After we had sadly said our farewells to Strasbourg, we headed to Switzerland, a country which is simply terribly expensive and would cost us the most so far, but we didn't know that yet.
After the flat land of the Netherlands and the slightly hilly Belgian and French landscape, we were soon embraced by the mountains and Bertha had difficulties climbing up there (she went at about 30 km/h with a long line of other cars following us wherever we went). Still, we had a somewhat homely experience as the mountains built up in front of us and we sneaked them up. It was already getting dark, so we wanted to find a place to sleep which turned out to be really hard. We had passed innumerable fantastic spots on plateaus on the mountains, but my man didn't want to stop, as he wanted to inch as close as possible to the Swiss border - which turned out to be even more terrible. We passed village after village without finding a place to sleep and it was already pitch dark and it was hard to see any nooks where we could park. Additionally, we soon discovered that we had shortly crossed the border and our phones had switched to Swiss net, which meant all our internet was used up, as Switzerland doesn't belong to the EU, so the EU-wide roaming wasn't included. In the end, we parked on the side of a busy road, which was less than ideal to sleep, but we were so tired and pissed that we actually considered skipping Switzerland altogether and drive home, but we decided to decide in the morning. The night was pretty loud as we were plonked between train rails and the road. Additionally, a stupid car decided to stop at the parking lot we were sleeping and I nearly had a heart attack, convinced he wanted to rob us (or she, in my mind it was a he). Of course he didn't and drove on a couple of minutes later, but I was on edge the whole night and was happy when we could leave the following morning and headed to Zurich. We had decided to go to Zurich after all, as my man pointed out Switzerland had already cost us over 100 Euros without us having been there, so we might as well visit it. We wound down the streets and laughed at the hilarious Swiss village names (Brülisau and Wattwill, to name two).
Now to Zurich. First of all, it is an AWFUL city to drive or park. They have endless one-way-streets and only park houses, which meant we had to look for a random parking lot in the city big enough for our car. We were driving around for half an hour and my man was on the verge of crying when we finally found a spot, only to realise we didn't have enough coin money to pay which meant we had to throw in what we could scrape together, head to the city, look for an ATM, head back, pay and return to the city. Huff. I was already deciding Zurich sucked, but then we walked into the old town and it was really nice. Zurich has a really small-townish touch to it with picturesque churches and alleys. It is also set on a hill which means get your hiking shoes out because it is rather steep in some places.
However, don't mistake Zurich for a provincial farm town, no, no, no, just look at the people and you will know where the money lives. I don't know why but you can SEE when people have money and Zurich is swarmed with people like that. You cannot count the Rolexes paraded, the Louis Vuitton bags or expensive cars curving through the city. After some time, you can sense that behind the picturesque, simple setting, this is a place where money is breathed and lived (and most likely laundered).
We walked down through the lanes and streets (away from the main station) towards the river. There it is really lovely, especially if you climb up the streets where you have a wonderful view over the city and can take lovely pictures. There we also encountered a little market where I wanted to buy a cookie. My man handed me the money and I had forgotten we didn't pay with Euros here and burst out laughing. Seriously, I didn't want to be rude or anything but Swiss money is MOST HILARIOUS! Seriously, you have never seen money you could take seriously so little. It is no wonder money laundering might work fine in Switzerland as their money looks like fake money, seriously. It is far too colourful and there are butterflies on it. BUTTERFLIES! I really hoped no one had noticed my outburst but unfortunately everyone was staring at me upon which I silently bought my cookie and we sprinted. (It was delicious).
There is something I also have to say about the Swiss people and I don't want to stereotype, honestly, but they are so CUTE! We Austrians have this image of Swiss people and you don't want to stereotype, so you imagine it is not like you think it is. Therefore, it is utterly befuddling when they turn out to be exactly like you imagined them to be. When you walk into a store they say "Grüzi metnand" (hello to all you) and it is so hilarious. My man and I had to pull ourselves together to not hug and cuddle them. It is really the Swiss experience.
Speaking of shops, Zurich has great ones, but the best and most curious my man and I have seen is IKEA. Yes, IKEA. There is an IKEA in the middle of the city and it is a three-storey shop in which you can get any of the bric-a-brac you can buy at IKEA except for the furniture (you know, they things we all go to IKEA for). It is so amazing and we figured any city should have IKEA, the bric-a-brac because it was so lovely to browse their things without having to wander through the entire exhibition. Really a treat.
We didn't buy anything in Zurich because there was nothing which felt quite right but it is a wonderful city to explore and when you bring enough money, I am sure shopping is great, too.
We spent the night in the car just over the border of Germany and it was the best night yet. We managed to find a parking lot next to a church and it faced the woods, so we could exit the car without anyone seeing us. Additionally, we were parked underneath a tree (apparently we didn't learn our lesson from the camping parking lot debacle), but apart from the odd falling leaf, we slept pretty undisturbed. The parking lot was in some German village close to the French border and I couldn't recall its name for my life, but it was nice.
