A Travellerspoint blog

Bremen

rain 22 °C
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After a night on the train it was good to stretch the legs, and after putting the packs in a locker we went for a wander. After some Maccas for breakfast we wandered down to the river and had a quick look. Not much to see here, lets move along then. We headed to the gardens and wandered around most of the way back to the station. On the way we dropped into a few shops and generally cruised. After getting some healthy Burger King and Subway for breakfast we got on the tram to head to the airport at around 1pm.

After finding the RyanAir section of the terminal we checked in and wandered through security, after confirming that Tim was neither a drug courier or bomb carrier we were allowed to wait for the plane.

Joining the queue for check in we stood for about 1 hour before finally our plane arrived 30 minutes late. After patiently waiting we were fuming when we finally got our seat, after the worst organised check in we've ever seen. People that walked straight past the queue and to the check in desk, pushing in, were served, and then after having us line up in gates , all the ropes were dropped and it was just a mass of people that swarmed toward the plane... ridiculous.

It's a short hop over to Oslo, and about 1 hour later we were walking through customs in Norway :)

Posted by timnz 12:00 Archived in Germany Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Brussels

sunny 28 °C
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After a relaxing train ride from Cologne we arrived at Brussels Nord Station at 5pm. We headed down stairs from the platform and into a wall of people heading toward us, yip we were at the main station for the business district of Belgium and it seemed that the contents of all the shiny office blocks had just been told to go home. After battling through the oncoming traffic we managed to push through the exit doors and into the sunshine outside.

After a quick look at the map and feeling confident we headed off down a quiet street, it looked like a short cut on the map, and luckily it put us just where we needed to be. After about 10 minutes we where inside the hostel thankful for the airconditioning. After changing into shorts we went for a wander to grab some dinner then headed back to the hostel. After checking emails etc we had an early night.

Woke up after a nights sleep in probably the hottest room we've ever slept in, after having a shower to rinse off the dripping sweat we packed our bags and struck out for the Midi Station. Contrary to how it sounds this is actually the southern station (the Dutch version Sud Stat makes more sense). We hopped of the tram at the station and put our packs into a locker then sat down for some breakfast.

We had a map from the hostel that had a list of all the good things to check out, so heading out from the station we wandered in the direction of the 'Flea Market' apparently a not to be missed destination. Arriving at what looked to be a rubbish dump full off dirty,broken,dusty household items neatly laid out on the ground we wondered what all the fuss was about... It most definitely deserved the title 'Flea' market as that would be about all that you'd get there...

After beating a retreat down streets with plenty of curious stares from the locals opening up shop for the day, and slightly wary of the value of the 'must see' places on the map we decided to head toward a Brewery Museum that wasn't too far away (luckily for us Brussels is a perfect city to explore on foot, its flat and pretty compact). Following the map we arrived where the brewery was supposed to be; and saw a big area where a building had been demolished... Looking around, and seeing nothing promising we wandered a block up the street looking for where the place might be. It was only on our way back to the station after giving up hope of finding the place that we spotted a sign down a side street. The museum turned out to be a working brewery, not a normal brewery, but a 'Lambic' brewery. The difference turned out to be the way in which the beer is fermented. Lambic beer undergoes 'Spontaneous Fermentation' which means that the yeast that cause the fermentation process are introduced by exposing the 'wort' or liquid left after boiling water with wheat and malted barley to the air. This happens in a big open bath under the eaves, and the special yeasts fall into the liquid and begin the process. It just so happens that the most 'special' of these yeasts comes from the river that has been capped and flows underneath Brussels, and that that capped river was for many years Brussels main sewer :) The beer produced at this little brewery is now the only commercial beer in the world left being produced using this method of fermentation, also they stick to tradition in not adding any sugar or preservatives to the beer, so when you taste it its very bitter, even sour... but really refreshing and different!

After tasting the plain Lambic beer, which is a mix of three different years batches we got to try the Raspberry Kirch, or Raspberry infused Lambic, this is made by putting 150kgs of raspberries into 1000L of Lambic and leaving them to steep for 6 months... as you can imagine its pretty fruity, but really good, more like a wine that a beer.

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After the brewery we headed to a Viatnamese restaurant for lunch, on recommendation of the map. Had an awesome feed for not too much and then headed off for the Grand Place, or Brussels main old town square. On the way we dropped by the statue of Manneken Pis, a statue of a little boy taking a wee... Its apparently the 3rd actual statue as the others have been nicked. The reason for the statue seems to be that once long ago a little boy peed on a fire, putting it out and saving the city... Brussels has this civic pride in being a city of strange/quirky things, they say that they like having things for no reason.... such as the live size horse drinking a cup of coffee at one of the tables where we had breakfast, and the massive speaking horn on a street that you could go and address the non existant masses from. Oh well if it makes them feel good i guess its all good, seems kind of desperate though...

