Month: June 2015

New Horizons: Wernigerode to London Paddington

Reflecting on the Eurostar

Reflecting on the Eurostar

Saturday 13th June
As we left the accommodation we made one final journey to Wernigerode station. We watched a train depart and then I said my goodbyes to dad and Jenny. It had only felt like a few days and was hard to believe it had been a week. I’d have loved to have stayed and explored more of Saxony especially Dresden with them and I know I’ll feel slightly envious when I hear how the rest of the trip went.

I sat on Wernigerode station and my train to Goslar arrived and left exactly at the scheduled time of 11.20. During May railway staff had been on strike however luckily they were currently in mediation which meant there couldn’t be a strike until the second week of June and I wouldn’t be affected.

My internet booking told me what platforms I needed and which I’d arrive on so when I arrived at Goslar (on time) I saw I had an easy change from platform 5 to 4.  I was well aware a delay on this stage would be unrecoverable so I was thankful it was as easy I’d anticipated.

In the UK a 9 minute transfer would have been tight and risky if not reckless especially as bookings do not state in advance which platform a train departs from so you are entirely at the mercy of Sods Law. I’m sure this information could be provided and if not it really begs the question why. Is there really no routine to which platform a long distance train will arrive and depart from and does our network therfore run on organised chaos and chance? When it comes to trains in my recent experience Germany wins handsomely.

The train to Hannover was also on time and quite empty. I was pleasantly surprised to note there was an electric socket so I could add a bit of juice to my tablet which still had to last another 10 hours. I had a break from writing and had some of my lunch and snacks. I finally finished off the pretzels I brought enroute to Wernigerode and which had served me well for 5 days when I’d been peckish. I don’t normally opt for pretzels, in fact I never have and I don’t really know why I had on this occasion but they had certainly done what was required.

At Hannover I had no difficulty finding the platform but felt more anxious than on the previous journeys. On the regional trains I hadn’t had a seat reservation and could sit anywhere as they were relatively empty however for my train to Koln I did have a seat reservation and the platform was heaving. Whilst I understood in theory which carriage (32) and seat (window 62) I had reserved when the train came in I had no idea where to actually go as there were no numbers on the side. All I knew was to stay in the back half because it appeared the front was going to Dusseldorf.

Luckily the station porter was able to explain and I made my way to the second to last carriage. It was chaos on the inside with suitcases everywhere and people that had got on the wrong carriage blocking the path as they stood confused looking at boards. Eventually I was able to make my way to my seat and as a bonus it was by the luggage rack.

Someone was in my seat so I took theirs because I wasn’t overly fussed about being by the window and they’d taken their shoes off and clearly made themselves at home. I wrote a bit of my blog before slowly dozing off and I woke up with a start realising the guy next to me was standing on his seat trying to check his bag. I offered to get out but he refused and so I dozed off again.

By the time we arrived at Hagen Hbf (station) we were running slightly late though I wasn’t overly concerned as I had 30 minutes before my train to Brussels from Koln. As we approached Wuppertal I looked out for the schwebebahn and whilst I saw the route briefly outside the window opposite I didn’t catch a final glimpse of any of the trains.

When we finally arrived in Koln we were over 10 minutes. I couldn’t see an information board showing my train to Brussels but thankfully found an information desk. Ironically the platform I needed was the one I’d just come down from so I made my way back up. This time I found my carriage straight away as they were more clearly labelled and took my seat by the window which had a electric socket.

The German trains had been fine but the Thayls which wasn’t run by DB somewhat predictably ground to a halt 15 minutes outside of Achen with an accompanying announcement stating “no further information about this delay is available”. It was slightly unnerving when we had stopped but I knew whilst I had to check in 30 minutes before departure I had allowed an additional 50 minutes just in case. When there was finally an announcement in a mixture of French and broken English I became slightly concerned when I thought it said the delay would be 50 minutes due to the line being closed. However fortunately shortly after we left and I realised it had probably said 15 minutes.

