Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Oktoberfest & München

October 8, 2008

After literally planning the trip for months, this past weeked finally marked my adventure to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest!! And as if being at Oktoberfest wasn't enough, I got to share the once-in-a-lifetime experience with some of my closest girl friends : ) Although I wasn't able to really drink much beer, I was able to have a little bit here and there so I didn't feel like I was missing out on too much. We also had a chance to explore Munich a bit as well and it was such a beautiful city, I would love to go back one day. Even though it had its ups and downs (camping was NOT a good idea), it was one of my best weekends yet!

Day 1, 10/2/08 - Let the Beer Drinking Begin!

Carly and I got up super early to catch a 7:30am train to Verona where we changed trains and headed to Munich. The train ride was actually pretty pleasant, and going through Austria was absolutely breathtaking! I've never seen grass such a bright, vivid green, surrounded by clusters of pine trees, delicate bridges here and there, magestic mountains in the background, and sheep grazing on the gently sloping hills. Even the architecture was beautiful. Steepled churches and clusters of pretty houses dotted the landscape every now and then.
The whole journey took about 7 hours, so when we finally arrived at München Station around 2:30pm, we were pretty worn out. As soon as we got off the train, however, we sptted the perfect pick-me-up: Starbuck's! Since they don't exist in Italy, it had been a long time since Carly or I had seen one, so we were obviously a little excited. I got an amazing bagel with cream cheese, lettuce, and tomato and the most delicious hazelnut hot chocolate!
Once we were refreshed, we managed to figure out the U-bahn, Germany's underground system, and made our way to our campsite. After you take the subway, you have to walk quite a ways, but it turned out to be quite a treat. Autumn is definitely the best time to visit Munich because everywhwere the trees look as though they are on fire, in brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Our walk also lead us along this gorgeous river whose banks were lined with trees transforming their leaves for the season. Carly and I couldn't resist stopping and taking several photos!
We finally made it to our campsite and checked-in with Topdeck, the company with whom we booked the trip. The campsite, called Camping Thalkirchen, was a typical, huge campsite, and Topdeck had their own section of blue tents. We were meeting my really good friend (fellow Gamma Phi and former roommate) Sarah and her friend An, both who are studying in Sweden with EAP, but we had no way of contacting them. They had already checked-in though, so we assumed they had gone to the festival already, so Carly and I wasted no time before climbing on the bus for our first day at Oktoberfest!
When we arrived, I was surprised by how similar it was to a carnival back fact it reminded me a little of the State Fair back in California, but with a lot more beer of course : ) There was tons of carnival rides, bratwurst stands every few feet, and people, young and old, everywhere! We passed several beer "tents", which are actually just huge buildings, and finally stopped at one and got in line. Let me explain how tents work for a moment. Reservations can be made ahead of time which guarantee you entrance and a table, but for less organized folk, like us, you wait in line and hope that you're lucky. Most of the time, you have to get there around 9:30am when they open to get inside and get a seat at a table, and then they usually "close" by noon when they're at capacity. And of course, some tents are better and more popular than others, so those are obviously harder to get into. Most of the tents also have outdoor beer gardens, so if you aren't able to get inside, no worries, you can still quench your thirst! Carly and I waited in line for over an hour, then realized it wasn't going to happen so late in the day, and headed to the Paulaner beer garden where we had our first beers of Oktoberfest! While we drank we met some nice Germans who bought us more beers, enjoyed the eclectic mix of music (they played Azzurro!), had a mini photo shoot, and ate a delicious baked potato!
And then it started raining (which it did at least once every day we were there!). And Carly and I froze. We met some Americans and talked for a bit, and when we told them we were staying in tents at a campsite, they looked at us and laughed! Anyway, we decided to call it a night and made our way back to the bus pick-up point. Back at the campsite, we figured out what tent Sarah was supposed to be in and went and found her. It was so great to see a familiar face, especially one I had missed so much! She and An joined us in our tent for a pow wow to catch up and keep warm. And speaking of warm... Munich is the coldest place I have ever been. At night it was in the low 30s, raining, so sleeping in tents wasn't exactly toasty. I slept in leggings, sweatpants, a tank top, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, two sweatshirts with hoods, and Ugg boots, I spooned with Carly, and I was still freezing!!! Really, I can't express how cold it was there. In fact, the whole weekend, I was never warm, not even once!

