Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter 2011

Despite the clouds outside, it was a pretty nice day. I woke up bright and early (translation for non-students: around 10am) and leisurely got ready to head to the train station, where I would pick up the noon train to Imola. It's a quaint little town about 30 minutes outside of Bologna where the family of my roommate  (Maria) lives. I didn't eat much of anything for breakfast, as I knew that a feast was waiting for me at her parents' house. There's nothing in the world like homemade Italian food, and I wasn't about to ruin it for anything. So, I got ready, grabbed a book and Ipod for the train ride, plus a bottle of locally-produced cabernet as my contribution to the feast, and I was out the door.

The streets were pretty desolate as I walked to the train station. Italians never miss a chance for a holiday, but I'm willing to bet there were a lot more people outside the city in the hills than inside the city in the churches. It's not like I made it to church that morning either - no, I was on my way to pray at the altar of the dinner table, and my sacrifice would be the glorious discomfort of a belly too full of food. The train ride was pretty quick and uneventful, and soon I was in front of the station waiting for Maria to pick me up in her little Renault Twingo. 

The drive to her family's house is really beautiful. Imola is a small place, and about 10 minutes away from the station we were already in the countryside. The itty-bitty 4-cylinder of the Twingo brought us up through the hills outside of town, which were marvelously decorated in flowers and the greenness of spring. It was much more striking than when we came by the same route at Christmas time, when everything was still dull and gray from the harsh winter. Now, undulating hills of bright green were dotted with little farmhouses and lined with rows of grape vineyards, tall, skinny cypresses, and seemingly endless orchards of olive, peach, and apricot trees.  On the other side of the valley, the Appenine mountains rose and continued off into the horizon. It was truly a picture-postcard view of Italy. The only thing more spectacular than the scenery was the news that Maria was about to give me. "Guess what? My mom made lasagna for today!" There could be no better way to start a holiday. Lasagna original comes from the Bologna region in Italy, so it's definitely something that is made with the utmost pride and care in these parts. Maria continued, "She made it with green pasta, ragu, and bechamel" - all typical ingredients of the region. I couldn't wait. She went on to tell me about the plethora of desserts that were also waiting for us at her home, but let's get serious: there's only one star of this show today, and its name is lasagna.

We arrived at the family abode just as Maria's cousin Giulia and their grandmother were also arriving. It's a home out in the hills, and pretty big - especially when compared to the apartment homes in the city. I didn't get to see much of the outside when I was there for Christmas, but now I was able to enjoy the spacious yard and garden in full bloom of springtime. It was a really refreshing change from the drab grayness of the city, where you're hardpressed to find more than a few square yards of greenery anywhere other than the public parks. As us youngins and the grandmother (bearing a cake, of course) sauntered up towards the house, the two chubby family labradors waddled out to greet us. Maria's mom and dad were right behind them and welcomed me once again like I was a part of the family. The materfamilias returned to the kitchen to occupy herself with the oven, which was emanating an indescribable smell of cheesy-meaty-creamy awesomeness. There was also the smell of fried deliciousness wafting from several pans on the stovetop, which housed some golden orbs of pure joy that turned out to be fried potato croquettes filled with cheese. YES. 

I followed Maria, cousin and father outside and watched as they prepped some fresh fruits for dessert. Pretty soon, some more relatives showed up - uncles, an aunt, and a few other cousins around our age. The other youngins joined us, and immediately got to talking about politics - always a favorite subject among Italians. They asked me if I could arrange an exchange of Berlusconi for Obama, you know, just for a year. I told them I'd see what I could do. Suddenly there was the announcement that the potato croquettes were done, and in a flash we were all inside stuffing them into our mouths, despite their still-searing temperatures from being in the frying oil about 30 seconds before. They were simple and delicious - basically just some mashed potatoes shaped into a ball around a block of cheese, fried up until golden and delicious, and the cheese inside was nice and melty. With greasy fingers, we changed spots to the dining room, where we greedily ripped off bits of homemade bread that were sitting on the table, awaiting the main meal.

