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Brussels, Belgium

My trip to Belgium included a bunch of time spent in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union.  It’s a fascinating city.  I arrived via high speed train to the city around 5:30 in the afternoon.   Walking to my hotel from the station, I found something interesting in less than ten minutes-  this building’s angel/demon stone-work was just fascinating to me.

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After I dropped my stuff off at the hotel, I went back out with my camera to see a bit of the city.  I also had a specific goal in mind, but I’ll get to that in a moment.  On the walk into the city, I found this Pop-Up Restaurant.  It was set up temporarily in front of the Le Monnaie De Munt, a rather nifty looking theater.  The Pop-Up Restaurant was set up so they could film a television show, according to the signage.  I briefly considered trying to get a table before moving on.

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Walking further toward the Grand Place, I spotted this rather amusingly named restaurant.  It had pretty typical food on the menu and I almost had dinner there one evening, but changed my mind at the last minute.  Also, I thought the eggs were regular decoration, but they were just there because it was Easter weekend.

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I wandered from there into the Grand Place.  It’s pretty hard to miss this enormous square.  The Town Hall has an enormous pointy bit.  I did not climb the pointy bit, as you had to make a reservation in advance to do so.

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I mentioned above that I had a specific goal in mind for my walk through the city on the first evening.  Most everyone has heard of Manneken Pis, the famous statue of the little boy peeing.  That statue is widely associated with Brussels, and is one of the symbols of the city.   There are two more peeing statues, though:  Jeanneke Pis, a little girl peeing, was put up in 1987, and Zinneke Pis, a dog peeing, was put up in 1998.  I decided when I left the hotel that I wanted to find all three before sundown.

Zinneke Pis was the first one I found.    The tile Space Invaders art drew my attention to the corner before I spotted the dog on the corner.

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Someone asked me if it was a male or female dog.  I can say with authority that it is most decidedly a male dog.  You just can’t see it in this camera angle.

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Next up is the Manneken Pis.  This one is marked on sightseeing signs and tourist maps, because it’s the most famous of the three.  This fountain was erected in 1619, and they dress it up in various costumes several times per week.  There was no costume while I was there, which surprised me because it was Easter weekend.

This is not the only Manneken Pis; there are others in various cities in Belgium, and one in Tokushima, Japan which was a gift from the Belgian embassy.

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I saw so many replicas while I was in the city, including one made all of chocolate, and this one dressed up for the World Cup later this year.

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Moving on from the Manneken Pis, I found my way next to Jeanneke Pis, erected in 1987 very close to the Rue des Bouchers, which is a narrow street full of restaurants.   Jeanneke Pis is not far from the Grand Place, and it is regrettably behind locked iron bars which makes getting a good picture of her somewhat difficult.

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Jeanneke Pis is basically across the street from the Delirium Tremens Beer Bar and Cafe,  which made this a perfect time to stop for a nice Belgian beer before dinner.

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I tried the Delirium Nocturnum, a strong delicious dark beer with an 8.50% alcohol by volume.  Did I mention it was delicious?

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After leaving Delirium, I decided to look for some dinner before retiring for the night.  Passing by it, I saw the Beurs, the Brussels Stock Exchange, which is the location of the Art of the Brick Lego art exhibit.  I’ll come back to this in another post, because I checked out this exhibit right before I left Brussels two days later.

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The next day, it was time for my actual tour of Brussels, led by a professional tour guide.  It started in the Grand Place, so here’s another view of that large plaza.

While I was waiting for the tour to start, I had a Belgian waffle covered in powdered sugar.  The powdered sugar made me cough, which caused me to be completely enveloped in a cloud of white powder.

Delicious high comedy.

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Moving on, we walked past the Cathédrale des Saints Michel et Gudule (Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula,)  which was completed in 1519.

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This is a monument to King Leopold I, the first king of the Belgians.  He ruled from 1831 to 1865.

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This is at the base of a very tall monument, but none of my other pictures came out very well.  The structure is the Colonne des Congrés (the Congress Column.)  The four corners are statues representing the four freedoms of Belgium- Freedom of the press, of religion, of education, and of association.

