Oktoberfest: Planning Tips for Partying with the World

In a world that often seems divided,  whether by country, politics, religion, or otherwise, Munich’s Oktoberfest stands in stark contrast. Every year,  millions of patrons from around the world descend on the 16-day annual festival,  which has run since 1810 when it originated in celebration of the marriage of King Louis I (then crown prince of Bavaria)  to Princess Therese.   Today, the festival celebrates Bavarian culture including food,  dress, music, and of course, BEER! 

 

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Inside the Paulaner tent

A few fun statistics from Oktoberfest 2019 (courtesy of https://www.oktoberfesttours.travel/2019/10/10/oktoberfest-2019-beer-consumption/) 

  • 6.3 million patrons consumed 7.3 million liters of beer
  • Attendees hailed from at least 55 nations
  • Lost and Found items included 660 wallets,  420 mobile phones, and a set of dentures (oops!)  

A lot of early planning went into making our visit a success.  Here are a few tips and a review of our experience:

LODGING: Because Oktoberfest attracts so many visitors,  central Munich lodging must be booked well in advance or we would have ended up staying well outside the city.   I had booked the Platzl Hotel (https://www.platzl.de/en/) way back in January,  to ensure we would have a comfortable room in a great location walkable to the Fest. It wasn’t cheap, but the rooms were comfortable, very near Marienplatz in Munich’s Old Town and the famous Hofbraeuhaus,  and I thought it would be a reasonably close walk to the festival grounds. It was,  but just barely –  more on that below.

LOCATION AND TRANSPORTATION: Here’s a tip from my experience:   When figuring out the distance to Oktoberfest from your lodging, note that a simple Google Map routing to Thereisenweise,  the name of the park where Oktoberfest is held, will not necessarily tell you how far you are from the grounds:  Add at least 1/2 a mile.  Due to security, there are only a couple of entrances to the actual festival.  It’s easy enough to follow the crowd toward the grounds (I promise, you won’t miss it!), but once you reach the perimeter you may have to walk quite a ways,  sometimes away from the grounds through crowd barrier chutes,  to enter the park.   While our hotel was only 1.4 miles (as “the crow flies”),  we walked over 2 miles in addition to a lot of walking within the festival.   On our first day, when we also walked to Bavarian Outfitters (see below),  I clocked over 11 miles on my Apple watch!  After our second evening outing, we caved and got a cab for our tired feet.

CLOTHING: I also pre-reserved rented Trachten (his & hers traditional Bavarian clothing) from Bavarian Outfitters.   The pickup location for the clothing was on the southern edge of Old Town, and reminded me of the pop-up Halloween costume stores that seem to multiply each year at home.  It was an undecorated, rented space with racks and racks of clothing.  I also later realized that there are many similar stores around Munich during the Fest;  pre-reserving probably wasn’t necessary as we were just guessing at sizes anyway, and ended up taking something different than we had reserved.  The results,  however were worth every penny!   Whether you reserve ahead or not,  do rent or buy the clothing, you won’t be sorry!

 

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Husband and I in our Trachten

ATTEND WITH FRIENDS: Another key to the fun was meeting up with friends in Munich.  Oktoberfest is definitely a “more the merrier” type of place, and it seemed the majority of attendees were part of a larger group.  One couple joined us for our entire stay in Munich,  and we also joined forces with family friends to reserve a whole table at the Marstall tent our first night in town. 

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BEER TENT RESERVATIONS: Regarding tent table reservations:  it’s a little crazy.   Many tables are not available to the public;  think of it like season tickets for a popular sports team  – they only go to people who already have a reservation from prior years. Forget about making a reservation on Friday or Saturday, unless you choose to use a service that charges you extra.   And you can’t reserve just a few spots, you need to reserve and pay for the whole table which is 8 – 12 people.  While the tents don’t actually charge for the reservation itself,  you do need to prepay a minimum spend on the food and drink;  in our case for Marstall it was about $50/per person.   In our case,  I was able to snag a Sunday night reservation thanks to alerts from Weisnkini,  which I highly recommend subscribing to if you plan to attend Oktoberfest. I received emails regularly when table reservations became available, and we reserved literally the last table in the Marstall tent for that evening.