Day 2, 10/3/08 - Hofbräu and Carnival Rides!

Friday we got up early, ate the "hot breakfast" provided by Topdeck, and loaded onto the first bus to the festival. We decided to split up into pairs of two and each go to a different beer tent to scope out the line situation, then call each other and meet at the one that looked the best. So Sarah and I went to the popular Hofbräu tent, and Carly and An headed to the famous Hippodrom tent. The plan backfired, however, because within 5 minutes of getting in line, Sarah and I were let in! I called Carly asap and told her they were letting people in and to get there quick, and we assumed they'd get in in a half hour at most. Well, 3 1/2 hours later, Sarah nd I watched from inside as Carly and An, the first people in line, waited in the rain with the saddest faces ever. For some reason, they just weren't letting anymore people in that day. Sarah and I didn't want to leave, because we knew none of us would get into any other tent at that point, so our best bet was to hope they eventually were let in. Although we felt bad about the situation, we couldn't help but enjoy our good fortune at getting into one of the best tents at Oktoberfest! We couldn't find a table, but we managed to get a beer anyway. Those huge, liter-sized steins are alot heavier than you'd immagine! We watched the beer wenches carrying 6, 7, sometimes 10+ steins at a time, and marvel at their strength (their trick is to wear wrist guards)! We spent a good 30 minutes waiting by the kegs trying to get a picture of this amazing feat of strength, and I finally got the money shot! I sipped a little of Sarah's Hofbräu, and let me just say that the Germans have it right : )
We bought one of the famous pretzels, which live up to their reputation and are truly the perfect accompaniment to beer. We people watched, listened to the live band play everything from traditional German drinking songs to Frank Sinatra tunes. We met some interesting characters from several different countries, enjoyed the plethora of liederhosen-clad fellows, watched people dancing on tables, singing drinking songs, prosting (aka cheersing) constantly, chugging beer while the whole tent cheered them on, and just enjoying the merriment that is Oktoberfest : ) Check out the video below! After close to four hours inside, and after inhaling enough smoke to darken my lungs a whole shade, we went outside to meet Carly and An, who were in surprisingly good spirits for being cold and wet, getting ripped off by "the toilet man", and waiting in line for so long.

Outside and reunited, the 4 of us grabbed a table in the beer garden and ordered more beer and some amazing mac and cheese : ) In the hour or so that we sat there, we must have met half a dozen Italians... The whole weekend it seemed like instead of meeting Germans, we only met Italians because they were seriously everywhere! And I think they liked the fact that Carly and I spoke Italian, haha. Most of them were nice, some were a little creepy, but it was all in good fun.

When we were spent on beer for the day, we decided to check out some carnival rides! Thay were pretty expensive, so we only went on two, but they were totally worth it. First was the swings, called the "Star Rider". It was freezing cold at the top, but the views over the festival were incredible!

Next was the "Olympic Rings" rollercoaster, with 5 loops, one for each ring! I was quite impressed with this ride, probably one of the best rollercoasters I've been on. Sarah was brave enough to have her camera out on both rides, so the action picks are courtesy of her : )

Next we had photo shoots in front of the famous red and yellow Hippodrom tent and the "Welcome Sign" at the main entrance to the festival. Stupid drunk people kept trying to get into our pics, but we got some cute ones anyway!

We stayed for a while after dark and enjoyed the park all lit up. I spent too much time at various souvenir stands debating what to buy each person back home, but I think my choices were pretty good : ) Soon it was too cold and we knew the next day was going to be a long one, so we decided to head back a little earlier.

Back at the campsite, Carly and An headed up to the front to hang out and drink some more while Sarah and I braved the disgusting showers in the freezing cold. It was not a pleasant experience : ( Then her and I cuddled in my tent, ate snacks, talked, and had a strange photo shoot in the dark, haha. Carly came back a few hours later a little tipsy, and all 3 of us cuddled together for the rest of the night. But it was still freezing!!
Day 3, 10/4/08 - Ich Liebe München!

