Monday, July 16, 2012

Au Pair-ents in Munich

    Well, there went my intentions on getting caught up quickly! Why is it every single one of my most recent blogs begin with an apology for not updating in a timely manner? Though I suppose it's better to be too busy to blog than update ten times a week with nothing to say. Eh? Eh? That's what I thought.

    Anyway, back to the third installment of the epic-ness that is Smimes Europe Trip!

    I'll save you the suspense now and tell you that, alas, I was unable to convince my parents to stay the rest of the summer and hang out with me, and they are, even as I type, back in good ol' Yucaipa, wowing neighbors with their new knowledge of German culture (I can only assume).

   But put that out of your mind, because we're going back two and a half weeks to the weekend of my parents' visit to Munich!

    Though our weekend trips to Nuremberg and Prague were beyond fun and I had an amazing time, I was most excited for my parents to come here. Whereas in the other cities we were all tourists together (though I like to think I was an A+ tourist, armed as I was with guide books and maps and Yelp-pre-scouted dinner locations), in Munich it was them coming to my home! Like your parents coming to see your new apartment for the first time, just on a much grander scale. They'd been here before, but not since the 70s, and not to much other than Oktoberfest, so I was super excited.

   So yeah, got back from Prague, did something all week (no idea what, clearly paled in comparison), and then it was Friday! I finished all my chores early while frequently phoning my parents to give them directions, and by about 1 they were arrived at my house! They got to come in, meet my host mom, see my room, bathroom, and general environs. It was super weird for me and probably a a little weird for them too. They'd seen my room, of course, but all via various internet video chat conversations, and it's quite another thing to be there in person! It was a weird crashing together of the two most separate parts of my life. We walked around my neighborhood (in disgustingly hot weather, I might add), seeing the various sights (which are of interest to probably no one except my parents), but they included my grocery store, bakery, and bank; the kids' favorite playground; the local beer garden; the wood I go on runs through; and the kids' kindergarten. It was good fun and they were super good sports about it (a grocery store is a grocery store, let's be real). The kids were still at the kindergarten, and I'd graciously been given the afternoon off from any dance classes/football, so we drove off into town.

   I successfully managed to direct us to the hotel, with only about six missed turns (driving in Europe is hard). I was pretty proud of myself. It's surprisingly hard to know how to navigate a city by car when you only ever take public transport. But we made it! Our hotel was, though rather small and unimpressive, perfectly suitable and very well located, just to the east of the Innenstadt and right on an U-Bahn/S-Bahn stop (and coincidentally right next to where I took my old language class). Leaving a note for Neal and Lettie, the friends from the previous weekend in Prague who would again be joining us, we headed out into the city to find some food.

   My parents rather magically managed to pick the one ridiculously hot weekend we've had all summer to be in Munich. I really don't know how they did it, but it was disgustingly humid and in the 90s the whole time they were here, and as soon as they left, the weather resumed its typical rainy high-of-68 pattern. Lucky ducks. Now they won't listen when I whine about the weather. Poor planning, Laura.

   Anyway, our quick walk on in through the city lead to one of the simplest yet nicest eating places I know of, particularly for a hot day: Augustiner am Dom. It's a typical Bayrisch place with good beer, good food, and sits right next to the Frauenkirche Cathedral. My parents were good sports and got good traditional Bavarian food (my mother's even came with Leberkäse, though she totally chickened out on eating it) and fortunately the restaurant came through with some dark beer for my picky father.

   Fed and watered, we walked more slowly through the city to see some of the sights, having probably a few hours to kills before Neal and Lettie would arrive. Our stops were sights you should all well know by know: Marienplatz, Odeonsplatz, the Hofgarten, and the English Gardens (and the surfers!), stopping there to put our hot and tired feet in the ice cold river (and see some naked people while we were at it, of course; it wouldn't be an English Gardens trip without some old-fashioned nudity), then head back to our hotel down the lovely Leopoldstraße, just in time to find our friends back at the hotel and head back out for the night.

English Gardens
  I'll stop here to give my parents the credit they deserve: they rocked the nightlife, man. Okay, not nightlife in the traditional sense; there was no clubbing or anything like that, but we did manage to stay up past even my normal bedtime every night. The sun setting so late certainly helps; at midsummer the sky didn't get completely dark until about 10:20 PM. But seriously, good job parents!

