Munich Guide: Olympia Park

Our trip to Olympia Park was an accident.

Ok, kind of. I mean it was on ‘the list’ and we did intentionally bike there, but our original plan was to go swimming in the Isar river. That plan was foiled once we looked at the radar. So instead, we decided to check out Olympia Park, which offered some shelter in case a thunderstorm rolled through. To be honest, there’s a lot more to this park than I expected. Despite the name, it never really clicked that this was where the 1972 Olympics were held. Yes, its a big (and beautiful) park, but it’s also home to all of the old stadiums!

As I mentioned, the park complex itself is quite large, 850,000 m2 to be exact, and the general layout and architecture were inspired by the Bavarian alpine hills – lots of blues, greens, and natural landscaping. The leisure activities seem quite endless. Today, you can tour the stadium complex, take a walk (or bike ride) through the park, sunbathe by the lake, see a movie outdoors, or drink a beer in one of the beer gardens, to name a few. Here were our highlights.

The Olympic Tower

I would venture to guess that the most noticeable feature of this park is the Olympic Tower, which was built in 1968. Yes, you can go up! No, we didn’t – thanks to the coronavirus most tourist attractions with small spaces are still closed. It’s still nice to enjoy, even without going up, and can act as a homing-device while you wander as it’s centrally located.

The Olympic Stadium

We didn’t realize that you could tour the old Olympic stadium. Actually, we were on our way home – we had biked a full circle around the park when Shane suggested to at least go look through the gate. As we were gawking from the outside, I noticed that a couple was walking INSIDE. If we had taken ~30 sec to look around instead of straight ahead we would have noticed the entrance. Regardless, we got in and it was great! You can do a self-guided tour (with free audio guide) or a guided tour. We opted for the self-guided tour and the whole stadium essentially to ourselves.

Olympiaberg

A nice view of the Olympiaberg from inside the stadium.

Interesting fact: the Olympiaberg (Olympic mountain) is man-made. It’s actually built from the rubble created from the bombings during World War II. Now, at 56m (183ft) tall, it’s one of the highest points in Munich. 56m doesn’t sound that bad until you bike it, which we did. The view was worth it, though.

Proof that we biked to the top.

The Park

Obviously, it’s better in person.

Don’t miss out on the park itself! There are tons of well-maintained paths for pedestrians, bikes, scooters – you name it! After you’ve conquered the “mountain”, take a left as you come down the path. The fields there have a great view of Munich and you’ll run smack-dab into a beer garden! After admiring the view (and refueling on beer & curryworst), you can follow the paths to the other side of the park and look at the old Olympic Village. I suggest looking from a distance though, because the old village is now used as student housing!

Tip: Walk the lake path.

We didn’t, and should have because Munich’s Walk of Fame is there (similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame). It started in 2003, and now has over 100 hand-prints and signatures from German and worldwide celebrities.

Olympia-Alm Beer Garden

The Olympia-Alm beer garden started off as a beer kiosk during the Olympics in 1972. Now, it’s the highest beer garden in Munich – a whole 564m (1850ft) above sea level! At max-capacity (during normal times), it can hold up to 200 people, putting it in the ‘small’ beer garden category – the largest can hold 8,000. If this doesn’t suit, then there are others, for instance the Beer Garden at the Coubertinplatz.

Tip: Order at the counter and it’s cash only.

1972 Massacre Memorial

During the Olympics, a Palestinian terrorist group attacked the Israeli team. They took 11 athletes as hostages. All the athletes and one West German police officer were killed. The end goal was to secure the release of 234 Palestine prisoners being kept in Israeli jails. Today, there is a memorial to the massacre, and it’s worth the quick stop to hear the story and learn about the victims.


Practical Info:

How to get there: From Munich Hbf, take the U2 to Hohenzollernplatz. From there it’s a ~15 min walk, or catch Bus 59 to Ackermannbogen then a 5 min walk into the park.

Cost: Visiting the park/Olympiaberg is FREE! Of course, some of the attractions have costs: the tower (€9), the stadium (€3.50), Olympia-alm beer (€3.20 / 0.5L).

Opening Times: The park itself is always available. Attractions closing times vary: the tower (23:00), the stadium (16:00), Olympia-alm (22:00).

