Month: May 2022

A personal tour of Nürnberg…

Last year I attended the AWS Nürnberg Meetup Group (via Zoom) and learned a couple things: 1) Nürnberg = Nuremberg, which I had previously naively thought was an entirely separate city 😂; 2) despite being technically located in Bavaria, Nürnbergers do NOT think of themselves as Bavarian but rather Franconian; and 3) the folks there are incredibly friendly. The organiser of the AWS group is Frank, and when I mentioned that I’d like to visit his city someday, he said to let him know and he’d give us a personal tour. But nobody actually means things like that when they say it, right?

Train to Nürnberg

At any rate, two weeks after we got home from Vienna we boarded a Friday evening train to Nürnberg. It’s a very fast trip from Munich (less than 90min) so we were there well before the sun set.

Willkommen Familie Snook

Um, how cute is that? We had booked a room at Hotel Elch (Elk), which looked to be pretty centrally located to everything we wanted to see. Our room was on the very top floor, right underneath the roof, and without an elevator it was a decent hike up maybe 4 flights of stairs. That’s what you get when you stay in a heritage building.


Frank had given us a tip to make sure to come on a weekend with nice weather. We’d timed it well and the forecast was nothing but blue skies. We dropped our stuff and went for a wander. The center of Nürnberg feels very medieval with its cobbled streets, city walls, and castle looming up on the ridge. Our first destination was the Hausbrauerei Altstadthof, which is the starting point of the Historische Felsengänge tour.

On the tour

There were only a few of us on the tour. The guide was a friendly older local guy who spoke only German, so the Snook and I were offered electronic devices where we could punch in numbers at each stop and hear an explanation in English.

Entry to the Felsengänge

Felsengänge means “rock passages” and refers to the extensive system of tunnels and cellars carved into the rock beneath Nürnberg. While there are many access points around the city, the main tourist entrance is in Albrecht-Dürer-Platz, right next to the statue of the famous local artist and facing St. Sebaldus Church. We went down the stairs and our guide unlocked the heavy door and ushered us inside.


The tunnels were built from the 14th century onwards and were mainly used in the brewing of beer. At one point, Nürnberg had more than 40 breweries based in the city, and each had a rock cellar for fermenting and storing their beer. The tunnels were eventually joined up and they were used during World War 2 as bomb shelters for the locals and to store precious art as well. Some of the connecting tunnels are pretty small (I had to hunch not to hit my head) so definitely this isn’t a tour for someone with claustrophobia.

Rock cellars

There were various stops along the way as we learned about the city, its history of beer making, and how the tunnels were used. We also learned about the Reinheitsgebot, the famous German beer purity law that was adopted across Bavaria in 1516.


There were also some informational exhibits along the way. Many showed medieval manuscripts with illustrations of monks brewing beer, often with a six-pointed star dangling above the pot. Our guide explained that it had nothing to do with Judaism, but instead was known as the Brewer’s Star meant to ward off fires and bad spirits.

Brewer’s star

The cellars were dug very deep, up to 4 stories in places. However over the years some of them were altered or destroyed, and so changes have been made to conserve them. Our guide told us how in this vault, there are columns, beams, and support rods holding the walls and ceiling to ensure they don’t collapse.

Deep cellars

We also learned how ice was cut from lakes and transported to the cellars in the winter, where it would slowly melt over the summer and keep the tunnels cool enough for the beer fermentation. The sandstone also filtered groundwater, and we saw examples of primitive “pipes” made from bored-out logs that were used to transport the water.

Towards the end of the tour I jokingly asked the guide if there were any “Geister” (ghosts) down there. “Oh yes!” he answered. 😳


The tour ends back up at ground level where you are offered a sample of the famous local Rotbier (red beer) from the Altstadthof brewery.


There’s also a distillery associated with the brewery, so we heard a bit about the process of making whisky and got to step inside one of the storerooms full of barrels. It smelled amazing. Needless to say, the Snook was in heaven.

