Old Cities and New Friends: Munich, Rome and Florence

Leaving my freeloading lifestyle (and not so coincidentally my parents) behind I departed Salzburg and headed north to Munich. One downside to the lack of parents was the lack of motor vehicle, so my backpack and I were delighted to discover that the hostel was only 3 minutes walk away from Munich’s central train station. This delight was however short-lived when I realised the area surrounding the train station appeared to be possibly the scungiest area of Munich… Filled with strip clubs, shisha bars and casinos it was not an area that I planned to spend anytime in barring resting my head! The hostel I was staying in was awful… Not particularly clean, very uncomfortable beds and full of gap students – it turns out, unless you are an 18 year old gap student and enjoy. (Despite the fact I used to be one and loved it, I have since discovered that to everyone else in the hostel gap students are an absolute pain in the ass!!)

Wandering through the streets of Munich with no real purpose I found the hippest of all hipster Cafes where a cup of tea is served not with tea leaves or a bag but instead with an actual twig of whatever tea you are having e.g. I had a Thyme tea… And was given a twig of thyme to hang in my tea!!!


Avoiding the hostel at all costs I wandered through much of the old city of Munich that evening, finally finding a delicious vegetarian restaurant for dinner where I splashed out on a fancy and delicious meal (for one)! Before walking back to the hostel and locking myself in my room for the evening with my headphones quite firmly planted in my ears.

With only one full day in Munich I was pretty set on learning about the city and seeing a fair bit… My day started with the best intentions… I ran round the English Gardens which were very nice and even saw some locals surfing on the river that runs through the gardens. I managed to talk to one of them and asked him if this was allowed and he said no, but the police and park rangers specifically avoid the area so they don’t have to tell them off so in that respect it kind of is allowed! Watching them surf on a river with a very strong current was very cool… Although as there were two concrete walls on either side of them I suspected that if I ever tried it I would end up unconscious and at the bottom of the river.

Leaving the hostel and walking through Munich’s Old City I attempted to join a free walking tour of Munich… Turns out you had to make a reservation, that I did not have, and therefore couldn’t get on the tour till the afternoon. 

Munich’s New City Hall – Despite the gothic appearance this building was in fact built in 1904

I therefore spent the morning walking around the city shopping and eating punnets of raspberries! The walking tour was great (and free!!) I learnt about both Munich’s medieval history and it’s role in WWII which was fascinating as I had never quite connected the dots that Munich was where Hitler rose to power from! My favourite stop on the walking tour was one of Munich’s WWII memorials of bronze cobbles on a street.


To explain the significance of this we will briefly diverge into WWII story time (feel free to skip this if you aren’t interested!)…

So, Hitler’s first attempt at taking control of the German Government occurred when he attempted the Beer Hall Putsch. Following Mussolini’s example in Italy (the March on Rome), Hitler decided to march from Munich to Berlin, gathering support as they went, with the intention of overthrowing the government when they got there by demonstrating that it was the will of the people that he be in charge. Things however didn’t go to plan… Hitler’s march on Berlin only covered about 1km through Munich before it was stopped by a police barricade. Shots were exchanged with 14 Nazis killed and 4 police. While Hitler had committed an act of treason which still carried the death penalty he was instead sentenced to 7 years in prison and only served 9 months of those (imagine how different history would be if his judge hadn’t been a Nazi sympathiser). Hitler then eventually rose to power through legal means (of elections) and once in power he erected a monument to the Nazis who died in the Putsch where the police barricade had been and two Nazi soldiers were stationed there. Every time someone walked past they had to perform the Nazi salute to the soldiers and if they failed to they could be shot, beaten up, imprisoned etc. Despite Hitler being the majority party only 32% of the German population had voted for him meaning that the majority of the country didn’t actually want him in power… This meant many people did not want to perform the Nazi salute. The cunning residents of Munich found a street which cut behind this monument and thus avoided performing the Nazi salute. These bronze cobblestones represent the silent resistance of many citizens of Munich to the Nazi party. (Note, the Nazis did eventually cotton on to this and ended up stationing a Nazi guard on this street as well who would punish people who repeatedly walked through here or who walked through here without a good enough excuse!

STORY TIME IS OVER!

Another very cool part of the tour was the daily markets in Munich (except Sunday), here you can buy fresh produce, meat, cheeses, olives etc basically everything you need for a Bavarian diet! There are also beer gardens within the markets. The end of the walking tour also signalled the end of my energy for wandering around and therefore the remainder of my evening in Munich was spent sitting in a park reading until I caught the overnight train to Rome.

Sleeper trains are great… As long as you don’t mind confined spaces! The ability to lie flat with a duvet etc is just wondrous when travelling for over 12 hours. Unfortunately my train ended up being nearly 2 hours late meaning I spent nearly 14 hours on the train, 2 of which were spent stuck in a tunnel at which point the fun really started to wear off (however anyone following me on snapchat will know that I still managed to make my own fun)!

When we finally arrived in Rome I ditched my bags at the hostel and began wandering. My lack of a sense of direction, or a plan meant that I walked a very long and roundabout route to everywhere that I went! 


I stumbled upon this church on my walk… Despite the plain exterior the Catholics have spared no expense on the interior!! I revisited the Pantheon and the Colosseum which I definitely appreciated more the second time around… When I first went on my gap year it was more just box ticking than actually appreciating these places! 

