Archive | October 2019

Our big city fix in Milan

After visiting “no-where’s-ville” Germany (as a work colleague called my itinerary) and the small town in Switzerland and outlying areas of Geneva, Milan was a shock to the system.

Noise. Colour. Traffic. Glam fashion. Short skirts. High heels. Makeup. Hair dos. [I felt so underdressed. Yes, I had on clothes I wouldn’t be seen dead in, in the centre of Sydney. But they were fine while travelling in Germany.]

Central station is an imposing and majestic structure. But in a case of style verses substance, there is little organisation. On Friday afternoon, returning from a day trip, some trains were cancelled due to industrial action. There was thousands of people standing around. Ticket check were letting more in. People leaving couldn’t get out. It was a massive crush with no order.

We have left sensible Germany and Germany speaking Switzerland. With their uniform of blue jeans, jackets in sensible dirt-hiding colours, walking shoes. And rules on noise control (ie no noise in middle of day or after 10pm; no washing machines after 8pm; rubbish recycled in 100 different ways.)

We stayed for three nights. One night a car alarm went off every twenty minutes, all night. Another night someone spent an hour or two yelling under our window.

Rules? Pfft! There was double parking galore. Parking over pedestrian crossings. Parking in the middle of intersections.

One our first full day we did the normal sightseeing things, using a day train travel pass. The ticket machine charged us €7.50, although online it said it would be cheaper. This wasn’t the first time being ripped off in Italy.

The night before we went for a drink. €20 for two drinks. Fuck that. Guy said it was happy hour. Don’t know what it means in Italy. In Australia it means half price drinks. Only one who was happy was the bar tender.

Anyway, back to sightseeing. Duomo was impressive even though it was wet, wet, wet. On the upside we got to see gargoyles spouting water. Look in the second picture; you’ll see it too.

We went in to a department store. The assistants were so impeccable dressed; I wanted to ask one for directions as to how she tied her scarf. I was worried that security would ask Mr S to leave. He looked rough and as if he’d come from a bush walk. Unfortunately for some unknown reason, the security alarm actually went off as Mr S left. He had so many pockets, I worried about the check, but the security guard simply asked him to walk in and out. Yes, it went off again. Then without any checks, the guard let us go!!!

We walked towards a tower. When looking on google maps, I thought the tower was a church with an ossuary, which we found. Mr S didn’t want to see any more bones – he said he had enough in the Paris catacombs. I find them quite interesting. So that was a serendipitous find.

The shrine image of Mary was freaky too. Look at that face!

Wandering around, looking in shop windows was envy-inducing. Such style. Such beautiful design. Why doesn’t my kitchen/lounge/wardrobe look like that?

We went to the Scala. Didn’t want to pay the entrance fee but hoped it would help me dry off. It did and while I am glad I have seen inside, and how many stage hands there are setting up, it was a rip off. And I would strongly recommend not bothering to go in. Basically, you just get to squash in one of the boxes and look into the the theatre.

Not sure how comfortable the seats are. Four other people get to sit on stools! For a whole Opera!!!

But we did get to play with the statues. How’s my imitation?

Although it was wet and cold, we stopped for a gelato. Mr S pistachio was the best.

Our last stop for the day sightseeing was the castle. Massive. Impressive. But we were so over being wet, we abandoned trying to walk to the gate we saw in the distance.

Interesting brick work, very useful for birds

Pigeons nesting in each of the little alcoves between the bricks

Wet. But not enough rain to fill the massive moat

Luckily our hotel was warm and had plenty of options of English speaking channels.

Restaurant food is not cheap. In one place we were charged a cover charge. The food itself was beyond ordinary. And it cost us – well it doesn’t bare converting to Aussie dollars, but horrendous.

Now we know why Italians were taking the €10 deal of a drink in a plastic cup and a small plastic plate of shitty food (food that the local bowling club used to give free – cheese cubes, bits of bread, a piece of ham). No style in that. Or taste. And what about the environment?

What a city, a country, of contradictions.

