16 July 2007

Day 19: Munich–Düsseldorf

We are now officially on our way home, although we do have this brief stopover in Düsseldorf, a city on the right bank of the Rhine River, near to Köln (better known to us by its French name, Cologne). Düsseldorf is located in the region of Germany called North Rhine-Westphalia, in the center-west of the country. Its economy has, for many years, been based on the shipping along the Rhine. Its coat-of-arms even shows a lion holding an anchor.

We took an ICE train for five hours to get to Düsseldorf. The ICE trains are new and elegant, although they run in a way contrary to the expectations of North Americans. The trains do not always run in the same forward direction. When we left the Munich station, the train headed forward, the way our seats faced. However, an hour later when it pulled out of one of the stations, it started moving what seemed like backwards to us. Of course, it had actually moved onto another track, but it gave me the oddest sensation at first that we were backing up to Munich again. The train stayed this way four three hours, reached Köln, and then started the forward movement again until we reached Düsseldorf. The train stopped a number of times in the middle of nowhere and ran behind schedule, but I find trains so relaxing that I didn't mind. I finally finished reading Avram Davidson's Adventures in Unhistory during the ride. The short stop in Köln let me see the city's famous Cathedral out the window. Something to see for another trip.

We got off at Düsseldorf Hauptbanhof (the name in any German city for its central train station), took an S-Bahn a few stops to emerge at our hotel, the Hotel St. Georg, in the middle of the downtown district. Düsseldorf isn't much like Munich; far less older history is centered here, and there is more focus on streetside restaurants and bars. Lots of bars. Apparently, bars are what Düsseldorf does best. It certainly has a grittier feel than Munich, and reminds me a bit of our time in Brussels. After a snack at an Italian place and a drink of the local dark beer, we walked through the fashion district, the most famous in Germany, and down to a park on the Rhine. The Rhine at this point is filled with commercial barges, and busy traffic in tourist sightseeing boats. The other side of the river currently has a massive carnival set up, complete with a full floorless roller coaster and ferris wheel. Some of the family went to the top of the huge modern Rhineturm (Rhine Tower), but with my mild fear of heights it wasn't something on which I wanted to spend 4 Euros. Instead, Armin showed me some of the bizarre postmodern apartment architecture along the river. Intriguing looking, although I'm unclear of its functionality aside from merely looking…well, intriguing.

We ate at a excellent steak house in the midst the busy restaurant and bar area. The clouds kept threatening to rain, but the temperature stayed warm and so far the rain has only come in a few droplets. While I'm writing this in the hotel room, the rest of the family is exploring the bar zone one street over. We have an early flight tomorrow out of Europe, and I just don't think I have the stomach for any further alcohol tonight. On the way back, I walked through the Rathaus (Town Hall) plaza, with its statue to the Count of the Palantine, Johannes Wilhelm. The Rathaus is beautiful, but it looks obvious that much of the square suffered severe war damage; many of the buildings appear too new.

So this is the end of my last full day in Europe on this long trip. I've had an amazing time, seen some spectacular sights and art, and absorbed heaping platefuls of Germanic culture, and few smaller heaping platefuls of Bavarian cuisine. I even picked up bits and pieces of the language, and wish I had more time to study it. But now I'm ready to go back home to my friends and hangouts and the new novel I'm getting ready to write and further articles on fantasy and science fiction topics and a slew of exciting dances and classes to attend. Home is always a great places, especially after a long vacation.

The blog will soon return to its normal schedule, although you can expect a few major follow-up entries to summate the experience, maybe add a few details or overall observations.