Thursday, February 5, 2015


Frauenkirche and Neues Rathaus. Taken from the top the tower of Saint Peter's Church.Munich — or München as it is pronounced in German and Russian was our second of three cities that we visited during our trip. I think Alёna and I agree on the fact that it was our favorite of them to see and experience.

Streets of Munich.Nothing remarkable happend during the journey to Munich itself. We have preordered our train tickets online before heading to Germany which was the right thing to do. In Italy we had to stop at a major train station to book our tickets in advance, but the train station itself was on our way. In Germany it was not the case, and everything worked out well. I didn’t even have to print anything out. I just installed an app on the phone that loaded the proper barcodes into itself and that’s what we showed to conductors.

Streets of Munich.The trip itself takes about 6 hours. We got to see some country side through the windows of the train with tiny towns and old castles. We tried German train food — something between a pizza and a sandwich in one and of course drank some beer. By the time we got to Munich it was already dark outside, so we didn’t really do much in the evening.

Streets of Munich.We checked into the hotel which was quite a bit more modest than the one in Berlin. They did leave us a €50 bottle of champagne and some chocolate covered fruit because of our anniversary. We went outside to find some food for dinner and after walking around we didn’t find any German restaurants — only Italian ones.

Isar River.So instead of going into a sitdown place we grabbed a pair of gyros to-go at a local fast food Turkish place. To our surprise the only available gyro was chicken and the guy told us that lamb in Germany is very expensive. I’m not sure if it’s true, but chicken gyro ended up being not good. That was the worst dinner of our trip, but we did fill up on nice little snacks at an executive lounge of our hotel.

Near center.The plan for our first full day in Munich was to explore the city center starting with the main square called Marienplatz. For some reason I originally thought that we would need to figure out how to use local transportation to get places, but turned out that the walk was less than a mile long to the very center. All Hilton hotels that we picked ended up having great locations for exploration.

Rathous in the background.Munich had a much more of an old look to it. It was also severely damaged during the war, but more older parts of the city survived and probably a lot of restoration was done. It had a lot of different churches and towers and castle-looking places.

Munich center.Marienplatz was surrounded by churches. The centerpiece of the city is the old Neues Rathaus — even thought it’s called neues (new) it was built at the end of 19th century. It had an old gothic look to it.

Marienplatz. Mechanical dolls on the tower in the background.One of the attractions of Rathaus is little play performed by mechanical dolls (Glockenspiel) at the center of the tower that can be viewed from the square down below. I imagine it was a technological marvel when it was built and to this day a bunch of silly looking tourists looking at it with open mouths and tilted back heads. We watched a little part of the play, but eventually got bored and moved on.

Saint Peter's Church's roof from Saint Peter's Church tower.Our objective was to climb a tower across from Rathaus, even though there is an elevator in the main tower of Rathaus available for tourists. But we wanted to scale the tower across so we could take some areal pictures of Munich including the Rathaus itself.

Center.The tower that we picked was a part of Saint Peter’s Church. There was one or another kind of churches located at that place starting from the 8th century. 299 steps later we had a magnificent view of Munich.

Inside Saint Peter's Church.Sadly the weather did not want to cooperate and one of the iconic towers of Frauenkirche (kirche is church in German) was covered by construction scaffolding. But we still got some nice shots — one at the top of this article for example.

Hofbräuhaus.After the climb we were ready for a lunch at an old famous beer hall — Hofbräuhaus. Hofbräuhaus was originally built in 16th century, but probably not much remains of the original construction. The beer hall was full of people on the first floor. The enormous second floor was largely empty, but I’m sure that’s not the case during the month of October.

Inside Hofbräuhaus.The place had all kinds of people inside. The most colorful were the older German men wearing traditional clothing drinking beer from their own gigantic beer mugs. And of course the place had tons and tons of tourists.

Inside Hofbräuhaus.We read about some of the traditional Bavarian dishes beforehand and we wanted to try some of them. One such thing was a soup called Leberknödel. Even though it did look interesting it was too salty and we didn’t like it. We also ordered a Bavarian traditional finger sized wursts and of course wheat beer. Overall the food was just OK, but it was an experience.

