Living On The 49th Parallel

We’re a few days into Spring now, according to the calendar, but the temperatures outside still scream WINTER to me.   The sunlight, though, is definitely springtime sun.  Ever since this winter was declared the darkest on record since records began, I’ve been feeling the darkness much more acutely.  A few weeks ago, we had about one week of warmer temperatures and sunlight- a  Spring tease, if you will.


This week, it snowed again.  And it got cold, damned cold.

49thParallelThe problem is that Germany pretty far north.  Bavaria, where I live, is on the 49th Parallel.  In North America, the 49th Parallel roughly describes the border between the US and Canada.   For someone who spent most of his life up until 2011 in Florida, this takes some getting used to.

During the core part of Winter,  the days are much shorter than anything I’m used to.  This is especially true in late November and December- it’s night-time dark by the time I leave the office at the end of the day.  Last year, I actually bought one of those sun lamps that people use to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  I used that lamp almost every day last winter, and I barely noticed the omnipresent gloom.  This year, I mostly didn’t pay attention to the lamp, and the end result was I didn’t leave my apartment as much, I didn’t travel as much, and I was generally less interested in doing much of anything. My friends noticed I was especially grumpy for about two months, and that it was obvious that I was super cranky and unhappy.

Lesson learned.

The trade-off is in the summer months, though. I was astonished last year while visiting Amsterdam to note that it was still basically daylight after 10pm, and didn’t start to get dark until close to 11.   When we switch to daylight savings time this weekend, that will put sunset at close to 8pm.  I’m really looking forward to it. (The switch for Germany is on the 31st of March, if you’re wondering.)

As usual, Itchy Feet nails what we’re all thinking:


Summer time is coming.  Do you prefer longer or shorter days? 


How Not To Travel

Usually, when I decide to travel to a new place, I do fairly exhaustive research.  I look at information about what other people like to see in the city.  I check for walking tours or hop-on/hop-off tours.  I confirm information about the public transportation.

Most importantly, I do something that I’ve been doing before trips to new places for many years.  I make a list with three categories:

  1. Stuff I absolutely must see while I’m in this new city.  This category is the stuff that I’m most excited about. This category often includes the reason I went to the new city in the first place.
  2. Stuff that I really want to see.  This stuff isn’t quite as important as the MUST SEE category, but it usually includes a lot of interesting things that I’m glad I saw after the trip is done.
  3. Only if there’s time.  This is stuff that seems interesting to me, but if I don’t get to it, I won’t be too sad about it.

I’ve been using this three tier method for a lot of years, and when I’m traveling with a friend, I have them do the same list.  More often than not, we manage to get ALL of the must-see stuff, most of the really-want-to-see stuff, and occasionally, we even get to the only-if-there’s-time level.  Having things tiered this way makes it very easy to figure out a day by day plan without it becoming too overwhelming or stressful.   This planning method has always worked very well for me while traveling, and I should know better than to stray too far from it.

Yesterday, I tried something different.

I’ve been feeling kind of stuck lately- I don’t travel as much in January and February because it’s fricking cold and I don’t usually want to go take pictures of things when the sky is full-gray and I’m bundled up like the Michelin man.  Climbing hills to castles is not fun on snow and ice.

In order to combat the feeling of stuck-ness, I decided recently that I would try to visit some of the really close towns, places that I can get to in about an hour on the train.  A Bavaria Ticket costs me 22 Euros, and that covers the train there and back as well as any bus lines or public transportation in the destination city, anywhere in Bavaria.  The idea here is that if I day-trip to a new place, I don’t need to muck about with getting a hotel, packing a bag, and so forth.  I just go, wander around a new city for the day, then come back.

Why did this backfire?

  • It failed because I chose Ingolstadt as my first foray out this way.  Ingolstadt is perhaps the most boring city in Bavaria.  The most interesting things about Ingolstadt are that the Illuminati was founded there and the monster was created there in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Neither of these things is easy to see in a touristy way on a day trip.  Oh, and Audi has a factory and tour there, but I didn’t think to get information about that before I left Regensburg.
  • It failed because I went on a Sunday.  Everything is closed on Sundays.  Bus routes are cut down to once in hour in many routes on Sundays, which made getting around town kind of a pain in the ass.
  • Above all else, this little day trip failed because I didn’t prepare for it.  It failed because I didn’t do my list this time.  Ingolstadt doesn’t have many old buildings because it was significantly bombed out in World War II.  The few remaining old buildings look pretty nifty, but since I didn’t do my research before the trip, I didn’t know where to look.

This is the most interesting thing I managed to see in Ingolstadt yesterday:


That’s directly opposite the Bahnhof.  I spent the rest of the day using the tediously slow Sunday bus routes to try to find cool things to see.  I didn’t even manage to figure out where Ingolstadt’s “Altstadt” or Zentrum (city center) was.

I did have a successful conversation with a passerby who spoke no English, so I feel like that was a win, but I learned a great deal on this trip about what doesn’t work for me when I travel.

