I spent the night before out flight out of Munich like I always do: fretting about making sure we’ve got everything lined up so we can get there on time. Initially we were doing well: getting up early, having a brisk breakfast and getting checked out on time. All in all we left a little later than I wanted to but this was more than made up for by a cab driver who had little respect for speed limits. We arrived at the airport almost exactly 2 hours before our departure time, the amount I had been told I’d need to make it through Munich airport.
But this is where the wheels started to come off.
I routinely forget that the cabs here are mostly cash-only, meaning the meager amount of euros I carry around with me usually gets depleted by cab fares alone. This time was no different however the cab fair was, frankly, extortion, and the amount I had in my wallet wasn’t enough to cover it. So I darted out into the airport in search of an ATM, luckily being able to find one after 5 minutes of semi-panicked running about. However our little cash card said there wasn’t sufficient balance on it, forcing me to pull out the credit card (which will incur the dreadful day 1 interest rate slug). With the cab driver paid we lined up at the Air Berlin check-in counter which was moving painfully slow.
Worried that we wouldn’t get checked in on time I got on the wifi to do a web check-in. The website then helpfully informed me that the booking, made via Air Berlin, was being serviced by their partner airline Alitalia. Since we’d been in the line for about 20 minutes at this point I got a little worried and tracked down the information desk to figure out what the go was. As it turns out had I stayed in that line I might very well of not got on the flight as we couldn’t check in at the Air Berlin desk. Even more frustrating was the fact that our booking didn’t allow web check-in for some reason, making the wait in line a rather stressful affair.
Thankfully we managed to get checked in and everything was ok but it certainly wasn’t the way I was hoping to spend my morning. The flight over was your stock standard cut rate affair, although they did have a free snack service which was a nice touch. Once we landed it was a quick trip through the airport to get our bags and then out to a cab which would take us straight to the hotel.
What instantly struck me about Rome was the seemingly symbiotic combination of new and old work structures. We passed by many ancient bridges, towers and various other pieces of Rome’s history that were living side by side with their modern equivalents. There are also numerous buildings that retain the old fascia of the ancient structure, only to be flagged on all sides by modern architecture built to hold it in place. It’s a fascinating contrast to many of the other historical places we’ve visited, nearly all of which preserve the entire structure in tact. I guess the population density has something to do with it, although a cursory search reveals it’s actually less dense than most of the other European capitals.
We had the rest of the afternoon free and so we decided to take a walk through the surrounding area. I found out that we weren’t too far from the Spanish Steps and figured they’d be worth a look. However they’re currently undergoing repairs so it wasn’t the photographic opportunity that I was hoping it would be. So we simply kept walking, following the large crowds to the various monuments and other attractions that were nearby. The highlight would be the little hole in the wall food shop that had these Italian shortbread biscuits that I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid, something I was very much hoping to find when we got here.te
We capped off the night with a nice dinner at a restaurant close by and gelato from the place next door.
The next 3 days are likely to be filled with activity so we thought it best not to overdo it, turning in relatively early for the night. Tomorrow will bring with it our friends who just happened to be planning to go to Rome at the same time we were and likely a flurry of activity to follow. My wife and I both agree that travel with friends is always more fun and so we’re eagerly awaiting their arrival so the group shenanigans can begin.
We spent a good part of our morning scrolling through TripAdvisor, trying to puzzle out what we wanted to do today. Short of checking out a church that we had spied on the night of our arrival and visiting the famous Hofbräuhaus I wasn’t particularly fussed and so after breakfast we started ambling our way through town. We stopped off at a few sites that took our fancy, taking a few photos and looking things up on the guides we’d pilfered from the hotel. It was then that my wife noticed the free tours that were run daily and we figured they’d be a good way to spend the afternoon. Before then however I wanted to see Munich’s famous beer hall and, of course, indulge myself of their fine produce.
