Sunday, September 26, 2010

Europe II

The other day I began the story of my first trip back to Europe at age 18. The European trip started and ended at Amsterdam. The land that Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is built on used to be a lake. It was still a lake in the 17th century and the part that the airport is located on was Schiphol, literally "ship hole." The waters in this area of the Haarlemmermeer (Haarlem Lake) was whipped up in severe storms only to send ships and boats to their deep grave, hence the name. Later the lake was drained and used as farmland. Around the WWI an airport was built there and later a Fokker airplane production plant was built nearby. Then the area was developed to what we have now.

So once I got to Dortmund where did I go? Well, I had left Canada with a student railpass (2nd class) good for two months plus a rail timetable for all of West Germany, including to and from West Berlin. I used my aunt and uncle's place as starting point for side trips that included a boat trip up the Rhein from Koblenz to Mainz with view of castles and vineyards on both sides of the river before returning to Dortmund.

Another side trip took me to central Switzerland where I stayed on a farm on an alp above the village of Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland. That trip included some work haying on the farm and a Sunday hiking up a mountain called the Schilthorn. For that one, I took a cable car from Stechelberg to Muerren above the valley floor. That took the cable car above the roughly 900 foot cliff and from there I hiked up to the next cable car station at Birg. There was an awesome view of the mountains across the valley (Lauterbrunnental) which included the Jungfrau, Eiger and the Moench among others. I knew at the time that the next valley was used as a set for the tv program called "George", a show about a Swiss maid, a doctor and a St.Bernard dog called "George!" I later found out that the mountain I climbed was used as a set for a James Bond movie. Some of the skiing scenes were shot around the station at Birg. The entire station at the top of the mountain was built as part of the set and then donated to the Swiss after the movie was completed. Ah, the things you find out during and after a trip. I didn't hike up further since time was a factor. As it was, it was nearly dark when I returned to Stechelberg.

A half-sister lived in the town of Ettlingen, near of Karlsruhe, and I used that location to travel to Salzburg to meet up with my 10th grade German teacher. She was taking a course in the city over the summer. The area was used during the filming of the movie called "The Sound of Music", just an awesome setting for a film. I climbed up a mountain in the city to get a view of the area in all directions. After a view of the old town and the mountain, I met up with my teacher, we went sightseeing and then for supper washed down with a beer (Stiegel). After my two day stay in Salzburg, I headed west through the Austrian Alps by train which went through Innsbruck and Zurich to Basel. After the train left Innsbruck, we encountered a severe thunderstorm with plenty of lightning and rain. The journey through the little country of Lichtenstein took ten minutes before entering Switzerland. I didn't bother going back to Lichtenstein with the rain and opted to proceed to Basel and back to Ettlingen.

Yet another journey took me to Strasbourg where I stayed a couple of days at a hotel in a square opposite the train station. There's so much to see in the old town with its canals on the river Ill. The city of Strasbourg is in Alsace where both French and a local dialect of German is spoken. The dialect is similar to the one spoken on the other side of the Rhine (Rhein in German) in the Black Forest, Schwarzwald in German. I tried to get the cathedral in a photo but even a few blocks away, I could only get half or two-thirds of it in the frame. Later I was able to get a shot of the entire cathedral from the rooftop of a museum near the canals but just outside the old town. The old town has a typical Germanic feel to it with houses made of wooden timbers and the food is typical Alsacian, Germanic with a French flair!

From Strasbourg I proceeded by train through the region of Franche Comte down the Rhone River valley past Arles and on to Perpignon where I changed trains to get to the city of Carcassonne. The focus of my stay in Carcassonne was the old town where I had reserved a hotel room. I managed to get quite a few photos of the ramparts around the old town which date from the Visigothic period. I even met an American family from Arizona visiting from the United States and joined them for supper. The stay was awesome but two days was far too short.

From Carcassonne I went on to Paris for a couple of days via Toulouse by train. It was raining the evening I got into that city, so I couldn't see much, not even a walk along the streets of old Paris but the next day was sunny and just a beautiful day for a walk through the old town to the Bastille and the Gare de Lyon and then back to the Notre Dame cathedral before returning to the hotel in the Rue de Gramont.

Toward the end of my stay I used Dortmund as a starting point for a trip by rail through the Lueneburger Heide to Hamburg and up the Jutland peninsula to Fredericksborg in northern Denmark. From there I caught a ferry going to the Swedish city of Goeteborg (Gothenburg in English) and from there on by rail to Oslo, where I managed to see the Viking Ship museum and one other regional museum where a saw an old wooden stave church before deciding to leave for Stockholm (couldn't find a hotel room for the night). In the train from Oslo to Stockholm we passed forests and lakes reminding me somewhat of northern Ontario with all of its lakes and bush. The arrival in Stockholm was wet! I opted to stay only the night since I thought the weather as it was would leave the stay unproductive but the day I left the sun was out and the rain was gone. I had made my decision, so I continued by train to Malmo and the ferry ride to the Danish side. I managed to get a shot of the castle that was used as a setting for Shakespeare's play, Hamlet! The castle was in silhouette as the sun was setting. Elsinore is the name of the castle from the play.

Early on I had also been to the city of Bremen from where my paternal grandfather had worked. He had actually lived in Bremerhaven just to the north and had worked for the German Federal Railways, or Deutsche Bundesbahn in German. The one day visit there included a tour of the harbour at Bremerhaven!

Another side trip early on included West Berlin where I stayed with another aunt and uncle. My aunt there was my mother's sister. One day I managed to take a bus tour of both sides of the city and then another visit to East Berlin with a fellow traveler I met on the bus tour. East Berlin felt depressing compared to vibrant West Berlin. The West Berlin stay included a visit to Charlottenburg Palace and a boat tour on the Havel. I would make two more visits to the city during two later trips overseas.

Then I had planned a couple of nights in Amsterdam before returning home to Canada but this ended up being two days in the city but a night in Cologne followed by the final night in Amsterdam. There were no rooms available the first night, so I headed back by train to Cologne. It didn't matter since I had a railpass anyway.

There's one note I'd like to make. Its amazing the number of drunks at the Goeteborg train station that speak perfect English. They were enough of a trouble, pests I guess, that I was persuaded the staff at the station to purchase a berth in a sleeping car for that rail trip to Oslo from that Swedish city. As I would later find out, the police in Stockholm spoke perfect English as well. So did the taxi drivers but ask the average Swede and you might run into a language problem!

So that was the trip in which I was 18 when I arrived and 19 years old as I left, awesome and mind-changing!!! Feel free to comment or ask any questions you like. - V

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