Revisiting Dusseldorf

Given the amount we put away the night before, I’m impressed we both woke at all. But we did, with an hour to spare before Melanie would have got a parking ticket. I enjoyed another hot shower (I’m appreciating the fact these things are a luxury) and we checked out.

I actually seem to know the touristy stuff in Dusseldorf better than my German companion so we set off to find the Designer Warf area near the tower. Easy, obviously, as the aforementioned tower stands like a huge pointy… tower as a landmark.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account Dusseldorf’s insane one-way system which makes Glasgow and Leeds seem positively logical by comparison. And believe me, they aren’t.

After half an hour, we’d driven within 200m of the tower twice, crossed a bridge and navigated a tunnel system then ended up somewhere from where we couldn’t even see the damn tower on the skyline. At this point, we stopped for brunch at a bakery.

One last try. And we lucked out. After spotting the correct tunnel somewhere, Melanie got us to the Warf area, we parked and got out. I’ve been here before and I didn’t have my camera on me, so check out the pics from my earlier visit. I didn’t add them to my post from last time.

After our mission was complete, it was time to head towards Bielefeld. There’s not a huge amount in the area according to my host, but one thing worth seeing was the Externsteine, so we headed there. It’s a large rock formation stuck in the middle of a nice foresty setting that’s been used by many groups of humans over the millenia, and for a variety of purposes.

For those visiting, you can get a bus there or drive up. If you drive, it costs €1 to get into the car park. Walking around the Steine themselves is free, but if you want to climb up them it’s a small fee of €1.50 for adults. There’s a pretty view from the top, and one has an interesting old chamber that’s now open to the elements. Melanie translated what a schoolteacher was telling his class.

Way back when, this chamber was used for giving sacrifices to Pagan gods. Also, one of the walls has a circular hole carved into it. On the day that Summer turns to Winter, the sun fits into this hole exactly. So essentially it’s a big one-day calendar. With added blood and guts.

A large carving nearer ground level shows Christ being taken down from the cross along with an image of a wilting tree. This, apparently, indicated the overthrowing of the old Pagan gods by Christianity and dates from a period in history when this kind of thing was going on a lot.

As a result of that, Himmler and the related branches of the SS took an interest in the site. The old Nazi government were rather interested in all things occult, Pagan, supernatural and so forth – Raiders of the Lost Ark has some small grounds in truth! The sad upshot of this is that every so often, a handful of skinheads will decide they want to celebrate something here and cause a fuss.

The Steine are quite a sight, and I love the bridge that links one rock with the sacrificial calendar room. The surrounding grounds are also quite beautiful. I think I caught it at just the right time of year as Autumn is in full swing and the trees are more orange than green.

Our touristing complete for the day, Melanie drove us to Bielefeld and gave me a quick recce by car. Back at her place (pretty much a worksite, though the rooms that are finished show this will be a wonderful place once it’s all done), we lazed for a bit and then ordered dinner in. We were both exhausted and as Melanie had work the next morning, we turned in early.

It says a lot about how tired I was that despite having free, fast internet to go wild on I was asleep by 22:30.

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Big long hop

Well, I left you at Suvarnabhumi Airport, fortunately hitting “Publish” just before the free wi-fi connection dropped. It was a long flight, but I made it.

Things to note when making a long-haul journey. In fact, primarily… make sure you have enough stuff to do. I’d left my spare novel in my hold baggage so I started to worry what would happen if I finished the one I was reading. Fortunately, between snoozing and reading newspapers I managed to spin out the time.

I flew with FinnAir and they were OK. No individual screens for the videos, so EVA Airlines still wins my prize for best long-distance flight. A shame that was way back in 2006 and I’ve not had a comparable aeroplane since. It was a moderately filled flight, so I had a lot of room and the meals were as good as in-flight meals get.

There was one upset as we neared Helsinki after almost 10 hours of flying. One Thai gentleman a few rows behind got rather ill all of a sudden. Judging by the mass exodus of people from the seats around him, I think this may have involved a degree of “splosh”. Fortunately, the cabin crew saw to it swiftly and he was OK.

Other than that, I fell asleep during the recent Indiana Jones film though managed to suffer through Kit Kittredge though I don’t know how. Bad as Crystal Skull was, Kittredge was like a feature length episode of The Red Hand Gang. With hobos. And yet I couldn’t nod off to spare myself.

With my sanity barely intact, we landed at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport where I had a fairly painless swap onto my connecting flight. The only slowdown was the annoyingly thorough security check. Welcome to Europe. As is not uncommon, my laptop bag went through a second scan, I assume as it’s full of cables and stuff. I’ve still never been cautioned or queried about the half-empty toothpaste tube that’s always wedged in the front pocket.

It must be the only location in Finland where you can’t get free wi-fi although there are three companies competing for your cash to use a paid-for service. As ever, I didn’t even look at the pricing and just folded up my laptop and waited. Fortunately, due to some good scheduling, I only had an hour or so to wait for my flight to Dusseldorf. As far as airports go, it was OK, but nothing special. They start to look the same after a while.

Despite it only being a 2-hour flight I was fed a meal which was good as I’ve not bought a thing foodwise since I left my hostel in the morning. I also managed to cram in an hour’s sleep, waking just before we landed.

We touched down at Dusseldorf International at around 20:15 local time and I reckon my body was at around 23:00 with all the sleep I’d managed. Hopefully this would offset some of the jet lag. I had no immigration to deal with as I’d had my passport checked at Helsinki, so it was only a short delay before I picked up my rucksack and made my way to the connecting train station.

Here’s a hint – make sure you have change before buying a train ticket. The machines will only accept EC cards, 5- and 10-Euro notes and coins. The ATMs at the airport will only dish out 20-Euro bills. Fortunately, a woman behind me had two 10’s which she helpfully swapped.

An announcement came out over the tannoy which I didn’t understand. I did, however, pick up the body language of the other passengers – delay. Thankfully it was only ten minutes and by 22:00 I was stood outside Dusseldorf Hauptbahnhof waiting for Melanie (who I met at this year’s Graspop) to come and get me. A shame that Chris – my CouchSurfing host from last year – couldn’t make it.

With no further ado, she showed me to the hotel she’d sorted, I dumped my bags and went on the very important search for the bar area. Dusseldorf claims to be “Europe’s Biggest Bar” due to the number of alehouses in one small location, though I think Norris McWhirter would have had something to say about it.

Needless to say the only problem we had was picking one out of the variety of offer. Eventually we settled on an outdoors place with a very pretty barmaid and stared sinking the first of far too many “Alt”s. Two bars and much beer (and a few shooters) later, we staggered back to the hotel and crashed out.

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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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