Thursday, June 30, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 7

Munich (Neuschwanstein)

The inspiration for the iconic Disney castle was our Day 7 destination - Schloss Neuschwanstein. This fairytale castle captured my imagination when I visited in 2004 and I was more than pleased to be returning. Our hosts, my beloved and I started the morning with a trip to the bakery for some much needed sustenance. The long drive ahead in chilly conditions proved so picturesque that numerous stops were required to capture the natural beauty that surrounded.

Our first glimpse of the castle instantly put all four of us in a fantastically buoyant mood.

After purchasing our entry tickets (it seems that one can now only enter the castle at a designated time for a 30 minute guided tour) we commenced the long climb to the castle entrance. Fortunately, there were numerous photo and food stops along the way, which made the incline more manageable (especially for the nearly knee-less like yours truly!). While the castle itself is pretty spectacular, views from its high windows over the lush landscape are pretty special too...don't you think?

After our tour, we headed to the nearby Marienbrücke, a bridge suspended so high above the gorge below that both my beloved and I chickened out and crept only to its edge before darting back to the safety of the adjoining concrete path. Our hosts were braver and took advantage of the excellent photo opportunities the bridge offered. After our brush with danger (okay, I'm a wimp!), we descended to the foot of the mountain. Delicious smells lured us into a typical Bavarian eatery, where I enjoyed Spätzle (small egg and flour dumplings) topped with cheese and my beloved opted for pork. As my belly had been a little upset since my time in Dubai, I was told that a weißbier would help. Only in Deutschland would this logic stand...and this is the kind of logic I like!

We decided not to have dessert and, on our way home, instead drove to a monastery with an adjoining nursery, restaurant and beer garden. Here we chomped into some apple strudel and imbibed yet more beer while listening to the chiming of the old church bells.

Bellies full, our evening involved flopping on the couch, watching a movie and eating even more! I retired mid-way through the film with an achy tummy (probably no surprise given the vast quantities of delicious food I had consumed!) and a real inability to keep my eyes open.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 6


I was initially contemplating two options for today's itinerary - a visit to Dachau concentration camp; or a day trip to Salzburg. Our German hosts discouraged the latter option, concerned that the travel time would restrict our enjoyment of Austria. My beloved didn't think he could cope with the depressing nature of the former. As I had been to both previously, I was open to other suggestions and was therefore happy to go to the Deutsches Museum - the largest museum of science and technology in the world.

The Museum was clearly to my beloved's liking - a real place for boys, full of engines, planes, boats, cars and a (very loud!) electricity show. While I happily spent a couple of hours in the establishment, in my opinion it lacked a human element, which made it difficult for me to be truly engrossed in the sizeable exhibits.

What was, however, engaging, was the Kinder Maxi King purchased at the convenience store nearby the museum. Since my first trip to Germany in 1999, these have been one of my favourite confectionary items. As far as I can tell, they are only available for purchase in Germany and Italy (though I'm almost certain there are eager and willing consumers waiting for their arrival "Down Under"!). These blissful chilled treats consist of milk cream, caramel, milk chocolate and crunchy wafer bits - pure joy!

What could be better to wash down a Maxi King than a hot, fatty, delicious currywurst with chips, smothered in ketchup. Probably not the best combination for our arteries, but certainly good for the soul!

At close to exploding point, the two of us waddled our way to the Pinakothek der Moderne (which we visited the previous day, but found ourselves instead standing outside a locked door). The collection at this art gallery was a real treat for the modern art lover like myself. I was particularly impressed by the vast airy spaces devoted to the evolution of industrial design. Despite the rather officious staff who accosted us violently as we inadvertently carried a bottle of water towards the entrance, the gallery was a rather special experience.

