Tag Archives: Frankfurt

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA – lost in transportation

My horoscope in this morning’s paper said, ‘Keep both feet on the ground today.’ I know astrology is total rubbish, but perhaps I should have waited till the stars were correctly aligned before trying to get to Lithuania.

At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport the information board said my flight to Frankfurt had been cancelled. Apparently the plane was ‘kapot’. No-one wants to fly in a kapot plane. Fotunately the nice Lufthansa people switched me to a later KLM flight, assuring me I could still make my connecting flight to Vilnius. KLM took off as scheduled, flew without technical difficulty and, since I was carrying hand luggage only, I was able to whip through into Frankfurt Airport. Now what?

Frankfurt Airport is big enough to be a separate nation state. I had 53 minutes to get to Terminal 1, Gate A42. ‘You need the Skytrain,’ the man at the transfer desk told me. I’m nervous about these trains with no driver, but the Skytrain did deliver me to Terminal 1, and stopped when it arrived. I headed for ‘Gates A 1-60’, but was detained at security by a large gentleman in a turban and red jacket.. ‘This is a ticket, not a boarding pass.’

‘I know. I was supposed to be on a Lufthansa flight from Amsterdam, but…’

‘You must to check-in counter.’

‘But my flight is leaving in…’

‘Is around the corner – by Gates B.’

‘But my flight leaves in…forget it.’

I ran to Check-in, wrestled the automatic machine and finally got the better of it. A boarding card was in my hand, with my name on it, but no seat number.

The turban man let me through. Gate A42 turned out to be at the far end of the terminal, somewhere back near the Dutch border.

Five minutes to go. I ran again, past A6, A8, A10… I noticed that Frankfurt airport staff themselves get around the terminal on bikes. A28, A30…

…A42! Pant, pant! I was in time to hear the announcement in English, ‘Due to late arrival of our aircraft, Flight 3254 to Vilnius has been delayed…’

An hour later I had a seat number, and we were flown to Vilnius.

The sun takes a long time to set when you get this far north, so I was in no hurry. At the airport kiosk I bought a bus ticket to Vilnius Central train station. It cost 2 litas (about 60 US cents). Bus 1 arrived on schedule. Everyone was very friendly. A fellow passenger chatted to me in Lithuanian the whole way into town and offered me a swig of his beer can.

Three hot air balloons were hovering in the sunset above Vilnius train station. l got out of the bus and walked, following my handdrawn sketchmap I’d copied from Google Maps. I couldn’t find the names of any of the streets I’d noted down, but in Vilnius’s handsome city square, people sat on the terraces, drinking beer and eating pizza. This looked good.

Suddenly there was a street name I recognised, ‘Ausros Vartu’ and, yes there was my hotel. All was well with the world.

Think of the fun I would have missed if I’d kept my feet on the ground. Those astrologers must just make it all up.

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Filed under Budget travel, Travel- Europe


The Musicians of Bremen

Once upon a time, a boy called Richard left his family and friends for a while and went out into the world, seeking fame, fortune and fun. He flew over the sea and landed in the city of Frankfurt, where people ate long sausages and drank beer from the largest glasses he had ever seen.

Just outside Frankfurt is a road, 400 miles long, winding through the countryside. People call it the Fairy Tale Road, and along it are towns where many adventures had begun, long, long ago.

The Brothers Grimm were born in Steinau, near Frankfurt. Their house is now a museum and for many visitors it’s the start of the Fairy Tale Road. Other towns along the road proudly spruik their fairytale credentials too. Any deep dark forest has to be the very one where Red Riding Hood got lost and any castle with a tower on top offers visitors the chance to rest very comfortably like Sleeping Beauty or let their hair down like Rapunzel.

Unfortunately I had no time for getting lost in forests and, although sleeping in castles is fine if they’re centrally heated, it can also be rather expensive.

Instead I cut to the chase and took a train to Hamelin, where the famous tale began in 1284. The area around Hamelin Station was anything but the stuff of fairytales – nondescript streets with Internet cafes and doner kebab shops.

Things became a little more fairytale-like as I entered the Altstadt or ‘Old City’. A line of white rats painted on the ground led me on a walk through wide squares and narrow lanes, where half timbered houses were covered with brightly coloured wooden carvings, and many had numbers over the door claiming they were hundreds of years old.

