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.