Market.On a side note a week after we came back from Germany we went to one of the local restaurants for dinner. I noticed that they changed the menu and have added German beer to it. I ordered a bottle and to my surprise it was beer from Hofbräuhaus with Hofbräuhaus on the sticker. The beer was not as good as our favorite Franziskaner, but it was a nice feeling having actually BEEN to the place on the sticker.

Asamkirche.After Hofbräuhaus we walked through Viktualienmarkt (gourmet farmer’s market) to a church of a different type — Asamkirche. It was built in Baroque style and is located right between some other buildings — like a town house. So it’s quite surprising to walk inside and see its big interior.

Inside Asamkirche.That was pretty much our day. We went back to the hotel, got some drinks at the executive lounge and decided to go to some Italian for dinner after all — as I said before there were no other types of places nearby. We did pick some fancy place with some delicious buffalo mozzarella pizza. This was the only non-German place that we had a dinner at and it was the only place that wasn’t taking credit cards. As we found out about that after the fact we were glad that we had some cash on hand.

At English Garden.For our second day we originally planned to rent a car and go see some castles. We didn’t make any advanced reservations since there was a rental place right on the next block to our hotel. Or so I thought. A day before the trip I was making last checks and the place was nowhere to be found. So either it closed or I have no idea where I was looking. Long story short, we figured that we had plenty more things to do in Munich itself, so we canceled our castle road trip.

Glühwein.Instead we went to a different part of Munich called Englischen Garten (English Garden), a Central Park like place the center of which was located about 2 miles away from our hotel. The day was cold and gray again and by the time we reached the center of the park we were feeling pretty chilly suddenly. There was a street stand selling glühwein — spicy, warm red wine. Alёna said that she read about it in books, so we gave it a try. I didn’t like it at all and much better prefer warm apple cider or something similar, which they also had.

Streets of Munich.After our stroll through the park and small sidestreets we decided to go back to the center. On our way out of the park we spotted an interesting thing. There is some river or canal running through the park.

City surfing.At one place this canal has something on the bottom of it which ends up making a big wave. The current is pretty strong. And right in that river, in this bone-chilling weather there was a bunch guys surfing. And they were very proficient at it, but nevertheless they did keep losing their balance eventually and having to get completely dunked into that water.

Munich center.We did get back to the center and started looking for a place to eat dinner at. It was Thanksgiving, which is technically our anniversary, again. Originally we planned to go to Zum Franziskaner — restaurant held by the maker of our favorite beer. The reviews were mediocre, but we figured that we’d at least get Franziskaner beer coasters for our collection. However when we entered we actually noticed that they had something else on their tables. So instead of eating there I just quietly pocked a pair and we left.

Spatenhaus.Instead I remembered about another place that looked good. It was located on a large square in front of the Bavarian State Opera — Spatenhaus. Spatenhaus is another brand of beer. The menu looked good and the place had good reviews, so that’s where we went. Guess what kind of beer coasters they had? Franziskaner ones.

Inside Spatenhaus. View at Opera House.Our dinner was delicious. We ordered a hearty potato soup, sauerbraten (I think) and a super delicious bavarian duck — it was Thanksgiving after all and duck was the closest thing to turkey that we could get. And of course we got draft Franziskaner beer. As I said twice already — everything was delicious. One interesting thing that happened was that we had a basket of pretzels on the table and turns out they count how many pieces of bread you had eaten and charge you for each. A weird German thing.

Streets of Munich.On the way back to our hotel I saw another restaurant named after a beer that Zum Franziskaner used for coasters. Just out of curiosity I decided to walk inside and look at their coasters. Then an backward thing happened — immediately somebody asked if we wanted a table. Now this was a first in all of our trip. The only time when we actually didn’t need a table they offered us one. I saw a tack of coasters and asked if I could just have a pair of those. A grumpy man said that he would sell it to me for 400 euros, yet proceeded to give two of them to me. Guess what? Spaten beer coasters.

