Quito, Ecuador – A Walking Tour of the Historic Center

Quito is a big city. Like, far-as-the-eye-can-see big.

Now that we’ve settled into life here in Tena, we need long-term visas, which we can only apply for in Quito. Long story short, we are visa-less, but that’s still in motion, so it’s a story for another day.

We planned for a long weekend in Quito, but most of Friday was consumed with the visa application, which really only left Saturday to do a little exploring. If you’re short on time, I find the best way to do that is with a walking tour!

You see things, you learn things, you eat things (sometimes).

We arranged a walking tour through our hotel, and, honestly, it’s one of the best tours we’ve ever had. We were greeted in the morning by Marcos, our accidental private tour guide!

The classic “I’ll take a picture for you but really sneak a selfie” picture.

I say *accidental* private tour guide because the standard hotel policy is a three-person minimum. However, with covid and recovering tourism, they’ve loosened the rules. We’ve only ever had a personal tour guide once before (in Egypt), and I can’t say I hate it!

We spent about four hours with Marcos, so I’ll just cover the highlights.

Plaza Grande

Also known as The Plaza de la Independencia, this is the heart of Quito’s historic center and our starting point. The square is beautiful and lively and home to the main Catholic church in Quito, as well as the presidential palace called Palacio de Carondelet (Carondelet Palace).

Which, if I’m being honest, I was shocked at how close you could get to the presidential palace. Like, touch the wall close. Like, there were hairdressers and small shops underneath it close. And, from what we understood, the president actually lives there.

Imagine if you could just walk up to the White House these days… 🤯

La calle de las Siete Cruces

or the Street of Seven Crosses.

The seven crosses on this street are attached to seven churches. We were able to go into one of them, and it was quite impressive. We’ve added one church, La Compañía de Jesús, to our to-do list for next time. Apparently, the inside is covered in something like 53 kg (~116 lbs) of gold, according to our guide.

The street has plenty of other things to explore beyond churches. For example, we visited a hat maker. Fun fact, the classic “Panama” style hat is actually of Ecuadorian origin. The old Central Bank of Ecuador is also on this street and gave off some real Gringotts vibes. Now, it’s a museum about Ecuadorian currency, which I think might actually be interesting.

Snacks along the way.

Plaza de San Francisco

This square was beautiful, and my photos don’t do it justice. It’s home to the most expensive hotel in Quito’s historic center (I tried to convince Shane to stay there, he said no) and the legendary San Francisco church.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s legendary. As the story goes, a local builder/architect was asked to build the church. He said yes, but the project didn’t go as planned, and he wasn’t going to finish in time. So, he made a deal with the devil for help. The devil would finish the work, but the payment was the man’s soul.

When the church was almost complete, the man panicked, not wanting to give his soul to the devil. So, he hid the final brick, technically leaving the church unfinished and saving his soul.

Supposedly, there is one missing brick, and if someone chooses to finish the church by putting the brick in place, the devil will come back for their soul. So, uh, I guess if you find a random stone in San Francisco Plaza, it’s better to leave it alone.

Chocolate Tasting at Yumbos

Across the plaza from the church is a nondescript door with an arrow pointing to the doorbell.

Ring. The. Doorbell.


Luckily, Marcos knew what he was doing because otherwise, we would have walked right past Yumbos artisanal chocolate shop. If you’re into chocolate, they offer tastings (in English) and have bars for sale. There is also a small cafe which offers one of the best brownies I’ve ever had. Plus, the view from the tasting room isn’t too bad either…

Basílica del Voto Nacional

This was the view I didn’t know I had been waiting for.

The view from the panoramic deck.

I’m honestly a little disappointed in myself for not knowing that this was *the thing* to do in Quito’s historic center. Great views and making Shane walk stairs against his will? It’s all of my favorite things!

