Day by day experience in germany!
Tourvest Travel Services have this wonderful program called the Tourvest Educational Programme, where they frequently take select consultants on trips around the world, so that they can experience what the typical client does when they travel. I was fortunate enough to be invited on the latest trip to Germany, courtesy of the wonderful Lufthansa and Marriott International and I’ve documented some of the highlights of this fantastic German Adventure.
This was no ordinary workday, instead, it was the start of our German Adventure. With the flight scheduled to depart in the evening, there was some time to get work done, squeeze in a few meetings and even some last minute packing before heading to OR Tambo International Airport where the rest of the group were eagerly waiting at the Lufthansa counter so that we could all check-in together. Alas, not all goes as planned and a few WhatsApp messages later, we decided to meet at the lounge close to our departure gate. For those of us that were on time, we got to do some light shopping before enjoying some canapés at the lounge and finally, once the entire group arrived, a quick toast to our journey ahead.
Prior to boarding, Lufthansa managed to take us on a quick tour of the aircraft where we got to see the first, business, premium economy and economy class cabins and all we can say is wow! We then boarded the flight, took our seats in Premium Economy and we were off…
After arriving at Frankfurt Airport, a long walk brought us to the Lufthansa Business Class Arrival Lounge where we were able to have a refreshing shower and a light snack or two before being taken on a mini tour of Frankfurt Airport. Make no mistake – this airport is massive! We walked for about 3 kilometers before deciding to head back to the lounge and maybe catch the rest of the tour at a later stage (not!).
Tip: If you have a connecting flight in Frankfurt, be sure to allow for enough time.
From the airport, we walked to the adjacent train station, where after a quick pit stop at the grocery store for some local treats (and a cheesy, salty pretzel), we caught the ICE train from Frankfurt to Munich.
Somehow, our seats ended up being at the back of the line, i.e. literally the last carriage - which we later found out after a number of “sssshhhhhh” sounds, was the “quiet zone” cabin. It’s really frowned upon to be overly chatty as this is the carriage where people either try to get some sleep or catch up on some work. Wifi is freely available on the train, and it was a good time to catch up on some emails, daily news and other fun stuff - like updating apps (the internet speed is unreal!).
3 and a bit hours later and we were in Munich. Home to Bayern Munich Football Club and more importantly, home to Bayerische Motoren Werke - for those of you that don’t know - that’s BMW - yes the car company.
This being the home of BMW, it is obvious that they are the city’s largest employers and it’s evident in the pride the locals feel when they talk about the car. The first such conversation happened to be with our transfer driver that took us to our hotel – but more about him later. After arriving at the Main Hauptbhan in Munich we took a short walk (yes with our luggage - not uncommon in Munich) around the block to visit some friends at the Courtyard Munich City Center where we planned to have an early dinner before heading to the Munich Marriott Hotel for the night.
The hotel general manager, of the Courtyard Hotel, decided to join us and told us some stories, especially about the Oktoberfest, where his hotel is en-route for all of the revellers during the festival. I wonder if the hotel has some cctv footage – that would certainly be interesting... I have to say, the lunch was amazing – thank you señor! (private joke).
Back to the story about our transfer, the dude immediately started chatting in this deep voice and thick German accent about his love for driving and that he prefers a real car - not the stuff of today where turbos and on-board computers manage your driving style. He prefers a good old fashioned manual, straight six. Thank goodness, the drive lasted just 10 minutes but actually felt more like an hour!
Happy to have arrived at our stunning hotel – the Munich Marriott Hotel – we were keen to just get to our rooms, have a shower and climb into bed. The staff at the hotel must have read our minds, because no sooner had we walked in, and each of our room keys were ready – just a quick signature and off we went. That was Thursday – a very long Thursday.
Good morning Munich! It’s Friday and we have quite a bit to do today, and first up - Breakfast - who doesn’t like hotel breakfast? And boy do Marriott know how to put up a spread. After a super comfortable sleep-in, some of the group got up early for a quick dip in the heated indoor pool (how awesome!) before breakfast, where we all got together and discussed the activities lined up. We chose a group leader for the day who was responsible for getting us from the hotel to the pick-up point for our pre-booked tour. Our group leader did some quick research (google is awesome - but the hotel staff were better - yay Marriott) and led us on a quick 5 minute stroll to the metro station were we purchased some tickets and off we went.
Tip: When using the metro, ensure that you get your tickets validated before hopping on the train.
A few stops later and we were close to our tour pick-up point where google maps led us to our bus. We were exactly 3 minutes late and thank goodness it was no longer as we would have missed it.
Tip: In Germany - don’t be late… For anything.
From here we embarked on a City Tour of Munich climaxing in a tour of the famous Allianz Arena - home of Bayern Munich Football Club, and venue for the 2006 Fifa World Cup Final. If you ever do a city tour in Germany, do not expect flamboyant or expressive tour highlights. Don’t expect much humour either, rather, expect it to be typically German. Highly efficient, full of facts and figures, informative and maybe, just maybe a little interesting. Being a football fan, it’s no surprise that the stadium tour was the highlight. We got to sit (and shout “Gooooaaall”) in the stadium, see the change rooms up close and personal, and even walk down the famous tunnel while the Champions League anthem played in the background before viewing the pitch from the players point of view. I was gutted that there wasn’t a match on that weekend as I would have loved to catch a game.
After the tour, we made our way back to the hotel for a hosted lunch and boy was it spectacular. I have to say - Marriott are really good at this – yummy! We then had the pleasure of having a quick site inspection where we got to see some of the rooms, conference facilities and dining options at the hotel. The Sheesha Lounge is a stunning new addition to the hotel.
