Munich Christmas Markets and Krampus Run

Hmm... What to do during the cold winter months in Europe... 

We heard that Germany had some amazing Christmas Markets markets, so we booked a direct flight to Munich based on the city's high Christmas Market ratings (according to google). 

There are around 20 Christmas Markets in Munich and we probably only visited around 5.  Our favourite one was the medieval market which had a fun theme - people were dressed up and there was a free show with sword fighting for entertainment.  
Spoiler alert: The girl knight kills them all and saves the world (ok it was all in German, but that was our interpretation).

We enjoyed window shopping and tasting different foods like the local bratwurst and various fried dough snacks.  Wherever there were long lineups, we lined up!  

It was humid and cold, so we also learned how to warm ourselves up like the locals - by stopping to taste almost every variety of Glühwein (mulled wine) that we could find!  The black cherry one (kirschglühwein) was the best!  Each Glühwein stall has their own custom mugs - you pay for the wine plus a 1-2€ deposit for the mug and you can either keep the cute mug or return it to get your deposit back.

As usual, we did a free walking tour to learn about Munich’s history.

Our trip became extra worthwhile when our tour guide mentioned that there was going to be a "Krampus Run" at 15:00 that day.  A “what” run….?  Yeah, at the time, we had no idea what a Krampus Run was but we were told that it only happens twice a year and that we just happened to be here at the right time, so of course we had to go check it out! 

In North America, when kids are good, they are rewarded with Santa bringing them presents for Christmas.  If they are naughty, Santa gives them coal.

In Germany / parts of Europe, when kids are good, they are also rewarded with Saint Nicholas bringing them presents for Christmas.  If they are naughty, the Krampus comes in the middle of the night to scare them, sweep them up into a giant bag, and take them away from their parents!!

Krampus are horned demons - seemingly the counterpart to Santa or Saint Nicholas. The Krampus Run consisted of around 300 people  wearing very elaborate and scary demon costumes, parading through Munich’s main streets tricking, teasing, scaring, and beating up the spectators.  Although all in good fun, some were a bit rough when hitting you in the leg with their sticks!

The costumes were seriously amazing though - all of the Krampus stank like animals because they were wearing real goat fur!

Not all of our adventures are as glamorous as our blog might have you believe!  

We were supposed to have a very early flight Monday morning to get back in time for work, but little did we know that the Train Operators were scheduled to be on strike precisely on that Monday morning (of all the dates and times they could have picked...!!).  

On Monday morning, we set off extra early to catch the first train of the day to give ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport.  We noticed that the train station monitors had something written in German that we couldn't understand but figured it was just because the service hadn't started yet.  We bought our tickets and stood on the platform for some time waiting for the train.  There were other people waiting on the platform but no trains showed up and the monitors still didn't update with the train schedules.  We eventually tried to ask around, but at that hour, there were very few employees working and none of them spoke English.  We finally figured out that they were trying to tell us that the airport trains were not running from this station and that we needed to go to the central train station instead.  We still didn't know that it was due to a strike - we thought google just had an inaccurate station schedule.  

We contemplated using Uber instead, but after seeing it would be €107 for the ride, we decided to walk to the central station.  We found someone there who spoke some English and told us about the strike.  They pointed us toward the stop for the Airport Shuttle Bus that we would have to take instead.  The lineup was HUGE.  After waiting for 30 minutes, there was still no bus to be seen.

Time was starting to feel tight.  We made several attempts at booking a taxi using a local taxi app and phone number but had no success with either.  After much deliberation, we decided to bite the bullet and book an Uber despite the (now) €150 fare to get to the airport.  The Uber booking attempts also failed - "no cars available for pickup".  

We started to notice people jumping out of the line trying to claim and share the taxis that happened to be dropping other passengers off at the train station.  It was dog fight as these taxis were few and far between.

The lady behind us commented that the Airport Shuttles didn't seem to be coming and asked if we wanted to split a taxi to the airport. We told her that all of our taxi/Uber booking attempts had been failing.  She said she had a friend who could get us a taxi so we agreed.  After some time, her friend called back and was also unsuccessful at getting through to book a taxi.  The three of us decided to walk to a different road to flag down a taxi - still no luck.  

We returned to the back of the line feeling stressed as our flight time continued to inch closer.  After another 20 minutes of waiting in the unmoving line, a shuttle finally arrived.  It loaded up passengers and the line barely moved.  We finally made the decision to bail.  

We went into the train station McDonalds for a coffee and used their internet to booked another flight out.  On the plus side, there happens to be plenty of flights to London so we were able to book new flights for 4pm that afternoon at €192 for both of us. Since, earlier, we had gotten to the point where we were willing to pay €150 for the Uber, we reasoned that needing to pay for that new flight wasn't so bad.  Plus, since the train strike ended at noon, we were able to make use of the €23 of train tickets that we had already purchased that morning.  Lastly, thanks to our very flexible employer, we were able to make up the hours we missed during subsequent evenings/weekend.

As soon as the strike ended we went straight to the airport and discovered a full fledged Christmas market right at the Munich airport - with an actual skating rink! 

It was a long day, but we happily made it back home and wrapped up the trip with a good early night's sleep.

Passau to Wesenufer (Day 1 and 2)

We boarded the Dusseldorf train at 20:30 and settled in for a good overnight-train-sleep to Passau, Germany.  We arrived in Passau at around 5:30am and met up with Jen’s dad, David, and his friend, Lloyd, at the hotel.  

