December Joy Report

Happy Birthday to me! Happy birthday to me! I drank too much last night….that’s the end of this post! 🤦‍♀️😆

Jussssttt kidddinnnggg…about it being the end of this post. Happy New Year!

Anyway, I’m rounding out 2020’s joy reports with a double-joy-whammy! First up are a few things that made me happy in December, but I also felt like there were a few things I wanted to acknowledge about 2020. We can all probably list a million reasons why 2020 was the worst (seen the match.com commercial?), but, for us, there were a few GOOD things that came out of 2020, despite all the de-railed plans. First up, though…

December Joys!

The first snow in Munich.

It was only a few centimeters, but it was enough to cover the ground. Shane was at work (this was before the hard lockdown that started mid-December), and I was high on that fresh-snow-Christmas spirit! I popped in my headphones with my favorite Christmas music (December by George Winston), and off I went a walking in winter wonderland! Naturally, Blutenburg Castle seemed like a fun snowy destination. I was cold and wet by the time I got home, but it was just grand!

Flu shots – in German!

Yeah – ok, flu shots feel like a weird brag, but it’s less about the flu shot and more about the German! While I was excited for Shane to get a flu shot (he didn’t last year and got the flu twice), I was more excited that we broke the German-speaking barrier!…that obviously only exists in my head. We had been warned that we would most likely need to speak German when going to the doctor, but I found a doctor online who advertised that they spoke English. Great!

I was only semi-surprised when I called to schedule an appointment, asked if we could speak in English, to which the receptionist replied

nein.

It threw me for a slight loop, but I had Googled the word for ‘flu shot’ (grippeimpfung), the receptionist was very friendly and spoke slowly, and I managed to hang up the phone with instructions to show up at “elf uhr, morgen“. I spent the next 24 hours walking around the house practicing “I have an appointment at 11” (ich habe einen termin um elf uhr) and “I would like a flu shot, please!” (Ich möchte eine grippeimpfung, bitte!), and morgen um elf uhr I successfully told the receptionist I had an appointment! Turns out, they have English patient forms and the doctor spoke perfect English, but the receptionist did not.

It seems so trivial, but it was very empowering! The receptionist was also the nurse who gave me the shot, and I managed to understand her description of the vaccine symptoms, tell her I wanted my vaccine in the rechts shoulder, and made a small joke about how schnell the whole thing was.

Post-flu shot selfie for my parents. haha

Unlike the Netherlands, I don’t feel scared to try German. Dutchies are SO GOOD at English that they automatically switch if you try and speak Dutch or (even worse) you’ll get a little giggle at your attempt. I genuinely don’t think it’s on purpose or with bad intentions, but it’s certainly not encouraging. Here, if you’re trying, then that seems to be all that matters.

Unfortunately, the lockdown has really limited our interactions with native speakers, but I definitely feel like we’ve improved our language capacity.

Shane’s first advent calendar.

And, to be fair, I think this was also my first chocolate-filled advent calendar. We both remember having ‘countdowns to Christmas’ as kids, but not like this. The bad thing? Now I want an advent calendar for the entire year…

My Christmas leggings.

I don’t think I need to elaborate. Best 9 euros I ever spent.

Christmas 2020!

Could we go home? No. Could we do anything? No. Could we see other households? Technically, yes, but we didn’t.

But ya know what? We made the best of it.

Did we FaceTime with my brother-in-law so he could read us Twas The Night Before Christmas? Yep!

What’s on Shane’s forhead? A crack in my moms iPad screen. haha

Did we get a little cheerful and walk around the neighborhood taking pictures with other peoples’ Christmas decorations? Sure did!

Did we see other households? If you count the lady walking her dogs who caught us 3 times taking pictures – then why yes, we did!

It wasn’t the Christmas we expected, but we had a great time working with what we had!

…which we made sure included cinnamon rolls, a stollen, and pretzels from a gluten-free bakery I found (that took us an hour and a half round trip to bike to…oops), eierpunch (German eggnog), glühwein, curryworst, dipped cookies, and potato pankakes with applemusse! 🤪


Ya know what Pandemics are good for? Reflecting. Let’s just say we took a lot of neighborhood walks where we did a lot of complaining, but we also realized there were a few surprisingly good things.

2020 Joys Despite Covid-19

We’ve had more time in Munich.

It’s been this circular argument – if there were no Covid-19, we would be in Ecuador right now. But if we were in Ecuador already, then we would have missed Oktoberfest. But if there was Oktoberfest, then there would be no Covid and we would be in Ecuador. But if we were in Ecuador, then we wouldn’t have an opportunity to go snowboarding this year. But with Covid-19, probably we can’t go snowboarding this year…you see my point.