The dogs were going crazy from the smell of cooking that wafted through the house, and so were we. We didn’t have to wait long though, and the announcement that the lasagna was ready was greeted with applause. A short toast with some fizzy white wine, and we all dug into huge wedges of green, white and red lasagna. It was a divine experience that I will not sully by attempting to describe with mortal words. Just know that everything awesome you have ever eaten in your life would probably be considered puppy chow next to this. I ate it slowly, partly to savor every bite, and partly because it was blisteringly hot and fresh from the oven. I think the slice I had was about the size of my face, and I practically licked the plate clean. Seconds were proffered, but in an unprecedented exhibition of self-control, I declined so that I would have room for the rest of the meal. Next up came cuts of roast lamb, wrapped in deliciously salty prosciutto (thin sliced ham) and lightly flavored with aromatic rosemary. I was glad I had saved room. Accompanying this, we had some asparagus in a kind of hollandaise sauce, thin-sliced hardboiled eggs, and a little spinach quiche/tort kind of thing. It was all great.

A little coffee break (tiny cups of espresso, of course – this is Italy!), and then we moved directly on to dessert. One of the uncles made his famous vanilla flan-custard thing. I don’t know what they called it, but it was really good. There was also a pair of ‘Bavarese’, Bavarian crème desserts. I don’t know what to compare it to – it’s kind of like a jello mold, but in another league entirely. One was made with strawberries and another with pineapples and apples. The grandmother made a big cake too, but by the end of the third dessert everyone was so stuffed that it was decided to save it for later. A great fizzy dessert wine called Brachetto was passed around, and we indulged in an Italian Easter tradition: instead of lots of little chocolates or plastic eggs filled with candy/money/toys, they exchange one big, GIANT, hollow chocolate egg that has a little toy surprise in the middle. There were a few on the table, and we cracked them open and passed around hunks of chocolate to enjoy.

After that, we all went for a nice long walk. The house is completely surrounded by farmland and hills, and I couldn’t imagine a more picturesque place for a post-food-coma jaunt. All of us, old and young, with chubby, waddling dogs in tow, walked along the cypress-lined country roads next to peach orchards and dramatic, steep hillsides showing weathered clay facades.  It was a good day.

Here are some pictures from the walk, taken by my wonderful roommate Maria!

What you see: Italian guys and a chubby dog. What you don't see: The 150 foot sheer drop down a clay canyon about 10 feet to the right of the picture

Maria didn't like my 'normal' face in any of the pictures, so I had to pose

Two of Maria's funny cousins, goofing around

Maria and more goofy cousins (and another chubby dog)

Back at the house, we passed around some limoncello that was made by one of their neighbors, and had some more of the giant chocolate egg pieces.  Everyone chatted for a bit, and of course they were all curious to know how things are back home in good ol’ Arizona. I told them they could all come and see me, but it was better to come at Christmas than in the summer – they were astounded to hear how hot it gets in the summer, but were quite enticed when I told them that Christmas was usually a warmer day back in Phoenix than that Easter Sunday in Imola. As a last little morsel of food, we had a nice refreshing bowl of strawberries, lightly sugared, drizzled with lemon juice and with a few mint leaves sprinkled on top. It was amazingly fresh, and dare I say it, probably healthy. After that, the others started packing up to go. We never got to the grandmother’s cake, but she made sure I went home with a nice big slice – and I’m glad she did! I had a little bite later on at home in the evening, and it was amazing: a yellow cake, double-layered, with a sugar glaze and a vein of apricots-and-cream filling the center. Wow.

Maria stayed at her parents’ place, but her cousin Giulia gave me a ride home to Bologna along with the grandmother. It was a beautiful drive through the countryside, and we had a nice chat in the car which, like usual when you are abroad, ended up mostly being about how things are different from where you come from. When we got nearer to the suburb of Bologna where the grandmother is from (San Lazzaro di Savenna), she started telling me about the village and how she was the 5th generation of her family in that area. I thought it was pretty incredible, and couldn’t think of many instances from people I knew back home that would be a 5th generation of anything. With pride she pointed out the oldest building in the village as we passed by (a smallish villa from the middle ages); I also wondered if I could do the same back home. The town, just on the outskirts of Bologna, grew during the middle ages as a place where sick people were sent to be quarantined – hence the name, as San Lazzaro (Saint Lazarus) was the patron saint of lepers. I should also mention that the whole distance we travelled from Imola to Bologna was along the Via Emilia, probably one of the oldest roads in existence – completed in 187BC by the Romans to connect the northern cities of the peninsula to Rome. But back then they probably didn’t pass any McDonalds or Toyota dealers, like we did.

