Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day 12 - Hamburg & Dusseldorf, Germany

Friday, June 1, 2012

Becky, you asked what happened to our taxi driver, Daniel who was a no-show at the Lisieux train station. I received his reply this morning:

"Hello, Don't worry. I couldn't be there. I asked another taxi to do the trip with you. Thats ok for me. I hope to see you next time."

Rather odd! He definitely did not send someone else. We are lucky it all worked out.

As for the interior of the Minatur Wunderland, there is no mistaking that it is a warehouse. When the lights change and it gets dark you are able to enjoy the displays more. Perhaps if they painted the ceiling black and did something interesting with the walls that would help.

Hamburg, Germany - Day 2

What a great night's sleep! It is overcast again but we are in excellent spirits. We very much enjoyed our day yesterday. The people in Hamburg are wonderful and very friendly. We did some repacking in preparation for taking the train this afternoon. My mother tried to use the Nespresso machine in he room but it seems the bellman may have broken it yesterday. He tried to demonstrate how it works without adding any water. Oops! Today our itinerary is to ride the Hop on Hop Off bus this morning and then return to the hotel for checkout around noon. We will be taking the train this afternoon from Hamburg to Dusseldorf.

We also had the option to fly but the train is more relaxing and the fare was excellent for first class seats purchased in advance online. The train takes 3 1/2 hours and the plane would take 1 hour but getting to the airport and checking in prior to the flight would make the train journey almost equal.

We arrived in the lovely Fairmont breakfast room known as Cafe Condi around 8:00 am. There were three food sections where you serve yourself. I ordered green tea and my mother had coffee. They had a nice assortment of cured meats, cheeses and gravlax. There was also fresh fruit and yogurt. There must have been about 7 different kinds of bread! I had a couple slices of the sourdough and added some pumpkin seeds. It was all delicious.

Cured meats, cheese, gravlax and yummy bread

The room was very busy but not chaotic. Service was again excellent and professional. After breakfast we took a walk to see more of the city either by boat or Hop On Hop off bus. The bus is known as the Stadtrundfahrt Die Roten Doppeldecker in German. That sounds much better! Along the way we passed the Consulate for Lettland. I wasn't sure what country that is so I Googled it later. Turns out is is Latvia!

We considered taking a boat around the lake and went down to read the schedule. My mother was just about to purchase the tickets when I pointed out that the trip takes over 2 1/2 hours and I didn't think we had that much time. I also wasn't sure what we would see from the boat and the threat of rain made it less appealing. Ultimately the bus was the best option.

We found the bus stop but were not sure if we were on the right side of the street to catch it. We saw two buses go by further up. I read the schedule and it was still too early. Just as we were starting to wonder where the bus was, it turned the corner and it was of course, right on time. I love German punctuality!

Hop On Hop Off Bus (Stadtrundfahrt)

The sun was partially out but the clouds were also closing in. We bypassed the areas of the route we walked yesterday and viewed from the shuttle. The bus fare was 15 euros for adults and 13 euros for seniors. We started a stop #8. This route will take us north along the Aubenalster, we will take a turn left and then head south and eventually we will end at #20 directly in front of the Fairmont. Easypeasy! The complete bus tour is about 1 hour and a half and the route includes 27 stops.

As it is a double decker bus, there is an open area on top but there was no way my mother was walking up so we stayed downstairs. There were some (perhaps German?) tourists in the front of the bus with luggage. The person doing the commentary was on the top level and spoke 90% in German. Every once in a while she would say a little something in English, like "that is the tennis stadium where Michael Sticht played". I understood about 60% of her German dialogue which helped make the tour more interesting. The scenery was very nice regardless if we knew what it was were were looking at or not.

There was a lot of laughter coming from upstairs. With temps in the low 60's it must have been a bit breezy so I am glad they were having a good time.

Bus Route Map

We crossed the Kennedy Bridge which bisects the Binnenalster from the Aubenalster. Here we saw a beautiful park and we also had a lovely view of the lake. This area is called Harvestehude and is distinguished by some attractive homes ($$$$) and modern buildings. The homes are in the neoclassical style and are impressive. The amount of open green space in the city is amazing.

Park near Aubenalster Shore

The lush foliage made this area feel very rural when the center of the city is only about 5 minutes away. The homes along the route were rather stately and look expensive. I was impressed with the grass covered underground parking garage  as seen below.

