Posted in Travel, Life, Photography

Berlin – Leipzig – Rothenburg ob der Tauber

My castle experience ended much as it had begun – a 5 hour bus trip in which I sat quietly watching the countryside and distinctive architecture of the buildings flash past. On the return journey I reflected on what I’d just experienced and knew that I’d be mulling over it for some time to come.

Here is some of the Polish countryside that flashed past as we made our way back to Berlin.


It was an early night for me, then a trip into Berlin the next morning. I headed to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, to learn more about the wall that divided a city overnight. I admit to not knowing a lot about it before my trip to the museum – but it’s so full of stories, artefacts, information, and photographs that I now know a whole lot more.

Filled with information, I wandered outside, into the light rain, and watched as people lined up to have their photo taken at Checkpoint Charlie. I then made my way to one of the last remaining remnants of the Berlin Wall … it was much more confronting than I had imagined it would be.

For those of you who, like me, don’t know much of the history …

The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. It encircled West Berlin, separating it from East German territory. Construction of the wall was commenced by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) on 13 August 1961. The Wall cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany, including East Berlin. It included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, accompanied by a wide area (later known as the “death strip”) that contained anti-vehicle trenches, beds of nails and other defenses. (Wikipedia)

You can find more information here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Berlin-Wall

I discovered that the hotel in which I was staying had been part of East Berlin and that’s why the stop and go figures on the traffic lights were so distinctive. You can read more about their development here.


From Berlin I made my way to Leipzig for an overnight stay. I was there less than 24 hours – it was really just a stopping off point for my trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

In the limited time I had, I managed to climb to the top of the tallest building in Leipzig – the Panorama Tower. When I say ‘climb’, I mean I took the lift and then walked up two flights of stairs to get to the very top. I was surprised to find that the ‘top’ was outside!

Back on solid ground and not having to worry about the little kids sitting on the edge of the building, I wondered past the Opera House, through Market Square, past the old Town Hall – the foundation stone was laid in 1556 – and had a look around the farmers market. It was a lovely evening, but once the rain started I ducked into a jazz bar for dinner.

The lift in my hotel was interesting, although the sound of running water wasn’t something I really wanted to hear after a long afternoon/evening of wandering around the city!

The lift in my hotel in Leipzig

A good night’s sleep, and then series of train trips – from Leipzig to Nuremberg (Nurnberg), then to Ansbach, then to Steinach bei Rothenburg ob der Tauber and from there to my final destination in Germany: Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I had learnt to take screen shots of the trains and walking directions from my first experience in Berlin and it’s interesting going through my phone now and reminding myself of my journey. Each train was smaller but all were clean and comfortable.

I had found Rothenburg by doing a Google search for old cities in Germany. I’m so pleased I did. I’ll write about it in my next post, but here’s just a taste of the city and its surrounds.

Posted in Life, Travel

The beginning experience

In my previous blog post, I wrote:

I’m heading for what I hope will be an extraordinary experience, with people from around the world and from a range of different fields.

I’m ready to do something that challenges me … to be brave!

I might even blog about it.

I did not blog about it.

It’s now a month later. I’m home, my bags are unpacked, my washing is drying, and the fridge is heavy with new magnets. The plane touched down at 10:50 last night, we were home by 12:14, I was asleep by 1:43 and awake at 7:04 this morning. It’s now after 5 in the afternoon and I can feel the drowsiness washing over me. To stave it off for a few more hours I decide to write.


I was systematic and thorough in my planning, choosing wisely when buying new tops, underwear, shoes; planning which countries/cities/towns to visit, where to stay, and how to get from one place to another. I chose the seats for each flight carefully with attention to where the toilets were and where young babies were more likely to be (close to one, avoiding the other). I did a practice pack two days before to ensure my backpack did not go beyond the 7kg limit (my suitcase was never going to get anywhere near the 30kg limit). I packed slowly, methodically, over a number of days. I didn’t make decisions based on rush or the ‘oh my goodness I’m going in an hour, have I packed …?’ panic.

6:30 Friday 23 September

Time to go. Only one, slightly anxious ‘I-have-to-repack-my-bag’ moment, an hour or so beforehand. The bags stood ready. Little anxiety, less fuss, no stress. It felt easy to pick up the bags, load them into the car, and head out.