The flame is atop a Belgian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,  from World War I.

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Moving on, we visited the Parliamentarium’s visitor’s center, which is all about the European Union’s Parliament and how it governs.  It was pretty neat, actually.  This first section represents the main structures in the three governing cities of the EU-  Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg.

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How far is it to your home city? Vienna’s only 917 kilometers away…

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The exhibit had a detailed model of the European Parliament’s seating arrangement.  Interestingly, the seating is not by nation, it’s by political affiliation.

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I missed all but the last three minutes of this film about how the Parliament makes decisions because I was fascinated by shiny objects on the other side of the hall.  It looked interesting, though.

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On the way back from the Parliamentarium, we passed the Triumphal Arch in the Parc du Cinquantenaire, but alas, we didn’t actually go into the Jubilee Park, so this is the best photograph I took of the Arch.

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This… this is just an enormously large flower pot that amused me.

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I ate at two different restaurant chains that I quite enjoyed while I was in Brussels.  The first was called Quick.  The face of the restaurant was emblazoned with a giant lit up sign that said “Quality Burger Restaurant,” and the sign made me skeptical enough to try it.  (“Challenge accepted!“) It turns out that it’s got all the soul that McDonald’s has given up over the years,  and the burgers were delicious beyond all reason.  The other restaurant that I tried was a healthy chain called Exki.  This place was utterly delicious-  it was a little like the Pret a Manger and Eat chains that are all over London, but with more hot prepared foods and a few other interesting choices like the Ubuntu cola in the picture below.  (It was decent, but Coke is still better.)  They name their sandwiches with people names, so my lunch as pictured below was John.  The chocolate brownie in the background was so delicious.

I am excited beyond reason that they’re opening an Exki in New York City.  You have no idea.

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My next-door neighbor Lori sent me a link before I left for Brussels with a list of the top ten places to get a great view of Brussels.  One of those places was a parking garage called Park 58.    Entrance is free (because it’s a parking garage, not a tourist attraction,) and the elevator will take you right to the tenth floor.  From there, you have a fantastic view in almost all directions.  This is the view looking back toward the Grand Place.

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On the other side, you can see clearly all the way to the Atomium.  The Atomium is really cool, and I’ll talk about my visit there in another post.

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This statue is near Grasmarkt.  I didn’t remember to catch the plaque that explains it, but I quite dig the man’s mustache and his friendly dog.

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Don Quixote and Sancho Panza?  Yup!  I’m not sure why it’s in Brussels, but it’s in Place D’Espagne, and it’s a replica of the original statue in Madrid.

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Last, but certainly not least, Brussels is another city full of art.  I kept noticing that the exposed sides of buildings were painted all over the city.  I only snapped pictures of these four, and there was one more of a swashbuckler that I wanted to go back for, but I didn’t have time.   I love that the buildings have this much character.  These four are in different places all over the city:

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Have you ever been to Brussels?  What was your favorite thing about the city?

Palmator 2014

Every year, on Palm Sunday, the Prösslbräu Brewery in Adlersberg has a one-day festival called Palmator, a celebration of their dark, strong bock beer of the same name.  On this day each year, the Palmator is first served from the brewery’s kegs.  On an unrelated note, any time I put anything about this brewery into Google Translate, I have to giggle.  Adlersberg is the name of the place where the brewery stands, but it literally translates to Eagle Mountain.  This amuses me greatly.

The first year I was here, I attended Palmator and was blown away by how strong the stuff is- and how delicious.  Last year I skipped it because we weren’t done with our seven months of winter and the temperatures were below freezing.  This year, the weather was perfect.   I went with some friends, and we walked up the hill.  It’s possible to get there without walking up this hill, but where’s the fun in that?

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We had pretty spectacularly nice weather.  This is the view from the top of that same hill.

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They changed the layout since the first year I went to Palmator.  There was much more tent coverage before, whereas now they’ve done away with the tent and left more beer garden style seating out in the open.  This is much nicer, actually, particularly if the weather is rocking like this.