Rating: ✅ Highly Recommended!

Olympia Park is huge, and we really only scratched the surface. Nearby, are the BMW Welt (showroom) and BMW Museum. Between those two attractions and the park, it would be easy to spend an entire day in this area of Munich. Did I mention there is a Rock Museum and an aquarium out there too? Something for everyone!

Tschüss,

Whitney

Munich Guide: Blutenburg Castle

Technically, Schloss Blutenburg.

We take a lot of walks these days. Well, honestly, we’ve taken a lot of walks since March when the coronavirus restrictions started. Shane is still unable to work due to coronavirus delays, so we’re still walking! Lucky for us, we have a new neighborhood to explore, and Schloss Blutenburg happens to be within walking distance!

Duke Albrecht III, the Duke of Bavaria-Munich, built Blutenburg as a hunting lodge in the west of Munich. The castle, located between two arms of the River Würm (which runs through Pasing, our town) dates back to 1432. He also built it to house his secret wife, a commoner named Agnes Bernauer. Unfortunately, their marriage was discovered by the Duke’s father, who declared Agnes a witch and had her murdered – thrown off a bridge into the Danube River, to be exact – in 1435.

Over the years the castle has been in the hands of many (the Duke’s second oldest son and some private leases), but eventually fell into dis-repair. In the 1970’s, an association was formed to restore the castle, and it’s now open to view, with a small museum, a cafe, and most famously, the International Youth Library which houses over 500,000 children’s books in 130 languages.

Practical Info:

How to get there: from Munich hbf, catch one of the many S-bahn trains to Obermenzing bf. From there, you can take a bus (#143) to the Blutenburg stop, or walk ~20 min. If you’re in the Pasing area, I recommend walking. The walk follows the river and there are signs to guide you.

Cost: Free! €3 to visit the museum.

Opening Times: Daily, until 6pm. The chapel closes at 5pm (summer months) and 4pm (winter months).

Rating: 🧡 (if there’s time)

If you’re in the Pasing area, it’s certainly worth the walk. If you’re looking for something a little ‘off the beaten path’ then this is also for you.

Tschüss,

Whitney

Munich: A Shwitastic Guide!

22 days.

That’s how long it took for me to get around to buying a cheese pretzel (käsebrezel, as I now know). This may seem insignificant (which, ok it is), but I love cheese and I surely love that cheese on a pretzel – ERGO – this is an unacceptable situation.

My pretzel antidote is part of a bigger concern: not taking full advantage of our new city. It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of life, especially with everything going on in the world today. As a way to hold ourselves accountable, I’ve created a ‘Make the Most of Munich’ map – a Munich bucket-list, some might call it. Without further ado…

Icon Color Key (i.e., our recommendations):

⚪️ Yet to visit. [grey]

🛑 Eh, it’s ok to skip this. [red]

🧡 If there’s time, check it out. [orange]

✅ Highly recommend! [green]

If you’re curious about something, check out each icon. I’ll be updating as we adventure, so you’ll find links to our experiences here!

Have we missed something? I’m always interested in ‘hidden gems’ or unique experiences. So please, let us know what we’re missing!

Tschüss,

Whitney

Feature image icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

Hello, Munich!

Tot ziens, Holland. Willkommen in Deutschland!

Moving day, 27 May 2020.

We did it, we made it to Munich!

Before I start, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge current world events – specifically the Black Lives Matter protests happening in America right now. As an American living abroad for the foreseeable future, to be honest, I feel a weird sense of disconnect. Maybe it’s the distance, maybe it’s jadedness. Black Americans being unnecessarily killed by law enforcement, for me, falls into the same category as school shootings: it happens far too often, people get angry, social media explodes, time passes, people forget, but nothing actually changes. This is inexcusable. Watching from afar though, this time feels different. It feels like people – all kinds of people – are finally fed up and mobilizing for change. As an American abroad, it’s hard to know what you should do in this situation, how can you help? As I mentioned at the end of my previous post, living abroad has instilled a sense of responsibility to understand other people’s viewpoints and acknowledge that the way I perceive the world can be vastly different from how you do. What we (Whitney & Shane) sometimes forget, is that sense of responsibility to learn should also include America. How we, as two white middle-class individuals, perceive America is vastly different than other communities. So, we’re reading, listening, watching, and broadening our perspectives to do our small piece to break the cycle. Black lives matter. People of color matter. What keeps happening in America is, without debate, wrong. If you’re an expat like me and feeling a little lost on how to support, a fellow expat and travel blogger has compiled a great post with a list of resources. It’s 2020, basic human rights – life, safety, healthcare, food – shouldn’t be a debate.

