All posts by vanessa keller

Things To Do in Stuttgart (and Beyond) as the Weather Warms Up

Yesterday I left the house for the first time without my winter coat this year. It’s always the same feeling when that happens; one of absolute delight and freedom. Winter is nearly gone and the last of the snow is melting – even in Salzburg, where my train from Budapest travelled through on the way home this week, there are only specks left of what was once completely white territory.

Down here in Stuttgart, there’s a lot to look forward to in the coming months. With spring comes a need to celebrate, and alongside the spargel and the fabulous beer gardens opening their doors for business, there are a lot of festivals coming up in this neck of the woods for us to get ready for.

  1. The Holi Festival

Taking another tour of Germany, the Holi festival crosses through Stuttgart on the 16th May. Having gone to one two years ago in Magdeburg, I can’t recommend attending this day at least once in your lifetime enough. The soaring colours which are allowed to be released every hour make for spectacular viewing and the hippie stores on the side make for a very relaxed and cool vibe surrounding the main events in front of the stage.

Holi - a fantastic experience.
Holi – a fantastic experience.
  1. Weinwandertag

The inaugural wine walk in Esslingen – the day before Holi on the 15th May. It’s 6km long and you pass through six ‘stations’ of wineries celebrating the upcoming summer with tastings and a chance to get a little piddled as they say in upper class Britain. You can do it in a group or just take a stroll with your dog for company, and the accompanying music plays into the evening.

There is a beautiful backdrop throughout your walk of the vineyards.
There is a beautiful backdrop throughout your walk of the vineyards.
  1. Fruhlingfest

The biggest spring beer festival in Europe, this cannot be missed and while it isn’t as big as the autumn equivalent a walk through Bad Cannstatt is definitely worth it, even just for some cliché German gingerbread. The beer tents are full of young people out for a good time, and are reasonably priced compared to Oktoberfest. It goes from 18th April to 10th May, so you have 23 days to get in on the action – just don’t plan on getting a table without a booking and if you want to try your luck anyway make sure you get there VERY early.

  1. Stuttgart Jazz Open Festival

This is when summer really kicks in and the city makes way for some of the biggest jazz names from the 3rd to the 12th of July. Jamie Cullum is returning and Bob Geldof is also scheduled to make an appearance at this open air festival which is in locations all over Stuttgart over the course of the week.

  1. Colour Run

A nice twist on the Holi festival, this combines the throwing of coloured powder with a 5km run. Tutus are the norm and with a mixture of music and entertainment it won’t feel like hard exercise at all.

  1. Heidelberg Castle Illumination and Fireworks

Not exactly Stuttgart but within an hour you’re there – it’s the place we always bring visitors to Germany to get a taste of a historic town and beautiful castle and with the light show happening first on the 6th of June, then on July 11th and September 5th, it’s a great way to see such a beautiful area from a new perspective. The video on this link shows just how cool the fireworks are and if you get there early enough to save prime spot with a picnic you’ll have the perfect day and night out.

The castle at Heidelberg.
The castle at Heidelberg.
  1. South German Cheese Market

It’s all the way over in Schwabisch Hall but I for one will be very happy to make the 50 minute drive to taste cheese ‘until my heart is content’ according to the website on May 9th-10th. There’s going to around 200 different types of cheese – as a cheese lover it’s high on my list to get at least one cheese festival in my schedule every year and this is going to be it for 2015.

  1. Strawberry Festival

Held in Oberkich, it’s a chance to see a new city and taste some delicious strawberries on May 30-31st as well as getting some fantastic spargel in while the season lasts. Germany is so great at taking full advantage of when their foods are in season and this festival is the perfect example of that – I’ve complained before that in the winter it’s impossible to stay skinny in this country, I fear the summer will be the same! Lucky for the colour run to balance it out ;)

The Best Bath in Budapest: Gallert or Szechenyi?

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Relaxing and refreshing: Budapest’s Gallert spa.