I had relied on 5 train changes but as I pulled in to Brussels I knew I was well and truly homeward bound. I had been on the train for just over 7 hours and 30 minutes and the fact I was only 18 minutes late didn’t seem that bad. As I made my way to the Eurostar I debated in my head which language I should say hello. By now I was quite used to attempting to speak German but I was in Belgium with a arrow ahead clearly saying “To the UK”. I decided on a cheery bonjour and in a rather surreal way they replied ‘Ello in a typical friendly cockney accent.

At baggage control I got overtaken by a group of over excited adults of my parents generation as I calmly ensured I’d removed everything that would cause the machine to bleep. Not heeding my actions they then delayed everyone behind as each one caused it to bleep and for bags to be taken to one side. They received a glare and a tut off me, not that I was in any hurry but it was the principle.

I still remember when I travelled on the Eurostar to Waterloo from Paris on my first and only journey in the late 1990s and how modern it felt. The first thing I noticed this time more than 15 years later is how much the carriage I was on had aged. I suppose I had been spoilt by the larger German trains but I was amazed at the lack of leg room and space. I’d booked my tickets quite late and I was probably lucky to even get a seat considering the Brussels to London train isn’t that frequent but for the price I’d paid I expected more than what the carriage offered (not even an electric plug). A refreshing complimentary glass of champagne in a gold goblet would have gone some way to making amends but I assume this isn’t available to cattle class.

I caught up with my blog and contemplated reading my new book but in the end I decided to relax with my music. It had been quite a hectic build up to the holiday as I’d left my home of 5 years the week before and moved to a new flat share in Balham. I hadn’t seen much of my new housemates in my first week and as I entered the tunnel I knew I was quite excited to properly be starting my next chapter in London. Recently I have met some great mutual friends that share my sense of adventure. Unfortunately one of them is due back to the ‘Land Down Under’ soon and all it’s done is reinforced my belief you just have to make the most of life’s experiences whilst you can.

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All or Nothing: The Harz Region

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One of the steam engines approaches the top of the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz region

Monday 8th June
As we travelled from Goslar to Wernigerode we caught our first proper glimpse of the Brocken. The Brocken is the tallest mountain in the Harz region and besides its height is unmistakable due to the antenna placed on top by the soviets in the cold war when the region fell under East Germany so they could use it as a listening point.

We arrived in Wernigerode however the one way system was slightly tough to navigate. Whilst “Tina” held her nerve I lost mine and misunderstanding the instructions caused us to take a 5 minute detour. Eventually we arrived at our self catering accommodation and collected the keys off the owner who showed us around. We then walked to the Lidl across the road where we picked up sandwich supplies and food for a couple of dinners.

As we’d had a big lunch we had a quick bite to eat before I got my first opportunity to explore Wernigerode. For about 4 years my camera and I have been inseparable when on holiday because you never know when you will have an opportunity to snap the elusive “perfect” picture. Not everyone has that mentality, I have at least one good friend that is the total opposite and he tells me to take a photo with my eyes. As it was I made a conscious decision to leave my camera behind and as soon as we entered the market square I felt a sickening feeling of regret.

The “Rathaus” (town hall) was beautifully lit up by the sun which was slowly setting creating pinkish clouds in the horizon. We carried on the walk around the town and caught our first glimpse of the famous Harz Mountain Railway which we planned to use to explore the region over the following 4 days. Whilst I knew I would have ample opportunities to photograph the steam engines making the trip up to the Brocken I still felt mildly irritated at myself for missing the first opportunity.

It seemed a pleasant though quiet town and after passing through the centre we saw the “West Gate” of the old towns fortifications before continuing towards the smallest house (kleinist haus) where just around the corner there was a fantastic view of the castle (Schloss). Having walked around the town it seemed a good opportunity to find a beer house and we eventually settled on one where I had a Hasseroder schwarz-dunkel (stout).

That evening I noticed a framed newspaper cutting on the place we were staying. Whilst Google translate struggled to work it all out it appeared we were staying in a building with plenty of history and which had been a hospital at one point. Unfortunately all this caused my imagination to work in over drive so when my bed side light flickered (probably due to a dodgy wire) I immediately assumed my room was haunted.

