Wandering Germany – Part 1

I was pretty sad to leave Holland after such a great time at each city I visited throughout my time there but the prospect of exploring new places always wins me over and as I sat at the train station, waiting for my train to Düsseldorf, the familiar excitement of adventure and the unknown won me over and I boarded with my bag and a smile and crossed the border into Germany.

It wasn’t a long journey to Düsseldorf and I spent my time looking out the window at the vast, flat vistas as the train rolled by. I had arranged to meet a friend upon arrival. We had met in Luxembourg at the start of my trip and I shared my itinerary, should he want to get away for a weekend and this was the weekend we chose.

On the day we arrived, the weather was nice and the place seemed bustling. It was a Saturday and as we walked around the city, there was a sense of summer in the air. We wandered round, enjoying the walk along the river and then into the old town, with its variety of restaurants and bars, crammed full of locals and tourists, all making the most of the great weather. The harbour in Düsseldorf is really modern, with some great architecture and as you follow the river round, more bars and restaurants unfold as you walk. We enjoyed just ambling along with no fixed agenda and it was a nice change of pace for me, as when I usually arrive in a city, I dump my bag and run off to explore as quickly as possible. We walked, ate, drank and relaxed before taking a stroll back to the hotel, enjoying a beautiful sunset, as we made our way back.

Sunday arrived and so did the runners of the Düsseldorf marathon. Making our way through the city allowed us to cheer the runners on as and when they passed us but there seemed to be so few of them. It could have been the time of day we were there, or there could have just been 15 people running the marathon that day. It is likely to be the former suggestion but we hardly saw any at all. We made our way up the Rheinturm Tower for 360 degree views which stretched for miles. We could even see Cologne Cathedral, which is over 40km away. After a couple of turns of the tower, we slowly made our way around the city which I was beginning to think didn’t have much soul to it. We settled for a sushi lunch to watch some more runners trickle past for the marathon and continued relaxing into the afternoon. We were fortunate to be there on the final day of another photography exhibition by Garry Winogrand and enjoyed seeing his photos of women in the States from the past 60 years hung on walls like living history before us and I really loved this quote which he wrote in time for the first exhibition of these prints…

Duss5

As the sun was still shining, we crossed the bridge and relaxed on the riverbank, having a little snooze, as we soaked up the suns rays. Continuing our way around the city, I had to come to the conclusion that as pleasant as it is and as nice as the first impression was, it is rather boring. There didn’t feel like there was enough to do and the place seemed so empty of people and vitality after an initial lively looking Saturday. Plus, I guess any destination which was to follow the awesome King’s Day celebrations in Arnhem was never quite going to match up!

The next morning, we took the train to Cologne and were able to make it there in time for the free walking tour. The free walking tours are a must for all travellers, tourists and locals who want an enthusiastic guide to show them the sights and provide some history about the city they’re in. At the end of the tour you give a tip to the guide if you liked it. It is such an easy, cheap and enjoyable way to see the city and I have done a number of these now, which have all been really good.

Cologne instantly had a better vibe about it compared to Düsseldorf and it is a shame we didn’t stay here with just a day trip in the opposite direction but nevermind. I know now and for those of you reading this blog and considering going to either of these destinations, you now know the best way to do it. The cathedral we saw from the Rheinturm Tower was monumental and impressive inside and out. The old square was bustling and despite the rain (which had followed two super sunny days), everyone seemed happy and we had a really lovely group on the tour, so conversation flowed and we learnt a lot about Cologne and over the 2.5 hours of the tour, I knew I wanted to come back one day and explore more than just the highlights.

We had to leave Cologne mid afternoon, as Chris had to get back to Luxembourg and I had to go back to Düsseldorf to my next couchsurfing hosts, who had agreed to put me up for the night, before I left the following day to Frankfurt. So after a lunch of currywurst and a local Cologne beer, we said farewell and went our separate ways. It is worth noting that there is a fierce rivalry between Cologne and Dusseldorf and the decision of who has the better beer is always up for debate. Having now tried both, I have to agree that Cologne is not only the better city but it also has the better beer. Check both out when you can!

The night with my second couchsurfing hosts was really nice. They live a little out of the city but part of the couchsurfing experience is to live like the locals and it enables you to visit a number of places in the suburbs you wouldn’t normally go to. Sanford and Moe welcomed me into their home and I arrived just in time for dinner – what luck! Both worked at the University and we had a really lovely evening just chatting and relaxing and getting to know each other. Well, they already knew each other pretty well but you know what I mean! It was a shame to only spend one night in their company but I was looking forward to leaving Düsseldorf and was keen to see what Frankfurt had to offer.

