Thursday, June 18, 2015

Willkommen in München

Willkommen in München! 

We were so excited to have made it to Munich, the capital of Bavaria. Beer, sausage, Christmas markets - the other places we visited in Germany had those too, but Munich felt like the cherry on top of our our German vacation. The perfect place to spend the last few days of our trip.

We took the metro as close to our hotel as we could. We'd learned our cobble-stoned lesson in Rothenberg odT and Nürnburg. We weren't going to play that game in Munich.

We'd taken a morning train so we dropped our bags at the hotel and went out to explore. We headed for Marienplatz, the heart of Munich's old town. 

Munich was largely destroyed during WWII bombing raids, but like Nürnburg (and unlike Frankfurt) Munich chose to rebuild the old city much as it was before the war.

Munich's rathaus is the centerpiece of Marienplatz with it's famous jousting clock above the main entrance.

Marienplatz is a mostly pedestrian-only zone. Keep your eyes peeled though for delivery trucks and the occasional taxi.

In December, the epicenter of Munich's Christmas market is here and spills over to other parts of the city through some of the wide pedestrian streets. 

The market in Marienplatz has stalls selling just about everything whereas some of the other markets specialize in just one type of item. Did you know there is an entire market in Munich dedicated to nativity scene figurines? True story.

We walked around the market for a little while taking in the festive energy.

We got in line to take the elevator to the top of the neue rathaus. They limit the number of people at the top at one time so the line can get long.

The lady taking tickets said that noon was the most popular time - the time that we were in line, of course. 

Its 2.50 euro to ride the elevator to the top, but the view is great.

I mean, just look at the view. Pretty great.

You can get a roughly 360 view of the city from up here.

Munich's famous glockenspiel 'jousts' daily at 11am, 12 noon, and 5pm (May-Oct only). You can't see it from the top, but you can see all the people looking up to watch in the square below. Which is a show in itself.

Did I mention that the views from up here are pretty great?

Check out the views of the old town hall on the other end of Marienplatz.

Despite the sun, it was pretty windy and chilly up there.

When not looking down, looking up ain't too bad either.

The inner courtyard of the neue rathaus had its own little Christmas market.

We rode the elevator down and walked across the square to St. Peter's church.

It is quite lovely inside. We sat in a pew for a few minutes taking it in. The light was perfect.

I always love organs in churches. They seem so grand and regal.

We left the church and headed to the Viktualienmarkt for lunch.

We sat at one of the giant communal tables and savored sausages and delicious, dark German beer.

Don't throw your beer bottles away - they're collected to be cleaned and reused - look for a large tray of empties near the stand where you bought your beer.

After lunch, our hotel room was ready so we grabbed our bags from reception and headed upstairs to drop everything off. 

We stayed at the aptly named Hotel Am Markt (TripAdvisor here) which is right on the Viktualienmarkt. Great location.

The room was a little small, but it was cute and cozy.

The bathroom was also pretty small, but clean and had everything you needed.

Definitely a European-size shower, but clean and good water pressure.

After dropping our stuff at the hotel we headed south to the Asam Church.

The Asam brothers were architects who used this church, their personal chapel, as a convenient showroom for clients to see all that was available to them.

It's all Rococo all the time in this place, quite a bit to take in. 

We continued south to the Sendlingor Tor, one of Munich's original city gates.

In the square around the Sendlinger Tor was another Christmas market. Perfect for afternoon perusing.

We followed the ring road back toward the center of old town Munich.

We stopped for a look inside St. Michael's Church.

The Christmas market dedicated to nativity figurines is right outside this church.

It's huge vaulted ceiling and Renaissance decor are quite impressive. 

For 2 euro you can visit the church's crypt which is the final resting place of King Ludwig II.

Outside the church, on a little side street, we stumbled upon a Munich police band playing Christmas music. We stopped and listed for a little while, it was such a neat discovery.

You can't go to Munich without visiting the Frauenkirche. (Ok, you can, but do you really want to? Things are iconic for a reason...)

The Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) has been Munich's cathedral for nearly 200 years. It was built in only 20 years (note the brick instead of large stones) and was where Joseph Ratzinger served as archbishop before moving to the Vatican and eventually becoming Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

This church and its domes are so much a symbol of the city of Munich that by law no building in the old city center can be taller than the two spires. They're meant to dominate the skyline. 

We continued our self-guided walking tour to Max-Joseph-Platz, which is the home to the National Theater and the Residenz

We would be back for a tour and an opera later during our visit, so we kept walking after a few photos.

We turned south and headed back toward Marienplatz.

We wandered a little until we found this charming little square.

Which is also home to the world-famous Hofbräuhaus.

Pro-tip: If you need a bathroom on your walk around Munich, stop in here. The bathroom is large so you can pop in and out quickly and the Hofbräuhous is always so busy that no one will notice you making your way to the back of the building.

We really enjoy doing little walking tours like this on our first day/afternoon in a city. It is a great way to get our bearing in a new place and gives you a great opportunity to check our restaurants, bars, shops, and sights that you might want to come back to later.