Tuesday 9th June
I woke up earlier than planned the following morning perhaps because I was eager to start the day and explore an area my dad and Jenny had told me a lot about from a previous holiday. Dad and I walked to Wernigerode station and I was very impressed when he was able to speak to the person at the ticket office in German. Having brought a pass to last us 3 consecutive days we returned to the house and with Jenny walked back through town.

The Market Square was much more active than the previous night and there were a number of different market stands. We heard a distant whistle and the road barriers come down so we watched another train departing for the Brocken before walking back to the station. It was finally our chance to have a ride behind the steam engine and our plan was to travel from Wernigerode in the Northern Hartz region to Nordhausen in the south. The distance was about 60km however the journey there and back including a few hours to explore would take most of the day.

The train wasn’t as busy as I had expected considering it was the only one of the day where an easy connection to Nordhausen was possible. Whilst we were technically sat together I spent most of the time on the balcony taking in the views and dodging smuts thrown out from the locomotive as it powerered up the hillside towards Drei Annen Hohne. I am used to the little narrow guage trains of North Wales which are painted in different colours, have names like ‘Prince’, ‘Welsh Pony’, ‘Dolgoch’ and ‘The Earl’, look like models due to the way the Welsh mountains tower over them and therefore in my opinion have a certain romantic charm about them.

The German stereotype is to strive for efficiency and it is no surprise the engines follow that trend and regardless of type all the engines are black with perhaps a bit of red on the wheels. Even the oldest don’t have names and are referred to solely by number which also designates how useful it is. Whilst the engine that hauled us was both powerful and practical it didn’t have the same Welsh charm but it did make a fantastic sound and from a technical point of view it was probably a train enthusiasts dream.

The technical information is lost on me despite my love of fire and coal which it appears I’ve had from before I can really remember. My interest really came to the fore when half way up Mount Snowdon I burst in to tears and no matter what my parents did I wouldn’t stop until at the summit I suddenly went silent. I was certainly under 4 but still clearly remember the experience as do they as I believe I was often quite placid. We had been taken to the top by a evil diesel (reference to Thomas the Tank Engine which I was obsessed with as a child) but at the summit I’d seen a steam engine.

Back to the Harz where at Drei Annen Hohne our engine was taken off to take a train up the Brocken. The engine that had been at the back of that train was then transferred to the front of ours. It looked identical and I may not have noticed had it not been pointing a different way. It was also at Drei Annen Hohne that the few people that were on our carriage got off to transfer to the train going to the Brocken.

We carried on up the line and I carried on standing on the balcony until we reached a station called Ilfeld which I later realised was the settlement on the edge of the Harz. We didn’t have time to explore and instead immediately boarded a diesel railcar to Niedersachswerfen Ost. We were the only passengers and may have accidentally upset our driver when we tried to ask (in German) if we were going in the right direction.

Once we arrived in Niedersachswerfen Ost we had just over 30 minutes to walk around though it was pretty small with little to interest tourists and everything including the entrance to the station appeared closed. Having walked up to a church we returned and boarded a modern looking tram to Nordhausen. This was fairly busy however it was apparent most were locals and we were the only tourists exploring this stretch of the line.

With a few hours to spare we found a cafe where I had a refreshing Wernegrunger Pils. Refuelled we walked from the lower Stadt to the “Alt Stadt?” (Old town) at the top of the hill. Tragically in April 1945 20% of the towns population were injured or killed in an air raid attack and most of the old town was destroyed as a result. There were a few nice buildings including the Rathaus (town house). Ironically the oldest building was a church from 900AD which I’d initially I’d dismissed it as a point of interest because it looked fairly modern.

We returned back to the tram station and saw a steam engine arrive at Nordhausen Nord the official end of the Harz as our tram back to Niedersachswerfen Ost arrived. We thought we’d have to change again at Ilfeld but instead the driver (the same one from earlier) confirmed the railcar would took us all the way back to Wernigerode. We had pretty much the entire carriage to ourselves and whilst we mostly sat behind the driver it was a long journey so I did occasionally walk to the back as it had an observation window which provided great views.

