The day after going up Hafalekar it was time to say finish up my great little Austrian side-trip and head back into Germany.
Next on my itinerary, I'm basically going to Burg Hohenzollern, a castle that I decided I needed to see to get my castle fix, but it's cheaper to stay in Stuttgart and costs no more for trains.
And it cost very little more to go via Munich, so I thought I might as well pop past that too.
As it was the end of September Oktoberfest was in full flight (despite the name, the festival starts midway through September), so of course I decided to drop in and check it out.
I arrived about 11am, and found the train station pretty much in meltdown – there's thousands of visitors and tourists like me wandering around, half of us are drunk, and I'm in the wrong half. Finding somewhere to store my bags proves a challenge – it's not that they don't have baggage lockers, in fact they've got about 5000, but at nearly lunchtime on Saturday during Oktoberfest, every single one is full (make sure you look around – there's several different areas of them, filling half a dozen rooms). Camping in one of the rooms until someone comes up to retrieve their luggage eventually proves the best strategy.
So, on to the fairgrounds. They're not hard to find – as long as you get yourself pointed in roughly the right direction out of the station, you can basically just follow the streams of people.
I'm not much of a beer drinker but German beer is pretty drinkable, and Oktoberfest certainly has an entertaining atmosphere, the tents are packed full of people, there's bands playing halfway-traditional music, and more of the customers are standing on or dancing on the tables than sitting at them.
So, it's pretty much like everyone says it is.
I don't have a table reservation or anything and it's the weekend, so unsurprisingly I don't find any seats in the main beer tents. I settle for one of the much smaller foody places and drink my way through about half a litre before I decide I've had enough of the crowds, noise, heat, and smokers and take off.
What else is there to do in Munich? Well, quite a lot, but it’s all covered in tourists like me. I try to escape the crowds by going out to the museum, which has some great geeky stuff in it, but discover that it's closing in an hour, too many euros, and that several of the exhibits I wanted to see are closed anyway, so in the end I decide I'd rather spend the time going for a walk around the city centre.
I have dinner at a restaurant whose menus are amusingly titled “for our alien friends”. What do aliens eat? Roast ox, well this one does – sauerbraten; not bad, quite tender, cranberries didn't really meld but the sauce was great.
Having made my way back to the main station, picked up my bags, I was sitting about on the platform waiting for my train, blogging a bit.
A train pulls in, and the electronic signs flick up the information for my train, so I hop on board.
Almost immediately, the train pulls away… erm, 10 minutes early…
I ask about, and yup, this train ain't going the right way, in fact it isn't the train that was listed on the sign at all; it's going to Salzburg, which is directly in the opposite direction to Stuttgart.
Sigh… I confirm with a conductor, and a couple of minutes later they make an announcement over the intercom (only in German – I hear the magic words ‘Stuttgart’ and ‘Salzburg’ and get one of the passengers to fill me in) telling all us who wanted the Stuttgart train to get off at the first stop in Munich East, go back via the S-Bahn, and go to the information counter.
So, we do that, but the whole process takes about 20 minutes so have missed the train now. The information counter guys don't know anything about all this. In the end I have to pay 8 EUR to upgrade to the marginally-flasher ICE train (the alternative being to wait 3 hours for the next regular train). Consider debating whether I should have to with the information counter guy but decide it's a lost cause, so I just go and have a consolatory pretzel and do some blogging (if you haven't realised already, I'm blogging more than 2 weeks late now.. but at the time was about a week behind. damn work distracting me..).
So, a couple of hours late, straggle onto the ICE to Stuttgart, hot and a bit exhausted – lugging around the extra weight I picked up over the last week or so is really starting to suck. Sit in a compartment with a couple of guys who turn out to work for IBM, in the mainframe sales part, so we have a quick chat about business culture and conference trips – they're just on the way back from one too, except theirs was on a Mediterranean island, good work!
We pull in to Stuttgart after nightfall. From the train you can see the Stuttgart Oktoberfest – it's not as well known as the Munich one but I think it's got just as many drunks (and more ferris wheels). The rowdy guys filling the corridor at the end seem to be moving from one to the other, and I discover (thanks to my compartment-mates thoughtfully answering back at them in English) that drunken male slurs are about pretty much the same stuff in German as in English :). Harmless stuff of course, and we all pile off the train and I make my way down the S-Bahn to my hotel.
People seem very keen to give me help in this city – maybe I was just looking particularly lost that day or something – one came up and tried to help me even though he'd just got there too and so had no idea where anything was either (it was nice of him to try, but he did point me in the wrong direction – think sticking with the map I was looking at would have been a better bet).
Check in to the hotel, reduce the weight of a bit of the alcoholic part of my pack, publish a blog, and then pretty much straight away fall asleep. Tomorrow is a castle day…