Food Halls Around the World

11 02 2009

Whenever I am shopping while abroad, I inevitably find myself in a food hall. At the most basic level, a food hall is any indoor area that offers a variety of food for sampling and purchasing. They are often found in department stores, but can also operate independently.  A food hall is more than an indoor market or run of the mill mall food court, however.  A food hall is above all an exhibition of local and international artisinal food.

Harrod’s famous food hall
The most famous food hall in the world is arguably Harrod’s in London. While for many destinations I end up in a food hall by coincidence, Harrod’s Food Hall was a must-see for me even before my arrival in London. Harrod’s was founded in 1834 as a wholesale grocery with a specialty in tea.

Harrod’s has some of the fanciest groceries I have ever seen.

There are lots of stands to try out at Harrod’s Food Hall.

After arriving at Harrod’s, I bypassed all other departments and made a beeline for the food hall. There’s better shopping in the United States. I was here for the food hall. I was not disappointed. In room after themed room, attractive gourmet food was presented to me, the shopper, for my perusal. If you want seafood, there is an entire room dedicated to these delicious creatures under the sea.

You can eat fresh oysters in the seafood room at Harrod’s food hall.

Need gifts for loved ones? Harrod’s has quite a selection of packaged ready to gift gourmet food items. Perhaps some proper English tea would delight your grandmother, or lemon cookies for your best friend, or Turkish Delight for your unsuspecting brother!

Food gifts at Harrod’s

Indulge your sweet tooth at Harrod’s.

Before heading out, be sure to view the over the top escalators at Harrod’s. The escalators have an ancient Egyptian theme to honor the heritage of Mohamed al Fayed, the current owner of the department store. The escalator bay is also where you can find Princess Diana’s and Dodi al Fayed’s memorial.

The Egyptian decor is historically listed to protect against their removal and alteration.

Yep, that’s the actual face of Mohamed al Fayed on the Sphinx.

Despite Harrod’s fame, to many English residents the designation of best department store for gourmet food would belong to Fortnum & Mason, which has held royal warrants for 150 years. Harrod’s also holds some royal warrants, but Fortnum & Mason is more closely associated with British royalty and the peerage.

The circular stairway at Fortnum & Mason decorated for Christmas.

Although we had heard of Fortnum & Mason, it was by chance that we stumbled upon this establishment while shopping near Piccadilly Circus. I thought we had entered my version of department store heaven. Exquisitely decorated for Christmas, Fortnum and Mason offered all kinds of British foodstuffs, from minced pies to jars of ribbon candy to traditional china. Fortnum & Mason is most well known for its teas and luxury picnic hampers.

A selection of Fortnum and Mason’s gourmet products with its signature turquoise label on display.

Fortnum & Mason’s food hall is not to be missed for foodies the world over!

Inside Fortnum and Mason during the Christmas season.

These two luxurious food halls reminded me of my visit to the highly regarded Alois Dallmayr in Munich, Germany.  The Dallmayr is a famous luxury delicatessen and food hall that has served European royalty since the 17th century.  You can read about our day in Munich and see some more photos of Dallmayr here.  

Alois Dallmayr plaque proclaiming its status as a royal purveyor.

Window display at Alois Dallmayr.

Inside Alois Dallmayr delicatessen.

Inspired by these elaborate European food halls, the Japanese created their own twist on the concept with depachikas, department store basement food halls. Similar to the Harrod’s concept, depachikas seek to create a high end retail experience, but for food. Only the best brands are offered, from sushi to desserts to mochi to tea and other delicacies. However, depachikas have a larger selection of freshly prepared takeaway meals for shoppers. Many professional stop by and pick up bento boxes for lunch and dinner on a daily basis. Another major difference is that Japanese department stores often directly rent out the spaces on the store floor to bakeries and food businesses. As a result, the salespeople of these kiosks do not necessarily work for the department store. These businesses of course have to pass a rigorous test of quality and name. A third distinction is that Japanese food halls tend to emphasize trendy food over more traditional flavors.  You can read all about the depachika craze in this Food and Wine magazine article.  

The Dessert comes First blog has an excellent post on food in Japan, including an entire section on depachikas with fantastic pictures.  Here is the link to that specific post.  I have included two of her photos below for reference. 

Photo of depachika by Desserts comes First

Photo of depachika store display by Desserts comes First

I have visited the depachika in person at Isetan in Tokyo and Kaohsiung.  You can read my entire post about the Isetan department store in Kaohsiung here. These basement food halls are one of my favorite places to just relax and eat. I wish the US had places like these – I would be there every night!

One of the stores within a store in the basement food hall at Isetan in Kaohsiung.

A bakery in the basement food hall at Isetan


Review: Hotel Kurcafe in Füssen

22 10 2008

On the night before we visited Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles, we stayed in the town of Füssen at Hotel Kurcafe.  We decided to book this hotel because of good reviews from both Rick Steves and Tripadvisor.  We had high hopes for this hotel because of these reviews.  Unfortunately, we were disappointed with the service and accommodations.

