Day 10: I chose chocolate over Brahms

This will be one of my less exciting days, in case you were thinking I needed a break! I woke up way too early, with the sun, and I took my time in the morning writing the previous day’s blog and getting ready for my last day in Hamburg. When I walked out of the apartment, I thought I was going to walk in the direction of the Johannes Brahms Museum. I had learned from teaching music appreciation that he grew up in Hamburg, he was not rich, he practiced piano in piano stores, and he made money at night playing in “stimulation bars,” as the textbook put it. However, there doesn’t seem to be any big celebration of Brahms in Hamburg like you see Mozart and Haydn in Vienna, for example. I am not denying the genius of Brahms, and I love his Requiem, but he is not among the composers I absolutely love. All of that is to say that as I started walking, I didn’t feel like walking the 1.5 miles to the museum. I had looked up public transportation, and there wasn’t an easy route, so what I decided to do instead was check out the Miniatur Wunderland, which seemed to be hugely promoted, and my Airbnb host also recommended it. I saw some of it on a Rick Steves show, and it looked pretty fun–like a huge model train exhibit. 
When I arrived, I was told that there was a 90 minute wait and that I could buy a ticket for later in the day if I didn’t want to wait 90 minutes. I decided that a 3:00 ticket would be good. That would at least give me time for lunch and a nap before doing it! 

I then roamed around a bit and went in a church that I had been seeing but had not gone inside. The steeple was unusual, and the exterior looked very old; however, inside was very modern. I found out that St. Katherine’s church was built in the 14th & 15th centuries and that it had severe bomb damage in 1943-44. That explained the contrast in styles.

I then decided to walk to the Chilehaus, which is a building that I kept hearing about as somewhere that I needed to go. Apparently it is a huge landmark in Hamburg and is a great example of 1920s Brick Expressionism. I didn’t know that was a thing, and if I just looked at the building, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. If you know that it is known as something special, then you look at it differently and try to appreciate it, so if you look closely, you can see that the brick work really is unusual and beautiful.

Chilehaus is just an office building with a few shops and restaurants in the bottom. What also drew me to the Chilehaus was its proximity to the Chocoversum. This is basically a chocolate museum. I had previously looked online and knew that there was an English language tour at 1:45, so since I was there, I decided to inquire. It seemed clear that you had to take a tour (90 minutes!), so I bought a ticket for that as well!

Although I really hadn’t done much, it was about time for lunch. I wanted something inexpensive and healthy. I had seen people setting up some food trucks/booths at a plaza near the apartment, so I thought I would check that out. There was a produce stand, a place with vegeterian wraps, a place with fish sandwiches, and a few others. I decided that I didn’t want any of them. I had also noticed an Asian place with a lunch special for around 9 Euros. That seemed interesting, so that’s where I went. It was actually a buffet, but the food was delicious, particularly the Tom Kha Gai. I ate a little bit too much, but at least it was mostly vegetables.

After lunch, I had an amazing 15 minute nap and awoke feeling ready to make it to my afternoon appointments. First stop was the Chocoversum. There was a group of about 20 people there, and the rush to the start of the tour felt like entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. After scanning our ticket and going through the turnstile, we were given a small waffle. This was a small, crispy waffle–sort of like a large communion wafer. The guide told us that we would use it in the next room, and when we entered the next room, we encountered a chocolate fountain that would dispense warm milk chocolate onto our waffle. It was quite delicious and a fun way to start the tour.

We then were sent into the next room, where we were told all about harvesting cocoa beans. The guide had a real cocoa bean that was split open, and she gave a spoonful of the pulp and a seed for 3 people to taste. They said that it tasted ok but nothing like chocolate. She then explained that the pulp and seeds are then fermented for a period of time and then dried. The dried beans are then roasted. The roasted beans are cracked open, and the cacao nibs are separated from the shell. We each got a roasted bean to open up and eat the nibs. I have eaten cacao nibs before, but these were much more delicious. Maybe it’s because they were freshly roasted or because it is better quality.

We then learned the different ratios of cacao to sugar and dried milk for making dark chocolate and milk chocolate. White chocolate was also mentioned, and only cocoa butter is used in white chocolate–no cacao. 

She then showed us the three different machines that are used in making chocolate. We got to taste it at every stage, which was interesting and always tasted great.

Somewhere along the way, we went in a room and created our own chocolate bar. We chose either dark or milk chocolate, and we were given a mold filled with melted chocolate. Then we were supposed to take a small paper cup (like the ketchup cups as Wendy’s) and fill it with three different ingredients. The ingredients ranged from raisins to sprinkles–about 16 different things to choose from. I chose dark chocolate with coffee beans, hazelnut brittle, and cacao nibs, with a few sprinkles. I also sprinkled a bit of cinnamon and chili powder on top.