Neoclassical Home

Possibly an apartment?

The modern buildings interspersed along the street were a nice contrast to the white facade homes.

Don't know what this is but it may be part of the University

At a stop light there was a couple walking their dog. The dog was very attentive and stopped on cue and looked up at his master for the signal when they could cross. My dogs would never do this! Sadly the only thing I may have in common with Oprah is that we are both not Pack Leaders! Perhaps you also saw the episode where Cesar told her so in front of a live audience.

The street lamps are either set to stay on when it is overcast or perhaps they are solar powered.

As we came down Mittel Weg we could see the Tennis Arena in the Rothenbaum area. There are several museums and university buildings here too. The bus stop name is Moorweidenstrabe. There are also some interesting shops and restaurants. We passed Curio Haus which is a conference center. It is named after Mr. Curio.

The beautiful plaques on the homes and the large windows were stunning.

Beautiful windows and plaque

As we came around the road on the other side we had a tiny glimpse of the botanical garden. Even the small part we saw looked amazing. On my next visit I will definitely make a point to see it.  

Our announcer let us know we were passing by the home of designer Jil Sander and probably some other very famous people but we did not always understand the descriptions in German. I thought her home was supposed to be white but the one that we passed was Bermuda pink! Perhaps she got sick of all the white houses.

Stop #15 is Kleine Wallanlagen. This used to contain the city fortifications in the 15th century but it was converted to a park in the 19th century.  One more example of the organic and inorganic interaction in Hamburg's urban landscape

One of the last stops was the Gansemarkt area. Apparently there was never a market here and they also don't sell geese. The square was redeveloped in the 1980's as a focal point. Seven streets intersect here and there are now 3 shopping malls.

During the bus tour we passed some very interesting shops and restaurants that might be fun exploring on a future trip. It was interesting that perhaps due to the threat of inclement weather during our entire tour not one person got off the bus. We approached the Fairmont and signaled the driver our desire to depart.

Once at the Fairmont it was now 11:45 am and our train would depart at 1:22 pm. We went upstairs and grabbed our stuff and headed to the lobby. We wheeled our bags to the front door where a taxi was waiting. The train station is only about 7 minutes away.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof

We arrived at the central railway station which is the busiest in Germany, and after Gare du Nord in Paris, the second busiest in Europe. On average 450,000 passengers pass thru the Hamburg station daily. It also connects directly to the underground rail network of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines.

The station was opened in 1906 and modeled after the Galerie des machines by Louis Beroud of the 1889 Paris World's Fair. German Emperor William II, and the oldest of Queen Victoria's grandsons, declared the first draft as 'simply horrible". For the second draft William eliminated the Art Nouveau style for Neo-Renaissance elements instead. What a pity as the Art Nouveau would have been spectacular. It is too bad he did not pickup some of the architectural skills of his grandparents.

Hamburg Central Station

The German train network, "Deutsche Bahn", is known for being comfortable, economical and punctual. Over 4.5 million people a day use the DB's 29,000 trains serving over 5,500 stations along 35,000 km of track.

Our track number was not posted yet so we waited a few minutes for it to show up. Our train to Dusseldorf would depart from track 14b. It was confusing because I only saw the number 14 and not an a or b. I asked a very nice lady who explained we had to go downstairs to find 14 which did include a & b. We took the elevator and it was just a short walk.

I am quite enamored with German ingenuity. Not only was there a diagram for exactly where to stand for our first class compartment, but the times of the trains were also listed. The chart is called a Wagenstandanzeiger. This displays the composition of major trains that use the track and where they will stop along the platform.The car number and the position is clearly marked on the ground by a yellow line and dot.

This was not for our train but is a good example of what the chart looks like

We had about 20 minutes to wait while they kept announcing that the train before ours was delayed. They would say it in German and then repeat it in English. It was great they had the English announcements but it was also easy to decipher it in German. The one part that was funny was at the end of the sentence in English he would say "thank you and goodbye". The "and" and "goodbye" came across as one word. After about 10 more "andgoodbyes" our train approached the station. It was a little train with just 4 cars. However, as I would later discover, it was deceiving and much larger if you are trying to walk inside between the cars.

I admire the German's for their recycling efforts. One last impression of German efficiency before boarding the train.

Our seats were by the window facing each other. There were two people near the compartment door which left two empty seats between us. I put our bags on the rack above and looked forward to our 3 hour relaxing ride across the German countryside.

