Having seen the Heidelberg Castle the previous day and had a good walk around I made a last-minute decision to skip the other points of interest in the town and instead head straight on to Frankfurt. It's probably lucky I did – being completely out of the loop doing my tourist thing, I didn't know what was going on in the country at the time.
So I went down the funicular, walked over to the bridge to get a final look at the castle (it's supposed to change color depending on the angle of the sun – but it was just kinda hazy grey/pink), waited for a bus, got to the station, went down to the platform. Time came… time passed… hey, where's my train?
This is Germany so the trains run on time, so obviously I'd screwed up and gone to the wrong platform or not realised which was my train. I went back up and double-checked the timesheet poster. Yup, that seemed correct.
Maybe I misunderstood the signs, did the platform “5a” sign mean part A of platform 5? I walked around looking for any other kind of platform 5, nope.
Oh well, shrug, looked at the timetable and found the next train. Not for ages… Go down and wait on the platform. Wait, wait… there's lots of people standing about today, and announcements on that I don't understand (usually they're pretty minimal, train X to Y is leaving at Z). After one of these announcements, I notice the electronic sign changing, lots of ppl muttering, and then half the ppl on the platform go up the stairs and a minute later reappear at the next platform over. WTH?
I go and consult the timetable posters again, and while I'm doing that a different train comes and takes the herd away – ok, just as well I didn't follow them. But, my train doesn't come. My signs disappear. Something weird is going on today.
I go over to the other platform to see if there's a matching electronic sign, there's one that looks kinda right, but it's not on the schedules, and it's got an announcement scrolling across the bottom.
I stick around and ask a guy to translate, and the gist of it is that the next train there should go to Frankfurt…. and that there's a rail worker strike on! Aha.
Anyway, the train arrives and I go up to the front to see what's going on. There's a very animated woman standing in the doorway at the front. “Is this train going to Frankfurt?” “Well, it should, SOMETIME before midnight – but it can't leave, because I'm standing in the doorway, and I know karate.” She seems very assured that this is a good thing.
I think about this for a bit. I don't remember anything about karate-equipped door passengers in the guidebooks…
After a little more questioning I'm about 90% confident that what she was trying to say was that, although they were supposed to leave some time about now, she's standing right next to where the driver is, and if he tries to pull away before she reckons they're ready to go, she's going to pull out some ass-whupping.
I'm also 80% confident that she's the good kind of crazy, and 100% certain that if this is not the quickest way to get to Frankfurt today it's certainly going to be the most entertaining.
So I hop on board. The next hours are quite fun – the train, an older slower regional train that either has the air conditioning turned off or doesn't have it at all (a deliberate inconvenience from the strike), trundles along through minor stops I've never heard of. At one place everyone starts getting off and my slightly-nutty-but-in-a-good-way new friend confirms that we're changing to another train that is at least pointing in the right direction, if not going all the way to Frankfurt.
It's actually quite nice, Germans are usually pretty reserved and would keep to themselves on public transport, but today all the rules have gone out the window and people are chatting away and helping one another get stuff on and off the trains (particularly bikes, since these weren't the usual roll-on modern trains) and we've all got the mood of a summer school trip – we're all resigned to getting there at whatever time we end up getting there, and have aborted any plans for the day, there's a great carefree atmosphere.
Meanwhile there's time for several conversations – I would have said her English was impeccable, but I have reason to doubt, for eg. her answer to my “do you think the S-Bahns will be running slow today too” involved the Beatles… still not sure how… and the part where we were talking about jobs and suddenly she was talking about bamboo dressings lost me entirely.
This is apparently the first rail strike in 16 years (lucky me!)… and man is she hopping mad about it! I think they really aren't used to labour relations blow-ups like this in Germany, quite a contrast to say France over the border where there seems to be someone on strike or blocking the highways with sheep or whatever every year.
So anyway, we do eventually get in to Frankfurt that afternoon, and I say goodbye, check out the S-Bahn situation – they're running, but much less often than I think is normal – and head out to navigate Frankfurt city.
There isn't time for any of the activities I had looked at last night, so I mainly just do my usual “walk around, have a look” thing in the city centre. But there is one thing I can still do, and I've been looking forward to it ever since the fun with the trains started… Apfelwine!
Apple wine, AKA cider, is a Frankfurt speciality, there are a number of apfelwine taverns near the centre of the city. I walk downtown towards one likely prospect, a very friendly & helpful local suit notices me looking at my map and immediately comes up to offer assistance. It's a good reminder that while this may be the big financial capital (it's jokingly known as Mainhatten) of the country and there's no shortage of wanker bankers in coupes buzzing around, in general the people are still nice!
So anyway, with a couple of pointers from that guy I find the tavern, but it's closed for a private function.
So I end up going on a giant circuit to give me a chance to look at a couple of neighborhoods, and eventually cross the river to the main apfelwining district, Sachsenhausen.
I walk down to a recommendable Apfelwine tavern called Atschel. Sadly I'm running out of time – I have to leave plenty to make sure I can get out to the airport despite the uncertain train services – so there's really only time for a nice glass of the local fresh season's amber stuff and a very tasty dinner which involves a kind of schnitzelly pork thing covered with grilled cheese (feels like more calories than I normally eat in a week) before I have to reluctantly head back.
On the bridge back there's a section near the middle with a couple of dozen scarves tied up around it. No-one's looking after them, is this just where people tie up found scarfs? Random.
The city's skyline from the river certainly looks great and I'm there at dusk, my fave time of day, to record in some last memories of Germany before I head into the exhausting flight home.
A brisk walk to the station gets me there at just the right time to catch an S-Bahn out to the airport, which is very full but no problem, and I get there early. I check in, find some food – you wanna head back to the first terminal, the food court in the terminal Qantas uses is quite crappy – and then go sit down by an unused power socket and do some blogging.
The flight home goes fine, though it takes the best part of two days. Annoying that we have to get off and get back on the plane in Singapore (“due to Singapore airport security rules”) but I do manage to get 5h sleep in there somewhere.
Turn up in Sydney way earlier than expected – I must have just been plain looking at the wrong times – so don't get to see the Sydney peeps but do have plenty of time to go buy a birthday pressie and a giant boatload of booze in duty-free. You can tell kiwis in the duty-free shop, we're the ones clutching three bottles of liquor AND six bottles of wine. Not sure why they felt the need to upgrade it recently, I guess 2x liquor + 6x wine wasn't enough (!?), but I'm not complaining!
Don't get any more sleep on the Sydney to Wellington hop (it's operated by Jetstar on a pretty old workhorse plane, not so good as the bigger Qantas ones) so I'm pretty had it by the time I get in to Wellington.
Bit of fun at customs, I have lots of boxes ticked on the form; they don't care about my booze but my packed meat needs to be sent into town for inspection (heard back a couple of weeks later – not allowed, on account of being pork, which they say is only allowed from a very few countries; no Speck for me).
But I finally get through that and yay, Caro is there to pick me up. She's even thoughtfully provided a bag of fruit, drink etc! Brilliant.
So, I'm home, finally… it's been a great trip, but it's even better to be home!
Highlights would have to be Singapore for cultural experience; Berlin for the conference & being a cool city; Prague for also being cool city and more importantly time with overseas friends; the time I spent in Austria with my friends there – can't believe that wasn't part of my plan from the get-go, it was one of the best bits; and seeing the Black Forest and a bit of castle action either side. All good!