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Oktoberfest – Celebrating Beer At Its Best!

Short History

Oktoberfest (or “Wies’n“, as the locals refer to it) is held on the Theresienwiese, in Munich, Germany, and is the largest festival in the world, with over 6 million visitors, each year. Insane number, right? And such a festival needs years to become so big, so let’s find out how did it all started.

The field where the festival is held every year has been named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”) in honor of the Crown Princess, Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, who married Crown Prince Ludwig, on 12th October, 1810. All the citizens of Munich were invited to celebrate the happy event, and watch the horse races. The horse races were repeated in the following years, which created the tradition of the Oktoberfest.

Nowadays, the festival takes place during the sixteen days up to and including the first Sunday in October.

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The beer tents

We all love horses, but let’s admit it, they are not the reason for going to the festival. The real reason is called German Beer. With around 12,000 people employed, you will find plenty of it, in any beer tent you choose. The most representative Munich breweries Paulaner, Spaten, Hofbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner and Löwenbräu are present at the location and ready to create a Bavarian Heaven for all the visitors!

Interesting facts about the tents

A festival in a tent might sound a bit weird to some of you, but when I say tent, I don’t mean your regular 2×2 m camping tent. The ones built at the Oktoberfest are huge, accommodating a large number of people, looking closer to a barn, than to a tent.  Around 58 trucks per tent start to bring the components to the festival grounds, in late July. When the last table was folded, and the dishes packed nicely in boxes to be stored until next year, you couldn’t tell the Wiesn ever took place. This usually takes place around the 1st of November. Impressive or what?

When you drink your beer, take a moment to be thankful for all the manpower dedicated to making it all happen!

How do I choose the tent?

Which is the best tent? There is no such thing as a best tent.

However, Schottenhamel is one of of the most important tents. Why? At the start of the festival, the mayor of Munich will tap the first keg and call out O’zapft is! Only after this, the other tents are allowed to begin to serve beer. It is also the largest tent, with over 10.000 seats!

DSCF6210Marstall (the newest tent at the festival, opened in 2014, after replacing the old Hippodrom tent), Armbrustschuetzen, Hofbrau Festhalle and Hacker Festzelt are only a few of the tents waiting for the beer lovers’ arrival. My random choice was Löwenbräu, as the massive lion displayed at the entrance (4.50 meters high) caught my attention, but all the other ones are just as welcoming.

Remember that in order to enter the beer tents, you have to be prepared for a long wait. With so many thirsty tourists around, it might be hard to find an empty spot, especially if you travel with a large group. Making a reservation prior to the visit, is recommended, but is not mandatory. Remember, you need to sit down, in order to drink or eat!

The Parade

If you visit Munich for the horses however, then you shouldn’t miss the parade. I know what you might think: horses and beer?! Yes, and the two blend lovely, since the 1800’s.

The first parade ever took place in 1835, held in honor of the 25th wedding anniversary of Oktoberfest founders King Ludwig I and his wife, Theresie. Since 1950, the parade takes place every year, when 9,500 persons, dressed in traditional costumes, take part in the parade and present an impressive variety of habits and traditional dancing routines. To make it even more exciting, the Munich breweries add their horse drawn beer wagons to the parade, pulling the beer all the way to the festival.

The parade takes place Every First Oktoberfest Sunday and it starts at Maximilianstrasse. Heading towards, Odeonsplatz, it will get to the official box of the Bavarian Prime Minister and the Mayor of Munich (the place where I stopped to watch) and continues to Briennerstrasse, Maximiliansplatz, Lenbachplatz, Stachus, Schwanthalerstrasse and finally reaches the Theresienwiese, after crossing the Kaiser Ludwig Platz.

The most amazing part of the parade, was definitely the end, when after the last few horses made their way through the crowd, huge cleaning trucks appeared and ended the parade, while the traffic came back to normal, in just a few seconds. Quite something to see.

With a mix of fun, beer tents, parades and street performers, Munich is a wonderful place to be during the Oktoberfest. Besides this, I highly recommend a tour of the city, as the architecture is impressive and worth seeing.

