Saturday, July 27, 2013

Vacationing in Germany: It's raining beer in Munich

It's time for another European vacation update. When we last left off, we were heading south on the Autobahn from Nuremberg to Munich. After hopping around from city to city the first few days, we were happy to reach one of our home base destinations.

If you know one thing about Munich, it's probably that the city is host to Oktoberfest, the 16-day beer festival in the fall. Since Bavarians drink beer like Americans drink sodas, truly nothing says Munich like a beer hall.

Strangely, visiting the Hofbräuhaus was one of my favorite parts of our entire trip, even though I don't like beer. (I did enjoy my glass of wine, though.) The location at Marienplatz  is the original, dating back to 1589 when it was founded as a brewery for the Bavarian royals. Even today, it's owned by the Bavarian government. Hmm ... I'm thinking I have an idea for how to get the American government out of debt!

It's hard to describe how large this place is, since the photo above shows just a small portion of it. There are probably around 100 long tables flanked by benches. If it weren't pouring rain outside, there would have been people seated outside, too. There are no hosts/hostesses here to seat you at a table. You just find an open spot and plop down next to whoever is already sitting at the communal table. We sat down with four Germans around ages 45 - 65. They were super-nice, and one of them even helped Jason choose a beer. After they left, a young American couple who was backpacking through Europe found us. It was a nice change of pace to speak in English for a little while.

Not long later, a 72-year-old German man named Charles joined us. Like most Germans in Bavaria, he said he only spoke "a little bit" of English. And, like the others who said that, his English was very good. Charles lives about 25 minutes away from the Hofbräuhaus by train, but comes down about once a week to have some beers and socialize. It's definitely a social atmosphere!

The oompah band was on break most of the time we were there, but the whole place roared constantly. Occasionally a group would break out into song, and everyone else would join along. There was also buzz about FC Bayern München's (that's soccer for us out-of-the-know Americans) recent league championship win over their German rival, so many locals were wearing team colors and jerseys and were in a particularly good mood. 

There were two things that surprised me at the Hofbräuhaus. First was how many people were wearing the traditional Lederhosen (men) and Dirndl (women). Second was how many stag/hen (bachelor/bachelorette) parties started or ended there. Each stag or hen party had matching outfits, whether it was just screenprinted shirts or full costumes. Maybe it helps them find each other after a long night of beer drinking!

For those who wanted sustenance of the solid variety, the Hofbräuhaus also had a full menu. We passed on that, but Zachary did partake in a giant pretzel. There were pretzel girls (wearing traditional Dirndl, of course) walking around with baskets hanging from their necks. They were all good looking. I assume it' a job requirement.

Since Bavaria is known for beer and traditional German food, both of my guys were pleased when I suggested we try out another beer house the next day, this time for dinner. This time it was the Augustiner-Keller, near the main train station. If it wasn't cold and wet, we would have sat in their lovely outdoor beirgarten, under the chestnut trees.

Augustiner-Keller was much more subdued and less crowded than the Hofbräuhaus, I must say. They do have a stage and a giant TV screen at the end of the big hall where they show soccer games, etc. I'm sure it was a much livelier atmosphere the prior night (Saturday). A group of traveling senior-aged singers did break out into song once. Not quite the same ....

I talked Jason into trying the pork knuckle, which is nothing we would want to find on a menu at home, but is apparently popular in Bavaria. I had read raves about it online, and figured Jason would love it. The group of young Americans at the table next to us highly recommended it too. Surprisingly, Jason thought it was just okay. The Augustiner beer was a hit, though. Zachary enjoyed his Wiener schnitzel ... again. By the fifth day in Germany, I was ready for something a little lighter, so I had some cheese spread and bread. Meh. I would have paid $15 for just a small bowl of yogurt and fruit at that point!

Because two beer houses in Bavaria still isn't enough, Jason also did a brewery tour at the Paulaner Bräuhaus. The rest of the group in his guided tour were high schoolers, ironically.

The tour was in German but the guide was kind enough to translate the most interesting parts for him. At the end of the tour they were given not just a beer tasting, but a full lunch. The main dish was Leberkäse, which literally translates to "liver cheese" but it's a type of German meatloaf that tastes like bologna. On the side were German potatoes and pretzels, of course.

While I'm not a beer lover myself, I certainly appreciate the traditions of the Bavarians and their beer. It's an extremely important part of their culture, and a must-try while in the area.

There are other things in Munich besides beer, believe it or not. I'll share a few with you in my next update. Until then, check out my new Travel page for details about some of our other favorite vacation destinations.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Slap a pretty name on it and mark it up $200

Price discrepancies drive me batty. Have you ever noticed that sometimes things get marked up just so they can later be "discounted"? I have heard this happens in groceries or retail stores sometimes.

Tonight I was browsing Joss & Main after receiving an email advertising the Brooklyn Limestone Curator's Collection. I was scrolling through her recommended products when I came across the "Leighton Stool."
Leighton Stool
A set of 2 was priced at $327.90. Funny thing is that I bought these same stools (with a long, technical name) for only $130.32 via Amazon in May 2012. Granted, mine were 24 inches and these are 30 inches. However, the 30-inch stools are regularly sold all over the internet for around $130 too.

