Saturday, June 26, 2010

Arrival in Frankfurt

My main tour in Germany is with Cosmos Tours (based in UK) and the tour stats and ends in Frankfurt, thus I need to arrange my own flight to and from Frankfurt. I chose Singapore Airlines with a transfer in Changi Airport for the convenience though it was not the cheapest; some Middle East airlines are cheaper but involves long transfer times or an overnight stay in the Middle East. As the flight that we were on was only about half full, we were given very good service during the flight. After 12 hours in the air, we finally landed at Frankfurt Airport.

There were many electric doors or gates that open only in one direction so there is very little chance of getting lost in the airport, you just follow the signs. Just a note, at the immigration, my passport was stamped while my wife's was not. Though we ask the officer for it to be stamped, he just asked us to move on (in a rather unfriendly manner); not sure if he misunderstood us or what. Later when on our way back home, the immigration officer was searching for the entry stamp in my wife's passport and he said that it should be there. Luckily, I had put my wife's incoming flight boarding pass stump together with her passport to prove her legal entry into Germany, just in case. So if you come across similar situation, do the same; it will save you a lot of explanation.

After claiming our luggage and making our way to the S-bahn train station down a narrow escalator, we were faced with some unfriendly looking ticketing machines. Luckily there was a DB (Deutsch Bahn, the German National Railway) office for enquiries and for ticket sales so I bought my tickets there to the Hbf, the hauptbahnhof or main railway station, at 3.8 euros each.
I started looking for the hotel after getting off at the Hbf and before I could ask another DB service counter, I saw the ads for the hotel right on the wall above the side exit of the station. It was Hotel Excelsior, just 20m or so across the side entrance of the Hbf. This is the best location for a hotel if you are arriving at the main railway station and it turned out also to be the best value for money among all the hotels that I have stayed in Germany.

In this case, I paid 73 euros including breakfast and breakfast was very satisfying with a good selection; they even have char-siew-pau and siew-mei during my stay! What's more, internet was free in the room, drinks in the mini-bar are also free and they even have light refreshment in the lobby (coffee and cakes) for customers during the day. No other hotels can beat this and this hotel is highly recommended. This may not be in a choice neighbourhood or the tourist area but it is easy to get anywhere with its central location just next to the main transport hub where the S-bahn, U-bahn, trams and buses meet.

These are the goodies in the mini-bar, 2 of each, all FREE!

(All photos/videos are taken with the Sony XR350E camcorder unless stated otherwise.)

The check-in counter staff was very friendly and after a shower, we went straight to bed as it was about 10.30pm local time so that we will be fresh and ready for the next day.

Just a word about the prices of hotels in Frankfurt, it can go up a lot during trade fair seasons so check when you are staying there as there are many trade fairs throughout the year. You can save quite a bit on hotel bills by just changing the dates of your travel. I chose my hotels by reading reviews in and did all my hotel bookings online through which seems to offer the best prices. It is easy to use and you are not charged until your stay or default for not turning up so you can make changes where necessary. (But make sure you cancel the earlier booking.) If you expect to arrive late (i.e. after 6pm local time), do inform the hotel so that they will keep the room for you.

Ronald Kwok

Monday, June 21, 2010

Holiday in Germany

I just got back from a 16 days holiday in Germany with my wife and my Sony XR350E camcorder. The first 12 days was with Cosmos Tour under their Highlights of Germany package while the next 4 days were on my own with a second visit to Berlin and Frankfurt on the way home. This is my first experience with Cosmos Tour and it is a good experience. The Cosmos tour itself was quite relax (at least for this one but not sure about the others) and not rushed like other tours arranged locally and you have plenty of free time to do your own visiting in the stops at the major towns and cities. In my later posts I will give a day to day account of the holiday. I hope to add some videos taken with the Sony XR350E that survived the trip intact and it behaved very well during the trip.

Just a quick overview. The Germans are generally friendly and helpful and many offered to help when we looked puzzled over the underground map or ticketing machines. My experience with the German food is that either they are bland or very salty, this is in the common cafes and not in the expensive restaurants. The Germans eat a lot of meat and mainly it is pork. Sausages are everywhere and each area has its own special variety and they are usually tasty but salty. The same goes with beer and it is cheaper than water in eating places so it is a heaven for beer-lovers. (Alas, not me so I have to settle for coke most of the time.) I suppose there is a connection here as beer goes very well with salty food and according to the Germans, the beer cleans the kidney!

Have loose change ready for visiting the rest-rooms as you have to pay for almost all the public toilets and those in rest-stops and even in some eating places though most are free. Public transport is well integrated but can be intimidating at first especially in the big cities; after a while it gets very easy to move around. Single fares are expensive so it is cheaper to get a day or group ticket if available unless you want to walk most of the time. The weather can be very unfriendly, it can be warm and sunny one day and become cold and wet the next day and this is June, supposedly in summer so have your raincoat and umbrella ready.

OK enough for the appetiser. The main course will follow but probably a bit slowly since it is World Cup fever time.

Ronald Kwok