On October 1, 2015 at 6:14am I left on a train from Geneva to Munich via St Gallen and Zurich. This was the only train for which I did not use my Eurail pass since my pass would be active as of Oct 4. I was quite ready to explore Europe on my own. I slept most of the first two train rides, as I hadn’t really slept much the night before, as expected given my sleep schedule. The train switch at St. Gallen was quite hectic as I only had 4 minutes and what my father had said about the next train being on the opposite platform was not accurate.
The third train ride, I had a conversation with this Munich-native who said she worked in the real-estate industry. She lay down to sleep on her side of the compartment and I lay down on my side and slept too, with my blindfold of course. When we woke up, she mentioned she was coming from a conference in Zurich. She was around 30 or 35 years old. She asked about my background and my travels. I told her the standard “American with parents from India” and told her I’m traveling 100 countries in one trip which was my plan at the time. She said when she was young she did quite an intense trip too, staying in hostels. I was thinking “no duh you’re German, you must have travelled”. Actually my trip and it’s particular style of using trains and hostels was inspired by German and English backpackers I met in a youth hostel in Goa the last year. I asked her how old she was when she travelled and she said 18 – 19 (for six months). Quite young I thought. She travelled through Australia and New Zealand, which ironically are pretty much the biggest exporters of travelers in the world, aside from Germany of course. She gave me some advice on Oktoberfest, most memorably to try going to tents during off hours. She said that German beer is much stronger than American beer so be careful. I asked her if I could get by in Europe with just English and she said for sure, especially in Germany. Only the French are stuck up she said. We talked a bit more about languages. Indians are for some reason very proud of the fact that Sanskrit and German share roots so I happened to give that a mention but she said she’d never heard of that before. She asked me if that means I can understand German and I gave her a stare of “No”. She seemed very proud of Munich, saying it’s the best city in Germany — a very rare comment if you talk to most Germans. That being said she was from Munich (meaning she’s Bavarian, not German! ), although she had lived a good amount of time in Frankfurt too. She asked me if I like cars. First thing that went through my mind was what a general question. I said yes and she said to visit the BMW museum, which unfortunately I didn’t end up visiting, so if you are expecting to read about BMWs you can stop reading now. We talked a bit more about languages She definitely depicted Oktoberfest as a “must-visit” and mentioned she had gone many times and that everyone will be drunk and happy. She seemed very nice. I was planning to try out advertising my site and app consultancy on everyone I met, so as we parted outside the train I said let me know if you ever need a site or app built. She laughed. I’m probably overthinking this particular event but that came off cheesy, and I decided this was the first and last time I’m going to say that to somebody. Introspection is important.
The hostel I had booked Schusterhäusl Inn quite plainly SUCKED. The only hostel I had stayed in before was The Jungle in Goa, which also was quite bad so my expectations weren’t high. That being said, the German in Goa said hostels in Germany are much cleaner and more organized so I was certainly expecting better, which I did not get. First of all, getting there was a huge pain. I had to take the Metro from München Hauptbahnhof to Germering-Unterpfaffenhofen, after which I needed to take a 9 or 10 euro taxi ride to the hostel itself. Because of Oktoberfest, Munich itself was quite sold out and a crappy hostel bed in the middle of nowhere was $90 per night. When I got there the first thing I was told to do was wait.
The receptionist was flustered and was asking about certain rooms and whether they were occupied by Indians in a complaining voice, which I thought was funny.
