What’s it like to travel now?
We just spent four nights in Munich; how was it?
Travel restrictions were eased for traveling within Germany, so we booked four nights in Munich. Curious about how traveling on public transportation would be, we made our trip by bus and train. Here’s how it went.
The new “normal”
Traveling by bus to the train station
Normally, you get on the bus through the door at the front, the one by the driver. That way you can pay or scan your bus card so the driver knows you’re not freeloading. In this new normal, the front door is blocked and everyone enters through the door in the middle. This keeps the driver safer from accidental exposure, but it means there’s no way to pay. We couldn’t figure out how to pay, so we rode for free like everyone else.
And everyone was wearing a mask.
Traveling by train
We do love traveling by train in Germany. There’s less stress and the train always ends up in the city center, which is where we usually want to be. Although the train can take a bit longer than traveling by car, there’s no need for parking. For this trip, the cost of parking would’ve been almost as much as the train tickets.
In the train station, some people wore masks, some did not. I guess because the station was such a large space, some people felt safe without masks. On the train, however, everyone wore masks.
Checking into the hotel
Our hotel was conveniently located next to the Hauptbahnhof, another good reason to travel by train. To check-in, we and the hotel clerk had to wear masks. For additional protection, there was a plexiglass barrier on the desk between us and the clerk.
The elevators were restricted to two persons per trip. This was never an issue because the only time we saw other guests was at breakfast. Our room had been thoroughly cleaned, we were assured, but there wasn’t a “sanitation banner” or some such across the door to our room to ensure us that it was still clean. We didn’t mind.
Speaking of breakfast, that was the biggest change to staying in a hotel. In the Before Days (I think that’s what we’re calling the pre-COVID time), breakfast was a buffet. Sometimes with the option of freshly-cooked dishes, depending on the hotel. In the new normal, we had to order breakfast the night before. The next morning, our breakfast would be waiting for us on a cling wrap-covered tray.
Museums have changed, too
Munich has several wonderful museums and we visited (only) three: the Alte Pinakothek, the Pinakothek der Moderne and the Lenbachhaus. We chose these three because combined they have a wonderful collection of Western European paintings from the 15th century to the 20th century. You can see the museums’ collections online but I wanted to share this one ~ The Great Last Judgement by Peter Paul Rubens ~ with you because it is extraordinary.
This painting, The Great Last Judgement by Peter Paul Rubens, is of course a painting of the Last Judgement. Rubens’ composition and technique are extraordinary, but the thing that really gets me is the size of the painting. It’s HUGE. It’s nice to be able to see this painting online or in a book, but it’s impossible to get the full impact of the work unless you see it in person. Actually, I think almost all works of art are best seen in-person. Image credits (1) at the end.
The new normal for museums
The museums in Munich did a couple of things differently. They limited the number of people that were allowed into the building at any one time. Also, the number of people entering the gift shop was limited. And, touch screen displays were disabled.
The (perhaps) surprising thing about museums
We’ve found that many museums have really good restaurants. This surprised us ~ maybe it doesn’t surprise you ~ but we’ve begun to plan our museum visits so that we can enjoy lunch there.
We were in Munich, so beer
When I think of Munich, the first thing I think of is beer: Oktoberfest, Hofbrauhaus, etc. We took a food tour the first day of our visit and learned a few things about beer in Munich.
Reinheitsgebot (beer purity order)
Only beer that is made with Munich city water and observes the Reinheitsgebot (“purity order”) can be served at Oktoberfest. According to our guide, this has meant two things: first, that there are a limited number of breweries in Munich (there are only six) and, second, that because the Reinheitsgebot allows only four ingredients (water, barley hops and yeast), the beers all taste very similar. The Reinheitsgebot’s strict rules have also prevented experimentation, preventing the development of any kind of craft beer culture in the Munich area. At least according to our guide.
At the Crazy Ice Cream Maker (Der verrückte Eismacher), beer is also a flavor of ice cream.
Here’s insider secret #1:
The technique is to order a “regular flavor” of ice cream and then ask for a sample of one of the “special” flavors. For our “regular” flavors, I chose chocolate and Rosemary chose black forest pie. For our “special” flavors, I chose beer and Rosemary chose döner (which is basically meat flavor, named after kebabs).
Here’s insider secret #2:
If the “special” flavor isn’t too bad, the server will put the sample on the edge of the “regular” ice cream. If the server doesn’t put the “special” flavor on the “regular” flavor but instead hands it to you, then you can be sure that the “special” flavor isn’t too tasty.
The server wouldn’t put the döner flavor on Rosemary’s regular ice cream.
I’ve never had meat-flavored ice cream. When I tasted the döner ice cream, I had to spit it out. So the server was right.
I’ve never eaten that, either
As we were walking along, our tour guide suddenly said, “Oh, good, it’s open!” and diverted us to the Pferdemetzgerei shop.
Pferdemetzgerei means “horse butcher.”
I would have this “noodle” again
Our guide took us for a Schmaltznudel. We’d never heard of that kind of noodle. We were initially dubious until a little old lady, barely 5 ft. tall and thin as a rail, elbowed past us so that she could order first. That’s when we knew it was going to be good.
Munich’s old town is compact and picturesque, making it a pleasure to stroll around. Unfortunately, it was rainy during our visit, so we spent a lot of time indoors. In addition to museums and shops, we peeked into a couple of the more famous churches.
The new normal of travel ~ masks, plexiglass barriers, lack of breakfast buffets, directional signage in museums, etc. ~ wasn’t onerous. True, it’s a drag to have to wear a mask for a four-hour train trip, but we’re happy to do so if it means we can travel again.
Munich is beautiful and easy to walk around. There are many things to do when the weather is nice or even when it rains a lot. Bring an umbrella, bring your appetite and bring good walking shoes ~ you’ll have fun.
As we were searching for the Crazy Ice Cream Maker, we found this bit of advice that we embrace wholeheartedly:
(1) The Great Last Judgement by Peter Paul Rubens. Image retrieved from https://www.sammlung.pinakothek.de/en/artist/peter-paul-rubens/das-grosse-juengste-gericht and used by permission of https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/.