A Bavarian Love Story

There was a pair of red cowboy boots that I saw eighteen years ago in a shop window in Boston. They were the most incredible shoes I had ever seen. I stared at them for a long time but in the end I decided not to buy them because fashionably speaking, they were a bit too risky.   As soon as I walked away I knew I had made a mistake but I didn’t yet have the years of life lessons I needed in order to trust my gut and turn around and go get them.  I always regretted that decision and to this day, I still think about those shoes.  

Flash forward fifteen years…

The summer of 2015 in Munich was particularly hot and my friends and I spent most of our free time swimming in nearby lakes and sitting under the chestnut trees of Munich’s beer gardens. On one particular sweltering Sunday we spent the afternoon floating down the Eisbach, an alpine creek that runs through Munich’s English Garden, followed by a beer in one of the park’s famous beer gardens called the Chinese Tower.

As I was sitting at a table talking with my friends, I felt the heat baking my skin and my attention began to drift away from the conversation around me and instead to the thousands of people perched under the chestnut trees – also there escaping the heat. As I was scanning the crowd, my eyes suddenly stopped on a handsome young man sitting alone drinking a beer and reading a book by Max Goldt. Curiosity crept in and I couldn’t help but to sit there and watch him. He was confident, cool, casually dressed in a white t-shirt, navy slacks and sexy leather loafers. But there was something more than just his good looks – there was something about him that was completely captivating. After some time, he looked up and caught me staring at him, but instead of looking away embarrassed – I just smiled at him- and he smiled back.

Over the course of the next hour I attempted to re-enter the conversation with my friends but it was useless because my interest was completely consumed by the handsome guy with the leather loafers and the book. I hoped he might come over and talk to me, but as Germans don’t ‘do’ small talk, he didn’t dare. As I was raised in the States, women are taught not to be the ones to approach a man, so I also didn’t dare. It was just too risky.

I eventually grew weary from the heat and decided to leave my friends and my mystery man and go home. As I got up from the table he looked up at me and we exchanged one last smile before I turned and walked away. The bike ride home took twenty minutes and for the entire trip I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Suddenly I remembered the risky red cowboy boots in Boston that I’d always regretted not buying and my daydreaming turned to panic.  I suddenly felt despair that I had walked away and lost the chance to meet him. As soon as I got home I ran inside while simultaneously rummaging through my bag trying to find my phone. I found it and quickly texted my friend, Jihan, to ask if she was still at the beer garden. I sat suspended in time until she answered. When she replied, “Yes” I described the man to her and asked her to see if he was still there. The suspense morphed into an incredible relief when she replied that he was. This time I opted for the risk, so I asked her to write my name and number on a sheet of paper and go give it to him.

Then there was silence….

I feigned ease during those next thirty minutes – and then suddenly my phone beeped. It was a text from an unknown number… a text from someone who was completely witty and captivating… and my heart melted.  

That was the start of the life I have dreamed of since I was a kid. We married last year and now I am pregnant with our child. He is the best dream I’ve ever dreamt and my love for him is far beyond spoken words. Only he and the Stars will truly ever know…

Attractions in Paris

  1. Go to Marais, Montmartre or the 6th Arrondissement and get absolutely lost.
  2. If you end up in Marais, walk down Rue de Bretagne to the Marché couvert des Enfants Rouges (amazing market) and pick up a bottle of wine and some cheese on your way to the enchanting park of Place des Vosges. This is one of Paris’s hidden gems!
  3. If you end up in Montmartre, I’d suggest either taking a 2CV tour of the area, or as I said above, getting intentionally lost. But regardless of which one you choose, afterwards, you have to go find Rue des Abbesses, sit at one of their cafes and soak up the magnificence that surrounds you. I think this is one of the best streets in Paris.
  4. The 6th Arrondissement is on the ‘Left Bank’, which is on the other side of the river from Montmartre and Marais. It is completely charming and known for its café culture, art galleries and revolutionary intellectualism. It was also the hood of Voltaire and Napoleon. Per the advice of one of my Parisian friends when I asked her what I should do while in ‘the Sixth’, she responded, “You should go to the Pantheon and from there, walk to the Jardin Du Luxembourg. Afterwards, take Rue de Vaugirard and turn right on Boulevard Raspail. At the corner of Raspail / Rue de Sèvres, turn right on Rue de Sèvres and you’ll catch a sight of the incredible boutique Hermes. From there you will see the Square Boucicaut behind you and behind that is the Bon Marché. If you continue to take Rue de Sèvres to Rue de Rennes, it will take you to Saint Germain des Prés.” I took her advice and undoubtedly saw some of the best of Paris.
  5. On a smaller scale, but worth seeing for its stain glass alone, Saint Germain des Pres is the oldest church in Paris and nestled in one of it’s most iconic neighborhoods. It is also here where the great philosopher René Descartes is buried.    
  6. Buy a bottle of wine and walk down the Seine River at night under the sparkling Parisian sky.
  7. Père Lachaise is one of the world’s most fascinating cemeteries. It is home to the tombs of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Molière, Chopin, Oscar Wilde and a host of other famous names. Aside from this, the landscape and architecture of the cemetery makes it an art piece unto itself.
  8. Paris is known for its fashion, among other things, which makes shopping at its second-hand shops and vintage markets a total thrill, for women and men alike. Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen and Marché aux puces de la Porte de Vanves are Paris’s best vintage markets and where you can pick up beautiful antiques, name brand fashion, or oil paintings that may have been composed by some old French Master. Also on Sundays in Marais on Boulevard Beaumarchais, you’ll find an incredible street market with charming antiques and vintage clothing. Last time I was there, I bought a beautiful antique brass vase for $10 and it is still my favorite piece at home.
  9. I might also suggest a stroll through the gardens of the Palace of Fontainebleau, which is just outside the city.
  10. You can also see a show at the Palais Garnier, better known as the Opera of Paris and the setting for The Phantom of the Opera.
  11. If you are visiting Paris with someone you enjoy kissing, you can go recreate Robert Doisneau’s Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville (Kiss by the Town Hall) in front of the Hôtel-de-Ville in the 4th arrondissement.

