Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Restaurant Guy Savoy (Las Vegas) Review

 

I had the opportunity to dine at Guy Savoy in Vegas during the early weeks of April when I was attending a work conference. I returned home with a souvenir menu and lengthy notes on the experience which I’ve now laid down in print for my readers.

I ordered the Menu Prestige ($298 per person before tax, tip, or beverages) which was a culinary journey through the following starters and courses that I’ve detailed below. Overall it was a pleasant experience but given the menu pricing versus the technical execution of the dishes I don’t believe the value is there for the customer as compared to The French Laundry, Per Se, Citronelle or Le Cinq (my favorite fine dining experiences to date). I did like the creative touch of pairing each course with a signature bread the way other restaurants pair with wine but that is not enough to justify the pricing. Also the silverware was scratched up and the service was nowhere near as smooth and beautifully choreographed as at Le Cinq in Paris.

A note about my rating system:

5/5 = OMG, ecstasy! I would shank a hobo for this (to quote a good friend)

4/5= I would order this again

3/5= I would not order this again, but would eat it if it were served to me without much complaint

2/5= I would not order this again and would only eat this if served to me to be polite

1/5= I could not bear more than one or two bite of this, even when trying to be polite

0/5 = Bring this near me and I’m going to puke on the table

Starters:

a.) Foie-Gras Club Sandwich

Rating: 5/5

Desc: foie-gras layered between toasted bread slices

Comments: Absolutely amazing. Just the right flavor and texture balance between the creamy foie gras and the crispy toast. Comparable to what I’d expect to find at Keller’s restaurants.

b.) Parmesan Waffle

Rating: 3/5

Desc: mini waffle studded with parmesan

Comments: Meh. Unique idea, but didn’t knock my socks off.

c.) Parmesan and Truffle Steak Tartare Slider

Rating: 4/5

Desc: a mini burger that was seared on edges only

Comments: I’m usually shy with raw beef, but this had enough punch in flavor to carry me through. Probably couldn’t handle more than a slider though without becoming overwhelmed by the intensity of the dish.

d.) Crispy Fennel and Cold Fennel Broth

Rating: 3/5

Desc: a simple soup with a very strong fennel flavor topped with more fennel

Comments: The soup was presented in a beautiful porcelain cup which hid underneath the tiny cup the scallop starter listed below. The porcelain was designed by Anne Xiradakis and you can view her portfolio of work (including the Guy Savoy piece) here: http://www.annexiradakis.com/us/main.htm 

e.) Scallop Tartare with Dill and Balsamic

Rating: 5/5

Desc: a small bite of scallop with pungent dill flavor and sweet balsamic notes

Comments: This was simply fabulous. Fresh and clean and tasting of the ocean with a sweet finish thanks to the balsamic.

Courses:

1. Mosaic of Milk Fed Poularde, Foie Gras and Artichoke, Black Truffle Jus

Rating: 10/5 (I’d shank several hobos!)

Desc: cold terrine of foie gras with artichokes buried within, topped with a rich earthy truffle sauce, sprinkled with sea salt and fresh pepper; this course served with bacon and sea salt brioche (4/5 for the bread)

Comments: Hands down one of the best things I’ve ever put into my mouth. The sweetness of the artichoke playing off the richness of the foie gras. My mouth waters as I think about this dish. Would LOVE this recipe.

2. Garden and Oyster

Rating: 3/5 (garden); 1/5 (oyster)

Desc: thinly sliced raw vegetables (carrots, beets, etc) and tiny microgreens with ocean vinaigrette and oyster shooter in a shot glass; this course served with seaweed bread (3/5)

Comments: The oyster shooter was incredibly salty. It was just those moments when you accidentally swallow ocean water with a slight hint of oyster flavor. The microgreens were so adorably tiny – want to find a source for this ingredient. The presentation was unreal and I can’t wait to replicate this aspect for a dinner party: The salad was served on a plate dotted with holes across the bottom. A shallow pasta bowl lay underneath the plate. For the flashy finish a mini pitcher (similar to cream servers) was tilted over the dish, letting a liquid spill into the pasta bowl. As soon as the liquid hit the bowl it began to vaporize. The waiter dubbed it ‘cold steaming’. His technique is allegedly proprietary but I’m guessing it involves slivers of dry ice already in the bowl awaiting the water.