Smooth …

It was a theme that continued through the drive to the airport. Calm, no stress … smooth.

Smooth packing.

Smooth trip to the airport.

Smooth passage through check-in, bag drop, security and passport control, boarding.

Bumpy flight.

I was in the back row, no one in the middle seat next to me so I could stretch out a bit. The 13 hour flight didn’t even feel that long.

Doha – smooth transition: off one plane (6am local time), time for a cuppa, onto the next (much shorter) flight.

Still flying

Berlin. I’d been travelling for over 24 hours by this stage. It had been amazingly smooth. Not that anything major happened at this point, but things began to feel slightly less smooth.

There was a long, long wait for the luggage to arrive – time I spent wisely, hooked up to the airport WiFi, planning how to get to the hotel by train. Once my bag had arrived, I headed for the train station, remembering to buy a ticket at the top of the stairs. I clunked my bag down the stairs to the platform, boarded the train when it arrived, went to hook up to the train’s WiFi only to discover the train didn’t have WiFi.

I remembered that the first step in the journey was to get off at the Terminal 5 station. I imagined that the Terminal 5 station would be somehow connected to the airport and so would have an airport-style station.

I blithely got off the train and found myself here:

Terminal 5 station – Berlin

It looked to me like a Soviet railway station that had been abandoned 50 years before.

I remembered that I had to catch another train, but I couldn’t remember which one/where to … and searching the map I – eventually – found, wasn’t a whole heap of help to me.

When the next train arrived, I got on. The map had mentioned something about Adlershof and so when we arrived there, I got off, clunked my bag down the stairs and wondered ‘what now?’.

Adlershof train station – Source: Wikimedia

I crossed the road, seeking out some free WiFi but there was none to be found. A toilet would have also come in handy, but I couldn’t see one of them either.

I had no idea where I was, no idea where I was going, and even less idea about how to get there.

I suddenly remembered International Roaming. I turned it on, went back to Google maps and put in the name of the hotel. The recommended route was the 61 or 63 tram, but I couldn’t see a tram stop – or tram tracks even – anywhere.

When I asked Google for directions from my location to the tram stop, it told me to cross the road to the station and keep walking. When I was halfway through the tunnel (shown in the image above), it told me I had reached my destination. I didn’t feel – in any of my bones – that I had in fact reached any destination.

I took a punt and walked to the end of the tunnel – to what had appeared as a wasteland – and lo and behold there were tram tracks and a tram stop. Within moments a 63 tram arrived and I got on. It turned out, to my great relief, that I was not only on the correct tram, but that I was also going in the correct direction.

It was now 3pm local time – I’d given up counting how many hours into my trip I was – and I was getting a little more than just a little weary. I checked in, walked miles down the corridor to my room, had a shower, a rest, a chat with Tim, booked a COVID test for the next day, then decided to get out and about and explore the local area. The local area happened to be the old city of Kopenick.

There I came across a COVID testing centre that was offering far cheaper COVID tests, a 10-miunute turn-around time, and was available right then and there.

And so I had my first ever COVID test – standing at the window of a shipping container otherwise known as a Corona Testzentrum. Luckily my grasp of German was strong enough to know what that meant.

In my wondering I came across the local fire department family day and so popped my head in – bouncy castle, bbq, DJ, lots of kids – and continued on my way.

How much fun would that be?
A floating shark

Dinner at the Rathaus … and then it was time for bed. Luckily I was within walking distance of the hotel otherwise I might have had to find a park bench for a quick nap.

The Rathaus – Kopenick
Posted in Learning, Travel

One final post about my trip

Things I learnt while in France, Italy and Germany. 