It had been a long day and we finally arrived back in Wernigerode at 8.30 having completed the Trans-Harz Route in full. Once we were back home Jenny kindly cooked us all some pasta and mince which was lecker (delicious).

Wednesday 10th June
I woke up early again and so spent 20 minutes using Duolingo (an app recommended to me by Victoria) to help me learn German. After we had all had breakfast and were showered we walked to Wernigerode station so we could catch the steam train to the Brocken.

I hadn’t initially planned to stand on the balcony until Drei Annen Hohne where the route splits with one branch to Nordhausen and the other to the Brocken. Despite it being colder than the day before I couldn’t resist the temptation and by the time we arrived at Schierke it was was so busy I was given the ultimatum of stand or sit. I opted to stand which meant I got some fantastic views once we finally burst out of the forest on the final climb to the summit.

I was surprised at the speed we continued to go as we hugged the mountain side, looping round the outside on a steadily steep gradient. Slowly the antenna came in to view and then grew taller and taller until finally we were at the highest point of the Harz. It was as cold as I’d expected from summer trips up Snowdon and we had a bit of a walk around the top. Whilst it was cold the sky was initially clear so we had some good views and even when it became cloudy above the summit itself remained clear.

The original plan had been to walk from the summit to Schierke but the path was a lot longer than we had anticipated. We had been led to believe that one of the oldest engines on the line would be hauling a special consisting of the lines oldest carriages so we decided to wait for that before travelling back down. The engine wasn’t one of the mallets that the line is famous for which was slightly disappointing because they are quite unique and rare but it was still a good sight with the Harz region in the distance.

We caught the train back down to Wernigerode and as it wasn’t very busy I was able to move between a seat and the balcony when the views appeared interesting. It was warmer down the bottom so we decided to visit a miniature model village we’d seen a sign for. The walk was a bit further than I calculated but we eventually arrived.

I had recently been to Bekonscot model village with my cousins and nephew and even as an oversized child I still found it fascinating. Despite this and the description I approached this model village with low expectations hoping to be pleasantly surprised and I was. There was amazing detail on the buildings, quite a few of which we’d seen over the previous days. The highlight for me was the railway section where a miniature train travelled to the top of the Brocken, the engine uncoupled, ran round and took the train back down. Equally impressive was a model of Wernigerode Castle and a church we hadn’t visited that towered over me. By now the sun had come out and it was a very pleasant way to spend an hour.

We returned back to our accommodation where we had dinner before heading back out for a drink at the Kartoffelhaus which had looked interesting when we’d walked past on the first night. This time I did take my camera so I got a picture of the Rathaus and market square. The interior of the restaurant was quite unique and whilst it didn’t look original it would have been nice to understand the plaque which gave a history of the building. I was still attempting to have a different beer at each bar so this time I had the Hasseroder premium pills before we returned home.

Thursday 11th June
As with the other mornings I’d woken up earlier than expected which to me didn’t make sense because we were an hour ahead of UK time so I was actually waking up even earlier than usual. It would be nice to think I could keep the new sleeping pattern up when I’m home but I know from experience that I’ll quickly slip back in to my normal routine.

After two whole days of not requiring a car it was strange to set up the SatNav again and to resume my duties. There were however no issues in getting to Quedlinburg and “Tina” had no issues in getting us to the car park requested. The problem was the car park we’d set it to was only for an hour. Luckily whilst the second carpark we tried wasn’t overly convenient in terms of location there was a cafe and dad was able to ask (in German) for advice. Not only were we directed to a car park by the train station but the kind man gave us a map of the town.

The old town of Quedlinburg is also UNESCO listed and almost as soon as we started the walk up a steep path to the castle/church with a dramatic fortified wall to the right I admit I was almost instantly snapping away on the camera. We walked up to the old castle, now the site of a church but didn’t go in to the museum. Instead we went back down the hill in to the Market square which had another delightful Rathaus and sat to have a drink outside as it was already a hot day.

