Saturday, October 27, 2007

Being less than perfect tourists

We’re not very good tourists. I’ve come to the conclusion that not only do we get overwhelmed by choice, but even the choices we take up aren’t necessarily the best ones. Part of this is because I’m a bit disinclined to go just for the obvious tourist attractions. For instance I could have quite happily not gone to Pisa in Italy, but in the end we did, and it was interesting, but not surprising. That’s the problem with the obvious choices: we’ve seen them so often in pictures that they’ve lost their ability to surprise.
It’s been the same with choosing which cities to visit on our way around the five countries we’d opted to come to on our Eurail pass. Originally in Germany, we were going to go to the cities on the East side: Berlin and Munich were on our list. And then we discovered problems with getting from one of these places into Switzerland, and my wife found that there was a train that took you past the Rhine for a long distance, and we ended up going for places on the West: Cologne and Heidelberg, both of which I enjoyed, but they hadn’t been our first choices.
As for picking hotels in Germany - or in any of the countries for that matter - it’s been almost a matter of taking a pin and open the telephone book at any page. Except that we’ve done the equivalent on the Internet. This has resulted in some interesting choices, ones that in hindsight we might not have made if we’d known all we know now!
The place we picked in Cologne turned out to be excellent, and very central. The place we picked in Heidelberg was odd to say the least, and I’ve written (probably at length) about it on my travel blog. Whether we’d have made better choices for hotels in Berlin or hotels in Munich is a moot point. There’s a huge range of options on the Net these days, and the unwary or even the wary traveller can find him or herself delving into all sorts of interesting corners!
Still, if we missed Bavaria and the Oktoberfest, we did see plenty of castles on the way. And if we missed the Brandenberg Gates (which to my mind are more significant because of the military and political factors than their visual interest) and the Marienplatz and St Peter’s Church, we certainly made up for it by visiting St Michael’s in Hamburg (even climbing up to the tower - some twenty or more flights of stairs) and the Cathedral in Cologne - which was overwhelming!
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