   So we set out again from our hotel, this time in the company of Neal and Lettie, heading for Augustiner Keller, one of the larger and most popular beer gardens in Munich (and highly recommended by yet another guide book, Neal's trusty "Beer Drinker's Guide to Munich" (which he very kindly left with me for the remainder of my stay!)). A short tram ride away, we were there by probably 10 PM and managed to fairly painlessly find a seat (though the place was quite full; there's really not a better choice for a hot and muggy Friday night than to head to a beer garden! Augustinerkeller can fit about 5,000 people, and there were probably at least 4/5 of that there.) and get started drinking Munich style, which is to say, a full liter of beer. We stayed there drinking jocularly and munching on pretzels, radishes, and the last of the food they sold before they closed the kitchens until at least 1:30 AM, I think. A table next to us was full of a bunch of Americans from some Oklahoma university who insisted on hollering their fight songs over and over again until they were hushed by a worker. The only songs you're allowed to scream in a beer garden had better be football-related and during a game.

Mom showing off her first real Bavarian pretzel
   I love beer gardens. Maybe it's because the Germans have more practice at drinking than Americans or start drinking earlier, but they are just not places that exist in the US. Whereas bars exist as slightly tabu, classless joints, beer gardens in Bavaria are filled with families drinking together. Most beer gardens have enormous playgrounds for the kids. When people get drunker, they just have more intense and even friendlier conversations. It's really a magical environment. I've never been at a beer garden when anyone's gotten out of control or been inappropriate. Alcohol usage at its finest, really.

   Furthermore, I'd thought I'd done pretty well upping my alcohol tolerance living here, but apparently I've just been hanging out with lightweights. My parents are beer-drinking champions. Though I would've liked to see them try and find their way back to the hotel without me. Ha!

  After almost zero sleep (not because of the late hour but because of the heat; I literally have never slept so poorly in my life. I miss hotels with air-conditioning), we headed down to a delicious hotel breakfast and took our time and advantage of the buffet. Neal showed off his new toy purchased in Salzburg: a device that cracks the top off of a soft-boiled egg. What will they think of next? We then dallied around in the lobby, waiting for the final additions to our tourist party to arrive. Julie and Colin are good friends of Neal and Lettie's and our family as well; they live in the UK and we've been to stay with them and their kids a couple of times, and it very cool-ly worked out for them to fly over for a quick weekend reunion in Munich. Once they showed up, changed, and drank a cup of tea (which takes about 90 minutes, by the way), we headed out into the heat.

   It is a difficult thing to be a tourist in the heat. I will definitely say that. And I forgive my parents and their friends for being such wimpy ones. The only problem with meeting friends you haven't seen in years in a foreign city is you'd rather talk than spend energy sightseeing! I certainly get it. But boy did I have to drag these guys around. I should've brought a whip. Not in a weird way.

   Anyway, after a short but sweaty walk through the pedestrian streets and Marienplatz, we ended up at the beer garden in Viktualienmarkt, where we camped for the next two or three hours. The garden was very full but well-shaded and with plenty of beer flowing, so we passed a lovely time there (with some ice cream thrown in at the end, much to my relief). We then headed over to a super cute little cafe to meet with a friend of Julie and Colin's, a girl my age who lives in Munich. We'd never met before so we had fun talking. I also got to drink a Hugo, my new favorite cocktail (ask Leigh, I ask her practically daily if she's ever had one): sparkling water, prosecco, Holunderblüt syrup (elderberry), mint, and a slice of lime. NOM.

Beer garden in Viktualienmarkt

Showing off her Hugo
   When the heat had dissipated a bit, we headed again to the English Gardens, where we stopped again to look at the surfers and met up with Leigh! The eight of us then scurried across the gardens and caught an U-Bahn to get to dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant, where we ordered (and ate!) more food than I thought possible. It was delicious and fun and was nice to have Leigh finally meet my parents, since they've both heard so much about the other. We headed home around 12:30, stuffed and satisfied. My tour guiding skills are such that we even walked through the midst of the clubbing district on Maximilianplatz on our way back and got to see some interesting looking people. You're so welcome.

