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Europe » Germany » Hesse » Darmstadt
August 19th 2015
Published: August 19th 2015
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A busy few days. We had a few hours in Heidelberg which is a very pretty city. The river Neckar runs through it and the castle there is one of the best we’ve visited. On the way we stopped at the gates of Biblis nuclear power plant. Rainer used to work for the company that built many of Germany’s plants and has excellent knowledge of how they work. It would have been good to have gone in but there are no tours at the moment. The plant is no longer operating but still employs a large number of people to maintain and slowly dismantle it. We had dinner with Anja and a couple of her friends in the evening.



Then it was great to catch up with Lisa, whom Heather met en route from Bangkok to Auckland in 2009, and meet her partner Christopher, and with Lara and Florian. We hope to see them sometime in the not too distant future in NZ! We stayed a night in Würzburg with Lisa and it is a very nice city. We saw a bit more of it this time and the Residenz, a large palace and grounds, was really impressive. Of course we enjoyed another drink on the Alte Main Bridge and had a delicious Chinese meal. Then it was back to Darmstadt and one final night before final packing and heading to Frankfurt Airport.



So, that’s the end of the Roggeveens’ trip. Just one more LOOOOOOONG plane journey home. Hopefully Astrid remembers to pick us up at the airport and has a bag (or two) of pineapple lumps with her!



By the time we get back on Saturday 22 August, we will have been away 122 days. In that time we will have travelled approximately 49,575 km on planes (distances calculated using www.airmilescalculator.com) as well as (using Google Maps) around 7400km by train, 3200km by bus, 2650 km by car / taxi, and 255 km by ferry / boat. This includes travel between cities and day trips, not transfers to and from accommodation from stations / airports / seaports, or short trips within a city by tram, train etc. We also did a lot of walking (I’ll estimate around 700 km).



We visited 19 countries: United Arab Emirates, England, Italy, Vatican City, Austria (twice), Croatia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany (twice), Denmark, Finland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Greece, and Hungary. We also transited through Australia twice and Romania once.



We saw a lot of cities and towns, some for extended periods, others just for a short while: Dubai (UAE); London (England); Rome, Zagarolo (Heather and Zachary), Castelfranco Veneto, Cavasagra, Venice, Lido, Murano (island), Burano (island), Padova, Treviso, Udine (all Italy); Villach, Seefeld in Tirol, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Mondsee (all Austria); Zagreb (Croatia); Bled, Ljubljana (all Slovenia); Zurich, Adelboden (all Switzerland); Munich, Darmstadt, Bacharach, St Goar, Mayen, Würzburg, Nürnberg, Dresden, Berlin, Potsdam, Krefeld, Bottropp, Zons, Düsseldorf, Kevelaer, Xanten, Frankfurt-am-Main, Köln, Heidelberg (all Germany); Brussels, Antwerp (all Belgium); Amsterdam, Volendam, Rotterdam, Delft (all Netherlands); Copenhagen, Skaerbaek (all Denmark); Helsinki, Äkäslompolo, Muonio, Kilpisjärvi (all Finland); Skibotn(Norway); Tallinn (Estonia); Riga, Jūrmala (all Latvia), Warsaw, Krakow (all Poland); Prague (Czech Rep); Istanbul, Troy, Eceabat, Cannakale, Beypazari, Ankara (all Turkey); Athens, Hydra (island), Poros (island), Angistri (island) (all Greece); Budapest (Hungary). This list does not include towns or cities we just passed through, only ones we stopped at for a while / saw something of, nor does it include excursions to towns to see one specific thing eg camps.



Some places we loved, others left us a bit underwhelmed. Of course, people have different impressions and get different things out of places. Of places we visited long enough to get a real impression of or feeling for:



Ed’s 12 favourite cities: Zagreb, London, Dresden, Istanbul, Budapest, Helsinki, Prague, Tallinn, Athens, Venice, Riga, Innsbruck. (I’ll cheat and give honourable mentions to Würzburg and Antwerp which I both really liked too!)



Ed’s 5 favourite towns: Kevelaer, Volendam, Bacharach, Beypazari, Potsdam.



