Saturday, July 30, 2005


Ten years ago today - Traveling through Germany

The latest entry in my retro-travelogue. Ten years ago today, I was riding the rails through Holland and Germany.

8:58 am, 30 July 1995
Somewhere between Utrecht and Düsseldorf.

An auspicious occasion: the first day of Eurail travel. I'm in a train compartment in a relatively nice Euro City train between Amsterdam and Koblenz. We left Amsterdam at 8:00 am. ETA in Koblenz is 11:05. I haven't yet decided how (or if) I'm getting from Koblenz to Bernkastel and/or Wehlen. (ed. note: Wehlen is the small town where my grandmother grew up.)

I've been temporarily adopted by a nice American family from Dallas. I was a little lost at the station in Amsterdam, and so I approached the friendliest, most non-threatening looking person I could see. Of course, at 7:30 in the morning, there just weren't that many people around period (especially station attendants). It ends up they are going to Düsseldorf (where my dad was born) to fly home. Düsseldorf is a few stops before Koblenz, and they asked me to join them in their compartment. The mother, Dorthy (about mom's age) called me, in her twangy Texas drawl, a "gutsy lady" for travelling thru Europe by myself. Personally, I'm thinking "crazy" may be a more apt term.

10:45 am, same day
Düsseldorf HBF

I'm in the station at Düsseldorf. The Americans just got off at the last stop to go to the airport. I gave them each a Canadian flag from the stash Todd gave me and they gave me a "Texas Longhorn" soccer club pin (they were in Europe for their son's soccer tournament.) What a nice cultural exchange!

So this is Germany. It looks so - so - so industial, kind of like Hamilton. Smokestacks and electrical towers everywhere. The towns are so close together, you can hardly tell where one ends and the next begins. No passport or luggage check at the Netherlands/Germany border. The only way I could tell we were in Germany was the language on the signs in the station.


Okay, now we're in Koln and I'm trying not to panic. Not only do they not translate all the announcements, but the German is much harder to understand than the Dutch, which I could at least pick through.

It's okay, I'm sure I'll be able to figure this out. Just over 1/2 hour to Koblenz. I just read in Let's Go that the youth hostel in Koblenz is in a mediaval Prussian fortress. Cool! Maybe I'll stay there tonight and go to Bernkastel first thing in the morning.

11:25 am, same day
Bonn HBF

In the capital. The countryside is much more picturesque around here; tiny villages clinging to the hillside. Even the city of Bonn is much more attractive than some we've passed through. My compartment is now full of Germans (imagine! In Germany!) including a young student/businesswoman, and a grandmother with her young grandson The downtown is beautiful, with houses stacked on top of each other like the Amsterdam canal houses. They're often draped with vines and ivy. Toward the edge of the city are pretty single-family homes with colourful stucco walls. It's funny how noticably different the architecture is, even from Amsterdam to here.

3:00 pm, same day
fortress above Koblenz

Travel tip: avoid, if possible, arriving in a small German town on mid-day Sunday afternoon, with no deutschemarks, no reservations, no idea of the language and no idea where you are going.

Having said that, I've survived the aforementioned, and am now in an overpriced tourist restaurant in the fortress Ehrenbreitstein, which also happens to house the youth hostel. You should see this place! I had to take a chairlift to get into the place. The view is absolutely spellbinding! I'm looking down into the intersection of the Rhine and Mosel rivers, right down on top of it! As soon as the hostel reopens (20 mins or so), I'm going to dump my backpack and go exploring. It's awfully hot, though - 33C degrees is pretty hot for hiking up and down to mountaintop fortresses. I wish the rivers had beaches - but the water looks pretty brown and kinda gross.

The German food is much better than the Dutch so far - I had a tasty bratwurst with mustard at the station.

By the way, that German "girl" on the train earlier? Turns out she's a lawyer on her way to Geneva to represent some small Serbian faction at a UN conference. She was quite nice, and we chatted a bit. She told me a little about the German countryside we were passing through, and pointed out this huge chateau/hotel called the St Petersberg or something - apparently it's a favourite of the rich, famous and politically important.

6:05 pm, same day

Okay, so things can't always go smoothly. The youth hostel here is in a spectatular location, but I'm not so sure about this whole youth hostel thing. Mass sleep-ins with strangers just don't appeal to me. And I know it's a 10th century fortress, but it's also damp and dank and the room (with TEN bunks in it) has centipedes. I'm trying to be brave.

Actually, it's been a bit of a rough day. Hardly anyone speaks English, which is a real change from the Netherlands. We're less than 50 miles from Bernkastel, and no one's even heard of it, let alone knows how to get there. Basically, I'm just killing time here until a decent hour to go to bed, so I can get up and get the hell out of here.

But I'm still doing okay for myself. I got this far, and this afternoon I taught myself to count to ten in German. It's all just so new and strange... I just got used to Amsterdam (in hindsight, a good choice for a starting point) and now I have to start all over again.

But a 10th century fortress, the Rhine and Mosel reviers, strange cultures and stranger people: this is the adventure I was looking for!