We had almost 3 hours in Quedlinburg before our train to Hasselfelde which had felt a good amount of time without feeling rushed even though at one point I realised dad was rushing us a bit because he thought our train left an hour earlier than it did. Instead we ate our sandwiches in a park before returning to the station. We had expected the section from Quedlinburg to Gernrode to be a diesel but because it was a Thursday it was steam.

At Gernrode we changed trains and were hauled by a locomotive known as the prototype because it is the one of its type as the war stopped construction of any more. This train took us all the way to Hasselfelde and as we were in the back carriage I spent the time on the back balcony. This gave great unobstructed views of where we had come from and when we went round corners good views of the loco working hard.

We passed other trains at Alexisbad the main base of operations on this route before arriving at Strassberg where a big party of school children got on. They got off a couple of stops later so I assume they were local to the area. Eventually we arrived at Stiege where we stopped a brief time before continuing to Hasselfelde. There wasn’t time to explore so instead we just stayed on the platform where we noticed a Welsh flag. I had heard about an agreement between the Ffestiniog Railway I used to volunteer on and the Harz railway so I assume it was to do with that.

At Hasselfelde the train moved to front and took us to Elsfelder Talmuhle. Initially we thought we were going to be stranded at Stiege for 50 minutes before it was confirmed we could stay on the train we were on as it would eventually return to Quedlinburg. Now we were at the front of the train so I only stood on the balcony for a few minutes because it was noisy, dirty and the view was blocked by the loco. It was still a rather unique experience though.

At Elsfelder Talmuhle we waited for a train heading towards Wernigerode and a diesel railcar heading towards Nordhausen before the train again changed ends to take us back to Stiege. Reaching Elsfelder Talmuhle meant we had only missed out on 3km of the whole Harz section which was quite an achievement from 3 days travelling. At Stiege the engine was again moved to our end and we eventually arrived back in Quedlinburg at 7.30.

After the road we wanted to take was closed and we missed the diversion sign and this delayed us back to Wernigerode by almost 10 minutes. It wasn’t until after 8.45 that we made our way to a pub / restaurant dad had spotted the previous day. Fortunately whilst Wernigerode had been quite a sleepy town the Hotel Altora was still serving food so I had a Harz style goulash with a Radeberger pilsner.

The drinks arrived in a way I never expected and instantly made the child inside me come out and decide there and then that if I ever have the money I will do something similar. As we sat talking we suddenly heard what sounded like a model train and as we looked over to the bar we saw one trundling down the tracks next to our table which we’d missed (or at least I had). But it was what the little train was carrying that impressed us because standing in the wagons were 2 beers and an orange juice. The bar staff were smiling. They’d obviously seen our type of reaction before. The food was delicious and I ordered a second drink so I could get a video of the train. Obviously Germans have a reputation for being efficient but this took it to a new level.

Friday 12th June
I woke up feeling slightly sad that my last full day in Germany had already arrived. We’d packed a lot in and no doubt Jenny and dad had slightly regretted bringing me along because I know I like to cram in as much as possible in to the time available. During the morning we planned to explore Wernigerode castle before joining a tour of the locomotive workshops for the Harz Railway.

On our way to the Schloss we stopped off at the tourist information centre in the Market Square so we had a map of where we needed to go. It was already feeling the hottest it had been certainly since Wuppertal not that it had ever been that cold (besides the top of the Brocken). The climb up the steep hill was also our first proper workout because despite a fair amount of walking much of it had been on fairly level ground through towns. My calf muscles were set to give way by the time we reached the top and I had to accept my fitness levels have plummeted since my 8km gorilla run in September.

We could have brought an audio guide for the castle but instead got a detailed guide book which gave the necessary information for the two tours. The castle had once been owned by Otto Von Bismarck, responsible for German unification in 1871 and whose name was ultimately used for the famous flag ship of the German navy in the second world war. The castle was also visited by various German Kaisers including the last Kaiser Wilhelm II who was forced to abdicate after defeat in the first world war.