1. The money is called Euros, not dollars.

2. When crossing the road, look left then right then left again.

3. Despite how it might appear, passengers do not drive cars in Europe.

4. Go for five or ten dollar notes when it takes a while for the amount you just heard to register.

5. They’re called Euros, Sharon, not dollars.

6. Oh. Right. Sure.

7. Take small notes; 50s and higher are frowned upon in most places.

8. Wine is often cheaper than water. Drink wine.

8. Wear comfortable shoes, even if they look daggy.

9. When getting into a taxi do not try to get into the driver’s side. Taxi drivers don’t like it much.

10. The bus will come from the left. Don’t waste your time looking in the other direction.

11. Get into the passenger seat carefully – there is no steering wheel to hang on to on that side.

12. Don’t expect cars to stop just because you’re on a pedestrian crossing.

13. Scooters are able to swerve around you; cars, not so much.

14. Look left Sharon! Then when you get into the middle of the road, look right.

15. Two dollar coins are bigger than one dollar coins.

16. They’re called Euros, Sharon. It’s really not that hard.

17. Don’t take photos in supermarkets.

18. Travel first class on the trains when you can.

19. Latte means milk. Don’t order one if you want coffee.

20. In France yes is oui, in Italy it’s si, in Germany it’s jah.

21. Tea comes black.

22. Don’t get anxious, even if you get lost. Just enjoy the wander/wonder.

23. Take a coat if you’re going to Germany in autumn.

24. Learn how to say bandaids in French, Italian and German.

25. Spending a penny can cost up to a euro fifty.

26. Ha, I got it right!

27. Take a packet of tissues in your bag for the times when the WC is free.

28. Be prepared to walk your feet off. Visit as many things as you can.

29. Be prepared to be overwhelmed. Enjoy the feeling.

30. Take photos of other people when you don’t have your own close by.

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Posted in Travel

Three days in Germany (almost)

Saturday, 13th October. I’m on my way home. In fact I’m half way there – I’m sitting at Starbucks Coffee (not drinking coffee, but the chair is comfy) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport after a 12 hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany.

I left on a cold and rainy day, the visibility very poor as we took off at 12:45 this afternoon. I didn’t get to see any of Frankfurt – I’d caught the train to Frankfurt from Eichstatt (a station that seemed in the middle of nowhere because we’d taken the scenic way) after spending a few days with Elke, my German sister.

I’d arrived in Ingolstadt late on Tuesday night after a train ride from Venice. Elke was there to pick me up and we drove the half hour to Eichstatt, arriving at about 11pm.

She was thrilled to see me:

Elke showing how excited she is that I’m visiting 🙂

The next day we went to Nürnberg on the train. It has some beautiful cathedrals and a castle.

After a steep uphill climb we made it to the castle, minutes before it closed for the day.

On our way back we stopped in a supermarket and I couldn’t resist taking a photo – and was promptly told off. The only word I understood was ‘forbidden’ … Elke explained that I was from another planet which didn’t allow alcohol to be sold in supermarkets. That appeased the situation – the woman who had told me it was forbidden looked at me pityingly – I wasn’t sure if it was because I was an alien or because my planet was so unsophisticated.

How’s this for impulse buying … I’ll just grab some wodka and a mars bar on my way out.

The next morning we wandered around Eichstatt, before having lunch.

Oohing and aahing over the autumn colours I noticed this quite macabre site over the river – a stark reminder of the past (quite a sobering one):

Fancy a quick dunk in the river?

But the town really is very pretty … the autumn colours are deep and gorgeous.

Autumn in Eichstatt, Bavaria (Bayern)

Elke showed me her folk dancing skills before taking me on a very scenic route to the railway station. The scenic route involved a dirt road through a forest and a sudden U-turn but I had every confidence that Elke knew where she was going.

A special Bavarian happy dance (Sharon is here visiting me)

It was time for me to leave – a very (very) short visit – and I headed off to Frankfurt via Munich. I had a little time to spare in Munich so that I’d go for a walk around the city closest to the train station. It became clear very quickly that this wasn’t the ‘nice’ part of town, so I cut my walk short and wandered around the station instead.

The train ride to Frankfurt was uneventful – and then things got interesting. I had directions to my hotel from the airport train station, but I’d arrived at the main station. Hmmm … I found the tourist office and asked the girl how to get to the airport hotel I had booked and she told me to take the S7 train (I didn’t have to pay for it) and I’d find my way from there.

Have you ever been in a foreign country, on a train, and not known the train station to get off at, and how to know which station you at? I was staying at Morfelden-Walldorf and when I got on the train I found a station map. There was a station called Morfelden and one called Walldorf. Hmmm … it was dark by this time (about 8:30 at night) and I alighted from the station, searching vainly for a taxi. Nope, not a one in sight. I crossed the road and went into a shop. The Indian boy behind the counter said that he wasn’t from around here and couldn’t help me. A customer in the shop couldn’t help me either.

