Munich and Istanbul Trip

Friday, November 22

With Samantha in tow, I picked Marcus up an hour early from school and grabbed a Subway sandwich (salami, cheese, and pepperoni with oil and vinegar) for him for lunch. The kids played nicely at home while I packed the last-minute things and then got everyone changed and into a cab headed downtown to Robert’s office. Robert leapt into the cab and we went to Logan and made it through security quickly and smoothly. We checked out two big rolling duffels and had two backpacks and a tote bag, plus my pocketbook, on the plane. (In retrospect, we overpacked—I had our luggage calibrated for some of the two-week trips we’d taken, like to India and Thailand, and somehow didn’t scale down for a one-week trip, but we still survived.) At Logan we ate at Burger King, which is even a huger treat than Subway for our kids, who rarely get fast food of any kind, and then they ran around some of the empty space in Terminal E before we boarded our plane.

The plane ride was uneventful. Marcus approaches flying like any middle-aged business traveler: he puts on his headphones, buckles up, and settles down to watch movies, use the iPad, and snooze. Samantha did not appreciate the ridiculous red baby restraint that Lufthansa made us use (it was her last trip as a lap infant), yelling “I don’t like my seatbelt anymore! I don’t want my seatbelt!” at the top of her lungs for the entire ten-minute stretch of take-off (and landing) when she was forced to use it. Otherwise, all was well; we found the legroom pretty decent for coach, the Lufthansa service very nice, and the downstairs bathrooms a fun and novel diversion. Everyone except Robert got some rest, too.


Saturday, November 23

We landed at 10:00 in the morning and had two sleeping kids to wear off the plane in carriers. There was no line at all for passports, and then we did bathrooms and a diaper change (both kids woke up, and were drowsy but conscious at this point) while waiting for our bags. Marcus ogled the vending machine which offered coffee, cocoa, and hot soup while Robert got some Euros from the ATM.

Upon exiting the terminal, even before we had to relinquish our luggage cart, we saw one of Munich’s “Christmas markets” set up immediately outside the terminal. There were stands selling gingerbread cookies and Thai food, and there was a two-section ice rink, a large area set aside for skating and a small, narrow area currently in use for ice stock, a bocce/curling-type game played, apparently, by gruff old men. Marcus was fascinated and we watched for about fifteen minutes. It was sunny and clear, cold but not freezing, and generally a nice winter day. “Is it odd that these men just hang out at the airport?” Robert mused. No odder, I decided, than how immune they seemed to the charms of either of our kids, hanging over the railing and watching intently.

By now we were feeling confirmed in the intuition we’d had during our trip to Rome four years ago that Germans, in general, do not love babies in the same way as, say, Italians do. Many people—from the flight attendants on down—here seemed to regard our traveling with children as the equivalent of someone traveling with a pair of bunnies—yes, sure, they know what bunnies are, and they’ve seen them, and perhaps even petted them, and they can certainly acknowledge that bunnies are harmless, even arguably cute, but they still seemed to regard it as mildly eccentric to carry your bunny around with you rather than leave your bunny safely at home in the US in its little hutch. [N.b.: Robert thinks my bunny analogy is misleading, and really it's more like they think we're traveling with monkeys. I think that's a tad harsh, but the flight attendant we had recently--from Morocco, living in the US now with three kids, traveling all over the world alone and with them--confirmed that in her experience, Germany is the least child-friendly place she's visited.]

Still, undaunted, bunnies in tow, we left the airport and took the S-bahn to our hotel—S for surface rather than U for underground. This theoretically should have been easy, a straight shot with no changing trains, but this weekend they were working on some of the tracks and so lots of detours were in effect. The signs explaining these were small and generally not in English, and in all, getting to Laim (pronounced “lime”) was quite the expedition. We were helped by a German woman with Australian-accented English and a twenty-month-old girl who we met on the train. They were heading downtown to meet her husband, an Australian woodshop teacher at an international school in Munich, and she helped us with the transit and also gave us tips on finding the “good” playground in town (right in front of the Jewish Museum, she said—you can’t miss it). We also chatted about H&M, because her daughter was wearing the same hat that Samantha had had and worn and used as a lovey at daycare for six weeks or so, until we tragically lost it.

