The internal vacation – Hamburg

The last leg of my German trip. From Berlin to Hamburg.  On June 1st I left my hostel early in the morning to the Berlin main train station. After spending almost 15 minutes at one of the cafés there, thinking what to eat, (I wanted to eat all) I picked up a sandwich and a berry tart. Just 20 minutes to spare for my train I realized that I was wrong about the platform. Standing civilized when I was freaking out at the time I was losing, at a queue at the information counter, I started missing India. I missed shoving people aside and screaming “Excuse me. Ek Minute bhaiya” and reaching the head of the queue. (Not true. Being sarcastic. (Liar!)) Somehow I figure out the right platform and run. The 5 feet 4, skinny girl running with a backpack which towered over her, for sure made a funny sight.
I reached the platform with some time to spare. I couldn’t sit on the iron benches, as they were cold enough to freeze my Indian butt. I had booked the train tickets too, a couple of months ago as the prices depend on the proximity of the departure date. So, the earlier, the cheaper. I paid around 22 Euros for this. I was already exhausted because of last night’s shenanigans and lack of sleep. I thought I will take a quick nap in the train, but there were so many announcements that I couldn’t. The ticket checker somehow didn’t think it was important to check my tickets, don’t know why. I was looking forward to some gorgeous view from the train but unfortunately it was nothing great.
It was a two hour journey and I was supposed to reach Hamburg around 1 in the afternoon. But, I guess as soon this Indian girl steps on it, even a German train starts running late. By the time I reach Hamburg its 2 in the afternoon. I come out of the station and Brrrrrrrr, it is cold!!!
Daniel, my host in Hamburg had sent me a detailed map to reach his place but I am completely disoriented. I am at an intersection and I don’t know which way to walk. I am trying not to switch on the map as I want to do it old school. Epic fail! After 20 minutes of lugging the backpack, I am exhausted and I give into technology. Switch on the map and start walking. After a while, the map shows that I am at my destination but I am smack in the middle of stores selling sex toys, pornographic videos and strip clubs (I think it was. Women in tiny blingy outfits standing outside) So, I call Daniel, who guides me further. His house was almost 700-800 meters ahead. Damn you Google map!!
I am welcomed by Daniel and his 6 month old Weimaraner Ludwig. Daniel is warm and super friendly and starts getting my room ready for me. His first reaction after looking at me with my backpack was, “You are so tiny!” He was expecting me much later and another guest had just left his place. I sit with Ludwig for company and we start playing Peek a boo. Once my room is ready, Ludwig follows me around. I start missing home and my son and Reiko (My 6 year old Great Dane who still behaves like a puppy)

I dump my luggage and decide to head out to grab some lunch. Daniel gives me a set of keys for the building and his flat. As most of Hamburg, his house is in the Turkish district. There are scores of joints serving Turkish food and kebaps. I take a walk through the lane and settle on one of the places where the pricing was the cheapest. For 3 Euros I get two soft as a baby’s butt flatbreads, a big bowl of melt in your mouth lamb stew, a side of salad, some lentils and rice. The place is absolutely packed so I share the table with an African lady, who is having a gigantic shawarma. We both stuff our faces and huff and puff trying to finish it. I can hear a lot of Hindi around me. Most of the tables are occupied by Indians. I am unable to finish the food. I feel horribly guilty but I have to dump it in the bin. I am stuffed and tired. I decide to call it a day and go back to the room. I chilled all evening, snuggled in the bed reading Game of Thrones. A friend aptly called this my internal vacation. A vacation inside another vacation.  Late in evening I meet Sussane, Daniel’s partner. They are surprised to know that I have been in the room all day and haven’t stepped out. I promise to go out tomorrow and snuggle back in.
Woke up to a cold foggy morning. Daniel gave me a copy of the local map and marked all the “to dos” Daniel takes care of his guests like one would do for their families. He shows me the fridge he has kept specifically for his guests, stuffed with everything possible. I respected him and strategically wiped it out clean before my stay ended. 😀

 He had cycles in top condition for his guests to borrow. We picked the shortest cycle (cause I am short. L) for me and Daniel told me the way to a store where I could buy a raincoat as it had been drizzling and raining nonstop. I go looking for it but give up and decide to move on. I struggled riding on the “other side of the road” only for the first few minutes. I got used to it quite quickly. First I decide to ride around the passagens or the famous pedestrian areas of the Inner and Outer Alsters or lakes. The best routes take in the Jungfernstieg with its cafes and landing stages and Ballindamm, with the city’s largest shopping area. The track around the lakes is as picturesque as it can get. I could sit there forever. Lush green trees and little swans and ducks swimming around. I sat on a bench for a long time. Probably the longest time I have sat still at a place without doing anything.

