Jim and Mary Beth clink to the first beer of the night

Jim and Mary Beth as the night gets under way

Getting dressed for the big night

Tim and Elliott joined us from Detroit

It’s the largest folk festival on earth. For 2-1/2 weeks, hundreds of thousands of people descend on the Theresienwiese fairgrounds in central Munich each day to celebrate in a uniquely Bavarian way — by crowding into massive tents, downing hearty Bavarian food, singing, toasting, and drinking oceans of local beer.

As we approached the fairgrounds I was stunned by the sight of people streaming in from every direction. We were glad we’d spent the morning shopping for lederhosen and the proper accoutrements, since the vast majority of people were donning traditional Bavarian dress. You really could feel excitement in the air as the crowds gravitated toward the action.

Anyone can enter the fairgrounds at no cost. While tens of thousands of people have tables reserved in one of the many enormous tents, others will wander the grounds, buy food and beer from the outside vendors, ride the rides, and celebrate outside.

Getting the right table at the right tent is a big deal. Each of the tents is sponsored by a Munich brewery. Fortunately, Sven’s brother Ralph lives in Munich and knows the right people, so we had a table in the Augustiner tent, one that is prized by locals. Our tent, reconstructed each year from huge wooden beams and canvas, seated 6,000 people.

This is a party where people really have fun. Over the course of an Oktoberfest, the patrons go through 7.7 million liters of beer. As the evening progresses, the music and the singing get crazier. Someone here and there goes way overboard. I wouldn’t want to do this every day (or maybe even every year), but it was a genuine blast!

Sven and I look neat and well kempt early in the evening

Our tent

In case you are wondering how the beer gets delivered. These women do not mess around pushing their way through the chaos. If you are in their way they just shove you aside.

Elliott, Sven, Ralph, and Tim

We are all grateful to Ralph, who secured our spots in the right tent

Jim, Mark, Barbara, and Tim as the night goes on

Does Sven think Mary Beth and Elliott are having TOO much fun?

Elliott, Sven, and Tim as we explore the grounds after the party

Our whole group — Elliott, Jim, Ralph, Tim, Mark, Mary Beth, Sven, Barbara

Oops, almost forgot…we did get to peek around wonderful Munich a bit, too. Here I am in front of the amazing Rathouse in Marienplatz.

Tony, Jim, and Mary Beth pause to admire the snow-capped mountains on one of the best bike rides ever

More than just about any trip we’ve done – or any “segment” of travel when we were nomads – this trip through Bavaria is going to be a bunch of two night stays. Basically our sense was that while we wanted to see Bavaria, there wasn’t going to be a lot to see in each of these towns. Two nights will likely be enough.

So after two nights in Salzburg we crossed the border into Germany to Freilassing, a little town that is basically a exuburb of Salzburg. It’s near where our friend Sven grew up and it’s the location of a great little historic inn run by Tony, an old friend of his, and Tony’s wife Beate. So we made the quick drive there to meet up with Mary Beth & Sven.

Here we are outside Tony’s guesthouse with Sven, Mary Beth, Beate, and Tony. There is documentation that the property has been an inn back to the 13th century, though it’s been in Tony’s family “only” for a bit over a hundred years

Well, not exactly quick drive. Since we had the time we figured we would make a modest detour to see the Eagle’s Nest, a retreat built by the Nazis for their elite members including, of course, Hitler. We drove up and up and up, finally got to the parking lot, only to discover as we drove around that it was full. Then we saw a couple other lots, drove through them, and discovered they, too were full. It was all both chaotic and frustrating, with a bunch of drivers inching around, hoping to get lucky when somebody was going to leave.

So we left. I’m too old to waste my time like that.

Freilassing, though, was a total delight. We got there relatively early and headed out for a beautiful walk on really small country roads. Once Mary Beth and Sven showed up we headed maybe 20 or 30 minutes away to have dinner with Sven’s mother, who still lives in the house he grew up in. And not just Sven: apparently they can document that the property has been in their family for nearly 700 years. Seriously.

The property includes a restaurant that Sven’s family used to run, and it’s where Sven first learned to cook. From there he went off to cooking school, eventually becoming a hotel manager and now one of the world’s top authorities and practitioners in hospital hospitality. And no, that’s not an oxymoron; when he started at his current hospital chain he hired a Michelin-starred chef to create meals and menus for patients. I keep praying to get sick enough to go to his hospital!

