Tag Archives: Germany

7 Tips to Give You Cheaper Bahn Travel

I love the Bahn but this will always be my favourite train.
I love the Bahn but this will always be my favourite train.

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.

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.

Ooh baby it’s cold outside

 

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Snow in Europe has always brought with it many happy memories for me – the first time I saw the real thing in England was exactly a year after taking a one-way trip to the country and getting my working visa stamped. It was amazing having it on my doorstep and between building snowmen in our backyard and having snowball fights with friends I knew the European winter wasn’t as bad as the naysayers in Australia told me.

Claude - our London snowman and house protector.
Claude – our London snowman and house protector.

The next time I saw it was in Chamonix, just next to Mont Blanc, two years later almost to the day. The 2013-14 winter brought no snow – something which was particularly frustrating as my parents had come to visit for a white Christmas and just got rain instead – but my first skiing trip with my snowboarding-obsessed boyfriend couldn’t have been more spectacular. We didn’t have a chance to build a snowman and my skiing was as terrible as I remember but I was introduced to a new and wonderful concept called ‘apres ski’ :)

This year, I’ve been pleading to the weather gods to bring me some snow. We’re still stuck in this little village just outside Stuttgart while we look at apartments closer to the centre, which is not so bad now that my schedule at work is dying down, but one of the positives of living so far out of the city is that when it snows, it’s like someone has taken some whiteout and turned your whole area into something from a wintery Christmas cartoon.

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The trees sparkle and snow covers your coat and scarf as you walk along the street. It’s perfectly soft under your feet and as you find parks and long walkways nearby you really start to feel like you’re in that Christmas movie.

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So many Europeans complain about the snow, in the same way we Australians complain about the hot weather. I hope I never lose this excited feeling over seeing it fall and settle around me, because it makes the winter so much more enjoyable. When we noticed the flakes falling at rapid rates on Friday night, despite being in my pyjamas and suffering from a bad cold, I was dressed and ready to explore within minutes. And what we found, even in the dark, was pretty spectacular. Perhaps it’s partly that it reminds me how far away from home I am, and how happy I am to still be having this adventure.

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Let it snow! xx

A new season, a new food to try in Germany

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Gotta love a pumpkin on Halloween. source: fruitycuties.com

As the days in southern Germany get a little colder – not as much as I expected though as it seems the summer we missed out on was just a little late coming to the party – yet another season of interesting food is upon us.

In Australia, most of our trees stay green all year round and equally, a lot of our food is available throughout every month. Of course, berries are more expensive in some months but we’re not known for our seasonal treasures. In Germany though, my diet is constantly being peppered by some type of food or drink that is only available for a short time each year, and therefore must be consumed in bulk and with as many variations as possible.

During the spring, it was Spargel. We learned to cook it after a few trial and errors and the white asparagus tasted delicious with hollandaise sauce and almost every meal. The summer brought fruits which all but disappear completely otherwise, and I ate so much watermelon and strawberries I’d picked myself I nearly popped. Over September, we drank a special wine called ‘federweisser’ which is only available in it’s purest form for one month. It tasted like a delicious sparkling juice but with an alcohol content of 11% it’s also quite lethal. As this phase dies down and the production ceases at our local supermarket, it’s been swiftly replaced with the pumpkin.

There are now suddenly pumpkins everywhere. They weren’t my favourite vegetable growing up though they are a staple in a roast dinner in Australia. But now, I’ve found myself Googling countless recipes and taking tips from friends to put pumpkin in almost anything we can think of.

Last week, when I felt slightly ill, my medicine was always going to be pumpkin soup, and it worked a treat. I’m a big fan of BBC Good Food and use the site for most of my recipes, because they often have great feedback and the ingredients are mostly available in German supermarkets (big ones anyway). This week I am cooking a roast for the first time in Germany and plan to include as many pumpkins as possible. We are also hoping to cook this pumpkin pie for the first time and a friend has given me a recipe for pumpkin frittatas. If I turn orange by the end of this month I’ll know why.

I’ve said it many times before, but this is one of the reasons I love living in Germany so much – every season brings a new treat, and the excitement over what’s coming next into our kitchen creeps up on me without fail every year.

The end of daylight savings is upon us as I take to a dark street on my way to work every morning. But while in Australia that time of year brought so much gloom as you looked ahead to winter, here it means something else is coming around the corner; Christmas Market season. Hello gluhwein! :)

 

xx

You’ve Got That Homesick Feeling

I felt this way for the first time while I was travelling through Europe four years ago. I’d set up a base with my boyfriend in the UK and was ducking back and fourth to new places, and then suddenly one day in Dublin, surrounded by Australians for the first time in a while, I felt a little off. It wasn’t an anxious feeling, or an ill feeling, but more of a fidgety, not feeling comfortable where I was, sorta feeling. A phone call with said boyfriend, who was an experienced traveler himself, helped me place it: I was simply homesick.

Being around a group of Australians for the day, one of whom I had worked with for a time in Sydney, reminded me of that homely feeling that doesn’t revolve around packing and unpacking suitcases and becoming acclimatised, used to language differences and new cultures and attempting food that could be amazing or truly terrible. Travelling is much like a roller coaster, giving you the highest highs you will ever experience in life and some moments that feel more lonely than you ever could have imagined.

