Munich… Meh

My latest escapade back into Deutschland was… a bit disappointing really. The hostel (nodded to in previous post) set the initial tone – one akin to a perpetual headache  – but I won’t bore you with the details. (Just a few quickfire bullets to set the scene: extremely rude and annoyingly good looking Romanian receptionist; full-to-the-brim fridge of old forgotten food; the bed bug scare of 2017.)

And now for the city. To me, Munich felt like just another big city. From it I didn’t get a sense of charm or personality, just a handful more bier gartens than usual and an abundance of laiderhossen-clad legs in the main square (the city celebrated its 862nd birthday while I was there, and I think they use any excuse to don their famous trouser). The biggest and most renowned brewery, Hofbräuhaus, was a huge indoor chamber of ornately decorated curved cream ceilings with dark wooden panelling; old fashioned streetlamp-esque light fittings hanging down from the high arches; an expanse of great long wooden tables and benches set out in dozens and dozens of rows; and crammed full of thirsty / hungry / merry / replete Bavarian beer lovers and wide-eyed tourists. Beer by the bucketful splashed here, there and everywhere; gigantic mega-portions of meat-based German delicacies were scattered across the tables at varying stages of demolition; and a jolly, beer-bellied brass band took centre stage to cheer on proceedings. I imagine if you’re a hungry, meat-loving beer enthusiast in the depths of winter this would be your holy sanctuary. (Being more of a wine-drinking pescetarien in what felt like the peak of a European heatwave, I decided to decline on a hearty portion of whole roasted knuckle of pork and litre of Hofbräu Dark.)

A little out of town is the BMW Welt (not quite sure what the heck ‘Welt’ means) and museum, where you can pretend you are an extreme off-road motorcyclist, the owner of many a swish new model of BMW car, and shopping for your latest Rolls Royce to add to the collection, all in the one convenient visit. A little too embarrassed to clamber onto one of the fierce looking motorbikes (I was wearing a pink bardot top under a twee denim dungaree dress after all), I did make sure I sampled some of cars (one of the few girls getting into the driving seats in a roughly 20:1 male:female visitor ratio, and inspected the roped-off Rolls Royces scrupulously (in my expert opinion they looked pretty freakin’ awesome). After a morning of automobilic day dreaming I headed to next-door Olympiapark for lunch and a chill in the sun. Tumbling hills of bright green grass surrounded a large, glistening, pedalo-filled lake; a pretty acceptable view with which to enjoy my sandwich and rest my legs (impersonating a filthy rich car shopper is tiring work).

Along with the UK, the temperature in Munich was ever-increasing so for my last full day in the city I decided to explore Englischer Garten (when I say explore I mean find a nice spot for which to conduct an exhausting day of lying in the sun) (it’s a hard life). The garden was INCREDIBLE. Acres of grass, woodland, rivers and waterfalls intertwined to create a chunky slice of paradise away from the stuffy centre of the city. (Of course in the epicentre of this natural haven was an extensive outdoor beer garden.) The streams rushed by at such a pace that there were a number of surfing spots where amateur surfers came to practice their skills, lining up along the bank and in quick succession taking it in turns to ride the narrow waves for as long as they could before being swept away then clamouring back up to rejoin the back of the queue. It was fascinating to watch. All of them clearly talented, you got the egotistical know-it-alls who hogged the limelight with one too many turns, and then the unfortunate cringe-inducing non-starters who were swallowed up by the rapid current almost as soon as their boards hit the water. But they were still having a great time! After watching them all go I am definitely going to take surfing lessons in Portugal… Here’s to being a wetsuit-wearing cringe-inducing non-starter!

