Often, when a year ends and a new year begins, one starts to think about the year gone by and wonder what the New Year has in store for you. I have been mulling over a quote by Socrates ‘An unexamined life is not worth living’. My mind incessantly ruminates over memories and on multitudes of cliches of life. Or should it be called the ‘Grand Philosophies of life’ as quoted on the serviettes of Eurostar. I personally would call it banalities of life, which in bigger scheme of life are considered inconsequential. But these small questions, often lead me on to a journey,making me loose myself in little joys of life and on to a road of self discovery.
Rules of Happiness:something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.- Immanuel Kant
Is Interrailing a verb? That is what I have been mulling over for over a month.
I have an affinity towards train travel since my childhood days. And since our train travel a few years back using the Interrail pass in Germany. I have been wanting to go Interrailing again. And 2018, did give me the opportunity to explore the various Christmas markets of Europe. Leaving aside grammatical nitty-gritty Interrailing is the most beautiful way to get around in Europe. I simply love watching the world go by, through the window of a train , with the idyllic European countryside and the changing landscapes, it is like walking through an art gallery looking at different paintings/art. Once we decided the dates for the holiday, we ordered our Interrail pass. We ordered a 10 days pass, to be used within one month. There are various options available , but we chose this option as this fitted with in our travel needs. We chalked out the itinerary, the number of days stay at each place, and booked Hotels not very far from the railway stations. We travelled to 10 different cities, in 4 different countries. It was fabulous and magical. I could not fit it all in to one post so I have decided to split it in to parts. This post is first part of the journey.
We chose our first stop as Brussels. Eurostar is part of interrail pass, but it requires a reservation of a seat, in order for you to use the pass.I reserved seats, on a morning train, leaving from St Pancras reaching Brussels Midi in the afternoon. We decided to reach St Pancras slightly early.It would give us time to have a leisurely breakfast at the station before boarding the train. It’s such a perfect way to start the holiday. There are plenty of options to eat at Kings Cross and St Pancras. I enjoy planning, chalking out the itinerary and details as much as I enjoy travelling. When I was a kid, I would plan days ahead, what books and comics I would carry to read on the train, my mother would diligently pack snack pots for the travel, which she would neatly pack in a little bamboo basket and I always had a special request for my snack pots. I always thought, the snacks tasted even more yummier in the train rather than at home. We reached Brussels by afternoon. We reserved a seat on a train for our next destination for the next day. Before heading out to our Hotel, we had lunch at the station, which consisted of a slice of pizza and some ice cream. The Hotel was right across the station. We checked in to our hotel, and had a lovely wintery afternoon Nap, nicely tucked in to a cosy duvet. Power nap, Beauty sleep, siesta whatever you want to call it, is claimed to be good for you, especially if one has been working a bit of crazy hours and is slightly sleep deprived. By the time we woke up, it was drizzling, the roads were glistening in the rain and all the holiday lights were on. We gulped down a hot cup of coffee at the Hotel, wrapped ourselves in scarves, woolly hats and coats and walked out with a warm happy wintery glow on our face towards the Grand Palace. During the month of December, the Grand palace has a sound and light show at frequent intervals in the evenings. It’s a spectacle not to be missed, the Square comes alive with music and lights. Although I thought the music could have been a bit more cheerful. The Square itself dazzles with a large pine tree lit up, with buildings and shops around decorated in tinsels and lights. There are many more Christmas markets around the city, but we stayed in the Grand Palace area. We walked around a bit more around Grand Palace, later on had a hearty meal at one of the restaurants, then walked back to our hotel, by this time it was freezing cold and the rain was turning in to sleet.
Tiffany Christmas tree at St Pancras Christmas tree Brussels Grand Palace Grand Palace Light show Cite Centre Grand Palace Brussels
The next day we woke up to a view of a snow covered rail tracks and buildings, a light dusting of snow, which reminded me a dusting of sugar on a cake. We packed our bags, got ready, had our breakfast and checked out of the Hotel. We boarded the ICE train to Frankfurt, for which we had reserved tickets earlier. As soon as we board the train and take our seats, one of my tasks on this trip , is to update the travel itinerary on the Interrail pass. Any valid pass without the travel itinerary updated with the current journey on it, are invalid and chargeable with fine. The train ride was so calming and restorative, watching the serene snow covered terrain, makes you feel so tranquil.
We reached the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof/Main station, by afternoon. The station is very impressive architecturally, a neoclassical building , perhaps very similar to other stations constructed during that era. It is one of the busiest station of Germany, thronging with people from all walks of life. I was very impressed with the station, it had a buzz about it, architecturally, culturally and socially; a proper confluence of new age and by gone era. While Walking out of the the main building, at top of the building, I noticed a statue. I later found out that is the statue of Greek God Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders, supported by two figures. The two figures are metaphoric representation of Iron and steam.