{insert clever segway}

Yeah, ok – I don’t have a clever segway. Back to the move!

Yes, that’s a big truck. No, Meatball did not ride in the back.

A lot of dominoes needed to fall for this move to be successful. We are, after all, in a pandemic and Europe still has some restrictions in place. Step one was to get to Leer, Germany – just over the border, about 40 min away from Groningen. Technically, the border between Germany and the Netherlands never closed, and we heard that people were still allowed to cross for gas & groceries (it’s cheaper in Germany), so we hoped for no problems and no problems we had (step 1 ✓)! Well, border problems I should say. We rented a cargo van. We got a small box truck (step 2 ✓). As you can see from the picture above, we had more than enough space…

Fun fact: my first time driving in the Netherlands was when I drove our (automatic) rental car from Groningen to Leer! Someone should really learn how to drive a manual car… OK but not really ’cause is 2020 and why do they even still exist?!

We rented an automatic. Obviously.

We did run into a small border problem on the way back into the Netherlands. Shane was stopped in the truck by border control. No worries, we had printed Shane’s job contract and our apartment lease as proof of essential travel. Where were those papers? In the front seat of my car about 10km ahead. 😑 All in all, it was ok. They asked to see the inside of the truck and Shane’s (now expired) residence permit. I guess since we were actively trying to leave their country they were cool with it. With minimal delay, we were back in NL (step 4 ✓), loaded & cleaned (step 5 ✓), and said goodbye to Oostersingel 72A (step 6 ✓)!

It’s ~8.5 hours from Groningen to Munich, and since we had the cat, we decided to stop a little over halfway. Luckily, as of 15 May, hotels were allowed to host tourists again, so we didn’t have to sleep in the truck on the side of the highway (step 8 ✓) and Meatball got to have her first hotel experience (fluffy duvet covers blew her mind). We were on the road early the next morning and arrived at our new home in Pasing (Munich) around mid-day.

Our new apartment building!

I’ll be honest, we were slightly nervous about the apartment: ~30 m2 (300 sq ft.), basement, only one sink – in the bathroom. Remember all that space in the truck and how it didn’t look like we had much stuff? Well, pack that into this apartment and we were slightly overwhelmed. But, we did as you do on moving days – drink beer and eat pizza as you unpack – and by the time everything was put away and organized it didn’t seem so small anymore!

Before…
and after!

We’re just about a week in, and I think we’ve found our groove with the kitchen. We were doing dishes by hand in our old apartment, so no real change there. And because the sink is right next to the kitchen area it doesn’t feel inconvenient. We cook all our meals, so there was some concern over the hotplate, but it’s been fine. The smallness honestly doesn’t bother us, but what may get old after a while is the lack of natural light. We get some indirect light from the window, but the view is blocked by a retaining wall. For now, it’s summer and the weather is lovely so we are using it as an excuse to be outside. Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives – the apartment has been recently renovated, our utilities are included, we have GREAT internet, covered bike parking (👍), and we are about 10 minutes walking to Pasing ‘city center’ (30 minutes to Munich city center by tram or S-Bahn). Ecuador has been postponed due to coronavirus until at least early 2021, so until we have a better timeline, this apartment will be fine!

Long story short, we’re on the way to becoming German residents!

This weekend we will be heading out to our local market and (if the weather cooperates) our first biergarten! Stay tuned for our first impressions of living in Bavaria!

Tired but unpacked.

Auf Wiedersehen,

Whitney

48 Hours in Munich, Germany

I don’t know about you guys, but I need a mental break from the coronavirus news. We’re not on full lockdown here in the Netherlands, but bars, restaurants, and gyms are closed, public transportation has been reduced, and people are encouraged to work from home. Long story short, it’s all anyone can talk about.