After a brief stop at an Aldi to buy chocolate and gummi bears, we eventually did get to our hotel and were able to check in. We had a tower room in the nineteenth-century chalet, with a twin bed for Marcus in a little L-shaped wing. The hotel, Laimer Hof, is run by a chatty and personable German man who’d spent time in the US as an exchange student years ago and seems to have become entranced with the American Midwest. (He spoke in glowing terms of Michigan, and Robert and I just nodded vaguely.) Despite the almost un-German friendliness of the owner, the hotel is very European, down to the lack of flat sheets or tucked-in bedding on the beds. Marcus found that exciting, actually, “just like camping.”

We quickly washed up and, so as not to lose momentum and succumb to jet lag, went right back out. It was cool, just a few degrees above freezing, with an off-and-on light drizzle at this point. We put the kids on our backs and took the 51 bus to Moosach Station to take the U-bahn to the BMW plant. During the week they give factory tours, which would be very cool, but even on weekends you can still go to their museum and their showroom (the latter is free).

Our plan had been to get there in time for a 3:30 family-specific tour of the museum, but when we arrived we once again had two sleeping kids, so we skipped the museum and just wandered around the showroom. Robert got a “meatloaf” sandwich (thick, good, baloney, basically) at the café there, and then we headed back out and figured we could always come back when and if anyone under 10 woke up, since the showroom at least stayed open until midnight.

We took the U-bahn to the Marianplatz and listened to the church bells and walked around a bit. Several times, to play with Robert, I suggested we go to assorted little Turkish food stalls. Robert kept absentmindedly almost agreeing and then would stop himself, remembering that three days from now we’d be in Turkey itself.

Instead, we went into the Rathskeller restaurant in the basement, partially because it was there and partially because we felt nostalgic for the old “Rat” in the Kenmore Square of our college years, before “revitalization.” Both kids remained asleep for the entire meal—we laid Marcus down on the bench in the booth, and Samantha stayed asleep in the wrap and seemed oblivious to my spilling spatzle on her head. I had a pork chop in mushroom cream sauce with vanilla carrots and the spatzle, and Robert has a sausage sampler platter on mashed potatos and sauerkraut. Everything was very good; I especially liked the vanilla bean flecks on the carrots, and my chewy pasta in the sauce. Personally I thought Robert’s sausages all tasted remarkably like hot dogs, but he really enjoyed the famous white sausage.

Our waiter was something of a caricature of German efficiency and a no-nonsense approach. Robert is of course notoriously awful about asking waiters questions even when a) they’re not German and b) there’s no language barrier, so when Robert started in asking about the details of a prix fixe menu, I knew we were off to a great start.

“Is a menu. Dinner,” the waiter said. To call him “dismissive” would be being kind.

“But what’s on the menu?” Robert asked.

“Food. Different foods,” the waiter said.

“Four courses?” asked Robert, looking at four different paragraphs of German in the menu.

“Yes, four courses.”

“But what kind of food? What are the courses?” Robert asked.

The waiter sighed heavily and pointed at the menu. “Here,” he said. “First you have this food, then this one, then this, and then this one. Four.”

Robert managed not to laugh. He ended up ordering a la carte.

We did see the waiter come alive a bit when two men with British accents at the table behind us asked if there was a good bar nearby where they could watch “the big [soccer] game” that night. Otherwise, the waiter pretty much glared his way through the meal, though we do think he was proud of serving our dishes within a single-digit number of minutes of our ordering them.

We finished dinner and walked around the viktualienmarkt, buying a few streusels, a pretzel, and a fat gingerbread cookie (Marcus was now awake and intrigued). We ate these on the subway back to BMW World, where the now-awake kids loved the children’s room, the big motorcycles, and really everything. I found a comfy leather chair and dozed a bit and wrote in our trip journal, and we all ended up using the nice bathrooms before heading back out to take the U-bahn to the bus to the hotel to call it a night.

More. . .

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Created: 12/1/13. Last Modified: 12/4/13.