After we finished the entire tour, we were given our bars that had been sitting the refrigerator for about 45 minutes. We had to unmold our chocolate and put it in a cellophane bag, and then we were released. The whole thing was very informative but not exactly fun, outside of learning about and tasting chocolate. The pace was a bit slow. This isn’t necessarily a complaint–more of an observation. I think we all enjoyed the tour, and I felt like I should have a diploma or certificate of completion after it!

After Chocoversum, I walked back to the Miniatur Wunderland. With my ticket, I was able to walk right in. It was very crowded, and I made my way through as quickly as possible. It was pretty fun but not my thing, and I left after about 30 minutes, when I felt that I had seen everything. Here are a few pictures:

I wanted to go back to the Elbphilharmonie to spend a bit more time on the plaza, so I walked over there, which was not a very long walk. I found the ticket machine for getting free tickets onto the plaza, and then I made my way up the escalator. This time, without the huge crowds, I was able to see the curve in the escalator. I also read that it is the world’s first curved escalator, and the entire trip takes about 2.5 minutes. I took a few pictures and walked to some places that I hadn’t seen the previous night. I also walked into the Westin Hotel lobby, which is also part of the Elbphilharmonie. On top of the concert hall is where the hotel rooms are, so the view from them must be amazing. From what I found before my trip, the cheapest rooms are about $400/night. All I could see was the lobby, and I wasn’t able to go to the top floor without having a room key. I did find the elevator down, though, and that took me to the very bottom to the exit. 

I walked over to the grocery store near the apartment, where I bought a water, a yogurt for the morning, and a small plate from the salad bar. That was my dinner since I thought I would just relax in the apartment before going to the opera.

I walked over to the opera, which is about a 20 minute walk and is just past the busy shopping part of town. The opera house is a large, impressive, but I didn’t think it was particularly beautiful inside or out. Actually, I found what I thought was my seat, until a lady came and informed me that it was my seat. I showed her my ticket, and she pointed to where I should be. It was nearby but not quite as good of a seat since the view was slightly obstructed. When I found my seat, the hall was mostly empty. The Germans were all out at the various bars/cafes in the lobby eating and drinking, etc. They all sort of came in suddenly, just before the opera was to begin. I mainly bought this ticket because I wanted to see an opera in Germany, but also the opera was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Benjamin Britten. It is one of my favorite operas. Now, I knew that I was going to be seeing it in Germany, but I didn’t know whether the singers would be native English speakers or Germans. Also, Germans I know are generally very concerned with language and speak English as well as any American. The opera begins with a children’s chorus, and I couldn’t understand a single word. This concerned me a bit, but I thought that maybe the children were local and had not been coached in English diction. Then Puck came out, and I could understand his English a bit better, but not every word. When some of the singers sang, I truly could not tell what language they were singing. This made the opera very boring and frustrating, and with the typically European lack of ventilation (warm & stuffy), I had a very difficult time staying awake. Sometime during the second scene or second act (not sure which), I woke up a bit, but I was still bored. Although the finale is my favorite part of the whole opera, I left at intermission. I could not imagine sitting through another hour being frustrated that they didn’t take greater care at singing well in English. I don’t think I’m wrong about this, but I think Americans (and other English speakers) go to great lengths to sound as native as possible when singing in other languages. I’m not sure what happened here, but they definitely needed more work on their English.

I strolled through town. It was about 10:00, so the sun was nearly set. Most businesses were closed, other than restaurants, and the buildings were becoming illuminated for the night. It was lovely. What I really wanted was a scoop of ice cream, though. I actually could not find an ice cream stand open anywhere between the opera house and the apartment. I even stopped in front of the Apple Store for wifi and googled ice cream, and I found that all of the shops were closing at 10. I made my way back to the area near the apartment, where everything was also closed, and I decided to call it a night. I had a few pieces of chocolate to satiate my slight hunger and somewhat satisfy my cravings. I did some research for Amsterdam before going to sleep, including looking at the menu for the restaurant where I have a reservation for Saturday night. It is a Michelin rated restaurant where everything is €15 or less, so before I left home, I decided that I needed to try it. We’ll see what tomorrow holds…..

There are gypsies in Oslo!

  Yesterday was pretty much taken over by travel. I had to be at Reykjavik City Hall at 9:00 to leave for the airport. I was picked up by a small bus that would wind its way through the narrow city streets picking up quite a few passengers to take us all to the bus station. At the bus station, we got on the larger bus that took us all to the airport. They were quite prompt and left at 9:31. We were told that the ride would take about 50 minutes, and we were pulling into the airport at 10:21.

