Travelling alone in a foreign country is a recipe for disaster. My six-day adventure throughGermany proved it. Well, maybe not disaster… but being unfamiliar with the language, and not anticipating the weather and a train splitting in half, there were definitely some mishaps and learning curves.
It started in Berlin, where the simplest of tasks were not so simple after all. Buying a train ticket from a machine was like hitting the pokies. I inserted some coins, hit a few buttons, and took a gamble where I would end up. It turned out my next destination was the charming little town of Heidelberg. The five-hour train trip ended abruptly as we pulled up to a small station. I jumped out of my seat and on to the platform, feeling relieved about not missing my stop. The train pulled away and I stood on the platform, looked around, but something wasn’t right. While most main train stations were busy, and within close proximity to the CBD, it seemed unusual to be standing on one of just two small platforms. I found a cafe and ordered some lunch.
Every time I ordered a chicken sandwich, I was given a ham sandwich. It’s not that I have a major problem with ham, but I couldn’t understand this recurring issue. I finally solved the mystery when I realised the German word for ham is “schinken”.
Munich, with its Bavarian bands and beer halls, was just as I had imagined. Only colder. And I hadn’t anticipated snow the day I went to visit the fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein. Snow was a new and exciting experience for me, until I stepped off the train and landed knee deep in it. I soon learned a valuable lesson – Converse sneakers are not suitable footwear for walking around Germany in November. This may sound obvious, but as it was my first European winter, and I had mostly travelled in summer, I was unprepared. But any negative thoughts vanished when I reached my destination. There it was, the fantasy castle, perched on a mountain in the Bavarian Alps.
I dragged my wet feet towards the tourist office, looking forward to being out of the cold. After purchasing a ticket, I was informed that there were no shuttle buses up to the castle due to the snow. Sounding na*ve and somewhat stupid, I asked,
“So how do I get up there?”
”You walk,” she said.
I stared blankly at her and asked again. But I got the same reply. It was as if my brain couldn’t process that information. It was about minus three degrees out there, I felt like I was wearing ice cubes for shoes, the castle was in the middle of a mountain, and she just said I had to walk? After debating with myself what the hell to do, I saw some other tourists heading up a winding road, following signs to the castle. Yes, they were in boots, gloves and other appropriate winter apparel, but I had come all this way – I couldn’t back out now. By the end of the 45-minute trek up the trail, I had no feeling in my feet or hands, and my face was ice cold. But none of that mattered when I reached the castle. It was truy spectacular.
Heading back to the airport almost ended in disaster. I was sitting in the front carriage, reflecting on my eventful trip, when I overheard a man next to me say something about “flughafen” and point down the train. Despite my limited German vocabulary, I knew “flughafen” meant airport, and figured whatever he just said about it may affect me. I politely requested an English translation, from which I learnt the train was about to split in half and travel in two separate directions. And my half wasn’t destined for Munich airport. I grabbed my backpack and ran down the aisle of the train, bumping from side to side, to get to the other half in time. I certainly turned a few heads!
Despite all this, I fell in love with Germany. It has it all – beauty, history, incredible culture, food, beer and nightlife. And next time I’ll be able to apply my newly acquired knowledge – bring boots, read train timetables, and “chicken” in German is “huhn”.