Back to the Trimmelbach Falls

As I was saying, Mr S did not want to get off the bus returning from our day up the Alps, to stop at the falls. In his defence, there was a risk the bus would be so crowded we may not get on. Still it wouldn’t take us too long to walk to the train station.

Also in his defence, it had already been a long day.

But we don’t need to do everything together. “OK, you go home. I’m looking at the falls.”

He came with me but said he wasn’t giving the Swiss anymore money. He’d wait for me outside. I paid the 11 francs for us both. And he came in.

It was worth it.

You catch a little lift up inside a mountain and then walk up steps to see different views of the waterfall INSIDE the mountain.

The water comes from the three heightest peaks and glaciers on the Alps. The power! The energy! It is pounding and unbelievably loud.

Mr S agreed it was impressive and worth getting off and paying for the entry.

It’s light outside. Mr S impressed with the forces of nature

We got back on the bus. Yes, it was crowded. I was pushed and shoved and nearly hit in the head with an umbrella.

Two trains brought us back to Interlaken West. Cup of tea time.

The whole day trip up the Schilthorn, including the falls, took us about seven hours.

Mr S says it was one of the best days of our trip. Still, especially given the cost, it is not one we will be repeating.

A Day in the Alps – to the Schithorn

The weather forecast was clearing. But what would it be on the Alps? Everyone wants to go to the highest peak, the Jungfrau. It’s the old Eiffel Tower question. Do you want to go up the tower or have a view which includes the tower?

I wanted to see the peak where one of the Classic James Bond movies was filmed: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. If it was clear, we’d see the highest peak.

The cost settled the decision. 129 francs return to Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn. 200 for the Jungfrau. Each!!! As I said, doesn’t do to convert to Aussie dollars but that’s a shitload of money.

First step is a train ride to Interlaken Ost and then another train which uses cogs at one stage. All good. Next step is a bus.

Now the middle class of China are hitting the tourist trail, it is very crowded. When I was here thirty years ago, Americans were the largest group, with plenty of British, Aussie, Kiwi and European backpackers. But nearly so many people. The gondolas were packed. When you come from a culture that queues, it is quite disconcerting to be amongst large groups who just push and shove.

The bus was packed. People couldn’t get on but somehow they did.

Next step is a gondola. Again packed. Mr S won’t forget his version of manners. Waiting. Allowing others in first. “After you!” I had to re-educate him and have him “Just get on. If you stand aside, you won’t get on.”

Remember how I said Mr S hates queues and crowds? He was getting mighty edgy now. (In fact, I was worried he wouldn’t stay on the bus.)

To get to the top, you have to take four or five gondolas. The gondolas are timed to meet. Straight off one and onto another.

Empty gondola coming down – too early for returning tourists

Looking up from the gondola

Looking down from the gondola

The gondolas going up were all packed but strangely most alighted at the stop before the top and didn’t get off at the last one with us.

Oh, I am so glad we came to the Schilthorn. It was amazing. The clouds had cleared, though we could see them down in the valley. The view was unbelievable. Except to the Jungfrau. It was in cloud. Imagine paying hundreds of dollars to see cloud!!! Other travellers confirmed at dinner that the peak was in clouds so they were advised not to bother taking the last leg up.

At the top, above the clouds

Above the tree line

Looking towards the Jungfrau

We walked around, reading the info panels on people in the Bond movie. The skill and bravery/stupidity of the stuntmen! Now it’d be done with computer graphics.

We walked out the gate, passed the warning sign that alpine dangers are deadly, to the booths along the ridge. On the precipice, the wind picked up. The path was very narrow with stones on either side. If you slipped, you’d slip a long way.

Sitting at the first booth. We went to the furthest one too.

I’m a nervous Nelly. When the clouds looked to be coming in from the Jungfrau, I wanted us to head back to the Bond building. No way would I be caught out on the edge.

We stood in awe of the Alps and played around with the props.

