Day 1: To Munich
About two weeks out from this trip, I decided it may be about time I attempted to learn some German for my fifth trip to the country. Something tells me that starting so late to familiarise myself with a language that is probably more than a thousand years old is possibly going to leave me somewhat lacking. If only I could somehow forewarn those I will come in contact with and apologise in advance. Unfortunately, my explanatory t-shirt fails to arrive before we leave. Es tut mir leid.
After dropping our bags off at the King’s Hotel we walk to Viktualienmarkt for a small festival of sorts. We’re subjected to some German, or as we’re informed by our table mates, not German entertainment. Big brass bands and dancing, probably more Sound of Music than German audyssy. Our German companions have probably seen more of the Irish coast than we have….despite us living on said coast. We chat away and toast the day for a while before requiring the shade in order to avoid heat stroke. With our temperature down we stroll around München and stumble upon the Rathaus which has a restaurant in the courtyard. A very pretty setting on such a glorious day. Then through Marienplatz, with the touristy beers and, overly expensive but tasty, sausage.
After a quick glance at Google Maps, we estimate it very possible to walk to the Englischer Garten. Despite the 26 degrees at 6pm. We settle next to the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) for a few sizable beers in a massive beer garden in the middle of the aforementioned garten. Surrounded by probably a thousand people, if not more. There’s an amazing buzz about the place; the park is full of sunbathers, people cycling and swimming in the streams as well as drinking beer. A very German Sonntag.
Our home for the next three nights is the King’s Hotel First Class. Nice accommodation, with a giant TV in the room. All very comfortable and pleasant until we’re woken up around 2am by some pretty noisy Americans on their way to bed. The walls could do with an upgrade. Or maybe people should just be quiet in hotel hallways at 2am. You decide.
Day 2: Munich
I wander the halls of the hotel in search of milk for our coffee. I eventually suck it up and head to reception. The guy could not be more helpful. He leaves his post and returns a few moments later with a little jug of milk on a plate. Service is real good here at the King’s Hotel.
Our first destination today is the Olympic Park before Guns n Roses take over. We might try to hook ourselves up with a couple of tickets somewhere along the way. You never know? We stop in Café Lotti en route, for some breakfast. Eggs with chicken (I’m told by Orla). It’s actually eggs with schinken….which is ham. I did have my doubts about a dish of chicken and eggs….Unbelievably, they have nail polish remover in the bathroom. It’s like they knew we were coming, as Orla’s nail polish has commenced melting off in the heat and marking her cool new runners.
It’s not too far out to the Olympicturm (Olympic Tower), though we do lose sight of it as we walk the very quiet streets of the route to the Olympic Park. We take the elevator up and are rewarded with some decent, 360 views of Munich. We decide against Restaurant 181, instead attempting to get some Guns n Roses tickets as we are convinced we hear them sound checking. Unfortunately, after trying in vain for an hour, we’re informed the concert is tomorrow. The nice Brätwurst vendor being absolutely sure as he is working at it. So we settle for the Sealife Aquarium instead, where we see them feeding the sharks and giant sea turtle. Initially, when we walk in, we think this place is only for kids and we’ve made a terrible mistake. But it works out in the end and turns out to be a great shout.
We hop on the U-Bahn back to Hofbräuhaus. A big old beer hall dating from 1897. I think. The menu is a little ambiguous. Anyway, very touristy but probably a must when in Munich. Not overly expensive for some Bavarian food and beer. You can tourist watch all day too, if you like. There seem to be no closed doors either. We wander around unobstructed, checking out the giant hall and stage, which are devoid of people for some reason.
After a quick rest and freshen up, we walk the 5 minutes to Löwenbräu beer garden from our hotel. The weather is fantastic, plenty warm to sit out at half 8 of an evening drinking Helles, Dunkles and whatever else you’re having. Of course, it’s very easy for one to have a few too many in Germany. We’re more sensible than that, obviously.
Day 3: The Royal Castle Tour
Our tour starts off with a deluge of information. Our guide starts off about 5,000 years ago. Giving a detailed history of Bavaria (Bayern) and Munich (which is named after the monks that settled here). Orla exclaims ‘it’s going to be a long day’ 10 minutes in. At this point we’re up to about 4,950 years ago. Jeez.
