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Trip Report Our Europe fix: Munich, Frankfurt

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Our Europe fix: Munich, Frankfurt

My German wife, an American citizen for years, still requires an occasional Europe fix -- as do I. This time we chose Munich, with a stopover in Frankfurt on the way back. Fortunately American Airlines, with all its woes and limited European destinations, goes nonstop DFW-Frankfurt and we were able to snag two seats from their tight "AA miles" inventory. Then we booked online on a DB Bahn ICE train (limited stops) to Munich leaving two hours after our scheduled arrival in Frankfurt.

We packed well, each of us with one carry-on rolling suitcase and hand bag filled with warm clothing for the cold and rainy weather which had dominated Europe for weeks and was forecast to continue. We talked about changing our destination, but decided to go ahead and make the best of it.

It's not necessary to go to the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (downtown station) for most trips; there's a regional train station right under Terminal 1 at Frankfurt airport. If you want to see Frankfurt, take the S8 or S9 train into town; stay on until it reaches the Hauptwache stop in the city center. American arrives at Terminal 2 and it's a slog to Terminal 1 -- use the Skytrain; we didn't -- but our flight was on schedule and we made it to the train for Munich with time to spare. We usually travel second-class in Europe, especially in Germany, since there's not all that much difference from first class except for price. Plus, you can buy a saver fare for even less, although it requires that you take specific trains. Any change and the fare shoots up sharply.

Frankfurt-Munich via Wurzburg and Nuremberg is a pleasant although not scenic route, and except for a scattering of attractive villages you might be crossing an American state. (Maybe not Nevada.) My wife did see a number of deer and one large rabbit (hare) none of which were visible to me. Next time I'll put in a request for the window seat. We took a taxi from the Munich Hauptbahnhof to our hotel, the Platzl, and, reflecting German rectitude, were cheated only slightly by the driver. Many European taxi drivers have the overcharge finely calculated so as not to evoke strong protest despite one's suspicions. ("But sir, there is no direct route because of the one-way and pedestrian streets, and anyway there's a protest march today and the main street is closed."). Just enough of this is true.

We had stayed at our hotel in central Munich, the Platzl, 16 years before and were left with fond memories of their superb breakfast buffet. We were glad to see it had not changed, and, as a result we rarely needed lunch. OK, maybe an apple tart with whipped cream. I've left a review for the Platzl on Tri… that other site…as well as for other hotels and restaurants mentioned in this report. Summing up: the Platzl has that great breakfast and a prime location, with four-star amenities and service but pedestrian decor and ambience. It is just three blocks from the Viktualienmarkt, Munich's colorful outdoor food market, and in the midst of good restaurants.

Munich is a lively and interesting city, though one we could do easily in four days rather than the seven we spent. Our last day we took the S-1 local train from the nearby Marienplatz to the lakeside village of Starnberg 40 minutes distant, now an upscale retreat for city folk. It was a refreshing change of scenery and made us wish we had taken several more such excursions. But we liked the sights, sounds and good Bavarian food of Munich, its fine museums, baroque churches and the vast English Garden park, full of sun-starved residents sprawling on the grass. Oh, did I not mention the weather? We froze the first night -- then it was gorgeous, perfect, wunderbar, defying all predictions and making our winter clothes null and void. On some days we wore pajama tops with our Levis. Looked and felt cool.

What should you definitely see in Munich? Other than just walking around and enjoying the old Bavarian ambience and modern shopping, probably the three great Pinakothek museums and the Deutsches Museum, the latter a marvelous, hands-on museum of science and technology. And the English Garden. We've probably forgotten your favorite, but that's our view. We were disappointed with the "Bohemian" Schwabing district, packed with university students and shoppers. We were awed by The Church of St. John of Nepomuk, also known as the Asamkirche, smack in the middle of the main downtown shopping street, the Kaufingerstrasse. Its interior is show-stopping rococo, a sight not to be missed. The Viktualienmarkt, the outdoor food and crafts market, is fun to wander through. In general, we found German prices roughly the same in euros as ours in dollars; in other words roughly a third higher. Makes bargains hard to find, although I can't complain about my 9-euro polo shirt or 5-euro cap, bought as the sun beat down day after day.

Back to Frankfurt on the train, into forecast cold and stormy weather, which turned out to be lightly cloudy skies with a touch of sun. The bad stuff returned right after we left. Frankfurt is more than 2,000 years old and, had you not done your research, you might expect a warren of winding medieval streets. Those were destroyed in the war, and Frankfurt now is an almost entirely modern city with Manhattan-like skyscrapers like no other city in Germany. Even the beautiful old Roemer marketplace, with its half-timbered buildings and 13th-century chapel, where we were married 45 years ago, was rebuilt after World War II. The Roemer is well worth a visit. Still, Frankfurt today is in a frenzy of construction, and cranes, jackhammers and dust take some of its luster off for the present.

Back on the S-bahn train to the enormous and confusing Frankfurt airport, back on the plane, and back to weeds flourishing in a garden nourished by the same beaming sun, now accompanied by a heavy dose of humidity. Nice to be home, though, and know how to operate the shower.