Thursday, 21 March 2013

Day Tripping

One of the best things about living in Germany or being in Europe for that matter is how “close” everything is relatively speaking. For a couple of prairie kids like us where everything is so spread out, spending a few hours in a vehicle or a travelling a few hundred kilometers is no big deal; just a Sunday afternoon outing in fact. So since we've been here, we've have made the most of that “closeness” and enjoyed the guilty pleasure of day-tripping.

Depending where in Germany you are of course dictates to some extent where you can go and return in a day. But, no matter what charming city you’re in at the moment, there’s another equally, or even more charming city a train/plane/bus ride away.

Here are just a few of the day-trips that we've taken.

Last August when we spent a month in Heidelberg I took a trip to Strasbourg France with my school group. The city sits right on the border with Germany, and really mashes/meshes the two cultures. Its claim to fame is its 14th century Cathedral that’s missing its second steeple because the builder ran out of funds. Still totally stunning though.

Another school trip took me to the Hohenzollern castle. This 11th century castle sits atop a mountain towering nearly 1000 ft. above the town below at the foothills of the Alps.

Also during our time in Heidelberg, Erwin and I spent a day in Worms. Yes that’s the name of a city. It’s where Martin Luther took his brave stand against the Catholic church and was therefore declared a heretic.

Once we got to Berlin we took day-trips to Potsdam and Köpenick, towns that are virtually sub-burbs of Berlin, yet have their own unique qualities. Castles and cathedrals, coffee shops and cobblestone pedestrian only zones. Great places to while away a few hours.

Another day-trip took us to the port city of Hamburg. The moment I stepped off the train onto the platform I smelled something familiar. Sea air; I was momentarily homesick for The Rock. It has a Harbour Drive like in St. John’s except it goes on for miles and miles. The city is also home to the Reeperbahn, its tawdry red light district. So many people know the city for this zone which is defined by the metal modesty walls erected during Hitler’s rule. And of course the Beatles got there first paying gig in this city. That story is told in the Beatlemania Museum.

We've continued to take day-trips from our new temporary home base now in Frankfurt.

First up was Köln (Cologne). You can see the best of Köln without leaving the train station. That's because World War II turned most of the city into crumbs, leaving only the Dom upright. The Dom is the Gothic cathedral that thunders over you when you step through the glass doors at the station. That's all there really is to see in Koln, historically at least. We still enjoyed it. We were due for a bit of exploring outside of Frankfurt and at just over an hour away it was a nice quick get-away too.

Last week to celebrate the 36th anniversary of the day we met we went to Amsterdam, Netherlands. (I learned that Holland refers to the province it’s located in, news to me.) Known for its tulips and a canal system that’s supposedly larger the Venice’s, the city is renowned for the prevalence of sex, drugs, and general liberalism … so we could hardly resist going. The Rijksmuseum is the other must-see in this city. It has been mostly closed for extensive renovations for the last decade, but they've kept out the best-of-the-best works of art for public viewing. Among hundreds of other works of art, it features the 'Night Watch' (1642), the best-known painting by the leading Dutch painter of all times, Rembrandt van Rijn.

As I said at the start of this blog, everything that we've read about or seen on TV at home is practically on our doorstep here; all the “must-sees” and the “must-tries.” It’s so easy to be swept up in the opportunity for adventure in different cities and different countries, or even doing it just so that you can have bragging rights – I went to this city and that city and then here and then there. That’s great. But when you say you “went” there, how much can one really see and take in? It’s better to spend time actually exploring instead of being cooped up on a high speed train with scenery whizzing by at 200km an hour waiting for your arrival.

We've learned to fight the temptation to cram too much into any day-trip by trying not to visit more than two or three sights. The city will always be there. We can come back, or not, that’s ok. We linger over lunch, always sampling local goodies of course, and leave time for aimless exploring and people watching, cameras ever at the ready.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Frankfurt am Main

We've been living in Frankfurt for a couple of weeks now. Aside from a few Facebook status updates, l haven’t actually blogged about it. Unfortunately this is the only way a few of my followers, who aren't on Facebook, can keep up on our adventure. To you I apologize.

There are probably a few reasons for this:

-coming down off of our high from our trip to Cambodia,
-settling in & figuring out what’s where in a new city
-weather is yuck, so I sit inside and read or surf the net…

….but I think those are just excuses. The real reason, is that I’m really, really missing Berlin. T and I were discussing this during her birthday visit with us last weekend. She told me it was obvious that I don’t like Frankfurt very much. Then she said “…get over it, you’re in Frankfurt now Mom.” Kids. Got to love ‘em. was nice having her and Johnathan come for her birthday, I blew up some balloons, had Sacher Torte (with funky sparklers), pretty napkins...been too long since I've done something like that.

My baby girl. A grown woman.

Honestly though, the adjustment to Frankfurt has been harder than I thought it would be. I've been trying. Really. But, then I remember that we’ll probably only be here until the end of March, so why bother. So it goes in a circle.

Frankfurt am Main (because there is another Frankfurt in Germany, and because it straddles the Main river) is a very different city from Berlin. To be honest, there is no real comparison between Berlin and Frankfurt, they are just worlds apart. One is an amazing city full of culture, history and bustling with activity …and the other is not nearly as exciting. Erwin says it's soulless. Perhaps fitting for the birthplace of the author of Faust who sold his soul to the devil.

Frankfurt is business and money, Germany's financial centre for centuries. No-nonsense. Button down. Sometimes referred to as Mainhatten, although it’s probably about 100 high-rises short of its American namesake. It is one of the few cities in Europe and the only city in Germany that allows high-rises to be built in its downtown area. It even has its own twin towers, the head offices of Deutsche Bank nicknamed debit & credit.

It is home to a number of major banks and brokerages including the headquarters for the European Central Bank.

There are statues of the two symbolic beasts of finance, the bear and the bull, in front of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, one of the largest in the world. Serious business here.

I read in the Welcome Book, yes book, that we were given when we registered as residents, that one in three residents of this city does not have a German passport. So I guess that makes it a multi-national city as well. Berlin had tourists all the time everywhere clogging up the streets.Frankfurt hardly any. They have guys/gals in suits with phones attached to their ears clogging up the streets. It seems people go to Berlin to play and to Frankfurt to work. Maybe that’s it.

We've explored the sights a little, but there’s not a whole lot of them. And like I said above, after two weeks in the tropics, coming back to temps hovering around zero have kept me in. From what we've been led to believe Spring is late here this year, even the locals are complaining about it. But the fact that a season called Spring even exists here is fantastic. (That’s a joke that only my Newf friends will appreciate.) When I have gone for walks it’s obvious to see that Spring is indeed just around the corner. Trees have buds, and flowers are poking up…the sun feels warmer.

I've made it through a winter without having to shovel snow, scrap a window, or plug in a car. Life is good.