Sunday, September 28, 2014

Oktoberfest, Richmond-style

The end of September brings a bevy of festivals and events to Richmond, not least among these St. Benedict Catholic Church's Oktoberfest celebrations.  Last weekend marked their 10th annual Oktoberfest in which they remember the German heritage of Richmond with traditional Bavarian polka, dancers, food, and of course, beer!

The Low'n'Brows German Band
The festival takes place in the large parking lot and adjacent streets around St Benedict's in the Museum district of Richmond from Friday through Sunday on the same first weekend of Munich's Oktoberfest.  We chose to visit on that Sunday with my mother-in-law, herself an immigrant from northern Bavaria, when the crowds were smaller and more family friendly.  The strains of an accordion tiptoeing through the notes of polka music and the sight of Bavarian flags dancing in the breeze greeted us as we arrived.  Entry is free of charge, so we walked right on in!

The bierzelt dominated the parking lot and housed the musicians and plenty of blue and white checkered tables for beer drinkers and sausage eaters to enjoy the atmosphere in the shade.  Although we did not partake in the beer that day, we were happy to see many familiar beers both from Germany and from local breweries on tap: Franziskaner's Hefe-Weisse, Original Munchner's Helles Lager, Oktoberfest Marzen Lager, Midnight Brewery's New Beginning Koelsch, and Hardywood's RVA IPA, just to name a few.  The food tents also evoked pleasant memories of all our visits to Germany: large pretzels, various wurst (sausage), kartoffelsalat (potato salad), and the sharp, delicious smell of sauerkraut.  And there was plenty of Lebkuchenherzen (a traditional gingerbread cookie in the shape of a heart) for sale in the market section of the festival!

By far, the highlight of our afternoon was watching the Schuhplattler dancers.  Schuhplattler is a traditional dance from Upper Bavaria (the southern, alpine portion of the state) which features knee-slapping, thigh-thumping, foot-stomping men in lederhosen and alpine hats, accompanied by a few dirndl-wearing ladies to soften the overall performance.

(Video from YouTube and not of the St Benedict Schuhplattler dancers themselves)

We couldn't get enough of these dancers and wish they could have danced through the entirety of the afternoon!  Between the dancers, the frequent refrains of Ein Prosit, and a few platefuls of wurst, German chocolate cake, and pretzels, our pining for Germany was slightly alleviated and inspired us to start researching a return trip to our European home!


Next month the Richmond Oktoberfest Committee will be presenting their 46th Annual Oktoberfest celebrations at the Richmond International Raceway!  According to their website, they draw large crowds on both their Friday and Saturday night celebrations.  Will I see you there?!

Have you been to the Oktoberfest in Munich?  Does your hometown host Oktoberfest celebrations like this one?

Linking up with A Southern Gypsy for #WeekendWanderlust and...

...with Chasing the Donkey for #SundayTraveler!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Price of War - Stuttgart's Birkenkopf

War is a terrible thing.  Whether justified, unprovoked, for religious or for political reasons, war is a very terrible, yet unfortunately common thing.

In an effort to remember the fallen and also as a reminder to make war the last resort, monuments and memorials are prevalent in the western world.  I can think of several dozen just here in the Richmond-metro area, yet perhaps one of the most interesting monuments I've ever visited was the Birkenkopf just outside of Stuttgart, Germany.

View of Stuttgart from the Birkenkopf.
Measuring at 511 meters and easily the highest point in the area, the Birkenkopf (roughly translated as "birch head" probably due to the trees) differs from other hills in that it is not wholly natural.  The Birkenkopf grew nearly 40 meters in height after World War II when the rubble from Stuttgart was carted to the top of the hill.  Allied bombers destroyed 45% of the city (including almost all the city center), necessitating reconstruction after the war.  As one walks around the summit, you can see the remnants of beautiful carvings, plumbing, columns, and other indicators that the rubble once adorned more than just a hillside.

