We are often asked how we decide where we to go next, and we answer that question differently almost every time. Sometimes we are exploring a new continent - like our recent travels to South America. Then there was Michael's burning desire to visit every former Soviet Republic. All fifteen! It pushed us to parts of Eastern Europe, and modes of transportation that we might not have explored otherwise. Or, like now, we were just ready for some beach time!
From Copenhagen, we planned to make our way to the South of France for a few weeks. We have come to prefer train and bus travel over flying if possible - we usually have the time, and air travel comes with so many restrictions and hassles it's nice to keep that to a minimum. It made sense to travel through Germany, so Michael did further research on "The Most Beautiful Cities in Germany" and created our itinerary. Sometimes all this figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B efficiently (and affordably) can be challenging - but when it works, it can be the most rewarding part of our nomadic lifestyle.
In June, we took a road trip that started in Hamburg, which was on the beautiful cities list and we stopped in Lubeck, also on the list, so this time we chose Schwerin and Nuremberg as destinations - with a stop in Berlin (definitely not on the list). From Nuremberg, we would fly to Barcelona and then take a train to Montpellier, France where we would begin our month visiting various Mediterranean beaches,
But first, we had to get out of Copenhagen, and that turned out to be harder than we thought. Perhaps we'd been too cavalier about finding trains during peak summer months because it seemed every train leaving on the day we were checking out of our Airbnb was either full or the ticket prices were sky-high. We weren't sure why, but regardless The Chief Travel Planner couldn't find a fare or a route he was satisfied with so he turned his attention to buses instead.
We had heard about, and seen bright green and orange Flix buses during our travels in Europe so Michael went to their website to learn more about them. Basically, Flix is a low-fare bus service with an impressive network of stops all across Europe. They have free WiFi and bathrooms on board and boast fares as low as $18 between Paris and Amsterdam. That was all good news. The bad news was the reviews we found on the internet leaned negative - buses not on time or not showing up, cramped legroom, smelly bathrooms, narrow luggage racks, etc. But we were curious, and the $75 per-person fare for two reserved seats from Copenhagen to Schwerin was too good to pass up, so we decided to give them a try.
It would be an eight-hour journey across 150 miles, leaving Copenhagen at 6:30 am (at least we didn't have to be two hours early). Like low fare airlines, they don't always get to pull in to the main terminal. We found our pick-up location on a nearby side road and hoped the fact that other people with luggage were milling around was a good sign. Our bus pulled up and left right on time. So far, so good.
There are just a few reserved seats on each bus so we paid a little extra for two. Otherwise, it is a crush at the door as people try to find window seats or seats together. Reserved seats have a bit more legroom as well. We settled in to read, catch up on podcasts and enjoy the beautiful countryside. We had a fun surprise along the way - a ferry crossing! Of course, if we'd thought about it, we knew we had to cross the water somehow, but it wasn't until our bus joined a long line of other large vehicles that we realized we were going to board a boat. It only took an hour but it was nice to stretch our legs and get a coffee. Duty-free was a madhouse! All those Danes, who pay high prices for everything, were stocking up on booze like prohibition was coming back.
We arrived in Schwerin (pronounced Schware-een) in the late afternoon. We were a little bleary-eyed and while trying to find our Airbnb we walked about 10 minutes the wrong direction. This is never good for any relationship, especially the navigator, but on travel days we try and be extra nice to each other - sort of a no-fault insurance policy, so we shrugged and turned around to head the other direction.
We collected the keys to our Airbnb from Sigrid, a woman who worked at the ice-cream shop in our building. She spoke no English, but as she showed us the apartment we would nod and smile and generally, we understood her instructions. It was a small place, but it was clean and located right in the heart of the city on a pedestrian-only street.
Schwerin deserves Culture Trips ranking as Germany's third most beautiful city. It sits on a lake, has a fairy tale castle, a great history museum, pretty cobblestone streets with narrow passages, quaint shops, beer gardens galore, and lots of green space. There are many festivals during the summer including outdoor Shakespeare productions, an outdoor film festival and a huge Medieval Fare.