First, let me start with the positives from our stay.  Our initial impression of the hotel was very positive.  The location in the town of Füssen was very convenient, the room was very clean, and the hotel seemed very nice in general.  In addition, there is a parking lot right next to the hotel and we were able to park for a nominal fee.  The room’s decor was fine and looked comfortable, although we were amused by the sexy picture above the bed.

Now I will get into the negatives.  First, when we checked in, the woman at the front desk was very brisk to the point of rudeness and made us feel like we were imposing by staying at this hotel.  I have stayed in many 4-5 star hotels, and this kind of treatment is unacceptable, especially at a hotel that bills itself as 4 stars.  In addition, the woman at reception only gave us one room card for all four of us.  She only gave us another key after we specifically requested it when we went out to dinner later that evening.  I will point out that this woman was the only person at the hotel who was rude, and everyone else we encountered were very friendly, courteous, and professional.

Second, the room we were assigned differed from the one that was advertised.  We booked a four person family room at Hotel Kurcafe.  As we booked online directly through the hotel, we expected to get the room advertised as the family room for four people as you can see here.  In the picture shown for this room, there are what look like two queen size beds side by side.  Instead, we received Room 10, which has one queen size bed and a pull out sofabed.  If they had advertised the room as a queen bed with a sofabed, we would not have chosen this room.  Since it was past 7 PM when we checked in, we decided to make the best of it.  However, in the middle of the night, the sofabed became unhinged and broke.  Thus it ended up being a very uncomfortable night.  Since it was after midnight at that point, we tried to fix it ourselves and ended up being able to put it back half hinged.  We found that if we did not move at all the sofa would stay hinged and in one piece.  As you can imagine, this made it a bad night for us.

The bathroom was very modern and chic.  However, since the door was see through, it was not very suitable for a room for four people.  I do not fault the design, per se, as I found the aesthetics pleasing, but this room is clearly a two person room.

We were very pleased with the continental breakfast served the next morning.  The hotel had a full spread of both cold and hot breakfast foods, including bacon, eggs, bread, toast, and other typical items in addition to fancier fare like chocolate covered strawberries.  Like many European hotel breakfasts, you must order your coffee and cappucinos from the server (although it’s all included). 

When we checked out, we made sure to let the hotel know of our displeasure with the sofabed.  The lady at the reception (a different person from the night before) was very apologetic and courteous, which we appreciated.  She deducted 20 euros from the room rate and gave us a small bag of truffles for our trouble.

In summary, if you are looking to book a four person room at this hotel, be very careful of what you select.  Definitely request that you not be put in Room 10.  Since the other reviews from Tripadvisor are generally positive, though, I hope that our experience was isolated.

Germany: Neuschwanstein

21 10 2008

After leaving Rothenburg, we were eager to continue our journey on Germany’s Romantic Road and see “Mad” King Ludwig’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle.  Easily the most photographed castle in Germany, Neuschwanstein is the epitome of the modern day idea of a (very unrealistic) romantic medieval castle.  In fact, this castle was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland and Cinderella’s castles in Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.  We had high expectations for this attraction because of its fame and dramatic history.

A view of the countryside approaching Füssen and Neuschwanstein.

Quaint towns dot the countryside on the Romantic Road.

Neuschwanstein Castle and the neighboring Hohenschwangau Castle are located just outside the town of Füssen in Southwest Bavaria. Füssen is where most people who visit the royal castles stay the night and represents the end of the Romantic Road. The town of Fussen is small but pretty. It is perfectly suited for a nice dinner and lovely stroll before visiting Neuschwanstein the next day but one night is enough. Füssen has its own castle called Hohes Schloss, but it’s not really worth visiting.  You can walk around the outside of the castle at night.

The town of Füssen

Fussen at twilight

Hohes Schloss

For a taste of traditional German food and comraderie, visit one of the local restaurants and drinking establishments in Füssen the night before your visit to the castles. Every Tuesday and Thursday night at 7 PM, the gregarious duo of Christian and Werner entertain the patrons at Gasthof Krone with local music and humor.  While we were there, we heard such classics (translation butchered by me) as “Frau Meyer’s underpants are yellow” and “There’s plenty of time in heaven to rest so let’s drink now.”

Gasthof Krone

Christian and Werner entertain with hilarious tunes and jokes.

The next morning we headed over to see the royal castles.  When you come to visit, you may tour either castle or both. It is best to buy your ticket(s) in advance, either online here or over the phone. You will be given a time window for your tours. If you decide to tour both, the ticket requires that you tour Hohenschwangau first. To get to Neuschwanstein, you can ride a bus, a horse drawn carriage, or hike.

“Mad” King Ludwig, also known as King Ludwig II of Bavaria, was an eccentric king who loved building elaborate castles. Although he used his personal funds to build these palaces, he borrowed heavily from family and other royalty and neglected his royal duties, which made him very unpopular with his ministers. This caused his cabinet of ministers to declare him insane and to legally depose him. The day after his arrest, King Ludwig was found dead in the nearby lake under mysterious circumstances with the psychiatrist who certified him insane.

