Elmer Blogger

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Munich Winter

The trip to Munich started at 6.19AM as we took the Österreichse Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) train from Vienna's Westbahnhof. It was cold at -3C plus wind chills. The trip costs €29 one way (about HK$ 267) and will take four hours of travel, passing through a few stops at St. Pölten Central, Linz/D Central and Salzburg Central train stations. By 10:33AM I arrived at Munich's Hauptbahnhof.

Munich is the biggest city in southern Germany, the proud headquarters of BMW (though to SEO people BMW Germany web site made an embarassing mistake last 2 weeks) and the capital of Bavarian region. It did not take a long time to start exploring and finding out sightseeing areas, starting off with the nearby Marienplatz. The temperature seems colder than in Vienna but given the fact that I am leaving this place by next 29 hours there is little time to dilly dally.

Same as Vienna, Germany keeps its language the priority (no English options on instructions, menus, etc) and appears non-friendly to non-German speaking visitors. False, they are very friendly and even don't need to be asked for help. They have a ready weapon called "can I help you" once you're found staring at the buildings and your hand-held map five times in three seconds or appear scratching your head in confusion in the middle of the street. People generally speak English (young and old) and German words have some relationship with English and only has ä,ö,ü and ß as special characters which are not difficult to master.

Transportation is similar to Vienna, with a 3-day train pass (Einzelfahrkarten) for three persons costing €18.50 (in many EU countries, they use a comma in place of decimal symbols and use period symbol to mark thousands in currency). The ticket can be obtained on counters of underground train stations (U Bahns). This ticket can be also used on trams and buses. While everyone can easily ride the trains without paying since there are no turnstiles and people to check the tickets on entrances. But beware when undercover security agents randomly check passenger tickets. If caught without a valid ticket (you need to activate ticket on first use), you will pay a €40 fine and a bad reputation to police authorities, at least.

Winter is not the best time of the year to visit parks but nevertheless, Munich has a lot of attractions to show. The first one is the Marienplatz which is probably the heart of the city. It is dominated by the New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus), a Flemish-Gothic inspired structure which features Glockenspiel, an animation of dancing characters every 11AM, 12AM and 5PM. When I arrived at the center, the animation was in progress and it gathered a large number of curious viewers, locals and foreigners alike. Nearby is the Viktualienmarkt, Munich's most popular open market, selling fruits, followers, vegetables and cheese.

One of my most desired attractions is the Olympiapark -- the venue of 1972 Munich Olympics. I read it first in a 1972 edition of Reader's Digest and is the first Olympic venue that I visited. The location in the outskirts of Munich was complemented by the futuristic BMW office headquarters across the street. The park has shown signs of aging; the tent-like roofing has some worn out sections. But many areas have been undergoing renovation. The 290-meter Olympic tower has been transformed into the "world's tallest rock museum" providing a good view of Munich and nearby areas. I got a shirt souvenir to attest to such "achievement". To go to Olympiapark, take the Olympiazentrum station of the U Bahn.

Owing to its name, the Residence is home to dukes, kings and electors of their day. It is now filled with paintings, porcelains and tapestry made by the best artists at the time. There are also several interesting structures nearby. I have toured the Schönbrunn museum in Vienna and this one is not much different. During my entire trip, I am always wondering how Europe developed a very rich culture in the past preserved through time while its counterparts from other parts of the globe were unable to do so.

I stayed at Hotel Eder at a near proximity to Hauptbahnhof. Exuding with personal touch I usually see on small coffee shops in europe, this hotel is small yet provides the basic needs of an exhausted traveler without sacrificing the wallet nor the distance to Munich's beautiful attractions. The thought of staying in a hotel popped out when the temperature seemed inhospitable enough to visitors wandering through the night. Top top those features with friendly staff, this hotel is recommended to all types of travelers.Despite the chilling cold, trip was worthwhile, exhausting the alloted 23 hours seemed far from difficult because there are many attractions to visit in this lovely European city.