3. Crispy Sea Bass with Delicate spices

Rating: 4/5

Desc: small portion of sea bass poached in a sauce infused with vanilla, ginger and coriander with scales intact for a ‘crispy edible finish’; this course served with lemon bread (5/5)

Comments: Would have been a 5/5 if the scales were removed; I wasn’t fond of the plastic textured finish of them. The poaching sauce was like nothing I’d ever tried before and I’d never think to combine those flavors normally, especially with fish. Will take some experimenting to replicate the dish (sans scales of course) but I’m willing to work at it.  Update: recipe found here (score!): http://sobefestcookbook.com/?p=113

4. Colors of Caviar

Rating: 1/5

Desc: layered in a shot glass; vinaigrette, caviar cream, black caviar with truffles, green sauce, osteria caviar, sabayon; this course served with ciabatta bread (3/5)

Comments: Although I love love love Osteria caviar, the black caviar with truffles layer in this dish ruined it for me. It tasted like fishy black beans and permeated the rest of the dish.

5. Foie-Gras “en Papillotte” and Radish Bouillon

Rating: 1/5

Desc: foie gras cooked under pressure (sous vide) in plastic bag and presented on hot stones for initial viewing before taken back into kitchen for plating and serving; this course served with multigrain bread (3/5)

Comments: I started to worry when the waiter first brought out the whole foie gras- it looked exactly like what it was- a liver. I hoped it tasted better than it looked (I’d only ever had cold foie gras pate or terrine until now and enjoyed it). Unfortunately I discovered with this dish that I do not like foie gras served warmed. The texture was unpleasant to my palette. I took only two bites before I couldn’t stomach any more. The wait staff took my plate away once it was apparent I was not going to eat it. Given the price of the menu, I’d hoped they’d offer me something else but it was not to be. I became a bit judgmental at this junction because at Citronelle and other fine restaurants I have seen the chef come tableside to receive feedback on a dish sent back to the kitchen and offer to replace it with something else. Here they seemed only disappointed that I put an entire foie gras to waste. *shrug*

6. Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup, Toasted Mushroom Brioche, and Black Truffle Butter

Rating: 2/5

Desc: a large portion of earthy rich truffle soup

Comments: The earthy flavors of this dish punched me in the face; I felt like I was eating dirt.

7. Roasted Poussin, Black Truffle Potatoe Puree, Seasonal Vegetables Braised in Poussin Jus

Rating: 4/5

Desc: small portion of roasted chicken with rich truffle laced mashed potatoes and baby carrots; this course served with chestnut bread (3/5)

Comments: Restaurant week menu (biannual event in major metropolitan cities where $100 dinners are bargain priced at $35) good; not Thomas Keller good.

8. The Vegetable

Rating: 2/5

Desc: mushroom gelee with cooked and raw carrots with a carrot consommé.

Comments: Meh; pretty tasteless. Also, no bread pairing? Maybe the bread guy was busy?

9. Selection of Fromages Affines

Rating: N/A – skipped

Desc: a rolling cart of fine cheeses was presented

Comments: I passed on this course despite their multiple attempts to push cheese on me. Much smaller selection than Le Cinq.

9.5  Unannounced Intermezzo: Lemon Sorbet atop Celery Granita and Rose Gelee with Petals

Rating: 3/5 (sorbet/granita); 2/5 (rose gelee)

Desc: as listed in the title

Comments: Ho hum.

10. Strawberry Rubarbe

Rating:  3/5

Desc: cold rhubarb sauce with basil granita and strawberry sorbet

Comments: Good flavor but nothing remarkable.

11. Chocolate fondant, Crunchy Praline and Chicory Cream

Rating: 5/5

Desc:  layers of rich chocolate with crispy nutty praline and cream infused with chicory

Comments: Le Kit Kat (Citronelle signature dish) done even better than Citronelle. YUM.

11. Dessert Trio to Accompany Tea: Apple Tart, Nuts with Chocolate and Cranberries, fruit muffin

Rating: 3/5 (tart); 4/5 (chocolate nuts); 3/5 (muffin)

Desc: as listed in the title

Comments: An average note to end out the menu.

