The Hotel Central in Plzen may not have been the swankiest, but at checkout my bill comes too less than €100 for two nights. Its faded glory, feeling like a throwback to the 1970s, didn’t really matter. It was clean, (sort of) of comfortable and right in the centre of the city.
But I was pleased to get out of the railway station. Faulty escalators, yapping dogs and a bitingly cold wind meant that the train for Munich couldn’t come soon enough. Fortunately there are up to seven a day running between Prague and the capital of Bavaria.
“But it’s too early for Munich,” had said the German in the hotel breakfast room. “You need to go in October.” I am, of course, aware of Oktoberfest – the world famous beer festival held annually. Hopefully, visiting at this time of the year should be less crowded.
On board the train, I share a compartment with a Czech woman who is married to am American, so speaks perfect English. She’s intrigued by my trip across Europe and tells me she and her family usually drive and go camping. One of her more memorable trips had been to Ireland – pitching a tent somewhere on the West Coast and somehow being surprised that it was “so wet and windy”. From my own time ther, I can indeed confirm that it rains. A lot. She also tells me that he mother would “love to ride the scenic trains in Switzerland”, but it would be expensive, and she herself would have to take time off work to accompany her.
For someone who travelled so extensively, she didn’t seem to like it very much.
Outside it’s still raining, The landscape changes from fertile countryside to large pine forests, though many of the trees look like they’ve been planted for commercial reasons; intermediate stations have good trains loaded with logs. After four hours we pull into Munch Central Station, which lacks any sense of grandeur.
It’s the busiest place I have been to since crossing through Paris around two weeks ago, and at first the scale of it all is a little overwhelming. But like many European cities, Munich is organised . The Leonardo Hotel – part of a growing chain – is just around the corner. And the efficient S-Bahn train takes me to the heart of the old city.
Marienplatz has been at the centre of Munich since 1158. It was an important crossing point for trade between Switzerland and Salzburg, so immediately became known as a place for markets – more of which later. On a wet Sunday evening there aren’t too many people around – but you can imagine that during the summer, this area would be teeming with activity.
Everyone seems to have headed indoors, and more specifically to the Hofbrauhaus. This is Munich’s oldest and most famous beer hall, and also its busiest. An oompah band plays in the centre of the vast building, while the smell of hearty Bavarian cooking is all around. However, there’s nowhere to sit – not unless you’re willing to squeeze onto the end of a table with another group.
Instead I take a slightly less busy option at the Tegernseer Brauhaus which offers pretty much the same experience but without so many people. I am greeted by three waiters wearing lerderhosen and invited to share a table with a couple in true beer hall style. The house brew is good, as is the food. Though for a moment I’m convinced that one of the waiters in TV chef Gino Di Campo.
The evening ends with another table sharing experience with a Bavarian, and Italian and and Albanian. They’re all students – he (the Bavarian) is in a relationship with the Italian woman. But her best friend is clearly the Albanian woman. They come to the same place every Sunday night to enjoy the entertainment. It’s the most European of activities, hosted in a traditional EU setting. I refer, of course, to karaoke night in an Irish bar.
Well, it would be rude not to.