Despite Covid-19, we’ve been lucky to have extra time in Munich and we were especially lucky to have a relatively covid-free summer. We were able to have a *modified* beer garden experience, swim in the Isar, go on some hikes, and visit Olympia Park. No, we haven’t been able to experience the city in it’s full glory, but we know the Innenstadt well enough to navigate without maps, and I call that a win.

We CAN live in a tiny home!

We’ve watched A LOT of tiny house shows, and to be honest, really thought that we could live in a tiny house one day. Or, at least in a small house with tiny house principles. Well, once we moved to Munich we were forced to see if we could actually do it on account of 30 sq. m (~300 sq ft) is a mid-range tiny home. The kicker? Ours isn’t as efficiently built.

Good news, folks! We haven’t killed each other!

We’ve had to get creative – with furniture arrangements, workout spaces (since the gyms are closed), and sharing sit-space with the cat – but it’s all been ok. Our biggest complaint? The lack of light (our only window leads to a retaining wall). Even our one sink in the bathroom and hot plate are do-able. Not preferable, mind you, but do-able.

Nothin’ like some lat pull-downs in front of the shower and next to the toilet and the litter box. #dedication?

Pro-tip? Noise cancelling earbuds. 🤣

Shane’s got a new project.

As you know, we only intended to be in Munich long enough for Shane’s lab to make a plan and gather supplies, then we were headed to Ecuador for two years. You might have guessed – they needed to be in Ecuador for a reason. That’s where the butterflies are. The pandemic forced some reassessment, which means that Shane ended up with a new project – for now! It’s one that can be completed here in Munich. Put simply, he’s dissecting butterfly eyes (collected on other field trips) and looking at species-specific differences in eye morphology.

Meatball’s health.

I hate to admit it, but our kitty katz is a grandma.

She turned 15 (ish) this year, but we were still surprised when we took her to the vet for a rabies vaccination and found out that she had lost almost half her body weight. Turns out, she had an overactive thyroid. Good news – it’s easily treated with medication, which she enjoys taking in a squishy treat. Bad news – she *loudly* lets us know when she’s ready for her squishy treat. Determining the proper dosage took some trial and error and SEVERAL follow-up vet visits, so our delayed move to Ecuador was to Meatball’s benefit. Well…maybe not if you ask her.


And that sums up 2020!

I don’t know about you, but I’m really enjoying these joy reports, so expect to see them in 2021. Especially since it might be all the blog content I have. 😂

Congrats on surviving 2020, and cheers to a healthy and more adventurous 2021…and access to that Covid vaccine!

The Marienplatz Christmas tree.

Tschüss,

Whitney

Munich’s Hirschgarten: A ‘How-To’

Shane says that if I were to have a superpower, it would be the power of awkwardness.

I have the uncanny ability to make any seemingly normal situation perfectly awkward. How? I’m not entirely sure, but I can generally feel it coming on, and the more I try to make the situation less awkward, well, naturally the more awkward it gets. Why do I mention this? Because my superpower was in full force a few weeks ago when we tried the Hirschgarten.

Turns out, there’s a particular *fLoW* of events, and, as a Hirschgarten newbie, I managed to navigate them all incorrectly.

So, please accept my gift – a ‘how-to-avoid-feeling-like-an-idiot-and-successfully-get-a-beer’ guide to the Hirschgarten.

Technically, the Königlicher Hirschgarten (aka Royal Deer Garden) is a large park west of Munich city center, but it’s renowned for its beer garden that holds up to 8000 people (in non-coronavirus times). This makes the Hirschgarten the largest beer garden in Bavaria, and it’s speculated that it may be the largest in the world.

So, about that beer…

Register your contact details.

Typical coronavirus procedure these days. You can register on paper, but they also encourage you to register online and scan the QR codes around the garden to keep better track of who was actually where. It’s a big place, ya know!

Self-service or table-service?

We opted for self-service, but table service is also an option. Just look for the tables with yellow napkins.

What type of beer?

Augustiner, Franziskaner, or Hofbrau?

Helles, dunkle, or weissbier?

You’ll need to decide before you commit to a line. The primary beer of choice is the Augustiner helles, which flows like water from the most prominent beer stand (Schränke 1). If you’d prefer Hofbrau, then you’ll have to opt for table service, and dunkles, weissbier, and non-alcoholic drinks are served from a separate stand.

