Wandering Germany, part 3 – Dresden

The coach journey from Prague to Dresden was pretty easy and didn’t take too long. I had arranged to couch surf with three Uni students and got the tram from the bus station to the address given and hiked my bag up far too many steps to their apartment, which got me sweating somewhat! Johannes, Liz and Ana were all absolutely awesome from the get go, despite the fact that just being their age made me feel rather old. The apartment was in Neustadt which is by far the coolest area of the city without even trying. Clearly I fit right in 😉

After having a chat and getting to know them a little, I headed off into the city to explore. On the way, I heard a live jazz band playing at a bar on this beautiful tree-lined boulevard which leads to the city centre, so I took some time out to listen and enjoy. Upon reaching the centre, I heard more jazz music and then saw lots and lots of people standing and just looking over the main bridge to the road below. I asked what was happening and it turns out that I arrived on the last day of the Dixieland jazz festival (which happens every year) and the people looking over the bridge weren’t just admiring the passing traffic, they were waiting for the jazz parade to pass through the city. Now I think anyone would be delighted to arrive into a city as beautiful as Dresden with live, upbeat jazz music playing every hundred metres or so, the sun shining brightly and everybody dancing, drinking and smiling and I was no different. I wandered from band to band really absorbing the city and atmosphere, before heading to watch the parade, which was so much fun. I really got a new-found appreciation for jazz music and how it makes people feel.

Getting the chance to check my phone, I saw that by chance, my friend Stephen was also going to be arriving in Dresden that evening. We have been friends since school but rarely get the chance to see each other, with us both moving to faraway countries. The last time  I saw him would have been 9 years ago, when I went to visit him in Rotterdam. He was coming into the city as a tour leader on a boat full of his charges, who were all between 60-90 years old. I got permission to board by the captain and was introduced to everyone by Stephen as his friend from school and got a very warm “Hi Bowie” from all of them, to which I responded “Hi old people” which sat remarkably well with them and then I ended up settling into such a fun night, getting to have dinner with them and having a chat with a few of the old dears who were super funny. I went with them on a short, after dinner stroll, before saying my farewells and making my way back to Neustadt. It was only a brief interlude with such an old friend but I will be seeing Stephen again when I arrive in Athens later this year, as that is where he is now living and we will get plenty of time to catch up without Ethel and Doris chiming in asking to hear our school day stories!

Back at the apartment, Johannes suggested we go out for a drink and I assumed we’d go to a pub but he directed me to the street, where it seemed the whole community was out drinking and chatting like there was some kind of street party going on. It turns out that this is just the community of Neustadt and that’s how they spend the evening, just enjoying each others company on the streets and drinking beers which are cheaper than what you get in the bars. We were sat in a place nicknamed Assieck, which roughly translates to Riot Square. Neustadt is a very ‘left’ part of the city and I heard stories of past protests, occasional riots and demonstrations which have happened there and you can still feel a charge of electricity in the air. We had a great evening talking with each other and those sat near us. Everybody was in good spirits and a good time was had by all. Before long, it was past my bedtime and we headed back to the apartment so I could get some sleep!

My first day in Dresden was awesome. Such a varied and diverse day, none of which was planned and despite each event being entirely unique, the day seamlessly weaved together to push Dresden high on my list of favourite cities.

In brief, my next day involved what I normally do – a lot of walking and a lot of sightseeing. It is such a stunning city and the architecture and abundance of gold statues were often breathtaking to see, especially with the gorgeous Elbe river running through the city, to help frame its historic structures.

After such a lovely day of exploring, I decided to join a political protest to mix things up a bit. I was advised that Pegida who is a German far right movement congregate every Monday in Dresden city centre to spout their rhetoric and protest against immigration, muslims and just anything the rest of the word has come to accept as part of the progression of society. What is lovely is that there is large number of lefties who also live in Dresden who also congregate at the same time and place to show that Pegida’s views are not shared by the majority. As I wondered the city, I caught sight of a rainbow flag and assumed that would be part of the left protest so quickened my pace to go and join them. It was interesting being part of something so political and I have been learning a lot about my views on areas of politics (such as open borders as I travel) as well as the placement of refugees, which is even more poignant after the amount of history I was learning regarding WWII. As I marched, I was glad to be part of a group of young, organised and passionate people, who were there to protest against mostly older men and women of the far right. It was good to see so few young people among them, which gives me hope that hate will die out with old age and the young will have less to protest about as time goes on. We shall see. As both groups stood around shouting their chants and songs and playing music which supported their values and feelings, I decided to cross the police barrier and walk among these ‘Pegida people’ who fear change and the safety and welfare of migrants and refugees. None of them noticed that I had come from the other side of the fence and some even acknowledged me and said hi. Now I can only assume that these people are likely to be homophobic, as that has been part of the Pegida agenda in the past and it really showed me how ignorant hate is. I am gay and an immigrant and they looked at me like I was one of them just because I was white and standing on ‘their side’. I represent so much of what they stand against but their ignorance lead them to believe that I was as appalling as I believe them to be and they showed no animosity towards me whatsoever. Hate is ignorance and after this little revelation materialised before me in these people I was walking amongst, rather than just hearing about it in the media, I left both sides of the protestors and made my way back to Neustadt to relax, unwind and enjoy the awesome street art and a late night jazz concert with Johannes and his friends.

 

I loved my time in Dresden. Where I stayed, what I saw, the history and the randomness of it, all adding up to an awesome stay. The city was so alive with so many people and the buildings and experiences really added to the vibrancy of the place. Dresden was just meant to be an easy stopping point between Prague and Hamburg but it became so much more. I would urge everyone to visit and spend an evening relaxing at Riot Square and even go to the city centre on a Monday at around 6pm and see the protests which are a weekly occurence, with freedom of speech being the overall winner. You never know what random experiences might happen to you in Dresden and I for one relished in them and am really looking forward to returning.

Wandering the Czech Republic

This may be a brief post or it may not. I never know how long they’ll be until I start writing but if you don’t want to read too much then this is the summary of my time in the Czech Republic – I walked around a lot, taking photos. In fact, I’d urge you to head to the Wandergrin Facebook page over reading this blog to just look at the photo albums of Prague and Cesky Krumlov, as you will get a better feel for my time here. The Czech Republic is so stunning and even though I only saw a small fraction of it, I believe that any point and click photos taken of the beautiful urban vistas the country constantly offers are going to be good photos, so please take a look at mine and enjoy.

The reason why I included a brief interlude in the Czech Republic on this trip is due to Stephen, a good friend of mine, who is a tour guide and used to do regular trips around Europe. I have such vivid memories of his Cesky Krumlov photos and swore that one day I would go there. Being so close to the border while in Germany, I decided now was the chance to make good on that promise and make my way there. Logistically, it is easier to head to Prague and then make my way down to Cesky Krumlov, so I boarded the bus from Erlangen, waving goodbye to Diana as I left and even on my way to Prague, I could not get enough of the stunning green landscape which rolled past the windows.

Initially I was hesitant about returning to Prague and the Czech Republic on this tour. I had a beautiful time there with my ex-partner some years ago and I was worried that each twist and turn I took in the city would evoke feelings and memories which I have spent so long masking and suppressing. Needless to say, Pandora’s Box did open and a flurry of emotions whirled around my head, as bracing and confronting as the wind which was blowing through the city. I spent a lot of my time going over old ground thinking about what could have been done differently during my relationship, what could have been said or even left unsaid and then I realised that although the city is steeped in histories including mine, I wasn’t living there and I wasn’t living in the past. It was time to make some new memories and put my mark on the city as an independent wanderer and as a happy and healthy single man. As the sun set on the city that night, so too did it set on my feelings of sadness and uncertainty. It was time to look forward to a new dawn and a new day.

My first full day in Prague started with a walking tour. These free walking tours have become a staple for each city that I go to and they’re usually really enjoyable. The tour guides work for tips only, so the better the experience, the more they make and they often make a great impression with their knowledge of the city and the way they convey this to the group. We were very lucky and had a hysterical local guide who had the whole group in stitches each time he told us about a monument, statue or ancient building. He would ask questions about different parts of Prague and would give a banana to the person who got the questions right. There were 4 bananas to be had and I managed to peel away with 2 of them. As the walk ended at Charles Bridge, I carried on over the bridge and into the old city, where the castle perches high on the hill, overlooking the whole of Prague. The queue to get in the castle was excessively long and I decided to leave it and carry on wandering. I spent the day weaving in and out of lane ways and cobblestone streets admiring every building and every facade, just taking photo after photo, wishing that I had enough room in my bag to pack my DSLR camera, but making do with my phone instead.

