One of the (many) perks to living in Italy is that you also get to live in Europe, a place where it is possible to pay a very reasonable price for a plane ticket, which takes you to a completely different country, all in no time at all. Coming from the U.S -- a country so massive that traveling from one state to another is an endeavor and there are even time differences between states -- the beauty of this is not lost on me. Perfect example: one can go from sipping red wine and eating a plate of bucatini all'amatriciana in Rome's pleasantly warm autumn weather to drinking beer and ordering over-sized pretzels in the winter-is-coming chill of Munich, Germany in just a mere few hours -- which is exactly what my sister and I along with my cousin Dylan and his wife Katie did last week.

First things first! Dylan is hands down my favorite cousin, one who I spent much of my childhood with, and was even with me when I made my first ever trip to Italy back in 2003. He is incredibly important to both me and my sister, and by extension, so is his lovely wife, Katie (you may remember their wedding in New Orleans last year). Therefore, their visit to Europe (two days in Rome, then our mini trip to Munich) was highly anticipated. I won't go too much in to their time in the Eternal City, as I brought them to all my favorite places (which have already been discussed here and here and here) but rest assured we gave them the usual grand culinary tour; as you can see from the below, we had a pretty good time.
Colosseum admired, wine tasted, and pasta consumed, we headed to Munich, the second leg of our trip, selected for its Christmas-y atmosphere, its beer, and the fact that neither Dylan or Katie had ever seen Germany. With no further ado, here are the highlights of our trip -- all can be considered as highly recommended if you too are making a trip there soon yourself. 

Lucky for me, Dylan and Katie have the same approach to travel that my sister and I have, or rather: that eating as much of the local food as possible, in the best places possible, is the most important part of the trip. We were all eager to try Bavarian cuisine, and so first up, we headed to Löwenbräukeller, a no-nonense restaurant serving purely Bavarian food. To best sum up Bavarian food, I've stolen a quote from this delightful article at Everywhereist, which describes it as food that "doesn't f*ck around...Bavarian food is rich and doughy and filling and is the only thing on the planet that can soak up German beer. It is a monster truck. It crumples the delicate-by-comparison culinary offerings of Spain, Italy, and France like tiny little Fiats and Peugots in its path." Ehem. Intrigued and up for the challenge, we found out the article was exactly right, in the best of ways -- the dishes we ordered were unapologetic-ally heavy, meaty, and everything we had dreamed they would  be. We (very ambitiously) ordered a sausage and cheese plate, followed by superbly crisp schnitzel served with buttery potatoes; fork-tender slow cooked beef and vegetables; stick-to-your-ribs goulash and spaetzle; and the star of the show, wisely selected by Dylan: pork knuckle with potato dumplings. The pork was braised and tender on the inside and perfectly crisp on the outside, served in a deeply flavorful gravy, accompanied by cloud-like dumplings on the side. It was the farthest away from light eating that one could get, and we loved every bite of it. Off to a good start!

After a walk around the city to help to digest our caveman-sized lunch, we headed to Hofbräuhaus, arguably the most famous biergarten in Munich. I'll be upfront here: I'm not much of a beer drinker myself (okay, okay, I only drink Prosecco, alright!) but I DO love pretzels (more about my pretzel obsession here) and so I had no complaints about our second stop. The beer hall was pretty impressive; it was enormous, for starters, packed with locals and tourists alike, and every 20 minutes or so a band would burst in to song. And the beer! The beer at Hofbräuhaus is served by the liter (not joking--see photos below) and in keeping with this theme the pretzels, too, were larger than life, bigger than our faces, fluffy, and fresh, and expertly salted, served out of massive baskets by the passing waitresses, who, of course, were dressed in leiderhosen. Pretzels, beer, and good company? Check check and check.

