O’zapft Is! : A Munich Commentary

  1. They are Bavarians first, Germans second.
  2. In Munich, you honor the biker. He might come out of nowhere, but if something happens to him, it will undoubtedly be your fault.
  3. Every good German has hauptpflichtversicherung (main duty insurance) to protect them from, literally, everything.
  4. In summer, you swim.
  5. They are extremely comfortable with nudity, so don’t be alarmed if you are in Munich’s English Garden and see entire groups of men and women standing and chatting wearing nothing more than shoes.
  6. Despite their openness to being splitterfasernackt (buck naked), they love a good rule and will certainly let you know if you’ve broken one. If the crosswalk signal says stop, you stop… and if you don’t, a policeman will come out of the bushes and ticket you.
  7. You might want to reconsider answering that phone call while on public transportation. They have no problem with you talking to a friend, or friends, standing next to you on the train but there is an unwritten Bavarian law that says you aren’t suppose to talk to friends on the phone while on the train, probably because they feel a loss of control by not knowing what the entire conversation is about. Should you choose to break this rule, be prepared for eye-rolling, loud sighing and verbal reproach.
  8. Public transportation may appear to be free, but it isn’t and Münchners always possess the appropriate ticket. They’re an honest bunch. I got caught twice without a ticket and tried to pull the ‘American card’, but that failed miserably. Munich is an international city and they are fully prepared for handling ‘international excuses’.
  9. Recycling is a sport. Just go to a local supermarket bottle return on any given evening and you’ll know what I mean.
  10. Pig, not Elvis, is king. He is esteemed as both lucky and delicious and comes in more forms than you could ever imagine.
  11. Mustard. There is an entire aisle in the supermarket devoted to mustard.
  12. Münchners come unhinged during ‘Spargelzeit’ (asparagus season). The pig is first, but the asparagus is a close second.
  13. Don’t expect to go to a bank at a time that suits you. They take lunch breaks at exactly the same time you do and then close at 4:00, so unless you want to take a vacation day to go to the bank, you’re going to be shit out of luck.
  14. They are diligent and efficient workers, despite working some of the shortest hours in the western world. They have an amazing work-life balance, with an average of 25 days of vacation a year, not including public holidays or the half-day they take on Fridays. In fairness, there are over 180 beer gardens in Munich, so you can hardly blame them for expecting more time off.
  15. Finding a café with Wi-Fi in Munich is like striking gold.
  16. Münchners might not appear to be an animated group, but just wait until the next 80’s song comes on the radio. The car windows come down, the smoke machine comes on, and they will belt out the words to ‘Under Pressure’ verbatim and with unrelenting passion.
  17. Applauding, in Germany generally, is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Germans lose control when it comes to clapping and if you attempt to keep their pace and passion, you will be icing afterwards.
  18. Traditional Bavarian music sounds a bit like polka on cassette.
  19. Münchners stare. Long and hard. And its not because you have something on your face. They are a curious bunch and have no qualms with ‘figuring you out’. If you try to break their stare with a smile, you will sadly lose. The only triumph I have found in these situations is beating them at their own game.
  20. They don’t like scuffed shoes and will intentionally look down at your shoes and then back up at you to let you know they have spotted your scuff.
  21. Münchners act in a way I can only describe as suspicious when the sun appears. You’ll notice that chairs at outdoor cafes are no longer facing each other to facilitate camaraderie and conversation, but instead are all turned toward the sun. Münchners can be found sitting in them for hours, covered with blankets, silent, eyes closed and faces tilted upwards. Go to San Lorenzo at Odeonsplatz on any sunny day and you’ll quickly understand what I mean.