For the more mainstream ventures: 

  1. If you want to stay on ‘the beaten path’ while in the city, consider buying The Paris Pass, which allows you free access to the most famous Paris museums and monuments, with a hop on, hop off bus tour included in the price.
  2. For incredible views of the city, you can either go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre or Belleville, the hilltop district where Edith Piaf was born. The latter is a great place to have a sundowner.
  3. If you’ve eaten one too many baguettes with cheese, you can quickly burn it off by climbing 674 steps to the top of the Eiffel Tower. For the not-so-sporty types, you can opt to take the elevator to the top for under €12.50. I would recommend seeing it both during the day and at night when it sparkles!
  4. Rent a car or take a 2CV car tour on the Champs Elysees and brave the famous Arc de Triomphe roundabout!
  5. Ok, Ok, Ok… let’s talk about the Louvre. I am going to say something that will be deemed sacrilegious, however, noteworthy. The Louvre is considered the world’s greatest museum… but that all depends on what you consider ‘great’. If it is 18th century paintings of dogs on the hunt, war scenes, or straight-faced portraits of people you’ve never heard of, then the Louvre is for you. You’ll find 783,000 square feet of exactly that. For the rest of you, I’d go take your money shot in front of its famous pyramid by I.M. Pei, and then either hit the pavement and go see PARIS or visit the impressionists (Picasso, Renoir, Monet) at Musee D’Orsay. Yes, I know Mona is inside the Louvre but she is small and surrounded by thick glass and 300 people with flashing cameras, so I am of the opinion that studying a print of her is much more interesting than going to see her at the Louvre. If you are visiting Paris for longer than an extended weekend, going to the Louvre might make sense, but if you only have two or three days, there are so many other things to spend your time doing. If you do decide to go, buy your tickets in advance! The ticket line at the Louvre is something of an anomaly. It may be one of the longest lines I’ve ever seen. If you buy your tickets in advance online, you get to skip the queue and walk right in.
  6. Versailles is one of the most well known palaces in the world and the poster child for opulence. It was home to the royal family, political center of France during Louis XIV’s reign and remains to this day completely intact. For these reasons, it has important historical significance in French history. If you enjoy history and are ok with crowds, it is certainly worth seeing. They have an awesome website which contains everything you need to know about its history, opening times, tours, and prices. It would be smart to visit this site and purchase your tickets in advance. Like the Louvre, this will help you avoid lengthy lines.
  7. Having lived in Europe for a total of seven years, cathedrals and churches have all started to look the same, so when my husband said he wanted to see Notre Dame I was a bit hesitant. I thought if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I could not have been more wrong. Notre Dame is mind-blowing. It is the most awe-inspiring, dignified and glorious cathedral I have ever seen. Don’t let the line scare you. It moves fast and worth every minute of the wait.
  8. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is a relatively new (1914), yet popular, landmark in Paris and located at the top of Montmartre, the highest point in the city. This stately church was designed by Paul Abadie and built between 1875 and 1914. What I find more interesting than the church itself is the neighborhood it rests in. Montmartre nurtured the great Parisian artists and writers of the 20th century, such as Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Matisse to name a few and today it still gives way to an incredible Bohemian lifestyle. This is also where my favorite street (Rue des Abbesses) is.
  9. After breaking one of my heels between two disagreeable cobblestones in Germany a few years back, I quickly realized why no one there wears them. Then I went to Paris, where I walked blindly into the birthplace of Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Hermes and Versace wearing my practical German walking boots only to be passed by women in stilettos. This is a city of fashion, so if you are in to discovering the newest wrinkle, you’ve landed in the perfect place. Cutting edge trends and chic Parisian boutiques surround you no matter where in the city you go. With that said, the Louis Vuitton ‘mothership’, called ‘Louis Vuitton Maison Vendôme’, recently redesigned by master architectural auteur Peter Marino, is located in the first arrondissement and whether you have money to spend there or not, you should at least go see this incredible space.
  10. After all of this walking around your feet probably need a rest, so it is finally time to nestle into the café culture of Paris. And I do mean ‘nestle’. As it is in Vienna, the Parisian café is a place to sit and stay awhile. You may at first think that Parisian waiters are rude, but unlike the Viennese waiters, they actually aren’t. They are simply professional men (most often men) in a hurry, waiting on tourists that are speaking a cocktail of languages. Unlike many of the waiters in English speaking countries who are waiting tables until they get a ‘real job’, for most French waiters this is their career. So go easy on them. They will be around to help you shortly. My favorite Parisian cafés are on the Rue des Abbesses in Montmartre but you can honestly go anywhere in Paris and find the ‘perfect spot’.
  11. The oldest restaurant in France is in ‘the 6th’ on Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie and is called Procope. It was established in 1686 but still has incredible food, is reasonably priced, and still has the hat that Napoleon left as an IOU, and the table at which Voltaire frequented and drank many of his forty daily cups of coffee.