Next I cycled around and went to Kunsthalle, the art gallery. On the way, I came by the train station and from top of the bridge I could see the multiple tracks and the trains coming in. It was fun to watch the trains coming in on curving tracks.
Kunsthalle. What an incredible collection. Kunsthalle is a specific term in German which means a facility which mounts art exhibitions. The Hamburger Kunsthalle is state run and houses a permanent collection apart from temporary exhibitions on a regular basis. It had a gorgeous collection of paintings ranging from Joseph Anton Koch, Anselm Feuerbach (One of my favourites) to Otto Mueller and Max Beckmann. I am not a big fan of modern art hence don’t remember the artists displayed there. I loved the fact that I was allowed to take pictures. That would never happen in India. There was a temporary exhibition too, but I didn’t want to pay more for it so, I could see it but wasn’t given the audio tour. Worked fine for me. 

The wanderer. Just what I want to be.

On the way back, I went past the Town house which makes a gorgeous site for photography but unfortunately due to the cloudy, dull weather I couldn’t get as good pictures as I was hoping.

A little ahead, I came across the St.Peter’s church. An Eagle fledgling had fallen from its nest and was sitting on a railing. In a few seconds, a huge crowd gathered there taking pictures. Of course I did too, but I couldn’t stop wondering and worrying if there would be an animal rescue group which would help it out. I tried asking some of the people but they couldn’t understand what I was saying. 
The lane I was on was the only crazy lane (traffic wise) I had seen in Germany. (Norm in India)  Buses, cyclists, pedestrians, all on the same road which was barely 10 feet wide. I am still thinking about the bird and cycling when a bus honks at me and I turn back and realize its right on my ass. In a hurry, I try to get the cycle up on the walkway but the elevation was a little too much and I fall.  Some people came running to help me out and were very sweet, asking me to sit for a while before I start riding again. I was too embarrassed and as soon as I fixed the chain on my cycle, I ran away.  
I cycled around the Alsters again and was tempted to enter one of the boat bars but don’t know why, my heart wasn’t into it.  I had been noticing this restaurant called Tehran on my way everyday. I decided to go there for lunch. Well, it was 4 in the evening and so, I am going to call it lunch. It’s a beautiful restaurant and my table had a great view of the window. It has a lovely outdoor sitting area but it was too cold for that. I ordered a Fesenjan which is a Persian dish of chicken in a sweet and sour pomegranate walnut sauce with basmati rice and saffron with a side of flatbread and cheese and rocket leaves. The definition of gluttony. I tried polishing it all but couldn’t.

It was cold cold cold and I was done for the day. Back home, spoke to Daniel about India, Germany and the education system. Daniel’s partner Susanne is a school teacher and he himself is pursuing a Master’s in Psychology. Back into my room, hello GOT and the warm warm bed.
Day 3 in Hamburg. I had big plans for the day. The plan was to go to Chilehaus and then to the port. Chilehaus is a ten story office building famed for its architecture. It’s an exceptional example of the 1920s brick expressionism style of architecture.  It is made up of 4.8 million dark Oldenburg bricks. This building is famed for its top which is shaped like a ship’s prow. I put my cycle up in the stand, locked it and went around taking pictures. When I was ready to leave, I had the whole cycle chain fiasco again. I struggled for a long while. Tried calling my host who was very upset that I had to go through so much trouble and asked me to the leave the cycle there. I called my husband asking him if he knew about some other technique (What a stupid question!) Obviously he couldn’t help me sitting thousands of miles away. Quitting is never an option for me, so I sat around fiddling with it, till I got it right.