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Outside the Marstall tent

 

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View from the very last available table at Marstall

Google Translate was invaluable with the reservations.  While most of the tents have an English page,  the reservation confirmation and “terms and conditions” are all in German –  yikes!  Here’s my confirmation:

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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A TENT RESERVATION:  It would be unlikely (and expensive) to get a reservation for more than one night at the Fest.  If you plan to attend more than once, as we did,  just be prepared to go with the flow.  You won’t get a beer if you aren’t seated. Here are the best options without a reservation:

  • Go during the daytime – before 4pm
  • Avoid weekends, especially weekend evenings
  • Look for seating in the outdoor biergartens adjacent to each tent
  • Go in small groups or be prepared to split up –  there is a much better chance to squeeze into a table with 2 or 4 people than with 8 or 10
  • Be patient;  a little seat-hawking can be worth while –  when you see a group with mostly empty beer glasses, just bide your time nearby as they may be preparing to move on.  There’s still plenty of excellent people-watching activity until you get your beer!
  • Pop into a tent near the end of the night;  within an hour or so of closing,  tents start to empty and you will be able to enter and find a spot at a table
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    Biergarten fun

 

YOUTUBE THE SONG, “EIN PROZIT”.  So you don’t think they are saying “I’m frozen, I’m frozen…” like I did.   #misheardlyrics

DRINK RESPONSIBLY:  Or not.  It’s up to you.  You will be in good company if you choose to overindulge –  the medics are kept busy at Oktoberfest! But the beers are large –  not only do you want to minimize bathroom trips,  (especially for the ladies –  lines and ewwww), but you want to be able to make it home in one piece. On our walk back to the hotel, we saw a group gathered around one of their fallen compatriots –  just completely passed out on the curb.  The police were summoned,  determine he was still breathing, and moved on –  this is just not an emergency in Munich at Oktoberfest.  Another fellow was passed out inside an ATM lobby. Here are a couple of fellow partiers who didn’t quite finish the night:

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MAKE FRIENDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD:  We met people from France, Canada, Australia, Germany, the UK, and Dubai in addition to other Americans.  Whether sharing your table, or at adjacent tables, or on the dance floor,  find your inner extrovert and enjoy meeting people from all over the world!

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Our new friend, “Dubai Guy” was traveling alone.  Ready to head home in his G6

If you’re lucky,  your friend will enjoy enough beer to buy a chicken hat (press a button, and the legs move to the “chicken dance” song),  which will help you make friends!

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A 6’4″ American wearing a chicken hat is a sure hit at Oktoberfest…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica Preview (because I can’t wait to tell you about this trip!)

I know I know – I haven’t even finished writing about my Scotland and Ireland trip from last summer. Sorry, I got distracted but I promise I will finish, with great information about tiny Doolin, near the Cliffs of Moher, and Galway, my favorite Irish city. As Ferris would say, life moves pretty fast sometimes, and sending Youngest off to college, preparing for a move, and purchasing a vacation home (more on that in a separate post!) have gotten in the way of my blogging.

However, Husband and I just returned from a 10- day trip to Costa Rica, celebrate our 10th Anniversary, and it surpassed all my expectations despite months of preparation. So, I need to tell you a little bit about it, with full, detailed blog posts to come!

Here are a few highlights:

  • First Class tickets (an Anniversary treat) on United, using points
  • 5 nights at the Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo, also using points; https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/costarica/andaz-costa-rica-resort-at-peninsula-papagayo/
  • 4 nights at the Nayara Springs hotel in the Arenal area, using plain old dollars and worth every penny: http://www.nayarasprings.com
  • A plethora of flora and fauna seen in the wild, including capuchin monkeys, sloths, a pack of rat-like coati, crocodile, the endangered Jabiru, and an adorable red-eyed frog
  • Sunny, hot, beach days and cool, humid rainforest nights
  • Horseback riding with some very cool Nicaraguan guides
  • Warm, friendly people whose vibe I need to figure out how to adopt

The Andaz completely exceeded my expectations, with our World of Hyatt program points reservation earning us the most basic “forest view” room. Here is our so-called forest view:

“Forest” View at Peninsula Papagayo

Also, a tip: if you ever go to the Andaz, and are celebrating something, make sure to mention it. We were served no less than 3 free bottles of champagne during our 5-night stay!