TANGENT: Actually, Germans making fun of Americans is much more common. Over half the time I talk to a European who is from a Germanic-language (German, Dutch, etc EXCEPT English and Irish) speaking country, a Nordic country, or a French-speaking country I notice one main thing. If you tell them you are from the US, they will roll their eyes so as to say “oh shit I’m sorry”. California gets much less of a bad rep in case you’re looking for travel tips from this blog. They will directly tell you they are not interested in visiting the United States. This really makes me crack up. If you tell them you’re parents are from India, their eyes will glow in appreciation of the exotic. This is not a generalization. A statistical majority of middle aged people will behave in this way and I guarantee it. The some that have been to India will say directly they’d rather go back to India again than visit the United States. These are what you call European affirmative-action-supporting, exotic-tea-drinking, America-despising, politically-correct-to-their-conscious-ability-but-ironically-blissfully-unaware-of-the-political-incorrectness-of-their-exotification liberals. This tangent is somewhat useless since this receptionist wasn’t one of these people but I’ll introduce you to a few people like this in future posts. You can almost predict what they will say and they are always kind and an absolute pleasure to speak with. This receptionist was just an I-don’t-really-give-a-shit-who-you-are-just-give-me-your-passport-cause-I-need-to-check-you-in-cause-we’re-packed-because-of-Oktoberfest type of person. So I gave him my passport and he gave me directions to the pigsty upstairs where I’d sleep. Let me take this moment to apologize to all pigs. Pigs are my favorite animal and I’m not making a religious statement here — I just find them very cute. I made my bed, unpacked my stuff, opened my computer, and declared a war on slow-to-non-existent internet that I’d continue to wage in spurts of periodic battles for the rest of my trip. This would be a serious problem for the digital nomad. As one doctor in Italy would later tell me when I was worried about having a particular disease after thinking I got sick in Greece, “GREECE IS NOT MALI. YOU PROBABLY DON’T HAVE THE DISEASE AND EVEN IF YOU DO, YOU’LL BE FINE”. In the same way, I must say, “GERMANY, YOU ARE NOT GREECE. YOU CAN AFFORD FASTER INTERNET”. In all honesty, Greece should be able to afford fast internet, especially on its trains, too. It’s an advanced developed economy, which you may not be able to believe if you read the news.
Giving up on doing any work, I joined one Guatemalan guy, two Australians guys, two English girls, two Australian girls, and one Hispanic-American guy from San Diego — my apologies to Bobby Jindal, despiser of the Hyphenated-American. We filled the complimentary Schusterhäusl van to the metro stop, saving some money on that 9 euro taxi. All the guys but my Guatemalan roommate and I were wearing the 150 euro Oktoberfest costume which I neither wanted to pay for nor wanted to store in my Osprey. Their conversation mainly consisted of how drunk they got at the last beer tent visit. The American guy from San Diego talked a lot about his ex-girlfriend, his 7 months of travel, and his transitions from hostel resident to hostel employee in many places, which by the way is a great and practical lifestyle to explore for minimalist lean travelers. Then we went on to get wasted.
Oktoberfest, but much more so Prague, is one of the few places where you’ll find tons of American tourists, particularly the type of college kids I went to school with in the United States. However, if I were to describe Oktoberfest in two words, the two words would be:
Yes, Oktoberfest is essentially a festival of Australians drinking 11 euro one-liter beers (thanks to their 60K GDP per capita) and dancing inanely to essentially what you hear on the radio interspersed with this one weird German song: Ein Prosit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7Y3GhbfBuU
The route from the Hackerbrücke metro stop into the well-lit Oktoberfest into the tent was absolutely crowded. I wasn’t drunk entering but I was in the drunken aura and didn’t really pay attention to the fact that I’m actually entering a carnival of sorts. Getting into the tent wasn’t a problem at all — we just got in. The group split and I ended up with all the girls funnily. Actually it was just a bit awkward. Anyway, they managed to order beers and I asked to get one extra so I could have one too. We all paid our own share. The train lady was right. German beers are strong. 1 liter in I was very tipsy, 2 in and I was drunk, 2.5 in and I was ready to do that drunken wander thing — thankfully a bunch of other people were doing that too.
I will make bulleted list of the events that followed. To be honest, this will be underwhelming given the excitement I’ve built up:
- I met this guy from Mexico. The Guatemalan, a Texan, the Mexican himself, and I just kept shouting “Mexico” loudly — of course pronouncing it correctly. We did this for around an hour. Incredible fun.
- I danced on a bunch of tables just like everyone else.
- I met this German girl who worked at a company she kept talking about, but I don’t remember anything about the company. She kept pointing to these people saying “These are my work colleagues”.
- I met three Indian guys and the one Indian girl with them. They were from Bangalore, and I think they were actually Oktoberfest tourists directly from India — not like they were working in Germany and showed up. See, India’s GDP is growing fast enough for people to afford Oktoberfest visits. Thank you BJP. But to the tourists, I would like to admittedly hypocritically say that if one wants to give to one’s country one should spend locally. I’ve heard of people spending 5 years’ savings on a trip to Switzerland — black money from India goes to Switzerland, tourism money from India goes to Switzerland, and Rolex money from show-offs-who-can’t-truly-afford-Rolex-but-take-high-interest-loans-to-make-silly-social-statements also goes from India to Switzerland. And that is why Switzerland’s nominal GDP per capita is $84,000 and India’s is $1800.
