Look… I have higher than a 9th grade education (well…that’s debatable), but in 8th, 9th, and I think even 10th grades, I studied Deutsch. For those of you unwashed masses, that means German…duh. So I figured I’d pretty much be fluent when I stepped off that plane in Munich…
Flying from Split to Munich was as unspectacular as it gets, and that’s the way I likes my flights…non eventful. The Split airport is kinda far out but it’s such a cool drive because you get out into the village-type places that seem very Mediterranean and cool. The Munich airport was pretty crazy but has a grocery store pretty much right when you get out of the plane (also a slightly cheaper one outside the terminal towards the car lots), so we grabbed some food and headed to get our rental car.
ENTERPRISE RENT A CAR
We’ve had a lot of good and cool travel experiences. In fact, we’ve found people around the globe to be mostly friendly and cheerful, but these dudes at Enterprise took it to another level. There was a bit of a line, but nothing major. When we got to the front, I did the usual, which is tell them I have no idea what I’m doing in their country and can you tell me cool stuff to do. The guys were so fun and friendly, we absolutely loved talking to them. They told us all sorts of cool stuff to do and see and ended up giving us a car upgrade since the one I had ordered was still an hour away…BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
MITCH (ALMOST) DRIVES A MINIVAN
When I had booked the car, for some weird and odd reason, a minivan was the cheapest in Munich by far. Since it was just Caitlin and I with our bags, it seemed like overkill but whatever I’m cheap. My plan was to just show up and ask for something smaller so as to save on gas, and if we got the van, so be it. So when the guys told us they didn’t have a minivan but would get us a nice SUV instead, I realized we didn’t even want a big car in the first place and asked if they had anything smaller. Yeah, they did, but said it would be a bit of a wait…unless…I mean…” You guys don’t want a Smart car, right?” Oh yes, we did want a Smart car, and we wanted it now!
MITCH DRIVES A SMARTCAR
So yes, we drove the clown car of all clown cars. Even better, I asked the guy if there were going to be any additional costs. (Stupid I know, but companies charge for pretty much anything they can, even when you’re downgrading yourself like this). The guy I think misunderstood what I was asking and thought I was asking for some concession for taking the downgrade and said he’d let me know what he could do. A couple minutes later he told us we could take the car and not have to refill it, saving us over 60 Euros..all for accidentally negotiating. I’m so brilliant.
But yeah, we lived the Smart car life and I can say, it wasn’t too bad. For one, there’s heaps of them in Germany and very few massive trucks and SUVs like in America, so you don’t feel so out of place. And secondly, it was surprisingly comfortable and the windshield and rear window had great visibility, plus we had more storage than we thought. I didn’t hate it, not one bit.
DRIVING ON THE AUTOBAHN TOWARDS DACHAU
One of the many cool things the guys at Enterprise told us is how fast they had driven on the autobahn. Naturally, that was pretty much the only thing I knew about Germany (besides, as I mentioned, my 3 grueling years studying the intricacies of how to say “Guten tag,” and such) was that you could drive super fast, so I was stoked.
I don’t think it was actually on the way to Dachau, since Dachau is only like 15 minutes from the airport, but at some point in Germany we got to massive roads where there were no longer speed limit signs. Was that the autobahn? I truly have no idea, but I treated it like it was, and so did every other driver. Seriously, it was nuts. I got that poor Smart car doing 157 kilometers per hour, which sounds super fast until you realize it’s only 97.5 miles per hour. Still, I had that thing roaring like a tiger. Caitlin was screaming and saying slow down but the road told me to speed on, so speed on I did. It’s crazy doing that speed and getting passed in every direction. So yeah, I loved driving in Germany.
I’ve been struggling and searching for the right words to describe Dachau since the day we visited. It’s not “awesome,” in the traditional sense, or the sense I use it normally, but I was kinda in awe, just not the good kind. It’s not fun, per se, but it was so incredibly interesting and inspiring and sickening and so many other things that are hard to describe. It isn’t your traditional kind of enjoyment, like, say, the British Museum, but it’s just incredibly powerful and raw to actually be there.
Again, I don’t want to use the wrong words. The Holocaust is almost unbelievable in the sense that people let it happen and the types of things that happened, etc. I find it fascinating, but even moreso heartbreaking and sickening. I had just finished a 1500 page book (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) and so I felt like I understood the war and events leading to places like Dachau. I was excited to be able to finally see and more fully understand the place, but I was also filled with a weird reverential dread. It was unlike any place we’d ever been, and even though I loved going, I feel like that’s weird to say because it’s such a sad and sacred place. It’s certainly not a lighthearted activity, and it made me sad to see certain people being somewhat rude or disrespectful there, but alas, I can only control the things I do.
