Europe Day 6- On München, and Hostels

Note: At this point I’m catching up on blog entries from home. As I post them I’ll back-date them to the day they happened.

I came to a realization earlier today: I’m too old to stay in hostels.

Don’t get me wrong, I like hostels. They’re a cheap and easy way to get a room, and the social atmosphere means you’ll almost certainly meet interesting people. But when you look around the lobby and realize everyone is ten years younger than you, it’s kind of startling, especially if you still think of yourself as young. I’m only 29, but at this particular locale, across from the train station in Munich (München, as the locals call it), I half expect people to start calling me Grandpa.

On top of that, while you do undoubtedly meet interesting people, they tend to be the sort of people I spent most of high school trying to avoid: loud, boisterous jocks and socialites whose idea of visiting a place is to spend as much time as possible there either drunk or stoned, whose goal in traveling is, apparently, to remember as little of it as possible.

I’m sharing a room with some of them tonight: four guys, Americans, early twenties, way too macho for their own good. The testosterone sloshes through the room like we’re in a giant hormonal wave pool with the agitator set to “tsunami,” as they try to one-up each other with tales of smoking hashish in Amsterdam, sneaking into the trendiest clubs in Berlin, and in general leaving a money-strewn trail of cigarette butts, marijuana smoke and alcohol-saturated puke through the capitals of Western Europe.

I suppose they’re friendly enough, and I even get an offer to go clubbing with them, which I turn down on account of “I’ve got an early train to catch.” Which is true, although of course it’s just a convenient excuse. People like that make me feel every bit the introverted geek that I actually am.

The funny thing, I’m comfortable with being an introverted geek. I like who I am (well, mostly). But put me in a room with a bunch of noisy jocks and suddenly I have to fight the urge to curl into a ball in the corner, where hopefully they won’t notice me. Maybe it’s just that I’m outnumbered four to one, but I don’t think so. What is it about people like that that makes me so freaking uncomfortable? I mean, I was way more comfortable around the metalheads in Quedlinburg, and I’m not a metalhead. Maybe because being a metalhead and being a geek are similar in that you’re seeking to define yourself in a way that’s separate from the mainstream, whereas jocks pretty much are a living, breathing representation of said mainstream.

I guess in the end, I just don’t like these people. They’re loud, overbearing, and obnoxious (for example, smoking in the room despite being reminded that it’s non-smoking), and I simply don’t relate to them. I mean, at all. Having a conversation with them is pointless, because (a)we have nothing in common and (b)they react with skepticism and surprise if you suggest that maybe you’re just not into clubbing until 6 am, or you aren’t over here specifically to party. I mean, that’s why they’re here, and isn’t everyone else just like them?

After a few minutes, I throw my camera bag over my shoulder, and head out into the city. I don’t have any particular destination, but then, that’s not really any different than usual. My method of exploring cities is usually to get lost in them, and just follow my instinct, looking for interesting sights or landmarks, and see where I end up. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but I enjoy it. It’s a style well-suited to a solo traveller. If I were doing this with somebody else, we’d probably kill each other after the first day.

I eat dinner at an outdoor cafe– this time of year, all the cafes are outdoors. People around here love to get outside in the evenings, even though the heat of day hasn’t really faded yet. Across the street, there’s a wide open green space where a group of people play a hard-fought game of soccer, with two backpacks marking each goal. It’s a diverse group: guys, girls, young people, and old people, as if college professors were playing alongside their students.

As I sip my beer, I can’t help but think about the encounter at the hostel. It’s not that I’m adverse to partying or going clubbing, it’s just that I’d rather have a root canal that do it with my current roommates. I know they say you should meet people while you travel… but dammit, does it have to be people like that?

Other than that, I really like Munich, for many of the the same reasons I like Berlin. There’s an abundance of green in the city, and the streets and the sidewalks are wide, with plenty of room for pedestrians and bikers (although if I’m not paying close attention, I usually manage to end up walking in said bike lane). On top of that, the city practically oozes history, and you could spend weeks exploring, making your way from one square to the next, seeing what there is to see.

And then of course there’s the beer. Last night was the World Cup final, so I made my way to a place near the Munich Olympic Park where a massive screen had been set up, and drank some excellent weissbier from a liter mug while I watched the Netherlands fall to Spain… alas. After the game ended, I staggered in the general direction of a train station, but must have missed it, because I had to rely on some American expats with a map to point me in the general direction of the hostel. Fun fun.

After tonight, I’ll have spent two nights in Munich. Not bad, considering originally I wasn’t sure if I was going to spend any at all.

Tomorrow, though, it’s time to move on. The Alps are calling.