Came morning, we bundled up for Strasbourg and the weather, once more, was on our side as it greeted us with bright sunshine and cloudless sky. Driving to Strasbourg didn't take long and parking in Strasbourg is really well thought out as there are many P+R and with most there is a ticket included in the daily fee for one ride in the tram into the city and one out, back to the P+R. We parked at Elsau as it is the only one where cars as high as ours could fit in (I guess the others are park houses). We paid reasonable six Euros for a day ticket, as mentioned the tram tickets included, and headed to the city centre. The tram took about ten minutes in and was so terribly crammed you needn't hold on to any of the poles, as falling over was simply impossible. Also, there was a German school group on the bus and so Nancy remains the only city where we didn't encounter Germans so far. We exited Homme de Fer, which is at the beginning of the main city part any tourist would be interested. We weren't entirely sure where to head first, so we followed the school group, confident they would have a better plan than us. We followed them up to the Place Kléber which honours the General Kléber and it was when we abandoned the school group as we wanted to linger on the place (and I needed to get breakfast from Starbucks. It is a lovely square with a statue in the middle (of said Kléber) and some shops like the Apple Store, Starbucks and Stradivarius which I immediately noted in my head, as I wanted return later to buy the lovely grey and white jumper I had forgone in Amsterdam. The square is lined with old houses but other than that not too fascinating, so we strolled on into the Rue des Grandes Arcades where (apart from, unsurprisingly, arcades) we encountered another array of shops including Mango, Pimkie and Levis, so if you're in a shopping mood, you will be duly rewarded in Strasbourg. After Lush (the shop) we took a turn to the left and soon arrived at the imposing and absolutely stunning Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg which is a Gothic, huge washed out building with innumerable gargoyles baring their teeth and spitting at you. It is a cathedral out of a horror movie, but in a cool way. The stone is ancient and has not been sanded down recently from the looks. The stone is tarnished black which looks like black tears running down the stone, bemoaning long gone times. When walking inside, the grandeur of the place is simply imposing and marvellous. There is a huge organ hanging on one of the sides and another one in the front. Also, the cathedral has an astronomical clock and, unfortunately, there was no time to see how it functioned but we could take a decent look at it and it was absolutely mind-blowing to think that someone came up with such a genius idea one day. I was really in awe. The cathedral features incredibly detailed mosaic windows displaying various scenes from the bible which delves the whole place into a somewhat sinister light. It looked a bit like the set for a Dan Brown novel film, all in all.
In front of the cathedral is a square with little shops, mainly selling Strasbourg tourist items and as neither my man nor I are into "I love Strasbourg" goodies, we meandered through the innumerable little streets spreading out from the square. We wanted to climb the cathedral to the top, but as a school group was queuing, we decided to first explore the city a little further. We nearly got lost in the tight-knit net of streets, but there is plenty to discover. We encountered a little square with restaurants and cafés, but it was far too early for them to be open, still the square with its trees and cobblestone was rather picturesque. There are also many independent shops hidden away in the streets, definitely worth to explore even if you should be ready to spend a decent amount of money.
The great thing about these nets of streets is that, inevitably, you will end up where you started. When we nearly thought we had lost our path entirely, we suddenly found ourselves back at the cathedral, and what was even better, there was no queue for the tower so we waited for the tower guy to return (he was off on a coffee break or something) and in the meantime befriended a lovely Australian lady who is retired and now travels the world. Before we had even set foot inside the cathedral again, we already knew she had two children who had only started to work and loved travelling, too, and her having travelled Europe for various months and heading to Zurich the next day (like us). Australians are really pleasant folks and it was SO lovely to speak English again, so I really blossomed, most likely far too many details of my life, but it was to hear from someone once more that our plans were not entirely bollocks and we had the right to be risky and "unreasonable" in our age.
Anyway, eventually we could climb the tower and I immediately asserted I need more exercise in my life. Halfway up I was close to dying, no kidding. My lungs inhaled but suddenly had problems exhaling, but I didn't want to be overtaken by the Australian lady, who was far older than me after all, and made myself practically run upstairs. It is more than six hundred stairs and they're winding up, so after five minutes of climbing, I couldn't only not breathe anymore but also felt sick from walking in circles. Still, the travel up is really cool because sometimes you have to walk over some sort of balcony, being able to catch first glimpses of the city below you, before having to take on the next set of stupid stairs until you finally (FINALLY!) reach the top viewpoint, only to realise that the actual cathedral tower is still towering over you a decent bit, looking as imposing as ever. But the view...so incredibly stunning and after I had caught my breath (five minutes long), I was in position to fully appreciate it. Well, that is after we had managed the selfies and pictures. Sadly, the weather turned and it started to rain just as we were up there, a freezing wind egging the rain on. But no one could take the view from us and we were up there more than twenty minutes (which included another chat with our newly acquired Australian friend whose name I never learnt).
After the climb we were incredibly hungry and roamed the streets for restaurants and wandered down the Grand Rue where we discovered L'Artichaut, a bar and restaurant in which we had a delicious tarte flambée and my man had a fantastic Quiche Lorraine (so much better than the one in Nancy) and it was decently priced, too! For dessert I had chocolate mousse cake which was so deliciously mellow and sweet I am still dreaming of it. With restaurants it is in Strasbourg as in Nancy, pretty expensive, but L'Artichaut was really a gem.
Strasbourg is really great and I probably preferred it to Nancy a tiniest bit because despite the old houses (and there are so many), the city seems a bit tidier and more cosmopolitan. There are more shops, the cathedral is an absolute bummer and there is so much to explore in the little streets all around the cathedral and the Place Kléber. If you are there, take time, admire the architectural outstandingness and the whole relaxed atmosphere. In France, as indicated, people don't seem to entirely wake up until early afternoon. In the morning, you will hardly find anyone in the streets apart from some stray tourists, but come again later in the day and the streets are bustling with shoppers, people enjoying coffee and tourists likewise. It is fantastic. We ended our Strasbourg tour with a trip to Stradivarius where, after long back and forth), I bought the grey and white jumper I hadn't bought in Amsterdam and a little lantern in a crammed gift and Christmas shop which was in one of these beautiful old houses where no floor is even and the windows cannot really shield from the wind outside, but has so much character you never want to leave again. It was fortunate the shop was just a corner further from the cathedral, so our last glance at Strasbourg was the gigantic cathedral bidding us farewell with her sombre, melancholic look.
First of all, I am terribly sorry for the delay, but I hadn't fully calculated my internet and I ran out of it but now that I am home again, I can finally update you on the past (and last) days of my road trip through central Europe.