All that being said, Dachau was incredibly powerful. We chose to rent the handsets (3 Euro apiece), and even though I had read that parking was free, it is not and it’s cash only, so we were lucky we had a few spare Euros to pay (5, I think). Other than that, it’s totally free, and even though I had read different recommendations for time, I was determined not to miss a thing and we ended up spending about 5 hours total. I think you could certainly do most of it in 2-3 hours, and if you do all the in-depth stuff on the audio guide, you could probably stay 6-7, but for us, 5 was perfect.
Random advice: If you take your own headphones, you can plug them into the audio guide, otherwise you just put it by your ear. Without headphones was just fine, but your choice. Also, you can take food and drink as you walk around, and I highly suggest it. There is quite a bit of walking and reading, and about halfway through I was exhausted and hungry, so I walked back to the car and got the rest of our groceries. I think there’s food and drinks to buy there, but being cheap, I just assumed it’d be super expensive, so I was glad we took our own.
Anyways, I don’t need to rehash Dachau, but it’s a powerful place. I was so glad to see so many schoolkids there and thought how amazing it would have been as a kid to actually see the place we were learning about. Surprisingly, the kids all seemed to be really well behaved…it was some of the other adult tourists I was worried about. The museum was really informative, the film (in the middle of the museum part) was fascinating, the barracks were interesting, and just being on the grounds almost felt surreal after hearing and learning so much about this for the past 25+ years. Finishing the tour at the crematory was very unbelievable, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. We stood outside those massive ovens and inside the gas shower room and just couldn’t believe it. Like, how did it get to this point? How do people do this to each other? How did others let it happen? How will we keep it from happening again? It was one of those really existential moments where you just wonder and contemplate God and man and humanity and inhumanity and how it all fits together. We left with a huge sense of gratitude for our lives, for the soldiers who liberated Dachau, and for the incredibly brave children, women, and men who lived and died there.
DRIVING TO THE LAKE HOUSE
Newsflash: Germany is gorgeous. I knew it was (or so I’d heard/read), but it was even more gorgeous than I thought it would be. Just so green, and it was bright and sunny while we were there and everything was perfect. Driving was fun, not only because it was great driving as fast as I wanted (in some places, not all), but because we blasted good tunes and had the windows down and just enjoyed the amazing planet we call home. It ruled.
Now for all Caitlin’s many, many (many) amazing attributes, one of my favorite is that she can plan a trip like it’s nobody’s business (whatever that means). Meaning, she rules at getting us to and from and in and around foreign cities and countries. It’s a skill unlike any other. So I’m not sure I’d even looked at our hotel reservation, but I knew it was out in the middle of nowhere, which I like, and on a lake, which I like, and near the castles we were visiting, which I like. I really liked the fact that we had heard we might be able to see the castles above the lake from our house (spoiler: yes, it ruled).
The hotel was pretty small and in the middle of nowhere in a super cool little German town. We passed just insane acres (or is it hectares in Germany?) of green pastures filled with cows and YES, the cows had cowbells! The first ones I’d ever seen, so there was this incessant clanking across the countryside but it was charming rather than annoying. The hotel had a sauna (we didn’t use it, sadly), was literally RIGHT next to the lake, which we DID use (for photos), and had a cool recreation room and amazing views of the lake and the castle. It was phenomenal, but I’ve overused that word and can’t think of something better. It was very, very…good.
Just a travel tip I’m (way too) excited about. If you don’t have a fridge but still enjoy a cold beverage (such as, theoretically, Sugarfree Red Bull) in the morning, what do you do? Until recently, the answer was nothing. Now, I have found the solution! Wrap the bottles/cans in toilet paper or paper towels and get it wet (not soaked, but wet all the way through). Then, set said bottles/cans outside and BOOM. Unless the climate is boiling (like Egypt), the drinks should be moderately cold in the morning and you should be very proud.
EATING SHAWARMA AND CHILLING IN FÜSSEN
Since the lake house hotel is pretty secluded, there’s not much in the tiny village it’s in to do or eat, but just a few minutes down the road is a really cool old-feeling town called Fussen. It has lots of cool shops and narrow streets and just has that old European feel even though everything looks quite modern. We ate at Saray Kebap and had the absolutely best chicken shawarma I’ve ever had. No, really, like, phenomenal. So bloody good. So good, in fact, that after leaving Neuschwanstein the next day, I made the detour to go back to this place a second time, and it was just as good as the first. If I ever go back, this will certainly be my eats…you should go.
We walked around the town for maybe half an hour after and just went window shopping. We’d parked at an underground lot near a grocery store, so we grabbed a few things for tomorrow’s road trip and used a card at the parking machine to pay, which was nice since we had no Euros. Just like that, it was back to the hotel for a nice night of zzz’s.
