A Travellerspoint blog

Day 13 - Beer and fritzs

Down and out with those funny Belgians

overcast 17 °C
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Well someone is a tired little vegemite! Travelling is often tiring and just the act of getting from A to B, no matter how soft the journey, can take a toll. And so it was today.

While the train trip between Amsterdam and Brussels was only 3 and a bit hours, it did have some minor hiccups along the way. Firstly, 5 mins before our train was due, it was announced that it was cancelled. Normally not a problem – there is always another direct or connecting train within 30 mins. So it was a train to Rotterdam and then another train to Brussels. Well the first train we had to slum it in 2nd class and it was hard jockeying for positioning and baggage space, before the dance of seat reservations begun. So the next 30 mins was spend moving between seats before settling down. No sooner than that and Rotterdam Station popped up, unannounced, so it was a quick exit and then a connecting train to Brussels. An uneventful trip. We were rightly returned to our correct status in 1st class.

Along the way some coloured Africans were taken off the train and questioned by the police at the station and eventually they were left behind. I suppose the immigration problem is more in your face here. This was one example, but I saw another example in Germany. The police were conducting a car stop and instead of doing the breathalyses – they were searching people’s cars and baggage and in some instances taking photos of the passengers. All very heavy handed when you think of needing probable cause. I had to asked for directions, so I also asked the cops what was the searches for and he gave a feeble excuse of this is a known speeding area (not that these cars were speeding).

Anyway, back off the high horse, and back to the subject at hand – our grand tour of Europe. Once arrived, I had to go to one place to get the keys for our accommodation, So I left Lee-ann at the station. 1 hour latter I came back to pick up little precious and she was all but falling asleep.

Arrived at the accommodation (and we are back to space), but it was a 3 storey walk up some very narrow stairs with tiny steps. Sensing the horns of rage growing out of Lee-ann’s head I sent her up ahead and carried the bags up. Not feeling particularly brave, I said that she should stay here and I will go do a laundry wash and bring back some wine and pizza for dinner.

And so it was, a relatively minor day with nothing much happening.

As for Brussels, I had fond memories of this city. Mainly because of the people I meet here last time and the generally dagginess of the people and their lives. No flash clothing here. It is a working man’s town (apart from K Rudd and the UN crowd) where the national food and drink is chips and beer. Still hasn’t changed too much. It is the sort of place that Bruce Springsteen could write endless songs about the plight of the working man.

Really not a lot to see here apart from the Grand Place (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Place) which is still one of my personal favourite European squares. It doesn’t have the grandeur or pizzas of other city squares, but it is one where I can really picture its function in older times as a true market square set in amongst the opulence of the ruling class (kings and churches). Unfortunately one side of the square is undergoing renovations, so it does detract somewhat from its overall enclosure and sense of place.

Posted by Neileeann 02:09 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Day 12 - Amsterdam in the sunshine

sunny 17 °C
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Beautiful day today, the sun is out and skies are clear. It is now 15:00 and it has reached the maximum temperature of 17 degrees, but they feel much warmer than that. At one stage I didn’t think I would ever get the shorts out of the bag, but that day has come.

Not a lot done today. There is only so much food and drink I can force down my gullet. So just walked and walked around the city. In the morning we walked around the Jordaan District, which is right adjacent to the main part of the city, but a world away in terms of peace and quiet. Lee-ann and I then departed our ways; and I had a refreshing ale before once again tramping around the old part of the city. I think I have covered every square inch of this place, so I have pulled stumps early and headed back to the hotel.

We are back to “can’t swing a cat territory” here in Amsterdam. But I believe this is par for the course in this city, unless you want to pay some serious cash. So much so that I can’t get out of bed from my side and I must exit at the foot of the bed and we have to take turns in having a shower and getting dressed.

Well as I said, not much to report. Tomorrow we travel to Brussels.

Posted by Neileeann 17:00 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Day 11 - Eurovision

Buck's Fizz, Lordie or Waterloo

sunny 16 °C
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Well what a city! After my lament about the lack of life on the streets of Berlin - Amsterdam has it in spades. So much so, it is difficult just walking around. It will be madness in August when the masses hit this city.

Started out raining this morning, but it eventually departed and as the day wore on it felt a bit hotter than what the forecast said.