Tourists as an attractionOld Town tramCharles BridgeJewish Museum

On my walk I met a fellow traveller and we ended up spending the rest of the day together, taking photos, drinking cheap Czech beer and swapping travel stories – pretty much 3 of my favourite things! We agreed that the following morning, we would meet before sunset, to get some more photos of the city as the sun rises and the light is magnificent. Waking up at 5am was a bit of a confrontation for a backpacker with a limited schedule but I did it and I have to say, it really was worth it. Seeing Prague look even better while bathed in a dawn glow was certainly worth the early start. The only people who seemed to be up at that time were us, professional photographers and lots and lots of Asian couples in their wedding outfits, taking many photos and trying to get the weather and the light that they didn’t actually achieve on their wedding day.

Prague sunrisePrague sunriseCharles Bridge sunriseCharles Bridge sunrise

After such an early start and as much caffeine needed to get me to the bus stop, I left for Cesky Krumlov to see if it was as good as I believed and am so happy I did.

Cesky Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city and is situated in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. It is just breathtaking. I have often heard the phrase ‘words don’t do it justice’ and this is one of those times I can agree. So here are my highlights and some photos, taken from the Wandergrin album on Facebook.

  1. Having my breath taken away by the view three times, just walking the 15 minutes from the bus station to my hostel.
  2. The absolute tranquility of the place, despite the throng of Asian tourists and their dedication to taking the most amount of photos ever.
  3. Feeling such immense happiness and gratitude that I am fortunate enough to be in this stunning place.
  4. The glorious weather.
  5. Meeting Veronica on my walking tour, knowing I have made another lifelong friend.
  6. Everything about this City.

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Cesky Krumlov

Do get a chance to go here if you can. It is just a few hours on a bus from Prague and is worth staying for the night, just to feel the magic and wonder of the place at all times and lights of the day.

I headed back to Prague for another couple of days, relishing in the ability to create new memories in such a beautiful place. I saw an advert for another free walking tour, which encompassed the old city and although I had been there, I was keen to learn more about the history so met with the group at the allotted time and off we went. Walking tours can be a good way to meet people and this was a prime example of that. There were a few on the tour which you could tell were going to click and we did pretty much straight away and we had another awesome guide whose dry wit and measured humour served the group extremely well. We wandered the old city and the guide told us he was going to do a tour of the castle in the afternoon. Having decided not to go a few days earlier and getting the chance to jump the queue by going with the group, I signed up. So did most of the group and when the guide asked if anyone wanted to join him for lunch before the next tour, we all put our hands up and crammed into a local Czech restaurant for beef goulash and cheap beer. The tour group expanded with the addition of Katy and Martina, as we made our way to the castle and they fit right into the energy the group was expending and we had such a fun afternoon exploring, learning and just laughing so much. We were so silly and it was hilarious. I’m laughing now as I type this at how everyone got the right queue for jokes and how everyone had the right thing to say at the right time. The camaraderie was on point.

When the tour ended, we all seemed a little like lost sheep and when our tour guide said he could continue the tour back to the main area of the city, we all readily agreed. When he left us, we all stood around, not wanting the day to end. So it didn’t. We once again crammed into a local restaurant for dinner and the laughs and jokes continued and although one by one, people had to leave for various reasons, we had an absolute blast and at midnight, there were four of us left before we called it a night and headed our separate ways. Now when I think of Prague, I think of all the fun I had on this trip and am really glad I got to close Pandora’s Box with all sad memories firmly trapped inside.

Oh yeah… earlier in the blog I said I wanted to make my mark on this city and to an extent I did, as I left a little permanent reminder on the John Lennon wall…

I’m so glad I went back to Prague and I’m so happy Cesky Krumlov was as stunning as I hoped it would be. I really enjoyed my time there and am happy that when I look back, I will look back on this trip over my last one and I will smile when I think of it and am glad to have made so many new memories and new friends.

 

Wandering Germany – part 2

I took the FlixBus from Frankfurt to Erlangen and was excited about the next part of my trip as I was to be staying with friends whom I met on a previous backpacking trip I took in 2005. I’ve kept in touch with Lars and Diana over time and it was going to be great to see them again for the first time in 8 years. My plan was to stay with them for roughly 10 days, doing day trips from their house but spending the weekend and evenings with them. It was so nice seeing them again and the opportunity to unpack and get a lot of overdue laundry done was nearly as appealing!

On day 1, we played catch up. With two weddings, three emigrations and one child since we first met in 2005, there was a lot to talk about. Lars and Diana have a lovely home in the little village of Hausen and what was exciting was the new home they were building just around the corner, which has been fully designed to suit their family and their needs. It was great getting a chance to don a hard hat and wellies and take a look around the construction site.

My first full day coincided with beautiful weather and an awesome food and beer festival near their home. The festival was unique in the fact that you had to hike up to it for over a kilometre, as it was based on top of a hill which has 360 degree views over the most beautiful and green valley where they live.

The food and the beer were both worth the hike but the views out did both! It was a stunning afternoon and a great place to feel completely stress free and really alive. Despite the hike up and down, it was a great place to relax and chill out. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know their little boy, Max, who I think I’m safe to say warmed to me throughout my stay and became a great little buddy during my time there.

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Lars, Diana and I with Max squinting at the sun!

The next day (after a great nights sleep) it was nice to have some more chill time and be with friends in their home, rather than sharing a hostel room or feeling like I have to be on my best behaviour when couchsurfing. We did decide to take a day trip to nearby Wiseenthau to take in an old ruin of a historic German castle. Again, this was set in the most beautiful green landscape and like I’m finding in a lot of Europe, it felt like I was walking through a fairytale. You can tell the Brothers Grimm were born and raised in this part of the world!

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After an enjoyable day and a delicious meal which included my introduction to white asparagus, we opted to have a ‘relaxing’ evening with some wine and play Cards Against Humanity. There was no way we could relax with that much laughter. Hands down the funniest and most wrong game we had ever played and we loved every minute!

On Monday, I had the absolutely pleasure of doing nothing! Although I am living the dream, getting to travel, it is exhausting and you never get a ‘day off’. Sitting at my desk when I was at work, I was using my mind but not my body and I get to relax at weekends but there are no weekends when you travel and every day you are using your mind as you are learning and absorbing so much and the pressures of walking 20-30km every day put on your feet and body – especially for someone as unfit as me – take their toll, so it was great just to lounge on the sofa and not have to do anything or talk to anyone was bliss. I used to give myself isolation days when I was in Australia and this was exactly what I needed at this stage of my trip.

The next day, I got dropped off at the station and made my way to Nuremberg for my first day trip. It was recommended to go to the Nazi party rally grounds, which were built specifically for the Nazis and was host to 6 rallies between 1933 – 1938. This was my first step into the history of Nazi Germany outside of the classroom and it was definitely interesting to see how Hitler and the Nazis came to power and really understand what happened in the lead up to WWII and how the Nazis managed to get elected, despite Hitler actually being sent to prison early on in his political career. I spent quite a few hours wandering round and learning a lot during the morning and it was super interesting and actually a great starting point before the visits to the forced labour and concentration camps which were to come later in my trip.

After leaving the rally grounds, I explored Nuremberg on foot. It isn’t a huge city but it is pretty and it was great starting place to discover Franconian Germany. I explored the castle, St Lorenz gothic church, Hauptmarkt, another gothic church, a medieval cathedral (of which I forget the names) and Fleisch Bridge. All of which combined make up a really stunning old city which contrasted starkly with the hastily built 1950 communist buildings which shot up after the war.

It was great to see Nuremberg for the day. I don’t feel like much more time is needed here. There is a lot of construction happening, as there is all over Germany and it is great to see the economy flourish and also relieving to see how  the new architecture is able to blend with the existing mix of the cities facade. A good debrief with Lars and Diana about my day and a healthy dose of the new season of Sense8 on Netflix (we binge watched 5 episodes) rounded the day off nicely.

Feeling like a child on his way to school, I was dropped off at the station the next day to make my way to the city of Bamberg. Bamberg is laid out over seven hills and boasts two rivers, which meet in the city centre. Some of the gothic and romanesque spires can be dated to between 11th – 19th century. I had such an enjoyable day wandering around. Again, being a compact city, I was really able to traverse the 7 hills well – following the rivers, winding paths and ancient bridges – and I really enjoyed walking through this picturesque Franconian City. It is what my mind considers to be ‘classic Germany’ and was easily one of the more beautiful cities I have visited on this trip.

