Friday, May 01, 2009

Europe 2009: Friday, May 1st

We have been planning this trip for a long time. Three years ago our friends Mogens and Jane Ellen told us they wanted to celebrate their 25th anniversary in Denmark, where he is from. They invited us to the party. At the time it seemed like a pipe dream, and here it is, three years later, and we were really doing it! We decided to incorporate visits to family and friends in Germany and a mini vacation in France into the whole package. I did exhaustive research, planning and booking of hotels and air and train travel at home in preparation. We were lucky to be able to get frequent flyer tickets flying into Munich and back home out of Paris.

We landed in Munich to beautiful, warm, sunny weather and were picked up at the airport by my niece Lydia and her husband Ralf. We got our rental car and checked into our hotel, The Novotel Muenchen City. I love modern boutique hotels and we hit the jackpot on this one. (I'm patting myself on the back as I type.) At the moment I'm using one of their huge Macs in the lobby. It's 3am and a bride and groom, in full wedding regalia, are just checking in. The free breakfast this past morning was an embarassment of riches: omelet station, fresh squeezed juice station, platters of lunch meats, cheeses, every variety of that fabulous German bread I love so much, hot sausages of every kind, yoghurts and fruits and much more. You wouldn't have to eat again all day if you didn't want to. The room is modern and comfortable with a separate toilet stall and shower/bathtub room. There's a flat screen TV of course. Best of all it's within walking distance of city center and the Isar River, which helps me keep my bearings in the city.

After we checked in Lydia and Ralf took us to that unique German institution: the beer garden. Beer gardens are large outdoor areas with rows upon rows of picnic tables filled with people enjoying huge pitcher sized glasses of beer and enormous pretzels. You are allowed to bring your own food, or they also have food you can purchase. The beer gardens are traditionally shaded by huge chestnut trees which just happen to be in bloom right now with white cone shaped blooms. It was May 1st, a holiday in Europe, and the tables are filled with all types of people: enamoured couples, parents and their kids (there is a playground nearby), men out to drink and have a good time. A live band is playing somewhere. It is a lively, comfortable atmosphere. Something the Germans call "gemutlichkeit". No one is in a hurry to go anywhere. This is one of the most striking differences between Europeans and the States. We are always in a hurry. Here people just linger. Lingering is good. I need to learn to linger more. My resolution for this trip is to be "in the moment", enjoy each day's experiences to the fullest and not think about tomorrow or what is to come next.

After the beer garden Lydia and Ralf took us to their flat. Many of my relatives live in flats, either privately owned or rented. The cost of living in Munich is exhorbitant, like in any major city in the world. Their flat is modern, decorated in Bauhaus style colors. Primary colors of red, blue and yellow alternate on walls and rooms with modern art everywhere, much of it painted by Lydia's mom, my sister Rosi. One entire wall are bookcases filled with books. They have a balcony and we sat outside and had wine and appetisers, accompanied by a lively political discussion. They are interested in what we think of our new president. This is a question we will be asked by everyone I am sure. Ralf prepared a fabulous simple dinner of fat freshly picked white asparagus (this is asparagus season) and ham. After having been awake for the past 36 hours we found we were nodding off in mid-sentence and called it a night.

We find that's the best way to beat jet lag. Get on the local time schedule as soon as you arrive. Don't nap when you get in, just force yourself to stay awake until a normal bedtime. We woke this morning refreshed and ready to go. The day began with a two hour stroll along the Isar River. It was so inspiring and refreshing to see so many people out jogging, biking, walking. Even little tots had their bikes and helmuts accompanying their parents. Last weekend I was in California and was impressed by the same thing: how many people were outside getting fit. I love going on vacation because you see a whole different way of life and you bring home all kinds of resolutions to better your life. Although I have learned to make exercise part of my daily routine, this inspires me to do even more. This city is so bike friendly. Like California, there are dedicated bike lanes and walking lanes which make it so much easier to commute safely: something I can't do at home in Michigan.

Today we spent the day with our other Munich relatives, Johannes and Maria and their four children, the oldest almost twelve and the youngest nine months. What a delightful time we had connecting with each of the kids on their own level. It didn't take long for three year old Emma to be jumping all over Georg and mussing his hair. The girls, young and old, always take to Georg. As for me, I held the baby as much as possible. They live near a huge park called "Englisher Garten", much like Central Park in New York City and we packed up the kids and a freshly baked chocolate cake and ice cream and went over to the beer garden (again!) in this park. For the second day in a row we were drinking beer and eating those ubiquitous pretzels, followed by that yummy chocolate cake. Part of this park is reserved for nudists. If you are not careful you are likely to stumble upon a businessman on his lunch hour serenely lying on his back in the sunshine, his business suit, ties, polished shoes and underwear neatly folded on the grass beside him.

Back at their flat, Maria prepared a Korean dinner of Bulgolgi and rice and the little kids were put to bed one by one. What an enjoyable day! Georg and I walked back to our hotel along the Isar River in the dark, which at times was a little scary because we weren't exactly sure of where we were going. We had probably walked five miles today without even knowing it and it felt great. Wish we could continue that at home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday dear friend!