After the tour, I had taken Frank’s advice and booked us in for dinner at the Brewery. We enjoyed some fine Franconian fare and sampled more of the beer…

Dinner at Altstadthof Brauerei

…and even a bit of their Bierbrand, which is distilled from beer itself. It’s similar to whisky but not exactly the same.


We decided to burn off some of those calories with a nighttime stroll around the city. We headed first to the castle with its dramatically lit walls and battlements.

From the castle we walked south down Burgstraße towards the Altes Rathaus (old city hall).

Altes Rathaus

It stands directly behind St. Sebaldus Church.

St. Sebaldus Church

We continued on to the Hauptmarkt, the big public square where the world famous Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas market) is held each year. One of the attractions in the square is the Schöner Brunnen (beautiful fountain).

Schöner Brunnen

Nearby is the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), which we would discover the next day has a very famous clock.


The river that flows through Nürnberg is the Pegnitz, and we crossed over the Museumsbrücke on our walk. From one side we could see the Fleischbrücke, a late Renaissance bridge that has stood for more than 400 years. On the other side we had a view of the Heilig-Geist-Spital built over the river. It was originally a hospital and now it’s an old folks’ home.

We headed back towards our hotel. Along the way we passed by St. Sebaldus Church again, this time from the front. St. Sebaldus is the patron saint of Nürnberg.

St. Sebaldus Church

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Vienna waits for you… 🎵

As soon as we got back from Madrid back in March, we dumped the suitcases, did a couple quick loads of laundry, and repacked everything again. 24 hours later we were on the train to Vienna. Time to continue our Habsburg week!

Train to Vienna

We caught the RJX 261 from Munich to Vienna, which takes about 4 hours. Since it was dinnertime, we used the train app to order food from the dining car and it was delivered to our seats. I couldn’t resist tweeting it to @_DiningCar.

Once we arrived at Vienna, we caught a cab to our hotel and then crashed for the night. The next morning, we wandered around the corner to phil (a bookstore and cafe) for breakfast.

phil in Vienna

My friend Eileen calls Vienna “the Melbourne of Europe,” and yeah, I can see it. I went for the brekkie option that came with a glass of Prosecco.

Breakfast at phil

We were staying in the Museum Quarter of Vienna, and I spotted this graffiti nearby: “Man tötet nicht aus Liebe.” (One does not kill for love.) This saying has been used a lot in conjunction with an Austrian campaign against domestic violence.

Man tötet nicht aus Liebe

I also really liked this nearby intersection, with its rainbow pedestrian crossing and LGBTQI street signals. 🏳️‍🌈❤️

Street crossing

Our goal for the morning was to see some art, so we headed to the nearby Maria-Theresien-Platz. This public square sits between the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum). In the center there is a memorial statue of Empress Maria Theresa herself. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day in Wien!


We bought our tickets and headed into the Art History Museum. It turns out that Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary commissioned these two museums to house the Habsburgs’ formidable art collection.

Kunsthistorisches Museum

The entry to the Museum leads you into the ground floor of the Rotunda with its fantastically decorated ceiling. From there you can branch off into several different galleries.


We headed to the right into the Egyptian Collection. It was pretty much exactly what you envision as a kid – hieroglyphics on the walls, huge carved sarcophagi, and mummies in their painted coffins.


“Do you want to get cursed?” the Snook asked as I posed for a selfie with some burial idols. “Because I’m pretty sure that’s how you get an ancient Egyptian curse.”

Cat idols and sculptures

I especially liked this statuette of a hippopotamus from Thebes. They’ve dated it to around 2000BC, so this little guy is like 4000 years old.


Next we headed to the Greek and Roman antiquities. Hello, butts. 🍑 This is the rear view of the Torso des Speerträgers (torso of the spear-carrier).


The building itself is a work of art, extravagantly decorated and carved.