The next day, Saturday, we took a train and then a bus about 45 minutes outside the center of Munich to the city of Dachau, which is the site of the Dachau concentration camp.

A guided 2.5 hour walk is offered twice daily for 3 euro. We did the tour and would highly recommend it. Signage is in English and an audioguide is available, but we really liked having a real person show us around and tell us about the history and significance of the camp.

One of S' former coworkers and his wife who had both recently moved to Austria joined us on this day trip. I didn't feel right taking photos in the somber atmosphere of the camp, but I'm glad I got this shot of all of us together before we parted ways for the day.

On the way back into central Munich, we got off the train a few stops early to visit the Augustiner Beer Garden and Restaurant.

We climbed down the tight, spiral stair case to peek in the keller (cellar) before settling into a table upstairs for a snack.

The Augustiner Beer Garden is best known for its expansive outdoor area - it has 5,000 seats! During December though, indoors sounded like a much better option. 

We headed back to our room to change into something nicer than the boots we'd been trekking around in all day. We were headed out on the town - advent music in St. Michael's Church!

(This photo took several tries with the self-timer feature on my point-and-shoot and precarious placement on the headboard of the bed.)

The church that had been so breathtaking by day was even more so at night. Seats were packed to watch brass musicians from the opera and the church's organist play and hour and a half of advent music.

Not a Christmas carol sing-along, think more festive classical music. The setting couldn't be beat. We loved it!

Even with me in a dress and heels we took our time walking back to our hotel.

The atmosphere of the Christmas market at night is something quite special. Full of crowds, but also of holiday cheer. It is so nice to just wander and sip glühwein late into the evening.

The next morning we hopped on a tram and headed just outside the city to the Nymphenburg Palace. This photo is basically taken from the tram stop - it gets you pretty close.

The Nymphenburg Palace was built in 1662 on land gifted from Bavarian ruler Ferdinand Maria to his wife Henriette Adelaide to celebrate the birth of a son after 10 years of trying.

Entrance is 6 euro for just the palace or 11.50 euro for a combo ticket that includes the Royal Stables Museum and some outlying buildings. The palace is also included in the 14 day Bavaria ticket that we bought back in Würzburg.

We waved our Mehrtagestickets and walked right past the crowds in line for tickets...or we would have walked right past them had there been any. Traveling off-season does have its benefits. 

Originally, this would have been the first room you entered in the palace. It served as foyer and dining room. 

The painting on the ceiling is massive, and beautiful, and depicts pagan gods.

After touring the palace we took the tram back into the center of Munich and walked to the Alte Pinakothek and the Neue Pinakothek.

On Sundays both museums are only 1 euro each.

We were glad we went on a Sunday. Don't get me wrong, collection of art was nice, but we had an unfortunate and confusing run-in with a temporary exhibit and a rude museum employee that soured our visit.

They're both worth a visit if you enjoy European art, and if you can make it on a Sunday the cost of your visit is virtually free.

After wandering the halls of two art museums we decided it was time for more Christmas market action. We had passed this small market on our walk to the museums and decided it was perfect to explore on our way back to our hotel.

It was at this market that we got to experience feuerzangenbowle or flaming glühwein.

We saw people wandering the market with these earthenware chalices with flames coming out the top and wondered aloud what they were. A nice local woman stopped to explain and pointed us in the direction of the booth where we could get one.

Basically, it is a mug of glühwein with a rum-soaked sugar cube that is lit on fire and then drips into your drink.

It was pretty tasty and definitely entertaining.

After our feuerzangenbowle experience we walked back toward the center of town and perused the Christmas market housed in a courtyard in the Residenz.

From there we made our way toward another Christmas market we'd seen in a small square on one of our earlier walks.

There in the Rindermarkt, we stumbled on Spockmeier's Christkind Stüberel serving a spiced, hot beer called Stachelbier (sting beer). You pick a beer/spice flavor and then the woman behind the counter used glowing-hot metal rods to warm your beer. You can see foam forming on the top of the beer as she stirs them with the rods above. Spockmeier's poured exclusively Hacker-Pschorr beer, but the internet says any bock will do.

It may sound odd to us Americans, but hot, spiced beer was actually pretty good. Mmmm, Stachelbier

After a day of touring and walking we were happy to have an early reservation - before the dinner rush - at the Ratskeller. (The restaurant in the cellar of the new town hall.)

The food was delicious German fare and our waiter was great. He nodded approvingly every time we ordered another glass of German wine and at the end of our meal told us with a think accent to come back and visit him again. He would be easy to find he said, he would be the old guy running around in the cellar. 

It was a great end to a long day.

For our last day in Munich we'd planned to spend much of the day at the Residenz. Immediately after entering my camera was out of my pocket. How could I not take a photo of, interesting, fountain decorated entirely with shells. =)

There are many rooms to visit in the Residenz and you don't have to wait to see one of the grandest and most famous. The antiquarium is early on the self-guided tour.

