Friday, October 5, 2012

We Are Back: Munich and Oktoberfest!

Tim:  We are back! After over four months, Amber and I are back on the traveling road; first stop Oktoberfest! We left our home in Anchorage on a nine hour flight direct to Frankfurt, Germany. Amber and I got a window and isle seat on the right side of the plane. I was surprised at how limited the leg room was. The leg room on this Condor flight in a Boeing 767 was much smaller than the Boeing 737s that we usually fly on Alaska Air. This meant that I had to sit straight up the whole flight and did not get any sleep. I think Amber managed a couple of hours of sleep. Our flight left at 1 Pm Alaska time, and we arrived in Frankfurt at 9 AM Germany time. After a few minute wait in line for passport control we made our way to the subway station at the bottom of the airport. The train ride to Munich was going to take 6 hours and 20 minutes and four different trains because we chose the cheapest option that included only regional trains.
       Richard Shultz, someone we knew from Anchorage was on the plane ride over with his brother, Tommy. Their more direct train took only four hours. The train ride was beautiful. After getting out of Frankfurt the countryside was very pretty. There was lots of farm land with tilled fields and some that still had corn growing. As we got closer to Munich we started to see vineyards and the occasional castle on the hillside.
      By the end of our train ride it was about 6:30 in the morning Alaska time. We had both fallen asleep in our seats on the train. Amber was awoken by a German man telling her that the train was about ready to turn back the other direction. She shook me awake and we stumbled sleepily off the train.
      The next step was to contact our AirBnb host. AirBnB is a worldwide website where private people can rent out there homes, apartments, and private rooms. Oktoberfest is a very busy time in Munich and as such the hostel and hotels are almost sold out and if not very expensive.
There were a total of nine people that we new from Alaska that had come over to visit Oktoberfest. There were all staying in Wombats Hostel, walking distance from the main train station for 70 Euro a night each. That would have been 140 Euro a night for Amber and I or around $181 US dollars a night. I was able to find us a room in someones flat for 60 Euro a night for both of us.
      Our host, Florian, did not get off of work till six o'clock so we waited at the main train station for a few minutes before he arrived. We did not have a working cell phone, and there was no free wifi in the airport, so contacting Florian was a challenge. We ended up using a pay phone that cost about 2 Euro/minute. It took the longest time to figure out how to dial Florian. Turns out I needed two zeros in front of the country code to get it to work.
       We took the bus to Florian's flat. It took about 15 minutes. Florian's apartment was located on the fourth and top floor of his building. The building looked like it was built in the early 1900s and did not have an elevator, so we hike up the old creeking, wooden stairs. By the time we reached his place we were too exhausted to do anything else but sleep.
     The next morning we got up at 10 am, found some quick breakfast at the small grocery store across the street from our  and made our way to the main Oktoberfest area. The subway was easy to navigate and took less than fifteen minutes to get there. Oktoberfest reminded me of the Alaska state fair on steroids. There were food stands everywhere with almost everyone of them selling hot dogs. Apparently, Germans like their hot dogs or Bratwursts, same same. Oh yah, and pretzels. Germans like pretzels too, giant ones. Interspersed between the food stands were fair rides like small roller coasters and Ferris wheels. Then there was the beer tents, huge! There was a tent for every major beer company in Germany most of which I cannot pronounce properly.
        I had reached or friend JD who had told me that the group was headed for the Hofenbrau tent. He was not joining because he was too hungover from the night before. We found the right tent easily enough. I think there are fourteen main beer tents. The Hofenbrau tent was large enough to hold several thousand people and by the time we arrived it was already quite packed. After wondering the crowded isles for a few minutes we spotted our friends. All five of them were dressed in complete leaderhossen outfits holding giant 1 Liter steins of beer. We quickly joined and ordered ourselves beers too. A liter of beer cost 10 Euro or about $13 USD for approximately 32 oz.
     Our friends had bought their lederhosen the night before for 200 Euro ($260 USD) for the whole outfit. The guys did not stand out in their outfits. Close to half of the people there were wearing traditional costumes of some kind. Our waitress brought us steins eight at a time with for steins in each hand. Physically, she could barely lift them. She also had to carry them through the maze of thousands of happy drunk people crowded into the tent.
     There was a band on a raised up platform about 8 feet high playing music. The songs included traditional German drinking songs as well as some American classics like John Denver's "West Virginia" we played several times every evening and the whole tent full of people would join in shouting the lyrics.
      Often you would see someone stand up on their table (always young men) and begin to chug the beer from their Stein. The crowd would cheer him on excitedly until he was finished with the contents. If the man failed to chug his whole beer, the crowd would boo the man down from the table.
     The good times continued until about seven o'clock when we went back to the subway station and our place for the night. We were up again my noon at the Oktoberfest site. It took us longer to find our group of friends. We visited several of the other tents which were just as full of people and almost as rowdy.

     On the morning of our departure from Munich we made our way to our Hertz rental car agency. We rented a car for four weeks. We were a little worried that the car was going to be very small as we did not know what kind of car we were going to get. We ended up with a four door Hyundai hatchback. Although it is small it works fine. We picked up a carpooler from the website to not only help with the cost but also to help us navigate our way out of the city. Our carpooler, Nadine, a German was on her way to Trento just north of where we were going, Verona.

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