Frankfurt again

Frankfurt was hot. Damn hot. So hot and muggy that sleep wasn’t easy. The snoozes I’d had on various coaches probably didn’t help either.

I woke around 9-ish as Hans had told me his flight from Darfur was landing at 7:30. I’d checked the buses from the airport and that would mean he’d get here at 9:30. Time for some breakfast before he got to the hostel. As I was spooning cereal into a bowl, I heard a familar voice call out “What the hell are you doing here?”

Hans’ flight landed at 6:30 – he’d given me the times based in Darfur – so he’d caught an earlier bus and already walked into town, realised that most people were still asleep and come back to the hostel. There’s not a whole lot to do in Frankfurt, so he was pretty glad to have someone to hang out with while he tried to stay awake after the long flight.

We chilled for a while and caught up before walking into town for the briefest of looks around. My sunglasses broke but as luck would have it, I was right by a street-seller selling cheapies at €4 a pop. Big, tight-fitting, passed the head-bang test and mirrored. Spot on. Hans picked out a film to watch later, we grabbed some food from one of the market stalls put out for the day (sausage and fried potato – really good and only €3) and walked back to the hostel.

There was a free football game being organised that afternoon and people were just gearing up to head off for it. I’d been pretty ill the last couple of days (nothing too bad, but let’s just say I was very careful as regards passing wind… as it wasn’t always wind), but felt up to a bit of exercise and counted myself in. Hans went off for a lie down while the staff organised drinking water and underground tickets for us (all paid for!).

I got chatting to a few people on the walk and during the game. As you’d expect from a cheap hostel near a major transport hub, the mix was quite impressive: Mexican, Australian, Kiwi, Brit, American, Canadian, German, Italian… The game was good, but hard work in the baking heat and humidity. After an hour or so, a bunch of locals asked if they could join in and we ended up with something approaching 15-a-side, though this varied as people dropped out periodically to top up on water.

One of the hostel staff video’d things occasionally and it should pop up on YouTube at some point. At time of writing, it’s not there yet, though the user account to check out is HostelFrankfurt.

Update: here ’tis…

When we got back, a cold crate of beer was placed on a table for the footballers – again, all free! There was enough for two bottles each and they were welcomed, believe me. Hans resurfaced and hadn’t gone to see a film after all. He’d misread the timetable and the film he wanted to catch wasn’t showing on a Tuesday. Instead, we walked out and picked up dinner from a Turkish take-out nearby. There are lots of these – Turkey seems to send all it’s emigrants to Frankfurt! Good for us as the food’s pretty cheap and filling.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting to a load of other residents, and a short wander round the city at night and through the red light district (always a laugh). Hans’ bus was booked for 5:30am so he went to bed and I stayed up with an American and two Aussies chewing the cud and drinking Wild Turkey and Coke.

My sleep pattern was obviously skewed badly as I was still chatting away when Hans woke up for his bus! I eventually had “breakfast” at 06:00 and went to bed. Then struggled to sleep in the heat.

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Not the best of weather

I managed to repack my bags and get everything safe and secure. On the Monday morning, Mike shook my hand goodbye as he had to get somewhere with internet to do some work and left me to sort my stuff out and freshen up for the journey to Tampere Airport and on to Frankfurt.

I’d been told by several people that hitching in Finland and the other Nordic countries is pretty painless and quick.

They were wrong. Certainly on this occasion.

Part of my problem was a dicky stomach, probably from enjoying myself too much over the previous few days without enough food or rest. Then the weather turned for the worst. Not just a little drizzle, but heavy downpours, scheduled for just when I was preparing to stick my thumb out.

After an hour, I threw my hitching notebook in a bin as it was soaked through. The next number 10 tram took me to the central railway station and I asked about public transport to the airport. Tourist Information told me I would have to get a bus or train to Tampere, and then another bus out to the airport. Tight for time, but just posible with some luck. Thing is, I was sure there was a direct bus from Helsinki so I asked again at the train ticket window.

The incredibly helpful woman there informed me that, yes, there was such a bus and it ran two times a day to fit in with the flight schedule. The one at 17:15 would get me to the airport just as check-in opened for the Frankfurt flight. It’s 2 1/2 hours and €25, but dry and comfy and sure to mean that I wouldn’t miss the flight. She also printed me out a full timetable, details of how to read it, and a map of where the bus picked up from.