Gratitude

When I sat back to think about my celebratory New Year’s Eve options this year, many ideas popped into my head. I could, of course, go celebrate it with my family in Georgia (USA) like I’ve done so many times by eating pig’s feet to bring luck, collard greens to bring dollars and black-eyed peas to bring coins. Or I could stay in Germany and celebrate with friends over Bleigießen (German fortune telling via molten lead) and ‘Dinner for One’ (an English comedy sketch that has become a New Year’s Eve ritual in Germany).   There are so many beautiful cities across the world with wonderful traditions, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that actually the best place for me to usher in the New Year is simply from a place of gratitude.

If you think about it, we are all a complete success. We are actually one of the greatest, most unbelievable, most victorious creations that has ever lived. It is only a failure of our imagination and recognition that prevents us from pausing sometimes to revel at how incredibly, categorically, ridiculously and astronomically lucky and great we all are.

How cool is it that the Divine Force that created oceans, planets and galaxies, looked at you and thought the world needs one of you too? We were born into what I consider an ‘auspicious age’, in that we are living in a time of incredible mobility, astrophysics, inconceivable medical advancement, and LBGT rights, just to name a few. Five hundred years ago we were throwing our trash out the window and then wading through its decay on the streets. Five hundred years from now, the planet will be a technological quandary. But right here, right now, we are given the opportunity to experience life in a way that we have never before and may never be able to again.

So I challenge us all this year to try and live more from a place of gratitude and less from a place of basing our happiness upon a socially prescribed lifestyle that keeps us constantly in need of more and in search of an obscure ‘pot of gold’. You already are that pot of gold. So expect miracles. Choose people who choose you. Don’t push, but instead follow that all-knowing magnetic pull. Wait without anxiety. Forget the mistake but remember the lesson. Be the story that you always wanted to tell. If you get knocked down, add more lipstick and attack. Know the universe has your back. Don’t forget to fall in love with yourself. And most importantly, have a damn fun time in the process. That breath you just took was a miracle…

You’re already an illustrious triumph.

So cheers to you and Have a Wonderful New Years!

 

 

A Winter Wonderland

Growing up in the United States, I was a devout member of the Christmas season. I always tried to pick out the best tree, decorated it to perfection and topped it off with a beautiful star. I brewed homemade mulled wine to fill my house with the scent of Christmas (and to have the odd glass or three) and invited friends over for dazzling Christmas parties. I had every Christmas cd known to man, but I always went back to that one amazing carol, ‘A Winter Wonderland’. It wasn’t until I moved to Germany that I realized they actually exist. If you’ve been to one of Germany’s Christmas markets, you know what I’m talking about. For you newcomers, get your earmuffs on and cameras ready because Santa Claus really lives in Germany.

After four Christmases living here, following the scent of fir sprigs and cinnamon north to south and east to west, I have decorously appointed myself as a Christmas market connoisseur. I can confidently tell you that beyond the myriad of reasons I am so proud to live in Germany, the Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) top the list. From Munich to Dresden and Goslar to Lüneburg, Germany outdoes itself year after year.

