Sunday 18th: Frankfurt day 6 (Wiesbaden)

Yesterday I bought my ticket for Wiesbaden (technically a day pass for an extended zone of the local public transport) and so today I went to Wiesbaden. I took the S1 and it was a pleasant journey – not too busy and a lot of winter wonderland scenery along the way, although there was a lot of ugly industrial stuff too. Some nice fences, blue ombré and then green layer on.

I’d checked the Therme situation and the big famous one is closed to save energy. The other is open but its bubble bench and whirlpool are closed because it’s proving impossible to get replacement parts for them. But there’s an indoor pool and an outdoor pool and I thought I’d go for it.

I could have taken a bus because it’s three and a half kilometres from the Hbf but I wasn’t sure which bus or whether my day ticket was valid and anyway, I needed my 2km so I walked. I’m glad I did – once I was across the busy main road it was pretty much parks all the way, all white and frozen, with frozen lakes and weird unfamiliar geese. It took 55m to walk up to the Therme and I decided the walk alone had been worth coming here. Frankfurt is very nice but I haven’t had much opportunity to roam in crunchy snow in parks.

And the Therme! I saw it billowing steam from the other end of the park. There’s an indoor area linked to an outdoor area. The indoor one is mostly full of children and then you swim outside and it’s all green water and steam and half-frozen gardens and it was amazing. I did have to keep going back inside to defrost my nose but it was wonderful. Very worth the trip and the walk.

I came back through town. Not much in the way of Christmas market here but also, it was Sunday afternoon and the town was closed. I was delighted to discover my hair had frozen – frozen far more stiffly than it did that time in Longyearbyen. I don’t think Germany is colder than the High Arctic but it was a longer walk back to the station than it had been from the pool to the hotel in Svalbard. I detoured to see the current hot spring. It’s inside a fake stone building, locked away behind a chipboard door but there are manholes nearby and those are steaming adequately.

Now I’m on the S8 home. I looked up the timetable: 56 minutes back to Frankfurt Hbf so I thought I’d use the free wifi to write today’s blog.

Saturday 17th: Frankfurt day five

I went out pretty early this morning. The market was calling and it turned out there was a lot I hadn’t found, including the Pink Market. It’s pretty pink but it’s not so much a market as a square full of places to eat and drink – absolutely dead at 10.30am. Further on was the Red Market – or that was how I translated it. Nothing particularly red about it. The Pink Market was very pink. The Red Market was also dead at that hour but there was a Lindt shop behind it so I invested in some Lindor.

Then I went home to drop off my shopping and fetch my swimming stuff. If I was in Iceland I’d have been to the pool every day. Now I knew how it all worked. On the other hand, it’s Saturday so a lot more children. I knew they’d turned the temperature down 2 degrees but today I could feel it and I wasn’t entirely unhappy to get out. I took the tram route up and back – much quicker and quieter than the long journey on the U1.

I came home and warmed up in a hot shower, had some food, wrote yesterday’s blog etc and then went back to the market. I’ve seen it all and you can’t see anything in the evening because it’s just too busy but it calls me and so I went. Had a wander and a shove, a cup of hot chocolate, got a glimpse of fireworks which turned the misty sky bright red and came home. There was a concert on the roof overlooking Römerberg.

On the way back I discovered Wiesbaden is on Frankfurt’s S-bahn. So I bought a day ticket for tomorrow so I guess I’m going there, whether I swim or not.

Now I’m catching up on blogs and watching Netflix.

Friday 16th: Frankfurt day 4 (Cologne)

Today is Saturday but I haven’t written yesterday’s blog yet.

I woke up quite early, had my breakfast and was out not long after 9. I went to the station because I wanted to go to Cologne. Why didn’t I come here when Germany still had the 9 euro train tickets thing? Well, the cheapest way to get to Cologne was on a few haystack trains which would take three and a half hours each way. Not worth the effort. The second cheapest way was to book specific and non-flexible tickets. The 10:09 out and the 18:18 back.