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After Manneken we walked up the street to the Grand Place and had a look at that, this is probably one of the nicest town squares we've been to, there is a whole row of old Guild Houses that belong to the various guilds that used to control the trades in town, each of the buildings has ornamentation that relates to the occupation. After a bit we headed in the direction of Belgium's Comic Book museum.

We almost made it to the museum without getting wet, up until then it had been a beautiful sunny day and really hot, but about 100m from the museum the sky opened and a huge downpour hit us, as we must have been boy scouts in previous lives we were prepared, and whipped out the priceless umbrellas :) We payed the exorbitant entry fee for the museum and wandered around with a book translating the information panels into English. Unfortunately the endless comic strips themselves had no English translation and we kind of missed most of the content of the museum... oh well...

We headed back out and decided to head toward the station to wait for the night train, after dodging more torrential rain with our trusty umbrellas, we got back to the station in time to grab some dinner.

After a long wait for 11:40 to roll around we were finally boarding the train. Hopping onto the car that we had a reservation in, we were hit by a stench of unwashed human... and then found that the culprit was occupying our reserved seats... retching, we quickly scouted out the only unreserved compartment on the train and swiftly closed the door, drew the curtains and stretched out on the seats. (Some trains here have a car which is made up of 3 x 3 seat compartments. Normally you sit in an uncomfortable silence as you face someone whose previously personal compartment you have just invaded, but at night you can pinch all 3 seats on one side and stretch out :) ) We had a pretty good sleep that night, and woke up in time to be ready to get off in Bremen at 5:54am... as we drew up at the station we saw that the sign said Munster, and a flicker of doubt made us check the map...to find out that Munster was about 1/2 of Germany away from Bremen...a quick check with an oncoming conductor informed us that the train was almost 1.5 hours late! Sweet! that meant that we would get to Bremen at a much more sensible time :)

Posted by timnz 10:34 Archived in Belgium Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cologne

sunny 27 °C
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We had a only slightly unintentional sleep in, and had a quick breakfast before heading out to go and visit the Dom. The hostel had a 12pm check out so we left our bags there so we didn't have to pay for a locker at the station.

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The Dom is an absolutely massive structure, it stands directly over the station. As soon as you come out of the doors you can't help but see this huge building, it is apparently the largest Baroque building in the world and there'd be no point in arguing. The whole thing is covered in carved crazy faces and big arches etc, and the whole lot is covered in a layer of grime that makes it all look black :)

Inside your eyes get pulled upwards by the towering columns, even though they are really thick they give the impression of being quite delicate by the way they are shaped from a whole lot of thinner columns. There are massive stained glass windows which a really colourful with the light streaming through, and theres not anybody yelling and telling you to be quite :)

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After wandering around down on the floor of the church we found the entrance to the stairs heading up to the belfry, after climbing a tiny spiral staircase that seemed to go on forever we arrived at a platform which another normal staircase had been built on which took us straight up and on to the top of one of the cathedrals needle like spires, the view was pretty good, fairly similar to the view off the top of the Reichstag actually. After negotiating an even thinner staircase spiralling down from the very top we made it back to the platform and headed back down the wider staircase, dropping in to see the bells hanging in the belfry on the way back down to ground level.

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After grabbing the bags from the hostel and heading to the station we had got some lunch from in the station and went and sat in the sun on the steps in front of the Dom.

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Jumped on the train at 2:45 and arrived in Brussels just a couple of hours later :)

Posted by timnz 13:02 Archived in Germany Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Crusing the Rhine

From Mainz to Koblenz

semi-overcast 27 °C
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Didn't get long to sleep in Heidelberg and we were up at the crack of dawn, we caught a bus back to the station, and yes this time we ended up in the place we had planned to :) After a short wait we were on our way to Mainz, and 45 minutes later we jumped off the train. After getting our bearings, well just getting a general idea which direction the Rhine was in, we took off in the direction of the cruise boat. We had 30 minutes to get there otherwise we'd have missed the only departure of the day...
With a last minute run we made it with only minutes to spare and climbed aboard.

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To begin with the boat headed downstream past the industrial and cargo areas of the river, (there are more boats ferrying cargo along the Rhine than cruise boats) and after about an hour we reached the area of the river known as the Rhine Gorge. It is this area that has got UNESCO world heritage status.