So, for a little mental re-charge, I want to talk about our trip to Munich!

Previously, I raved about our mode of transportation, and Shane finally admitted why we went to Munich. I guess it’s time to talk about the city itself!

The Marienplatz: the central square of Munich.

Day 1:

I dropped off my honey at his interview (literally, I walked him there) and headed out for a day on my own –

aka: Strong Independent Woman Day!

Tip: Use the public transportation – it’s cheap!

The LMU campus is about 20 minutes by subway (U-bahn) outside of the city center, near the suburb of Martinsreid. I bought an unlimited day ticket (buses, tram, U-bahn (subway), and S-bahn (above ground train)) for €7.80 – a single trip ticket is €3.30, so this quickly pays off.

If you’re part of a group it’s even cheaper. An unlimited group day ticket for 2 – 5 people is €14.80 TOTAL. It’s a steal!

First stop:

The Residenz

Cost: €14 (combo ticket)

Tip: If you arrive from the Odeonsplatz U-bahn station, walk up the stairs, go straight, then take a left to find the entrance.

If you get distracted by statues and a garden and happen to walk up the stairs and take a right then you’ll find yourself in the Hofgarten and walk a very long perimeter to eventually get back to the entrance. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

The Residenz is the former royal palace for the Bavarian monarchs, and it is split into two sections: the residence (with the royal apartments) and the treasury (with the crown jewels). You’ll need to buy the combo ticket if you want to see both. If you’re just going for that Instagram-able shot, then you only need to visit the residence side, as it has the the Antiquarium – the oldest and most impressive room (built in 1568).

Lucky enough to have it to myself.
A room fit for a Bavarian King!
Unlike the crown jewels in London, they let you get right up to the glass!

Royal palaces make me hungry (ok, fine – everything makes me hungry), so

Take a people-watching snack break in the Max-Joseph-Platz

Cost: Free!

Just outside the entrance to the Residenz is the Max-Joseph-Platz. It was sunny that day, a rarity in February (especially in the Netherlands), so I grabbed a snack and did as the locals do – sat in the sun!

Tip: For a quick snack head to the nearby supermarket, Rewe.

Or, if you want a fancy looking pastry, I drooled over (and later regretted not purchasing) the pastries in the window at Maelu.

Pretzel #1 with a Spezi – a lemonade + cola combination. Odd as it was, I’d drink it again.

Recharged, I headed on to my next destination.

Hi-Sky Munich

Cost: €14.50 (adults)

Let me just say: I LOVE me a good observation wheel. You know what’s even better? When you get the entire gondola to yourself. Dreams do come true!

Did I set up my Go-pro and take a million shameless selfies? You betcha!

Shane HATES. H.A.T.E.S. observation/ferris wheels. He was more than happy for me to take full advantage of my strong independent woman day and tick this off my Munich list. Which, I did, and had a grand ‘ole time with beautiful views of the city from one side and the mountains from the other.

and finally

Viktualienmarkt

Cost: Free to visit, €4.50 1/2L beer, snacks vary.

Located just around the corner from the Marienplatz is the Viktualienmarkt – a 200 year old farmer’s market smack in the city center! Today, you can find flowers, herbs, cheeses, veggies, SO MUCH FOOD and beer. A hungry tourists dream!

After the observation wheel, I headed back to city center to wander for food and genuinely stumbled on this market by accident… and then didn’t leave.

Tip: Take enough selfies and a kind stranger will offer to take your picture for you! 😆

Day 2:

Strong Independent Woman Day was grrrreat!, but it was nice to have my travel partner back the next day. Especially, since he spent the entire previous day interviewing – it was time to enjoy the city!

We intended to do a walking tour, but we got a later start than anticipated so missed the 10am start time. Instead, we started at the history museum.

Munich Stadtmuseum

Cost: €7 (all exhibits), €4 (permanent exhibits only)

If you’re into learning about the city’s history, then start here! Not only will you discover what’s “Typical Munich”, but there is an excellent exibihit on the rise of National Socialism and Munich’s role in the rise of Hitler.

Fun Fact: the old town of Munich is shaped like a cross bow!