The 10:09 was delayed but only by about seven minutes. It was packed until the airport and then a lot quieter – I got two seats to myself! The countryside was very pretty – snow in Germany appears to cling on where feet and wheels don’t disturb it. It snowed in Frankfurt on Wednesday morning and there’s still a car down the road with an inch of snow in it, although as more and more people write in it, it’s getting less and less. The countryside was the same. Fields and trees all grey and white and glittering and absolutely winter wonderland-perfect.

My train was to Cologne Messe and I decided I hated Cologne. How do you get to the Hauptbahnhof? I found the S-bahn but there was no way of buying tickets. I found the U-bahn. Also no way of buying tickets and no map. Ticket machines, luckily, were lurking right down on the platform and although there were still no helpful signs telling you which direction the train was going, I found a city-wide map and eventually figured out a) where I was b) where I was trying to get to c) what combination of trains I required for that d) which direction those trains needed to go. It shouldn’t be that difficult!

I planned to change trains so I bought a day ticket. But when we arrived at the change station, it was basically a tram stop, right in the middle of the street, and there was a Christmas market between me and the Dom. So a walk! Walk through the Christmas market!

This was the old-fashioned market. All the stalls had matching wooden fronts, half the stallholders had old-fashioned costumes on, there was an ice rink and the mugs were dark red with yellow insides and round bellies. I discovered eventually that the end of that market led on to the Dom Christmas Market and they had different mugs and their stalls were higher and brighter and marked with shooting stars. Lots of the same stalls, though. Lots of the same stalls as in Frankfurt.

And here was the Dom! It was free to go in and it was breathtaking. Soaring Perpendicular Gothic, so ornate on the outside, so simple on the inside and such glass! Every single window was stained, even the high ones where you need to zoom in with you camera to be sure that’s colour up there. The south aisle had windows full of yellow glass – this is a more recent innovation, which is why I’ve seen other cathedrals remark on it. Those turned proper gold with the midday sun coming straight through them. It was all incredible.

And then there’s the tower. It cost 6 euros to go up the South Tower and signs say “No lift. No joke”. It’s a lot of steps. It’s five hundred and something spiral stone stairs You get a brief respite at the belfry and then up you go again. When you think you’re there, there’s a metal staircase in the middle of a room and because they’re open, even though there’s only about ten of that going up and up, it’s somehow more terrifying than the 500+ stone stairs, and those were terrifying enough. There are windows on the south side, which help you keep track of how many circles you’ve done and lots of them have no glass in them. They’re less than six inches wide, you couldn’t fall out if you tried but it’s still scary that high up. At the very top, you walk around the top of the tower. It’s all confined by fences and wire and all the usual but it’s very high. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered it’s the highest double-spire church in the world and the third-highest church of any kind. I climbed that!

Back down, I now took some time to explore the markets. I got a cup of hot chocolate in the old-fashioned market and discovered there are at least three variants of that dark red round mug. I wandered down almost to the river through medieval streets that were deserted – leave the markets behind and there’s no one else in the city. I found a Catholic church with an overly large and ornate tower on an otherwise fairly non-descript church. I bought some things. I searched the city for a cloth badge, preferably with the towers on and found no such thing.

By now it was getting cold. A thick mist had descended and if you climbed the towers now, you wouldn’t even get a view for your efforts. It was cold. I took shelter inside the cathedral but who’d have thought: a massive stone medieval building is not warm! It was somewhere to sit down – my feet were tired, especilly after the long climb – but it wasn’t warm. No, for warmth I resorted to Burger King inside the Hauptbahnhof which is right next door and also where my train departed from. No time spent faffing around trying to figure out how to get back to Messe station. But I still had two hours to kill before I could use that non-flexible “cheap” train ticket. There’s nowhere really warm in Cologne Hbf. Cold air drifts down from hundreds of tracks above and it’s open at front and back. I popped into shops. I contemplated blue ceramic doorknobs and white boots like lace-up wellies and explored German scifi and fantasy books. Helpfully, when you buy a train ticket from a DB machine, you can print out your timetable. It’s useful to know exactly which train you’re allowed to get on but it’s really useful that it tells you the platforms. 4 A, B and C.