On our second day in Munich, we decided to temper our Bavarian-food-fest-of-a-vacation with a little culture and history, and headed to the city of Füssen (two hours outside Munich by train) to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle, the former residence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The castle (completed all the way back in 1869) has an interesting history; in 1866 Bavaria, allied with Austria, had lost a war against the expanding Prussia. As a result, King Ludwig lost his right to dispose over his army in case of war, and so from 1866, Ludwig II was no longer a sovereign ruler. In 1867 he began planning his own kingdom, in the form of his castles and palaces, where he could be a real king, earning him the nickname the "fairy tale King," as technically, he didn't have so much power, (and, apparently, wasn't so good at facing reality). After a 30 minute (apple strudel fueled) walk up the mountain leading to the castle -- the other options were horse and carriage or bus, if you're not up for the hike -- we took a short guided tour (no photos allowed, sorry!) and admired the view before hopping on the (very picturesque) train ride back to Munich. A little trivia, and in keeping with the fairy-tale theme: Neuschwanstein Castle was what Walt Disney based Disney World's Magic Kingdom on (you can certainly see the similarities). 

You might be experiencing a little deja vu here -- if you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll remember our friend Rachel, the most talented of all the sopranos ever, from this post here, and this one, and this one, and most recently, this post from just a month ago, where we went to see her sing Il Trovatore in Torino. Yes -- we pretty much travel wherever she's singing, and our trip to Munich was no exception. After coming back from our trip to the castle, we dashed off to the Bayerische Staatstoper to see Rachel sing in Les Vespres Siciliennes, an opera by Giuseppe Verdi first performed in Paris in 1855 (more on the typically dramatic, operatic plot here). Rachel was, as per usual, phenomenal -- HER VOICE, YOU GUYS! -- and sang the role of Helene. Singing Helene, we learned, requires incredible range, with notes soaring to high C and then back down to low F, which Rachel, true to form, pulled off effortlessly. She spent almost all of the 2.5 hours of the opera on stage (stamina!) and managed some pretty crazy costumes with grace. All of us were, in short, in awe of her performance, and though I didn't manage to film any of the opera (the rules in this opera house were pretty strict) you can see some footage of her singing here. Bravissima!!!

There's nothing I like more than a good farmers market (so much good food! all in one place!) and when we heard that Munich was home to an impressive, 200+ year old farmers market we knew that we needed to check it out. The Viktualienmarkt, located in the city's old town (Alstadt) actually was first constructed in the city's main square, Marienplatz, but quickly outgrew the space, so much so that it was moved moved to this nearby square in 1807, making it the oldest farmers market in Munich. And what a market it was! The Viktualienmarkt is a paradise, selling all sorts of fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, sausages, and seafood, not to mention freshly baked bread, pastries, honey, spices, and even flowers. The market has range, too apparently -- it also contains a biergarten, and around Christmastime, transforms into one of Germany's favorite Christmas markets, selling potential holiday gifts in addition to all of its wonderful food. While there, we picked up some German cheeses to bring home, plus bratwurst for lunch, served with lots of yellow mustard on a freshly baked roll, as bratwurst should be (my stomach is rumbling as I write this -- you too?) Interesting fact: The market was severely damaged during WWII, but thanks to donations from the public, was thankfully rebuilt. 

Remember what I said in the first section of this post, on lunch? About how Bavarian food is on the heavier side, and proud of it?! It turns out the same applies to Bavarian pastries -- ladies and gentleman, I give you schmalznudel which, in addition to being one of the funniest words I've ever learned, is a pastry that is more fried than fried, unabashedly fried, crisp and addictive and donut-like, but better, if you can imagine that. We sampled these at the aptly named Cafe Schmalznudeln (if they're naming their cafe after a pastry, you know they must be good) where they were served up hot out of the fryer (we could see them being fried to order as we walked in) and sprinkled with a good dose of sugar. We also tried a rohrnudel which was a lighter than the schmalznudel, a puffy, bready pastry stuffed with cinnamon scented jam. They both went perfectly alongside mugs of hot chocolate and tea, and were the perfect German send off before our trip back to Rome that day. Swoon.
And just like that our time in Munich was up! I can't say enough how much fun it was to spend time with Dylan and Katie, so much so that there has already been talk of another trip in November 2019 -- potentially to Costa Rica?! -- plus a mini trip to New Orleans in the works for next month. In the meantime, here's a few more photos of Munich, featuring not only the city but so-called drinking chocolate, a delightful sort of DIY hot chocolate we found all over the city. I'll be back soon with some Christmas-y recipes for you all! Have a good week everyone!