Amazonian Sarcophagus

I especially liked this Amazonian Sarcophagus showing the famous female warriors fighting against the Greeks.

Amazonian Sarcophagus

The collection also includes a Roman mosaic depicting the story of Theseus. His battle with the Minotaur is in the center of the labyrinth, and around the sides are scenes with Ariadne. (The museum has spotlights that periodically turn on to highlight parts of the mosaic, which is why the scenes are lit up.)

Labyrinth Mosaic

A statuesque Mr. Snook, posing in a room full of Roman sculpted heads.

Roman busts and heads

I love the stylised decoration on these Greek amphorae. This one depicts Silenus and the maenads, as well as more Amazons.


Another part of the museum is the “Kunstkammer” which houses its most fabulous treasures. This is the famous gold Cellini Salt Cellar from 1543, which was stolen in a daring heist in 2003 and not recovered until three years later. It’s insured now for like $60M.

Cellini Salt Cellar

Time to look at paintings! We headed up the staircase, which is ridiculously over-the-top and features paintings from famous artists like Gustav Klimt.


We’d been going for over three hours at this point, so I was feeling a little tired and had a rest on a bench.

Tired Kris

The collection includes quite a few works by Peter Paul Rubens. This one is “Haupt der Medusa” (Head of Medusa) showing the severed head of Medusa with drops of her blood turning into snakes. 😳

The Head of Medusa

The museum also houses a large number of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the most significant artist of the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance. Here the Snook views “The Tower of Babel.”

The Tower of Babel

We spent nearly five hours in the art museum, so it was definitely time to get outside and see more of Vienna. We walked along the Heldenplatz past the Hofburg Palace (where Marie Antoinette was born!), and through the archway next to the Spanish Riding School.


Our destination was St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the most important religious building in Vienna. It’s nearly 900 years old! I was not expecting the beautiful geometric designs made from glazed tiles on the roof. I’ve never seen anything like that on a church before.

St. Stephen's Cathedral

The interior is also stunning, with paintings, sculptures, altars, and tombs wherever you look. We walked up and down the aisles. The cathedral was nearly destroyed in 1945 by retreating German forces, but the Captain saved it by disobeying orders to reduce it to rubble.

Inside St. Stephen's

We walked all around the exterior of the cathedral too. The towers have many bells, and it’s said that Beethoven discovered he was deaf when he saw birds flying out of the towers but couldn’t hear the tolling.

St. Stephen's Cathedral

Digression: The real reason for going to Vienna was to celebrate my 45th birthday. I had been thinking for a while about getting myself a nice wristwatch. (Not a smartwatch; a real mechanical watch.) I’d bought myself a beautiful Longines watch for my 40th, but a year later I accidentally left it in a hotel room in Singapore and I never got it back. I was heartbroken at the time and, though the Snook suggested repeatedly that we could replace it, I told him that I didn’t deserve nice things if I couldn’t care for them properly. Finally, several years later, I felt like it might be time.

As we walked through Vienna, we looked into several watch shops but I couldn’t find anything that met my requirements. I didn’t want anything too tiny or delicate, or with silly bits of diamonds stuck all over it. I wanted something simple and classic, and ideally I wanted it to be self-winding. What I really wanted was my old watch again, but even though we saw many Longines, I couldn’t find any just like it. The Snook convinced me to check out one more shop, Juweliere Ellert, a jeweler near the cathedral. The saleslady was very nice and showed me many different watches, but none of them were right. She asked me to describe my old watch, and when I did, she suddenly reached back into a cabinet and said, “Is it this one?” IT WAS. It turns out that the particular model had been retired in 2020 but they had one left, and she recognised it from my description. So I got my watch back! She even gave us a nice discount. It was the best, best birthday surprise, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Anyway, after that excitement we were starving so we headed to 1516 Brewing Company for dinner and craft beer.

Dinner at 1515 Brewing Co.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel, past the illuminated Vienna State Opera. I’d love to see a performance there someday.