We left Luxembourg and headed to France, our final destination for the day Nancy, where we had booked an apartment (my man and I had a deal of sleeping in the car one night and in some decent accommodation the alternative one, small steps to compromise).
Going down there, we saw the most beautiful sunset and I was so frantically trying to capture it that I nearly missed it. I guess therein lies the difficulty of taking pictures, it is never possible to really capture the actual beauty you're beholding and instead of soaking in it, you almost miss the precious moments, trying to keep on to them forever...
Enough philosophical talk...let's get to Nancy. Nancy is in Lorraine in the north-east of France and it is a really nice city, if not slightly fucked up. We arrived in the evening and when we had finally conquered our apartment (and a conquest it was, first we drove through the entire city looking for parking, then had to drag our suitcases to the house AND pull them up four flights of stairs), we regretted not having arrived earlier. It was an attic apartment and from one window you could actually see the cathedral (as we discovered the following day, it was way too dark to see it this night). It was really fantastic and absolutely tilted. If you'd put a marble on the floor, you would have never found it again, so uneven was the floor. The living room was huge and with such bulky furniture I wondered how they'd ever got it in (the FOUR flights of stairs, and they were circular, too. Still, it was really a place to linger and the bed was not only hilariously comfortable (I say hilarious because it really happens rarely that I deem a bed comfortable) even if it was tucked away under the tilted roof (which isn't a great place for a bed if you're an arachnophobe).
My man and I had bought some things to cook, as the apartment had a fantastic kitchen, but as the atmosphere in the vibrant little streets was so inviting, we decided to give it a go and have dinner in one of the many restaurants nestling left, right and centre. It actually felt almost southern (as in a southern country) as we strolled through the old streets, hand in hand, trying to find a restaurant - which proved to be quite hard as Nancy is also incredibly expensive and in the end we settled for burgers, well, my man did and I had a stupid attack of healthyism and ordered a salad - ugh, the horror, while he was munching away his deliciously looking and tasting burger, I nibbled on my slightly sour Caesar salad which hadn't even Caesar dressing but vinaigrette. Still, we enjoyed ourselves very much and I actually came round to speaking French and even if I committed a few faux-pas, I am proud I tried (when demanding the bill I actually said "You want to pay" instead of "We want to pay", but the waitress took it with a smile and handed us the bill without any further ado, so no harm done.
Only there was harm done! I am actually inconsolable because I forgot my favourite scarf in the apartment because we had to carry so much to the car that I forgot it (weep, weep). I have already contacted the woman who rented it to us, so let's have the fingers crossed she will send it and I can spend the cold season with my favourite Zara scarf.
The next morning, we explored Nancy and the coolest thing about the whole city is the Place Stanislas, which is a huge square in the centre of the city of which all the streets spread out. The fantastic thing about this specific square is that it is not simply an area of white stone, but is has a sort of garden in the middle. There are strips of grass, trees and other installations like a faux fire place with roots as the "fire", but the illusion of fire enhanced with a sound maker. They also have a "tropical corridor" there where you see actual birds and wander through a little path (wooden plates over water), water dripping off the top. It is the most bizarre and coolest thing I have ever seen in a square and definitely worth a visit.
Apart from that, the city is really nice to stroll through. It is a myriad of old houses, imposing buildings and gilded gates. We also went inside the adjoining park which includes a little zoo with donkeys, monkeys and goats. Additionally it features the most grotesque toilet you have ever seen. I went inside and wanted to brag to my man about half of the toilet being smeared with poo when he came out and said one of the cubicles in the men's toilet was over and over covered in diarrhea - and I thought he couldn't possibly outdo me. Yikes!
There is also a shopping street which is reached by exiting one of the gates on place Stanislas. There you find the usual shops any shopper could desire as well as some special little shops which are nice to go into and marvel at the lovely little things. Still, we ended up leaving empty-handed as we didn't find anything we considered a perfect fit, so we eventually returned to Bertha and continued our journey heading to Strasbourg, even though we would spend the night in Germany (in the car) and explore Strasbourg the following day.
As for the hard details, we stayed in En Vieille Ville which cost 76 Euros for one night, but was really worth it. We parked our car in the 24/7 parking lot Vaudemont which cost about 13 Euros for one night and one whole day, so quite reasonable.
After a cosy night in our wooden hut, we had a slow morning, taking a long shower (on a camping site, so it wasn't necessarily luxurious, but nice enough) and had breakfast in our little hut, as it is growing colder despite the lovely weather. We were actually sorry to leave La Pinede, as we were able to combine our needs: my man could play camping, cook with his gas cooker and eat outside and I had a decent bed to sleep in in safe surroundings without the prospect of a nasty farmer knocking me out of bed because our car was inching into his precious field.
Around eleven, we checked out and headed to the City of Luxembourg in the south of the country; however, we managed to totally lose our path despite the navigation system due to a funny (well, it's funny NOW) incident with the satnav. I don't know how this could happen, but while typing in our parking lot in Luxembourg City, accidentally my man or I must have chosen Luxembourg as a stopover. If you are interested, The Duchy of Luxembourg as such apparently is located somewhere in the middle of nothing, quite far away from the actual city and when the satnav announced we were merely minutes away from our destination and we were still surrounded by happily grazing cows and the odd farmhouse on either side, we grew a little nervous and I checked the satnav once more, discovering our little mistake. Slightly unnerved my man turned around and we went in the opposite direction, losing about fifteen minutes in the time.
