Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monaco di Bavaria

Melbourne may have a Paris end and a Beirut end, but Munich is Monaco all over. Except it's in Bavaria. And I think they probably eat more seafood than weisswurst in Monaco. And oompa music and lederhosen are probably less popular outside Bavaria. But otherwise Munich is Monaco all over. And it's great!

I spent the Easter weekend with old friends who are now Munich residents checking out Monaco di Bavaria and the nearby Alps. The weather was stunning, the best of the year so far, and the people of Munich responded by heading to the park to soak up the sun (in some cases lying on reflective mats to ensure they got evenly burnt all over), to the street cafes to sip espressos and pretend to be Italian and to the beer gardens to drink litres of lager and sing cheerful songs. As lifestyles go, it seems pretty hard to beat. Munich is an impressive place, though I have to say I enjoyed the gardens more than the intimidating architecture. The sun was most welcome after a long winter, though it was still good to be able to retreat to the cellar where my mate lives to cool off after a long day.

And we did have some long days. After a late night / early morning drinking lager, familiarising the locals with The Sound of Music soundtrack and explaining why carrots are orange, we managed a few hours of sleep before hopping on a train to Innsbruck in search of edelweiss and ibyx. We didn't find either (though we saw some goat tracks that could have been made by an ibyx), but the stunning mountains around Innsbruck more than made up for it. Unfortunately, the hot weather meant there was a risk of avalanches from fast-melting snow, so a lot of the best hiking routes were closed. Nonetheless, we found a good path straight up one mountain that took us to just below the snow-line before things started to get a little hairy (and the steep slope a little less solid) and we had to turn around.

Admittedly, we almost wimped out at an early stage when (having ignored a sign warning of avalanches) we came across a gully that was piled with snow and debris (including a massive tree trunk that had been ripped from the ground) from a recent slide. It looked a bit dodgy (particularly the bits where the fallen snow had melted through and you could see water rushing underneath) so we were about to turn around when we noticed some tyre tracks and realised that the three year old we had just passed riding his tricycle had just crossed the gully with his Mum. Hurt pride drove us across the gully and up the mountain for the rest of the day.

After the physical exertion of Innsbruck, we thought we'd sample some culture in Salzburg. Salzburg is a beautiful town - it's got nice buildings like Munich, but has been clever enough to put them on hills so that they can be admired from a distance. Smart people, those Salzburgers. After wandering around town for a bit, we stumbled up to the main schloss just before sunset and spent a few hours sampling the local brew on the castle walls, looking at the sunset and listening to random bell-ringing from the churches below. A very satisfying way to end the day, and a highlight of the weekend. The lesson? It doesn't take much more than a litre of beer, a sunny day and a nice view to make you very happy indeed.