by Joan - RJKARR
With tons of Frequent Flier Miles burning a hole in my pocket and more than enough time on my hands, it was boring sitting around waiting for something to happen. I decided what better way to use some of my miles and lots of my time than to head to Munich for the Christmas Markets.
Back in October I called Delta to check the availability and everything looked great. However, I didn't make the reservations right then but waited a couple of days. When I called for the reservations two days later, the flight I wanted was no longer available. Therefore, they booked me from Salt Lake to Newark to Paris to Munich, meaning I would not get into Munich until early afternoon of the second day.
Now isn't that a wonderful schedule?! They did, however, put me on the waiting list for a non-stop from SLC to Atlanta and then Atlanta non-stop to Munich. Eventually the SLC to Atlanta portion cleared but not the Munich portion. I had them book me through Atlanta to Paris and on to Munich, which would mean an earlier arrival. I kept checking frequently to see if I cleared the Atlanta to Munich flight, but no such luck. However, that was OK since I would still get to Munich, albeit in a round-about manner. I knew the ATL-MUC flight was not full so had hopes of being able to switch upon arrival at the airport, but the Delta reservationist said they would not be able to do that. HA! When I checked in, the lady behind the counter scratched her head and mumbled, "What have they done?" It turned out that Air France (my carrier for the ATL-CDG-MUC portion) had booked me on a flight leaving Paris before my flight from Atlanta even arrived. What luck!!! I very kindly offered another solution; you guessed it, the non-stop from Atlanta to Munich. At first she said "no", but then decided just to check the non-stop to Munich - what a great counter agent she was! When she saw the flight load, she put me on it. Hoorah! That would put into Munich at 8:40 a.m. rather than the middle of the day. She even put me in a row that had extra leg room, which was more than appreciated since Delta usually has no leg room if you're over three feet tall.
Since I am diabetic, I had requested a diabetic menu for the flights. I asked the lady to see if they could get one on this new schedule for me. She assured me that there was plenty of time and it would be no problem. Well, it was a problem. Not only did they not have a diabetic meal for me on the ATL-MUC portion, they didn't have it for me on the SLC-ATL portion, which was my originally scheduled flight and the request had been put in several weeks in advance. Luckily since I am such early-stage diabetic, this did not cause me any problems, but didn't say much for the airline. (They did the same thing when I flew home at Christmas though the request had been in weeks before the trip.) Delta has become extremely stingy with their tourist class passengers. When they served drinks, I requested a glass of tomato juice and with some lemon to go with it because that's the way I like mine. The flight attendant told me they don't have lemons anymore because it's "too expensive". I also noticed that they no longer give you the can when serving drinks nor do they even give you those little snacks. (A body could starve to death flying Delta!) Even with all their customer service cut backs, they still seem to have the highest prices of any airline.
Before I get into the "tourist" part of this report, let me explain something about the pictures which follow. I shot slides on this trip instead of prints. I used high quality, professional film and the slides are absolutely beautiful. However, for some reason some of them would not scan very well. Therefore, you will notice that some don't have a very good color quality or resolution and are grainy. They have been included anyway, to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Please excuse the quality of the ones which are grainy and just pretend that you can see the originals which are really sharp and clear.
Anyway, back to the trip. My flights were right on time and everything else went very smoothly. We arrived in Munich with low clouds and a light rain. I knew I'd arrived in Germany! After getting some money from an ATM and gathering my luggage, I caught the airport bus to the main train station where I took a taxi to my hotel.
I wanted to stay near the Marienplatz because I didn't want to have to walk far in the cold weather or after dark, yet I couldn't afford to stay in one of the expensive hotels. So I chose to stay at the Hotel Am Markt, which is one-half block from the Marienplatz.