As we spent more time in Germany, Michael renewed his interest in post World War II history and wanted to learn more about what life was like in this city that ended up in East Germany. The tourism office sent him to The Documentation Centre, a small museum located in a part of a former prison. Through photos, maps and documents it unfolds the history of political persecution in the region both under the Nazis from 1933-1945 and then under the East German Secret Service (Stasi) from 1949–1989. The beauty of the restored city belies the hardships that were suffered here.
The center doesn't get a lot of visitors, so Heike, the director, really appreciated Michael's interest in Schwerin's history - especially coming from an American. She invited Michael back the next day to continue their discussions and presented him with a jar of her homemade sour cherry preserves. It was a nice gesture, and also a delicious one.
After three nights we caught our second Flixbus for a two and half hour journey to Berlin ($17 per-person). Our reserved seats were at the front of the bus across from the driver so we had a panoramic view during the scenic drive. And once again we had plenty of legroom and good WiFi. So far, we hadn't found any reason not to love this very affordable way to get around Europe.
It was excessively hot in Europe in July and Berlin was no exception. We were dropped at the far end of the bus station and stepped out of the air-conditioned bus onto the steaming pavement. From there we faced a trek across the city to our Airbnb. Fortified by pretzels and cold Diet Coke we hauled our bags across the station, down through a dingy underground passage, up the other side and onward to the local train station. Most everything works in Germany, but on that day, the elevator at the train station wasn't in service. Our bags weigh almost 50 pounds each - and hauling them upstairs is a strain (on our backs and our marriage). It takes both of us to manhandle one bag - I take the handle and Michael brings up the rear. Then we go back down the stairs and do it again. All while wearing our backpacks and keeping track of my purse and the inevitable extra bag of food or whatever. After we figured out how to buy tickets we caught a train into the city.
From the central station we still had to take a tram and then walk for 15 minutes. I have to admit, I was not my best Senior Nomad self that day. By that time we were hot, hungry and cranky. We glared at each other and almost simultaneously said, "We could have taken a taxi, you know!" But I think neither of us wanted to be the one to wimp out. We have to laugh at ourselves sometimes.
Our delightful host was a young woman in her mid-twenties who was rushing off on holiday the minute she handed us her keys. The apartment was cute and quirky - it felt like we were crashing at our daughter's pad in the city. Laury had gone to great effort to make sure we had everything we needed to be comfortable - so we sent her on her way with a big hug and collapsed.
We had been to Berlin at the beginning of our travels in 2013 and we were looking forward to this revisit. Berlin is such a big city (larger than Paris) that it wasn't easy to decide what neighborhood to stay in. Once again, I turned to Culture Trip for inspiration. In the end, it was the price of Airbnbs that decided it for us. So we ended up in the edgy (but very hip) district of Friedrichshain - a former East Berlin enclave. When we met locals who asked where we were staying our answer raised a few eyebrows - apparently we are pretty adventurous (but very hip) for our age.. And speaking of hip, we had some fun “wardrobe replacement therapy” in the many thrift shops near our apartment.
Berlin is a gritty city as opposed to a pretty city. Although there certainly are some lovely places, for the most part it is filled with Brutalist architecture and concrete buildings, most of which are covered with graffiti. So much so there is "Graf Tourism" that goes beyond the usual made-for-public-consumption street art tours. These alternative tours take you on a hunt for works of anarchy and artistic hubris.
Of course, there is enough history to absorb that you could spend your days doing deep dives on any topic. And the music, art and theatre scene in Berlin never stops. We went on a really informative Sandeman's Free Walking Tour that hit the highlights of the city center including a parking lot that sits on top of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide. We also spent time at the East Side Gallery on the banks of the Spree River where you can walk almost a mile long remnant of the Berlin wall smothered with iconic images.