The day was far from over, and it was almost time to head out for our next tour. A different group leader was chosen, and this time we opted for take a taxi to the tour pick-up point - this way, we wouldn’t be late. It was a night tour with dinner at the Hofbrauhaus (The world’s largest beer hall) ending off with a trip up the Olympic Tower for a cocktail and spectacular view of Munich and beyond. It’s August - so the sun only sets past 8 in the evening so the Munich by Night part of the tour was the same as Munich by Day (which we did earlier) - it might have been a different tour guide, but it was like they were clones. We couldn’t wait to get to the dinner part of the tour, especially for the beer lovers. Eventually, we got to the infamous Hofbrauhaus and we were met by a German culture explosion with loud traditional music, jugs of beer, song, dance and lots of laughter. A few hours here and we were energized again before heading up the Olympic Tower. The revolving restaurant made most of us a wee bit sick - maybe it was the food and drink from earlier, but this was great to see - but not fun to feel. Thank goodness the tour bus went right past our hotel so we got off, had a drink at the hotel bar and tucked in for the night.
Our penultimate day and probably the day we all looked forward to the most. Today, we had a pre-booked Full Day tour of the countryside with visits to a few villages and two Castles, one of which was the inspiration to Walt Disney.
Again, we opted for the taxi ride to the tour pick-up point and we got there early enough to score the best seats on the bus - upstairs and right up front. We were pleasantly surprised to have a tour guide who was actually entertaining while still provided lots of useful information.
Off we went, via the infamous Autobahn, our first stop was Linderhof Palace. A magnificent setting with lush gardens and glorious statues. We had a short hike in the forest before coming across the small palace where we had a few minutes to wander through the gardens for some photo opportunities. Thereafter, our tour started promptly through the palace and all its rooms. King Ludwig II certainly was eccentric; his history is interesting to say the least. As soon as the tour ended, we promptly scooted off to our bus as we didn’t want to be late.
From there, we headed off to the little village of Oberammergau. A quaint, typically German village with lots of souvenirs and refreshments on sale. This was a welcome break from all the driving as we then made our way to the most famous castle in the world – Neuschwanstein Castle.
As we approached, we could see bits of the castle from the bus but nothing could prepare us for the breath-taking beauty when seen up close. Our tour guide provided us with some tips for making our way to the castle. Basically, there are three options; bus, horse & carriage or a walk. It’s approximately 1.5km uphill to the castle, and if you prefer, an additional 500m to the extraordinary viewing bridge - I would highly recommend going to the viewing bridge. The view of the castle from this bridge is nothing short of spectacular. When deciding which option to take, consider your tour time - remember… You cannot be late. A casual walk will take up to 45 minutes but there are no queues, you just start walking, whereas both the bus and horse carriage have queues to take into consideration. The horse carriage also takes about 45 minutes once you’re on it, while the bus is much faster and takes about 20 minutes up the hill - but it doesn’t stop at the castle, instead, it drops you off close to the viewing bridge which means you still have a 500m walk to go.
I walked, and it was great meeting people from all around the world while we hiked up the hill. When we got to the viewing bridge, it was packed - but this added to the excitement that was in the air. Thousands of selfies later, we headed back to the castle to make our tour time.
Tip: Pre-booking your tour enables the tour guide to make an actual reservation for your tour. There were many people who visited without the reservation and they had to wait an eternity before their tour, plus it was more expensive.
The tour of the castle was interesting but felt a bit hurried. The rule of not taking any photos or videos inside the castle did put a bit of a damper on the proceedings, but the views from the balconies were fantastic. A short stop at the souvenir store and we were heading back downhill to catch our bus, where we witnessed first-hand what happens when you’re late for your departure in Germany – it’s simple – they leave you behind. A frantic Italian tourist had missed her bus by 5 minutes and after pleading in tears with our tour leader, was allowed to hitch a ride with us back to the city. Then it was time to kick up our feet and get some shuteye.
On arrival back in the city, we had enough time to get some dinner before heading back to the hotel to pack for our departure the following day. We opted for a very touristy - and thus very pricey - restaurant in the heart of the Marienplatz Square. The food was very average, but after a long day of touring, it was perfect. Back at the hotel and the bed was calling.
Our route back home was much the same as the trip to Munich. After checking out, it was off to the station to catch the train back to Frankfurt. A morning departure meant that we would arrive in Frankfurt around midday - enough time to check out the Frankfurt Marriott Hotel and enjoy some lunch. The hotel is a perfect match for the city – very business orientated and suits the “banker” type of traveller with all the amenities and facilities. I really enjoyed the sports bar in the hotel, with loads of big screens showing a variety of sports. The football caught my eye and I stayed a while to cheer on the red team.
Soon thereafter, our transfer arrived and we were off to the airport, where a quick 2 minute process allowed us (those that checked in online) to tag our luggage ourselves – very nifty and best of all… no queues – and move onto passport control. Soon thereafter, we were doing some last minute duty free shopping or enjoying a quick snack in the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge where we were spoilt with delicious snacks and refreshing drinks.
Our Premium Economy Class seat was never more appreciated than on the return leg, where we could stretch out in comfort and get some sleep before arriving back home. That night – I dreamt of the delicious pretzel I had at the Frankfurt train station. It was covered in melted cheesy deliciousness and I’ve been craving it ever since. Aaahhh, I guess I’ll just have to return to Germany someday (soon I hope) to satisfy this need.
A big “Thank You” to Lufthansa, Marriott Hotels, Deutsche Bahn and of course the German people for an outstanding German Adventure. See you all soon.