Streets of Munich.And that’s pretty much our Munich. I’m writing this post and smiling. It brings back such pleasant pleasant memories. The whole vacation was great and Munich definitely contributed to it being special.

Sankt Lukas Kirche.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Germany Austria Vacation

MapIn a great turn of events my parents have agreed to take over our kids for a week in late November allowing Alena and I to take another what we hope to be a great vacation for our eighth wedding anniversary.

We had an approximate plan in our head for a while now, but this week we actually did a good amount of preliminary research and have finalized our core itinerary. After having done that we have booked the plane tickets and our hotels.

We have a pretty good idea of what we want to see at each destination and how we are going to get around. Trains will be the main form of transportation. However we are planning to rent a car for one day and have a side trip as we did in Italy.

It seems that train pass doesn’t make sense for us yet again, as we’ll only be taking the train two times. I looked at approximate pricing of train tickets on the routes that we have to take to make our plan more solid. Same with the car rental.

Now in the coming month we’ll just do a lot of reading to make sure we don’t miss something interesting as well as what food we should try beside the obvious bratwursts and beer. Basically we’re going to start building on our initial plan. One thing that we know we want to try avoid is anything related to World War II. But I think that will be in our minds anyhow throughout this trip.

The short summary of the plan is as follows. We leave on late night of Friday, November 21st. We fly1 to Berlin with a change over in Frankfurt on our way and land on November 22nd. We couldn’t find a decent direct flight. However I finally do get to fly Lufthansa and Boeing 747! We’ll be coming back on Monday, December 1st on a direct flight from Vienna with Austrian Airlines.

We were thinking of which cities to visit and ended up decided not to spread ourselves to thin and limit it to only 3 cities — Berlin, Munich and Vienna. As before we’re going to stay in Hilton hotels. At this point we booked hotels for a combination of points and euros, but by the time November rolls around we plan to have all of them upgraded to points exclusively.

By taking advantage of our Hilton Diamond VIP benefits we expect to get rooms upgraded, access to executive lounges, free breakfast and Internet access.

Our trip will start in Berlin. We’ll spend 3 nights2 in the city. Judging by our Italian vacation the first day we’ll feel very much like zombies, so we’ll just grab some dinner and go to sleep.

Our hotel is located right in the center of the city. Guides suggest that people visit Gendarmenmarkt square and it’s right across the street from us. Brandenburg Gate is also within a walking distance. We also want to visit Fernsehturm — a TV tower built during soviet times. Also we will possibly visit Tiergarten — Berlin’s Central Park. And we will try to climb to the top of Reichstag.

On Tuesday of November 25th we take a train to Munich. We’ll spend 3 nights3 there. In Munich we plan start start with Marienplatz (the main square), climb to the top of the tower at Rathaus (city hall), visit Frauenkirche (Munich’s largest church). We will also try to visit the English Garden and have some beer at the world’s most famous beer hall — Hofbräuhaus am Platzl.

One of our Munich days we’ll dedicate to renting a car and driving south to visit Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles.

On Friday, November 28th, we will depart to the final stop of our trip — Vienna, Austria. We’ll also spend 3 nights4 here as in the other cities. Our hotel is located right in the city center, so we’ll be mostly walking around without having to use any transportation. We’ll try to visit Hofburg Imperial Palace, 12th century St. Stephen’s Cathedral and we’ll try to climb to the top of one of its towers.

We still need to do a lot of reading about other places that we want to visit in these 3 cities and build out a more detailed plan of getting around the cities and from city to city. We made the reservations in the beginning of April, but still have not made a lot of progress as far as t he exact plan goes. Hopefully it will be another great trip filled with memories.

  1. Round trip tickets came out to $2,155 for the both of us. Very expensive this time around. But we do get to fly Lufthansa and Austrian. []
  2. Hilton Berlin — 60,000 points per night. Expensive! []
  3. Hilton Munich City — 60,000 points and €195 for all 3 nights. []
  4. Hilton Vienna — 48,000 points and €149 for all 3 nights. []

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