Do da do do the Bond music

The toilets were groovy. Bond girls and Bond. When the doors opened and you washed your hands, different lines from the movie played.

Luckily, we just missed a returning gondola as I found the Bond display which we’d not noticed. Mr S is a huge Bond fan! So we walked through and acted in a few scenes.

The gondola coming up disgorged a mass of people, while ours descending only had half a dozen.

Looking up at Piz Gloria while descending

I asked Mr S if he wanted to get out at the second last stop from the top. He didn’t as he was worried that all those people who just got off the gondola we got on would be returning. There is only one way off the mountain, after all.

But the view was outstanding again. So we missed the connecting gondola while looking straight at the higher peaks. And I’m glad we did miss the connecting gondola. We went on the cliff thrill walk; a walkway attached to the side of the cliff. You walk down stairs to access it. That was scary enough. I didn’t need the glass floor or the rope walk to add to my thrill. Unbelievably, it’s free!

The cliff thrill walk from the gondola as we were leaving. The big handbag like shadow is from our gondola

Walking down stairs forces you to look down. At the drop!

I did manage a few steps on the glass. Enough.

Evidence I did it

Mr S was very brave, taking the rope walk. Nope, not me.

Took the next gondola to Mürren where we had a picnic lunch of cheese and olives bought at the French market, crackers, an apple and Swiss chocolate in the sun. The clouds were just below the town. Mürren is a snow town. It is all holiday accommodation. Most were shut. The summer season is finished and the winter season hasn’t started.

Our bench in the sun. We were lucky. Most benches had signs saying no picnics

The view from our bench

We got off at the next gondola in Grimmelwald. We were now in the cloud and mist. Grimmelwald is a “real” town. The homes were clearly farms. The cat was guarding the honesty shop. A quick walk though and we went back to the gondola.

Barn with bells

Then it’s the big drop to the valley floor of Lauterbrennan. A perfect glacial valley.

The crowds were building and Mr S was getting agitated. I wanted to get off to look at the Trimmelbach Falls which is halfway back to the train station. Mr S demurred. He was worried if we got off, the next bus would be so crowded we’d never get off.

Did we do it? Come back tomorrow to find out.

Interlude in Interlaken

We left our friend’s place and took a direct train to Interlaken for a couple of nights.

The directions to our hotel were simple, except we headed off from the wrong side of the station. (My phone doesn’t work in Switzerland – it’s outside Europe, remember?, and would use all my data.) Luckily, a friendly road construction worker saw us trying to find our way and gave us the directions.

After checking in, we took a walk along the river, which is a strange milky blue colour.

We finally relented and withdrew Swiss francs. We stopped at a bar/restaurant on the busiest corner to drink a beer and people watch. The rain which had been threatening for hours, started. The restaurant wasn’t aimed at us. The menu was in Chinese and Japanese. Just before we left, coach loads of Chinese tourists turned up for their Swiss-style dinner. Time for us to leave.

Dinner for us was Indian. In a little old style cafe joint. Always a good sign if the customers are Indian too. The food was very nice but ohhhh so expensive. It doesn’t do to convert to Aussie dollars.

The next morning, I heard what I thought was a truck rumbling by. No, turns out it was cows being moved in readiness of the coming winter. What a sight! No little tinkling bells for these cows on the move.

We had to finish our perfect day (which I will write about tomorrow) with a Swiss dinner. Fondue, of course. It was delish. And filling.

Outside the restaurant

There’s a bear in there (and horse on the menu). Our dish was meat free

Cheese fondue with bread, pickled onions, gherkins, tomatoes, pears and potatoes

They love their bells

But four days is all we can really afford in Switzerland, two of which we stayed at friend’s. Switzerland is seriously exxy.

Before we headed on our the next stage of our adventure – out to Italy – we took another walk along the river. The sun was out. Who knew there were snow-covered mountains to be seen from the town? And the river water was a different colour! Sunny weather makes such a difference.

Same picture as above. What a difference blue sky makes!