Hofbräuhaus

Cost: €9.20 L beer, meals vary.

Ok, lets face it. After 2 hours of history and Nazi history at that, it was time for a drink! And you don’t got to Munich and not visit the most famous beer hall!

I will say I was underwhelmed by the facade. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t that. The inside made up for it though.

Tip: Don’t be shy – just walk in and find an empty spot!

We had a great time here! There was such a festive feeling, even for the middle of the day on a Friday in February – February 14th to be exact! ❤️ It was a little pricey compared to some of the other beer halls, but you’re also paying for the experience.

The hall was originally built in the late 1500s, and opened to the public in the 1820s. It was here (as we learned in the Stadtmuseum) in 1920 that the National Socialist Party held a huge public meeting and Hitler gave his first address. Most of the hall was destroyed during WWII and has since been restored, but the main hall survived.

Ok so I won’t lie. The rest of our day was visiting beer halls. I’m not sorry about it either!

Löwenbräukeller

Cost: €7.80 L beer, meals vary.

The Löwenbräukeller (bräukeller, meaning brewery) first opened it’s doors in 1883’s with an architecturally (for the time) impressive building. Shortly thereafter, it became the first brewery in Munich to provide tablecloths and napkins, and patrons didn’t have to rinse out their own beer glass!

In my opinion, the atmosphere here was ‘fancier’ than the Hofbräuhaus, but still relaxed. There was also a huge outdoor area, which would be nice in the warmer months.

It was slightly further from the Marienplatz, which was reflected in the beer prices, and they had delicious red cabbage & potato dumplings so you really can’t ask for much more.

Augustiner-Keller

Cost: €7.90 L beer, meals vary.

I’m just going to come out and say it. This one was my favorite.

First – The beer hall reminded me of Game of Thrones.

Second – Pretzel baskets lived on the table. You pay at the end for what you eat. Dangerous? Yes. Delicious? Also yes.

Pretzel count: 3. Not pictured: #4.

Third – We found out that Shane got the job AT THIS VERY SPOT!

Photobomb gold.

It’s cozy, it’s festive, it has a huge beer hall and garden, and easy to find (near the hauptbahnhof). A perfect way to cap off the night.


And that is how we spent 48 hours in Munich! Obviously, there is a ton we didn’t see. If we had another day, I would suggest taking a walk through the English Gardens or the Deutsches Museum (science and technology).

Tip: Free city center walking tours are available daily.

We love a good walking tour – you can learn something before you go spend the rest of your time in the beer halls! 😉

As of May 1, 2020 we will call Munich our new home – so until then…

Auf Wiedersehen,

Whitney

The adventure continues!

Six years ago, we moved to the Netherlands so that I (Shane) could complete a PhD.

Last March, I completed said PhD. Since that time, I’ve searched for a postdoc position while working as a freelance science editor. Why such a long job search? Well, there are a couple of issues:

  1. My research interests are very specific.
  2. I need a long-term position; most postdocs are 1-2 years, which complicates Whitney’s ability to find a job.
  3. The location needs to have options for Whitney to work (i.e., biotech).

As you can imagine, these stipulations have severely limited my options and, to be perfectly honest, caused me to reconsider my academic ambitions. Nonetheless, we persevered (I say we because Whitney continually supported and encouraged me) and we finally have good news to share –

I got a postdoc position!

Image result for the cat's out of the bag gif
Get it? The cat’s out of the bag…

In her last post, Whitney covered our recent train trip to Munich. What she purposely omitted from this story was that the trip wasn’t all fun and games (don’t worry, she’ll have a ‘fun times in Munich’ post soon enough).

In truth, I had an interview at Ludwig Maximilian University. To keep a long story short, the interview went well and I accepted the position!

Got the offer while we were still in Munich.

Safe to say, I am very excited for this position. Not only does it meet all of the requirements I listed above (my specific research interests, longer-term, and a good location), but it also fulfills additional ‘wants’ of mine. I’ll try to keep this as short as possible as I explain:

During my PhD, I studied how adaptation to the local environment can influence patterns of speciation and biodiversity. More specifically, I studied how visual adaptation affects behavior.

Why is this important?