Seeing the castles from across the lake built anticipation for us, and we were stoked to go see them the next day.
ON TO NEUSCHWANSTEIN AND HOHENSCHWANGAU
I admit, I wasn’t super stoked to see Neuschwanstein, mostly because I’m a snob and just assume unless something is super old it’s not cool or worth seeing. I’m sorry, I’m trying to change. And I just had the idea that it was just some fairly recent touristy place that some dude built for the exact reason we were there: To lure tourists to the middle of nowhere to pay bookoo bucks to see it. I was wrong, dear reader (hi, mom), I was wrong. It’s rad.
Now, lest I be too mellow about this, BOOK YOUR BLOODY TICKETS ONLINE OR DIE! We had read that the lines for booking on the spot were long, and they looked long. Very long. Long enough that I was incredibly glad we’d done it earlier. Our tickets gave us a time for each tour, and even though we had to wait in line to get the actual tickets (everyone does, reservation or not), it was nice to know we were in as opposed to people wondering if they would have a chance that day.
Secondly, be prepared to walk. A lot. Steep. Like, really steep. Like, thighs and calves and knees and core of steel. When this dude built these castles, he certainly put them up there. And the worst part is, you climb this massive hill to Neuschwanstein, do the tour, then go all the way back down and do it again (but even worse and more strenuous) to Hohenschwangau. Alas, the (non) problems of the fat and lazy travel blogger. Alas.
You can take a horse and buggy up and down, but it’s expensive (I think like 4 Euros each way per person) and super slow. We used our stubby little legs.
The walk/hike/whatever up to both Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau is long and steep, but it’s easy to stop and rest along the way. The views are absolutely gorgeous as there are the Bavarian Alps surrounding this place with an incredibly beautiful lake nearby and the cool little town below, with a view of the other castle in front of you. At some point, it’s just hard to describe beautiful things and places, and I’ve pointed that out a million times. I’m saying it again.
Once you get to the top, there’s a screen showing different times for different tours in different languages. We were a few minutes early, so we just roamed around and marveled at the incredible views. From one side, we could see the area of our lake house from the night before, as well as heaps of green plains dotted with animals. Just amazing.
The actual tour was perfect. In fact, it was like it was tailored just for me, because it was fast-paced (aka we didn’t linger and have to listen to boring stories from the guide for ages), went through the rooms quickly but not too fast, had lots of relevant and interesting information (and nothing unnecessary) and was only about 45 minutes. It was the perfect amount of time and the perfect pace.
I won’t recount it here since Wikipedia is a thing, but man Ludwig II was weird and possibly crazy. He was self-absorbed for sure, but it wasn’t until we saw his bedroom which he had painted to look like the night sky (he was the Moon King, after all) did we realize what a punk he was…because, according to our guide, he made a servant stand all night holding a light behind the walls/ceiling so the fake stars and moon looked like real stars. I mean, that sounds amazing but not cool for the servant, right? And Caitlin loved the fact that his wife had an entire room for her dresses…above her changing room. So every morning she would make her servant bring all the dresses down for her. Then she’d pick one and send the rest back. Ugh.
Heading down was nothing, but going back up from Neuschwanstein to Hohenschwangau was quite strenuous. We were sweaty and tired and hungry and possibly angry by the time we got up, and it felt amazing to just sit and wait for our tour time.
Neuschwanstein was a similar time tour (45 minutes) and just as interesting. We got some rad photos and the views from the top are just crazy. My recommendation is to take some food, as the food up there is quite limited and expensive. We had already eaten all we brought, so I was ready to head back for more shawarma after the second tour, but Caitlin had heard about the Marienbrucke, aka Mary’s Bridge, so, despite my murmurings, we headed up even further to see it.
The walk was again a bit much, and by this time felt way too long, but the bridge is pretty dang cool. It’s just a massive bridge over a roaring river with a couple small but cool falls below. Again, can’t really describe the scene with any new words but it’s beautiful. Yes, Caitlin, it was worth the few more minutes of walking.
Just like Croatia, you have to pay before exiting, which was nice to know at this point. And just like Croatia, many cars didn’t realize that and blocked the exits and had to try and back out to go find a machine to pay at, so just be sure to pay at a kiosk as you’re leaving but before you drive out. Cool? Cool. After some incredible shawarma, we were off on our several hour road trip to Munich city for a night of relaxation and a day of more adventure.
When we got in, we found the flat quite easily but parking was rough. (If you use my Airbnb referral code, you will get $40 credit to spend towards your booking. Disclosure: I will get travel credit as well). Not knowing any parking laws or rules, we had an easy time finding a spot for the Smart Car, but due to my lack of parallel parking knowhow and the extremely tiny spaces we could find, we were sticking out from the curb enough that I wasn’t sure if we could get ticketed or whatever. We tried a couple times, drove around, couldn’t find a better place, so just parked the same way and left it. No harm, no foul.
