Oktoberfest 2016

I just got back from 2 weeks in Europe. My brother and a few friends were going to Europe for Oktoberfest, so I decided to join.  The full route was Munich, German > Berlin, Germany > Prague, Czech Republic > Krakow, Poland > Warsaw, Poland.  I’ve been wanting to go Oktoberfest for many years, as well as Berlin and Poland, so it was hard to pass up the opportunity to do so with my brother and friends.

Over the last year I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the World Wars, so it was fascinating traveling this part of the world.  Not only did I get to go to Oktoberfest for the first time, I also got to explore Poland and learn more about the history of the country.

I arrived into Munich after a layover in Abu Dhabi around 2pm on September 25th.  At the hostel I metup with my friend Ryan who was staying at the same place, and shortly after checking in all the other friends came over.  We had a drink there, and then headed down the road for some stein liters of beer, as well as food.  My old friend Martin, who used to live in Bangkok but now was studying in Munich, met up with us and joined us throughout the night bar hopping.  With the lack of sleep, it made the hangover the next day pretty bad.

I woke after 5 or so hours of sleep and walked over to another hotel where my brother and friends were staying.  Today was the day of Oktoberfest.  A couple others were having beers as we walked to Oktoberfest, where thousands of other people were drinking in the huge beer “tents” they had setup – more like huge buildings.

One of the many people chugging a liter in one go, while standing on the table.

One of the many people chugging a liter in one go, while standing on the table.

We spent the next several hours chatting about life, telling stories, and meeting others while binging on the liters of beer that Oktoberfest offers.  Of course the first beer makes your head, mind, and body feel better as it masks the pain of the previous nights hangover, one you know you’ll pay for later when you become sober yet again.

In the evening we rode the ferris wheel at Oktoberfest, which was one of many amusement rides they had setup.  It wasn’t long after when I called it a night.  Walking back to the hostel took me the better part of an hour when it should have been just a few minutes – mainly due to my map not loading on my phone very well.

The following day was yet another of Oktoberfest.  Because the days start early and end late, and are filled with continuous steins, it makes each day feel like two, and the hangover twice as hard.  This day we went to different tents than the day before, and rode a different park ride which spun us around a hundred feet in the air – it was quite fun.  Because I had a flight at 6am the next day, I called it a night around 10am to get a couple hours of sleep before taking the train to the airport.

Nighttime view overlooking Oktoberfest

Nighttime view overlooking Oktoberfest

I flew to Berlin the following morning with the plan to meet the rest of the group in Berlin as they had a flight a few hours later. Upon arriving I went to my hostel, got on the internet, and relaxed a bit.  Checkin wasn’t until 1pm, so I had some downtown which was nice.  Around 1pm I went to checkin only to be told that the room wasn’t ready, so I left my bag at the reception and headed out to meet the rest of the group at Alexanderplatz.

From there, we headed to a brew pub along the water near museum island.  We had some pizza and drinks, and then toured around the Neues Museum, which had a wide variety of ancient artifacts from the Nazis, the 1800’s Germany, and ancient Greek sculptures and writing, all the way back to 2,500 BCE.  It was a massive place to walk through, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

The following day we met at the Berlin TV tower at 10am to do a biking tour of Berlin, which we had planned and paid for ahead of time.  The tour consisted of everyone riding bikes around to different spots in Berlin with the guide telling us some of the history of the area.  At lunch we stopped at a beergarden for some quick food and a couple drinks. It ended around 3pm.  Overall it was enlightening and entertaining.

Parliament building in Berlin.

Parliament building in Berlin.

After the tour we took the train toward the area of town with the Berlin wall gallery.  We walked along there, and after headed toward the area where we would be seeing a Menzingers concert later in the night.  We had dinner and drinks, and before we knew it we were at the concert.  I had to buy a ticket at the door which worked out well, while others had bought tickets ahead of time (I joined this trip somewhat last minute).  The concert was fun, though super hot.  Since the Menzingers were the second band, the band that headlined we weren’t really into so we left before the concert ended.  We ended up drinking at a nearby bar, and eating kebabs before calling it a night.

The following day we walked to the Holocaust Museum and Nazi Museum, which we had learned about the day before on the biking tour.  We spent several hours going through the exhibitions learning more about the Nazis and the war – it’s nice that the city makes this free to tourists as it encourages people to learn more about it.  After spending most of the day walking and exploring, we walked around the Potsdam area and had an excellent Italian dinner near there.  We also had a couple beers which made the food even better.

