Exploring the Bavarian countryside with local and friend, Joe, was a real treat. As part of our holiday in Europe, we were spending a few days in Munich and hoping to meet up with Joe to see the sights in the more rural part of Bavaria. Joe met us at the train station in Fussen and was wearing traditional Bavarian Lederhosen, he had our whole day (loosely) planned starting with a quick stroll through Fussen and a visit to Neuschwanstein castle.
Neuschwanstein was the castle of King Ludwig, a fairytale castle that inspired Disney featured in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The castle was never finished because King Ludwig died during its lengthy construction. The rooms that were completed are open to the public for viewing as part of a guided tour, you can only see the interior as part of a tour and no photos are allowed unless you are on one of the balconies or in the kitchen. It is a shame because the painting, mosaics and furnishing are truly magnificent, if not a little over the top, I particularly loved the patterns painted on the interior of the Throne Room and Singer’s Hall.
To get to the castle you can walk, take a bus or hop on a horse-driven carriage, we chose the delightful mode of horse and carriage and being at the front I got to take in the sights unimpeded and I love the smell of horses. Entry for the castle or castles (you can visit Hohenschwangau as well) comes with a guided tour scheduled for specific times during the day, tickets are bought at a ticket office at the bottom of the hill and if you’re not waiting in the queue you can browse through the souvenir shop or grab a bite to eat.
Hohenschwangau is the childhood home of King Ludwig, big and yellow, it can be easily scene from one of the balconies of Neuschwanstein. King Ludwig’s father, King Maximilian rebuilt the castle after it was destroyed by Napoleon and it was used by the Royal Family as a summer hunting lodge. We didn’t visit Hohenschwangau, one castle was enough for the day and we really wanted to see more of the region.
After lunch Joe took us to Tegelberg mountain, we rode the cable car to the summit and spent a pleasant hour or so enjoy an icy cold beer or Radler (beer and lemonade) and watching people parasailing and hang-gliding off the summit. All around us were snow capped mountain, we come from a more tropical part of Australia and to be sitting on a mountain covered with snow was a truly special moment. Once off the mountain Joe drove us to see the Wieskirche (Weis Church), a heavily decorated church in the middle of a field, it has been newly restored and apparently tour buses frequent the location when travelling the Romantic Road. With the day almost over Joe takes us back to his family home, his Mum, Sister and Grandmother had cooked a traditional Bavarian dinner of Roast pork, potato dumplings and salad followed by berries with Bavarian Cream. It really was the most wonderful way to end a day that will stay forever in our memory.
We’ve been travelling in Europe for about 5 weeks now and have loved every minute of it, only very minor glitches in our plans and nothing drastic enough to make me wish I was at home. In addition to the amazing sights, fascinating history and delicious food we have had the pleasure of meet and/or interacting with some really wonderful people. It is true that if you make the effort to be pleasant and polite, try to say hello, please and thank you in the local language and keep the “it isn’t like this at home” attitude to yourself then people will respond positively.
In Paris it took a day or two before the staff on the front desk said more than bonjour to us and wouldn’t admit to speaking more than ‘a little english’. Eventually we were engaging in conversation with them, we learned alot about the area we were staying in and they were extremely forthcoming with information and general chatter about their lives, other destinations and what they thought of them. Marty met the manager of the bar across the road and got chatting about food, she spoke English very well and invited us to try their authentic french fries and the best burger in Paris, we did and had an enjoyable evening in the company of locals.
In Amsterdam and Germany, most of our positive interactions were based around food, either over breakfast, dinner or while buying produce for a picnic. We met the owners of a brasserie and doner kebab shop in Amsterdam and got travel tips from a shop assistant near the red light district, they were all quite happy to tell us more about themselves and the business they were in as well as provide good service. In Germany we met a terribly non politically correct waiter who told us jokes about Barack Obama, being married and whatever else he had read on his email that day. We ate there twice, the food was really good but the conversation and entertainment he provided was more valuable and had we stayed there another night we would have eaten there again. At the Hofbrauhaus we drank with an elderly gentleman who looked as though he had finished a couple of steins before we arrived, he didn’t speak much English, enough to give us his name, Patrick, and date of birth (when Hitler came to power) and a few short phrases that helped us with dinner table etiquette in Germany. Marty shouted him a beer, the concept foreign to him, when the beer appeared in front of him and told Marty that money wasn’t a problem and he could afford beer, it was hard to explain that buying someone a drink was a tradition in Australia. It was a fun evening after a long, cold day at Dachau and we were glad to have met Patrick, even though the conversation was a little hard to understand at times.
One of our favourite days ever was spent with a mate of Marty’s, Joe, he met us at the train wearing traditional Bavarian clothing and he drove us around the countryside and to Neuschwanstein for a tour through King Ludwig’s fairytale castle. The weather was perfect for being outdoors, we went for a ride on a horse and carriage and got a lift in a cable car to the top of a nearby mountain where we drank nice, cold beer at a bar surrounded by snow and mountain tops. Just when we thought the day couldn’t get better, Joe took us to meet his family, his Mum had prepared a special dinner of roast pork, crackling, potato dumplings and salad. Joe’s family were the most wonderful people, his Mum and sister had also dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing and we kicked ourselves for not getting a decent photo of them all together, so overwhelmed were we by their hospitality and generosity. It was very hard to hop on the train back to Munich that night and it is a day we will never forget.