The flat was perfect. It was a basement apartment, and I think it had another room next door, but it looks like both would have had their own bathroom so it wasn’t shared at all. We didn’t hear anything from the family above (although there was some loud construction on the street, so maybe bring earplugs in case that’s a regular thing) and we slept amazing. Plus, it’s got a fridge which was nice and the host Elki, who was very nice and helpful, gifted us some German beers (which we didn’t drink but it was still a very nice gesture).
The only problem is that night we got in a bit late (for Europe, anyways) and couldn’t find any grocery stores open. We didn’t feel like driving around, particularly not knowing if we could find parking again, so we just went home and ate snacks we’d gotten on the way in.
We drove out to the airport to return the car and then took the train down to Marianplatz, the main square of Munich. Marianplatz was super fun, as it was very vibrant and fun with so many vendors, cafes, and people just hanging out and enjoying the perfect weather. We saw the famous cuckoo clock that has a ridiculously long show of dancing puppets, and it’s actually pretty dang cool and worth seeing. Then, wanting to find some genuine German brats, we started roaming around trying to find a decent place. Finally, we saw a small shop with a super long line, and as I listened and looked, it seemed that the people in line were locals on their lunch break. Always a good sign, right? Trust the locals. And it was really bloody awesome. They had all sorts of sausages and phenomenal bread buns, and since they didn’t speak much English (and for some reason my 9th grade German wasn’t sufficient), I just mostly pointed. So good.
By the way, this might be weird but I really enjoy places where I’m in the minority. Part of that is the fact that in Utah, being white and middle class and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes me in a majority, at least in Lehi. I’ve been the outsider (living in New Zealand and Florida, for two) but not often, and I think it’s healthy to have new experiences. Also, I just love trying to figure out ways to communicate and live in new places, even if just for a minute. In Croatia, some dude kept talking to me in Croatian and I kept trying to tell him I didn’t speak it until he got exasperated and shook his head and looked straight ahead. And I loved it. It’s just fun, I don’t know why, but I love it. I guess it makes things feel exotic and exciting to me. Whatever.
As usual, we had no real plans, and that’s the way I usually like things. We ended up just roaming around Munich aimlessly, stopping at the Hofbrauhaus (which had a team of really impressive and massive horses outside), walking to the National Theater, stopping at Odeonsplatz and getting photos of the cool lion statues. And as usual, we really didn’t do anything that notable or special, we just chilled and vibed and took in the feels and sounds of the city, just the way I likes it.
From Odeonsplatz, we walked over to the National Palace, but at this point we were so exhausted and didn’t feel like paying to go inside, so we just strolled through the gardens, which were gorgeous and phenomenal. There was shade, which was a nice respite from the sun for a minute, as well as multiple benches. We sat and blabbed and relaxed and if my memory serves correctly (and it just may), I drank at least 5 Red Bulls and 4 Coke Zeros. Seriously though, even if you don’t go into the palace, just go through the courtyards.
After, we felt like we should see something historical so we headed to the Bavarian National Museum…which was lame. I wondered why it seemed so quiet and empty, and the price seemed high, but we figured we might regret it if we didn’t do something besides roam around Munich, so in we went…and out we went. There was a cool section on knights and armor and weapons, but aside from that it was pretty disappointing. I honestly wanted to find a WWII museum but the only one I found online was the document library, which, while sounding interesting, didn’t sound that interesting. In retrospect, pretty much anything would have beat the Bavarian Museum, where we didn’t even get to eat Bavarian cream pie or donuts. Flagrant false advertising.
And just like that, the sun was starting to set and we headed to our last couple places. We stopped by the iconic Frauenkirche for a few pics and it was fun to sit on the steps out by the water features outside and just soak in the city. We also went and saw the famous city river surfing, which is pretty bloody cool.
And yes, it’s just what it sounds like. In the heart of Munich city there is a river that somehow creates massive surfable waves (still haven’t checked if this was done on purpose or if some gnarly dude just saw the river and hopped on a board) and a whole bunch of cool dudes and chicks in wetsuits grab surfboards and hang ten. Seriously, it’s crazy. I’ve watched surfers in Hawaii and New Zealand and Australia, but always from afar. It’s super fun sitting on the riverbank with a bunch of other spectators watching this diverse group of old and young, male and female, taking turns to surf the river. It has some organization, because nobody cuts in line and everyone goes for a minute or two, either until they fall or until the unspoken time is up. We got splashed a couple times which I think was the dude telling us he knew we were lame, but not 100% sure. ‘Twas a fun way to end our night in Munich and hit the hay as we were off to Salzburg, Austria the next day.