The Penultimate Blog. Back to Darmstadt: A few more trips and catching up with friends.

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August 17th 2015
Published: August 17th 2015
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Thursday 13 August:

We headed into the Hauptbahnhof and stored our luggage before going to Marienplatz – the square with the magnificent town hall and glockenspiel. We went a different way to when we were last here so we saw a bit more. We watched the show again and then grabbed some lunch and then thickshakes before deciding we were all buggered so headed back to the station a bit early. As with last time, the sheer number of beggars in this city is unbelievable. We got there and found a platform with a train about to leave so the seats were empty. We sat for a while and rested and it was entertaining to see people rushing to catch the train at the last minute. One young guy just missed out as the guard at the end we were at had just signalled the all clear to the driver. Be organised people!

We grabbed our luggage and went to the platform. As with the last time we were here the walk to our wagon was very long! The Intercity Express Trains (ICEs) have about 15 wagons and we seem to get assigned ones at the far end… We found it and our seats and to our pleasant surprise the train was very empty. Away on time and this time our route was very different. Whereas last time we went predominantly west to Augsburg then Ulm before curving north to Stuttggart, this time the direction was predominantly north first. We stopped at Würzburg and changed train at Aschaffenburg. We had 12 minutes to make this change and we had to go from platform 8 to 5 by going down, along, and up. This was plenty of time except we arrived about 8 minutes late (German trains have not been punctual) so we got on the Regional train to Darmstadt with maybe 60 seconds to spare. This is the closest we have come to missing a connection on the trip. But it would have only been a 30 minute wait for the next train.

Arrived at Darmstadt Hbf and Rainer was there to pick us up. Lovely to see him and Barbara again. It was very hot when we arrived and they have had no rain since we were last there. The grass is very dry and the wasps are out in force. Zachary got to play for a bit and then we sat outside and had chilli con-carne for dinner. Burning coffee grounds is a reasonably good way of keeping the wasps away. Zachary had slept on the train so was a pain to get to bed. He eventually fell asleep about 10:30 apparently, an hour after me!

Friday 14 August:

A pre-planned lazy day today. Zachary spent a fair chunk of the morning playing either outside or with the Duplo. Heather caught up on some laundry and it was good to be able to hang it outside as weather is still warm. We had thought about going to town in the afternoon but a friend of the Hoffmann’s came over with her two little girls to play with Zachary so that was great. A barbecue for dinner and a bit of rain then some thunder and lightning. Zachary off to bed without too much fuss and we sat up with some wine and had a chat. Very pleasant! No plan set in concrete for tomorrow although I did mention to Rainer that I wouldn’t mind having a look at Biblis, which is a decommissioned nuclear power station about 30km south. We’ll look into it.

Saturday 15 August:

We got a little sleep-in today and Barbara and Rainer were up a bit later. We discussed the nuclear power plant option. Biblis has a visitor centre with guided tours but the season for that just finished. We can look from the outside but you can’t see a lot. We thought about doing that on the way to visiting Worms, which has an impressive cathedral. However, there are operating plants that we may be able to visit next week on the way to either Heidelberg or Würzburg so we’ll find out more on Monday.

We therefore headed out with Rainer just after lunch to Frankfurt-am-Main which is only about half an hour away. I hadn’t been here on my previous visits so I was keen to have a little look.

There is a skyscraper in the central city and you can get the lift to the top for panoramic views of the city. We went there first but the queue to go up looked to be at least an hour long. As that didn’t seem a great use of our time we went for a walk around the central area. It is a nice city that combines old and new. The public squares are very attractive and the area around the Main river is pleasant. We managed to buy the last few things we wanted while Zachary went with Rainer into St Paul’s church, which is where, in 1848, the agreement to unify Germany was signed. There was an interesting sculpture of one of the “Green men” from the pedestrian light signals in the square outside the church too. We did get some views of the city from the roof of a department store where we had smoothies, and after strolling along the river and finding a playground, we headed back to try the tower again. The line was much the same so we didn’t bother and went back to Darmstadt. Enough time for Zachary to have a bath before heading to a Croatian restaurant “Stadtweg” which was very nice. Off to Köln tomorrow to visit the cathedral and meet the Gebauers. Weather forecast is for rain.

Sunday 16 August:

Rain overnight and plenty around this morning so the raincoats and jumpers went in the bag for the first time in a while. It is just on 200km to Köln and with the quality of the roads and cars we were there in under 2 hours. Barbara had done lots of research into where to go, including where to park, but the parking building that was programmed into the GPS didn’t quite work out due to construction. We knew where it was, but couldn’t get to it! Anyway after going round the block a couple of times we found a parking garage close enough to the Cathedral.

It was really raining now so we found a sheltered spot to wait and the Gebauers, including Tim’s girlfriend Victoria, arrived soon after. Zachary was very excited to see them and Rainer, who Zachary has been joined at the hip to since our arrival, was quickly ditched in favour of Tim. We went for lunch at a local brewery and enjoyed it very much. Traditional German food, good beer, and a waiter who is a comedian in his spare time.

Then it was off to visit the world famous cathedral and we climbed the 533 steps to the top viewing area. The staircase was, for the first 360 stairs, spiral and fairly narrow. It was also two-way so we had to stop often so people going down could get past. Half way up you could stop and walk around the huge bell (when Birgitta told Zachary the bell’s name was Peter he commented “same as me” – he has got the hang of his full name now). The last part had separate staircases for going up and down. It was quite a climb but well worthwhile. Zachary did brilliantly as usual. Then back down, and there were a lot of people coming up – and a fair percentage of them were struggling at an early point in the climb. One rather large kid was on all fours about 80 steps up so I’d be extremely surprised if he made it to the top!

We also went inside and down to the crypt before a short walk to the Hohenzollern bridge across the Rhine which has a huge number of marriage padlocks on it. Zachary likes looking at these (there were quite a few on a bridge in Frankfurt yesterday also). Tim and Victoria headed home, leaving Rainer to assume the role of Zachary’s BFF again. As it was still raining steadily we abandoned the idea of more walking and went to a café and had some hot chocolate / cakes / coffee which was very nice and then we said our goodbyes to Andreas and Birgitta. It was great to be able to see them again on this trip and also for the two families to get a chance to meet. It was a shame Lara wasn’t able to join us but she has three days of intense exams starting tomorrow.

We took a different route home, passing through the former capital Bonn. We also stopped for a great view of the Mosel River Valley. We had some rolls on the go and also when we got back so Zachary was off to bed and straight asleep at 930. A glass of wine for the grown-ups before bed.

Tomorrow we are at home in the morning (time to start packing) and then we go to Heidelberg to catch up with Anja. We’ll go to the castle and have dinner. On Tuesday Rainer will take us to Würzburg. We are staying with Lisa who we met a few years ago on a plane from Australia – she and her boyfriend at the time were backpacking and we invited them to stay with us for a few days, which they did. Heather has kept in contact with her via Facebook so that will be nice. Then on Wednesday we’ll meet up with Lara after her exam for a few hours and catch the train back. Then Thursday, final packing and off to Frankfurt for our 3pm flight and the start of 38 hours travel home!

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19th August 2015

Homeward Bound
Safe travels!!!

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