 

I jumped back on the train and awaited collection by Diana like a kid after school and after a hard day of pounding the pavement, I was happy to be back at their home with another delicious meal prepared and set out on the table. I really was being spoiled and it is so nice to keep in mind that a chance encounter with these two on a rickety long-boat back in 2005 would lead to life long friendships and the opportunity to easily pick up where we left off, however long it has been since we’ve seen each other.

Munich was to be the next stop on my trip but realising  I wanted to spend more time with Lars and Diana, I decided to head here for two days, before going back to Hausen for a final weekend with these lovely people. Diana was kind enough to wake up and drive me to the bus station for my 6.30am bus to Munich, which cost 7 euro and I had arranged for a couchsurfing host to put me up for the night (which is free) and it made me realise how cheap travel can be, when you put your mind to it.

Now I have been to Munich before but hands down do not remember it. The only visual which opened a memory was at the end of day one, when I went into the famous Hofbrauhaus and I was able to perfectly remember where I sat, what I ate and who I was with. Other than that, my day spent wandering the city felt completely new to me. The sun rose while I was on the bus on my way into Munich and as I arrived at the bus station, I was looking forward to clear blue skies, beautiful sunshine and a mild breeze. It had been recommended to me to head to Pinakothek der Moderne, which is a huge museum of 19th – 20th century art. Having seen so much 15th – 19th century art so far on my trip and then enjoying more recent art, such as Banksy, Dali and a number of the photography exhibitions (such as the Steve McCurry one in Brussels) I have been seeing recently, I thought that this was a period I had neglected and should definitely see it. As I wandered round, I realised that I really don’t like modern art. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t get it and I’m fine with that. Show me a block of square paint or a squiggle that my niece could have painted and I’m not going to look much deeper into the painting beyond the fact that the painter is lazy or cannot paint. Seeing so much art on this trip has helped me realise what I like and I am going to focus on enjoying that from now on. I cut the museum short and headed out into the glorious sunshine that Munich had laid out for me.

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English Gardens, Munich
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English Gardens, Munich
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Munich

Considering how famous the Bavarian capital is, it was really quiet and somewhat empty during my time there. There was no traffic, hardly any people and it was so quiet. I headed straight to the English Garden, having enjoyed so much greenery in Franconia and the stroll around was beautiful. It did come as a bit of a shock though, upon seeing a clearing ahead, to see a naked man just laying on the grass. Then I saw another, then a naked women and then a whole bunch of really naked people just lying around. I had no idea that a public park in the middle of a major city would allow nude sunbathers but they do and there they all were… every part of them! Rather than stop and try to get some colour balance on my white bits (pretty much my whole body!) I carried on and stopped for lunch at the Torre Cinese which translates as Chinese Tower and relaxed with some lunch in the glorious sunshine before heading on and making my way to Marienplatz to explore the cities many beautiful buildings. I spend the afternoon with my head up to the sky looking at towers and spires and taking in Viktualienmarkt, the old Royal Residence, New Town Hall (which isn’t that new), the Rathaus Glockenspiel, St Peter’s Church, Frauenkirche and the Old Town Hall (which is really old). It was great being outside with so much history towering above me that I made a decision there and then that I will not go into a museum on a glorious day again, while on this trip when there is so much to see outside. I rounded the day off at the Hofbrauhaus with a beer before heading to the suburbs to spend the evening with my couchsurfing host, who had prepared us a BBQ and spent the evening chilling out and having a nice chat.

Hofbrauhaus

I had decided that after seeing so much of the city on day one, that I would have a change of pace on day two and I took myself to the Dachau forced labour camp, which was the first of its kind which the Nazis established prior to WWII breaking out.

This was a tough day and the no doubt the first of many tough days, as I make my way though countries in Europe which have had their inhabitants and landscape forever changed by the hands of evil throughout the Nazi rule. However my sadness was nothing compared to that of the poor victims who were imprisoned here during that time and just imagining what these people had to endure was enough to bring me to tears. It does help put things into perspective, particularly with todays refugee crisis and I do think if more countries had opened their borders to more refugees fleeing and exiled from Germany in the late 1930s, there would have been a lot fewer people in these camps and a lot fewer deaths at the hands of these absolute monsters. I can see why Germany is so accepting of refugees these days and I salute them for this.

After this sombre day, I made my way back to the bus station and headed back to Lars and Diana’s for my final weekend with them, happy that I will be with people who I know will cheer me up after quite a heavy day.

The weekend we spent together was just one of quality time in each others company. We didn’t get up to much but I did enjoy wandering the woods around the village, visiting the farmers market, playing with Max and Diana down by the river, having some free time to prepare for the next stage of my trip and seeing the progress on their house build – it’s amazing how much can be done in just a week! They also invited some friends over and we had a beautiful BBQ as the sun set on another glorious day. I feel that after the complete washout I got from the Mother Nature in Düsseldorf and Frankfurt that she was definitely making up for it with continued sunshine during my time with Lars and Diana. My final evening, following the BBQ consisted of the Eurovision Song Contest and another round of Cards Against Humanity. The two do not go hand in hand but we had a lot of fun and it was a great round off to my time spent with my favourite Germerican people. Prost! to Diana and Lars.

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…

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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 🙂

Wandering the Netherlands, part 3

My final stop in Holland was the town of Arnhem, located on the eastern border of this awesome country. Over the past 70,000 years (since the Neanderthals lived in this part of Europe), Arnhem has amassed a population of 151,356 and I’m happy to report that the intellect and kindness of the population has significantly improved. Mostly.

My main reason for stopping in Arnhem was that it is close to the border of Germany and would afford me good transport links to Düsseldorf, which was my next port of call. I also thought it would be a nice place to explore, as it isn’t as well-known as Amsterdam or The Hague and I wanted to go somewhere a little off the tourist trail.

I hadn’t booked anywhere to stay and I thought I would try out Couchsurfing, to see if someone would let me stay with them for the duration of my time there. For those of you who don’t know about Couchsurfing (like I didn’t, until I was told about it by Julia, another backpacker who I met in the Lake District), it is a site where you request to stay with people in their homes for free and they are kind enough to say yes. You then return the favour when the host comes to your home city or you pay it forward to other backpackers and they do the same. It’s such a lovely, trusting and kind concept, I really wanted to be part of it. I had tried to do my first couchsurfing in Amsterdam but unbeknownst to me, along with Paris and Berlin, it is one of the most difficult European cities to secure a couch in and not only that, I had no recommendations from other hosts to support me, I wasn’t verified to prove my identity and had no couchsurfing friends to vouch for me.

Hoping Arnhem would provide me with the first chance of trialing this unique and super cost-effective initiative. I got myself verified and reached out to about 12 hosts but kept getting the same response from all of them ‘sorry, that’s over King’s Day and I won’t be here’ or ‘sorry, that’s over King’s Day and I’m not looking to host’ or just ‘sorry, that’s King’s Day’. I had no idea what King’s Day was so decided to look it up. Previously Queen’s Day on 30th April but now King’s Day, held every year on 27th April (the King’s actual birthday), it is a public holiday for the whole country to celebrate the King’s Birthday and this year was his 50th. Not only do the people get the day off work, every town, city and village has a massive free festival to celebrate. Huge stages are erected and well-known music acts and DJs provide music and entertainment from King’s Night (the night before King’s Day) and then all day until midnight on the day itself. It is a huge celebration for the whole country and I was so lucky to be a part of it.

Out of all my responses from couchsurfing hosts, one conversely wrote back and said ‘it’s King’s Day, it would be great to host you and have you come and celebrate with me and my friends’. That’s when I met the nicest person in Holland – my very first couchsurfing host called Vincent.

Vincent was kind enough to pick me up from the station and I was to stay at his home, as his guest for the next 3 nights. As I was getting into his car it did feel strange that this complete stranger was going to let me stay with him for free, with just my gratitude being enough for food and lodgings. It even felt stranger when he drove me to an abandoned looking lock-up on the outskirts of the city. Luckily after a tinge of aprehension, it turned out that Vincent had a really awesome converted flat inside and a very comfy mattress for me to sleep on for the duration of my stay.