Snow-capped mountains surround Interlaken. The sky was full of parachutes. Even on the cloudy day. How freaky to descend through the clouds!

Going to Switzerland? Time to change one or both of the following: trains and/or currency

To get to our destination in Switzerland, Geneva, we had to catch three trains from Baden Baden, which isn’t the pain it would be in Australia as they are timed to match. The first change was smooth.

Except it almost wasn’t.

We had to get off at Basel. So we did. “Look for platform 14,” I told Mr S, “and quick. We only have 6 minutes to change.”

So we bundled down the steps. No waiting for a lift or looking for a ramp.

“There’s no platform 14!” I cried. “Oh shit, maybe this isn’t the right station.” We check the name. Yes, it is Basel. But hang on we had to get off at Basel SBB and this is Basel Hauptbahnhof.

Quick thinking by Mr S, “We might be able to get back on our train.”

“Is this the platform we came down?”

“Yes!”

So we sprint up, with our luggage in tow.

“Oh no, Brendan. It’s on that platform. We’ve come up the wrong steps!”

“Come on. We can make it.”

So we run down the stairs, with me shouting like the opening of Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Running up the right step of stairs, I spy the conductors casually chatting.

“Entschuldigen, Dieser Zug?” I ask while pointing to my ticket.

The conductor points to the train. We get on. Breathing heavily. And me still swearing.

“Olga would be impressed with my lugging of that bag while running up and down two flights of stairs. Wouldn’t have been able to do it before my PT sessions.”

A fellow traveller smiles, and said she did the same thing the first trip she made, that is, get off at the wrong Basel. What the??? Two Basels! And no warning. No, “Hey, if you want Switzerland, don’t get off here.”

The next two changes were problem free.

The scenery through Switzerland was amazing.

And my heart lifted when our long time friend (we have known him for over 30 years) met us at Geneva. I no longer needed to be the one responsible for all travel.

And we didn’t need cash. Our friend bought us tickets to his suburban station.

Of course we walked to the lake, and chatted over a beer, which our friend shouted us as we had not changed currency.

It was wonderful having someone to talk with, and in our own idiom, let alone English.

A night of rugby World Cup (for the men) and chat (for us all) and champagne (for me) and home cooked dinner ensued.

The next morning we went off to a market in France. Just a short drive away. No need for us to exchange currency.

I had oysters and champagne. I bought cheese and olives and bread and pastries. And bought roast chooks to shout our friend and his family dinner. I LOVE FRANCE. God, the fresh food is divine.

We strolled along the river through the village, Divonne-les-Bains, with Mr S not showing enough care of the pastries. (What wouldn’t most of Australia give for that water!)

On the way “home” from the markets our friend took us past the major Geneva sights. As important as UN and WHO are, their buildings aren’t inspiring. It reminds me of Canberra. Right down to the water spout.

That afternoon we went to a local dairy farm. The farmer sells milk and yoghurt from the door while the cows are being milked. As cows have to be milked twice a day, the “shop” is open every day – at milking time. You can’t get more fresh than milk still warm! The bottles cost 2 Swiss Francs but you refill them and only pay 2 francs. No waste. The farmer also sells yoghurt. Same deal. Return the jars and pay less.

Cows munching

Where’s there are cows, there’s plenty of this, especially if they are kept indoors. A pungent mix

Looking towards the Jura Mountains (aren’t you impressed with my geographic knowledge but I didn’t really know, my friend told me) from the road along the farm

Happy farm cat

You know it’s not a myth that Swiss cows wear bells.

Baden Baden: are we still in Germany?

Baden Baden (henceforth I will just call it BB) has a very different feel to the other places we visited.

We couldn’t quite put our finger on it at first.

Yes, the architecture is very different.

View from our balcony

Along the river

Private bridge across the river

More flash hotels

Across the roof tops

Maybe it was because we were so close to France, that drivers didn’t respect pedestrian crossings? We only needed to look like we were crossing a crossing and cars would stop everywhere else. Here, I was nearly run down while on a crossing. Twice. Cars were beeping and aggressively driving in joint pedestrian and car zones. Quite dangerously and scarily. We had to scoot up a shop entrance. This is not how Germans drive.