In Italy we have been on the end of some truly excellent customer service and met really friendly, engaging people but we have also been on the end of some of the worst and most indifferent service ever experienced. Shop assistants prefer to maintain telephone conversations or conversations with other people rather than help you out or even take your money. Prepared to greet them with ‘buongiorno’, they always start with ‘prego’ or you’re welcome and it throws you, there is often no eye contact unless you don’t have the right change and then you get the glare and the rolling of eyes. Milan was one of the worst for service, we got bumped from place to place just trying to buy a ticket for the tram. Our accommodation in Varenna, Vernazza, Siena, Orvieto and Assisi obviously cared about their guests, helping us with the language, giving us directions and helping us find good places to eat – all with a smile and no rolling of eyes. The Sicilian brothers at the Il Pirata cafe in Vernazza were a hoot, they flatter the women, make lots of jokes, have fun with the work and their customers and the food and coffee was terrific. We went there for breakfast each morning and for dessert one evening, when you meet such good people and get treated well how can you resist going back. In Orvieto we were well looked after by the family that owned the B&B, had excellent waiters at the restaurants we went to and had a fun time drinking wine and eating nibbles with a couple of ladies from Brazil.
There are so many more instances of meeting people that I could write thousands of words, but all my descriptions would sound much the same: interesting, wonderful, engaging, helpful and funny. The people we’ve met have made our trip more enjoyable for us and it has opened our eyes to the way other people think and act, overall we’re really not that different.
Munich Hbf is a busy station and possibly the largest one we’ve been to so far (at least from our perspective) and we weren’t sure about the exact location of our hotel, only that we needed to exit towards a particular street. Munich has trams, buses, cars and bikes, you can cross at a pedestrian crossing without lights or at crossings managed by lights, I’m still not used to them driving on the right and head straight for the pedestrian crossings. Marty is regularly telling me to drift right when walking and watch out for the cyclists.
Kings Hotel Center is only a few minutes walk from the station, as usual we take longer to get there because we don’t know the area and easily miss the street signs. The hotel caters mainly for business people, the environment and staff are all very well presented, the two chandeliers in the foyer catch my attention and the furniture and art are very formal in nature. Our room is not huge, but nicely furnished with a large flat screen television hanging in the corner, sadly the only English speaking channels are BBC and CNN, at least we can keep up with world news and get weather forecasts.
Munich was destroyed by allied bombing in WWII, rather than rebuild the city in a contemporary style the city chose to rebuild it as it was prior to the war, Hitler and his cronies had documented and photographed everything providing an excellent reference point for the architects and builders. Marienplatz in home to the town hall and hundreds of shops, it is pedestrianised and being a sunny Sunday afternoon the square is filled with buskers, beer drinkers and friends hanging out. The streets seem dirty, more so than Paris and Amsterdam and there is no public seating and very few rubbish bins. All the shops are closed, only cafes, beer houses and restaurants are open, the noise and crowds are a bit of a shock after our quiet, peaceful stays in Baccarach and Rothenburg. Wandering up and down marienplatz we settle on sandwiches for lunch and eat them in the square whilst listening to buskers play classical versions of pop songs. Munich is not at all familiar to me, I’ve read plenty of guide books, watched dvds and travel shows however they’re all mainly focussed on Italy and Paris. Around the corner from Marienplatz is the Residenz and Hofgarten, not sure how close or far they are, we decide to keep walking and turn back if our feet get sore. Coffee has been ordinary in Germany, Starbucks makes a nice break for us and the coffee is okay although it seems expensive at 3,60 euro. We didn’t make it into the Residenz, took a peek only at the Hofgarten and then spent a short time gazing at a loggia style building in a nearby square. On the way back to the hotel we accidentally came across the Michael Jackson memorial, two small groups of people had set up blankets next to the memorial, one of the women wearing pale makeup, a red jacket, ankle length black pants, white ankle socks and black shoes – definitely a fan. The memorial itself was covered in flowers, candles, pictures and messages of love and loss. Quite odd really, probably no different to what happens at Graceland and Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris.
Our mission that evening was to find a restaurant where we could have a meal that included vegetables, the past two weeks we have been living on a diet of bread, meat, cheese and salad and both of us craved broccoli, corn and carrots. The White Ginger is a Vietnamese restaurant just down the road from our hotel, we gave the Turkish, Thai and table dancing venue a miss and sat down to a feast of mini spring rolls, duck in a chilli, coconut cream sauce, beef and broccoli, fried rice with shredded chicken and vegetables and steamed rice. This very appetising and flavoursome food didn’t stand a chance, we virtually inhaled the meal and claimed we could eat there again (and we did). With 30 minutes free internet, courtesy of the hotel, Marty was able to log on to Facebook and organise our activities for the next day, we would be catching up with his mate Joe, seeing Neuschwanstein castle and joining Joe’s family for a meal.