Oktoberfest!

Many years ago, I was in the South of France in early October and I had the good idea of traveling to Munich for Oktoberfest. Sadly, the Germans were not as rational as I had assumed: and Oktoberfest is in September.

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This time I knew better and planned to travel to Munich just in time for the festival’s opening, and to meet my friend Katja, who lives there. You might remember seeing her in Malawi, in the role of Angelina Jolie. I am obviously posting this with weeks of delay, but as they say, better late than never.

On opening day, the brewers who own the various tents of Oktoberfest parade down the streets with barrels on horse-drawn carriages. The weather was fine, but it started pouring hard just before the parade and the weather cleared-up right after. I took almost no pictures.

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Luckily, the next day there was an even bigger parade, the Costume and Riflemen’s Parade, where more than 7,000 people march over 7 km dressed in costumes representing the history and traditions of Bavaria and neighbouring areas and countries.

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It is a massive affair with dozens of bands.

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People on horses.

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People in carriages. Continue reading

Innsbruck: Palaces, winter sports and beer vending machines.

After Venice, I needed a place to spend a day before reaching Munich in time for Oktoberfest. Innsbruck was on the way, and although I knew nothing about it other than the fact people ski there, I just went.

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Located in the Inn Valley, the capital of Tyrol has a population of about 125,000 people and is surrounded by the Karwendel Alps on both sides, which gives it rather spectacular urban landscapes.

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For example, the evening view from my hotel room.

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To me there is nothing special about this architecture, but does nature ever add to the picture.

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If you want to explore the mountains, you can save yourself from a big climb and take this funicular railway, the Hungerburgbahn, which takes you up almost 300 m in about 8 minutes, straight from the centre of town. It arrives in the district of Hungerburg, from where countless hiking trails head off in all directions. Alternatively, you can then take a series of cable cars all the way to Hafelekar, at 2256 m. But I was only there for an overnight transit, so I only had the time to walk around a little. Continue reading

In Venice there are no streets. We all know it, but it’s still pretty cool to see.

Needless to say, Venice is a very unique city; all islands and canals. I had been as a kid, but I decided to go again. I was very happy I made the decision and I couldn’t help being amazed when standing on the Constitution Bridge.

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On one side, busy roads and a bus station, with a giant multi-story parking building next to it. A hub of ground transportation.

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Turn around, and all manners of ground transportation disappear. No buses, no cars, no bicycles, nothing. Quite striking. At this point, those very familiar with the area will realize I am lying, because the building on the left is a train station. But right after the train station everything I wrote becomes true, so you get the idea.

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There are a lot of tourists in Venice. I read very different numbers, ranging from 15 to 29 million a year. With a population of under 60,000, this means that on most days – and certainly in high season – tourists outnumber residents. In this area, they probably outnumber them 25 to 1.

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And this brings all the disadvantages of mass tourism, from bad, overpriced restaurants to petty crime. But what worried me the most was that I would only find a dead city, like Kotor or Dubrovnik, which I visited recently. Places where cruise ship tourism has completely displaced normal life and transformed the old towns into amusement park attractions. This is something many Venice residents fear and the process is certainly under way. But, much to my satisfaction, I found there is still Venice in Venice.

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While the resident population has declined over the decades, you still see the lively mix of tourists and residents, with the deck of the vaporetto filled with standing tourists excited by the idea of cruising on the canal, and the interior seating filled with bored people using public transportation to get home after work. Continue reading