Friday, July 25, 2008

Getting a bit Germanic

Next adventures after leaving The Netherlands again meant swinging through Brussels for lunch with Mel and Dani and ending up in Cologne by dinner. The cathedral in Cologne is absolutely amazing, thought to be the largest gothic building ever constructed, and it now looms in all it's dark and imposing glory right across the square from the train station.. we liked Cologne before we even found our hostel. Inside, it's just as spectacular, and we decided a workout was in order and walked up the 509 narrow, tightly winding steps to the top - fantastic view, but the 509 back down were definitely easier! We also visited a very cool sculpture park and had fun (probably illegally) climbing on the sculptures... :)
After Cologne we stopped in Trier, a small German town near the border with Luxembourg, which was once the capital of the Western Roman Empire, and has some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. Not your typical German town, then. We wandered around an old Roman bathhouse complete with a crazy system of underground tunnels and fun big rocks to climb on, looked in on the original amphitheatre (which is clearly still getting good use-The Pink Floyd Experience was coming to town later in the month and were doing their show outdoors in the amphitheatre!), went in the Dom (cathedral), and also had a look in the Constantine Basilica-which was actually the throne room of the emperor Constantine, and is now completely restored/rebuilt, and is a very imposing place.
While we were in Trier we decided to take a day-trip to Luxembourg (it was so close!) and spent an afternoon walking around the streets and through some of the spectacular parks and gardens. Luxembourg City is a beautifully placed city and it was impressive approaching on the train and seeing the city appear among the valleys and hills.
From Trier we traveled further south to Freiburg im Breisgau, a beautiful town in the heart of the Black Forest region. The town has a unique system of shallow micro-canals running along the side of the footpath in the city centre, originally used for supplying water for animals and such, but it now has the great effect of keeping the city cool, even on scorching hot days like when we were there. We wandered around the town itself, there are a few remaining medieval towers, and a very impressive red sandstone church in the main city square. Mostly though, we just hiked through the forest, which was the closest we've come to feeling like New Zealand yet, really dense tall beautiful green trees... :-D It was a hot day and we were feeling it, but then we stumbled, buried in the depth of the forest, upon a crazy tall tower built of steel and huge tree trunks... and with 230 steps to the top...but the promise of a good view was too strong, so we duly climbed our way up, and it truly was spectacular, and all the more awesome because it was a complete surprise. Only downside of the forest was on our way to find some nice patch of grass to rest on after climbing the tower, we both managed to brush past some stinging nettle, though Antony got the worst of it - such a strange sensation, and at the time, we had no idea what it was so were a bit worried till wikipedia came through and told us it was stinging nettle and the itching would soon go away...
We needed to start making our way up the country again, so next stop was Frankfurt, where we met some awesome people with great music taste who we spent a lot of time sitting around chatting for Frankfurt itself...has to be the least interesting place we've visited. We wandered along both banks of the Main river and looked at the churches and buildings (though most of them are new because the city was flattened in World War Two) but overall we found it to be just a big, bustling, relatively soulless city. Then again, it is the financial capital of Germany, so what should we have expected??
One more quick stop in Bremen en route north to Scandinavia, and that was our first German excursion over... we saw some awesome locations, met some lovely people, and had a huge amount of fun, so it's a good thing we'll be back soon to see some more!

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