Heather’s 12 favourite cities: London, Tallinn, Istanbul, Budapest, Prague, Helsinki, Venice, Antwerp, Würzburg, Dresden, Zagreb, Innsbruck.



Heather’s 5 favourite towns: Bled, Kevelaer, Burano, Volendam, Zagarolo.



Ed was underwhelmed by: Treviso, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, San Marco Square (Venice), English Gardens (Munich), Lido Beach.



Heather was underwhelmed by: Rome, Treviso, Brussels, Amsterdam, Riga, Athens, Lido Beach.



Pre-booking accommodation we were bound to get some great, some awful, and a lot between. Booking it all myself I relied on websites such as Trip Advisor and Expedia to give good information and advice. This was usually pretty reliable! Great: Mövenpick Hotel Zurich, Antwerp City Center Hotel, Wellton Old Palace Riga, Bitcenter Hotel Ljubljana, Prague Downtown Hostel, Sultan Hostel Istanbul. Not Great: Zagreb Youth Hostel, Noris Hotel Nürnberg, Akropol Termal Beypazari, Azimut Hotel Munich.



We caught quite a few flights on various airlines. Best of the airlines were: LOT Polish and Tarom Romanian (who’d have thought it?!) Also very impressed with Swiss Air and British Airways. Not so impressed with SAS Scandinavian and Aegean Airlines and the worst airline in the world may well be FinnAir.



We saw a lot of sights that were amazing or very cool – both natural and man-made: Burj Khalifa and Jumeirah Beach (Dubai); Houses of Parliament / Big Ben (London); Colosseum / Palatine Hill / Roman Forum (Rome); St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel (Vatican); Grand Canal (Venice); Sava River (Slovenia / Croatia); Lake Bled / Bled Island and Vintgar Gorge (Slovenia); Swiss Mountains (Adelboden); Munich town hall and Schloss Nymphenburg (Munich); Marienburg Fortress and the Residenz (Würzburg); Dresden Zwinger and Frauenkirche (Dresden); Brandenburg Gate and Section of the Wall (Berlin); Glienecke Bridge (Potsdam); Atomium (Brussels); Lake Kesäkanjärvi (Äkäslompolo); Lutheran Cathedral (Helsinki); Lyngen fjord (Skibotn); Tallinn Old Town (Tallinn); Charles Bridge (Prague); Bosphorus Strait, Bosphorus Bridge, Blue Mosque, and Basilica Cistern (Istanbul); Gallipoli Peninsula; Acropolis / Parthenon and Temple of Zeus (Athens); Danube River and Hungarian Parliament Building (Budapest); and Köln Cathedral.



We paid for a lot of attractions and some were definitely highlights and well worth the money. My personal favourite was going to see the Merchant of Venice at the Globe in London, closely followed by the Nordkettebahnen funicular and cable cars in Innsbruck. Worthy of a mention too in no particular order are Zurich Zoo; Vintgar Gorge (Bled); Ljubljana Castle; Deutsche Bahn Museum (Nürnberg); Mini-Europe and Museum of Natural Sciences (Brussels); De Efteling; Blijdorp Zoo (Rotterdam); Lennusadam (Tallinn); Legoland (Billund); Basilica Cistern (Istanbul); National Archaeological Museum and Ancient Sites (Athens); Yasayan Museum (Beypazari); Seurasaari Island and Open-Air Museum (Helsinki); LWL Industriemuseum (Waltrop); BMW Museum (Munich). Heather also recommends the Anne Frank House (Amsterdam). Our trip to Gallipoli was a highlight of course as was Auschwitz. Everyone should try to go there in their lifetime and it is well worth paying the small fee to do a guided tour.



There were also a lot of free attractions which were excellent: I loved walking up the Palatine Hill in Rome and the National Gallery in London. Highly recommended also are The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace (London); the Murano Glass workshop; Maksimir Park (Zagreb); Lake Bled; Dresden Zwinger; Topography of Terror and Gleis 17 (Berlin); Glienecke Bridge (Potsdam), Tetraedra (Bottrop); Landschaftpark (Duisburg); BMW Welt and Olympic Park (Munich); Linnanmaki Amusement Park (Helsinki). Heather also visited Dachau which is highly recommended.