Well, if you think of our our day-to-day lives, we humans are greatly influenced by our visual perception of the world. Vision influences the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the mates we choose, and whether or not we step in front of that on-coming bus. Thus, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that similar processes are important to other animals.

To this point in my research career, I have worked exclusively in fish model systems (threespine sticklebacks, zebrafish, African cichlids), as they are very amendable to studies of visual perception and behavior (fish have similar visual systems to humans). Obviously, it would make sense to continue within fish-based research for a postdoc position, as this plays to my expertise and comfort. However, postdocs are a time to expand and learn new techniques. Thus, we come to my new position at LMU.

I will continue to explore how the local environment influences visual perception and corresponding behaviors, but will expand to incorporate other sensory systems and aspects of neural anatomy. Excitedly, this project will not be fish-based, but focus on the Heliconius butterflies of Central and South America. Evolutionary biologists have studied these butterflies for nearly 150 years and, much like the African cichlids of my PhD, Heliconius represents a large radiation of multiple species that have adapted to differing environments. Thus, this project will challenge me to learn a new model system and to incorporate new variables into my research (e.g., chemosensory perception and the anatomy of the brain).

Image result for heliconius
image courtesy of: Wikipedia

The most exciting part of this project? It’s mostly field-based! Though I didn’t include this as a ‘requirement’ of a postdoc position, it was a strong desire. I’ve completed a fair amount of fieldwork over the past ten years (in British Columbia, Tanzania, and Corsica) and was hopeful I could continue to do. So, after a few months of organization in Munich, it’s off to Ecuador! Best of all, Whitney and Meatball will join!

That’s right, the whole clan is moving to Tena, Ecuador for 18-24 months!

At this point, details are still being worked out. For now, we know that I will start in early May and that we will need to find temporary housing in Munich. In ~July, we will move to Ecuador. Whitney has given her official notice at work and will finish up at the end of April. We’re not exactly sure what she will be doing in next ~2 years, but we’re hopeful she can find a remote position or, at the very least, work as a science editor as I have done for the past 6-7 months. Regardless, she’s not going to miss the opportunity to live in the rainforest for two years. After fieldwork, we will return to Munich for the remainder of the position (~2 more years), which should give Whitney ample employment opportunities (biotech is well-represented in Munich).

So, after a long period of relative quiet, the pace of life has picked up dramatically. Per tradition, we celebrated my new position with a trip to ‘t Pannekoekschip.

We’ve also started learning Spanish (we’re ignoring German language requirements for now) and will soon need to find apartments in Munich and Ecuador. As more details develop, life is sure to become even more hectic. Nonetheless, we’re excited. We’ve been anxiously awaiting our next move for a long time, so it’s fun to know that it’s finally happening!

Stay tuned for more updates. Up next, Whitney has plenty to say about her ‘independent woman day’ in Munich while I was interviewing.

Until next time,

Shane

Groningen to Munich: A Train Adventure

🎶 This is the story of a girl, who took a train around the whole world! 🎶

Ok, not quite, but that song popped in my head as I started to write this so you get what you get.

This IS the story, though, of a girl who reluctantly agreed to take a train from Groningen to Munich and had a grand ole time!

I mean come on. Look at that face!

When we first decided to take a city trip to Munich, my go-to reaction was to start looking for flight deals. Shane, on the other hand, took it as an opportunity to make a pitch for the train.

It’s “more CO2 friendly” and “doesn’t take that much more time” and “you can walk around” and “we’ve never done it before”.

Valid reasons *I supposeee*, but I wasn’t convinced. I needed an excel sheet. How does anyone plan anything without an excel sheet? Here are the facts:

  1. We would only save 2 hours on total travel time by flying.
  2. We would only save 60 euros total – 2 people, round trip – by flying.
  3. We’ve never done it.

What can I say, I’m easily convinced. Train it is!

ICE International, that’s us!

Remember when I said that we would only be spending 60 euros more, in total, compared to flying? What I didn’t mention is that we also booked ourselves a first class ticket, baby!

