Day 25: Singapore – home

The first leg was very uneventful – I was very much focused on my Game of Thrones marathon, and was pleased to get through seven episodes in between snacking and napping.

We had a three-hour stop over in Singapore which was really only enough time to look at some shops, have a snack and then get back on the plane.

The second leg was a bit harder – it was an older plane with NO Game of Thrones!! So I amused myself with a couple of movies.

We arrived home around 10.30am and I pretty much went straight to bed. And then (of course!) we went to the ice rink that evening – it was the Women’s League final and Bronwen’s team was playing. They lost, but it was a great game!

Now to recover from the jetlag…


Day 24: Frankfurt – Singapore

We had another lazy morning – didn’t leave for the day until about 12pm. We jumped on a train out to the airport to drop our bags, and then headed off for Mainz. This town is the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg – a personal hero of mine, so I was super-stoked to be able to see this place!

In 1439, Gutenberg revolutionised the world of printing by inventing moveable type – the process of printing using little letters that you can put together in any combination (rather than woodcut printing). This was the beginning of mass communication and the shift of power away from the Church and to the people – once they could read, they could spread their ideas more quickly. Mass printing had a huge impact on European society, and was a direct contributor to the Industrial Revolution.

The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz has a perfectly preserved set of Gutenberg bibles (two volume set). I could have stared at them all day. I was in printing-nerd heaven. No photos allowed though.

We stopped for some lunch, then had a general wander around the old town – I’m guessing mostly reconstructed since 80% of the city was levelled in the war, most of it in one attack in February 1945. Hard to imagine how scary that would be.

We walked from the city centre to the Roman ruins at the towns’ edge. Mainz is also known for being the northern-most outpost of the Roman Empire – and there are plenty of Roman ruins scattered around the place, including at the train station. We had a bit of a look and then jumped on a train to the airport to begin the long wait.

And now it’s almost time to go to the boarding gate. I’ve enjoyed our trip immensely, but I am looking forward to being home. Although not so much the process of going home…

Day 23: Frankfurt

We started the day with a stroll along the river – there is a lovely river walk (maybe one day Christchurch will have one!) from the train station into town.

The view of the city on our amble along the river
The view of the city on our amble along the river

We started at the other end of town today – following a walking tour from our app (called izi – it’s very good). We walked along Museum row, but didn’t visit any of them. At some point, museums are just too much, and it was a nice day for wandering. Along the river walk was an installation on all the trees – a commemoration of a local concentration camp where 1600 people died. I wonder if it’s hard for Germans to be constantly reminded of this past.

A constant reminder of the past
A constant reminder of the past

We walked and walked, and finished up in the shopping district. We stopped for some lunch at the Stock Exchange building. It would seem that Friday is market day in Frankfurt – everyone was out enjoying sausages, cider and wine from the local stalls.

Man enjoys sausage and cider
Man enjoys sausage and cider

We did a bit of shopping ourselves, went and played with the new iPhones for a bit, then called it a day around 4pm – six hours of walking was enough.

A 360 view of the main shopping area, with the old city guardhouse on the left
A 360 view of the main shopping area, with the old city guardhouse on the left

We’ve had a good mix of busy and relaxing time on this trip. Our last holiday was much busier, and I’ve really enjoyed being able to kick back a bit more. It seems a bit strange to lounge around in our hotel room for a whole afternoon or evening when there is city to explore, but I’m also aware that this is a holiday and I need to take some time to relax. It’s been great.

Last day tomorrow! Our flight doesn’t leave until 10pm, so we plan to drop our bags at the airport and visit an outlying town – Mainz – for a few hours before we leave.

Day 22: Berlin – Frankfurt

Our train left at the very leisurely time of 12.30pm today, so we heaps of time for sleeping in and lounging around. We got to the train station and found out train easily, as usual. The more trains we’ve taken, the easier it become to figure out how it works – even when we are in a new country. It’s been completely smooth sailing sorting out the trains – high five us!