The first stop is Linderhof Palace. Probably the gaudiest place I’ve ever seen. All gold leaf and porcelain. A room full of mirrors, to give the illusion of more space. It’s hard to relate to King Ludwig II, surrounding himself with ivory chandeliers, silk woven coats of arms and gold adorned statues in his massive garden in the Alps. The inscription at the entrance in Latin reads, ‘We are above everyone and equal to no one and nothing’. A lovely modest message. The Palace is beautiful, from the outside, with stunning views of the mountains. The hills are luscious green and it’s another cracker of a day, which is great as we’re informed it rains here quite a bit.
Next up is Oberammergau. A picturesque town in the Bavarian Alps. A slow pace of life, despite the influx of tourists. It looks like most of the people doing the moving are not from around here. The weather is perfect, which only adds to the beauty of an already stunning setting. Even with all the tour busses and souvenir shops, the atmosphere is wonderfully relaxed.
From there our bus takes us to Hohenswangau. We take the long walking trail, via the Alpsee, to Hohenswangau Castle first. Apparently a 30 minute walk. We arrive at the castle in 7 minutes. Right so. The surrounding area is really perfect. The castles are almost lost in the mountains. They blend bizarrely well into the background. The ideal picnic spot, on a bench with Neuschwanstein Castle in the distance.
After our alfresco lunch, we stroll over and up to Neuschwanstein. The tour of the fairy-tale castle is grand. The next tour is literally on your heals though. You get no opportunity to take much of it in. The walk up and down is particularly beautiful. Definitely worth the extra time, though the horse and cart seem to take twice as long as walking, so worth the less time?!? You can see the influence Neuschwanstein had on the Disney castle in every respect. Not quite a carbon copy, but not far off. We spend the rest of our time sitting on a bench looking out at Alpsee (the lake), the horse and dog swimming and all of the visitors strolling around in the sun frightening off the ducks. We wish for more time in such a majestic place, but our carriage awaits.
We’ve been on the go now for eight and a half hours. Our tour guide is still talking, telling us her theories of how King Ludwig II died. Five possible theories. Five. Seriously. Everyone is tired. Read the room. It’s about a 2 hour bus journey back to Munich and, unfortunately, our guide just keeps on going. No off switch. We think it’s bad when she’s talking about the various kings and theories. You’d think when she ran out of that ammo she’d stop….nope, just cracks straight into the ‘pollution causes cancer’ material, followed by how many hospitals, universities and hours spent in traffic those from Munich can enjoy…..what the fuck is going on!
Traffic on approach to München Hbf is mental. Guns n Roses fans apparently love to drive to gigs. We’re almost more exhausted by the aimless rambling of our guide who must have gone off the rails a couple of hours back, as she is now ranting about the price of her rent. By the time we get back we can only just manage to eat again before turning in for the night.
Day 4: to Bamberg
We’ll be getting the Berlin train as far as Bamberg this morning. So, we should be with Paddy, Heike & Liam in around two hours or so. Hopefully the air conditioning is working this time in our wagon. I’m not sure if we could survive another journey like the Frankfurt one last year and the oven carriage we were travelling in. Fifteen minutes behind schedule we’re pickup up by Paddy and welcomed with some white sausage and pretzel for lunch courtesy of Heike. A Munich tradition we’re told, it took us to Bamberg to try some. Sure look. From then on it’s a rotating shift system for following Liam, who is such a great kid, around. He’s just so happy and full of energy.
Later we take a short car journey to Brauerei Warner, in Merkendorf. A small brewery and beer garden filled with locals. The food is great and there’s a decent, relaxed atmosphere. We’re fairly tired, but it doesn’t stop us burning the midnight oil drinking a range of different beers. It’s already been a beer odyssey, and there’s still plenty to come.
Day 5: Bamberg
My day begins with Liam feeding me my muesli. One spoon for him, one for me. Very democratic. For a while anyway; it’s not long until I’m relatively overlooked. After breakfast we have a wonderful stroll around beautiful Bamberg. The buildings, the river, everything is idyllic. The rose garden, in full bloom, offering up some spectacular views of an old town.
Paddy & Heike have already been amazing hosts, and now, treating us even further with a BBQ on their balcony. It’s now 30° with a real feel of 32, apparently. Perfect, once you’re not in work or in direct sunlight. We decide it is best to leave the swimming in the public outdoor pool for a couple of hours until it cools down. When we do get there it couldn’t be more relaxing, apart from running around after Liam. Apparently they have about seven of these pools in Bamberg alone. The place is packed. Definitely a great alternative to the beach, especially when there’s no easy access to a beach!
