Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Some Munich Pictures

From the top:
A recent trip to Pompei
A monument at Dachau
The walking district in Munich
Carey "aquiring a taste"
New Town Hall.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Christmas in Munich, Germany

I really like Germany.
We had an early flight, 6:35, out of Naples and landed at about 8:20. Took a train in from the airport. The airport is actually about a 40 minute train ride from Munich (I think I mentioned that in one of our first posts). We were standing at the automated machines and a guy came over to help explain because we looked confused. After he showed us the ticket to get, which matched what I had in my head from reading, he offered us his ticket, the same kind, for a slightly lower price. It worked out well. I figure he bought it earlier that morning in Munich, rode the train to the airport and then sold us his ticket (its an all day ticket) for most of what he paid. He got a cheap ride, we got a discounted ticket...
We got into the hotel in Munich at about 10:30. Carey did really good with this one. It was actually an apartment. 2 bedrooms, a bar area and a living room. The only problem was the TVs didn't work. Not a huge deal since we didn't spend a whole lot of time there.
That afternoon, Thursday, we went downtown to the Christmas Markets. In addition to the markets there were sites to see. The "New" Town Hall is still over 100 years old. It served as US headquarters in WWII since it survived the bombings. It has a huge glockenspiel. Munich's largest cathedral is also here. At 2:00 all the booths were closing so we went back to the hotel to rest a little. After that we went to dinner at Hofbrauhaus. It is a touristy place but fun. Really good food. Excellent beer. Reasonably priced. The beers come in 1 liter mugs. The Dunkel (dark beer) was amazing. Even Carey had a sip and said she may be able to "acquire a taste" for it. This was the first place Hitler had a mass meeting/ speech.
Christmas day we slept in a little, then the kids opened their stockings (we opened everything else on the 23rd). Not a lot is open on Christmas. We did take a hop-on, hop-off bus around the city to see, or at least drive by, all the major sights within the city. The 1972 Olympic park, Nymphenburg Palace, BMW museum, and the Residenz (another royal house/ now museum) to name a few. After that we let the kids go ice-skating at an outdoor rink while we drank hot cider with Amaretto. It still made for a nice day.
Saturday we took a tour of Dachua. It was one of the first Nazi concentration camps. If you ever get a chance to go to a concentration camp, you should. This one was one of the only ones to be open the entire time the Nazis were in power from 1933 to 1945. It is where the SS were trained. It was essentially the prototype for every other concentration camp. As explained, if the "technique" was used in any other camp it was because it was done at Dachua. Our tour guide was very good. We actually got a really good deal out of it. He was meeting some friends of his from out of town at the site right after our tour was done. This meant he just gave us the transportation tickets and gave us the option of going back with another tour group or sticking around and getting back ourselves. This gave us all the time we wanted and translated into about an extra, well deserving, hour in the museum part. It wasn't just about exterminating Jews (that was a big part) but more about absolute power and destroying the human spirit. There is just way to much to talk about with it but it will be something we, and the kids, remember for life.
That night we went to a smaller restaurant down town and had another great dinner. The German and English written menus were slightly different (Carey's dad, John, noticed it first). I had something that was like a meatball but it was veil and ox that was on the German nightly special list (i.e. not in the English menu). Really good.
Sunday we flew out in the morning and got home in time to relax a little and then caught the Dolphin game (maybe more beer in Germany would have been better).

Some other highlights and side thoughts:
German mass transportation is amazing. You can get anywhere, cheap. A 3 day group ticket (covered all 5 of us) was 22 Euro and got you unlimited train and buses. If you wanted to go further outside the city you needed a different pass but it is still cheap and easy. It is run largely on a trust system. You buy your ticket at a machine. There is no gate to go through. Supposedly there are people that do random checks on the trains, but we never saw one. People must pay... the system is still running.
Munich is very clean.
There was a large pedestrian only district downtown. They started it in 1972 for the Olympics. Originally the store owners fought it but then realized it was a great idea because there is so much foot traffic.
The Germans are quiet people. The Italians stood out like a sore thumb (you could hear them).
German food and beer. What else is there to say. Delicious.