Our 8-day adventure crossing Austria along the Danube River, with our little folding Brompton bikes, was about to begin!

Day 1: Passau
While David and Lloyd went to pick up the bike tour packages and bikes, we tried to get a bit more rest before heading into town for a stroll and visit.

Day 2: Passau to Wesenufer (~35 km)
Our first day biking was short.  We left at 11am and rode down to the Danube River to begin our journey.  At the edge of town, we stopped to hike up the cliff facing Passau to get a view of the city and a glimpse of the castle.

Along the way, we stopped at Engelszell Abbey, a Trappist Monastery where they make beer and liqueurs.  We bought some sample sizes to bring home as souvenirs.

We spent our second night near Wesenufer, Austria, at a really nice hotel-spa called Gasthof-Pension Luger.  The rooms were super fancy/nice (compared to the way we usually travel), and the food at the restaurant was delicious!

Gouda & Dusseldorf

It took almost 3 travel days to get from Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka to the start of our next adventure in Gouda, Netherlands.  We started out by transferring to and overnighting in Colombo.  Next, we then flew to Qatar and then London for another overnight.  The next morning, we trained across town to exchange our kites for bikes, then cycled to the train station, hopped onto the Eurostar to Brussels, transferred to Rotterdam, and finally transferred to Gouda.

The original plan was to spend 3 days cycling through the Netherlands, but we arrived to a dismal forecast of dark overcast clouds and pouring rain.  It was a blessing in disguise.. we were exhausted from all of the travel and Jen had brought home a stomach bug from Sri Lanka.

Our AirBnb room was relaxing and our hosts were very lovely, so we spent some time chatting with them, watched movies, and recharged our batteries for the trip ahead. Whenever the downpour took a short break, we'd dash outside to explore and eat at the delicious restaurants. Gouda is one of the nicest towns that we've stayed in, with its cute little market, shops, squares, and buildings. 

Our first stop was obviously at a Gouda cheese store where we sampled Gouda cheese with all kinds of interesting flavours and colours including Basil, Red Pesto, Fennel, Truffle, and Carrot... just to name a few.  We also learned that we've all been pronouncing Gouda incorrectly our whole lives.. apparently their "G"s sound more like throaty "H"s, so when Dutch people say Gouda, it actually sound more like a throaty "how-da"!

On Satuday, as we explored the town, we found ourselves at the Saturday Market where they were showing off... cows?  We have no idea what the cows were there for, but it was interesting seeing them just chill out in a tent in the middle of the square :)

Jen was SOO excited to finally have Dutch pancakes in Holland - apparently it was on her bucket list! :)  
The verdict?  Well, apparently they were just as good as her favourite Dutch pancake restaurant (Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus) in Calgary.  Hahaha! 

On Sunday, we finally awoke to sun and blue sky, so we decided to do 45 km bike ride to Kinderdjik to see the original Dutch windmills.  Kinderdijk sits below sea level, so the windmills were historically used as part of a water management system to prevent flooding and keep the region dry. 

The area was scenic and peaceful, so we stopped here for a picnic of gouda, bread, gouda, fruits, wine, and more gouda. 

On Monday, we made our way to Dusseldorf - the last stop before our cross-country bike trip. Since we were finishing up some work, we didn't have time to do much in Dusseldorf other than a quick wander through town to try out the local cuisine.


Since the weather in Europe was finally starting to warm up, we decided to escape the busy streets of London to check out Berlin.  

After an exhausting week of work, we decided to spend the first day just relaxing and randomly wandering the city on our own.  Of course one of the first things we had to try was the bratwurst from the (tourist-trap) biergarten in Alexanderplatz!  After hours of wandering, the warm weather drew us in for a rest in the park in front of the Reichstag building where we both drifted off for a sunny late-afternoon nap on the lawn.

To get a better sense of the history, we decided to do a tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours.  We were really glad we did because it ended up being a highlight of our trip!  Although we revisited several sites that we had already seen, our guide, Andrew, was super energetic and passionate about the city, so he provided some really amazing insights into the history and politics, as well as giving us recommendations for other areas to check out.  The tour also stopped off for lunch at a really cute restaurant with great food, in the heart of Berlin's city park.  Jen tried the schnitzel.. conclusion: Yumm!!!!  

We were surprised to learn that Berlin is a relatively new city (in European terms), and that the region was all swamp-land prior to the second world war, so most of the tourist sites were built in the last century (WW2 and Communist Era). As we rode through the streets, the very light traffic and spacious sidewalks were very noticeable... it just felt so quiet compared to other major cities.

A couple of random tour facts that we found interesting:
- You can be fined if you are caught doing a nazi salut in town.
- The Allies never bombed the Reichstag government building because it served as a good reference point for bombing other key parts of the city.
- The statement in JFK’s famous speech, 'Ich bin ein berliner,' translates literally to "I am a jelly doughnut".
- As you walk through the city you notice a lot of old-looking statues/gargoyles sitting on very new-looking buildings.  This is because during the war, many of the statues and monuments were taken off of the buildings and were buried or thrown into the canal in hopes that they would survive the war.  After the bombed buildings were re-built, the original statues were placed back onto the new buildings.

We also heard that Berlin has a great graffiti scene, so we did a bit of online research and went searching for them.

Lastly, of course, we made the obligatory visit to the infamous part of the Berlin wall :)