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Posts Tagged ‘Castle’

I spent my first year of university studying at a castle in England.  Along with 150 other Canadian students, I travelled around the country for school-organised field trips and spent a great deal of time soaking up everything London had to offer.  In February of that school year, my friend Erin and I decided it was time to spread our wings a little and travel independently.  Flights to Europe were dead cheap and it was not uncommon for the castle’s population to diminish significantly on weekends when groups and pairs of students would take off on adventures.

When it came time to select our destination, did we decide on somewhere exotic and take off to Barcelona?  No.  Did we consult our bucket lists and fly to Roma to see the Colosseum?  No.  We went to Ryanair’s website, sought out the cheapest flight and booked ourselves a weekend in Frankfurt with a day trip to Köln.

Years later, I can’t tell you exactly what was on our minds when we planned that trip.  I can recall vividly, however, the looks on our friends’ faces when we announced our grand destination.  There was more than a little confusion from the masses and I couldn’t blame them, I was uncertain myself.

Never ones to pass up on the adventures in even the most obscure locations, Erin and I did our homework and prepped for our trip, researching walking tours and hidden gems.  We booked ourselves into a hostel (our first!) on the river Main and set off to conquer the city with confidence.  And we did!  It wasn’t the most glamorous holiday we’d ever take but I remember it fondly because Frankfurt am Main was a lovely surprise.

With Erin and the Frankfurt skyline in 2004

For the most part, Frankfurt is a modern city.  It was bombed heavily in the second World War and we found great post cards showing us pre-war images of a once beautiful medieval city centre. While effort was made in some cases to recreate the city’s splendour, reconstruction was often simple and modern; this resulted in severe architectural contrast in some parts of the city.

These homes in the Römerberg were reconstructed between 1981-1984

Destroyed in WWII, Frankfurt's old opera house was a ruin until 1981

We found great art galleries to tour and had a lot of fun at a film museum.  We visited Goethe’s house, stumbled upon an outdoor market and took ourselves on walking tours of the city.  On our last day we rode the train not to Köln but to Mainz where we walked until our feet ached.  The people were friendly, the food and drink excellent and I fell in love with Germany.

Mainz Cathedral suffered damage in several battles between 1792 and 1942

Maybe it’s the line of German blood running through my veins, but after living abroad or travelling for some time there is something about Germany that feels to me like coming home.  Several years after our first trip to Germany, Erin and I stopped in Köln (we got there eventually!) and Berlin while backpacking through Europe.  We remarked then that Germany felt more like Canada than any other European country: streets and crossings are familiar; food is hearty and simple; people seem down to earth and even the weather is pretty well matched.  We didn’t have to think about too much when we were in Germany and when you’re travelling a lot, this can be an unexpected relief.

So, if you know anything about my travel history, you know how fond I am of Germany.  And if you’ve read a bit of this blog, you know how much I enjoyed the drive through the Adelaide Hills.  Imagine my delight, then, to discover a German community in the Hills.

When European settlers came to South Australia, many found land to settle in the hillside.  As in any city or region, cultural groups stuck together and a number of towns in the Hills remain German communities to this day.  This is pretty clear when you’re visiting the area as there are many Lutheran churches and schools; German shops and restaurants are plenty.

Our first stop on a cloudy, gloomy Saturday was Lobethal. When we discovered that the market we’d set as our destination closed in the fall, we wandered over to Lobethal Bierhaus: a micro brewery with excellent beer (Andrew strongly recommends the Red Truck Porter) and a to-die-for menu.  We intended to find a German pub for schnitzel later and didn’t want to ruin dinner so we limited ourselves to a sampling of Bierhaus’ home made dips and watched enviously as our neighbours’ tables filled up with delicious looking fare.

We spent a couple of hours people watching and enjoying our wine and beer while we sat by the Bierhaus fireplace.   Thanks to my days working in seasonal resorts, I recognised a group of weather-worn and weary cycle tourists when they trickled in to warm up, rest their bodies and sample the local beer.  They’d ridden from Adelaide all the way up to Lobethal in their first and toughest day of the tour  and we spoke them for a while before a bus load of rowdy cricketers arrived and we made are good-byes.