Here is a review with pictures from another blogger who was served many of the same dishes that I was: http://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/march-11-2011-vegas-day-4-restaurant-guy-savoy/

Monday, June 6, 2011

Trip Report: Iceland 2011

 

Thursday 6/2

Jonathan has always wanted to visit Iceland and so once Delta announced they would begin flying to Reykjavik he scooped up tickets for us.

We left for Iceland on Thursday, one day after Delta began their flights to Reykjavik.  It’s always a gamble to fly during the inaugural week of a new route especially when paired with a new ground crew. Our outgoing flight was well piloted and smooth but the lead flight attendant for our cabin (couch; economy comfort) was completely unprofessional. A rowdy crew of good looking thirtysomething gents were seated in our area, en route to a bachelor’s weekend in Reykjavik. The lead personality in the group immediately started flirting heavily with our attendant and she was quite visibly flattered. This caused her to be distracted which only led her already poor service to slip even further. She didn’t smile at any of the customers except for the bachelor group; she gave short and snippy answers; she didn’t acknowledge the medallion members and she threw attitude our way when Jon called her on skipping him for lunch. Because of her inappropriate interaction with the bachelor group she endangered passenger safety- a couple members in the group drank past the point of intoxication and not only did she accommodate that but she turned a blind eye while they continued to serve themselves wine from the FA’s prep area. At one point while the lead FA was serving customers in the back of our cabin, the drunkest of the bachelor group got up, moved over to the plane exit door and started touching things. He was trying to look through the little window and I watched him in a bit of panic wondering if he’d try to open the door handle that his hand was getting closer to. People do stupid things when they’re drunk. That was all just a little too much, so I was *that girl* who complained to the FA in the business class cabin. She immediately secured the wine out of reach from the rowdy bunch, ordered them to sit down, and went to have a word with the lead FA. It got a bit quieter after that- forced to sit down the gents fell asleep. Unfortunately I didn’t get much sleep myself, so I went into our first day of sightseeing very tired.

 

Friday 6/3

Once we touched down in Reykjavik, we were off quickly through immigration (no questions; just a quick stamp and nod) and then to pick up our rental car for the day’s adventure. A chilly day (coming from spring on the American east coast) greeted us. With the weather in the upper 40s  it was definitely sweater weather. The plan for the day was to tour the region of Iceland know as the Golden Circle. It’s a circular scenic auto route leading from Reykjavik onto Þingvellir, Geysir, and then Gullfoss before returning to Reykjavik. The total drive time is about five hours, but it’s broken up by stops at the scenic points. The more we drove, the more I remarked how much Iceland reminded me of the American southwest with its wide open spaces, distinct lack of trees, low height vegetation and endless sky.

Along the way we stopped at a random gas station to try a famous culinary creation: Icelandic hot dogs. A blend of lamb, beef and pork (as compared to American all beef or beef/pork blends), it’s typically topped with fried onion strings, thousand island type dressing, ketchup, raw onions and mustard. I had mine ‘Clinton style’ (so named b/c President Clinton had his served this way) with just fried onions and mustard. I really liked the crunch of the onions, but the dog itself was not to my liking.

 

First stop: Þingvellir

This was the site of Iceland’s first parliament (AD 930). The name literally means ‘Parliamentary Fields’. What’s quite unusual about the location is that it lies directly on the fault lines of the North American and Eurasian plates. Continental drift in action! A little too slow motion to see however- it’s separating at a rate of just a few centimeters per year.

 

Þingvellir fault lines

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Þingvellir with river, church and mountains in the distance

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Scenic view along the drive to our next stop

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Second stop: Geysir

Geysir is the name Icelandic folk lent to the phenomenon observed in this spot whereby hot water and steam bursts forth from an opening in the ground, ‘powered’ by geothermal forces under the ground. Of course, we are all familiar with this phenomenon since the English word ‘geyser’ is derived from the Icelandic term. The original geyser, dubbed Geysir, has sadly fizzled out but another geyser (Strokkur) has taken its place as the main draw at this location. For Americans who have visited Yellowstone, the geysers and bubbling mudpots here at Geysir may be a bit less impressive, but the increased access is inviting. The Icelandic government is very hands off when it comes to public safety – it’s been said that there are so many dangerous natural elements within the country that the treasury would quickly bankrupt if an attempt to put up the requisite warning signs and guardrails was made. It’s pretty much everything at your own risk.  This means you can get *very* close to the natural attractions such as the geysers; close enough to let them rain down on you – which is what several people did.