By 10pm we’re exhausted. Chasing a one and a half year old around for chunks of the day is tough work. That and we’re getting old. It’s an early night all round.
Day 6: Bamberg
We escaped the thunder storms last night, not even a drop of rain. The Alps obviously doing their job and breaking up the storm before it even arrived in Bamberg. On top of that, we wake up to pancakes, complete with Ahornsirup. Which is just funny to say. Heike really is spoiling us during our stay.
Strolling around Bamberg we notice an above average number of weddings happening around the town. Either that or white wedding type dresses are really in fashion here. It adds a lot of glamour to an already glamorous city. We have coffee and cake in the beautiful garden of a café, while one of the recently married couples has their photos taken.
Our evening activity is a nice walk through Kruezberg (Cross Hill). A beautiful forest with about seven breweries amongst the trees. Part of a pilgrimage apparently. We stop at Brauerei Roppelt for a Kellerbier and take turns supervising Liam in the playground. It’s pretty exhausting, he just keeps on going. We all attempt to balance ourselves across a tightrope obstacle in the playground, failing miserably. I’d like to say the beer hindered me, but it probably helped really. After all our running around we head back to Greifenklau for a weissebier. The brewery on the hill in Bamberg. Or rather; one of the many breweries on one of the several hills around Bamberg. Unfortunately, later we take a whiskey tour of the world, probably not the greatest idea the night before you go to a beer festival.
Day 7: to Nuremberg
We take the scenic route to Nuremberg from Bamberg, the Bavarian countryside is immaculate. Rolling green hills bathed in, mostly, brilliant sunshine. It’s a slightly longer drive to give Liam a good sleep.
We’re treated to a cracking lunch in the Greek restaurant Delphi in Nuremberg by Hans and Ilsa (Heike’s father and mother). Delicious gyros accompanied by a Kellerbier. Splendid stuff.
We need to walk around Nuremberg for a few hours to work off some of our massive lunch. We manage to squeeze in an ice-cream though, informed we’ve picked the best place in Nuremberg too by another patron. We pass the beauty of the castle, the old walls and forts. Also, the standard beach in the middle of a city, in a landlocked country. The sand is shipped in, and pools are installed complete with swim up bars. Paddy tells us the powers that be remove it all for a two day festival before putting everything back. An awful to do.
We haven’t quite had enough beer and brätwurst yet so we decide to head to the Fränkisches Bierfest (Franconian Beer Festival) to pack in one or two more beers. I’ve tried about 20 different beers from probably 15 different breweries at this stage. It’s been great, a real beer adventure.
The festival is amazing. Set in the drained moat of Nuremberg Castle, there are approximately 40 breweries from around the local area with a couple of guest ones brought in from overseas, or at least over borders. We head straight for the Helsinki brewery. As you do. We stand in a massive queue before Paddy, casually asks about the beer. The response is a chuckle and the information that they’ve actually run out of that and are just selling Kellerbier from the brewery we were in yesterday. No one in the queue being either informed they have run out or that what they are buying and drinking is not Bryggeri Helsinki beer! Absolutely gas. The queue keeps going all night too!
The atmosphere is incredibly relaxed and welcoming. The setting could not be more perfect for such an event, with the fortified stone walls of Nuremberg Castle on either side ensuring all the quality stays in. There’s almost an overwhelming amount of food and beer on offer. The only complaint is the bizarrely long gap between songs which the live band insists on. Diverting to full conversation amongst themselves while the audience awaits.
It all winds down by 11pm and we’re on the way home, not before I grab a currywurst in a bun to go! Definitely a good decision, but seriously messy.
Day 8: back to Munich then home to Dublin
Breakfast in a quiet Hotel Cristal dining room. We’re delighted to have missed the 50 or so girls who are heading off to a hockey match, breakfast would have been a different beast otherwise.
After a quick stop to pick up Paddy, we head into town, drop the bags in the Hauptbahnhof and then aim for the Castle and beer festival again. We meet up with Lother (Heike’s brother) and his girlfriend before we just sit in the shade sipping a Schwarza Anna beer for a couple of hours until we have to catch our train back to Munich. I’ve booked the express, which whisks us towards München at 240 Km/h. Very cool. It unfortunately means we have a lot of time hanging around Munich. Especially when our flight is delayed by 50 minutes, and somehow my decision to eat loads of train station sushi backfires.