Thursday, September 06, 2012

Back in town, with cats

Indeed I've been back for a while now. The Germany trip was a whirlwind of sightseeing and getting lost and soaking up the European sun. People were generally friendly and, despite our lack of German language skills, we got along with the locals just swell.

The vacation itself began with some 12 hours of flying (Toronto to Brussels to Berlin), then a quick bus ride to the train station for a 2 hour train ride to Hanover to meet Michelle, Mary Jean's friend. It was then another 2 hour train to Oldenburg, where Michelle was studying. Add in all the wait times plus the bus/subway ride to Pearson and you have a pretty full day of traveling!

Oldenburg's a quiet town in Germany's north-east, with some tourist highlights including a castle turned museum, a stylish market and a couple idyllic parks. We took advantage of the town's location to take a day trip to the North Sea. I didn't have a chance to try the water though -- we were there to see the Seehundstation Nationalpark-Haus, or seal sanctuary! Those guys are super cute, I must say. Their resemblance to canine puppies, with the same playfulness, the same bright-eyed stare, is delightful.

Michelle housed us in her student residence, invoking memories of my university years, were that I could remember it all. I was delighted by the ubiquity of the bicycle in Germany -- while perhaps not as dominant as in Denmark, bicyclists do enjoy their own separated lane and lights, and it was a joy to experience. It was thus that Mary Jean and I got to experience Berlin, with all its museums and galleries and parks and historic buildings and confusing roadsigns -- renting a bicycle is definitely the way to go.

The food was... ok. Our best meal was a French one. Produce was excellent. Currywurst was a novelty that is pretty much as unappealing as it sounds -- hotdogs smothered in a mildly curried ketchup. The alcohol is cheap, the beer often being about the same price as a coffee, and I found the local pilsners tasty, perfectly capable of quenching a day of exploring.

The Wall proved a popular tourist attraction, but it wasn't too hard to imagine it at its most bleak. Various sections of it remain in the city, some more well preserved than others. I was barely a teen when it came down, so I've little emotional attachment to it. Rather, images of Aeon Flux come to mind, inappropriate as that may be.

How can I describe Berlin? Beautiful, soaked in history, some of it remodelled, or even, as the construction we encountered can testify, remade. Clean, but with broken bottles on its cobblestones and boarded up buildings a common occurrence. To be clear, we spent our Berlin time entirely in its downtown area, our lodging a half hour ride from the core, so perhaps a second visit would reveal differently. We lucked out with weather, in any case, so it definitely felt like a summer holiday.

Would I go back? Perhaps, in time -- I understand that we only just scratched Berlin's surface. But at the same time, there are so many other surfaces to see.


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