It was delayed! Only by about 10 minutes but the result was that the 18:27 to Frankfurt left before the 18:18 arrived and I couldn’t get on it. It was at platform 4 D-G which is normally fine but as it was still sitting there when my train was approaching, we had to move to platform 5. It was reasonably quiet. I guess anyone whose tickets had flexibility jumped on the 18:27.

I think we got into Frankfurt at 19:41 which meant home by 8. Quite a long day and the one with the most exercise. So I didn’t write my blog and I didn’t do my Finnish lesson either.

Thursday 15th: Frankfurt day three

I didn’t sleep very well last night. My watch beeped at 1am, which surprised me – I accidentally set it to go off at 8am a while back and so now it beeps at 9am. But it was too dark, surely, for it to be 9am? It was! It was in fact 1am. Then I woke up and smelled toast. Was the hotel on fire? Or is there something wrong with a receptor in my brain?

So I didn’t even stir until housekeeping came round at ten to nine. I had breakfast enthusiastically, although the breakfast room was so busy it was hard to find a seat. Then I had a slightly slow start to the day. I decided I was going to go to the pool today. There’s a hammam in Frankfurt, there are ordinary boring pools but I decided to go to Titus Therme, which is more of a waterpark.

It’s in north-west Frankfurt. I had the choice of taking U4 or U5 one stop to Willy-Brandt-Platz and then going virtually the entire length of the U1. Or I could take tram 16 to its terminus and then go two stops on either the U1 or the U9. I haven’t been on many trams and it also looked like that was the quicker way. So I bought my day ticket from the tram platform at the end of the road instead of under the Hauptbahnhof.

Titus Therme is right next to a fairly big shopping centre. It has a Primark and a Decathlon and the biggest supermarket I’ve ever seen in Germany. But I was trying to make my way out and up to the surface and find the pool. I stopped at the entrance to check the map. It’s past McDonald’s and Decathlon. Where are they? I’m at the red dot but what’s that thing off to the side? I can see McDonald’s but… there it is! I can see it!

I’ve really felt the fact that I don’t speak German the last couple of days. People either can’t speak much English here or they won’t. I speak other languages, I’m not an English monoglot, but I don’t speak German. So I had no real idea where was going on. I seemed to have paid 5.50 (still can’t figure out the euro symbol) for 90 minutes access to the pool, but I wasn’t entirely sure about that. Neither was I sure how to get to the changing rooms, or that I was in the right changing room and then I couldn’t find the pool. There aren’t enough signs and the few signs are in a language I don’t speak. And there it was at last!

It’s quite a big place. There’s a bubbling pool, two hotpots, a lane pool with a diving board, a huge play pool that has bubbles and a lazy river which turn on and off on a circuit of about 10-15 minutes each. Behind that is a quieter pool with three jets and a slide and a cave. Interestingly, the lights under the water in all the pools and pots are pink which makes the pool look purple. It also can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a proper pool with square white tyres or whether it wants to be a jungle oasis – it’s decorated with fake columns and arches and statues.

I got out after 90 minutes. I could have stayed in a lot longer. I’d done circuits of the lazy river and nearly drowned. I’d sat on bubble benches until I was completely boneless. I’d had my neck pummelled by a very powerful jet. But my 90 minutes had expired.

Yes, they had. German efficiency! I had a plastic card and when I scanned it at the exit, it told me I’d overstayed and needed to pay an extra 50c.

Once I’d escaped, I went in Decathlon. I didn’t particularly need anything but I always like to go and have a look. I popped into Primark too – my mittens are so nice and cosy but I can’t manage the camera with them so I bought a pair of thin gloves. Then I finally found the big Rewe, which is downstairs and technically over the road. One thing was astonishing me: it’s ok and entirely normal to smoke in the U-bahn station and in the shopping centre. It’s the tail end of 2022 and you can still smoke inside in public places??!!