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As soon as you enter the gorge the castles on the hillsides begin, there seems to be one on every outcrop and in between there are little villages that have intricate churches that would seem to be able to house the whole population :)

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Around 2pm we arrived in Koblenz which is the end of the Rhine gorge and the heritage area, though we had planned to stay on board all the way to Cologne (arriving at 8:20pm) we hopped off and walked around until we found the train station so we could catch a train to Cologne and beat the boat there by 4 hours. After a quick trip on the train we found the hostel really easily 'cause it was only a block from the station. We checked in, went and grabbed some supplies from the supermarket down the street, had a quick dinner and went to bed early :)

Posted by timnz 12:31 Archived in Germany Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Heidelberg

or was that Geneva???

semi-overcast 28 °C
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After Jo had had no luck trying to talk to the French speaking girl at the pharmacy we decided to go to the information office and ask them if they could call for us, after finding someone that was fluent in French in the German speaking part of Switzerland we found out that in fact Jo had chosen the most expensive hair clip ever produced (well almost, apparently they had one twice the price) and that infact the price was right... but we could return the clip and they would refund the money.... but we were in Luzern with a train heading to Heidelberg... The lady in the office was extremely apologetic, repeating that 'this is not Switzerland'. We had about 5 minutes to get on the train to Offen (we had a 3 step train journey to Heidelberg) so jumped aboard with the Eurail timetable in our hands. After some quick calculations and a helpful conductor on the train we found that we could jump on a train from Olten heading to Bern and then change again for Geneva, yip we were going back!!!!!! half way across the country in the completely opposite direction to where we had a hostel booked, but we had a plan :), well more of a work in progress... After several tight connections (1min and then 3 minutes to change platforms) we miraculously arrived in Geneva earlier than planned, 2:10pm. After running into the ticket office and confirming that we could get a 3:14pm train leaving us in Heidelberg at 8:45pm after 3 changes we ran down to the pharmacy, Jo plead her case and got her money back. Relieved and with Jo's pocket heavier we wandered back to the station, changed the newly aquired Francs to Euros and jumped aboard the ICE headed for Basel.

What a day.

But it wasn't to end there, our instruction for getting to the hostel in Heidelberg left a lot to be desired. We climbed aboard the bus that we were told to take and about 25minutes later found ourselves at the end of the line, in the middle of nowhere... After talking to the driver in School Cert German we found that we needed to get a tram that arrived in about 20 minutes, and that that would put us back in the general area that we needed... about 1/2 way between the train station and the hostel... so after walking that distance to the hostel we found that our 'room' was infact back down the way we had just walked, about 5 blocks... So wandering around Heidelberg around 11pm at night, with heavy packs we finally found our room and quickly showered and hopped into bed... as we had to get a train at 7:20am the next day and we didn't know which bus to catch we set the alarm for 5:45am... only 5 hours later. :(

So our day had consisted of:

Train, Luzern - Olten
Train, Olten - Bern
Train, Bern - Geneva

Train, Geneva - Basel
Train, Basel - Mannheim
Train, Mannheim - Heidelberg
Bus, Heidelberg HBF - Middle of nowhere
Tram, Middle of nowhere - Bismarkplatz (middle of Heidelberg)
Walk, Bismarkplatz - 'Hostel'
Walk, 'Hostel' - Room

What a day :)

Posted by timnz 13:23 Archived in Switzerland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Luzern

rain 26 °C
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Got the train down to Chur from St Moritz in the morning, this is the same line as the Glacier Express had come up, but this time in a regional train car. Was good 'cause we could put the windows down to take pictures and avoid the terrible reflections that we had on all pictures on the day earlier.

From Chur down to Luzern we headed down a big valley, was just like heading down the Eglington Valley toward Te Anau, except that there were villages everywhere and big industrial building every now and again. Went past a few large lakes that were absolutely covered in boats and had one more train change to make to get into Luzern.

Arrived Luzern and Jo went and bought a phone card to try and call the pharmacy in Geneva (Sunday though so no luck). After heading outside the weather had taken a turn for the worse and was about to rain (30minutes earlier was scorching sun). Putting the Eurail passes to good use, we climbed aboard a short return lake cruise on Lake Luzern. This was meant to stop us from being caught in the rain, however just as we were about to get off the heavens opened and was wetter than ever for our walk to the hostel. Deciding the discression was the better part of valour we caught the bus to the hostel. After going for a walk along the side of the Rotsee and into town we grabbed some dinner and found a much faster way back to the hostel than the way we'd come. We decided to walk back to the station the next morning and as it was Monday we wanted to call the pharmacy in Geneva.

Posted by timnz 13:01 Archived in Switzerland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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