Meandering in Munich

Munich, August 8th.

You know the feeling where you’re simultaneously exhausted and just killing time until you board the plane the following day … and melancholy because you know the end of your trip (and vacation) is right around the corner?

I feel that today. I especially dread my attitude when I return to work. After Spain last year, I was cranky for at least five weeks. I’m really not looking forward to seeing that woman in the mirror on Monday morning. 

It’s cloudy outside, cooler than it’s been the entire trip, and has been raining sporadically. It almost matches my frame of mind this morning.

I eat breakfast, send Kelly an e-mail about meeting up with her briefly (she has to pay back some money I lent her the previous day), and then I hurry and get myself on a free walking tour leaving from the hostel shortly.

The tour guide is an exuberant dude from Texas, wearing suede lederhosen (no joke), who takes us from the hostel to Marienplatz via the metro. Once there, we become part of an even larger group, which is then whittled down according to language.

The tour begins in earnest with another tour guide, an Australian girl holding a can of Red Bull in one hand and gesturing with the other, yelling in an already husky voice so we all can hear. We actually get to witness the movements of the Glockenspiel (pictured at right. It’s a bit anti-climatic, since (a) I’ve already read in my guide and heard from trip leader Carla what happens and (b) the “chimes” that sound and play during the “show” aren’t even real – they’re pre-recorded, ’cause the real bells don’t even work … or were they removed? I don’t remember).

We move away from the square, past various buildings, while the Aussie guide continues. Less than 10 minutes later, the enormous group separates into three smaller groups, and I’m back in the group with our Texan guide. Between the bursts of rain, he’s quite informative and is kind of funny where it counts, and serious where he needs to be.

I meet two young guys on the tour who are also from my hostel: James, works for a mortgage company in Newmarket; Ben is from Cambridge, and may be either in school or just finished.

The tour ends, after which I tip the tour guide (heavily) and make my way back to Marienplatz (James and Ben in tow) to try and catch Kelly. That plan doesn’t work – I give up the search after about five minutes and return to the hostel with the guys.

I check my e-mail and find out Kelly’s leaving for Innsbruck (Austria) later in the afternoon. I manage to get down to the central train station – Hauptbahnhof – and meet her on the platform of the train she’s boarding. She arrives about two minutes before her train’s scheduled to leave, runs up the platform, dumps the money in my hand and keeps on going. (‘Bye, Kelly.)

After, I wander around. I just walk and walk and walk. Eventually, my stomach in knots from hunger, I find a café where I have a latte (not my first choice, since I don’t drink coffee, but I’m too hungry to change my mind) and a small sandwich, while I write my postcards and play catch-up writing in my travel journal to pass some time.

Then it’s back to walking around and around. I buy a couple more small souvenirs, including yet another plate for my Crazy Plate Collection. (I know you think I’m either crazy or an old woman stuck in the body of a young woman who should know better, but I don’t care – I love my plates of the world, so suck it.) I see the same classical music buskers from two days ago and stop to listen one more time. I even buy one of their CDs (15 Euro, which is crazy expensive, but I don’t care, ’cause it’s my last day), and just keep killing time and snapping pictures until I’m too tired to walk anywhere else.  

In my hostel room, I quietly write and write down as many thoughts from the previous several days as I can remember, until I can no longer write without the light of a lamp.

Heading downstairs after in search of something to eat, I run into James, who suggests the place across the street – which turns out to be a beer hall, and part of a huge beer brewery. How apt … And how packed.

I enter the front door of the beer hall, take one look at the people waiting for seats and another at the scores of dozens of people seated, and walk right out, heading straight for the metro going to Hauptbahnhof station.

I know the European foodie experience is about eating ANYTHING BUT than North American-based fast-food. But at this juncture, with so few hours remaining and my stomach grumbling and gurgling, I give an imaginary, misanthropic finger to cultural experience for the third time (I had McDonald’s the night I returned from Füssen – the shame!) in favour of a Burger King.

Back at the hostel, I pull up a seat at one of the empty cafeteria-styled tables, and just mow down on a Whopper and fries with mayo and ketchup and syrupy, non-fizzy Pepsi, while I watch the CNN International reports about the conflict in Georgia and former American presidential candidate John Edwards’ extramarital affair (sad, and also anti-climatic). Ben appears as if out of thin air, and he sits nearby and chats while I eat and watch.

I hit the hay somewhere around midnight, my backpacks – large and small – just about packed with my possessions. The window’s slightly open, allowing whatever breeze might be in the air to waft in.

As I lay there, I can hear the faint strains and bass of Latin music from some nearby club. But I’m too tired – and pre-occupied with my return trip home – to care.

Some Mountains, Some Beer

August 6th.

Our drive to Salzburg is filled with the sounds of music. Literally.

