Those of you who have spent any time traveling around Europe will know about the blessing and curse that is Ryanair. It's a low-fare airline that connects a large portion of Europe. Think Southwest Airlines, only cheaper. Like all "bargains" it has its pros and cons. The pros are that it's pretty cheap, the flights are regular, and they fly to a good number of destinations all over the continent. The cons are the hidden fees which will surprise you if you're not paying attention, a 15 kilo (about 33 lbs) limit on checked baggage, and the flights usually depart and arrive from smaller, secondary airports.
To make a long story short, I found a really cheap flight (about 35 USD) from Stuttgart, Germany to Bilbao, Spain. And as a side benefit, the flight afforded me a chance to head from Austria westward into Germany for a bit. I ended up spending time in both Munich and Stuttgart. I'll not bore you with details on the entire week, but there were a few interesting highlights:
Much like Berlin, Munich boasts unique architecture, a great metro system, and a load of history. Home to all things beer, including the famed Oktoberfest (which sadly, I won't be around for), Munich serves as the cultural and business center for southern Bavaria.
After pulling into the large central train station, I found a hostel/frat house where I set up shop for a couple days. I spent the next 48 hours mixing business and pleasure: sorting out a train ride to Stuttgart, organizing travel plans with my friends I was to meet in Spain and trying to catch as many sights as possible.
- Allianz Arema - On the outskirts of Munich sits a gleaming white pearl of plastic and steel. It's hard for me to say too many positive things about anything related to soccer, but they do know how to build stadiums. It's absolutely beautiful - futuristic, stylish and elegant at the same time. Apparently at night they can illuminate the whole thing with different colors. Pretty cool.
- The Hofbräuhaus - It's actually a state-run brewery where the beer garden was invented. It has quite the vibe - the "beer maidens" dressed up in traditional Bavarian outfits, German music playing the background, and mass quantities of beer. For those of you who enjoy the brew, add this place to your list - the smallest size you can order a beer in is a one-liter mug.
- BMW Headquarters - After reading about it in the guidebook, I was really looking forward to visiting the BMW museum. Once I found it though, it was fairly disappointing. They are right in the middle of construction for a new building, which meant everything at present was now located in a temporary exhibit, part of which was in a small inflatable dome. It pretty well sucked. The actual HQ building was pretty cool though - a building the locals call "the four cylinder".
- Olympic Park - Just a few hundred yards away from BMW's headquarters stand all the structures left over from the Olympic Games held in Munich in 1972. Unfortunately my knowledge of the Munich Olympics was limited to the story of the terrorist acts during the games involving the Israelis and Palestinians - the same story which was the subject of the recent Spielberg movie. However, the city has kept everything in wonderful condition - the arena, the aquatic center and the enormous track and field stadium were still being used as I walked through. The whole park is gorgeous - using a style of architecture which was way ahead of its time. Long, graceful metal poles hold up curving, flowing pieces of glass and metal which resembled fabric.
Home to both Mercedes Benz and Porsche, Stuttgart has more of a blue collar feel to it than Munich. Like BMW, the car makers have museums near their headquarters, and knowing my dad would have been so disappointed had I not dropped by, I made a visit to both.
- Porsche - Unfortunately, it was almost an instant replay of the BMW visit. The current museum was simply a temporary holding area until the new structure is completed. It was actually even smaller than BMW. However, there were a few cool cars on display.
- Mercedes-Benz - A first glance at Mercedes' museum makes it easy to see why Porsche and BMW have big construction projects underway. Eight floors of spiraling concrete and glass, displaying everything from the first automobiles the world had ever seen, to concept cars which are 10 years from seeing the street. It was something to behold (dad, don't worry, I took a crap-load of pictures).
And, with that (and a quick trip to the theater to see Die Hard 4.0), I found my way to the Stuttgart airport and hopped on a plane bound for Spain - where I was to meet friends, hang out on the beach for a while, and eventually run from some big angry bulls.