Four Days in Munich – Prost!

Munich (München in German) is literally “Home of the Monks”. Founded in 1158 and known as the capital of Bavaria since 1506, Munich’s history is filled with stories of counter-reformation, renaissance arts, the plague, and war. Despite the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, Munich eventually became known as Hauptstadt der Bewegung (Capitol of the Movement) when Hitler and the Nazi Party took control of Germany in 1933. Dachau, the first concentration camp, is located only 10 miles outside of the city. For these reasons and more, it’s a shame to only associate Munich with Oktoberfest and beer.

That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy ourselves when it came to drinking our calories in Munich. I was right at home because it doesn’t get much better than hefeweizen in my world. Clay is an IPA man himself, so while he thoroughly enjoyed drinking his way around Bavaria, he was missing hops greatly by the time our trip was ending. And you have to love Germany – Clay and I drank cheaper than our kids during our four days in Munich, which should be known as Land of the 5€ Cokes.

We arrived in Munich around 11am on a Sunday and thankfully didn’t have too long of a wait for immigration – waiting to get my passport stamped after sleeping on a plane for 9+ hours is easily my least favorite aspect of traveling. We grabbed our luggage and attempted to figure out how to purchase passes for the Munich U-Bahn and S-Bahn. We used a kiosk and crossed our fingers that we bought the correct tickets. On our way to find the U-Bahn entrance, we passed an information desk and decided to double-check our instincts – which ended up being wrong. The incredibly nice lady gave us a refund, explained the various zones, and told us that a daily family pass is our best (and cheapest!) option for using Munich public transportation.

We were able to get to our hotel, Sheraton Munich Westpark, without any trouble and we very much appreciated it being directly above the
München Heimeranplatz train station. We were in a family suite that was spacious and found paying the extra $10/night for access to the Sheraton Club on the top floor was will worth the money. With the Club, we had 24/7 access to bottled water, bottled soda, bottled beer, and coffee/espresso/cappuccino, as well food during certain times of the day. I highly recommend the hotel, which is part of Marriott Bonvoy collection, if you find yourself in Munich with kids – it is just a few train stops away from the city center and within walking distance of some fantastic independent neighborhood restaurants that don’t charge city center prices.

Our first meal in Munich was at the infamous Hofbräuhaus am Platzl. Yes, it was a touristy thing to do but hey – we were tourists. Clay and I did learn that we were a bit overzealous with our drinking a liter of beer on only a few hours sleep.

We spent the rest of the evening strolling through the streets of Munich and just experiencing the sights and sounds of the city. By the end of World War II, Munich was a shell of it’s former self due to the heavy bombings it endured. As a result, the city was painstakingly rebuilt using photographs that the Nazi’s meticulously captured when they realized that the Allied Forces were closing in.

We spent the next day exploring to our hearts content. I found the dichotomy between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ throughout the city particularly somber and beautiful.

We were able to witness the famed Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Marienplatz, which is in the heart of Munich. Every day at 11am and 12pm (year-round) and 5pm (summer only), it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century. Marienplatz is the central square of Munich and has been it’s main square since 1158. Pictured is New Town Hall, which was completed in 1909 and a brilliant example of neo-gothic architecture.

We visited Viktualienmarkt at least once a day for drinks and food. Viktualienmarkt is a popular outdoor market next to Marienplatz that is filled with over 140 stalls offering food, drinks, flowers, produce, etc…

The Englischer Garten is a large public park in Munich that is one of the largest in the world (it’s even bigger than Central Park). We waded in the water, saw a few nude sunbathers, and marveled at the seemingly endless green space in the middle of the city.

The beer garden that surrounds Chinese Tower in Englischer Garten seats over 7000 people so of course, we had to eat (and drink) there.

The stream that runs through Englischer Garten is artificial so as a result of the water pumping mechanism there is a standing wave at one end. On any given day, you can see people attempting to serve on the wave for as long as they can. We watched quite a few people with serious surfing skills – in Munich nonetheless!

Like many people traveling to new places, we love to visit churches that have withstood history and tell a story of their own. I couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling of Heilig-Geist-Kirche (Holy Ghost Church).

Another one I loved was Michaelskirche (St. Michael’s Church), which is the largest Renaissance church north of the Alps. “Mad” King Ludwig II also happens to be entombed in the crypt.

