September 17, 2012

Solo Trip: May 2012: Heidelberg and Munich, Germany

This past May I had the opportunity to travel to Heidelberg, Germany to present at a conference at the European Molecular Biology Labs (EMBL). Sadly, Bryan was unable to secure time off to join me so it turned into a nice solo journey in Germany for a week. I traveled to Heidelberg on a Saturday night, ensuring that I arrived in a total state of confusion on Sunday as I have never been able to sleep on airplanes (a most annoying trait). Attempting to adjust to the time change, I tried my hardest to stay awake most of the day and explored the adorable town. I wasn't too successful in staving off sleep, however, and briefly remember eating falafel by the Necker River before turning into to my hotel for the night.

The hotel "Four Seasons" or Vier Jahreszeiten wasn't exactly noteworthy and had probably the most annoying pigeons I've ever encountered living right outside my window, but you don't exactly get your pick of the litter when you are traveling for work sometimes. It's location right next to the river though was a great plus and it was located close to the bus stop and the foot of the Heidelberg castle (which I sadly did not have time to tour). The next few days were spent entirely at the EMBL for the conference. Interestingly enough the EMBL is considered to be on international territory since its funded by a consortium of over 20 different European nations (apparently making it a great and tax-free place to work). The main building is pretty cool and boasts a "double helix" arrangement of bridges that connect two concentric open levels (think Guggenheim NY).

The final night, I was treated to a short tour of the town by two locals who had attended Heidelberg University (a school founded all the way back in 1386!). We ate at Wirtshaus Zum Seppl, a historical tavern where the University fraternities used to hang out. The food was great (always surprising for a vegetarian in Germany) and they served great local Hefeweizen. While most of my stay in Heidelberg was spent in science talks, I really enjoyed the town and would love a chance to stop back one day and explore it more.

After Heidelberg, I decided to head to Munich for a couple days. I caught an early train and was surprised to find it packed on a Thursday. Apparently I was traveling on the state holiday of Christi Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day) which is also Father's Day in Germany. The trip was easy enough though and I checked into my hotel by the train station before heading out to explore. I first grabbed a hearty lunch of a giant pretzel and a giant beer, before visiting the Munich Residenz. The Residenz served as the Bavarian seat of government and palace home for over 400 years. It was heavily damaged during WWII (as most of the city was) but has been extensively reconstructed and now houses a large collection artwork, furniture, jewelry and creepy reliquaries.

On a previous trip to Berlin, Bryan had convinced me to go on a bike tour of the city (even though I am scared of bicycles, long story) and we both ended up loving it. So I decided to seek out a bike tour and was lucky enough to find a guide that would take the three of us that showed up out on the tour. We started at the town center, Marienplatz, and then winded our way around the city stopping at famous historical sites, the gorgeous English garden (where people both sunbathe in the nude and surf in the middle of the city), and of course the large Chinese Tower Biergarden. It was a great way to quickly see a large portion of the city and learn a lot from a knowledgeable guide who happened to be an American ex-pat.

On the way back to the hotel, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a great vegetarian restaurant Prinz Myskin completely by chance. There I enjoyed a great meal accompanied by an Aperol cocktail (a European favorite). The next day I headed over to Pinakothek der Moderne (Modern Art Museum) and caught a great show that focused on the depictions of Women by Picasso, Beckmann and de Kooning. After that I made my way back to the city center to check out the large market, Viktualienmarkt, located near the Marinplatz that had been closed the previous day due to the holiday.

After heading back to the hotel, I caught a train back to Frankfurt and spent the night in a trendy hotel near the train station before my early AM flight back home. It was great to have the chance to travel solo for once and I really enjoyed the experience (even though I found out shortly after arriving home that I wasn't exactly alone the whole time...) Germany is great (we rank Berlin up there as one of our favorite cities ever) and I am really looking forward to a chance to go back and explore Bavaria again.

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