Wednesday, 27 August 2008

20 Years On - Part 6 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

One of the problems of travelling around on one's own is filling in the gaps in the day. There seems to be constant periods of waiting for places to open or to be able to eat and you become adept at sleeping in as long as you can after breakfast until the cleaners come and stretching out time sitting in cafes or in parks waiting. I also went to the cinema a lot and felt like an escaped prisoner-of-war as that was a tactic they used in order to find somewhere to sleep. To keep my rucksack light, I had not packed any fiction books, just my European youth hostel and the Michelin guide to West Germany which I must have read cover-to-cover by the time I had finished the trip. I learnt from this mistake and was grateful on future trips for having packed good books despite the weight. I never make friends easily and find it difficult to strike up conversations. I do find that as shown here in Heidelberg, that I run into British people I have met before, earlier on the trip. They are always couples and sort of take me under their wing, something I know Victoria Wood has parodied in some of her stand-up comedy. It is always odd being the third of such a group. It happened again in Venice in 2003 but by then I was more skilled at getting away from them. I have no ideas why couples feel obliged to do this and Mark & Helen even referred to me as the 'bad penny' as if they felt I was a pain. Perhaps they thought I was following them. However, with inter-railing as with any tourism, there were almost set stops along the way so it was quite likely, especially if youth hostels were to be your accommodation (and not every town has one) that you would meet again. As I did short hops each day, only 1-2 hours on the train, I would also run into people cycling between the towns especially down the Rhine Valley, when they arrived in the evening.

I remember the waiter, who looked like the actor Julian Sands, in the restaurant that I had lunch in, being so concerned about looking very formal, despite it being a cheap place and keeping his gaze aloft when not serving that it was very hard to attract his attention to ask for anything. The 'Comic Strip Presents ...' was a Channel 4 series of odd comic stories performed by leading alternative comedians of the time. I think 'The Supergrass' was the only movie they made. Fortunately, it was being shown in a tiny cinema which was like someone's living room and unlike most foreign movies shown in West Germany was subtitled rather than dubbed so I could just listen to the English.

I also remember Heidelberg being the place where I realised that my university's travel agents had badly misinformed me. I had asked them whether it was worthwhile getting an international student identity card and they said only if I wanted to take flights, so as I was going by train there seemed to be no point. However, Mark & Helen each had one and I witnessed it allowing them to get into all the museums and kind of places I wanted to visit at a discount rate, so poor advice made my holiday more expensive.

Saturday 27th August 1988
Today I woke early and walked to the station where I changed some money and then caught the train. I again met Mark and his girlfriend Helen. He stayed in my room in Koblenz. We arrived in Heidelberg about 10.30. It was pouring with rain but we caught the bus to the youth hostel and although it did not open until 13.00 we were able to leave our things and return to town. I looked around the Jesuit museum, the old library and the student museum. By this time the rain had stopped and after lunch I went to the Palatine-Electorate museum (Kur-Pfalz), then walked up to the castle where I looked at the Great Vat and also the pharmaceutical museum. I returned to the town where I went to the cinema and saw 'The Supergrass', a Comic Strip Presents ... film. By the time it finished it was sunny and so I walked to the youth hostel which, despite the listing in the guide, has no [clothes] washing facilities, so I will have to wait until Freiburg on Monday to do my washing. I have decided to stay here tomorrow, walk around, write my postcards and see a couple of films.
Another thing I have noticed about Germans is they like museums and long guided tours. The art galleries, as in Köln, have tours spending ages on each painting, so each member of the party takes fold-up chairs. Oh yes, my room overlooks the Zoo and the bird cage area has so much noise. Mark has ended up in the same room as me again!
Weather: Heavy rain at first, sunny later.
Shots of Heidelberg Castle, August 1988

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