Stand 2 with less popular drink options.

Grab a glass…

If you’ve opted for the helles, then grab a glass! Half and maß (1 liter, ‘mahss’) glasses are available in cabinets adjacent to the beer line. For dunkels, weissbier, and non-alcoholic drinks, the glass is provided when you order.

Give it to the beer man and keep on moving!

Approach the counter, hand over your mug, and the lovely beer man will serve you up! The Augustiner beer is served out of traditional wooden kegs, which I thought was super cool, but don’t linger too long! The beer man will scold you for holding up the line. Also, if you want a radler (part juice, part beer) then serve the juice yourself from the tap as you first approach the counter, then pass along your glass.

Oh, and its cash only!

Claim a spot!

Success! You’ve managed to get your beer! Now, just claim a spot under the chestnut trees and enjoy. Be sure to take a loop around, though. There is a souvenir stand, a space for live music, and (of course) a deer garden!

Deer in the Royal Deer Garden.
A live band in the time of corona!

Tip: Be careful how you hold your maß!

Good: by the handle.

Bad: with your hand through the handle.

Those bad boys are heavy, and I ended up with bruises between my thumb and pointer finger!

Foooooood.

It wouldn’t be a true beer garden experience without food. Traditionally, you’re allowed to bring outside food but not outside drinks. You’ll see this a lot, where groups bring elaborate picnics (table cloth and flowers included!), so feel free to pack a snack. Otherwise, check out the self-service food stands with ribs, currywurst, frits, pretzels, obatzer kase (highly recommended), and other various salads. For dessert? There’s ice cream and an entire sweets stand. You’re bound to find something.

Refill? Then wash & repeat!

I won’t lie. The first maß goes down too quickly. Need a refill? Rinse your glass out at one of the many wash stations and head back to the counter!

Practical Info:

How to get there: From Munich Hbf, grab an S-bahn (1 – 4, 6, or 8) to the Hirschgarten stop. From there, it’s ~10 – 15 min walking.

Cost: Entrance to the Hirschgarten (park and beer garden) is free. 1L beer is €7.40, and food prices vary, but aren’t unreasonable. For example, we paid €5.50 for a large pretzel and obatzer dip. The self-service food and drinks are cash only, but an ATM is available within the garden.

Opening Times: The beer garden is open from 11:00 – 24:00.

Rating: ✅ (Highly Recommended!)

The Hirschgarten has been our favorite beer garden so far. The atmosphere is relaxed and cheery, it’s in a beautiful park, there are tons of options for food and drinks. If you’re looking for a true Munich experience, this is worth the effort!

If you don’t want to go to the beer garden, the park itself is also very nice. Lots of playgrounds, BBQ areas, and open spaces to relax on a warm & sunny day.

Now that the weather has cooled off, I guess we will have to wait until next spring to go back. Until then…

Tschüss,

Whitney

Kranzhorn Mountain Hike, Germany (& Austria!)

We may not get to *actually* travel much this year, but I can at least say I’ve been to Austria twice! ANNDDD technically I’ve walked across the border, so if that’s not an adventure then I don’t know what is.

View over the Kranzhorn Alm. Not quite the summit.

We’re pretty lucky to have two friends from Groningen also living in the Munich area, so when Theresa invited us for a weekend hike, we obviously said yes. This week’s trip was unique because the mountain straddles the border of Germany and Austria. At the summit, if you look to the left, you’ll see Schieben, Austria. If you look right, you’ll see Windshausen, Germany.

The summit (1366 m), looking left over Austria.
The summit, looking right over Germany.

Technically speaking, this was an easier hike than our Ehrwald adventure. Wide, clearly marked paths, no bolted metal cables required. It lulls you into a sense of hiking security… but be prepared for a sore butt the next day. The first ~1.5 hours are nothing but up!

The mountain can be approached from either side, but we started our adventure in Nussdorf (aka ‘nut village’), Germany. This (less traveled) route starts directly from the small (free) parking lot towards the Kranzhorn Alm. The more popular route begins on the Austrian side, in Erleberg (with paid parking). The path is mostly through the woods, and although you’re constantly going up, it’s never too steep. We were even passed by several mountain bikers and power-hikers.

The two best parts?

You walk between Germany and Austria!

As I said before – walking across country borders makes me feel cool. The borders are marked by these painted rocks, so keep an eye out!

Blue and white for Bavaria, red for Tirol.
The beer hut, Kranzhorn Alm, has a petting zoo with the fluffiest chickens I’ve ever seen.
Black and white fluffy chickens!