While I was outside looking for the actual stop I spotted the 615 to Helsinki airport that I coudn’t find the other day. There are two bus parks at Helsinki railway on opposite sides of the building! After 10 minutes I still couldn’t find the stop for the service I was after and decided to get indoors and out of the rain until closer to departure time.

This I did and used the time to send off the usual postcards. At 17:00 I went back outside and looked again. This time I saw the right bus coming into view. It slowed down and pulled up at the other side of the square, away from the other buses. Had I not seen the bus itself I’d never have found the stop. The driver was fine and didn’t ask for any cash so that was even better.

I settled in, watched some Dead Zone on my PSP, listened to music, read and dozed on the trip up to Tampere.

When the coach arrived, a young woman jumped on board and yelled “somethingfinnishIdidn’tunderstandtickets25Euro!”

Ah, she wanted money. Thankfully I’d withdrawn cash as she wasn’t taking Visa. So I didn’t get the ride for free. Well, this is RyanAir after all.

RyanAir fly from terminal 2 up at Tampere Airport and… well. It’s the worst airport I have ever seen. It looks like a handful of pre-fabricated shells bolted together. Electric cabling is “tidied” out of the way with cheap guttering, paint is flaky, advertising posters are nailed directly to the walls, there’s nowhere near enough room for the crowds queueing, security takes an age, there’s no space at the departure gate… It’s horrible. I mean, I’ve been to some ugly, cramped, crappy airports, but Tampere really takes the biscuit.

Thankfully, due to the awful queues, by the time I got to the departure gate I only have 10 minutes to wait until boarding. I would like to point out that the staff themselves were exemplary from the check-in people to the security officers. It’s just the airport that sucks.

The flight itself was uneventful apart from some “mild” turbulence that felt like being shoved through a tumble dryer that was taking its own trip along a roller-coaster. The sunset as we headed south was magnificent – a burning, fiery red. And sadly on the other side of the plane so I couldn’t get a picture.

Frankfurt-Hahn was a different kettle of fish. Clean, bright, spacious, efficient, wonderful. Within 20 minutes (I think – my watch stopped working just before the plane took off) I was reunited with my rucksack and on the €12 coach to Frankfurt proper.

I knew which hostel to head for as I’ve been here before and checked myself in. A quick internet check and then bed to get up early and catch Hans arriving!

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Footie madness

A bit of a plod as I leave the Deutsch Republic until I reach the flat open plains (if stereotypes are to believed) of the Netherlands. Already I’ve seen a lot of people using bikes. I know this number will increase exponentially the moment I cross the border.

Again I will start with the thank you’s as I do regard them as the most important things. Birte and Jörn in Essen; Antjé, Jana and Niko in Gladbeck – thank you all. The latter group probably a little more simply as they didn’t have the first idea who I was when I arrived. Manfred, my host in Röetgen a short while ago, had called them to say a friend was coming up and in need of a bed. They had no idea about the Walk or where I’d even met him. They thought we’d met in England as he worked there for some time about two years ago! So basically, they didn’t know me from Whatsisname – the guy from chapter one of the the Bible. The guy with the apple fetish who could speak Parseltongue.

Also an additional thank you to my Essen hosts for the books before I left. I now have space in my rucksack as I’ve been dumping novels when I finish them and to finally get hold of some more English texts is a real help. Perhaps it’s rather apt that one of them is Tony Hawks’ Round Ireland With A Fridge – about a guy who takes off on a silly journey for no real reason and wonders how he got himself into it… yet meets wonderful people and does amazing things on the way.

Right, well. My aim was Gelsenkirchen which is twinned with Newcastle. Annoyingly, I didn’t walk past any signs declaring this as I really wanted my photograph with one. As I entered Gladbeck later on I saw copious signs advertising their affiliation with Enfield but this wasn’t really the same.

