A blog to exchange ideas about photography and good things in life. If you like this site, receive automatic updates by using the 'Subscribe' or 'Follow' links on the left side.
The main page shows only my last 20 posts, so check out 'My Blog Archive' on the left to read previous posts and comment on them if you like. The posts are sorted in the 'My Topics' section for access to related articles.
I've had several chances to travel to Germany on business over the last year and they've been interesting experiences that I wanted to share here.
While I've done extensive traveling around the US over the years, I haven't done much traveling outside of North America. For that reason, I was approaching these trips to another country, especially one where I don't speak the language, with a mix of excitement and a little bit of trepidation as well.
The fact that I was going on business and would be meeting my colleagues while I was there helped me feel more comfortable. But until I arrived in Germany and got into the swing of things, I was thinking that I was going to feel very alone (which I indeed did). Someone told me that everyone under forty in Germany speaks English. I don't know if that general statement is true or not, but I also found that somewhat comforting. I did my best to learn a few key words in German before I went.
Here is some information about Mainz from Wikipedia just to set the stage for this story:
Mainz (French: Mayence) is a city in Germany and the capital of the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. It was a politically important seat of the Prince-elector of Mainz under the Holy Roman Empire, and previously was a Roman fort city which commanded the west bank of the Rhine and formed part of the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. Up until the twentieth century, Mainz was usually referred to in English as Mayence.
Mainz is a city with over two thousand years of history. It is located on the river Rhine across from Wiesbaden, in the western part of the Frankfurt Rhine-Main Region; in the modern age, Frankfurt shares much of its regional importance.
Mainz is located on the west bank of the river Rhine, opposite the confluence of the Main with the Rhine. The 2008 population was 196,784 , an additional 18,619 people maintain a primary residence elsewhere but have a second home in Mainz and it is also a part of the Rhein Metro area consisting of 5.8 million people. Mainz is easily reached from Frankfurt International Airport in 25 minutes by commuter railway (Rhine-Main S-Bahn).
The summary above highlights one of my interests in seeing Germany....The history! The US is a "baby-country" in age compared to the countries in Europe, where long and interesting histories have shaped the culture and people.
John F. Kennedy Airport in New York is the main hub for Lufthansa Airlines in my area, so off to the airport I went...Speaking of which, the New York airports really suck. Not to get into airport-bashing, but come on. These airports have been in a state of disrepair and constant renovation for at least twenty years. I can honestly say that any other airport I've walked into anywhere that I've been is nicer than those in New York, which is supposed to be one of the gateway cities of the world. New York has to put some money into them and get the job done right once and for all!
On the contrary, Frankfurt Airport is nice and the landing and customs processes were smooth. The airport is huge and therefore the layout is slightly confusing, but pretty much any convenience you can want is there. Restaurants of every type, interesting shops, etc. Plenty to see while you're waiting around. The driver of my limo was very late to the airport, and that created some logistics problems getting my luggage. It was a little nerve racking finding my way around to retrieve it and finding my limo, but all ended up fine.
The flights over and back to Germany were mostly uneventful and were on time. I don't want to jinx myself, but I've been lucky in that regard....having almost never experienced flight delays during my travels over the years.
I was able to talk myself into the Business Class lounges of the airlines, so it was nice to sit in the quiet in there to get some work done for the trip and relax for a little while.
Flying in business class on Lufthansa was a big help (and a treat!) because the seats go almost completely flat, there's plenty of room between the seats, and I was able to get some sleep on the eight hour flight. I'm 6' 3" tall, so sleeping in coach for any length of time is almost impossible. On subsequent flights I had to fly coach, and that sucked and was really uncomfortable for a tall person. On those coach flights, I couldn't wait to get off the plane!
The flight to Germany up to the halfway point was OK, but after that it seemed excruciatingly long. I slept, read everything I brought to read, listened to my iPod, ate, drank....and still there were three more hours to go! Ughhhhh. The flight home was slightly better because I was looking forward to seeing my wife and kids.....That made the time pass faster.
With regard to the airlines in general...I now try to fly Singapore Airlines to Germany whenever I can. They fly Boeing 747's as opposed to Lufthansa's Airbus A330's, and the 747's have slightly more room between seats in coach. I'll take every inch I can get! The 747 is still such a nice plane, despite having been in service for over 30 years!
One more important thing that made me move away from Lufthansa was an awful flight that I had to Germany the second time I went. The plane was filled with a bunch of families apparently traveling together, and the kids (and adults!) were completely rude and out of control. The cabin crew could not settle them down, and it turned an already crappy flight into misery.
On the contrary, Singapore's operation runs like clockwork. You can almost feel a certain air of "travel respect" when you get on a Singapore plane. The crew is in control and everyone is taken care of. People seem to respect the travel experience a little bit more. Very nice...Ready to lift off!
On the ground:
Once out of the airport in Frankfurt and in the limo heading to the hotel in Mainz, I was immediately struck by the landscape once we got out of the airport area. I liked the way many of the towns in the Rhine valleys that I saw in the distance from the highway were situated in a way where they hugged the edge of the hillsides and crept slightly up them. For some reason I like that connection to the mountains....It's kind of a European landscape characteristic. You typically don't see that kind of layout of towns in the US.