As well we had some great experiences: seeing and playing in the beautiful powdery snow in Adelboden; seeing the Kodiak bear up close in Innsbruck’s Alpenzoo; having drinks on the Alte Main Bridge in Würzburg; sailing and spotting whales in Skaerbaek; seeing wild reindeer and elk in Lapland and playful squirrels in England and Germany; visiting the Anzac Memorial in London; visiting the Gallipoli peninsula; seeing the baby polar bears at Blijdorp zoo; buying carpet in Istanbul; swimming in the Aegean sea; and of course spending time with family and friends. Seeing Lisa again in Würzburg and staying with Anne and Henrik in Skaerbaek was fantastic and a huge thank you to them for having us. It was really great to see Hannie and Anja and we had a superb weekend with them. The Gebauers we saw last year in NZ and it was their visit that spurred us on to get this trip booked. It was lovely to see them again and to see Tim doing so well. That year in NZ under our guidance obviously sorted him out! And of course we have to make a special mention of the Hoffmanns. Barbara was so great from the time she knew we were coming, helping me organise things from her end when I was having difficulties. And then being kind enough to host us twice was amazing. They took us to a lot of places and were so generous with their time, resources, and knowledge. We hope that, in return, they have had some practice for their own grandchildren (come on girls, Rainer needs a few boys to keep him on his toes!) and that maybe we have given them the final gentle push they need to make the trip Down Under.



There were some great experiences for Zachary. Often it is the simple things that children enjoy. Of course he absolutely loved Legoland, De Efteling, and Linnanmaki Amusement Park as well as the various zoos, transport museums, and playgrounds we found. But I think that the one thing he maybe enjoyed most on the whole trip was in Skaerbaek when he got to go fishing for crabs off the wharf and also playing with / training Anne’s dogs. He also loved holding the snakes in Prague and enjoying nature in Slovenia. He loves the outdoors and animals so excursions involving these were usually winners (horse riding in Maksimir Park combined the two brilliantly!) He has developed an awareness of languages, countries, and that people are different and this can only be fantastic for his future development. He has loved visiting and staying with people. He has made many girlfriends throughout Europe. In UAE and Turkey he was very popular with the locals and also with Asian tourists everywhere. This caused some issues but he has hopefully learned that you must always be polite but that you don’t have to be everyone’s friend. He still is fascinated by transport and he was just as excited about seeing or going on a fast train with a pointy nose on the last day of the holiday as he was in the first.



Some attractions and places exceeded expectations. In some cases we went with a bit of trepidation, in others we had no expectations at all: Padova, Udine, Zagreb Zoo, all of Slovenia, Dresden, Potsdam, Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, and Beypazari township were all destinations that we were very pleased we went to.



We visited a lot of parks. By far the best was Maksimir Park in Zagreb. Sanssouci Park in Potsdam, Dzintari Forest Park in Jurmala (Riga), Kadriorg Park in Tallinn, and St James’s Park in London were also excellent.



A lot of really nice City Squares were visited. These are often great places to get a sense of the city. My favourite was definitely Ban Jelacic Square in Zagreb followed by Trafalgar Square in London. But also well worth visiting and spending time in were: Senate Square in Helsinki; Munich’s Marienplatz; Tallinn’s Town Hall Square; Heroes Square and Liberty Square in Budapest; Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul; Old Town Hall Square in Prague; Riga Town Hall Square; Groenplaats in Antwerp; and Preseren Square in Ljubljana.



