Travel in Europe

Bavaria Bound

A view of Salzburg, Austria

A view of Salzburg, Austria

To Bavaria! After five months apart, my mom and I reunited for a (very) long weekend in Europe. We chose Munich because it was on my List and she’d never been to Germany. We also threw in Salzburg for a spontaneous day trip, rounding out the weekend with two important Bavarian destinations. As has been documented here, my mom and I travel well together. We prioritize the same things (contemporary architecture, food), sight-see at the same energetic pace (though I’m often ten steps behind), and are admitted slaves to the guidebook (or the New York Times Travel section).

I met up with my mom at our Munich hotel on Friday morning (she’d flown out of DC a day earlier to avoid any snow delays). First, we walked to the Viktualienmarkt, a gourmet food market founded in 1807, exhibiting 140 stalls of fruit, vegetables, honey, flowers, exotic spices, cheeses, meats, and specialty foods, plus a biergarten. We passed through the sun-drenched food haven to enter Marienplatz. The square is the heart of Munich and home to the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall), an imposing Gothic Revival structure known for its Glockenspiel, a clock with painted figures. We poked around in search of a certain café and finally settled in for a nice Valentine’s Day lunch.

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Viktualienmarkt

The biergarten at Viktualienmarkt

The biergarten at Viktualienmarkt

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The Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall)

Then we walked around the museum and arts district for some time, checking out the cool architecture of museums like the Lenbachhaus, designed by Norman Foster, and Brandhorst, designed by Sauerbruch Hutton architects. As we wandered I noticed many of Munich’s buildings and towers have clocks in their facades. I belong in a country this punctual. Our next area of exploration was Schwabing, a neighborhood of well-appointed boutiques and antique shops offering old, German curiosities and treasures. Eventually, we returned to the hotel to rest our feet before dinner. 

Dinner was at a restaurant known for its traditional, Bavarian comfort food. We started with the house-made specialty: a doughy bread slathered in cheese, bacon, and leeks. Then we went halvesies on the wiener schnitzel (thin, breaded, deep-fried veal) and kässpatzen (a cheesy noodle dish sprinkled with fried onions and shallots). Plus a great big mug of German beer. Needless to say, it was not a light dinner. Yet we summoned the energy to take the S-Bahn to a quiet neighborhood to find this recommended cocktail bar. The place was crowded, steamy, and overpriced but the cocktails were delicious and sported garnishes like dried orange slices and mini meringues.

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Museum Lenbachhaus

Museum Lenbachhaus

Museum Branhorst

Museum Brandhorst

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On Saturday morning we grabbed the 8:52 am train to Salzburg. We’d been debating a day trip to either a Bavarian castle or to Salzburg. What pushed us towards Salzburg, which sits at the edge of Bavaria in Austria, was the €30 roundtrip “Bayer” partner ticket, an amazing deal for train travel within Bavaria. The ride was a little over two hours and I slept the whole way. The weather was glorious: sunny and around 55 to 60 degrees. The towering, snow-capped mountains and rolling hills hugging the small city made it feel like The Sound of Music come to life.

We bussed to the center, grabbed a tourist map and pass, and set off. The cathedral’s high domes and radiant, white walls lent it an uplifting, rather than oppressive, vibe. We strolled through the magical cemetery by St. Peter’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery built into Mönchsberg, one of five mountains encircling the city. Then we took the cable car to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. According to our pamphlet, it’s “Central Europe’s largest, completely preserved fortress dating from the 11th century.” My mom and I went through the fortress’s museums at our typical speed, more interested in the view through the windows than the history. The old, wooden marionettes in the Marionette Museum creeped us both out (am I right?). The best part was the 360 degree panorama of Salzburg from one of the towers.

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Statue of Mozart, born in Salzburg

Statue of Mozart, born in Salzburg

Salzburg's cathedral

Salzburg’s cathedral

Looking up in the cathedral

Looking up in the cathedral

St. Peter's cemetery

St. Peter’s cemetery

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Inside the fortress museum

Inside the fortress museum

Up next was the Museum der Moderne Mönchsberg, which displayed contemporary photography and some rather angry, grotesque paintings. Our favorite piece sat outside the museum; it was by James Turrell, whose Guggenheim show we’d loved last summer. Inside a small, oval-shaped building was a bright white room marked by an egg-shaped opening in the ceiling, a “Sky-Space.”

"Sky-Space" by James Turrell

“Sky-Space” by James Turrell

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After we left the museum, we had beer and sausages on the brain, so we walked to the Augustine Beer-hall, in the back of the Mülln monastery and church. Beer is almost a religion in its own right here, with its own codes. Augustiner Bräu is the largest beer-hall in Austria, with three huge rooms of big tables for people to gather, and food options to combat the effects of two-pint mugs of beer. Our Austrian table-mates taught us how to say “cheers” in German: “prost!” We chowed down on bratwurst, delicious sauerkraut, and some cold sides. I loved witnessing the tradition of families and friends coming together at the beer-hall on a weekend afternoon, as if it’s mass. It reminded me of Spanish families spending hours together over tapas and drinks during siesta. I can’t really think of an American equivalent.

We popped into the Museum der Moderne Rupertinum, which had even stranger contemporary art. Next: a café for a slice of sachertorte, a donut filled with apricot jam, and a hot chocolate. It was time to say goodbye to Salzburg. We caught an evening train back to Munich and had a take-away kebab and a drink at the hotel before turning in.