Our time in Munich was broken up into two chunks – two days at the beginning of our trip and two days at the end. We stayed at the same hotel and really enjoyed bookending our vacation in Home of the Monks. Munich is Germany’s third largest city and home to almost 1.5 million people. But it many ways, it’s the perfect blend of city and country – there are so many public parks that you never feel too far away from nature. And we were hard-pressed to find a window that didn’t have fresh flowers or plants growing in a windowsill.

And how can you not love the sight of Monks strolling the streets?

We loved just walking around the city and seeing where each day took us. One evening, we climbed almost 300 rickety steps to the top of the Church of St. Peter for a fantastic view of Munich (totally worth the few Euros).

We all agreed that our favorite food in Munich were the meals that had a strong Hungarian influence. The goulash we had at Hofbrauhaus was one of the best dishes we ate the entire trip.

We did make it a point to visit Olympiapark, home to the 1972 Summer Olympics and the site of the Munich Massacre. We visited the memorial – erected near where 11 Israeli Olympic team members were held hostage and killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. A West Germany police officer was also killed in the attack. Olympiapark continues to serve as a venue for cultural, social, and religious events. It also has a playground that the kids absolutely adored (Germany has fantastic playgrounds in general).

We also popped into BMW Welt, where we were able to get up close and personal with various Bayerische Motoren Werke products. Entrance is free and you are encouraged to ask questions and fall in love with the cars. We opted not to pay to go to the museum because we got our fix from the free and massive showroom.

Did you know that there is a Michael Jackson memorial in Munich? Neither did we until we accidentally stumbled upon it one morning.

Feldherrnhalle, a 19th-century Italianate monument to the Bavarian Army and the site of Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch.

We found Munich incredibly easy to navigate and an absolute joy to explore. If you ever have any questions about visiting Munich with kids, please do not hesitate to ask!

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130 Miles West – A Overnight Trip to the Shenandoah Valley

Last week wasn’t the best. The kids were sick, Clay was TDY, and I’m pretty sure we were experiencing some post-vacation blues. Earlier in the week we talked about going way for Saturday night but then a stomach virus knocked me off my feet, Clay came home sick, and we waved the white flag on Friday night.

However, the four of us woke up Saturday morning refreshed and feeling *almost* normal. We were drinking coffee, watching TV, and brainstorming ideas of how to spend the day. We talked about going downtown or hiking Great Falls or visiting Roosevelt Island but nothing was really exciting us. But the coffee was kicking in and we were feeling the best we’d felt all week so when the idea of going out of town for the night was tossed around, all four of us we’re on board. We quickly decided to head to Charlottesville, Virginia for the night, which was our original plan earlier in the week. Despite being stationed here for almost five years between two tours, we had never been to Monticello or Shenandoah National Park, which was as good of a reason as any to drive a couple of hours toward the mountains.

We were on the road by 10am. We stopped for brunch along the way and made to Monticello by early afternoon. We purchased tickets and then wandered the grounds until our scheduled tour time. We participated in outdoor ‘Slavery at Monticello’ tour, which focused on the experiences of the enslaved people who lived and labored on the Monticello plantation.

Even though Thomas Jefferson publicly condemned slavery, he owned over 600 slaves himself. He split up enslaved families, impregnated a teenage Sally Hemings when he was in his 40s, and only freed five enslaved men during his lifetime. I appreciated that our tour guide didn’t try and gloss over these facts and was very outspoken about how Thomas Jefferson was not a good man when it came to his treatment of the enslaved people at Monticello – ensuring his reputation as a complex and controversial historical figure.

The house tour was informative but it was a bit squished due to the size of our tour group. No pictures are allowed inside the house (pictured above is small building in the gardens) and it was difficult to hear the guide at times. While we’re glad that we finally visited Monticello, we all agree that it is a ‘one and done‘ place for us.

After Monticello, we drove into Charlottesville and checked into our hotel. We were a very short walk from Charlottesville Historic Downtown Mall, so we spent the evening strolling along the brick-paved roads. It was a gorgeous evening and it was easy to see why Charlottesville is consistently voted as one of the best places to live in the United States.

We opted to eat dinner at The Bebedero, which is located at one end of the mall. We loved the vibe and the drinks were amazing – my spicy margarita was one of the best I’ve ever had. But we may have been a bit to cavalier going to a Mexican restaurant after a week of not feeling great. For that reason, I don’t feel like I was a good judge of the food. We chalked up our meal as a learning experience for the weekend.