After travelling to Budapest three separate occasions, you would think I would have explored more than two of the baths on offer in this historic European city. And yet, I still haven’t had the courage to visit one of the Turkish ones, mostly because I can’t quite work out the men and women only times and naked rules, and so I’ve had a lot of time to explore the two big ones: Gallert and Szechenyi.

The first time we came to this city was for the music festival Sziget and our friends who had been camping for 10 days by then were well accustomed to cleaning off last night’s filth with a bathe in the spas on offer. They’d been around and tried them all, and they advised us to meet them in their favourite; Gallert.

It was the middle of summer and so the outdoor pool was quite packed, but inside I was surprised that it was easy to get around and find a space in the small saunas and spas as well as relaxing in the sun. We did our first spa run, going up a few degrees at a time, then heading for the steam room and finishing up with zero degree water. My skin never felt so refreshed.

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The indoor pool at Gallert.

The second time I popped into Budapest I wanted to try a new spa, but ended up back at Gallert – it’s what I knew would be good for a recovery session after celebrating my birthday with some of my closest friends. We each booked in for a massage, and one by one everyone came out feeling especially relaxed… everyone except me. I, being very stupid, opted for the full body massage, which is the option I always prefer over a back one. The woman had me strip naked, lie on the bed face up, and she adjusted a towel between my legs so I was basically wearing a nappy. As she worked away at me, and I lay completely naked in front of her for 40 minutes, I spent the whole time wishing I had been less adventurous and just taken the damn back option.

Everything about Gallert was stunning, even the archways outside
Everything about Gallert was stunning, even the archways outside

My experiences of Szechenyi are a little different. I first laid eyes on the spa on the night of my birthday, when we attended a bath party. We paid 35 euro each and were surrounded mainly by English people for the night, and while it was fun and a great experience I don’t think I’d pay so much for a party again, particularly as even in the middle of summer it was too cold to get out and get a drink.

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The second time I visited the spa was on this current visit to Budapest; after getting my work done in the morning I decided it wouldn’t quite be a trip to this lovely city without making it to at least one spa, so I headed down to the City Park to try it out without the party vibe. The walk was absolutely stunning – seeing the castle to my right and the park to my left, I definitely took my time, even walking around the spa building to admire the architecture. The spa itself was a little less relaxing than I imagined; it seemed more like the destination for a lot of English lads who loved carrying their beers around to the saunas rather than any locals taking a chance to enjoy the serenity. I guess the party vibe from the Saturday night hadn’t quite worn off.

The outside of Szechenyi is stunning.
The outside of Szechenyi is stunning.

It also felt quite overcrowded – as I expected on a Sunday – but I guess after going to Gallert my expectations over having room in the spas had heightened. After having to stand in the corner of a couple of saunas and squeezing in between couples and big groups of guys in the smaller spas, I decided it was time to call it a day.

So here’s a little summary of what I’ve found with both spas:

Gallert

The good

  • Nice and quiet, the perfect place to relax
  • It wasn’t so packed for us during peak times – this included during the weekend of Sziget festival, which is in August, and on a weekend at the end of June
  • The outdoor area is lovely and great for sunbathing in summer

The bad

  • The full body massages – only get if you’re seriously ok with a woman being all over you naked!!
  • It is a little bit out of the city I suppose though you could easily do the castle walk in the morning and then go there in the afternoon

Szechenyi

The good

  • The outdoor area is absolutely stunning, very photo worthy
  • There’s lots of choices over the spas, they seem to go on and on!
  • The area around the baths is really beautiful and great for a tourist day out

The bad

  • Seemed more of a tourist spot, particularly for the British, than a place to relax
  • Was really packed, making it difficult to find a spot to sit in a lot of the spas and saunas
  • Was hard to navigate your way around and there aren’t many people to help you – I got lost three times and the women at the front were laughing at me about it?!

Both are around the same price – give or take 5000 ft – and personally I would go back to Gallert rather than Szechenyi. Give me relaxation at these places any day – particularly if I’ve been out the night before and need to rest and recuperate!