Altstadt, Hamelin

In the storybook, Hamelin’s rats were drowned in the River Weser, but they’ve sneaked back into the town since then. Pedlars sell rat-shaped cookies, and there are rat statues, rat fountains, rat toys, paintings and postcards, and nearly every building is called ‘rat’ something. There’s the Rat Catcher’s House, Rat Catcher’s Hall, Hotel Rat Catcher, and even the town hall where the mayor and corporation hold important meetings is called the ‘Rathaus’.

Pied Piper - town hall clock

I walked out of the town along the River Weser where the rats had drowned. It was pleasant green countryside, and many of Hamelin’s citizens were riding their bicycles and exercising their dogs. But the sky grew dark and rain began to fall heavily, and soon I knew exactly how the rats must have felt.

So I turned back to the train station. ‘When does the train go to Bremen?’ I asked a little man in a blue jacket and red peaked cap. ‘At ten minutes to two precisely,’ said the man, with a twinkle in his eye. And, sure enough, it arrived on time, exactly as the little man had predicted.

You remember the Bremen story of course; donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster set out for Bremen to become musicians. In the storybook, the animals never reach the town, but there they are now in a particularly beautiful market square, standing on top of each other.

In front of the ornate town hall stands a giant statue, six hundred years old and several metres high, of Roland, the defender of Bremen, holding his unbreakable magic sword, Durendal.

Roland Statue - Bremen Market

An intriguing narrow lane called the Bottcherstrasse led away from the square. It looked really ancient, but when I googled it later, I learned that although some of the houses were old, it was developed into a museum street in 1926-30, with money donated by a burgher of Bremen, Dr Roselius, who made his fortune from the invention of decaffeinated coffee.

At last it was time to leave the Fairy Tale Road. Richard hadn’t yet found fame and fortune, but he had found fun. ‘One out of three is a start,’ he laughed, and went on his merry way, hoping to live happily ever after.


Getting there:
The best way to explore the Fairy Tale Road is by car, but trains run from Frankfurt to Hamelin and Bremen. Prices to either town start from EUR29 one way. For full fares and timetables, see bahn.de/international.

Staying there: Hotel zur Krone, Hamelin, has single/double rooms for EUR68/80 hotelzurkrone.de Hotel Bremer Haus, near Bremen station, has rooms for single/double EUR80/110. hotel-bremer-haus.de. Both hotels include breakfast.

Further information: hameln.com, bremen-tourism.de


Filed under Germany, Hiking, Literary history, Travel, Travel- Europe

HADRIAN, DOSTOYEVSKY AND ELVIS – Walking in Germany’s Taunus

Where did Roman Emperor Hadrian and Fyodor Dostoyevsky share a bath with Elvis?

If you’ve ever been to Frankfurt, I bet you weren’t there just to enjoy yourself. You went for a conference or a trade fair, or you passed through Europe’s third busiest airport on your way to somewhere else.

I was there to work too, talking to students about my children’s books, but I had the weekend off and needed to unwind. Saturday brought the first fine weather after a grey week, so the Frankfurters turned out for some serious fun. The path by the River Main was crowded with bikers and joggers, most professionally dressed in lycra. Water and bananas were available at organised rest stops.

A massive flea market was in full swing, with browsers shuffling past battered stereos, mobile phones and bikes. On the water a fireboat was squirting along to entertain the kiddies, while on the bank the junior fire brigade was demonstrating hoses and safety harnesses.
I was ready for a quiet coffee, but around the famous Romer Square a food and wine fair was rocking, and merry Frankfurters were washing frankfurters down with riesling. All great fun, I’m sure, but rest and relaxation were what I was looking for.

So the next day, my knapsack on my back, I headed for the hills of the Taunus region, north west of Frankfurt. A local expert had told me there was good walking there and it turned out to be excellent advice.

The train took just under 20 minutes to reach the old village of Oberursel. It’s a half-timbered town. There’s nothing like half-timbering to give a place appeal. If they half-timbered Rooty Hill it would become a tourist mecca.

But the buildings in Oberursel’s narrow streets are all original. During World War II, allied POWs were housed here, strategically close to the aircraft engine factory, so the town avoided the bombing that flattened much of Frankfurt. The little museum (also half-timbered of course) displays relics of the area’s Celtic pre-history, and evidence of the town’s claim to be the site of an historic event, the world’s first Soap Box Derby, in 1904. 