***

Postscript 

Am starting to feel a little poor and lonely. If any of my lovely, loyal and generous readers (did I mention that you’re lovely?) would like to send a gift – perhaps a handsome, charming gentleman (nationality unspecified) to take me out for a candlelit romantic dinner for two – it would be gratefully received. (You could even share the postage cost of my ‘lost’ interrail tickets being sent to me in Budapest which, it transpires, I did in fact leave (BY MISTAKE) at my dad’s windmill, for him to find 6 weeks after I left the UK… Ooooops 🙈)

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One Week on Bernauer Strasse

From ‘The New Berlin’ to the organic, original and, in my opinion, one of a kind city itself, my time spent in the German capital was made even more special due to the fabulous hostel I stayed at (a solid 9.6), a.k.a. Kirsten & Jamie’s second floor pad, just a three-minute walk from Bernauer Strasse U-Bahn station. Free breakfasts were included every morning. You can forget about the corn flake shoots, drying up slices of processed cheese and overdone hard-boiled eggs in shells so hot you singe the tips of your fingers trying to break into them (a common spread at European hostel breakfast buffets). Oh no. Not here. Not with Kirsten as Head Chef. Smashed avocado and scrambled eggs on toasted rye bread; homemade spelt porridge with almond butter and fresh peaches; deep fuschia smoothie bowls topped with desiccated coconut, pumpkin seeds and droplets of honey. I mean… for the past week I have been in absolute breaven (breakfast heaven). And it didn’t stop there! A dorm room all to myself… free linen and towels… my own personal tour guide… I would definitely recommend.

So my Berlin experience started on Friday afternoon, and by twelve noon on the Saturday I had arrived (after being ID’d, which apparently never happens: brilliant (I’m not old enough for this to be a compliment)) at Sisyphos, a fortnightly all day / all night, outdoor / indoor club with a sandy beach, mini pond and sauna, where all the cool kids go. Sounds glamorous? Hmm… The sand was covered in cigarette butts and broken glass, the pond full of dead fish (and I dread to think what other fluids), and the sauna… it was already thirty bloody degrees! But despite the slight hygiene horrors, the club itself was just so interesting to witness. The spectrum of clientele ranged from topless and barefoot (ouch) hippie in green velvet three quarter length trousers to mysterious oriental beauty in high-waisted leather shorts, fishnet tights and a colourful sun-shielding umbrella reminiscent of something you might find in the costume cupboard of a musical theatre am-dram society. Bizarre. But no matter how idiosyncratic, inebriated or insane these Berliner’s were, they were the most chilled out and sun-protection conscious clubbers I have ever seen. Unlike in your average British club, rather than standing firm and blocking someone’s path if they wanted to walk past you on the dance floor, you moved out of their way to let them get by unhindered (can you believe it?!) and unlike on your average British seaside resort, rather than being surrounded by a sea of unprotected skin so scorched it could be mistaken for a Donald Trump appreciation conference, everyone was sharing sun cream, doing each other’s backs, and there was not a single lobster in sight.

Following six hours of daytime dancing on my first full day, the following day called for some well-earned relaxation. We headed to a huge lake in the west surrounded by a vast man-made beach, picnic in hand, and spent the day sunning ourselves, drinking beer and playing volleyball in the water. It felt like we were on a Mediterranean holiday frolicking in the sea, the only downside being that I hadn’t expected to be in a bikini until July, so the beach body was a little more Belgian waffle than Baywatch ready. (But at least I wasn’t sunburnt.)

The next few days called for some sightseeing; each day I had a long list of places I wanted to see, each day I massively failed to complete (or even make a notable indentation to) my itinerary. One memorable example is when I queued for not one, two or even three hours outside in the slowest moving snail trail to visit temporary street art exhibition The Haus. No. I queued for a whopping – wait for it – FIVE HOURS AND FIFTY MINUTES. What a bloody idiot. But let me redeem myself slightly: I arrived (75 minutes behind schedule) to a looong queue which stretched almost three sides of the entire block which, I estimated, would be a two-hour wait. I pondered, assessed my options, and concluded that I was ok with that. After two hours I had progressed by approximately one half of the initial queue length, which actually seemed to go by quite quickly, and I was still in (relatively) good spirits. Then the heavens opened. It started absolutely pissing it down and I was dressed in the most inappropriate attire – denim shorts (short shorts), a dusty pink tee (that was becoming more and more translucent by the second) and my trusty dusty pink cap (thank god for the cap). I had no jacket, no umbrella, no friends to cuddle. There was barely any shelter so we all huddled as close to the building as possible, trying to avoid the SHEETS of rain (not kidding) as much as possible. At this point my dilemma started. Firstly: after two hours of queuing, is it more stupid to leave the queue and admit defeat, not knowing how quickly the queue might go down or how many people might give in to the storm, or to stay in the queue and risk an indefinite amount of further queuing in the rain and catching a cold (or pneumonia) for the rest of your trip? Secondly: where the hell am I going to go (run to) in the middle of this crazy storm, or would I be better keeping semi-sheltered at the side of the building, at least until the thunderstorm subsides? Thirdly: will I look more of an idiot standing in this queue in the rain covered in goosebumps, or running aimlessly through the streets in the rain covered in goosebumps? I decided to wait it out. In hindsight (there is another three hours and fifty minutes until I eventually reach the exhibition entrance) this was a terrible idea. But it’s done now, and I met some interesting and inspiring people in the queue (shout out to Alex and Michael who, very kindly, lent me a shirt from his backpack to delay the onset of pneumonia – very much appreciated). The exhibition itself was very good and different but, come on, nothing is worth almost six hours of waiting in a queue.