Hotel am Markt
Tel - 89/255014 ~ Fax - 89/224017
Email - Hotel-am-Markt.Muenchen@t-online.de
You couldn't ask for a more perfect location than this little hotel. I did feel, though, that their prices were high for the quality of the room. I paid 66 Euro per night for a single room (approximately US$80.00 under current exchange rate) with shower and W/C. I guess the price came from the excellent location. The room was really tiny and very weird shaped. I practically had to stand in my luggage to get to the radiator to adjust the heat. But heck, I was in Munich and the room was clean and comfortable, though quite bare bones.
Since I arrived earlier than the hotel expected, my room would not be ready for another hour. They showed me where to put my luggage until I could actually check in; remember I had arrived at the hotel around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. I pulled out my camera equipment and headed out.
There were also booths abounding in Christmas ornaments. (Notice I mentioned the food first; you can tell where my priorities lie.)
After about an hour of casual looking
around I went back to the hotel and checked in. I must say that even though this hotel is bare bones and a little
over priced, the staff is absolutely wonderful. They are very friendly and helpful. I enjoyed them a lot. After
filling out the paper work, I got my luggage and headed to the elevator. Now I've seen tiny elevators in Europe,
but this one was T-I-N-Y! I always take a piece of checked luggage and a small carry-on piece (just in case the
checked piece gets lost, which has been known to happen). I took one look at the elevator and wondered just how
on earth I was going to manage this. I had to put my larger piece of luggage in side ways (left to right) because
the elevator was too narrow for it to go front to back. Even then I wasn't sure the elevator door would have room
to close past the luggage. I put my little carry-on luggage next to the big one and that took the whole area left
to right. There was barely enough room for me to stand in front of the carry-on. Once the elevator door managed
to close, barely skimming by the checked luggage and my rear end, I realized, there was not enough room for me
to turn around and hit the button for my floor. Finally, after doing a contortion routine, I hit the right button
and was on my way. I learned my lesson; when checking out, I set the small piece of luggage on top of the big one
and backed into the elevator so I could reach the buttons without tying a knot in my back trying to turn around.
After resting for a little while, it was back outside again. By this time, it was a steady rain, but not a heavy down pour. I just put the hood on my coat and used it instead of my umbrella. I know that looks dorky, but I didn't know anyone so decided who cares. By late afternoon, the rain was pretty heavy and my feet were wet and freezing, so I went back to the hotel for a hot shower and bed.
The next morning I discovered they do not serve a buffet breakfast but bring you a basket of wonderful bread with cheese and meat. Of course, they only serve coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. I drink neither coffee nor tea and hot chocolate is not a good idea for a diabetic, so I went to a local grocery store and bought cereal and milk and took it to breakfast each morning and they provided me with a bowl and spoon for my breakfast. It was cold enough outside that I left the milk on the window sill and it stayed sufficiently chilled.
I spent that day visiting the main Munich Market and also walking up to the Market at Sendlingen Tor. That's a small market, but nice. One of the big things at this year's markets was Santa hats with long white braids attached to them and red ribbons tying the ends off. They were very cheap and so funny I bought one for each male member of my family and gave it to them at Christmas from "Santa". Then there were the obligatory group pictures of all of them wearing those silly hats. It was a big hit and our family had lots and lots of laughs about it. (The women laughed more than the men, however.)
On Sunday, I debated whether to take the train to Salzburg and visit their wonderful Market, or go up to Oberammergau for their one-day market. I decided on Oberammergau because last year we visited the one-day market at Partenkirchen and just loved it. I assumed the same would hold true for Oberammergau, but unfortunately I was wrong. When I arrived I saw nothing to indicate that the Christmas Market was happening. I did notice 2 or 3 stores which were open, but thought maybe that was just for tourists. I decided I had the wrong date, but knowing that the TI Office had given me this date and said there would be Advent Singing at the church that night, I decided to walk over to the church and see if there was anything happening in that direction. That's when I discovered their tiny little market. They only had about a dozen booths and most of those were food and the others were for children's activities.
They had a little merry-go-round and horse drawn carriages for the children which were fun to watch.
