Right, ok then, this is it. Having left my friend’s house in France last Wednesday it feels like my trip has now properly started and so if I’m ever going to start a travel blog, now is the time to do it. If nothing else it might help remind me what I manage to get up to.
The trip really kicked off with a night train from Paris to Hamburg. I’ve only travelled by overnight train twice before, once on the Highland Sleeper to Fort William where I just had a seat, and once in Egypt down to Aswan from Cairo where I ended up with a two berth compartment to myself. This time though I was in a 6 bunk couchette. I think I hoped that this would provide the setting for a good mini party with hip flask aplenty being passed around and cards being played. This proved far from the truth. My 5 travelling companions quickly proved themselves to be boring and to get on my nerves. First to annoy me was a middle-aged Danish women who decided that rather than eating before she got on the train or outside the compartment, the best time to eat what appeared to be a cold McDonald’s meal, would be to wait to get into an enclosed space with 5 strangers. A young German who appeared to be travelling with a Cello/Viola/some sort of oversized violin thing. He got on to the “annoyed with list” by deciding to continue to light up the compartment with the glow of his iPad until half 1 in the morning. He also made a hell of a racket leaving when he left in the morning at Hanover. He was narrowly beaten into first place in the “annoyance” stakes though by a German man who decided that in the middle of the night he would open the curtains and then the window to its greatest possible extent. Who opens the window fully in the middle of a night in a compartment with 5 strangers? Why do this? This was not From Russia with Love. I don’t think he was in SPECTRE and he was definitely not James Bond. Ok maybe he was hot, but then if people were hot then given they all seemed to be sleeping fully clothed, with and utilising the sheets and blankets I’m not sure that opening the window (and opening it fully!) needed to be the number one action to take on getting a bit too warm for comfort. Top of the sleeping with a ridiculous amount of clothes on league, was a guy from Nepal, who actually seemed like a nice guy, but seemingly slept fully clothed including a leather jacket. The final occupant, another German, didn’t actually say or do anything to annoy me but by this point I had decided to damn the whole compartment. Still in either case, it was actually a fun experience and I’m looking forward to my future night train adventures.
Hamburg is an odd city to spend sometime in. Not really near the sea, yet seemingly surrounded by water, built on top of the Elbe and its confluence with two other rivers and with numerous canals. It can feel like there are bridges everywhere and a glimpse of the enormous port with its countless dockside cranes really does make it hard to believe that Germany’s second largest city is actually still so far from the North and Baltic Seas. The space given over to roads, railway lines and canals means you always seem to have a sence of space, something that Paris and London don’t quite have in the same way. It also seems to have a bizarre traffic light system whereby they seem to be almost constantly red for both vehicles and pedestrians. It’s very annoying, Hamburgers seem to just accept this but I ended up jaywalking everywhere to get out of the worlds least dangerous game of Chicken. Whilst we are on Hamburg’s annoyances – for some reason their train ticket machines only accept Maestro Cards? Discovering this the morning after my overnight train annoyances did not put me in the best moods.
Anyway – there is plenty to see – would definitely recommend the small but moving museum at the ruins of the Church of St Nicholas which has lots of stuff about the destruction of much of Hamburg in a firestorm of Allied bombing raids in 1943. It comes with a lift ride up 75 meters to the top of the church tower which offer impressive, if scaffold obstructed views of the city.
The International Maritime Museum is also good, and like the St Nicholas church there is plenty written in English as well. It is also absolutely fully of model boats, including a massive Lego version of the Queen Mary 2 and a model from the Napoleonic Wars made by French prisoners of war out of the bones from their rations. If that’s your thing you should be booking tickets now.
Talking of models, Hamburg also has the Michael Portillo, Great European Railway Journey’s approved Miniatur Wunderland. More than just a train set the models here include moving cars, changing day and night scenes and a seemingly fully functioned replica of Hamburg’s Airport. People may come to Hamburg for the Reeperbahn but I reckon its the Miniatur Wunderland that keeps them coming back.
Still have one day left before my night train to Munich tomorrow, so hopefully will get to see some more tomorrow and tonight.