During the four-week Advent season, which begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year, you’ll find at least one Christmas market in almost every town and city across Germany. Each Weihnachtsmarkt has its own personality and specialties but you’ll find Potters, Glassblowers, Bakers and Craft Workers at each one, demonstrating their artistry and selling their goods. You may at first attempt to ignore the homemade gingerbread cookies and chocolate covered delights but after your second glass of glühwein (mulled wine) you may find that your self-control has melted down enough that you forgot why you even thought it was a bad idea in the first place. And the reality is that is was NEVER a bad idea. You can drop the guilt at New Year’s doorstep where we all will stand together on our soap boxes and swear away ‘empty calories’ forever. Reconcile any calorie build-up then, but not now; the Christmas markets are no place for worries.

Many cities and towns, like Hannover, transform part of their markets into an alluring fairy forest made from real fir trees, replete with bars hidden amongst them (because what fairy forest doesn’t have a bar) and tables made from tree trunks. Evocative aromas dance through the air teasing you with the smells of delectable glühwein, mouth-watering bratwursts, homemade fudge, and ambrosial roasted chestnuts. I sang ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ at the top of my lungs in church and in my car at least a couple hundred times in my life, but it wasn’t until going to the German Christmas markets that I actually found out what chestnuts really were. A little nut from Heaven is what they are. Hand delivered by the Christ Child himself.

Many European countries draw crowds for their traditions but no one does Christmas quite like Germany; and what better place to visit a Christmas market than the country where they originated? In the Late Middle Ages in Europe special winter markets, often open only for a day or two in early winter, offered townspeople a chance to stock up on food and supplies to last them through the cold months. With time, crafts men and women began setting up stands at these winter markets to sell baskets, toys, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and other baked goods. This was the precursor of contemporary Christmas markets, with the first documented ones in Munich (1310), Frankfurt am Main (1393) and Dresden (1434).

Regardless of which quaint markets in Germany you choose to visit, you will find stunning backdrops, incredible food, a gilded atmosphere, and many nostalgic stalls selling authentic Christmas gifts that are not mass-produced but craftwork of real quality. To experience a real Weinachtsmarkt is to experience a true fairytale, so hopefully this Christmas season I will see you in a lane where snow is glistening; it’ll be a beautiful sight, where we will all be full of delight, walking in a Winter Wonderland…

Our Expansive Space

There I was. Standing in the middle of Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, alone, with nothing more than a backpack and a certainty that soon it would make sense why I had chosen to come here. I wasn’t meeting Francesco, a friend of a friend, for a few more hours, so I had some time to amble along the cobblestone streets before refreshing after the thirteen-hour flight and making myself presentable for dinner. As I looked around, trying to decide which direction I should take, I saw a poster for a Gustav Klimt exhibition and felt an immediate lure. How could I have known that making the decision to see it would be the reason I would move to Vienna a year later, eventually ending up in Germany and living the life I had dreamed of as a child?

As I walked from room to room, enjoying the ambience that only inquisitiveness paired with that level of filigree can create, I couldn’t help but notice that I seemed to be moving closer and closer toward symphonic music. When I finally uncovered this mystifying space, I was escorted into it by a capacious curiosity. Beethoven’s 9th symphony was playing from the speakers and I found myself surrounded on three walls by a single piece of art. Spirituality, intemperance, sensuality, hope and greed, coalesced to create a masterpiece of eternal bliss. It was Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze and I had never been synchronously struck by stillness and harmony before like I was in that moment.  

I have spent almost half of my life traveling into unknown spaces, thinking that I was moving out of my comfort zone, only to find that with every step along my journey, I moved more and more into it. I had to travel 4,800 miles from Denver, Colorado to Venice, Italy to feel the most alive and understood in that one moment than I ever had before in my life. It was standing there that I realized comfort is derived from honoring the spirit of who you are and following the path that belongs to you. Your comfort zone is with you wherever you go and trusting in that is where you’ll find your freedom.

Attractions in Hannover

The region of Hannover is home to fairy tale castles such as, Marienburg Castle, Bückeburg Castle, Hämelschenburg Castle, Bad Pyrmont Castle, Bevern Castle, Fürstenberg Castle and Corvey Castle. Visitors find themselves transported back in time while discovering a wealth of fascinating treasures. They are all home to year-round opulent festivities and markets, which can be found on the websites of each respective castle. All of the castles have belonged to the infamous Guelph family for seven hundred years and still do even today. All these castles bear testimony in stone to courtly intrigue, to the rise and fall of mighty dynasties, to the lives of princesses, rulers, kings and their lovers at the royal courts – and they tell fascinating stories in which great joy and sorrow are closely intertwined in tales that have eternal appeal. In several castles the authentic furnishings have also survived the ravages of the years and they make history come alive more vibrantly than any book could ever do.

