As promised, part 2. I’m attempting to write this back to back from part 1 (quite a marathon, I might add), mostly because I think I’ll never do it if I don’t do it now, and I quite simply don’t want to go to bed. (Oh 7 pm cafe con leche, you probably weren’t the best idea…my but my caffeine tolerance as plummeted since the all-nighter days of university. But I digress. A lot.)
So, where were we? Ah yes, Munich.
We wanted to get a taste of Bavaria and the south (in contrast to our experiences in the west) and Jake (my fiancé) is somewhat of a beer connoisseur and was practically (actually he literally was) drooling over the chance to sample the city’s world-famous brews. Minus the cold and short time to actually be there, we just loved it. I’m sure he won’t appreciate me sharing this, but Jake was simply giddy to be, as he put it, “in the presence of such beer tradition….and it’s just so incredibly quaint, too.” He even skipped. Just for a moment, but if you’ve met him you know that seeing a 6’2” football player-esque of a guy giddily skipping is rather amusing. 😉
-Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel. Munich seems to have a never-ending supply of lovely quaint little squares, but this one’s the granddaddy. The enormongous (no that’s not a word, but I believe it to appropriately describe this) “new” town hall, or Neues Rathaus, makes up one whole side of the square and houses the huge Glockenspiel, sort of like a giant cuckoo clock/chiming/dancing figurine like thing, here, just watch a clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pb4XOBTXKDU&feature=related. We loved walking around with a Bavarian cream pastry or a bratwurst (I know, so stereotypical, but completely and utterly delightful all the same) and just enjoying the atmosphere. There’s also a large market, called Viktuelienmmarkt, adjacent to Marienplatz that’s wonderful to wander through as well.
-Hofbrauhaus. This famous brewery & beer hall got its start in 1592 (!!) at the request of Wilhelm V, Duke of Bavaria, due to his unhappiness with the current malted beverages in Munich at the time–he recruited the master brewer of Geisenfeld Monastery to create the future beer empire that is now Hofbrauhaus. The beer hall itself is crazy huge…it can seat 1300, and is a maze of wooden tables, rosy-cheeked patrons, traditionally dressed wait staff and live Bavarian music. You may not find a seat very quickly and will mostly likely have to sit with strangers…it’s still worth it. We met a cool Australian couple this way and had a ball chatting and sipping on our brews with them. Way cool. Oh right. The beer. It was amazing… obviously. Coming from not a beer-hater but definitely not a choose-beer-over-everything-else type of chica, this means a lot.
-Neauschwanstein Castle. Ok, this is quite a bit outside of Munich, more of a day trip, but let me tell you—it is 1 MILLION percent worth the expensive travel (tip, go with a group of up to 5 on one ticket and you can save quite a bit of cash) and substantial bit of time to get there. The actual castle Walt Disney used to model the iconic Disneyland castle after, it is perched in the stunning, snow-capped mountains near a pristine Alpine lake, and a view of the Bavarian countryside (when we were there) blanketed in snow and as perfect as a painting. When we were there, the air was as crisp, cold as could be and the walk up the mountain to see the castle (plan for about 30 minutes each way) was itself full of picturesque views of the countryside, mountain springs trickling down a slope, just the works. The “main” road leads you up to the entrance of the place, with the great views of the countryside, but no matter when in the year you go YOU MUST take the little side-path you’ll see on the way down. It leads up a really steep trail that leads to a bridge that gives you the postcard, birds-eye view of the castle…all while standing over an immense gorge filled with a spectacular waterfall. In the winter, though, this path is often closed due to ice. We ignored the signs and hopped the barriers…everyone else was doing it! Not to advocate dangerous rule-breaking or anything, and I admit there was quite a bit of ice on some very steep paths, but if you don’t mind biffin’ it a time or two, I wholeheartedly urge you to do it.
A few tips: drink the beer. Generously. The bratwurst is incredible, as well. I’m not a huge brat fan in the U.S. but I promise you will not be disappointed here. Go to the English Garden, a greenspace bigger than New York’s Central Park (though, maybe not as much of a priority to visit in winter), as well as the Nymphemburg Palace—both incredible and definitely worth your time. Eat the pastries. Join the crowds to watch the Glockenspiel at 11 or 12. DO go to Neauschwanstein, but prepare for it to take up much of the day. We weren’t able to visit this, but if you can, visit the Dachau concentration camp outside the city as well.
