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Trip Report Munich-driving the "Transporter" car, Mad Ludwig & beer tasting

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June 25, 2012

Sitting at the Lufthansa gate in Munchen Airport waiting to board a flight to Rome. Here is the beginning of a 4-day trip report to Munich. Just a disclaimer though, the car driving and the beer drinking doesn't start until Part 2 onward so if you get bored, skip this part and wait for the next installment.

First, of all, I wouldn’t have picked to visit Munich without some other incentive to go. It didn’t seem that exotic or exciting. However, our son was performing in Munich as part of a European tour and we wanted to catch his performance. Now, in retrospect, I am really glad that we had the opportunity to visit this lovely city.

We had a ton of Marriott and Starwood points and we used the services of Pam Keystone to help us use them to obtain 1st class tickets. For a fee, she was able to use our points to obtain tickets on US Airways. We did have a layover in Philadelphia where we transferred into Envoy class for the transatlantic portion. Never having flown anything overseas other than economy, this was very nice. It will be hard to go back! First to board, plenty of room for our roll-aboards…and the individual pods which have seats that fully recline. Champagne before we took off and movies on demand on individual screens. My husband and I had to control ourselves and stop watching movies so that we could get some sleep.

Arrival in Munich a little early, zipped off the plane with our carry-on luggage, through passport control in a matter of minutes and on the S-Bahn pretty quickly. For those who like to have the little, but important, details worked out. I had researched a ton of information on transportation options from the airport to our hotel, the Munich Marriott. A taxi seems like overkill if you are travelling light. It is so expensive and you still have to face the same rush hour traffic. The Lufthansa bus is actually not a bad deal (17E round-trip), but we knew that we would be travelling around Munich for the rest of the day and knew it would be most cost efficient to just buy the MVV Partner Pass for all zones. This let us travel all over Munich through all 4 zones all day long for about the same price as just the 2 of us getting the Lufthansa shuttle to the hotel. I had downloaded a description of how to find the MVV ticket counter, but initially was confused for a few minutes as I thought we were already out in the main hall and couldn’t find the “covered courtyard”. There is very little in the way of official stations – just the passport control booth. It seems kind of weird since I am so used to the multiple intense security of the US airports. When we finally walked past the customs area – and we literally just walked through, no forms and no one asked any questions, we walked through some sliding doors into the main terminal. Immediately, there were the usual signs pointing the way to the S-Bahn. We stopped at the Information Desk, and a very nice young lady gave us the options which she assumed would mean that we should get the 3-Day Partner pass, but I was glad that I had already researched this. I told my husband that we just needed the 1-Day all zone Partner pass given our plans for the next few days. In the end it saved us about 10E. If you kind of have an idea (or even if you don’t) of what you want to see when, I highly recommend going onto the MVV site which has an English language choice. They have a great layout of the different types of tickets and also a wonderful trip planner which literally gives you step-by-step instructions of how to get from Point A to Point B with multiple options after you input the date/time that you want to go. I spent a lot of time on this site especially since we needed to get directly from the airport to the hotel and then to the BMW plant tour in 2 ½ hours and it worked perfectly.

Anyway, the public transportation system in Munich is great – clean, efficient, well laid out with many, many signs to help you on your way. My husband has a great app that he downloaded to his iphone which has the subway systems for all of the major metropolitan cities in the world. Essentially, he has the same map which is posted all over the subway system, but it made it even easier to follow along where we were going and how many stops we had left to go. Though we had to make a bit of a U-shaped route, it was very easy to get to the Marriott – it is just 1 ½ blocks away from the Nordfriedhof station – the same station that has a Lufthansa airport shuttle bus which we decided to take back to the airport when we left Munich. We were able to check into the hotel immediately, spend a few minutes freshening up and then zipped out to the U-Bahn to get to the BMW plant tour.

For BMW World, I had eventually called to make a reservation for the plant tour. When I first did the research, I wanted to try to do the Premium Tour which is hours and hours, but it didn’t take place on a day that would work for us. The Premium Tour includes the plant (factory), the Welt (fancy showroom) and the Museum. Even though reviews of the Welt and Museum tours were positive, my husband really wanted to see the plant tour. First, I tried emailing them with my request, but after a week went by without a response, I bit the bullet and called international. I think the cost of the call was a couple of dollars. The woman who came on the line, immediately spoke to me in German, but as soon as I told her that I only spoke English, she transferred immediately into English and was very nice in helping me to get the English tour reservation set up. You don’t have to pay in advance, but they give you a confirmation number and you have to pick up the tickets 30 min in advance or they will give them to whoever is waiting for a ticket.