Eventually, however, we arrived there and from what we saw outside was by far more promising than Lüttich. We parked at the Glacis Square, a bit outside the city and I would highly recommend parking there, as it is quite cheap and only about ten minutes by foot from the Haute Ville, the upper city in which you will find a myriad of high end shops, cafes and cafetiers as well as patisseries. We walked into the quarter and immediately were hooked. The streets are clean, lined with nice houses and promising shop windows on either side. We strolled through the Haute Ville, passing the tucked away squares with cafes and restaurants, like the Place d'Armes on which you will find a McDonald's as well as restaurants which price a plate of fish 30€. From there we went on to the Vieille Ville, the old city and reached a dainty little square with cafes likewise and the cathedral next to it. The Haute Ville is a great quarter to explore as there are so many little streets, you can get easily confused but after some time you will get the gist and in the worst case, after three turns you always end up in one of the squares where you can enjoy the sun (if you're as lucky as we were), rest your feet and enjoy completely over-priced beverages and food.
As it is the city of rich people. Probably it was because of this specific and only quarter of the city we explored, but I could imagine it might be true for all of the city; there are hordes of men in suits and elegantly dressed women meandering through the city, bags of Chanel or Cartier dangling from their wrists, delicately clad in Rolex.
But don't fret, there are also normal shops like H&M and C&A, for all the non-rich people among you and, a special treat for me, there is also an only English bookstore in one of the side-alleys.
After strolling through the quarter for some time, we settled for the Chocolate House in the Marchè-aux-Herbes, facing the Chambre des Deputes. It is horrendously expensive, be warned, but also truly delicious. They specialise in these Chocspoons where you get a stick with chocolate on it and dunk it into hot milk. I opted for Brownie, which wasn't the best choice but still enjoyable. Highlight, however, was the gigantic slice of chocolate-marzipan cake which my man had to help me devour as it was nearly as big as myself. And sooooo delicious. Even my man loved it, even though he usually doesn't indulge in chocolate.
After this abnormally huge piece of cake, I could barely walk and as we had to drive to Nancy, France (adding the France, so you don't think we were on our way to our dear friend Nancy (which we don't even have)), we decided to get going and said farewell to affluent Luxembourg. Bye, bye, rich people, the poor people will think of you! And as we need to get going to explore Nancy (we had a slow morning...AGAIN), I have to cut short here and tell you about my first impression of lovely Nancy tomorrow...a little appetiser; French old town, evening dinner in Nancy and an apartment under the roof...so stay tuned for the installment on Nancy.
Admittedly, after lovely Amsterdam it was very hard for any city to convince likewise. Initially, our plan was to go to Brussels, but as my mother strongly advised against it (Brussels being an ugly, grey city apparently), we googled the nicest cities in Belgium to choose a different one. Of course my favourite would have been Bruges, as it is known for its picturesque core and beautiful canal systems, but as it is along the coastline and we wanted to head further east, it wasn't really to good choice to make, so we didn't. Instead we chose one of the other cities on the list, namely Lüttich which is towards the east border of Belgium. It is also called, apparently, The Little France of Belgium, so we had quite high expectations.
Now, we drove through Belgium and the first two things we recognised were the increasingly hilly landscape (dear, the Netherlands are SO flat) and that Belgians are terrible car drivers (as far as our experience goes). They cut you off the street, don't slow down in narrow passages and generally put a lot of pressure on you as a driver (my man, in this case. As you know, I hate driving).
Anyway, we had passed the slightly glum villages (the weather wasn't on our side yesterday) and arrived in Lüttich which welcomed us with rundown, ugly complexes and a complete lack of sufficient signs as to where the city centre would be. Thus, we drove around stupidly for half an hour, not finding our way around and the moment I was about to give up and suggested going straight to Luxembourg, my man found a parking space and we decided to give Lüttich another chance. We walked into where, presumably, the city centre lay, only to find three arrows in different directions, all stating city centre. My man pointed out Lüttich was very Alice in Wonderland-ish, and it was true. You looked for something on the arrow, walked this direction and on the other side it pointed in the opposite direction all of a sudden without you having seen it on the way. It was quite bizarre.
Sadly, walking into the city brought little alleviation of our first impression of Lüttich. Surely, the historic centre wasn't bad but not really marvellous either and when, after wandering about the city for ages, we finally found the alleged city centre (it is at Cathedral St. Paul de Liège, apparently), there was a decent square and a not-too-shabby street, but that was pretty much it. We were pretty disappointed and I wouldn't recommend this city really, instead stay one more day in Amsterdam or take the detour to Bruges, I guess it's more worth your money...
We did buy an eclair au chocolat in one of the many chocolatiers and I must say it was the single best thing about Lüttich. It was absolutely delicious AND I could speak French in the patisserie and concluded I was not as rusty as I thought.
Long story short, Lüttich wasn't a crowd pleaser and we were happy to get out of it and drive to beautiful Luxembourg. It may not be a big country, but it has one of the most beautiful landscapes, I promise. Soft mounds direct you through the winding roads and you're escorted by multi-coloured trees lining up at the sides. We didn't go to Luxembourg City yesterday but checked into a camping hotel, which is absolutely amazing. It is called La Pinede and located in Consdorf in the north of the country. It offers these little wooden huts with only a double bed and two benches on the side and it is adorable! We were so happy and slept really well (I think my first good night since we started on the trip). We are actually sorry to leave but are heading to Luxembourg first and later today to Nancy, France where we are booked into a hotel before exploring Strasbourg. I am sure I will be able to improve my French there and hopefully be welcomed by a similarly cosy accommodation tonight. Stay tuned!
Today, I fell in love.
No worries, it's not that I found a man better than my own, on the contrary, but I have encountered a truly miraculous city which engulfed my heart within a minute and has seized me as a whole to fall unequivocally in love. Amsterdam. A sound which rather suggests a slightly clumsy, cute little town but actually turned out to be one of the most magnificent cities I've ever been to (and now I have already been to a few). If I had to describe it in one word, it would be vibrant. It is buzzing with life, joviality and bikes (oh dear, there are so many of them and the cyclists OWN the city through and through). When I compare it to Hamburg, which was beautiful but seemed pretty drained of people, Amsterdam is busting with people any age, colour and country enjoying themselves and the beautiful place they are currently in.