We arrived back at our Munich "base" and quickly readied ourselves for a dinner with my German host father, with whom I had the pleasure of residing as an exchange student in the late 1990s. The catch up was an absolute pleasure and we were treated to a rather spectacular home cooked meal - perfectly cooked white asparagus swimming in butter, with salad, ham and buttery potatoes - simple, honest and just wonderful! Even better was the opportunity to catch up with a lovely man after what seemed like a lifetime. Before we knew it, we had chatted our way past midnight and had to head "home" to rest up for the Disney-inspired adventure that was scheduled for the following day.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 5


Eager to taste my first *real* bretzel in seven years, we hit the bakery early and were rewarded with a soft, doughy, salty knot of joy. Replete, we headed to our nearest S-Bahn station and travelled around 25 minutes to the city centre. First stop: Marienplatz. I was flooded with memories, as I locked eyes on the Glockenspiel (town hall), wandered through the Viktualienmarkt (a daily farmers' market in the centre of the city) and pushed open the heavy wooden doors of the Frauenkirche (the city's cathedral). Having lived in Bavaria twice - once as an exchange student and later as a university student - these icons of Munich certainly evoke some powerful memories for me, ranging from homesickness to overwhelming joy. I proudly showed off the monuments to my beloved and bored entertained him with stories about my previous experiences in Germany.

We planned to spend the day at the Pinakothek art museums; however, upon arrival at the most recent of the three galeries - Pinakothek der Moderne - we were dismayed to find that all were closed on a Monday. We quickly kicked into improvisation mode and decided to take a stroll through the sizeable Englischer Garten (the English Gardens)...and no, we did not engage in any nude sunbathing! We eventually found ourselves in the vicinity of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where there are plenty of funky little cafés, art supply stores and bicycles - a very atmospheric area.

Having worked up quite the appetite, we opted for the most clichéd lunch choice possible - Hofbräuhaus München. I convinced my beloved to try Leberkäse (which literally translates to liver cheese), a typical Bavarian meat loaf (interestingly made with neither liver nor cheese!) served hot with sauerkraut. I couldn't go past the schnitzel. Despite the reputation of the beer hall (and its vaguely frightening counterpart in Melbourne), the food was reasonable - not brilliant, but certainly filling and tasty. In any case, how can you go wrong when a small beer is half a litre?!?

Being in the land of das auto, my beloved was eager to visit BMW world. We jumped on the U-Bahn and found ourselves at this glimmering showroom and car museum. Beyond aesthetics, I have to admit that I don't really *get* cars, but I certainly appreciated this experience and particularly enjoyed the BMW ute (what the?) and the diminutive blue and white number (both pictured below).

Throughout the course of the day we must have walked at least 10km and, when we arrived back at our Munich home, we could scarcely stand. Fortunately, our delightful hosts cooked us a delicious meal and we enjoyed a quiet evening chatting together.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 4

Dubai - Munich

We were up early, excited about seeing all of our wonderful friends in Germany and escaping the overbearing heat of Dubai. Coming through immigration, the airport officer processed my beloved's passport with no hesitation, but when it came to mine, spent around 10 minutes looking quizzically at my documentation, at his computer screen and then up at my face. He beckoned his superior who asked me to "please come with me, Ma'am". At this stage, even knowing that I have never and would never do anything illegal, I was feeling most uncomfortable (perhaps I've been watching too many Border Security shows?!?). I was ushered to a small room with two friendly staff who explained that when my passport was scanned, the details of another passenger were entered (likely the result of the a distracted employee coupled with the obscenely long queues at immigration upon entering the country). I breathed a huge sigh of relief and continued towards our gate to wait for what was to be a slightly delayed plane.

We landed in Munich just after lunch and were greeted warmly by our hosts Betty and Peter. Betty and I lived with each others' families for three months in 1999 and have stayed in contact ever since. After offloading our bags, we (naturally!) headed straight to the nearby bakery to pick up a number of cakes for kaffee und kuchen.

With full bellies, we drove to a rather scenic part of Bavaria - Tegernsee, where we stretched our legs and generally took in the beauty of our surrounds. The fresh air and natural splendour of the place was a welcome change after our three nights in Dubai.

Dinner with our hosts was at a very quaint Italian restaurant only 100 metres from their front door. Some rather inspired pizza flavour combinations were enjoyed - gorgonzola, speck and broccoli for me and oyster mushroom, prawn and garlic for my beloved. All of this was washed down with a glass of Prosecco.