 

Strokkur geyser

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Third Stop: Gullfoss 

Gullfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. It’s quite lovely with its stair step configuration.

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After our tour of the Golden Circle we spent the early evening relaxing in the famed Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. Probably the most unusual spa experience I’ve ever had. It’s a very large outdoor geothermal pool with a sandy bottom, an in-water bar and massage area, and buckets of white silica mud to be used by patrons for self-serve beauty masks. It’s conveniently located near the international airport, which made it an ideal stop on the way to return the rental car. The spa promises that the water is clean and rejuvenating (documented to clear up skin problems) and for the the most part I found that to be true. I did notice that if you dig your feet or hands into the sandy bottom you will pull back up human hair mixed in with the seaweed. I tried not to think about that after I made the unfortunately discovery when pulling up sand. 

 

Blue Lagoon

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Disaster struck just after returning the rental car at the airport. I had planned for us to take the Flybus shuttle from the airport to downtown Reykjavik and had carefully consulted the company’s schedule online. What I had failed to realize was that the schedule applied to the Reykjavik to airport route and not the reverse. For the airport to Reykjavik route, the shuttle *only* departs 45 minutes after each incoming flight. We had arrived at the airport to drop off the rental at 7pm, and the next incoming flight wasn’t until 9pm! As the taxi to Reykjavik is over $100, we decided to wait it out and take the next shuttle. We were tired, hungry, and so of course a lot of bickering ensued. Not the best moment of our trip.

Things quickly improved once we finally got into downtown Reykjavik. By now it was 10:30pm, but I felt energized by the daylight. As Reykjavik is close to the Arctic circle, the sun never sets in the summer. Apparently the rest of Reykjavik was energized by the extended daylight as well because most of the restaurants are open well past midnight and a lot of residents and tourists can be seen milling out and about at all hours of the ‘night’.

After checking into our hotel (Hotel Fron; cheap, spacious and friendly) we set out for the Seafood Cellar for dinner. Jon had chosen this restaurant based on its stellar reputation and it did not disappoint. We enjoyed their four course menu, savoring each course of Icelandic cuisine. The dishes reminded me of Thomas Keller’s work (Per Se, French Laundry, etc) in the way they captured flavor. 

Walking back to the hotel (near 2am) from dinner I was struck with the sudden insight on how much context defines our everyday experiences. Many times I have seen drunken twentysomethings stumbling out of bars and clubs. Loud and uncoordinated they wind their way down the sidewalk, stopping occasionally to steady themselves or sometimes get sick. And of course  the ladies are usually wearing a lot of heavy makeup and skin tight club dresses paired with heels. I tend not to really think much of any of it. Suddenly, when the actors and their costumes were transposed into daylight (because, again, the sun never sets) it all seemed ridiculous and theatrical. 

Saturday 6/4

The next morning, after entirely too little sleep, we were up bright and early at 6:30am to catch breakfast in the hotel before our pickup by Grey Line for their Southern Coast tour. I was really excited about the sights advertised on this tour but that didn’t stop me from falling asleep on the tour bus in between stops. That’s the nice thing about the lack of darkness – you can have a second chance to see everything on the way home if you’re on an out-n-back tour without worry of it getting dark. I’ll tell the tour story simply in pictures…

 

Scenic trickle of a waterfall along the route

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Skógafoss waterfall

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Sheep at play

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Mesa

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Lava field

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Glacier

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Bridge over the glacial river (meets the ocean just beyond)

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Glacial lake

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Iceberg

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Aside from enjoying the sights, over the course of the day’s travel we learned a little more about Icelandic history from the tour guide and enjoyed another signature Icelandic dish – Lamb soup (which was fabulous; reminds me of Caldo).

After a full day of sightseeing we arrived back in downtown Reykjavik a little after 10:30pm and ventured out for dinner. Jon had picked out a Tapas joint – Tapas Barinn – and we both really enjoyed the cuisine. We had jumped in feet first to Icelandic cuisine the day before and loved everything so we threw all caution to the wind and all prejudices out the window on this evening and tried everything that was put in front of us, however controversial.