Back at home, I took the opportunity of a quiet evening to relax and study a bit. One of the reasons this blog has been lacking in updates in the last several months is that school has been really kicking my butt – who’da thunk, a business masters course that’s actually intensive! Hopefully now things will quiet down a little bit, as I only have a one-week course and test remaining, and then I have to concentrate on completing my thesis – and finding a job! It’s hard to believe that in a few months this Italian adventure might come to an end. I’m sure there will be some more adventures soon though, and I have lots of stories from between the last update and Easter to share! I just have to get around to it, now that I’m not spending 8 hours a day at the university, doing an internship, and trying to scrounge up money with side work where and when I can. Look forward to some more frequent updates soon, gentle readers!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

200th Anniversary of Oktoberfest in Munich (Part 1)

Once I was back in Bologna after spending an amazing week in Edinburgh, I had a few days to relax and prepare for the next adventure. A few administrative things needed to be taken care of, like re-applying for my residency permit, so I got to spend another enjoyable day fighting lines and bureaucracy. In all likelihood I'll never see the darn thing - by law, the authorities are supposed to get it to applicants within 30 days; however, my first one didn't come for nine months, and it's not unusual to hear of it taking more than a year to arrive (and already expired, at that). But, I'm still required to do it, regardless of how useful it is, or isn't. After all, without it, I wouldn't be able to travel the rest of Europe - it's just unfortunate that I had to wait so long to do so because it took the authorities so damn long to issue it to me in the first place. But. I digress; onto the next adventure!

I had been wanting to go to Oktoberfest ever since I had arrived in Italy. What could be better than a few days of partying at the world capital of beer? I wouldn't have been able to go in the first place if it wasn't for a little hard work, clever thinking, and of course luck. Hotels and even hostels are not only ridiculously expensive (think $300-$500 per night for ho-hum three-star room), they are also nearly impossible to book around the Oktoberfest period. People literally make reservations years in advance, and everything is basically fully booked months before the party starts in mid-September. Even flights into the city become outrageously expensive due to demand. In July, when I began to look into making the trip, there was nothing open in either hotels or hostels. I did, however, manage to track down a pretty cheap train ticket to Munich, so as long as I could find a place to stay that wasn't too expensive I would be good to go. Day after day I checked hostel websites to see if there was any vacancy, with no luck. Miraculously, after a month of searching, a span of several consecutive nights in a cheap hostel opened up, and I booked it on the spot. I booked my train ticket afterwards, and just like that, I was golden.

Fastforward to the date of departure. I had to get up pretty darn early in the morning to get started. Of course travelling by train would be more comfortable than flying, and I wouldn't have to arrive hours early at the airport to check in and go through security; but obviously it takes much longer for the actual journey, and on top of that I would have to switch trains up north in Verona. I headed out the door well before the sun was up, and caught my first train from Bologna to the city of Romeo and Juliet.

I didn't eat much for breakfast, and planned on grabbing a bite in Verona as I would have about an hour to kill before the German train arrived to take me to Munich. I didn't care much to eat inside the station, as typically it's overpriced and lower quality than regular Italian cafe fare. I exited the station, and wandered around with thoughts of a nice little sandwich in my mind. Now, normally you can't go more than 30 yards in Italy without coming across a cafe, diner, sandwich shop, pastry shop, etc. But someway, somehow, I managed to find the sandwich black hole of Italy - I walked around for a good 30 minutes, down almost every street north and west of Verona's station, and I never came across a single establishment that was open and selling anything resembling a sandwich or croissant. I was pretty distraught, but Millers never miss a meal, so I wound up settling for a chocolate-creme filled croissant from the station cafe. I know, life is rough. Right on time, my next train showed up - it was operated by Germans, after all. The journey continued.

Strangely enough, the train ride was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. Between Bologna and Verona, the pastoral countryside was beautiful. This area is the breadbasket of Italy, a vast plain of green fields dotted every now and again by a small brown thicket of trees. Pale gold light from the eastern sky began to brighten the horizon as we pulled into the small station in the village of Poggio Rusco. While stopped there, I was treated to a picturesque Italian sunrise as dawn broke and the sun peeked out between the spindly trees of a nearby wood. It was a breathtaking display, mitigated only by the fact that I was viewing it from inside a train stopped in a village whose name translates roughly to "garbage hill". Well, I guess nothing's perfect! Likewise, the train ride north from Verona into the mountains was like riding through a brochure put together by the people who filmed Heidi or The Sound of Music. The flat plains gave way to ever increasing amounts of hills, then mountains, then towering snowcapped Alpine peaks and steep green valleys as we neared the border with Austria. This part of Italy is in reality territory gained from the country's spoils of war during World War One, and the culture here is as much German-Austrian as it is Italian. Signs are all bilingual, and the houses cease to be the blocky Italian kind; instead, Alpine wood cabins with their steep rooves line the sloping mountainsides, which themselves give way to cow-filled pastures alongside the banks of turbulent snowmelt rivers. As much as I wanted to get some sleep during the journey, I couldn't close my eyes to the striking beauty of the countryside and the mountainous terrain. It certainly made the seven-hour train ride seem to go by that much faster.