After about 45 minutes our tickets were inspected. As I had been advised, I had to show the credit card I used to make the purchase. The train attendant had a handheld device that scanned the ticket and we were all set. I should have asked him if there was a food area on board. Since we did not have lunch I was getting hungry.

I asked the people sitting near us if there might be food somewhere and they seemed to think so. I exited our cosy compartment and ventured down the aisle looking for the food car. I did not get very far. I had to climb over people sitting on the floor of the second class cars. I somehow made it through one full car and found the attendant. I asked if there was any food for purchase and was told no there was not. I climbed back over the same people I had just passed and was disappointed I couldn't get a snack but very happy we purchased the 1st class seats!

I found some lozenges and chewed on those while I starred out the window at some cows.

Countryside on the way to Dusseldorf

The time passed very quickly, The train made a few stops and we heard some more "Thank you and Goodbyes" until we finally reached Dusseldorf.

Dusseldorf, Germany

The city of Dusseldorf was a target of strategic bombing during World War II. In 1943 over 700 RAF bombers were used in a single night. The Allied ground advance into Germany reached Dusseldorf in mid April 1945. The US 97th Infantry Division easily captured the city on April 18th 1945 as there was little German resistance.

In 1946 Dusseldorf was made the capital of the new federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The city's reconstruction proceeded at a frantic pace and the economic transformation saw Dusseldorf grow into the wealthy city of trade, administration and service industries that it is today.

Dusseldorf comes in third place in several categories:

  • It has the 3rd largest Japanese community in Europe (at 11,000)
  • It has the 3rd largest Jewish population  in Germany (over 7,600)
  • It has the 3rd largest airport in Germany after Frankfurt and Munich (18.6 million Pax)
The total population of metropolitan Dusseldorf is 1.5 million. The prominent composers Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn are linked to the city. However, its most famous citizen is the poet and author Heinrich Heine (1797 - 1856).

Dusseldorf is widely known as a center of German advertising and fashion. In addition, this city on the Rhine has become one of the top telecommunications center in Germany.

Frank Gehry Buildings on the Media Harbor

We took a taxi from the station and headed to the Hyatt Hotel about 10 minutes away. The driver had some idea where it was located but at first tried to take us to the Marriott. The Hyatt has only been open for about a year and looks brand new.

On our approach to the hotel we passed some of the buildings on the Media Harbor. A few of them were designed by Frank Gehry and this area may have a "mini Bilbao" effect.

There was a bit of line and as I only have Gold status with Hyatt there was no way to expedite the check in process. We took a quick look at the Smokers Lounge which was quite plush with leather seats and a fireplace. We went back to the reception desk as mother was starting to get antsy so I was happy when it was our turn. The person at the desk was just ok. He took a call while I was still completing the check in process which I could ignore but my mother didn't like it and said so.

We were given a room on the 14th floor. You had to use your room key to access the floors from the elevator. I thought the room was very nice. It would be prefect for business and we had a nice view of the Media Harbor. The windows were open at the very bottom and had mechanically controlled shades. The decor had more of male sensibility though.

Room 1434 Hyatt Hotel Dusseldorf

Media Harbor view from our room

The TV was nice and big. The area below it would be nice for an electric fireplace. 

The bathroom was also well appointed with stainless sinks, a TV and nice fluffy robes.

We relaxed in the room for about 35 minutes and then decided it was time for dinner.  I wanted to eat near the Old Harbor area on the Rhine. I asked at the front desk if we could walk there and they said it was about 30 minutes. We took a taxi instead. I provided the address of a restaurant on the river which might have been wrong as we were dropped off in a an area no where near the water.

My mother berated the taxi driver that he had no idea where he was going but it was most likely my fault as I had the wrong address. We got out of the taxi and tried to find our way there on foot. We passed a nice Chinese man in his early 20's and asked how to get to the Rhine. He said it was very easy and to cut through the park to the other side.

Park on way to the Rhine

While the park was very pretty, we did not reach the water as promised and it took a few more attempts before we were successful. By now my mother was not happy with all the walking and my stomach was grumbling.  We had to pass this busy motorway to the other side.

Finally we reached the Rhine! It was very grey but we were so happy to see it. The temps were much warmer than when we left Hamburg. It was probably about 70 degrees and quite pleasant to eat outside. .