I have been using the Go Euro app to book my travel around Europe and it gives me the choice between train and coach and on this occasion, the train was the cheaper option. I made my way to Frankfurt under a huge rain cloud and unfortunately it stayed with me the whole time I was there. Upon arrival, I stored my bag at the station and set out for a day of sightseeing. This wasn’t easy as the rain was relentless. I have had the odd shower since I started this trip but during my time in Frankfurt, I feel there was about a months worth of rain in the short time I was there. I made my way around the main square but in the end I had to admit defeat and head inside to keep dry. The benefit of this was that I got to write my blog! As much as I’m enjoying writing these entries, I’m enjoying discovering new places more and I can feel myself getting further and further behind and therefore a lot of the detail is forgotten too (sorry about that). Once the blog was done, I chilled out for a bit before my couchsurfing host came and met me and we headed back to his flat which was about 25 minutes from the city centre, in a beautiful village at the foot of the Konigstein Mountains. Again, we spent the evening getting to know each other and I really enjoyed the refreshing change of talking to a local and having my own room (for free!) instead of the repeat conversations I have with each backpacker I meet in every hostel. Most backpackers are super nice but the flow and topic of the conversation while staying with a local is a nice change from time to time.

Waking up the next day, I saw that the rain had not let up. I needed to get out and explore, so I took my trusty umbrella (which I had borrowed from Lisa in Bristol and had forgotten to give back – sorry Lisa!) and headed into the city.

Making my way to the Altstadt, I juggled my camera, umbrella and backpack trying to take photos without getting wet. I could see in nicer weather, it would be quite a vibrant city to be in but continuing to get washed out was literally put a dampener on my day.

Welcome to sunny Frankfurt!

The Frankfurt walking tour wasn’t until the afternoon so I headed to as many museums as I could during the morning, to avoid a soaking and was able to get to grips with the history of the city. I noticed there was an awesome photography exhibition on but knowing how long I would spend there, I decided to go back there the following day. I did make my way to a sculpture museum which was pretty different to the many, many paintings I have seen throughout Europe so far and some of the sculptures were so old, it is a surprise they have managed to remain in one piece for hundreds of years. I also found the ‘lovelock bridge’ where thousands of couples have placed a padlock on the bridge with their names written or etched onto them, thus locking their love together forever.

Making my way to the start of the walking tour, I grabbed a sandwich and wondered if it was worth praying to the rain gods to see if they would give me a break for just one hour, as it was relentless! Sadly, it didn’t work. Despite the weather, there was a solid turn out for the walking tour and we started off in Frankfurt’s red light distract, visiting the largest brothel in the city. prostitution and drug taking are both legal in Frankfurt, it is just illegal to buy, sell or possess drugs, which should in effect make it too problematic for people to take them but it doesn’t and the city still has quite a prominent drug problem to this day.

I also found out that there are eight Spiderman statues around the city, which was once an art project for the University but is now a game for tourists to try to spot them all. We managed to just see two, while on the tour.

I met another Aussie on the tour and once it had finished, we went for a drink and swapped travel stories, which were pretty funny. I then went off and met a Couchsurfing host who wasn’t my host but was just a really cool person. Now I know I have been banging on about couchsurfing a little bit now but it is so good. We are a really nice community and everyone has been a traveller at some point, so know how important it is to give other travellers the best experience in their city. Although Hal couldn’t host me, he was still available to hang out and show me around and that’s what he did. We met up and he showed me a part of the city I would never have seen before, as it isn’t on the tourist map, even though it is the old part of the city with even more cobblestones and extremely old buildings which had managed to survive bombing in WWII. We grabbed a traditional Frankfurt dish – green sauce and potatoes (I’m still not 100% sure what was in the sauce, but it was nice!) with a glass of apple wine before I got on the train and headed back to my hosts house, to debrief on the day.

Having got on so well with Hal, we decided to hang out the following day as well and it made sense for him to find an air mattress and for me to stay at his, along with his other couchsurfing guest, who was arriving from Brazil that evening. I dropped my bag at his, before he went to work out and I went for a walk along the river, becoming at one with the pelting rain which refused to desist. After lunch at his, we both went to the photography exhibition together and it was such a good exhibit! The artists who were featured were all from the Becher class as the Düsseldorf art academy and they are said to have ‘contributed decisively to shaping international photography in the 1980s and 1990s’.

The exhibition was held at the Stadel Museum and there is so much art work there, you could easily spend two days wandering round and there was still no guarantee you’d see it all. When we finally left, we got food and drink from the supermarket and headed back to his, where we just chatted and literally watched the roads flood and the river rise before the couchsurfer arrived – another drowned rat to add to the collection! We then ate, drank local beers and laughed into the evening, before we were all tired enough to sleep.

When we became art

I had to leave the next morning and was equally dismayed and happy to see the rain had finally stopped and the flooded roads now reduced to large puddles. I didn’t enjoy Frankfurt as much as I could have done, had the weather been better but still made the most of it. I did make a good friend in my time there and look forward to meeting up with Hal and his girlfriend, as we will all be in Berlin at the same time. However, there is plenty more Germany to write about before then, though 🙂

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