A large bread basket with hummus and olive tapenade was brought out first, to be enjoyed alongside the entire meal. Our first course was smoked puffin with a blueberry sauce. Puffin tastes a lot like fish crossed with duck. The meat is tender, but I found it to have a strong ‘gamey’ flavor and only the blueberry sauce made it acceptable. Next was Icelandic sea-trout with a roasted pepper salsa and it was exquisite. The third course was lobster tails baked in garlic and those were very similar to the crab claws we had in Madrid on our tapas crawl (very tasty!). Next they served duck breast in Grand Mariner – also very good. Our final course (here comes the controversy) was grilled Minke whale steak with cranberry sauce. It’s actually the best meat I’ve ever had; reminiscent of lamb and beef. I did a lot of research on the Icelandic whaling industry and I’m very comfortable with bringing whale to the table in the fashion they do (small harvests, efficient hunting and focused on a species of whale that is not endangered).

Full with gourmet deliciousness, we walked back to our hotel (at nearly 2 in the morning and again in daylight) and crashed into bed. We knew we needed to be up bright and early again for our departure from Iceland.

The return flight was smooth (very professional crew this time around) and the ground crew in Iceland was really top notch and focused on security.

We are looking forward to a return to Iceland again soon. It’s just a short 5 hour flight from JFK and Delta’s pricing is attractive. Next time we will take a few more days and explore Northern Iceland.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Trip Report: Germany 2010

As a continuation of our Austrian Christmas Market tour in November, Jonathan and I spent two full days in Southern Germany. This area is traditionally referred to as Bavaria and it’s exactly what most Americans envision as the essence of Germany and what’s typically replicated in the German themed sections of American amusement parks.

We took the train in from Salzburg, arriving into Munich in the late morning. I had attempted to orchestrate everything in order that we might arrive in time onto Marienplatz (or Mary’s Plaza) to watch the famous Glockenspiel (town clock) perform at noon. The train schedules don’t simply bend to my wishes, so this meant most of the orchestrating involved hurrying ourselves along to quickly get to the town square (with our luggage still in tow) to watch the clock before transferring to our hotel for check-in. It was worth it. The clock performance recounts a famous wedding feast (coincidentally the history behind Octoberfest) and provides a dizzying array of movements. Really fantastic!

The movement starts at about a minute in

I really appreciate the efficient and orderly train operations in Germany. Everything runs on time and people are generally cordial.  It was easy to make our way around town and our hotel was not far from one of the major stations. We stayed at the Hilton Munich City. It’s a fine Hilton property and made for a pleasant stay. Mostly business travelers, the hotel is quiet and features an elite lounge.

After a leisurely check-in we wandered back downtown to explore the sites. We made a stop at the highly acclaimed Die Munchner Suppenkuche (Schafflerstrasse 7) for an affordable soup lunch.  Jonathan lucked out with a tasty selection while mine (some sort of hot dog soup) proved disappointing.

We took to the streets again and traipsed across MarienPlatz (very beautifully decorated for Christmas), visiting New Town Hall,  Old Town Hall, St. Michael's, Frauenkirche, and St Peter's.  St. Peter’s was the most rewarding stop as we were able to climb to the very top of the bell tower for a spectacular view of the city. Overall I found the city to be lovely, but not quite as endearing as Vienna or Salzburg.

 

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Town Hall with Clock Tower

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Pig parts! uh, mmmmm?

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Beautiful cathedral interior of Saint Michael’s

 

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View of Munich from the top of St Peter’s

 

Dinner was at Hofbrauhaus (Sausage city!) and while I can’t remember exactly what I ate I do remember I wasn’t too fond of it. It was probably about then that I reconfirmed my prejudice against German Cuisine. Beer and sausage overload! One day into it and I was already wishing for something better (maybe a nice Italian entree or something Thai and spicy). The good news is that if you *do* happen to enjoy German food and beer (you freak you) Hofbrauhaus has opened up several locations in the United States and serves much the same authentic menu as they do in Munich.

