Munich is my new favorite city. Hands down. Bar none. It's so refreshingly approachable for a foreigner. And it's undeniably beautiful and filled with fascinating (if at times sickening) history that is just sitting there on the surface waiting to be discovered.
A half day bike tour with our UK-born Münchener took us all over the city; through the old marketplace, by the river, through cathedrals and the university, past museums and monuments, through royal gardens and the world's second largest urban park--complete with its own biergarten and surf wave along the river.
Our witty British guide Roy had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of European and German history that he shared with us on our frequent stops through town. Seeing the entire city by bike was definitely the way to go, especially during a short stay.
Munich is a city where the bicyclist rules. Every single street has a separate designated bike lane that pedestrians and drivers alike yield to. There are so many bikes and cyclists that no one even bothers to lock their bikes up most of the time.
Of course that also supports my theory that this city of uber polite and friendly urbanites is based entirely on the honor system. There aren't even turnstiles to get to the underground.
Everything is spotlessly clean and well organized. Locals go out of their way to practice their English. The drivers are so courteous it's disorienting.
After recouping at the hotel from the long bike ride, we took the underground to Marienplatz for a stroll around (read: we were lost) the shopping district before meeting the rest of he family at the Hofbrauhaus (sure, it's touristy, but it's also kind of required).
After a liter and a pretzel and a plan to meet later for dinner we divided up and headed to check out the al fresco produce market. We bought strangely exotic fruits I've never seen before--like a sweet tart fruity cherry tomato wrapped in its own husk-- from the friendly merchants who advised us on a bottle of schnapps to try as well. Andy sweet talked an ice cream vendor to get some paper cups so we could "sample" the schnapps right away.
Snacks in hand we found an open table at the market's festive -- and finally, authentic -- biergarten, shaded from the early evening sun by giant trees. We shared a table with some locals and toasted all around.
That afternoon in the old town of Munich was one of those travel experiences that I know will stick with me and make me daydream about picking up and moving here the next time wanderlust gets the better of me. For now it's an intensely golden memory of a perfect afternoon with Andy and Ben and Nick.
Another quick ride on the subway and we met the group for a delicious dinner at a tiny little restaurant that was tourist-free.
White asparagus is in season here now so I order specials that include that whenever I can, which is often. I got a little weepy when we all toasted to the trip and everyone thanked us for all the planning we had done for the group.
To be honest we have been well-meaning but rather haphazard and inconsistent tour guides. Planning and executing a trip for 8 different people is tricky. The occasional language barrier doesn't help either. Andy and I were at each others throats a few times as a result, but we all survived unscathed. (Or only mildly scathed, as in the case of Jon and Jamie who came down with colds and intense allergies.)