Memorial day morning we took a water taxi to the airport.
and waded through the frustrating clusterfuck (yep, more cursing in Italy) of Venice Airport: late, disorganized, and rude employees at every point in our journey. We didn’t have a gate or the ability to even check in until an hour before our flight. The only way to find out where to check in was to keep asking employees until someone knew which anonymous “web check-in” line was for our airline. Despite this, all the passengers managed to check in and get downstairs to the non-airconditioned gate. However, our wait in line was only to get on a crowded bus (the other only time I’ve ever experienced this at an airport was in Guangzhou China) and ferried out far away from the main terminal to stand in line to board. Good thing it stopped raining in the morning.
Our plane finally took off almost an hour late and we were glad to say goodbye to that “flexible priorities” part of the trip. We heard that our treatment was worse because we flew Transavia, a budget airline (think Southwest for Europe). But hey, it was $60 a person for an hour flight instead of an even more expensive eight-hour train ride.
In Munich, our luggage came right out and we walked to a clean and efficient tram (albeit packed with travelers) to the city. After checking into our teeny tiny hotel (Munich is ungodly expensive to stay in) we walked to the Marienplatz to have dinner at the famous Zum Augustiner, in business since 1328.
Dinner did not disappoint. Our waiter was nice and the food came out impossibly fast. Sam, who stated at every point of the lead up to our trip that (despite an obsession with kimchi) she was not a fan of sauerkraut, ordered pork knuckle and sauerkraut. I have to admit I used to loathe sauerkraut myself, and only recently warmed up to eating it on a burger or sausage – but the kraut in Germany is on another level. The pork knuckle also was magnificent – crusty and fatty baked pork skin hiding long-marinated slow cooked soft meat. The order came out with a big pot of spicy mustard that we slathered all over the sausages, (buttery) mashed potatoes and knuckle.
We washed it down with a glass each of the smoothest best-tasting lager we’ve ever had: Augustiner Helles. (Calanda and Radler in Switzerland are tied for second place with Italy’s Peroni in a distant third nearly tied with Corona et. al.)
To top it off we discovered the restaurant prices in Germany are much more reasonable than Switzerland or Italy. Our entire meal with two liters of beer was under $40 and our waiter tried to explain that tips were not expected.
More than anything I was happy to give Sam a good experience and good food in my literal Fatherland. A few months before our trip I’d finally taken a deep look into my genealogy and proved that I was more than half German, with my mother being a European mix (mostly English) and my father being full-blooded (although many generations American) Bavarian. The bulk of my paternal line transplanted itself to Pennsylvania and/or Ohio from the Baden area (neighbors with Luxembourg) before the civil war. Since claiming Marietta Ohio heritage leaves little to brag about, I was hoping to find something to feel good about in the old country.
While we ate it started to rain on the Marienplatz. We decided to hide in St. Peter’s, only a few blocks away. Luckily they had started to observe summer hours and-just like last night in Venice-we made it up the 306 steps of the belltower before it closed. We were surprised to find that the tower shakes when the bells ring, a slightly unsettling experience.
After walking the streets more (and going into a packed Hofbrauhaus) we settled down into a tiny crack by the door of another Augustiner for two more liters of beer and a plate of bavarian apple strudel. The other Augustiner beers were sour, not as much to our liking as the helles.
Tuesday morning we headed to the train station to meet up with our tour group to go deep into Bavaria to visit Neuschwanstein Castle.
It was an all-day excursion including a guided tour of the inside. However, the one famous shot of the castle with Huffen and the surrounding farmland was impossible to get. At every destination on our trip, we’d seen scaffolding up for renovation or construction. When we walked up to the castle we were delighted to find it completely intact and unfettered. The catch was that the cliff-bridge, the only place to get a shot of the broadside of the castle without a drone or a helicopter, was-you guessed it-closed for renovation. Not only the bridge was closed but the entire hiking trail leading up to it.
We guessed our way back down from the castle, taking a dirt trail through the forest that eventually met the paved one. With a few minutes to spare, we walked up to Hohenschwangau Castle but didn’t go inside.
Back in Munich, we took the s bahn to Marienplatz to have a fancy authentic meal at Spatenhaus across from the opera house. This time, my meal came with a cucumber yogurtish salad akin to a Persian dish that went great on top of the berry-covered wiener schnitzel. NOTE: despite the best efforts of an American fast-food chain, you should never confuse wiener schnitzel with a hot dog dish. Weiner schnitzel is a thin breaded Austrian veal cutlet. Sam, of course, ordered another pork knuckle.