Once again we got up early to get to the festival as early as possible. Carly, An, and our friend Kathryn (our roommate from Rome who showed up a little late) got on the first bus, determined to get into a tent this time. Sarah and I followed on the next bus, only we realized that neither my phone nor Carly's had money on it, so we probably wouldn't be able to meet up all day. Sarah and I made a beeline for the first tent that didn't look too crowded, Pschorr-Bräurosl, and once again got in almost immediately! Amazed at our luck once again, within 5 minutes we also ran into Carly, An, and Kathryn! Seriously, what are the odds? Anyway, they all got beers, I broke out my baby white cup to have my "daily ration" of beer, took lots of pics, and we shared another delicious pretzel. Carly, An, and Kathryn were all "too hungover, too tired, or too full" to drink their beers, and after an hour thet still hadn't finished them! So much for their "big day" at Oktoberfest, haha. Anyway, this tent wasn't that exciting, especially compared to Hofbräu the day before, so we left pretty quickly.

We perused more souvenir stands where I bought a wonderful sweatshirt for myself and some postcards, some of the other girls bought some of the famous Oktoberfest gingerbread hearts that were everywhere, and then it started sprinkling, again. Umbrellas in hand, we walked toward to the center of town, where Kathryn knew of a Starbuck's, to wait out the rain and then do some sightseeing. I got the same yummy bagel, defrosted a bit, and laughed delusionally with Sarah at our photos from the last couple days.

We headed toward the center of Munich and walked through one of 3 impressive city gates called the Karlskor, and ended up in the famous square called Marienplatz, the heart of München. Several famous sites are located there, including the grand Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) and the smaller, simpler Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall). Although the latter was simpler, it has a beautiful astrological clock on it's tower that gives it a little sparkle. Along the way, we stopped at these giant statues of a boar and a catfish to take pics : )

It started pouring almost as soon as we got to the square, so we found refuge inside the Altes Rathaus where there was a cool little Toy Museum. The museum was inside the tower of the building, with each of five landings hosting a different room full of old German toys. There was the usual: teddy bears, trains, dolls (even Barbies!), cars, etc. and then some more "eclectic" things, like cookies with the images of satan and the pope, a teddy bear with a creepy face on the back of it's head... They also had the "parts" of toys strewn about, like the heads of dolls or the arms of teddy bears. Kind of strange actually. There was a little stuffed elephant that had a little card next to it that said it was the first soft, plush toy, originally made to be a pin cuchion... I saw itand thought it was a voodoo doll : )

When we finished in the museum, we could see in the distance blue skies moving in and could tell the rain would be done in about 5 minutes so we held out. Carly, An, and Sarah disappeared, so I was left with Kathryn and this guy Ben who we'd met up with and who was also staying at our campsite. When the rain stopped, we were left with a gorgeous, clear blue sky. We went back into the center of Mareinplatz for a bit and took pictures of the Fischbrunnen, aka fish fountain, and the Mariensäule, a huge column topped by a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. At each corner of the column's pedestal is a statue of a putti. The 4 putti's symbolize the city's overcoming of war, pestilence, hunger, and heresy.

Then we headed out of the square and ended up in the nearby Viktualienmarkt, a huge (5 1/2 acres!) outdoor, gourmet food markets with stands selling, cheese, flowers, meat, honey, fruits & vegetables, etc. We didn't spend too much time looking around because we wanted to see some other things while the nice weather lasted, but my favorite thing I saw was an entire stand selling just huge chunks of cheese!

Then we passed Peterskirche, or St. Peter's church, where we climbed the clock tower to a viewing platform for magnificent views of Marienplatz, Munich, the Neues Rathaus, and the most famous church in Munich, the double-towered Frauenkirche.

