We started the trip to our 8th city with an early evening meal, which we had at a cheap and cheerful (and actually pretty good) Italian, Marco’s Olive Branch, near where I work. Once we were sated we headed to the train station and unexpectedly (as I’d expected to get the coach to the airport) caught the train north. So we traveled to Birmingham and had a pleasant journey in a nice new train, with a table to ourselves with power points. We stayed overnight at the airport Ibis; which was perfectly functional. The next day we had a *very* early start and a flight to … Munich!
We had a good flight with Lufthansa – it was a pretty short trip and the plane wasn’t completely full. Once we arrived at Munich airport, we quickly travelled through to land-side and we soon on the train into the centre of Munich. We arrived at MarienPlatz just in time to witness the 12 noon clock show. This the “New Rathaus glockenspeil” and is a kind of quaint set of moving figures – 43 bells in total and 32 life-size figures including two knights jousting; which apparently always illicits and unprompted “awww” from the onlookers. It’s impressive to think it’s been running for over 100 years, having performed for the first time in 1908.
To get to our hotel we took a short walk through the Viktualienmarkt, a lively central market and checked in to a great room in our hotel, Deutsche Eiche, on the 5th floor overlooking the rear courtyard. We immediately returned to the market and had some lunch at a fish seller called Nordsee. It had two sections and from the cheaper one my seafood stew with a skewer of grilled prawns was very nice indeed! We spent the afternoon meandering through the market and exploring a very impressive range of stalls and goods. I bought some honey from the Honig Haeusel (Honey House) and some strawberries to eat back in our room later (with the complementary glasses of Prosecco). Later we returned to the fish seller who had impressed us at lunchtime and ate in the more expensive section for dinner. Greg had some amazing tiger prawns and I had scallops and a very pleasant Reisling. In the evening we enjoyed a slightly weird free festival at the end of our street for a while. It opened with a solitary taicho drummer, who was very accomplished but we thought lacked a few colleagues. By this time we’d been up for a long time and it was time for a good night’s sleep, helped by the electric shutters on the window!
Breakfast was included in the room rate – and offered a small but perfectly formed selection of cold cheeses, meats and bread, plus various egg and bacon dishes cooked to order, as well as fresh fruit juices and cereals. All in all it provided a good start to the day. (Also included in the room rate we discovered was the mini-bar – which had a friendly “all inclusive” sticker on it! So I could enjoy the delights of a cold local specialist beer – Lowenbrau Oktobetfestbier – without feeling guilty about the price.) We headed out on the tram to Schloss Nymphenburg (Nymphenburg Palace) – where we explored the palace itself and the very extensive gardens and grounds. This was the summer palace of the Wittelsbach, longstanding (nearly 800 years until the post was abolished in 1918) dukes/electors/kings of Bavaria. As well the very large, impressive main palace (with a wing bult just to house an early version of crazy golf) included 4 smaller buildings all reachable via canal; built so they could be transported by gondola ( imported from Venice along with the gondaleers). One of the houses was the royal bathhouse, with a bath the size of a small swimming pool and rooms above to relax in before and after with furnishings including a real silver plated set of chairs and desks. We toured the main palace with the audio guide, learning about it’s history, and then explored the huge grounds which are classed as one of Munich’s many city parks.
It was originally built between 1664 and 1679 as a summer residence located some distance from Munich (the city has now grown round it). It was heavily extended by elector Max Emanuel in works that began in 1701, interrupted by the Spanish War of Succession, and continued from 1715, and then by his son Emperor Charles VII. Elector Maximilian III Joseph followed, creating the opulent main hall, greatly enhancing the park and gardens and having the ornate chapel ceiling built. His successor Elector Karl Theodore only undertook minor changes, but did open the royal gardens to the public. Aside from modernisation and redecorating the palace has not changed much since, but the gardens were remodelled from the classic geometric French style to the more relaxed English style. The palace remained a favourite of the Bavarian royal family.
After this we had intended to head to the botanical gardens, but we’d run out of time and so instead left and made towards a famous local ice-cream parlour (Scarletti’s) which regularly (including when we visited) has queue’s of locals outside and onto the street. And I have to say that my ice-cream – butter caramel, citrus and heidelbeere (huckleberry) – was some of the best I’ve tasted outside of Italy.