And the Roman ruins shut for a couple of hours over lunch? That’s quite French. So we only got to peek through the windows and look at the displays outside.

How also to account for the makeup and glam clothing – heels, dresses, legs in stockings, flash coats – and coiffed hair? Germans tend to dress sensibly – heels are stupid on cobblestones and skirts keep no one warm – and what’s the point of makeup? Blue jeans and parkas is the uniform everywhere else.

And all the designer shops? Maybe it was because of the casino? Gamblers do like to splurge when they win.

Then it hit us.

They weren’t Germans. The town has a very large number of Russians. They’ve been coming to BB for centuries. And with them has followed quite a few Eastern Europeans.

The advertising shows who they see as their customers. Hadn’t seen any Russian script in any other place.

It was good to see German orderliness asserting itself with the sign listing all the things you cannot do while walking along the Lichtentaler Allee, which seems to include walking your dog in high heels and a dress.

The river is a fine example of German nature too. All paved and manicured and clean. Even the ducks swam in lines. Unfortunately my photos of the orderly ducks didn’t come out.

The gardens were beautiful.

BB is lovely but expensive. Worth a quick visit if you don’t have a car to explore the Black Forest. Two nights was enough.

We left early in the morning for our next country – Switzerland.

Fairy tale land part 2

The Harz is full of gorgeous little towns or large villages.

I picked the one we stayed in as it was close to the steam train, and the advice was to go early or the crowds would be horrendous. (Advice we clearly didn’t follow.) Staying in Wernigerode meant we didn’t have to travel for 30 to 45 minutes from one of the other towns to get to the steam train.

We did a day visiting the other “must see” towns. We bought the local region train day pass. With two of us it was great value. I can’t remember exactly – details, details – but much, much cheaper than if we’d bought individual tickets.

Goslar was the one I was originally going to stay at – being slightly bigger I thought we’d have more options to eat and people watch. It was pretty but just big enough to have the chain stores you see everywhere. And looking in those stores does nothing for me.

We quickly walked around Goslar, ooed and ahed, and hopped on the train for Quedlinburg.

Quedlinburg is one of those places that you just walk around slack jawed. It was Amazing with a capital A, actually let’s give it all capitals. AMAZING!

Street after street of just WOW.

The oldest house. They started with the wood in vertical position. I think this one is 1,000 years old
Not the horizontal wood pieces
The two houses are somehow falling apart
One of many atmospheric alleys
Another alley, with one house leaning into the alley
The Rathaus
Pretty in pink
Steps to ???
Centre square, people enjoying cake, ice cream and drinks
Including us!

The train trips to both towns passes through open farm land, and many, many huge factories. It seemed strange to have farms on one side of the train and factories on the other. As an indication of how BIG is big, look at this video.

All aboard

I like mixing in some touristy things with just hanging out. One of the things I planned to do was take a steam train ride up the Brocken, the highest peak in northern Germany, in the Harz, and where the witches meet to have their annual “mass” on Walpurgisnacht.

How touristy is a train ride that serves no purpose except to have a day trip full of tourists?

I’ll tell you. Very touristy.

And I loved it.

The morning trains were absolutely packed. Mr S hates crowds. He hates waiting. He hates queuing. (So we’ll never come to Europe in summer.)

We had a little blue (Aussie term for a fight) and went back into the centre of the village.

We returned for the afternoon train trip. It was no longer crowded but it also wasn’t a steam train. A diesel locomotive pulled us up the mountain. Not as atmospheric but the views were lovely – changing landscape, forests, and autumn leaves falling – and interesting – so many of the trees were dead in large swaths.

As well as being touristy, I learnt quite a bit. Turns out Walpurgisnacht is not just about witches. Walpurgis was an English female saint who brought Christianity to the heathens of this area of Germany. Worthy of more reading. (And maybe her name was pronounced with a W, not the German way with a V?)

