Monday, June 30, 2008

Munich (minus the Hofbrauhaus)

The train from Salzburg to Munich went sweet and smooth, and I got into town feeling fantastic. I was short on sleep from the noisy Salzburg crowds but for some reason I was perky anyway. Maybe I was just excited to be in the heart of Bavaria. I had reserved a place on a website I had just heard of,, but I stupidly couldn't find where I had written the name and directions of the hotel, so the first thing I had to do when I arrived was get online and find it again. Well, I finally found an internet cafe, but wouldn't you know, yours truly had somehow deleted the email with all the info, so I had to start from scratch.
Luckily I had also emailed another hostel the day before and found their reply, and they had a room available, and only a block away. The hardest thing about huge train stations like Munich's Hauptbanhof is getting oriented, and sure enough I went out the wrong side, but soon found my way to another one of those tiny rooms that I like. It may sound strange, but I actually prefer a cozy little hotel room with the single bed taking up half the room, and a bathroom to match. I guess I fell in love with them in Japan. Most American hotel rooms are four times the size, and what for? What traveler needs two huge queen beds and acres of space (all of which takes more energy to heat & cool)? I do just fine with a little desk, bed & tv. Hey, as long as the reading light's good and the bed comfy I'm in luxury.

Another thing I've noticed that seems to be the trend all over Europe: sheets and blankets are out, comforters are in. Beds no longer come with a second sheet and blanket to crawl under, only a heavy comforter... which might be nice in the winter, but it's hot here now and the last thing I usualy wanna do is sweat under a two-inch sleeping-bag-like cover. I've given up asking for sheets, they never seem to have them, but I either take one from the other bed, if there's one available, or grab one from the housekeeper's cart when they're not looking. Then I definitely DON'T want my room serviced, or they'll take it and not give me another one! There's no taking hints with these people.... they just don't get it.
Also, once again, my lttle room was warm and stuffy (with no a/c), and had a window, but one opening in a wall doesn't give you much ventilation uless there's another place for the air to go out. Sometimes I have the room door open, but that usually doesn't help much, so I asked for a fan and of course they "don't have any"; when asked what people do in August when it really gets hot, I was told, "people just open the window". Luckily after pleading with the guy (who was named Nelish, and I called Neelix), he took pity on me and pulled out a fan from under the reception desk and said we could use "their" fan for the night. I thanked him profusely and promised to return it in the moring.
But that evening I had other business to take care of: on the train there I asked some Germans where they liked to go drink beer, and they all said go to the Augustiner biergarten-- every brew has its own garden and/or brewhouse-- which turned out to be only two blocks away. As I walked there I was doubtful of my directions, as the street was lined with huge office buildings, but sure enough, right where it should be, a nice, green, tree-filled park was full of picnic tables and locals drinking from those huge 1-liter mugs. Even the potato salad was about the best I've ever had (sorry, Mom and Mary!) I was so glad I asked, because had I not, I would have probably gone to that tourists' mecca, the Hofbrauhaus, which, when I checked it out the next day, turned out to be unbearably stuffy and depressing, in spite of a quartet of perspiring German oompah players trying to sound lively. I left quickly, thankful for those fellow passenger's advice.
Over the next few days I wandered the town, which is wonderfully pedestrian- and bike-friendly, including, of course, the Marienplatz-- the town square with the cool glockenspiel clock tower with little automaton figures that come out at certain hours, built onto the stunning rathaus, or town hall. One great thing: the square, for once, was blissfully absent of the dreaded "Fan Zone" that I've run into in all the other cities, where they block off a large area and fill it with hideous inflatable huts and huge TV screens where hundreds of drunk soccer fans scream for their teams. Munich had none of that, and I was finally able to appreciate a European Old Town main square as it was meant to be seen.... except, of course, that it was full of tourists and had the requisite souvenier shops, McDonald's, and a few other eyesores. Other than that it was quite nice, and has a nearby victuallenmarkt open-air food market with all kinds of great food shops and even its own little beer garden.

I also checked out the huge "English" garden, a park so big it has its own river with a spot where sufers come out and hang ten. It's also curiously clothing-optional, so the more puritanical visitors may want to avoid it.
The last day I spent in the Deutsches Museum, the biggest, most complete science museum I've ever had the stamina to wander in for the entire day. I loved it! It has everything from sailboats to life-sized mine tunnels to every big machine, model ship and science experiment a nerd could dream of. I ran out of time just half way through the stuff, so my advice is, if you're into this kind of thing, start early!
I capped off the Munich tour with a final revisit to the Augustiner biergarten again, where I had two (count them: 2) liters of their great beer this time, yet somehow it didn't really affect me. Maybe it was their great food and giant pretzels that soaked up a lot of it, or the good company of a German architect I met with whom I had an interesting discussion with while there. Whatever it was, I loved Munich and would love to go back again, if only to finish checking out the Deutsches museum.

Next: On to Ye Olde England

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