The day had arrived; I had finished my PGCE (teacher training) course, celebrated with my coursemates and my bags were packed, ready to go. The past year had been relatively limited for me travelwise, especially in comparison to last year, where I packed in trips to 6 different countries! But, with a summer free of assginments and approximately two and a half months off before my job starts in September, I was determined to fit in as much as possible in my time off. So on 14th June, the travels began and we set off bound for Europe.
Our first stop was the Belgian capital, which we often use as our starting point on our way into the continent. Arriving mid-afternoon, we did not have a lot of time to explore, and having visited Brussels many times before, we instead decided to stick to the area surrounding our hotel and find somewhere nice to eat. We settled upon a Brasserie in Square de l’Aviation and each tucked into a tasty bavette steak. Following a walk around the block, we made our way back to the hotel for a quiet evening in preparation for our early morning and onward journey to stop number two.
The journey from Brussels to Berlin took us through Köln where we had just enough time for breakfast and to visit the famous cathedral. The train then whizzed us through to Berlin in just under 5 hours and we had the remainder of the day to do some exploring. Our hotel was located not far from the Ostbahnhof, and so we spent the afternoon discovering Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, home to the iconic East Side Gallery, the striking Oberbaumbrücke across the River Spree, and of course the hipster hangouts in Kreuzberg. In the evening, I met up with a university friend who is living the ex-pat life in Berlin, and we spent the evening sitting by the river enjoying a drink and a catch up. You can read more about what I got up to in Berlin in this blog post.
After negotiating a 45 minute delay out of Berlin, we boarded the train which would take us across the border into Poland. The journey took us via Szcecin, where we had to change trains, and then onwards to Sopot, located on the sandy shores of the Baltic. With the rest of the day, as well as Saturday and Sunday, we had the best part of three days to enjoy the fresh sea air and somewhat relax on the coast. That said, our long weekend was packed with exciting things, including a trip to the Hel peninsula, enjoying a show in the open-air forest opera, a trip to nearby Gdansk, as well as an nail-biting Handball match (Poland vs. Romania) in the impressive Ergo Arena.
After an early start, we were on the move again, travelling through a more rural landscape with fields of wild poppies, lupins and cornflowers. Olsztyn sits on the edge of the ‘land of one thousand lakes’ and as we got ever closer to the city, this became more apparent. After booking into our hotel, we spent the afternoon exploring the medieval old town, which had been under the control and influence of the Teutonic Knights until 1466 when it was incorporated into the Polish Crown. Once we had seen the sights, we stopped for something to eat in Staromiejska, a traditional Polish restaurant on the main town square.
The following day saw us turn back westward heading towards Toruń, a medieval city with connections to the Teutonic Knights, Copernicus and gingerbread. From the main station we approached the city via a bridge over the Vistula which offered a first panoramic view of the walled city. Our hotel was located just inside the city walls which gave us a very good base to explore from. From the Leaning Tower, to the ruins of the castle, there was plenty to see. Our next stop was for lunch in a local restaurant (the goose’s neck) which had as decoration, an eclectical arrangement of stuffed animals and regional artwork which offered visitors multiple talking points whilst waiting for food. Following lunch, we visited the gingerbread museum, and then made for the main square which featured the huge Gothic old city hall, along with a variety of bronze statues ranging from a donkey, a dog, the frog fountain and the man himself, Copernicus. Lots to see and lots to explore!
Leaving Toruń behind us, we hopped aboard the train and headed south west to the city of Pozńan, one of Poland’s university cities and famous for its international trade fair. Poznań is also where my mum went to university so I was keen to see a place that played a key role in my mum’s life. After finding our accommodation, we began to explore the city, in particular the rather compact and picturesque old town. The Rynek (market square)surrounds the city hall and like many of the cities on our tour, featured a whole host of brightly coloured buildings, many of which housed restaurants and cafes. The square was also buzzing with plenty of wooden stalls selling everything from leather goods, lace and embroidered garments, to hand carved wooden spoons, cups and intricate figurines. It turned out that this was all part of the St James celebrations, a festival celebrated throughout Poland around 24th June. We also saw the pretty merchant houses, the baroque St. Stanislaus church, and stopped for a picture of the famous city’s goats. Crossing over the river, we visited the cathedral island, home to Poland’s first cathedral and apparently where the first Christian Polish King is buried.
