The flight to Muenchen (Munich) in a little Lufthansa City Line CRJ was great. The weather was perfect with not a cloud in the sky. From Rome we flew up the coast and headed inland around Livorno passing over Florence and Bologna. The Alps were still covered in snow and were a great sight as we descended into Muenchen. Lufthansa lost my luggage for a while which was very strange. We saw it sitting on the tarmac as we boarded the plane. It was going on last with my travel partner's as we were getting priority handling. (No one has told anyone I am no longer a gold card holder but a silver one, but I am saying nothing). Anyway, while her bag came out at the baggage claim; mine didn't. We waited around 30 minutes then went to the baggage tracking office. They said it was not on their records as ever been scanned, so they submitted a lost luggage report and I got a big satchel of goodies to tide me over until they found it. As I was walking back, I saw my bag all alone on another belt miles away from where we had been and my alarm clock in one of my shoes was ringing its little heart out! And I got to keep the goodies bag.
After an hour’s ride to the main station by train, we made it to our hotel which turned out to be close to the station and city centre and was very comfortable. But we had no time to dilly-dally in this “blitzreise”and headed out to explore the city in what was left of the evening. Muenchen main station is very big and quite confusing. We never did actually find the U-Bahn (subway) but caught the S-Bahn down to the old part of town and eventually came across the Hofbrauhaus, the well known beer hall. I had been there a few times before so was a bit interested in my partner's reaction as we headed in.
Well, it was Saturday night and the place was jumping! The many rooms as well as the beer garden were packed with thousands of drinkers, many in groups trying to outdo the others with their singing as well as their “war cries”. The oom pah pah band was in full flight and pumping out good drinking and singalong music. We soon found a communal table near the band and ordered a beer (1 liter each!) and absorbed the atmosphere. After the initial culture shock, my partner just sat there laughing and after almost 2L of beer (I drank the rest of hers merely to help out) she was singing with the best of them. Things had not changed much in the forty years I have been going there except the band now plays international songs, there is a huge number of tourists and the wait staff is very multicultural. There were still the Stammtisch (tables reserved permanently for regulars) and a good crowd of locals in their traditional Bavarian dress. Another thing that hadn’t changed was the heavy pall of cigarette smoke that hung over the punters.
It’s asparagus season in Germany so we ordered up, big thick white spears oozing butter, one plate with grilled salmon, the other with pork schnitzel with potato salad on the side.
Our table companions changed during the night from English to Russians to Americans. What a great time we all had!
Next morning we were up early (no hangovers) and headed by foot back via the pedestrian street down to the Altstadt to check out the main sights. We had breakfast in Marienplatz, home to the old and new town halls. It had been less than 24 hours but suddenly I was beginning to think in German again. It had been 15 years since I had seriously spoken the language and I was amazed where the words were coming from.
We then headed out over Odeonplatz to the old palace and the Hofgarten. From there it was to the Englischer Garten, a huge park in the middle of the city that serves as a major recreation area for the population. The Isar River runs through it and we were amazed to see people surfing in a backwash wave caused by the strong current running over a weir there. Naturally the “surfers” were wearing wet suits and the standard of surfing was excellent in the confined space with all sorts of genuine maneuvers including cutbacks and re entries.
From there, after a long walk along tree covered paths, we found a nice restaurant near the Chinese Tower and had a great lunch with a few beers while being entertained by another but more traditional oom pa pa band.
It was a long walk back to the hotel via one of the great shopping streets of the world, Maximillian Strasse. After a few hours rest we headed out for dinner. I had read about a Wine Cellar and restaurant that sounded good but, when we eventually found the address, it had become a pub. So much for old travel guides!
It had started to seriously rain with simultaneous thunder and lightning so we ducked into a place that turned out to serve, almost exclusively, Schweinhaxe (pork knuckles) either boiled or grilled. I had a half because they are usually huge. Despite this, it nearly sent me to the bottom. We also had a great bottle of Franken wine (Mueller Thurgau) from the Wuerzburg area. Strangely enough we suddenly had enough room to share an Apfelstrudel as well as coffee and Himbeergeist (raspberry liqueur).
By this time I was feeling really at home in what is a foreign country. Very strange!!!!!
Up early next morning and after a “stand up” breakfast at the station we headed back to the airport and caught a flight to Frankfurt. We then caught a train to Mainz with connections to Wiesbaden and finally Assmannshausen am Rhein.