Today I had a lot of cycling to do.  Next pit stop at the Maritime museum. The road to the museum is gorgeous lined with beautiful buildings with incredible architecture. I patiently take pictures of each, changing the lenses and/or the settings. By the time I reached the museum, I was frozen. Even if I had no interest in it, I would have still gone in to keep myself warm. 9 floors to keep one busy for a long time. The collection has more than 36,000 items and consists of maritime art, research, history, navies of the world, miniature models and sailing ships, explorers, development of shipbuilding. They had specific background sound clips for each floor. In the navigation and equipment floor you could hear the beep of the radar. In the marine animals floor you could hear the whale songs. I think I spent a few hours here. On the way out, I bought a few souvenirs for myself, a model ship for my son and a postcard which thankfully never got posted.

Lego Ship

Pirate’s corner

Men in uniform… Sigh!!

I went looking for the old port but didn’t find it. It didn’t help that my phone was running low on charge and I needed it to get back home. I decided to let go and went to the Miniatur Wunderland. As the name suggests it has miniature models of almost everything. They are all very elaborate and are a treat to watch. It is a must do for kids. The train tracks are wonderful, with the lights coming on for the night mode. There was a little music festival replica, my favorite. It had scenes of a brawl breaking out and even of a guy being carried out on a stretcher. The models for the world’s major cities and countries were very detailed. I missed my son and a couple of friends. My son obviously would have loved it and so would have those friends who show the same kind of excitement and wonderment for things like these.

Check out the guy on the stretcher

Now the long ride back home. I was getting tired and was extremely hungry. I had decided to stop by the first place which comes my way. I got nothing for the longest of time and then came by a Spanish restaurant called Picasso which had a long queue of people waiting to get in. Luckily, as I was alone I got the last spot at the bar. The staff and most of the patrons here could speak only Spanish or German. But everyone understands the language of alcohol so, I had no trouble ordering a glass of Rose. My lunch was a fillet of salmon with a side of potatoes and veggies. Perfectly cooked fish, just melting in my mouth. My meal today was quite expensive but I had stopped counting my Euros. I was in the last leg of my trip and had most of the money still intact. Thanks to my careful, counted spending. Also, every city I would eat a heavy breakfast, followed by a late, heavy lunch. Cause I would be so busy sightseeing that I would not remember to eat. With no company, the intake of alcohol was low and so, I had a lot of money left to spend. So, get me another glass of wine! (Typical) By now, I was having a conversation with the bartender, (super cute Spanish girl) the old man sitting next to me and a bunch of guys sitting across. The bartender was amazed that I was travelling alone and was telling me about places I should visit in Spain. I frankly have no idea what the conversation was with the old gentleman sitting next to me. And, well, with the boys. It was flirting, a little more flirting and some more flirting.
Simultaneously, I was chatting on WhatsApp with my friends in India, giving them updates and giggling nonstop. A friend was worried that I would have to cycle in my inebriated state and gave me a lecture on the laws and how much trouble I would get into, given I was on a tourist visa. I let him stew but I knew I wasn’t drunk (This is not because all drunks say that. I really wasn’t) and I had decided will walk with my cycle if I feel I can’t ride.
 Well, home without any mishap. Sussane had baked something which smelt divine. It was rhubarba. A dessert made with rhubarb. It tasted lip smackingly good. I was my cheap self and asked them to cut a piece out for me and keep it in the fridge after I took a big helping and polished it off. After all the walking I did in Munich and Berlin and cycling in Hamburg, I was hoping I had some calf muscles going now. (I have a thing for them) In Berlin too, I would keep staring at them and sending pics to a friend asking for their opinion. All I got as a response was a, “Rao, don’t stand on your toes. You still have skinny legs.”:(  I did the same today and got the same response. Well, time to take my skinny legs to bed and dream of some sexy calf muscles.
Yeah. I ate that whole chunk off!
Daniel and Sussane are so sweet that they got a mirror fixed for me in my room. They had noticed how a girl would need a mirror in her room and got one for me. They even got it fixed keeping my height in mind, whereas I would probably be one of their shortest guest.
Last day and the day for Reeperbahn or the red light district of Hamburg. I was very excited about this and started the day with visiting the St.Michael’s church. This is the most famous and largest church of Hamburg. Built in Baroque style, the architecture and decor inside is worth looking at. The stained glass painting here, absolutely breathtaking. I just stood and stared at it for a while. 

