Once Upon a Time in Munich

Five. That's the magic number when traveling in Germany. It's the maximum number of people that can use one Schönes Wochenende ("Happy Weekend") pass, which can be used to board an unlimited number of regional trains for one entire day. It's the minimum number of people needed to get a group discount in the BMW Museum. It's also the optimal number of people to share a rental car. And that was how we were able to make a very hastily-planned weekend getaway to Germany's "most liveable city" for less than a hundred euros.

Because the Happy Weekend pass does not allow travel via ICE - Germany's high-speed trains - our travel time was one or two hours longer with a couple more transfers. The savings, however, far outweigh the hassle - with five people sharing a pass it comes down to 16euros/head, as opposed to 150euros/head via ICE! Besides, I've done much worse in the name of stinginess (remember that 12-train, 26-hour trip to Hokkaido?).

I love how, when riding trains in Germany, I never have to worry about the legroom ^^.  And the countryside is gorgeous - at least the bits that managed to peek through the crazy fog that lasted until noon.

Oh, and the washroom in Munich station, Rail & Fresh, was made with travelers in mind - lots of places to hang your bags, counters for freshening up, and even shower rooms should you really need one - all for the price of one euro (a bit more if you want to shower).

Our hotel was this cute little number with the scariest lift ever (it was extremely tiny and you open the door manually). After a couple of hiccups with the rental car - it was almost embarassing that it took five engineers, working on car electronics at that, an eternity to change the default language settings of the car navigation system to English - we managed to make it to the BMW Museum. I'll be honest and admit it's not the most interesting thing. There was this one cute car, though.

And these big-ass bikes!

Afterwards we headed to the Alliance Stadium, but it was already enveloped by fog by the time we got there. Hence the Roswell-ish picture.

German towns, even the big ones, close down very early, so there was not much left to do but head back to the hotel, but not before getting extremely lost and nearly plunging headfirst into the expressway on the reverse! With zero sense of direction, I've never been the backseat driver type, but after that I had to get involved in the navigation somehow, and only because I wanted to, well, stay alive.

The next day we had to take an hour-long drive to see the castles. Or at least it would've been an hour if we did not get lost a hundred times over. I am thankful for two things - one, my local SIM with 1Gb of high-speed data; and two, iOS6 turn-by-turn navigations. I know it received a lot of flak, and to be honest even I was surprised that iOS6 Maps saved our asses when the car navigation system led us to one dead end after another.

Thankfully, the destination was worth all that effort. Hohenschwangau is a quaint little village nestled in between the mountains and hills and lakes and all things pretty.

Hohenschwangau castle is not so majestic when viewed from outside, but every single window in that tiny little palace has the most amazingly gorgeous view. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed, and after the tour I have developed so much hate for the Bavarian royal family because they got to live there and I don't.

Its most interesting occupant, Ludwig II, started the construction of the very dreamy Neuschwanstein castle. Think real-life Disney castle (it was, in fact, the model for the Sleeping Beauty Castle). Intended as a private refuge, it sits atop a hill and can only be reached via a 45-minute climb, or a 10-minute bus ride going full-speed on zigzag roads with mini-cliffs on either side.

One of the best views of the castle is from Marienbrücke, which is directly across and, when we got there, housed what seemed like a billion people trying to take a picture of the castle. But who could blame them, really?

I actually wish I skipped Munich entirely and stayed here overnight instead. The fairy tale castles amidst the gorgeous fall scenery, it's never gonna get old.

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