 Here they are in my kitchen:

Photo by Whitney Neal Photography
Now just because they are given a designer name rather than an industrial name, they are being sold for $200 more. And they were sold out less than 30 minutes after I received the email in my inbox.

I'm sure the people who paid the extra $200 would be furious if they knew. I've come across other products on various "flash sale" sites (never Fab, though) that are also the same price or more than the product can be purchased from other retailers. What's up with that?

Have you experienced this yourself?


P.S. If you're interested, the stools can be found on Amazon. The Wedgewood Blue color in 24" height  are sold out right now, but you can buy the blue in 18", or the Dove Gray in 24" or 30". They also come in Putty (just ask Martha).

Monday, July 8, 2013

5 Reasons Why Dark Walls Work

Do you secretly admire dark walls you see in photos, but chicken out when it comes to your own walls? I think most of us subconsciously believe that rooms should be bright and airy. And we've all heard the myth that dark colors make a room look smaller, so most people avoid dark colors for that reason alone!

In my last post, I revealed the makeover of my powder room with its new almost-black walls. After reading some reader comments and also a blog post from Sarah at Thrifty Decor Chic about whether to go dark or light in her bedroom, I thought I'd share with you five reasons to give dark walls a try.

via Design Sponge

1. Dark walls mask the size of small rooms

Ignore the myth that dark colors make walls feel like they're closing in on you. Rather, they help boundaries recede. When the walls are light, you can see all the angles and just where each corner ends in a room. You get a true sense of how big (or small) the room is. When the walls are dark, it's harder to see those lines. Instead, the boundaries are blurred and therefore a room's size isn't the focus. To take it even further, paint the trimwork and maybe even the ceiling the same color as the walls. Talk about blurring the lines!

Lewis Interiors

2. Dark walls complement rooms with little natural light

Rooms bathed in light look great with light colored walls. The sunshine bounces around and the whole space feels shiny and happy. On the flip side, rooms with little to no natural sun can make light-colored walls look dreary. It's true! Even the whitest of walls in a shaded room can look dull. If you can't beat it, join the dark side! This is something I finally learned in the past year fighting with the lack of natural light in my living room. It's not the medium-toned paint and the wood floors and the black sofa making the room dark ... it's the lack of sunlight. Instead of unsuccessfully trying to overcompensate, we should embrace the inherent moodiness of dark spaces. (That's why I'm trying to convince Jason to let me paint it navy!)

Basements are another great example. Unless you have a walkout that gets tons of sun, you may as well stop trying to make that light beige work. It's never going to feel right. How about a brown grasscloth instead?

Richard Ostell

3. Dark walls help a room feel cozy

I love the chocolate brown walls in my master bedroom. They help the space feel enveloping and soothing. Dens and home libraries are a great place to go dark, too. You're supposed to feel relaxed and cocoon-like in those rooms.

You can also bring a room down to scale. Large living rooms can sometimes feel cavernous, but a dark wall color can bring in a more intimate feeling, helping people feel comfortable.

Jackie Astier

4. Dark walls can create drama, sophistication and elegance

If you like drama but don't have a big budget, dark walls can instantly turn things up a few notches. It's like a little black dress. Even the most plain of rooms is taken upscale with dark walls. Dark colors are inherently more sophisticated, and are often used in high-end decorating.

Sometimes trimwork is left white to contrast against the dark walls, or sometimes the trimwork is painted out to match the walls. I love both looks, and they each have their uses.

47 Park Avenue blog

5. Dark walls make colors pop

White walls are most commonly found in art galleries, because they create a plain, background so the artwork can stand out. Dark walls can do the same thing for brightly colored art, accessories, and furniture. Grays, blacks, browns, and navys read as neutral when used on the wall, and look great paired with whites, yellows, reds, bright blues, corals, and the list goes on and on. Dark walls give bright colors an extra oomph., but they add an extra oomph.


What do you think? Do you have any rooms that need a dose of darkness? Or have you already taken the plunge?


Friday, July 5, 2013

House Tour: Powder room in coal

I'm a bit obsessed with black and white these days. My favorite combo has made it into my powder room, which has given the small space a dose of oomph.

Out with the beachy blue and in with a sophisticated coal color (almost-black). It was quite a shock when I first started painting, but I knew it was a move in the right direction.

I would love to hang wallpaper in there, because it can make a tiny room feel like a jewel box. But even with minimal square footage (the room is only 3 feet wide and less than 7 feet long), it wasn't in the budget. My spending money these days is prioritized to camera gear, so I decided to go bold with color in lieu of a more costly bold patterned wallpaper.

The two paint colors I considered were navy and black. Either would have been amazing, but black ultimately won out, because it ties in with the living room and kitchen, which are the other two rooms most of my guests see.

Along with the wall color, I changed out the towel to a black and white striped fouta. I ditched the Method-branded soap for a classic designed pump in black. And the light fixture I chose when the house was being built was switched out for a classic schoolhouse fixture. Ahh ... much better.

I'm a minimalist, so while the sink could probably tolerate another decorative item, I don't know that I could. If something speaks to me, maybe I'll try it out.