Vienna State Opera

Back at our hotel, it was finally time to relax. We were staying at Das Tyrol, which I picked mainly because it advertised having a private spa. (We’ve gotten a bit addicted to saunas!) We’d reserved a time slot so we put on our robes and slippies and headed down to the hotel basement. And, WOW.

Hotel spa

It had a Finnish dry sauna, a steam bath, a big rain shower, and some couches to relax on. There was even an aquarium built into the wall! We spent an hour down there, and it was heaven. I highly recommend.

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Tapas and art in Madrid

Our first trip together in 2022! In early March, my boss asked me to come to Madrid for a meeting so it seemed like a good excuse for a weekend in Spain. We headed off a few days early to play tourist…

Flight to Madrid

The morning flight from Madrid featured gorgeous scenery.

Lake from above

We were staying at the Eurostars Madrid Tower, which isn’t close to the city but is close to my office. We were very lucky and the weather was absolutely beautiful. From our hotel room, we could see mountains in the far distance.

View from the hotel

It was lunchtime, so we headed to the nearby Paprika Cafe. It’s a very small place, but the food is outstanding. I had gnocchi with oxtail and truffle, and we shared a piece of cheesecake for dessert. The guy at the cafe told us that the cheesecake had cream, blue, and parmesan cheese, and it wasn’t super sweet. Delicious though.

The Snook had a homemade pastrami sandwich, and he really enjoyed it.

Pastrami sandwich

After a few hours napping and relaxing back at the hotel, we caught the metro into the city. I had booked us into a tour with Walk and Eat Spain, and to our delight, we found we were the only ones on it! So we ended up with our own personal guide, Margit, an American expat who made us feel right at home.

Us and Margit

The tour took us to several venues in Malasańa, a pretty happening part of the city. Our first stop was Mozzare Atelier de Quesos y Lacteos, a cheese shop and wine bar. We had several different local cheeses, including a “mystery” cheese that definitely wasn’t Parmigiano (because of course, that name is protected) but bore a, uh, strong resemblance! 😂🧀

Wine and cheese

It was a beautiful night to wander around Madrid.

Plaza del Rastrillo

Look at this gorgeous fellow.


As we walked through Malasańa, Margit told us about local history and about daily life in Madrid.

El Barto was here!

Our second stop was local vermutería called Pepe y Josefa. We had vermouth (on tap!) and some lovely garlicky green olives.

Vermouth and olives

We also has tostas – toast with tomato puree and thinly sliced jamón ibérico on top.


Our next stop was Bodegas El Maño, which was heaving. Thankfully because of the tour we had a reserved table in the corner.

Bodegas el Maño

We had beers and patatas bravas, which I LOVE. We dunked the hot, crispy potatoes in chili sauce and aioli.

Patatas bravas

The final stop was Bodegas Rivas, where we had seared red tuna with tomato, ginger, and soy sauce. Oh, and more wine. 🍷


What a fun night! We said goodbye to Margit and headed back to the hotel.

Us and Margit

It was another beautiful day the next morning. We had breakfast at the hotel and thankfully weren’t too hungover from the night before.


We caught a cab to the city for our next adventure, a “combo tour” of the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Prado Museum. We headed for the Plaza de Oriente bright and early to find the Monument to Philip IV and meet up with our tour group.

Monument to Philip IV

Our first stop was the Royal Palace of Madrid

Royal Palace of Madrid

Once we went through security, we found ourselves in the Plaza de la Armería. There’s a grand statue of King Charles III of Spain.

King Charles III of Spain

We entered the Palace via the Grand Staircase

Grand Staircase

At the top you’re greeted by the Coat of Arms of Spain. This Palace isn’t just a tourist destination; it’s the official residence of the Spanish royal family! (These days it’s really only used for state ceremonies though.)

Coat of Arms of Madrid

And then you look up, …and WOW. Those ceiling frescoes are by Corrado Giaquinto, and they’re breathtaking.

