Friday, July 8, 2016

Germany mini-trip - day 1

So it came up that Ally would be going to Cologne for work again, for the fourth time in less than ten months. We’d vaguely discussed I might tag along on one of these trips, and this seemed as good a time as any, so we quickly cobbled together a long weekend plan. In brief: we fly out of Toronto on Thursday evening, arrive in Frankfurt Friday morning, spend a day there before going to St. Goar in the Rhine Valley around lunchtime on Saturday, spend two and a half days there. On Tuesday I return home, and Ally goes on to Cologne to do her work, returning on Friday. It might be seen as a lot of cost and effort for such a short trip, but on the other hand, her flights are already paid for. Anyway, for various logistical reasons we couldn’t add on any more days; it was this or nothing, so we decided to go with this.

It’s been a long time since we had any real problems at airports, and that held again here; both our arrival and departure took place at near-record speed (it helps that we were flying premium economy, which gets you into the business class check-in counter and moves your luggage up in priority, among other things). We took a train to the main station, which of course was as easy as everything train-related in Europe. We’d picked a hotel near there to reduce logistical challenges, and located it easily enough after a few initial wrong turns. As so often, the streets around the station might not be regarded as the best invitation to the city, although it’s just life with all of its waiting and staring and yelling and scurrying. Certainly the streets belong to the new heterogeneous Europe, not to the old guard.

We stayed at the Hotel Bliss, oddly described in the room as an “exhibition and design hotel for the discerning little closer.” The design is of a familiar kind – lots of clean white lines: there are photos of old Hollywood stars throughout, although it’s hard to see how that relates to anything, thematically speaking (we were in the Audrey Hepburn room, at the end of the James Stewart corridor). Our plan for the afternoon was simple enough – walk to the downtown old city, which seemed like it should take half an hour or so, then maybe walk along the Rhine, and return to the hotel for a break having lapped up the main Frankfurt attractions, albeit not in much depth. So we went out, and after stopping at a nearby bakery for a snack, launched into just that.

This ended up as one of the more inexplicable escapades of our many travels together. We’ve often started walking without looking at the map in too much detail – usually it works out fine; when it doesn’t, it’s an experience in itself. Today we wanted to stay more or less on track because of our limited time here, so after initially wandering off track a bit, we consulted the map, adjusted our route and kept going. We were walking directly towards the old city, but we kept walking and it refused to appear. Eventually we came to some older residential streets and thought, this must be the start of it, but then that ended and we were merely walking along a highway. We couldn’t make any sense of it from the map. Then eventually we realized we’d been walking away from the city, the greatest blunder possible. We’ve done this before, but always as a result of being caught up in irregular street layouts where even a subtle shift in your sense of direction extrapolates into overshooting the moon by about half a light-year. On this occasion the streets had seemed largely straight, and straightforward, so it’s especially perplexing. At least we blundered together – it’s not as if one of us had overridden the instincts of the other, thus giving the latter something to bring up for the rest of our days (if we were like that).

Anyway, the residential streets that we'd taken for the old city of Frankfurt actually belonged to the nearby town of Griesheim. We caught a bus to the Griesheim station, and then a train back to Frankfurt (for all of our prolonged efforts, the as-the-crow-flies train journey took an embarrassing four minutes). It was a pretty hot afternoon, so we were tired even if we hadn’t accomplished much. And anyway, it wasn’t a complete failure. Other than having the story itself, we'd had plenty to look at – we were surprised for instance at the volume of industrial activity so close to the heart of a major city (perhaps as a sign of Germany’s status as the engine of Europe), although even that observation tells you maybe we should have realized earlier on that something wasn’t right…

We went back to the hotel for a while, where we napped a bit and tried not to feel too disappointed in ourselves. When we came back out after 7, we diligently followed the map (there's an idea!). The first part of the walk didn’t yield too much of interest – a lot of deserted restaurants winding up for the day. Eventually we reached the business district and the big Euro sign sculpture outside the European Central Bank, and from there the river. It was a warm but not stifling night and the banks were filled with couples and groups hanging out, cyclists, summer activity. We crossed to the other side, walked along for a while, crossed back on another bridge and then into the old town. It’s quite compact, less than a square kilometer, and of course teeming with our kind of people – tourists! (in truth though it is a much more sterile-feeling environment than the area around the hotel, which one might consider a good or a bad thing). Like all European towns, the main square is filled with open-air restaurants, and we ended up at one of those – the Zum Schwarzen Stern. It was emphasizing meals based on chanterelles, as they’re in season, so we both went with that, and the time happily passed. It eventually got dark (maybe half an hour later than at home) and we took a taxi back to the hotel. Then we noticed for the first time a stylish-looking bar across the street, so we went there for a final drink. And so in the end we basically achieved our plans for Frankfurt after all!

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