I walked on up the road, past the supermarket and apartments that now stand on the old prison camp site, and the motor factory that now turns out Rolls Royces.

Then at Hohemark, I walked into the woods. Local outdoor group, the Taunusclub, had marked a 25km ‘wanderweg’ with symbols on trees to make sure I didn’t wander from the weg. The Taunusclub itself was filtering into the forest with mountain bikes, schnauzers and nordic walking poles, and each passing member greeted me with a cheery ‘Morgen!’

Spring was springing in the woods, with bright new growth standing out against the dark conifers, and birds flitting around. Val-deri, val-dera! The walking was easy; steadily uphill on well-made logging paths.
Interpretative boards explained (in English and German) that the vague ditches and rises I was crossing were the remains of the Heidetrank Oppidum, or fortified Celtic village.

A statue of Jupiter on a tall Roman column rose surprisingly from the forest floor. The Taunus Mountains marked the edge of the Roman Empire, where the ‘civilised’ world met the barbarian world. Emperor Hadrian, on his way to erect his wall across Britain, installed a series of watchtowers on the ridges to protect the empire from the ravaging hordes to the north.

A little further on I arrived at a smart Roman fort in Saalburg, a statue of Hadrianus Imperator guarding the gate. It was in remarkably good condition for a Roman ruin, having been rebuilt in 1901 by Kaiser Wilhelm II. I’d heard archaeologists have their doubts about just how accurate the reconstruction is, but inside the walls were the crumbling remains of the real Roman buildings, and a museum displaying weapons, armour and sandals. Outside the taverna a small legionnaire in a plastic breastplate was eating ice-cream with his dad.

A 6km stroll downhill through the forest, following more Taunusclub signs beside a pleasantly babbling stream, took me to Bad Homburg. It’s not an inferior hat, but a charming and popular resort town with thermal baths. The tables were out on the terraces and people enjoyed the sunshine and absurdly large beers.

Hadrian must have kicked back here too. After a sweaty day beating off barbarians, he’d certainly have taken a relaxing dip in Bad Homburg’s roman baths. In the nineteenth century Kaiser Wilhelm, ever keen to improve on Roman architecture, built an elaborate bathhouse over them, surrounded by the extensive gardens of the Kurpark.

Now for EUR60 ($100) you can spend all day on simulated beach in the Sand Light Bath, shower in hail under the Ice Fountain, and finally have a Wave Dream in a dark room. Those in a hurry to relax can pay EUR25 and whip through it all in two hours. Lie on a real beach on a hot day, get caught in a hailstorm, then go home to bed and you’ve done it all for free.  

Across from the baths is Bad Homburg Casino, ‘the mother of Monte Carlo’ according to its advertising. I walked in and out without losing any money, which makes me smarter in one respect than Dostoyevsky, who went broke here and in nearby Wiesbaden in 1865. No doubt he needed a cold shower in the Ice Fountain afterwards.

Dostoyevsky wrote a fictional version of his experience in the novel ‘The Gambler’. Was it a coincidence that the following book he wrote was ‘The Idiot’?

Bad Homburg itself is well worth a walk around. The squares have more of that attractive half-timbering and the tower of the schloss (castle) and steeples of the Erloserkirche overlook the beautiful schloss gardens.

‘So what about Elvis?’ I hear you ask. In 1959 he was stationed in Germany while in the US army, though because he was famous, he was given leave to stay in hotels instead of at the barracks with the boys. He chose Bad Homburg and Bad Nauheim as his home bases, and reputedly met 14-year-old Priscilla in baths in this area.

The Taunusclub signs directed me back towards Oberursel, through fields of yellow canola, with the wind sweeping down from the hills on one side and Frankfurt’s office towers poking out of the smoke haze on the other.

Outside Oberursel I found an educational billboard with a diagram explaining how the wind from the Taunus Mountains cleans the air of the towns. It had blown some clean air into my lungs too and I was ready for more serious work.


Trains from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (central station) to Oberursel and Bad Homburg leave every 15-30 minutes and cost EUR3.60 ($6) one way. Day tickets for all transport in the Taunus area are EUR8.90, and all the places mentioned above are accessible for non-walkers by train and bus.
Entry to the Roman Castle at Saalburg costs EUR3.

First published Sun-Herald, Sydney


Filed under Hiking, Travel, Travel- Europe