Italian food in the Potsdam area (secret: I love taking food pictures).

Italian food in the Potsdam area (secret: I love taking food pictures).

We took the train the Potsdam area back to the area by my hostel to explore the nightlife there.  We ended up having a couple towers of beer at a nearby bar before calling it a night in the early morning – we had to be up reasonably early in the morning to catch our train to Prague.

We had a train to Prague from that left from the main station in Berlin – I ended up meeting the group at their station before heading to the main station together.  There we sorted out the tickets and where the train was, and then had lunch at the station – we had some Asian Grill. While on the train, we had many small bottles of wine and took in the countryside views.  During the last hour in the train another passenger sat in the cabin with us as he had a seat reserved – he was easy going and basically fell asleep while we chatted quietly. Once we arrived in Prague, we walked to our hostel and upon arriving around dinnertime, we were told that for 10EUR there was all you can drink and eat, so we checked into our rooms and participated.

After playing beerpong, eating lots of food, and playing several drinking games (baa-cok, hand slapping, etc.), we went on a pub crawl.  Unfortunately it was led by a younger Dutch guy who didn’t seem to drink much nor was too interested in bar hopping much, so the first place we went to we ended up staying at for probably 90 minutes.  It was full of smoke which made the experience worse, even though everyone in the group were several beers deep the say the least.

After the first bar, the guide took us back to the hostel where we stood for like 20 minutes, before he continued on to another bar.  During that time I had a kebab and decided to call it a night.

The following day we woke and headed to the oldest brewery in Prague, U Fleku, which was only a couple blocks from where we were staying.  It was full of people, and we grabbed one of the few remaining tables.  We ordered food and beer, both of which were excellent quality.  They also walking around and were serving some weird thick syrup-like stuff that was similar to a shot.  Some people were sipping and others shot it.  The one I had was insanely sweet, while others got ones that were not sweet but a different un-describable flavor.

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After leaving there we did our own little walking tour of central Prague.  It started raining as we got to the main square, so we hopped into a bar along the way for some drinks – I ended up with a liter of a fine dark beer.  Prague is famous for it’s quality Pilsners and it’s cheap prices.  We were told Czechs drink more per capita than any other country on earth – it was common walking around for breakfast to see people (including older people) having a pint.

We crossed over the bridge towards Prague Castle (which we would go to the following day), and headed to the John Lennon wall.  Apparently Lennon had painted something there, and since, it has become a big tourist spot full of graffiti about peace and with philosophical quotes about life.  After checking that out, we walked back across the bridge taking some pictures along the way, and went to the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments.  It was pretty interesting to see how many different ways humans have figured out to torture each other, mostly in the name of religion.  While I’m unsure how accurate or researched the museum actually was, it was entertaining.

We had Italian for dinner at a restaurant near the central square.  The Italian food throughout this entire trip was excellent – I had pasta while others had pizza.  After dinner we headed to the Sex Machines Museum Praha, which is a common tourist museum comprising of countless ancient sex toys from around the world.  I had been to one in Amsterdam many years ago, and this one was very similar.

Sex Machines Museum, Prague

Sex Machines Museum, Prague

The following day we took a train from Prague to Kutna Hora, a town about 2.5 hours from Prague by train.  Upon arriving, we walked into the town and checked out one of the larger churches near the train station, and then headed to the infamous skull museum, Sedlec Ossuary. It contains around 40,000 human skulls laid out and stacked, and it is quite a fascinating place to see.  The entry cost is around $3.

Sedlec Ossuary - Skull Museum

Sedlec Ossuary – Skull Museum

After spending a half hour there, we waited for a bus to take us further into town a few miles to explore some of the other churches.  Upon arriving it started to rain so we stopped into a local restaurant and had some soup and beers.  By the time we finished there, the rain had stopped and we walked nearby to the St Barbara’s Church, a magnificent Gothic-style Catholic church (started to be built in 1388).  From there you get excellent views of the town and the nearby structures, all of which are brilliant architecture.

View overlooking the town from St Barbara's Church

View overlooking the town from St Barbara’s Church

St Barbara's Church

St Barbara’s Church – magnificent architecture

We stopped for a drink on the way back to the train station where we would catch a train back to Prague.  However, we first had to take a different train from a station in Kutna Hora to the main station we came in on on the other side of town.  We waited a good hour on the train before it started to move.