The Red Thread is a ‘DIY’ tour that takes you 4,200 meters through the city center to see important architectural, historical and entertaining attractions. You can pick up an informative brochure, which describes all the monuments you pass on your tour from the Tourist Information Office.

A wonderful way to get off the beaten path in Hannover is to take an Eat The World tour in one of Hannover’s four popular neighborhoods. Eat The World was founded in Berlin, but has expanded to many other German cities with the aim of giving people local insight into the life behind the scenes of a city which includes history, architecture, and cuisine. Along the way you stop in three to five different restaurants and sample what the locals eat. Its an amazing concept and totally worth your time!

Sit on the right side of tram 4 or 5 heading north-east from Hannover’s city center for the best view of the mansions along Nienburger Strasse. This will take you through the elegant heart of the university and reveal why Hannover was once said to be “schönste Stadt der Welt” – the most beautiful city in the world.

If you are not tired from walking through castles and fairy tale towns, you can keep going in Europe’s largest urban forest, called the Eilenriede, where you can walk from one edge of Hannover to the other without seeing a building. If that still isn’t enough fresh air for you, you can visit another one of the city’s leafy oases at the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen. It is here that the International Fireworks Competition takes place every year, decorously acquiring an international reputation and drawing visitors from all over the world.

You can also visit Hannover’s maritime wonderland called the Maschsee while you are in town. It is a 190-acre recreational area with a beautiful lake in the middle. You can walk its 6.5 km path around the lake, or opt for yachting, canoeing or pedal boating instead. It hosts one of northern Germany’s biggest events every year called the Maschsee Lake Festival. It is usually in August and has over two million visitors every year that come for its open-air concerts, dances, theatrical performances, as well as its myriad of culinary treats.

Hannover’s castle-like Neues Rathaus or New City Hall was opened in 1913 and sits in the Maschpark on the southern tip of the city center. It is famous for a number of things, one being its diagonal shaped elevator that slopes at an angle of seventeen degrees as it follows the dome to the top. It is here that you can also find four scale models of the city in the Middle Ages, before World War II, after the destruction of The War, and as it stands today.  

Despite WWII bombings, Hannover’s Altstadt (old city) is a charming place to stroll through. It is here that you will find the gothic Marktkirche, the Old City Hall, the Ballhof and the home of Germany’s famous mathematician and philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

The Marktkirche, or Market Church, was built in the 14th century and is considered the southernmost example of North German brick gothic architectural style. It is the main Lutheran church in Hannover and has through its years provoked much interest due to its architectural style, as well as the ancient symbolism it portrays. It has a giant pentagram built on its western tower and a hexagram surrounds the clock tower. Five and six pointed stars were first used by Teutonic pagans and it is no secret that many of the pagan traditions, such as Lower Saxony’s Easter fires are still very much alive in this area today.

The List / Oststadt is a chic neighborhood that has been a residential area in Hannover since the 14th century. It borders the Eilenriede, Hannover’s urban forest, on one side and the city center on the other, making it a premier location. The buildings in this area were built during ‘Gründerzeit’, an age of industrialization and economic boom in the 19th century before the stock market crash of 1873. They were built with richly decorated facades in the form of Gothic Revivial, Renaissance Revival, German Renaissance and Baroque Revival. It is a beautiful area of the city to walk through and it gives you a feeling of what they city was like before WWII.

Hannover’s Berggarten is Germany’s oldest botanical garden, dating back to the 17th century and today houses a world famous orchid collection. It is located on the infamous Herrenhausen property and can be visited along with two other gardens on the magnificent grounds.

 

The Art of ‘Blending’: How to be a Tourist in Europe Without Looking Like One

One evening when I first moved to Ireland, I was sitting in a pub talking to a local and he told me it was easy to spot an American from a mile away. I laughed at the hilarity of his ill-informed comment and decided it was time to move on to a place where people knew what they were talking about. So I pulled my passport neck wallet out from inside my shirt, paid and left.

Traveling outside your region or country can be intimidating and I understand that feeling safe doesn’t always come naturally. But after many years traveling, I’ve come to realize that we often take off on a trip and leave the most important thing at home: our common sense. If you don’t want to be a target for thieves and tourist traps, the idea is to blend in, and avoid standing out like a tourist circus clown.

