This time last week, I was pottering around Düsseldorf on my second #atripamonth adventure, I’m a bit late in writing about it, but it already feels like forever ago.
Just to note from the start, instead of learning from my previous trip and actually organising a schedule of things to see and do, so that I don’t end up drinking wine from a plastic bottle on a park bench in the middle of nowhere, all that I managed to secure ahead of my trip was a meeting room at the local office of the company I work for to take a conference call on Friday. I know, I really need to reassess my priorities in life. But I’d heard many times from sometimes reputable sources, that Germany has good beer, so if nothing else materialised except my Friday call, “Ein Bier, bitte!” could be the theme of my trip.
With that in mind, I arrived at Luton Airport and for the first time, rather than ordering my standard soya latte no foam and a sad, soggy sandwich, I sat on my own and had a drink at the airport – I thought it appropriate to start my trip as so mean to go on, drinking beer alone.
What strikes me first from the flight is that Germany is so very close. Secondly, hovering above, that it is beautiful. The fields a pretty patchwork of different shades of green and yellow, neatly sectioned and interlaced with rows of trees, the rectilinear sequence intermittently interrupted by a secluded lake outlined by more trees and sometimes populated by a couple of small boats.
I arrive at Weeze Airport, which, due to my lack of preparation beforehand, I soon find out is not really close to Düsseldorf or in fact to anything, but rather kind of in the vicinity of several German and Dutch cities. For example, it’s near to Eindhoven, where I’m going at the end of May, so maybe I should have gone there too whilst in town and then booked my next trip to somewhere a bit further afield instead – I didn’t and I haven’t. Oddly, cigar samples were being handed out at the airport, I think being so accustomed to UK advertising laws, I found this particularly strange.
Waiting, waiting, waiting and there’s nothing to do, not even a little duty-free to peruse perfumes that I have no intention of purchasing. Despite being an aerial gateway to the Rhineland, shuttle buses to Düsseldorf from Weeze were relatively infrequent. Not only that, they were quite expensive – €15, which, when you take into consideration the £50 return flight budget I’ve set for my trips, £12.71 for a shitty shuttle is practically exorbitant, relatively speaking at least.
I finally get to my hostel, obviously getting lost from the station several times en route (despite using Googlemaps); it’s modern and clean and has a strict no sleeping bag policy, is that normal? Who knows… What it does mean is that every guest, unless they happen to bring their own bed cover, pillowcase and sheet, needs to rent them. The guy at reception is nice and gives me some recommendations of things to do and I decide to book a ticket to a Bundesliga football match (Leverkusen v Schalke) for the next day, which is apparently really close and easy to get to.
It’s quite late when I arrive, so after booking my football ticket I go out in search of something to eat. Instead of doing right; right from the hostel to get to the centre, I just do a solitary right and ended up by the harbour and Rhine Tower/Space Needle-thing. The sun was setting and the orange and dark blue sky interlaced with clouds and ribbons of pink contrasted beautifully with the spidery silhouettes of the cropped plane trees. The trees lined the pathway from the tower to, what I later learn is, the Parliament building. Trying to make my way to the Altstadt (Old Town), I followed the river as it ambled and flowed at a tranquil, calming pace.
I manage to make it to the Altstadt, which is buzzing with a cacophony of chatter and different music radiating from the vast selection of busy bars, outside of which benches and people spilt out along the streets. How does it often seem to be that when you go away, it’s hard to find ‘local food’? In search of a traditional German meal, I walk past so many Spanish and Italian restaurants (which I’d be more than content with to eat at in the U.K) until I eventually stumble across a place affectionately called, Schweine Janes. Despite the place probably specialising in pork-related goods and having a fantastic sizzling, rotisserie display in the front window, I opt for schnitzel, which was dry, boring and apparently not even German (it’s Austria). Total fail. But at least the beer was good and washed away some of the disappointment and food envy I had as I sat watching the rotisserie turn and crackle, whilst I begrudgingly ate my shitty schnitzel.
After my disappointing first supper, I wandered back through the streets and along the Königsallee, past so many stores I’ll never be able to afford to shop in, and pretty soon made it back to the hostel. After settling into my bunk bed, trying not to wake the other five people in the dorm who I presume to be asleep, some guy in the bunk opposite gets out of bed, not to pee, but to pray. I am relatively unfamiliar with Muslim religious practices, so found it strange and intriguing to have a random guy inaudibly mumbling whilst repeatedly standing, bowing, then sitting next to my bed. It felt like it was too intimate a moment to observe as an outsider, but when we are both staying in a hostel, where privacy is as unobtainable as the Chanel bags I walked past earlier, what can either of us do but try to pretend the other, in that moment, is not there.