The good: I had five roommates in my dorm; three of them were very quiet Asian girls who spoke limited English, one was an especially angry Australian, and the last was a Bulgarian/Irish girl named Ina. On New Year’s Eve, Ina invited me out with her group, which about 15 people from a network called Travel Buddies. It ended up being the best possible thing; everyone there had such diverse backgrounds and origins. I met people from Belgium, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Prague, Malta, the UK, and more. We got dinner together all three nights I was there, and on New Year’s Eve we watched the fireworks in the city center and went dancing. That’s the thing about traveling alone- you’re never actually alone. You meet so many cool and inspiring people along the way. Of course Munich itself is a neat city, and I had plenty of things to see over the course of my two and a half days. I’m not a big fan of cities, but since there aren’t many people clamoring to go to small villages in the dead of winter, it’s smarter to go somewhere with more to do in the evenings. Winter in Europe is pretty bleak; it gets dark at about 4 o’clock here and everything shuts down. But Munich feels smaller than it is and has an overabundance of history. I wouldn’t stay longer, but it was a fascinating place to see.
Also, New Year’s Eve this year was a far cry from last year’s experience in Verona; on the last day of 2014 I had been traveling for 2 and a half weeks, was dead tired, and din’t want to deal with the fireworks in the city center. True to character, I watched Harry Potter and went to bed about five minutes after midnight. This year we were out til maybe 3:30, and not only did I see fireworks, I EXPERIENCED them. Let me tell you: Germans are pretty serious about blowing stuff up. Drunk people are shooting them off at every turn, and I’m not talking about the rinky dink sort you find here in the US- these things are major explosives. We saw them go into shop windows and one nearly exploded at my feet. It was noisy and colorful and a little terrifying (overheard from a group member during the fireworks show: “I was in Bagdad and it sounded just like this!”) and ultimately very cool.
Other things that happened in Munich: I climbed the bell tower in St. Peter’s cathedral for the most spectacular view of the city, nearly froze on multiple occasions, found a cute little cafe with amazing hot chocolate, drank gluhwein at Christmas market and watched the ice skaters, explored the outdoor market, and watched the surfers ride the artificial wave at the entrance to the English gardens. I also went to Munich’s modern art museum and got to see Cy Twombley’s 2001 Biennale piece, a massive 12-painting series called Lepanto. Cy Twombley is my favorite painter and I had no idea this was being exhibited; naturally, I freaked out a little on the inside.
The bad: ISIS.
When we were walking to the city center on New Year’s Eve, there was a squad of armed guards outside of the central station. We later learned this wasn’t some sort of Paris-inspired precaution and that there was a direct terrorist threat on the trains. This added an unnerving undertone to the chaos of the fireworks show; you don’t want to be surrounded by the sound of explosions when the city you are in may or may not be the target of ISIS. Even then, I didn’t realize just how big a deal this was until I saw the announcement on the front page of CNN the next morning- it turns out that only Munich was under threat, not in addition to other major European cities as I had assumed.
And lastly, the ugly: I had a breakdown in a bank after going to three separate ATMs and having none of them accept my card. This happens sometimes; I haven’t gotten that special chip that Europeans . But after the third ATM, I started getting paranoid that my bank had frozen my debit card despite me alerting them of my travel dates. That would have been the third time for that to happen, and it’s always an ordeal to sort out. I spent far too much time scouting ATMs, and eventually it was well past lunch and all I wanted was a dang bowl of soup from the market.
So, yeah. I was the crazy American girl who burst into tears in the middle of a German bank. The Germans were unfazed.
(No worries, though- it turns out my card wasn’t frozen and German banks just have a vendetta against me. This story has a happy ending and I got my soup after all.)
Overall, though, Munich was an amazing experience, and I came out of it with plenty of new friends from all over the world. Happy 2016 from Italy! I’ve already eaten an Italian train station sandwich (they are surprisingly delicious) and made a fool out of myself trying speak Italian in the Milan airport, so it’s safe to say that I’m in my happy place right now.