The next day I took the train to Ulm. I'd never been there and really wanted to see the cathedral with its steeple, which is supposed to be the tallest in the world. I knew nothing about their Christmas Market and just hoped it would be decent. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this day. There was just one slight problem, about 20 minutes out of Munich, fog started settling in. Have you ever tried to see the top of a tall cathedral steeple in the fog? Well, I'm here to tell you, it can't be done. The inside of the cathedral is lovely and I spent quite a bit of time in there checking everything out.
The choir section is quite humorous. The seats are beautifully hand carved wood. As I walked among them, I noticed that the person who did the carving had a great sense of humor, or there is some unknown symbolic meaning to the designs. One seat was the head of a man sticking out his tongue at anyone who walked by. Another was the head of a man using his fingers to pull back the sides of his mouth, stick out his tongue and make a face at those viewing it. Unfortunately, my pictures of these two seats did not scan well, so you will have to use your imagination. However, if you ever visit the cathedral, make it a point to look for the characters carved on the seats. They're delightful. There were some serious ones too, but the humorous ones bring back the best memories.
On my last day in Munich, I once again decided to just spend the time there and once again opted out of going over to Salzburg for the day. I think jet lag was still doing its thing as I was extremely tired that day and just didn't feel like going all the way over to Austria to their Markets. I've also noticed that since being diagnosed with diabetes, my stamina isn't as great as it used to be. (If anyone says that's due to age, you're off my Christmas list!) Now that I'm home and rested, I rather wished I'd gone, but I've been more than once, so I didn't miss a once-in-a-lifetime experience; just an enjoyable day in a beautiful city.
I've been asked if I noticed any difference in the German people this year. Overall I will say no, but let me share two experiences I had. I love fruits and had not had any for two or three days so I went to one of the little stands selling fresh fruit and wanted to buy two tangerines. There was a woman, probably in her 60s, working the stand. Knowing that often they don't like you to touch their product, I pointed to one tangerine and asked for it. She picked it up and then I pointed to a second tangerine and asked for it. Rather than getting it for me, she asked in a nasty voice how many I wanted. I told her two. She picked up a second tangerine, but not the one I had pointed to. I asked, politely, if I couldn't choose the ones I wanted. She said in an extremely nasty almost yelling voice that there was no self service and if I didn't like it, I could get out. I was absolutely appalled at her treatment of me so I calmly told her I would leave, but it would be because of the way she treated me. She then started screaming at me to get out. I've never, ever had anyone in Germany (or anywhere) treat me so rudely. The only thing I can figure is she hates Americans - period.
I then went to another fruit stand and asked for two tangerines. They were extremely nice and sold me the tangerines. I thanked them for being so nice and told them I'd just been treated very rudely by a woman at another stand. The lady who had just sold me the tangerines said, "Oh, yes, we know her. She's our friend." Her husband, who was also working this stand said, "Oh, it's because it's raining that she's like that." Yeah, like I'm really going to believe that one. She's just a nasty woman!
On the other hand, I noticed many, many kind simple acts performed time and time again by the people there, acts that they didn't even think anything about. For example, on Sunday when returning from Oberammergau, I wanted to take the U-bahn back to the Marienplatz from the train station. Though I've done this before, it had been a few years and I couldn't remember which track I needed. I asked one young man and he politely told me what signs to follow. I did so, but somehow missed one and didn't see any more. I stepped inside a small shop and waited for the clerk to finish helping a young woman with her purchase. Once she was through, I asked where I would find the U-bahn to the Marienplatz. She told me, and confirmed with a second clerk, that because it was Sunday, the U-bahn was not running on the weekend due to construction. They explained to me how to find a way back to the Marienplatz and assured me that it is perfectly safe to walk alone at night. I noticed the young lady who had just made her purchase listening to what was being said. She left the shop and in just a minute was back again. She had gone out to double check what I was being told. She told me the U-bahn was running that day and asked if I would like her to show me how to find it, which I did. She walked way out of her way to take me to the correct location and helped me get the right U-bahn. She did not have to do that, but did so out of genuine kindness to a stranger. I had, and saw, many such acts on this trip and it really made me appreciate the Germans and their thoughtfulness and kindnesses.