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This is the beer in question-  the Palmator.  It is absolutely delicious, and extremely deadly.  This glass is a Maß, or one full liter of the stuff.  By the end of the glass, I was quite buzzed.  The giant pretzel was soft and fresh and delicious.

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When the tables got full, blankets became the next best way to enjoy the day.  Our group brought blankets because my friends are smart like that.

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Another popular thing is to sit on the wall.  At certain points, the wall is well above my head, but people still clamber up onto it to sit and enjoy their Palmator in the sun.

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Have you ever been to Palmator?  Have you been to any Starkbierfest?

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Bamberg

It’s difficult to travel in January, unless you’re going to somewhere much warmer out of the country.  The days are short and grey and frequently a little bit on the chilled side, so sleeping in is usually much more desirable.

I’ve learned over the last two years that if I spend too long in Regensburg without taking any trips out of town, I start to get a little cranky.  To combat this, I’ve compiled a small list of day-trips-  places I can go in a single day on a Bayern Ticket (€23 for one person covers all RE,RB and local trains as well as bus rides, U-Bahn, and S-Bahn anywhere in Bavaria for the entire day.)  With that short list in mind, I just try to go on a Saturday morning.

For the first three Saturday mornings of January, I reached the all important moment of getting out of bed and going to the train station, and I chose to keep sleeping instead.  This weekend, however, I finally beat the evil snooze alarm, and I hopped the first train after 9am to scenic Bamberg!

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Bamberg is about sixty kilometers north of Nuremberg, and is easily reachable by trains.  Local trains (RE and S-Bahn) go between Nuremberg and Bamberg on an almost hourly basis.  I arrived in town about fifteen or twenty minutes before noon, and started to wander.  I had a list of about five things I wanted to see in the city, and I took the time honored tradition of “winging it” for the rest.

Item the first on my Bamberg list:  Altenburg Castle

Altenburg Castle sits on a hill overlooking the old city of Bamberg.  I wasn’t interested in going inside the castle, and I could see it clearly from where I was, so I didn’t bother going much closer than you can see from this picture.

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Item the second on my Bamberg list:  Bamberger Dom (the Bamberg Cathedral)

The main cathedral in Bamberg was built originally in 1012, but it was partially destroyed and rebuilt a few times.  Its present form is kind of like this:

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Inside the cathedral are a lot of interesting statues, including the famous Bamberg Horseman (Der Bamberger Reiter.)    Nobody knows who this statue represents, but it’s probably been there since about the year 1237.  The crown suggests royalty, but there’s no other items to suggest identity.  Saint Henry II is buried in this cathedral, and some believe that it represents him, but there’s no Imperial Regalia to confirm that.  Pope Clement II is also buried in this cathedral.

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There’s a lot of fascinating sculpture in the Bamberger Dom, so it’s worth having a look around.  I thought the headless clergyman here was interesting:

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Just three more pictures from the cathedral, and then we’ll move on.

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Item the third on my Bamberg list:  The Franconian Brewery Museum

Alas, the  Fränkisches Brauereimuseum is closed until April.  I do have some bad luck with things being closed when I visit.  I had the same problem with the film museum in Paris and the suspended trains in Wuppertal.

Item the fourth on my Bamberg list:  The Bamberg Historical Museum

Right next to the Dom, this was also closed, for “Winter Pause.”  That’s ok, though.  In this case, I didn’t want to go inside so much as I wanted to see the building.

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Item the fifth on my Bamberg list:  Try Rauchbier

Bamberg is famous for Rauchbier, or smoked beer.  The distinctive smokey smell and flavor is achieved by drying barley over an open flame.  Schlenkerla and Spezial have been brewing smoked beer in Bamberg for nearly two hundred years, and Schlenkerla is one of the best known brands of smoked beer in the world.  This is what I tried.

I thought it would be disgusting, but it wasn’t.  It’s difficult to describe the flavor- my friend Alice likens it to “drinking a campfire,” and that’s probably the most accurate description I’ve yet heard.   I didn’t really care for Rauchbier, but I can see the appeal.  Additionally, I only tried one variety from one brewer- there’s also a smoked Weizen (wheat beer) available, and I’d like to try that some time.