Along the Rhine in Dusseldorf

We had a choice of several establishments right along the Rhine promenade. The one called Gosch Sylt had been highly recommended (thank you Ursula!) so we took a look at the food in the glass case.

Gosch Sylt is famous for their fresh seafood. Their produce comes from the island of Sylt which is a distance of 3 hours drive along the North Sea. The items in the case looked delicious! We placed our order and as they only accepted cash I was lucky to have 40 euros on hand. We were provided with a beeper to let us know when the food was ready. My mother ordered the Thai seafood with penne which was already pre-mixed into the sauce. I ordered pasta with large prawns. My mother decided to order some prawns too.

Items in Gosch Sylt Case

We took a seat at one of the few empty tables along the river. These had bar stool type seating but were very comfortable. My mother desperately wanted a glass of wine so I went in search of someone to take the order. I found the bar person and asked him to come to our table when he was available.

Tables along the Rhine Promenade

The bar person came and my mother ordered a glass of Riesling and I ordered one that the waiter thought was too sweet. I thought for a minute I was back on the Symphony with the sommolier who never seemed to approve of my choices from the All Inclusive wine list! I did not back down and the wine I selected was very good!

Old Town (Alstadt)
From where we were sitting we had a very nice view of the buildings in the old town including the town hall, St. Lamertus Basilika and the Castle Tower. The promenade on the bank of the Rhine is one of the most beautiful in Germany and situated on the right bank.

The Castle Tower is a relic of the Dusseldorf city palace. It was burned in 1882 and damaged in the 2nd World War. The building was renovated many years ago and houses the Maritime Museum.

Castle Tower, Town Hall and St. Lambertus Basilika in the background
It was taking a while for our food (over 25 minutes) so I went up to see if it would be ready soon. As I have no experience with this restaurant I did not know how long it should take. I could see two plates of pasta near the chef who was working in front of the grill on all the orders. The woman who took our order spoke with him and just few minutes later our dishes were presented and I carried them to the table.

Delicious pasta with large prawns
The meal was fabulous and definitely worth the wait! The shrimps were so fresh and grilled perfectly. The two sauces were also very good. It was a terrific way to spend the evening.

Pegluhr clock that tells time and also measures the tide level

After our meal I wanted to take a walk to see the "Ko" Konigsallee (King's Avenue), which is a very fashionable destination. It is flanked by a tributary and is said to be one of the nicest streets in all of Germany with high end jewelry shops, designer labels and art galleries. I had sort of convinced my mother that this was a good idea. We walked over to the taxi rank and asked if they would take us there. No one seemed interested. I think it was either just too close or the traffic may have been bad on a Friday night. The taxi driver pointed and told us it was about 4 blocks away.

Sounded close, however, the only problem was it was 4 blocks down what is known as "the longest bar in the world". Within one square kilometer 260 bars, cafes and small brewing houses line the street. The Old Town is the home of Altbier, a top fermented dark beer. It translates as "old style beer". This pre-lager brewing method of using warm top fermenting yeast is similar to English Pale Ales.

Along the "longest bar in the world"

With it being a Friday night, and the presence of many young people in a celebratory spirit, the prospect of walking 4 blocks quickly dawned on my mother. We started to walk down the street but suddenly her intuition must have kicked in as she said it was too far and she did not want to continue. Rats! I almost made it. So it was back to the taxis and a ride to the Hyatt instead.

We arrived back at the hotel with their fleet of Porsches parked out front. I particularly like the Panamera.

Fleet of Porsches in front of Hotel

Since they did not offer dessert at Gosch Sylt we decided to ask if we could have something small in the bar area of the restaurant. The Hotel General Manager actually showed us to a table that she thought would suit us. She could not have been nicer and softened the harsh male image of the hotel.

My mother ordered the Tiramisu and a glass of wine. I had a delicious creme brulee with a strawberry and rhubarb topping. Mother's tiramisu looked lovely and consisted of Arabica coffee, ladyfinger and amaretto. My Creme Brulee came with a separate bowl of the rhubarb and sour cream ice. It was like having two different desserts in one! It was scrumptious. I also had a mosqito which was a non-alcoholic drink with fresh lime, sugar syrup, soda water and peppermint.


Creme Brulee with Rhubarb and Strawberry
It was a nice and relaxing way to end our day. We went back to the room and tried to watch a little TV. Mother quickly feel asleep and I was soon to follow.  Tomorrow we will be flying home on Air Berlin from the Dusseldorf airport.

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