- I had a great struggle weaving through the crowds to the absolutely splendid toilets (you can imagine right?) 2 times.
Finally, I completely lost the group and decided to head home. I remember walking to the metro station with two drunk Pakistanis and then later on in the walk with a bunch of drunk Europeans. I got in the metro and got off at Germering-Unterpfaffenhofen — what a name to remember for the non-German drunks. With no Schusterhäusl van in sight, I sucked it up and paid for the 9 euro taxi back. I was slowly gaining an understanding on why most high-Germans despise the stuck-up expensiveness of Bavaria’s capital.
Back at Schusterhäusl there was some barbequeuing as I entered. At the reception I met two 18 or 19 somethings hitting on this American girl from New Jersey. I talked with them for a bit but I was kind of drunk. She had gone to Brown and Georgetown and we talked about US colleges a bit, which was interesting. She said her use of fowl language is absolutely acceptable as she is from New Jersey. I laughed. Then I retired.
The next morning I got up ready to test out being a real digital nomad. I woke up and started working on doornox.com with my client over Google Hangouts. Schusterhäusl internet was sub-par. XKCD please make a cartoon about needing to do data intensive tasks on slow internet. Also, I really needed water after the last night’s alcohol consumption and all my squeamishness went to shit. I took a dirty Schusterhäusl beer mug, washed it with dishwasher soap, filled it with water, and drank on repeat.
I adjusted my schedule to be able to take the Schusterhäusl shuttle to the Germering-Unterpfaffenhofen station, thinking I’d find a wifi hotspot using the promising AT&T passport app and work there and then tour around. Actually, the internet at the McDonalds inHackerbrücke was somewhat ok although it kept signing me out every half an hour. I was working with a client and then it stopped working, but I knew it was an important call so I tethered the rest of a Google Hangout at $0.15/MB billed to the family plan of course. Munich Internet is deplorable especially during Oktoberfest. The lady from the train had told me this and I didn’t believe her — I thought German internet and German trains are great. In reality, neither are. I ordered some fries and ate. There was this guy from China sitting across from me. He kept falling asleep onto my Macbook, but I just signaled to his friend once and his friend took him away. There were some American girls talking next to me. One Asian-American girl asked to borrow my phone for looking up directions to her hostel and since I was once again on McDonalds wifi I said okay and she used it. I said she could take a picture of my Munich metro map if she wanted but she said no thanks.
Done with work, my tourism itinerary was Marienplatz and Munich Residenz. I did for the first time something I’d continue to do for the rest of my travels. Visit a site, and instead of paying for a useless tour, I’d pull out the Wikipedia article on the site and just read it. I learned about the Swedish occupation of Bavaria during the 30 Years War and how Marienplatz’s new city hall was built after the occupation. This didn’t really strike me, but later when I’d visit Sweden and learn about it’s occupation of parts of Germany and Poland, as well as its seafaring, I’d begin to gain a new respect for the country as the major Scandinavian imperial power. Denmark was also a bit powerful, but the wealthy Norway and Finland were much less aggressive, the latter being quite passive actually to both the Swedes and Russians. Back to Marienplatz: what else can I say about it? Well, it was full of American tourists eating pretzels, and it was the first time I had seen a statue that’s actually a person … in a very long time.
I also wandered through this exhibit called Oktoberfest cathedrals.
I then walked over to Munich Residenz, a big complex of Bavarian royal palaces. I took the tour through the Residenz where I saw … But I have to say the most memorable part of my visit was when I picked up my bag at the very end. The lady behind the counter gave me my bag and said something in German unintelligible to me as I left. As I was walking out my brain formulated what she said. She had said “Auf Wiedersehen”. Then I realized it was quite rude of me not to reply and ignore her. So, I took the effort to walk back and say “Auf Wiedersehen”, to which she replied with a smile “Wiedersehen,Wiedersehen”. In reality, I now highly doubt she said the “Auf” the first time either. Anyway, I left with a little bit of underserved pride in understanding what she said and a little bit of satisfaction that I went back to reply.
