The Grand Tour Begins

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A few centuries ago when it was common knowledge that everything in the world worth seeing was in Europe, there was a tradition that the children of aristocracy in Britain would travel the continent after finishing their education. They would spend a few months at it, going through France to Italy, then over to Greece and even Egypt if wealthy enough, and this rite of passage became known as “The Grand Tour.”  And for whatever reason, this is what I’ve taken to calling my own rite of passage through the continent, except I get to stay in hostels and take second-class train rides.  Progress!

I like Europe. Thanks to being raised by my Hungarian mother I am probably as European as one can be despite never having lived on the continent, which has led to an odd inferiority complex on my part regarding the “right” way to do a lot of things.   I’ve also been to a lot of countries in Europe already- it will be several weeks before I hit a completely new one- but with this odd detail in that my age was in the single digit so what I absorbed was quite selective.  So while in many ways Europe and me are old pals, it was high time to visit now that I’m old enough to know you should look up in the Sistine Chapel, and not at the floor!

Anyway, for my first city Munich ended up getting chosen due to its central location in Europe and my lack of having visited it previously. When I met a German on the road and mentioned Munich was my first stop in Europe, he warned me to watch out because Munich is in Bavaria, which is a bit like the Texas of Germany.

“Why, they shoot people?” was my response, but it turns out this has to do more with Bavaria being independent until fairly recently in the scale of European history, the populace identifies itself as Bavarian first and German second, and still having a conservative attitude about things. I promised him I would keep an eye out.

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Here’s the first thing I noticed about Munich though- it is cold here! The temperatures hardly cracked 40F my first day, which I realize isn’t really cold but is downright frigid if you just spent two months wearing shorts.  I got adjusted after the first day but that first one was a bit miserable- my head was just barely warm wearing a knitted hat and two hoods, and my teeth began chattering more than once.  The wind and light drizzle wasn’t seriously helping either.

This building by the way is the National Theatre in Munich.  Apparently one of the best operas in the world is here but there are unfortunately no performances coinciding with my visit.  Hopefully I will find one to watch in another city in Europe!

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So what is there to do in Europe on your first day when you’re still uncertain of where things are?  How about a free tour!  Several companies manage them in Europe nowadays where the only fee is to tip the tour guide, and I can recommend it.

This was our guide telling us about the conditions in one of Munich’s oldest beer houses when it first opened (turns out those Bavarian boys were a bit interesting when it came to how to relieve oneself without leaving the table).  As a bonus, see that upper bay window just to the left of the tour guide’s head?  That’s where the Nazi party was formed…

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This lovely view is of the Marienplatz, which is the central square in Munich.  The impressive-looking Gothic building is the new town hall, built just over a century ago.  It shouldn’t be  confused with the old town hall, which was a few centuries old until it was destroyed in WWII and was rebuilt in the 1960s, thus making it younger than the new town hall.  Got that?

By the way, I really need to hand it to the populace of Munich for their lovely architecture.  Before the bombs started dropping they had the foresight to go around their city and photograph everything and to cart all the delicate stonework into the countryside, all of which they used to rebuild their city exactly as it was once they had enough money.  The final result is lovely.

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This is the reason most people go to Marienplatz- the glockenspiel!  Every day at 11am and once again at noon these little figures do a joust, followed by a little dance to thwart off the plague.  It is, in short, a precursor to any mechanized scene you’ve seen at an amusement park, and there are a bunch of videos on YouTube if you have a burning desire to see it in full.

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A shot of Marienplatz during the glockenspiel, filled with more  tourists than I’ve seen here in Munich at any other time.  All I could think of is how crazy it must be in the summer.

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The towers of the main cathedral in Munich, which was built in an astonishing 20 years (it’s a pretty simple design, and they used brick).  The second tower is currently undergoing renovation just like everything else in Munich- this isn’t tourist season yet so everyone who needs renovations done is frantically trying to finish them now, from various beerhouses to the lobby area in my hostel.  It almost feels like finding yourself on a stage set before the actual performance.

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A picture of the wares in a tourist store, where the prominently displayed items are knives and beer steins.  I am including this here to tell my brother that he should get to Munich as soon as possible.

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In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here, and when we’re no longer here, our friends will be drinking all the beer!

It’s Munich.  In Lent, when they brew the beer even stronger.  What did you expect?

And as a final note, I was curious to find out what kind of people travel Europe as I was only certain that it’s different than the crowd in Asia.  Verdict?  It feels like there are more Americans here than there were in all of Asia, as it is spring break back home so lots of college students have hit the road.  I should’ve thought of that…

Other than the Americans, I did have a fun night two nights ago when I had dinner in a beerhaus that has been doling out food and drinks for centuries.  I ended up spending the evening talking with two German gents on business in Munich, so we got into a great conversation about the differences in our cultures and perceptions. (For example, the Germans would like to ask you to please stop assuming everyone is evil.)  The most entertaining part of the night by far was when they decided we were speaking enough English so it was time to start speaking German- a language I’ve never learned so things got a touch one-sided, but I’m proud to say I lasted about fifteen minutes before we needed to abandon the venture.

So now most of my vocabulary in German relates to beer, how to order pretzels, and why yes, I am a jelly donut.  Prost!

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