Travel Thursday

Travel Thursday: Traveling In Gay Europe - Say Hello To Munich

Welcome to the second installment of Instinct’s three-part gay travel series looking at a trio of Europe’s most charming locations. Yesterday we gave you a glimpse into gay Vienna, and tomorrow we take you to historical Cologne. But today let’s visit the capital of Bavaria: Munich.

English-speaking residents have a nickname for this city: Toytown (apparently due to its great quality of life, which I can vouch for). I first visited in 2007 and fell in love, with both the city and a resident. Jochen and I were drinking beer at an outdoor community table, at a café that no longer exists, when I addressed the waitress as fraülein. Major faux pas. He leaned over to educate me. “We don’t use that word anymore,” he said. “It’s considered sexist.” Always one for political correctness paired with an accent, a long distance romance lasting a year-plus was born.

Die Deutsche Eiche (“the German oak”) is home to a restaurant, hotel and sauna all in one. A former epicenter of gay culture for decades, glass-enclosed wall displays present a brief history lesson evidenced by photos and video of German drag queens fighting for social change. Continue to the back and either check into your room or hit a buzzer to be let into the sauna, a massive four-story facility complete with locker rooms, showers, mazes, cubicles, movie theatre, Jacuzzi, saunas and steam room. The hotel has been renovated and the rooms are very comfortable (if expensive) with tasteful wood floors, double-paned windows, new beds and modern bath fixtures. I prefer rooms in the back, away from the street, for their peaceful urban garden setting.

The restaurant’s charm makes you feel you are in the Bavarian countryside. The food is fair, the service professional, and the draft beer delicious. Jochen, now 46, and I remain friends after all these years and we met for dinner. Besides being a landscape architect, he is also a talented water colorist and has been married for six years to a Frenchman who works for Cartier. When asked about Munich’s current gay culture he said, “I’m not sure that there is one anymore. I think there are these places called ‘subs.’”

Indeed, we walked along Müllerstrasse, once the gay boulevard of Munich. Stopping in front of a sterile-looking building, on the street level was a bar/cafe doing its best not to look like a gay community center. A green neon sign flashed “Sub,” as in subculture. Roughly twenty people under 35, men and women, chatted, drank and played pool. Continuing down Müllerstrasse I saw former LGBT clubs – including one I once saw filled with soap suds for an all-night sex party – now gone, either empty or now simply mainstream businesses.

Having been to Germany so many times now, I’ve seen Munich change. Gärtnerplatz, once the LGBT Ground Zero is now a fashionable neighborhood notable for its roundabout mini-park, historic theatre, trendy eateries and moms pushing strollers. You may also spot German soccer superstars and celebrities lunching at the charming Café Cotidiano, though it helps to have a national with you to appreciate the honor.

Tomorrow’s destination: Cologne (via train from Munich: 5-6 hours)

If You Go – Munich

GETTING THERE

Munich Airport is served by all major airlines, with nonstop flights from a number of U.S. cities. You can also travel by train when already in Europe.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Cocoon Sendlinger Tor, Lindwurmstraße 35; +49 89 59993907; cocoon-hotels.de/?lang=en

Hotel Deutsche Eiche, Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Hotel

WHERE TO EAT

Deutsche Eiche, traditional Bavarian cuisine; Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Restaurant

Restaurant Cotidiano, fashionable atmosphere, fresh pastries and teas; Gärtnerplatz 6; +49 (0) 89 2420786-10

WHAT TO DO

Gärtnerplatz, charming circular park and neighborhood in the middle of the city, former center of LGBT Munich; muenchen.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/orte/120320.htmlDeutsche Eiche Sauna, Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Bathhouse

Sub, Müllerstr. 14; +49 0 89 8563464-00; subonline.org/english/

Munich Gay Oktoberfest, annual beer-loving event for LGBTs. Plan ahead! gaytravel4u.com/event/munich-gay-oktoberfest/

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Travel Thursday: London, England - From Cursed Children to Gay Heavens

“Why did you come to London, England?”

A year ago, I decided to buy tickets to see the Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This was both because of my being a major Harry Potter fan and also because right before that I had just had my first trip abroad. After realizing just how accessible the rest of the world really was, I was ready to explore it again.

And finally, earlier this month, the time to see the United Kingdom had come.


The Boroughs

First off, the boroughs of London, like any other city, are very different in feel to one another. These are the understandings I got from each section.