Amsterdam – The Venice of the North

Starting as a small fishing village in the 12th century, Amsterdam became a very important port, during the 17th century, and it is even in the current days, one of the top financial centres in Europe. The city, situated 2 meters below sea level, was originally named Amstelredamm, being built as a dam of the river Amstel. At its lowest point, Amsterdam is situated 6.7 meters below sea level.

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Why Venice of the North?

It’s simple. Amsterdam is the home of more than one hundred kilometers of canals, which divide the city into 90 islands, connected by more than 1,200 bridges (more bridges than Venice has). This gives tourists the almost unique opportunity of visiting the city by water and also by land. Pretty neat I would say, especially when both experiences give you a totally different feel of the vibe Amsterdam has. 

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The most famous bridge in Amsterdam- The Skinny Bridge

The Water Canals 

Beautiful to see, since the early 14th century, and click pictures of, but the locals will tell you the canals are there for much more than the pretty sight.

What better way to describe them, than: city planning at its best?

The concentric half-circle canals were used for transportation, defense, and of course, water management, being built gradually, as the city grew larger and larger. During the Dutch Golden Age, the canals were used as open sewers, so the smell of success was to experience only from behind the windows. Fortunately, the smell improved in time, and the water is cleaner than ever.

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The most popular canals in Amsterdam are: Herengracht (The Canal of the Lords),  Keizersgracht (The Emperor’s Canal), and Prinsengracht (The Prince’s Canal), best being seen from a boat.

Amsterdam looks spectacular from the water so, I definitely recommend a canal cruise, but keep in mind that the city transforms completely when it’s dark. Just to make sure I don’t miss a thing, I took both trips. Well worth it! 🙂

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This place is called ‘Seven Bridges’ because it is the point from where you can see seven bridges of Amsterdam

The Buildings 

From all the cities I’ve been to, Amsterdam has the richest and most beautiful architecture, by far. Most buildings were constructed into the 16th, 17th and 18th century, and even in the present day, are still in great condition and used by locals. DSC_2423

At a closer look, you will notice some buildings are tilted, and are called the Dancing Houses. This is because many homes are converted warehouses built with a slight tilt to prevent the goods from damaging the building’s facade on the way up or down (dutch homes have very narrow stairs, so the only way to carry massive goods is on the outside of the house – that’s why the hoisting beams with a hook).

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All buildings are supported by 15 to 20 meter long wood poles, fixed into the soil. A typical house has 10 wooden poles, but the Centraal Station is supported by around 9,000 poles! You visit a city built entirely on poles. Impressive, or what?

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Amsterdam’s Centraal Station

The Houseboats 

Amsterdam is the home of over 2,500 houseboats, varying from small, simple structures to converted commercial vessels, or custom built multi-level houses. The houses are not motorized, but fixed, built either on a floating pontoon made of concrete or on an old metal ship (woonschip).

The houseboats used to provide a cheap accommodation, after the second world war, when there was a housing shortage. Nowadays they are nothing but cheap, and are connected to the city sewage system, electricity and gas. Some are permanently inhabited by locals, while others are rented to the tourists.

The Flower Market

Amsterdam’s flower market is the only floating flower market in the world, the flower stalls being located on the houseboats. Here you can buy the famous dutch tulips, narcissus and other flowers and garden decorations.

If you like flowers, this is definitely the place for you!

The triple X

DSC_198If you walk around Amsterdam, you will definitely see it everywhere. It’s important to know that the XXX on the city’s coat of arms does not stand for pornography (sorry to disappoint 🙂 ), but they represent the crosses of Saint Andrew, a fisherman who was martyred on an X-shaped cross, in the 1st century. It is said they also represent the three kisses Dutch people give on the cheeks, when they great each other.

The Bicycles – local favorite transportation 

Amsterdam, as most cities in Netherlands, is not very car friendly, so the most popular transportation is … the bicycle! It’s estimated that the city is home of more bicycles than people (over 881,000 bicycles for under 800,000 people). Most dutch people have more than one bicycle, using each one, depending on the weather conditions, destination and number of passengers (mommy bicycles have up to 2-3 child seats).

Around 25,000 bicycles end up in Amsterdam’s canals each year, and around 100,000 get stolen. The locals claim pretty much every bicycle on the streets was stolen at least once!