First stop was to find out where would be the best place to watch Eurovision. Lee-ann was very excited by being at least in Europe when this is on, but it appears the Dutch are not so enthused with Eurovision. There is no public square event planned, so it will be bar hopping to find one where we can watch the event. Let’s hope we are not the only two dags sitting in there cheering for Guy Sebastian.

Today we just walked and walked around the inner city. The “ladies” were out during the day and I saw one fellow go in for a service. Photos cannot do justice to the atmosphere of this place. The throng of people, the noise, the activity and the multicultural aspects, all make this one of the great cosmopolitan cities of the world. It just canal after canal, side lanes that offer a quiet oasis. Hordes of bucks and hens parties. Gangs of young men with two things on their mind – sports shoes and sex. Dope is still big business, but it is never in your face. When the sun comes out its all bums on chairs as people just sit in the outdoor dining areas and eat and drink the day away.

Later in the night we went to the Leidseplein to watch Eurovision. 30 years ago I remember it as a great square packed with beautiful young blond dutch girls and things haven’t changed too much. Still a great central dining square, surrounded by eateries and bars. Settled in at an Irish Bar that had the BBC coverage of the Eurovision. I think poor Lee-ann was disappointed with the turn-out and we both expected it to be a bigger event in Europe. However s the night wore on more and more people turned their attention to the event and soon we were swimming in a sea of nationalities. All very good nature and if Eurovision was an attempt to join Europe together – then it has done a good job. Australians, Norwegians, French, Belgium and Dutch were all at our tables cheering on the different countries. In the end the favourite won it, Australia came 5th and there appeared to be genuine good will towards our participation. Lee-ann went home happy. Happy wife – happy life.

Posted by Neileeann 17:00 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Day 10 - Moving Day

Some observations on Deutschland

overcast 14 °C
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Today was moving day. Travelled from Schleswig to Amsterdam. So the best part of the day was spent on multiple train trips (five in total) and today the rail strike really did hit us. Started out at 08:30 and arrived at Amsterdam at 19:30, so all up 11 hours on the train to cover a distance of 600 km. Still we meet some very nice and interesting people, who helped us on our confused way. One train involved a local train service full of local football fans who in the German way were very exuberant with the amber fluid and pumped up for a big game the NEXT day.

Anyway I will use this time to make a few observations about Deutschland. Obviously 7 days is not enough time to gain any real insights into the nation and its people, but here goes.

Community allotments. One of the first things that I noticed on the train trips were the number of what I assumed to be community allotments scattered along the train lines, mostly near the towns and villages. They looked like the English allotments used to grow vegetables, but they all had small huts with German flags fluttering in the wind. So I can only assume it is their summer weekend retreat where they go to tend their vegetables, pigs and miniature horses and kick back with a few beers and schnapps over the weekends.

Common woodlands. Another observation on the trains were the appearance of what seemed to be common woodlands outside most smaller towns and villages. I didn’t get to ask anyone about them, but they seem to serve a number of purposes. One as a nice place to walk through with the dog. Two as a source of trees for cutting into wood stove piles.

Alternative energy. I had read previously that Australian scientist working in the solar industries had all gone to work in Germany because there was no research funding in Australia. Well Germany has certainly taken on the alternative energy industry in a big way. All across the country side stand banks of wind farms that slowly and purposefully generate electricity for the domestic market. Every so often you see banks of solar panels in the fields. The fields are also cropped with canola which is used mainly for blended fuel. In Berlin many buildings had solar panels built into the facade, which all contributed towards the energy equation. Many years ago German shut down its nuclear power stations and they made a conscious decision to go down the alternative energy path. It looks like they are well on their way to being self sufficient. It just goes to show that big changes firstly require decisive leadership.

Flat ground. In all our travels in northern Germany, it is unusual to see anything resembling a hill, let alone a mountain. I suppose it is great for farming, but it creates a monotonous landscape. Also the fields have numerous channels of water. Lee-ann’s friend, Scott Curry, said that low water tables is a constant issue in Berlin when constructing new buildings. So much so that the Government is almost contemplating abandoning the unfinished Berlin Airport. See http://www.dw.de/date-set-for-long-delayed-opening-of-new-berlin-airport/a-18126206 and http://www.dw.de/berlin-airport-the-five-biggest-mistakes/a-17740584. A very un-German situation!