Ceiling Frescoes

Selfie time!

Ceiling selfie

There’s really only one room of the tour you’re allowed to take photos in, which is this one. Our tour guide mentioned that it’s been used for a lot of state occasions. The carpet is rolled up so it doesn’t get worn down with all the tourists traipsing through, and it also gives a view of that beautiful marble floor. (Our guide spoke to us via little wireless earpieces, which is what the Snook’s wearing there.)

Marble floor

Real tapestries on the walls! Pretty sure she said they came from famous tapestry weavers in Germany.


That’s the point where we went into the parts of the palace you’re not allowed to photograph. And let me tell you – we’ve visited several castles and palaces over the years, and most of them aren’t nearly as luxurious or, well, palatial as I expected. Either the original furnishings are long gone, or the owners ran out of money to complete more than few rooms of their folly. (*cough* LUDWIG) But this one? This one was stunning. Many of the rooms were decorated in a lavish Rococo style, which the Snook found creepy but I absolutely loved. The banqueting hall was mind-blowing. It took us an hour to get through all the different rooms.

At this point, we had a short break before we began the next stage of the tour. The Snook and I used it by soaking up the sun in the Plaza.

The Snook

From the Plaza, you’ve got a lovely look down into the Campo del Moro Gardens.

Campo del Moro Gardens

One last shot of the facade of the Palace against a clear blue sky.

Palace facade

At this point, the combo tour takes you on about an hour’s walk across the city. (If you go directly it’s only about 25 minutes, but our guide wanted to show us some highlights.) We started up the Calle Mayor, one of the most important streets in Madrid.

Calle Mayor

Along the way, we learned about how in 1906 an anarchist tried to assassinate King Alfonso XIII and his new bride Princess Victoria Eugenie as they passed in their wedding carriage. The King and Queen survived, but others did not. Now there’s a memorial in front of the Monastery of San Jerónimo.


This is the Casa de la Villa (old city hall) in the Plaza de la Villa in the Palacio neighbourhood.

Plaza de la Villa

Off the Plaza, our tour guide made a special point of taking us to Calle del Codo. This is a very narrow street with a ninety-degree bend in it, which is why the name translates to “Elbow Street.” (You can see the sign with the bent arm on it.)

Calle del Codo

At last we made it to the Plaza Mayor, a famous major public square in the city. I loved the frescoes on the outside of the Casa de la Panaderia.

Casa de la Panaderia

We had been told that the Plaza was usually crowded with tourists (and thus a target for pickpockets), but thankfully it wasn’t too bad that day.

Plaza Mayor

We left the Plaza via the Arco de Cuchilleros and walked down the Cava de San Miguel. Our tour guide was very excited to show us Sobrino de Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world in continuous operation!

Sobrino de Botín

We wound back around to the Plaza and then headed out the other end at Calle de la Sal (“Salt Street”).

Calle de la Sal

This gorgeous place – the Petit Palace Posada del Peine – is a 400-year-old hotel!

Posada del Peine

Our next landmark was the Puerta del Sol (“Gate of the Sun”), another famous public square in Madrid.

Puerta del Sol

One of the landmarks in the square is a statue of a bear and a strawberry tree. It represents the coat of arms of Madrid, and our tour guide told us it was good luck to touch the bear. (You can see that his heel and his tail are showing wear from lots of touching by thousands of people!)

Status of a bear and strawberry tree

This is the Palacio de las Cortes (Palace of the Parliament) where the lower house of the Spanish legislature meets. They had banners up for International Women’s Day when we were there.

Palacio de las Cortes

Finally we reached our destination – the Prado Museum, housing one of the finest collections of European art in the world.