Hofbräuhaus was everything that I thought the Prater Biergarten in Berlin would be, brimming with people and wait staff bustling by the tables with food, pretzels and copious steins of beer. We initially sat outside as there didn’t appear to be any tables available inside but the stiff breeze that came through had us quickly changing our minds. Once we were seated again we tried to catch the eye of several staff, eventually ending up being served by 2 different waiters who couldn’t seem to agree on who’s table it was.
Our lunch, whilst definitely not served with expediency, was definitely the kind of German cuisine I had come to expect from such a place. It was simple food but well done and the accompanying beer was definitely among some of the best I’ve had. Noting the time we finished up our meal quickly before a quick trip through the gift shop for souvenirs and we headed over to Marienplatz to kick off the afternoon tour.
The tour was great, taking us through many of the historic monuments and diving deep into the cultural history of Munich. Our guide was an excitable American who’d been in Munich for some time and spoke with a deep knowledge of the city. He also made recommendations for numerous places to eat and drink, something which would’ve been valuable if we’d had done it earlier. Of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch as this was a tip based tour but, for 3 hours of informative fun, we were more than glad to slip a decent amount of euros his way.
As the Englischer Garten was right by where the tour ended we decided a stroll through there would be a nice way to pass some time before we went back to the Weissbier hall that the guide recommended. Whilst most of the sites he had listed were either closed or basically inaccessible the beer garden in the middle was a nice place for us to take a break. There I imbibed yet another beer before we headed back into town to see if the best weissbier in the world could overcome my disdain for it.
Whilst the Tap no 7 beer couldn’t change my mind on wheat beers the food and brown beer that followed it certainly sold me on the tour guide’s recommendation. At this point with about 2L of beer in me and a relatively early flight to catch the next morning I thought it best if we could retire for the night. We did manage to get back in short order however our friends, whom we’re meeting up with in Rome, wanted to organize a few things before we all arrived. They were a few hours behind us so my wife said we should use this opportunity to satisfy her craving for waffles. It took us some time, the waffle place she found hidden in Munich’s labyrinth of a train station, but we made it back in time to Skype with our friends.
We then all proceeded to navigate the various horrors of Italian tourist sites, trying to book tickets and trains for the following few days. We managed to get everything done eventually but not before losing 2 hours of lives and possibly sending a few more of our hairs grey. Still with it all done the next part of our trip should be a relative breeze…hopefully.
Tomorrow we make our way to Rome by plane, a prospect that’s both comforting and disqueting. Whilst I lamented them initially their convenience and flexibility are something that just doesn’t exist in the airline industry, something which can take much of the worry out of travel. Of course planes still win out over long distances, I don’t think I’d repeat the Berlin to Zurich trip again in a hurry, but anything up to a 4 hour train ride wins out over flying in my books. I’ll remember them, and the lovely views of the European countryside they provided, fondly and can only hope the rest of the flights we catch are as smooth as the trains were before them.
The curtains in our hotel room were far too good at their job, erasing any evidence that it was day time. My phone had no such issues however, blaring the obnoxious and familiar tone that signaled it was time to get up. I had intended to get up early in order to get to Neuschwanstein castle at a reasonable hour however our tour reservation came back for late in the afternoon. Annoying, but it gave us time to get some housekeeping out of the way before we headed out, something which had vexed me ever since we failed the night previous.
Trusting Google in this instance seems to have been our downfall, the laundromats that showed up being only a small selection of what was actually available. I found one that was much closer than the ones we’d tried before and, thankfully, had instructions in English. An hour and about €10 later we had our newly laundered clothes ready for the rest of our trip and even helped some bewildered Americans navigate through the laundromat’s systems. Flush with victory from our housekeeping adventures we sought out a light lunch at a local hipster joint before catching the train out.