Dinner at the family table at what used to be Sven’s family’s restaurant. That’s a still sprightly Erika on the end.

There were two highlights in Freilassing. First up was family-and-friend time, dinner with his mother – who is quite the celebrity at the restaurant on her property – and the next night dinner with a bunch of other friends of Sven’s at the inn where we stayed. Great food, great company. Mark and I both felt genuinely honored to spend time with his friends and mother.

And dinner with Friends of Sven at Tony & Beate’s inn

The other highlight was an 18-mile bike ride we did out around the town. It was a perfect day – temperature in the high-50s or low-60s, nary a cloud to be seen – and Sven’s friend Tony gave us a tour of the back roads that was just stunning. I honestly thought it might be the best short-ish bike ride I’ve ever done.

And here’s what’s really amazing: there were so many Germans out biking on this random Friday in a pretty remote place. I can’t imagine there is any rural place in America where you would find tiny paved roads like this being so well-used by bikers of all ages. As we left Freilassing headed up to Munich, it seemed like every country road had a biking/walking/running lane along side. I asked Sven about it and he just said, yeah, Bavarians are seriously active people. I can confirm that.

Next stop, Munich. Oktoberfest. Yikes!

Mark on our walk on little country roads

It doesn’t look like it but that was a really steep hill Mark climbed. I told hi to wave to his mother, so … Hi Mumpy!

It was lovely to visit Sven’s mother Erika in the home where Sven grew up and where his family has lived since the 14th century. Erika served up the best Apple strudel we’ve ever tasted.

The certificate that documents that Sven’s family has occupied this property since 1333

And apparently no breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack in Bavaria is complete without cakes. These were seriously good.

Sven and Mary Beth at the wonderful lunch halfway through our bike ride

Heidelberg’s Old Town with the castle looming above

I’ve wanted to come back to Heidelberg for a very long time. I came here first in the mid-1970s when I was in the Navy stationed in Naples and my brother was in the Army in nearby Wiesbaden. I remember it as this beautiful old college town on the Neckar River.

Fast forward forty-plus years and I finally made it back. I certainly didn’t see anything that I remembered as it’s at least possible that things change over the decades. It is, though, still a beautiful old college town. The University of Heidelberg was founded in 1386 and thus is one of the oldest universities in the world. Its nearly 40,000 students account for a quarter of Heidelberg’s residents and as a result the city has a wonderfully youthful sense about it.

Mat & Mark sitting along the Neckar River

From my perspective there were two main attractions here, the old castle and the Philosophers’ Walk. The old castle looms over the city. Built originally in the early 15th century it was variously expanded and destroyed as peace and war alternated in the 16th and 17th centuries. When the local prince tried to rebuild the castle in 1764 lighting struck – literally – and ended any efforts to restore the castle. Today the ruins are evocative and even romantic. So romantic, in fact, that while we were wandering around the gardens a guy next to us knelt down and proposed to his girlfriend! (She said yes….)

Mat & Mark up in the remains of the castle

The other highlight was the Philosophers’ Walk. Across the Neckar from the old town but on the university side of the river, the pathway offers great views of the city and castle and is supposedly where the ancient university’s scholars would walk and talk. Today the path leads to the top of Heiligenberg, the hill opposite Heidelberg proper, to ruins of an 11th century monastery. It made for a wonderful climb on a summer afternoon.

The view of Heidelberg and the castle from the top of Heiligenberg (Saint’s Mountain)

Not such a highlight was the University. I was expecting to find some campus with beautiful old buildings that had withstood all the turmoil Germany experienced in the 20th century. Maybe it’s there somewhere, and there are pictures on the web I can find of beautiful old buildings, but the part of the campus I found was as ugly as anything one could imagine. Just these horrible 1970s- or 1980s-era buildings with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Sad.

Some of the ugly buildings on the University’s modern campus

One more view just to show I’m not exaggerating

The Old Bridge across the Neckar River

A view of the town and river from the castle

Up in the castle stands the world’s largest wine cask. That’s Mat above it, looking pretty small in comparison.

Mat & Mark in the town square

We can always find good food, including this lovely summer salad

Mat had his first burrata cheese in Heidelberg. It was a hit.

Pretty fancy, huh?

En route up the Philosphers’ Walk

And an old tower at the very top

One more view of the river and Old Bridge

As we were leaving Heidelberg we came across this window display. Perhaps the strangest ever.