends to talk to Masetto on her cell phone. While it was interesting to see Don Giovanni set in a more modern day context, it did sacrifice one significant point of the plot–you really struggled to understand or see the huge class difference between Don Giovanni and the other characters. While class does not come up too much in the actual libretto, understanding Don Giovanni’s social position is an important part of understanding his appeal and his dominance over the other characters.

I was also surprised at the way sex was portrayed in the opera. I was expecting the men to more or less dominate over their female counterparts, and the plot synopses that I read beforehand made me think that the women were meant to be gullible, docile, and dependent. This was not the power dynamic that I witnessed. Anna clearly is the master of Ottavio, who more or less follows her around like a lost puppy, but I think Zerlina proves to be the most interesting female character. Her physical attraction to Don Giovanni is made very explicit in the opera, and in this particular relationship she tends to play the victim. The innocent woman who is unable to resist Don Giovanni’s charms. Things are very different in her relationship with Masetto. Although Zerlina lets Masetto, her fiancé, be physically abusive, it is also clear that it is Zerlina who holds the power in the relationship. Instead of playing the victim, Zerlina uses sex as a way to formalize her dominance in the relationship. After her daliance with Don Giovanni, Zerlina manages to reconcile with Masetto after she essentially gives him a lap dance. Additionally, Zerlina secures Masetto’s trust after she tells him that she’s pregnant with his child. Zerlina proves an excellent example of how the women in the opera are able to use sex to their advantage as opposed to their disadvantage.

On a separate note, I was surprised by how much Don Giovanni is a comedy. I was expecting the opera to be a drama with a clear moral running throughout, which don’t get me wrong this is true, but there are also many small instances of humor, particularly surrounding the figure of Leporello. One his funnier moments emerges when he and Don Giovanni are exchanging outfits. Don Giovanni manages to hide behind the door to a confessional while Leporello hides behind two paintings. When Leporello has to pick up some clothing from Don Giovanni he takes one of the paintings to hide his nudity, only realizing a few seconds into his walk that it is a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Realizing that these holy figures are inspecting his nether regions a bit too closely, he giggles before turning the painting around to face the audience.

While I found Don Giovanni enjoyable, I definitely preferred Madame Butterfly. Don Giovanni has a much more complex plot, which is not helped when many of these characters are on stage at the same time. As an audience member, it can be difficult to figure out which characters you should be focusing on at any one point in time. Additionally, the singing in Madame Butterfly was much better. While Lud and I really enjoyed listening to Don Giovanni, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, it was pretty clear that he was by far and away the best singer on stage.

Pictures below from the Oslo Opera House’s website.

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Vinmonopolet

This past week I made my first stop to the wine monopoly, or vinmonopolet. Alcohol in Norway is prohibitively expensive and also more tightly controlled than it is in the United States. All drinks that have an alcohol content higher than 4.7% (strong beer, wine, and liquor) are exclusively sold in the vinmonopolet.

Again, alcohol in Norway is expensive. For those of you who have Skyped with me, I like to think you have learned that references to Trader Joe’s three buck chuck are prohibited since I’ve more or less gone teetotal in Norway. So, for those of you who are curious about how much things really cost (and keep in mind that these prices are just what I’ve experienced in Trondheim) here’s a short summary:

  • A “girly” drink (Smirnoff Ice, cider, Bacardi Breezer, etc.) will typically cost you around 70 NOK (10 USD) at a bar
  • A beer out depending on the quality of the bar and the beer will probably cost you anywhere from 90 NOK to 110 NOK (13 to 16 USD)
  • Wine out will probably cost you around upwards of 100 NOK a glass (14 USD)
  • Normal beer at the supermarket for a cheap brand will cost you around 30 NOK (4.40 USD) a can–and yes it’s okay to pull beers out of a six pack and just buy however many you want

And now I can finally answer the question of how much a bottle of wine at the store actually costs here in Norway. To be frank, when I went to the vinmonopolet I was really just looking for a decent bottle of red wine to give as a thank you gift. Because I was in a bit of a hurry I didn’t spend too much time in the vinmonopolet, but from what I could see the cheapest wines were around 90 NOK (13 USD), with most wines being in the mid-100 NOK range. It’s been a bit of a shock to find wine that I was formerly able to buy for 5 USD at nearly double or triple the price.

I didn’t peruse the liquor too carefully, but it seemed like most prices were approximately what you would find in the US if not a bit higher.

I will say that overall the vinmonopolet was actually quite nice. The people working there were very friendly and helpful and thankfully were willing to accept my Norwegian residence card as proof of identification. I will even say that the store had a hint of sass–I appreciated how boxed wine was candidly labeled “Bag in box.”

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Ponies!

I have been out and about this past week hence the belated blog posting. So, first things first: last weekend I managed to ride an Icelandic pony! For those of you who don’t know, I loved horses as a girl and my former dream job was to be a cowgirl (I saw this as the logical way to spend a ton of time with horses). Although I have outgrown those dreams, I still enjoy going on the occasional trail ride. So, when I got an email over the NTNUI Riding* list about a weekend trail ride I didn’t hesitate to sign up.

In order to actually get to the horses, we had to drive from Trondheim to Orkanger. Luckily two of the students who were going on the trip happened to have cars and were willing to drive us there. The drive was when I encountered my first hitch: I hadn’t been expecting rain. I woke up that morning to gloriously warm weather and sunshine and did not bother to check the weather forecast. My mistake. The prediction for Orkanger was rain for the entire ride. My fellow riders were a bit skeptical that I would last long on the trail in jeans and the owner of the ponies managed to scrounge up some leather chaps for me to wear. I will say that contrary to popular belief chaps are hardly sexy, but I will also say that they are incredibly practical for riding. I would contest that my legs were by far the driest by the end of the trip and overall the least beaten up by the elements.

So having changed into the chaps, I managed to saddle my pony and mount up. One of the great things about these Icelandic horses is that they are fairly short, meaning that you can mount up without a riding block. The other thing to know is that my horse, Hordur, was a personality. I was told early on by the owner that his name means chief in Norwegian and he certainly wanted to be in the front of the group the entire time.

Having been on trail rides in the past, I was expecting a fairly sedate walk along a trail the entire time. Mistake number two. The owner had no problem with us putting the horses through their paces and wanted us to experience the different gaits of the horses (unlike most horses, Icelandic horses have five gaits instead of three).

We had a good time riding the horses around the countryside and forest since there really wasn’t a trail at all. I will say that this led to some great sightseeing as well as some mild terror. I quickly realized that the chances of Hordur knocking my knee into a tree while going through the forrest at full gallop were quite high. Thankfully this didn’t happen, but I do have a bruise or two on my legs from when we ran into some wayward branches.

While I ended the day cold, stiff, and very sore, it was a great change of pace and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. As one of the other riders said, “there’s nothing more refreshing than a little gallop.”

*At NTNU most extracurricular activities are independent from the university. NTNUI (Norwegian University of Science and Technology Sport Association) is an umbrella organization that encompasses all of the student sports groups on campus. In order to join you pay a fee (that can also include campus gym membership), but it is important to note that you may also have to pay additional fees depending on the sorts of sports groups you join.

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