A Do-Re-Mi Day Trip

As Dani and I planned the itinerary for our time in Munich, we looked at a few possible day trips to get out of the city and see some of the other cool stuff that Germany has to offer. I was originally most interested in visiting Schloss Neuschwanstein, that giant castle that was supposedly the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle, but given that it is a Mecca for Instagram “influencers” (and wannabes) and knowing that it would be likely overrun with people all vying for the same exact shot, I decided against it. A deal on GetYourGuide for a day trip to Salzburg, Austria, however…well, it piqued my interest. We hadn’t realized how close Munich actually is to Salzburg (a mere 2 hours on the train) and being pretty big fans of The Sound of Music, we decided to go for it. Popping over to Salzburg for the day also offered an added bonus: another country to cross off our “visited” list!ACS_0003

The morning of our day trip we had enough time to grab breakfast and a coffee before wandering over to the meeting point at the train station. Once we boarded the train, our guide, Maxine, gave us a historical overview of Salzburg and also talked quite a lot about The Sound of Music and the different places around town where key scenes were filmed. Dani and I have a tradition of watching the movie every year around Christmas time, so we were definitely excited to see the locations in real life! The trip itself was quick and just before we rolled into the train station, we got a stunning view of Salzburg from the train – fortress atop the hill and all.

Our guide started us on a walking tour, and the first stop were the Mirabell gardens, where much of the iconic “Do-Re-Mi” sequence from The Sound of Music was filmed. We had a few free minutes to wander through the garden, then met back up with the group to head over to the Old Town. We’ve seen a lot of Old Towns, living in Europe, and Salzburg definitely didn’t disappoint. Mozart’s birth house, the tiny corner cafés, the winding streets with the iron shop signs hanging out front…it was so charming! Maxine gave us a thorough tour of the main sights of the Old Town, and we finished in front of St. Peter Stiftskulinarium, one of the oldest restaurants in the world. It was first mentioned in a letter to Charlemagne in 803 A.D. Maxine had taken the liberty of making a lunch reservation for our group, but given that it’s kind of a pricey place, Dani and I opted out and hit the market for a quick bite instead so we could maximize our three hours of free time.

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We knew we wanted to see the Sound of Music abbey, which is at the top of the hill, just next to the fortress so after our snack, we set out through the old town to find the trail to the top. Thankfully it wasn’t too challenging of a walk and we made it up the hill to the abbey relatively quickly. We spent some time poking around the outside and inside the smaller chapel; everything was peaceful and quiet. Of course we couldn’t stop ourselves quoting the moving as we stood at the gate where the Von Trapp children come to see Maria after her sudden departure from the Von Trapp household. Unfortunately, there was some cloudiness/fog/pollution that day, so the view of the Austrian alps from the abbey – which is magnificent, or so we heard – was somewhat obscured.

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Coming back down from the abbey, we stopped to split a beer at one of Austria’s oldest breweries, Stiegl, founded in 1492 and supposedly frequented by Mozart. While we were there, we ran into Maxine, our guide, who let us know that lunch at the restaurant had run a little longer than she’d thought, so we had the option to stay one hour longer in Salzburg if we so chose. Score! With the extra time, decided to go for Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) at a little family-owned café that our guide recommended, where we indulged in two different kinds of cake and milchkaffee.

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After our afternoon dessert, there wasn’t a ton of time left before our departure, so we did what we do best – went and sat next to the Salzach river and enjoyed the sun. Unfortunately our train ride home – though beautiful, as the fog/cloudiness had lifted and we could see the mountains and countryside – and our enthusiasm from the day were marred when an accident on the train tracks delayed our already late return to Munich by about another hour. Then, as we were sitting on the tracks, came the news that Notre Dame cathedral in Paris was burning. Joy tempered, we returned back to our hotel.