I did, however, get to do the stadium tour in Gelsenkirchen. The local team are hugely well supported and doing quite well this season. FC Shalke04 have a great history, pretty much dominating the sport in Germany around the 40s and 50s. More recently, they’ve been marginal underdogs yet their fan base is unwavering. All matches sell out, flags and so forth are on display all over the region and pubs fill with those unable to get tickets each match day. A bit like Newcastle under Keegan, really. It’s a wonderful feeling and walking through the area, especially on a match day, does bring those memories and emotions back.

My aims here were to see the stadium on a tour and also to see the game on the Saturday, preferably at the stadium. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do the second one. Well, I could, but it would have cost me around £50 for the cheapest ticket I could get my hands on.

I settled for the £5 (€8.00) stadium tour instead. Birte helped me book it as the staff there don’t speak the best English in the world and prefer non-German speakers to book by email. Details of the tour are on Schalke’s web site. If you can get a German speaker to help you then that’s best – there is a lot more German content on the site than English.

It’s a magnificent ground and one of only two in Europe that store the pitch outside the stadium on non-matchdays. I watched a fair bit of the shifting process when I was there and it takes four hours each way to move the turf in and out on a huge platform. Friday evenings in, Sunday mornings out. This allows more light and rain to reach the entire area and frees the inside of the stadium up for concerts and the like during the week. I’m sure the investment in technology to move the grass will pay for itself very quickly with the added revenue – and they don’t have to replace all the grass all the time like so many stadia in the UK.

I mention that first as I walked past the “externalised” pitch on my way to the museum where my tour was to begin. The staff there were lovely and even kept my rucksack behind the counter while I was guided around. As the tour is in German only – they don’t do other languages unless you book a private tour which is really expensive – I approached what looked like the youngest (and I confess prettiest) member of the group and asked if she spoke English. I, of course, got the usual “a little” response followed by an almost work-perfect translation of the entire tourguide repertoire and a long conversation afterwards. I wonder how much English someone who speaks “a lot” knows?

Regardless, thank you Kathleen – you were a wonderful translator. Best of luck with the studies!

We were taken round the area where the pitch was being “inserted” into the stadium, one of the pump rooms where beer is stored and delivered to the multitude of kiosks, the terraces, the restaurant, the area where people are interviewed immediately after the match, the chapel, the media room, the really posh and expensive seats and pitchside. The only thing I was expecting and didn’t get to see were the changing rooms. You always have those images of tours where they take you in and all the shirts are hanging up, but it wasn’t to be. I think the fans on the trip were a little more disappointed than me!

The figures are amazing. The amount of beer sold each game is typical of what you’d expect of the Germans, but when they clean the beer line they flush out thousands of litres of the stuff and dispose of it! They should just keep it for the next match featuring an English team. We’d drink it regardless.

During matchdays, the really posh seats have a lunch included and it’s always something from the region or country of the opposing team. A nice touch. Mind, for these seats you could be paying 21,000 Euros a season… The boxes run to hundreds of thousands depending on where they are, but can be used for any event at the stadium, not just the footie.

Another thing is that for league games, terracing is allowed. This has been outlawed in the UK for many years now due to the usual nanny state regulations. The same ones that, in very recent years, have had clubs turf fans out of grounds if they don’t sit in the seats they’re allotted and instead choose to stand to voice their support. Lunacy. This terracing is only for league, though. If the ground is used for European or international matches then seats are bolted in place. This makes the capacity float from just over 60,000 to just under 40,000 if my memory serves. A huge difference in income for the club. Having said that, a terrace ticket for a home game is a measly 11 Euros.

For some more bumpth, here’s a link to the stadium’s own portrait page. I’m particularly impressed with them hosting a concert, a football match and a US football match within 96 hours!

The tour round was fascinating and worth the price, especially as it included entry to the museum (itself usually 4 Euros). I wandered around there for some time with Kathleen translating the labels before we both had to set off. Her for a friend’s house and me to my hosts.

I was a little late getting to Gladbeck, but Antjé and the family didn’t mind and I sat and talked with Antjé and Jana for some time. Jana’s hoping to study English at university (good luck – even I would struggle with that!) and filled in the gaps in her mother’s otherwise excellent English. Antjé’s a quick learner. Little phrases and so on that I mentioned one day would be used by her the next!