Inside Lobethal Bierhaus

It’s a short but pretty drive from Lobethal to Hahndorf, the more touristy German village in the Hills.  I’d was prepared for a bit of camp and was pleased to find a sleepy little town with local food shops and galleries.  As we walked up and down the main street, window shopping and admiring art, I was reminded of St. Jacobs, Ontario.

On the streets of Hahndorf

The White House

It was a bit early for dinner and the German Arms Hotel was empty and less than inviting so we wandered over to The White House for a drink.  Not at all German-like, The White House is after a French café feel and while they’re not quite there yet, it was a comfortable spot.  I ordered a mojito that was almost too strong to drink  and we lounged about until finally deciding it was time for that schnitzel.

We’d parked outside the German Arms but while we were walking around the town we passed the Hahndorf Inn and decided its atmosphere was more appealing.  It reminded me of some of the beer halls I visited in Germany.   Servers brought around platters of meat and steins full of beer and the restaurant was full of laughter with friends and family talking over each other.  We took our time soaking up our surroundings and dining on traditional German fare.  Metre-long bratwurst, anyone?  It was a lot of fun and a lovely end to another wonderful afternoon in the Hills.  It didn’t feel at all touristy and, true to form, I felt right at home.

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One evening in the spring of 1997 I was sitting cross-legged in front of the television on my family’s living room floor.  I was watching a PBS program with my mother.  My mom has never been a big TV-watcher and living in the country we were limited to channels the weather-afflicted-antennae felt like presenting us but every now and then we’d stumble upon something wonderful.  Today, it seems cable television gives us whatever we ask for but when I was 12, shows about great sandwiches from US cities and documentaries on the pyramids in Egypt were something to be treasured.

On this particular evening we were watching a captivating program about Venice.  The show featured beautiful glass work and chandeliers that had been hung over canals and under bridges.  I’d never seen anything quite like it and I was instantly smitten.  I think Venice is intrinsically magical.  Don’t you?  There’s something about a city that appears to float that suspends reality.  On childhood road trips we’d often listen to the Classical Kids Series (Beethoven Lives Upstairs and Mr. Bach Comes to Call) and Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, set in Venice, was the most mysterious of them all.  I was no stranger to Venice but I’d never seen it quite like this.

A segment focused on tourism in the city and talked about the amount garbage accumulated by visitors alone and all the other physical damage the industry was causing.  Venice was drowning, we were warned, and one of the precautionary measures under consideration was to prohibit tourist travel to the city.  Honestly, this terrified me!

Yes, it was concerning that the city was sinking but it was most alarming to hear that tourists might not be allowed in.  I might not be allowed inside this magical city!  I don’t know if it’s possible to pin point the origin of my wanderlust but that moment and the months of Venetian fascination that followed might just be it.

In high school I spent a month improving my French in Paris and when Queen’s University visited our senior class and handed out booklets on their first year abroad program at a castle in England it was love at first sight.  Whether or not I’m fortunate enough to be travelling in a particular moment, I am always engaged in the activity: thinking about places to explore; seeking out adventures in familiar neighbourhoods; giving unsolicited travel advice to friends and family and strangers on the transit line.  It’s this intent to travel that keeps me feeling like a traveller when I’m not doing much travelling at all and it’s what makes me feel present and connected and rather sponge-like when I am on an adventure.

Whenever I’ve been away for extended periods of time I’ve kept an online record.  These journals live all over the interwebs, though some have been lost to technological growth (RIP GeoCities) and it’s my hope that this new space will take on the memories of my next journey and all the adventures that may follow thereafter. 

Oh, and I did make it to Venice.  Twice, actually.  And while it hasn’t yet been swallowed by the sea, I will say that it lived up to every expectation… both times.

With Erin in Piazza San Marco, March 2004

 

Enjoying gelato and Grandma on the canals in March, 2006

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