Ludwig grew up in Hohenschwangau Castle, which was built by his father King Maxmillian II of Bavaria in the early 19th century. Maxmillian built the castle on the ruins of the castle Schwanstein, which dated back to at least the 12th century, after falling in love with the landscape here. While Neuschwanstein is now owned by the Bavarian government, Hohenschwangau still belongs to the former royal family.


The beautiful lake next to Hohenschwangau.

Neuschwanstein Castle, on the other hand, was built by Ludwig II in the late 19th century. The castle is not a true medieval castle since it not built in the middle ages, but rather designed to reflect a romantic and highly fantastical conception of a knight’s castle. In fact, the castle was designed by a theatrical set designer for the most part and not an architect.

Even my first glimpse of Neuschwanstein from Hohenschwangau was romantic.

After touring Hohenschwangau, we took a bus up to Neuschwanstein. While the bus drops you off on the path to Neuschwanstein, it is worth it to hike up to Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge) before you go to Neuschwanstein. It only takes about 20 minutes to go there and back and the views are amazing. I consider the Marienbrucke a must do, because it gives you the best view hands down of Neuschwanstein. This perspective of the castle is what you see in all those tourist photos.

The best view of Neuschwanstein is from Marienbrucke, except for the ugly scaffolding (sigh).

Other views from the Marienbrucke include beautiful forests.

Marienbrucke is a small bridge suspended over these falls.

Every part of the design of Neuschwanstein was carefully planned, from its exact placement on a dramatic hilltop overlooking Ludwig’s childhood home, Hohenschwangau, to its exterior grandeur and fairy tale turrents, to the impressive interior that honored Richard Wagner’s operas.  The castle’s location maximized the beauty of the surroundings as viewed from inside. Photos were not allowed inside either castle, but the views more than made up for that.

Although this attraction is much hyped, we felt that it lived up to its expectations.  Neuschwanstein was every bit as beautiful in person as in the pictures.  While the tours are quite short, they are interesting.  The area’s natural backdrop was stunning and really exceeded our expectations.  We highly recommend that Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau be part of any visitor’s itinerary in Germany.

Review: Gotisches Haus in Rothenburg

13 10 2008

While we were in Rothenburg, we stayed at the Gotisches Haus (Gothic House) on Herrngasse for one night.  We loved every part of our experience here and would highly recommend it to anyone who wanted to stay within the walls in Rothenburg.

The location on the Herrngasse was ideal because it is right in the middle of the city.  We were just half a block from Market Square.

View onto the street from the Third Floor.

We loved the decor of the hotel. The hotel is actually in a building that has been there since the middle ages! We felt like we were staying in a castle.

Sitting area in the Lobby

Breakfast Area in the Front of the Hotel

My husband and I stayed in room 30, which also included a small sitting room and a balcony. The ceiling does slope down because of the eaves, but we thought it just added to the great atmosphere of the hotel.

View from our private balcony.

Even though the building itself is old, they have all the modern amenities, including a luxurious, modern bathroom.

My sister and her husband stayed in room 20, which is shaped more like a conventional hotel room.  They really liked their room too.  If you feel claustrophobic from low ceilings, I would recommend a room on the first or second floors.  You can see pictures and rates of each room on the hotel’s website here. Rooms range from 86 euros to 168 euros a night.

Breakfast was included with the rooms.  The hotel serves intercontinental breakfast.  You order your choice of coffee drinks and hot cooked items such as omelletes.  There is also a cold buffet with bread, croissants, cold cuts, hard boiled eggs, juice etc…  We thought breakfast was pretty good.


Hotel Gotisches Haus GmbH
Herrngasse 13
D-91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Tel: 09861-2020, Fax: 09861-1317
Geschäftsführer Axel Rüter
Reg. Ansbach 3477, USt 199-70801

Germany: Rothenburg ob der Tauber

11 10 2008

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a perfectly preserved medieval walled town in Bavaria, was hands down my favorite part of our trip to Germany. If you have ever had any interest in the middle ages, you will LOVE this city. This town is a storybook come alive!

During the middle ages, Rothenburg was a large and booming free imperial city that was located on an important trade route between northern and southern Europe. During the Thirty Years War, however, the town was lost to a siege instigated by a Catholic Count who wanted to quarter his troops in the Protestant city. After this devastating siege and the ensuing Plague, the city became empty and poor until the end of the 19th century. In the 1880s, when Romanticism was running rampant throughout Europe, the town was “rediscovered” and since then the town has been carefully preserved while tourism has repopulated the city’s coffers.

Rothenburg is still surrounded by medieval walls.

This is Rothenburg’s Coat of Arms, which is a literal translation of the city’s name (red castle).

During WWII, Nazi soldiers defended Rothenburg. Parts of the city were bombed, including several houses and part of the wall. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy knew of the historic significance and beauty of Rothenburg so he ordered his generals not to use heavy artillery on the city. According to the the tour we took, McCloy grew up with a painting of Rothenburg on the wall of his home that his mother bought after visiting Rothenburg. Her love of Rothenburg was essentially what saved the city on the American side. The local military commander, Major Thommes, also contributed to the city’s preservation by ignoring Hitler’s directive for all towns to fight to the end and surrendering the town before it was destroyed, thus saving the city. American soldiers occupied the town until the end of the war. A few years later, the town named McCloy an Honorary Protectorate of Rothenburg.