  22. They love giving, receiving, and processing paperwork. They photocopy it, smell it, stamp it, sign it, notarize it, fax it, care for it, and photocopy it again.
  23. Germans can drink. Not in a vomit-in-the-toilet sort of way, e.g., American/Australian/English binge drinking, but in a nonchalant-I’ll-keep-drinking-until-the-last-man-goes-home sort of way. They will often wash down their dinner and wine with pure grain alcohol, but you will never see a German stumble. Their livers are just as adroit as their cars.
  24. Do not expect small talk from Münchners at the supermarket checkout… or anywhere really.
  25. They have one hundred percent the most stressful, nerve-wracking super market checkouts in the world. In the world. Supermarket cashiers are awarded by their level of efficiency, e.g., how many groceries they ring up in a given amount of time. This means that when they are done scanning your groceries, they will start scanning the groceries of the next customer in line whether you have already finished bagging yours or not, so you better know what belongs to you so you don’t leave half your groceries there in an effort to quickly escape the mania. Bagging your groceries quickly enough and paying while still trying to continue to bag becomes an art and I can only tell you that after three and a half years I still haven’t mastered it. The first time I went to a German supermarket, I came home, got a beer out of the refrigerator, sat on the couch and cried.
  26. Watch where you step. As rule abiding of a society as this is, they somehow have not yet cultivated a rule for picking up after their dogs.
  27. They love to mix their beverages, but not in a New York-cocktail-bar sort of way, but more in an-eight-year-old-stole-a-beer-from-Dad-and-mixed-coke-and-lemonade-with-it sort of way.
  28. They know how to roast a mean chestnut.  
  29. They are incredibly superstitious people and if you wish them a happy birthday before their actual birthday, the world will implode and the aliens will come down to take us all.
  30. They can’t make a line to save their lives, which is hard to believe considering what an efficient group of people we are dealing with.   But the whole system fails when it comes time to form a line.
  31. If you are next in line at the supermarket checkout, after having waited ten minutes, and a new checkout opens up, you don’t get priority, but instead a sort of mobbing occurs and it becomes every man for himself.
  32. Sunday is for quiet time and Tatort only. The city closes down and should you decide to nail something in the wall or wash your car, you will soon be notified of what an ass you are from your neighbor.
  33. Entire conversations can be had using only the words, ‘Alles Klar’, ‘Doch’, ‘Genau’, ‘Also’ and ‘Stimmt’.
  34. They like house shoes and they often bring theirs over to your house to wear while visiting.
  35. They blame 98% of all health issues and strange behavior on the föhn, which is a warm downslope wind from the Alps.
  36. Bavarians love nature and walking paths and you will see them out every day of the year walking across fields and through woods in order to get some ‘frische Luft’ (fresh air).
  37. But not without walking sticks. You will rarely seeing a Bavarian walking without professional trekking poles. It shows their dedication to the sport.
  38. Finger food at social gatherings will consist mostly of many creative variations of cheese and ham.
  39. Minutes prior to a train stopping, a Münchner will undoubtedly be standing at the door with hands firmly in position on the door handles in order to quickly and frantically open it when the train stops.
  40. Do not ‘camp out’ in the left lane on the Autobahn. I repeat, DO NOT camp out in the left lane on the Autobahn. This lane is only for the far-advanced / unhinged / bats-in-the-belfry German driver.