So, it all started pretty promising when we came to our accommodation in a place called Westzaan which is north of Amsterdam. It is a lovely log cabin amidst a green garden with a kitchen, a living room and a snug bedroom under the roof slope. It is called B&B Morgenland and we booked it via Air BnB and I can only highly recommend it!
So far, so good. From there we boarded the train to Amsterdam (we had learnt our lesson in Bremen) and arrived in Amsterdam Centraal, not even assuming what kind of treat we were in for! We came out and I was immediately on fire. The photogenic city stretches out in front of your eyes, the structure dictated by the many canals winding through the core and beyond. We have been lucky for once with the weather in the past two days and the last rays of sunshine were caressing the roofs, making the glisten brightly.
Completely enthralled, we went down the main street and the more I saw, the more I loved. They already have their Christmas lights on and the big main street we were wandering down disembogued into a market square where a fair was set up, including a ferry wheel and one of these horrible catapults. We sauntered through the market, sucking in the lively atmosphere. Then we strolled on into Kalverstraat, a cosy shopping street with shops like Pull&Bear, River Island, the wonderful Stradivarius and - if you can believe it - a Waterstone's! Yes, you read correctly, my absolutely favourite bookshop in the world is represented in Amsterdam. If I hadn't fallen in love with the city by then, that would have been the last nail to the coffin. An entirely English bookshop and a Waterstone's that is! Absolutely magnificent! Additionally, they have an A&F, but I decided not to buy there as I could get to decently priced items in Stradivarius instead, which made more sense. I bought a lovely purplish midi-skirt with flowers printed on and a white autumn wool-fake coat which will look great with jeans and high heels, so there will be a fashion treat in for you as soon as I come round to taking pics.
As it is a must, we also strolled through the red light quarter, but I cannot really get anything from that. I think erotic is often mistaken for porn and I think it is sad that something like sex is always sold off as something dirty and leather-included. We also saw real women posing in the shop window (Amsterdam is famous for them, I believe) and it was a pretty awkward moment. You kind of want to look because, well, there is a semi-nude woman in a shop window! on the other hand, you simply want to avert your eyes because in the worst case scenario you might have eye contact with the woman behind and I have no clue what etiquette suggests for that kind of situation...
Anyway, we sauntered through the city, crossed innumerable bridges and had to conclude that the entire core city of Amsterdam featured not ONE ugly house. Seriously, it is a myriad of amazingly gorgeous houses with huge windows, incredible dormers and fantastic architecture. Simply unbeatable! I know this all might seem a little much, but believe me, magic is happening in this city and if there is one city you should see before kicking the bucket, Amsterdam it is.
After cosying up in our little cottage, we went to the beach this morning in a town called Wijk aan Zee where we came into the treat of a spectacularly long and broad beach upon which children, adults and dog owners were romping about. We took of our shoes as it was pretty warm today. We strolled down the beach, watching the dogs play in the water and the horses being ridden alongside the shore. After fantastic vibrant Amsterdam and all the other cities bustling about us the past days, the beach was a welcome diversion and I could feel us slow down inside. We sat down and watched the waves breaking and dancing. Then, as we walked back, we saw a seal in the water! Well, we're pretty sure it was one as there was a black head popping up occasionally and diving down again, so what else could it have been? Either way, I'm going to stick with the seal story, as I like it to be true and I only wish we would have seen it longer.
Eagerly, we returned to Amsterdam for day 2 and took the boat tour around the canals, which was pretty amazing. We chugged on, passing all the best sights and took innumerable pictures (because the beauty of the city is so overwhelming, you have a constant need to capture it). We got off close to the Anne Frank house and got a bite at a restaurant called Sanders where we enjoyed a cheeseburger (me) and a pulled pork sandwich (my man) before diving into Kalverstraat again and purchasing aforementioned items. We would have loved to see the Anne Frank house but the queue was all the way around the block; still, we took a picture from the outside nearly being ridden over by an impatient cyclist, honestly, they are everywhere!
We don't know if we're going to Amsterdam tomorrow again or head straight to Belgium, but, concluding, I can only repeat myself in saying you must visit this vibrant, picturesque city and breathe in the greatness it provides! With that I say good night for today and hope we will see each other soon!
If I had written this post about Bremen twenty minutes into visiting the city, it would have been a rather unflattering image. It would have been along the lines of "Bremen sucks! Never visit it, the people are impolite assholes, the city is ugly and the stupid Germans with their stupid environmental badges can all go to hell!"
But let's rewind to the start. We stayed in the Novum Hotel in the outskirts of Bremen and for a three star hotel it was pretty decent. The next morning, we wanted to visit the city and instead of choosing to take the train there from our hotel and keep the car parked, we made the imbecile decision to drive into the city with the VW bus. So, German cities can be weird with their cars. There is a green badge you can get for your car and without it there are cities you cannot drive into because there is an "environmental area" which you can only access with the badge. Now, anything helping the environment is, of course, good, but I must say I find the title misleading as it simply should alleviate the parking situation in bigger cities, which has not so much to do with environment, as any car - regardless how old and dirty it is - can buy such a badge (according to a German). Additionally, I have to state (and you can see I am still a bit loaded about the whole trip), I deem it rather hypocritical to have "environmental car badges" but still be the only country incapable to enforce highway speed limits which would contribute not only to environment, but also to safety...