From here we took the S-Bahn (above ground train) out to the suburb of Erding to visit the Therme Erding Spa. This was easily the largest spa I’ve been to – it turns out to be the largest sauna-complex in Europe. As well as several internal restaurants there were a stupidly large number of rooms which included such notable themes as the (very jolly) citrus room, the body temperature meditation pond, the Stonehenge complex and the plunge pool by the side of the lake (bracing!). We also experienced the most, err, interesting treatments we’ve had – scheduled at regular intervals in various rooms. The salt room ritual was run-of-the-mill and consisted of salt with essential oils to run on your skin, after which we rinsed in the cala lily shower fountain. Slightly less usual was the Tuscan experience, where we rubbed ourselves down with liquid honey whilst the attendant did aufguss – where generous ladlefuls of water is poured on the hot coals in quick succession boosting the heat with the attendant using a towel to flap the searingly hot steam round to room between doses. This was however beaten by the “men-only” experience, which took place in a warm sauna set out like a local bar. At the appointed time the attendant brought in a crate of beer (non-alchoholic Erdinger wheat-beer) and passed everyone a bottle and glass. We then sat there slightly apprehensively as he told what we presume to be a joke (he spoke, at the end people laughed). One of the other visitors similarly followed him, after which there was a somewhat embarrassed silence and the attended reclaimed the bottles and glasses and left! After that we felt obliged to visit the Oktoberfest sauna, decorated over all the walls with hops.. We ended the day with a couple of glasses of prosecco in the outside bar (in the outside pool) and watched the sunset.
On day two we headed to the Münchner Residenz (Munich Residence). The former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs of the House of Wittelsbach, this must be one of the largest palaces in Europe with over 130 visitable rooms, due to renovation and restoration work currently only 80 are currently open to see. The audio guide would probably run to 6+ hours if you listed to all the side-commentary and even without that it was a long and comprehensive tour of some amazing rooms.
Building work started in 1395 and parts of this original edifice can still be seen. Development and extension of the building continued over the following four centuries creating a giant palace arranged around 10 courtyards, covering an entire former city quarter in a mixture of styles including Gothic, late Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classic. Different rulers of the House of Wisselbach when they didn’t like their living quarters or wanted something a little different, didn’t refurbish as one might expect, but simply built an additional wing or two with new (usually bigger, grander, more ornate) rooms
Notable sights include the Emperor’s Hall, the Antiquarium, the Stone Rooms, the 3 chapels, the Ornate Suite and the Green Gallery. We also visited the treasury, which for a regional collection puts most national collections to shame. Especially impressive gold, quartz and gem works. The final visit of this set was to the Cuvillies Theatre which is a stunning rococo building of with an extravagance of gilt stucco work and carving throughout the interior and still in use as a working theatre today. It was built between 1751 and 1753 to replace a previous theatre that burned down in the palace. In 1811 the interior decor was entirely stripped out so that the building could become a storage facility for the newly built National Theatre, but was restored and reopened by King Maximilian II 1857. During World War II the theatre was destroyed by bombing and in 1950 the new Residenz Theatre was built on the ruins. Fortunately entire ornate interior had been dismantled and carefully stored for security. It was meticulously recreated in the 1950s and re-opened in 1958 in one of the wings of the Residenz.
From here we headed to the Englischer Garten (English Garden) – a huge local park in Munich and enjoyed a relaxed wander around the extensive grounds complete with small lakes and rivers. Started in 1789 by Elector Carl Theodor it is now some 900 acres with more than 48 miles of paths and the second largest beer garden in Munich.
From here we headed to dinner, after which we set off to find a well-regarded municipal sauna, the Müller´sches Volksbad, an impressive art-nouveau building bequeathed to the city as an endowment dependant on the city maintaining it as a “bath for the people”. The two main pools (originally only for men) remain and the ladies bath has been converted into a steam and sauna facility while retaining all the period features. This was a much more intimate affair than Therme Erding, and had a great friendly informal atmosphere which we very much enjoyed as an end to our last day in Munich.
Next stop… Cologne!