  • Waterloo is understood as a section with not much to offer due to it being by a major public transportation area, but it surprisingly has several restaurants and stores to choose from.
  • Kensington had a very polished look to it due to being the home of several museums and universities. In fact, at one point I got lost while looking for a place to eat and I walked by several expensive looking apartment buildings and windows revealing lectures in session.
  • Southwark is home to several restaurants and stores. This is due to it being very packed with foot traffic thanks to sights like the London Bridge, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, and the Borough Markets.
  • Soho is the kind of East Village and Broadway mix of London. In it, you can find stores, restaurants, West End play productions, and many gay bars/clubs.

The Museums

Once again, there are many MANY museums in London (most of which are free), but I’ll give you a run down of the ones I visited.

  • The V&A

The Victoria & Albert Museum displays millions of decorative arts and designs for everyone to come see for free. This includes French clothing from Napoleon’s era to Roman sculptures, metalworking structures, and even David Bowey albums.

And, this museum is huge! I planned to spend 2.5 hours exploring it all but spent that much time just exploring the first floor.

  • The Natural Science Museum

While the V&A is full of beautiful and compelling works of design, the Natural History Museum is full of fun and scientific objects. This museum has a lot of fun interactive galleries about varying topics like the science of earthquakes, planetary science, dinosaurs, gems and stones, and much more.

Possibly my favorite section of the museums was the Japanese store model that you got to stand in as it went through an earthquake.

  • The British Museum

The British Museum is a classic history museum with galleries covering many cultures and time spans like Ancient Egypt and Nubia, ancient and modern Japan, Greek pottery and sculptures, and more. You get the idea.

Careful though, while a lot of this museum is free, some of its sections are pay for only.

  • The National Gallery

While the British Museum is an enlarged version of the classic history museum, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are large versions of the classic art museums.

Not only are the rooms large and spacious but many of the artwork displayed in said rooms are several feet tall!

  • The Photographers’ Gallery

While the National Gallery and British Museum are large and spacious, the photographers’ gallery is small and intimate.

That said, the two showing exhibitions were both interesting to me. When I was there, the exhibitions focused on photos from the first performance of 4 Saints in 3 Acts (a Gertrude Stein opera that was not only the first opera on Broadway but was also performed by an entirely black cast), and an exhibition of director Wim Weners’ personal polariods.

The gallery is free for all until noon and those two exhibitions will be running until February 2018, so check it out.

  • The Globe Theatre

Then, we have Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which, while also being a fully functioning theatre, also works as a gallery and tour spot.

I spent a good 3 hours there looking through the gallery that talked not only about the rebuilt theatre but about England and the Bankside/Southwark area during Shakespeare’s time.

In addition, I was blessed by an informed and passionate tour guide who led us all over the wet (it was raining) Globe theatre and filled us in on its history.

  • Warner Bros./Harry Potter Studio Tour

Lastly, this tour wasn’t quite a museum in name but it works just like one. If you are a Harry Potter fan and in the London area, you should check out the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

It was just another brilliant money move from JK Rowling and Warner Bros. to make the old filming studio where the movies were made into a tour spot. The location now acts like a museum where several people pay a good amount (about 40-something pounds or approximately 50-something dollars) to stand where they (the cast and crew) once stood.

The tour is decked out with character costumes, information videos from cast and crew, and the original sets like the Gryffindor dorm room (sadly not the Slytherin dorm [Slytherin for life]), the Great Hall, and even the Forbidden Forest. Plus, plenty of moving machines like the spiders, the Weasley’s car, Buckbeak, and even broomsticks, keep the magic alive.

I think this tour is worth the ticket. Though, buy it ahead of time if you’re in a big group (and maybe a few weeks to a month ahead if you’re traveling alone like me).


The Entertainment

  • Cursed Child

As I said, the whole reason that I came to London was because I had Cursed Child tickets, and the show certainly didn’t disappoint.

While the writing won’t emotionally move you deeply, the script did triumph in giving the production ample room to explore and be creative with how to put magic on the stage.

The play was fun and exciting to watch, especially when (slight spoiler) a dementor came flying towards the audience. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket, I highly recommend you go see Cursed Child in London (or maybe in New York City or Sydney when they get their own productions).

  • Romantics Anonymous

The indoor theatre at the Globe is very small and intimate. It’s shaped like a U with the stage being a square starting halfway inside that U and ending against the wall of the two prongs. I, unfortunately, ended up with possibly the worse seat in the house. I was against the wall on the right prong of the U, so half of the night I watched the actor’s sides or backs.