We are definitely getting to experience a lot. Just because its not "American" doesn't mean its wrong, or that it doesn't work as well. Why do we have stop signs? London doesn't, I didn't notice any in Munich, and Italians ignore them. Yet people don't run into each other... Why do we go to work so early and why don't we take extra time off (almost nothing was open Saturday)? Why do we think it is horrible service in a restaurant if we have to spend more than 45 minutes in the restaurant and have to ask for a check? I'm not saying we do things all wrong. I do miss having a covered tunnel to get on airplanes (most flights we've taken you go from terminal to bus to plane to bus to terminal). Our way is not the only "good" way though.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Thanksgiving with the Queen

So she declined our offer. Maybe next time...

We flew out of Naples Wednesday after lunch. We flew into Gatwick airport south of London. From there we caught a train the rest of the way into London. One more trip on the tube (subway) and we were at the hotel. After some quick sandwiches from the restaurant down stairs, which were really good, we were off on the tube again to go see the Lion King. It was good. It was what I expected really. The high parts of the movie were the high parts in the show. The slow parts in the movie... I think I mostly enjoyed watching the kids reactions. The woman who played Rafiki was outstanding.

Thursday we got up early and made our way up the street to get some breakfast and then we caught our tour bus. We toured Windsor Castle, Stone Henge, and Bath. The tour was worth the money. It would have been nice to have a little extra time in Windsor but if we spent to much time there we would have been at risk of boring the kids. They again did really well this trip. They stayed interested and paid attention and asked questions. Stone Henge is impressive when you take into consideration it was started 5000 years ago. I could swear when we were growing up Stone Henge was one of the seven wonders of the world. I just looked and I guess we all just agree the aliens built it because its no longer on the list. The stones were brought there from hundreds of miles away. The vertical stones have a big convex bump on the top. The horizontal stones, on top, have a corresponding concave hollowed out spot so the stones "lock" in place. Aside from aliens there are some pretty reasonable explanations. Bath is a city on top of some hot springs. The early settlers channeled the water into pools. The Romans when they came in built bath houses. There were cool pools, warm pools, and steam rooms. The water from the springs is about 100F. The Romans built furnaces to help heat the entire place and some more of the water.
We got back into London around 7:00 PM. At that point we met up with another couple in Piccadilly Circus (like Time Square) for dinner. Fish and chips, steak,... not Italian...

Friday morning we slept in a little then went to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. We didn't get there quite early enough so really the kids saw the changing of the guard from our shoulders. There were a number of other couples we knew in London that weekend so all of us walked to Trafalgar Square. We mostly split up for lunch with the thought of everyone being done at the same time and then we would regroup. Instead we proved again that if you don't really have a plan, you're going to waste time. Some where running late so we went into the National Museum but then they were ready so we left. We, 3 families, walked up to West Minster to meet a fourth family. We were told it was about 15 pounds each to get into the Abbey so we decided at that point to walk over to the London Eye. A giant Ferris wheel but the carriages are big glass observation rooms. After the line for tickets it actually worked out to be decent timing. It was about sunset time so during the thirty minute ride we saw the city go from light to night. Good views. If we had it to do all again we would have committed to one thing or the other, the museum or the Abbey. All the museums are free. They take donations of a couple pounds. They have some Monet's and Rembrandt's that I would have liked to have seen, among other things. The Abbey, we read later, should have a family entry fee which would have made the kids essentially free. There we could have seen 1) were they crown the Kings and Queens and 2) the tombs of A LOT of very historical people. Generals, poets, Kings, etc. Next time...

Saturday we started off by going to the Tower of London to see the crown jewels. The Tower of London itself has some history too. Old quarters, prisons, defence of the city and beheading. Most of the tour was narrated by a Beefeater. At one point they served a military like purpose of guarding prisoners and the crown jewels. Now they are the tour guides. They still live in the quarters within the walls. Now they are retired E-9's (Sargent Majors/ Master chiefs) and Warrant Officers. After that we went to the Natural History museum and the Science museum. Again free. Of the most memorable, space exploration (satellites, Hubble, space station, moon landing), flight, and dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaur bones.

Sunday we tried to go back down to Harrods. The Brits apparently don't take Christmas shopping as serious as we do. They were closed (didn't even open until 11:30). At that point we got ready to go to the airport. We took a bus up to Stansted Airport and then flew back into Naples.
London is very New York City like (with some extra history and royalty...). Definetly worth going to. I would expect to go again while we are here. I'd like to go for just a couple days. Enough to see another Broadway show and to get back to a museum or two.