Europe, Part 1

I know this blog has been radio-silent for the past six months – this is partly due to being pretty busy with the whole PhD gig and partly due to being distracted by an actual real-life hobby. (Crazy, I know.) When I get around to it, I will subject you to all the clothes I have made this year, some of which are even wearable in public. It turns out that I hate clothes-shopping with a deep and abiding passion, but I really enjoy sewing. Mike claims this is because I want to be in control of everything. I think this is because most clothes are boring or unattractive or just don’t fit me very well. We may both have a point. I have the better point.

And by "wearable" I mean "unlike this jacket", because while it is very pretty, it's really only good for weddings and going to the opera, neither of which are regular activities for me.

And by “wearable” I mean “unlike this jacket”, because while it is very pretty, it’s really only good for weddings and going to the opera, neither of which are regular activities for me.

We started our trip in Frankfurt – eventually. I had vague notions of Lufthansa as one of those fancy European airlines, largely because in comparison to American airlines pretty much anything is fancy. I was nearly in raptures on the trip home because there was an entertainment unit in the back of the seat! That you didn’t have to pay extra for! And alcohol! Free alcohol! TWO GLASSES of free alcohol! And leg room! In economy class. If that sounds like a pretty ordinary nine-hour international flight to you, then that’s because you haven’t spent three years being beaten into submission by airlines who make you feel lucky to get a glass of water and a pretzel. A small pretzel. On a six-hour flight. Lufthansa had to be better than that.

Then, in short order, they proceeded to try to bump us off our connecting flight in Dublin altogether (“We have another flight that leaves in seven hours, or we can fly you to Munich instead.”) We were eventually grudgingly put on the flight – yeah, the same one that was “overbooked” – so that probably would have been passed over if we hadn’t had an aborted landing at Frankfurt due to “heat turbulence over the runway”, which I’m not even sure is an actual thing. I am especially unsure it is an actual thing since the landing was aborted at what felt like ten metres up and we were taken off by the emergency exits when we did land. This was capped by the discovery that our luggage had been left in Dublin after all. And couldn’t be brought to us until tomorrow, because it wouldn’t get to Frankfurt until 8pm and that was far too late to drop it off at our hotel. On the other hand, the toiletry packs they gave us for overnight weren’t too bad and had some seriously nifty folding hairbrush-mirror things. On the other other hand, they were Star Alliance branded, not Lufthansa, so I’m not sure Lufthansa get any points back for them.

And on the other other other hand, we arrived at the hotel to discover we’d been upgraded to an actual suite with an actual name. To be fair, the name was the “Cleveland Suite”, which is not immediately evocative of five-star luxury, but the suite itself made up for that.

This photo fails to convey stuff like the other TV in the living room. And the general five-star we're-not-sure-we're-really-allowed-to-be-in-here-ness of the whole place.

This photo fails to convey stuff like the other TV in the living room. (Yep: one for watching in bed, one for watching on the couch.) And the general five-star we’re-not-sure-we’re-really-allowed-to-be-in-here-ness of the whole place.

So apparently what executives want in their suites is a telephone by the toilet, and I say this with confidence because we got upgraded to the "Executive Floor" at three hotels and they all had this feature. I found it...really kinda creepy.

So apparently what executives want in their suites, apart from marble-floored showers with hot water you can dial by actual temperature (YES REALLY) is a telephone by the toilet, and I say this with confidence because we got upgraded to the “Executive Floor” at three hotels and they all had this feature. I found it…really kinda creepy.

Frankfurt was, er, frankly, much more interesting than reading about travel in Germany had led me to believe. Yes, it’s a very business-oriented city, nicknamed “Mainhattan” for the high-rise towers along the Main river, full of suits and briefcases, but it has its fair share of medieval architecture and well-stocked museums.

The European Central Bank is located in Frankfurt. I'm sure the damage to this sign could be turned into some sort of metaphor, but I'm too lazy to do it.

The European Central Bank is located in Frankfurt. I’m sure the damage to this sign could be turned into some sort of metaphor, but I’m too lazy to do it.

An art installation outside the Städel Museum.

An art installation outside the Städel Museum.

The towers of Mainhattan, from the Main.

The towers of Mainhattan, from the Main.

The Paulskirche, where the first attempts at German democracy occurred. It was rebuilt after being bombed out in WWII. (That was a footnote to an *awful lot* of buildings in Germany. Christchurch please take note, IT'S OKAY TO REBUILD THINGS THE WAY THEY WERE.)