That said, I still absolutely enjoyed the musical Romantics Anonymous, which is about a girl in France who wants to make chocolate but has social anxiety. Through circumstances, she ends up working at a chocolate factory for a man who also has social anxiety. The two then sing and cook their way into each other’s hearts.

As romantic (and some would say disgusting) as that synopsis makes the musical out to be, it’s also a very hilarious story with a talented ensemble where everyone, but the two leads, plays a track of multiple characters. I highly recommend you see this show if you’re in the London area sometime before January.


The Food

Of course, there is lots of great food to eat in the city of London. You could either stop at popular markets like the Borough Market or the Camden market, you could research and plan for a place to each, or you can just walk around the city and stop at whatever place gets your interest.

If you want to know what kinds of food London’s serving up, I’ll leave pictures of some of the food I ate as well as the restaurant names and links to their websites.

Viet Pho in Soho

La Roma Bella in Soho

MotherMash in Soho

Balans Soho Society Cafe  (you guessed it) in Soho

Applebees Fish in Southwark

Masters Superfish in Waterloo


The Gay Spots

Lastly, we come to the gay spots. To save you time, I’ll briefly describe what the gay places that I visited are here, but if you want to read a more in-depth description of what my time was like at each place you can read that over at my GayPopBuzz article.

  • G-A-Y Bar/Late

It seems that there is a company that owns a group of bars and clubs in London’s Soho borough and they’ve tagged on the “G-A-Y” label on those spots. Each spot has a slightly different feel and serves a different purpose towards the kind of night you‘re looking to have.

G-A-Y Bar is the early night bar that you can hang out at with friends for drinks and dance. But, while G-A-Y Bar closes at midnight, G-A-Y Late stays open until 3 am. This club serves as a nice spot for dancing and enjoying the company of others while still being a relatively intimate setting (until possibly closer to closing time).

  • Heaven

Then we have Heaven which is within the G-A-Y label but also appears as an entirely different venue on its own. The space in heaven is pretty big with two large dance areas (one with two floors) and several bar areas.

This is one of those gay clubs that’s so popular that it no longer belongs to just gay men. While straight people are found in all three spots, this one feels the most like a club with a gay twist and not a “gay club.”

That said, this happens to be my favorite spot out of the all the gay spots I visited and I highly recommend you check it out if you visit London. Just expect a long wait if you’re getting in on a Saturday night (I waited an hour).

  • Pleasuredrome

Now, this last entry is for the mature audience out there. Younger readers be warned. You won’t (or shouldn’t) get in.

Pleasuredrome is a gay bathhouse with a mixed reputation. Some say it used to be great and isn’t any more while others say it’s at a “good enough” phase. I went in and thought it fit that latter description.

There’s nothing amazing about this bathhouse but it seemed relatively clean (despite a slight B.O. smell), the staff were either courteous or just working in the background, and the other men were alright (mostly of 30+ ages but there were a few men in their 20s when I went there).


Journey's End

I had a wonderful time in London. I could write so much more about my eight days in the UK and there's even plenty that I missed out on.

That said, if you’re looking for a fun time, good food, hot guys and interesting stuff to see, London is a great city to explore.

I’ll have to visit again, even if it’s just to revisit said hot guys.

Travel Thursday: Palm Springs, Your Next Romantic Getaway

After what felt as an eternity of planning a wedding with my partner, we finally were able to celebrate our marriage with our closest friends and family in what felt like the autumn day. We worked round the clock, down to the last detail, to make sure our guests felt the personal touches for them in gratitude for sharing in our special day. But as the weeks prior to our big day loomed over us we realized that we had forgotten one HUGE detail—we hadn’t even thought about any type of honeymoon.

Our year had already been packed with travel and huge projects, so we must have missed this one important aspect of the newlywed life. With the expenses that we made and the post-wedding fatigue, we weren’t ready to look for last minute flights that probably would have reached insane prices. So after a couple of days of coming down from our #Groom4Groom wedding bliss, we figured a quick road trip would be the best way to get away and explore as husband and husband.

For Orange County natives, a 2-4 hour road trip could take you anywhere, but naturally as the temperature was dropping and the summer pool hoppers were starting to disappear, Palm Springs (California’s gay Mecca) was the right place for our simple and sweet hubbymoon.

