I live my life by very few rules. However, my never-to-be-broken rule is when you find a $500 roundtrip ticket to Europe, you buy it. Even if it’s 2 am and you are slightly sleep deprived. Even if you haven’t really thought it through but whoops you already entered your credit card and picked out your window seat. I’m also incredibly lucky to have a boss who was more interested in how I found this ticket over the part where I was going to be gone for two weeks. (It is a whole other conversation about the joys of working remotely.)
Some time after I purchased my ticket, I convinced my sister-wife to purchase the $620 flight I found her. And by convince, I mean the conversation went like this:
“Hey, so I found you a $620 roundtrip ticket to Europe so what I’m saying is you should come on my trip with me.”
Sarah continues to be the best thing to ever happen in my life.
With two weeks, four countries, and a plethora of food we were determined to eat and Christmas markets we were determined to see, we hit the ground running. Actually, we hit the ground trying to find each other in the airport but details aren’t important.
Our first stop: Munich, Germany.
Alternate title: Megan’s WWII history nerd goes wild while drinking her weight in Glühwein.
Every year when I was younger I tried to convince my dad to take us to Europe at Christmas for the Christmas markets — I didn’t understand the concept of money as a child. While my younger self cannot vouch, I would dare say the Christmas markets are way better as an adult for one reason: Glühwein aka mulled wine.
Most of our meals consisted of Christmas market food stands, which is great for eating all of the food and also staying way under budget, so we could then eat even more food. We were able to knock out all of our German-fare necessities in one meal — then go back for seconds. Germans really love their potatoes, and considering I am made of potatoes, I was very satisfied.
We also consumed plenty of Döner, another cheap option. And because you can’t go to Germany without a beer hall experience (well you can, but why would you?) we ate goulash at Augustiner-Keller one night before getting drinks at the Hofbräuhaus. Note: two pretzels and the heartiest goulash is not enough to keep you even slightly sober against a 1L stein of beer.
Munich Walking Tour
If I was restricted to giving only one travel tip for the rest of my life (hello, fresh hell) it would be to take a free walking tour on your first day. This way you can learn your way around the city, knock the big stuff out of the way, decide what you want to come back to, and learn interesting history. Yay history!
Our tour with Sandeman’s was thorough without being overwhelming, and we discovered the best spots for panoramic views. (My second travel tip, were I allowed to give one, is to always find the panoramic view — St. Peter’s in Munich costs $2.50.)
Third Reich Tour
The first item on our “must do” list was a Third Reich Tour. It’s not a unique love I possess, but I am fascinated by WWII history. Partially because my grandpa was a pilot in the war so I grew up hearing him tell stories and partially because how is a normal human not fascinated by WWII history? For roughly $25, Sandeman’s offers a walking tour detailing the history of the Third Reich. Munich is the birthplace of the Nazi party so there are plenty of sites to see from the Gestapo headquarters to the location of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch. Our guide was unbelievably knowledgeable and did a wonderful job discussing why it’s so important to pay attention to Hitler’s rise to power — and it’s relevance in politics today. I wouldn’t hesitate to say it’s one of the best tours I’ve ever gone on.
This is the point where I have to physically restrain myself from turning this post into a list of all the fascinating things I learned on the tour. I will leave you with this: Hitler had every detail of Munich thoroughly mapped and sketched out. From the very start he was prepared for war and knowing Munich would be heavily bombed, he wanted to ensure they could properly restore it after Germany was victorious. So despite Munich being 85% destroyed, the city was rebuilt to its original form at the end of the war.
Dachau Concentration Camp
Dachau is a 40-minute train ride outside of Munich followed by a five-minute bus ride. The Munich XXL ticket is the cheapest option and will cover the bus ride as well. This was the first concentration camp set up by the Nazi’s, but the gas chambers were never used as an extermination method — they went strictly with the starvation, abuse, and all-around treacherous living conditions. Originally, we were just going to do a self-guided tour, but when we arrived a tour was starting in five minutes (for $3!) and I am so glad we opted to do that instead. Once again, our tour guide was incredible. He was a retired professor and former German soldier. He gave us an insightful history of Dachau and the camps as a whole — with a lot of information we wouldn’t be able to find on the website.
Before we left he showed us a photo of starving prisoners and said, “If you think this kind of horror can’t happen again or doesn’t exist in our world anymore, I took this photo in former Yugoslavia in 1992. This can happen again, and it will if we don’t stand up to evil when it first appears.”
Day Trip: Neuschwanstein Castle
Two hours south of Munich is the castle that gave inspiration to the Disney castle. I don’t really care about that but I am a sucker for a good castle — especially ones I mispronounce seven times. My biggest piece of advice is to skip paying $60+ on a tour that takes you from Munich because it is SO easy — and much cheaper – to do it yourself. From Munich, buy the Bavaria pass (which gets cheaper the more people in your group) and take the train to Füssen. Make smart choices like I did and reserve your ticket to the castle a few days in advance – unless you like waiting in 4+ hour lines. Also, before you leave the Füssen train station, check when the last train leaves. We did not do this and almost missed ours. While Füssen is a stunning ski town, I would have gone into debt trying to pay for a room there.
It’s around $15 for the guided tour inside the castle and it’s incredibly short. I enjoyed it but if your budget is tight, you can skip it and still walk around the castle grounds.
We spent five days in Munich, leaving for Salzburg early afternoon on the fifth day, and it was the perfect amount of time. We both adored Munich and could have stayed longer but there was nothing we didn’t have time for. There was ample free time for aimless wandering through the streets and Christmas markets. Munich was an easy town to walk around in and after the first day we both could navigate our way without a map. If someone were to give me a job and a visa, I would absolutely live there.
Where we stayed: Wombat’s hostel. We LOVED it. It was cheap, clean, in the center of everything, had a great bar, and for only $12/night I didn’t even get murdered! They also had my favorite cheap European grocery store cheese — I ate more than I will ever admit to.
See you in Austria!