One observations: Even though you can make a lot of reservations in advance, there are usually strict rules for picking them up in advance by a certain time – be it 30 or 60 min in advance. It does make for some stress as the Germans are VERY punctual and you feel as if you will lose your tickets if you don’t get there in time. You probably would, but I never tried to test it. On the other hand, the punctuality is great in that they don’t waste your time.

Once we arrived and paid for our tickets, my husband bought a sandwich for lunch which gave us some 1E coins so I could put my daypack in a locker downstairs. You get the coin back when you reopen the locker with your key. We looked around the Welt while we waited for our tour to start – it is a very “hipster” type of atmosphere and is a great advertisement for making you want to buy a BMW.
When I went up to the other Info Counter to find out where the plant tour actually started, she right away told me that there were no more tickets left (so I think that if you want to do the tour, either you have to get there early or reserve them in advance). Once I assured her that I already had the tickets and just wasn’t sure where to start, she directed me toward some brushed steel doors where the line rapidly grew with ticket holders. They limit it to about 30 people and right away they hand out earpieces that your guide then uses via her microphone to tell you about everything as you walk through the plant. This way you can hear everything. (Now I wonder why more tours aren’t done this way. There is nothing more irritating than being stuck with a guide that doesn’t speak loudly enough.)

This tour was GREAT! Granted if you are not that interested in how things are made, you might not enjoy it – but my husband and I thought the entire tour was fascinating. You get to see many of the elements of the actual production line – from pressing the metal frames, to the robotic welding of the frames together, to the “marriage” of the frame to the drive train, to applying the coats of paint, the seat assembly, and the post-assembly testing. Anyway, we really, really enjoyed it. Another observation – I don’t think that Europe has much in the way of care or assistance for those who are disabled. This tour required a significant amount of walking and stair climbing and I am not sure if there is any way for a disabled person to be able to go on this tour.

Well – that’s all for now. We still went on to visit Schloss Nymphenburg as well as the Hirschgarten (beer garden), but that will need to wait for the next installment.

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    Munich-Driving the "Transporter" Car,...-Part 2
    June 28, 2012

    After finishing up with the tour, we took the subway and then a bus to Schloss Nymphenburg which is located not too far away from BMW World. I know that others have mentioned this, but it never fails to amaze me how you can just buy your ticket and then use the public transportation – bus and subway and not once was our ticket checked. I am a pretty rules oriented person so I would never think to take a chance and not buy a ticket, but as a former New Yorker, I remember watching stile jumpers, yet here in Germany, they don’t even have stiles.

    Schloss Nymphenburg was a pleasant break – as a summer getaway (I guess the royal family’s version of a staycation) it is quite beautiful and peaceful. The interior rooms are not that spectacular (at least in comparison to the other castles) but we enjoyed the room which has the 36 beautiful women. I guess the first King Ludwig (not the Mad Ludwig) had his own “Miss Bavaria” thing going and would select young women who he judged to be the most beautiful to come and have their portrait painted. Over the course of various tours, the guides would imply that something more than just portrait painting was going on – but the worst part was that these portraits, or “Gallery of Beauties”, were hung in his wife’s breakfast room – so she would have to look at them – talk about in your face. Afterward we visited the Carriage Museum. These carriages were quite dramatic, though I did note to my husband that we had gone from 60 to 0 mph from looking at the latest BMW models to elaborate horse-drawn carriages. It’s too bad that you cannot climb up on any of them (obviously you can’t touch them), but it would certainly make anyone feel like a king or a queen to sit in one.