Nestled in the Coachella Valley between Los Angeles and San Diego, Palm Springs is a desert oasis known for its resorts, mid-century modern architecture, boutique shopping, hip and stylish hotels, spas, golf courses, and most importantly its vibrant gay lifestyle rich with nightlife and entertainment. We knew we were headed to a place where our agenda would be widely spread whether we wanted to lounge by the pool, have a drink at a bar, get a massage or dance the night away—we were looking forward to exploring the culture of Palm Springs since we had only ever scratched the surface of what this desert sanctuary has to offer.


STAYTortuga del Sol

We checked in to Tortuga del Sol, a quiet clothing optional gay men’s resort where we were welcomed by one of the resort’s owners, Robert. Robert made us feel right at home, showing us around the resort that was beautifully kept. We met Rick, Tortuga del Sol’s other owner and Robert’s partner later in the day and he was just as nice! The word Tortuga, meaning turtle in Spanish, comes from the couple’s love for turtles—which is apparent from the desert décor spread throughout the grounds. They even have a coy pond with several turtles for you to pet—if they let you! The 12-room resort was converted from a studio housing complex, but you’d never know it because it has been transformed into a serene location to relax poolside while enjoying breathtaking mountain views. Each room has its own full kitchen and dining area, which was ideal for us since we like to stock up on snacks. Our favorite part of Tortuga del Sol were their therapeutic cabanas which shaded us from the hot sun while allowing us to sip on our cocktails in between naps. So soothing! After dark, we took a dip in the hot tub and enjoyed the dimly lit cubes lining the resort’s pool.

 

 


EXPERIENCEOscar’s Cabaret

To kick off our hubbymoon weekend, we decided to go out for a romantic dinner that only Palm Springs could deliver. Oscar’s Cabaret is the longest running show in Palm Springs since The Follies. Every Friday night, Oscar’s Palm Springs presents a cabaret show hosted by the world famous James “Gypsy” Haake who has appeared in films and television for over 50 years. Gypsy takes guests on a journey through musical history, providing anecdotes that lead to performances by world-class celebrity female impersonators. On our particular night, we were entertained by Liza Minnelli, Gwen Stefani, Dionne Warwick, Bette Midler, Judy Garland, Madonna, and Whitney Houston—all interwoven by Gypsy’s hilarious wit and commentary. The entire team at Oscar’s was welcoming and made us feel at home, especially the owner Dan, who greeted us at the host stand and even returned to chat with us throughout our evening.

 

 


EXPERIENCE - Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

One of the most incredible things we experienced while in Palm Springs was a trip to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway—one of the most popular attractions in Palm Springs. Located right at the South entrance of the Palm Springs strip, we took a quick drive up the road from the city and to the foot of the San Joaquin Mountains. At the doors to the tramway, you could already feel that the temperature had slightly dropped. After getting our tickets, we waited outside gazing up at the trams make their way to and from the peak. Once we boarded, we took a breathtaking journey up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon, overlooking all of Palm Springs and past the white wind turbines that are iconic of the area. The 10-minute ride up 2,643 feet was spectacular. Upon arriving at the top, the temperature had dropped at least 30 degrees and we felt the nice autumn breeze. So if you go, don’t forget to bring a light sweater or jacket. There was an amazing change in scenery with miles of forest trees. We trekked down the pedestrian walkway and spent a few hours hiking the trails and stopping for photo ops.


TASTE - Peabody’s Café

Breakfast has always been our favorite meal of the day and when it comes to breakfast, we like to sit and enjoy some soul-filling food with a cup of coffee. Peabody’s Café was the answer. Located right on Palm Spring’s Palm Canyon Drive strip, Peabody’s is a staple for locals and travelers. It first began as a coffee house in 1992, but over the years has grown into a full restaurant and bar that specializes in simple American food. We loved it! We were pleasantly surprised to meet Peabody’s owner, Debbie, who greeted every customer and went from table to table to ensure everyone was enjoying their morning. She gave us some recommendations that we tried: Lox Benny (Benedict) and Cinnamon French Toast—amazing! While we waited for our breakfast we absorbed their huge cups of coffee and ordered one of their famous Bloody Marys. They have nine ingredients and they have coined them as “The Best Bloody Mary Ever!” Debbie shared with us her love for all things old Hollywood—a woman after my own heart! Old Hollywood glamour adorns the restaurant’s walls with photos of starlets that basically become an extra guest at your table. We were enamored by the café’s vintage appeal. We even discovered that Peabody’s offers karaoke on weekend nights! We are definitely looking forward to returning and trying one of their gigantic omelets and of course another Bloody Mary.

