Tourism and the Kindness of Strangers

I’m pretty unconnected when I travel. I’ve written before about how I’m not a particularly technological person, and I tend to double down on it when I’m away from home. I mean, I carry my phone with me, but I keep it turned off. (It’s very much an “in case of an emergency” thing.) I’m more interested in exploring a place I’m unlikely to ever visit again than checking my email.

This means that I have to plan ahead a bit, especially for travel days, when I arrive in a new city. One of the things I do, before I even leave Canada, is to figure out my route from the airport/train station/bus station to the hotel. This usually includes a combination of public transit and walking, so I’ll make a list of potential subway/bus lines that will get me to my destination, along with some written directions.

Also Popout maps. I never travel without these suckers.

So I’m not entirely sure what happened with Munich. We arrived on the train from Vienna, and because all things public transport related are my domain, Ron asked, “What now?”

And I answered, “Uuuuhhhhhhhhh … “

I had nothing. No map, no directions, no train numbers. No idea.

So I took a guess. I had the name and address of the hotel, the Laimer Hof, which included the name of the neighbourhood in which it was located. After a quick study of the posted subway map, I found the neighbourhood and suggested we take this line to that station and figure it out from there. And off we set.

The story of all the helpful people of Munich began before we even left the train station. We had to make our way above ground in order to get to the underground, which included taking either an escalator or an impressive set of stairs. The escalator wasn’t running as we approached, and a lady who saw us coming, laden down with luggage, veered from her path to kick out her foot and trip the sensor that would set it in motion. Ron likely would have thought to try that, but I can guarantee that I’d have assumed it was broken down and would have started lugging my suitcase up all those stairs were it not for her actions.

Getting off the subway at the other end, we struck off in a random direction until we came across a shop that Ron went into to see if they knew our hotel. Both the staff member and the customer in the shop did. They gave instructions on how to get there, complete with bus route number, how much the fare would be, and about how many stops we’d have to go, with the added detail that we needed to “go past the tunnel with all the bikes.”

Which is an interesting landmark to choose when buses don’t actually go through it.

Subway cars are big enough for us to get out of everyone’s way, encumbered with suitcases and backpacks as we were, but buses are another story. Since the road we had to travel was a main one, with only one turn at the very end where there was reportedly a large sign for the hotel, we decided to walk.

And we walked.

And we walked.

After about 30 minutes, Ron made another stop, this time at a car rental agency, to make sure we hadn’t overshot our destination. The staff member he spoke to there knew we were going the right way, but he wasn’t satisfied with such a general response. So he called the hotel and spoke to them, ending up with detailed instructions for the rest of our journey, including the names of several cross streets to be on the lookout for.

“It’s just past Valhalla” has to be one of the most badass directional landmarks I’ve ever been given.

When we saw the Walhallastrasse street sign, we knew we were close to our destination, so Ron checked the notes from the car rental place. He’d barely unfolded the paper when a man working in the dry cleaner’s we were standing in front of came out of the shop to ask if we were looking for the hotel. When we said yes, he pointed a block down the street and told us that was where we needed to turn. He also let us know what side of the street the hotel was on, what the building looked like, and even where the main entrance was.

Ron and I are pretty laid-back travellers. We take a, “We’ll get there when we get there, and see everything we can along the way,” attitude, and we’re never concerned if getting from point A to point B doesn’t go smoothly. That being said, the people we encountered that day gave us the loveliest feeling of being shepherded safely along our journey. And it’s why, when people ask me the friendliest city I’ve ever visited, without a moment’s hesitation, I tell them Munich.

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