When it got to my last day in the city my personal tour guide (Kirsten) decided enough was enough: I was going to see the sights whether I liked it or not. After a morning spent learning fascinating things about the Berlin Wall doing the Gedenkstarter Berliner Mauer, we headed to Teufelsberg in the afternoon. Directly translated as ‘The Devil’s Mountian’, a beautiful walk through an idyllic sun drenched forest led us to a mysterious graffiti-covered ex-spy station. On arrival we had to sign to declare that we were entering at our own risk (warning sign?), and then had free reign to explore every path, staircase and crevice as we wished, the visit culminating at the top of a tall tower with fabulous views for miles over the entire city. It was fabulous. After congratulating ourselves with a Berliner Kindl at the attraction’s bar (lounging on deckchairs, catching some rays) we headed back down the hill and back into the city.

The following couple of hours were a quick fire tour of the remaining famous sights. The Reichstag – tick; Museum Island – tick; the Cathedral – tick; the Brandenburg Gate – half tick (covered in scaffolding); Memorial to the Mudered Jews – tick; the longest ever walk home with achey, tired legs and bladder about to burst – big tick. Phew. That was close. A delicious home-cooked dinner (of course – remember the breakfasts) was the perfect end to my stay, before we gave in to our exhaustion and got some well-needed beauty sleep.

I am now on the train to Warsaw, in a Harry Potter-esque cabin, wondering what Poland has in store for me. All I know for sure is that I have to try the dumplings. Will report back in due course…

I Really Really Really Like Leipzig-a-zig-ah

My high hopes for Leipzig were well and truly satisfied; this city a vast improvement on my slightly disappointing first stop in the land of the Deutsch. As soon as I got off the train I knew I was going to enjoy my time here. The locals seemed friendlier, the streets safer, and the atmosphere in general felt light-hearted and arty in a non-pretentious way. They clearly don’t take themselves, or their city, too seriously, which I really (really really) like (Leipzig-a-zig-ah). (Sorry.) One of the main ring roads is the Martin Luther Ring (lol), and even the light signals at pedestrian crossings come with a sense of humour. For STOP you get a luminous crucified scarecrow, and for GO the side profile of a radioactive Mario who has lost his kart and in somewhat of a hurry on foot.

The hostel I’m staying in is slap bang in the middle of the action, and possibly my favourite hostel thus far (and the cheapest by far: ker-ching). I arrived on Tuesday, which, as I waited patiently to check in at reception, I learned to be ‘Free Pancake Tuesday’. So my dinner that night was two freshly made Nutella and banana pancakes – gratis… I don’t think life gets much better?

And the people here just add to the charm of the place. I have met an aspiring German architect (Greta) who invited me on an evening walk around the city, post-pancakes (❤️); a one-part German / one-part English busking duo – I think the first buskers I have ever met?! – who have the best anecdotes; and a Sudanese classical singing student whose voice is like a warm chocolate fountain melting a marshmallow covered palace of diamond encrusted silk pillows. Seriously.