 

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Hofbrauhaus

Our second day in Germany was spent on a Castles of Bavaria tour hosted by Viator (http://www.viator.com/tours/Munich/Royal-Castles-of-Neuschwanstein-and-Linderhof-Day-Tour-from-Munich/d487-285016). Hands down one of THE best tours I’ve ever booked. Nine tenths of its awesomeness was attributable to our tour guide Ursula. Her German accent was thick and her expressions and mannerisms were unforgettable. Over and over again she would play this verbal game which never failed to elicited uncontrollable giggling on my end:

1. Share an interesting bit of trivia relevant to whatever we were looking at

2. Ask in a heavily accented tone, “Can you imagine?” (pronounced KHAN U EMAAAAADGE-GIN)

3. Pause

4. Announce, “Yah, yah, you can imagine!” (pronounced YUH YUH U KHAN EMAAAAADGE-GIN)

Oh I just loved Ursula! There was also her classic line, “Velcome to our Vinter Vonderland and thank you for wisiting”.  WISITING!!! Is it in poor taste to poke fun at the German accent? It’s just so adorable…

The first stop on our tour  was Linderhof castle, which was built by the very famous Mad King Ludwig II. 

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Jenni adorns Linderhof

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Swan Lake at Linderhof

 

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If the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe were recast in Germany with Jenni in the lead…

I really feel for the poor chap Ludwig II. He was very excited to be king and wanted to be a *real* king of the old order with power and dominion. Alas, he was born much to late in Germany’s evolution for such things and was reduced constitutionally to being a mere figurehead (such as Queen Elizabeth is in England today). So he consoled himself by building castles throughout the countryside where he would escape and  fully immerse himself in his pretend kingdom where all subjects worshipped him and did as they were told. Linderhof was one of the first castles he built and it was pretty modest so the taxpayers didn’t really bat an eye.

The same could not be said for his next building project: Castle Neuschwanstein. This grand and glorious castle (just up the hill from his parents country castle) was the castle to end all castles. He fancied he’d build himself a castle in medieval style (probably because that was a time when subjects dutifully respected their king or perhaps because it appealed to his alpha-male decorating sense) and he spent his way through a good portion of the national treasury before the impoverished taxpayers had enough and called shenanigans. The castle was never finished, King Ludwig II came to a premature end and within a year the political leadership had turned the castle into a tourist attraction. It was *this* castle, by the way, that Walt Disney held in his mind’s eye when designing the Disney Princess Castle. Can you see the resemblance in the photos below? With the snow falling softly around it, it was truly an amazing site to behold. So beautiful!

 

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Sideview of Neuschwanstein

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Rearview of Neuschwanstein

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Snowy Frontview of Neuschwanstein

 

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Ludwig II’s boyhood home- his parents’ castle just across the hill

 

In between our castle stops we made a quick detour into Oberammergau, a small community famous for its woodcarvings. A nice stop but a bit of a tourist trap.

 

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In Oberammergau some houses depict fairy tales

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Woodcarvings

 

Other highlights of the tour included having to pull off the side of the road in a heavy snowstorm so that the bus driver could attach chains to the tires in order to make it up a steep hill (winter driving in southern Germany is not for the timid!) and my hot dog lunch fiasco. Let me tell you the crazy scam these Germans have got going on with their hot dogs!  In the first place, they treat you like a pariah if you ask for ketchup on your hot dog. I’m not referring to fancy sausages here; I specifically mean what they call frankfurters and what we call HOT DOGS. In the second place, it’s not customary for them to serve these hot dogs with hot dog buns. GAH! There I am sitting down eagerly awaiting my lunch and I am presented with a bunless, ketchupless hot dog.

KHAN U EMAAAAADGE-GIN?

*pause*

YUH YUH U KHAN EMAAAAADGE-GIN!

Anyway, after the castle tour concluded we were dropped off in downtown Munich in the evening and spent an hour wandering through the Christmas Market on Marienplatz (fantastic!) before we found ourselves in desperate need of dinner. I didn’t know what I wanted except I knew I didn’t want German food. I was sausaged out! We were lucky enough to find a cozy Italian Osteria right near Marienplatz where the waiters spoke Italian and the food was amazing. Germany is now the only country I’ve visited where I’ve broken my rule about sticking to authentic local cuisine.

 

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Scenes from Marienplatz Christmas Market

 

In summary:

German culture A+

German sightseeing A+

German Christmas spirit (they practically invented it): A++

German cuisine F-