After you come out, on the way to the St.Pauli Elbe tunnel, you will come across this little bridge where people have prayed and locked their wishes in thrown the key in. A tradition hoping your wishes would come true. I thought about doing that for a second but couldn’t decide what to ask. You see, I want it all! 

famous St.Pauli Elbe Tunnel. Before I went in, I saw a food stand selling the specialty of Hamburg, the fishbrotchen. I was asked something in German, which I understood later to be the varieties. My answer was an “eh?” So, they dumbed it down for me to, “You want it sweet or sour?” I definitely didn’t want a sweet fish burger so sour it was. Yummm. Feeling a little queasy after the sour, vinegary Bismarck, I walked in towards the tunnel.
Elbtunnel’s construction started in 1907 and was opened in 1911. It is 426 m long and 80 ft. below the surface. This was constructed for pedestrians, carriages and motor vehicles.  There are lifts on both the sides to descend into it. I decided to go down the stairs and walked the whole length of the tunnel. It’s beautiful. It looks like there are millions of glowworms on the walls. It’s damp and below the surface, which made me feel claustrophobic. I kept imagining it bursting and the water rushing in. (My nightmare. Drowning.) But, there was an adorable baby and I focused on him, smiling and looking at his antics. I hope the family didn’t take me for a weirdo.

On the other side of the tunnel, I got some great pictures. We could see the buildings and towers we had walked away from. There was a little board at the edge, and I could see people had scribbled on it. For the life of me, I could not understand how someone could stand on the slope, just to write “F*** *!” During my walk, I had noticed this creepy guy following me and I didn’t know how to get rid of him as there was barely any crowd to get lost in. Now, I saw him standing and watching and leering. I pretended to take some pictures and slowly slinked away. On my way back the sprain from Munich came back. So, I decided to take the lift instead of the stairs on my way up.

Next to St.Pauli Fishmarket. Not a soul in the market or the dead fishes. I took a tour of a submarine there and learnt the real meaning of claustrophobia. I could not imagine living like that. Not for a day. Forget months. As soon as I got out of it, I ran out into the fresh air. I noticed people crossing the chain links warding off the market area from the river and sitting, soaking the sun. Oh, by the way, the sun came out today. 19 degrees felt like heaven. I got myself a beer, hitched my dress up and sat reading GOT. I must have sat for a few hours and could feel my skin burning but it never had felt this good.

Next I walked into Reeperbahn. I wanted to go check out a sex toy store and watch a cabaret. But, all my guts vanished when I entered the district. I just couldn’t get myself to enter one of the stores. If only I had one more person with me, I would have gone in. My host had told me to stay there and see it in the night as the area comes alive with all the lights and music. I decided to bid my time at an Italian restaurant drinking my favorite rum and coke and eating some yummy grilled octopus. I hear some motorcycles followed by seeing them and then it hits me! This is what it was! I had a strange feeling through my trip, but couldn’t put my finger on it. It was the lack of noise! No noisy vehicles, people shouting or horns blaring. I was in the alternative district now and it was full of motorbikes. I would love to live in a peaceful and calm place like this. (Strike.. Don’t remember anymore)
I was getting high now and the day was still as bright as an Indian summer afternoon. I didn’t want to get drunk. Just then a brawl broke out between two homeless guys. The cops were there before I could even blink. I was extremely impressed but that couldn’t make me stay. I wasn’t comfortable anymore and decided to go home. At home, Daniel and Sussane greeted me with a bowl of fresh strawberries and grapes with yogurt. I don’t want this vacation to end. But it has and I am leaving tomorrow.

I am looking forward to going home. I can’t wait to see my family. I am missing going to work too. (Told y’all. I am weird.) But, I don’t want this to end. You know what I mean?
Had a very uneventful travel back up until Dubai. Except for crying buckets watching “The second best exotic Marigold Hotel” When I go to board my flight in Dubai, we are told ( 5 passengers) that they had overbooked the flight, (usual with Emirates) and we had no place on it anymore. We all make a huge hue and cry. Well, we didn’t have to. Emirates is quite used to it and was ready with a hotel room, breakfast and lunch coupons and a round trip ticket to Europe valid for the next one year!! Yeeeaaahhh! You read that right!
FLY EMIRATES!!!

And that brings an end to an incredible adventure. When I had decided to do this, it was all because I just wanted to. I always considered myself a people’s person who was at her best with a lot of people around her. This was a challenge, to be able to spend time with myself, with no one to talk to. (You all know, how much I love talking) But, I discovered so much more about myself. And, I can’t wait to go on the next self-discovery trip with those free tickets!! 😀

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