Yesterday morning, we checked out of our hotel and drove into Shenandoah National Park from the Swift Run Gap entrance. We briefly considered hiking Old Rag with the kids but due to them just getting over being sick, we decided that the strenuous hike might’ve been a bit much for them. Instead, we hiked a 5-mile loop and saw Dark Hallow Falls and Rose River Falls.

We did a bit of rock scrambling and the trails had enough obstacles that it didn’t feel like we were taking a leisurely hike in the woods. And most exciting – we had our first black bear in the wild! It was through the woods on the other side of the creek so we felt no danger but it was still a bit unnerving – especially since the kids were with us.

We checked off another national park and look forward to spending more time at Shenandoah National Park until the Army decides to send us somewhere else. We’re so glad we decided to get away for the night. -summer is quickly coming to an end (I start my new job next week – eek!) and the kids’ sports schedules will soon dictate our weekends. Time seems to be moving at lightening speed during this phase of our lives so it was nice to spend uninterrupted time together as a family. But we’re hopeful that this fall will allow us at least a few spontaneous last-minute overnight trips…where should we go next?

Things We Learned: Traveling to Germany and Austria With Kids

We’re back from our amazing 11-day trip to Bavaria and settling back into our summer routine. While on the early-morning train to the Munich Airport, our little guy exclaimed, “I don’t want to go home, I wish we lived here.” And Clay and I shared a look and responded in unison, “Me too.” Baby girl was too preoccupied with complaining about a stomach-ache (foreshadowing the events on our 9-hour flight back to the States) to contribute anything to the conversation beyond, “I liked the pretzels and riding bikes.

city view of Old Salzburg

I’ll talk to a wall about my desire to live overseas and while Clay is totally onboard with the idea, the Army keeps giving him his best career-advancing assignments stateside. Waiting until after he retires to live overseas is a realistic goal but we’d prefer to live the expat life sooner rather than later. But such is life in the military, I suppose. And as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards so delicately wrote, “You can’t always get what you want.” So until it’s our turn, it will be my lot in life to roll my eyes extra hard whenever I hear/read about someone complaining about receiving an overseas assignment. And keep to keep traveling internationally for as long as our wallets and schedules can afford.

Neuschwanstein castle from Queen Mary's bridge

I plan to recap our trip by breaking it down into posts about our time in Munich, Salzburg, and Garmisch Partenkirchen but I wanted to address a few things before diving into itineraries, recommendations, and highlights – a lessons-learned of sorts.

Flexibility is crucial. When we go on our big trips (big meaning anything over 5 days and 1000+ miles away from home), we choose to operate with a rough itinerary rather than meticulously planned out days. Of course we book anything that requires advanced notice but we try our hardest to take each day as it comes. There is little we like more than wandering foreign streets not knowing what is around the corner and gathering recommendations from locals. In fact, some of our most treasured vacation memories have been moments that we weren’t even planning on experiencing.

little girl in Munich street

When your child breaks a bottle of wine in a train station grocery store, fess up and accept responsibility. Prior to boarding our train back into Germany from Salzburg, we popped into the super nice grocery store in Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (the station) for some snacks because our train ride to Garmisch Partenkirchen would be 3+ hours. Violet accidentally kicked a bottle of wine from the bottom shelf and it shattered all over the floor. My instinct was to get the hell out of dodge but because my husband is a better human than I am, he flagged down an employee and offered to pay for the (extremely cheap) bottle of wine. The employee rolled his eyes and mumbled something about Americans under his breath but when he alerted his supervisor, we were told not to worry about it and thanked for bringing it to their attention.

The Bayern-Ticket is the way to go when traveling between/throughout Germany and Austria. We did not research enough and grossly overpaid for our train tickets from Munich to Salzburg. When on the train, we met an extremely nice family from Chicago on vacation with two children similar ages to ours. She is a German teacher and her and her husband met in Vienna when studying abroad so they were very well-versed in travel between Germany and Austria. They explained the Bayern-Ticket to us and because of them, we saved significantly more money on our train ticket from Salzburg to Garmisch Partenkirchen. When we inevitably go back, we will be sure to take advantage of the Bayern-Ticket.

father son in Munich

Google Maps isn’t always right. Traveling internationally in the 21st century is a million times easier that it used to be due to smartphones. Having a personal handheld computer that can translate phrases, book last-minute tickets, give us access to restaurant reviews, and tell us where to go is nothing short of amazing. But yes, even Google Maps can be wrong. We ran into a few situations when what Google Maps was telling us contradicted the directions from local sources – we always yielded to local and successfully made it to our destination.