This fountain featuring St. George off the Market Square was also a source of water to townspeople.

The original trade route that Rothenburg served is now called Germany’s “Romantic Road” and has become a popular tourist route. The “Romantic Road” begins in Wurzburg and ends in Fussen and features charming villages, beautiful churches, scenic countryside, and other walled medieval cities.

Just like everywhere else in Germany, the cobblestone streets are neat, tidy, and filled with flower pots and ivy.

Most of the town is pedestrian only, but guests who have a hotel reservation inside the walls of the town may drive into the town in order to park their cars.  Once you get your bearings, the town is easy to navigate on foot.  You can get free maps at the Tourist Information office that is next to the Market Square.  The best map we found of Rothenburg was from the Friese shop located on the smaller square just off Market Square.  You get a free map made by Anneliese Friese if you show them your Rick Steves guidebook.

Market Square

This is Rothenburg’s Market Square (above).  The TI office is in the orange clock tower building and you enter from the right side (street side).  The Friese shop is to the left of the yellow building in this photo.

It seemed everywhere we looked there was a picturesque half timbered house, quaint clock tower, shining cobblestone street, or pretty sidewalk.  My German brother-in-law will cringe when I say this, but it was as if Disney World had come alive.  Of course, this is because Rothenburg and other German towns and castles were the inspirations for Disney.  In fact, it is said that Rothenburg inspired the town in Disney’s Pinnochio.  But of course Rothenburg is 1000 times better than any fake Disney backdrop because it is the real thing!

We thought this might be the cutest intersection in Rothenburg, on Spittalgasse (below).

This is where the town gets so Disney!  Did I mention that the town is packed with tourists?

Statue above a real life butcher shop.

But then we saw this street, and changed our minds.  This MUST be the cutest street in Rothenburg.

We were able to enjoy some cake and coffee at a sidewalk cafe with a view of this arch.

The town is full of things like hidden alleys and gardens behind walls. Through our self guided walk (from our Rick Steves guide book), we found this gem (below). It was the garden to the convent attached to a now gone Dominican church. What was interesting about this garden was that the herb garden included not only edible herbs and medicinals, but also POISON! The potency of the poison herbs was indicated by the number of crosses on the labels. Don’t inhale too much here!

Entrance to the Convent Garden, near the Museum of the Imperial City (Reichsstadt Museum).

The Convent Garden

Some poisonous herbs, which smelled bad!

We loved all the medieval touches we found just by walking around.  Here is one of the town’s entrance gates on the stone wall.

The huge wooden door had a small tiny door within it.  In the middle ages, most towns had a curfew for safety reasons.  The town would close their huge gates when it got dark and any townspeople who were left outside the wall had to apply to enter via the night watchman.  The townsperson who missed curfew would first have to identify himself.  Then, he had to bribe the night watchman.  If and only when these two criteria were considered would the night watchman let in the person.  However, the door was built so that only an unarmored person could get through, in case the person attempting entry was an enemy or traitor.

Another form of defense for the town were these stone masks over the gates.  When an offending army tried to break the gates, the town would defend itself by pouring hot oil onto the attackers.

One of the must-dos for any visitor to Rothenburg is to walk the city walls.  From there you can get magnificent views of the city and get a feel of the medieval defenses.  At times, we felt like we were in the game of Carcasonne.

View from the Rodertor Tower, after climbing up some very rickety stairs.

We even saw some people from the middle ages from the wall!

Ok, can this town GET any cuter??

Donations from all over the world helped rebuild the town walls that were destroyed in WWII.  You can see the stone plaques representing the donors when you walk the walls. Many of them were from just after WWII, but several were more recent. Nowadays, it takes 1000 Euros to buy a plaque on the wall.

I found these plaques particularly interesting:

Apparently Rothenburg is VERY VERY popular with the Japanese. Maybe one third of the modern plaques were from the Japanese!

Surprisingly, there were even plaques from the tiny nation of Taiwan!

If you are thinking of visiting Rothenburg, I would recommend that you stay at least one night.  During the day, Rothenburg is packed with tourists but the city empties out at 5 PM.  After that time, you basically have the beautiful city to yourself.  Also if you stay the night, you can go on the wonderful Night Watchman’s Tour.  In my opinion, this is one of Europe’s best tours hands down.  The Night Watchman (there is only one) takes you on an enthusiastic one-hour walking tour in period costume with a lit lamp and tells you all these great stories about medieval Rothenburg.  Plus, it’s only 6 Euros.  He is also a barrel of laughs (in my opinion).

We stayed at the outstanding Gotisches Haus right in the middle of Rothenburg, which I highly recommend! I will be writing a review of this soon to post on the blog.