My own diagnosis helped subside the homesick feeling I was having and by the next day it was gone – perhaps this experience left me feeling slightly detached from it, and as though it was simply a chemical reaction and if this came back, it would only last 24 hours again and I could just see it through. Much like coming off a bad hangover with the right foods, painkillers and time to sleep it off.

Since then, homesickness has never been a long term condition. I struggled at one point after four months of living in Germany, when the language wasn’t sticking in my head and I realised just how much I was relying on my boyfriend to live my life. He had to book hairdressers for me, open up bank accounts, deal with my phone company and discuss my rental contract with my flatmates. And when I had a small breakdown over it all, he offered to move to an English speaking country for me, and then I knew it was worth it to stick it out.

People often ask when I will go home, and equally they warn him that at some point he may have to relocate to Australia. Maybe it’s this experience of homesickness that makes me insist so strongly that this will never happen. Rather wallowing in the longing for home, I’ve found ways to reconnect with my Australian-self in this little German village apartment.

  • I cook Australian food. The last couple of months have introduced pavlova, mini pies and custard tarts into our kitchen. Everyone has a hobby to escape the stresses of life, and working in a business with no right answers, for me something like cooking which offers (seemingly) fail-safe mathematical recipes does the trick. And when I’m missing that homely feeling, or I’ve had a day where I feel like this living abroad stuff is pretty tough, cooking a meal that I had as a kid makes me feel centred again.
  • I watch old movies. I read a piece recently about how a writer reconnected with their young-self by watching 90s classic She’s All That (coincidentally she watched it in Germany too), and I had to get my hands on it so badly I ordered it from Amazon immediately. Since then my movie collection has grown to include the likes of The Craft, Centre Stage and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. They’re not the most critically-acclaimed cinematic experiences, but they take me back to a time when I was easily pleased, I didn’t have to worry about paying rent or washing my clothes and my homework was the toughest thing on my mind.
  • I celebrate Australian holidays with extra gusto. Since leaving the land down under I’ve become far more patriotic, and have been known to wander the streets on special occasions with my Aussie flag draped around my neck like a superman cape. I’m lucky to come from a country which sees it’s own identity in such a positive way and being able to enjoy the likes of Australia Day and Grand Final Day (a very special football game) and explaining to everyone around me why they’re so important to us makes me feel like I’ve come a long way.

We all have ways to make ourselves feel at home when we’re living abroad; unlike most we don’t have the luxury of being within easy distance of a place to go to where it all began. I was talking with RZ about how we might go about getting married one day, and I realised that my wedding might be the only day in my life when all (or most of) my friends and family are together. This thought is both exciting and completely overwhelming. For now all I have is some cakes, or movies, and an occasional holiday to take me back to childhood memories and the comforts of consequent-less living. And that’s enough to soothe my homesick soul for now – I wonder if one day it will change?

xx

When Learning a Language Gets Interesting

Learning a language is a funny thing – you can get a word right in the sense that it is correct, but in the context of a specific culture it can mean something so different than you intended. Before moving to Germany I had never really thought about the words I use in different situations and how they could translate into other cultures. When practicing my German with a local friend, I said ‘ich habe eier’ and she burst out laughing because apparently eggs in this country can also mean balls and I just said that I had some.

Equally, finding out that the German equivalent of the English word for intercourse – Geschlechtsverkehr – literally means ‘gender traffic’ made for a particularly interesting German class a few weeks ago.

I never set out to be a language teacher myself, but the more I teach the more I enjoy it, and the subtle confusions over translations are definitely part of the fun side of learning a new language. Here’s some recent moments that have made my classes a lot more interesting:

  • Applying for a job as a scent tester (students had to pick the worst job in the world): a student wrote ‘I like to go to the gym and smell the fat boys and girls when they exercise.’
  • The same student confused ‘how to get over a cold’ with ‘how to get a cold’ – his advice for getting over it? ‘I take off my clothes and throw them in the box, then I run in my street naked in winter.’ It took us a minute to work out he got it wrong and didn’t have a weird method of dealing with sickness.
  • A student trying to politely start a meeting when everyone is talking. His attempt – ‘let’s get it on’. Er… not appropriate in that situation.
  • The constant use of ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ when Germans are speaking about friends. It made me laugh for the first time when my actual boyfriend asked how dinner with my other boyfriend was. Today another student, who has a wife, told me about his holiday with his boyfriend.
  • A student telling me his colleague couldn’t come to class because he was working on an erection for the day. The erection of a building, obviously.
  • Trying to explain to students that winky-smileys are not ok to send to people you’re not dating.
  • Of my 10 groups of students, at least 8 found it hilarious that to iron means getting the creases out of your clothes. Why? Because Iron Man. Yes he saves the world, but he does it with a perfectly pressed suit for a reason!
  • I just had a student tell me he wants to go to Australia to make some dirty parties. He meant he wanted to go to some cool parties… I wonder if someone said dirty to him one day and he asked what it meant, and they just responded with ‘it’s something cool’.
  • A week before the World Cup final my students had to say 5 defining years in their lives. One student had every year related to Germany’s World Cup triumphs apart from his marriage (which was down the bottom), and made sure he included 2014 as he was so sure they’d win it again.
  • I was teaching superlatives and asked a student who the most attractive person he had ever seen was. I was expecting a celebrity but instead he said, ‘you, (the other girls in the room) and my girlfriend are all the best’. He got some serious brownie points that day!