I walked up the street a little way and came upon another shop. It was shut, as was the next one, and the next one. Finally, I found one that was open. I asked the girl behind the counter if she knew where the hotel was. She didn’t. I asked her if she knew where I could get a taxi from. She didn’t.

But then she had a brain wave and looked up the number for the taxi and rang one for me. She wouldn’t take any money for the call. I was very (very) appreciative. The taxi duly arrived and we drove for a few miles in the rain; I was glad I hadn’t decided to walk.

Sleep … walk to the bus stop in the rain (lucky I had my rain coat) … bus … shuttle … wait wait wait …. plane.

And here I am. In Kuala Lumpur waiting for my second last flight before I get home. I leave here at 9:30 (local time) and arrive in Melbourne at about 9:30 – too late for a flight to Tassie, so an overnight in Melbourne, and then, finally, home to Tim.

Yay!

Posted in Travel

Musings from the train

Martedi, 9th Ottobre. Venice is about two hours behind me. I’m on the train heading to Germany, to see Elke.

It was strange coming over the bridge between Venice and Mestre (on the mainland); it was like coming into a new world. A world of cars and regular (Italian regular) houses and farms and industry and … regular life.

Venice is anything but regular. There are traffic jams, but they’re not regular ones. Gondolas rather than cars get caught in jams and on the big canals horns honk just as virulently as they do in non-water based cities; ‘stop and go’ men hold up red stop signs for pedestrians rather than cars. The rubbish collection isn’t regular – well, it happens on a daily basis (except Sundays) but instead of bins, people put out their bag of rubbish (and their recycling if they have any) on little hooks stuck into the walls.  At 8am each morning the rubbish collectors move through the laneways pulling their rubbish carts behind them. Ambulances aren’t regular ambulances; police vehicles aren’t like regular police vehicles; delivery-men work tirelessly pushing and pulling their trolleys loaded with goods up and over bridges, through the laneways and into the shops. Everything is delivered on foot. It seems so obvious once you’re here, but it’s not something I had thought about previously. Furniture is moved by boat, then carried through tiny laneways to houses, grocery shopping is done on a daily basis because there are no cars to drive it home in. No lawn mowing is needed, no front gardens need tending; there are no grassy playing fields, no skate parks, no tennis courts, few trees. It’s a different world.

A jam Jim, but not as we know it.

 

The ‘stop/go’ man, keeping the traffic under control while something happens in the building above.

Stopping ‘traffic’ the Venetian way

I even saw a Venetian garage:

A garage of the Venetian variety

 

And then there’s the art. My goodness! Some I went to, knowing I was going to go; others I came across in my wanders. The Dali exhibition was one I just happened upon. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection was one I deliberately set out to see. Works by

Picasso

Dali

Pollock

Modrian

Miro

Max Ernst

Modigliani

… amongst others.

And then the older works contained in the Gallerie dell’Accademie. Paintings from the 12th century onwards, looking as though there were freshly painted. Titian, Bellini, Tintoretto and more. Room after room after room of amazement.

And of course the Doges Palace, which has one of (the?) biggest rooms in Europe in it. Again, amazement on every wall and ceiling. Furniture, paintings, wallpapers, frames: interpretation panels making sense of it all. Across (inside) the Bridge of Sighs and into the maze of the old prison. It made me think the convicts at Port Arthur were lucky, in their own way. The Giants Staircase, with the original rises from the 14th century; Aries and Poseidon continuing to guard it.

The view from inside the Bridge of Sighs

 

This staircase would have some interesting stories to tell!

And then there are the churches and the islands … and the history.

And the music! On my first night in Venice I went to a Vivaldi concert in Vivaldi’s church. I Virtuosi Italiani were playing The Four Seasons, but they started with Pachelbel’s Canon. On the first note a tear trickled down my face and then as the music continued I couldn’t stop them; it was so beautiful. Tim will know the other reason. The concert was fabulous and if I hadn’t been caught in the infinite maze looking for the lavanderia I would gone to another one. Another thing to do on my next visit.