Don’t assume your debit card will work in rural ATMs. Cash is still king in Germany and Austria. We used our American Express whenever we could (points, points, points!) but we made our fair share of ATM withdrawals during our trip, especially in the rural areas. We learned the hard way not to assume that our debit card will work in an ATM. When we arrived in the outskirts of Salzburg, we were famished and in desperate need of cash. We struggled to find an ATM and ended up digging through our pockets and backpacks for enough Euros to purchase lunch. Thankfully we emerged victorious (5 euro coins FTW!) and after eating delicious pizza (yes – Austria has fantastic Italian food), we eventually found an ATM in Old Town Salzburg that worked with our card.

Attempting key phrases in German is better than just speaking English. This is a no brainer – whenever you travel to country that speaks a different language, it is always best to try and not be an ‘ugly American’ by assuming everyone speaks English. We had our kids say at least please and thank you in German everywhere we went and it earned them quite a few cheek pinches from proprietors.

Eat vegetables whenever you can! When Clay and I traveled to Scotland a few years ago, we learned the hard way that fresh vegetables weren’t a given when dining out, especially at pubs. We found the same to be true in Germany and Austria – meat and carbs are king. Tasty but not the greatest for the digestive tract. I wasn’t always successful but I tried to order at least one green item each day. Pictured is the salad I ordered outside of Neuschwanstein Castle. It interestingly came with a baked potato, potato salad, kidney beans, and corn…the joys of ordering food when you don’t speak German! 🙂

And finally if you’re debating about whether to go or not – JUST GO! Travel somewhere new with your kids. It doesn’t have to be internationally or even across the country. But do not underestimate the power of traveling to a new place together as a family. Obviously don’t put yourself in debt to do so but investing in travel and adventure as a family is never a bad thing. You learn so much about each other. There will be times of frustration, there will be moments of pure wonder, there will be belly laughs, and there may even be a few tears. But most importantly, there will be memories that will remain with you for the rest of your life. And who doesn’t love a good “Hey – remember when we …….” family conversation around the dinner table?

family view from Hohensalzburg Fortress

The Art of Knowing Very Little

The other night after dinner, the four of us were playing a game at the table when I was struck with one of those moments of disbelief – the type when it feels like you’re floating above the room keenly observing the people and events. If we were in a Nancy Meyers film, the screen would’ve given way to a gorgeous and unnecessary oversized kitchen as Summer Samba (So Nice) floated in the air. I stared at my hard-working husband and curious children and the Ticket to Ride: First Journey game board and thought to myself, “I am here.” The three of them were laughing about a mispronunciation of a train station as I looked on with reverence. I was reflecting on our path that lead to that precise moment in time when my son called out, “It’s your turn, Mom!” – which sent me crashing down from my ethereal birds-eye perspective.

the great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been

madeleine l'engle quote

I’m getting older. The laugh lines on my face are more pronounced than they were five years ago. When I stare at my hands, I’m struck by how much older they appear than the years my birth certificate indicates. The sands of time seem to be falling at feverish pace and I know they will continue to do so with each year. And while I am more confident than ever and grateful for what I’ve been able to experience thus far, I am continuously reminded that I know very little about this world.

Grand Canyon family sunset

We’ve been lucky to travel to some pretty amazing places that will be forever etched in our hearts. But there is a reason why I am quick to recommend the Grand Canyon as a must-do family vacation – being able to participate in the transformative experience of soaking in the indescribable view with our children is something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. Sitting on that ledge, we were reminded of just how small we were in the most overwhelmingly way possible. And what is perhaps most astonishing is that if were were to sit in that same exact spot right now, the view would not be the same because the canyon is ever-changing. Just like life.

Sometimes I wonder if I deserve the life that I’ve cultivated over the years. I’ll look down on the events taking place around me and think, “How did I ever get here?” and confuse perception with reality. I wonder if I express enough gratitude. And I question whether I’m seizing the moment enough to maximize the experience. But when I float back down, I’m reminded that the beauty of life lies with understanding just how little we understand of it. I am lucky that I’ve had the time that I’ve had and I can only hope that there are many more years ahead of me. After all, I still know very little.