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Adventures and Misadventures

On the way to a White Xmas...

GERMANY | Saturday, 7 February 2009 | Views [767]

EARLY Saturday morning two eager young-ish backpackers set off on a ferry to France which happened to leave just around the corner from home - very handy! We stood on the top deck waving goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover in the freezing cold and fog and blatantly wished we were back on a beach in Thailand! Only a busy 1 and a ½ hour ferry ride later (ferry filled with pre-xmas duty free revellers) and we were in France and on our way to the train station. Managing (just) to resist the temptation to booze it up in Calais with an over-eager stag party we met on the bus! Our intention to purchase inter-rail passes without any pre-planning or booking proved a little more difficult given our complete lack of French and my brains insistence on spitting out ‘Si’ instead of “Wie’ every time -a hangover from Italy. BUT with the worldwide language of hand gestures and picture painting we achieved what we set out to do! Inter-rail passes (aka lifelines) in hand we set off to Brussels for lunch… or so we thought. Having arrived in Lille where we were supposed to change stations we discovered that their was a five minute walk from the domestic to the international train station meaning we completely missed our change and had to wait a further four hours for the next train!

Never mind! A miracle - I spotted out the window a Carrefour, my favourite French supermarket so lunch in mind we braved the cold and crossed the courtyard to the busy shopping centre. 5 minutes later our trolley was completely stuffed with our backpacks and we amused ourselves for an hour trying to find cider (I was starting to have withdrawal symptoms) and the ubiquitous French goodies (bread and cheese) for lunch. Outside the shopping centre it was bitterly cold and saddled with our bags and a lack of seating we decided to settled down on the floor of the shopping centre down a slightly slower side lane to eat our lunch. BABOW…. Apparently this is illegal in French shopping centres and eviction from the premises is the correct course of action… at least that’s what we think the angry French security guard was saying as he hustled and waved us off the floor and out of the supermarket. Oops. This trip was off to a flying start!

Giving Brussels a miss when we finally caught the train it was straight through to Amsterdam and we made it to our hostel at a reasonable time of 10pm after getting only a little lost on the way. We dumped our stuff and headed out for a wander of the city. Saturday night fever and the tourists were out in force as we walked the infamous red-light district. I was enthralled by these women who could just display themselves so blatantly for sale in the window and equally repelled by the men who disappeared inside and closed the curtain. The next morning we started early by piling on layers although judging by the grey day outside I simply didn’t have enough! It was soooooo freezing cold and as we hired bikes and cycled around the city my fingers were painfully burning. So much so that after our tour of the city and the flower market I invested in a pair of ski gloves to keep my hands warm - although they did make me look like I had monkey paws… We eventually sheltered in a pub for a few drinks and then hit the supermarket for a hostel dinner (complete with the requisite beers) and later that night emerged to sample the famous night life but returned home slightly disappointed that the only excitement involved fleeing from slightly drunk Welsh rugby players into a much quieter ‘coffee shop’ which albeit stinking of Marijuana did provide a nice cold jug of beer for us non-pot indulgers. Amsterdam struck me as being a bohemian nocturnal city which actually has stunning architecture and atmosphere and could actually appeal to a wider range of tourists were it not for its slightly seedy inner city.

Holland down and we were on to Germany on the train. Our first destination was Cologne where a long walk to our hostel across the bridge actually gave us a birds eye view of the beautiful city centred around its stunning Gothic cathedral. We were in Cologne for one night only so we headed straight out to our first Xmas market! Albeit touristy the pretty colored stalls set a good atmosphere and we were surprised to find that the market had a fabulous array of food all preceded by delicious smells. We had found our cheap source of streetside food for the next week! We followed our noses through Cologne to a further 3 Xmas markets where we sampled bratwurst and deliciously warming gluhwein (mulled red wine.) I even convinced Lou to take a turn on the ferris wheel and ended a wonderful day by watching ’fags in drag’ skate around the xmassy ice rink for world aids day!

