Sunday, 15 September 2013

Europe! An overview.

Vienna, Hausach, Basel, Berlin, Paris, Nantes, Dublin. My travel route up to now. Almost all of them have been wonderful, but I don't think I'll be going back to France.

A week in Vienna was great, and at first confirmed my impressions of 2010 that it was the place I'd like to live. Preferably in Schönbrunn palace, but somewhere near to it as a respectable plan B if my billionaire ambitions don't pay off. The culture, public transport, food markets, and coffee shops, with the opportunities of cycling tours along the beautiful Danube and through the Austrian vineyards, stealing the occasional bunch of sweet black grapes made me wonder why so many people complained about the place. Could it be better? It didn't seem so last week, but let's keep an open mind and give the European capitals which I am still to see a chance. So far, one has already overtaken Vienna. Guess which one.

Hausach was fun and relaxed. It was good seeing the Auels again, and to properly practice my German. The Schwarzwald accent made it difficult to do things like find the post office, as the locals there don't understand "Post" (German for post office) unless it is pronounced "pOshhht". I thought it was my bad German until I related the story to the family I was staying with, and they said they had had exactly the same experience, also looking for the post office, when they first moved there! But I eventually found it and posted the post cards to those who said they would never speak to me again unless I sent them one.

The trip to Basel was great, though I was only there for half a day. The Swiss are definitely even more precise than the Germans. Of course stereotypes are all baseless damaging things, which should be done away with ASAP, though it was fun setting my watch by the time the train pulled into stations on the way home. 

At Berlin, after I had managed to get on board the correct bus, and worked out how to buy a ticket for it, I found my way to the Wertlens house, and I was greeted by the most elegant elevator I have ever seen. It was built pre-war, and with its surrounding safety cage and pressure censored floor, I almost expected a "lift man" to come an operate it for me. I was not disappointed, as the Wertlens sent their young son to come and organize it for me. It slowly chugged up to the fourth floor, and then I dragged my luggage up the last set of stairs, as the lift doesn't go all the way to the top. 

It took a few minutes for me to realise that Vienna had just conceded to Berlin. It briefly put up a fight and made me think of the Schönbrunn again, but then worked out that it was hopeless. Berlin had taken the top spot, and I had no idea why. It just felt good being there. After a week there, I now know why - for one, the German spoken is actually easy to understand. Although there is a "Berliner" dialect, it is much closer to Hoch Deutsch than Schwarzwald Deutsch or Viennese. And I'm not even going to mention Basel, as Germans get very offended if you consider what they speak there as related to German. 

But mainly the reason is that it is cheap. Very cheap. Even with the Rand dropping through the floor, everything was affordable. And this lets Berlin win for more than just practical reasons - the whole atmosphere is different, as there are all sorts of people drinking coffee in cafes, beer in pubs, and eating food in restaurants, instead of just people who have money to spare, as was the case in Vienna and definitely Basel. And then, practically, being able to buy 300g of Milka Chocolate for about R14 was a draw-card all on its own. Berlin 2015, here I come.

The overnight train from Berlin to Paris was slightly uncomfortable, as I booked a seat in a cabin for six people. Luckily only two other people were in the cabin, so there was slightly more room to try sleep. Both were French students, who had been visiting Germany, and it was great talking to them. The rest of the night is remembered only as a series of snap-shots as I woke up a couple of times every hour, and looked for a less uncomfortable way to sleep, and opened my eyes briefly enough to note the similarly failed attempts of the other two. 

I was glad to get off the train in Paris. Then **** * *** ** * * *** ** * *** Nantes * ** ** ***** ** *** * Roscoff ***** * * *** ** ****** ** and finally Ireland and on to Dublin. France is unfortunately censored, as I could complain about it for another three days, and then this will never get published.

I'm in Dublin now, where the Guinness is actually nice. I was expecting to be disappointed again after trying it in Grahamstown and at the Ferry Port in France and on the Irish Ferry, all of which were disappointing. Maybe it's my imagination, or placebo, or the fact that I had got through a bit of 12-year-old Jameson's before trying it in Dublin, but I highly recommend trying Guinness in Ireland. I am ready to defend it as the most enjoyable Beer I've had. Also, the city is beautiful, with a very large pedestrian zone, lots of free WiFi, and unbelievable broadband speeds. Unfortunately the cost of rent, food, and beer is closer to Basel than Berlin. Otherwise it may well have provided worthy competition for that top spot which Vienna held so surely only a couple of weeks ago.

And today I'll see the air-show (see which the whole city is talking about. Yes, that's right. They're going to fly an A-380 airbus 300 metres over Dublin. Look up!

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