At home, Mike fell into bed, but I stayed up for an extra hour or so, drinking wine and enjoying a long overdue catch up with my wonderful German friends. What a great first day in Europe!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 3


Day three of Eurotrip2011 started with a whirlwind tour of some key tourist sites in Dubai courtesy of the Uncle of my beloved. We were whisked to the Marina, the Atlantis and around the Palm Jumeirah where we were once again wowed by the size and gloss of the city (even if we were starting to suspect that it was all a bit of a facade to make up for a lack of authenticity and soul).

We were then taken to the Ibn Battuta Mall, which is split into six themed courts, each representing a different Middle Eastern/Asian country. Rich, vibrant colours adorned the walls of this interior design triumph. What I was most excited about at the Ibn Battuta was the hypermarket (naturally, in Dubai a supermarket just will not suffice), where one could procure over eight varieties of magoes, freshly ground spices from deep buckets, plasma televisions and inflatable pools - a one stop shop. Literally!

Once home we were treated to a delicious home-cooked lunch, followed by a Turkish coffee and were soon collected by our "desert safari" driver. My beloved, his cousin and I, along with a French family were driven to the edge of the desert, where the tyres of our 4WD were deflated and the fun was set to commence.

Our driver was seriously impressive, controlling the car with ostensible ease as it slid around and over the dunes, at times balancing precariously.

This video probably does not do the gut wrenching nature of the drive justice. May I suggest jumping up and down while viewing to maximise authenticity!

After roughly 45 minutes of stomach-twisting dune bashing we reached "base camp", where we watched the sun set while enjoying an apple flavoured shisha. I seized the opportunity to have a quick henna design painted onto my hand - a week-long reminder of our time in Dubai.

Astonishingly, the outdoor buffet dinner, consisting predominantly of Middle Eastern fare, was quite tasty. Moreover, the evening's entertainment (the requisite belly dancer and a twirling male dancer) was fantastic (and I only had two beers - I promise!). A great evening was certainly had by all and I have to say that the tour was excellent value for money. Fortunately for all passengers, the drive home was sans dunes!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 2


Thanks to the joy of jetlag, we were up and rearing to go at around 5:30am. We seized the opportunity to go for a walk - one of the few chances to do so in Dubai given the oppressive heat. The beach was eerily quiet, despite being jam packed with rather ostentatious houses. It appears that these mansions are the holiday houses of the wealthy, who do not regularly visit Dubai. As such, they sit desolate on the palm fronds creating a most peculiar ambiance.

Escaping the 6am heat (yes, you read that correctly), we headed indoors, hit the shower and grabbed a light breakfast. After a chat and coffee with our hosts, it was time to hit up the famed malls of Dubai. Naturally, we had to start with the largest shopping centre in the world, the Dubai Mall. With over 1,200 stores and around 350,000 square metres of retail floor area, this was my idea of bliss! Each corner turned revealed yet another of my favourites retailers, many of which do not have storess in Australia (although amusingly, iconic Melbourne cake shop, Brunetti has a store there - I tell you, there isn't a shop that doesn't call the mall home!).

My beloved purchased a few very reasonably priced wardrobe basics and I picked up three dresses (two from Zara and one from Desigual - I love my Spanish chains!), before heading to the food court for lunch. Our inner cretins really ventured out at lunch time, when we realised that Taco Bell was located in the mall. As Taco Bell virgins, we felt we *had* to try the junky chain and split a burrito (pictured left). Subsequently, at New York Fries we opted to stay true to our Middle Eastern location and ordered the fattoush fries (right). These chips, complete with pomegranate molasses, were surprisingly tasty, served with refreshingly crisp salad - success!

After some hours at the Dubai Mall, we ventured into the famed Dubai Gold Souk. I have to be honest and note that I didn't think much of the area and couldn't recommend it to anyone visiting the city. The Gold Souk was, in my opinion, cheapened by the various vendors selling fake bags, t-shirts and pushing cold water on tourists at exorbitant prices. The tone of the area was simply not in any way to my taste.

The disappointment of the Gold Souk was soon forgotten when we set foot into the Mall of the Emirates - better known as "the mall with the snow field". What a tribute to man's brilliance and stupidity (simultaneously). While we didn't experience the snow first hand (thanks to my busted knee), we managed to secure dinner with a view and watched people skiing, snowboarding and generally frolicking in the snow....all the while in the desert!

