Monday, July 12, 2010

Lubeck, marzipan

After breakfast, we drove to Lubeck. Today was a bit chilly but otherwise the weather was fine. The city has a very distinctive brick architecture and this is found in many buildings in the city. First stop was at the Holstentor gate, once the only entrance to the city.

From the gate,, it was a short walk to the Rathaus and the city square. There was some kind of fair going on in the square so there were stalls selling snacks and drinks. After walking past the main shopping street, we arrived at the Marienkirche or St.Mary's Church. Outside the church there is a cute little devil sitting near the wall which is a favourite photo spot.

We then walked back to the main shopping street to probably the most famous shop in Lubeck.

The most famous product of Lubeck is marzipan and the most famous shop selling this sweets is Niederegger. Inside the shop you can find all kinds of marzipan in various shapes and flavours and the display is so colourful as shown in the clip below. Personally, I do not find marzipan that great, maybe it is because I am not too fond of almond, the main ingredient of marzipan.

From Lubeck, we headed for Berlin. On the way we had our lunch at one of the rest stops. Lunch was a buffet but not the all you can eat buffet at one price that we find at home. Here only the salad or side dishes is the one that you can take as much as you want in one helping and there are usually three prices that go according the size of the plate (big, medium and small) you use to pile up your food. So if you are good at it, you can choose the smallest plate and take more food than using the biggest plate.

Another peculiar point to note is that all the glasses used in cafe and restaurants have markings at the side to indicate the volume of the drink served. So you can make a complaint if you drink is not up the mark, literally. So much for consumer protection.

BTW, the food at this rest stop is one of the best that I have tasted in Germany. The goulash is just right as other places serve it too thick and too salty. After a very satisfying lunch, we continued our journey to Berlin.

Ronald Kwok

Cologne and Hamburg

After our lunch in Boppard, we left for Cologne. The main attraction here is the Cologne Cathedral. Since the weather was good and it was a public holiday, there was quite a crowd around the Cathedral. Below is a clip of the external view.

After going round the cathedral, we took an inside tour. You are free to video inside and there is no entrance charge. It is very impressive inside. Below is a sample video of the interior.

We then head for a cafe just in front of the cathedral (to the left with the back to the cathedral) for a rest and a little refreshment. This cafe was very crowded and it serves the most visually tempting ice-cream combination that I have seen, it is Movenpick ice-cream (found everywhere in Germany) but since I was short of time, I was not able to sample it. A very interesting part of the cafe is the toilet. The WC has transparent door but it turns opaque once somebody is inside. See the clip below.

There is a charge of 50 cents but well worth it.

We then continued our journey to Hamburg.

The first stop was at Michaelskirche or St.Michael's church. Below is a view of the church taken off a reflection in a nearby glass building. The idea came from the tour director as the church tower is too tall to capture it all from the side.

From here, we went to the Rathaus or town hall and the adjoining square, a very popular tourist spot. The video below is from the inner courtyard of the town hall.

In front of the town hall is a lake that gives the area a postcard look as can be seen from the video below.

After driving round the city, we went to our hotel, the All Seasons Hamburg. It was unfortunate that the lift had broken down and most of us had to carry our luggage to our room since we did not want to leave the chore to the tour leader and driver. Luckily, the highest was only 3rd floor. The finishing in the room is very futuristic and the shower area is also see-through from the bedroom so it will create a very romantic atmosphere for honeymooners. Also there are two mini markets nearby so very convenient to stock up your snacks and drinking water.

In the evening we had the first of our optional tours. This time it was a Hamburg harbour cruise for 20 euros. I think it is well worth taking as not only is the tour of the harbour area but also through some of the canals in the city. It was very informative and interesting, highly recommended. The first videos shows the boat taking a very close look at the side of a container ship.

The video below shows some of the historical buildings along the many canals.

After the boat tour we had a bonus, a bus tour of Hamburg at night, including the infamous red-light area of Reeperbahn.

Ronald Kwok

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Rhine cruise and Cologne

Breakfast at Mercure was just so-so and the food area was very cramp. Anyway, we were on the road to the Rhine valley pretty fast since the hotel was near the autobahn. We were to have our cruise on the river Rhine this morning and as we drove along the banks of the river we saw several picturesque towns, numerous castles and very steep vineyards. Below is a clip shot from the tour bus window. Take away the reflections and the green tint and the video looks pretty good and it feels like I am on tour again viewing it.