Trip leader Carla throws in a few songs from The Sound of Music soundtrack to get us in the right frame of mind for our short stop in Salzburg (which is about an hour and 40 minutes long).

(As I learn later, some of the movie isn’t really filmed in Salzburg, but in nearby Salzkammergut, which is supposed to be very pretty. Ah well – perhaps next trip.)

Living back home in Canada, I’ve never been out west to see the Rockies. So it’s simultaneously breaktaking and disconcerting to see an enormous mountain range (albeit in the distance) for the first time with one’s own eyes, but on another continent. I try to snap as many photos as possible, because I think this will be my only chance. Unfortunately I get a lot of blurry shots with highway guardrails.

Off the bus in Salzburg, we stop off at Mirabell Gardens – which are lovely, but hard to truly love when compared to Schönbrunn. We then take a walk along the river, making sure not to drift over into the bike lane. Ever since hitting Hungary and Austria, I’ve had a hard time trying to keep to a part of the sidewalk that won’t piss off cyclists, but won’t put me in harm’s way. I’m still trying …

We then make our way through the narrow streets, past the Mozarthaus, and over to Stiftkirche St. Peter (or St. Peter’s Abbey Church, pictured at left). We stop briefly inside to take a look and take a couple photos. Then it’s out and around to the enormous cemetery, complete with fancy headstones and a waterwheel in the corner of the cemetery grounds.

There’s enough time for a group of us to grab lunch before getting on the bus. I have some pasta in a delicious cream sauce, and some kaiserschmarm for dessert.

Then, back on the road. We reach Munich sometime around 4 p.m. and check into our hotel. It certainly isn’t anything like our last hotel, but considering almost everyone’s leaving the next day, it’ll have to do.

As it happens, I’ve run out of toothpaste. I read the sign sitting on our table of what our hotel provides. Despite stating that the hotel could provide whatever “hygenic needs” we needed, it’s false advertising. I go down to the front desk to try out this “service”; I get a “Nein” from the Santa Claus lookalike in the loud Hawaiian shirt manning the desk when I gesticulate to ask whether or not they sell toothpaste. Lauren is kind enough to let me borrow some of hers, at least until she leaves. 

(Note to self: always carry a full-sized tube of toothpaste with you, unless you plan on using pea-sized portions. I had packed one, only to have my mom offer me a travel-sized tube. It’s never a good feeling to know you’re going to have to chew gum every day for two days before you leave.)

It’s back onto the bus for our last ride into town, our last orientation of a new place – and our last dinner together as a group.

We start off the mini-walking tour in Marienplatz – the centre of town and site of the famous Glockenspiel. We also briefly stop by the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) and hear the legend about the church’s architect and the devil and the footprint one can find upon entering the church.

Following orientation, we all elect to stop walking around and hit one of the most well-known beer halls, the Hofbräuhaus.

It’s loud and packed, and the oompah band is in full swing. We manage to find a table (translation: two long-ass benches) for 14 of us. And then the real fun begins.

We all order drinks. In my mind, I’m figuring it’s going to be the average beer-mugs-with-handles I’m so used to seeing back in Canada. Nope. Try one litre of Bavarian beer madness – at least that’s what I discover when I crack open the menu to select my drink. I take the plunge and order a Hofbräuhaus Original beer. I’m a little afraid because of (a) what it might taste like and (b) the prospect of downing an entire litre of beer and trying not to get sick.

The waitress comes back with most of our drink orders, somehow managing to fit as many as four or five steins in each hand. The fact she does this without spilling it amazes me (and definitely makes me respect her much more).

As I slowly start trying to drink my beer, the waiter comes round and takes our orders. I settle on some Bavarian white sausage (which may look disgusting and possibly uncooked, but is actually quite nice) and a pretzel.

And herein lies the trick to drinking two beers at a time: eat the saltiest pretzel known to mankind. The salt makes your mouth dry, or at least coats your tongue with so much sodium that you have no choice BUT to drink more beer.

This isn’t so bad. The beer tastes way less bitter than I imagine, and I successfully drain my glass. My mistake may be in ordering a second litre. I’m nowhere near sick, but it’s only a matter of time before I’m peeing like a racehorse.

The meal over, we walk (or stumble a little bit) out of the hall and wander around, taking in some classical buskers, and finding a statue of Juliet. (We’re told, if you rub her breast – I think it’s her right one – you’ll be lucky in love. I’m waiting to see if this theory actually works.)

Once back at the hotel, it starts sinking in: it’s the end of the tour. My roommate Lauren heads for Rome the following morning. Others are heading back to London, the U.S., or Toronto. To my knowledge only I and possibly two other tour-mates – Randy and Surabh from the States – will remain a day or so longer.

But it will be the strangest feeling, after being surrounded by a couple dozen people for a week and a half, to be virtually alone for the next two days.