All in all, the four of us really enjoyed Rothenburg.  We cannot even think of anything that we did not like about Rothenburg.  Even though it is on every tourist itinerary for Germany, this is one of those places that is really as good as it sounds.  I hope I will be heading back to Rothenburg one day, but for now I will have fond memories of this beautiful medieval town.

Observations of Daily Life in Germany

9 10 2008

One of the best parts of traveling is being able to see how others around the world live normal life. As a visitor, I love discovering mundane things that are completely normal and unremarkable to residents but novel and interesting to me.

Let’s start with breakfast. In Europe, many brands of milk and orange juice are not refrigerated until opened because they have been ultra pasteurized. This is mostly because refrigerators in Europe are tiny compared to their gigantic American cousins. As a result, a lot of liquids such as milk come in cute little stackable cartons.

It seems that in Europe, everything is at a smaller scale than the United States. Cars are smaller, fresh food is often local, and housing is more compact. You won’t see a 1,000,000 square foot building like the Merchandise Mart here. Cities have definite boundaries and there is no suburban sprawl. It’s a given that space is always at a premium, which comes as no surprise since the individual countries in Europe are much smaller than the US. It’s no wonder that at times Europeans feel that in America everything is bigger, fatter, and more wasteful.

Even trashcans in Europe are smaller (and cuter) than their American counterparts.

Everyone has an incentive to recycle plastic bottles in Germany. You get 0.25 Euros back for each empty plastic bottle you return to the supermarket. Of course this is already priced into the water bottles.

The German supermarket was another source of interest to me. L and M often shop at LIDL, the German discount supermarket chain that is similar to Aldi. For some reason, almost all the interesting and funny things seem to happen at this particular chain.

This must be the funniest mustard I have ever seen.  First of all, the fact that this supermarket had an American section was pretty cool.  Secondly, look at the name of this brand.  Apparently, it combines the two most American things this company could think of – McDonald’s and the Kennedys!  To top off the cheesy American-ness of this mustard, it of course has a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the label and the boxes in which they are stored are decorated with the American flag.  This mustard is more patriotic than a Fourth of July picnic!!!

This next LIDL exclusive is the rotisserie chicken truck. It’s like an ice cream truck, but for whole roast chickens. The fact that a functioning rotisserie chicken truck driving around in Germany exists is just too funny. Maybe they have this in the US too, I don’t know, but I love this concept! L tells me that it doesn’t actually move, however, after you set up the ovens.

After the supermarket, it follows that we should move on to the hardware store. Do you notice something familiar about this store?

Maybe it’s because it looks exactly like a Home Depot!

That’s actually not the funny part. In Europe, bread is much more important to people than in the US. Sure, we have bakeries everywhere in the US. But do we have full bakeries inside the hardware store???

This is a far cry from the usual hot dog stand and vending machine combo we see in the Home Depot out here!

Germany: Munich

8 10 2008

A vacation to Germany is not complete without the obligatory tour of Munich (München), the capital of Bavaria.  To many Americans, just the mention of Munich conjures up images of beer, pretzels, bratwurst, and of course Oktoberfest, the beer drinker’s paradise.

Touristy shops abound in Munich, selling all of kinds of beer drinking paraphernalia.

We saw this display at a local department store. There were racks of traditional Bavarian costumes so that locals and visitors alike could dress up, presumably for Oktoberfest.

The must see on every beer drinker’s itinerary – the Hofbrauhaus!

Of course, Munich is much more than just Oktoberfest. Among other things, it was the center of the German counter reformation, a victim of the Bubonic plague, home to many of the most famous composers of all time, and a stronghold for Nazis during WWII. It is well known that much of the city was heavily bombed during WWII and the people chose to have the old city rebuilt as it was before the war. Today, Munich is politically liberal within the largely conservative state of Bavaria.

We began our tour of Munich at Karlsplatz, where we strolled under the Karlstor and into the pedestrian friendly old city center.


This is the view inside the pedestrian only zone looking back at Karlstor after passing through.

We were able to see the domes of the Frauenkirche.

After strolling down the Neuhausen Strasse, we headed to the Viktualienmarkt for lunch. The Viktualienmarkt is a farmer’s market that has gone gourmet. Stalls selling honey, cheese, flowers, herbs, and other victuals/foodstuffs are surrounded by dozens of bratwurst stands and ready seating.

Huge wheels of cheese.

I think this stand sells herbs.

All kinds of flowers for the back garden.

The Maypole of Munich.

We decided to eat lunch at this bratwurst stand (see below).  While my sister and I saved some seats at a long table, the men stood in line to buy our food.  We had some delicious bratwurst and fried potatoes accompanied by locally brewed apple soda.  While we were eating, we chatted with some friendly locals who were sharing our table.  This is very normal in Germany, especially in Munich, which is known for its friendly citizens.

Bratwurst for lunch!

After lunch, we walked over to the famous Marienplatz. Like many old city centers, Marienplatz has a famous glockenspiel in the Rathaus. The architecture here was beautiful!

In the Marienplatz, with a view of the Rathaus Glockenspiel and the Marian Column.