We had a rest stop and here we learn that it usually costs money to visit the toilet. Usually it is 50cents and in some rest areas, you get a voucher for this amount that can be used for purchases in shops using the same system. If I am not mistaken, it is called Sanifair and I think the charge is quite fair as the toilets are really clean. Make sure you make use of the accumulated vouchers and use them at the last rest stop that is applicable as they do add up to a tidy sum.

After all the views on the bus, it was then time to board a river boat for the pleasure cruise down the Rhine River at one of the boarding towns. One of the must see item is the Loreley Rock more because of the legend associated with it but I could not see the Loreley statue from this video.

There are several charming looking towns along the way where people get on and off the river boat, St.Goar is one of them.

We finally made land at Boppard where we had our free time and lunch. There are several towns along the Rhine river where one can break journey and Boppard is one of the bigger ones.
The town square of Boppard.

Generally, food in Germany is quite affordable in the many cafes and restaurants in the tourist areas, the main course usually below 15 euros. (Of course not in the high class restaurants that are beyond my budget.) And the portion is big and good enough for two persons if you are not big eaters, like me and my wife. Thus we normally share the meal and sometimes even cannot finish it especially when it comes with chips (i.e. french fries.)

From Boppard, our next stop is Cologne.

Ronald Kwok.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

First day of Cosmos Tour

After a good night's sleep, I was ready to start the day in Frankfurt.

The breakfast at Excelsior is pretty good for the price of the hotel, it has both cold and hot items; it even has char-siew pau that morning! One juice that is common at all hotel breakfast is the multi-vitamin juice (actually mixed fruit juices) and this is my favorite drink in the morning.

The hotel exterior

First stop after breakfast was at the Hbf to check out the platform to take the train (S-bahn) to Friedrichdorf to check into Hotel Mercure there which is the joining hotel for the Cosmos Tour of Germany. I don't know why they chose this hotel which is 20km out of town and I can only guess that they can make a quick getaway to the highway or autobahn avoiding the early morning traffic jam out of Frankfurt.

Inside the Hbf.

Next was some video shooting before going into the city centre for some early morning shopping, the wife's favourite activity even on holiday! If you plan to use the public transport, the best deal is to get the group day ticket for 5 persons at 9.5 euro. A single one-way ticket costs 2.4 euro so if you make just two trips for two persons, it would cost 9.6 euro so the group ticket is a very good deal. It can be used the whole day on the train, bus and tram in Frankfurt so it is very convenient. One of the DB lady help me get this ticket from the ticket machine; you just push the right button and slot in your money.

The main shopping street is Zeil between the S-bahn stops Hauptwache and Konstablewache and the surrounding streets. I noticed that many people here are using bicycles and also walking with their dogs and this is generally the case in most parts of Germany that I visited. In fact you should be more wary of cyclist than motorist as they ride pretty fast and seems to have the right of way.

Shoppers at the Zeil

The old and the new

After checking out of Excelsior, we boarded the S-bahn to Friedrischdorf which is at the end of line 5 so no problem here. The only problem was that after getting down, I found that there was no escalator and had to struggle with my luggage going up and down the stairs to reach outside the station. Once there, it was just a 7 euro taxi ride to Hotel Mercure.

The tour director was already at the hotel and checking in was a breeze. The best thing about the hotel is there there is a big supermarket just behind and we did some shopping there for water and snacks. The first official activity of the tour is dinner at the hotel. Surprisingly, there was no formal introduction by each member of the tour so we just get to know our neighbours at the dining table. The reasons given later was there most of the members have just flown in at the morning and after a very long flight, most of them would just want to go to bed as soon as possible. Anyway, dinner was set dinner with no options and it was just so-so, probably the worst among those included in the tour and after dinner, most of us went straight back to the room for a much needed rest.

Germans love to celebrate. The hotel has sent up outdoor barbecue food and drink tents with some light entertainment since it is the beginning of summer and supposedly good weather. So there was a crowd enjoying themselves though it was still quite chilly. I did some videoing before I went to bed. Will upload to youtube later since my earlier video is taking ages to upload.

Outdoor fun at Hotel Mercure

Ronald Kwok