I know thousands/millions of people have ‘been there, done that’, have seen these galleries filled with beautiful old and new works, heard this music played live in Vivaldi’s church, and it’s not new for them (possibly for you), but for me it was new and it was wonderful. I walked the laneways thinking that people have walked these same laneways for hundreds of years – the cultural heritage here is so present, so evident, that it was easy to let my imagination go and think about the number of priests and noblemen and women (and not so noble ones) walking the same laneways over the years. So many other people, in so many different cultural evolutions, have walked where I walked; did they stop and admire the dome on a church on the other side of the canal? Did they marvel at the statues and ornate buildings in the same way I did? Was it at one time new and wonderful for them (you) too?

There was plenty I didn’t see: churches and museums and galleries and islands and concerts and St Mark’s Basilica from the inside … but it’s not too far from Prague, so I can go back during next year’s trip.

***

I have just passed through Trento and I have to say that the countryside is beautiful. The hills on either side are lit by the late afternoon sun which makes the rock faces shine. Vineyards take up every available space, a castle clings to the side of a mountain and I catch my breath with how beautiful the scene is. The rivers are wide and fast-running and the same kind of colour that rivers in New Zealand are. To me it suggests water that’s come from high in the mountains over particular kinds of rocks that turn the water almost green in its colourlessness. The landscape is amazing! Little villages are dotted here and there, the church steeple always the tallest structure. A road snakes steeply up/down the mountainside and the light flits across the tower of an old castle, making it glow amongst the green of the vines and the apple trees.

Fields of solar panels, as I’d seen in France, come into view and even old sheds have solar panels on their roofs. As we pull into a station I check the number plates of the cars to see if we’re still in Italy. We are. I wonder if I’ll know when we cross into Austria. It’s amazing that … that we can move from one country to another without having to fly or go on a hazardous boat ride. I suppose only Australians fully appreciate that; although I perhaps the English have some idea of what that’s like. Does driving to Scotland or Wales feel like going to another country, I wonder?

We have arrived in Bolzano Bozen, a place I never knew existed. There have been quite a few of those sorts of places on this trip. The German family leave and close the door to the carriage after them, dissuading others entering the train from coming in. Except one man, who nods to me as he enters, and then another who sits opposite but insists that I don’t have to move my bags out of his way. They both communicate with me in a way that suggests they both know that I’m not from round these parts.

Bolzano Bozen is beautiful; vineyards climb up and over the hills on one side of the train, while the hills on the right hand side are full of pine forests. It’s green, something I (oddly) missed while in Venice.

Another castle high on a hill, built on the very edge of a cliff. I wonder what OH&S would have been like when it was built. So far this is my favourite train ride yet. Twin waterfalls spring from a hole in the hill, about half way down; apple trees laden with fruit, tractors on the roads, flower boxes full of pink and white and red flowers adorn balconies and window ledges, the prevalence of church steeples, the green of the hills, dahlias in bloom in gardens beside the train line, scooters lined up at the station, fat cows with bells around their necks, touches of autumn colours, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu playing through my headphones (it somehow seems fitting) … what a wonderful way to spend the day.

It’s almost 6pm and I’m almost in Austria. I have to say that the northern part of Italy I just travelled through is beautiful. Sarah asked me where to after Prague next year … I think I just found it. Innsbruck is about 35km (by road) from here, and the train arrives in Munich at 8:25. We must be crossing a narrow part of Austria. I hope I get to see some of it before the light goes. There are patches of fog sitting at the tops of the valleys and smoke rises from chimneys at the bottom of valleys.

My trip is winding down and I feel sad about that. I’ve had a fabulous time; seen lots, travelled to many new (for me) places, ordered things off menus without knowing exactly what I was getting, seen more artworks in a week than I think I’ve seen in my life before, eaten ice cream just about every day, drunk French or Italian wine nearly every night, said Ja instead of Si (or even yes) more times than I should have (in fact I didn’t once manage to say Si), seen the Mediterranean and the Adriatic seas, been to four countries, found my way on and off trains, followed incomprehensible instructions to hotels in five cities, walked between four and six hours every day, spent time with my niece Sarah and her partner Ben … it’s been fantastic.

Two weeks has felt like a month, but it’s not over yet. A day with Elke, another train trip (to Frankfurt this time) and then the long flight home, via Kuala Lumpur (plus a night in Melbourne).

I’m having  a blast!