Though I've been to the Christmas Markets before, I've never been to the "grand daddy of them all" and that's Nürnberg. My original plan had been to stay in Munich the whole time and do day trips out. I decided that Nürnberg has so much to offer, I wanted more than a day trip there. So I left Munich after five days and went to Nürnberg for two days and then Regensburg for the last two days.
In Nürnberg I thought I had lucked out in finding a hotel right on the Market Square; one which looks out over the Christmas Market and is central to everything. The location was wonderful, but the hotel cannot be classified as such. I stayed at the Hotel Am Schönen Brunnen, Hauptmarkt 17. It was the most expensive place I stayed on this trip (78 Euro/day, about US$94 for a single room), obviously because of its location and certainly not for its charm or quality of service. I cannot, and will not, recommend this hotel to anyone. I arrived about 10:00 or 10:30 in the morning. I frequently arrive early at European hotels and they always try to accommodate my early arrival, either by finding a room already available, or by having the staff clean a room right away so I can check in as soon as possible.
Not this hotel! They told me I couldn't check in until 2:00 p.m., no offer of early check in by this staff. I was extremely thirsty and asked if I could get some water and they said "no" they didn't have any. I asked a second time because I was so thirsty and just asked for tap water and they finally brought me a bottle of mineral water, which I hate. I took a couple of sips, but that was all I could manage. I asked if they had a place where I could freshen up and they said no I would have to go to a restaurant to do that. (It only gets better from here.) When I was finally able to get into my room, at 2:00 that afternoon, it was freezing cold. The maids had turned off the heat and opened the huge windows wide open and left them that way. I thought it was just because a new guest was checking in, but they did the same thing the next day.
The beds, if you can call them that, were horrible. They were more like couches that were opened to sleep on. They were even covered with a fuzzy upholstery fabric complete with covered buttons. There was no mattress on the beds and you could actually feel the springs. There was no place for the cleaning staff to tuck in the sheets, so they just tucked them in at the top of the bed and let the rest of it hang over the edge. They threw about three little mats on the bed, but they were too small, so you had a "drop off" between the thin mats and the bed, which was really uncomfortable. I looked in other rooms as the maids were cleaning and all the beds were the same, so it wasn't just my room. I was awake most of the night each night while there because the bed was so uncomfortable it made sleeping almost impossible.
Now here comes the worst part; be prepared. Of course, as is not unusual, they had about a 20 watt bulb in the bathroom so it was really dim and difficult to see. The shower was a very small step-in ceramic container of a weird shape and was approximately 12 to 15 inches deep. I noticed the first night that the drain was a little slow, but didn't think anything of it as drains are often slow. However, the second night, it was so slow, the water backed up to my ankles. I showered quickly and got out. I started looking and discovered a huge wad of hair in the drain which was recessed about 2 inches; no wonder the water couldn't drain out! To make matters worse, I looked carefully (my eyes had adjusted to the dark) and discovered that the shower basin was just caked with filth and scum all the way to the top of the ceramic step-in portion. The shower had not been cleaned in weeks! The dirt could not have possibly been mine as I was not that dirty and the water had not backed up that deep with me. When I complained to the front desk, they just said "Oh" - no apology, no nothing. There was one extremely nice young girl who worked the night desk, but other than that, I can't find anything good to say about the staff at this hotel. Now that you're sufficiently warned about this hotel, let's get on to the good stuff.
The Nürnberg Market really lives up to its reputation. It is wonderful and very huge.
If there is anything you want in the way of Christmas decorations, it's at Nürnberg.
I walked over there, but didn't go in and wander around as it was dark and getting rather cold. They did have a merry-go-round for the children and horse drawn carriages for adults and children alike to tour the area. What fun people were having with both of those! The trees and lamp posts were also decked out with tiny lights making it a really festive place.
