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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Weekend in Frankfurt, Germany

Oh, hey there! Guten tag! Welcome back! Would you like to take a quick tour of Frankfurt, Germany? Well, I did, and thanks to the ISU bringing people together, I had the chance to do just so. This trip was short, sweet, and taught me one thing: I'm not the best photographer ever, so with that in mind, read on!

The trip was initiated by my roommate Vatsala who wanted to get away for her birthday. After first suggesting Berlin, we asked our friend and colleague Adrian for some advice. Adrian's hometown is Berlin and he knew the train/bus websites much better than we did. He found out that it would be incredibly expensive and take quite a bit of time on the trains. We weren't planning this trip early enough; only 2 weeks, so the price didn't surprise me, but it was beyond what I was willing to spend, especially so recently after my trip to York, UK.

Adrian came up with a solution. He suggested we go to Frankfurt instead. His family had an apartment there, and with his train discount card, the three of us could get tickets there and back for a great price. Well, this worked for me! Honestly, I have spent more on groceries in one trip than I did on the commute for this trip and thanks to Adrian and his family's hospitality, I saved a lot of money.

Leaving after classes on Friday, we waited at the train stop. The temperature has been falling steadily, as have the leaves, and so while the Canadian blood in my flowed freely in the nigh-frozen temperatures, my Indian roommate was wrapped up more than one of the trick Christmas presents my dad usually gets me. (To elaborate a little on that, my dad has been known to give me a box, within a box, within another box, wrapped with paper, plastic, and newspaper. This usually works for me as I open it painstakingly slowly just for fun.)

Due to Strasbourg's history, much of its architecture is influenced by both French and German design, as can be seen here at the train stop on our way to Germany.

With high spirits, we enjoyed the train ride to Frankfurt. I spent a considerable amount of thought on this trip thinking about languages, the German one in particular, of course.

I think it's interesting how your mood or flexibility of mood can change your perception. For example, there have been times where I have felt alone, lost, and a little irritated when I was surrounded by people who did not speak English. I love languages, and being lost is a great way of discovering something new, but some days I'm not prepared for adventure or discovery.

However, this time, like most times, I was excited and interested to know more. Being Canadian, I have not had much trouble with French as it is our second language. German, however, was mostly new to me. I may have met a few German-Canadians, but they were 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation Canadian and so I did not have any experience with the language. In fact, other than a few books and movies, I had rarely had a chance to see/hear it.

Or so it might have seemed. As anyone who has paid attention to languages will know, English is a borrower, and that's putting it mildly and nicely. The English language is a mixture of many languages so it was not that surprising when I was able to decipher some of the signage posted around the station.

I am enjoying how comfortable I am becoming with travel. I have always wanted to see the world, and beyond, but being in Canada means that getting anywhere significantly different costs a lot of time and money. Many of the international students were quite surprised by the size of Canada and the United States. While they had heard that North America was big, they did not realize it would take 6-8 hours to fly across it.

Studying in Strasbourg, in Europe, offers many advantages, including the ability to go to Frankfurt for the weekend, and I have been enjoying that. I like that many of the train stations in Europe are laid out and designed in a similar manner and that with a little observation, one is able to navigate competently. While I likely stick out as a tourist, I hope to one day live up to Indiana Jones' description of Marcus Brody, as seen in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

Anyway, the trip to Frankfurt was quite nice. Thanks to the Shengen Agreement, travel between many European countries is free from visa/passport checking, not that it would have mattered much for me as my Canadian passport would have granted me a 90 day stay should I have wanted one. (Another thing to be thankful for: Canada's healthy reputation and the doors it opens)

We arrived late in the evening and were fortunate to have a car waiting for us. Adrian's father, Fabian, a former ISU alum and visiting lecturer, picked us up at the airport and took us to a local grocery store. The apartment we would be staying at was relatively unused and thus had no food in it.

Afterward, Fabian treated us to pizza and pasta at the only restaurant in the area. It was a nice evening, and it was pleasant having a chance to get to know him and his perspective on the space industry.

The apartment was in Kronberg, northwest of Frankfurt, and it was quite nice. Kronberg is closer to the mountains, and the entire community is on a hillside. The best way I could think of describing the place would be to take a suburban area, put it on a hill top, add some German architecture, and give it all a tourist resort feel, complete with the well-lit, pre-planned walkways and perfectly trimmed hedges. Perhaps, it was just "German efficiency" at work, but in either case, it was a nice place to be.

The apartment itself was wonderfully designed and felt like a classy, European, bachelor pad. I feel that architects and interior designers would have better understood and appreciated the nuances of the place, but I will do my best here. The apartment was quite spacious, with a balcony featuring a lovely view of the surrounding area. The kitchen was quite nice, and the living area was furnished with art, design pieces, and furniture of high quality and modern design. The washroom was by far the most impressive as it featured a rainfall shower, with an additional rotating, massaging shower nozzle, and an electronically powered skylight/sun roof. There was even a built in radio should you wish to enjoy music while you shower. After a quick look around, we went to sleep.

Waking a little later than planned, we attempted to finalize our plans. Poor Adrian, with his culturally prevalent and family-driven need for efficiency and planning, was a little frustrated at our lack of coordination. We had not really given much thought as to the exact details of our plans. I had discussed this at length with Adrian and basically said, "I'd enjoy walking around, seeing some sights, eating some food, and maybe seeing a museum." I am a pretty easy-going guy and I knew we only had a day in the city. I also knew that we hadn't the chance to pre-plan this trip and so we weren't likely to catch any special events.