After overnighting in Poznan, it was time to hop aboard the train once more, continuing onwards to Wrocław, our home for the next two nights. We quickly found our hotel which was not far from the station, and soon after getting into our room and dropping off the bags, we set off for the city centre. We spent the afternoon exploring the heart of the old town, with the Rynek at its core. We also began the search for the many dwarves that can be found all over the city, later realising it was going to be pretty impossible to find all 300 in the short amount of time we had to spare. The rest of our time in the city was spent exploring the Ostrow Tumskie (cathedral island), the Hala Targowa (food hall – you all know I love a market) and attempting to find pieces of street art scattered around the different districts.
Having briefly exploring Dresden four years ago we broke our journey to Leipzig to revisit some of the more famous sights and discover one or two new ones. The walk from the station took us along Prager Strasse down to Altmarkt, a huge open square, where we caught our first glimpses of the grand Renaissance-style buildings. Having a quick break for Kaffee und Kuchen, we then proceeded to the area around the Frauenkirche and gave a nod to the statue of Martin Luther. From there it was down to the river before turning left to Schlossplatz, where the Residenz is located, and Zwinger, the former palace and residence of August the Strong, which today is a museum complex. After five or so hours we returned to the central station and from there travelled on to Leipzig, our next stop.
Arriving late afternoon and having checked into our lodgings, it was soon time to find somewhere to eat. Our batteries were running on low, after our early start and day exploring Dresden, and so the priority was finding food and recharging! After a bit of a wander, we came across Zum Arabiscben Coffe Baum, a historic coffee house and restaurant, offering local and traditional Saxon specialties. The following day we set out to see the sights of the city including the many churches and the Old City Hall. In the afternoon we opted for something a little different and made for the city’s suburbs where we spent a few hours aboard a boat exploring Leipzig’s canals. Considering I had no idea there was even any water flowing through Leipzig, it was a very pleasant surprise and a lovely way to spend the afternoon!
Having first visited Würzburg with school, back in 2006 on a German exchange, I was excited to return and see what, if anything, had changed. Arriving from Leipzig at midday, we spent the afternoon and early evening exploring the city centre and soaking up the atmosphere of the Lower Franconian ‘capital’ nestled in the valley between vineyard adorned hills. We managed a trip to the Residenz (Royal Palace) and a walk through the picturesque gardens, along with a stroll through the baroque old city with a stop in the traditional Ratskeller for a late lunch. We then had our eyes set on the Festung Marienberg, which is situated upon one of the hills overlooking the city. With the sun providing a temperature of 30 degrees and the incline rather steep, we didn’t quite make it to the top but instead decided to retreat to the town and cool down with a delicious ice-cream! Just what the doctor ordered!
The final stop on our tour was Düsseldorf, my home-away-from-home, having spent most of my childhood visiting family in and around the city and having spent my year abroad working in the city during university times. As always it was nice to be back and a welcome thought that we didn’t have to rush around sightseeing and ticking things off the to-do list. Our 3 days were pretty chilled, with a few family/ friend visits, along with a trip to the Medienhafen and the surrounding district of Bilk, along with an obligatory window shopping wander along the luxurious Königsallee and of course, an Altbier in the establishment that is Uerige!
What do you think of my trip? Have you ever done something similar or maybe plan to? Perhaps some of the cities are on your bucket list? Do let me know in the comments below.
Likewise, if you have any questions at all about how I went about planning the trip or about what we did in the various cities, please don’t hesitate contact me – you can either comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org