It’s the national basilica because it’s meant to be the meeting spot for all Ecuadorian Catholics, and the inside houses flags for each province. You can see the basilica from most points in the historic center as it is at the top of a large hill (be prepared for a walk!). The view from the (easily accessed) panoramic deck looks across the historic center to Loma El Panecillo, which may look like an angel but is actually a winged Virgin Mary. So, as our guide put it, the church and the Virgin Mary protect historic Quito in between them.

If heights don’t bother you, then take the sketchy wooden path that looks like you shouldn’t be on it to climb the tower. I’m not scared of heights, but these stairs were steep, so I warned you! The 360-degree view is worth it, though.

Sketchy little wooden walkway. It feels like you’re not supposed to be there.
The stairs up… straight up.
Part of the view from the top!

El Mercado Central

All those hills and stairs made me hungry. Plus, Marcos said that since Quito is at a high elevation (~2350 meters/9300 feet), your metabolism speeds up, and you get hungry faster. All I heard from that was, “you should eat more.” End of story. So, we went to the Central Market for some lunch. Thanks to Marcos, we had some of the best fried fish I’ve ever had.

If you’re visiting Quito, head to the market and find Jimmy.

Shane and I split two things, the $6 plate of fish in the picture (that comes with sides) and mixed llapingacho (from another stand), which was basically potato balls with sides. ‘Twas very filling. Oh, and you can’t forget to have some juice; para mi, Naranjilla (Quito orange)!


And those are the highlights! We highly encourage walking tours in new cities, and Quito has one of the best-preserved historic centers in all of South America. So, it’s definitely worth it.

Practical Info:

Hotel: Friends Hotel & Rooftop by DOT

Walking Tour: $15 per person, booked at the hotel. Ask for Marcos!

Basílica del Voto Nacional: $3 per person

Food: Snacks were included in the tour, but lunch was not. We paid ~$12 total for lunch.


Hasta luego,

Whitney

America Trip Part 2: Chicago

The first and only ever time I was in Chicago was with Shane back in 2014, just before we moved to the Netherlands. We were there for our friend Brian’s 30th birthday, and the only thing I really remember is that the famous Bean was right next to our hotel. That, and we all went out for massages. It was my first one ever (at 28 years old), and while everyone else came out relaxed, I was disappointed. I remember sitting there listening to “oh! and when they did this and that!” and thinking “I got none of that!”

Needless to say, I was excited to see Chicago again. Plus, the Wolfpack (Shane, Brian, and me) hadn’t been together in roughly three years.

So, we spent our final few days in America letting Brian and Shannon tour us through some new and some of their favorite spots. I won’t lie, the itinerary was ambitious and involved pre-made Google maps. We didn’t make it all the way through, but we did our best!

first up,

The beach!

To be honest, this lasted for about 10 minutes. It was a beautiful idea, but the weather just wasn’t cooperating. However! Shane and I did put our feet into (very cold) Lake Michigan while Brian and Shannon held down the blankets… literally. It was that windy.

The river!

We walked it. We biked it. We took cute pictures.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery!

Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but Starbucks isn’t my favorite. I would have never thought to visit the roastery. However, if you like coffee, then I would absolutely recommend a visit and a tour! I didn’t realize that Starbucks had a reserve coffee line, and I definitely didn’t realize that there were only six reserve roasteries worldwide!

If you want to just have a coffee and experience the place, then it’s free, but we did a tour of the four-story Starbucks with a coffee tasting that goes in-depth into their coffee process, from beans to brew! You won’t leave un-caffeinated.

Oh, and their espresso martini is not to be missed! Yes, this Starbucks has a bar.

It’s covid-friendly with separate straws, right?

Bikes, baby!

Chicago was a surprisingly bike-friendly city, at least the little bit of biking we did. The biggest difference was the turn signals or the lack thereof. Here, sticking an arm out when you’re turning left or right is engrained, but Shane and I seemed to be the only ones giving turn signals in the city.

We hit the Lakefront Trail towards the end of the day, which had spectacular views! It’s a walking and biking path, so I highly recommend it.