The Cheese Stores

When you think about Netherlands a few things pop into your mind: tulips, windmills and … cheese! Cheese making industry extends all the way back to the time of Julius Caesar, so Dutch people really know their cheese. No trip to Amsterdam should be complete without a visit to a local Cheese Store.

DSC_2024Being a cheese fanatic ever since I can remember, I was very much looking forward to this. Before my first contact with Netherlands, I was sure I knew how cheese looks, smells and taste like, but this country looked up the term of ‘cheese’ in my dictionary, highlighted it, then ripped the whole page out, and rewrote Every Single Little Detail.

The variety goes from Gouda to Edam to Boerenkaas to Herb cheese to any other type you can think of. Plenty from which to choose, but for me, it was the hardest decision I had to make, in a cheese store 🙂

Other Landmarks

Munt Tower - Munttoren

Munt Tower – Munttoren

The Munt Tower (Munttoren), built in 1619-1620, is a southern tower of Amsterdam, located where the Amstel river and the Singel canal meet. It was originally part of the main gates of the city’s medieval wall. The name of the tower comes from the purpose of the building, in the 17th century, which was to mint coins.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

The Dam Square is the center and heart of the city, home of the impressive Royal Palace, built in 1648, on 13,659 wooden poles. In the 17th Century it was used as the City Hall. Later it became the royal palace of King Louis Napoleon.

Nieuwe Kerk

Nieuwe Kerk

Nieuwe Kerk located in the Dam Square, next to the Royal Palace, is a 15th century church, currently used as an exhibition space. It was built after the Old Church became too small for the population of the city. The Dutch royal investiture ceremonies and weddings take place in this location. Inside it you will find a museum store and a burial space for the national naval heroes.

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Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum is the Dutch national museum, containing around 8,000 art objects, from as early as the 1200’s, and is, for me, one of the most beautiful and impressive buildings in Amsterdam. Located in the Museum Square, the building is close to the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum. Also, the famous I Amsterdam letters are located in the same spot.

From all the cities I’ve been to so far, Amsterdam is still my favorite, and is always a pleasure to go back. The unique architecture combined with the water canals and the history, takes it all the way to the number one city in my book.

Vienna – The Magical Winter City

As soon as you arrive in Vienna, a journey through time starts, where the past and the present combine right in front of your eyes. The architecture is absolutely stunning, and the sound of the horses making their way through the city center, opens a gateway to a different time. A place which screams history!

Some of the world’s biggest musicians (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schuber, Johann Strauss and many others) called Vienna their home, and after a few hours spent in the gorgeous city, I could see why.

Combining a walk through the center, with a visit at Empress Sisi’s palace, and a day of shopping at the famous Christmas Market, this city has something which always makes me want to come back.

Schönbrunn Palace

The Schönbrunn Palace, meaning “beautiful spring“, is Empress Sisi’s former imperial summer residence. Built in the 1740’s, the Palace is currently one of the most important historical monuments in Austria. Starting 1996, it’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage together with its beautiful gardens.

I’m not sure if the picture gives you a correct feeling about how big this place really is, but believe me, a few hours are not enough to see everything the Palace has to offer.

The carriage museum, the roman ruins, the palm house and the desert houses are only a few of the main attractions. Even more, during winter, Schönbrunn garden is also home of a Christmas Market, which is guaranteed to get you into the spirit of the season.

Surrounded by an enormous garden (over a square kilometer), which hosts the oldest Zoo in the world, this place is absolutely fascinating, and definitely worth a visit.

The Christmas Market

Considering that the first Viennese Christmas Market took place in 1298, we can say Vienna has a long tradition of bringing the seasonal joy into our homes. DSCF9589 The most famous Christmas Market takes place during November and December, in front of the City Hall (Rathaus) located on the Rathausplatz. There are a few more markets scattered around Vienna, though, competing with the latter, in Schönbrunn and on Spittelberg. The aromas of the Christmas delights, combined with the seasonal decorations and wood toys displayed in the small wooden market stalls, have their own magical power.

If you love Christmas, there’s no better place to be during winter, than in Vienna. In case you decide to visit, don’t forget to try the famous Wiener Schnitzel, the hot baked potatoes, roasted chestnuts, and a glass of wine, for which the city is so famous for.