After a great short trip to Ireland we were heading to Germany so I could finally see where Sissy lived. She had made multiple trips to the US to visit, however I had never made the trip to Germany, so I was looking forward to the next eight days in Bavaria to see her hometown. We took the train from Munich Airport through the city center, which is 45 minutes away, and passed through to continue on to her hometown of Herrsching, which is another 50 minutes away by train. Something I found really nice about the public transit in the area is when you buy a day ticket it works for the train, buses, and subways, without needing to pay for multiple tickets. 12 euro was enough for a single day pass, however we bought the group ticket for 22 which was good for up to five people since it was cheaper.
When we got to Herrsching we went to Sissy’s mom’s house where we finally got to meet. Shortly after we headed to her Dad’s house, where I met him and his wife as well and we all went to the nearby Lake Ammersee for dinner, my first German beer, and some swimming. Beer gardens are extremely common in Bavaria, and Sissy’s father Gunther informed me that a rule put in place in the 1800s allowed people to bring their own food to a beer garden as long as you buy your beer there. Sure enough, there were people opening their bags and pulling food out around us. Most beer gardens also serve food, so you get either option in most cases.
My first German beer was a wheat beer made by Hofbräu, and I was advised to order a small one. A half liter, or just over one pint glass was poured, which cost about three euro. I’d eat the first of a ton of meat dishes that evening as we sat out under the trees just meters from the water at Lake Ammersee. As we talked and ate, a traditional Bavarian band began playing nearby. The music is very upbeat and the band not only that evening, but over the next week or so, was made up of children in their early teens all the way up to men in their 60s or older. With our stomachs full and our beers getting us, or at least me, a little buzzed, we headed to a dock to take a swim at sunset.
There were lots of locals swimming in the lake as it was 86 degrees farenheit, or 30 celsius. Central air is very uncommon in Bavaria unless you’re in a big store, so windows and lakes seem to be the primary method of cooling down. Most houses have rolling metal shutters that can be rolled down over the windows, which helps keep it cool as well. I was told that it hardly ever gets and stays so hot in Bavaria, but the heat would hold up for the rest of the trip. We swam around in the lake for a bit, jumped off a 4 meter high wooden dock, and sat and watched the sunset.
The next day after attending a funeral for Sissy’s recently passed grandmother we decided to head to Lake Ammersee again with Sissy’s sister Mona and try out some stand up paddle boarding. None of us had tried it before, but it looked easy enough as people sped through the water while standing around on their boards. The lake was pretty busy so there were only two boards available for the three of us. We decided to try it out anyway as it was only 14 euro per board per hour. The first thing Sissy and I learned is that a board that’s made for one person doesn’t easily hold two people standing up. The second thing I learned is that my balance isn’t great when it comes to SUP. I was in the water every few minutes as I got the hang of speeding around on the lake. Sissy stayed on the board a lot better than I did, as we took turns on who got the solo board and who was on the tandem one. Unfortunately her paddling skills could’ve been a bit better, and my balancing skills could have as well, so we decided that the two of us combined would make the least adequate paddle boarder ever born!
After we showered off at the lake we said bye to Mona and set off on a 45 minute stroll through the woods to Andechs for some dinner and beer. Kloster Andechs is a famous monastery and brewery, which I found to be an odd combination. The walk was very scenic unless you stopped walking, when mosquitoes would eat you alive. We had been told to be careful, at the end of the walk as you hike uphill there’s a spot where eleven people had died over the years. People would drink too much at Andechs and hike back in the dark, where they would stumble and fall down a pretty high cliff. Luckily we saw it on the way up and it now had wooden railings built up.
When we reached the top we saw a large church with a big tower, and a nice view of the surrounding countryside. We got there just before the main beer garden closed. We got a huge pretzel and a cold sausage, which was like what Slim Jim aspires to become. We ordered some small half liter beers since Sissy wasn’t sure if I could handle a full liter of their strongest beer, which I decided I would try. The beer was great and just a half liter got me tipsy enough to be excited for the stroll back down the hill. It’s not uncommon for travelers to make the 50 minute train ride from Munich to Herrsching to hike up to Andechs and enjoy the church and beer. We started our quick descent back to town, carefully avoiding the easily avoidable drop-off.
We woke up early the following morning and headed to Dachau as I really wanted to see a concentration camp and Sissy had an optometrist appointment nearby anyway. Dachau is a 15 minute train ride from Munich and was the first German concentration camp, opened in 1933. It would end up being the model for all other Nazi concentration camps and 32,000 people would be recorded as being killed there, with around 45,000 being a more accurate estimate as many deaths were never recorded. Entrance to the site is free and there are information boards everywhere. Reading about the brutal torture and murders of so many people was a very heavy experience. You can see the courtyard where thousands were killed and walk through it, with the guard towers and barracks still standing around you. Experimentation was conducted on humans by exposing them to malaria, forcing them to drink nothing but seawater with no food for weeks, and sending them up in planes that would ascend and descend rapidly to measure the effects on the human body. In the barracks if there was even a crumb on the floor the guards were known to beat or kill whoever they felt was responsible. As sad as visiting Dachau was, it was an extremely worthwhile experience.