Right now it is quarter past three in the afternoon, I am sitting in the courtyard of a bar right next to my hostel, a glass of cool (temperature not temperament) dry white wine in hand (almost gone), a water fountain in front of me, and the afternoon sun for company… I really really really like Leipzig-a-zig-ah.

From Frikandel to Frankfurter

My last stop in the land of the Dutch was Utrecht. A university city, it was full of students and much less touristic than Amsterdam. However this meant that the hostel bar was full of local students working on their laptops which is not the ideal environment to meet fellow solo travellers. I checked in to my room and was surprised and disappointed to be the first to have arrived. On the upside, though, this enabled me to swap my allocated top bunk to a roomy bottom bunk (every cloud) and make my bed in peace. After a tasty tuna nicoise in the bar (see previous post) I headed back to my room to see if anyone had arrived. I was in luck! As the flush went on the toilet I wondered what delightful new travelling buddy I was about to meet. Out walked Matt from South Africa*, an early twenties, eagerly friendly, uber talkative type. I introduced myself and shook his hand (straight away) and then swiftly regretted my eagerness (hygiene wise…).

We went for a wander in the city and I tried my first Belgian waffle (lol – even my geographical knowledge sees through that). Smothered in Nutella, it was a calorie-laden matrix of unadulterated indulgence. Yum. Post-sugar high I soon came to realise that Matt from South Africa was a philosophical, “spiritual” (his words) individual who required such a depth of meaning to each and every sentence to be conversed that, frankly, to me, was a little tiresome. My talk about the latest shenanigans in towie really wasn’t going to cut it. So I humoured him. After a few hours (long hours) we were back at the hostel, and eager (desperate) I was to see if any newbies had landed in room 501. No luck.

We headed down to the bar to claim our 50% off your first drink voucher, and I couldn’t be happier to see a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. It wasn’t the best but…it contained alcohol. After dinner we went back to the room – high hopes again, again to no avail. We had discussed going to a wine bar with live jazz but, at this point, a date with Netflix, my headphones and the second series of Fargo seemed much more appealing. As I settled down on my bunk, trading vino in Utrecht for violence in Minnesota, I did not hear the door to room 501 open. My eyes flickered from the screen and fell upon a slightly portly, big-bearded, friendly looking sixty-something man, followed by his wheely suitcase, come trundling into the dorm. Hallelujah! I mean, he wasn’t a perfectly sculpted Greek Adonis with a rose between his teeth by any stretch of the imagination (no matter how many Sauvy Bs you had consumed) but he was ANOTHER PERSON TO SAVE ME FROM THE SOUTH AFRICAN! He turned out to be Ludo, a Belgian professor living in Bruges who was in Utrecht for a conference, and reminded me of a cross between Santa and the curly-haired male doctor from Holby City (I don’t even watch it so don’t know where that came from) who I have just Googled – Elliot Hope. Ahh. Now I could sleep easy.

The following day I had another mooch around the city, going to the cathedral (average) and the Miffy Museum (when the ticket lady warned me it was for children she really wasn’t lying). Touristy to-do list ticked off, delicious traditional frites and EXQUISITE mayonnaise (in nifty cardboard cone with balcony for sauce – genius) were for dinner. Despite the fact that I’m ‘not a huge chips fan’ these organic hand-cut fries from Frietwinkel (😉) were, in my opinion, the highlight of my stay.

Next morning I was off to Cologne – my first time in Germany. As I entered the city I immediately sensed a difference in feel. People seemed less friendly, the city somehow more gritty, and as I walked to my hostel I clutched my phone just a little bit tighter. The city itself was interesting once explored; the nicer, quirkier and more authentic side of town was the opposite end to my hostel, which was situated in the midst of the more touristic, run-of-the-mill neighbourhood.

I had a chilled few days in the Colognial sun, but would say that my experience in the fourth largest German city was not much to write home about (oh the irony)… I am now en route to Leipzig, ‘The New Berlin’, which I have high hopes for. Due to arrive in an hour or so, so, for now, Auf Wiedersehen, pet.< i>*Name and identity has not been changed in any way – praying he doesn’t stumble across this blog.< a href=”https://insearchofhappydotcodotuk.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/img_4317.jpg”&gt;<<<<<<<