Passing through the Alps, we traveled across a narrow strip of Austria before entering Germany. A brief train stop in Innsbruck was as close as I'd get to the city, which is a place that I've always wanted to visit - but I'll make it back some day. Once over the Alps and in German territory, the scenery played out in reverse - the towering mountains with their snowy peaks receded once again into ever-diminishing hills, and before long we were pulling into Hackerbrucke Station in the very center of Munich. Backpack in hand, I set foot on German soil and wandered out into the Bavarian streets.

It was already mid-afternoon when I arrived, and I wanted to check-in at my hostel as soon as possible. I figured things would probably be pretty crazy due to Oktoberfest, and boy was I right. When I finally arrived at the hostel – it was a lot further away from the station than it looked like on the map – I was greeted by a ginormous line at the check-in counter. I waited my turn as revelers of all ages streamed in and out of the hostel, wearing hats, matching shirts, and double-fisting bottles of beer. I eventually got my room key, put my stuff away, and headed back towards the downtown area. It was even later in the afternoon by now, and I wanted to spend some time seeing the city and then join a tour of the city's historic beer halls. I’d heard that if you aren’t already inside the big party tents at Oktoberfest by noon, you probably won’t be able to enter, so I figured I'd have some fun the first night by sampling various local beers and soaking in the beer hall experience, and maybe meet some cool people while doing it. But, first thing's first - I needed to get something to eat, and take in some of the tourist stuff in the old town center.

Bavarian buildings while walking towards downtown Munich

 A federal justice court

The Justice Court was on the very outskirt of the historic city center, and to get into the middle one has to cross a very large and busy street. Friends had warned me not to jaywalk in Munich (unlike Italy, where pedestrians jumping out in front of a moving bus is not an uncommon occurrence), so I was dutifully waiting for the walk signal to change. It seemed to be taking forever, and then I noticed a subterranean passage off to the side. I went down the stairs, and it was like I had entered a whole other world. The underground passage was linked to the city's extensive subway system, which spanned three underground levels, and on top of that the passageway sported shops, restaurants, bars, everything - practically an entire underground shopping mall. Pretty impressive, Germany. I walked below the busy streets and popped out in the middle of the square on the other side.

The square, Karlsplatz, is named after an unpopular ruler; but locals still call the square Stachus, named after the owner of a pub that was located here before the square's construction at the turn of the 18th century. Some things the commoners never forget, I guess. From there, I crossed under the medieval Karlstor gate, part of the old fortified wall, and entered the historic city center. Beyond the gate is Neuhauser / Kaufinger strasse, one of the main shopping and pedestrian districts in the city. Tons of stores, shops, restaurants and beer halls line the old streets, leading to the most picturesque areas of the city and its main tourist sights. Even more shops exist underground along the entire route, again linking this part of the city to the subway.

Karlsplatz square

Karlstor, part of the old medieval fortified wall that encircled the old city

I think this store was trying to insult me

Um... I don't think I want to buy anything here

Neuhauser Strasse, full of shoppers and tourists

St Michael kirche (church)

A traditional style building now occupied by a clothing store

The towers of Frauenkirche, a 15th century church

The Neues Rathaus, or New Town Hall, from the late 19th century. That's the Glockenspiel in the middle of the tower

A wider view of the Neues Rathaus. I think it's funny that "Rat haus" means town hall. Coincidence?

The famous Glockenspiel, a giant animated clock with dancing figures and jousting knights that commemorates events in Munich's storied past. 

A video of the Glockenspiel in action
Original Video - More videos at TinyPic

The barrel makers' dance, commemorating their role as the first group of people to venture out into the city after a particularly nasty bout of the plague 

A gilded statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle of the square

Another part of the Neues Rathaus

Detail of this part of the building, showing statues and ever-present flowers

Found a poster in the square for an upcoming show featuring some of my favorite bands; seeing this was like pouring salt in a wound, as right around the time I was in Munich, Jimmy Eat World was playing a CD release show back home in Phoenix. Ugh, the sacrifices I have to make...