This also took a little convincing, because (in my opinion) the difference between first and second class on a Dutch train is not worth the upgrade. The seats are a little bit bigger and you have less hassle trying to find a seat during rush hour, but that never bothered me enough to warrant a first-class upgrade. But, since we would be spending the majority of our time on the German train (5.5 hours, to be more precise), I agreed to first class.

Two words: Worth it.

We took the German Inter-City Express (ICE) high-speed trains from Arnhem, the Netherlands to Munich with a switch in Mannheim (on the way there) and in Duisburg (on the way back). There are 6 variations of the ICE train, itself. We travelled on the ICE 3 and ICE 4.

One major perk of first-class on the ICE is that your seat reservation is included in the booking price. Unlike Dutch trains, your departure time and seat are specifically linked to your ticket. If you would like a guaranteed seat, then it must be booked ahead of time. Relatedly, if you miss your train you can’t just take the next connection*, as the seats have already been booked.

*if you miss your connection, you should find a DB service point in the station and ask for help to re-book.

It is possible, though, to take the train without booking a seat and sit anywhere you want. Each seat is numbered and has a status: if the seat lists only the route then it has not been reserved, if the seat says “ggf. freigeben” then you should “release if necessary”, aka you can sit there until you’re asked to leave.

Considering a seat reservation (in second class) is only 5 – 10 euros per person, it seems worth it to me to reserve a seat. Especially if you’re traveling a group or during busy months.

Shortly after we left, the seat changed status.

The other benefit of first-class? Isn’t it obvious?

Look at that leg-room! There is also plenty of storage for small and large suitcases above the seats, and a luggage rack at each end of the ‘carriage’.

Look at those happy first-class campers!

Apart from the leg-room, another benefit of taking the train instead of flying is the opportunity to get up and move around. Once place you can move around to is the ‘board carriage’ aka: the restaurant car!

For a train, they have a pretty extensive menu. Of course, the usual drinks – coffee, beer, wine, sodas. For food, a variety of sandwiches, soups, fries, and some snack foods like chips, and all for a very reasonable price considering you’re on a train. For example, a 0.5 L of beer was only €3.20 and curry worst with fries was €6.90. Compared to airport prices, this felt like a steal!

Took a walk for a coffee.

Another first-class benefit: in-seat service.

Of course, you can always walk to the restaurant car and you can certainly bring on your own food and drink (as we did), but if you feel inspired, lazy, or a just little bit baller, you can stop a service attendant on their regular walk-throughs and order from them directly.

Plus, at your seat you’ll be classy AF sipping your drank in a real glass instead of a paper or plastic one.

TIP: You need cash to order from your seat. The restaurant car accepts cards and cash.

Regardless, if you are seated in first class then you’ll also get a little freebie snack. We got a bar of chocolate and some mint chocolate bites.

Before we knew we could order from our seat…

Do you know what else was VERY impressive? The SPEED of these trains! Dutch trains don’t tell you how fast they are going, plus they go through a lot of towns so I’m not sure they are designed to go at high speeds. These trains though… 293 km/hour = 182 mph! 🤯

Approximately 8 hours later, well-fed, stretched, and rested, we arrived at Munich Hauptbahnhof (central station)!

Take home message:

  1. Taking the train was worth the little bit extra. While slightly more expensive and a little longer travel time, the time passed quickly and it was nice to be able to walk around.
  2. First class was worth the upgrade. The reserved seats, the extra legroom, and the (literal) first-class service! It made the journey much more enjoyable. I did walk through second-class and it was also nice, but as you can imagine less space overall. In addition you get free newspapers (if you’re a German reader), unlimited free wi-fi which was actually decent, and charging capability at your seat.
  3. Book seats ahead of time. If you’re opting for second-class, it’s worth the few euros to secure a seat, especially in peak season. Second-class also has free-wifi, but it’s limited.
  4. Pack those snacks! No train ride is complete with out snacks. You can bring whatever you like on to the train, the only restriction is no personal food in the restaurant car. Forgot snacks? Then there are plenty of options on-board.
Inside Munich central station.

Soon to come – more about our few days in Munich!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Happy New Year from Holland!

Ah – the New Year. The practice of leaving the old behind and ushering in an era of new beginnings. When you say it like this, it sounds calm and peaceful, right?

Not if you’re in the Netherlands.