A tavern near the Marienplatz

Near the Rathaus in Marienplatz is Alois Dallmayr, the most famous delicatessen and food hall in Germany. This upscale food haven has supplied royal courts throughout Europe and inspired many like concepts across the world.  Seeing these displays reminded me of the deli inside Whole Foods in the US and the food halls in the basement of Japanese department stores such as Isetan.

Alois Dallmayr, a royal purveyor of foodstuffs.

Part of the elaborate window display.

There’s a bakery.

The freshly ground gourmet coffee section.

This was the most gourmet supermarket I’ve ever seen and heaven for foodies.

After our walk, we decided that we deserved a reward so we made our next stop the Hofbrauhaus. The mecca of beer drinkers everywhere, be forewarned that this is on every tourist’s itinerary.

Once we entered the Hofbrauhaus, we wandered about looking for the actual beer hall since this place was HUGE! We found some stairs and went up to see what was upstairs.

The large gothic stone stairs.

The painted ceiling on top of the stairwell features was very Bavarian, with the flags and the pretzels and the beer wench.

We found this private beer hall reminiscent of being inside a Viking ship.

After we went back downstairs, we went towards the noise and finally found the beer hall. Surprisingly there were not too many people there.

That’s because everyone was out in the beer garden! We grabbed a table and sat down to enjoy.

The Hofbrauhaus is so patriotic, even the fountain in the beer garden has the Munich shield on it.

You can request an English menu, although they will probably just automatically give it to you.

Thankfully for me, there was a section in the menu for non-alcoholics.

After finishing up at the Hofbrauhaus, we headed over to the Residenz, the former royal palace of the Bavarian kings. It had started raining so we only looked at this area briefly.

Right outside the Residenz were these streets and this monument.

We had planned to go to the English Garden at this time, but it was pouring rain so we decided to skip it this time around. If you do plan to go to the English Garden, the Chinese pagoda was highly recommended to us and the beer garden.

Although Munich can be classified as a must-see because of its place in Bavarian history and culture, in many ways it felt like any other European big city. We saw high end shopping streets, expensive gourmet food stores, large palaces and grand monuments, and other places that make the city very cosmopolitan and a great place to live and work but not necessarily the best place to really experience the German way of life. Despite this thought, however, we still very much enjoyed our time in Munich and recommend it to all visitors to Germany.

Germany: Around Freiburg

30 09 2008

Besides the Black Forest, there are several towns and splendid countryside surrounding the city of Freiburg that are worth exploring.  Much of southwestern Germany is covered in vineyards and cultivated land that provide fresh, seasonal food and drink to cities and towns in the area.  Most areas are within a 20-30 minute car ride of Freiburg and well worth the trip.

Quaint towns like Ihringen that specialize in wine production are part of the fertile countryside in the Freiburg area. Ihringen is located on the southern tip of Kaiserstuhl on top of an old volcano that was transformed into vineyards, in between the Winklerberg and Fohrenberg appellations (wine regions).  This small town is full of wineries, restaurants, pubs and guesthouses that are surrounded by vineyards and orchards.  Just like the meticulous vineyards, the town itself is beautifully maintained.

An inviting restaurant/pub overflowing with flower boxes in Ihringen.

A winery

A guesthouse/restaurant

Pretty window boxes are the norm here.

Vineyards and orchards are just outside of town

Picturesque town like Ihringen dot the countryside in this area.  In fact, we drove through 2 or 3 just going to Ihringen.

Vineyards and farms take up the spaces in between these towns.

One of the delights of the Freiburg area are the numerous seasonal dining establishments called Strauße that serve traditional food from the region.  The word Strausse, or ostrich in German, is related to the use of brooms that traditionally indicated that the venues were open.  These are not restaurants, but rather the dining rooms attached to farms and wineries that enjoy a special tax status if they follow a strict code.  These strausse must only serve food and wine of their own production, be open 16 weeks a year, and have 40 seats maximum.  To find a list of these establishments, you can buy a brochure listing these “Strausse” from certain shops and bookstores in Freiburg.

A few tips on these brochures:
1) Ask the cashier for help in finding this brochure and if the store doesn’t carry it, ask who does.  Most Germans, especially University educated Germans, speak English so it will not be hard to ask.
2) Make sure to call the kitchens before you go because the days they are open shift around every year.

On our visit, we were able to visit 2 different Strausse, which were both very good.  L and M wanted to take us to their favorite one but unfortunately they were closed on the days we were in the Freiburg area.  That’s why it’s so important to call beforehand for hours, directions, and if a reservation is needed.

Burg Cafe, Landeck

If you are looking to dine on traditional and fresh German food in the shadow of a ruined castle overlooking beautiful countryside, I would highly recommend the Burg Cafe in Landeck.  The food was good and fresh, and the views were even better.

Burg Cafe

We ate in the shadow of the ruined Burg Landeck.

The view from our table at Burg Cafe, looking away from the castle.

