Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hamburg ist Schön

Hamburg - at least in late spring, is a lovely city. I had driven through some years ago, but had never spent any time in the city. I spent the last weekend in May there, and while I was on business, I did have some time to see some of the sights.

I took a train from Arnhem, Netherlands and the trip was about 5 hours each way. The weather was great, and the scenery across Germany was perfect. Lots of green farmland. It was a holiday weekend, and the train was packed - at first I had to sit on the floor in the bicycle compartment - but after a while a seat opened up and I read a book during the long trip.

I arrived in the early afternoon, and I took a cab to the hotel. I got to practice my German a bit (I had spoken for a bit with someone earlier when I ordered bratwurst for lunch) and it went generally OK. I had a bit of trouble checking in, though. I was speaking, and I thought the person checking me in asked if I had been there before. I shook my head "No", and she looked confused. What she was actually doing was welcoming me. As I tell people sometimes "Miss a verb here and a noun there, and pretty soon you don't know what the heck anyone is saying."

After checking in, I met up with my colleague Terry Kennon. We had a dinner engagement outside of the city, but we had some time so we took a stroll and had a look around. The architecture was quite impressive, but what really stood out is the amount of water in the city. There are lots of canals - I learned that there are more bridges than in Amsterdam and Venice put together - and also a couple of large artificial lakes.

We killed some time walking around, but when it was time for dinner we hopped in a cab. I gave the cab driver directions in German, and after a bit of back and forth he understood where we needed to go. We were headed outside of the city to an area called Nienstedten, overlooking the Elbe River. At one point I noticed that we were driving on the infamous Reeperbahn, although I didn't see any of the things the street is famous for.

We had a nice meal while watching the steady ship traffic on the Elbe. I got to practice my German a bit more, and we talked about energy, politics, peak oil, and the weather in Hamburg. Several of us had just come from the U.S. and were jet-lagged, so we finally called it an evening at about 10 p.m.

Several times in Europe I have run across pleasant surprises. The following day, Sunday the 31st, was such an occasion. Terry and I went out exploring again. I showed him how I use Google maps on my Blackberry for navigation. Without worrying about getting lost, we went exploring. We first walked along the artifical lakes (the Aussenalster and Binnenalster). The weather was great, and there were lots of people in and around the lakes. I was kicking myself for not having a camera.

There was a large area of green on the map, so we headed toward it. Turns out it it was a very large park, and right in the middle of it was the Hamburg Botanical Garden. It was really impressive. There were a number of rooms for tropical plants (very warm and humid), and one was full of thriving banana trees. I had never seen the blooms on banana trees before, but there were beautiful pink/purple blooms, along with tiny bananas on some of these trees. There was also an area for desert plants, and I have never seen so many cactuses in my life. There were all shapes and sizes, and they had some of the biggest aloe plants I had ever seen.

After enjoying that (free!) garden, we headed back toward the hotel. But we had another surprise. We thought we were going to walk along a traffic filled road all the way, but we spotted one of those car-free pedestrian areas that just happened to be a shortcut. Terry enjoyed that a lot and took some pictures. We were hungry, so we stopped at a little Italian place and had a meal outside. One funny thing was that most of the restaurants were preceded by "Hamburger." So I kept looking up and thinking I was looking at a hamburger joint.

After lunch, I walked back over to the central train station to catch my train back to Arnhem. One thing I have to remember in the future is that not all of those trains are air conditioned, and I spent a very hot Sunday afternoon coming back. I just about got dehydrated on the train. Next time I have to leave earlier in the day - or take plenty of water along with me.

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