Photo album also includes pictures from Cologne: https://goo.gl/photos/kB8uzFJapCAZKzJi9
Leaving Sarajevo, everyone went their separate ways. Most people returned straight to Bologna, but I wanted to use the rest of my vacation days exploring Europe. So I went traveling solo to Munich on my first ever solo trip. There were a few people going to Slovenia, but oddly enough, I’ve been there already. I originally wanted to go to Istanbul; I’ve always wanted to go to Turkey, but it was just a couple weeks after a terrorist attack in the main tourist area of Istanbul and so I decided Munich would be safer, especially on my own. But who’s to say if the situation in Turkey will get better or worse. Maybe this is the best it’s going to be for several years, who knows?
This was my second time to Germany in a week. I actually really like eating schnitzel and sausages. Ivan, from the hostel in Sarajevo, recommended Augustiner beer, the local beer in Munich. So I went to the Augustiner beer hall and had a very good meal. Dining in Germany is kind of strange. I’ll never get used to seating myself. And in a beer hall, you seat yourself at shared tables. And the tables have pretzels at them for the table, and you just pay for what you eat. And you tip in Germany. And a lot of places don’t take credit card, which I still find astonishing for such a modern country. Everyone needs to catch up to the United States.
My Airbnb had a nice hot shower where the water doesn’t turn off every thirty seconds. So I had my first really good shower in a week’s time. And I had a big comfy bed all to myself. One morning I stayed in and streamed the Australian Open. What a fantasy Australian Open we had this year. It was like a throwback to the golden age of tennis. The courts were playing fast like they used to back then. Djokovic and Murray, one and two, both lost in the early rounds. Federer and Nadal duked it out in the final, both in the best form they’ve been in the last 4 years. Both played 5 setters to get to the final. All week we were speculating about it, and then it happened! And Federer finally added another major to his mantelpiece. Federer has only lost one match so far this year (up to March) and has beaten Nadal 3 times. Remember when he couldn’t beat Nadal on any surface? Unfortunately the men’s final was during my train ride back to Bologna and the train didn’t have WiFi. But I did watch the women’s final on Saturday, just as much of a throwback. It was a classic Williams Sisters showdown. I was rooting for Venus because it has been so long since she has been in form, but Serena crushed her sister. It was nice just relaxing and watching tennis though.
Study Abroad is actually really stressful in its own way. I know it’s supposed to be relaxing and fun because your classes are generally easy and you can just travel. But I think the traveling is equally stressful. I like to do everything and see everything and plan everything but it’s simply impossible to do everything and plans never go as planned. And that is what stresses me out. Why bother planning if the plan isn’t going to work? You really just have to take it a day at a time, a week at a time. Plan the big picture and then go day by day.
This solo trip made me realize some things about traveling. You know how people like to travel alone? I get it now. Those are people that like to meet people, not necessarily be alone. It’s kind of oxymoronic but it makes sense. They travel solo and meet other travelers. But I’m not like that. I really dislike meeting new people. And I am usually perfectly content being by myself—I value my solitude. But while traveling, it’s nice to have a buddy. I am not cut out for solo travel. Solo travel ain’t for loners. Yet another reason I don’t like staying in hostels. There’s a social aspect to staying in hostels where you’re supposed to interact with other travelers, but all I really want is a hot shower and to be left alone.
Being alone, I figured it’d be easiest to do a tour. So I booked one of those tour busses that go to Neuschwanstein. It was actually cheaper than taking the train/bus myself. Plus it took out the stress of having to figure out where I’m going and how to get there. The tour bus was packed. The tour guide treated us like kindergarteners. It’s like story time. The tone and accent of her voice on the tour is very calming. She asks rhetorical questions and asks us if we’ve ever heard of things. Like “have you ever heard of Wagner before? Do you remember when I mentioned…?” It was bizarre. Also, German humor is so painfully scripted and lame. But it kind of makes your smile. The tour guide on the bus didn’t actually give us a tour of the castles. We did a separate tour of Linderhof and one of Neuschwanstein. The bus also stopped in the town of Oberammergau. It’s a cute little Bavarian town. I bought a filled donut. Silly me, I thought I was getting a Bavarian crème donut, my favorite. But it was jelly. I think Bavarian crème donuts are actually an American thing. They perform some religious play in this town that is supposedly very famous, but they only do it something like every ten years. It is very rare, very special. There is also snow all around. We pass by cross country skiers. The snow is beautiful. We are in a valley between snow covered mountains. It is quite a sight. Behind me on the bus was a German girl on break from school by herself and a guy from Georgia playing stupid American. I listened to him flirt with her the whole bus ride. It was painfully awkward.