This trip was a source of consternation for me as all the guides online said there was a direct train to Fussen, the town closest to Neuschwanstein. However no matter how hard I searched I could not find said train, everything require at least 1 connection, most of them by bus. Even more frustratingly none of them mentioned the train number, precluding me from looking it up to see if anything was amiss. As it turns out the train stations on that track are currently being renovated for the next month or so and the last 3 stops have been replaced by a bus. Thankfully this didn’t seem to affect travel times too much, but it did make me worry about how we’d get back home should we stay back later than I anticipated.
The weather throughout the day had, to be honest, complete shit. It had been raining fairly steadily since we arrived and that continued as we traveled out to the castle. As I primarily wanted to go there to get some great shots I was a little disappointed although I figured I could salvage something from it regardless. Luck was with us however and the skies parted almost exactly as we arrived at the castle, providing ample opportunities to get some great shots from the location. Unfortunately one of the bridges has been out of commission for some time, precluding any good shots of the castle itself. Still I’m not complaining, especially with the picture above being one of the more average shots I got.
The tour itself was really good too, diving into the history of the relatively modern castle and the man who commissioned it: Ludwig II. Whilst it wasn’t as personal or in-depth as some of the other tours we’ve been on so far it was still very well done, streamlined to ensure they could get as many people through as humanly possible. I was a little miffed that they didn’t allow pictures, or a self paced tour, but that was more than made up for by the beautiful view and the in-depth audio guide that was included in the admission cost.
After we’d had our fill of great views we headed down to the local bus station to make our way home. Little did I know just how much time we’d spent up at the castle, arriving at around 4PM and not coming down until 7PM or so. Thankfully there was still a large throng of other tourists waiting at the former train station and, sure enough, a bus eventually arrived to pick us up. The one wrinkle in the plan was that the direct train was no longer running, although the conductor helpfully informed us of which one we’d need to catch to get home. We still didn’t get back to the hotel until 11pm however.
Thankfully our hotel staff were more than accommodating, making us a lovely small dinner and serving us beers well until the night. The only black mark on it was the 2 young Australians talking some mad shit with an older American; both sides of the conversation big noting themselves for discernible reason at all.
We don’t have much planned for tomorrow, mostly because I only really wanted to see Neuschwanstein. I haven’t had a chance to visit any of the beer halls here however so I’ll likely be paying a few of them a visit. If we manage to do more than that great, but I’m definitely in no rush after the major success we’ve had today.
Our room had finally cooled down to below boiling allowing us a night of rest that wasn’t interrupted by fever dreams. This was after we’d endured the various smells emanating from the restaurant below us, a lovely combination of fetid cheese, cigarette smoke and whatever the rain had dredged up. Suffice to say packing wasn’t filled with that same solemn feeling that all our previous places of rest was, especially as we tripped over each other as we were doing it. Our journey to the train station was thankfully uneventful and we boarded without issue.
Today’s trip is the last we’ll be taking by train here in Europe. I had hoped to do all of it by train but the realities of train travel in Europe won’t accommodate the many places we want to visit. That and the fact that some trips are simply better done by plane like, say, Berlin to Zurich which would’ve taken half the time to accomplish. My wife expressed her sadness at this fact as it had been quite nice to watch the countryside go past, the green hills a stark contrast to that of what we have back home. I too lament it somewhat, although I do like the idea of not losing an entire day to travel for our last few locations.
We arrived in Munich in the late afternoon and quickly set ourselves to task in getting our laundry done. I found us a place not too far from where we were which appeared to be good and we headed out into the rainy afternoon. When we got there though they informed us that they wouldn’t be open tomorrow, nor the day after, and so couldn’t take our laundry. Perplexed that they’d be closed on a weekday we left in search of another place. Problem was we had no cash, which we quickly remedied, but then the machines only took €5 and €10 notes. Feeling defeated after wasting 2 hours trying to chase a place down we decided to leave it for tomorrow and headed out for dinner.
After stumbling back the way we came we eventually found a small Indian restaurant that seemed quite reasonable. We made the unfortunate error of ordering far too much food and were completely stuffed halfway through it. The waiter even asked us if it was no good, which we told him unequivocally no, but I can definitely see where he was coming from. With the hangries at bay we caught an Uber back to the hotel to dry off and prepare for tomorrow.