I had fun watching the children as they visited the Market with their parents, or in one case, kindergarten class. They are such beautiful children and made it seem even more like Christmas.
While there, I visited the town museum,
which I found extremely interesting. On the top floor, they have a huge wooden replica of Nürnberg. Two men
had actually hand carved all the buildings of the city and made the map. I've forgotten how many years they said
it took them to carve it, but something like 15 or 20 years comes to mind. It's really amazing. It's set up in
the middle of the room with stools around it to sit on while a recording tells you the history of the city. The
man in charge of that room realized I was American and offered to run the English speaking tape of the presentation.
I'm so glad I stayed and let him do that because it was really fascinating.
I also visited the bunkers where the art treasurers were hidden for safe keeping during WWII. That was interesting too. However, the tour guide's English was limited, but much better than my German. Her English was good enough, though, that I was able to understand what I was seeing and what had happened. This is only open once a day at 3:00 in the afternoon, but it is worth the wait.
After two days of being delighted by the beauty of Nürnberg, the Christmas Market, the children, the decorations, and just the fun of the place, I left and headed for Regensburg.
I got into Regensburg fairly early and
took a taxi to my hotel. I knew it was very close to the Regensburg Dom, and my heart just sank as the taxi entered
the main square and I saw a somewhat dilapidated building with the name of my hotel on it. It was several stories
tall and looked certain that there would be no elevator. Imagine my relief as we drove a little further and I could
see next to the hotel name a large arrow which pointed down a little side street. This building just had a sign
directing you to the REAL hotel. I stayed at the
Hotel Münchner Hof
Tel - 941/58440 ~ Fax - 941/561709
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
I paid 61 Euro (approximately US$74.00) per day for a single room. My room was small, as single rooms usually are, but it was big enough for me. It even had a lovely view of the steeples of the Regensburg Dom, which I enjoyed. As bad as the Nürnberg hotel was, this hotel was wonderful. The staff was exceptional. Since I arrived early, my room wasn't ready, but they checked and said they would have one ready in about 15 minutes and I could have a seat in a lovely little waiting room just off the lobby. In 5 or 10 minutes, the girl from the front desk came in to let me know my room was ready. They simply did everything they could to make my stay enjoyable and comfortable. I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Regensburg. It's conveniently located to everything and the staff is just great.
The hotel has a lovely Bavarian restaurant attached to it and I had dinner there each night. The service was very good and the ambiance quite pleasant as it was all decorated for Christmas. They were playing Christmas music in the background, mainly American music. Imagine my surprise when one night as I enjoyed a leisurely meal, I suddenly realized the vocal Christmas music which was playing was "Jingle Bells, Shot Gun Shells . . . ." Good laugh for such a lovely restaurant.
The Regensburg Market is not one I would classify as top-notch, but is a good one and I enjoyed it. It's smaller than the others I visited (other than Oberammergau), but still very nice.
The first day I was there I just wandered around the town checking out things to see. Unfortunately the Dom had scaffolding over much of it (now, aren't you surprised) so you had to use your imagination as to just how beautiful it must really be. For years I have believed that the St. Vidas Cathedral in Prague has the most beautiful stained glass windows of any place in Europe. I think the Regensburg Dom has it beat. Their windows are just fabulous. I was unable to get the full effect because the scaffolding outside blocked much of the light, plus it was rainy and overcast, so there was no sunshine coming through. Even with that, they were just breathtaking.
I walked around old town and across the old stone bridge. I had to take pictures of the bridge and the old town from across the Danube. I almost froze my you-know-what crossing the river and getting shots from the other side. It was cold anyway, but add the moisture from the river and you have a most unpleasant temperature! However, the sight was worth the discomfort.