Upon arriving back into Prague in the evening, we stopped at a Czech restaurant for dinner.  I ate “rabbit on spinach and bacon”, which was a first for me, though not as appetizing as it sounds.  Because it was Sunday, after dinner we went to a local Irish pub to watch the Broncos play football, where we enjoyed several rounds of Guinness.

The next day was our last day in Prague, as in the evening we’d have an overnight train to Krakow in Poland. We woke and walked toward Prague Castle, stopping at various monuments along the way.  We had Italian food yet again for lunch, which was again excellent – I was impressed with how well the Italian was prepared in both Germany and Czech Republic.  Upon arriving to the castle, there were lots of people and I thought I had known a shortcut to get around, but ended up taking us on a big loop around the whole complex.  We ended up re-entering via the garden nearby and eventually got into the castle area with the views I was looking for.

By this point the blue sky was out and the day became quite beautiful, a change from the morning where it was pissing rain just enough to be uncomfortable.  By the time we got back to central Prague it was mid-afternoon and we stopped into the Prague Beer Museum, which is not a museum, but a brewery with probably 30 different kinds of beer.  We ordered a few flights of beer to sample their selection, which was excellent.

Beer flights at the Prague Beer Museum.

Beer flights at the Prague Beer Museum.

Before heading to catch the train, we had a couple drinks at a different brewery, and then dinner at a downstairs restaurant nearby.  I ended up ordering fish and chips which ended up being the worst fish and chips I’d ever had – it was burnt to a crisp but they still served it.

The overnight train itself was quite fun – I was able to fit into the cabin they had booked without too much issue and transfer my seat over.  This gave us our own cabin to listen to music, have some drinks, and play some games.

We arrived into Krakow around 7:30am and from there walked to our AirBnB rental.  The streets were empty, and it was a bit rainy and cold. Upon arriving, we rested for a couple hours.  The rental was excellent, it slept 5 of us including a loft, and had an excellent bathroom and a washing machine – and was centrally located in the middle of Krakow – the cost was something like $15/per person per night.

After resting, we headed out to eat and explore, looking for the best place in town with pierogies.  The highest rated place on Google and Trip Advisor was a small local joint that had virtually no seating and was more like ordering from a window for takeaway.  When we arrived, there were about 5 people ahead of us and several people were behind us.  I ordered 18 pieces, not knowing what to expect.  9 were spinach filled, and 9 were potatoes and bacon filled – in total costing around $4.

Steamed pierogies in Krakow

Steamed pierogies in Krakow

We ate those out front – 18 was too many for me.  Pierogies are dumplings filled with various flavors and covered with a topping, often caramelized onions.  Most of the time they are steamed, though later in the trip we discovered others which were fried (and much better).

After eating, we went to a local brewery for some liters of beer along with a few snacks.  Afterward we walked around the central square and the market looking at the various souvenirs.  It was rainy and quite cold around this time.  By the time we finished there, it was the later afternoon, and we decided to go to the supermarket nearby to get snacks and drinks to bring back to the AirBnB.

We spent the evening doing laundry, playing card games, listening to music, and relaxing.  It was quite a fun night and a great time hanging out with the crew.  We ordered ordered pizza for dinner which we had to go pickup.

The following morning we left by 9am to walk to the bus station and catch a bus to Oswiecim, where we had booked a tour of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.  The bus took about an hour, and upon arriving we grabbed a quite lunch at a nearby hotel before the tour started.

The tour itself lasted around 3 hours, the first couple hours were at one part where we walked around through original buildings to see where people ate, slept, etc. while learning about some of the stories that the guide told us.  The last hour we bused to another section which was much larger where most of the people were held during WWII.  It was fascinating seeing this, as I had read “Night” by Elie Wiesel about the Holocaust when I was in 7th grade, and recently have been studying more about WWI and WWII after listening to the Hardcore History podcast (Blueprint for Armageddon and Ghosts of the Ostfront are excellent). After the tour, we took a bus back to Krakow where we had dinner and bought wine for another night indoors.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Learning about WWI and WWII really just reminds me how capable we as humans are to being manipulated in large groups.  Most of the people who fought in those wars, for example, were normal people who were convinced to do barbaric things because it was normal.  And history has repeated itself and will likely repeat itself again.  Straying the norm isn’t easy, but it’s important to always question what were told because more often than not, what we’re told isn’t the best way to live for us or for others.