The Brocken was in East German. At the top, is the former listening post of the Stassi. (Of course the good people of the West didn’t snoop or spy.) Little evidence of supernatural witches.

The walking paths were packed. I love how Germans get away from the crowds in the city to walk with crowds in nature. I couldn’t believe how many people were there. Busy as Pitt Street mall. Mr S says nature is an interesting concept in Germany. It is man made, tree plantations; not natural growth.

At the top we had a beer and people watched. And watched a helicopter circle around us and land, imagining we were in a spy triller.

The crowds waiting for the return train were heavy. Mr S was all for having another beer and catching the next train. I held my ground. And am glad I did.

The train we caught was a steam train. Yay!!!! We passed the next train on the way down. If Mr S had his way we would have caught another diesel.

What else did I learn?

I finally saw how the water refill for steam trains is done. I have seen old water refill stations along train lines in the past. Now I know. It swings around and takes two people to hook up and turn on.

I also learnt German sense of health and safety and personal responsibility is so different from ours. And the British.

Just before we went on the train there was a sad news item on the BBC about a young woman who stuck her head out of a train and died from the injuries. The family’s lawyers argued that the caution sign was in same font as other caution notices. And somehow implied that it may not result in a serious incident. Similarly, there was a death in Australia recently when a man was playing chicken with friends and stuck his head in path of a train coming into the platform.

Having to do risk assessments for my work, I have been with lawyers and bureaucrats who say, it is to be expected that people, especially young people, will do X, Y and Z, such as walk into train tracks, so we need to put up signs and barriers and locks.

I don’t know anything about German law. Maybe they are less litigious? Maybe they think some things are commonsense. Maybe it’s like, do you know what tracks are? And trains? And you know what happens if the train hits you? So if you know that, take care. Why would you stick your head out of the train?

There were no warning signs inside the steam train at all! And the steam train shares a path with cars, bikes and pedestrians and goes right alongside houses.

See the entrances to the houses? There are also driveway entrances here. Single lane road with cars and people AND the train.

And we could stand right behind the steam locomotive. Outside. With only little steel rails holding us back. I watched from inside as the locomotive backed up and connected to the carriages. No way would they let that happen with people centimetres from the engine.

And we could stand there as we zoomed down the mountain.

It was awesome.

As a PS to different health and safety rules: Do you remember the goat track Mr S and I scrambled down after ascending a cable car at the Rhein? And here’s train lines with no fence:

See! No fence between road and train lines as viewed from our apartment in Koblenz

Fairy tale land

Thirty years ago, I was in Germany, staying with my mother’s cousin. She was going on a day coach trip to the Harz mountains. I went along, as did Albert, the son of my mother’s cousin.

Sitting on the coach, the average age of most of the day trippers was probably 80. I was in my early 20s, as was Albert. There was much whispering between Albert and his mother and next thing I knew it had been decided that I would probably rather spend the day exploring with Albert by car than on a coach with elderly day trippers. So we alighted and had a day driving around. I don’t remember much more of that day except Albert tried to teach me to drive his manual car. Manual and on the wrong side of the road!

I was fine until we hit a roundabout. Bloody hell. Which way??? Straight up onto the footpath was my answer.

I always wondered what I missed out on by not going on the coach trip.

When I was researching places to visit for this trip, I found a number of Harz villages and small towns on list of the most beautiful villages in Germany. Further research suggested that there are few English speaking tourists in this area and quite a few local people do not speak English.

So the Harz made it on my itinerary.

And I am so glad it did.

Our apartment was in the pedestrian zone of Wernigerode, a beautiful village that was full of German daytrippers enjoying ice creams and beers and wine and food while sunning themselves in the town square. Ah!!! That’s what I missed thirty years ago.

The Rathaus 🐀

The Rathaus has all manner of carvings, including types of workers of the area. Apparently some of carvings earnt the ire of the good town leaders.

Towering over the village is the Schloss, as it should be. From its vantage position the nobility can look down on the peasants.