Linderhof is a beautiful castle. It is the only completed castle of the “Dream castles” that were built by the mad prince. He bankrupted Bavaria building these gorgeous castles, but in the long run I think they probably won out on tourism. The interior of Linderhof is kind of gaudy and over the top but it is pretty incredible. The rooms are so extravagantly decorated. And it’s in 3D. The decorations are not just frescoes, but there are lots of little ledges upon which porcelain colored vases rest along the walls. The statues come out of the ceiling. Everything is plated in gold. The walls are embroidered There is a mirror room that goes onto infinity. The influence of Louis XIV is clear. I wish we had more time. The tour guide sort of rushed us through the castle very quickly. The fountains and grotto were closed for the winter. Winter is not a great time to travel, even if the snow adds another side of majesty to it.
The Neuschwanstein tour is weird. It is a totally silent tour. Everyone gets a headset in their language and you advance along as a group. You are rushed along very quickly. There was not enough time for anything. There is a guide to move you through the castle, but he doesn’t say anything and doesn’t take questions. The interior is much cooler than I thought. Everyone told me the inside of the castle is no big deal, but I actually really like it. There were amazing decorations. There are lots of copies of famous works, but do copies make it any less art? It is still very impressive when you see it up on the wall.
The highlight of Neuschwanstein, though, is the view from Mary’s Bridge. Since there was snow on the ground, the bridge was officially closed. They do not clear the path going to the bridge. And they fenced it off. But there are adventurous people that jump the fence and go anyways. I didn’t want to trespass alone. I would have gone if I had better shoes and a buddy, but I was genuinely afraid that I’d fall and injure myself or worse and I’d have no one with me to find me. That is the downside to traveling alone. I seriously debated this in my head for quite a long time. And it was just my luck that the front of the castle was under scaffolding. So I did not get great pictures of the castle. Nor did I have anyone to take pictures of me. I asked someone, but people are generally bad photographers. I got tons of selfies, one of them must be passable. But the best view is from the bridge and I missed it. Damn winter.
Munich city is very nice too. There is a main shopping street that I walked up and down several times. I saw a quartet performing on the street with a grand piano and I have no idea how they got a piano over there. St. Michael’s Church has a really pretty organ. Bavaria is predominantly Catholic, while the rest of Germany is protestant. I sort of just wandered around the city, taking in the sights at night. I walked all the way back to my Airbnb instead of taking the metro. It was about a 30 minute walk. I just took my time and I don’t mind walking.
There are lots of museums in Munich. The one I chose to go to was the Deutsches Museum, which is like a science and technology museum. Everything was mostly in German. But the museum is really cool. It really runs the spectrum across all fields of science. The physics section is really cool. It made me smile. It displays different physics concepts in practice. There was also a really awesome musical instruments section. There was a player piano that also was a player violin. It had four violins inside the piano and played all of them simultaneously (each violin playing just one string). It was really cool.
For Chinese New Year, I was feeling a little homesick. I got myself some Chinese food in Germany. The restaurant was called Shanghai but it didn’t have xiao long bao. I was kind of craving soupy buns. I started in my limited Mandarin which I’ve since forgotten. But I heard the waiters speaking Cantonese, so I switched to Cantonese, which believe it or not, was better than my non-existent German, especially for restaurant vocabulary. It’s really sad that I’ve forgotten my Mandarin to the extent that my pathetic Cantonese is better. It’s interesting that they speak Cantonese. They must be older immigrants. There is a significant Chinese diaspora in Europe, but at least in Italy, they mostly speak Mandarin. It was some expensive Chinese food but it was worth it. I had pork fried noodles (which was a different noodle than I was expecting) and chasiu bao.
I have a good friend at SAIS that is from Munich and she was back home for break. She had a lot to do but was able to meet me one night for drinks. We met pretty late though. I had a lot of time to kill. If I had known earlier and had thought about it, I probably could’ve went to a concert. Munich has some of the best orchestras in Europe, the Bavarian Radio Symphony, the Munchen Philharmoniker, etc. Oh well. It was really nice to hang out with Antonia and her friend Fabio. I know I wasn’t alone for long, but it was nice to see someone I knew. We took the train back together. It was a nice, but very hot, train. And it’s quite a long ride. It was definitely good to have company. They even had a dining car, like a real classic long distance train. The ride goes through the picturesque Alps. It’s very pretty. We’re riding along the sides of these mountains. I always missed the good pictures, you’ll just have to believe me.