We sat in for a short while with a beer and started to get to know each other. Being King’s Night though, the plan was to go out and for Vincent to show me around all the different stages and DJ stations around the city. We made our way on the bus and once we arrived in the city centre, Vincent got a couple of travellers out of his bag and we enjoyed drinking them, as we wandered the streets, seeing so many people partying and revelling and all in awesome spirits. We saw so many huge stages, each with large crowds dancing and just really enjoying themselves. We took a quick detour to his friends flat and chilled out for a short while, only to be told it was compulsory to come to his pre King’s Day party the following day from 12pm. Moving on, we found the city square called Jansplaats (renamed Danceplaats for the day) and found a  group of his friends who we stayed with to party for the night. Initially, it was a bit odd just going out clubbing with a group of strangers who didn’t speak the same language. I was just this random guy nodding along to the music, drinking beer quickly to calm his nerves and smiling every now and again, when I made eye contact but it quickly became evident there was no need to be nervous. Considering how nice Vincent is, it shouldn’t have been a surprise at how nice his friends were either. Everyone spoke with me in English and were equally as receptive and fun, it felt like spending time with friends I’ve had for years. The music was so good, the vibe was amazing and the company awesome. After a while, a few of us moved on to another, even bigger stage and we danced, sang and had a bloody good time. Agreeing to leave at midnight, to ensure we made the most of the following day, we headed back to the lock-up and I slept soundly and comfortably for the whole night.

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Partying with Vincent and his friends
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Arnhem main stage

The next morning, we woke up and didn’t feel too bad, so chowed down on some breakfast and watched some of the King’s Day celebrations on TV which showed the King and his family arriving in Tilburg (the Royal family go to a different town each year) to enjoy the festivities. As orange is the national colour of the Netherlands, there were a lot of people dressed in this colour and everyone looked super festive and bright, which really added to the atmosphere. Vincent then produced a very orange mid-morning snack of an orange cake, orange and ginger tea and a very strong orange and bitter liqueur. Start as you mean to go on!

Orange breakfast

Around midday, we headed back into town and to his friends party, not forgetting our travellers to drink on the way, all courtesy of Vincent. We got to the party and I met even more of his friends along with his brother and they were all so good to include me in all their conversations, either translating for me or speaking in English so I could be included. Every time I put a beer down a new one was thrust into my hand and the place was full of excitement. It seemed a shame that they we weren’t joining them at the major hardcore dance party they were going to but Vincent and I, being 10 years older than most of the crowd there, had left those days in our past and decided to carry on to see more of his friends and enjoy some less hardcore dance. The whole of the city was packed and everywhere you looked were people decked out in as much orange as they could find. There was such a good atmosphere and no animosity or threat of idiots ruining the day that it was really good fun just being among the crowd and getting swept up in the merriment of it all. As I wrote this, I can tell I’m 10 years older than my clubbing days, because I use the word merriment.

We joined some more of Vincent’s friends (he seems to have so many) in one of the smaller dance tents and again, they were so welcoming. Everybody was getting rounds of drinks and the conversation flowed so freely, it was just super good fun. The only issue was that I wasn’t feeling so good and try as I might to purge myself of beer and ill feeling, I couldn’t shift it and by 7pm, I had to take myself back to Vincent’s flat and fight a fever, which saw my temperature spike and my ability to sleep completely diminish. I ended up just laying in my bed shivering and watching an entire series on Netflix before welcoming my drunk host home, who was able to fill me in on what I missed out on, which was basically lots of super good fun. After Vincent went to his room, I finally managed to sleep and woke up feeling considerably better than I had for the past 12 hours.

Arnham main stage

Although we both weren’t feeling 100% (for different reasons) we didn’t want to waste the day and as Vincent had taken annual leave for the Friday, he was really hospitable and decided to spend it with me, to show me round. We decided to go to the National Park nearby, to hire bikes and cycle around the place, letting the fresh air cleanse our party souls. It worked and the Hoge Veluwe National Park was beautiful to see by bike. It is a 55 square km park, which consists of heathlands, sand dunes and woodlands. We were able to see a little wildlife, including a stag and the shift in landscape from woodland to sand dune created a beautiful blend of scenery which was stunningly knitted together as we rode through them.

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Sand dunes
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Vincent and I riding through the dunes

We headed back via one of the city parks, where we took a stroll to appreciate the calmer aspects of the city, with no revellers in sight and it was a really good way to wind down, after a fairly active few days. Heading to the supermarket, I got everything we needed for a superfood salad and worked my limited magic in the kitchen to make us something filling and healthy, to accompany Vincent’s delicious broccoli soup, allowing us to both replenish vital vitamins and minerals we were both no doubt lacking, following the King’s Day celebrations.

The next morning was my last in Holland and I was gutted. My entire time in Holland was exceptional. The people are some of the nicest you could meet and the reunions I had with long acquainted friends as well as meeting so many new ones were brilliant. Being there to celebrate King’s Day was phenomenal and I’m super keen to return to Arnhem in 2018 to enjoy it all over again. With Vincent’s overwhelming hospitality to me (a complete stranger to him)  the end of my time in Holland went with a bang and I left with some more amazing friends, memories and a desire to come back and explore even more of this brilliant country. I guess its safe to say… Holland, I love you! See you again soon.

Wandering the Netherlands, part 2

I took the train from The Hague and settled in for the short journey to Amsterdam. I was looking forward to Holland’s capital city for many reasons. I had been once before but only for the day and didn’t really get to see everything it had to offer and I also knew a couple of people who lived here, so the thought of catching up with them added my excitement.

I managed to navigate the tram from Centraal Station to my hostel with relative ease and checked into my dorm, which I would be sharing with 7 other people. However, from the super friendly hostel in The Hague, it was quite a contrast to seemingly have 7 mute people in my room. I said hi to the 3 who were there upon my arrival and was blatantly ignored – not even a glance or a grunt – so I afforded them the same hospitality and went about my trip not hearing one word spoken in my room the entire time I was there!

I arrived late in the day and took a late afternoon stroll around, getting my bearings and enjoying views of the vast canal network and beautiful architecture. It still made me smile seeing the buildings lean so much, due to the subsidence. Its like they were all drunk and holding each other up, seemingly mirroring the myriad of stag and hen parties which were weaving their way through the city this weekend, as they no doubt do every weekend.

At the hostel there wasn’t a common room in which to hang out and I didn’t relish the idea of just chilling in my dorm, so I took myself to a bar hoping to strike up conversation with a local. I was fortunate enough to meet a Swiss guy who was in Amsterdam for a few days, catching up with a friend who wanted to introduce him to his new boyfriend. As the conversation (and beer) flowed, I suddenly found myself agreeing to be part of a double date and was on my way to be wined and dined in a lovely Italian restaurant in the heart of the city. The evening was great fun, the four of us got on well and Michel and I have kept in touch. It’s just a shame I’m not scheduled to be in Switzerland until January…

As I walked back to my hostel the next morning, the sun was out and I was able to really capture some stunning shots before the tourists woke up and the crowds descended on to the streets.

Amsterdam is a great city to wander around. Although it is very tourist driven, they do also add to the ambiance of the place and the throng of people is often matched in volume by the numerous things you can do in the city. It would be easy to spend two weeks here and have a compliment of museums and attractions to explore each day, with a new cuisine to try each night. My long morning walk ended at Dam Square, where the World Press Photo exhibition was being held, where they exhibit the best journalism photos from around the world, with a number of categories being featured. It was really humbling to wander through some of the worlds most infamous shots of the past 12 months and it really sobers you up to all that is going on in the world and despite how big it is, how close photography can make you are to everything. You feel you can reach out and hug the refugees fleeing from their once happy homes or try to save the innocent animals which had their tusks sawn off or were trapped in the ocean in the waste we put there. Basically the majority of the images showcased all creatures great and small on 4 legs or 2 (sometimes 1, sometimes 3 due to maiming) all fleeing from the same threat. Humans. It was a strong exhibit and I was reminded not to take my care free adventures for granted, as you never know what our species will do next or where they’ll do it.

I exited to a more upbeat visual, as there was a huge fun fair on Dam Square and delighted children and happy people were making the most of the rides and the food stalls and it was immediate catharsis which lifted my spirits and re-fueled my happy. I wandered through and made my way to the canal which led to Centraal Station and hopped on a boat for a 1 hour canal cruise to see the city from a different perspective.

Now I was on a schedule today, as I had arranged to meet my friend Sebastiaan at 6pm at Haarlem station. I met Sebastiaan 12 years ago in Rio. We had spent a few days hanging out and managed to climb Sugar Loaf Mountain together with a few others from the hostel but not having seen each other since Brazil, I wasn’t sure of the reception I’d receive after so long. I reached out just before arriving in Holland and suggested a beer and was told to meet him at Haarlem station and we would go from there. And what an amazing time I had!