I recently asked my German beau what he thought some of the most obvious things are that scream, ‘TOURIST!’, and here was his response:

“American men wear short pants (shorts) with oversized bottom-up shirts (button-up shirts) that have half the sleeves cut off and little pineapples on them. They also wear those hats that have a sun shield attached (baseball cap) and either shoes for running or open toe’d shoes with socks… and American women wear flip flops everywhere.”

Let’s face it, Americans dress for comfort. Europeans dress for fashion. In Europe men don’t show their legs unless they are swimming, and depending on which beach you are on, they might be showing more than that. If you’ve never been to Europe, its hard to know how to look European so I’m going to tell you some of the most flagrant traveler faux pas’ in order to help you ‘blend’.    

Let’s first talk about the most glaringly obvious I-am-a-tourist-from-a-wealthy-country-you-should-steal-from-me accessory: the khaki pant. Add some pleats to it, and well, you’re done for. It’s like a German traveling to the U.S. wearing his lederhosen and wondering how everyone seems to know he isn’t a local. While I understand that every American man adores his khakis, they are fashionable only in America and where they should remain when you fly oversees. Any other color slack or chino will do.

Moving on to the running shoe/white tube sock combo. Now, don’t get me wrong… I love my running shoes but Europeans only wear them for running. More than likely you are going to be walking quite a lot, so comfort is of course important, but think casual sneakers- not white, mesh toe’d running shoes. And leave their white tube sock counterparts in Oklahoma where they belong. Black is the new white in Europe.

If you need to pull out a map, don’t do it in the middle of Trafalgar Square. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been somewhere and seen someone standing in an already cramped space, arms outstretched holding a map, while turning to find the right direction and knocking people over in their midst. T-O-U-R-I-S-T. If you must look at your map, use discretion or go to a café, order yourself a coffee and ask the barista or a local sitting at the bar for directions. Meanwhile, might I advise you to take the camera off your neck and put it somewhere a bit more discreet?

Sweatpants and track suit bottoms? Come on, guys. This is Europe.

I can assure you that the locals nowhere wear passport neck wallets or hidden-in-your-pants belt wallets, so if someone is looking for a tourist to rip off, they are going to go for slick Rick with the ‘hidden’ neck wallet, that of course isn’t anymore hidden than a normal wallet is the second they go to pay for something. Leave these at home with your khakis and Hawaiian florals.

I hate to say it, but most ‘traveling gadgets’ are as good as wearing a flashing ‘Rip Me Off’ sign over head. All you need is a small rolling suitcase, a good pair of walking shoes, a few outfits according to the climate and season, a pocket guide, a sleek camera that fits easily into your pocket, and a sense of adventure. No one will think for a second about stealing a camera from someone who doesn’t look like they have one.

Traveling is an absolute blast if you can master the art of blending. You don’t even need a map. In my opinion, getting lost is the best way to discover a place. Disappear into the city. Stop in a park or at a pavement café and ask a local if you really need directions. Answer when a stranger starts talking to you. You’ll most likely never see him again. He won’t know your name or where you work or who your Dad is or your greatest fears or how you packed and unpacked eight times to create that perfect outfit you are wearing. These are the precious moments traveling is made of and I urge you to lay your camera down and share the moment, suspended in time, before blending into the next unknown space.