 It’s a good thing we were on time, because the line to check bags with Norwegian Air was quite long. It moved pretty quickly, though, and probably took about 30 minutes. Somehow, the security line was extremely short and quick! I had planned to buy lunch on the plane, because it seemed that they had some decent options. However, an announcement was made that our flight had “low catering,” so we should buy food in the airport to eat. I found a chef salad and a bar made of dates, rice crispies, butter, and chocolate.

Once again, I was in the front of the plane (aisle seat on the 1st row), because I paid a little extra for extra leg room. A guy asked if I would trade seats with him (middle seat in the 3rd row) so that he could sit by his girlfriend. Obviously, I had to disappoint him. However, the window seat in our row was available, so the couple got to sit together after all.

  The flight was about 2.5 hours and completely uneventful. When we arrived at Oslo Airport, I was first off the plane, but when I got to the end of the ramp off the plane, the door was locked! I have no idea why it was locked, but it opened after a few minutes. This was a much busier airport than Reykjavik! On the way to baggage claim, just like in Reykjavik, you go through the duty free shop before you get your bag. Duty free is serious business in Skandinavia! From what I understand, it’s because taxes are so high on alcohol sales (and chocolate & perfume, I suppose).

My bag was ready for me soon after arriving at the carousel, and I found the express train to Oslo. In order to take the train, you simply swipe your credit card at the gate and press a button telling your destination. So simple! As I arrived at track 3, the train was leaving! However, the next one showed up in about 5 minutes. It was quite posh, and it had a charger for the phone! It was a nice 20 minute ride to Oslo with some beautiful views of the countryside.  

  My house in Oslo is described as “great room close to central station.” OK, sounds great! In the grand scheme of things, it is close–less than 2 K–but it’s mostly uphill. Also, it was drizzling occasionally. For a few minutes, I did not like Oslo! As I passed the Oslo Hospital, which Ole (my host) described as a church in his directions, a group of gypsy women were standing outside. One of them smiled at me, and I kept walking. This just brought back memories of when my computer was stolen in Prague–supposedly by gypsies. I’m sure they can’t get into Ole’s house as easily as they got into Hotel Kafka in Prague! I’m sure these are nice gypsies, anyway!

Once I found Ole’s apartment, I got my key from the lock box by the door, and helped myself to my room. It’s nice and simple with Ikea furniture, as one might expect. Basically, this apartment is two rooms separated by a kitchen and bathroom–a pretty nice layout, actually. Ole showed up a few minutes later and was very nice and happy to answer my questions. I told him the walk was farther than I expected but that the exercise was good, and I asked how to buy a bus ticket. He said I could do that at the grocery store.

After a bit of rest, I went down to the grocery store, where I bough eggs, plums, and spinach for breakfast, along with my bus ticket. I put the food away and went off to find the bus, which would take me to opera night at the Underwater Pub. Somehow I found out online that every Tuesday and Thursday, singers from the Oslo Opera and the opera school sing there. My walk to the bus stop was through a cemetery. The sun was coming out after a rainy day, so the light was great. I love how the good weather follows me! 

    I arrived at The Underwater Pub at around 8:15 and asked the bartender how it all works. He was very friendly and helpful and explained that they have menus from three takeout places, and at the upstairs bar, you can place an order for food from one of them. You pay them, they call, and the food is delivered to your table. That’s a great thing! I ordered Penang Curry, sat down at his bar, which had a great view of where the singers would be, and ordered a glass of wine, which was on tap there.

I thought the singing was supposed to begin around 8:15, but I must done my math wrong when translating from 24-hr time. That gave me time to eat my food, which was delicious! The guy had assured me that the chef at the Thai place was very serious about his food, and he was right. You could tell that the vegetables were beautifully julienned–and it tasted great! 

 Finally, at around 9:15 the singing started. A man, who I believe was the owner of the place, announced the singers and what they would be singing. All I understood was that I would be hearing ‘Questa o quella” by Verdi, as well as “Non so piu” and “In diesem heilgen Halle” by Mozart. Sounds good. The tenor started with “Questa o quella,” and he was fantastic. I really liked the way he sang–very simple and easy–which is saying a lot! I don’t usually enjoy tenors! The mezzo sang “Non so piu.” She was very good, although there was something odd about her voice, but she was a great actress. Then, the bass sang his aria, which was also very good.  That was the end of that set. The break between sets is quite long, and I decided that I would stay for just one more so that I would get home before midnight. The second set was also very good. It was the same singers singing different arias. The mezzo sang an aria from Carmen, and the tenor sang some great aria that I do not know. I recorded about 10 seconds of it hoping someone can help me figure it out! 

        I got directions back to the apartment before I left. This time I took tram #18, which took my through what seemed to be some of the main parts of town. I made note of a few places I would  like to visit. The tram dropped me off at Oslo Hospital. I walked by the gypsies again and made it safely home!