From Prague, we caught a train to Munich, Germany. Our primary interest in visiting Munich actually comes from a 2,000 piece puzzle that we constructed over about four years. The end result was of Neuschwanstein Castle, nestled in the Alps between Germany and Austria. The nearest main Germany city was Munich, so we decided to make that our base and travel to Neuschwanstein on a day trip.
When we got off the train in Munich and checked into our hotel, I was uber-hangry. We walked to a market called Victuals Market and I ordered a sausage sandwich from the first vendor I saw. Not sure if it was the hunger talking, but it was one of the most delicious sausages I've ever tasted. It was really juicy, super salty, and the crusty bread was perfect to sop up the sausage fat. Still hungry, I zipped across the market to a stall where they made chopped roast pork sandwiches topped with a generous chunk of pork crackling. Wow! My brain was like, "no girl you are eating pure pork fat right now" but my taste buds were like, "yes let's get another one!"
Phew, alright - enough to stave off hangriness. We walked around Marienplatz and the neighboring streets that featured many luxury retail brands and wonderful boutiques. We noticed that one florist shop was selling a lot of toy pigs so we stopped in and asked why. Turns out plump little piggies are a symbol of good luck for the new year and people often bought and gifted many pig-shaped items before the new year. I felt a big guilty consuming so much pork in the days prior and days after.
For dinner, we decided on Hofbrauhaus Munchen. This is one absolutely monstrous beer hall. Hofbrau is the beer with the blue and white checked label you so often see at Oktoberfest. Hofbrauhaus is a venerable institution that seats 4,000 or more people. Downstairs, there were oompah bands dressed in leiderhosen playing in the loud dining room. We couldn't find a table, so we went upstairs and my jaw dropped when I saw what it looked like. The ceilings were cavernous and the upstairs was one huge room lined with rows and rows of wooden tables and benches. At the front was a stage where another band was playing Bavarian music, and every few songs a couple dressed in leiderhosen would come up and dance.
The atmosphere was very cool up in Hofbrauhaus. I wish I could say the same about the food. We ordered a strange meatloaf and some other food that was unmemorable. We did have a good dark Hofbrau beer served in a heavy glass one-liter stein. The band and dancers were great fun, but to me another fun feature was the huge Chinese tour group seated nearby. There were maybe forty middle-aged folks and one peppy young Chinese woman who was the guide. It seemed that Hofbrauhaus offered a group prix fixe menu for such tour groups, because every person got a giant pork knuckle, a beer, and a panna cotta-like dessert. I was chuckling to myself because the sheer size and unhealthiness of the pork knuckle seemed to offend their Chinese sensibilities. They also ate and left extremely fast, so I noticed a table laden with leftover pork and completely untouched desserts. Shame!
The next day was our trek to Neuschwanstein in the town of Schwangau. We took a very early train out, toured Neuschwanstein and Hoenschwangau castles ("new swan castle" and "high swan town" or something of the like - swans were symbols of royalty). We had a great tour guide for the castles who told engrossing stories about the royal family that built the neighboring castles. It was a joy for me and Alex to see the castle up close, one that we'd labored over for so long with that puzzle. How many hours we spent staring at blue bits of sky or dark green pieces of forest.
The next day was our only full day in Munich. We spent it on our self-guided tour of Munich's Greatest Churches. It was unplanned: we walked by an unmarked door near Karlspatz (an old city gate that led to a glitzy shopping street) and popped our heads inside only to see a breathtaking tall ornate Baroque church. There were leftover Christmas decorations in some of the churches. Each subsequent church we visited seemed more beautiful than the last. The final one was Asamkirche, and it was so incredible I had to sit down to prevent my knees from buckling. Asamkirche was strange. It is decorated so over-the-top with dark reds and greens and gilded statuary and Baroque paintings and chrome organ pipes. I thought I was in a bat cave, since there seemed to be so many statues and ornamental things dripping from the walls and ceilings like stalactites. Wild.
That night, we had an amazing experience. We picked a restaurant that happened to be packed, except they could seat us at a tabled shared with a family of four. We were hungry enough to agree, and nodded politely as we were seated at the edge of their table. Before we knew it, we were chatting with them all through dinner. They were a family from the Midwest, but here to visit one daughter who was working and living in Prague and another that was studying abroad. They were also planning to visit Neuschwanstein Castle too, so we gave them some pointers. They were really interested in our lives as New Yorkers, and how that compared to living in Idaho. They were very sweet. They left a little before we finished dinner, and when we asked for the receipt, our waiter told us that they had paid for our meal! What a wonderful gesture! I was extremely touched.
Munich was, like Prague, not what I expected at all. It seemed much more like a wealthy metropolis - I didn't expect there to be so much luxury shopping. I especially loved seeing all the richly decorated churches. I'll never forget that lovely family we met at dinner on the last night. After our quick couple of days in Munich, we bid auf wiedersehen to Germany and headed on our last leg to Vienna.