The rural economic geography. I could not get a handle on the economics of rural towns and hamlets. In most instances there were no noticeable employer, but lots of small villages located often only a few kilometres apart. So I don’t know what people did for employment in these places, or whether they were commuter villages. Maybe they were historical settlements and they have not changed over the years. But it always did impress me with the number and sizes of churches that some of these villages had.

City life. Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfurt all had the familiar hum of well organised cities. Extensive U & S Barn systems made moving around these cities extremely easy and efficiently. It makes you wonder what it will take for Brisbane to implement such systems. It would be hard at the beginning, but the economic and efficiency dividends would far outweigh these costs over the medium term. All cities had a never-ending number of eateries built into the lower floor of residential buildings, so you were never too far from food here. I have to say that I was disappointed by Berlin, my recollections of it were of a much more vibrant city, but now it is more sparse in terms of life on the streets.

The Germans sure do love their bread products. There was a never ending number of bread shops that never seem to empty out during the day.

Eating out it was difficult to find authentic German food. Like most places around the world, the cheaper food places tend to be ethnic food and Germany was no different. Looks of Italian restaurants and donar kebab (Berlin had a big Turkish population). It wasn’t until Schleswig that we got to eat what I thought was to be more authentic German food.

It would appear that Germans are allowed to take their dogs to work. Walking in Berlin one day, I was momentary struck by the image of one business man with his dog on a lead going into his office. There were numerous other instances of people with small dogs on trains and buses all heading off to work. With the number of Germans living in apartments, it makes sense to allow people to bring their dogs with them into work. A bit like child care for pets. And yet is all looked so natural when you saw it. In Australia we would have fits if you tried to do the same thing. It’s all cultural.

Other things that we have fits about, but seem to work quiet normally here is mixing cyclists and pedestrians. They don’t seem to have any major problems with it here, albeit that the cyclist peddle at a more sedate speed here.

The Germans were prolific smokers and drinkers. I was a bit surprised by the number of people smoking, especially young people. However this is nothing compared to the amount of public drinking. I will say it was all very orderly and you never felt threatened, like you would with a group of drunk Aussie males. But it was the social acceptance of public drinking and the time when it would start, which was an eye opener. It was not uncommon for people to be drinking on our early morning trains and in bars at 07:30. Even in the most rowdy situations, I felt they were in complete control and I never saw any fighting.

Fräuleins in tight jeans. Very niccee!

Posted by Neileeann 17:00 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Day 9 - Schleswig

Stoking the fires of discontent

overcast 13 °C
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Day 9 and we are at Schleswig in the northern Jutland of Germany, near the Danish boarder.

Schleswig is the district where another of Lee-ann’s relatives (Buchbach Family) came from in 1863. At that time they were farmers so they most likely lived in the surrounding farming district or they could have been poor allotment farmers near the then village. I just don’t know exactly where they lived.

According to another family researcher, who happens to be the caretaker at Kingston Butter Factory, their farther Wilhelm Gottlieb Martin Buchbach was the chief chimney sweeper at Schloss (Castle) Glottof. So that was good enough for me and here we are.

The Schloss Glottof (www.schloss-gottorf.de) is another one of those castles that you see scattered around the countryside that at one stage was the home, or seasonal residence of some past prince who ruled over the land in the distant past. So it was here, the Glottof were Dukes of Schleswig-Holstein, an area constantly in dispute between various rulers who represent present day Denmark and Germany. As was the way in those days there was much fighting back and forth, political connivances, and political marriages all with the purpose of maintaining, defending or expending their power.

So we did the tour of the castle, looking for any fireplaces that Wilhelm may have stoked. There were two main fireplaces that still existed. The first being the kitchen, which would have been a big operation, having to feed up to 400 people on any given day, two to three times a day. The second was the Deer Room which was the sort of entertainment room of its day. So obligatory photos were taken and we spend a good 3-4 hours looking at the various exhibitions.

Afterwards we went back to our accommodation - Hotel Zollhaus (www.zollhaus-zu-gottorf.de), which was a big step up from our previous place in Hamburg, for a few hours rest before heading out for now customary pre-dinner stroll. Went to a local pub and had what I thought was the best meal so far.

Tomorrow is moving day and it will take the best part of the day getting from here to Amsterdam. This is made a bit harder by the fact that there is still a train strike going on here in Germany. So while some trains are running they tend to be slower regional trains and not the Inter-City trains.

Posted by Neileeann 17:00 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

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