With a rough plan in mind, Adrian, Vatsala and I were on our way. Adrian pointed out some of the sights including the castle (the tower of which barely seen to the right of centre in the hills), and told us stories of how he had made a box-cart to use on these very hills when he was younger.

I love Autumn.
Frankfurt is very much a city which combines old and new, mostly new. Skyscrapers, mostly banks, line the city, while small pockets of an older style dot the metropolis.
Old, new, skyscrapers, and a grey sky.
A lot of buildings were under construction in Frankfurt. 
I thought this balcony looked nice and the message at the top talks about the belief in god.

A view of the Main river, and a chartered boat with a mini golf course on its roof.

Imagine chartering this boat for an afternoon?
An art museum, maybe we'll stop by next time.
A picture of Vatsala taking a picture.
According to Adrian, the name for these birds translates to "not geese", an invasive species.

Adrian, after getting a close up with the "not geese".

I could not get Just Around the Riverbend from Pocahontas out of my head while walking here.

A view of Frankfurt Cathedral
While walking under this, Vatsala asked us to turn around (for a photo), we both started turning in circles, continuously. 

And then posed for a photo.

I really enjoyed this walk. 

Frankfurt and me.
This is not Frankfurt Cathedral, but I thought it was pretty.

Another perspective.
And another.

After walking along the river, we crossed a bridge and made our way toward the central, shopping district of Frankfurt.
Romerberg plaza, old and new.
This was one of my favourite parts of the trip. My pictures do not do this place justice. It was far brighter, and really looked like a Christmas village. After admiring the sights, we stopped at a local Starbucks where I enjoyed a hazelnut hot chocolate and a chocolate cake.

St. Paul's Church
Afterward, we went to the main shopping plaza, known as the Zeil, which translates to row, street, or line. Once inside, Vatsala went off in search of warmer, winter clothes, and Adrian and I somehow found ourselves at the toy store.
 This Lego truck and its crane could be swiveled, raised/lowered, it was pretty cool.
 This Super Star Destroyer consists of over 3000 pieces and is over a metre long when assembled!

Hanging out with the Man of Steel
Hanging out with the Man of Iron
"Up, up, and away!"

 By the time we emerged from the plaza, it was night time.

 This next feature was pretty cool. The hole goes right through the mall.

 A view of the "tunnel" from the inside.

 The tunnel curves downward, and Adrian said it is quite a sight, seeing the rain fall through the mall.

What is not so obvious is how long this escalator is, apparently one of the longest in this part of Europe.
After the mall, we wandered over toward the movie theatre. Wanting something to eat, but not having a lot of time, we found a Subway near the tower seen above. I was reminded of the "$5 footlong" commercials featured in North America, except that here I guess it would have been "3.55 euro footlongs". Rushing, we went to the local cinema, to watch Thor 2. Thankfully, there is a tradition wherein some theatres will play movies in their original language so we were able to all enjoy the movie in English.

While our original plans were to go out and enjoy the local nightlife, it was decided that it was too cold so we made our way back to Adrian's apartment.

The next day, we decided to enjoy a walk in a park, and follow this up with the Senckenberg Natural museum. On our way, we saw this fancy treehouse.
What can barely be seen in this photo is the rope bridge leading to it from the left side.
This beautiful home was nestled right beside the park.

 This tree looked like it was trying its hand at camouflage.
 This lovely sight was just before the duck pond.

I took many photos for two reasons: I liked the view and I was not confident about my ability to capture it in a photo.

After the park, we crossed the street and saw the local redwood. According to Adrian, it was the tallest feature in the area for a long time, which caused it to be the target of many lightning strikes, which is why it hasn't grown much taller since.

"Hello, up there!"

Just before entering the museum, we took some photos with the exhibits. This was a replication of a tree which used to exist during the time of the dinosaurs. I took it mostly for my friend Dominic who used to point out similar, related trees on Toronto's Centre Island.

The museum was quite large and impressive. I haven't been to too many natural museums, but I would say Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum and Drumheller's Royal Tyrell museum would rate quite high for their impressive dinosaur collections. Frankfurt's museum had quite an impressive collection as well and I really enjoyed seeing dinosaurs again. Interestingly enough, this was Vatsala's first time in such a museum so she was seeing dinosaurs for the first time!

This display was really cool! The "magma" flowed showing convection currents within the Earth's interior. In the same room, there was a model volcano which "erupted" every 3 minutes! I liked these displays as they were a little more exciting than the usual museum fare.

Hearts, brains, digestive tracts, you name it, we got it!

These rocks were really cool. They showed different types of transparency, some with magnification. The rocks below were very interesting as they glowed under UV light!

After the dinosaurs and the rocks, there were two floors devoted to animals. There were stuffed animals from all over the globe and while I thought a lot of them were impressive and interesting, I only took a picture of this little guy as it was the first time I had seen an armadillo in "armoured" mode.
While enjoying lunch in the museum café, I noticed the cutlery and its unique presentation.

After a nice couple of days, we took the train ride back to Strasbourg. We were all feeling pretty good, but pretty tired as well. We arrived at a decent hour and by 10pm Sunday, I was unpacked and relaxing. I really enjoyed this trip. The company was lovely, the accommodations were nice, the price was low, and the sights were wonderful. I am thankful that I am able to take advantage of such opportunities and look forward to more adventures ahead.

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