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Sunday was devoted to contemporary art museums. After partaking in our hotel’s fabulous free breakfast, we headed to the Museum Villa Stuck, the home of painter Franz von Stuck with an annexed museum of Art Nouveau furniture, fine art, and artifacts. The original residence was a riot of shimmering gold and velvety midnight blue, swirling patterns and embellishments. Paintings by the artist reminded me of Gustav Klimt’s work but darker, his female figures more demoniac. We loved the luxurious, ornately decorated rooms of the villa. 

After, we went to the Pinakothek der Moderne, Germany’s largest modern art museum. The atrium is white and curved in a circle, like New York’s Guggenheim. Soft light filters through the frosted sky lights, illuminating the huge collection. The basement has a diverse collection of applied design from the industrial revolution to today: old BMWs, vintage typewriters, Art Nouveau furniture, tea kettles, early 80s and 90s Apple Macs, cell phones from every era, etc. As a former interior designer, my mom loved the Eames chairs. The other collections of paintings, drawings, and sculpture were impressive, too, and introduced us to some great German artists.

We ate lunch a few blocks away at Ella, the delicious Italian restaurant in the Lenbachhaus. Munich has some great Italian, we discovered. Then we explored the museum itself, which has an eclectic collection of German expressionists, light installations, and modern paintings, including an exhibition on Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a movement born in Munich. I couldn’t believe how much I’d forgotten form my Modern Art class just a year earlier.

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Part of Museum Lenbachhaus

Part of Museum Lenbachhaus

That night at the hotel, bored of watching the Sochi Olympics narrated in incomprehensible German, we set out in search of dinner and drinks. As we walked through Marienplatz, we noticed a free, outdoor movie playing in the open courtyard of the Neues Rathaus. The small audience snuggled in blankets on chairs and munched on sausages from a food stand. The Germans sure don’t mind being outside in the cold. We settled in at Bar Lux, another suggested spot. It was my kind of bar, all mirrors, hanging lights, velvet drapes and seat covers, rosy colors, and rich textures. We chatted for a long time with an American expat in Munich, who had come by our table to see who was ordering Manhattans at a German bar. We got along famously, swapping travel stories and impressions of different cultures. Conversations like that are what I love about meeting new people on the road.

Monday was my last day in Munich; my mom would leave Tuesday morning. I took advantage of the extravagant breakfast spread for the last time, fashioning myself a scrambled egg, bacon, cheese, and tomato sandwich on a bagel. We took the tram to Fünf Höfe, a classy indoor shopping center with long plants and lights dangling from the ceiling.

Fünf Höfe

Fünf Höfe

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We ambled through the neighborhood around Max Josephplatz, a huge square lined with upscale shops. I noticed one called Loden Frey, a lovely little felt shop that sells high-quality felt used for traditional Bavarian costumes and international fashion. Another was a gourmet food market which had beautifully packaged teas; colorful produce behind the counter; freshly baked breads and pastries; rows of fancy chocolates under glass; etc. I noticed a lack of samples, probably to discourage sample-happy people like me from feasting for free. Then we discovered a big store of beautiful things for those with money to spend. It had everything, but notably, the nicest version of everything: bike tires and seats; Japanese notebooks with rich, creamy paper; buttery leather tote bags for €480; kitchen and gardening supplies of light wood and gleaming metal; huge, cracked brown breads dusted with white flour; a €900 butterfly chair in leather or suede; classic rotary phones for close to €300; thick, knit scarves; vintage-looking globes; hefty, hardcover cookbooks; etc. I’ve never been so covetous of a lifestyle before. The sudden onrush of materialism unnerved me.

Elsewhere around Max Josephplatz were more stores like Tiffany & Co., Prada, luxury brands so high-end I’ve never heard of them, and Mercedes Benz and Aston Martin showrooms, in case the random passerby is in the market for a car. These streets reminded me of Oxford St. and Regent St. in London; the wealth on display seemed natural, tasteful, and suited to old money.

Another square, Odeonsplatz, was bordered by the Residenz (the former royal palace of Bavarian monarchs), the bright yellow Theatine Church, and the Feldherrnhalle. My mom and I strolled through the Hofgarten, next to the Residenz, then sampled some beers at Café Tambosi, a coffee-house dating back to the 1800s. We ordered a blond, Bavarian beer called Augustiner, and a white, German beer called Tucher, which was exceptionally delicious. Outside the café were rows of tables and chairs topped with blankets, all facing the sun as if in a movie theatre. Very cute.

Max Josephplatz

Max Josephplatz

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Even the pastries are extravagant here.

The Theatine Church

The Theatine Church

Odeonsplatz

Odeonsplatz

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Outside Café Tambosi

Outside Café Tambosi

We hopped on the U-Bahn to a pretty, pastel-hued neighborhood sprinkled with welcoming cafes and design shops. We stopped into Alois Dallmayr, a gourmet sweet shop (and official supplier to the royal court). Then we browsed around in Literatur Moths, a tempting little bookshop. We ate a late lunch nearby then returned to the hotel so I could pack before catching the S-Bahn to the airport.

All in all, a wonderful weekend of trying new foods, window shopping, sight-seeing, museum-going, and attempting to speak German. Traveling to other cities feels like catching glimpses of other lifestyles, other environments. I could see myself living in Munich. I’d dress fashionably, ride a bike, speak German… One day.

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