We’ll be spending the better part of tomorrow visiting Neuschwanstein Castle, said to be part of the inspiration of the Disney logo (and also home to some Bavarian royalty for a short period of time, but that’s not what anyone really cares about, right?). Hopefully we’ll be able to sort out our laundry too as there’s nothing more…uncomfortable… than wearing clothes again when they haven’t been washed. All else fails it’s the hotel sink for some socks and jocks, although I hope it never comes to that.
Our alarm went off at a leisurely, but not yesterday’s leisurely, time this morning. Today we had nothing more planned than a simple train journey from Berlin to Zurich, our only train journey that had us connecting onto a different route. Buoyed by our success in navigating Berlin’s train network we decided to catch that into the main train station as well, eliminating the need for an exorbitant taxi ride. So once breakfast was out of the way we checked out and began our short trek to the closest train station and our journey to Zurich.
Getting on our first and second trains proved to be no issue. We’d already caught the same train numerous times over to get us around the middle of Berlin as they all seem to share the same route within the more touristy areas. The second was a train that was very comparable to the Thalys one we’d caught some days prior, being quite new and outfitted with free wifi. However as we got closer to our arrival time I noticed that we weren’t really close to anything I’d call a major station, nor had there been any announcements over the intercom. The time kept ticking away until it past it, and continued to do so until we arrived 20 minutes late.
This posed something of an issue for us as our connecting train was scheduled to depart not 15 minutes after our original arrival time. Try as we might to get to the right platform in time we arrived nothing, our connecting train apparently bang on time. So there we were in the Hanover train station with nowhere to go, the efficiency of the train system cutting us both ways. Undeterred, although a little anxious, I made straight for the ticketing station to figure out where we’d go from there.
The ticketing station runs on those RTA style booths that print you out a ticket with a number on it. I left my wife behind whilst I went in search of wifi, figuring this was a problem I could solve with a little Google-fu. Thankfully these trains run every 2 hours and another one was due to leave in the not too distant future. However for the Eurail pass you typically need to reserve trains before you board them, especially the high speed inter-city ones. Thankfully the ticket clerk was more than able to help us and not 20 minutes after our delayed arrival we were booked on another train.
The rest of the trip was largely uneventful, the German countryside slowly fading away to the rolling hills of Switerzland. The quaint little towns, usually flocked on all sides by crops or vineyards, were a picturesque backdrop to the relative calm of the train. Our 2 hour delay meant we were getting in at around 10PM at night although the city was far from asleep, the Euro cup match ensuring the streets were still filled with people. We managed to find a quiet Italian place to have dinner (one that didn’t have a TV out in the open) which my wife enjoyed thoroughly.
Our hotel room is, unfortunately, likely to be the worst of this whole trip. I’ve stayed in rooms this size for work and thought it was too small even for one person. We’ve barely got space to have our bags open on the floors, the desk is built into the wall with a little pouf for a chair and, to top it all off, it isn’t air conditioned. Considering we’re hitting 30+ degrees now this is going to be an issue and I’m honestly surprised that the reviews I read didn’t reflect these problems. Live and learn I guess.
Tomorrow we’ll be heading out to Zoo Zurich as we’ve heard it’s one of the best in Europe. Then we’ll be taking our fill of Swiss chocolate, something my wife thoroughly appreciated when I returned from my last work trip to Geneva. If we do much more I’ll be surprised, especially with this unrelenting heat dogging us at every turn.
Time to sleep.
We were keen to build on the successes that we had the day before, not wanting to let the momentum we had recovered pass us by. That didn’t stop us from ignoring our alarms however, only rousing from our slumber by nearly 10AM. Since our hotel would stop serving breakfast at that time it was something of an issue, until my wife pointed out it was the weekend and thus breakfast would be served until later. I’ve long since passed the point where I’m able to track days well, something which I think is both a luxury and a curse when it comes to long duration travel.