The castle and Wernigerode were located in East Germany so after the war the castle was included as part of the soviets land seizures (war repatriation). Whilst it had already been opened as a museum before the war it had obviously closed and didn’t reopen until 1949. In recent years a number of the rooms had been restored to original condition as it was when owned by Count Otto when married to (his direct cousin) Princess Anna. The tours of the rooms were shorter than I expected but informative and well presented.

Leaving the castle we returned back to the town to enjoy a drink in the market square before making a quick visit to the tourist information so we could plan something for the afternoon. Fortunately the girl behind the desk was very helpful and advised us to go on a 3km walk to the Kaiserturm. First though we walked to Wernigerode Westentor (West Gate) so we could join a rare behind the scenes tour of the railway.

As we had expected all of the tour was in German however we weren’t the only people from the UK and a gentleman from North West Germany kindly translated some bits and explained soviet occupation meant Russian not English was still the second language in the region. A lot of the information was probably quite technical and I was almost relieved I could switch my brain off and wonder around just taking the pictures I wanted without pretending to listen. Inside we saw one of the mallets and another engine where he spent a good 15 minutes pointing to different parts. When we emerged outside he spent quite a bit of time talking and I made an effort to try to capture some phrase but gave up and went back in to photography mode. I was however glad to have had the chance to go inside and my dad gave me a brief synopsis afterwards as he’d spent most of the tour listening with our west German friend.

Leaving the railway for the final time we started the walk to the Kaiserturm. A group of children were ahead and appeared to be on the way to the most organised picnic ever as 3 of them pulled a cart of food up the hill and others carried blankets. I was deeply impressed and wondered how German efficiency would surprise me next. After over 2km walking up the hill my legs for a second time in a day were ready to fall off so we had a mini break before continuing our journey where we reached Waldgasthaus Armeleuteberg. Here I had a quick beer refuel opting for the Wolters pilsner before we walked the final 400 metres.

It turned out we could climb to the top of the Kaiserturm for free so we did and were rewarded with arguably better views  than at the castle. I went down first to get pictures of dad and Jenny at the top before we made our way back to the town. Jenny cooked some dinner whilst I lay on the sofa nursing my knees and attempting a bit of packing. After dinner dad and I returned to the Hotel Altora so we could enjoy one final beer and see the model train again. With that drink my holiday was over except for my 12 hour journey home (with 5 changes just to reach London) which so long as it went as planned I was excited about.

The Schloss (Castle) overlooking Wernigerode

The Schloss (Castle) overlooking Wernigerode

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Make it Last: Lennep, Wuppertal and Goslar

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One of the trains passes the people below on the famous Wuppertal Schwebebahn

Saturday 6th June
“John. Bathrooms fee.” I awoke with a start then looked at my watch 5.49am. The alarm was set for 5.50 so I’d had a minute of sleep taken away all because dad had also woken up one minute early. He runs a tight ship when going away and I suppose it isn’t a surprise I ended up being similar in my planning and ensuring I always allow plenty (not just a bit) of time to spare.

We left shortly after the official departure time but I sensed that we were still well ahead of the schedule. The journey to Dover was uneventful and thankfully there were no delays on the motorway. Arriving at Dover there was a queue of cars and if we’d been running late it may have been a bit nervy but as it was we were at least 30 minutes earlier than the recommended time. I saw a Contiki and a Topdeck coach and thought about how they’d be feeling. First day nerves mixed with excitement, tiredness and probably a slight hangover.

Once on the ferry I made my way to the stern (back) of the top deck so I could get a final look of the white cliffs and some photographs as it was a beautiful sunny day. One truck had difficulty parking but eventually the road lifted in to the air and the gate at the back of the ferry was closed. I hoped for a dramatic blast of the horn to announce our departure in a scene reminiscent of Titanic and for at least one person to be waving us off but there was nothing.

Once we were underway it became quickly colder so once we were beyond the surprisingly narrow harbour walls I headed back in side. Dad Jenny and I ordered a early lunch before seeing if there was a view from the front. Whilst I would never try and recreate that “I’m the king of the world” scene (don’t pretend you don’t know) I had at least hoped the top deck of the bow (front) would be open to the elements. It wasn’t, It was a fully enclosed fancy looking restaurant (as far as the ferry goes anyway) with a beautiful panoramic view of France that only those dinning were allowed to appreciate.