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Item the sixth on my Bamberg list:  The Bamberg Altes Rathaus

This building was my favorite thing about Bamberg.  It’s situated on the Regnitz river.   More accurately, it’s perched somewhat precariously over the Regnitz river.  Reachable from either side only by a pedestrian bridge, this is a very impressive and fascinatingly beautiful structure.  It helps that this is the one point all day where the sun came out and pretended to not be part of January.

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This is one of the sides visible from the pedestrian bridge, a street fittingly named Obere Brücke, or Upper Bridge.

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There are bridges on either side of the Altes Rathaus.  The first photograph of the Rathaus in this post was taken from this bridge, a much more modern affair, but with a fantastic view of the building.

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Item the seventh on my Bamberg list:  Winging It

The rest of these are just things that I found wandering around the city that I thought were interesting.  For example, in the Grüner Markt, there’s a fountain containing a sculpture called “Gabelmann.”  Gabelmann translates to “Fork Man,” which is apropos since the statue represents Neptune, god of the seas, holding up his traditional trident.  In hind-sight, I wish I’d taken a better photograph than this one.

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Mohren Haus means Moor’s house.  Every time I encounter something named after the Moors in Germany, I’m utterly fascinated.  The tiny statue of little Moor dude on the building totally makes it, don’t you think?

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Interesting sculpture!

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More interesting scultpture!  This one represents Kaiserin Kunigund, but I don’t have any real idea who that is.

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Next up is a statue of Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria.  Spend any amount of time in the south of Germany and you’ll encounter at least one Luitpoldstraße in every city.  There’s one in Regensburg, a block away from my apartment.

Luitpold became the Regent of Bavaria after the (frankly rather suspicious) death of his nephew, King Ludwig II.  He remained the Prince Regent until his death in 1912, at the age of 91.

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Last, but not least, I stopped in at the Stadtgalerie (City Gallery) Bamberg, because there was a poster for an ongoing exhibit (there until the first of June) called Jüdisches in Bamberg.  I wanted to see what Jewish stuff was in the exhibit, so I took a look.  For a €5 entry fee, this was well worth a stop.

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One of the displays had three or four of these rather amazing three dimensional images.  From above, it looks a little bit like a honey-comb.  It’s a cube rather than a rectangle, but when viewed from the front, the depth is rather ingenious. This picture doesn’t quite capture how amazing it is.

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Among the artifacts on display in the Jewish exhibit was a Torah scroll, along with the Mantel (the velvet cloak that goes over it), the Kesser (the two silver doo-dads that go atop the wooden shafts), and the Yad (the silver pointer used to read from the Torah.)

This particular one is apparently on loan from the Bamberg Historical Museum, and I was not able to find any details about its origin prior to that.  Every Torah is hand-written by a special scribe, though, so they’re not terribly easy to come by.

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Have you ever been to Bamberg?  Did you try the Rauchbier?  What did you think of it?

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Oktoberfest In The Rain

It’s Oktoberfest time!

Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair, and it runs for sixteen days every year from late September to the first Sunday in October.  (It runs for seventeen or eighteen days on years when the first Sunday in October is the 1st or 2nd of the month, because the 3rd of October is a holiday here, German Unity Day.)  It was started in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of King Ludwig I to Therese

This year’s Oktoberfest started on September 22nd and runs through Sunday October 6th.  In Bavaria, its often referred to simply as die Wiesn.  This refers back to the name Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow),  the fairgrounds in the center of Munich where it takes place.

Many of my bloggy friends in Germany have written about Oktoberfest.    LLMW wrote “Best Bets for enjoying Munich’s Oktoberfest & the Parade” and Alex wrote about how to get a seat at oktoberfest in munich.

Factoids for everyone!

  • Oktoberfest receives more than six million visitors each year.  That’s more than four times the population of Munich itself.
  • In the first week of Wiesn in 2012, more than 3.6 liters of beer were consumed.   This also led to an increase in Bierleichen, or “beer corpses” — a term referring to people who have drunk themselves into a state of unconsciousness .  (I love that there’s a specific word for this.)  According to the Red Cross, most of the Bierleichen were below the age of 30.
  • The price of a Maß (one liter) of beer in 2013 is €9,85.  That’s more than $13 per liter.
  • For beer to be served at Oktoberfest, it must be brewed within the city limits of Munich.  It must also conform to the Reinheitsgebot (the German Beer Purity Law.)