On the whole the quality of dining out was very good and we had some very nice meals. The ones that stand out are: May 19 at Our Chalet in Switzerland (a good old roast dinner with great company); May 21 at the Ristorante Alt Seefeld, Austria (traditional Tyrolean food – sausage, sauerkraut); June 19 at Brutus Beer in Rotterdam with the extended family (the experience, not just the food); July 27 at Bag Evi Andalou Mutfagi in Beypazari (beautifully cooked traditional Turkish); August 2 at Taverna Acropolis in Athens (fantastic venue, great food and really good service); August 16 at Früh am Dom, Köln (great German food, funny waiter); August 18 in Würzburg (fantastic Chinese food done cheap!) One stands out at the opposite end of the scale: Hot Horse in Ljubljana. We can say that we have now tried horse meat and have no desire to do so again.



Of course, travelling with a child we liked places that were child-friendly. That is, places where it easy to travel with a child – where there are things for them to do, parks for them to play in etc. In terms of countries UAE, Turkey, and Denmark stand out. Helsinki though gets the prize for most child-friendly city. Amsterdam gets the opposite award.



We saw some interesting driving. The best drivers are undoubtedly Germans. I used to think New Zealanders were the worst drivers in the world, but now I have been to Italy and know they are not. From a pedestrian point of view the most courteous drivers were found in Tallinn, Estonia and Budapest, Hungary.



We did a lot of walking and some places are definitely pedestrian-friendly: Warsaw gets the award here with honourable mentions to Innsbruck, Zagreb, Dresden, and Antwerp. However, as a pedestrian you risk your life every time you go out in Amsterdam, Istanbul, and Athens! Walking in Budapest, Prague or Treviso also can be hazardous to your health.



As well as our feet we relied on public transport. Even the worst public transport in Europe is ten times better than the best public transport in NZ. Residents of the city may be surprised to hear that we found London to have the best public transport. For the time we were there we found it efficient, not expensive, and fully functional. Maybe we got lucky? Very good also was Dubai, Dresden, Padova, Zagreb, and Munich. I must also mention that Munich and Athens have very clean metro stations, whereas Brussels certainly does not. The ease of using ticketing machines is important for tourists. Athens is the hands-down winner here whereas Zurich’s were bewildering and Berlin’s were just a pain in the rear.



We met lots of nice people and a few characters. With only a few exceptions were people friendly and helpful. Mr Rado in Bled stands out for his hospitality and helpfulness. The taxi driver that took us to Ljubljana Airport was great to talk to. The driver who transported us to Äkäslompolo went out of his way to help us. The taxi driver that transported us a couple of times in Beypazari was very helpful and friendly. The biggest character though was probably the laundry lady in Tallinn! Overall I would nominate Slovenia, UAE, and Turkey as the countries that had the nicest people Finland edges them out in terms of the most helpful. The rudest people in the world are young Italians and the young Irish we encountered weren’t much better (perhaps the ones in Ireland are nicer though). Estonians, Poles and Croats are very direct, but not unfriendly.



We encountered many different languages. My basic knowledge of German was useful but English language acquisition in Germany is very high, although the award for best English speakers goes to Finland, closely followed by Denmark. We picked up a smattering of Italian but were very poor about Greek and Turkish. However, we muddled through. Hardest language to try to figure out was Suomi (Finnish) although we found “train-announcer” a bit bewildering everywhere!



A few other random observations / awards:



Cleanest cities: Warsaw, Dubai, Dresden.



Dirtiest cities: Brussels, Treviso, Athens. Munich and Athens also get a special mention for having an incredibly large amount of beggars!



Best train network / system: Germany and Austria. You can easily go from anywhere to anywhere at any time. The Netherlands is at the other end.



Nicest trains: Austria and Switzerland.



Best train journey: Rome to Venice on ItaloRail.



Best bus journey: Udine to Villach.



Craziest city: Rome / Vatican City followed by Istanbul (which was crazy in a nice way).



Worst TV dubbing: Estonia. Most countries dubbed English programs, including kids programs. In Estonia all the voices seemed to be done by one adult and it was laughably awful!



Country most like NZ: Denmark. People seem to have a very similar approach to life and the landscape is not too different either.



