A Travellerspoint blog

August 2019

Friendly German Schoolkids Brighten Visit

Youth hostels in Germany were cozy & inexpensive places to stay

overcast 76 °F

The thing I remember most about Germany in the summer of 1981 was the friendliness of the school kids. Groups of them seemed to be in all the youth hostels I stayed in during my backpack across Europe.

The friendliest batch were the schoolgirls I met in Trier. They saw me inking in my sign for the next day's hitchhike and descended upon me. They peppered me with questions about the United States, eager to practice their English. Then, they decided they each wanted an American pen pal. To my friends back home eventual dismay, I described each of them in detail, offering them up. As one of the girls picked each one, I duly gave away their addresses. A girl from Hamburg became my pen pal and we wrote for quite a few years.

Besides Trier with its Roman ruins, I spent nights in Saarbrucken, Mannheim, Weinheim, Karlsruhe, Ulm and Memminghem. I think the best was the three nights (the max you're supposed to stay in a hostel) in Weinheim. The Rhine-Neckar valley around Weinheim was dotted with castles. I picked up a regional map at the tourist office that showed each's location. I hiked to them all, exploring their grounds, reveling in their stark, weathered look. These were the first castles I'd seen. As a military history buff, I was captivated.

The youth hostel itself was nice, too. There were only four bunk beds per room. Each pair of rooms shared a shower, although both had sinks for washing up. There were ping pong tables, a "walk on" chessboard and numerous other amenities. The cost in deutsche marks translated to $5 a night, which included breakfast.

On a less positive note, I remember a hungry Sunday in Memminghem, in Bavaria. I'd lost track of the day of the week and didn't exchange enough for the weekend. So, I had to s-t-r-e-t-c-h my last few marks. I walked to all the grocery stores, checking prices and figuring out how to get the most food for my money. Lunch and dinner were bread, butter and water. Some may laugh and say "what kind of vacation is that?" However, I feel that inside each of us there is a soul that determines what kind of person we are. Privation, hunger and hard times can HONE this soul, make it sharper, clearer. The medieval monks felt the same way and fasted regularly. Anyway, I awoke the next morning eager to break my fast at the hostel's breakfast. Despite having plenty of food left over, they would not let me have "seconds." Each guest was given his strictly prescribed portion. The knot of hunger would not be untied until that afternoon, in Austria, when the banks opened and I could exchange money and gorge myself.

The strict and precise character of the Germans and their penchant for following the rules to the letter left a sharp memory. It impressed on me that, though we may look the same, there are distinct cultural differences between ourselves and people of different countries. That said, I can add that it reminds me of a joke I heard in the youth hostels. If a driver comes to a red light at an intersection in the middle of the countryside, and no one is around for miles, does he wait for it turn green? The answer: An Irishmen will never wait, an Englishmen will half the time, and a German will ALWAYS wait.

That joke, and the memory of the friendly school kids and castles of Germany, has stayed with me forever.

Posted by world_wide_mike 07:39 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Pleasant (and One Scary) Memories of Luxembourg

Early taste of Roman ruins and animal encounters

sunny 74 °F

I visited this small, European country as part of my "hitchhiking across Europe" tour in 1981. Memories fade, but I remember the capital city where I spent my first night as a pleasant, clean place. I dined in an outdoor cafe with a Welsh guy I'd met when checking in at the youth hostel. We discussed each other's traveling plans and walked around, admiring different views the city. Luxembourg seemed like a very "livable" place.

The next morning I got a ride to Grevenmacher, a town near the German border. I believe its name comes from the number of ancient, I think Roman, graves and their markers on the site. I walked around and studied them, puzzling through the German descriptions as best I could. Strangely, one thing I do recall quite clearly is that the youth hostel owners had a cat. I remember awaking in the night to the sound of its purring -- like an engine in its throat -- getting louder and softer as it explored the roomful of sleeping travelers. I can still hear that weird sound as it slipped past my pillow in the stillness of the night.

I had a different sort of animal encounter the next day. I was hiking across the border to Trier, Germany. The road ran through a thick section of woods that gradually constricted to an almost tunnel-like passage. Just as I began to think how dim it was getting and how long it had been since a car passed, I heard rustling among the trees to my right. Some animal was moving through the dried leaves and underbrush. From the noise of its progress, it appeared to be going parallel to me. Was it stalking me? My first thought was, "Oh shit, wolf!" The rational part of my brain told me it was doubtless a squirrel. Alone, and on a dark road through the woods, is not where people are their most rational, though.

However, I never found out what it was. A car appeared behind me, going in my direction. I stuck my thumb out and it stopped. I hopped in and escaped the forest wolves and the country of Luxembourg altogether.

Posted by world_wide_mike 07:50 Archived in Luxembourg Comments (0)

France Opens 'Travel Eyes' of 18-Year-Old Backpacker

I finally start to understand travel is sometimes about meeting people

sunny 74 °F

It was getting on towards dusk when the ferry set me on the docks at Boulougne. So far, my high school friend Brian and I had been misfiring on our travel adventure in the summer of 1981. Three days ago, we'd left the United States as high school graduates eager to backpack across the world. We'd given our mothers gray hairs by declaring we weren't sure WHEN we were coming home.

Our foray into England had been a mess. Rain and dismal camping weather had driven us to abandon that country without seeing much. Brian was all for "rushing through Europe" and heading towards the third world. I felt as long as we were there, we should take some time to see Europe. The split came on the docks with me walking to the youth hostel alone while Brian searched for another thicket to spread his sleeping bag in. Sleeping under the stars every once in awhile is nice, I'd said, but sleeping with the bugs every night was too much.

It was in France, traveling alone, that my travel eyes really began to open. The next day, after purchasing an obligatory bottle of wine, loaf of bread and some cheese, I marched off along the coast. I spent a few afternoon hours on a beach in Ambleteuse deciding the French looked an awful lot like us. Still in my "sleep cheap" mode, I shuffled off to find accommodations as evening approached. The priest of the church pointed me towards a door, where I explained my "plight."

Within an hour, I was at a house eating a free dinner alongside a bunch of volunteer health care workers. Their building, which sheltered handicapped French men, had a spare bedroom and took me in. A Scotsman who worked there befriended me and suggested an evening cafe excursion. A night of wine and new friends made traveling look less bleak than it had a few days ago.

The next morning, with a free breakfast to add to my lodging, I was off down the road again. I fell in with an Algerian girl, both of us hitchhiking to Dunkirk. She was going to visit her brother and I wanted to see the famous beach from World War II. We got along well, so once we arrived, she invited me to spend the night at her brother's. It was a fun night. There was a music festival in the square. After listening for awhile, we decided (of all things) to go bowling. Her and her brother were up early the next morning. He was off to school, she was headed home and I walked to the Dunkirk Youth Hostel, where I'd spend the next evening. Knowing we'd never meet again, we hugged, and said our goodbyes.

That day I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of mementos of the famous evacuation of the British army during World War II. It was a nice beach, though, so I wasn't TOO disappointed. Tomorrow, my road would take me to Belgium. I was happy with my tiny slice of France. Hopefully, the road would continue to bring new friends, new sights, and new experiences.

Posted by world_wide_mike 07:54 Archived in France Comments (0)

(Entries 21 - 24 of 24) Previous « Page 1 2 [3]