Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Monday 15 May 2023

Munich Meanderings

Following on from the last post about Ameland, here's another travel entry. It's always nice when you get to be a tourist in your own home, so with a visit of a friend from Cardiff, I got to see some stuff in Prague I'd never seen before. Not only that, but we had a few days in Munich as well, somewhere that's been vaguely on my list of places-I-should-probably-visit-at-some-point for quite a while.

The first thing-I've-never-got-round-to-in-Prague was the Dancing House. This weird building is the result of one of the few bits of damage the city suffered in WWII. I've always assumed that the bar on the top would likely be ludicrously overpriced (actually I thought there was even an entry fee, which there isn't) and the view nothing special.

Well, the view is nothing special, but only in relation to the many other such viewing points within Prague. If you can can only choose to see one of these, I personally would probably go for the Astronomical Clock tower. Still, the Dancing House view is very good, and not horrendously overpriced at all : you just buy a regular-priced drink and you can go to the viewpoint for as long as you like. It's cramped up there, but worth it. There's a powerful pair of binoculars so you can see all the other parts of the city at the same time. Plus, the sculpture on the top of the building is quite interesting to see close-up.

The second thing in Prague was the National Museum. I've been in there once before, shortly after it re-opened after it was closed for many years for refurbishment. But that doesn't really count, because at the time almost all the rooms were still empty. Now, however, it's massively improved, and rates as a very fine museum indeed in my book. It's perhaps not in the same league as the British Natural History Museum or the Smithsonian, but... comparisons certainly aren't crazy. It's very well laid-out, the amount of information compared to the exhibits is good, and it has a good mixture of subjects (we mainly saw the natural history section and didn't have time for the history; you could probably make a full day of it if you wanted to be really thorough).

Outside Prague we also did a short hike around the "Devil's Heads". Now I thought that these were medieval, but it seems they're actually 19th century. Still, they're impressive enough. They hold the obscure record of being the second-largest carved heads in the world (the winners are on Mt Rushmore).

I have absolutely no idea why I took these photos in portrait mode though. Oh well.

The surrounding area is nice enough, though it could certainly use a restaurant. Getting back was slightly spoiled as we had the world's angriest bus driver - goodness only know why - but this unpleasantness was soon fixed by the wonderful spring weather.

After a couple more days in Prague, spent mostly revisiting more familiar places (and also one evening with a visiting scientist, because after the pandemic there's such a rush of visitors that it seems everything is now happening all that the same time), it was off to Munich. Lots of people have told me it's worth visiting, so it's long been on my to-visit list. And just as most of those people reported, it is very nice, but not quite as nice as Prague.

First, the city. We spent a lot of time wandering around here and there's much to see. Like Vienna, it feels on a grander scale than Prague despite the very similar population sizes. And it has some extremely impressive buildings.

Where it falls short compared to Prague is consistency. It has many wonderful architectural pieces, but Prague offers a more uniform standard over a contiguous area, and smaller, medieval streets, which I prefer. Munich is also even busier than Prague; whether that's because the city centre is more frequented by residents as well as tourists I'm not sure, though Sunday was a much better day since then the streets were practically empty. One thing it does do better than Prague, however, are the beer halls and their extensive gardens : considerably more expensive to be sure, but you do get what you pay for.

This is industrial-scale drinking yet with a convivial and respectful atmosphere : the warmth of a pub but on the scale of a factory. They're incredibly efficiently run*, with sufficient staff to rapidly and unobtrusively ensure everyone is catered for. They're busy but not nearly as awfully noisy as they might well be. The only things I didn't like were the oompah bands (an awful form of music that wears thin quite quickly) and the street sellers allowed to wander inside, which I guess is a problem of the tourist areas. I don't need to eat any more pretzels for a while, certainly not at 6 EUR each (!). Come to that, I don't really need to drink much more beer, not after 4 litres of the stuff in one sitting...

* German efficiency is in my experience largely a myth, but not in this case.

Next, the parks. After all that beer, these were a really wonderful place to recover.

Here too the grounds of the palaces are more extensive than any in Prague. One of them also features artificial surfing, which was a fun little novelty to stumble upon.

Finally, we went to a science museum. By this point a dangerous level of I'm-secretly-sick-of-all-this-bloody-sunshine-and-drinking-just-let-me-read-something-inside-for-goodness-bloody-sake (I'm serious here, see previous post) was starting to set in so this gave me some much needed relief. And it's an excellent museum. The aviation hall was particularly interesting, as German planes of a, uhh, certain era don't often feature in British museums.

A feckin' V2 rocket ! A doodlebug ! The only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ! And above this, a pretty decent space section. For me this was a moment of properly nerding-out bliss. Well done, Munich, well done.

All this was laid out very well, with many other interesting exhibits as well. As in Prague, I suspect you could make a full day of this if you really wanted to. My legs and feet were by now really fed up though, so the only thing I wish I had done here is the gift shop. Oh well, next time.

After this it was back to Prague, where we spent a lot of time down by the river hanging out with these guys :

Now I've been here since 2013, but I only heard about these critters a few weeks ago. The nutria is an introduced species found throughout Europe; I saw one on a hike a little outside Prague and initially thought it was an otter. They're actually rodents, which certain people have decided means they should be known as budget beavers or crapybara. Regardless. they're pretty cute little things, though maybe a bit worryingly unafraid of humans given their giant orange teeth.

And that concludes this latest travel escapade. After weeks of social engagements flying so thick and fast that they're colliding in mid-air with each other, it's finally time to revert to being a near-hermit. I don't care what the weather is like next weekend, I'm staying inside, goddammit, with exactly bugger all to do except drink copious amounts of tea and continue working my way through five thousand pages (not an exaggeration) of Tolkien. Anyone expecting me to go anywhere will be impolitely told to go and boil their head.

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