I went to Oktoberfest on a Thursday with Jenny.  The day before, it had been sunny in Munich.  Not so on our chosen day.

This is the Hippodrom tent, one of the first tents seen when you enter Theresienwiese.  It’s very popular with the younger crowds.

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Inside the Hippodrom tent, at around 4pm on a Thursday:

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A percentage of the tables in each tent can be reserved.  Often, companies reserve these tables and food is on standby for these reservations.

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A job I would not want:  Dishwasher at Oktoberfest.  This is one of many racks of beer steins ready to be filled.

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The Hofbräu Festzelt. (Zelt means tent.)

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The Augustiner tent.

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The Löwenbräu (Lion’s Brew!) tent.  The Lion is mechanical-  it lifts the stein and drinks, then roars.  Highly entertaining.

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The Paulaner tent.

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Sekt is champagne.  This was a wine tent.  As a result, it was a bit more mellow than the other tents.

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Theresienwiese is adjacent to the Bavaria Statue.

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As with all festivals in Germany, there are places to buy Lebkuchenherzen (gingerbread hearts) on ribbons.  They’re decorated with various phrases, and it’s traditional to buy one for your significant other.  It’s not uncommon to see people walking down the street wearing these.

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This carriage was pulled by six of the most enormous horses I have ever seen in my life.

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This one had slightly smaller horses.  Still big, though.

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Jenny and I found a table for lunch in the Schottenhamel tent.  The Schottenhamel tent is where everything begins-  on the first day of Oktoberfest, no beer is allowed to be served until noon.  That’s when the mayor of Munich taps the first keg in the Schottenhamel tent, proclaiming, “O’zapft is!” (It’s tapped!)

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Prost!

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Bavarian men always seem to have such jaunty hats.

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Just one of these is heavy.  This woman must have incredible upper body strength.

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Children in Tracht (traditional clothing) are pretty much always adorable.

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I do love the giant pretzels…

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After lunch, we went back outside, to check out the rest of the fest.  There’s a lot of rides.  This is the view as you’re approaching the front of Theresienwiese.  That ride with the airplane on top goes much higher and faster than we expected.

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I’m still trying to figure out why a) this one has American flags all over it, and b) the breakdancer is a Gremlin.

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There are several places to ride bumper cars, which is a great idea after drinking a few liters of beer.

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The ferris wheel at the back seemed like a good idea, because the gondolas are covered.

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These next two pictures were taken from the ferris wheel, during one of the many rain bursts.

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You can just barely make out the white balloon with a red cross in this picture.  That balloon made it easy to find the first aid tent from a distance-  kind of ingenious, in my opinion.

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While most of the locals went with traditional Lederhosen and Dirndls, a few people went with a more modern take on Bavarian garb.  I like to think of the guy on the left as Bavarian Jesus.

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Do you have any fun Oktoberfest stories?

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MaiDult is here! (Have some beer…)

One of the great things about living in Germany is that there are always beer festivals.  You don’t have to wait for Oktoberfest in Munich to get your beerfest on.   For example, Regensburg has its own festival twice a year called Dult.  In May, it’s Maidult. In the fall, it’s Herbstdult.  It has all the same things you’d find at Oktoberfest – beer, lederhosen and dirndls, live music, giant pretzels, and rides-  minus the enormous flood of tourists.

Right now, it’s Maidult.  This weekend is the last weekend of Dult, running until the evening of Sunday the 26th.   There will be fireworks at the closing, probably around 10pm since it’s not fully dark by 9.

At Dult, we have beer:

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…and rides:

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…and beer:

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…and rides:

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…and Poffertjes! (little tiny pancakes!  In this case, with butter and powdered sugar on them. SO tasty.)

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…and rides!

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Have you ever been to Regensburg’s Dult?