Ok – so maybe my video isn’t that dramatic but it surely felt dramatic!

Notice that constant low rumbling in the background? That’s the sound of non-stop fireworks being set off in gardens, in the middle of the street, in parks, and in trashcans all over the city.

And do you notice that (despite the fog) you can’t actually SEE any pretty firework lights? That’s because it’s not about what you see, it’s about blowin’ sh*t up.

Let’s back up a little.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day in the Netherlands, aptly called ‘Oud & Nieuw’ (Old & New), is the one day of the year where fireworks are legal.

Correction: the one 8 hour period of time where fireworks are legal.

From 6pm – 2am all bets are off. You know that horror movie ‘The Purge’, where for 24 hours crime is legal? This is how that feels – minus the burglary and murder.

I started to type ‘vandalism and bodily harm’ in that list, but I couldn’t in good faith. This year a man and child were killed in a firework-related fire, and they are still counting injuries and tallying damage costs.

In 2018, citizens of the Netherlands spent 70 MILLION euros in total on fireworks. And to reiterate, that can be used LEGALLY for 8 hours.

They can be purchased at shops like the one below, which we can only assume make enough money in the month leading up to Oud & Nieuw that it can afford to be closed the other 11 months of the year. In addition to shops like these, you can buy fireworks in the home improvement stores or online. Granted, some types of fireworks are still illegal to purchase, but no worries. If you want the big boys you can just pop on over to Germany and bring back what you want.

“Always the lowest price!”

Like I said before, technically it’s only legal to set off fireworks during the designated time, but let’s be real, this doesn’t stop people from starting earlier. Each day after Christmas the booms increase, culminating in the ‘main show’ which starts at midnight and rings (booms?) in the new year.

If they are illegal, how can people start so early? Two words.

No enforcement.

Until you’re blowing up trashcans and bus stops (yes, that really happens) then the police will leave you alone.

Between 2 trashcans is a logical place to set off fireworks, right?

One thing that IS highly enforced are the ‘Vuurwerk-vrije’ (firework free) zones. For example, we live directly across from the main hospital where, for obvious reasons, they don’t want firework chaos. There was a constant patrol of people making sure these zones truly stayed ‘firework free’.

I made Meatball her own firework free zone.

This year, to add an additional level of danger and mystique, the temperature dropped quickly and a thick fog set it. You really had to pay attention to where you were walking!

Fireworks over city center in the fog.

Because we live in the city center, we only witnessed smaller displays. As you might imagine, the further away from the city center you get the larger the show and the bigger the fire.

Yes, this brings me to my next Oud & Nieuw tradition. Bonfires.

The photo above was from our first Dutch Oud & Nieuw in 2014, but you get the picture. Bonfires in the street.

Bikes. Christmas trees. Furniture. Whatever-your-heart-desires.

Burn it.

My dad asked the reasonable question “So does the fire-department work all night then?”. Short answer: no. They just let it burn.

We did discover a leftover bonfire the next day though, on what I liked to call our “survey the damage” walk around the neighborhood.

Notice the street sign in the pile…

And, unrelated to fireworks but also an Oud & Nieuw tradition, olliebollen!

Had to have our friend, Kaitlin, try them!

I would describe olliebollen (literally translated to ‘oil balls’) as a giant deep-fried donut hole, traditionally made with or without raisins and dunked in powdered sugar. They are available starting mid-November, but the bulk of the olliebollen are eaten on New Year’s Eve.

As evidenced by the line that wouldn’t stop growing…

So, my DOs & DONTs for Oud & Nieuw?

DO: Get to the olliebollen stand early! I suggest the ones with raisins.

DON’T: Wear a nice coat out. Firework-induced burn holes are a thing.

DO: Come prepared! Arm yourself with sparklers & firecrackers. You never know when you might need them.

DON’T: Be indoors at midnight! Embrace the chaos!

and finally…

DON’T: Expect to sleep that night. In America, the main party is the lead up to midnight, and here all the parties start at the earliest 10pm and most at midnight. Bars & parties not your thing? No worries, the fireworks last well past their 2am cutoff. They will be sure to interrupt your sleep. 😉

Happy New Year from us to you!

Tot ziens,

Whitney