I then tried to find wifi once again. I found myself exhausted, with my small backpack on, walking down the streets of Munich, unable to find a hotspot that’s better than the McDonalds. Giving up I finally google-mapped my route back to Schusterhäusl, using roaming data of course. I once again sucked it up and paid the 9 euros from Germering-Unterpfaffenhofen back to Schusterhausl. My taxi driver was from a Francophone country of West Africa, I believe Guinea or Senegal. I had trouble communicating with him as he didn’t know English, but then I surmised that he might know French so I asked him if he speaks French and he said yes quite eagerly. We conversed about his country and how he liked Germany compared to there and compared to France. He seemed like a very kind guy.
I remember my frustrations over internet speed grew that night when I felt worried whether I’d ever be able to pull off this digital nomad thing. The internet speed had to have been less than 0.25 mbps download and 0.10 mbps upload. I would later learn that they were using 1 3g router for the entire 3 story, 100 room building … how messed up … and charging $90/night for a single bunk bed. I couldn’t manage to get enough work done obviously, but I did get some done, after asking them to restart the router a few times. Of course, they had their own staff wifi that worked fine, and that’s what they used to check people in and charge people. It gave me the same kind of feeling that you get in school when the teacher’s lounge has the best snacks or when the cooler older kids get to go off campus for food but not the younger ones or when the fancy show choir gets to perform at the fashion show fundraiser but you aren’t part of it and kids younger than you are — the kind of feeling that you didn’t make the cut.
Anyway, I eventually went to bed. I remember talking to the Guatemalan about how Luis Von Ahn is one of my inspirations. He said that he’d show me around once I make it to Guatemala.
The next morning the American girl and I talked a bit and decided to visit a few places. I was a bit insistent on fulfilling my travel map itinerary so I managed to convince her that we should go to Nymphenburg Palace. We had to go to the Hauptbahnhof to store her luggage first. I looked for open lockers on one side but we decided to wait in the long queue after I was unsuccessful in finding an open one. In line we met this Pakistani-German guy who was very excited about his work in some sort of metals industry. He was proud of the fact that Germany is a very industrial nation. He spoke with me in Urdu for a bit without any initiation from my end which I enjoyed, because most people don’t give you that opportunity when English is more convenient.
We then headed over to the Nymphenburg palace which was large, royal, sunny, and well-suited to its name to say the least — definitely had the feeling of a Bavarian pleasure abode compared to the urban Munich Residenz. I don’t have pictures of the palace because I relied on her to take them, and I’ll check with her if she has them and update the blog accordingly. The summer abode of the Wittlebachs had excellent windows that flooded every room with awesome sunlight. It contained high quality furniture and rich detail about the Bavarian rulers of which I remember zilch. However, I do remember that the audio tour was a little too long for our stay and for some reason the palace triggered the following phrases in me: tea time, crumpets, croquet, Alice in Wonderland … even though all of these are English and not German. It’s about vibe. It also made me think about the nymphs in Midsummer Night’s dream — once again English but with very significant Greko-Roman classical influence.
We were in a rush so we decided to split a cab. Our taxi driver was from Greece. He asked us where we are from and I gave my standard answer. She said she is American with ancestry from Germany. He asked us our names and we replied. He started to question the Germanness of her ancestry. Yes, Stein is Ashkenazi and German at the same time. Anyway, we were grateful to him for the quick ride to the station. She picked up her bags and then took one metro stop over to the bus station where she left for Poland. It’s funny that during the elevator ride down, these two women got very upset at us for getting out first. Those very women were on the bus ride with her to Poland. She joked that they’d probably be sitting next to her by Murphy’s law. We said our good byes, but agreed to meet again in Berlin if time permits.
I went over to the Starbucks in the Hauptbahnhof where I managed to get some mediocre internet. I worked for a while. There was this other girl from the US who mentioned she had graduated University and was doing au pair. Hearing about what I do as a digital nomad, she had such a strong recommendation to go to South East Asia where the internet is spectacular. I took this vouch for their internet speed with a grain of salt, but I do see South East Asia as a great place for a digital nomad.
I went back to Schusterhäusl, worked, had meetings, and slept very late after a Google Hangout with my mom discussing learningdollars.com in great detail. Somehow at this point she and my grandfather were very concerned about my traveling, which I correctly assumed they’d get used to very soon.
The next day I got up really late and checked out well past the checkout time but got no complaints. I worked a bit, took the Schusterhäusl shuttle to Germering-Unterpfaffenhofen, the metro to the train station, boarded my train to Berlin, and used my Eurail pass for the very first time.