The first class carriage was very comfy, with in-seat waiter service. Very nice! The trip from Berlin to Frankfurt was about 5 hours, so plenty of time to consume some more Heroes as I watched the countryside whizz by at approximately 230km/h. The trains in Germany are a bit faster than Italy, but slower than the French TGVs.

I was sad to say goodbye to Berlin, I really enjoyed being there. I will definitely go back again. In fact, I think I’ve enjoyed Germany the best out of Europe. It has surprised me that I’ve found Germans the most helpful and friendly – more so than the French, Swiss or Italians. It probably helps that everyone speaks impeccable English in Germany.

I was completely charmed by Berlin. It is such a strange place – so much history packed into one place, so much pain and suffering and grief and loss, and yet it’s still there, thriving away. We had a great time walking all over the place looking at buildings. There are so few old buildings, and lots of construction going on. So different to every other European city I’ve been to – this place was completely decimated by English bombing. Looking around, I thought that this is what Christchurch will look like in 60 years – a mish-mash of buildings of different styles, but very few that are more than half a century old, and most of the ones that are older are partly reconstructed. So fascinating.

Anyway, on to Frankfurt. It has a reputation for being a modern, wealthy city- well-deserved. I love the mix of giant skyscrapers and old-style stone buildings here. They seem to sit together comfortably.

A mix of old and new
A mix of old and new

It’s much smaller than Berlin, so very walkable. We dropped our bags at the hotel (which is just across from the train station) and walked into town for a look. It was nice just to wander and look. Of course we found an Apple Store first up, and then a Haagen Dazs. After some ice cream, we decided to save the best stuff for tomorrow, and headed home to bed once it got dark.

Funky hotel - our floor is 1960s themed
Funky hotel – our floor is 1960s themed

Day 21: Berlin

Today was all about wandering and looking. We headed off for our local train station, only to find that the trains weren’t running (we think it was something to do with a death at a station down the line). So we used Apple’s new transit maps to catch two buses to Potsdamer Platz, where we had finished our wandering the previous day.

We wandered along the remnants of the wall in the direction of Checkpoint Charlie. We stopped about half way at the site of a preserved section of wall that also contains a really detailed history of how Berlin was involved in WWII – with lots of stories about the people and places – both Jews and Nazis. The display is called the Topography of Terror. It started out as a temporary installation and is now permanent.

The Topography of Terror and the Wall.
The Topography of Terror and the Wall.

Checkpoint Charlie is one of three checkpoints installed in the American sector of West Berlin after the wall was put up in 1961 – i.e. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie – and has become something of a tourist attraction.

Stand off between Russian and US tanks in 1961 at Checkpoint Charlie

The East / West divide is the weirdest thing, and something I didn’t fully understand before I got here. I had a vague idea that the Berlin Wall divided East and West Germany, but in fact, the wall contained the city of West Berlin within East Germany. The city was divided in two, and the West half was entirely contained within East Germany – you had to fly or catch a train to get from West Berlin to the rest of West Germany.

The wacky world of post WWII Germany
The wacky world of post WWII Germany

The wall was put up by the East years after the East/West split happened to prevent defections – over 3 million people left East Germany via West Berlin before the wall was erected overnight in 1961.

It seems like a wacky idea to me to divide the city in half like that – if you lived in one half and worked in the other – too bad. If your parents lived on the other side, also too bad. What if you didn’t want to be a communist? To bad – if you live on the communist side of Berlin, you’re a communist now.

And then there is the fact that West Berlin (and West Germany) was actually three sectors – French, English and American. Immediately following the war, and after they’d agreed on the split with Russia, the Allies divided the West part of the city and country up and each nation ran their own bit of it. So when you think about it, ‘Germany’ after the war was actually a coalition country made up of France, Great Britain, USA and Russia.