Have you been to the baths in Budapest? Any of the Turkish ones or the not-so-famous ones? Tell me about it, I’m sure I’ll be back and would love to try them out!

xx

Feeling A Little Anxious About Stepping Out Alone

OK, confession time. Not really that big of a deal but I suffer from a bit of mild anxiety from time to time. I’ve never had to be medicated, though I’ve tried a little hypnosis therapy (which was very successful), but I do get the odd panic attack and learning to control my extreme worries has been a long and bumpy road.

I first diagnosed the problem at the age of 24 – it was only then that I realised these feelings weren’t normal and were good to talk about with someone rather than just internalising them. It came at an incredibly inconvenient time as I was about to go travelling in South Africa, and so I tucked the new information about myself into my pocket, and decided that rather than turning away from my big chance to go abroad, I would metaphorically jump off the 10 meter cliff head first into the water instead. Either I’d drown, or I’d swim around at the bottom thinking it was the best achievement of my life. Luckily, the latter happened.

Everyone handles anxiety differently, for some medication and certain routines are the only option, but for me getting away from everything I knew made me grow into a person who didn’t need to hold the railing so often. Simply walking into a room full of people I didn’t know at university gave me heart palpitations and sweaty palms; now, I’m an English teacher walking into a room full of 50 year old male engineers and making them play modal verb games.

I have done it within certain limits though. Staying in a hostel without friends has always been off the cards; I need a space where I’m in total control of things, even if it’s just a small hotel room, and where I know I can go back to when I feel like I want my own space. I also feel that way about my living situation; there could never be a situation where I couldn’t have some space to myself whenever I felt it necessary.

It’s an odd thing, this anxiety stuff – it leads to certain personality traits developing, like over-worrying or paranoia. I’m also a massive control freak, and can’t go on any ride or thing where I might feel like I’m not able to say stop when I want. This tides over into other parts of my life, like how I’m always the main organiser with my friends and on all holidays.

So this week, I took a big leap travel-wise, even for me. I’ve seen 32 countries now – I’ve visited Europe, America, southern Africa, a lot of Asia and a lot of my own country too. But I’ve never done any of this entirely alone. With a new job starting on the 15th March, I wanted to do a little travelling beforehand, so I contacted all my European friends and talked to my boyfriend about possibilities of what to do. Unfortunately, none of them could do anything – whether it be because of work commitments, inability to travel, no money or study issues.

So I looked at what I might be able to do by myself. First option – a fitness retreat. Not possible, I’m way too fussy about my food. Second option – volunteering holiday. Not possible, everything I want to do is mostly in the summer or too expensive on my part. Third option – just go somewhere by myself! Eek.

I eventually decided to go with the third option even though it felt really scary. So I packed my bags and headed to Budapest for 11 days. I got my own apartment – part of the reason I chose this destination was that I could afford my own space – and flew in last Monday night. It was possibly the worst flight in Europe I’ve taken and by no fault of the carrier Germanwings – they flew through storms the whole way and the take off and landing were more like a rollercoaster ride than being in a civilised passenger jet.

When I got to the airport, I waited for the owner of the apartment to pick me up – he had kindly offered his services as an alternative to a taxi. When I got in, those typical words came straight out of his mouth. “It’s just you? Like you’re alone? Oh… why?” Eh.

For seasoned travellers like I’m sure some of you readers are this would mean nothing but I’m an over-thinker and worrier by nature and the last thing I want is people noticing I’m alone. But I’m here for 11 days and I need to get used to it. In fact I’d like to get to the point in this time where I enjoy it. So I got to the apartment, unpacked, and forced myself to go exploring for at least a supermarket to buy some food.

The last two days have involved a lot of walking and joining organised tours. But today I was feeling a little bit more adventurous, so I went and found a hairdresser who spoke English to give me a bit of a hair makeover, and then a massage place nearby to continue my pampering.

