If I had a dime for every time a friend at home had said that.
I did not care if it was in bloody July. I was not going to be in Germany and miss one of the largest parties in the world. Inter-city buses are pretty much non-existent, and the trains are terribly expensive, so I arranged a rideshare on a website in Konstanz.
Ridesharing is pretty much organized hitchhiking, and I managed to find a nice woman driving to Vienna, Austria, on a business trip.
She had to pass right by Munich as she drove east, and so I hopped aboard. The ride was nice; we crossed Lake Konstanz via a windy ferry and drove along the water for much of the way, before we hit the no-speed-limit German freeway. We were maybe only doing 80 mph in her rental car, but there were people passing us on the left like we were standing still! I had the option to continue riding with her for the 1,000 kilometers all the way to Vienna — which is supposed to be an incredible city — but my flight was booked out of Munich. Yet another reason that I hate pre-booking flights! Much conversation, one free liverwurst sandwich (bleh), and three hours later, I was standing on the very eastern city limit of Munich. She had a lot of miles to cover, so she basically dropped me on the side of the main highway, hugged me goodbye, and hit the road again.
So there I stood, looking at the “End of Munchen” sign meaning that I was at the very edge of town. I had no map. I had no plan and no idea where to go first. I turned around and started walking west toward the sun and back into town. Maybe I spent too much time playing Army, but “survival” situations like this make my spine tingle and I love every minute of it!
I quickened my steps a little — I was walking toward a pink sky that was both beautiful and threatening. I had no idea where I was, but it appeared to be an industrial area with nothing but abandoned buildings, rock quarries, and other not-so-cosmetic things that people don’t want in their cities. The neighborhood smelled like diesel exhaust and sewage and it was not the place that I wanted to be at dark, wandering around with an American accent and a large backpack stuck to me like an inviting tumor. Tonight was Sunday night, and so everything was shut. There wasn’t a soul on the street, and unlike Ireland, there was no way I was going to find a pub to get myself oriented.
I was feeling the pain when I got out of Vicky’s car, but now my bladder was at near-explosion levels. I walked around the corner and a huge smile broke across my face as I saw the only open business on the street…
It was a Thai restaurant.
I gave the old woman sitting outside my best “sabai dee mai khrap?” and a high wai for respect. Then, after minor chit chat, asked “hong nam?” She led me inside to the toilet. I thanked her many times and I thought she was going to kiss me when I told her “jai dee” which means “good heart.” The entire transaction took place in Thai, which was awesome practice, and I think she enjoyed it as well. Germany is not as bad as Sweden, where I was paying up to 75 cents to use a public toilet, but still, shopkeepers do not share their facilities without a battle or much begging and pleading. Not good when you are a vagabond that is trying to stay hydrated!
From there, life only got better. I found a subway stop on the street and purchased the 18 euro (ouch) three-day city pass and hopped on board. The plan was to go to the Central Station; I was sure to find action there. Munich’s subway system was far more complex than the one I had navigated in Stockholm…reading the maps was like deciphering the schematics to a circuit board. The trains were also quite old compared to those in Sweden, but they were fast and stayed on the track, so I wasn’t complaining. I hopped out at the central station and even at 23:00 on a Sunday night; the place was a circus of activity. It was as busy as any major airport and people of all types swarmed about, always seeming in a hurry, some dragging luggage behind them on squeaky wheels, others leaned over under the weight of a bulging rucksack. It was obvious that many were here for the same reason I was.
I went into new-city survival mode. I have developed a loose system for orienting myself into a brand new city while vagabonding, it goes like this:
1) Find a central traveler’s point (ie…the bus/train station)
2) Scan the crowd for people carrying rucksacks (fellow backpackers)
3) Eliminate anyone holding a Lonely Planet (meaning that they have no good plan either)
4) Eliminate anyone that does not look nice, looks drunk, or has more than 5 facial piercings.
5) Approach whoever is left with a smile.
There is something magical about wearing a backpack. As soon as you put it on, regardless of what walk of life that you were from prior, you instantly join a community and have friends that are willing to help you. It drops you into a cult of sorts, just like motorcycle riders, and regardless of age, color, nationality, background, whatever – you suddenly have a lot of resources at your disposal! So after using the method above, I approached a friendly backpacker from Canada named Tal. She was short and Jewish and her rucksack had to weigh at least twice what she did, from behind it looked as if a large North Face backpack had sprouted 2 arms and 2 legs and was walking through the station on its own with no one screaming in horror. She said that she had the best hostel in Munich and it was only 1 block away. Damn, life is good!
I followed her the short walk to Wombats, which amazingly still had plenty of dorm rooms available for 19 EUR. Simply put, it was one of the best hostels that I have ever made my home. There was an outdoor, yet covered, common garden area, a bar that served up very cheap food late, internet access, and hundreds of friendly faces. In the evenings the place was filled with the sounds of plates rattling, clanking steins, laughter, and I woke up every morning with the smells of delicous food floating up to my room. There were plenty of budget food options on the same street and it was 2 doors down from the Youth Hostel, which had one of the loudest and craziest pubs in the neighborhood.
I checked in around midnight, ate for the first time since lunch in the pub which amazingly still had an open kitchen, then I collapsed into my top bunk with pulsating leg muscles from all the walking earlier. I was now living in Munich and Oktoberfest starts tomorrow night. Mission accomplished.