Once off the boat I as chief navigation officer did what any modern navigator does and set up the SatNav. That duty fulfilled I then looked at the paper maps supplied but already I had put blind faith in to “Tina”. I had every faith the system had improved from the days when it took people in to abandoned tunnels and besides one of the maps in front of me had been published when I was still at university, before Watford were last in the premiership.

I think Dad suffered a bit of mistrust especially when I realised shortly after Brussels that it was taking us through the Netherlands. By now I had an in depth know knowledge of Belgium’s road network because I had been intensely studying the map. This was purely to try and stay awake because I’m hopeless at doing so in a car (or train) as dad knows from last weekend when I just fell asleep without warning after he’d helped move my stuff by driving me to Balham from Ealing. As it was the SatNav was of course correct.

At one stage we were on the E14 Motorway through all 3 countries but the style and infrastructure changed in each which seemed quite amusing at the time (it had been a long drive). The Belgium section was slightly uneven and in need of some tlc, the Dutch section was well maintained and had trees along the side with a nice hedgerow up the centre, whilst the German section had road works every few kilometres however somehow it didn’t cause huge traffic jams. The German section also had an unlimited speed restriction and it was quite an experience to hear the roar of a super car (it was so quick I didn’t see which) shoot by as we trundled along at a modest 77mph.

Ultimately the journey had been uneventful and we arrived in Ramsceid only slightly later than initially estimated despite two quick stops. Once checked in to the hotel we agreed to meet up about an hour later for dinner. My plan was to nap and shower but I got distracted by the free WiFi and feeling no fresher I went to our meeting place. Jenny had decided to have an early night so just dad and I headed out alone in the search of food.

We walled through the outskirts of Lennep from the hotel and eventually came to a bar. It didn’t serve food and looked a bit seedy from the outside so we carried on. Unfortunately being a Sunday and in a small town in a slightly less touristy area it meant the signs were ominous unless we just wanted a kebab or pizza. Instead after a failed attempt to buy train tickets to Wuppertal due to a rarity German inefficiency. One ticket machine wasn’t working and then the second would only accept exact change. We were 50c short so we knew we’d have to come back.

We followed the street round and came back to the pub we’d started at. By now I just wanted to sit down anywhere so we went in and as they were showing the build up to the champions league realised we’d actually struck gold. We tried a number of beers including Bitburger, Frankenheim “alt” old from Dosseldorf, Fruh – kolsch and Warsteiner. The bar man was Italian and very friendly though I most of the conversation was with my “papa”. We stayed for the first half of the champions league before returning to the hotel.

Sunday 7th June
When I was younger my grandad had a cinefilm of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn and even though it wasn’t a steam engine I was still captivated by it. I admit I therefore had a child like excitement when I realised we would have a day to explore the town and to ride the Schwebebahn. We caught the main line train to Wuppertal from Lennep having finally obtained “the exact amount”.

I think I had (unreasonably) expected Wuppertal to be frozen in time as I imagined it from the family home videos. I was therefore slightly disappointed to see a lot of modern construction work was taking place and realised it was actually quite industrial. I had hoped to ride the Schwebebahn Kaiserwagen, the historic carriages from those home movies but it was quite expensive (even though it included brunch) however ultimately it wasn’t possible because the tourist information centre was closed and we couldn’t buy tickets online.

Instead we decided to watch the Kaiserwagen however after a few stops we realised we were heading in the wrong direction. The Schwebebahn is a way locals travel around the city however I was still surprised at how busy it was especially as it was only a Sunday. We crossed over to the opposite platform and travelled to the station near the zoo where we saw the Kaiserwagen.

We then continued to Vohwinkel where we could see the workshops. This part of the town seemed nicer than the area around the main train station and we were able to find a coffee house. Some food revived me and by the time we saw the Kaiserwagen return I was over any initial disappointment at not riding it or at the town not appearing like it was straight out of a early 20th century history book.

