Frankfurt and Home

Frankfurt – Last Stop(s)

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I was booked to spend my last two nights in Europe in Frankfurt. I didn’t have any great desire to see Frankfurt, but flying home from the Frankfurt airport was the cheapest option, so I arranged to round out my trip there.

I broke up my train ride from Munich to Frankfurt by stopping in Nuremberg for the day. Nuremberg is a cute little city, with gingerbread style houses and a bunch of churches. It rained while I was there, so after walking through the old town, I visited the documentation centre at the site of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds to get a final dose of WWII history.

I didn’t do much in Frankfurt except walk around, but I really enjoyed the one day I spent there. I found it very clean for such a big city, and liked watching all the people in business suits getting coffee in the financial sector. On the last night of my trip I went for a walk along the river and gazed up at the Frankfurt skyline.

It was hard to be sad that the adventure was over when I was so happy it happened. I got to see so many amazing, beautiful places. I visited the Harry Potter film studios, picnicked on the banks of the Seine river in Paris, cycled through Amsterdam, went to the opera in Vienna and climbed mountains in Germany. And after five and a half weeks, I was excited to go home to a big plate of vegetables, amazing friends and family, and an exciting job.

I loved travelling solo. I was able to spend hours just wandering through cities, walking as fast or as slow as I wanted. And keeping this blog was great because it gave me a purpose. My mission was to take hundreds of pictures, go on tours and learn the history of each city I visited so I could post about it here.

Anyone who says it’s unsafe for a girl to travel alone in Europe is misguided. It’s no less safe then walking around any city in Canada by yourself. Just like at home, you have to use common sense if you’re in an area that feels unsafe, and you’ll be fine.

I would encourage absolutely everyone, at any age, to take time to travel Europe. Whether you go for two weeks or two months, I’ve never met anyone who regrets going to Europe. Travelling is a great learning experience, which teaches you about yourself and the world around you.

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NEXT STOP: Home Sweet Home

Meandering through Munich

Munich – Prost! (Cheers)

(For more pictures from Munich, scroll through the slideshow at the bottom of this post)

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It took me a day (plus a stein or two) to warm up to Munich. After breathing in the fresh air of Austria’s alps for three days, it was disappointing to walk out of the Munich train station and find myself in a smelly, flat city. I wanted to hop the next train back to Austria, but I was booked in Munich for five nights, more time than I had allotted for any other city. On top of that, I was developing a case of end-of-trip blues. Munich was my last major stop. I had to find a way to make the most of it.

So I did what all good tourists do in Munich. I went to the beer hall. In my defense, I went on a historical walking tour, met a crowd of fellow backpackers, and then went to the beer hall.

Mini history lesson on Munich

  • Munich, or Munchen, translates to “by the monks” in old German
  • When the city was taken over by the Swedish army in the 1600s, it didn’t have enough gold to purchase its freedom. Instead, officials paid the Swedish army in beer
  • Modern day Oktoberfest began in the 1800s, as a celebration of prince Ludwig’s marriage to princess Theresa (Ironically, Ludwig was the guy no one liked because he taxed beer to build opera houses)

Our eight person beer hall crew (three Australians, two Canadians, an American, a Colombian and a girl from Taiwan) toured four different beer halls, including the famous Hofbrauhaus. Hofbrauhaus is a magical place where even locals wear lederhosen, waiters cart four steins of beer in each hand, and visitors belt German drinking songs and “prost!” (cheers) with complete strangers.

Beautiful Bavaria

Neuschwanstein Castle, my new place

Neuschwanstein Castle, my new place

At this point in my trip I had seen my share of old town squares and Gothic architecture, so after visiting Munich’s main sites such as Marienplatz, St. Peter’s Church and the English Garden, I spent my remaining time day-tripping to the Bavarian alps. My first day-trip was a no-brainer. I had been planning on visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in the outlying town of Fussen since I first decided to backpack Europe.

Ludwig II built Neuschwanstein in the 1800s but didn’t finish the inside of the castle before he died. The outside is impressive enough. Neuschwanstein was the inspiration behind the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. Basically, it’s the ultimate princess castle. After seeing pictures of it on the Internet for so long, it was pretty spectacular to gaze up at its turrets in person.

I was really torn about what to do on my last day in Munich. I almost stayed in the city and went to the BMW museum, but I knew it was my last chance to see the alps. So following a suggestion on my hostel map, I hopped a train to the unpronounceable town of Garmisch Partenkirchen, alp central and site of the 1936 Winter Olympics.

