This is to document my European trip from 11 September 2008 through 2 October 2008. I left Chicago on the 10th and arrived in Amsterdam on the morning of the 11th. However, I immediately took a train from Schipol Airport to Germany. The vast majority of the trip was in Germany, although I made a 1 day excursion to Denmark, I spent a couple of days in Vienna and I passed through the Czech Republic on a train to Dresden. My primary mode of transport was by rail. Below, I document which cities I visited in order and provide links to pictures I took in each place. Enjoy!
My first destination was Hameln, a city in north central Germany. It is famous for the tale of the Pied Piper. Here, I took a river cruise, listened to a folk music concert in the city center and hiked to the top of the hill across the bridge from town.
Next, I headed for Schleswig, which is in the far north close to the border with Denmark. In fact, this area used to be part of Denmark until Otto von Bismark wrested it away from the Danes through a combination of guile and force. The Viking influence here was evident and, across the Schlei (fjord), there is a good museum documenting that history, which I visited. I also visited the Gottorf Schloss, which has a very interesting museum inside of it. It contains, among other things, art, furniture from the period when the Schloss was a residence, archaelogy and even a display on the growing problem of waste disposal. I also took a boat cruise up the Schlei some way. I liked the town because it seemed easy-going and off the beaten track. I spent 4 nights here.
From Schleswig, I took a day trip to Flensburg which is only 3 kilometers from the border with Denmark. I took a boat cruise here which, according to the map, actually crosses the border. I also ate in a Danish restaurant, where I had a conversation with the waitress, who is Danish. She seemed quite proud of her country and convinced me to make Denmark a part of my trip.
I left Schleswig and decided somewhat arbitrarily to go to Aarhus, Denmark, since I once knew someone who hailed from there. I learned on the train, through talking to an American sitting across from me, that this was not the best choice since there was a conference going on at the time and he had trouble finding a hotel. On arrival, the tourist office did manage to find a private room for me which was not too expensive and not too far away. I wandered around the center of town, took in the sites and ate at a Danish restaurant where I had a meal of oven-fried pork, potatoes and beets washed down by red wine. Here I also drank a half liter of Royal Classic beer, which turned out to be memorable because it was very good and very expensive, close to the going rate at Oktoberfest in Munich.
My next destination was Trier, in West Germany near Luxembourg. Since this is a long way from Aarhus, I made sure to leave early in the morning and I spent the next night at Essen, an intermediate city. On the way there and on the way out, I made sure that the train took me along the banks of the Rhine River, which is very scenic between Bonn and Mainz. There are hills on both sides of the river dotted by small towns and castles on top. In one place, there was even a castle on an island in the river. Both coming and going, I changed trains at Koblenz, which allowed me to travel along the banks of the Mosel River, where I saw a lot of vineyards. Once at Trier, I saw the Roman ruins of the old city gateway, Porta Nigra, and the baths, which are fairly well preserved. I also took a hike in the hills across the river from the town and a boat cruise. Both nights, I found good eating at a crowded place favoured by locals called Am Eck and an upscale place called Weisshaus.
From here, I wanted to go further south. At first, I thought that I might spend a night or two in Mannheim and make an excursion to Heidelburg but then I noticed that I could, by changing trains 4 times, make it just short of Switzerland at a reasonable time of day. At Koblenz, I bought a ticket for Beuron and my plan was to hike there along the headwaters of the Danube River. I ended up staying in Tuttlingen because, along the way, I saw a steam train parked at Rottweil which I wanted to ride. I spent the next day in search of that train. I inquired at the Rottweil tourist office and they gave me a schedule (in German) which I interpreted to say that I could go to a town called Zollhaus-Blumberg and ride the steam train from there back to Tuttlingen. I wander around Rottweil a bit and then buy a ticket for Villingen, where I wander around for a few hours. The town seems nice enough and the steam train leaves late in the afternoon. Then, I buy a ticket for Zollhaus-Blumberg, which is a train ride to Donauschingen and then a bus ride for the rest of the way. I arrive there, but there is no steam excursion. I settle for some pictures and then struggle to find my way back to Tuttlingen (two bus rides and then two train rides.)
The next day, I hike around Beuron. It lives up to its billing as a scenic hike. Also, the town is quite friendly.
My next stop is Oktoberfest but, since I imagine it must be difficult to find accomodation in Munich, I base myself in nearby Augsburg. It turned out that Augsburg is also too close, I had to ask the tourist office to find something for me and I was lucky to find something even close to affordable. However, Augsburg in itself is a nice town where I found nice sights, a good brauerei and an authentic Italian restaurant. I spent a day in Munich, where I went to Oktoberfest during lunchtime and visited Nymphenburg Schloss. I also had glimpses of Odeonsplatz and the Olympic Stadium. I had a head cold, felt under the weather and, in fact, did suffer from some rain that was quite heavy at times. I still managed to enjoy myself at Oktoberfest, thanks to some friendly neighbours at the bench where I sat and imbibed. For the rest, it certainly helped that I bought a transit day pass and made liberal use of it. It was interesting to see men dressed in lederhosen whereever I went.
My next stop is Vienna, a city that I have wanted to see for a long time. I spent a couple of days there and mainly hung around the center of the city around the Hofburg Palace, Michaelerplatz and the Opera House. I also caught a glimpse of the Mozart House. I rode the trams and the U-bahn a lot. Good examples of that were excursions to the Danube River and a park alongside the Danube Canal. My lodging was at a pension on the north side of the city.
My next stop is Dresden, where I plan to hike in Saxon Switzerland on the banks of the Elbe River near the Czech border. I have a bit of trouble getting there, through my own mistakes. Although my train was going north from Vienna, it left from the Suedbahnhof (South Train Station.) My accomodation was in the North part of the city, so I took 2 U-bahn trains and a tram to get to the train station. I took the tram going the wrong way and had to backtrack. It turned out to be no problem, especially since the train left 20 minutes late. I had 3 compartment mates, one who preferred to remain silent and the others who only spoke German. I was able to have a limited conversation with them by straining my broken German. I learned that the mountains in Moravia are a good place to hike and, fortunately, I told them where I was going. In Prague, I stepped off the train for too long of a break and it pulled away with my luggage. After much anxiety, I found when I arrived in Germany on the next train that my bags were waiting for me at my destination. My compartment mates must have notified the crew. Once in Dresden, I spent the next two days hiking in Saxon Switzerland. The scenery was excellent, the train station at Kurort Rathen proved to be a good spot for train watching and, on one of the days, I had a local specialty of smoked trout for lunch.
Kurort Rathen (Saxon Switzerland)
The final stop on this trip is Berlin. Upon arriving in the shiney, new Hauptbahnhof, I buy a map of the city and walk a short distance into the former East Berlin to find a hotel. I find one without too much trouble, have a German meal at a bar and then spend the rest of the afternoon around Charlottenburg Schloss. I have trouble finding it at first, but eventually find it after I figure out that it is about 1 kilometer north of the train stop of that name. Since it is raining, I spend more time inside to ponder the exhibits and the rooms than outside. I end the day by eating at a cafe in Hackescher Markt. The next morning, I spend the two hours that remain by visiting a remnant of the old Berlin Wall, stopping by Checkpoint Charlie and walking a bit down the Unter den Linden.