Sitting on the train in Gare de l’Est station, having finally figured out where our seats were and catching our breath from speed walking the platform to get to them, we watched as the last few passengers boarded. Just outside our window two brothers were saying their goodbyes till the very last possible moment. As the train began to pull away the brother left standing on the platform began to cry and turned away from the sight of the train leaving. Neither of us had thought much of these last few moments in Pars, but watching that man cry outside our window brought tears to Raquel’s eyes and that unmistakable feeling that proceeds them for myself. Paris had left it’s mark on us and watching it fade into the distance out those train windows left us quiet and introspective. But new sights of the countryside and the bright sunny day soon had us excited and anticipating our next stop: Munich!
Our first rain in Europe was falling as we exited the train that night in München Hbf station. It was just enough to not be a bother but rather added that bit of romance and mood to the moment. After fumbling endlessly with the WiFi at the station to find my friend’s address and figure out where to go, we gave up and went off of a little map we had saved earlier at our flat in Paris. We needn’t have worried. We barely walked three blocks on those wet, Munich streets before finding her apartment. I had met Teresa at an Eric Kim photography workshop back in March and she had very kindly offered to let Raquel and I stay with her if we came through Munich on our Europe trip. Of course, once we did a little research on Munich we were quickly convinced to add it to our itinerary! I had not yet met Marco, Teresa’s boyfriend, and Raquel had never met either of them, but after a few moments it felt as if we’d all known each other a long time. We talked, had a beer and caught up on the time since Teresa and I had last seen each other. It was a wonderful welcome to a new city and we went to sleep that night tired, but satisfied and excited for what the next few days would bring!
The next morning we woke up late and Teresa was already at work. Marco was home, but working and when we entered the kitchen we found that they had left us a beautiful breakfast spread on the table! They were used to having Airbnb guests and we got the full treatment! After a delicious breakfast we hit the town to explore by ourselves before meeting up for dinner later in the evening. We did a bunch of walking that day, through Marienplatz, Frauenkirche and St. Peter’s Church, across the Isar river, through the English Garden and then nearly all the way back again before hopping in a cab for the last few blocks to make it back in time for our dinner plans. The city was hopping with tourists for Oktoberfest and it seemed like everyone was in a friendly, festive mood. Some were dressed up for the occasion and we felt quite lucky to see the city decorated with visitors adorned in period costumes. The churches were beautiful and filled with soft afternoon light filtered through the windows. Many of them had been bombed in the second World War and rebuilt afterwords – albeit in a somewhat more simple fashion than originally. It was fascinating to see all that history mixed with the hyper-modern city evolving outside. We ate lunch at the Victuals Market in the city center and had delicious beer at the beer garden there. Ahhhhh, to drink freely and publicly in Europe! Such a simple and wonderful pleasure. I will never understand why the US is so uptight about it. After lunch we went in search of the famous surf spot in Munich – a standing wave on the Eisbach, a tributary of the Isar. It took us far longer than it should have to find the wave. We took the very long way around and walked about a mile past it, accidentally. But the park was beautiful, and although we were tired when we found it, I was even more excited to finally see it in person! The queue of surfers waiting on the banks, the way they entered the wave by running and jumping from the sides and just the simple, surprising joy of watching a wave endlessly break and the way everyone cooperatively enjoyed it, from little kids to adults; it was an enormous highlight of our European journey for me. Even Raquel enjoyed it and I think we would’ve sat there watching until nightfall if we hadn’t had someplace to be that evening. Next time I hope to actually surf it – instead of just watching from the sidelines!
That evening we had truly incredible Vietnamese food at Teresa and Marco’s favorite restaurant in the city. The best Pho I’ve ever had. Period. Though, of course, I’ve never been to Vietnam. They have, however, and still think it’s pretty phenomenal. While we ate it poured so hard outside that the diners who’d been sitting on the outdoor (covered) patio had to come inside, already drenched, and the doors to the patios closed. By the time we left the rain had stopped and we never felt a drop that night. From a Vietnamese dinner we went to an Italian restaurant / bar for aperitifs. Marco, being from Italy, ordered us delicious lemon flavored drinks in Italian and we chatted the evening away.