Day-tripping to Bavaria is worth it just for the train rides. You basically spend an hour and a half with your face stuck up against the window, rolling through tiny German towns with wooden cottages and cows grazing out front. And then out of nowhere, the alps pop up in the background. The view is stunning.

The big attraction in Garmisch Partenkirchen is the Zugspite. At 2962 metres, it’s Germany’s highest mountain. I wasn’t quite equipped to scale it in my suede boots and pea coat, so I opted for the more touristy hike to the Partnach gorge, followed by a climb up the smaller Eckbauer mountain.

Hiking in Bavaria actually reminds me of hiking New Brunswick’s Fundy Trail. Except the hills are mountains and the water is aqua green because it’s rushing down stream from a glacier. So basically, it’s like the Fundy Trail on steroids. I definitely made the right decision to spend my last day in Munich in the alps. Cities are great, but I could stare at the snow-capped peaks of the alps forever.

Munich Favourites:

HOFBRAUHAUS: The best way to experience Oktoberfest culture outside of Oktoberfest. Beer is served by the litre. You’ll never want to leave.

THE BAVARIAN ALPS: Only one or two hours from Munich by train, depending on where you go. You can buy a Bavarian ticket for 22 euros that gets you unlimited travel in the region (including local buses) after 9am.

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NEXT STOP: Frankfurt, Germany

Ich bin in Berlin

Berlin – History Central

(For more photos from Berlin check out the slide show at the bottom of this post)

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The Halfway-Point

This is crazy to think about, but Berlin is the half-way point in my trip. The number one thing I miss after 22 days of travel (besides friends and family) is home cooked food. But putting aside my burning desire for a four course meal, I’m doing all right. I think I picked the perfect amount of time to travel. A month and a half gives you enough time to settle in to the backpacking life, without stretching it to the point where you can’t face another walking tour.

Travelling solo has actually been great. I love being on my own schedule and getting to do and see whatever I want. Solo travel is a very selfish practice when you stop to think about it. I do have moments, often in the evening if I’m bored, when a wave of loneliness will wash over me as I think about all the people I miss from home. But the loneliness never lasts long, before I remember where I am, and the beauty and history of the places I’m visiting overwhelms me.

The giant history lesson

Out of the places I’ve visited so far, Berlin’s history is the most interesting. The city played major roles in the Prussian empire, WWII and the Cold War, so stories literally swell from almost every building, monument and square. I did a walking tour on my first day that took us to a parking lot over the bunker where Adolph Hitler killed himself a week before WWII ended. I was standing there looking at this now unimpressive, grassy car-park, when a wave of realization came and punched me in the gut. All I could think was, history happened here.

And it’s a dark, horrific history. I visited the Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s a field of more than 2000 concrete blocks of varying sizes. The farther you walk into the memorial, the higher the blocks become until there is hardly any light. The ground literally rolls underneath you. I was immediately filled with this ominous sense of dread and oppression.

I spent an afternoon in the free museum underneath the memorial. In a room called the Room of Names, you sit on a bench while the name of a Holocaust victim is projected onto all four walls. A voice reads a brief biography in German and English, and then another name comes up. It was equally hypnotizing and horrific to learn how so many people had died. The guide says you would have to sit in the Room of Names for six years, seven months and 27 days to listen to every biography in the database.

Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

On my last day in Berlin I toured Sachsenhausen, which is a concentration camp about 45 minutes outside of Berlin. I knew I wanted to visit a concentration camp at some point while I was in Europe, so I signed up for a guided tour. I don’t know how to describe the atrocities that occurred at Sachsenhausen without doing those who died there an injustice. It was bitterly cold the morning I visited. All I could think about was how thousands of people had frozen to death, starved or been murdered in the spot I was standing. It is not the happiest of day trips, but I would recommend visiting a concentration camp if you’re in Europe. Seeing first hand what you’ve only read about in textbooks is always worthwhile.

There is a less-somber side to Berlin. I saw tons of street art while touring around, and there was a giant beer garden just a short walk from my hostel. I happened to be in Berlin for Germany’s national holiday, which celebrates the country’s reunification in 1990. There was a big party and concert beside the Brandenburg Tor. It seemed similar to the celebrations we throw for Canada Day. I ate some German currywurst (a spicy sausage) and hung out until my toes froze.

Berlin Favourites:

REICHSTAG DOME: The top of Germany’s parliament building features a giant glass dome that you can walk around in and see the city. It’s free! But go early or  you will stand in line forever.

THE EAST SIDE GALLERY: The longest stretch of the Berlin Wall that is still standing. Unlike the stretch located near Checkpoint Charlie, this part of the wall has been decorated with street art. Makes a great morning stroll.

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NEXT STOP: Prague, Czech Republic