We headed to Munich next and as we exited the train we were greeted by city hall looming in front of us. The building is massive at 85 meters tall and 100 meters long. Construction was started in 1867 and the building took 41 years to complete all 400 rooms. Now you can walk around it and head inside to enjoy a beer if you’d like. After city hall we headed to the National Theater to check out the architecture as we aren’t big opera fans. The nearby Eisbach River was our next stop, which is home to the world’s largest urban surf spot. There was a line of surfers waiting to hop into the river, where a large wave has formed and stays year round. People surf the wave in the summer, and also in the winter when the temperature is just above freezing and it’s surrounded with snow and ice.
Sissy’s sister’s apartment wasn’t too far away so we headed there to meet up with her and head to a nearby beer garden with some of Sissy’s friends. The beer garden they chose was right next to a large river where people barbeque and swim around. Sissy’s friend Miri, who I had met the day Sissy and I met in Colombia, showed up for the first time I’d seen her in 10 months. I bought the first round of large beers, my first full liter beer in Germany, and the others bought food since I didn’t understand the menu anyway. They brought over the most amazing, huge rack of ribs, more pretzels (the big soft ones, which are called bretzn, not the small hard ones we may snack on in the US), a half of a chicken, and some sausages. The food was undoubtedly my favorite in Europe and has to be in the top three countries I’ve been to. The liter beers were only six euro or so each, which makes them much more affordable than I had expected. A half liter beer in a supermarket is less than a euro typically for a very good beer.
Jokes over the past however many months about how an American would deal with the strong German beer may have lead to me polishing my first beer and moving to the second relatively quickly. My second was a bit slower as everyone else had their next liter as well. The food was so amazing and catching up with Miri, meeting her friend Stefan, Sissy’s friend Donat, and talking with Mona kept me busy and my beer waiting. As the second liter was finished up I figured I was about done. It was getting late and two liters was a decent amount for someone who doesn’t drink often. Stefan decided to be a pal and grab me a third when I wasn’t paying attention, which led to a fast drinking of liter three. We all said goodbye a bit after midnight and we grabbed the train to take the hour ride home. About half way to Herrsching I decided I’d have to make a pit stop as those three liters had to go somewhere, which would cost us another 40 minutes waiting for the next train, which was the last train, at 1:30 in the morning. Sissy was less than amused, but I may have been a bit too drunk to be upset about the situation at the time.
Canyoning / Austria
The next morning we’d get up bright and early to make the hour and a half drive into Austria to go canyoning. Sissy had got me the trip for my birthday and while I wasn’t really familiar with the term, she said it’d have something to do with rappelling (abseiling) in a canyon and jumping from rocks, which are some of my favorite activities. Sissy woke me up as we arrived in the Austrian Alps, and I was greeted by a lake named Lake Plansee, set in some beautiful mountains. We put on the provided wetsuits, helmets, and harnesses and drove with our four fellow tour members to a nearby river. The river was filled with waterfalls of the most beautiful emerald green and turquoise blue water. We hiked for a half hour to where we’d start our descent, and Sissy was less than happy about being in a wetsuit in hot weather and hiking uphill. We jumped in the river and were immediately met with freezing cold water slipping into our wetsuits, which erased any memory of the hot hike up.
Our first part of the trip down consisted of each of us jumping from a 4 meter and 6 meter cliff into the river, then rappelling down an 18 meter drop through a waterfall. Almost everyone scraped their hands up pretty well on the first descent since you started facing the ground with the rope under your arm, then had to turn and continue down facing forward. Sissy wasn’t exempt from that problem and scraped her hands up while sliding a bit through a waterfall, which didn’t make her fear of heights any better. She finished like a champ and tackled the next descent, which was 30 meters (99 feet) with no problems. We continued jumping off of cliffs and swimming down the river for hours, and at one point we were flipped over the edge of a low rock slide into the river.
When the trip finally ended no one wanted to go. It was a great time in a beautiful setting, and a good way to get a short introduction to Austria. After the hour and a half drive back, we headed back to Sissy’s dad’s house where we were staying and had some dinner with he and his wife. It was nice staying at their place, especially as it saved us the $60 or so per night that the average room in Munich was going for on AirBnb. Of course we had beer with dinner, which complimented a great shrimp pasta well, of course a good beer may compliment just about any food well! It turned out that I wouldn’t make it a day in our short eight day stay without some kind of alcohol (beer every day except one, which was just some wine).
The next day we met up with Miri, her sister, and Stefan to head back to the Alps to try to ride a toboggan down a mountain. When we got off the train to meet them Sissy noticed some music and people down the road. I had commented on the ride that a lot of people were wearing lederhosen and dirndls, and was interested in knowing if it was normal or not. It turned out that those people were joining the others that we saw now in a parade through Rosenheim, the town we’d meet the others in. There were 15,000 people in the parade, which seemed to be never ending. I found it really interesting that they all took the clothing so seriously and that it’s still such a part of their culture. The girls would wear flowers in the front of their dirndls, which Miri would joke that it’d cover anything else they may be missing on their chests. At front of each group in the parade someone would carry a wooden sign for their neighborhood and there were drummers, trumpet players, and all kinds of horse driven carts rolling through town. At the end of the parade route there was of course a huge beer garden set up where everyone would play music and drink their fill.