One thing you can’t miss – the summit crosses.

You’ll find a cross on almost every summit peak in Bavaria (and Tirol), which are predominately Catholic states. The summit crosses started in the 1400s but picked up steam in the 19th century when mountaineering became more popular. The cross was obviously a religious symbol (as the mountain peak is closer to Heaven), but also a sign that the mountain itself had been summited. For some, a picture next to the cross is proof you made it all the way up.

We may not be religious, but I certainly think they make for lovely photos.

A third cross, on the Austrian side, for a smaller peak.

Since the Kranzhorn straddles the border, the summit actually has two crosses – one for Germany (the wooden one) and one for Austria (the metal one). Unfortunately, a picture of both at the same time was practically impossible, given the small summit area.

The Austrian summit cross.

And don’t worry. If all that hiking makes you hungry, the Kranzhorn Alm has got ya covered.


Practical Info

How to get there: Check out here (for Windshausen) and here (for Erlerberg) parking / starting info. Windshausen was only ~ 1 hour drive from Munich.

Distance from Munich: By car, ~1 hour. ~2 hours with public transportation (train + bus) .

Hike Direction: Head for Kranzhorn Alm (follow the fork/food symbol!)

Difficulty: Easy. Suitable for beginners or families – nothing special required!

Time: 3 – 4 hours, depending on your speed and how long you linger at the top.

Rating: 🧡 (if there’s time)

Not ‘highly recommended’ simply because there’s no convenient public transportation option. If you have a car and are looking for an easy day trip to the mountains, then definitely check it out!


Wednesday is our 4 year anniversary (!) and the mountains are calling us! So, until then…

Tshüss,

Whitney

Germany: Three Month Impressions + August Joy Report

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Munich for three months. Even harder to believe that Shane still isn’t working, but that’s a post for another day (I don’t have nice things to say, and we need the good karma). A month into our German expat adventure, I wrote about my (our) first impressions. Now that we’ve been here for three months, I thought I’d do it again with an added bonus – the joy report! I’m certainly a ‘glass-half-full’ kinda gal, and I really enjoyed writing my July Joy Report, so I think this will be a thing now.

Anyhow, let’s begin.

3 Month Impressions:

Let’s begin with a follow-up.

I actually enjoy the recycling.

I saw someone on Reddit the other day asking the Munich sub if everyone really had 7 bins (yes, I say ‘bin’ now).

“7 bins?! No way. Oh wait…. I just counted. Yes, 7 is correct.” – said everyone.

We don’t have 7, but we do have 5 (regular trash, compost, paper, glass/aluminum/plastic, & returnable bottles). It was annoying at first, but now I’m all for it. We take the regular trash out once every two weeks, we get to compost even though we’re in the city, and just about all plastic in Germany is recyclable.

*pats self on back*

A ‘recycling island’.

Groceries and toiletries are cheaper.

We’ve been consistently €20 under our grocery budget each week. 🙌 Works out well when you’re still waiting on a salary.

We are buying comparable things, organic if it’s available, but probably the main difference is in the price of meat. We were shopping at an organic butcher in the Netherlands, but we’ve not found one near us. I’m speculating, but a lot of the produce (and meat for that matter) are relatively local, which may also contribute to the lower prices. The EU mandates ‘country of origin’ labeling and a lot of the products available to us are from Bavaria or neighboring states.

The weirdest thing we’ve tried so far? Handkäse (hand cheese). I love a block of good cheese, but “sour milk cheese” just didn’t cut it.

One thing we can’t find? Peanut butter. It’s a true tragedy.

Toiletries are also 50% cheaper than in the Netherlands, except ibuprofen. Here, you have to buy it in an Apotheke (pharmacy). It’s over the counter, but has to be distributed by a pharmacist and was €4 for a box of 20 400mg tabs. For comparison… the same box was €1.79 at the grocery store in the Netherlands. For a country that loves beer, their painkillers are hard to find…

Relatedly…

Grocery store cashiers are LIGHTNING FAST.

You know in America how sometimes it feels like the cashiers were trained to go as slow as humanly possible, or where you have a particularly chatty cashier – both of which slow down your whole transaction? Oh, and remember how in America someone else bags your items for you?

Sorry Americans, you won’t survive a German grocery store cashier.

THEY THROW THINGS OFF AT THE SPEED OF LIGHTNING PLEASE JUST GIVE ME TWO MORE SECONDS SO YOU DON’T SMUSH MY CHIPS AND…. nevermind. Smushed.