East and West Berlin
East and West Berlin – one city, four countries

And this split happened because the Russians managed to make it to Berlin first as the war was ending. Politics is strange, to say the least.

Anyway, back to the wandering. We meandered our way through the city, past the Berlin Cathedral, Museum Island and various other points of interest (we were using a very helpful and informative audio walking tour). We paused at the Berlin Museum to learn more about the rest of Germany’s history. The museum has an excellent display of history beginning around 200-300BC and going right through to reunification in 1990. Stephen was in shield and armour heaven. I liked the maps – Germany has changed its borders a lot in the past 1000 years!

This map particularly amuses me  – an East German map of Berlin. The bit in the middle is West Berlin.

There be dragons
There be dragons

We stopped briefly for food then rounded out our walking tour at the Alexander Platz – a lovely square that was originally in East Germany, and contains the Fernsehturm TV tower. This is the second-tallest building in Europe (some other TV tower in Britain is taller).

Second tallest in Europe. Build by the East Germans to show the West how awesome they were.  1000 steps from bottom to top - but there is an elevator you can catch up to the revolving restaurant in the bubble.
Second tallest in Europe. Build by the East Germans to show the West how awesome they are.
1000 steps from bottom to top – but there is an elevator you can catch up to the revolving restaurant in the bubble.

Then on to more serious things – a visit to the Apple store – where there were people camping out waiting for the iPhone 6S – due to be released in two days. They were actual camping, with tents. We also found a Haagen Dazs across the road. Perfection.

After a quick train ride we were back at base camp – a late night for us tonight, we didn’t get home until about 9pm. Frankfurt tomorrow!

Day 20: Geneva – Berlin

We were up and gone from our hotel at 4.30, and proceeded smoothly through check-in and security at Geneva airport – there was no passport control at either end (a bit strange!).

We arrived in Berlin at about 8.30am and stopped at the airport for coffee and regrouping. We’ve learned the hard way that a new city, new country, new language can be discombobulating, and the best thing to do it take some time to get the lay of the land and figure things out. A strong coffee later, we had the trains and the language all sorted.

We found our hotel only a 20 min walk from the central station and in a lovely area by the river. We dropped our gear and went out for an explore. The hotel is very close to most of the things we wanted to see, so we headed straight for the first of these – the Victory Column

It was built in the 1860s to celebrate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian war. The monument was enlarged moved to its current location (at the end of a long avenue, the other end of which is the Brandenburg Gate) by Hitler in 1939 – the Nazis needed the space for some other grand buildings. You can climb to the top and get a great view of the city. What struck me was that the base was covered in scars from bullets….it obviously saw some action in the war.

We started a city audio tour at this location, which took us past the Chancellory (not that interesting, built in 2002), the Riechstag (the current government offices, the Berlin Wall used to run right past the front of it), the Brandenburg Gate built in the late 18th century, badly damaged in WWII and restored in the early 21st century.

All the while we were wandering back and forth between the old East and West Germany. There is so much history in this place! Our walking tour took us next to the Holocaust memorial – called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – and information centre. The memorial is a group of 2711 large stones that kind of look like big gravestones, but they are all different heights. I think it’s supposed to express the simultaneous order and chaos of the time.


The information centre was extremely emotional and powerful. It focussed on the people – lots of photos and as much as possible, details of who was in them, what was happening, and the stories of the people behind the numbers. And the numbers are just staggering. I think I’ve become used to the idea of 6 million Jews dying in the war, but the centre really personalised this for me. I noted to, that the language used was very direct – the words murder and genocide were used, making the point again and again that the Jewish people didn’t just die, they were murdered.

We emerged from the centre reeling a bit, and so wandered along to the Potsdamer Platz – important for the part it played during and after the cold war. The original square (platz) was the old heart of the city, and the central train station. It was destroyed in WWII (along with most of the rest of Berlin), and then had the Berlin Wall running right through the middle of it, so all the buildings in the Platz are now shiny new. In 1989, this was one of the first places that the Berlin Wall was breached, and was the location of a concert that was held here celebrating its removal (I remember this concert!). It was so cool to see such a long history in one place, but a history that included important events that I remember!