St Peter kirche, the oldest church in Munich

Another view of St Peter kirche. Click on the picture to see it bigger, and you can see little tiny people way up at the top of the bell tower

Heilig Geist (Holy Spirit) kirche

Creepy icon on top of the Heilig Geist kirche - either the trinity, or the Illuminati

As I moved through the old town area, I made my way to the Viktualienmarkt. It was an open air market since the old days, and now is a sort of natural/organic foods and flowers market alongside numerous  restaurants, beerhalls, and butcher shops. I'd read that this was an excellent place to get some food, and I was on a mission to find some leberkase. It was suggested in my guide because it's only about 1 euro ($1.35) for a sandwich, making it the perfect student/budget traveler meal. The name literally means "liver cheese", but suprisingly it contains neither liver nor cheese. It's kind of like baloney or hot dog meat, and when slathered in local spicy mustard, it hits the spot.

Das leberkase

Some more typical Bavarian buildings

A view looking past the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) towards the central square

Another view of the Altes Rathaus. It's been rebuilt after being completely destroyed during WWII

I had some time to kill before seeking out the beerhall tour, so I wandered around a bit more

This area was inside a secluded square behind the Neues Rathaus

You can see the back of the Glockenspiel tower

Tons of creepy gargoyles lined this secluded square

I wandered into the Frauenkirche to have a look around. Not as ornate as churches in Italy, but still pretty

The marquee from a nearby theater - I felt obliged to take a picture

This claimed to be the world's largest beer stein. I would only be interested if it came filled with beer

A creepy fountain statue back near the Karlsplatz

I headed back towards the train station so I could meet up with the beer hall tour group. It was meeting up at the train station, and I was still a little early when I arrived, so I bought a beer from a station shop and waited around for people to gather. While I was waiting, some people came up and sat right next to me, and they started speaking in what sounded like American English. I struck up a conversation and found out that one of them was a student in Munich and the others were visiting for the week. They planned on going to Oktoberfest, and invited me along with them, so I figured what the hell, I might as well go. Apparently it was still early enough to get in at some places, so we headed down to the station's subway connection and hopped on the metro.

When we emerged from the subway station at the Oktoberfest grounds, I was amazed at what I saw. I had been expecting never-ending rows of beer tents, beer halls, and beer gardens, with drunken twenty- and thirty-somethings carousing and cavorting about like idiots. Instead, it was no different than walking into the state fair. There were people of all ages walking around - kids, adults, and grandparents. There were tons of carnival rides and carnival games, and everything was lit up in neon lights. Vendors selling candied nuts, giant pretzels, and sausages lined the paths and walked about. I don't know why, but I guess I was expecting a sort of a Renaissance Festival atmosphere, if you took away everything about the Renaissance Festival except the beer vendors. Clearly, this was not the case. We headed forthwith towards the Hofbrauhaus tent, and once inside, I got my first true taste of Oktoberfest. The inside of the tent was packed, and we couldn't find a space, but we got some places at the tables around the outside of the building. A burly woman waltzed up about 30 seconds after we planted ourselves there and took our order, which basically just amounted to "How many beers do you want?" Soon she came back, carrying our beers and a bunch of others in front of her like a mountain of liquid gold. I don't know how they manage to lug around all that glass and beer, but it's damn impressive.

Click to play a video of the Hofbrauhaus craziness
Original Video - More videos at TinyPic

Inside the Hofbrauhaus tent

Mmmm.... the HB brew

We had a couple of beers there (a "mass" as they're called in Munich), but that was plenty, as they are one liter each and definitely more potent than your average Bud or Miller. And really not any more expensive than you'd normally find a beer in a bar in Bologna, which was a nice thing. After a few beers, the others wanted to walk around and try some of the carnival rides. I was content to watch them ride the vomit comets, because I wanted my beer to stay on the inside, so I just wandered about and took some photos of the festival and all its glittering neon lights.

The Lowenbrau lion 

The tents were all jam-packed after that, so there was no point in trying to get back in to any of them. We got some awesome spicy sausages from the late-night vendors on the fairgrounds, and discussed what to do next. The one girl who was studying in Munich knew of a club nearby to the fairgrounds, so we headed there. It seemed pretty nice, but the drinks were definitely not on the cheap side, and I was pretty exhausted from all the travel I'd done that day, so I didn't stay very long. I said goodnight and headed towards my hostel, getting epically lost along the way (pretty sure I managed to get outside the city limits). I eventually found my way back to the hostel, and crashed for the night.