I had the highest possible expectations for the award-winning Nayara Springs, and they too were exceeded. The resort’s lush, green vegetation managed the delicate balance between wildly untamed and perfectly presented.

One of our animal friends joined us for drinks at the Andaz pool:

And “Pura Vida” was had by all:


The Ring of Kerry: sometimes those “Best of” lists have it right

Any search of “things to do in Ireland” will undoubtedly include a tour of the famous Ring of Kerry.  It’s often cited as one of Ireland’s top sights to see: #6 on this list,  2nd on this one,  and at the top of Frommer’s “best scenic drives in Ireland”.  What is the ring?  It’s a driving route around the Iveragh peninsula, hugging the Atlantic coast closely and circling through the towns of Killarney and Kenmare, as well as Killarney National Park.

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It’s also offers breathtaking scenery including the ocean, mountains, cliffs, lakes, waterfalls, fields, domesticated animals, and wildlife.  And although I’d been to Killarney before, I had never driven the full Ring around the peninsula,  only the bit near town and the Killarney National Park.  Here is a preview of a few of my photos from the area:

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See? breathtaking!

So you know I’m a planner,  but my plans usually leave a bit of flexibility. I was planning to drive the 111-mile Ring myself;  many tourists do it every day, and although there are  harrowing stories involving oncoming buses,  I figured my approximately 20,000,000 hours of commuting time spent on Rt 287 in New Jersey leaves me well prepared for just about anything.  I even made a map with scenic pit stops and approximate drive times. But, as the day approached, and as I spent as a passenger on the “wrong” side in Scotland, I realized that if I drove myself,  I would not be able to fully enjoy the scenery.  So when Dave, our Corporate Transfer driver from Dublin, offered us contact information for his friend Aidan at Killarney Chauffeur,  I took him up on it.  We booked a day with Aidan and never looked back.

Aidan arrived around 9 am in a beautiful BMW 5 series, which was a nice upgrade from the rattletrap I had been driving. The day started out a bit overcast, but the gloom added to Kerry’s atmostphere (and we eventually found the sun once again). After a brief stop at the Aghadoe viewpoint just outside of Killarney, we drove through the tiny town of Killorglin.

In the center of Killorglin is the statue of a goat,  named King Puck.  Aidan explained that the goat had warned residents of the approach of Cromwell’s army, earning himself such a royal title. There is an annual “Puck Fair” in his honor as well. A very accomplished goat!

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King Puck!

Just beyone Killorglin, we stoped at a roadside display of crafts that Aidan recommended, and once again came upon the sight of a dog… sitting on a donkey.  I guess this is a thing in County Kerry?

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Dogs + donkeys.  Why?

Next, we stopped by the beach in Rossbeigh,  which looks across to the Dingle Peninsula.  Somehow I’m still surprised to see beaches in Ireland.

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checking out a portion of Rossbeigh beach

Aidan offered us an educational tidbit here and there, including a brief explanation of common town name origins around Ireland:

Kill = church

Bally = Town of

There are a number of ancient ring forts around Kerry,  and we had told Aidan we were interested to see one.  He took us  to Cahergall Stone Fort, which we were able to climb and take a few fun photos:

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I’m the King of the World!

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Please don’t fall

Just outside the fort, I took one of my favorite photos of this trip.  This home is so peaceful looking,  I think I could live here, very happily:

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Serenity Now

Valentia Island was our next stop,  offering dramatic, steep cliffs and views back to the larger island.  Aidan took us by the Valentia slate quarry, bored deep into a mountain:qjs+mnnfqvyncme8hvdmua

You may or  may not have noticed in the photo above, but Mary watches over it all:

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Beyond the quarry, we stretched our legs by hiking up to Bray Head on Valentia:

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Skellig Michael, filming site for Luke Skywalker’s home in “The Last Jedi”, in the far distance

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Looking across toward Portmagee

After a stop in Portmagee at The Moorings for a very pleasant lunch, we arrived at the Kerry Cliffs.  By now, Aidan had figured out that we like taking photos on cliffs.  We worked off our lunch hiking to the top, which was only about 2/3 mile from the parking lot, but fairly steep. Also, the sun came out while we were at lunch!