The Paulskirche, where the first attempts at German democracy occurred. It was rebuilt after being bombed out in WWII. (That was a footnote to an *awful lot* of buildings in Germany. Christchurch please take note, IT’S OKAY TO REBUILD THINGS THE WAY THEY WERE.)

You could barely drag Mike away from this water playground at the Palmengarten (botanical gardens). Admittedly, it was pretty awesome.

You could barely drag Mike away from this water playground at the Palmengarten (botanical gardens). Admittedly, it was pretty awesome.

My favourite thing at the natural history museum was this incongrous diorama of European elk, with a careful note that they were being depicted somewhere in Lithuania where there are apparently elk and beaches. I'm not convinced.

My favourite thing at the natural history museum was this incongruous diorama of European elk, with a careful note that they were being depicted somewhere in Lithuania where there are apparently elk and beaches. I’m not convinced.

After Frankfurt, we spent two days in Nürnberg/Nuremberg, which has some really spectacular medieval architecture. In particular, I loved the mostly-intact medieval city wall and the mostly-rebuit imperial castle, the Kaiserberg, on top of the city’s central hill. Like a lot of German cities, Nuremberg was reduced to small pieces of rubble during the closing phases of the second World War, and so was the castle. The rebuilt version has been done in red brick, subtly but obviously different from the original sandstone, so it’s possible to see what is original and what is rebuilt.

The wall, with me for scale.

The wall, with me for scale.

The castle - you can see the sandstone/brick line very clearly on the tower.

The castle – you can see the sandstone/brick line very clearly on the tower.

This was a photo of the streets near the castle in 1945...

This was a photo of the streets near the castle in 1945…

...and this is what that same street looks like today.

…and this is what that same street looks like today. (The 1945 photo is a close-up of the houses in the bottom right corner.)

Rebuilding was a theme in Nuremberg. The German National Museum, a surprisingly large collection of items related to German culture and history from the pre-Roman era through the modern day is built around the remnants of a medieval monastery, also badly damaged during the war.

The medieval monastery buildings were integrated into newer structures, with skylights replacing lost rooves.

The medieval monastery buildings were integrated into newer structures, with skylights replacing lost rooves.

The largest structure in the city, though, is probably the forever unfinished Kongresshalle, intended as a new Parliament but only partly built when World War II began. Part of it now houses a very thorough – and thoroughly depressing – musem about the rise of the Nazi party, which focuses on how it was possible for such a regime to arise in the Germany of the thirties. It’s worth seeing, if seeing that sort of thing is on your holiday list.

A panorama of the inside - the building was meant to have a roof, and be twice as high. Megalomania certainly is mega.

A panorama of the inside – the building was meant to have a roof, and be twice as high. Megalomania certainly is mega.

And the outside, at the entrance to the museum.

And the outside, at the entrance to the museum.

After that it was off to Munich/München. We took trains everywhere we went in Europe, and it was amazing; so fast, so easy, no security lines or waits, just show up at the station fifteen minutes before and board. The stations themselves were impressive, too, huge vaulting arcs of glass and steel above dozens of train tracks headed everywhere in Germany and further on. Spending two weeks somewhere where we only travelled by foot and public transport reminded me precisely how dependent we’ve become on cars, in this part of the US; I don’t think anything now of a half-hour drive, and “far away” is somewhere three or four hours away. When I lived in New Zealand, even dealing with similar distances, that was a very long drive indeed. There really shouldn’t be any reason I can’t catch a train to New York city from where I live – and indeed I can…as long as I don’t mind the fact that it only goes once a day and takes far longer than driving would. If I could import one thing from Europe to the US (okay, apart from kettles in hotel rooms and UHT milk and TEA WHENEVER I WANT IT) it’d be the trains.

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2 Responses to Europe, Part 1

  1. Glad to see you back on your blog. Missed your acute and piquant observations upon the world. And splendid that you have made time for a holiday in an intereting part of Europe, looks forward to parts 2….
    Cheers,
    David

  2. vik says:

    Don’t be mean Lucy, Gerry, his Wastemakers, the National Party and girlfriend Sayrah are determined to rebuild quake-torn Christchurch with tilt-slab concrete and glass and have pulled down all the buildings built from anything else!!
    Truely.
    Nice you are back on line, now what about the fencing story you promised?

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