    By this point we were starving, so we walked about a quarter of a mile to the Hirschgarten. This place is one of the largest beer gardens in Munich, but we were there so early that it was just beginning to fill up. We ended up sitting in a section where we could just order though we could have roamed around and bought food here and there. One thing that we found out later was that each beer garden only sells 1 of the big six brands of beer. We just asked for the waiter’s rec, but fortunately, they sold Augustiner. I am not a beer drinker, but I knew I wanted to try as many types as possible given the fame of Bavarian beers. I was surprised to find that it was quite good and that I liked it a lot. We just bought a 1 liter mug to share though since we knew our jetlagged bodies would probably just conk out before we could get back to our hotel if we tried to drink one apiece! Our only other challenge was trying to figure out the menu – we just do not know enough German. I thought that we would be able to logic out at least some of the items, but the only one I could figure out was the spatzle (and that’s just because I have watched chefs make it on the TV show Chopped) so I had a pretty yummy mac and cheese type of dish. My husband had sausage and sauerkraut which he was also pretty happy about. We drank our beer and watched the beer garden fill up with people starting their weekends. We managed to get back to our hotel to collapse after Day 1 in Munich.

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    Sorry for the delay – just got back to the US and you know it’s the usual drill with paying the bills and sorting the mail, doing the laundry, catching up at work…and buying a house – I am not sure what possessed us to start that right before we left! Anyway…

    Thank you eluckhardt – kaese spaetzle! Yes, that is what it was called.

    Topeater – if you google Pam Keystone and/or “The Art of Vacationing” you will find her contact info. I hope this isn’t violating a Fodor rule, but I first read about her in a USA Today article. For a flat fee, she will find you a travel package for the lowest amount of points that she can. We had saved up a ton of points and essentially flew to Europe – 1st class and stayed at the Munich and Berlin Marriotts and the Westin Excelsior in Rome all on points. She also made our reservations for the intra-Europe flights. Anyway, I highly recommend her if you want to try to put a travel package together with points. I have booked lots of flights with frequent flyer miles, but I had never tried the points to miles conversion and was a bit anxious about the process. I know that many savvy travelers can do it themselves, but it takes a lot of time and persistence.

    Onward to Day #2 in Munich – we were fortunate to have breakfast included in our Marriott package so we loaded up with a huge breakfast and then set off by subway again to meet up at the Hauptbahnhoff for the free “Priceless” Munich city walking tour which is given by Radius Tours. I had heard about them from the Rick Steve’s website. One thing about the train stations – the central ones are HUGE – we wandered around a little bit frantically at first because we couldn’t figure out where to go to get to their main office where the tour was supposed to start. There are multiple levels and multiple street exits, but we were finally able to find it. There were just 6 of us with “Irish” Eric. I guess there is another Eric (different nationality) who also works for Radius. Anyway, we had a great time with Eric – I am not going to list everything we saw but just comment that it is an efficient way to see the main sites in central Munich. You also are able to find out odds and ends of information that you might not pick up on your own. We found out that the unlike the rest of Germany – Bavaria is fairly wealthy (economically much better off than Berlin – which makes sense given the economic burden of assimilating the East German economy) with a lot of old money. Also, I did not realize that Bavaria is primarily Catholic.

    Another interesting thing that we observed was a man who had set up a PA system in the Marienplatz who started giving a speech to passersby. Eric listened for a bit and then noted that the man was complaining or expressing concern about how Germany shouldn’t have to shoulder the economic burdens imposed by Greece, Spain and Italy. It was so-o-o ironic since we later went to Rome and observed a crowd of protestors marching on City Hall complaining very loudly and energetically that they didn’t want to have Germany telling them what to do (and I think advocating for leaving the EU).

    Ok- sorry – have to stop now and actually go to work. But I promise to post more later tonight.

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    Munich, Day 2 - continued

    After we finished our walking tour, we wandered around the Viktualienmarkt trying to make up our minds about what we wanted to eat. In the end, we ordered currywurst to share accompanied by some beer for my husband and radler (a mix of beer and lemonade) for me. Eric had spoken about the “Big Six” breweries (Lowenbrau, Hofbrauhaus, Augustiner, etc.) that essentially have a monopoly on beer production/distribution in Munich/Bavaria. To some extent, I am sad to report that I really learned more about beer from his tour than from the Radius “Beer and Food Tour” which we had so eagerly signed up for online before we even arrived in Europe (for more details you can see my review on that “other” site). Anyway, radler sounded a bit weird and unappealing to me since I am not a fan of beer, but it was surprisingly delicious and my husband and I thought it was quite refreshing, especially in the hot summer time. After fueling up, we took public transportation over to see the Altes Pinakothek and Neue Pinakothek. We had a great time viewing the art – a few comments –