We headed back to our hosts at around 10pm and were told that they had booked us into a desert safari the following evening - how lucky are we?!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Day 1

Melbourne - Kuala Lumpur - Dubai

We left Melbourne at the ludicrous time of 2:35am bursting with excitement at the prospect of two months of adventure (and no work!). The sleeping pill prescribed by my doctor couldn't even cut through the excitement to knock me out for the flight - typical! Despite my alertness throughout the journey, our plane trip was thankfully uneventful, with surprisingly reasonable food (for cattle class, at least). A passenger a few rows away was spewing violently, reminding me just how lucky I am with motion sickness (but arguably less lucky choosing plane seats!). Indeed, I am a little *too* lucky in this regard - while everyone was turning their noses up at the airline food, I was scoffing it down. Each to their own, I suppose - some get frisky at 35,000 feet. I get hungry!

After finally arriving in Dubai, we faced an hour wait at immigration. Not altogether pleasant after 14 hours awake and seated upright. We were met at the airport by a driver employed by my beloved's extended family, with whom we stayed. He proudly showed off his adopted homeland, taking the scenic route via the various feats of architecture and engineering that the city boasts.

My first impression of Dubai was: "wow"! Sparkling, monolithic edifices dominated the skyline, the oppressive heat beat down and the wealth of (some!) residents was immediately evident. We arrived at our "home" for the next three days, situated on the incredible Palm Jumeirah (the artificial archipelago shaped like a palm), complete with pool and private beach - what luxury!

Not a bad view, right?

After a short nap, we descended to the living quarters for a sumptuous family dinner. We managed to keep our eyes open until only 9pm, before falling into bed for a much needed sleep.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Eurotrip2011: Noma

As I mentioned earlier, I will commence blogging about our time abroad by regaling you with my fantastic experience at Noma, before chronologically detailing the events of our trip.

So...after all the anticipation and excitement, the day finally arrived - time to eat at the illustrious, world number one restaurant, Noma. Unfortunately, my beloved had come down with quite the nasty case of gastroenteritis while we were in Germany and, although on the mend, decided not to accompany me to Noma. Fortunately, one of our travel buddies (who resides in the south of Sweden, not far from Copenhagen) came to the rescue and was more than happy to be my "date" for lunch.

We arrived at the restaurant about 10 minutes prior to its opening and had the opportunity to enjoy the water views of Christianshavn surrounding the eatery.

We were ushered into the restaurant - originally an old warehouse - and I was instantly pleased by the decor - minimalist-chic and yet cozy simultaneously - not always an easy feat to achieve. Like the decor, the service proved to be warm and professional. At times, I felt I was in Australia or New Zealand (many of the chefs greeted us with a warm "G'day" when bringing our food), but there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Indeed, this is, in my opinion, very exciting for the future of food in our country.

The table at which we were seated was all but bare, adorned only with a small vase of grasses and twigs, a lit candle, a dish of sauce and glasses of water. "Enjoy", the waiter stated, backing away from our table. Noticing our quizzical looks, he pointed to the vase. "The twigs", he explained, "they're edible". So they were! Crunchy and reminiscent of a bread stick. What an innovative start to what was to be a truly wonderful meal.

I should point out here that while I expected to be uncomfortable taking photos in such a highly regarded establishment, my nerves soon dissipated when I realised that everyone in the eatery was snapping up the incredible creations placed before them. This was excellent news both for this blog and for all of my curious friends.

Our next amuse-bouche? Moss.

A particularly brilliant starter arrived next. The exact combination of ingredients now eludes me, but I believe it involved pickled rose petals and some sort of Nordic berry. The tangy sweetness of this outwardly plain dish was truly outstanding.

An entirely edible muscle ("shell" included) was next on the agenda.

Bite size patty pans of goodness adorned with the tip of a pine leaf (unexpectedly delicious!) followed. The presentation of this dish in a retro biscuit tin was echoed throughout the meal.

The next dish was a contender for my favourite of the day - blanched then deep fried leeks. Clearly a simple idea, but truly sensational stuff!

Hay smoked quail eggs, served in a dinosaur-sized egg were brought to our table next. The burst of flavour that flooded the palate after biting into these babies was just incredible.

Who hasn't wanted to eat a pot plant at some stage of their life?! Okay, so perhaps not...but the classic Noma potted radish, complete with edible dirt, was served next.