On our last Sunday we spent the afternoon at Stadfest, the official opening event to Berlin’s PRIDE week. It was a lively weekend street fair that made for amazing people-watching - because there were a lot of people who wanted to be watched! You could buy helium balloons in the shape of body parts, get your own body painted, get a Drag Queen Make-Over, and buy a crazy cocktail to have in hand while you toured booth after booth. We were definitely somewhere over the rainbow!
After four days it was time to take our final Flixbus, this time a five-hour drive to Nuremberg ($39 per-person). I was particularly excited about our seat selection this time. We'd be sitting on the top of a double-decker bus right at the front - sort of like being in the first car of a roller-coaster. We definitely got the panoramic view I hoped for, but unfortunately, it was through a miasma of splattered bugs. However, we gave Flixbus high marks for getting us where we wanted to go, almost on time, on very clean buses (inside), at a great price.
Nuremberg turned out to be a very special place, also deserving of its designation as one of Germany's most beautiful cities. In fact, it often vies with Heidelberg for the number one spot. Strolling through the village was like living in a postcard. Our Airbnb location was perfect for exploring this fairy tale city.
The cobbled streets were clean and mostly car-free, and there were little lanes and ancient bridges crisscrossing the canal that ran through the center. A beautiful castle dominates the hill and offers a great view of the village below. There were daily fresh markets, and dozens of delightful cafes opened on the squares where you were entertained by merry bands of street performers.
One afternoon Michael and I went our separate ways. He bused a few miles out of town to see the ominous Nazi Parade Grounds and visit another, much larger Documentation Center that covered the entire Nazi era from the beginning right through the famous Nuremberg Trials. I'd had my fair share of WWII history so I spent time at the Toy Museum and touring Albrecht Dürer’s home.
Germany is known for its quality toys, and the Spielzeugmuseum offered three floors of distraction that started with dolls and dollhouses from the early 18th century and finished with toys like Play Mobile and Brio that our family grew up with. One entire floor was dedicated to model trains. There were elaborate tracks set up, and there was even a train running overhead. Another room was stuffed with Steiff animals. I have over a dozen of those precious stuffed toys myself, so I lingered over the collection that included everything from a dormouse to a seven-foot giraffe.
Albrecht Durer is known as the worlds first Commercial Artist so, as a graphic designer I needed to learn more about this early adaptor. I have always been fond of his famous Hare etching - and learned that he was one of the only artists of his time to paint plants and creatures in addition to religious images. but I didn't know he was the first artist of his time to sign his work. That just wasn't done in the early 1500s. He was also a book illustrator and charged for his work, also rare. He became quite wealthy in his lifetime as an artist and printmaker and is revered in his hometown of Nuremberg.
All through Germany we ate well. I love pork, so I was happy with crispy-skinned roasted pork knuckles with chewy dumplings on the side. Michael loves Schnitzel, so he was happy, too. And we both love sausages, known as wurst. When in Germany, if you have the fortitude, you could try Bockwurst, Wiener Wurst, Blutwurst, Cervelatwurst, Bratwurst, Currywurst, Weißwurst, Brühwurst, Kinderwurst, Sommerwurst, Rostbratwurst, Mettwurst, Teewurst, Fleischwurst, Jagdwurst, Leberwurst. It could be wurst!
Michael helps me with writing the blog by compiling notes from our daily journals and finding facts about a country or city I might find fun or interesting. This time he found 44 interesting facts about Germany and 5 German Personality Traits. I'll let you peruse them for yourself, but I would say that we met some very fine people in Germany. Most everyone spoke perfect English. And the stereotype that Germany itself runs like clockwork is true.
And if I have a pet peeve, it is clocks in public places that don't show the correct time. Why have a clock? Every single clock in Germany; whether on a bell tower, a bank, or a bus station was absolutely spot on. It made me feel like there was order in the world - If only for a few precious minutes.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads
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