We checked in to the Hotel, a walking distance from the Hauptbahnhof, after having a lunch at Sarvana Bhavan, a vegetarian chain of restaurants with presence across the globe. It’s famous for its South Indian food variety. One of the wishlist my husband is to visit all the Saravana Bhavan restaurants across the world. This helped him tick one of his list. We had a bit of rest in the room, planning the next days trip and watching dusk fall over the banks of River Main. We walked out of the room as the River Main started to sparkle and shimmer in the evening lights and brightening up the wintery evening.
We walked around the historic centre of the city, and sat in Coffee shop sipping our Cappuccino, watching the Christmas lights and market outside. Sometimes it’s a wonderful experience to observe the surrounding as an outsider, someone who is outside the perimeter, just an observer not a participant and let the boundaries dissolve gradually, you see the perimeter blurring, and you are no longer an observer but are part of a larger picture. People watching and observing especially during the holiday season has such a surreal and positive impact on me. I find laughters of little children and adults truly infectious. The surroundings and atmosphere are so vital and have such a profound impact on our psyche. I recently read on a Psychology site, if you surround yourself with positive experiences, thoughts and people, it helps in building your resilience. It helps build up physiological and psychological resources, which in turn helps in being more optimistic, steering you away from negativity and stress. One of the memorable sites, that day was watching the carousel going round and round, lit up with lights and happy faces , festive music blaring out aloud. You just start to join the merriment with a small tap of feet, ending up riding on the carousel, laughing out aloud and singing along the cheery songs. We walked back to our Hotel, giggling and laughing like little children
The next day morning we had a scrumptious breakfast at Hotel, before heading out to the main Station. We wanted to visit Mainz, a historic town known for its medieval city centre and Gutenberg Printing press. I looked up the train timings on Interrailapp, and found out we did not require reservation for this travel. It’s situated at an half an hour journey by train from Frankfurt. Mainz is a city in the Rhineland, situated on banks River Rhine, where River Main meets River Rhine. Mainz Old town /Aldstadt is very pretty, with half timbered and coloured medieval houses and is even more attractive with Christmas lights, and markets. There is plenty to eat and drink. My personal favourite during this trip was Fruchtspieße or Fruit skewers. It is fresh fruits covered in chocolate on a skewer. There a wide variety of fruits, from Cherries, strawberries, grapes to pears and apples too. There are candied version of fruits too, but my personal favourite is with fresh fruits. It’s perfect to walk around munching on the chocolate covered juicy fruit or standing near a open fire bowl to get a bit warmth and give your feet a rest from the walking. We also visited the Mainz Cathedral, which is situated in the old market, and is not far from the Christmas market. The Cathedral referred as Dom , a red coloured building stands tall and is a beautiful backdrop to the market. It is very difficult not to want to wander towards it and walk in. The Dom is thousand years old, is made of sand stone, a Romansque style, with lots of statues and paintings , it is a bit dark inside, but nevertheless very beautiful. I would have loved to know more about it, but there was no literature inside the Church. I would recommend visiting the Church, if you are in Mainz.
Frankfurt Main station Mainz Christmas Tree
We stopped over for lunch at a place called Aposto, opposite to the the statute of Gutenberg , the man who started the Gutenberg press. It was also to give a rest to our aching limbs and to get the contact lenses out of my dry eyes to switch to comfort of glasses. The food was warm and delicious, the ambience was lovely, and staff welcoming. I had a tomato soup and garlic cheese rolls and my husband ordered a pizza. The pizza I must say was large, and I was glad I ordered a warm soup. After the lunch we were wondering where to head next, we decided on another city of Rhineland, which we visited on our earlier trip, and loved it. We boarded on a train from Mainz to Cologne.
Cologne, known for its Cathedral and for its Eau de Cologne, and has the tallest Christmas tree in Rhineland. And we loved the Angel Market/Engel Market of Cologne,when we visited last time and a friend had loved the photos of Engel Market from the last trip. All these reasons lured us back to Cologne. We walked out of the station in to the Cathedral. Personally, it’s my favourite Cathedral after the Rouen Cathedral. I love the Gothic architecture of the Cathedral and how the structure looms over the city with its presence and the market next the Cathedral is absolutely lovely and full of festive cheer. We went to the the famous 4711 shop, which sells the original Eau de Cologne/ Kolnisch Wasser or simply Water of Cologne. I remember when I was a little girl, when it was too hot in afternoons, my mother would rub Eau de Cologne on my temples, as a respite from heat. We walked around the Angel Christmas market, before heading back to the Christmas market next to the Cathedral. We stood under the tallest tree of the Rhineland, taking selfies and photos. It was time to head back to Frankfurt, to our Hotel
We took the train back to Frankfurt. In an hour we were back in Frankfurt main station. We stopped over at a coffee shop for a quick bite before heading back to the Hotel. We turned in for the day, reminiscing about the last few days full of fun, Christmas markets ,trains , train rides and train stations, and looking forward to more days of Interrailing, full of fun and adventure.
Interrailing in Europe is sure an amazing way to criss cross through Europe.
“Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is the train “- Charles Barkley