A cross marks the highest point of Birkenkopf, and a plaque stands by with the admonition: "This mountain piled up after World War II from the rubble of the city stands as a memorial to the victims and a warning to the living."  (translation)

The walk up to the summit is not arduous and affords wonderful views of Stuttgart.  On clear days, you can even see as far west as the Black Forest.  Although not the biggest attraction in Stuttgart, the Birkenkopf touched me with its solemnity and insight into the brick-and-mortar price of war. 

Have you visited the Birkenkopf?  What monuments or memorials have you visited that moved you?

Linking up with Bonnie and other travel bloggers for #TravelTuesday!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

How To Get Kicked Out of the Vatican!

This post is dedicated to all the unbelievably oblivious tourists attempting to visit the Vatican when we were there in July.  May your ignorance, rudeness, and obtuseness know no end, amen.*

How To Get Kicked Out or Denied Entry to the Vatican
In Three Simple Steps!

1.  Bring your multi-tool, kitchen scissors, pepper spray, or your spray paint!  I know you think it'd be funny to show off your Swiss Army knife to the Swiss guards, but I'm sure that joke has lost its touch on them by now.  Attempting to bring a weapon of any type into the Vatican is strictly prohibited and doing so could win you a free trip to the Vatican jail.  Now that would be an interesting stamp in your passport!  But if you forgot to pack the machete in your luggage, proceed to step two.
2.  Wear your best street-walking outfit.  That's right, ladies; if you got it, flaunt it.  Work what your Maker gave you!  Bare those shoulders and show off those upper thighs.  You might get a few glances before you're given directions to the red-light district.  And don't think you're off the hook, gentlemen.  Wearing a t-shirt with "F--- You" written on it might give you street cred, but it's not going to fly when it comes to the Vatican.  The Swiss Guards will be eager to give you a finger of their own... as they point the way to the door.  Oh, and they don't perform their wardrobe checks until after you've stood in line for security, so the last laugh is theirs, bro!  But if you're fresh out of inappropriate or profane clothing, never fear - there's still one more way you could get yourself kicked out.  Proceed to step three.

Yep. That'll do it.
3.  Break out into a raucous rendition of "Wrecking Ball" accompanied by your best imitation of the music video.  Preferably stage yourself right in front of the high altar for full blasphemous effect.  Or if you're not into Miley, I'm sure Beyonce, Katy Perry, and Eminem would be equally inappropriate as disruptions are sure to give you a fast-track ticket for eviction.  I'm sure they wouldn't frown upon a good Gregorian chant or a recitation of the Lord's Prayer, but if you can't remember any of the Latin you learned in middle school, just start humming sanctimoniously.

Bonus Tip:  How to Anger Your Fellow Tourists!
Cut in line!  Yes, that's right - if you're looking to anger, infuriate, aggravate, provoke and enrage your otherwise civilized fellow tourist, just stand to the inside of the line waiting to get into the Basilica as you pose for a photo with St Peter's behind you.  Then just keep inching towards the line and act as if you'd been there the whole time.  Line cutting is the perfect behavior for visiting the capitol of the largest Christian organization in the world!  Oh, and to absolve yourself from any misplaced guilt you may have about not waiting your turn at the back of the line, pretend you don't understand any of the muttered complaints uttered in every language known to man by the people you just gypped.  Just act like you only understand Klingon, smile banally, and go on with your line-cutting ways.

Have you ever witnessed inappropriate behavior like this?

*In case you aren't familiar with my humor (you should see what I wrote about Italy's Public Transportation System!), this is a very tongue-in-cheek approach to describe our visit to the Vatican.  These things did and do happen to varying degrees.  However, we had an absolute blast at the Vatican, and a more upbeat and "serious" post about our visit will hit the blogosphere in the future!

Linking up with Chasing the Donkey for #SundayTraveler!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Lake Victoria, Uganda (2007)

This photo (which unfortunately is rather grainy as I lost all originals when my college laptop died) is a view of Lake Victoria in Uganda.

For better pictures of Uganda, you could check out Crane Media's Facebook page, particularly this photo.