Moving on. We drove around the stupid environmental area for nearly an hour before, at the very outskirts (ironically), we found free parking. Now, we needed to walk two kilometres into the city and if this wasn't enough to lower my mood, a fucking cyclist nearly ran me over as, apparently, have of the footpath is designated for cyclists, but how should we know? After shouting some abysmal comment after him, my mood was below the cellar and I stomped into the city, so angry I wasn't sure I ever could grow to like this horrific city.
BUT, after an enormously long walk and a deep-set frown on my face, we crossed the bridge into the old town and, I had to admit, it was absolutely stunning. Once more a medieval city core which made you imagine people running around in dresses and medieval leggings, merchants beckoning to customers and heavily loaded barrows being pushed around.
And there was actually a market at the market square and I ate the best crepe I ever had, filled with Kinder chocolate. My mood alleviated, I was welcoming the pleasant appearance of the town. We went down a little lane named Böttcherstrasse where little shops were nestled next to each other. We also went to the Bremer Stadtmusikanten, of course, but is a rather disappointing little statue in the corner of one of the many squares. Still, it's worth a visit.
We only were in Bremen for a day, so we couldn't explore everything, but what we saw was pretty nice and for anyone being partial to medieval cities which have a clearly designated market square (or more than one), with little lanes leading to hidden treasures, Bremen is a city for you to explore!
In the late afternoon, we travelled down to the border to the Netherlands and slept in the car in a town called Emmerich am Rhein. From there, we will set off to the Netherlands and Amsterdam and I will update you as soon as I get round to writing the next post (and have wifi).
So, first of all, we didn’t. Sorry, you might wonder what I am referring to but I concluded the last post with the hope we would find a similarly comfortable accommodation in Hamburg and we definitely didn’t (we slept in the car in the end). Finding a hotel in Hamburg is almost impossible, especially if you come short notice and start browsing for hotels at seven o’clock at night for the very night. The whole city is booked with musical-goers and other enjoyers of Hamburgian culture!
But let’s not jump to the end of the day. With tears in one eye, we left Mölln and headed further west to Hamburg. First of all, it didn’t seem very promising and I almost feared we would go all Berlin again when, erroneously, we drove to the outskirts of the city first, mistaking it for the city centre (it was called HafenCity, so give us a break already, how were we supposed to know it was the newest and ugliest part of Hamburg anyone could imagine).
Anyway, we soon corrected our mistake and were welcomed by a rough but beautiful city with the wind dictating its heartbeat. First, we went down to the harbour, meandering along the promenade and looking out for seagulls (these birds are vicious). It was really stunning and, thankfully, the permanent drizzle that had annoyed us ever since we had set off, drew back and sunshine shyly beckoned through the clouds.
Of course we went to the infamous Reeperbahn in the district of St. Pauli and, honestly, I don’t know what the fuss is all about…Admittedly, we weren’t there at night (because I wouldn’t dare to), but in the day it is just some fucked up buildings with flashy letters advertising their entertainment and some food stalls in the middle, offering Currywurst and other delicacies.
From there, we took the hop-on hop-off bus (as you know, I LOVE them) and explored the city sitting snugly in a vehicle who did all the walking for us. Now, I was glad we did the tour, as we passed some truly marvellous places and buildings; however, there are not really that many sights worth exploring (from what I could tell) during the tour and what is interesting is pretty much all within walking distance from the city centre. Still, it gives you a decent overview. It was particularly worth it as we had a live commentary bus, which I always prefer because it is usually much funnier and you can ask questions that pop into your head while driving (though you should only ask the tour-related question, I guess…). Hamburgians (are they so called?) are really nice people, if not undeniably German in their manners. They always say “moin” and if you thought this was referring to morning, I must inform you that you were wrong all the time (as was I). Apparently, it comes from “Plattdeutsch” (which I think is some sort of older German version) and simply means something like “Good day”, so can be used from dusk till dawn.
Shopping in Hamburg is a fun, but luxurious undertaking, as the main streets stretching out from the Rathaus are dotted with expensive shops and I grew weak when we passed A&F, but managed not to buy anything (which I am already regretting, in case you were wondering). Hamburgians, apparently, are known for their snobbism, coming from an affluent city with the harbour always being a good source of income, but I thought they were pretty nice…
As I said earlier, we didn’t settle for a hotel and so drove a little outside the city, parked our car and slept there, before returning to Hamburg for the next day to do some more exploring. We eventually sampled enough reasons we could tell ourselves to buy the slightly overpriced tickets for the harbour tour, but we thought if not in Hamburg where else?
The tour was marvellous, generally I love boat tours, but this was especially amazing. We sailed (floated? swam? drove?, I am new to this marine jargon) with a huge ferry which had three floors and, of course, we went straight to the top which meant we were nearly blown away by the strong wind coming our way. We saw the huge container ships and all the machinery behind the smooth running of such a ginormous harbour and it was absolutely fascinating! I got the creeps a little, obviously, as the sea, huge ships and anything marine pretty much freaks me out. Imagining the dark huge parts of the ship hidden under water like a sea monster gives me the hibbie jibbies, but it was all very impressive. We were also able to get a very good view from the Elbphilharmonie, the new building for the Hamburgian Philharmonic orchestra which is shaped like a wave with a white crest as the roof. From the distance, it looks pretty cool and wavy-ish, but getting closer it has odd windows and balconies which destroy the illusion a little, but all in all I would say it is a building worth taking a photo of (or twenty, like I did).