You literally need a strategy. Produce takes a little longer to scan since they have to weigh it first so…

Pro-tip: bottles and heavy things on the belt first, followed by produce (which gives you time to get the heavy things in your bag), cold items, and finally the ‘breakables’. And just go ahead and have a separate tote bag ready for those chips – then you can snatch them up before it’s too late.

Biking isn’t a social activity.

There are plenty of bike lanes (at least in Munich) and everything feels very safe, but it’s certainly not a social activity. In the Netherlands, it was strange to bike single-file. Part of the biking culture was the chit-chat on the way to your destination, and the rules dictated that you could ride side-by-side. Here, you can only ride side-by-side in a park, otherwise, you should be single-file. Going for a leisurely bike ride (instead of a walk, for instance) isn’t as fun because you can’t really talk.

The plus side, as I said before, the city is very bike-able which is nice because we don’t HAVE to rely on public transportation. It makes the city feel much more available.

The downside, everyone uses these Dyno bike lights which use the power of peddling to turn on the lights. Naturally, the bike I bought was wired incorrectly (the best we can guess) because I peddle and nothing happens, but as soon as I brake the light comes on. 🤦‍♀️ We didn’t want to take it to a bike shop just yet and went searching for some battery-powered lights. They are so expensive! €15 for a front and backlight, which as I type this does not sound like a lot, but in the Netherlands, you could get a similar set for €5, so it hurt my heart a little. Oh well.

A bike adventure through the English Gardens to the Isar River.

Still working on German…

But we’re getting better! I’d say we’re at the phase where we are learning as much vocabulary as possible. We’re starting to be able to understand and reply in basic scenarios (at the grocery store, at the beer garden, etc.) and our (very) basic reading comprehension has improved. We randomly get a newspaper twice a week, and while I’m not reading full articles, I can at least distinguish the headlines now, and I call that a win!

My take-away impression?

We still don’t have a true impression.

Since Shane hasn’t been able to work yet, it really feels like we’ve just spent a very lovely summer as tourists in Munich. Sure, we’ve had to figure out the grocery stores and changed phone numbers (phone plans are also cheap, btw), but ultimately we aren’t truly ‘living’ here yet. We haven’t had to navigate the work/life balance, we can’t open a bank account until we have a steady salary, and we can’t partake in any social benefits (aka insurance) until we have residency. So, we haven’t done things like figure out the doctor or the dentist. As of now, we have a wonderful impression of Munich, but can’t really speak to what it’s like to actually “live” in Germany.

Fingers crossed that this changes soon! I would love to report otherwise.

Now, on to the…

August Joy Report!

(I make no apologies for my use of exclamation points in a joy report.)

I finished my first web development course!

After starting the blog, I became more and more interested in web development. The blog inspired me to want to know the ins and outs of how I am actually presenting you this information. While I am by no means ready for professional employment, I completed my first 54-hour course and would confidently say I have a good foundation. Who knows, maybe in a few years I’m building science-based websites instead of working in a lab.

We finally swam in the Isar River!

Two weeks ago we accidentally stumbled upon an excellent Isar River swimming spot, right in the heart of Munich. Friday of last week was more than likely our last truly HOT summer day, so we packed a cooler and biked 35 min back to that spot, and boy oh boy was it a great time! The river & the sangria were cold, the sun was hot, the people watching was great, and I feel like I’ve taken a big step towards becoming a true Münchner.

We went to the Mini-Hofbräuhaus!

Yes, a mini version of the big Hofbräuhaus exists – in the English Gardens!

I highly recommend a bike for this adventure, depending on where you live, because the Mini-Hofbräuhaus is located in the “wild” part of the English Gardens – aka the ‘not easily accessible by foot’ area. Do you like dogs? Well then you’ll love this place as it’s super dog friendly. Added bonus – the beer prices are lower than the main HB in the city center (€7.40 vs €9.20 for a liter).

Speaking of beer…

We can buy Oktoberfest beer in the grocery store!

I’ve yet to figure out if this is an annual thing, or if this is special for Covid times. Regardless, if we can’t participate in Oktoberfest this year then at least we can try the beer.

If the 0.5L bottles aren’t enough, you can grab a 2L bottle instead.

And finally,

We’ve been to the Alps twice!

We’ve had two hiking opportunities, one was a little harder than the other, but both were fantastic, and it’s nice that the Alps are only an hour (to hour and a half) drive from Munich. First up was Ehrwald, Austria – which I blogged about here – and our 2nd trip was to the Kranzhorn mountain (blog post to come).