After descending from the tower, we managed to meet back up with the other girls in Marienplatz and decided to go see the Frauenkirche. The two twin towers of the church can be seen for miles, and the church itself is Munich's most famous landmark. The outer design is pretty simple, with the towers getting all the attention, and the interior is likewise simple. The ceiling is quite eye-catching, however. At the altar, I was amused by the crown that hung there, because it's a symbol of Bavaria, but also of Hofbräu beer! Another one of the most interesting things inside the church is the memorial grave in black marble of Prince Elector Kurfürst Maximilian I. But the real draw for us, and for most tourists I'd imagine, is the "footprint of the devil". According to legend, the architect promised the devil you could not see a window from the inside of the church, and in return the devil would help him build the Frauenkirche. When it was finished, the architect led the devil to the middle of the church from where you could not see a single window, even though all churchgoers would sit in an area where a lot of light came through the windows. The devil stamped his foot with so much rage that his footprint was visible in the stone floor! On the way out, I noticed a unique pond in front of the church with little mushroom-like fountains in the middle of it, and I thought it was quite charming.

Then we walked back to Marienplatz where we waited til 5 o'clock when the characters in the glockenspiel on the clock tower of the Neues Rathaus would "perform". While we waited, we witnessed a real German protest (something about racism or abortion we think) with police who actually got a little violent! It was a different side of Munich that I didn't care to see. When 5pm came, basically, for 10 minutes the figures rotated and moved along with the chiming music of the clock. Nothing too exciting, but it was funny to see all the tourists gathered in the square staring up at the silly glockenspiel!

We headed back to the festival to get final souvenirs and some dinner. I ate this cheesy dumpling thing, the only vegetarian thing on the menu at the beer garden we went to, and it really didn't sit well... Before leaving the festival, we went on a Haunted House ride called the Shocker, which Sarah had been dying to go on. It was lamer than expected, and my stomach was feeling pretty yucky at that point, and it seemed colder than usual, so I was super ready to go back and sleep it off. So for the last time we said auf wiedersehen to Oktoberfest : (

I immediately crawled in my tent and changed and got under blankets, shivering like mad. Everyone else decided to go up front to hang out and drink wine. The rest of the night went as so: me laying in my tent alone, freezing, listening to other drunk people puking, getting up and puking myself, my friends coming back 5 hours later, suddenly concerned when they learn I'd thrown up, all 4 of us crowding in one tent for the night and still being cold.

Day 4, 10/5/08 - Auf Wiedersehen, Oktoberfest!

I woke up still feeling like shit, but somehow managed to pack up and get to the train station. We had about 4 hours til our train left, but I was in no shape to do anything so I went and slept in the Starbuck's for a few hours while Carly, Sarah, and An went to walk around Munich for a bit. I slept most of the way back, but woke up enough to see that the beautiful, bright green hills of Austria were now....covered in snow!! Not even the mountain peaks had had snow on our way there, but in the course of the weekend, everything was covered, all the way down to the train tracks. It was like a scene out of a dream, I just wish I had woken myself up enough to take pics (I stole the 2 below from Carly).

On the train from Verona to Padova, Carly accidentally thought our stop was the wrong one, so we had to go all the way to Venice and then scamper to catch the last train of the night back to Padova in only 4 minutes! When we eventually made it home, I was slightly annoyed and all I wanted to do was take a shower, skype my mom, and crash. Instead, I was greeted by a bathroom flooded with 2 inches of water everywhere and internet that didn't work. Needless to say, my night did not end well. They fixed the problem in our bathroom the next afternoon and cleaned it up for us too, thankfully. I still didn't feel well, but over the next few days I got a lot better and concluded that it was probably from all the shitty, heavy carnival food I ate the whole weekend, mixed with the stress of traveling and the cold ass weather.

I had an amazing time at Oktoberfest, and couldn't have asked for better people to spend the weekend with. It's weird that it's over though, because this is a trip we've been talking about and planning for months and months. Going to Germany has made me even more excited for all my upcoming travels, too. And who knows, maybe if I ever make it back to Oktoberfest in the future, I'll be able to drink a full stein all by myself!!

Until next time,


1 comment:

Jacalack said...

Haha very similar to what I wrote on Sarah's blog. I'm obviously hungry cuz the parts that I got excited about were the pretzels and the huge chunks of cheese.