After we finished our meal at Burg Cafe, we took the stone steps up to the ruined castle.  It is literally across the road from the cafe and is a perfect after dinner walk.  Just climb up the stairs!

After seeing the ruined castle itself (you can no longer actually climb up the castle), be sure to explore the grassy area to the left.  You will be rewarded with these magnificent views.

Can you just imagine this scene:
King of Swamp Castle: One day, lad, all this will be yours.
Prince Herbert: What, the curtains?
King of Swamp Castle: No, not the curtains, lad, all that you can see stretched out over the valleys and the hills! That’ll be your kingdom, lad.
Quotation from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail.

Burkles Winzerhof

On another night, we decided to try a seasonal winery L and M had never visited before since their original choice was closed.  Burkles Weinlaube turned out to be one of the nicer dining rooms with good solid German food. The wine and drinks were very good.  Besides the house wine, these Strausse also always have homemade apple soda and/or grape soda made from wine grapes if you would rather enjoy non-alcoholic beverages.  

You can’t see from my pictures, but if the kitchen is open, you will see a ceremonial broom with bristles over their door.

If you go to any regional kitchen, you MUST try their Flammenkuchen (onion and bacon tart).  It’s like a pizza, but better.


Garden Salad with shredded pickled vegetables

Fried steak with friend potatoes

A german ham salad

As you can see from the numerous posts on Freiburg and its environs, this area of southwestern Germany is full of natural beauty, interesting food and wine culture, and medieval history.  Even though I was able to spend a few days here, I wish I could have stayed longer.  There is so much to see and do here – I haven’t even started to scratch the surface.

Germany: Freiburg Part 2

24 09 2008

This post about Freiburg is continued from Germany: Freiburg Part 1.

After circling the market square, go back to your entrance point and head away from (south of) the Munsterplatz on Eisenstraße.  Then turn left onto Schusterstraße.  Go down about a block and then turn right onto Augustinergasse.  Continue on this street until you reach Augustinerplatz.

If you would like a coffee or need a clean bathroom, stop by Aran Cafe just before you reach Augustinerplatz.

Aran Cafe, with Augustinerplatz in the background.

Some yummy coffee drinks and hot chocolate from nearby Aran cafe on the Augustinerplatz.

Augustinerplatz is a large cobblestone square in the middle of the old city that is surrounded by shops and cafes.  It was so clean and pretty it looked like it came straight out of the nearest Disney movie!  The former site of an Augustine monastery, Augustinerplatz is popular with tourists, students, and locals alike.


A courtyard of one of the many quaint shops in the Augustinerplatz.

After visiting Augustinerplatz, backtrack a little and turn right onto Salzstraße.  Stroll all the way down this pretty street until you reach the end of the road at the Schwabentor, the Swabian Gate.


A view of the Schwabentor and the Hotel Bären.

The pink building in the above photo on the right contains the oldest restaurant in Germany, now part of the Hotel Bären.  There has been a restaurant in this location since the 1100s.  The elaborate sign with the golden bear proclaims this is the oldest restaurant in Germany.

Once you arrive at the Schwabentor, look for a staircase just to the left.  Take these stairs and proceed across the wooden bridge.  From here it is just a short vertical hike to the Schlossberg where you can see some magnificent views of the city.  Just follow the trail/crowd.  For those who are tired, if you go straight right after the bridge, there is an elevator inside the cave that takes you about 1/3 way up to the beer garden that overlooks the city.   By the way, this is a good beer garden according to M.

Another view of the Schwabentor.

Bridge to the Schlossberg, facing the city.

View of Freiburg from the Schlossberg.

Closeup of some houses.

The city of Freiburg is surrounded by the Black Forest.

There are a lot of paths on the Schlossberg if you like to bike or hike.  Lots of locals come here because it’s easy access to the Black Forest.

One of the many paths on the Schlossberg.   We took this one to get down the hill.

After returning from the Schlossberg, take the first road/alley on the right called Konviktstraße after you come back down the stairs.  This is, in all of our opinions, the cutest and most picturesque street in Freiburg. It is a very small pedestrian only street that features boutiques and cafes that has ivy strung between the buildings. Although it’s not on our way to the next destination, it is worth the detour to walk down this street.

After you reach the little square at the end of Konviktstraße, take a left onto Münzgasse, which turns into Schusterstraße.  Turn left onto Augustinergasse, where you will then go through Augustinerplatz again.  This time, turn right at the end of Augustinerplatz onto Gerberau.  Walk about a block and turn left onto Gerbersteg.  Then make an immediate right onto Fischerau.

This is a little street that is almost an alley that has a small river running through it.

The houses come right up to the little river.

The house below has a little fountain emptying into this stream.

This house is decorated in a very interesting way with the vines.

Just before the end of this street on the left is a gourmet honey shop that sells the best honey in Germany.  You can go in and try over 30 varieties of honey.  They were very good and we got several jars of honey to take home.  They also honey soap, candy, and candles, among other things.

Once you reach the end of this street, it empties you onto Kaiser-Joseph-Straße and you will see the Martinstor to your right.