Sebastiaan and his girlfriend Jara collected me and took me back to their home. I knew we were going out that evening and it turned out it was Jara’s Mum’s birthday and they were going out for a family dinner and I was to come along. I felt a little intrusive at first but they are all such lovely people, I immediately felt at ease in their company and they were all so kind to speak English with me, that I had a great time. My lucky timing (once again) had me in Haarlem the night the Flower Parade comes through town, which only happens once a year. The Parade travels for about 44km throughout the day, ending in Haarlem at night and all the floats are made up of amazing floral displays depicting different characters, themes and animals. It was a real sensory feast for the eyes and nose and the event showed a great sense of community and families coming together to enjoy it.

After we made our way back to their house, I assumed the evening was over but it was just a quick pit stop before heading back out on the town. I went with Sebastiaan to a cool bar which had been converted to a church and had a couple of the beers which had been brewed on the premises, before moving on to meet up with some of his friends. We had a really fun night and again, I was so lucky that everyone spoke pretty much fluent English and I wasn’t left out of any conversation. Having had a complete blast, I slept well but we both woke up with quite the hangover! In order to cure ourselves of these, the 3 of us took the dog for a long walk in the sand dunes near their house and the fresh, bracing air did us wonders. We then headed to the beach for some more blustery air and much to my surprise, I tried herring for the first time and really enjoyed it. The combination of the oily fish, the fresh air and a diet coke had our heads clear for the rest of the day and similarly, the clouds also cleared, leaving us with a beautiful afternoon to enjoy.

Not knowing what else I was going to enjoy in the company of this awesome couple, I was delighted to see that Sebastiaan had arranged for a boat to be available to us, so we could spend the afternoon on the water and I was to get a private tour of Haarlem from the canals and learn some of the history of this beautiful city and enjoy Sebastiaan and Jara’s amiable company. We stopped and moored the boat when we wanted, had an ice cream and wandered around the city which is a lot less crowded than Amsterdam but equally as beautiful. I really enjoyed the afternoon out, trying some more local delicacies as we wandered.

The evening was rounded off with us going for a pizza and I got the chance to meet another of Sebastiaan’s friends who he met on his travels and they became so close, the friend is now married to Sebastiaan’s sister. He really is the most hospitable guy! I left in such good spirits and made my way back to Amsterdam, loving the fact that friendship will always override time and it doesn’t matter how many years have passed, as friendship will always last.

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Following a brilliant weekend, I was up early to join the queue for the Van Gogh museum. The queue, as it is everyday was huge and I waited patiently before getting in. Now everyone raves about this museum and the works of Van Gogh but I have to say, I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t see a number of his most famous paintings and as I read the many letters he wrote to his brother and other artists, I can’t say I was a huge fan of him either. As a very novice art critic but long time people judger, I have to say he seemed like a bit of a knob. It wasn’t until the following day that I saw that they had opened a Van Gogh exhibition in my home town of Melbourne, where all his major pieces were, which made me feel glad that I didn’t travel all this way just to see his work, when I could have stayed at home!

I was glad to leave not just because I’m not a fan but I also had another reunion to get to, which was with Eline who I met on the best trip of my life in Africa in 2015. We had a huge hug when we clocked one another and had an amazing afternoon catching up, starting with a delicious lunch, before moving on to a photography museum and then a lovely long stroll in Vondelpark. It was so much fun reliving so many memories of our trip to Africa and even felt a little strange chatting without the odd zebra or elephant wandering past! Again, I felt amazed at how you can meet someone just by chance but it is clear they’re destined to be in your life forever and this is the case with Eline and all the Africa crew.

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That evening, I decided that I would take a stroll into the red light district and have a peak into the windows and see the seedy side of Amsterdam. I have to say though, it wasn’t as seedy as I had assumed and what I saw was lots of similarly dressed women all sitting there looking really bored and they were either fiddling with their phones or eating their dinner. It wasn’t particularly sexy but it was a touch amusing when they saw me wandering around on my own, as their demeanour completely changed in the hope to tempt me to go behind the curtain with them. Sadly the only action they were going to get from me was a cursory wave and a nod of my head as I continued on by.

I headed back to my dorm to continue the game of dead fishes with the others in my room and woke up to what was to be a day of culture. I went to Museumplein, where I strolled through a number of museums, seeing the works of Banksy and Dali together in the MOCO and then moved on to see more contemporary art at Rijksmuseum and another photography exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum. It was a cultural overload to see so much art work but it was definitely more my scene, as we had the works of Dali (not the real works!) on the walls at home when I was growing up and I last saw his work at The Tate in London on my 21st birthday with my parents, so it was good to see it again after so long. I saw an original Banksy in Bristol, when I was only my UK road trip and I love the messages he is able to convey in his work and seeing more contemporary art and photography really appealed to my personal tastes. It was a long day on my feet though and I was glad to find a pub to park myself in for the evening and have a nice chat with the other patrons over a pint. It does take a bit of courage to go up to people in a foreign country and initiate a conversation in their second language but it is worth it. Most people are so kind and I am always able to enjoy the company of most people and conversation always seems to flow.

My final day in this fantastic city involved tulips. thousands and thousands of tulips. I was fortunate enough to be close to Keukenhof when all the tulips were in bloom and they were truly magnificent. I have never seen so many flowers in one place before in my life. They were so vivid and the colour was breathtaking. I wasn’t sure how long I’d need there but it was easy to spend a few hours just wandering around and taking in the beauty and scent of the place. It is so big and the fields of flowers as far as the eye could see was so spectacular. I was lucky that the sun continued to shine and the day topped off an amazing trip to this part of the Netherlands where I had such a good time, saw so much, reunited with amazing people met new friends (and possibly more) and just thoroughly enjoyed myself. Holland was shaping up to be a major highlight of this trip so far and it hadn’t ended there, as the next stop is Arnhem for Kings Day and my very first couchsurfing experience.

Wandering the Netherlands Part 1

I love Holland. I was there at a good time of year and there was a lot happening but I think perhaps its the people who can make the biggest impact on your trip sometimes and Holland has some of the best. We’ll meet most of them in parts 2 & 3.

I had been to Holland once before, years ago when my friend Stephen lived in Rotterdam. I spent a few days with him there and we took a brief day trip to Amsterdam. Deciding to try somewhere new, I boarded the Flix bus from Antwerp and made my way across the border to The Hague.

Hague 1

Each time I book a hostel, it always seems to be 30 minutes walk from the station. I don’t plan it that way, its just by chance that it happens. I started my 30 minutes, knowing full well by the end of it I would have multiple bruises where my backpack bashes against me, as I try to navigate a throng of pedestrians who inevitably seem to all be walking in the opposite direction. I reached the hostel and was greeted with a free beer, which was probably something to soften new arrivals up before we’re made to climb the steepest stairs I’ve ever seen. Even more so when climbing with a heavy bag. Twice I nearly toppled backwards trying to reach my room – I’m glad I was only on the second floor! Upon entering my room, I met the first of the nice people. One of the best things about travelling is other travellers. I was in a 4 bed dorm, 2 guys, 2 girls and straight away, we all clicked. Conversation flowed, stories were exchanged and laughs were had. The hostel bar had live jazz music each night and we amiably sat together and enjoyed each others company. It was a good start to the trip.

My first impression of The Hague (Den Haag) is brown. All the buildings are made of brown brick and they have decided to lay the roads and pavements in the same brick, to make you feel like you’re walking through a chocolate town. I resisted the urge to break a tooth while taking a bite out of the nearest building and did what I do best – wander! I ambled through main streets, lane ways and often, unbeknownst to me, bike paths too, as there is no differentiation in shades of brown to show these as non pedestrian areas. When I finished wandering, I made my way to a bar and researched what to do in The Hague and in all fairness, there wasn’t much which peaked my interest. The Hague comes across as a very sensible, grown up city and although I can identify as a sensible grown up, it’s not quite the look I’m going for at the moment.

Waking up feeling fresh the next mornng, I made my way to The Mauritshuis, which is an amazing collection of Flemish art, housing the works of Rembrandt, Rubens, Hals and of course Vermeer, with this notably being one of his most famous pieces.

Hague 2

Scarlett Johansson 😉 

After a morning of perusing, I wandered the Binnenhof which houses the office of the Prime Minister and the State General. It is also one of the oldest Houses of Parliament in the world which is still in use, having been built in the 13th century. Although you couldn’t go in, it was pleasant enough to wander around and appreciate its setting with canals streaming either side.