It’s not much I know, but it’s little steps towards feeling completely comfortable on my own. When I left, my boyfriend said this trip would be really good for me. When I first arrived in the apartment I thought this is going to be a long week and a half – now I’m starting to feel pretty liberated.

It’s also made me realise just how much travelling helps you grow as a person, and how much growing I’ve already done by stepping out of my comfort zone all those years ago. To anyone who is feeling scared of the thought of being ‘alone’, it actually has some pretty great benefits – I don’t remember the last time I’ve been able to spend so much time on just me and in the process I feel completely fresh and got to know a lovely Hungarian hairdresser! – who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll be brave enough to get a dinner for 1 on the tourist strip :)

xx

7 Tips to Give You Cheaper Bahn Travel

When I first moved to Germany, one of the things I was most excited about was being able to take the train to different countries at will. Much cheaper than the British National Rail and with Paris, Basel, Prague, Brussels and Amsterdam all within easy reach of Frankfurt it was an exciting prospect, particularly coming from a country like Australia where any trains crossing the border would end up in the sea.

The Bahn can be a rather complicated system for first-time travellers and when my mother came to Europe for the first time her local travel agent quoted her prices five times the amount I could see on my computer screen for the train. Through German friends and those who had been expats longer than myself I was able to discover loads of tricks in the German train system to get cheaper deals.

Here’s seven tips for you first-timers in the land of the lederhosen:

  1. Get a Bahn card. If you move to Germany or plan to spend 12 months here it’s a great idea to get the Bahn card – you’ll get your money back within a couple of trips. I always thought that it was like a credit card or beauty shop discount card where you need to rack up a million points to get one euro off, but it’s actually 25, 50 or 100 per cent off all your trips for a year. A friend also gave me the advice that the 25 (around 60 euro) is often better than the 50 one (a few hundred euro) because you get a lot more discount deals, making it cheaper again, and you might not use the 50 one enough to justify the price.
  2. Tick that pesky savings option – when booking your train online, after you’ve selected the English option on the top right corner, you’ll see two tabs at the top of where you enter the details of your trip. One is ‘information and booking’ and the other ‘saver fare finder’. Always check the saver tab first so you can see a list of the cheapest deals and times available for your trip. You might not be able to get a cheap fare for the time you want but it’s always good to compare.
  3. Untick the ICE option – If you’re travelling somewhere that’s not too far away (like less than 4-5 hours) you can try the option of unticking ‘ICE’ trains in the connections section. Just go to ‘more search options’ on the homepage and where it says connections tick ‘all without ICE’. The trip will be longer but possibly a lot cheaper and if you have the time to travel at a slower pace you’ll be thankful for the saving.
  4. Travel with friends – Getting a group ticket in Germany will save you a ton of money. They’re an environmental bunch in this country and like the idea of rewarding groups of people who take public transport over a car, so if you have three to five people check out if it’s cheaper to go for the group option (and if the ticket machines aren’t easy to use they normally speak English in the Bahn customer service).
  5. Buy a state-wide ticket – there’s an option with Bahn to buy a state-wide ticket and you can use it an unlimited amount of times anywhere in the state for a day or weekend. If you have a group and want to travel around the countryside of Bavaria, for example, this would be a very cheap way to do it as it doesn’t include ICE trains. You can also get this option for the whole of Germany.
  6. Only reserve a seat in peak times – this is from my own experience. I never spend the extra 4 euro on a reserved seat if I’m travelling during the week in the day or late at night. Friday and Sunday night is a different story but especially if you’re travelling alone, there’s no point reserving a seat if you can get there on time and be one of the first on the train.
  7. Check Mitfahrgelegenheit – we always check this website before booking our train and compare both bus times and prices and car pooling times and prices. I haven’t been brave enough to car pool on my own, only doing it with my boyfriend, but every time it’s been fine for us and cut the cost of travel considerably. The great thing about this website is it compares all the available buses at the time you want and you can crosscheck that with your train prices and work out what’s best for you.