A couple of "sandwiches" also featured as appetisers, one with crispy chicken skin masquerading as bread/biscuit. Numerous Scandinavian flowers and roe were also highlights of these dishes.

Our final amuse-bouche (yes, amuse-bouche - we hadn't even started our seven courses at this point!) was a hot ball of dough (I believe this type of dough is traditionally a Scandinavian dessert that is filled with fruit) surrounding fish. Please excuse my poor description of this and many other dishes - I should really have taken notes to remember details of each menu item. Ah, hindsight....

Then came time for the larger dishes. A delicious, freshly baked bread was brought to the table, clad in a felt warmer and accompanied by two spreadable lards. A scrumptious local beer, with strong honey flavours was also ordered to accompany the subsequent dishes.

The first of our seven "main" courses was a refreshing salad, dominated by cucumber, dill and some intensely creamy cheese.

This was followed by a squid ink and dehydrated scallop number. To me, this dish was interesting in that, on first bite it was extremely delicious, but I have to admit that it got the better of me flavour-wise after a few pieces. 

The next course was probably my least favourite of the day, but then, oysters have never been something that I appreciate. Before our meal, we were asked if there was anything we would prefer not to be served. I did mention that oysters weren't a favourite, but was urged by the waiter to try Noma's. I must say that I'm glad I did, but I could only manage a small bite before passing the remnants to my dining companion - a more seasoned oyster eater. According to her, the dish was delicious.

Things took a rapid turn for the better with the next course - an amusingly phallic white asparagus and pine concoction.

Another egg dish followed. This time we were to "cook" a gorgeously fresh egg at our table. Firstly, some hay-infused oil, a timer and a plate of leafy vegetables, flowers, herbs and herb butter were set down in front of us. Our waiter then explained the precise timing that the dish necessitated. Next, a piping hot pan was placed atop the table. We added the oil and egg and cooked for 90 seconds, before sautéing the various vegetation in herb butter. What a simple and downright fun idea. While the cynic may argue that such a dish is a lazy option that is employed to merely streamline operations in the kitchen, I found it to be a novel and exciting way of eating.

Our final savoury meal of the evening was absolutely stellar! Beef cheek and shaved pear featured heavily - two of my favourite flavours. The hand made knife sourced locally was a lovely touch.

While I was feeling incredibly full from the meal, my "dessert stomach" was well and truly open for business and Noma didn't disappoint. Our first dessert incorporated milk biscuit and the refreshing flavours of sorrel and the second combined jerusalem artichoke, apple and malt to great success.  

Our coffees were accompanied with two wonderful petits fours. Denmark's famed flødeboller - a delightful chocolate covered marshmallow atop a biscuit base - was the highlight for us. However, the chocolate-coated potato chip was a pleasingly quirky conclusion to an exemplary meal.

As a parting gift, we were provided with a curious package wrapped in brown paper and held together with string. Inside, we discovered some meaty marrow bone fudge - that is, fudge within marrow bones with a distinct meaty flavour. This was a real confrontation to the taste buds, to say the least!  

Well what can I say? For a foodie, Noma was pretty darn close to a spiritual experience! I commend René Redzepi and his team for their passion for authentic, delicious food. 
What an absurdly wonderful experience!  

Eurotrip2011: I survived!

Greetings readers! I'm pleased to say that we're back from a fantastic 2 month stint abroad (if you're reading this, thanks for sticking by during such a long absence!). While we had a truly wonderful time (including going from merely "mortgaged" to becoming engaged on the banks of the Seine in Paris!), it's excellent to be back with our two fur babies and in our own space.
You'll be pleased to know that I adhered to my promise of noting down key daily events (including, of course, food highlights) in my Eurotrip2011 diary. As such, I intend to attempt to provide a post on each day of our travels on a daily basis for the next couple of months.
While I will be doing this on a chronological basis, I think it would be prudent, in light of my very excited post some months ago, to start with a review of our fantastic lunch at the world's top restaurant, Noma. As such, my next post will feature my thoughts on this outstanding eatery, and subsequent blog entries will provide a day by day account of my time in Dubai, Germany, Sweden, Holland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Malaysia.
I do hope you enjoy!