When you open the powder room door from the hallway, the sink is to the right and the toilet is to the left. The artwork I had hanging above the toilet was something left over from our last house. It was never me, but since I rarely use the powder room myself, I hardly ever thought about it. Once I decided to go with black walls to contrast against the white fixtures and medicine cabinet, I decided to continue the color scheme in the artwork.

Remember me telling you about my very own buffalo print several months ago? This is the room I selected it for! It's definitely much more impactful than what hung on the wall before.

For women, the buffalo will be a surprise when they walk in the powder room. I mean, who expects to see that face in a small room? Or any room, really? But for the men who have to stare at it, it might be a little creepy. I'm not afraid of being creepy.

The only bad thing is that my friend Buffy is a bit lonely in the powder room, since it's not exactly a place where people spend a lot of time. While I love the impact she/he has in the room, I might have to move her permanently to a more trafficked location. Because I want to see her/him more often!

Have you made any odd decor choices lately? Or completely changed your color scheme? If budget were no object, I would change things monthly because I'm constantly wooed by new things. But I think the coal color in the bathroom will stick around a while.

Two other blue rooms in our house are our master bathroom and the laundry room. They are both on my radar for a makeover, and I think the laundry room will win out. I've got a unique pattern in mind for the walls but it will take some work to come up with the design, so I might procrastinate on that for a while!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Vacationing in Germany: Nuremberg, sorry we didn't stay long

Today I finally got around to photographing a couple not-so-recent projects that I promised to show you a long time ago. While I work on editing those photos, here's another vacation recap. If you've missed my vacation updates, so far we've visited Marksburg Castle along the Rhine RiverHeidelberg, and Rothenburg, the medieval walled city.

After wrapping up our visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber on the third morning of our trip, we were ready to head to Munich, which was to be our home base for the next several days. Rather than traveling south along the Romantic Road, we headed east to stop in Nuremberg along the way. Nuremberg is the second-largest city in Bavaria, behind Munich. It's a juxtaposition of the old and new, for sure.

Our main destination was the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelaende (DocuZentrum for short). In English, it's the Documentation Center and Nazi Party Rally Grounds. On the land where the Nazis drew nearly a million people to rallies between 1933 and 1938 now sits the museum, built in the unfinished remains of the Congress Hall, which Hitler intended to use as the congress center for the Nazi party.

At the entrance to the building, a glass and steel passageway spears through the concrete facade. This was intended by the architect as a pun on the name of chief Nazi architect Albert Speer, who had devised the plans for the rally grounds.

This is what Albert Speer designed the Congress Hall to look like. The facade was modeled after the Roman Colisseum. It was to have an expansive roof and would have seated 50,000 spectators.

Congress Hall was never completed. One wing is used for the DocuZentrum, and the rest is preserved as a reminder of the dangers of National Socialism. Here's what the interior shell looks like today:

Also on the property were parade grounds, grandstands, a field for military exercises, and a stadium to hold 400,000 people.

The museum itself features the permanent exhibition "Fascination and Terror." Rather than focusing on the Holocaust itself, the DocuZentrum chronicles the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. If you've ever wondered how a megalomaniac like Adolf Hitler could convince so many people to follow him, and even why they adored him so, this museum is a great visit.

The exhibits are displayed in German, but there are free audio guides in several languages which explain each exhibit. The most memorable part for me was the photo below, depicting the thousands of people who attended one of the Nazi party rallies on the property.

That is a lot of brainwashed people, folks. They truly believed Hitler was a savior for their nation, which had been in a severe depression after World War I. It's crazy to think all this started just 80 years ago.

From a design standpoint, the interior of the DocuZentrum itself impressed me in the way they married the old brick structure with the modern steel and glass.

Before we left, I had to take a restroom break. I had to share this silly observation with you because it was the first of many of these that I spied in German restrooms.

Yep, it's your own personal toilet brush. I have no idea if individuals are meant to use it, or whether it's just easier for the maintenance crew if there is already a brush inside each stall. Anybody know more about this phenomenon? And, yes, I did take a photograph inside a toilet stall. I'm a weirdo.

After we left the DocuZentrum, we drove (in the rain, of course) to the walled Altstadt (old town) in the center of the city. Jason had been excited to stop by a beer festival going on at the foot of the castle, and I wanted to try a Lebkuchen, which is a traditional German cookie that originated in Nuremberg. I hear it's similar to gingerbread. I had also been lured by photos like the one below.


Unfortunately the experience of driving into the old town ... in the rain ... with German signs ... and not knowing exactly where we were going ... and Jason driving a stick shift ... and nowhere to park ... and the parking garage being way too tight to navigate ... did not bode well for our visit to the Altstadt. Jason got so frustrated that we ended up turning around and heading toward the highway to Munich. No beer, no Lebkuchen, no quaint German buildings. I was really bummed, but the weather just wasn't cooperating for a nice walk and lovely photos anyway. On the way to the highway, our Garmin GPS led us along a most inconvenient route, which led to our frustration, but once we finally reached the Autobahn again, we were headed south to the land of beer halls.

Next up in our vacation recaps is Munich. Stick around!

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