 

 


EXPERIENCE - Palm Springs Art Museum

To add a bit of culture to our hubbymoon, we ventured out to the Palm Springs Art Museum. Even before we parked, we were already appreciating the work of art that is the architecture and structure of the museum. An organic form and water installation welcome visitors up to mid-century modern building. Inside, the museum offers 28 galleries and two structure gardens. The museum has everything from photography, Mesoamerican, but if you’re a fan of contemporary art, the Palm Springs Art Museum will be a dream come true! A couple of our favorites were Robert Therrien’s No Title (stacked plates, butter) and Duane Hanson’s Old Couple on a Bench (which really freaked us out! Super life-like!) But the show that really drew us in was their visiting exhibition Kinesthesia: Latin American Art, 1954-1969. The works in this exhibition were surreal, touching every part of our senses and often making us feel like we were in another world because of the incredible use of light, movement and use of space. Kinesthesia is an in-depth examination of international Kinetic Art from the 1950s and 1960s that will leave you immersed in negative space and not wanting to come out.


STAY - The Avalon Hotel and Bungalows

We arrived at The Avalon Hotel and Bungalows for lunch and a spa treatment. The Avalon is a chic hotel that was giving us our porcelain-loving life! With white tones throughout the lobby and hotel corridors, this relaxing sanctuary was definitely a spot we will be returning to. It’s perfect for boutique hotel aficionados. The pools had a lively atmosphere that transported you into a spa-like oasis with vintage flair.

TASTE - Chi Chi @ The Avalon

While waiting for our spa treatments at Estrella, we sat poolside at Chi Chi, the fresh and clean restaurant inside The Avalon Hotel. Their menu is focused on wellness and has a nice list of items that are organic and have an authentic West Coast twist. From the menu we tried the poke and turkey burger which were both fresh substantial despite their refined plating. We also tried their Revive wellness drink which is a rich mixture of kale, mint, ginger, celery, apple, and turmeric—just what we needed before our moment of relaxation.

EXPERIENCE - Estrella Spa @ The Avalon

The Estrella Spa is hidden at the back of The Avalon Hotel and Bungalows where serenity meets the foot of the mountains. Before entering we were received by private hot tubs and cabanas where we lounged before entering. While we waited for our appointment, the spa offered us a glass of champagne while we decompressed in our fluffy white robes. My one-hour facial was glorious! If it’s possible to request an aesthetician, I recommend Lorena! She had the perfect touch and was careful in measuring how much or how little pressure I could handle. I also enjoyed our conversation during our session. She kept me relaxed and when she was done my face was glowing and I floated back to the showers. Definitely something you want to do when in Palm Springs to keep you mellowed out—especially if you’re there with your hubby.


TASTE - Watercress Vietnamese Bistro

If you’re as big a fan of Asian food as we are, you will LOVE Watercress Vietnamese Bistro. We caught this place in the heart of Downtown Palm Springs, in a spot that as lively as can be. The restaurant is primarily inviting because of the tropical atmosphere with green accents and water mist calling your name. When we walked in we were greeted by one of the co-owners, Dr. Phong Nguyen. He welcomed us and took us to one of the best tables in the patio—perfect for people watching while we sipped on our Vietnamese Mule (You have to try it!). We tried so much food here! From the Coconut Shrimp to the Brochette and Steamed Pork Belly Buns, the appetizers were mouthwatering. But the entrees were beyond words! We ordered the Yellow Curry, Watercress Beef Salad, Garlic Butter-Soy Shrimp and the Wok-fried Steak Cubes—Did I mention we love Asian food!? We will absolutely be returning to Watercress thanks to Dr. Nguyen and his incredible wait staff.


Our weekend hubbymoon came and went and we were amazed that we were able to get in some rest in-between our exploration itinerary. Our trip to Palm Springs proved to be an eye-opening experience, one that we shared for the first time as a married couple. We learned so much about this gay travel destination that we had never had time to learn. Maybe we were still on our wedding high, but we fell madly in love with Palm Springs—so much so that we think we may buy a home there in the future. For anyone who hasn’t been there, what are you waiting for?

For more information about Palm Springs, go to visitpalmsprings.com