With the boat tour coming to a close, so did our stay in Hamburg and we headed on to Bremen, the next city I will be happy to tell you about…
PS don't forget to check my Facebook and Instagram for short video updates on the journey ;-)
Alright, Germany. As I was concluding with the last post, we went to Berlin and before going on telling about the German capital, it is important to state that we only were there for one day and you cannot put the whole of Berlin in one day, obviously, but I can say from the very limited experience I've had with the city that, so far, it is not really my city. As far as we could tell, there is no definite structure to the city, no organisation and as we hadn't prepared at all for the city, didn't know what to look at (except for the well-known sights), we were struggling to make the most of it. There are cities which immediately make sense, if you know what I mean. They are structured in a way that even the most lost tourist will find the main streets and sights. Berlin, for me, is not one of these cities. Take Munich, for instance. It is a big city, too, but there is a clear structure to it. You have the main shopping street with all the other streets winding off the main road, where you can find anything your heart desires. London, a massive capital, has the square mile where you can find Oxford and Regent Street and the main sights any tourist wants to see. When we went to Prague, we could manoeuvre easily through the city and were navigated by the many market places. In Berlin, I couldn't make out such a structure, which made the whole day slightly frustrating. Other than that, I would say the city is quite rough. There are many people pierced everywhere and overly tatooed, as you picture Berlin. For Berlin I would definitely say I need to return one day to get to know the city better and give it a fair shot.
When we returned to the car, we knew we had to talk, as the initial plan we had made for our trip didn't seem to work anymore for us. We had planned a couple of weeks heading more to the north than the south and, rather late, had to admit this was a stupid plan, especially as it has been raining pretty much constantly since we set off. It was horrible not to have a place to retreat too, as the car was far too cold to do that when not being driven and we decided to needed to go more south, direction Netherlands and Belgium and look what's there (which I am sure is much). Also, we decided we needn't be on the road for such a long time and rather luxuriate a little more when it comes to food and accommodation. Happy with our decision we set off to Hamburg and were lucky to encounter heaven on the way. Of course, I am referring to the little town of Mölln in Schleswig Holstein, a northern German province. Generally, the area in Northern Germany is absolutely stunning. After dirty, grey Berlin, the landscape opened up and red brick houses started to dot the side of the road, making me all giddy with joy. I love looking at beautiful houses and going to little towns. As night was drawing in, we went through a place called Wittenburg where we first encountered these lovely red brick, high-roofed houses. We ended up spending the night at a parking space near a lake which was dreadful as it was pouring and the rain splattered onto out metal roof, making it impossible to sleep. This was the morning I decided I needed a hotel after all and, luckily, my man agreed. We set off, passing another hamlet of red brick houses when suddenly I spotted a sign saying "Mölln, old town" and directed my man to drive in there. You cannot imagine how picturesque and bucolic Mölln is. It is nestled between three (three!) lakes and consists mainly of old red brick houses, the occasional white painted Sweden style house in between. It was bliss for sore eyes!
We trundled up the main road, stopping and exploring the city a little. Mölln is one of these towns just right in size. It is big enough to have everything you need, but small enough to get local goodies and have shops owned by townspeople lined up next to the main road. It was also there that we encountered one of the most beautiful shops I have ever been in. It was a spices and decor shop and it is called Möllner Gewürz Kontor. Personally, I think the name is a little misleading because the stunning things in the shop have barely to do with the spices, but rather the decor the owner, a nice woman, provides. I could have stayed in there and browsed the shelves for hours, but eventually left with Christmas tree decoration and a lantern pocketed and advice from the woman where to find the best hotels in Mölln, as it was clear now that this was the place we wanted to explore for a day longer. We already loved it here and I caught myself once or twice picturing myself living in the place.
The hotel we were recommended was the Pension Seeschlösschen (Hotel Lake Castle) and it truly was the castle of our dreams. A beautiful dove blue, old building in a remote area facing the lake. The people running it were as lovely as anybody we had encountered in Mölln and when we were shown to our room (a spacious double-bed room with three windows facing the lake) I felt like whooping with joy, especially at the prospect of not having to sleep in the car in this wretched rain again. Let's face it here, I would love to be one of these people who can sleep anywhere, go wild-camping and don't worry about an angry farmer waking you, insulting you to the worst (I grew up with farmers, I know what I am talking about), but I am simply not. All night, I keep worrying if someone will wake me up and be mean to me, I hate camping (wild or any other kind) and could possibly described what we call in German as a "Luxusweibchen", which translates to "luxury girl". I like sleeping in nice hotels and going to restaurants, especially when it's supposed to be your holidays. Why would you then plan such a trip, you ask? Well, I constantly try to broaden the borders of my mind and make me face situation I can neither control nor will I like them to become stronger identified with myself (does this sound right?).
Anyway, enough of my wittering, on with the journey. Happily set up with our hotel, we decided to go to Lübeck, a city about forty minutes with car away from Mölln. Yet again, we couldn't believe how beautiful the city was. Far bigger than Mölln, it featured a large centre of medieval houses, innumerable churches and towers and fantastic shops to explore. For any fan of medieval cities and red brick, Lübeck is your city! It comprises a main street clustered with an abundance of shops and restaurants. There are shopping centres and individual shops likewise and my personal highlight was the bookshop Hugendubel, where you could browse through books for hours, which we also did, but let's not jump to the end.
We meandered through the city and went up the Petri tower, one of the many towers in the city, from where we had a stunning view over the city. Here I have to insert a little note I made in my mind and have to defend myself before I even say it. Stereotypes can be terrible, but very often they are kind of true, but I don't seek to stereotype or endorse stereotypes in any way, still I have to say I found that Germans, as diverse and different as they are as individuals, still are somewhat innately German in their way. I couldn't even say what I mean by "being innately German", but I guess it refers to the stereotypical neatness, love for formalities and orderly way of thinking. Let me give you an example: when I showed my student ID card to the lady at the tower, she frowned as the date is a little smudged. She didn't make a fuss and gave me a discount, but also a lengthy speech on how I could avoid that and that I could by a plastic foil to protect it and so on and so forth. Of course I write this in English, but picture this lady speaking in a Northern German accent and any Austrian will know what I mean. Another example: When we went to the lovely shop in Mölln, we got to talk with the owner who started to complain about the lack of good staff (which I believe her in an instant), but droned on how important it is to have a funded training before undertaking the task of opening a shop and what a shame it is that in Germany anyone can do that. I, personally, see it the other way. Having a paper stating you have some training doesn't necessarily make you a good shop owner, as it has everything to do with passion. Of course it doesn't hurt to do a course in accounting or such, but everyone should have the freedom to pursue their dreams...