    -for both Munich and Berlin I appreciated the opportunity to buy multi-pass tickets. In the end it saves money if you want to go to more than 1 museum
    -It was interesting to see how many museum buildings were specifically designed to highlight a specific work of art (Pergamon in Berlin) or almost as another element of artistic expression itself (the beautiful staircase in the Altes Pinakothek). I also noticed that the museums seemed to go with “less is more”, as if the curators consciously chose to highlight the best of what they had instead of crowding with as many pieces as they could cram onto the walls. It might seem sparse to some, but I found it relaxing as it was easier to focus on one piece at a time. However, it was also somewhat deceptive as you began to realize that just because there seemed to be fewer pieces in each room, there were still many rooms of art to view!
    -Free audio tours in a variety of languages came along with virtually every museum admission – this was great as I am the type that loves to hear more about what I am seeing, but to be able to go at my own pace.

    Though we would have liked to visit the Pinakothek der Moderne, we just didn’t have the time (and by that point the energy!) to do it. Instead, we rushed back to the Radius Tours office to meet for our “Beer and Food” tour. Maybe we had pushed ourselves too much, but as I noted before we found this tour to be just so-so. There were too many people, a substitute guide, and really not that much discussion about Bavarian beer or food. You would be better off saving your money and just trying the “Big Six” beers on your own. At the end of the tour, the guide dropped our group off in front of the world famous Hofbrauhaus – they don’t even go down with you – which of course you don’t need anyway. We were exhausted and didn’t think we would do well with a Saturday night crowd (doesn’t that make us sound old?) so we just peeled off to go back to the hotel to get ready for tomorrow’s “Mad Ludwig” tour.

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    I am glad you enjoyed your visit. I want to recommend a visit of a greeter (works for Berlin, Hamburg and Munich) right at the beginning of your stay. Volunteers that show you their neighbourhood and you can ask them all the questions you have. As 61luv2travel states you learn more from a personal view then the standard texts of the tour guides.
    Have Fun!

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    Munich, Day 3
    I had made a reservation through Gemut for our 1 day car rental. Let me preface this day’s trip report by confessing a few things:

    1) Even though my husband had learned to drive stick shift as a teen, he only did it once or twice and did not feel confident about it at all. I never learned to drive stick. So I was particularly anxious about making sure that we were able to reserve a car with automatic transmission. I had read so many times about people getting to the rental office and then being presented with only manual transmission.
    2) We wanted to visit both Neuschawnstein (or as many refer to it – “The Sleeping Beauty Castle”) and Linderhof Palace AND Wieskirche, Ettal, etc. Looking at our options for signing onto a tour it didn’t look as if there was enough flexibility…but I tend to be a worrywart and looking at trip reports from other posters, I couldn’t quite figure out what route we would take to see all of this. Also, I wasted a lot of time trying to download maps of Europe to my GPS and I just couldn’t do it. Finally, I drove myself nuts, worrying about whether we would need a special permit for that small section of highway that takes you from Hohenschwangau to Linderhof. Well, after all that – I can say that we had a FABULOUS TIME, especially since ended up with the “Transporter” car.

    Since we were doing this on a Sunday morning, I found the nearest car rental location to our hotel which opened at 8AM. We took the subway though in retrospect we just have hopped a cab as we wasted a lot of time wandering around in a circle (literally) trying to figure out where the office was actually located. Turns out that it was almost across the street from the BMW plant that we had just visited 2 days ago! There were two young men staffing the office and of course, when we walked in, they were very polite and nice, but…they didn’t have a car with automatic transmission! My first fear had just been realized! Actually, they did have a car with automatic transmission – a BMW 5 series which was actually being sold the next day – so they were reluctant to rent that out the day before. So now they get on the phone and start calling around to other rental locations while my husband and I are looking at our watches since we wanted to see Wieskirche on our way to picking up our reserved tickets for Neuschwanstein. We are getting more and more anxious and I am starting to think I am going to have to break out the cell phone and call Gemut for assistance, when they either “found” or decided to let us have an Audi A8! One of the guys pulls up in front of the office in this beautiful, sleek black Audi A8. I couldn’t believe it since of course to save money I had only requested an economy size and instead we get luxury. Now I know that this means more money for fuel – but honestly, my husband just loved driving it. After we asked for help to set the installed GPS to English and drove away, the first words out of my husband’s mouth were, “You know this is the same car that Jason Stratham drives in those Transporter movies!” He couldn’t wait to get on the autobahn and start driving at 100mph+. Even with that, he would have to move over for people coming up even faster, but he really enjoyed himself.