I had to wake up relatively early the next day. Prior to making the trip, I joined CouchSurfing, a social networking website similar to Facebook but geared towards travelling and meeting people in other countries to hang out with. There was an organized group of Couchsurfers meeting everyday at the Oktoberfest grounds to go together to the tents, so I had to be at the meeting spot by 11am to get in on the action. I was out the hostel door by 10am and followed my free city map towards the festival.

The immaculate, tree-lined streets of Munich

Along the way I stopped by a fruit vendor to buy something fresh for breakfast, and to have a go at speaking some German. It must have been awful because the fruit vendor responded in English when handing me back my change. Oh well, I tried. I made it to the meeting spot early, and others started to trickle in. In the end, we ended up being a pretty international group: four Americans (myself, a defense worker staying in Stuttgart, and a couple from New York), a pair of Mexican guys studying in Austria, my Argentinian roommate from the hostel whom I'd met that morning, an Indian guy, and a real Munich-ite (Munich-ian? Munich-er?) to guide us. Our merry little band headed off towards the Augustiner tent at high noon to start the party. 

The meeting spot: the Statue of Bavaria, about 90 feet tall from the base to the top

The statue, a personification of the State of Bavaria, is the largest bronze cast statue since the times of the Greeks and Romans

The festival looks a lot different during the daytime

That rascally Lowenbrau lion again, this time in the daylight

Germans with guns. A nearby group of Frenchmen spontaneously surrendered


Finally inside the Augustiner tent. This is about noon, and it's only about a quarter of the area in the tent

We were luckily able to find a table big enough for all of us, sat down, and promptly put in our order for beer. I hadn't eaten much yet, so I was ready to get my hands on some real traditional German fare. The others felt the same, so we put in our food orders too: everyone else got hendl, half a roasted chicken, but I chose to go all out and spring for the schnitzel. And was I ever glad I did.

The beers have arrived!

PROST! (cheers)

Mmmm, schnitzel!

The hendl eaters

It was apparently 'Italian Weekend', when lots of southern Europeans come to Oktoberfest. These guys sported pope hats that read "God save the beer"

The Augustiner brew - each of the big tents serves only its own brand

Our very international gang

The Argentinian guy couldn't get enough of the pretzel girls

Cheers to your health!

Here's a short video of the Augustiner experience. Keep in mind, there are about twelve other giant tents like this one, and countless smaller tents.
Original Video - More videos at TinyPic

We stayed there for hours, eating and drinking mass after mass. It's way too good, and goes down far too easy. Around 4:30 in the afternoon, we decided to venture out and find something new. First we swung by the Hippodrom tent, so named because of the importance of horse racing in Oktoberfest's roots. But there wasn't really anywhere to sit, so a few of us decided to head to the downtown area to walk around, get something else to eat, and some cheaper beers at the beer garden in the Viktualienmarkt.

Inside the Hippodrom

Every tent had its own oompah band, but they all played the same damn drinking song that I heard about a million times over the course of the day

At the Viktualienmarkt beer garden. More leberkase and sausage sandwiches

I decided to broaden my beer horizons at the beer garden, since they had a wide range of brews. I went for a dunkl, a dark beer (as you can clearly see)

The New Yorkers and I throwin back a mass

After we'd had our fill once more at the Viktualienmarkt, we somehow decided to head back towards Oktoberfest. It was by now getting pretty late at night, and chances of getting into a tent were significantly slimmer. But somehow, magically, we managed to get into yet another place to continue the party.

We made new friends all night long

Crazy German Guy is crazy

Silly tourists, tables aren't for sitting, they're for dancing!

Beer, dirndls, roasted meat, oompah bands... who could ask for anything more?


I like this photo because of the mounted animal heads watching benevolently over the craziness going on below

A late-night train taking all the local revelers home. This has to be the drunkest train in the history of the world. What do you think it's called: the Regurgitant Zephyr? The Upchuck Express? Also, notice all the babysitters making sure no one passes out on the tracks

I stumbled home to the hostel, quite content with my Oktoberfest experience up to this point. There is still lots more to come. Due to the lengthiness of this post, I decided to break it up into two parts, so you can continue reading on in the next post, or come back tomorrow and finish. Don't miss the rest of the tale! Click here to go to the second part right away!