Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Europe 2016 - vignettes

The calm and joyful atmosphere at the banks of the river Main in Frankfurt, where large and small groups of people sat together, chatted, drank beer, ate their picnics, played music and relaxed. The large Hauptbanhof with its constantly shifting flow of passengers, and innumerable small shops selling a large variety of sandwiches and other small eats at very reasonable prices. The large numbers of foreigners hanging out at the train station, with the station serving as a site of both recreation and reception for friends, family and other contacts.

The beautiful river Rhine with its ceaseless flow of ferries and cruises, carrying both passengers and cargo up and down the river. The constant rush of trains on the tracks along the river, connecting all the villages and towns in the Rhine Valley. The large numbers of old medieval castles dotting the hills flanking the river. The gorgeous villages of Bacharach and St. Goar in the Rhine Valley, with their old castles and old houses, each one intricately decorated – colours, wooden pillars and frames, and flowers in full blossom hanging off windows. The walks up to Burg Stahleck, the old castle that’s now a youth hostel, and the great buffet meals in its kitchen. The great views of the river from this castle perched on the top of a hill and surrounded by steep slopes covered with vineyards. The three enormous castles in St. Goar.

The historic city of Bonn, once the capital of Germany. Cute accommodation with a cool and relaxed host – German woman teaching IT at a training centre; with something of a glamorous past. The large crowds of people all over the city centre. The old churches and university, with its parks and large groups of students in various states of animation (outdoor zumba class) and relaxation.

The city of Cologne, with its post-war architecture and old Roman sites (Agripinna-Game of Thrones connection). The gigantic Cologne cathedral, which was once the tallest in Europe, at the very heart of the city – the only site that was not bombed by the Allies in the war, as it served as a target to estimate locations in the rest of the city. People, mostly foreigners, picking up recyclable waste from the recycle-able rubbish bins around the cathedral, and approaching tourists for their recyclable rubbish. These can be taken to supermarkets and exchanged for credit. The young, hip crowd of this city. Nice Welsh guy doing the walking tour.

The pretty Dutch towns of Nijmegen and Arnhem. Beautiful old buildings. Beautiful old market squares. Large train stations! Very calm. Cool host – Georgian woman who moved to the Netherlands as a kid. Nice large fields near the house with some cattle and horses. Giant sculpture in the park nearby. Friendly park official who chatted with us about the sculpture, and gave us bubble gum to stick on the sculpture.

Wow, the city of Amsterdam! Oh, my god. Canals, canals, canals. Bikes, bikes, bikes. Beautiful old houses all along the canals – centuries-old houses maintained in good condition. Biked all over the city and nearby North Holland over three days. Just amazing. Great parks. OK-ish food – a bit expensive. AirBnB accommodation nice and private but a bit oddly arranged. Average hosts. The sheer jam-packed-ness of the city! Pretty cafes, shops, houses everywhere. Cool people. Beautiful countryside – flat, green and expansive; seemingly never-ending. Quaint villages in the country – so pretty. Bridges that open out at many junctures all along the Amster river. Country built for boats. The modern parts of the city – astonishing architecture.

The capital Dan Haag (The Hague). Such an amazing coming together of the old and the new. Lots of lovely buildings, including very eclectic modern buildings. The long beach and its 1950s flavour. Astonishing beauty and accessibility of the palace and parliament. Nice kebab shops.

Ghent and Bruges in Belgium. Astonishing old medieval architecture. Truly, truly gorgeous – transports you to a different world. So beautifully maintained. Bruges is just so very pretty. Every stone, every brick is steeped in history. Probably the most gorgeous place in Europe. Cool host – very chirpy, and such a lovely old house. Perfect.

London! Family! The best time; so good to see everyone. Stayed with Raji Mahi and Dipankar Moha in Richmond. Dinner out in Richmond one day and at home the next – Raji Mahi cooked an elaborate meal for all of us, and Urmila Pehi, Neale and Zubin. Hung out with Isar and Tara; Isar took us around to central London for a day-long roam. Urmila Pehi came to St. Pancras to meet me before our departure for Paris.