Assmannshausen is a small wine town sitting on the banks of the Rhein. Because of its microclimate it specializes in Spaetburgunder, a red wine, which is really Pinot Noir, when all those around them in the area can only manage to ripen the white varieties Riesling, Sylvaner, Mueller Thurgau etc. We tried a few examples but found them rather thin, lacking in complexity and were definitely over oaked and extracted. The Rieslings however were another story. They had great varietal flavor with balanced acidity and at not very high alcohol levels. I suppose those sickly sweet wines that so typified the German Riesling exported all over the world many years ago are still available but we didn’t come across any.
Our hotel, the Krone, built around 1540 was very “olde worlde” and quaint. The antique furniture and fittings were marvelous to live among. Naturally there was no air conditioning and our open balcony door didn’t stop the noise of passing trains but we got used to that. We should have booked a Rhein view room instead of a vineyard view. Then we could have been disturbed by the river barge traffic.
We found a good restaurant down the road that served excellent meals including breakfast, cold pils, had a huge wine list and very friendly staff. The town spread up into the narrow valley and it was great to explore its narrow streets and alleyways.
A few kilometers up the road is Ruedesheim.This is a really touristy town with lots of wine bars, restaurants and souvenir shops but fun all the same, especially at this time of the year when it isn’t too busy. We took the chair lift up to the Niederwald to see the monument, take in the view of the Rhein and relax and walk in the many trails that wind through the woods. For Elvis trivia buffs, this is the same chairlift that he took with Juliet Prowse in “GI Blues”. My fellow passenger was a bit nervous riding this and when we stopped for a while mid way, swinging in the wind, the tension noticeably increased.
The Niederwald Monument commemorates the unification of Germany in 1871. The impressive female figure on the top is Germania, a classical mythical figure that represents Germany. Many Germans feel that, considering the many demonstrations of nationalism that followed this event, the monument is inappropriate but can accept its historical significance. Even more impressive is the view from this platform. Looking down over the Rhein and the vineyards on this bright sunny warm day ended a very relaxing morning. Back in town we found an outdoor garden restaurant with entertainment and enjoyed a simple lunch. Dinner that night was at one of Assmanshausen’s many restaurants eating in open air well into the balmy evening when it didn’t get dark until well after 10pm.
We picked up our KD Rhein cruise boat at the local landing and really enjoyed the relaxing trip down river to Koblenz. No matter how many times you do this trip, there is always something new to see and experiences to enjoy including the castle ruins, the river traffic, the quaint villages and of course the steep vineyards. The boat stops at many towns on the way to drop off and pick up passengers so you get a mixture of tourists, children on school excursions and groups of local people noisily celebrating something or other. For a while, we had on board a Japanese tour group that literally swarmed from one side of the boat to the other with their cameras incessantly clicking. They even took pictures of each other taking pictures.
Koblenz is a nice town at the confluence of the Rhein and Mosel rivers. The old part of town has been revived and the streets made pedestrian only. There are lots of cafes and restaurants and we found an Italian one for our budget blowing three hour lunch. It was here we found the award winning toilet of the trip. Definitely 20/10!
Our Cologne (Koeln) accommodation, the Dom Hotel was right on the Domplatz opposite the huge cathedral. I consider Koeln my second hometown seeing I have spent so much time there. It was fun visiting some of the old haunts, albeit for a short time, drinking Koelsch (their famous beer) and walking down the shopping street, the Hohestrasse. We explored and drank in the Altstadt (old town). Sadly the Bratwurst and Reibekuchen street stalls have disappeared, maybe as a result of the EU health regulations. Still, a huge Bratwurst and Kartoffelsalat or Bratkartoffeln washed down with a Stange of fresh cold Koelsch in the Frueh pub near the Dom still must be one of the best meals in the world. This noisy and crowded pub with its waiters in their long blue aprons racing around with their serving trays loaded with beer while loudly chatting up drinkers in the local Koelsch dialect is one of my favorite places.
It was an early 4:30am start to catch the ICE from Koeln Hauptbahnhof to Frankfurt Airport. This train travels at up to 300 km/hr and got us to our destination in under an hour. Much quicker than flying this route!
After a number of comprehensive security checks, we boarded our Lufthansa flight for Chicago. Lufthansa economy in a 747 is the equivalent of a flying sardine can so I was happy to get off after the 8 hours. I was quickly through USA immigration without one question and we were soon on our way to pick up our flight to Sioux Falls.
The European adventure was over……….for now.