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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Europe Trip Report – Day 2 – Made it to Munich!

We had some funny experiences today. How quickly we forget the things we have done in the past. I will get to that a little later.

The flight to Heathrow was uneventful on United Airlines. We dozed off pretty quickly and the next thing we knew we were landing in the airport. The layover for the flight to Munich, Germany was around 3 hours, putting us into Germany around 6:00pm. I still do not get the Brits in the United Kingdom. While the majority of the European Union (EU) is now on the Euro, the British still insist on using the wacky pound system. That renders the Euros we brought with us useless here unless we want to exchange. At least we could use credit cards to grab a bite to eat and some bottled water.

Another oddity about the section of Heathrow we were in is that the gate areas are extremely claustrophobic. You walk through narrow walkways and enter into waiting areas that make you feel like you are in the “underground”.

When we finally get to Munich via our short hop on Lufthansa, it is quickly approaching evening time. Our goal is to make it to our hotel, the Munich City Hilton before dark. With that in mind, we hustle through passport control without issue and make our way towards baggage claim. Fortunately, everything goes smoothly and we exit the airport and head to the S-Bahn.

It has been quite awhile since we have taken public transportation. The reality is that we live in the Los Angeles area, where there is no effective public transportation. So, to say the least we are a little confused while also trying to recall some of the German we learned so long ago. People are coming in and dropping euros into the ticket machine for the S-Bahn. Our problem is that we are not sure which ticket we need, so we consult our friendly Frommer’s Germany guide to figure it out. We do not have the “Munich Welcome Card”, which is great because it does include free transportation to the city and we finally figure out that we need the Single-Tageskarte Gesamtnetz ticket for 9 euros from the Fahrkarten machine just before the train arrives.

We purchase two of these (later finding out we could have bought the double-rider ones for 16 euros), however this is where we really become forgetful. Rather than validating the ticket before boarding, we assumed there was a validation machine that put the time stamp on your ticket on the train. This was partially because we were rushed to get on the train in time, and partially because we completely forgot. So, within a minute or two we quickly realized that we were riding the train illegally without a validated ticket. While I was tempted to jump out at one of the stops to activate the ticket, I was more afraid to leave Ashley on the train with the luggage. Luckily, we made it to the Isator stop where our hotel was without incident and headed up to the street.

When you are not used to coming out of an underground or subway, you become disoriented. Luckily when we came up a nice German gentleman noticed we are fresh tourists and asked what we were looking for. When we mentioned the Hilton Munich City he pointed us right down the street – that made it easy!

On my previous trip to Munich, I stayed at the Hilton Munich Park hotel. It was a nice place, but a little farther from the Marienplatz area. So, for this trip I choose the Hilton Munich City and I was glad that I did. After our first few minutes in the hotel, I realized our stay was going to be highway robbery.

When we first booked our stay with Hilton HHonors points, this hotel was only rated a category 3 hotel by Hilton. That meant that each night was only going to cost 25,000 HHonors points. For those that have the Hilton HHonors Gold VIP status, you know what a treat that is. This was even more unique in the fact that Hilton was changing the status on this particular property to a category 5 (35,000 points per night) in just a couple of months.

Upon arriving, the hotel manager directed us up to the Executive Floor to check in rather than waiting in the main lobby line. The staff on the executive floor was extremely helpful and got us situated immediately. In addition, the executive floor at this hotel is far superior to most of what we have here in the United States. Full morning breakfast, afternoon snacks, all day drinks, and an open bar with a view out towards the city made for a great atmosphere.

After cleaning up, we headed down the lounge to relax for a little while before heading out. Having been trapped inside planes and trains for the past 24 hours, we decided to walk down through the Isator Gate to Marienplatz to enjoy a little bit of Munich before catching some sleep.

Then the most surprising moment of the evening came. I obtained a couple of sets of tickets to the Lakers playoff games. With the trip, I had to give them away to family members – of which I was somewhat disappointed. However, at about 3:00am my Blackberry 8700 (setup for international access) abruptly rang. In somewhat of a sleep induced coma I answered it with a “hello?” The voice on the other side yelled “you missed the BEST GAME EVER.” Hmm, just what I wanted to wake up to, although I did appreciate my father-in-law’s excitement about the Lakers victory over the Phoenix Suns. He was right; I did miss one of the best games ever.

However, I am sure glad to be in Munich!