I’m back! I took a bit of an impromptu break from blogging over the summer, but now I’m back and have plenty of things to tell you about! Better late than never…
One of the biggest perks of living in Paris is the proximity to – and ability to visit – tons of interesting places across Europe. It’s a perk that I haven’t taken advantage of nearly enough. So when I found myself with a bit of spare time, summer weather, and a German friend repeatedly asking me when I might visit, I finally went for it!
A long weekend in Munich, Germany
I have long been interested in visiting Germany, especially Munich and Bavaria, for all its castles and beer and schnitzel and beer… Frenchman, on the other hand, doesn’t like beer and is generally less drawn to destinations in his own backyard. He prefers his vacations to be long, super far, and more exotic than one little border away. I, however, remain resolutely American in my obsession with all things European.
So while he was busy with work and time-consuming side projects, I hopped a flight to visit my friend Franzi, who has been suggesting I come to Munich ever since we finished grad school (where we met) 6 years ago.
I arrived Friday evening and, after dropping off my bags at her place, we headed straight to a beer garden for dinner. It was an excellent, highly Munchen kick-off to the weekend, with literal liters of beer, people just casually in dirndls and lederhosen, and a pretzel as big as my head.
I wish I took more photos; the atmosphere of the Munich beer gardens is just so cool. People of all ages just hanging out and having a nice time. It’s very loose and relaxed, BYO food or you can buy food there, clearly a beloved part of the Bavarian culture. And there are little trucks that drive around picking up all the empty beer steins!
Rathaus, a Glockenspiel, and urban surfers in the English Garden
Saturday was spent walking around the city, from top to bottom. We first had a delicious brunchy breakfast, and then headed straight for the one thing I knew I absolutely needed to see: the Glockenspiel!
The Glockenspiel is an ornate cuckoo clock located in the Rathaus (city hall) in the main square, Marienplatz. It has two levels which each play, in turn, with scenes of characters rotating with the music. It only plays at 11am, noon, and 5pm each day so we made sure to see it first so we could wander freely for the rest of the day.
Munich is a pretty small city, making it easy to explore on foot. We started out in Marienplatz, watching the clock, then climbed the Rathaus tower for a nice panoramic view of the square and the rest of the city. As I’ve mentioned before, wherever I go, if there’s a tower to climb, I’ll climb it. In Munich, the main “thing to climb” is the cathedral, St Peter’s, but frankly it was really hot and there was a line. Instead, we went up the Rathaus tower, which still offers a cool view (and an elevator), though you don’t get the higher-level views of the Glockenspiel, which would have been cool. Maybe next time.
I can’t even begin to go into detail on all the other things we saw as we walked around all day. We saw beautiful architecture, a famous delicatessen, the king’s palace, and explored the huge English Garden including a Chinese tower, a beer garden (of course), and a little river with actual surfers? We also stopped in the very unique Asam church built between the homes of two wealthy traders, designed in a spectacular, dramatic style which leaves quite the impression.
We even stopped in a department store to see the dirndl department, because that is a real thing. Like as if you went to Nordstrom and turned to find dirndls and lederhosen for all seasons. They were beautiful and I’m more obsessed than ever.
We took time out for a treat here and there, stopping at a cafe above the famous Viktualienmarkt, a street full of butchers and vendors offering every kind of German sausage you can imagine. We also conveniently stumbled upon a wine festival! Placed right in the middle of Munich, we stopped to sample some regional wines like a Silvaner, which I had never heard of before. We wrapped up the day with some classic German fare, jagerschnitzel and summer shandy beers.
Day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle
Sunday we hit the road for a great Bavarian road trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, better known as “the Disney castle“. This really deserves a post in and of itself to do it justice. It was a long but beautiful drive through the German countryside, and Franzi was an amazing tour guide, whipping to the side of the road when she saw a view she thought I needed a photo of, and making me get out of the car (and run across the road!) to get the best shot.
Neuschwanstein Castle, and neighboring Hohenschwangau Castle, are set in the mountains in the most picturesque setting imaginable. Both castles are beautiful and historically fascinating, and very different in style from opulent French chateaux. Unfortunately, they do not allow photos even without flash, so you’ll have to visit for yourself to peek inside.
We got a joint ticket to visit the 2 castles, which they time perfectly for you to walk up, tour, then walk to the next one. Fair warning though, the “walk” is up the mountain, then down the mountain, then way up the other mountain. You get your exercise for the day, for sure. The area also features an incredible footbridge suspended over a gorge (see photo below), overlooking Neuschwanstein Castle which allows even the most basic tourist to get a truly spectacular view (and photo) of the iconic castle.
Monday I was flying solo while Franzi was at work, so I hit the town again for a closer look at the sights of Munich.
I saved the museums for my day on my own, after exploring and getting a feel for navigating the city with a local first. I think it was the perfect arrangement, as I wasn’t worried about getting lost and I could visit the museums at my own pace.
I bought the combo ticket for the Residenz Palace, the Treasury, and the theater, which had me set for a good few hours. The palace was incredible, and came with a free audio guide to hear about the history of each and every room, their Rococo design, and fascinating details. The palace is enormous, and at one point even points out the long route versus short route – I took the short route as I was running out of steam so I could move on to the Treasury, which houses beautiful royal jewels, swords, and (creepy) relics.
In desperate need of a break and some lunch after a few hours of museuming, I treated myself to a traditional flammekuche (a flatbread topped with bacon and onions) and a glass of riesling before heading off to Saint Peter’s cathedral. I opted once again not to climb the tower given the line and the heat, so once I finished I made my way back to the English Garden to explore more, watch the swimmers and surfers, and relax for the remainder of my afternoon in the lovely summer sun.
I met up with Franzi for dinner, and we decided to celebrate my last night in Munich with another beer garden. This one has deer! The Hirschgarten, it’s literally called the “Deer Garden”. An excellent end to a great long weekend.
Stray thoughts about Munich
- Generally, the people are so cheerful and friendly! Especially since it was summer, I found everyone to be very happy and relaxed, which was a striking contrast to Paris
- The city feels super safe and super clean. Case in point: the metro operates on an honor system! You buy your ticket and have to validate it, but there are no gates to prevent you from just walking through and getting on a train.
- Munich is more than just beer (riesling! silvaner!). But there is a lot of beer. I mean, it comes by the liter.
- I have immense respect for Oktoberfest beer servers, who can carry a dozen steins around when I could barely carry one liter stein with one hand and my dinner in the other.
All in all, a long weekend well spent. And it only took me 3 months to tell you about it! (To be fair, this has been sitting, mostly-written, since August. I just never got to finishing it)
I know this was a long one, but I just had so many photos I wanted to share. Munich was a gorgeous city and I was so excited to get out of France to see a different take on architecture, royalty, and general culture. Oh, and beer 🍻