Attractions in Munich

  • Munich is known for its beer halls and beer gardens, so perhaps this is where we should start. The legendary Hofbräuhaus was originally built in 1589, but all of the rooms except the historic beer hall were destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 1958. The beer hall is beautiful, as is its Wirtsgarten (courtyard), and during regular hours you will always find traditional Bavarian music being played. The beer itself became famous around Europe soon after its creation and, in fact, King Gustavius from Sweden accepted not to invade Munich during the Thirty Years War in exchange for 600,000 barrels of its Hofbräu beer!
  • Marienplatz was established in 1158 and is still considered today the heart of Munich. It was named after the Marian column erected in its center in 1638 to celebrate the end of the Swedish occupation. It was the first column of this type built north of the Alps and it inspired many other Marian columns like it to be built across Europe. The square also marks the end of the pedestrian zone, which starts at Karlsplatz, and is surrounded by the beautiful Town Hall and many restaurants, bars and shops.
  • Peterskirche is the oldest recorded church in Munich and the originating point for the city. It was also one of the first buildings to receive Münchners’ concerned attention after the War. It was severely damaged and preparations were made to demolish the ruin, however, public opinion intervened and redirected this decision. A newly formed ‘citizens’ group’ raised enough money to reconstruct it using a creative form of historic preservation. Today you can again climb to the top of its 91-meter spire and get a breathtaking view of the city and Bavarian alps.
  • The Frauenkirche in Munich is a famous city landmark. Finished in 1525, it was heavily damaged in bombing raids during the late stages of WWII. Major restoration efforts began after the war and were completed in 1994. The original design of the church called for pointed spires at the top of the towers but they were never built because of lack of money. Instead, the two round domes were constructed during the Renaissance period and do not match the gothic architectural style of the building but, nevertheless, Münchners love their Frauenkirche! You will also notice a black mark at the entrance of the church and this is known as the Devil’s footprint, which is at the heart of many Munich legends.
  • The Asamkirche is one of Munich’s sacred destinations. It was built between 1733 and 1746 by two brothers, a sculptor and a painter, to be used as their private church. They originally bought four buildings, but tore the two middle ones down in order to build the church. On the left side of the chapel, a corridor connects the church to the house of the sculptor, E.Q. Asam. The painter, Cosmas Damian Asam, painted the ceiling fresco and it is considered a masterpiece. The church was built in baroque and Rococo style, but show some peculiarities that deviate from normal baroque architecture in that the church altar is situated in the west, not the east as usual and the crucifix is hung much lower than was considered fashionable at that time. The best part is that apart from the choir that was damaged in a bomb attack in WWII, the church exists in its original form.
  • The Alte Pinakothek is one of Munich’s fifty two art museums and it houses one of the world’s most famous collections of old master paintings. What I find equally fascinating is the building itself. During World War II a bomb was dropped directly it the center of the building and it sat for seven years in disrepair. When the architect Hans Döllgast began reconstructing it, he left its history visible by filling in the gaps left by bombs with simple bricks and preserving the many bullet holes, artillery scars, and sheared-off ornamental details on the museum’s façade, thus creating an image of the wartime destruction fixed in time.
  • The Brandhorst Museum is housed in a colorful art building in the middle of Munich’s Kunstareal (art/museum district). It houses more than 700 works by contemporary artists such as Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. It is a brilliant exhibition and well worth an afternoon visit.
  • Königsplatz is also located in Munich’s Kunstareal and it is truly a monumental place. It is home to the Corinithian State Museum of Classical Art, the Propyläen, the Glyptothek, and was the national headquarters of the Nazi Party in Germany during WWII. Many of the Nazi Party’s mass rallies and book burnings happened here and two honor temples were erected on the east side of the plaza to enshrine the remains of sixteen Nazis killed in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, which happened at the Feldherrnhalle. The men were worshipped as martyrs by the Nazis and today, you can still see one of the original platforms where their remains were beatified. If you are so inclined, you can also visit Hitler’s office while visiting Königsplatz, which today is used as a classroom in the school of music and theater.
  • Surrounded by the Theatiner Church, the Residence and Feldherrnhalle, Odeonsplatz is one of Munich’s most beautiful and central squares. It was planned in 1790 to make the beginning of the route from the Residence Royal Palace to Nymphenburg Palace more impressive. Today it is an important site for parades, public events and summer festivals.
  • Nymphenburg Palace was the summer home of the royal Wittelsbach family. You can take tours or walk around its 500 acres. The palace’s grounds are most beautiful in spring and summer when everything is in full bloom and the protective winter statue covers are removed.
  • Munich’s Residence palace served as the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian dukes and kings from 1508 to 1918. It was almost completely destroyed in WWII but was built back to its original grandeur and here you’ll find the crown jewels, the state collection of Egyptian art, the Cuvilles Theatre and the Herkulessaal concert hall. In the front of the Residence you will also find four 400-year-old lion statues holding an escutcheon. You shouldn’t pass them without rubbing their noses. Bavarian superstition says it will bring you good luck!
  • From Odeonsplatz, you can easily walk down Maximilianstraße, which is one of the city’s four royal avenues. It is known today for its galleries, designer shops, jewelry stores and boutiques.
