‘Bits of our hearts left everywhere’
Gisborne travellers Phil and Sue Newdick share the final leg of their epic three-month trip through nine countries from Russia through the Baltic States into Eastern Europe finishing in Germany . . .
The last leg of our German train ride involved Bremen to Hanover, a change of trains and on to our port of departure for our homeward flight, Frankfurt. The journey went without a hitch. We had opted to fly back to New Zealand from Frankfurt, mainly for the convenience of connecting flights. What information we had gathered had resigned us to it being just a “port of departure”. How wrong we were, Frankfurt proved to be a wonderful climax to what really had been a great adventure.
The greater area of Frankfurt has a population of about 5 million. The infrastructure was noticeable to us as soon as we arrived at the Frankfurt HBF (main Railway station). There are about 22 railway lines entering and leaving the city — we thought the Sunday we arrived at Hamburg the station there was busy, but Frankfurt HBF is really busy and it stays busy 24/7.
Although it was early autumn the weather during our four-day stopover was mild, even if a bit chilly, mornings and evenings. We were left in awe by the buildings in the city centre, especially the “Saturn” shopping complex.
Frankfurt has very few really old parts, but it makes up for that with the modern street layouts and the pedestrian-friendliness of the city centre. This area has been given the nickname ‘Manhattan' and it deserves it. The skyline is Frankfurt but really compares well with The Big Apple.
There are very well kept areas that would probably be 19th century but no real emphasis on the medieval buildings and streets we had found at previous German towns we had visited.
We souvenired a Frankfurt Calendar and spent an enjoyable couple of days familiarising ourselves with the pictures on it. Visiting the statues of The Bull and The Bear, we overheard a local guide explaining that these belonged to the stock exchange. Without knowing it he had explained the significance of the huge bull we had photographed outside the stock exchange in Manhattan. Evidently Wall Street only thought it necessary to highlight the Bull Market; Frankfurt chose to show the downside as well as the upside.
We spent our last day of sightseeing at the Palmengarten, a huge Botanical Garden in the centre of town. It is well laid out and maintained and was a very enjoyable excursion.
When we booked our flight, we hadn't worried about accommodation. As it turned out we were able to find a near-new, three-room apartment 5km from the main station, via a short subway ride and a 400-metre walk.
It had all the facilities we required, and as an added bonus the same subway, with one change, deposited us inside the airport when we were ready to start our long flight home. This included a marathon flight to Hong Kong, a 13-hour stopover, another 11-hour flight to Auckland, then the short hop to Gisborne.
We had plenty of time in transit to summarise some of the things we had done and seen in three months. After a late night flight into Vladivostok we had travelled by boats, trains and buses from the East of Russia to Saint Petersburg in the west; through the Baltic States into what is now Eastern Europe; finally crossing a large part of Germany. We had visited nine countries in all. We had made our own way, booking accommodation and transport as we travelled. With help along the way from many new friends, these patient souls made our journey possible. Their willingness to help compensated for our lack of linguistic skills.
We had experienced the influences which shaped European history, ancient, medieval, modern, in peace and war. Words like awesome, wonderful, seem a little extreme. Much simpler to say we left a hat in Helsinki, a pair of sandals in Frankfurt and bits of our hearts everywhere. Any misgivings we may have ever had about the risks of travelling on the seats of our pants have been completely dispelled.
We returned to Gisborne very happy to be home, but determined that, there will be another journey like this one in our future.