We awake in our sweltering Munich hotel room, well done and tender. My bed had the consistency of a rectangular marshmallow, and the sinews of my lower back howl in protest after a night on the rack. Despite the less-than-favorable conditions, I think the crew has managed several hours of sleep, which will serve us well in the day of sightseeing that lays ahead.
I must confess that Munich (or Munchen) as they call it in these parts, doesn't win my affection. I suspect that the city was pretty much leveled by bombing during the Second World War, so even when we reach the “old town” it looks like 1950s office blocks.
The situation was aggravated by the heat: the sun a hammer, I, a nail. I am a man of temperate parts and do not do well in extreme warmth. The old mercury had climbed up to around 30C (90F for you US readers), and I was wilting. Thank goodness we are on our way to cool Turkey in August...
Our first stop of the morning was the Asam Kirche, a splendid church tucked away on Sendlinger strasse. It is small, more like a British chapel than a full-sized church, but lavishly decorated throughout. A gold-plated skeleton haunts the entrance, a 24-karat reminder of our mortality. Inside, we are out of the sun for a few minutes and I snap happily away at the baroque splendor of the decoration.
Sadly we cannot tarry. We must reach the Marienplatz, a large square arranged around city hall (the Neues Rathaus), before noon. By late morning, the square is packed with people. The main attraction is the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, a clock tower that holds a double stack of thirty-two life-sized, carved figures. When activated by its internal clockwork, the top row of knights joust, while the lower row of coopers (barrel-makers) dance. The figures spring into mechanical life for three shows a day (at 11, 12, and 5:00 PM).
By noon, every shady spot in the square is packed with tourists, pointing video recorders, cameras, and a huge number of mobile phone cameras at the tower. The clock tower-paparazzi. Paris Hilton doesn't get this much coverage.
Accuracy is not the main attraction of the Rauthaus-Glockenspiel, and nearby (undoubtedly less photographed) carillons have already sounded and relapsed into silence before anything happens in our square. But then, the bells begin to chime and the gaily painted figures grind into life. Around they go, knights on horses jousting, dancers spinning, jesters jesting. Fifteen minutes of mechanical mayhem, and then they fall back into stilted silence. A golden rooster sounds three times. The media disperses, and we also trail away to find lunch in a nearby (Italian) sidewalk cafe.
After a lunch of good German food (pizza) and lovely German drink (Chianti), we walk quickly through the Viktualmarkt (outdoor food market), and then turn our steps north, toward the Residenz.
The Residenz is a great palace that was once the seat of the dukes and kings of Bavaria. The center of German political life from 1508 to 1918, it is now a museum. It is a vast complex, constructed and decorated to overawe visitors. My favorite room was the antiquarium, a long hall whose multiple niches are filled with recovered Roman statues of emperors (plus one of Alexander the Great). Upstairs we pass through endless rooms of red velvet and gold. The top floor has the feel of a sauna to it, and I, sweating profusely in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, feel great pity for the guards standing around in coat and tie.
As the afternoon begins to wane, I am more than ready to leave Munich for the (hopefully) cooler weather of the Tyrolian Alps. We climb aboard our train, and if the Residenz was a sauna, than the train is a full Turkish bath. Our car has evidently been standing on a siding all afternoon with the windows closed. We yank the windows down, gasping for air like St Bernards in Dubai.
It is slightly more than two hours from Munich to Seefeld. Midway through the journey the train begins to thread its way into the mountains. The farms of the lowlands yield to green alpine meadows, rimmed with pine and fir. Endless cords of firewood, split and neatly stacked, dot the fields. The meadows are also filled with large numbers of small sheds, brown wood buildings squatting in the grass like mushrooms after a Bavarian rain. I cannot work out the purpose of these sheds. Why not build just one large shed (or barn) instead of ten small sheds in each field? Perhaps each shed is owned by a family that has the right to harvest the hay in a 20 meter circle around it. It is a mystery that awaits resolution.
At last we reach Seefeld, a small town nestled in the palm of an alpine hand. Ski runs have been carved out of the lower, pine-faced flanks of the mountains, and to the east of us I can see the exposed steel skeleton of a ski jump. Chalets dot the lower slopes, while the center of the town is filled with lodges, ski shops, and bars. For the first week we will be staying a little out of town (about a 15 minute pull of suitcases west of the train station, mostly uphill). We are lodged on the 3rd floor of the Reichman Haus, with views of the mountains to the north and east.
By the time we reach our lodgings, we have little energy left in us. Fortunately, there is an Italian Pizzeria at the foot of our street, so we do not have to crawl too far for sustenance. The ladies have pizzas while I splash out on a plate of Penne Arrabiata. My meal comes on a pasta plate that takes up most of the table (the first “American-sized” portions I've encountered in Europe), and it is delicious. The waitress brings us a free treat at the end of the meal in small shot glasses. The girls gets some sort of fruity concoction, Mary receives a mildly alcoholic drink, and my glass contains Schnapps. Mary wants just a sip of my Schnapps, and before I can wrestle the glass away from her, she has tilted my drink down her throat. Moral of the story: always keep a weather eye on your Schnapps.
Home, to a comfortable bed in a cool, mountain lodge.