The enormous streets of Paris with their uniform architecture stretching for several arrondissements – wide streets, 6-storey houses with intricate exteriors. Beautiful Paris, sparkling at night. The gorgeous Notre Dame de Paris at the very centre, painstakingly constructed bit by bit over two hundred years or so. The Eifel Tower, always in the distance. The endless lines of restaurants everywhere, serving all kinds of cuisines. Esgargots! Savoury crepes! Marche de Bastille. Sacre-coeur on the hill. The artists of Montmartre. Museums and other must-see sites. So many people from everywhere in the world. Never expected Paris to be such a melting pot of different geographies and races. Pretty accommodation and cool host.

The lovely town of Dijon. Pretty old village. Apartment in a quaint old and dilapidated building. Nice lunch at Flunch! Wandering the streets and sampling bits of Dijon fare.

Zurich. Clean, neat, crisp, organised and simple. Straight lines and neat shapes. Simon’s relatives were really kind and generous, taking us around town, and even on a hike in Stoos along a portion of the Swiss Alps. The view was astounding. Breathtaking. The vistas were just stunning. The five or so lakes at the bottom of the mountains – oh, my god. Amazing. A neat and clean city. 

Back to Germany. Lake Konstanz. Pretty historical town. Lovely little shops and buildings in the Alt Stadt. Absolutely packed with people. Nice little breweries. Less English spoken than elsewhere in Germany. People continue to serve beer until you put your coaster on your glass/mug, which definitively indicates that you no longer want to drink anymore. Funny – the server at the restaurant we went to poured me another glass without any prompting, and that’s when I figured it out. Nice walk around the lake. Nice house, and cool hosts. We bumped into the mother of the host in the kitchen in the morning – her effusive greetings made our day.

Munich. The city of beer, history, innovation and recreation. Nice house in a busy area, but the arrangement was a bit odd – the AirBnB apartment served as a psychologist’s office during the day, which was a little disconcerting. Anyway, lovely apartment. Beautiful city centre and Alt Stadt – Karlplatz and Marienplatz, with their ornate historical buildings (especially the gorgeous Rathaus, the palace, and old churches). The famous and historically significant Hofbrauhaus brewery in the market square. The expansive English Garden with all its public nudity and general atmosphere of merriment and relaxation. The enormous beer and food area in the English Garden, where we drank Ratler and ate some dumplings, pork hock and some side dishes, and where we had a long and interesting conversation with a German couple. Extremely busy and popular, and very well organised. The people walking around in costume. The carefree atmosphere. The Olympic Park and BMW World. The Pegida rally we came across in Karlpltaz (where large numbers of young foreign men normally hang out), which elicited a huge police presence. Commotion. Walking around in Munich’s cool neighbourhoods.

Leipzig. East Germany. Large train station. Historical buildings in the centre of town. Many small cafes and restaurants in different corners of the centre. Nice accommodation and cool host – nice and reserved artist. Faust and Goethe. The restaurant and bar where Goethe wrote Faust: nice gourmet meal and intricate interiors; lots of murals and artefacts. Walking around in the city in the cool evening. Mostly empty at night.

Nuremberg. Gorgeous city centre. Beautiful medieval architecture reconstructed after the devastation of the war. Beautiful castle on the top of the bill. Numerous imposing cathedrals and chapels. Lovely market square – numerous shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. Winding, meandering paths. University dormitory in an old historical building. A few canals. Slopes and inclines. The Documentation Centre in the outskirts – the Nazi Party Parade Ground repurposed as a museum. Perhaps one of the most insightful and astute exhibitions I have seen. Very analytical, unflinching. As visually impactful as thought-provoking. A city burdened by the pain of the past but one that exudes such resilience. Wonderful time there.

Berlin. Complex. Hard to describe. Large. Grand and monumental Soviet apartment blocks in the east. Pockets of old architecture that survived the war. The grand new Hauptbahnhof. The centre of the city, and surrounds, has a 1950s dero chic aesthetic. The distinctive blocks of the Holocaust memorial. The modern parliament. The extensive train network. The hip neighbourhoods. The eccentric, chic and kinky underbelly of the city. The numerous bars, cafes and clubs.

Back to Frankfurt. Back to Melbourne.

Europe: calm, collected, organised, neat, and resilient. Monumental. Thriving and bursting with activity. Also utterly relaxed. Pleasure-loving. Utterly libertarian. Civil. Quiet. Also, sometimes, quite evidently strained. Great experiences overall.