Since our tour guide advised us to go to the Topology of Terror rather than any of the other World War II museums we decided that would be our first stop. The exhibition hugs one of the last few remaining sections of the Berlin wall which itself is across from the former Nazi Ministry of Ministries. It’s part open air exhibit and indoor information center and covers nearly all aspects of the Nazi regime. Walking from one of the wall to the other you can trace the history of the movement and what led to Hitler’s rise to power. It’s both a mournful and infuriating experience, the things we can see in hindsight seeming so obvious now. I cannot honestly say if our world is better prepared to face something of that nature again, especially with the roots of similar movements appearing all over the world.
We didn’t spend as much time inside the exhibit however as there’s really only so much horror you can endure in a single day.
Our tour guide from yesterday had mentioned that Prater Beer Garden was worth visiting so we decided to head up there for lunch before deciding what to do with our afternoon. When we arrived however we found out that we were either too late for the lunch time crowd or too early for the nightly punters. The garden was basically deserted with just a handful of families sitting at a few of the tables. That combined with the fact that the food didn’t seem too appetizing we decided to leave in favor of an Italian restaurant that had tempted us on the way over. It was there we had a very reasonably priced lunch washed down with some great local dunkel lager.
We had a few options for how to spend the remainder of the day and eventually settled on visiting the Deutsches Technikmuseum. Now I know this is somewhat contrary to my previous advice from the day before however I thought the technology museum might house some peculiar German technological curiosities. For the most part it was alright (the cut open steam engine pictured above being the highlight) but I found myself disappointed upon leaving, mostly because their space exhibit was just a couple of rocket engines. I think that’s cemented my opinion on museums for a while now.
Afterwards we headed back home for a little bit of rest before we headed out again. Even late into the night I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry and floated the notion we simply grab a few things from a local supermarket. My wife had wanted to get a curry wurst before we left Berlin since they seemed to be everywhere. So we walked down to a local curry wurst place to check it out but my wife lost interest when she couldn’t see anyone else ordering one. Instead we walked into the supermarket next door and procured us a very healthy dinner of cheese, 1L of beer, crackers and some curry sausages which satisfied my wife’s cravings.
Tomorrow we make a beeline out of Berlin for Zurich in Switzerland the only European country I have visited before. I don’t have very fond memories of the place, thanks to the dengue fever I contracted in Singapore unleashing it’s fury on me whilst I was there, however I’m determined not to make a repeat performance. As with Berlin we’ll only be there for a couple days before departing again but I’m sure we’ll find enough to occupy us between the town itself and the mountains that surround it.
Last night we made the decision: we’d be going on a tour no matter what. Unfortunately the tour group we wanted to use, Fat Tire (came highly recommended by friends of my wife), had just redone their website. Whilst I’m sure everything worked fine on the developer’s machine it rejected both my credit cards numerous times over. This meant our only option was to either phone them, something which I didn’t want to bother with, or we could rock up at their shop bright and early and hope that there was still space on the tour we wanted to do.
Luckily, there was.
My wife had said that she was pretty sure she could make it through a Segway tour and as it turns out they’re quite a lot less popular. Consequently the group was much smaller, a grand total of 6 of us including the guide. We also managed to get paired up with another 2 Australians who happened to be on the tail end of a work trip. I made a right fool of myself by not recognizing their accent straight away (they, of course, recognized mine), answering “Australia” when they asked where I was from. As it turns out they were from Sydney and worked for Bayer. I didn’t press them for more details than that after my initial gaff.
The tour was a great little introduction into Berlin and the history behind it. I noticed on our journey in how much of the city looked new when compared to other European cities we’d been in so far. I didn’t make the connection between Berlin and the war though which is why much of the city looks new. Of note where the buildings that were left as is, like the Berlin Cathedral pictured above, which still bore many of the scars that war inflicted on it. Germany never wants to forget the tragedy that it wrought upon itself and the world, it seems.
