The day started at 3am because we were going on holiday. Travelling for the first time with another couple, Zanne and David, Glyn and I left in the dark as David drove us to Manchester airport.
The flight left at 6.40am with just three of us and David took the train for a transcontinental journey he won’t be forgetting in a hurry. It turns out that the rail system in Germany isn’t as good as hoped; trains ran late with little info given and David got accosted by drunks and a Nazi in Cologne.
Meanwhile, Glyn, Zanne and I landed happily in Hamburg after an uneventful 80 minute flight. During the descent into Hamburg, I noticed that The city was thick with dark green trees, like a dense forest with buildings poking out. Plus many bridges, in fact, with 2,300 bridges it is the city with the most in the world. Epic.
I always say that the airport loos are a good indication of the country to come and these were very clean, functional but nothing unusual.
The carhire lady was concerned that three of us plus our small luggage wouldn’t fit into the tiniest car which
Glyn had pre-booked. We weren’t concerned and didn’t mention that there was still one to come. However, we got a free upgrade due to there being no tiny cars left and our pristine white VW Polo GTI was swankier than any of our own vehicles at home. After a few embarrassing minutes of remembering how to start an automatic car, we were off!
Between Zanne’s satnav and google maps, we made it to the city centre, parked and started the supposedly short walk to the Rathaus, playing Pokemon as we went. Hamburg is clean and fairly modern as 80% of it was bombed during WW2. It has lots of parks, rivers and outdoor seating; but also quite a lot of homeless people (though nowhere near as many as we currently have in the UK). We found a tunnel where we bought tasty breaded goods for lunch and found a toilet where it cost 50c to pee. I presume it’s the same for a number 2. After 30 minutes of slow walking, Glyn recognised some of the buildings as we realised we’d walked in a large circle.
Eventually we arrived at the impressive Rathaus, a big government type building
that had survived the big wars and was covered in statues. The cobbled square in front of it was swamped with bizarre people doing some sort of slow moving crowd art. I don’t know what to call it, there was a UNICEF stand nearby that had something to do with the various people miming throwing things at each other. The other end of the square contained a celebration of the EU, with flags, a stand and a blue EU kite flying overhead. Every street had multiple posters promoting EU candidates, with glamorous photos.
The sun was shining and we decided to go for a beer/ coffee. The street cafes were packed and it took a lot of finding to get a table. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly with a variety of buskers playing the accordion, trumpet, guitar and singing. On one street there was a white grand piano, where people played to adoring crowds. Pedestrians were drinking alcohol on the streets, carrying bottles as they walked; but unlike the UK, it wasn’t anti social behaviour. In fact it was the opposite. There appeared to be no trouble although a few intermittent police sirens could be heard.
2pm, we hooked up with the free walking tour with a Croatian guide, Sabina who apparently is the number 2 guide of Hamburg. She told us about the many times the city had been destroyed by Vikings, people leaving because of lack of religious freedoms, the trade and how the city grew. There was a great fire in 1842 where much of the city burned down, having started in a cigar warehouse by the river. Next door was a paper warehouse, then explosives and alcohol. In their wisdom, the locals threw the alcohol into the river to stop the fires spreading along the warehouses. But when the fire trucks turned up, they pumped water from the river and so the fire lasted 4 days and 51 people died.
Despite its homeless people, Hamburg is a very rich city with 40,000 millionaires (that’s 1 in 43 people) and 28 billionaires. It also claims to have the best opera house in the world that was quoted at costing €80m to build but ended up being late and costing almost €800m of tax payers money. This was because it was built on a muddy bank beside a busy river. The foundations needed
to be reinforced and due to the heavy river traffic, the actual hall is an inner shell rested on springs and suspended on cables. After all that, the sound quality is said to be too good as musicians find it intimidating and that they can hear the audience scratching their heads.
The tour lasted 2.5 hours and we each tipped Sabina €10. I don’t know how much everyone else tipped but it was a large group so she should have done well. We were incredibly tired at this point and after stopping for a coffee and cake, decided to go to our accommodation whilst Glyn was still awake enough to drive. It was at this point we discovered that the car had its own inbuilt satnav. We are so clever.
The half hour journey took us on the autobahn which, for a small while, had no speed limit and was in great condition. I don’t think I saw any potholes during our trip. Everything was spotlessly clean and litter free. It wasn’t long before we were cruising through proper countryside with fields, horses and the occasional sheep.
Arriving at Grönwohld, we discovered that the local shop had
shut at 12.30pm. So we went to a nearby petrol station where we bought overpriced snacks and beer. Our accommodation was a large upstairs flat, where we had to remove our shoes. Up a spiral staircase, we came to our front door, through which was a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and balcony. It was really nice and all for £120 for two nights.
Zanne googled Lidl (I know, that’s usually Glyn’s job!) and discovered that there was one a couple of kilometres away and it was due to close within 30 mins. We shot out to get stocked up, setting off the alarm as we entered. We also set off the alarm as we left and the checkout guy shouted to the three gormless brits, who stood there looking hopeless until the young lad sussed and explained in perfect English that he spotted we’d set off the alarm upon arriving, so no problems and just leave.
It was been a long day and Glyn went to bed to get a couple of hours shut eye before picking up David from the station at around midnight. Zanne and I decided to have a beer before bed.
It turned out that David’s trains had been delayed, resulting in him being stuck with the night drunks and armed police in Cologne and he wouldn’t arrive until 7 am. So we left Glyn sleeping and had 4 more beers each. At around 1am, Glyn asked if we were going to bed and we thought it a good idea seeing as how we needed to get up at 5.30am to pick up David. Oh well, as they say, plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.
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