Next we travelled the full length of the line and as we were first on had a seat right behind the driver. The first part of the route travelled above the main street before travelling above the river Wupper. It seemed quite a bulky construction but ultimately probably caused less chaos than the construction of the underground in London and is no less an achievement. Whilst monorails normally travel on a track the Schwebebhan hangs down and therefore sways quite a bit. I was beginning to feel the effects of this when we reached Oberbarmen (the other end of the line) 30 minutes later.

We walked through a park which ran parallel to the Schwebebhan and contemplated carrying on to the next station before we realised it would be better to get back on at the terminus. It was still only early afternoon and we weren’t entirely sure how to spend the rest of the day. In the end as it was a sunny afternoon we decided to visit the zoo however realising there was a football match on we jokingly considered seeing Wuppertal SV (ultimately they lost 1.0 and threw away the chance of promotion to the league above).

The zoo was actually very impressive and had a wide variety of animals including some I hadn’t even heard of such as the Drill where Wuppertal is the main breeding programme of the 4 zoos in Germany where they can be seen. Other highlights included numerous penguin species, lions, tigers, orangotangs and gorillas which all seemed to be in good condition and in decent sized spaces for their size and number. Unfortunately it was probably to hot for the polar bear so he remained hidden as did the wolves and the other bears. In all we spent a few hours and managed to cover most of the vast area.

There was a restaurant opposite where we all opted to have a snitzel and I had a Benediktiner weissbier wheat bear. The portion was absolutely enormous as dad had predicted but we all found the required space. I had partly hoped I’d lose weight on this trip but the portion size and the amount of beers I wanted to try were suggesting this would be wishful thinking.

We caught the Schwebebhan back to the main station in Wuppertal before boarding the main line train back to Lennep. On our way to the hotel we stopped off at the pub from the previous night to have a quick drink and to console the bar man on Juventus losing to Barcelona. That evening I watched a bit of the women’s world cup and saw Germany beat Ivory Coast 10:0 though the gulf in class meant it wasn’t an exciting game despite the score.

Monday 8th June
I woke up earlier than planned but rather than getting up and being productive wasted time on the free internet. However once my alarm actually went off I felt incredibly time efficient as I let a coffee brew whilst I showered. The coffee tasted disgusting so that ultimately saved time in drinking it and I was just about ready when dad knocked on my door a few minutes before the designated 9am departure time.

Once we were ready to go I set up the SatNav for our first destination Goslar a UNESCO world heritage listed town. The route was direct via the motorway however dad suggested going a scenic route and cutting out a corner of the motorway. I plotted a path and when we did ultimately disobey the SatNav it tried everything to get us to turn around. Eventually it gave up and fell silent and appeared to have begrudgingly accepted our new route.

Once we eventually arrived in Goslar We started off by walking to the market square to get some lunch at the Butterhanne. I ordered my favourite German meal; curry wurst mit ein beer. I started with Radeberger before I realised they had a micro brewery. I therefore felt I had to have a second and at least try their self produced Gose Gold.

The old town of Goslar is UNESCO world heritage listed and whilst I admit I hadn’t heard of it before the holiday my expectations were quite high. Dad loves reading a map so he plotted our walking route through the town. We started off following the ruins and path of the old fortification however in most areas there was no evidence of there existence.

Unfortunately in a town which is apparently so picturesque our walk initially took us past a shopping centre and an area where in truth there wasn’t as much to see. Eventually we did rejoin a path that took us along the famous cobbled streets, past an old watermill and towards the mediaeval Kaiserpfaiz. I later read it was only listed due to a nearby mine and its ancient water management system which perhaps explained why my expectations weren’t met

I set up the SatNav for our final destination Wernigerode which it turned out was under 45 minutes away and we departed Goslar. It was certainly a pleasant place to break up a long car journey and to spend a couple of hours but I won’t be back to explore.

The UNESCO listed old town of Goslar

The UNESCO listed old town of Goslar

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Posted by Travels and Rambles in Europe, Germany, 1 comment