Having had an entry to another gallery included with my Mauritshuis ticket, I took a brief stroll around there but was ‘arted out’ so left to wander some more. I opted to take a tour of the Peace Palace, only to find it was closed as there were a number of important people there promoting peace among nations or some such, not considering my touristic needs. I took an audio tour of the visitors centre which did genuinely bore me, before continuing on to Van Stolkpark, which is a huge public park on the outskirts of the city and I have to say, it is so picturesque. So much lush greenery, flora and fauna with running tracks, dog walking areas and meandering paths all over, it was a literal breath of fresh air, after being inside for so long. I walked for an age, only to remember I had to walk back again, so that is how I spent the remainder of my afternoon and it was completely relaxing. I’m noticing again and again how much I enjoy being outside so much more than being in built up areas, whichever country I find myself in.

That evening was spent listening to more live music with my super cool bunk-mates who were Latvian, Italian and Columbian (but living in New Zealand).

The next day I knew I needed to go further a field and jumped on the number 1 tram to Scheveningen Beach. This is definitely what the people of The Hague need. Miles and miles of golden sand was stretched out in front of me and the blue skies and seas complimented it so well. It was the first beach I’ve seen on my travels so far and as far as the eye could see, it was fringed with super cool bars, restaurants and entertainment. One bar was pumping out such good music that it reminded me of when I was young and went clubbing. It projected such good memories in my mind, I sat there drinking a glass of water, just to reminisce to the music, even though it was closed! I stayed at the beach all morning. There was such good public art available all over the place and with the sun shining, music playing and waves lapping. I felt super happy. In order to top my happiness up to 100%, I decided to call my Mum and we had a lovely chat, catching up over the past few weeks. Full happiness complete 🙂

Although it was a shame to leave such a happy place (I will always be happiest at the beach) I knew the tram back would take me all the way to Delft and I had heard good things.

Delft sprung up from a rural village in the early middle ages and received its royal charter of city status in 1246. It has a feel about it that all the building was done that year and has just been maintained ever since, as it looks ancient! It really is a beautiful city, sitting upon a criss cross of canals and the main market square is still used as a market to this day. Only on a Thursday though, which is when I happened to be there. There was live folk music playing, a good vibe and veritable treats at each stall.

Having missed the official walking tour, I took the map and retraced the footsteps of the tour. It is such a pretty place to wander around, I often forgot to read about the buildings I was looking at, instead just admiring them against the blue sky and fluid canals.

This was also where I first noticed how much subsidence there is in Holland. Some major, historical buildings really lean heavily and it is a worry that they might topple over at any minute. No doubt preventative measures are put in place to combat this but it still looks concerning.

I made my way back to The Hague and at a loss with what to do now the daylight was dwindling, I decided to be cheeky and made my way to a coffee shop and try a joint. This isn’t my usual practice and this became clearly apparent when I completely greened out after 3 puffs! I felt pretty awful and wasn’t sure how I’d make my way back to the hostel without everyone staring at me, so I just sat and listened to my thoughts which were all of a sudden shouting at me, as if those 3 puffs made me hard of hearing . After what felt like an age just sitting and staring, I managed to make my way back to the hostel via a very tasty kebab house and spent the rest of the evening watching Netflix, feeling extremely relaxed! I was looking forward to leaving for Amsterdam the following day, knowing I would definitely keep a clear head whilst I was there.

Wandering Belgium part 2

Something I should have mentioned in part 1 was the amount of armed military personal who policed the streets of Brussels. In the wake of the terror attacks in London and Sweden and on the anniversary of the Brussels attack, the army were out in force and it was kind of eery. It did make me feel safe but also seeing them was a visual reminder that terror attacks could happen anywhere at anytime, so as well as making me feel fear, seeing them also made me more vigilant. I was in London the day after the Westminster attack and saw hardly any police at all, let alone the army. I thought it was interesting to see different countries stance on keeping their people safe.

I left Brussels by train, with army units patrolling all the platforms, machine guns at the ready and left the vibrant, touristy city for the quieter city of Antwerp. My reasons for going to Antwerp were strange, even by my standards. I love flashmobs and in 2009, there was an epic Sound of Music flashmob at Antwerp Central Station (click on the link below to see it) and I really wanted to visit and see where it took place. I also had lunch plans with Mr Leather Belgium. As you do.

Flashmob, Antwerp Central Station!

As I arrived into the station, I was impressed with how grandiose it is. My understanding is that Antwerp Central station is one of the most opulent in Europe. I made my way to where the Flashmob happened and was stoked to be there. I could see where it took place and imagined Julie Andrews singing over the loud speaker. Although there wasn’t a Flashmob when I was there, they were giving away free beer, which I am also fond of, so I was winning all round 🙂

I made my way to the hostel I was staying in on my first night and stayed in my first 14 person mixed dorm. I had reservations about a dorm that size but rather than be standoffish about it, I joined in the banter and was soon making friends with an agreement in place that we’d all meet later in the evening for a drink and some more laughs. In the meantime, I did my usual and took off to wander the streets and see the city wandergrin style.

Antwerp is really pretty. Amazing architecture, great views along the River Scheldt and it seems very easy to navigate. It came as quite a shock, after hearing French since Luxembourg and through Belgium, to hear that people only spoke Dutch here. Despite being less than an hour from Brussels, they will refuse to speak it or respond to anyone speaking to them in French. So I had to stop with the mercy and start with the Dank je wel.

Belgium loves a good fable and legend has it that the city was named after a giant called Antigoon. He straddled the river each day, demanding a toll from the passing sailors, cutting a hand off those who refused to pay the toll. Eventually, a young hero managed to kill the giant and cut his hands off, before discarding them into the river, hence Ant in memory of the giant and werpen, which is the Dutch for hand. The hand is now the symbol for Antwerp (Antwerpen to the locals) and you see hands all over the city. I enjoyed a few drinks that night with some of the guys and girls from my dorm, before grabbing an early-ish night in preparation for my friend coming to visit from London, the following morning. I didn’t have to worry about an alarm clock though, as from 5.30 one of the guys started snoring like a trucker. If I wasn’t in a top bunk, I would have got out of bed and shook him until he woke up.

I checked out of the hostel and walked for 30 minutes in the rain to a smaller hostel, where there was room to host the two of us. Being Easter, most hostels were all booked up and although this one was out-of-town, it was cheap and Suruthi and I were able to stay in the same dorm. You may remember Suruthi from a previous blog (as I’m sure you’ve all committed each one to memory!) We met in the Philipines and I went and stayed with her on my UK road trip earlier in the year. Being the Easter break which allowed a long weekend without taking time off work and being much closer to the UK than Australia where I got very few visitors, I was happy to receive my first visitor of the trip from one of my UK based friends. After leaving our bags, we caught up over a slow meander along the city streets, updating each other on our most recent news and laughing a lot like we normally do in each others company. We made our way to a quieter part of town, where I had arranged lunch with Mr Leather Belgium. Again, if anyone can remember from my Dublin blog, I ended up on a rather random night out where I went to the biggest leather party for Ireland Leather Pride. It was there I met Georges and we remained friends since. Considering he is 6′ 5″ and is also a mounted Police Officer, you’d think he would be Mr tough guy but after spotting the spring in his step and the way his eyes lit up at the mention of the film Frozen, you’d quickly realise he is just one giant puppy dog. It was great meeting his partner as well and the 4 of us had a really enjoyable and amusing lunch. We found out that Georges is in the running for Mr Leather World and will be following his progress avidly.

After saying our farewells, Suruthi and I made our way to Grand Place, where our walking tour was about to begin. Antwerp 4                        Antwerp City Hall

The walking tour showed us a lot of hands and a lot of statues of the Virgin Mary. I was completely distracted by the ‘local’ guide who was Spanish but had clearly been taught English by someone from South Wales. The mix of Spanish and Welsh inflections on her English really distracted me from what she was saying, so I don’t remember much of the history she shared, apart from about the giant.

The evening was chilled with us visiting a really lively square near our hostel, which at times felt like it was on the Gaza Strip, due to being smack bang in the middle of a Jewish and Muslim suburb. However everyone was getting along peacefully and it was quite interesting seeing all the traditional attire of both religions, as they went about their daily business. After a quick drink and a tasty kebab, we headed back to watch a movie before going to sleep in a much quieter, 4-bed dorm.

We’d made an agreement to go to either Ghent of Bruges on one of our days together and after a number of suggestions online from friends saying to go to Ghent, we went to Ghent. We’d planned on going on another walking tour, to acquaint ourselves with the city and from there would make decisions on where to visit in the afternoon but the English-speaking guide didn’t show and with neither of us able to speak or understand fluent Spanish, we decided to make our own way around the city.