The Seebensee in Ehrwald, Austria.
Overlooking the Hut on the Kranzhorn mountain, Austria & Germany (it splits the border!).

Honorable Mention:

My favorite German-words-of-the-month: Mietwagen (pronounced “meat wagon”, lol) which means ‘rental car’ & Sehenswürdigkeit (pronounced “seyens-wor-dig-kite”) which means ‘attraction’, or literally ‘something worthy to see’.


Until our next Sehenswürdigkeit (yes, I realize I used this incorrectly)…

Tchüss,

Whitney

Summer in the City, Munich

Remember that time I was super excited to move to THE Oktoberfest city and then it was canceled for the first time since WWII?

Oktoberfest is the largest Volksfest (folk festival) in the world and generally brings in ~1.5 billion euros from tourists each year. Until we moved here, we didn’t realize that there’s more to Oktoberfest than your average American probably assumes. Yes – the giant beer tents are the main attraction, but the festival grounds also have carnival rides, food vendors, and some cultural events. It’s essentially a State Fair on steroids. The festival takes place in the Theresienweise, which is a massive 420,000 sq. m (4,500,000 sq. ft.) area just outside the old town. You can really feel the vastness of the festival grounds when it’s empty.

Empty Oktoberfest grounds. It looks so sad.

As you might expect, the smaller Oktoberfest vendors were predicted to be the hardest hit from the cancellation. So, in an effort to give the city a little post-lockdown pep-in-it’s-step and a chance for the vendors to make some money, Munich has come up with a solution – Sommer in der Stadt (Summer in the city)!

Summer in the city is essentially a decentralized volksfest, and to be clear, it’s a “non-traditional event” and “not a replacement for Oktoberfest”. From the last week of July through the first week of September, pop-up beer gardens, concerts, craft vendors, food vendors, and carnival rides are scattered around the city. So, on Saturday we decided it was time to go see what it was all about.

There are three main festival locations – the Theresienwiese (the Oktoberfest grounds), the Köningsplatz, and Olympia Park. It seemed fitting to start at the festival grounds (and they were the closest), so that’s what we did.

Have you guys heard of Assumption Day? Yeah – neither had we.

Clearly, we aren’t Catholic, but the state of Bavaria is, and Saturday was a public holiday for the Assumption of Mary – aka the day it was assumed that Mary went to Heaven. Thank you, Munich Reddit, because otherwise, we would have no groceries – all the shops (including the grocery stores) were closed on Saturday (and are always closed on Sunday). I bring this up because I think this contributed to the underwhelming feeling we had when we excitedly made it to the fairground Saturday afternoon. There wasn’t much going on…

I did get a picture with the Bavaria Statue, though.

Post-coronavirus Tip: You can climb up the Bavaria Statue for a nice view of the fairgrounds!

I say post-coronavirus tip, because it’s closed until further notice. Very disappointing.


In case you didn’t notice, there is no shade in the Theresienwiese, and it was HOT on Saturday, so we carried on. It was just… alright. 😂

To be fair, it was a holiday, it was very family-friendly, and we didn’t make it out to Olympia Park, which was the primary location for the cultural events. I think I also had higher expectations based on pre-corona festivals. I will also give the city of Munich a lot of credit for ensuring a safe festival environment. There were never too many attractions in one area and the programs are very spread out over time. For instance, we learned after the fact that the hand-made craft mini-festival was on the Thursday and Friday prior, naturally.

I did manage to get another photo-frame picture, and we ate a chocolate-covered banana. So, it could have been worse.


Saturday wasn’t all-for-not, though. We managed to finally see the Isar River! I’ve been wanting to go swimming in the Isar, but it’s about a 40 min bike ride from our house, so we just haven’t done it yet. We didn’t swim on Saturday, but luckily there was an open kiosk with cold beer and plenty of space for people watching.

View from the Reichenbachbrücke (bridge).
The Isar has a walking path that extends the length of the river. FYI, masks are not required outdoors in Germany but social distancing is requested.
View from the Wittelsbacherbrücke.

Oh, another Assumption Day tip? Check your train times. Apparently, when Mary goes to Heaven the S-Bahn doesn’t run like normal. Our typical 15 min trip turned into an hour. Partly, because we had to take the tram, which is slower. Partly, because despite getting on the tram in the direction of home, we ended up going in the opposite direction. Still not quite sure how that happened… oh well.

Still no news on Shane’s job. Fingers crossed for an update soon!

Tschüss,

Whitney

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

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

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