Doing a luxury South African safari without the price tag

 

The perfect safari park experience.
The perfect safari park experience.

When planning our Christmas trip to South Africa, there was a list of things that simply couldn’t be missed from our itinerary. Firstly, we had to visit my friend in Morgan Bay, a small beach town about an hour an a half’s drive from East London airport. With views like this from a hotel which we paid 35 euro a night each for –

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It was obviously impossible to miss it out. Also at the top of our priority list was doing at least one night in a safari camp. I did some research into Kruger and the prices were too high for our budget as well as needing too much time to do it properly. So we settled on visiting a private park near Morgan Bay called Inkenkwezi, which I had visited on a prior trip for the day.

My memories of this place were particularly vivid – occasionally when you are travelling you have perfect days, where everything goes right from the weather to the people you’re with, to the time in your life and the feeling of something totally surpassing your expectations. It happened to me here and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the entire day we were within Inkenkwezi’s parameters. After such an experience, it didn’t take much to convince me to come back.

Inkenkwezi has everything you could ask for in a safari park – you basically have your own butler, on call to take you around the park and keep your fridge stocked with beer and wine. Help and guidance is just a phone call away from your ‘tent’ – we got the cheapest accommodation and it was still very luxurious. It was more like a hotel room and had a shower and bath, air conditioning and nets to keep out any unwanted bugs. And the balcony… from looking into the trees and spotting birds and other animals in the day to star-gazing at night, it gave the perfect balance of feeling like you are in the midst of the wild while still being able to sleep comfortably and smell nice.

The view by day from our balcony.
The view by day from our balcony.
Sort of a tent, sort of a luxury hotel.
Sort of a tent, sort of a luxury hotel.
With our own driver for the two day trip.
With our own driver for the two day trip.
So much nature all around.
So much nature all around.

We spent our first day looking around and spotting animals, coming across young warthogs and impala, and then a baby giraffe taking it’s first steps under mum and dad’s watchful eyes. We travelled by jeep into the lion area and watched closely as the white lions played and gnawed at their bones. After watching the animals eat, we then retired to the most beautiful balcony restaurant for a steak dinner.

Baby pumbas!
Baby pumbas!
Baby bambis!
Baby bambis!
Lions playing next to the car.
Lions playing next to the car.
A family of giraffes.
A family of giraffes.
Watching the sunrise while our dinner was cooking.
Watching the sunrise while our dinner was cooking.
The place where we had dinner.
The place where we had dinner.

The next day we went for a walk with the elephants, learning all about their inner-workings and behaviours from their trainers. We quadbiked around the park once more, and came across an ostrich in the submissive position waiting to mate. We patted cheetahs in a large enclosure and enjoyed a massive lunch before heading onto our next destination.

Smile for the camera!
Smile for the camera!
Quadbiking - so much fun.
Quadbiking – so much fun.
Playing with one of the domesticated cheetahs.
Playing with one of the domesticated cheetahs.

For this all-inclusive two days of action, food and accommodation we paid around 150 euro each. It was far cheaper than what Kruger had on offer and while the animals are more domesticated at Inkenkwezi you still get a very authentic experience if you don’t have the time to spend a week seeking out the real thing.

My favourite part of the experience was leaving dinner to walk back to our tent. We were in the middle of talking when I looked up, and the sky was more white than black with solar systems and universes full of stars presenting themselves. I had forgotten how beautiful that was since leaving Australia; in my homeland it was such a normal every-night kind of thing, I suppose I had taken it for granted that the sky would always be full of visible stars. It’s not such a regular occurrence in Europe, and to remember what it was like to be amongst such nature took my breath away.

One of the things that makes South Africa my favourite destination in the world to visit is the often untouched nature and Inkenkwezi does a good job of showing that off for you in a compact and very price friendly version. We were lucky to get the tip about the place from a local, but when looking for your own safari itinerary make sure you check out the online reviews for the smaller parks rather than thinking Kruger is the only place to go. It’s definitely worth it if you don’t have unlimited time/money!