We made our way our way along the highway, sometimes at high speeds, to arrive in Mainz.
One thing I regret about these trips is not taking more photos. I brought a variety of cameras on the trips, but I was so tired most of the time from the travel and the 6-hour time change that I wasn't particularly inspired to take photos. I was just mentally wiped out. I have to shake that off next time and make sure I take more photos!
The hotels that I stayed at in Mainz and Weinheim were nice but stark in the their interior styling. Rooms were decorated in a functional way, but there was not much in the way of additional decorations to make the hotels more visually comfortable. There were few paintings on the walls, few pillows anywhere, etc.
I found Mainz to be a charming town. I made sure that I took the time to take several walks down to and around the old town section. I went to the Marktplatz (e.g., town square or town center), saw the historic buildings, the Mainzer Dom, many shops and smaller buildings, and just generally took in the architecture and surrounding community and people.
Most towns of any significant size have a Marktplatz and Dom/cathedral of some kind, so always check where you're going to see the most significant sites.
The Mainzer Dom is spectacular. The only thing I can compare it to is St Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, only the Dom is larger and certainly much older. I took many photos inside and around the outside. The architecture is magnificent.
A traditional farmer's market took place in the Marktplatz while I was there, and it was great to see all of the vegetable and fruit stands, people gathering at the market to shop, eat, talk, and relax with a cup of coffee. I was glad to catch this...Very nice.
This little bit of exploring around Mainz and learning the history of the area really sparked my interest to explore Europe more in the future. I think the combination of the history, architecture, beautiful historic sites, the people and culture differences, different foods/wines/beers, etc, is a great thing to experience. I have specific interests in Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. We'll see what my time (and budget!) in future years will be able to accommodate...But it's a life goal that I would like to fulfill.
In Germany, one thing I definitely want to do is take a trip to Heidelberg to experience the history there and to take a drive on the "Fairytale Road". Heidelberg is one of the towns in the area that was not heavily damaged by bombing during the war so the architecture is mostly original. Sections of many towns in Germany were rebuilt after the war with replica architecture that matches what was there before, but isn't original.
Fairytale Road is a section of road in southern Germany that passes about 100 castles as you travel along it. Some of them are in ruin, but many are open to the public and you can go inside and explore. Some have even been gently converted into hotels and inns where you can stay the night. My daughter would love to stay in a real castle! The towns where these castles are located are supposed to be quaint and a treat to explore.
In general the food was good, but be careful where you eat because a lot of smaller restaurants don't take credit cards. Several people I work with got burned by this because they didn't find out until after they ate. I had one of the best meals of my life in a tiny restaurant with only seven tables on a side street in Mainz. The funny thing was that the waiter/owner brought me tiramisu for dessert even though I mentioned that I didn't like it. I figured that if he was pushing this dessert like this then it must be something good that he's proud of, so I accepted it. It was one of the most delicious desserts I've ever had! Just goes to show you...Keep an open mind!
Speaking of food....What goes along well with food? Beer! I can safely say that every glass of beer I had in Germany was great. All different types of beer brewed in the individual towns or even right in the restaurants themselves. Absolutely delicious! I would like them to be served a little colder, but the tradition there is to serve them slightly more room temperature than cold. But that didn't really matter.....The beer was great!
The funny little things:
Before I left, my kids showed an interest in me noting the things that were different in Germany than our home in the US, so I made some notes for them along the way. In some cases the differences were somewhat amusing. Everyone does things a little differently, which is what makes traveling interesting. Learning about other people, customs, and environments.
Some of the things I saw that I found interesting/funny include:
1) Coffee cups are small - Tiny in fact! I had like six cups one night just to get the equivalent of one of my morning cups at home.
2) No cold milk at breakfast - I didn't like this. The milk at the hotel buffets for cereal was warmed. Makes the cereal instantly soggy. My waitress seemed quite surprised when I asked about this.
3) Toilets flush with a flat pad - No handles. The toilets often have a pad about the size of a small paperback book over them that you press to flush. My kids thought that was very funny....I'm not sure exactly why.
4) Not much air conditioning - Finding air conditioning in the hotels, restaurants, or offices is rare (at least during the time periods that I was there). I'm not sure what goes on in the summer (I was there in autumn) but it must be hot as hell in some of those buildings.
5) No speed limits in some places - Of course everyone knows that sections of certain roads in Europe have no speed limits, and this was quite amusing the first time I was on one. My limo driver kept going faster and faster and I found my foot pressing an imaginary brake pedal on the floor because my brain knew I was going much faster than normal in a car.
6) Beds are "not made" - The beds aren't made with the blankets placed flat, like we would expect to see in the US. They're rolled up almost like sleeping bags (see photos below). The first time I saw that in my hotel room I thought my room hadn't been cleaned. I laughed at that...
7) Hotel doors have no peep holes - Several people knocked on my hotel room door. There are no peep holes!
So.....This post got longer than I thought it would, but it's hard to summarize trips like this in only a few paragraphs. I enjoyed the trips I took to Germany. Missing my family and home while I was away weighed heavily on me many times during the trips, but it was an experience worth having because as I said above it really wet my appetite to see more of Europe....hopefully with my wife and kids so we can enjoy it together!
Click on the image below to see a few photos from my trips to Germany...