I had been helping MARYBETHEIS (Betty) on the German travel board with some things for her trip to the Christmas Markets. She and her husband Chuck took a Danube Cruise which stopped at different Markets along the way. We discovered we would be in Regensburg at the same time, so they came to my hotel on the second day and we met and had a very lovely visit. Isn't it fun to actually meet in person individuals you come to know through the internet. They came a little early while I was still at breakfast and my camera was upstairs in my room. However, Betty had a camera with her and got a couple of pictures of us together.
That's Betty on the left, me in the middle, and Chuck on the right. They are such an extremely nice couple and I was sorry we had a limited amount of time to spend together. However, their boat was sailing soon and they decided it was too cold to swim from Regensburg to Nürnberg, so they had to get back before it left.
Afterwards I walked over to the Schloss Thurn und Taxis for their Market only to discover it didn't open until noon and I arrived about 10:30 or 11:00. I walked around a little and discovered another non-descript church and decided to go in.
It wasn't quite as elaborate as the one
in Munich, but certainly was nothing to sneeze at. It was really beautiful inside and I enjoyed visiting there.
By the time I checked the whole thing out and took a bunch of pictures [which did not scan well and therefore are
not included with the report], it was about 11:30 or 11:45, so I decided to just sit and rest until time to go
back to the Market at the Schloss.
In all the castles and palaces I've ever seen in Europe, I don't remember ever seeing one with crowns on top of the building. However, the Schloss Thurn und Taxis had crowns on the top of each end of the building. It was a little unusual looking, but it made sure you knew that was a palace.
Their Market was fun because it was an "old world" type market. They had a pig roasting over an open fire, many hand made items for sale and was just generally all around interesting. It was definitely more to give you an idea of what the old markets were like rather than the commercial ones such as the main one in town. There was a moderate charge to get in. During the week it cost 2 Euro and on the weekend it was 3 Euro.
Since this was my last stop before returning to Munich for my flight home, I bought several Christmas presents since I wouldn't have to lug them around as I traveled. That meant I only needed to buy a few presents when I returned to the States.
On Sunday, my last full day in Germany, I took a shuttle bus from Regensburg that goes directly to the Munich Airport. It only cost about US$20 and I felt was well worth the cost since my luggage went underneath the bus and I didn't have to worry about handling it.
At the airport, I grabbed a luggage cart and set out to find a taxi to my hotel. Once again, I was the recipient of kindness, this time by a taxi driver. I told him where I wanted to go. He said he would take me, but that they had a shuttle which I could get and it would not cost anything. So I waited for the hotel shuttle and saved a few Euro.
I had found a nice small German hotel near the airport which was reasonably priced. However, they had no shuttle and said the price of a taxi was 22 Euro each way. That would add 44 Euro to the price of the room, so I opted for the Sheraton which would be cheaper.
Freisinger Str. 80
Tel - 89/927220 ~ Fax - 89/92722800
It was 70 Euro (about US$84.00) for a single room. The shuttle from the airport to the hotel did not cost anything, but they did charge 6 Euro for the shuttle from the hotel to the airport. My room, while being classified as a single, was two large beds in a very large room. The bathroom was also large and very comfortable. This is a very nice place to stay if you need a hotel near the airport and don't have a car. I would recommend it to anyone asking.
I have learned, after having to buy more luggage for the return trip home after shopping my way through Europe, to pack a small fold up piece of luggage that will fit into the bottom of my large luggage. After repacking all my things in the carry-on and two larger pieces of luggage to balance the weight so I wouldn't be charged for over weight luggage, it was off to bed for my last night in Germany for a while.
My flight home was uneventful, mostly. Delta managed to get my diabetic meals on board this time.
However, on the flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake, I was extremely tired, but decided I didn't need to put my little neck pillow on. I would be fine without it. The next thing I knew, I was waking up with my head resting on the shoulder of the young man sitting beside me! Can you say "embarrassed"? He was really nice about it when I apologized and assured him that I don't generally make it a habit of falling asleep on the shoulder of the person sitting next to me. I learned my lesson, if sleepy or tired, pull out the neck pillow and save some embarrassment.