My bed was a comfy mattress laid down in the loft and was more than adequate. Much better than trying to pitch a tent anywhere in this area anyway – it’s all concrete and houses! Dinner, also was great. And Jana is an excellent baker – I ate far too much of the dessert!

Niko arrived home after we’d had dinner and turned out to be a complete football nut. He plays for a local team and supports Arsenal and Dortmund (I think – my memory is hazy on the German team). I don’t think we talked about anything other than football for my entire stay. Nice collection of pets as well – the geckos are lovely but I’m still not all that keen on tarantulas.

On matchday, Antjé dropped me off at a bar. We shared a quick drink before she had to go (Germans drink a mixture of beer and Coke – weird…) and I sat surrounded by fans in blue and white who went wild as Schalke thumped Arminia Bielefeld 3-0. My schnitzel with pepper steak at half time was absolutely delicious as well.

In the evening, Niko and his girlfriend invited me out clubbing – some of their friends wanted to meet me which was flattering – but I had to make a start in the morning, though I was really tempted. It turned out to be a good decision as he didn’t get back until 4am!

Essen M

That title’s for Dawn 😉

A short trudge up the road got me to Essen where I was to stay with Jörn and his girlfriend, Birte. They turned out to be great company and we spent far too many hours talking when I could have been touristing! Still, the weather wasn’t that great so no big deal.

I did take a trip out west to see the Gasometer, the largest in Europe which is now a tourist attraction. You can climb all over it, inside and out. At 117.5m at the peak, it’s a hell of a view and awful for anyone with vertigo. Inside is even worse! From the viewing platform on the 10th floor, it’s almost completely dark aside from a scattering of lights. As you come in from the outside stairwell, you can’t even see your feet so it’s like you’re floating in space. Very unnerving.

The exhibition downstairs was quite interesting. A lot of satellite photos of various landmarks, cities and so forth. A shame that the copious notes next to each one were in German.

I failed to find the time to visit the nearby UNESCO protected abandoned mine, which is a shame. But it gives me something to do on my next visit. I spent three evenings and some of the afternoons talking to Jörn and Birte while being ridiculously well fed and watered, which was just as good a way to spend the time. I was also given free reign on one of the spare PCs to get this blog updated and to move the 1000 Miles one to a new home with a new design. The joys of being hosted by a true geek!

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Dusseldorf – home of Geordie bricklayers

Things get very industrial in this part of Germany and I bypassed a huge chemical plant on my way up to Dusseldorf as I strolled up the banks of the Rhine. Handy things, cycle paths.

When I said I was going to Dusseldorf, people in Cologne asked why I was bothering. There’s a bit of a rivalry between the two cities going back quite some years! I met my host, Chris, and he drove me around the city for a while before we stopped at his flat for me to ditch my stuff and get some food. Then we went for a walking tour around the place.

Chris showed me some of the nicer buildings in the old town as well as a great traditional bar and a beer hall where we had beer brewed on the premises. This helped relieve the pain from the shot he had bought me in the old pub – chili schnapps! Yowsers, it was hot!

I slept well and in the morning took a stroll myself up along the river bank into the Media Dock and around through the old town again. The dock area is full of new buildings, most belonging to new media companies. As a result, some of the architecture is a little… strange. My favourite was a group of three buildings, each looking like a handful of off-kilter flowerpots that had melted into each other. One was made of red brick, one white stone and the other… metal plates. Shiny, silver metal plates. Mad.

Just north of there is the local tower, sponsored by Seiko. As well as being a viewing point, it’s some bizarre kind of clock. I took the lift up for the view which is pretty cool, and not too expensive at a shade over three Euros.

Back on terra firma, I kept going north and admired the twisted steeple on a chapel near one of the bridges. It seems it was designed that way and it looks very unique!

In the evening, I waited for Chris to come in before heading back into town to an Irish pub I’d spotted earlier which was showing the Newcastle game. There I got talking to John and his wife who now live in Leeds but hail from the Toon. So good to hear the accent again! Sadly, the cable feed to the pub was broken so they recommended another place to go and see the game. Even more sadly, we got there and watched us flipping lose to Derby County.

And it rained as I walked back to Chris’ place.

Yet I still enjoyed Dusseldorf!

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