Anyway, I did some shopping and took U1 home, via Willy-Brandt-Platz. I was correct to take the tram out this morning; most of the length of U1 was slow!

I came home and had lunch which became a long afternoon in the room. Then I went back out to the market. It’s manic by evening – it’s just people crowded into the square drinking hot wine and eating interesting things. I had a cup of hot orange juice (actually hot this time and I returned the cup and reclaimed my pfand) and took it across the road to the river to drink. Orange juice isn’t all that tasty when it’s hot but I wanted something clean and wet after my long lunch.

I rambled around the market until I’d done my 2km. I didn’t particularly want to do any shopping – it was my third visit and there’s probably not much more I want to buy but I like to have a look around. There are always stalls I have’t spotted, always things I want to take photo of. I wanted to check whether the tram that goes through the middle of the market would take me home. I’ve always taken the U-bahn so I wanted to see central Frankfurt by train, if I could.

There are three trams leaving from that stop. All three go to Hbf and two go to my local stop. Of course, the one I got on was the one that doesn’t, and its Hbf top is technically on the street next to the Hbf. That meant in the dark, with glasses steamed up over my mask, I didn’t realise that was where I was supposed to jump off. The next stop was further away than I expected so I got off, crossed the tracks and got on the 21 back in the other direction, back to my local stop.

And now I’m home! I’ve had a shower and washed the chlorine out of my hair with conditioner that smells amazing. No plans for tomorrow yet – Cologne? Wiesbaden? Something interesting around Frankfurt?

Tuesday 13th: Frankfurt day one

Day one started at 4.30am with a drive to the airport that wasn’t as icy as expected – at least, not from the A31 onwards. I only got slightly lost once at Heathrow when three conjoined mini roundabouts spun me quicker than the satnav could cope with and I lost sight of the signs to the right car park.

Security was slow. Even in the summer, when it was at its worst I didn’t have to queue in eight or twelve lines just to approach security. Toast and apple juice, a 20-minute delay (which I think got stretched a little) and then off we went.

London and Kent were thick with snow and then we sailed above the clouds and saw nothing more until we started our descent to Frankfurt. No snow here!

I had a bit of an alarm when I finally found passport control and it told me to have my passport and vaccination status ready. Quick, connect to the airport wifi, check the app hasn’t unloaded itself, get the pass – and then they didn’t want it. Hardly even looked at me as he stamped my passport. Didn’t ask me to take my mask off so he could check I was the same person as the picture.

I took the S9 into town, nice and easy, just three stops and then five minutes to the hotel. I’ve done it again – this is definitely a very-slightly-rubbish-hotel-near-the-station but it’s nowhere near as bad as the one in Paris. My floor is straight and my door closes for a start and the room smells slightly of Lynx Africa.

First job, charge my phone. Second job, find the nearest supermarket. 3, go shopping. 4, eat the food. 5, discover the hotel has given me no cups. Well, I was going to get a Christmas market mug anyway but now it’s slightly more of a priority unless I want to keep drinking straight from the bottle.

So out I went. U4 or U5 to Römer/Dom but I forgot my mask. Frankfurt still has mask-wearing on public transport but it’s been so long since I used public transport that it’s not habit yet to check I have a mask before going out. I compromised by wrapping my scarf tightly around my head and felt so awkward that I’m guaranteed to never forget again.

The market is pretty in the dark! There were thousands of people gathered by the entrance to the station drinking glühwein. Why there, when there are so many other places? No idea. I got my mug. It contained hot orange juice – well, lukewarm. Got more orange juice-like as it cooled. I don’t think it’s the “proper” mug, which seems to be red and gold this year. I suspect, and I’ll look it up when I’ve finished this, that it’s the 2018 or 2019 mug. It’s black with a red inner and it commemorates a German Revolution of 1848/9, which is something else I’ll have to look up. I also bought a couple of bits. I’ll do the market properly during the day when it isn’t so rammed with people drinking wine and eating interesting things and have another go at getting a red mug. But for now, it’s 7.15pm and I’m home for the night because it’s been a long day.