But I am digressing, we also went down to the riverbank and visited the Holstentor, the old city gate which is also referred to as the "leaning tower of Lübeck" because it is slightly crooked. It's gates are so mighty and lethal, I couldn't linger under them, as I am a little superstitious with these kind of things...
After a perfect trip through the city, we ended up in aforementioned Hugendubel and I purchased the new Marian Keyes (the Break) and the new Kerstin Gier (a German author who writes fantastic fiction, Wolkenschloss). I look really forward to reading these and will share my opinion with you, of course.
As for now, I am sitting in our lovely hotel room, saddened we have to say goodbye, but we will drive on to Hamburg and explore the Hansestadt and, hopefully, find an accommodation as nice as this one. Fingers crossed...
On Saturday, we drove up to Czech and soon crossed the border (no border control, obviously Germany is the only silly country to those anymore…). Czech is a country which has a surprisingly varied countryside. It is also a country with beautiful, colourful forests, both conifer and deciduous. There is a plethora of colours dotting the green pine trees aligning the borders of the roads and what roads these are! Winding through the forests with clusters of little houses (both beautiful and ugly) in between. First the landscape was hilly with roads softly winding up and down. After driving through valleys usually lined with trees, you reached green mounds of expanding fields, one or the other multi-coloured tree perfecting the picture. We loved this kind of landscape particularly and preferred it to the landscape which came later on and was rather flat and almost steppe-like in some parts.
We didn’t really interact with the community, mainly because in the rural parts there was nobody there and in Prague there were only Germans and Austrians as far as you could guess.
As to the fairy tales I alluded to in the title, Czech and especially Prague really look like a place fairy tales could take place in. The dense forests, the soft hills cascading up and down and, of course, Prague. A city so old and beautiful it is definitely a must to visit. At first it has a very Viennese touch to it but becomes even more romantic than the Austrian capital the longer you stay in. It is dotted with market places ensconced by marvellous houses, towers and sculptures. Street musicians busking, their music emanating through the air, adding to the magical atmosphere.
We ate a Trdelnik, which is a Prague pastry and quite popular apparently as all the stalls selling them sported mighty queues. Still, we got one and it is sort of a dough roll but rather hard, the surface caramelised, and filled with either chocolate or ice cream. We had one with chocolate and it tasted truly delicious.
We had dinner at one of the big market places and it was fantastic! Everyone was sitting outside despite the temperatures being rather low and we enjoyed Fish and Chips and Spaghetti Carbonara, observing people and taking in the Prague air.
We spent the night next to a field, which was a huge improvement to the motorway parking the night before. It was pretty quiet and the only backdrop was that it rained again all night, which made getting up pretty hard. We immediately set off and against our own plans, headed toward Germany instead of Poland because we want to reach Scandinavia before winter has taken over completely.
We didn’t take the motorway once in Czech, as you need to buy a vignette and the lowest amount of days you can get is ten and as we only were there for one night, we decided to take the country roads instead. Generally, driving on country roads takes up more time, but will give you a better overview of the country and its people, housing and landscape. We saw great things, among them also the reason why I added horror stories to the title. You will pass sombre valleys with huge grey and empty factories which look like a loony house right out of a horror movie. Also, among the nice houses, you will pass villages with dark, dull houses, dirty and run down facades as well as the old, grumpy Czech woman walking down the street, throwing you mean glances. But, hey, every fairy tale world needs the dark, sinister places to coexist, right?
We headed toward Dresden and as soon as we crossed the border, the houses changed. The places were less sinister, brightened up and there were cosy gingerbread houses lining the street and gardens with an abundance of trees and flowers, it was really great.
We didn’t go to Dresden as we wanted to go up North and headed to Berlin and sunny weather instead. As we arrived there in the evening, we visited the Liquidrom, a thermal bath in Berlin which I can only highly recommend. We needed to take a shower but after the permanent rain in Czech, we wanted some relaxation and warmth, too.
The Liquidrom comprises a huge dome-shaped sole pool which has underwater music and is the ultimate place to relax. We floated in the water (well, I did, as it turns out my man cannot float – I guess he’s simply too thin), hugged and kissed and then went to the sauna, warming up entirely. There was also a second pool which was outside and it was really odd because people went in there naked even though we had been told at reception swimwear had to be worn in any kind of water. Still, as peer pressure persists, we unclothed as well before going in, but, and I neither intend to be rude or stereotypical, it just made be smile, there were three Americans which were clearly so prude they couldn’t digest the thought that everyone was running around naked. The two guys and one girl eyed everyone up suspiciously before giggling childishly and going into the pool dressed (which was fine, too, as some people did). Honestly, they were at least thirty and still giggled upon seeing naked people – Americans grow up!
Completely relaxed and warmed up, we returned to the car, facing the difficult decision where we would spend the night. In the end, we drove to Charlottenburg, a posh district of Berlin which is probably the safest you can get in Berlin. There we parked and had a pretty good night and morning (despite that I needed the toilet ALL the time, it is really jinxed with my bladder…as if it could sense that there is no toilet near…).
At the moment, I am sitting in the only McDonald’s without Wifi, writing these lines and about to explore Berlin, so I can tell you all about it!