Monday, October 7, 2013

Munich, Germany

We’re back home! We arrived in LA on Saturday afternoon after a long day of travel, and we took two nights to get back on California time. A certain someone is especially happy to have us back, and I admit I was pretty desperate to get home to him, too.

After Salzburg, Terry and I said so long, farewell to my parents and hopped on a train for only two hours to get to Munich. I’ll split this post into two parts: Munich & Oktoberfest (this post) and Side Trips from Munich (tomorrow’s post).

We spent four nights at our Munich hotel. Thanks to Oktoberfest, we had a choice between outrageously priced hotels near the city center or reasonably priced ones a little farther out. We opted for the latter, and it really didn’t affect our trip too much. We stayed at Suite Novotel Munchen and found a very modern, spacious room awaiting us. We also stayed at a Novotel in London in 2011, so we weren’t surprised to find many of the same amenities: a workout room, a restaurant, a bar in the lobby, snacks and drinks, 24-hour front desk service, room service, an ironing room (?), and a big room. I was thrilled to find a bathtub, too, and I used it every single night. Again, I would recommend this hotel if you don’t mind being a little away from the city center. Including the ten-minute walk to the metro station (U Bahn), it took about 20 to 25 minutes to get to the heart of Munich each day (and usually we could find a direct train there and back). 

After we dropped off our bags at the hotel, we headed back out for our first afternoon and evening in Munich. Marienplatz, the city center (“platz” means “square”) was stunning. The buildings look gothic and creepy and reminded me of a medieval town. We grabbed sausages and beer at an outdoor vendor for a quick snack, and I think it was one of my favorite foods over the entire vacation. Simple but delicious! By the way, the most common ketchup in Munich is actually a curry ketchup. I wasn’t a big fan, but it’s what the locals prefer.

We spent the afternoon walking around, guided by another Rick Steves walk. The weather felt much colder than Salzburg, but we bundled up and kept moving. Unfortunately, Sunday evening turned out to be a terrible time to walk around downtown Munich because the city was pretty quiet and several of the sights were closed. But it was a great orientation tour, and we saw plenty of churches, boulevards, and historical sites.

Throughout our time in Munich, we noticed a lot of construction. In Salzburg, our tour guide had mentioned that Salzburg has two seasons: Winter and Construction. I guess it’s true in Munich, too, because at least half a dozen famous sites were partially shut down for refurbishment.

For dinner on our first night, we found seats at the famous Hofbrauhaus, a huge beer hall with multiple stories of places to eat and drink. It was an excellent warm up for the beer tents at Oktoberfest and far less rowdy than I expected. The atmosphere fulfilled every other expectation, though: live traditional music, giant beer steins, strangers becoming friends, tiny waitresses carrying about a dozen full beer steins, huge pretzels, and loud singing (we learned the words later that night, but we lip-synched and pretended to know what we were saying). I absolutely recommend Hofbrauhaus, but if you can’t make it all the way to Germany, there’s a replica in Las Vegas that apparently does a good job of getting the atmosphere right.

The next day, Terry and I slept in a little and bundled up for a long day. We started in Marienplatz again and rented bikes from Mike’s Bikes. An American and a Canadian greeted us, took our payment (17 Euros for two hours for both of us), and kept an ID as a deposit, and we were off! We focused on the English Gardens, a sprawling park that really is best to see on bike because it would take multiple days to see it all on foot. Even on bikes, we didn’t see everything! But it was a beautiful (if freezing—I wish I’d had gloves) ride, and we loved all the lakes, trees, peaceful paths, locals, tourists, and surfers (!). I actually felt really proud of myself and grateful to my adventurous husband during this part of our trip. I normally play it very safe and more often than not chicken out of trying new things. But Terry convinced me to rent a bike, and I couldn’t have been more nervous. You know how, in reference to something you’ll never forget how to do, they say, “It’s like riding a bike!”? Yeah, well, apparently for me, riding a bike is something I need a little refresher on before I can actually remember how it goes. I don’t even know the last time I rode a real bike before this trip, and I was ridiculously wobbly and terrified as I rode for the first twenty minutes or so. I even made Terry let me walk until we were at the gardens so I could avoid swerving into traffic. But I finally figured out what I was doing and got the hang of it, and thankfully the majority of the ride was a blast. Riding through the English Gardens was actually one of my favorite parts of the entire Europe trip!

And then we headed to Oktoberfest. As you may have read, I was more than a little apprehensive about how it would go, but thankfully we didn’t have to deal with any more obnoxious people. Still, Oktoberfest was INSANE.

I knew there were big tents, and I knew there would be beer and food, but I wasn’t sure what else to expect. Turns out, Oktoberfest is a huge fair on steroids: rollercoasters, family zones, fair games, food vendors, a gigantic Ferris wheel, souvenir booths, and more.

And then there were the beer tents. Germany’s biggest brewers each host a tent (or two or three) and fill them with hundreds of tables and long benches, which are then all filled with people. Every bench, completely full, all the time. The tents obviously only serve their own beer, but there are some varieties (ale, lager, wheat, dark, even alcohol-free). And each tent also has a specialty food. The tent we successfully squeezed into, Spaten, was the ox tent. They kept a running total of how many oxen had been consumed.

We sat with a nice German couple, an Irishman, and two Brits that day. They graciously explained some of the words we didn’t know and helped out with some traditions we didn’t understand. But once we finished lunch and our first giant beer, we wanted to walk around—little did we know that move meant we wouldn’t find another seat for the rest of our time at Oktoberfest.

Still, while we were there we got to try a lot of different beers and traditional foods, and we got a good sense of what Oktoberfest is all about. Unfortunately, our second visit (a different day) was far more crowded and turned out to be overwhelming. We ducked into a few tents but never found a seat, and it became draining to walk around with so many people without finding a place to even stand and enjoy some food or drink. So that second trip didn’t last too long.

We did really enjoy walking around Oktoberfest and people-watching, trying foods, buying souvenirs, taking tons of pictures. It was a blast, another favorite part of our trip, again despite the cold. We found another outdoor biergarten (we were able to find space because it was so cold out) and enjoyed another beer plus chicken and a pretzel for dinner. Talk about delicious!

Other restaurants we tried in Munich:
Ayinger Wursthaus, a smaller brew house across from Hofbrauhaus. It was decent but nothing special. They did have a salad, which we gratefully devoured, since we hadn’t eaten many fruits or vegetables yet in Europe.
Haxnbauer, famous for their pork knuckle. We got to sit right next to the butcher (post-cooking), which was fun to watch. And the pork knuckle really was delicious.
Bakeries, which are abundant and excellent. The entire Bavarian region has incredible pastries!

The next two days in Munich were side trips, and I’ll write about those in my next post. Overall, we really liked Munich, and Terry said it’s definitely in his top favorite European cities now. I felt very comfortable and safe in Munich, and we liked the variety in beer and the sheer amount of things to do. I feel like we could have spent a week there and kept busy the entire time. 

We're still recovering from our jet lag, so I'm off to bed! Back tomorrow with Munich side trips!


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