If you've been reading my most recent reviews on Epinions, you know that my husband Bill and I just spent a week in Europe. Most of our time was spent in Germany, a country that is near and dear to us because we lived there for two years. During our time living in Germany, I visited the city of Munich a couple of times. Though I had enjoyed Munich, my visits were only for the day... kind of like when I visited Washington, DC as a kid on field trips. I never got to see the city with my husband, either.
That changed last week when Bill and I were sitting in a hotel lobby in Cologne. Having arrived the day prior, we were eager to make the most of our brief visit to Europe. When we lived in Germany, we availed ourselves of "blind bookings" by Germanwings, a discount airline. On those occasions, we ended up scoring cheap tickets to London, England and Barcelona, Spain. I was hoping our luck would continue, especially since over the past couple of years, Germanwings has raised their prices and added lots of extra fees. In any case, we made a blind booking and ended up scoring a cheap flight to Munich. I had mixed feelings. I had enjoyed Munich a lot on my day trips and had wanted to go there with Bill someday. But I also had visions of going somewhere out of Germany... Then, when I realized what a great city Munich is and that the flight would be short and painless, I got excited about going there with Bill. And then... I started trying to find an affordable hotel!
Expensive digs in Bavaria!
While I know from experience it's possible to show up in a city and search for a hotel on foot, I tend to prefer booking online. We had shown up at the Ibis hotel in Cologne and paid a lot for a two star room. I wanted to find something less expensive in Munich. It was a pipe dream! Despite searching a good while and using multiple online booking sites, I couldn't find any lodging for less than $200 a night. Before anyone points out that there are, in fact, hotels in Munich that don't cost that much, I'll just comment that I know there are. But we didn't have the luxury of making phone calls or emails on such short notice, nor was I familiar enough with the city to know where the best places to stay were. When I had been in Munich before, I had mostly hung around the Marienplatz area, which is where every tourist wants to be.
What Bill and I ultimately ended up doing was booking at room at the Hotel Kempinski at the Munich Airport. We had stayed at the Kempinski back in 2009 for one night before an early flight to Oslo. It's a five star establishment and, at about $300 a night, not cheap. However, that $300 pricetag seemed to be about the going rate in the Munich area. I saw some places listed at more than twice that rate and only a couple that were less expensive. Bill and I knew it was a good hotel and since it's at the airport, it would be very convenient for our early flight back to Cologne three days later.
Yet another day trip to Munich...
Our first night at the Hotel Kempinski in Munich, I was still dealing with jetlag and in no mood to ride the train forty minutes to get to the Munich city center. Luckily, Munich's airport offers several dining venues, including an awesome biergarten. Bill and I sat at the Airbrau restaurant and watched lots of people come and go. It was fascinating.
The next morning, we took the train to Munich and got off at the "Rathaus" stop, which is right in front of the iconic city hall building. Every day, at 11:00am (and 12:00pm and 5:00pm in summer), there is a glockenspiel "show" that depicts two classic Bavarian stories. The top half of the glockenspiel tells the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V (who founded the famous Hofbräuhaus) to Renata of Lorraine. There is a joust in the couple's honor, with life-sized knights on horseback representing Bavaria (in white and blue) and Lothringen (in red and white). Naturally, the Bavarian knight wins every time. The bottom half of the story depicts the Cooper's dance. According to myth, there was a plague in Munich back in 1517. The coopers danced through the streets to show their loyalty to the duke and to promote loyalty and perserverence during difficult times.
I had seen the glockenspiel show several times, thanks to my Munich day trips in the past. During this visit, Bill and I got to see it from a different perspective because we watched the five o'clock show from the top of the St. Peters church tower. It cost us a couple of euros each to climb the tower, which got us all breathless and sweaty, but helped us burn off some of the beer we drank at the Hofbräuhaus. Seeing the 12-15 minute show from the top of the tower had the added advantage of helping us stay safe from pickpockets. Apparently, they find the show lucrative, since many people are watching the glockenspiel instead of their wallets!
I had seen the crown jewels and treasury at the Residenz museum during one of my day trips. I had not ever seen the actual Residenz, which is where the dukes of Munich lived . Bill had not seen it either, so we purchased two combination tickets for 22 euros. I was not prepared for the Residenz side of the museum, which is huge and has ten courtyards and 130 rooms. We did not get to see all of the rooms because they're not all open at once. However, it took several hours to walk through the whole thing. We had a speaker set to English that allowed us to listen to descriptions of the rooms and the different items in them. Not all of the rooms are authentic or contain original items, since a lot of things were destroyed during World War II. Nevertheless, each room was a study of ornate opulence, with splendid examples of fine furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries.