I’m coming to the conclusion that any city that sits on a river is going to be quite lovely and Ghent was no exception. Like Namur, it sits on the confluence of two rivers and due to being one of the riches cities of Northern Europe in the middle ages, the architecture and church spires really afforded some spectacular views.

We had a really relaxing day in Ghent, wandering from site to site, with regular pit stops for waffles or frites or beer. Although it was chilly, the sun shone and we were really glad to have had Ghent suggested to us, as it was definitely a stunning place to visit. Despite its historical past, every now and again it gives a nod to the present and we saw an awesome graffiti street, where artists are given the opportunity to present their work and because it was such a stark contrast to the historical setting, it was a really great find to stumble upon.

After enjoying as much of the city that time and the cobblestones allowed us, we got a late train back to Antwerp. We went back to the hostel, grabbed some food from a nearby Moroccan restaurant and had another night in just chilling and enjoying each others company by way of debates, laughs, good conversation and our shared love of horror movies.

Suruthi left the next morning and realising I had the dorm to myself for the whole day, I decided to have a relaxing day, letting my feet rest and getting my travel and accommodation sorted for the next country on my European tour. Holland!

Belgium was a beautiful surprise. Like I said in part 1, I wasn’t overly fussed with the idea of coming here but I’m so glad I did. The people are lovely, the scenery breathtaking, both in the cities and on the train journeys taking me to them and having a good mix of time by myself and also with other travellers and also friends has enabled me to see how the rest of the trip will be as well. One thing that always enamoured me to a place is if I leave feeling that I haven’t seen everything or done it all and realising there is so much more to Belgium that I could do, I will definitely be back and hope you get the opportunity to go there too.

Ghent 8

Wandering Belgium Part 1

When I thought of places to visit in Europe, Belgium was not at the top of my list. I knew I wanted to go to Luxembourg as I hadn’t been there and I knew I wanted to see more of The Netherlands, having had a taste of it before. To travel overland, it made sense to go through Belgium, so I thought I should explore it in a bit more to see if I could change my perspective of this country. And I’m glad I did.

I got the train from Luxembourg City to Namur in Northern Belgium. I hadn’t wanted any of my train journeys to be too long, so this seemed like a natural stopping point, on my way to Brussels. I jumped on the train and was excited to do my first inter-railing trip through Europe. I boarded the train and waited for the passport inspector to check my passport as we crossed the border but he didn’t come and then I realised how easy it will be to get around Europe. The train trip through the north of Belgium showed me mostly farmland and small villages. As the train chugged on, the towns got bigger, roads busier and architecture more appealing.

We rounded a bend and Namur came into sight and it looked breathtaking. After pulling into the station, I decided to walk the 30 minutes to the hostel, not thinking about all the cobblestones I had to roll by bag over. As I followed the maps.me app to the hostel, I seemed to be overtaking everyone as they were walking at a snail’s pace. Arriving at the hostel, which was on the banks of the River Sombre, I sat on the terrace, had an amazing Belgium beer and relaxed with a really breathtaking view of the river snaking its way back to the city. As I was reading about Namur in a brochure ‘as told by a local’ it stated that they’re a known city of slow walkers and are proud of their reputation. Good for them I thought, but slow walkers bloody bug me. Good job I have a new-found sense of patience, since leaving Melbourne. As I arrived late in the afternoon, I decided to take a stroll along the river to make the most of the setting sun and get a feel for my surroundings, which were stunning.

Namur is the capital of the Wallonia region of Belgium and stands at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers (thanks for that Wikipedia!) The language spoken in this part of Belgium is French. Namur has a dominating citadel overlooking the city and the architecture and cathedrals are super old and the city is beautiful. This made me look forward to my day of exploration even more, following a good nights sleep in this comfy and friendly hostel.

Namur 1

The following day was the warmest of my trip so far. 22 degrees and sunny. I put on my shorts and t-shirt, leaving my fleece in the hostel and set off to explore the city. I started by climbing to the top of the Citadel and let my breath slowly exhale as I took in the stunning river and city views. On the Citadel is a giant, gold-plated statue of a man riding a turtle, which is entitled ‘Searching for Utopia’ and as I understand it, there are a few of these statues around the world. It was pretty cool to see with the sun glistening on it. I wanted to climb on and search with him but thought better of it, continuing on my own search, which I sometimes hope doesn’t end.

Namur 2

I walked the city streets, up every hill, along the rivers, through the old town and then the new and Namur really is breathtaking. It is also small and if you omit going to the many museums, including the strawberry museum (yep, they have one for those too), you can pretty much see every highlight in one day. Which I did. On my second day there, I had a rest day and just chilled out, reading, writing and watching. I decided I needed to stretch my legs for a little while so went for a stroll along the other side of the river and after 90 minutes, realised I had to turn back. As my feet were so blistered from the past week of walking 20km + each day. I thought I would get the bus back but it didn’t turn up. I started the 90 minute walk back to the hostel and 40 minutes in, realised that I didn’t have my wallet – I had dropped it at the bus stop and it had all my money in it. My pace picked up on the way back to retrieve it and I was so relieved to see it still there, untouched, all money accounted for. Then I walked for another 90 minutes to get back to the hostel, my feet screaming, as this short stroll had turned into another long hike.

I definitely think Namur is worth a visit for everyone but I don’t think you need more than a weekend there, as there isn’t enough to do and that’s perhaps why the people walk so slowly, as once they get to where they’re going, they may not be sure what to do next. I was able to experience it in glorious sunshine so if anyone is looking for a summer city break somewhere different, this is definitely the place to come.

Namur 3

My next stop was Brussels. I had been to Brussels once before on a hens weekend and didn’t really experience it quite as I should have, so was excited to see the city again with explorer’s eyes.

At the train station in Namur, I noticed a poster advertising the Steve McCurry expo in Brussels and I was beyond excited. Steve McCurry is a photographer who travels the world taking the most epic shots in countries at war and unrest and also swoops in following natural and man-made disasters to document the full account of the human suffering they have left behind, encouraging people to help in any way they can. My first stop was to the exhibition and it was amazing. I actually got overwhelmed at the quality of his photos and teared up a few times at the intense stories each one told. He is arguably most famous for his shot of ‘the Afghan girl’ which was taken in a refugee camp on the Pakistan/Afghan border and was seen on magazine covers and billboards the world over. He managed to track the girl down 17 year later due to persistent enquiries on how she is doing and her whereabouts and he managed to photograph her again and, as I understand it, raised enough money to guarantee her children an education.

 

Following the exhibition, I wondered into the Grand Market Square and the gold detail on the exquisite architecture took my breath away. It was super busy here, with tourists as far as the eye could see. I kept walking, seeing more of the city centre and finally got the chance to see Brussels without a hangover haze like on my last trip here and it was definitely worth the return visit.

That night, I met up with a friend who I made on my UK road trip in Dublin, who was in Brussels for work and we went out for dinner and a few drinks, to soak up the city at night.

The next day I took a 5km walk out of the city centre and explored Parc Cinquantenaire and European Parliament. The Park is grand and well manicured and again, the architecture is of the opulent European standard, with which we’re accustomed. It houses a number of museums (auto, military, art) and is a great place for families and for city workers to escape to when needed.

Brussels 2

My walk took me to the European Quarter, which is the heart of the European Union and while I wandered around, I got a twinge of sadness, knowing my days as a European Citizen were numbered and soon roaming as freely as I am, won’t necessarily be possible. I was able to have a really interesting interactive tour of parliament and get to see where so much legislation and peacekeeping frameworks have been executed since the second world war. I think for any traveller, they need to explore places like this. Some may find it boring but it is good to know where all the decisions have happened to shape parts of the world as they stand today and to see where the future of Europe is heading. Make of that what you will.

I got back to the hostel and struck up a conversation with one of the guys in my dorm. We decided to head out for a traditional Belgium dish and agreed to have one beer at Delirium bar, which is in the Guinness book of World Records for stocking the most beers in the world. Over 3700! That night, one was enough for me.

My penultimate day in Brussels saw me head to Notre Dame, the Atomium and Mini Europe. It was another long but beautiful walk to get there, through old cobbled streets, manicured gardens and parkland. Notre Dame was on the way to the Atomium but was sadly closed, so I couldn’t go inside but if it was as opulent as the graveyard next to it, I can only imagine how impressive it is. I kept going to the Atomium which is in stark contrast in its construction, compared to Notre Dame.