Yes Mom, I stole your picture
   The next morning dawned thankfully cooler than the previous, and we enjoyed yet another delicious breakfast as we made a plan for the day. My parents and I had to talk off around 3 to get to my host family's house for a barbecue, so the others would be on their own for the afternoon/evening. The chance of rain sent us in the directions of Munich's fabulous art museums, specifically the Pinakothek der Moderne, where Sunday admission is conveniently only a euro! We spent the next three hours of so moseying through the displays, which include hundreds of chairs, videos of naked construction workers walking around, and old Macintosh computers, as well as some more traditional stuff like Warhol, Marc, and Kandinsky paintings. There was even a special exhibit of American photography, with one photo from San Timeteo Canyon, about a ten minute drive from my parents' house, and a lovely set of of photos of pregnant women shooting up. It was...interesting.

500 workers in a Japanese factory were given a chocolate bar and asked to make something out of the wrapper, displayed here. Such a cool (and random) idea. Modern museums are cool.

    We then headed across the street for a quick beer (sensing a theme?) and then my parents and I bid farewell to the others and headed out to my house.

   I was excited more than anything for this part of the weekend; it's so weird to think of how well I know this family and these kids and my parents finally get to meet the people they'd heard so much about. And the afternoon did not disappoint. The kids were out on the street waiting for us to arrive and all was very exciting. Kilian and Cliona were on their best behavior and were super cute and charming and their normal adorable selves. We had a delicious lunch of salad, caprese, grilled vegetables, chicken, lamb, and turkey, with ice cream and hot raspberries for dessert. My host dad even went out and bought dark beer for my father to drink. It was way too much fun. My dad got a chance to grill a REAL German about things like healthcare, certain German vocabulary, political views, et cetera, and it was just a lot of fun talking! Kilian and Cliona absconded with my parents for a while and had a game-playing session with them inside (Cliona even obliged by speaking ENGLISH to them, which she almost never does). It was such a lovely afternoon and a great way to end my parents' final day in Germany.

   After about four hours at my host family's (and waiting out a very impressive cloudburst), we bid farewell and headed back into town for the last night in Munich. We managed to find Neal and Lettie back at the hotel (Julie and Colin having left to catch their flight back to the UK), and we did what any good American tourists would do when confronted with a lack of firm plan in Munich: go to the Hofbräuhaus! As touristy as I know it is, it's actually way fun. I've even been known to go there without the excuse of a tourist to entertain! (Though we sit upstairs in the quiet part when that's true.) Sunday night was actually a great night to go--we were able to sit in the main hall, where it's usually a complete and utter madhouse, without having to go to too much trouble, though we were on the late side and I had to beg the waitress to let us get food. There's a traditional Bavarian oom-pa band, which is a lot of fun, though they play "Ein Prosit" (the toasting song) once about every ten minutes and it gets old pretty fast. Especially when your more-than-slightly inebriated father insists on harmonizing at the top of his lungs every time it plays. But it was quite a lot of fun. We headed contentedly back to the hotel and said goodnight and farewell.

Dad and his new best friend at the HB Haus
    I headed out early the next morning to get home to take Cliona to English kindergarten, and it was very sad to have to say goodbye to my parents, but after going almost seven months without seeing them, the remaining two (one and a half, now) seem pretty short!

   And now, life's back to normal again. It was way too much fun having my parents here, and I think it really shook me out of my my-life's-so-sad funk I've been in. Leigh and I have resolved (and achieved, for the last two weeks!) to have some thoroughly awesome fun in the time I have left here, and the summer is shaping up to be a good one.

   That's all for now! Next blog is half written, and I SWEAR it will be more timely! Also check back soon for updates on my choir, which I've sadly neglected lately! (That was for you, Sarah :) )

  And happy summer to you all!


  1. I'm so glad you're putting forth the effort to describe our weekends with you! You do a very nice job of it...and thanks for the kudos for our being good sports. It was a WONDERFUL time with you, and we're SO EXCITED to see you in a mere 6 weeks!!

  2. Laura....
    This was so satisfying to read! Thank you. Your descriptions are both very entertaining and comprehensive. Love seeing your beer bitten parents (and Neal)and hearing all the fun stuff you did (ate and drank). Also, thankfully, you didn't add any pretentious, hard to translate german phrases which I'm afraid I would have done back in the day...just because.
    The whole thing made me wanna be there thanks to you vivid appealing portrayals (save for the freak humidity)...maybe another time.
    It's going to be great to see you...hopefully soon.

    LOVE, aunt janus et al

  3. I read every word of this and I'm not related to you. Woo!! So glad to hear all about your parents' visit and that it was a smashing success. Favorite part: Kilian and Cliona waiting out front for your parents!!!!!!!!!!!! And the whole evening sounded like SO MUCH FUN! :) So so glad to hear that. xxxx