The famous Martinstor, one of the original city gates of the walled city of Freiburg.

Notice the fancy McDonald’s sign.  This is the beginning of the pedestrian zone.  From here, the university is to your left and there is a Citibank to your right.  There is also great coffeeshop with a small bakery located under the arch.

This is the end of my Google maps tour, but if you want to make a full loop back to the university like we did, just take the street you see straight ahead when you come out of the alley with the river.  Or if you are facing Martinstor, it is the street to the left of you.

Assembly/Lecture Hall at the University of Freiburg.

Freiburg was my favorite city of all the ones I visited.  As you can see, it has a little bit of everything I love about Germany, from the medieval town center, to the tidy streets, to the unique features like the Bächle, to the University, and of course to its location on the edge of the Black Forest.  I am glad that L has found such a wonderful temporary home while she is in school.  I hope to come back to visit soon!

Germany: Freiburg Part 1

22 09 2008

A visit to the Black Forest is not complete without a stop in the city of Freiburg, located on the western edge of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany.  Freiburg was one of the highlights of my visit because it is such a unique blend of medieval market town, university village, and modern city.

A view of Freiburg and Münster Cathedral from the Schlossberg.

As reflected in its name, Freiburg was founded in 1120 as a free market town located at an important crossroads between the Mediterranean Sea and the Danube and Rhine Rivers.  Because of this distinction, power struggles over the city’s control were common throughout the middle ages.  Although the city was bombed in WWII, the damaged areas in the city center were rebuilt in the medieval plan.  Freiburg is known primarily for the well respected Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and as the regional hub for tourism in the Black Forest area.  Freiburg is also considered an environmentally friendly city whose citizens are known for their affinity for cycling and recycling.  The Guardian has an article about just how eco-friendly Freiburg is here.

The best way to see Freiburg’s medieval town center is by foot.  Reflecting both its medieval roots and penchant for eco-friendliness, the city center is a pedestrian- and tram-only zone.  Below is a map of our meandering route through the city center, which includes all the must-sees as well as our favorite cobblestone streets and alleys.  Be sure to click on the “View Larger Map” link, which takes you to the interactive Google map.

View Larger Map

We began our tour of Freiburg at the University, where L is just finishing up her graduate studies and where M graduated a few years ago.  Since we live on different continents, it was great for me to see where L spends all her time.  I actually visited Freiburg twice during my trip, so the photos and tour here are a compilation of both visits.

Main Lecture Hall at the University of Freiburg, located in the Platz der alten Synagoge, across the street from the Stadttheater (A on map).


While facing the main lecture hall, take the street on the left called Bertoldstraße and head east until you get to Cafe Schmidt, a wonderful bakery well known for its marzipan potatoes.

After drooling over the baked goods and chocolate,  turn right onto Niemensstraße, a tiny street that is full of student hangouts, including a yummy kebab place.  Take this street all the way to the very large Kaiser-Joseph-Straße and then turn left.  Kaiser Joseph Strasse is the main shopping street in Freiburg’s city center and includes all the large German chain stores as well as everything a college student or Freiburger needs.  Watch out for the trams!

People share the street with trams and the Bächle in Freiburg. This photo was taken on Salzstraße.

At this point, you will probably notice the very small and neat gutters (see photo above) running up and down the streets all around this part of Freiburg.  This system of gutters, called Bächle, has constantly flowing water from the Dreisam and was used in the olden days to fight fires and feed livestock.  The Bächle was never used for sewage (under penalty) and you will often see kids playing in them these days.  During the summer, the Bächle also helps keep the city cool.  There is a saying in Freiburg that if you step in a Bächle, you will marry a Freiburger.

Keep going on Kaiser Joseph Strasse for a few blocks north and then turn right onto Münsterstraße.  Head towards the Münster Cathedral (B on map).

Münster Cathedral is located in the Münsterplatz.

Step into the cathedral (free to the public) for views of beautiful stained glass.

If you go to the Münsterplatz on a Saturday before noon, you will be greeted with one of the best outdoor markets in Germany.

A view of the Saturday Markt in Freiburg, looking to the left of Münster Cathedral.

All the fruits and vegetables here are locally grown.  I have found that the produce in Germany has been some of the highest quality I’ve ever had.

Look at all that beautiful squash!

There are several flower vendors, with blossoms each brighter and more colorful than the next.

A market is not complete without the encased meat and butcher wagon.

There are also several bratwurst stands at the market.  Apparently, curry on bratwurst is very popular among Germans.  Who would have thought?  We had some bratwurst for breakfast.  Yum!

We went to Germany just at the end of their strawberry season.  These were some of the sweetest and juiciest strawberries I’ve ever had.  The fruit that look like small red grapes are johannesberries.  Most berry vendors also sell homemade jam.

The market on the other side of the cathedral was filled with craft stands.

The Historisches Kaufhaus (Historic Marketplace) is the red building.

Cafes spilled out from the buildings into the market.

Next: Germany: Freiburg Part 2

In Part 2, we will continue onto Augustinerplatz, the Schwabentor Gate, and Martinstor.

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