It was constructed for the first World Fair in 1958 and the shape is of a unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times. (Again, thanks Wikipedia!) Although you can go in, I didn’t feel the need as it was so unique to see from the outside and I have to consider my daily budget as well, as I had already decided to pay to enter Mini Europe.

For some reason, a lot of us love little things and Mini Europe was super fun. It was great to wander around buildings and monuments which I will see in real size later in my trip and learn a little more about each country as I went. There is a huge portion of the park dedicated to England with lots of sites to enjoy and I wonder what they will do with the space, once Brexit has happened. As I left, I grabbed a postcard for my nieces (one from each country) and headed back to the City Centre.

Despite having seen everything in my wanderings of Brussels, I didn’t necessarily know a lot about the city and as my train to Antwerp wasn’t until the afternoon, I decided to go on an organised walking tour of the city, retracing my steps over the past few days but this time with someone providing expert local knowledge. It was really enjoyable with an enthusiastic and friendly guide from Viva Tours, which provides free walking tours, with a view to you providing a tip at the end if you choose to. (I did). It was great weaving the knowledge I learnt on that tour into the views and buildings I had already enjoyed and it was a strong end to a great trip to Belgium’s capital. After a light lunch, I headed to the train station and on to Antwerp for two very unusual reasons. See you in part 2!

 

Wandering Luxembourg

When deciding to travel around Europe, following the decision of Great Britain to break away from the European Union, I knew I wanted to make the most of my British passport and travel freely from country to country, before that luxury was taken away from me and the opportunity to work in Europe became increasingly difficult. I listed a number of countries I wanted to visit and I also wanted to go to places I’ve never been before so decided to make Luxembourg my first stop. It is so small (the whole country is around the size of Northamptonshire) and is rarely mentioned or considered in travel articles, which tend to favour larger, more popular countries so I was intrigued to see what kind of punch Luxembourg could pack.

Flags

First and foremost, Luxembourg was unknowingly a brilliant first stop for this European adventure. It is only a 55 minute flight from Gatwick and the airport is only 6km from the city centre. Everyone luckily speaks English and Luxembourgish is a hybrid of French and German, so communication was easy. The fact that it is so small, means it is very easy to get around and the public transport – electric buses – is very user-friendly.

I spent my first two days walking around. As I’ve said before, just wandering around allows you to get a real feel for a place and you can people watch and observe people’s customs and traits as you go, to allow you to mimic them when necessary and feel more settled in a foreign place. According to my health app, I climbed the equivalent of 100 flights of steps and walked over 41km in those first 2 days, so it’s no wonder my feet ached! I saw a lot though and because Luxembourg old city was established down in a valley along the banks of the River Alzette, with the new city up on the cliffs with many, many staircases connecting the two areas, you can see why I now have calves of steel!

After these two days of thorough exploration, my summary of the city was beige and quaint. If Luxembourg was a person, it would be your awkward cousin who had a very strict and moral upbringing. Absolutely lovely and harmless but if you invited him to a rave, he’d turn up in a plaid shirt and have creases ironed into his cream chinos.

Luxembourg could definitely use a pop of colour and I can only assume they used local (beige) stone to build the majority of the old city but you can see in the many green spaces of the new city, that they are seemingly opposing that with some fantastic pieces of public art. What is suprising though as you wander round is the extent of growth the city is going through. Everywhere you looked, there were cranes building new apartments and offices and in some areas, they were shoe-horning buildings into the smallest spaces. A tram line was also being laid, to provide an alternative mode of public transport, should the buses power down and even the museums and public squares look like they are brand new. It is surprising as there just doesn’t seem the need for it. I didn’t see very many people about and nowhere was crowded. Perhaps it is a case of build it and they will come. As a founding member of the European Union, perhaps they know something that we don’t.

For anyone travelling to Luxembourg, I highly recommend getting a Luxembourg card. You buy the card for 1-3 days and you get to use all the public transport in the country for free and have free access to 76 attractions around the country. It looks as though there are 77 in total. Having spent two days seeing what Luxembourg City had to offer, I spent 20 euros on a 2 day pass and decided to travel to the Ardennes by train and visit a small town called Vianden. For some reason, travelling by train and using public transport in a foreign country always makes me a little nervous, should I get it wrong. So as I boarded the train to Ettelbruck, I kept calm as, after an announcement I couldn’t understand, I followed all the other passengers off the train and onto another one at another platform. I was told the bus to Vianden leaves from just outside Ettelbruck station so when I arrived and saw two bus stops, I was able to figure out  I was at the wrong one, when I saw my bus departing from the other one. I managed to get the next bus and using the GPS on the maps.me app, I was able to figure out when I arrived in this beautiful little village, flanked by a stunning castle high in the hills. Woo hoo! I thought. More steps!

One of the attractions that helped me choose Vianden as my first destination away from the capital was the cable car (free with my Luxembourg card) they have, which takes you to a look out point above the village and the castle, so you can really appreciate the view of this ancient village and of the Ardennes in general. As luck would have it, the cable car was closed for maintenance. So I decided nevermind, and made my way up to the castle, which was owned by the Grand Duchy for hundreds of years, before the lack of an heir meant that it was sold off little by little until there was nothing left. In 1977, it was sold to the State and millions of Euros were spent restoring it to the magnificent castle it is today.

Vianden 3

I took an audio guide around Vianden Castle and it was great to see how well restored it was and to get a feel for the history of the place, often fought over by the Germans and the Dutch. As there isn’t a great deal to do in Vianden, I spent a couple of hours here, looking at all the paintings and imagining the sitters moving around the castle, in the days when they lived there.

Vianden 1

I left the castle to go to a lookout point to take the above photo of the castle and fell in stride with another solo traveller who got off the same bus as me. He was from Costa Rica (although working for their embassy in Washington DC) and we had a chat and a wander around together, swapping travel stories and enjoying the scenery and surroundings. It was helpful meeting him, as he suggested I go to the Victor Hugo museum after lunch and as we wandered there (down hill) I was able to ask the right questions to know who Victor Hugo was. I said “who was Victor Hugo?” (brilliant detective work me thinks). Turns out he was a French author who favoured Vianden and lived there a short while following his exile from France, for being too political and left-wing. Arguably his most famous novel was Les Miserables. Entry to the museum was also free with my card and after a quick tour looking at a number of press clippings and personal letters (all in French), I left for a slow amble around the village to enjoy the solitude and remoteness of the place. Also, give me a river and I’ll walk the banks for as long as I can. I love a good river walk and with Vianden settled on the banks of the Our, I enjoyed my stroll before getting the bus and train back to the City.

The following day, I decided to get the bus to Gravenmacher and enjoy a tour of the Bernard Massard Cellars, which was founded in 1921 and is the largest private producer of sparkling wine in the country. Needless to say it isn’t very big! I couldn’t find the bus stop in the city which went out that way but knew I could catch the same bus from a stop just outside the city (thanks to a top tip), so got the bus there and then got on the next one to the cellars, which were on the banks of the river Moselle, flanked on the other side by the German Rhineland.

Using my Luxembourg card, I got a free tour and tasting at the cellars and as it was so early in the season, I was the only one there so got a private tour all to myself. It was actually really interesting and I love that it is now run by the 4th generation of the same family. I enjoyed my free glass of sparkling on the terrace, overlooking the Moselle and into Germany.

After a stroll along the river, I decided to cross the bridge and head into Germany, just because I could. I wandered over, spent about 7 minutes taking photos of Luxembourg and then wandered back across. No passport necessary. I had a late lunch and then went to the Butterfly Gardens or (as they sound much more beautiful in French) Jardin du Papillions.

Butterfly

The jardin was small but beautiful and as it was free entry with my card, I enjoyed wandering round taking in the beautiful colours of the butterflies, the flowers and birds, before heading back out into the glorious sunshine.

I settled in a beer garden (or Jardin du biere if you prefer) for a couple of Luxembourg’s finest ales before getting the bus back to the hostel, where I could admire the shade of red on my face, afforded to me by spending too long in the sunshine.

My evenings were spent primarily eating (one night I even ate with someone else!) reading, booking hostels and transport to get me to my next destination and mostly getting an early night, after so much walking.

The next morning it was time to leave this quaint little country and I went back to the station to board the train to Belgium. As I said, Luxembourg was a great starting point for this trip and I would advise people to come and visit but don’t just stay in the city centre, as there is so much more to see and do in other parts of the country and they all seem extremely beautiful and, dare I say… slightly more colourful.

Lux 3

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