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.

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