When we were finished touring the Residenz, we went to see the crown jewels and treasury, which seemed positively puny and insignifcant in comparison. Yes, there are examples of royal jewels, crowns, swords, and personal articles. However, getting through that part of the museum only takes about 45 minutes, if you stop and read all the descriptions and/or listen to the speaker. If you're going to go to the Residenz museum, I recommend either buying the combination ticket or seeing the Residenz over the crown jewels... unless you just don't want to spend hours there.
Munich is a great place to go shopping. Indeed, when I came there courtesy of day tours, that's mainly what I did to pass the time. You can find anything you want there, from high fashion to cheap souvenirs. One of my favorite stores in Munich is the Dallmayr store, which is a fancy gourmet store and restaurant. Bill had never been there so we made a stop. He was fascinated by the beautiful meats, cheeses, pastries, breads, and gift baskets. And imagine my surprise when I saw multiple jars of Bone Sucking Sauce, a product that is made right here in North Carolina. Dallmayr was selling them for a lot more than what we pay at our local supermarket, though. Anyway, it costs nothing to go into the Dallmayr store and enjoy the sights and smells of the cornucopia, but you may have a hard time resisting buying something. We ended up not making any purchases because we didn't want to have to carry anything.
Next door to the Dallmayr, there's a very high end department store that has everything from food and liquor to camping equipment. I took Bill in there because I once bought him a bottle of very good scotch there. I couldn't help coveting the beautiful leather products being sold there-- handbags, jackets, and gloves--... the kinds of things you would pay a lot of money for and then never have to buy again because they are so well made and classically styled.
Munich is a great place to be a foodie. You can find just about any kind of cuisine you like, but German/Bavarian restaurants are particularly plentiful, as are Italian trattorias. My last time in Munich, I visited the Hofbräuhaus and enjoyed a very nice afternoon listening to German music, eating Bavarian cuisine, and drinking lots of fantastic beer. Bill was initially reluctant to go to the Hofbräuhaus because he assumed it would be very tacky, crowded, and touristy. However, he was very pleasantly surprised when we walked into the restaurant and easily took a seat at a long table. The menu offers lots of delicious food at reasonable prices. If you have a hankering for sauerkraut, potato salad, pork, sausages, or roasted chicken, you are definitely in luck... And definitely try the beer!
Not far from the Hofbräuhaus, there's a great place to get pork knuckle. You can actually see them being roasted in the restaurant window. I was tempted to take Bill there, but remembered my last experience with schweineshaxn and the fact that it took us about three weeks to use it all. Maybe we'll make it there someday if we ever get to Munich again.
Aside from many restaurants, you can visit the Farmer's Market, which is a visual feast with its fantastic produce, flowers, and meat products. The aromas of fresh food are intoxicating as you walk through this market. I definitely wished we still lived in Germany so I could buy some food there.
Of course there's a lot more to Munich than what I've written about here. There are museums, shows, concerts, parks, and of course, Oktoberfest festivals. A person could spend days in this city and not do the same things twice. Bill and I chose to be laid back during our time in Munich. Had we stayed in the city proper instead of an airport hotel, we might have really gotten a better sense of the place. If we ever go there again, I hope we'll have the chance to plan in advance so we can find a reasonably priced hotel closer to the action. I know they exist!
I'm not really big on hanging out in tourist attractions. I prefer to soak up the atmosphere and people watch. However, there are lots of museums, cultural events, parks, and other attractions that maybe I should have made more of an effort to see.
Bavaria is a very cool region in Germany. People there are so proud of their heritage. It's not at all uncommon to see people walking around in traditional clothing. And when you enter a store, you're sure to hear someone say "Grüß Gott" (Greet God), as you would in other parts of southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. You're not as likely to hear it as you travel north.
If Munich isn't enough for you, you can visit one of several other cities that are within a couple hours ride on a train. Salzburg, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Augsburg, and Berchtesgaden are all within easy distance.
Munich is a fabulous city, definitely worthy of a visit to anyone spending time in Germany.
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