Overall we didn’t spend as much money as we thought we would. We got our euros when the dollar was strong so that helped, but some places were very cheap in terms of accommodation, eating, transport, and attractions. Your money goes a very long way in Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia, Greece, and Italy. Also good value for tourists are Turkey, Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria. You need to budget a wee bit more carefully in Belgium, Finland, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. If you want a wallet-friendly holiday then you really want to limit your time in Denmark, UAE, and especially Switzerland (The $55 Burger King meal is enough to give any Dutchman nightmares).



Of course, when you travel you expect things to be different and this is part of the fun. But there were some things we just couldn’t get used to or understand: People stopping in the middle of the footpath to text / talk / rest and blocking it (especially prevalent in Italy and in German cities); Bicycles coming from multiple directions and not paying attention to signals or signs; No seatbelts in Turkish taxis; Footpaths that were useless for pedestrians as they were used as seating for restaurants and car parking; Late breakfasts (Europeans start the day much later); TV dubbing (with the high level of English acquisition surely subtitles make more sense?); Continuous heat from Krakow to Darmstadt; No air-conditioning or coffee / tea making facilities in hotels; Supermarkets being closed on Sundays; People taking their dogs with them everywhere; The extremely high smoking rate (cigarettes are very cheap and sold in vending machines in most places) and the lack of non-smoking areas.



We’ve had some laughs along the way – in Bled Zachary told us he was ready to go out. He didn’t have his hat on so I said to him: “something on your head?” Without missing a beat he picked up one of his toy cars and put it on his head; The Lego Hoff presiding over the fall of the Wall and singing “Looking for Freedom” still has me chuckling; People not paying any attention to where they are on trains and rushing for the door at the last moment when they realise they are at their stop. But there are some things that weren’t so funny – apart from Heather nearly getting seriously injured in Treviso by an idiot driver, we saw lots of beggars, especially in Munich and Athens. One woman begging in a metro station in Athens with a newborn baby was tough to ignore (we had a policy of not giving money to beggars) although I am aware of plenty of scams, so who knows if it was even her baby? However, it transpired in a later conversation that both Heather and I almost went to give her some money, and that if we had seen her next time we were there we would have (I had decided I would give her €50 and hope that she used it for the right things).



So that’s it. We’ve seen a lot more of the world. It would have been great to have had more time in some places, especially London and Istanbul. You could easily spend a month in each of these places as there is so much to see and do, especially if you have an interest in history, art, and religion. I would have no hesitation in going back to London and would certainly consider living there (I don’t think they’d have me at my age though). Finland would be another place that would be easy to live in I think, apart from the language! I would also have liked to explore more of Eastern Europe (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, rest of Croatia etc) and Turkey. We didn’t make it to St Petersburg, Moscow, Jordan and Israel which is a real shame, but we had only a certain amount of time and money. That will have to be another trip, along with the Horn of Africa. North Korea is high on my list too (but definitely not on Heather’s).



We’ll get back to the tail end of a NZ winter and it sounds like we chose a good one to miss. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read this blog. I have enjoyed writing it and sharing our experiences. If you have been to any of the places we have, hopefully it has brought back some memories for you. If you are considering going to Europe, hopefully this blog has helped you form some plans. If you don’t fall into either of those categories I hope you have just enjoyed vicariously being along for the ride.



I wish you all Gute reisen, Buon viaggio, Lykkelige rejser, Mutlu seyahatler, Vrolijke reizen, Boldog utazás, Sreta putovanja, Vesele putovanja, Šťastnécesty or in plain English, Happy travels!





Ed

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20th August 2015

You've Got To Be Kidding
Pineapple Lumps - aren't you supposed to be bringing me presents - after all you went on holiday and traditionally the traveler brings back a nice memento for the abandoned, hardworking, selfless person left behind. Anyway I don't think I can bring them, either Ma, Noah or Dale would eat them before we get to the airport.
20th August 2015

Pineapple Lumps and Presents.
As you know we are arriving back with one suitcase more than we left with...
20th August 2015

Safe travels back home. I have really enjoyed reading your blog. Now what am I going to read???? ha ha. See you when we get back from the wedding :-)
21st August 2015

Thanks!
Thanks for the interesting and amusing travel tales. I've enjoyed keeping track of your journey and have ignored your slights about Australian cricket!

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