Festive feeling and good will to all men we boarded the train to Berlin and upon arrival set off exploring the city. Catching a metro into town we walked to the Reichstag (German Parliament) and then on to the famous Brandenburg Gate and on further past the Holocaust memorial. The sun was going down and it felt bitterly cold so after a warming hot chocolate we continued our walk past Checkpoint Charlie which was relatively unassuming. There are no significant sections of the wall left and Berlin seems to have moved into a new strong industrial era so I found it hard to comprehend the full meaning of the split between east and west. We jumped on a subway back to our hostel district and enjoyed a few pints in a student bar before heading to the site of an old brewery where we enjoyed a restaurant meal and a wander around the nearby xmas market. It turned out to be an eventful night as a drunk hosteller set off the fire alarm three times which caused me to stick to my bed in the morning until Lou got up and peeked out the window and started screaming ‘Anna!! Come Look at this!! Annnnaaaa!” I was still dubiously slow until I heard the magic words “It’s snowing outside” at which point I was out of bed and nose pressed against the window faster than a hungry kid in a lolly shop. It was proper white, soft, flakey snow falling from the sky and ohhhh sooo pretty. I dressed and bounced outside much to the amusement of the other mostly European and hence snow immune guests.

On to Prague and I was pleasantly surprised by the nice people offering to help us in the train station with directions and I declared this fact as our hostel owner offered to carry my bag up the stairs… that was until I discovered that we had been pick pocketed and our communal purse with 80 Euros and 10 Euros worth of day transport tickets was gone. Silly me! We put it behind us and decided to make the most of enjoying the city. Our hostel was really really nice and right in the centre of Prague on the river looking over at the castle. It was fairly late so we walked towards the main square which was beautifully lit up with a huge xmas tree and guess what - another xmas market! Dinner sorted we found a cool bar for a few bars and retired exhausted to bed. Lou woke up with a cold the next morning but rallied on and upon opening the curtains we discovered it was a stunning day with clear blue skies. We hit the cobblestoned streets walking over the old bridge and up the hill to the castle. Everywhere I turned there was a new photo opportunity and with our usual unplanned luck we turned up as the guards changed (Buck Palace Style) at the castle. We giggled our way through the national anthem which sounded like the theme from Superman and then wandered back down through the Castle grounds, past the church and the vineyards and down into the centre again. That night we headed out for a drink in some unusually named pubs like the “dogs bollocks” before we got completely lost down the little alleyways searching for the pub from the night before.

The next day was our longest train of 6 hours to Munich and lacking a little sleep we locked ourselves into a 6 seat compartment, pulled the curtains and settled down. By the time we arrived in Munich the weather had turned grey and cloudy but determined to use the last day of our rail pass we dumped our stuff and caught the first train to Nuremburg - the supposed home of Germany’s biggest xmas market. We jumped on the first train that left and despite our best efforts we fell asleep and were woken up by the nice German opposite saying “Innestadt?” “no no” we replied - we’re off to Nurembourg… oops wrong train. We later figured out that I had looked at the arrivals board instead of the departure board! Ohoh - it was only an hour out of our way so we arrived better late than never actually in Nurembourg! It was worthwhile though as it definitely was the biggest, most bustling Xmas market we had seen so far and I stocked up on presents for everybody whilst we munched on famous Nurembourg sausages. Fortunately we caught the right train home!

Our Munich ‘explore’ day started with a trip out to Dachau the first Nazi concentration camp set up in 1933 and later used as a model camp by the SS during WW2. It was a sobering site and a dreary cold day to match but excellently put together and really informative. In the afternoon we went to Munich Central square to check out the architecture and sought out a hot chocolate stall to gain shelter from the now persistant drizzle. Rain tends to impeded walking around so we headed back to our hostel and got chatting to some fellow Australians in our room. We decided to make a night of it and started with Bavarian beer tasting in the hostel bar before going to one of Munich’s famous beer houses - Paulaner. With a slightly beery hangover the next morning we set off for the airport and our flight back to the UK was without incident. I was so excited about seeing Spike who picked me up from the airport and drove me the long 3 hours home to Devon. It had been a typical Anna type traveling week where we packed in as much stuff as possible but Lou and I had loved catching up and being on the road - or should I say tracks - again!

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