Exterior of the Pantheon

The architecture of the Romans is unbelievably sophisticated and considerate on many occasions e.g. In the Colosseum the steps are very steep as they wanted even the slaves to be able to see the arena and they had a pulley system which meant they could put up shade cloths for hot days… Seriously advance thinking for a society that considered slavery to be all good!


I also went to two museum exhibitions… Because when it’s 39 degrees museums and the AC they provide have SERIOUS appeal. The first exhibition I found by mistake was a Banksy exhibition. This was fantastic, over 150 pieces of his work and not at all crowded I wandered through enjoying the art and many quotes from Banksy…


As someone who has always considered his artwork to be cool but never really thought about it I came to appreciate the level of social commentary that his work provides and his ability to generate much needed conversations through street art.

In almost a complete reverse to Banksy the next exhibition I attended was a Barbie exhibition. This was also much more interesting that I anticipated, mainly because it intertwined history with the evolution of Barbie and explained how specific moments in time impacted on the creative direction of Barbie. 



While all of this was fantastic, undoubtedly the best part of my day in Rome was meeting up with Mark, Tom, Josie, Charlie and Marc in the evening and going for dinner/drinks/sightseeing with tour guide Mark! Wandering through the streets of Rome in the evening with friends both new and old was amazing. We visited the Trevi Fountain where we saw a couple get engaged, we went to see the Colosseum lit up at night, and ate gelato from San Crispinos (the best gelato in the world). 

The happy couple (centre), the body guard (right) and the four people we don’t know who look better than us in this photo (left)

While I do love travelling alone and the autonomy it gives me over what I do, being able to be with friends on the other side of the world appreciating pieces of art/architecture that are significantly older than the country we come from is probably one of the best things you can do!

Leaving Rome after only 24 hours (but a very busy 24 hours if you don’t mind me saying) we all headed to Florence where 19 of us were meeting for 3 nights of fun. Travel caused us a few headaches that day, with trains being missed, buses being impossible to find, taxi companies hanging up on us… It was a relief when we conned a maxi taxi driver into driving 8 of us the 20km out of town to Bivaglia meaning we not only made it to our destination but also had brief respite from the heat (we were all very sweaty from our failed attempts to leave the city).


Arriving in Bivaglia I quickly realised that there was very little chance of me actually going into Florence to do sightseeing over the course of the next few days. Settled in amongst the Tuscan hills, it is a small village with nothing to do except lie in the sun and, thanks to Josie’s good booking swim in the pool attached to one of the houses we had rented! While 15 people stayed in one location (the house with the pool), Jamo, Mark, Tom and I were 2km uphill in a separate AirBnB. While in the afternoon sun the walk at times seemed somewhat unbearable it was a completely manageable walk after a few too many wines at night when the sun had stopped harassing us for the day!

Our time in Bivaglia followed a happy pattern of slow starts in the mornings, with equally slow (but very hot) walks down to the other house where we would then spend the day lying by the pool eating fruit and chips with sporadic bursts of energy where we would all crowd into the pool either simply to cool off or play games ranging from shoulder wars to volleyball. 

Time well spent with a dream team
NZ’s Synchronised Swimming Team #roadtorio

Our evenings involved revolved around two of Italy’s greatest contributions to the world… Wine and food. While two of the evenings we had a sort of pot luck at the main house the other night we went out for dinner in the town and more or less took over the entire restaurant (probably to the disappointment of other patrons) and turned it into our personal nightclub! Tearing through the town and returning to the main house we all jumped into the pool at 1am and had shoulder wars for about an hour before we finally felt cold and withdrew inside. (It’s at this point I should also mention that there were other people staying at this place… like the other restaurant patrons they probably considered our presence to be a bit of a deal breaker for their relaxing holiday). 

How quickly I make myself far to comfortable with new friends!
Nearly the whole squad

My day of departure from Florence we headed into the city early as Mark and Tom had a train to catch. This gave me roughly 2 hours of sightseeing/eating in the big smoke! I straight to the Catterdrale de Santa Maria del Fiore which I instantly regretted not booking to go and see the inside of… It is a truly remarkable building with absolutely no expense spared on its exterior…


My hopes of going in were quickly dashed when I saw the line snaked nearly halfway around the cathedral… Which is an achievement given it took me over 5 minutes to wander around!! From there I strolled the streets and alleyways in search of what I was told was the best sandwich place ever… I was not disappointed. All’Antico Vinaio makes one hell of a sandwich, with ingredients so fresh the tomato is chopped as you order, I quite happily tucked into what is undoubtedly the best sandwich I have ever had (I was also surprised because normally I don’t like sandwiches that much but this was next level!)


Despite feeling a twinge of regret as I walked around Florence at my lack of city exploration over my time there I actually had some of the best four days of this whole trip. It was a bit of a luxury for me to not feel obliged to get up and go sightseeing early in the morning and “make the most of the day”… I feel like I really did make the most of this holiday by not doing a hell of a lot except making new friends (given that I only really knew 4/15 people before the trip). It was a hell of a good time and while my liver was certainly surprised by my wine consumption it stood up to the test very well!

Making it out of Florence by the skin of my teeth (due to a few disagreements between Google Maps and me) I made it back to England where I will spend the next few weeks!

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