Attractions in Vienna

  • The Vienna Seccession was an art movement in the late 19th century started by a group of Austrian artists that seceded from the Vienna Künstlerhaus of prevailing conservatism and traditional art. The Seccessionist Museum symbolizes the birth of art nouveau and was aimed at uniting separate art forms such as sculpture, architecture, painting and music. In 1902, the Seccessionist artist association planned an exhibition as homage to Ludwig van Beethoven, and it was for this event that Gustav Klimt painted the famous Beethoven Frieze, which can now be found here at the museum and is, what I think, the most touching piece of artwork I have ever seen.
  • Built in 1907 at the height of the Seccessionist movement, Kirche am Steinhof was designed by famous architect Otto Wagner and is considered one of the most important art nouveau churches in the world.  It is part of the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital and when drafting plans for the building, Wagner consulted with doctors concerning special requirements, such as no sharp edges, no visible crosses, and easy access to side exits.
  • Schönbrunn Palace was the summer residence of the Hapsburgs and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most visited attraction in Vienna.  With 1,441 rooms, this Baroque palace is one of the most exceptional architectural, historical, and cultural monuments in Austria.  The beautiful french styled gardens of Schönbrunn are perfect for an afternoon walk or picnic by the infamous Gloriette.  
  • Hofburg Palace was home to the Hapsburgs from 1273 to 1918 and served as the center of their empire.  Located centrally in Vienna, no traveler should pass up the opportunity to visit.  This ‘city within a city’ is replete with gardens, grandiose rooms, cafes, restaurants, and magnificent art.  As a great deal of European history was written from here, you will take a march through bygone times when visiting the Hofburg.  
  • If you love horses, you should visit the world-famous Spanish Riding School, which is truly reminiscent of the imperial Hapsburg era. Equestrian ‘ballets’ are performed to classical music and can be seen from the original pillared balconies. You should book these at least a month to two months in advance to make sure you will get a seat during your visit. You can also take guided tours through the performance hall, stables and other equine facilities.
  • The Belvedere Palace is a Baroque masterpiece in itself and home to Gustav Klimt’s world famous The Kiss, as well as other works from Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. It is one of the world’s finest examples of Baroque architecture and through its ornate windows, you can gaze at Vienna’s dazzling skyline.
  • You can take a self-guided tour through the church of Stephansdom, which was built in the 12th century and considered today as Vienna’s Gothic masterpiece.
  • Bought in 1560 to be used as Maximilian II’s hunting ground, Prater Park is now one of Europe’s largest public parks.
  • Vienna’s opera house called the ‘Staatsoper’ is the city’s foremost opera and ballet venue where the likes of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler have directed. You can buy tickets to see a performance or simply take a tour through this cultural bastion.
  • The Albertina Museum houses one of the largest and most important print rooms in the world, with hundreds of thousands of drawings, old master prints, modern graphic works, and architectural drawings.
  • You can visit Vienna’s artistic trinity at the Museums Quartier. Once the imperial stables, the Museums Quartier is home to three art museums: the Leopold Museum, which is home to the world’s largest collection of Egon Schiele’s work, Kunsthalle Wien and MUMOK (the Museum of Modern Art).
  • On balmy summer evenings, you can join the Viennese for an evening in a Heuriger, which are rustic wine taverns dotted throughout the vineyards of the Viennese woods. Up to date hours for the venues can be found in English at www. Heurigenkalendar.at.
  • Check out the Viennese beaches that are dotted along the Danube River. The nude beaches are marked FKK on maps and there are loads of paying beach clubs that have clothed and nude sections, such as the Gänsehäufel, which also has swimming pools. This is a fun place to be in summer and a nice reprieve from the heat!
  • Vienna is an awesome place for those who like to bike, with over 1000 kilometers of bike paths. They have an incredible public bike rental scheme called Citybike and you can register online or buy a Citybike Tourist Card at Pedal Power. It’s a great way to get to know the city while burning off last night’s wiener schnitzel.
  • Karlskirche is a baroque church located on Karlsplatz, built between 1716 and 1737 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.  Baroque architecture is intended to ‘awe’ and Karlskirche does just that.  In fact, its interior has been called one of the greatest spaces to worship on the planet.  
  • The Hundertwasserhaus is one of Austria’s architectural highlights, though it was created outside of any ‘normal’ architectural school of thought.  It is built with undulating floors, hardly any straight lines, a roof covered with earth and grass, and with trees growing in the rooms and their limbs extending out the windows.  More than 250 trees and shrubs living in and on the house make it a green oasis in the city.  
  • For over 25 years, the city of Vienna has offered a free cultural and culinary Film Festival in front of their grandiose City Hall.  It goes between June and September, offering top opera, ballet, jazz and dance productions, as well as a wide ranging mix of food and wine from around the world.  
  • If you are interested in the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, you can visit the Sigmund Freud Museum at the place where he lived and worked from 1898 to 1938, until he was forced into exile by the Nazis.
  • The Naschmarkt is Vienna’s largest open-air food market and is open from Monday to Saturday. You can find anything from tulips, to figs, to Austrian wine. They have it all! It is a great Viennese experience!
  • If you like decadent coffee and cake, check out Vienna’s famous sachertorte at Hotel Sacher in the city center.

The Mission, San Francisco

The Mission is known for its bohemian subculture, eclecticism, nonprofits, sleek bars, and all things artsy and edgy. It is the opposite of highbrow Nob Hill; so if you are a tech maven, into vintage shopping, revival cinemas or just simply looking for something a bit more cerebral and gritty, check out the Mission. It’s a cool spot.

 

Where to Stay

The Mission Cottage
The Mission Gem
Mission Dolores Modern Design House
Casa Quixote

Most of these you’ll find through Airbnb.  You can also check out The Culture Trip, which is a really great selection of Airbnb’s best cultural apartments in major cities around the world. You’ll find some great ones in there for The Mission.

 

Where to Eat

Al’s Place
Flour + Water
Foreign Cinema
Lolinda
Beretta
Loló
Californios
Central Kitchen
Mission Cheese

 

Where to Imbibe

Monk’s Kettle
Trick Dog
Southern Pacific Brewing
Zeitgeist
ABV
Shotwell’s
Philz Coffee

Pacific Heights / Nob Hill / Russian Hill, San Francisco

If you want to wake up every morning to outrageous views of San Francisco Bay, then this is the area you should stay in.  It is home to San Francisco’s most distinguished neighborhoods and renowned city landmarks such as the famous painted ladies, Huntington Park and Lombard Street.  A short walk through the area will reveal upscale boutiques, hip restaurants and edgy dive bars.  From here its easy to get to Chinatown, downtown, Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square.