We headed into the Bavarian Alps for a 45 minute hike up a relatively steep hill in warm weather. At the top we stopped at a beer garden for a quick bite and the obligatory beer before heading a bit further up to admire the view from the top of the small mountain. While heading to the top of the toboggan track we noticed the sky getting a bit dark and cloudy, and right as we arrived at the track it started to rain. The workers told us we couldn’t ride down since the brakes don’t work in the rain. We were about 60 seconds too late to get to ride the toboggan, and had to ride the chairlift down while the rain picked up. We drove back toward Rosenheim and relaxed by swimming in a lake. The weather was very different in a relatively small area, and it was hot at the lake and nice in the water. We headed into Rosenheim and checked out the tents that were set up for the beer gardens at the end of the parade we had seen. By that time most had drank their fill, and the ones that were left were signing, dancing on tables, accidentally dropping bottles in the streets, and having an all around great time.
I had seen pictures of a castle in Germany that Disney based Sleeping Beauty’s castle on while browsing the internet months back, so I asked Sissy about it. It turns out the castle, Neuschwanstein Castle, is located in Bavaria and only an hour and a half drive from Munich. The next day Sissy’s mom Ute drove us there to spend the day checking it out. As we drove up Ute pointed up toward the Alps and told us to look. Off in the distance there was Neauschwanstein, perched on the mountain. The resemblance to the “castle” I had seen at Disneyland multiple times growing was unmistakable. To the right of the castle stood another tan and orange smaller castle called Hohenschwangau.
We drove through the town below the castles, Schwangau, which was packed with tourists making their way up. After parking we hiked up to Neuschwanstein, which took about 20 minutes on a paved road. We walked inside the courtyard for free, skipped the tour both as they were sold out, and because I was more excited to see the outside and hike around it. If you want to get a ticket to Neuschwanstein during high season, which is roughly May – August, make sure to either book online, which is relatively complicated to choose a time and date, or drive to the ticket office in Schwangau the day prior to book. It’s 12 euro for the ticket, which gives you a 30 minute tour of the inside of the castle. We hiked from the castle to Marien Bridge, which is about a 15 minute walk. The bridge gives a great view of the castle, and was very congested that day. You can also hike on after crossing the bridge to get better views from the opposing mountain.
The castle was built by order of King Ludwig the second in 1892, king of Bavaria at the time. He had it built as a home for himself , but would meet an untimely death before it was completed. The castle was always purely decorative and never a defensive structure. After some time I was content with my time at the castle and headed back to the bottom of the hill with Sissy to meet up with Ute, who wasn’t inclined to go to the busy bridge. Both of them had been to the castle before, Sissy went on a field trip and Ute for fun, so I was the only one really gawking at the sites. We ate a bit at a cafe that overlooks a lake near the parking area, deciding to skip swimming in it and escape the hordes of tourists. As we left I couldn’t stop looking at the castle, it was so impressive. I wasn’t alone as dozens of cars had pulled over to take pictures of it from below, mainly the ever important selfie.
Over the next few days we would visit Sissy’s friends, drink more beer, and buy some last minute things we’d need for our overland trip to Africa we would be leaving for. One thing to note during those days was the traditional Bavarian breakfast, Weisswurst, that Sissy made for me. It consisted of white sausages (Weisswurst), a pretzel (bretzn), and a half pint of wheat beer (weissbier). You dip the sausage in a sweet mustard and drink it down with some delicious beer. We finished breakfast around 10am and started the day in a happy way.
Our next stop after saying our goodbyes to everyone in Germany was Hurghada, Egypt. We would spend 5 days there while I finally got my scuba license, and Sissy dove to her hearts content.
– BEER! Drink the beer. Drink it with dinner, drink it with breakfast, drink lots of it. You won’t get funny looks wherever or whenever you drink it (except the trains, it’s forbidden there) as there aren’t open container laws and it’s common all over.
– Food. The food is great. If you like meat you’ll love Bavaria. It’s typically affordable and if you’re on a tight budget and want a beer anyway, make it wherever you’re staying and head to a beer garden to eat and drink to your hearts content.
– The Alps. The mountains are beautiful, the area surrounding Lake Plansee is absolutely stunning, and canyoning is beyond fun.
– Neuschwanstein Castle. It’s beautiful and worth braving the crowds, paying the six euro parking, and making a half day of it.
– Save some money by making your own food wherever you’re staying and bring it to a beer garden if you want to drink anyway.
-Buy group train tickets if there are more than one and up to five of you. The Bayern train ticket will take you through all of Bavaria all day long.
– If you’re driving on an Autobahn, look for the white circle with a slash through it, this means no speed limit in that section.
– If you’re looking to save money and have a profoundly deep experience, check out Dachau 9Concentration Camp. Reading the stories and physically being there is a very sobering experience.