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Skellig Michael, closer now, in the distance.

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On our way to put those calories back on at the Skellig Chocolate Factory, I spotted an abandoned cottage that I tried photographing from several angles.  I thought the sky, clouds, and shadows seemed almost surreal.   I do need to photoshop out the antennae, but I love these photos.  You tell me which is best:

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We completed our trip around the Ring with stops in Caherdaniel:

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Mary is very popular in Ireland

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Somehow, we will pass that car, and no one will fall off a cliff

The bright little town of Sneem:

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Just the cheeriest looking pub ever

And a few views across Killarney National Park:

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An overlook known as Ladies’ View, where Queen Victoria’s laides-in-waiting visited in 1861

Now, 111 miles may not sound like a lot –  here in America,  barring traffic,  it’s an easy 2 hour drive. But attempting the ROK in anything under 6 hours is a foolhardy endeavor,  due to a combination of low speeds; windy, narrow roads; and the absolute compulsion to photograph nearly everything in sight. My iphone says I took 133 photos on our trip around the ring –  and it wasn’t enough.  Guess I need to go back!!

 

Dingle All the Way

From our base in Killarney, Oldest and I next headed to one of my favorite spots in Ireland:  the Dingle Peninsula.  While it’s definitely worthwhile to spend more time here by staying in Dingle Town, about 1/2 way out the peninsula, it would have been too many overnight destinations for us on this trip. The drive from Killarney was a surprisingly easy and uncomplicated day trip.

Just past Inch Beach on the R 561 (“R” roads are very  narrow,  twisty, and “interesting!”, only to be surpassed in treachery by “L” roads),  we had to slow down for this lovely lady and her baby, who can barely be seen behind mama:

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Farmers mark their sheep with different shades of paint

Since my primary goal was to show Oldest the Slea Head Drive, at the peninsula’s tip,  we set our Google Maps directions straight for Dingle town, where one of the first sights we came upon was …. a dog … sitting on top of a donkey. Hey, why not?

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We wandered around the busy town for a bit,  enjoyed an early lunch, and downed a pint of Crean’s, the local beer.  Crean’s is named after Tom Crean, an Antarctic explorer who hailed from the Dingle Peninsula.

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Heading to the Beer Garden at Danno’s

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Glad it wasn’t Monday, but this sign is cute!

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Only one, though,  because I was back to driving –  and now the roads became quite narrow.  While it’s possible for two cars to pass,  it’s not necessarily advisable:

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Oldest took this one from the passenger side.

Slea Head marks the end of the peninsula, and, like many points on the west coast, the locals will tell you when looking east “The next stop is America!”.   We continued to benefit from nice weather, so we were fairly active in our exploration of the peninsula,  first walking from the parking area down to Slea Head Beach, at sea level:

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View of Slea Head Beach, from above. The “arrow” in the sand must be pointing to buried treasure.  Right?

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This sign did not stop the swimmers

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Then we hiked back up,  and further up, to Dunmore Head promontory. Nearby signs told us that some filming for Star Wars took place here, although it is not the more famous Skellig Michael island,which is off the coast to our south.

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Walking up to the Head required climbing over an old stone fence,  which didn’t work out so well for yours truly,  who lost her balance and skinned my knees in a pretty gruesome way (I’ll spare you the yucky photo).   It was still worthwhile, though, just for these photos, looking back at the peninsula.  It was my 3rd trip to this spot, and each time I want to lie down and never leave these soft, rolling, green hills.  Although I imagine I might feel differently in, say, December.

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Oldest with one of the two “Devils Horns” at Dunmore Head

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Beautiful, even when seen with bloody knees

In three trips to Ireland, I have managed to make it to the Slea Head drive on the Dingle peninsula every time.  It is truly one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited, and I truly enjoyed sharing it with Oldest.  I have no doubt I will return again.

Top o’ the Morning from Killarney!