 

Where to Stay

Queen Anne Hotel
Fairmont San Francisco
Hotel Vertigo
Hotel Drisco
The Scarlet Huntington
The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square

 

Where to Eat

Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar
Terzo
Le Beau Market
Liholiho Yacht Club
Del Popolo
Nook
Dim Sum Club
Mezcalito

 

Where to Imbibe

Union Larder
The Big Four
Tonga Room
Harper and Rye
Hopwater Distribution

 

That Time I Took Myself on a Cruise in The Caribbean and Ended Up As Kirstie Alley’s Executive Assistant

My life has been a lot of things, but boring is not one of them. I owe this in its totality to my curiosity and spirit to follow that all knowing ‘pull’ (not to be confused with that self-justified, talk yourself into it, ‘push’). There was one occasion in particular when I followed that pull and it slung me out to the moon and back.

I was moving from Ireland to England and while the paperwork for my work visa was doing ‘the rounds’ in London, I made a quick trip to Georgia for some grits and buttermilk biscuits. I knew the paperwork could take a few weeks and I had braved the Irish rain so courageously for three years that I decided I would treat myself to some sunshine down in the Caribbean while I was home. So I booked a cruise and off I went.

Traveling alone has never been frightening to me and some of my best friends today are people that I met on solo journeys. You are inclined to strike up ‘random’ conversations and spend time doing what you want and need, which for me has culminated in huge personal growth over the years. I’ve gotten to know who this incredible girl really is, not just who everyone else expects her to be.

On this one particular trip I met a group of guys and gals from Los Angeles and we quickly became friends. We had a fun week discovering Barbados and Saint Lucia together and when it came time to say goodbye they invited me to come visit them for New Years. As it was only a week away, I thought it shouldn’t interfere with my London timeline and I had never been to Los Angeles… so… why not?

As it turned out, they were part of an A-list tribe in the city and I found myself visiting somewhat of a twilight zone. On one occasion I was at Kirstie Alley’s house and she and I got into a conversation about my travels. It was a pleasurable conversation and evening but nothing specifically noteworthy, or so I thought.

The next morning I went for a hike up to Griffith Observatory and when I got back I had two missed calls from an unknown number. I checked messages and there Kirstie was… on my voicemail… inviting me over that night for dinner… because she had something she wanted to talk to me about… I sort of sat there totally confused but eventually called her back and accepted the intriguing invitation.

Eight hours later I was no longer moving to London, but instead to Los Angeles to work and live with Kirstie Alley. I had managed my own business previously and she wanted me to help her with hers.  At the time she was the spokeswoman for Jenny Craig and needed help organizing her various business ventures and felt I was someone who would be good at that. As I was listening to this role that she wanted to create for me, based on a one-hour conversation we had had the previous night, it occurred to me that I didn’t actually live in Los Angeles. I barely had a toothbrush and a couple pairs of underpants there, much less a home. I reminded her of this substantial reality and she folded that nicely into her proposal and offered that I live with her. It was all dream-like and my curiosity won in the end.

I turned down my work visa for London and had everything shipped back to the U.S. It was a wonderful experience, although life there never managed to evolve from the dream-like state, but instead morphed into an introspective catechism. It was a fun time and I got to meet attractive people that were big faces on the screen, but after a while I began to realize that what is deemed as ‘interesting’ or ‘important’ is a very personal and subjective thing. For me that life was neither interesting nor important, despite what the media would have you think.

It was a world of fad diets, plastic surgery, and expensive face creams designed to make you think that the best version of yourself can be bought. For me they were empty promises and nothing more than a lesson along my journey. Although Los Angeles was not a space of gravity for me, it helped me realize that no matter where you go, time spent enjoying yourself is never time wasted, and at the end of that pull what I found was the coolest version of Ashley.

Los Feliz, Los Angeles

For everything I dislike about Los Angeles, Los Feliz makes up for nearly all of it. It is an eclectic village in L.A. nestled below the Griffith Observatory and comes replete with its own Farmer’s Market, amazing bars, bohemian cafes, popping restaurants and hiking trails right out your back door. Better yet, this delightful area can all be explored on foot. It is considered the ‘other’ Beverly Hills and many A-listers choose to live here away from the madness of West Los Angeles. This is where I lived during my time in L.A. and I feel a great nostalgia for it even now. Los Feliz is far enough away from the tourist traps of Hollywood while providing a chic setting to truly enjoy all the jazz that Los Angeles has to provide.

Where to stay

The Villa Sophia
Hotel Covell
Los Feliz Lodge

Where to eat

Alcove (my personal favorite)
Home Restaurant
Figaro Bistrot
Palermo Ristorante Italiano
Rockwell Table & Stage

Where to imbibe

Bar Covell
1739 Public House
Good Luck Bar
Big Bar
Ye Rustic Inn
Tiki-Ti
Harvard & Stone