14 September 2010
'Lady Gaga would have blushed...'Travel Day. Lugano to Munich.
My San Franciscan pal & I spent the day travelling from Lugano to Munich by train, changing at Zurich. The first leg was the more pleasant of the two, being a Swiss train with a particularly appealing dining car. The train itself was quite busy but the dining car pleasantly deserted. It was the real thing, with window tables set with white table cloths and a chatty waitress serving up more than passable fare. I could go into a rant here built around a comparison to trains in the UK, but I€™ve long understood that this is a complete waste of breath.
It was about a seven-hour journey all told, but it is such an effortless way to travel that the time passes remarkably quickly. As we approached Munich, I fired up the GPS to get an idea of where our hotel was in relation to the railway station. I'm staying at the crew hotel here, an a typically upscale Sofitel, which the GPS located and gave me a running update as to how far away we were from it. I noticed the distance becoming increasingly shorter, as you€™d expect, but by the time we had pulled into the station the €˜distance to your destination€™ was showing as '300m'. Indeed, the hotel was right next door to the railway station, which was a bit of a result. Love train travel.
Once installed at the Sofitel, we took a stroll out into the old town, in search of dinner. Finding a place to eat in a random city is always a bit of a pig in a poke. You can ask the concierge for some direction, but the danger then is ending up in a place with half the touring party, all having followed the same advice (sometimes this is fun but sometimes enough is enough). Following our feet and finding ourselves in a pedestrian area, it was remarkable to note that practically every other shop window was displaying lederhosen and dirndls. I know we're in Bavaria but this level of local patriotism seemed a tad OTT. Looking further and seeing smaller road-side stalls and gift shops selling mad 'babydoll' versions of the Heidi outfits and really rather suggestive leather pants, it became clear that this was all part of the ramp up to Oktoberfest which begins on Saturday. I was aware that this festival was a very serious local piss-up on a large scale, but until this moment I hadn't realised it was fancy dress.
Our muse of cuisine led us to the Rathouse €“ the huge old town hall €“ which appeared to have a restaurant in the basement. On closer inspection it turned out that the restaurant was wonderfully traditional and absolutely vast. We were led though two or three large vaulted rooms, packed with diners until we were seated. The place was very lively and the food was great, traditional Bavarian fare. We couldn€™t help but notice that not only were there very few tourists in the place, but the average age of the diners seemed to be about 65 years. Far from being a quiet pensioners night out, the place was absolutely rocking. Much hilarity and boisterousness ensued, including the uninhibited antics of a very high-spirited accordion player. Bavarian grown-ups clearly know how to party, with a couple of amorous octogenarians smooching with such a passion that Lady Gaga would have blushed. Loved it.