And now, Paris.
It was nearing the end of our two-week traveling frenzy, and we were definitely feeling the effects of it (in my case many blisters, ankles that felt like they would snap and an in-the-process-of-breaking boot heel) but we were excited and energized for the last leg of our journey in the “city of light.” While the weather for our big day of exploring left some to be desired (blowing wind and rain, then just rain, then rain while it was sunny, then no rain just ridiculous wind) we tried to make the best of it, and were rewarded with a lovely clear-sky day the next (sadly, much shorter) day.
-The Louvre. Of course. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to visit this museum of masterpieces, and it did not disappoint in any way. It was simply overwhelming to be around such mastery and skill and simply works of absolute love/passion for their craft. The magnificent, vast halls are filled with more art than I think you could see (let alone appreciate fully) in a week, so don’t expect to see everything. We made a list of our priority things to see and found most all of them, miraculously, though a few had been moved to other countries for exhibition then just let ourselves get lost in whatever wing we ended up in. I just cannot adequately explain how incredible it was to spend a morning/afternoon there, just wandering amidst the genius. !!! Also, it’s an EXCELLENT thing to do for a rainy, crappy day, as we had.
-The Eiffel Tower. Ok, I know that’s just the most touristy, shallow thing to say, but it is hard to ignore the pull of this iconic structure…we got to see it first completely illuminated at night, then in the day with green grass and a blue sky, then shining gold against a dusky cornflower/periwinkle sky. Something I’d recommend but we unfortunately didn’t get to do is climb the thing (or take the lift). The first two times we visited, there was a wind advisory that closed the top of the tower to tourists, and then the last clear morning there were lines that looked 6 miles long and we didn’t have time to stand there and wait before we needed to get going. Sad, but another reason to go back. Still amazing to simply see, though–and remember to catch the 10 minutes when they set the tower ‘atwinkling. Not something to miss.
-Sacré-Cœur Basilica. This one I hadn’t really heard as much about until coming to Paris (I know, I’m woefully uninformed) but it’s a definite must-see. Perched on the top of Montemarte, the highest point in the city, it’s quite out of the way (relative to other sights in the city, though much of them are spread out) but FOR SURE worth the extra metro trip. Walk up the lovely green (even in winter) hill and sit for a moment with the sun on your face, enjoy the fantastic view of the city and then do your round inside the incredible building itself. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside, so make sure you mentally soak up as much as you can, or better yet, buy one of the many postcards that showcase the gorgeous interior and the stunningly beautiful, bright blue and gold fresco that fills the whole largest dome above the altar.
Some tips: if you’re traveling alone, in a pair or in a group, 10-pack metro ticket books are your friend. Way better than one at a time, and cheaper too…Paris is a city that’s walkable to a point, but unless you want to keel over in the first day trying to see everything, you’ve gotta utilize the metro. It’s not hard, just know the name of the stop you want to find, use the metro maps and follow the signs. Get a decent, full map of the city. It is worth it. Our hostel just gave us a kind of “partial” Paris map, and we ended up buying a big, awkward full city map, but seriously kept us knowing where we were always. Go up the Eiffel Tower if you can, if not, spend time just enjoying its beauty and stroll the lovely park that surrounds it. WALK AROUND THE LOUVRE AT NIGHT. Cannot stress this enough–it was a sight I’ll never forget. Also, when you actually go to the museum, go early & get in line before it opens. You will not regret it when you get some of the world’s greatest masterpieces almost “to yourself.” The crowds are intense and can even detract from the experience as the day progresses. Bring an umbrella. Go to some other churches besides Notre Dame and Sacré-Cœur (of course go to them, they are incredible)–but there are SO many amazing cathedrals in Paris. A few we saw were St. Sulpice (has a metro stop of the same name) and St. Genevieve next to the Pantheon (in the Latin Quarter), both really wonderful and different. Meander along the river, day or night. You’ll feel like you’re in a movie.
Sorry for the length on these folks, but there’s just so much to say! Hope your own adventures (home or abroad) help you see the world with wonder-filled eyes.