Looking eerily haunting in the dark sky

Many of the buildings were heavily decorated.

Built in 1674

Used to be a blacksmith. Hence the decorations.

Now a museum. Was a mill. The water affected the foundations and so the leaning

At night, the narrow streets lined with half-timbered houses look like something out of a Harry Potter movie.

I saw quite a few birds of prey – falcons I think. Most exciting of all when walking through the town was one falcon that was wheeling over the top of us and calling out. Unlike a sound I have heard before.

The first night we were there was Sunday night and all the restaurants on the main streets were full – no table if you hadn’t reserved. So we ate takeaway. Can’t imagine what it is like in summer!

The next night we found an “Asian” restaurant – it had Japanese, Chinese, Thai and a few other south-east Asian meals. We were very pleasantly surprised. As well as being a quarter of the cost of all the German restaurants, the food was delish! So to the surprise of the restaurant owners, we came back the next night. The final night we ate at another Asian restaurant – not as good but still better than paying $$$$ for sausages and mash.

My desire to go to German places off the usual foreign tourist route doesn’t really extend to eating German dinners every night!

Haven’t finished with the Harz. I will have two more posts on our adventure here.

Getting around – train vs car

Just over two years ago, I was certain that hiring a car was the way to go for our upcoming tour of France. I wanted to do a back roads tour, mix it up with medium-sized towns.

Two years ago, I knew I hated having a hire car. The narrow streets. The different road rules. The having to be navigator and reminder of Mr S to stay on the “right” side of the road. (OK, I was sure I could drive. Until we got to France. And then I knew I had to navigate. Mr S is hopeless at it. He doesn’t concentrate. Won’t read the maps. Doesn’t plan. Truth is I also freaked about being on the wrong side.) Trying to find a parking spot. The narrowness of the parking spots. (Once the spot was so narrow, we could only open one door when parked and had to lift the luggage over the top of the massive diesel car!)

So for this trip, I knew we would not go by car. The only down side has been getting around in the north-west to find my family’s family farm.

Luckily, Germany’s train system is all it is cracked up to be. Efficient. Clean. Goes everywhere with connections that mean little waiting. Letting you know if the train is late and precision in giving the lateness. Mostly very clear announcements. Announcements in English on the IC.

We’ve zigzagged across the countryside.

There are few English-speaking tourists in the Harz. I picked it because it’s not on the common tourist trail. So when a German asked me in English, “How did we get to the Harz?” I answered, “By train.”

Turns out he meant, why did we pick it. Why here? How did we know about it!

“I wanted to come to a beautiful place where there are no English-speaking tourists.”

“Ah, so no Berlin. No Munich.”

“No.”

And the beauty of the German train network is, it is not centralised. So you do not have to go back to a capital and then out again.

To get to Wernigerode from the tiny town we were at took four trains. But with little wait time between connections. Everything ran smoothly. A two carriage local train, an Intercity, a local train, a very small local train. (The last local train were more spacious, cleaner and newer than the IC!!!)

I love not having to worry about:

  • narrow lanes
  • finding parking
  • damage to the car
  • having to pay excessive excess
  • staying on the wrong side of the road
  • filling up with petrol, and all the different rules with that

And I love not paying for a day’s car hire when all the car is doing is sitting in a parking spot while we spend several days in each town.

We arrive from our train travel fresh. After a day’s travel in the car in France, I was buggered from all the mental and emotional energy.

We would have struggled to get to some of the places we did in France without a car, would have missed others altogether; certainly a car gives you greater freedom of movement. But the freedom from stress and cost of hiring a car in Germany (which was going to be much more expensive than France) has certainly outweighed any of the positives of having a car.

I compared all the different train ticket types and for us it was cheaper to buy some tickets in advance without a travel card discount and for some days to buy state-wide after 9am travel passes as a couple.

We’ve both appreciated the largely relaxed travel that train travel has given us.

What’s your preference when travelling in another country? Hire car? Train? Plane?