We stopped in at the Haagen Dazs store for a treat before jumping on a train back to the hotel about 6pm. It had been a long day and we were done for now! We will pick up again in the morning at Potsdamer Platz and continue our tour of the city.

Day 19: Geneva II

We were on a mission today – to see a Swiss castle! We took an early train from Geneva to Montreux and then a bus to Chillon to see the 12th century castle there. The castle is built on a solid rock island just beside the mainland, and was the main defence of the area against those living on the other side of the lake.

Chateau Chillon is incredibly well preserved – in some rooms the wall decorations are still visible, and in the crypt there are still some of the original wooden battens in the vaulted ceiling from when they were installing the vaulted stonework. Amazing.
We spent a good couple of hours poking around in the castle, with a very informative audioguide to keep us company.

It was a stunner day too.

From here, we back-tracked to Lausanne and then went on to Bern. What a weird and wonderful experience that was. I went to Switzerland expecting that we’d be speaking German, but in Geneva the primary language is French (it’s practically in France), but somewhere along the way – about when you leave the lake area, the language changes to German. It’s very strange and disconcerting! Also, I am somewhat familiar with German, but I found Swiss German all but incomprehensible. It turns out that Swiss German is quite different to German German. So interesting!

Anyway, Bern was lovely. Little and cute and very walkable. We had a wander around, visited the Munster and found some interesting spots of history here and there – like Einstein Haus – where Einstein lived when he was writing about the theory of relativity while working at the local patent office. I had a childhood fascination with Einstein, so this was pretty cool to see.

Einstein Haus
Einstein Haus

We hopped on a train back to Geneva about 5pm – it’s a 2-hour journey, stopped in at the train station for dinner supplies and then went back to the hotel for the night. Big day tomorrow – we have to be up at 4am to catch our flight to Berlin.

Day 18: Geneva I

It turns out that Switzerland is quite an expensive country – I guess they have high wages, so the cost of everything is higher here – food is OMG expensive! So we decided to make the most of our $40 hotel breakfasts, and ate as much as we could before setting off for the day.

First stop, the Relay shop for a power adapter, and then Starbucks where they were happy for us to plug in for a while…

Our buddy the power board
Our buddy the power board
Our adapter has an adapter (Swiss to European, European to NZ)
Our adapter has an adapter (Swiss to European, European to NZ)

Today we decided to take a walking tour of the old city of Geneva – you can download an app that has city walking tours and this one was really good. We took in the sights of the old city, including a very interesting history relating to the reformation.

As a sociologist, the Protestant Reformation is something I studied and then taught at university, so it was very cool to be in the city where it was so important. There is a huge monument in the city garden that commemorates the 400th anniversary of the movement in Geneva.

Calvin, Farel, Beze and Knox (our Knox Church is named for him)
Calvin, Farel, Beze and Knox (our Knox Church is named for him)

The city tour had us meander through the old city, giving us great information about the buildings along the way. We took in the second longest seat in the world (the first longest is in Britain).

It's a pretty long seat
It’s a pretty long seat

We stopped the tour when we got to St Peter’s Cathedral. This church was originally Catholic (built from 1160 to 1252), and was made into a protestant church during the reformation – John Calvin preached here! We were planning on having a look through the museum and archaeological site (underneath the church) but decided to have a wander down to the lake and find a bus home instead. After a while, museums can be somewhat samey, even when they are interesting.

That's a bloody big front door! At St Peter's Cathedral
That’s a bloody big front door!
At St Peter’s Cathedral

I hadn’t really noticed before, but all of the shops were closed in the main shopping area by the lake – it’s the law that they be closed on Sunday. Only small cafes and main tourist venues are allowed to be open. Good job too, at least everyone gets a day off! So we jumped on a bus with our free ticket (complimentary from the hotel, gives us free travel on buses, trains, trams and boats) and went back to the hotel to recharge.