The antiquarium is a banquet hall that can seat 200. It also houses the Wittlesbachs collection of busts of Roman emperors. 

The ceiling is decorated with allegories of the goodness of just rule (a little self-affirmation with your giant dinner party?) and paintings of 150 Bavarian villages as they looked in 1550. 

It is quite an impressive room.

Another benefit of travelling off-season? Being able to dominate this platform for 7 long attempts at a selfie in this room. (We are a strictly NO selfie-stick family and sometimes it takes us a few (dozen) tries to get it right.)

In the end, a boy who looked like he could be no older than 14 offered to help us out and nailed it on the first try. Thanks for the photo, kid!

We'd seen this before in other parts of Germany, but this room was a great example of 3D painting on a ceiling, trying to trick the eye.

Not only is it a cool technique, the level of detail is amazing.

We wandered the halls of the Residenz pretty much alone...I promise this is the last time I will say it (in the post), but seriously, people, travel off-season!

Room after room was lavishly decorated.

This was the music room. I'd chill here.

I mean, the Witteslbachs do know how to decorate. If impress and overwhelm is your goal, they have that down. Take notes, its about to get real.

But first, S interpreted the meaning behind this painting to be: "Come at me, bro." 

Oh, and then I got a little distracted view into the courtyard Christmas market we'd visited the night before. 

Alright, here we go. Ready to be impressed? First, I present these doors. That's all inlay work.

Those doors lead to a little meeting room in your house. For when you want to conduct state business in your jammies. Imagine you are the leader of Bavaria, you can't be bothered to go outside.

One more look at the roof in this room, remember your goal is impress and intimidate.

Next, we visited the palace's private chapel. Never mind that the cathedral is like 2 blocks away. This is way more convenient. 

How about a second chapel decorated entirely with marble scenes depicting the life of Mary? 

Complete with gilded ceiling.

Sad story about this room? It was completely destroyed during WWII. It has been meticulously restored to its former glory. We paused here for quite a while to take in all the detail.

After the chapel your visit continues down this simple, drafty hallway toward this unassuming door.

On one side, it is just a boring old door.

The other side though is a sweet hidden door that fades into the lavish decor. I was really excited that we were allowed to use it and made S take photos as I went back to walk through it again.

The room that the door leads into is pretty nice.

The Residenz also has an impressive picture gallery.

You need quite the chandelier and windows to light your collection.

Directly off the picture gallery is a ceremonial bedroom, a necessity, really. 

You know you're hot stuff in European royalty though when you can have an entire room dedicated to your Asian ceramic miniatures.

...AND a completely separate room dedicated to your collection of miniature paintings.

Lastly, to really send home the impress-and-intimidate theme, how about a hall devoted to family portraits? I told S we should build ourselves one of these in our condo when we got home. Haven't started that DIY project yet...

After our visit to the Residenz palace we toured the Residenz treasury

The treasury houses a thousand years of Wittlesbach crowns, jewelry, and decorative items.

This is a reliquary designed to hold the remains of Saint George.

It is decorated with more than 2,000 stones.

The collection of jewelry is extensive and impressive.

Each case is filled with baubles that glitter and delight.

If you have time, I would definitely recommend a walk through the treasury. The collection is beautiful.

A ticket to the Residenz is 7 euro, the treasury is another 7 euro, but you can purchase a combo ticket that also includes the Cuvilliés Theater for 13 euro. Or, you can use your 14 day Bavaria Mehrtagesticket that covers all three.

The Cuvilliés Theater was not open yet so we decided to walk out to the English Garden to check out the Christmas market out there.

We walked past the National Theater which we'd be back to later that evening to attend the opera.

The English Garden is the largest city park in Europe and home to the Chinese tower. In the shadow of the tower was a lovely Christmas market and in better weather is the home of a beer garden. 

After perusing the market (and taking advantage of the great public bathrooms) we headed back to the Cuvilliés Theater


Like, really wow. This is quite an impressive little theater.

Fun fact: Mozart conducted here several times.

We took our time working our way back to our hotel, shopping, eating, and drinking at the München Weihnachtsmarkt. 

We loved the Christmas market. We revisited our favorite glühwien stand to imbibe one more time and collect a mug to bring home with us as a souvenir.

Later that night, it was off to the National Theater for the opera.

We've learned that you can pay for a tour of the opera house in European cities or you can buy a ticket to a show, arrive a little early, and have a look around on your own. We prefer the later.

Originally opened in 1818 the theater was rebuilt, restored and reopened after WWII in 1963.

It is a lovely theater.

We enjoyed a glass of wine from the upper level bar as we waited for the show to start. The Marriage of Figaro was playing when we visited.

It was a fun farewell to vacation to dress up on our last night in Germany and take ourselves out to the opera.

The final farewell to vacation happened the next morning, though, when I had a giant gingerbread cookie covered in chocolate for breakfast. 

I hope you have enjoyed following along on our 4 days in Munich!

You can check out the rest of our nearly 2 weeks in Germany by clicking here.


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