We visited quite a few other points of interest like the longest section of the wall that remains, the holocaust memorial and the Bradenburg gate. Our guide was very knowledgeable on a lot of things, of interest to me specifically was the history of Prussia and it’s interlinks with Germany. You see whilst I’m a 5th generation Australian (yeah, struth mate) my last name is actually Prussian in origin. Whilst I’m not entertaining any notions of royal lineage, I mean what royalty would’ve come to Australia willingly, it’s interesting to see where your roots come from. Especially in a place like this where its history stretches back so far.
Once we were done with the tour we settled in for some lunch at a local beer garden to plan out the rest of our day. I definitely wanted to go back to museum island to check out the Berlin Cathedral and the nearby museum. The cathedral was well worth the time we spent there however the Altes Museum probably wasn’t worth the price of admission. Sure there was some interesting artifacts but after you’ve seen collections like what the Louvre has you kinda feel like the smaller places probably aren’t worth it unless you’re interested in something specific.
We had planned to go to the Topography of Terror afterwards but by then we were both starting to fade. So we decided to head back to the hotel for a quick break before heading up to another beer garden that came recommended by our tour guide. However the weather turned on us, bucketing down rain and likely ruining any attempt to drink beer outside. Instead we settled on a local German restaurant that did some very good traditional food.
Tomorrow is in a bit of a flux but I’m sure we’ll work out something once breakfast is done. It’s great to be back on form again, even if my feet are starting to complain again. I’m also sure now that 3 nights is a good sweet spot for seeing a good number of cities in Europe as it gives you enough time to see the things that really matter to you. Sure you could spend longer but thinking back to our USA trip all those years ago I can definitely remember having a lot of “filler” days in places we spent 4+ nights in. Of course we could’ve had even more time if I hadn’t listened to a certain friend about taking the train everywhere but hey, when in Rome right?
My wife stirred long before I did which I took as a good sign. She said she was still feeling pretty rubbish, unfortunately, but at the very least she did seem to be in a much better mood. We managed to get through breakfast and packing up ok, checking out of the hotel and getting into a taxi without incident. Once we’d found our way to our platform, long before our train was due to arrive, my wife started to feel ill again. It’s a pattern that would repeat itself over the course of the day although, thankfully, we had a whole first class cabin to ourselves for the majority of the trip.
Unfortunately the train ride wasn’t as luxurious as our previous one was, being more like a budget airline than anything else. Our Eurail pass granted us first class seats however there were 6 of them to a cabin. Throughout the trip we had various people come and go in the 4 spare seats we weren’t using although none of them stayed longer than an hour. This was great for my wife who could curl up on the seats and get some additional rest. We drew the ire of the conductor who told us we hadn’t used our Eurail passes correctly, something which the first train we boarded neglected to mention.
The trip over was uneventful, spent mostly reading through my book and playing a couple games on my phone. This train was also bereft of any Internet connection as well, something that torpedoed my plans to post yesterday’s blog and, possibly, catch up on that Mirror’s Edge Catalyst review I had lined up before I left. It was nice to see the transition from The Netherlands to Germany however, the landscapes dotted with wind farms, small towns and various other things of interest.
We arrived in Berlin late in the afternoon (which would be the dead of night at home, something which my body clock is still coming to grips with) and made our hotel. I was a little worried that we were out in the sticks somewhere as I thought I spied our hotel from our train on the way over. By the looks of things though we’re pretty well placed with most of the things I want to see a short train ride away.
I’m hopeful that my wife’s condition will have improved enough by now for us to really sink our teeth into Berlin. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by how little we did in Amsterdam, even if it was a rather relaxing time. Berlin is definitely one of the cities that I wanted to see a lot of and, since we’ve really only got 2 days here, we’re going to have to make them count. Even though our new hotel would be nice enough to while away the hours in I’m certainly not looking to make a repeat performance.