What lessons have you learned in your life about what NOT to do when traveling?

Maybe Falkor should have been a Luck Pig.

I was walking past the bakery late last week, and I noticed a tray of little marzipan piggies with signs that said “Viel Glück!” which translates to “Good Luck!”  Sensing the possibility to learn something fascinating  and new, I immediately e-mailed this picture to my German Authority, Jenny, with the following missive:  “Please explain to me the tradition of the good luck pigs?”


The reason for the little Angry Bird combatant snacks is that Germans regard pigs as lucky.   Around the end of the year, the Glücksschweinchen (lucky piglet) turns up in various snack foods, often with a four leaf clover or a horse shoe, which are also considered to be lucky.  Sometimes a ladybug, also considered good luck, is present as a red foil wrapped chocolatey treat.

Similarly, but not as sugary, chimney sweeps are said to be repositories of good luck, and on New Year’s Day you should do your best to shake hands with your friendly neighborhood sweep.  I wonder if the City worker guys who sweep up trash at the bus stop in the morning would count.

There are a slew of other superstitions and traditions- far, far too many to recount here.  As we go into New Year’s Eve, I’ll leave you with one more German superstition to bear in mind-  Never toast with water.  It’s considered a wish for harm to befall the people you are toasting.    Stick to ringing in the new year with fine Bavarian beer.  It’s just better for all concerned.

Happy new year, everyone!  Alles Gute im Neuen Jahr!

Short Post: Leberkäse

It took me a while to really get used to Leberkäse, but now I think it’s delicious.

Leberkäse, literally translated to “liver cheese,”  doesn’t always have any liver or cheese in it.  It’s kind of like Bavarian meat loaf, and it’s delicious.  Some people compare it to bologna.  It typically consists of corned beef, pork, bacon, and onions, ground together and then baked like a loaf of bread until it has a crunchy brown crust.

One very common way to eat Leberkäse is to make a Leberkäsesemmel- you cut the Leberkäse while still hot in a slice roughly the thickness of a finger, and put it on a semmel (bread roll).  Add some Bavarian sweet mustard, and sometimes sauerkraut, and enjoy.

There are a lot of variants on this food.  I’ve eaten Pizza Leberkäse, and it really did taste like a pizza.  Delicious!    Some other popular variants include cheese or bits of paprika (bell pepper). Generally, though, it just looks like this:

This Leberkäse was eaten at the Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei. It was served with Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and spicy mustard.

I’m going to be so overweight when I leave Germany.  The food here is just too delicious.

Getting High In Bavaria

Long time friends of me know that I’m a big fan of tall stuff.  My friend Gabrielle has been with me to revolving restaurants atop towers in two different cities, as well as an observation deck on the Stratosphere in Las Vegas .   My favorite part of my 2006 Chicago visit was the observation deck in the John Hancock Center.  In Prague last month, I loved the miniature Eiffel Tower lookalike, the Petrin Lookout Tower.

I like observation decks, revolving restaurants, and television towers.  A lot.

Here in Bavaria, most of the tallest things aren’t quite as tall as the John Hancock Center, but there are still some amazing views to be seen.   Back in March, I posted about Walhalla, and included some pretty spectacular photographs of the view.

Since then, I’ve been to three more pretty tall places.  The first was Tropfsteinhöhle Schulerloch, a show cave near Kelheim.   The cave is a stalactite cave, and it’s closed during the winter because it’s full of bats during colder weather.    Regrettably, I saw no bats on this visit.

The path to get up to the cave is a pretty steep one, though, and just before you get to the main entrance of the visitors center, you’re treated to this view at roughly 1272 feet above sea level:

The second tall place I visited is Waldwipfelweg.    The centerpiece of this educational destination is a boardwalk that overlooks a particularly picturesque stretch of Bavarian forest.  It’s a very tall boardwalk, though.  I don’t think I would have wanted to be up there on a super windy day.

The third tall place I visited recently was the Befreiungshalle  (“Hall of Liberation”).  This is a sort of companion piece to the Walhalla- there’s a third monument near Munich that I have to go see now that I know that it exixts.  The Befreiungshalle was constructed on the orders of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, with a ceremonial opening in October of 1863.  The Befreiungshalle sits on Mount Michelsberg above the city of Kelheim, upstream from Regensburg on the Danube river.

On the walk up to the Befreiungshalle, you can get an amazing view of the Danube river, including the boats that run between Kelheim and the Weltenburg Kloister Brewery.   I’ll talk about Weltenburg in another upcoming post.

The structure itself is pretty amazing.  It’s ringed by eighteen huge statues which are allegories of the German tribes. The number 18 also symbolizes the date of the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig (October 18, 1813), when the Coalition defeated Napoleon’s troops.

As with the Walhalla, however, the view is best from the stairs in front of the main entrance.  You can see all of Kelheim, and some of the surrounding countryside.

There are still some other tall places in Regensburg and Berlin that I haven’t been to yet.  They’re on my list.  Yep, I have a list of tall stuff to climb, all over Europe.  I’d better get to it.