    Just a few notes on my anxiety points – of course I didn’t have a letter from my credit card company about CDW insurance coverage and the guys at the car rental office asked me to put a deposit down on the credit card. They assured me that it would be removed once we brought the car back unharmed (definitely would not be able to bring it back the way Jason Stratham would have!) I had my suspicions, but afterward I checked and the only charge on the card was for the GPS, so it really did work out. Also, they were perfectly fine with us dropping the car off at the office lot at the end of the day and dropping the keys in the deposit box – it was nice as it saved us garage fees and having to get up early the next AM to bring it back.

    So our eventual route? We had planned on stopping at Wieskirche on our way to Hohenschwangau, but the delay with actually getting the car meant that we had to skip that. The scenery more than made up for it – very beautiful – mountains, farms, lakes, etc. We arrived in Hohenschwangau and I ran up to the reserved ticket line with literally minutes to spare to get our Neuschwanstein tickets. If you are doing research, you probably realize by now that a significant portion of it is hidden by scaffolding for renovation purposes. I still thought it was a worthwhile trip – it is a beautiful castle. I know many people have commented that they thought their tour was rushed, but we had an excellent tour guide who spoke slowly and clearly and was very informative. Just be prepared for a LOT of uphill walking and stair climbing (and then later downhill)! I highly recommend reserving the tickets in advance. It can make for some difficulty if you don’t time it right, since you must pick up your ticket by 1 hour in advance of the tour. But I was so happy to skip the long line.

    Afterward, we did not visit Hohenschwangau and instead got back in our Transporter car to drive to Linderhof – after checking obsessively, I was finally convinced that no, we did not have to get a special permit for driving through Austria on our way to Linderhof. Again, beautiful scenery surrounded us and when we arrived at Linderhof it was much quieter and less crowded. Linderhof was beautiful but a bit too ornate for my taste. What we really enjoyed were the grounds – beautifully landscaped and such an interesting contrast to the dramatic mountain setting for Neuschwanstein.

    What about “Mad Ludwig”? He was of course the driving force behind the construction of all of these castles. Apparently, he was quite the eccentric and his family had him declared insane since they were worried that he was going to bankrupt them with the prolific building. Multiple tour guides tell the story that Ludwig died under “mysterious circumstances” (as in probably murdered) when he and the doctor who had initially declared him insane were found dead/drowned the morning after they had met for Ludwig to plead his case that he wasn’t mentally incompetent. Reportedly, the 6 ft, 5in Ludwig was also supposed to be a strong swimmer, so it doesn’t seem plausible that he would drown. Well, at least his family let him live long enough to build the castles that we can enjoy today.

    After enjoying our visit to Linderhof, we grabbed a quick lunch here and then drove to Ettal Monastery. On the way, I asked my husband to drive through Oberammergau. Yes, it was picturesque, but we were glad that we weren’t stuck with stopping for a mandatory shopping break which the bus tours seem to impose on their customers. Ettal Monastery was quite amazing. It doesn’t look like much on the outside – just large, but inside it is quite beautiful – quiet and calm. Then we ended our trip in Garmische-Partenkirchen. Friends had highly recommended that we stop and have dinner at Staudacherhof Hotel. We had a wonderful meal which included both standard German items (a mouth watering wiener schnitzel for me) and more gourmet items –a refreshing basil sorbet for dessert. Our only regret is that we didn’t have more time to spend here as we had heard that the hiking is wonderful and that there are many fun activities to do. But we hauled ourselves up and my husband had one last go at the Autobahn before we dropped off the car at the rental lot and hopped the subway back to our hotel.

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    Nice thing about dealing with Gemut for the car is they help you resolve any issues if they arise once you get home. Loving your tale.....(we are off to Germany next year but I should be working on my Rome report for this year.... ;))

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