Time traveling back to Summer 2018, I’m with Oldest in Ireland.  After pretending to be part of a medieval adventure with Game of Thrones Tours,  it was time for some real,  2018-style adventure:  driving in Ireland.   That’s right, I’m getting behind the wheel, on the “wrong” side of the road.

First up:  I heeded the advice of the Tripadvisor forums, and rented the smallest car possible. I think a well-fed horse might have been bigger.

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I hired Corporate Transfers to take us from our Dublin lodging to the Hertz Dublin City Centre South location on Circular road;  their Transfer & Pilot Service includes a driver who we would follow out of Dublin city onto the main highways.   I have had the pleasure of meeting Corporate Transfers’ proprietor, Fintan Murray, on previous Ireland visits.

The Hertz location was packed and although we had a reservation, we waited in line for a good hour, while Dave from Corporate Transfers waited very patiently outside.  If you rent a car in Ireland, be prepared for long waits: many people do not do their research and do not understand the insurance options for driving in Ireland (hint: buy it all), which lengthens the process.  Finally,  off we went toward Killarney,  following Dave around busy city streets (eek!) until we reached the M7, a major, divided highway where I felt very comfortable driving. If it’s your first time driving on the left,  I highly recommend this service, as navigating tight one-way city streets is unlikely to be an easy baptism.

The drive from Dublin to Killarney takes a little over 3 hours.  The drive was surprisingly uneventful, and we were thrilled to find a tiny parking spot, to fit our tiny car, right in front of our hotel, the International Hotel Killarney.  This was our biggest lodging splurge of the trip;  I figured that after 9 days of traveling, we were due for a full service hotel experience.  The hotel is well-located in the center of town, and we found the beds to be extremely comfortable.

 

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Killarney’s High Street. It think that dude is checking me out ;)!

After checking in, we began to make our way into Killarney’s afternoon/night life.  It was the weekend of the annual Ring of Kerry charity bike race,  so Killarney, as the largest town on the Ring, was full of very fit revelers.   We spent most of the evening in and out of O’Connor’s and Tatler Jack’s –  the, uh, fuzzy/crooked nature of these photos hopefully assures my readers that I was having a GOOD time.

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Tiny car trying to drive through the alley outside O’Connor’s.  Those guys don’t look like they’re getting out of the way, do they?

 

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Fun, mixed-age crowd (who might have had a few drinks?) at Tatler Jack’s

Killarney is an excellent base for touring beautiful southwestern Ireland:  the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, and other beautiful landscapes.  While not a large city,  there are plenty of lodging and dining options from hostels and pubs to upscale resorts and 5 star dining.  And look:  other Cubs fans visit here too!  Hi Dave & Alex! Go Cubs!

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How I became a travel addict

When it comes to travel,  I’m something of a late bloomer. As a child growing up outside of Chicago, I always looked forward to taking trips with my parents, and was lucky enough to visit Disney World and Hawaii before the age of 18.  Torch Lake, MI was a regular destination, as was Door County, WI.   Even a train ride to the big city was an adventure I loved!

After college, I relocated to New Jersey to get married and start a family at the age of 25.  Due to a lack of both funds and time,  my own first trips were short and sweet.  A road trip to Myrtle Beach.  Visiting family in Florida and Virginia. With a full time job and a growing family,  for many years there was little time for anything but a weekend at the Jersey Shore.

I enjoyed planning a few family trips –  a surprise trip to Disney World for my children,  a cruise, and a rented condo in Bethany Beach, DE.  I researched, budgeted, and booked everything.  Somehow, my husband was never quite happy with my choices.

After a 2007 divorce I should have seen coming (but didn’t),  I decided that the best way to regroup would be to take my two sons, then 12 and 7,  on a trip to Sweet Home Chicago.    With no husband to second guess me,  I felt that peculiar mix of discomfort and excitement that sparked my travel addiction.

So off we went, the “three musketeers” as we began calling ourselves.   We stayed in hotels, navigated mass transit, visited friends, and toured museums, skyscrapers, and ballparks.  I introduced the boys to all my hometown favorites:  deep dish pizza,  the “El”, Michigan Avenue, and the Cubs!

When I got home,  it quickly became apparent that there was only one thing to do:  begin planning my next adventure.  And the next, and the next…