On Friday 7th July we left Italy and headed for Bavaria. When we were planning the trip, we considered three ways of making the journey: plane, train or bus. Flying would obviously have been quickest, and was surprisingly cheap, but we would have missed out on the wonderful scenery coming over the Alps. The train journey was complicated, involving several changes. But there was a direct bus from Milan to Munich, so that was our choice.
Through the Alps
We booked well in advance for the 8.30 bus with a German-based company called Flixbus. We’d assumed that the bus would leave from the central bus station in Milan, adjacent to the train station and conveniently close to our hotel. But a couple of days before leaving, we discovered our mistake. The bus left from the Lampugnano bus station, on the far side of Milan. We didn’t relish the prospect of getting all our luggage on and off the Metro, but the hotel advised us against taking a taxi – they said it would cost too much, and we’d get stuck in rush-hour traffic. So the Metro it had to be. Because we set off really early, it was not too crowded, and the journey was easier than we expected. We were at Lampugnano at 7am, and felt relieved that our difficulties were over. Now we could relax.
But how wrong we were! Lampugnano was very skanky, but there was a bar of sorts where we were able to get breakfast. The departure board was not working, but we found the area where Flixbuses depart. Several left for destinations all over Europe, but no sign of the 076 to Munich. At 8.53 we received a text saying that our bus was running 30 minutes late, but by 9.30 there was still no sign. There were several other people waiting for it, and one was a young woman called Monica, who was Italian but spoke fluent German. She called Flixbus, but was told they did not know where our bus was – they would call the driver to find out!!!
Later Flixbus insisted that the bus had been, and we’d missed it! How eight people could have failed to see a lime green bus they did not explain. They said there was another bus at 11.30, but we could not use our 8.30 tickets – we would have to buy new ones and then get a refund. There was no alternative. We were told to call their main office (in Berlin!) and buy tickets by credit card, but the English-speaking operator was permanently engaged. Meanwhile, the 11.30 bus arrived. We tried unsuccessfully to persuade the driver to accept our 8.30 tickets, but he said we could buy new tickets from the Lampugnano office. With Monica’s help, Ian did so. Needless to say, we are still trying to claim our refund!
We were not sure which route the bus would take, but guessed that we would go through Austria. In fact, most of the journey was through Switzerland, and we certainly did get to see some beautiful mountain scenery. However, there was a delay. We’ve been accustomed to crossing European borders with no formalities whatsoever, but of course Switzerland is not in the EU. (Neither does it use the euro – when we stopped for dinks, we were given change in Swiss francs, not much use elsewhere!) At the Italian/Swiss border the customs officials boarded the bus to check passports, but that did not take long. But when we crossed from Switzerland into Austria, we were held up for over an hour. We had to get off the bus and collect all our belongings; a few people were taken away with their luggage, but returned later. We assume they were checking for illegal immigrants.
We finally reached our hotel in Munich at 9.15pm – hungry, thirsty and tired!
In and around Munich
Despite our delayed arrival, we had three full days in Munich. On Saturday we explored the old town, visiting a number of churches, and climbing up the tower of St Peter’s, the oldest church in the city. In the Marienplatz (main square) we saw the picturesque town hall, and watched the 11am performance of the elaborate glockenspiel.
In the evening, we went to the opera! We are really not opera buffs, but again, we had the opportunity of attending a performance at a famous opera house. Ian hoped to see Wagner, but despite getting up at 4am (in Florida) on the day tickets went on sale, he did not succeed.
However, after being placed 114 in the queue, he did manage to get his second choice, Mozart’s Die Zaubeflöte. We thought we were in the balcony again, but in fact we were in the stalls, at the end of a row, and had a good view of the stage. We were not as crammed as at La Scala, so it was definitely a more enjoyable experience. There were no concessions to non-German speakers – the English translation was not shown – so we had to guess what was going on, but that was usually not too difficult.
On Sunday morning we’d planned to visit the Englischer Garten, said to be one of the largest and most beautiful parks in Europe. But when we woke, it was grey, dismal and raining, so it did not seem a good idea! Instead, we visited the Residenz, and spent the morning wandering round the state apartments. We also saw the treasury, a dozen rooms packed with amazingly beautiful and obviously priceless objects. By the time we’d finished, the weather had improved, so we decided to go on up to the English garden, not too far away. While we were there, the sun appeared and the weather was beautiful for the rest of the afternoon.
In the English Garden we saw a ‘surf wave’ and watched people try it out. On to the Chinese pagoda, where there is a huge biergarten. We got drinks and a giant pretzel; there were crowds of people, and a jolly Bavarian band. This is obviously how the locals spend their Sundays. Further on, we reached the boating lake, and had a paddle boat for 30 minutes. Then we walked back to our hotel along the river. At the Maximilianeum (seat of the Bavarian parliament), they have a ‘Sunday café’ so we had a drink sitting on their terrace.
On Monday, we took a tram a short way outside the city to Schloss Nymphenburg. We walked round the extensive grounds, passing the Grand Cascade and visiting four ‘pavilions’ (each one as big as a house). Back at the palace, we saw the state rooms, which were impressive, though by this stage we were becoming rather blasé about such things! In a separate building, we found the coaches and sleighs fascinating, because so completely OTT.
That evening we went to the Hofbrauhaus, the most famous bierkeller in Munich and allegedly the most famous pub in the world. Ian of course does not like beer, but this is something we had to experience. Crowds of people, a band playing, waiters dashing around with armfuls of giant beer mugs (a litre is normal) and girls with trays of pretzels – that is Munich for you!
Compare and contrast
When crossing from Italy into Bavaria, we found a number of differences:
- Obviously the language changes from Italian to German – and there are fewer concessions to those who don’t speak it
- The weather is not so good north of the Alps
- There are more blond children around – made us think of our children and grandchildren, although their heritage is Dutch
- Some people wear the traditional costume – we saw a few in the streets, and many outfits in shop windows – we suspect some people keep them for special occasions
- Bavarian food focuses on sausages, potatoes, pretzels and cake – but there are plenty of Italian restaurants around. And most restaurants have a vegetarian section on their menus.
And of course the most common drink is beer, although Ian was glad to discover that Aperol spritz is still available! But we miss the crisps and the nibblies we were always given with drinks in Italy…