The following day we did a full day walking tour, learning about the various sites around Krakow and seeing some more of the architecture.  Krakow itself isn’t too large, so it was mostly walkable without issue.  The day started a bit gloomy but the sky became blue in the afternoon.  After the tour we went to a highly-rated restaurant near where the tour ended for a beer and lunch.  I had Polish-style goulash with potato pancakes, which was fantastic.

Central Market of Krakow

Central Market of Krakow

After eating, we walked back to the central square and went to the museum underneath part of it which the tour guide told us to checkout.  It wasn’t too interesting, but was basically showing the history of the city from the excavation that had been done 10 years ago.  It was overrated and probably not worth spending the time on.

Afterward we went to an Irish pub for a Guinness, and then had a kebab from side-street shop.  It was massive, but not too good considering how good most kebabs are.  We then headed to a brewery for another beer flight – the beer was excellent there.

We left Krakow in the morning to catch the train to the airport to then fly to Warsaw, our final stop of the trip. Upon arrving at the airport, we took a bus to old town Warsaw where our hostel was.  After dropping our bags off (checkin was still a couple hours away), we went next store to a restaurant called Zapiecek which had pan fried pierogies on their menu.

We had to wait about 20 minutes to get a spot, and after getting seated we ordered some beer, pierogies, and various snacks – I had a salad and soup. The pierogies were spectacular, perhaps some of the best food I’ve ever had.  Others got original covered in bacon, while I ordered spinach covered in blue cheese cream.  Over the next 2 days I’d eat there again 3 times.

Pan-fried spinach pierogies with blue cheese cream topping.

Pan-fried spinach pierogies with blue cheese cream topping.

After eating, we checked into the hostel, and then grabbed a beer at the rooftop bar in the hostel.  Afterward we headed to an Irish pub to find some Guinness (yes, we all love Guinness).  They served liters of Guinness, so we ordered them until the woman said pints of Guinness were on special and it was cheaper to get 2 pints than 1 liter (obviously doesn’t make sense but we went that route).  The pub was full of drunken Danish football fans, as the Danish were about to play the Polish later this night for the World Cup qualifier.

After leaving the pub, we went to a Japanese restaurant for some sushi and saki.  Around this time the Danish (probably 100+ people from around the area) were marching down the street walking to the nearby stadium.  Police were on both sides containing them – it was pretty cool to see everyone having a good time and the police ensuring no one does anything stupid – it seemed they even advocated having fun.

By the time we finished the Japanese food it was dark and we headed to another pub to watch the World Cup qualifier and grab more Guinness.  We ended up drinking several liters of Guinness and chatting for several hours.  I left around midnight to get some water and head to sleep, while the others stayed out much later.

In the morning we had pierogies next door to the hostel again – I had strawberry filled pierogies covered in vanilla sauce.  They were incredible. After, we all walked around the central part of Warsaw exploring the various sites and architecture.  In the afternoon we walked back to old town to do an old town walking tour and learn a bit more about the city.  It was a bit rainy but overall was an enjoyable tour.  It’s fascinating how far Poland (and all the surrounding countries) have come since WWII, which wasn’t too long ago.  Everything has been rebuilt – similar to Berlin, Warsaw was 90%+ destroyed during WWII and virtually everything in the city has been rebuilt (which you’d never know if you didn’t know the history).

Central Warsaw has some really cool architecture as well.

Central Warsaw has some really cool architecture as well.

After the tour we had dinner at Zapiecek again, where I had potatoe pancakes with mushroom cream sauce and split a bowl of bacon pierogies.  The rest of the crew was quite tired from the night before and also had to be up quite early for their flight back to the US, so I headed up to the rooftop bar and had a beer (my flight was much later in the afternoon).  At the bar, I met several others staying there where we had a few more beers, played some games, and told some stories.

I headed to sleep around midnight, woke the next morning to pack and caught a bus to the airport.  My flight back to Bangkok had a long layover in Beijing, where I spent most of the time catching up on work and watching the presidential election debate.

It was a fantastic trip yet again.  I truly think you make things what they are – even bad experiences can be useful.  This trip was everything I imagined and more.  I was doubtful I’d even go, but I would have regretted it had I not.  In hindsight, it was one of the best trips I’ve done and it was a pleasure to travel with my brother and friends around Europe for a couple weeks.