  • From Odeonsplatz, you can also walk down Ludwigstraße to LMU, one of Munich’s big universities and home to the White Rose Memorial. There was a small resistance group called the White Rose that spoke out against the Nazi regime by handing out leaflets they had printed with information about what the Nazi party was really doing. In 1943 Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested in the atrium of the main building at LMU as they were dispersing copies of the sixth and last of the leaflets. Four days later they were convicted of treason and executed. Their story can be found in a room dedicated to them in the same atrium.
  • If you are visiting the city during the spring and summer months, I think one of the best ways to discover the city is via a Munich bike tour. There are a myriad to choose from, so your best option is to just google it and see which one fits your interests best. If you don’t want to do a bike tour, but would like to rent bikes, there are also plenty of places to do so such as Mike’s Bikes next to the Hofbräuhaus.
  • Munich’s Isar river is a great spot to go for walks or bike rides and it also presents a great atmosphere for picnicking along its shoreline. From May 1st to mid-September, you can also drift down it on traditional wooden river rafts whilst enjoying music, Bavarian delicacies and fresh beer.
  • Built in 1901, the Müller’sches Volksbad was the largest and most expensive swimming pool in the world. Its architecture, both inside and out, is art nouveau and was designed by Carl Hocheder. It is still used today and has its original Roman-Irish steam baths. It is an amazing experience to go there and sit in the steam baths but don’t be alarmed by the very liberal German outlook on nudity.
  • Munich’s cool ‘kids’ meet up at Gärtnerplatz in the Glockenbachviertel and catch a few rays on its circular stretch of grass. If you are interested in meeting up with the local scene, grab a beer and head over to people watch and see what all the fuss is about. It is a fun time.
  • The Jewish Center in Munich gives a thorough overview of Munich’s Jewish history and is home to a building complex, which includes a museum, a synagogue, a community center, a kosher restaurant, and a school. The architecture is magnificent and was designed by Wandel Hoefer Lorch. It is located on St.-Jakobs-Platz, which is adjacent to Marienplatz and Viktualienmarkt in the city center.
  • One of the other unique happenings in Munich is urban surfing. Guys and gals gear up in wetsuits and surf ‘The Wave’ on the Eisbach, which is a frigid stream running down from the Alps into Europe’s largest urban park, called the English Garden. It’s a total sight to be seen and the spot attracts thousands upon thousands of visitors every year.
  • Munich’s green lung is called the English Garden and it is over 900 acres of lush greenery. Parts of it are manicured and parts of it are left to its own natural devices. It is used all year round by joggers and bikers, though it is most beautiful in the summer. The shores of the Eisbach become Munich’s beach in summertime and there you will find Münchners basking in the hot summer sun and swimming in its brisk waters.
  • In the English Garden is where you will also find Munich’s famous beer garden, the Chinese Tower. It was first constructed in 1789 but burned down in 1944 after heavy bombing. In 1952 a new tower was rebuilt, copied accurately from the original using photographs and old drawings. A Bavarian band plays in it during the spring and summer months while Münchners enjoy its 7,000 seat beer garden. For a list of other amazing Munich beer gardens, see the list on my Munich home page.
  • Olympia Park was constructed for the 1972 summer Olympics and is comprised of a series of hills built from the ruins of the city in the Second World War. Today it serves as a venue for cultural and social events, not to mention it’s a great place to walk. It has an amazing aquatic center and hosts really cool events in the summer such as an open air theater and Tollwood, which is a month long arts and music festival which is a forum for ecology and environmental awareness.
  • Bavarians love their cars and you can find a tribute to one of their favorites at BMW Welt, which is located right next to Olympia Park. There are always thrilling exhibitions about the past, present and future of the brands. Not only is BMW cutting edge, but so too is the architecture of BMW Welt. It was designed by Vienna – based architects COOP HIMMELB(L)AU with an 800 Kw solar plant on its roof and an immensely creative design.
  • You can take many day hikes from Munich but my favorite one is a10 km hike from lake Schliersee to lake Tegernsee. The views are incredible! You can travel by train from Munich Hauptbahnhof (central train station) to Schliersee and follow the signs for Prinzenweg. This is the trail that will take you to Tegernsee. At the top of the hike you will come to Gindelalm, which is a picturesque alpine hut where you can stop and have lunch. From there you hike through a beautiful forest and down to Tegernsee, where you can have a well-deserved beer at the famous Tegernsee Bräustüberl. The Tegernsee train station is about a 5 minute walk from here and from there you can easily catch a train back to Munich.
  • If you are visiting Munich during the summer months and need a reprieve from the heat, you can take the train from Munich Hauptbahnhof to any of the crystalline blue lakes Bavaria is also known for. The biggest, and my favorite, is Starnbergersee, which is about 25 kms southwest of Munich. You can tour around the lake on a stand up paddle board or hop on a boat tour that leaves directly from the train station at Starnberg. But if you just want to enjoy the perfect water, you will find many beaches around to throw down a towel and go for a swim.
  • Another great lake in der Nähe (close by) is Chiemsee, though this is a bit further out than Starnbergersee. It is nestled in the Bavarian alps, so it’s the perfect spot to go for a dip after a long hike.
  • If you happen to be visiting Munich between mid-September and the first week of October, you should either bring earplugs and get a hotel with sound proof walls and windows or put on your drinkin’ britches and head over to the Theresienwiese for the world’s biggest party; Oktoberfest. It is here that six million liters of beer are consumed in about 2.5 weeks every year. Oktoberfest is an important Bavarian tradition, having been held since 1810 and it isn’t for the faint of heart. Its an amazing time, so I vote you put on your drinkin’ britches and head on over for the festivities!