Our recharge eventually turned into staying in for the evening. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, and then passed a very pleasant (slightly tense) hour-and-a-half at the bar watching the ABs beat the Pumas with some Australians and French. I think the French guys were cheering for the Pumas, but not very loudly!

Day 17: Milan – Geneva

We weren’t catching the train until 12.25pm today, so we luxuriated in our hotel room until about 11.30am, then went across to the train station for a snack before we boarded the train.

Has pack, will travel.
Has pack, will travel.

The first class carriage was rather nice on this Swiss train (the Italian first class carriage was a bit average). We journeyed in style and comfort from Milan to Geneva. The border crossing was very uneventful – not even a passport check!

It was quite nice having some time just to stare out the window at the countryside, and interesting to see it change from flat farmland to hilly then mountainous.

Nothing to do except admire the scenery
Nothing to do except admire the scenery

We arrived in Geneva about 4pm, and didn’t get to the hotel from the train station until about 6pm – it should have been a 15 minute journey. It was an adventure! First of all, it started POURING with rain just as we pulled into the Geneva station. Rather than taking the sensible option of going straight to the hotel, we opted to stick to Plan A: Do Laundry, and got very wet in the process. After getting to the laundromat and realising that we didn’t have any local currency, we aborted Plan A, and went with Plan B: WTF Are We Doing.

Somehow it escaped our attention that the Swiss have not adopted the Euro, so we had to get some Swiss Francs. We could not find an ATM anywhere in the train station (there are dozens of them, we just couldn’t find one!) so we abandoned Plan B and went with Plan C: Eat Pasta Until We Feel Better. That worked a treat, and so slightly less wet and a lot poorer ($80 for two plates of pasta, OMG!) we found an ATM, got some money, purchased a train ticket for the Airport (where our hotel is) and found our way to our home for the next three nights.

The hotel is lovely – super comfy room, fast internet, a great restaurant, and it’s a quick walk to the airport where the train takes us to town.

We still needed to do laundry, so after a brief regroup, we headed back into town to the laundromat. While sitting waiting for our washing to dry, it dawned on me that the girls sitting outside the laundromat were not in fact waiting for their washing to finish. There were about 10 working girls lined up on the street outside the laundromat, and we watched them come and go from the building beside us. Awesome, we found a laundromat in the red light district.

How to spend a glamorous Saturday night in the red light district
How to spend a glamorous Saturday night in the red light district

We eventually made it back to the hotel about 10pm, only to discover that the Swiss have different power plugs from the rest of Western Europe! First stop tomorrow will be the Relay store at the airport to buy a new adapter…

Day 16: Milan

We had a lazy morning this morning, and headed off to the Duomo at about 9am. It was getting warm even then, and eventually got to 28C! Such a lovely day for sightseeing.

The Milan Duomo is magnificent. It is massive, with something to look at everywhere you look. It’s bristling with decorations and statues and finery.

The Milano Duomo
The Milano Duomo

It took us about three hours to see everything, including climbing the stairs to the tippy top for a grand view of the city.

After this we stopped for lunch in the Piazza del Duomo, and then did a quick tour of the Duomo Museum. They have a LOT of expensive looking religious art in there. It’s a bit overwhelming…

For something different, we decided to spend the afternoon at the National Science Museum. It has some very cool displays – food science, space, telecommunications, computing, transport (including an actual submarine!), and a fabulous collection of Da Vinci models, constructed based on his drawings. Very cool.

Highlights from the Science Museum
Highlights from the Science Museum

It was so hot and we were so tired, we stopped at the supermarket on the way back to the hotel for snacks, and had a snacky dinner in our hotel room and an early night.

Fancy Italian snacks!
Fancy Italian snacks!