Rooftop bars!

We hit several rooftop bars in between stops for tacos and ice cream. I’m a sucker for a good view. So, my favorites were The Robey (which had the tiniest rooftop pool I’ve ever seen) in Wicker Park and The J. Parker in Lincoln Park (which had a bonus city + lake view)!

Views from The Robey.
Views from the J. Parker.

360 Chicago (the John Hancock Tower)!

If you’re looking for an incredible view, then the 360 Chicago observation deck is the place to be. If you want to enjoy that same incredible view with a semi-overpriced cocktail, then you should check out the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor. I say semi-overpriced because for the price of one admission to the observation deck you can get two fancy cocktails with a great view (although not 360 degrees). Since we went at night, we decided on the cocktail option.


Like I said before, we had an ambitious list that went partially unfulfilled. Guess that means there’s gotta be a next time!

We’re on the final countdown, folks! Two weeks from now, we will be on the way to Ecuador!

Until then, we’re cramming in all the Munich we can handle.

Tschüss,

Whitney

Riederstein Hike: Tegernsee, Germany

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking “what-the-damn-hell!?” ’cause we got out of the city, baby!!

Tegernsee, Bavaria, Germany

This past Sunday was G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S and our first true summer-feeling day. When we met up with our friend, Theresa, back in March we talked about going for a hike when the weather finally turned. So, when a beautiful sunny day presented itself, we jumped at the opportunity to get to the mountains.

Do you know what’s really crazy? We haven’t been outside of Munich since September when we went hiking for our anniversary, and we haven’t been outside of Bavaria since we moved here nearly a year ago. I know a lot of people haven’t been traveling, but it still feels surreal.

Anyway, we met up with Theresa and our friend Giulia (who we also met in the Netherlands) for some *covid-protocol approved* outdoor fun!

The Tegernsee (see means lake) is one of the ~10 easily accessible Bavarian lakes about an hour south of the city. Our hike started in Tegernsee (the city) and looped towards Riederstein mountain for a spectacular view of the lake, the alps, and the towns below. Ironically, you can’t actually see Tegernsee city. This view is of the neighboring town, Rottach-Egern.

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite parts of hiking in Bavaria (and Austria) is the beer huts! There’s nothing like a mid-hike beer to power you through the rest. Outdoor dining hasn’t been open in Bavaria since November. So, naturally, we assumed that the beer hut on the route would be closed. You can imagine our excitement when we turned the corner, and it was OPEN (and serving Tegernseer bier, naturlich)! …for take-away only, but that was ok. There was a sunny field waiting for us.

The local brew with the Riederstein peak in the background.

The Riederstein hike ends at the top of this peak – do you notice the small church? That’s where you’ll find those amazing views. It’s 20 to 30 minutes of straight uphill to get to the final destination, but the views are worth it, and you can always have a refreshment when you come back down. 😜

The beer hut with Rieterstein mountain.

Practical Info

How to get there: By car or by regional train (Bayerische Regiobahn) which runs every hour.

Distance from Munich: ~1 hour by car and 1 h 15 min by train.

Hike Direction: Starting at the Tegernsee Prinzenweg im Alpbachtal parking lot, follow the signs for Riederstein or Galaun (the beer hut). On the way back, be sure to head to the correct Tegernsee (there are multiple options!) – look for the Prinzenweg route.

Difficulty: Medium. There were some steep parts, particularly at the end, but the paths are easy to navigate.

Time: ~4 hours, not including time to relax.

Tip: Per usual, bring cash! For more details, check out this link (in German).

Rating: 🧡If there’s time

If you’re looking for a nice day trip from Munich with an easily accessible hike, this is for you. The town is also very typically Bavarian and very charming, with lots of options for food and other lake activities (in normal times).


The coronavirus numbers are slowly dropping here in Munich, and the beer gardens (and all outdoor dining) can open starting today! Maybe this won’t be a terrible summer after all…

Tshüss,

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

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