When the Detours Make the Difference

“We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” – John Steinbeck

Bird's eye view of the town of Ulm

Based on a pact (read: mutual blackmail), I find myself hopping on a train to Munich, barely 30 minutes from when I touched down in Zurich from Singapore. I could tell that the teller went to pains to explain extra slowly the many train changes that I was to take, and for that I was grateful. Yet, during the change at the Schaffhausen station, I still managed to stand in the wrong sector of the platform, and thus missed my ride. Only an hour in, and there’s my first big backpacking boo-boo. Folks, it’s a new record!

After giving myself a proper kick, I had my ticket adjusted. As the next train was not coming for another hour and a half, there was plenty of time to kill. It turns out Schaffhausen was a wonderful city to be stranded in. Across the train station was the Old Town, no doubt an enclave of more than just a couple of Swiss heritage places. As I got myself past the cafes and shops that lined the cobbled pedestrian streets, I stumbled upon the All Saints Abbey — vast and wonderfully silent when I got there. If you have more time to spare, Europe’s largest waterfall, the Rhine Falls, is just a short train ride away.

Rhine Falls

Finally, it was time to hop on the next train and I managed to arrive in Munich without any more hitches. I settled into my hostel, a forty-bed dorm just a few paces away from the central station. And yes, a forty-bed dorm is exactly what you picture it to be. Summer-camp feel, where everything from your bunkmates to the common room activities are unpredictable. No surprises there, I guess.

Waking up bright and early the next day, I decided to tempt fate and took another train ride — this time to Ulm. Now, you have to pardon my ignorance, but if you would have mentioned Ulm just a few weeks back, I would most likely guess that it was an exotic village somewhere in the outskirts of Liechtenstein or Belgium. I would have no idea that this German town was the birthplace of one of the biggest rock stars in the history of man — Albert Einstein.

And yes, I would consider Albert Einstein a rock star. After all, only rock stars would have fountains as cool as these built in their honor:

How to build a worthy monument for a kick-ass thinker? Here's how.
How to build a worthy monument for a kick-ass thinker? Here’s how. (Also, look for a solitary stone hitched on the nearby health administration building, bearing the caption ‘Ein Stein’ or ‘one stone’).

And what do you do when you’re in the town with the world’s tallest church? You climb it. Yes, all 768 dizzying steps up the steeple.

View while going up the Ulmer Munster

Inside the Munster

After a bit of a stroll from the Munster, we came across the Ulm Rathaus (city hall). It's a pretty sweet office for the public servants, I think --- with the bright paintings adorning its walls. The romantic building is a stark contrast to the modern glass-walled library right across it.
After a bit of a stroll from the Munster, we came across the Ulm Rathaus (city hall). With the bright paintings adorning its walls, it’s a pretty sweet office. The romantic building is a stark contrast to the modern glass-walled library right across it.
And of course, it wouldn't be a proper visit to Germany if I didn't have a beer with my meals, wouldn't it? We wandered into a very nice beer garden in Klosterhofstrasse, where the pints were served in clay mugs. Prost!
And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper visit to Germany if I didn’t have a beer with my meals! My friend took me to a very nice beer garden in Klosterhofstrasse, where the pints were served in clay mugs. Prost!

Part of the reason I came to Ulm was because of curiosity — a friend was telling me about his day of chasing a calf who escaped from their farm throughout the woods. Growing up as a city brat, I thought that seemed to be an interesting way to spend idle days! After giving me a tour of their farm (kudos to his grandma for the beautiful tulips!), I’d have to agree that the German countryside is stunning. I couldn’t get enough of staring at all the trees and fields, as we cruised through the Autobahn heading back to Munich. If I were more of a car-nut, I guess I would have appreciated the ride itself more. It’s not so often when you get to drive through a highway where some parts had absolutely no speed limit!

Now, the Marienplatz in Munich is impressive by itself, but on that day, football fans clad in red scarves and jerseys filled the square, in celebration of the Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga victory. It is certainly a big treat to find ourselves in the middle of a fete when all the locals are sincerely head to toe with joy. Needless to say, free beer was passed on amidst all the chanting, singing and hugging. Spread the love!

Interesting shop windows near the Marienplatz
Interesting shop windows near the Marienplatz

After the festivities, my last day in Munich was more laid-back. A peaceful morning was spent attending mass in German in yet another impressive church, and I had more time to stroll around the town squares, while the rest of the city slumbered on lazy Sunday.

IMG_0461

That day was Mothers’ Day, too — and even if my own mom was miles away, I still got a special treat. I met up with my aunt for lunch; she moved to Munich a long time ago. As she was apparently best friends with my mother during their post-university years, she indulged me with stories of my mom’s adventures back when they were also twenty-somethings. It’s always fun to share moments with family you rarely get to meet; getting them to dish fanciful anecdotes about your parents is a cool plus.

Mother's day spent with my aunt and cousin from miles away



Casualty Assessment:

  • 2nd class ticket from Zurich Airport to Munich Hbf – CHF 96 (~USD 104)
  • 1 bed in a 40-bed dorm in Jaeger’s Munich – EUR 17 (~USD 22.6) per night
  • 2nd class ticket from Munich Hbf to Ulm Hbf – EUR 38 (~USD 50.6)
  • Entrance fee to go up the Ulm Minster steeple – EUR 4 (~USD 5.3)

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