 

xx

36 Hours of Neuschwanstein and Bavarian Treats

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High on my bucket list since moving to Germany has been to make a visit to the castle that inspired many Disney tales and with Neuschwanstein (not Neuschweinstein as I originally pronounced it) just a couple of hours away from Stuttgart, there was no better time to do it than since moving to this city of wineries and factories.

With a detour via Frankfurt on the Friday so the boyfriend could go to his university graduation, our trip to Schwangau took around six hours on the Saturday with traffic hold-ups the whole way. I’ve come to learn that despite the fantastic roads and unlimited speed limits in Germany, their inability to handle a crash situation in a timely way and lack of emergency lanes means you should always double the amount of time Google tells you it will take to get from A to B.

The drive was made easier by these fantastic views.
The drive was made easier by these fantastic views.

When we arrived, the snow I had been hoping for all week materialised. It had been on-and-off white the whole way but with there being no snow from the sky in the past week I assumed that, like in Stuttgart, it would have died down to nothing more than wet pavements. But I was so wrong – of course the snow was far thicker closer to the Alps and while it was sunny, the heat certainly didn’t look capable of breaking through the white floor any time soon.

We checked in at our ‘Romatik Pension’, a quaint little hotel with a balcony and view of both castles, and set off for a walk into the town. The houses’ roofs were covered with snow and they looked every bit the typical Bavarian delights I picture the state to have. I’ve been to Munich and Chiemsee but this was something else in the way of a stereotypical Bavarian-style community; likely for tourists as much as for the locals, it smacked of a very traditional history and you could just imagine walking around hundreds of years ago under the watchful eye of royalty from the top of the hill.

Cuckoo-clock like houses.
Snow-filled streets.
View of the castle from below.
Our quaint little hotel.
Sunset over the snowy houses.

We made our way up to Neuschwantsein which by the late afternoon had closed it’s last tour for the day. It was the perfect time to have a look around the outside area as almost everyone had left for the day – photos could be taken without multitudes of people in the background and there was a peacefulness we knew wouldn’t be present on the following Sunday morning. After a walk around the area and taking in the view we headed for town to find some Bavarian food, and came across a cute little corner restaurant serving fantastic pork knuckle (haxe) and duck, with chocolate nut cake for dessert. Getting our fix of German meat and potato dumplings was well and truly ticked off the list, and upon returning to our hotel, we had a cheeky bottle of champagne on the balcony with layers and blankets shielding us from the cold.

Neuchwanstein from the side.
Hohenschwangau Castle, adjacent from Neuschwanstein.
The lookout point next to the castle.
Dinner at one of Schwangau's little Bavarian restaurants. Suffice to say I got through hardly half of that...
Dinner at one of Schwangau’s little Bavarian restaurants. Suffice to say I got through hardly half of that…

The next day we headed back up to the castle and took the tour of the inside. Having been to Ludwig’s Chiemsee castle I was expecting greatness but as only 16 rooms were available for viewing, it wasn’t quite what the other palace had on offer. We got to see things like the first telephone in Germany, the first automatic flushing toilet and an amazingly modern kitchen for it’s time, and like in Chiemsee, part of the interest with this castle is that despite all the efforts (and money) that Ludwig put into building it, he hardly got to enjoy it as he died not long after the first rooms were finished. What a legacy to leave!

Heading down to one of the restaurants to fulfil our craving for weisswurst, we took in the beautiful snowy views for the last time. We had planned to take a look around the Schloss Hohenschangau, sitting beautifully opposite Neuschwanstein and lit up orange at night while it’s counterpart is white, but we felt a bit castled-out and decided this wouldn’t likely be the last time we’d come here.

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A perfect view.

So for me now, that’s 2 Ludwig castles down. I really want to make it 3 out of 3 but this one will be hard to beat – it’s definitely the most beautiful castle from the outside I’ve seen in my time in Europe.