Prado Museum

Our guide led us inside and on a whirlwind tour of the museum highlights. Honestly, you could’ve spent an entire day in there but we’d already been on our feet for 4+ hours so we were flagging. No photos were allowed, but I was mesmerised by Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. We both loved Rubens’s The Three Graces and Velázquez’s Las Meninas. I also admired Caravaggio’s David and Goliath (which we’d see later version of, a week later in Vienna). The final room of the tour was all Goya, including his bleak The Dog and Saturn Devouring his Son. (I bought the latter as a fridge magnet. 😳)

The next day I worked from the AWS office while the Snook went off on his own adventure. At one point, I was surprised to spot the tour bus of the Paris Saint-Germain football club outside our hotel! (Sadly, I did not spot Lionel Messi at the hotel breakfast buffet that morning…)

Paris Saint-Germain

While I was working, Rodd headed into the city again. He was delighted to get to see the towers of the Gate of Europe, which apparently feature prominently in a Spanish-Italian film from the 90’s called The Day of the Beast. (He’s adamant I’m going to have to watch it someday.)

Gate of Europe

His destination was the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (National Archaeology Museum), and he spent a couple hours exploring its treasures. He said, “They basically have the whole history of human habitation on the Iberian peninsula, from the initial migration out of Africa through to the Moorish period.”

MAN and Snook

He saw prehistoric art carved on bones, loads of gold treasure from the Celtic period, and quite a lot of Roman marbles. He especially liked this carved and gilded wooden dome ceiling.


After the Museum, he went to check out the nearby Buen Retiro Park. He got a shot of the Monument to Alfonso XII across the pond.

Retiro Park

One final shot across the Retiro. Look at those fabulous trees! Thanks for a lovely weekend, Madrid…


Seattle and the Spheres

Solo trip! In February I had a work event in Seattle, so I made my first long-haul trip without the Snook in several years.

Flying to Seattle

My hotel room had a nice view of the city. It wasn’t water, but it was still pretty.


The event was an internal work conference so there’s really nothing to share there, but one highlight was that my team arranged for a professional photographer to take headshots for us. He’d asked us to bring a prop that showed our “personality.” As you can see, I figured I might as well bring along the knitting!

Me knitting

I had a couple hours free one afternoon so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to finally visit the Amazon Spheres. Somehow I had managed to work for the company for nearly 4 years without ever visiting Seattle! Time to rectify that.

The Spheres

I walked over from the hotel. The Spheres opened four years ago and are next to one of the big Amazon buildings. They’re made up of three adjoining spherical glass domes, and they’re intended as an employee lounge and workspace. (They do have occasional public tours too.)

Inside the Spheres

The first thing I noticed inside was the heat and humidity. The domes are kept at a constant temperature of 72 °F (22 °C) and 60 percent humidity during the daytime. The other thing I couldn’t appreciate from the outside was how big they are. They’re several stories high inside!


There are various paths through the plants on each level, and I wandered through taking photos. Almost felt like I was back in Australia!

The juxtaposition of the riot of colourful leaves and flowers next to the organic shapes made of steel and glass was really beautiful.

Me in the Spheres

The biggest tree in the Spheres is this 55-foot (17 m) Ficus rubiginosa tree that had to be lifted in with a crane. You can ascend through its branches on a walkway.

Fig Tree

I needed to have a work call with a colleague back in Australia, so I found one of the work areas and settled into a chair. It makes for a pretty stunning backdrop!

Work area

Eventually I made it to the top floor where I was able to get a better view of the living green walls. The plants have been carefully chosen as different plants thrive at different heights and temperatures. The plants at the top are very different from the ones at the bottom!

Green wall

Taking a selfie with the Spheres sign is practically a law for Amazonians visiting Seattle. 😂

The Spheres

While I didn’t get to really do anything else touristy, I did manage to catch up with my old blog friends Jeff and Tricia. I hadn’t seen them in person in nine years!

Jeff and Tricia

And that was it for Seattle! I headed for my flights back to Munich, passing through O’Hare and my least favourite tunnel in the history of airport construction. 😐

O'Hare Tunnel