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Reflecting on our day in Salzburg now, however, I can only smile! We knew we would enjoy it, but like our experience in Poland, we had no idea just how lovely Salzburg would actually be. It definitely has inspired us to visit Austria again in the future, and to perhaps spend a little bit more time in the countryside.

 

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Spring Break in Munich

We kicked off our weeklong spring break (two weeks for Dani!) by hopping on a quick flight over to Munich, Germany. You’ll remember from our trip to Krakow that technically, we have been to Munich before, but this time we actually went there on purpose!

I was going to title this post “Mediocre Munich” because, to be honest, we both felt kind of meh about it, but I changed my mind once I was reminded of Nomadic Matt’s recent blog post about globalization. The fact that I feel kind of “blah” about Munich is not really about Munich at all, but rather my warped tourist’s perception of what I thought Munich should be. The reality did not match the myth that I had created for myself, which isn’t Munich’s fault at all. It’s mine. Munich does not owe me shit.

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That said, Munich was fine. We had a good time, but it’s not a place I feel particularly compelled to go back to. We got in to the city really late on Saturday evening and went straight to our hotel, so that we could be up and at ’em for our 10 AM free walking tour. The walking tour was a basic introduction to the city, but we enjoyed our guide so much that during the tour’s short bathroom break, we immediately booked his afternoon Third Reich-themed walking tour, which was just as excellent. So the bulk of our first day was devoted to learning more about Munich itself, and we did enjoy ourselves quite a lot on the walking tours, though the weather left a bit to be desired. In fact, it was cold! 

Naturally, we used the cold weather as an excuse to hang out in Munich’s most famous beer hall, the Hofbrauhaus, both in between our two walking tours and right afterward. Is it touristy and ridiculous? Yes. Did we care? Not even slightly. I mean, the beers were as big as our heads!

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The very next day we took a day trip to Salzburg, and then we had one more full day in Munich before we took off to Brussels. We chose to spend the majority of it at the Viktualienmarkt, a huge open-air market in the center of town that also has a beer garden right at its center. It’s much more frequented by the locals and quite reasonably priced. By this time, the weather had greatly improved, so we didn’t mind spending a few hours outdoors in the beer garden at all. After, we went to the Royal Residence museum and then popped over to spend a few minutes in the Englischer garten, Munich’s version of Parc de la tête d’or.

The part that sort of soured me on Munich, though, was how we were treated by the people there. We got the royal tourist treatment on several occasions – and not in a good way. There were certain things going in that we expected, like being brought and charged for a bottle of water at dinner instead of getting a pitcher of tap water, because I lacked the German skills to specifically ask for a pitcher. The same kind of thing happens in Paris, though because I speak French we are usually able to avoid that kind of price gouging for tourists. But in Munich we just felt like we were being constantly ripped off – a bottle of water was twice as expensive on our bill than what was shown on the menu. Our meals were more expensive – on two occasions at two separate restaurants, our servers heard us speaking English and swapped our German menus for English ones, which had higher prices. And on two occasions at two separate restaurants, when the dinner bill came the waiters “reminded” us that, “the price doesn’t include tip! How much would you like to tip me – 20 percent??” which not only is far from the general European practice of rounding up to an even figure on the bill, but is just a tacky way to communicate. And our cab ride to the airport the morning we left (public transit didn’t run that early) was seventy euros for a twenty-six minute ride. I couldn’t help but compare it to my experiences in both New York and Paris, where a cab ride to the airport (often up to an hour of driving, especially in Paris) has never cost me more than 50 bucks.

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So yeah, we left Munich feeling a little underwhelmed and turned off. I don’t want to make generalizations about a place and its people – I’m sure if we spent more time there, off the beaten tourist track, that we would have a much different view. Talking to the locals we encountered in the Viktualienmarkt was really the highlight of our experience in Munich, and I would have enjoyed a lot more of that and a lot less feeling like the “stupid American abroad” trope. Perhaps we’ll go back one day – to Germany, certainly, there’s just so much to see and experience – but for now, we say auf wiedersehen.