Some tips for if you’re planning on visiting Neuschwanstein:

  • Romantik Pension Albrecht was a lovely place to stay and I’d highly recommend it – the view comes at a very affordable price and a fantastic breakfast was included as well. They also let us park the car there after checking out, saving us the €5 parking fee at the bottom of the hill.
  • Don’t bother taking the horse and carriage up the hill – it’s such a nice walk and if you really want to have a picture/experience in one it’s half the price and a shorter line to take it down the hill instead.
  • If you’re new to Germany, try the weisswurst in Bavaria! It’s very tasty and comes in a super-cute pot in most places with a bretzel. Just make sure you peel the sausages before eating or they’ll be rather chewy.
  • Don’t go to the castle in the summer time if you can avoid it – while it’s unpredictable when it will snow, far less tourists are there in winter and you’ll have the chance to enjoy the place without it being too overcrowded (figures claim 6,000 people visit this tiny town a day in the hotter months).
  • As mentioned above, if you’re driving from somewhere in Germany leave a lot of extra time, and double any time calculations by Google maps to allow for traffic problems. There’s nothing worse than missing a whole day when you’re stressed for time.

Why Valentine’s Day Isn’t SO Bad (Take Note Germans!)

I used to be an absolute sucker for Valentine’s Day. The gifts had to be perfect, the night had to be perfect, and yet no matter how perfect it all was – think trips to Paris, flowers, messages in newspapers and fucking giant teddy bears – it never felt quite right. The problem with all this consumeristic romance is that it never lives up to what you’ve seen in the movies. There’s no backing romantic music, the perfect ending leads to a much more mundane sequel, and often the reality of big gestures is that they’re masking a relationship devoid of what it actually important.

And yet, though I’ve gone off the idea of Valentines’ Day being perfect, I still like a little celebration. RZ and I have established through much negotiation that for this and our anniversary, one of us will organize a present and the other will organize a night out. It doesn’t have to be on the night, but just something a little different and special to celebrate the fact that we are a little different and special together.

Meeting up with a fellow former-CELTA student last weekend, I told her about our possible plans for this Valentines’ Day, which falls conveniently on a Saturday this year. If there’s any time to be a little cheesy, now is it, and I want to take us to Neuschwanstein, one of the major influences behind Disney’s fairytale castles. Her reaction was one that is becoming all-too typical; that such a day is just for businesses to make money off cards and flowers and charge too much for dinner. She suggested I try it as a class topic with my students this week and I did – with extremely one-sided results.

Only one student I asked has any plans for the weekend – to buy his wife some flowers. The Germans I asked look at Valentines’ Day with such disdain they couldn’t hide the looks of disgust from their faces when the mere name came up. They scowled and shook their heads as though I asked them if England might win the next World Cup.

It’s a funny thing, people’s attitudes towards celebrations and holidays. You have the Christians who tell us that we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas if we’re not religious, even though the holiday came from Pagan origins. You have Australians claiming that Halloween is too American, and then spraying their Christmas Trees with fake snow so they glimmer in the summery windows over December. You have those who say Valentines’ Day is too commercial and just after your money, who then spend every free day at the Christmas markets handing out cash for Gluhwein, decorations and christmasy themed goodies.

Come to think of it, it seems Christmas in general gets totally let off the hook in the holiday complaining category. People complain that the shops go christmasy too early in the year but that’s about it. It can be Americanised to death – Coca Cola invented Santa for goodness sake – and totally commercial and we all go about it like it’s the family highlight of the year.

Perhaps being ‘commercial’ is not actually such a bad thing – in a time when Europe are recovering from an economic crisis, buying one or two things here and there and a dinner out doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. To me, Valentines’ Day is a time to remind yourself how lucky you are to have that special someone, and if you’re single it’s a great time to go out, find all the other single people who don’t want to be alone on such a day and have a fantastic drunken kiss or 6.