The next day was Oktoberfest time! After breakfast together we made our way on foot from their apartment to the festival area about a mile or so away. The place was tremendous! It felt like every fair I’d ever been to combined in one place! There must’ve been a hundred different carnival rides spread out across the festival grounds and dozens of ‘tents’ that were areas for food and beer to be consumed along with entertainment like traditional music and performances. We stopped in many of the tents before realizing that we’d probably have an easier time finding a seat at the old Oktoberfest area, which tends to be less crowded. We did finally find a seat and got right to work on drinking and eating! We had a traditional, whole grilled fish on a stick called Steckerlfisch along with tremendous pretzels and, absolutely of course, liters of delicious Helles style beer! Marco and Teresa were probably smarter about it – they got the beer mixed 50/50 with lemonade, but I went right for the straight stuff. If you know me at all, you can imagine the grin on my face that day. We didn’t stay too long at that particular tent, there was just too much exploring to do! We visited an entertainment tent where Marco and I (attempted to) ride bicycles with irregular shaped tires while making fools of ourselves (much to the entertainment of our ladies and the rest of the crowd). Then on to some treats, a ride on the big slide and a crazy, spinning, dizzy-making machine and wandering through the festival until we decided it was time to head home while we could still make it there. Amazingly, Marco offered to make dinner for us when we got back to their place. It was simple; some homemade pumpkin soup and homemade focaccia bread, but it was delicious! That man can seriously cook and he really loves to do it! We passed out, smiling widely, shortly thereafter.
Our third day in Munich started with breakfast out, where we got to try Weisswurst, which translates literally to white sausage and is made from un-preserved veal and pork meat. They heat it in salted water well below boiling point and serve it in a little hotpot with sweet mustard and, you guessed it, a fresh pretzel! So ridiculously delicious. I could eat like that every day! The weather seemed a little un-predictable that day but since it was our only chance, we decided to rent a car and head to a little lake in the Alps, not far from the city. It was an awesome drive there and Marco managed to get our rented Mercedes up to 200 km/h on the Autobahn! The Bavarian countryside was so lovely and green. It felt good to take a little break from the city and see the mountains again. Raquel took over driving when the road got really twisty as we approached the lake. She gets pretty sick on curvy roads and driving is the only thing that usually helps. The lake was beautiful and even though it was a little cloudy, we decided we should rent a boat and row out onto the lake. Not seeing a single other boat out there should’ve been a hint to us, but we weren’t really paying attention. As soon as we all climbed aboard and paddled just a little ways from the shore, we turned back to see a massive black sky approaching from over the mountain. At first we were kind of laughing about it. Saying we’d just paddle to the other side and then paddle back. When we got to the other side of the lake, however, it was clear that we weren’t going to avoid this storm. Marco and I decided that Raquel and Teresa should walk back along the path while he and I quickly paddled the boat back. It’d be easier with less weight and if there was trouble, at least only two of us would be in it. Well, the paddle back started out fine and dandy, but that didn’t last long. The rain started to fall and the wind picked up almost instantly. We got hit by one blast of wind that turned the boat sideways and felt like it was going to toss us into the water. Without really thinking about it, I paddled to the nearest shore to try to find shelter from the wind in a cove. The girls met us there and were a little panicked about our idea to paddle the rest of the way back. But we had to do it, we couldn’t just leave the boat! After a few moments of respite, Marco decided he’d paddle the rest of the way and we swapped positions. I guided him as best I could so he didn’t have to turn around to see where he was headed and could focus on paddling. It worked out pretty well and we managed to not capsize the boat or get struck by lightning which I consider a rousing success! Once we were out of the boat and it was safely tied up we both felt like we could laugh about it. We were all soaked at this point, but at least there was a cafe right next door where we could dry off and drink something warm. We slowly dried off inside as we sipped on coffees, whiskey and some cake. Certainly going out there wasn’t the smartest choice of the day, but we all agreed the adventure was worth it! On the way home I had my turn at driving on the Autobahn and I certainly didn’t pass up my chance at glory! Only 190 km/h for me, but it felt wonderful. A childhood fantasy of driving as fast as I wanted where there were no speed limits to fear finally fulfilled! Another delicious meal by Marco that night. Unfortunately our last in Munich.
The next morning was a sad one. We’d had so much fun together in the past few days that saying goodbye was not easy. But we knew we’d see each other again, soon. We all share a love of travel and I’m certain that we’ll all meet again in some exotic locale; maybe the South Pacific! Raquel and I finished packing up our things that morning and after saying our final goodbyes to Marco (Teresa was already at work by then) and thanking him for all the delicious meals we headed back to the München Hbf station to board a train for our next adventure.