Day 11: Hamburg to Amsterdam

Today I woke up around 6am and got ready to leave for my 9:45 train from the Hamburg Hauptbanhof to Amsterdam Centraal. Re-packing my suitcase is a pain because of the way I pack, but it works. Basically I pack my clothes like a burrito. They’re very compact and have minimal wrinkles. I had four water bottles to return to the grocery store, which got me 90 cents back, so I got a salad and a bottle of water for the train ride. The weather was a bit misty, so I decided to take the metro to the train station. Again, I wasn’t quite sue which platform to go to, but it wasn’t too much trouble to figure it out. The train route oddly went sort of around Hamburg with only one stop between HafenCity and Hauptbanhof, but it only took about 10 minutes. I was the only person in my car, so I sang a bit along the way. In addition to keeping my body in shape while I travel, the other thing that concerns me is my voice. It is certainly well-rested when I travel, but I need to vocalize occasionally when I am in a place where I won’t bother anyone. I was pleasantly surprised at what came out at 8:30 in the morning after a few days without singing.


There was an exit at both ends of the train platform, and neither one said where I needed to go. I just chose one, and when I got to the exit, I was outside and across the street from the train station. I’m not sure if I could have done better but at least I got a nice photo of the station. It’s a nice looking station, although it’s kind of dark. Once I got inside, it was pretty easy to figure out where to go. My train was to leave from platform 14 at 9:46, and there was another train scheduled to leave at 9:24, so I had some time to kill. I went to one of the shops in the station and bought a pre-lunch snack for the train ride.


I had bought a first class ticket, and I found out that I needed to go to the far end of the platform to be in the right place when the train arrived. There was a Spanish or Italian group next to me who asked if I spoke English, and we all confirmed that we were basically in the right place for the train to Osnabrück. We would have to change trains there for the rest of the journey to Amsterdam. When the train arrived, we boarded, and I found my compartment pretty easily. the compartment has six seats, three facing forward and three facing back, with a table in the middle. It’s very nice and comfortable. A family, who appeared to be French Canadian joined me in my compartment. I gathered this because they were speaking French that didn’t quite sound French, and they had maple leaves on their luggage tags. I wasn’t away enough to attempt conversation. I typed the previous day’s blog, had my snack, and went took a lovely nap. As we approached Osnabrück, they started to seem a bit worried that we were about to stop, but they weren’t sure if we were at the right station. The older man asked in German if I was going to the same place, so I said, “Yeah, I’m American.” We all sort of laughed and then had a nice conversation about where we were from, where we’d been, and where we were going. We finally arrived at the station and sort of walked together to the correct platform for our connecting train. We waited together until we boarded the train, and then they were in a different compartment. Since it was about noon, I had my lunch of a Greek salad, which was pretty tasty and healthy. I got a cappucino from the food car, but I still fell asleep again–not a problem. As I awoke, we were soon in the Netherlands. The conductor came on over the loudspeaker and welcomed us. The landscape and architecture changed, as well as the language of the conductor. I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually heard someone speak Dutch, but it sounds more like the Swedish chef than German, which surprised me.

Things I noticed are huge, double-decker bike racks at the train stations, canals, and lovely gardens. The landscape was also more flat, as one would expect.We arrived at Amsterdam Centraal at 3:00, and with a bit of trial & error, I figured out where to go and what to do. I tried the ticket machine for public transportation, but it wouldn’t work for me. I gave up and walked outside. Then I spotted the iamsterdam booth. The iamsterdam card is the sort of thing that gets you public transportation and entry to a bunch of museums for one price. Someone had suggested it, so I bought one for two days. I then found that the tram I needed to take to my hotel was just outside, so I went to the stop and get on. It was about a 30 minute ride to the hotel, and then a 5 minute walk. I checked in and went to my room, which was very nice, especially the strawberries and chocolates left for someone. Maybe I should have called the front desk, but I didn’t. I just hope Mr. & Mrs. May got their welcoming gift.

I had made a reservation for a place called Ron Gastrobar for dinner at 6:00. I read in more than one place that it was a great place to go. The chef has some sort of recognition by Michelin, and everything is 15 Euros or less, or something like that. It was a 20 minute walk there, and I got there right on time. Rather than explaining every detail, I will just say that the service was fantastic. The server was so friendly and guided me through each thing I ordered. I was there for 2.5 hours and had no idea that much time had passed. All of the food was interesting, creative, and delicious. The thing that really blew my mind was the dessert! This is what I had:

Pickled onions, caramelized butter with bread

Squid ceviche with passion fruit 

Halibut with curry and apple & chicory tarte tatin

Pan fried goose liver with apples, rhubarb, and Madeira 

Coconut with black pearl caviar and white chocolate foam


I had also read about the Sky Lounge near the Centraal station, so I worked my way back there for a great view of the city.

And a few more pics as I was on the way back to the hotel: The busy, touristy shopping area

some of the famous “red lights”
One of the main town squares
Canal near my hotel

Day 10: I chose chocolate over Brahms

This will be one of my less exciting days, in case you were thinking I needed a break! I woke up way too early, with the sun, and I took my time in the morning writing the previous day’s blog and getting ready for my last day in Hamburg. When I walked out of the apartment, I thought I was going to walk in the direction of the Johannes Brahms Museum. I had learned from teaching music appreciation that he grew up in Hamburg, he was not rich, he practiced piano in piano stores, and he made money at night playing in “stimulation bars,” as the textbook put it. However, there doesn’t seem to be any big celebration of Brahms in Hamburg like you see Mozart and Haydn in Vienna, for example. I am not denying the genius of Brahms, and I love his Requiem, but he is not among the composers I absolutely love. All of that is to say that as I started walking, I didn’t feel like walking the 1.5 miles to the museum. I had looked up public transportation, and there wasn’t an easy route, so what I decided to do instead was check out the Miniatur Wunderland, which seemed to be hugely promoted, and my Airbnb host also recommended it. I saw some of it on a Rick Steves show, and it looked pretty fun–like a huge model train exhibit. 
When I arrived, I was told that there was a 90 minute wait and that I could buy a ticket for later in the day if I didn’t want to wait 90 minutes. I decided that a 3:00 ticket would be good. That would at least give me time for lunch and a nap before doing it! 

I then roamed around a bit and went in a church that I had been seeing but had not gone inside. The steeple was unusual, and the exterior looked very old; however, inside was very modern. I found out that St. Katherine’s church was built in the 14th & 15th centuries and that it had severe bomb damage in 1943-44. That explained the contrast in styles.


I then decided to walk to the Chilehaus, which is a building that I kept hearing about as somewhere that I needed to go. Apparently it is a huge landmark in Hamburg and is a great example of 1920s Brick Expressionism. I didn’t know that was a thing, and if I just looked at the building, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. If you know that it is known as something special, then you look at it differently and try to appreciate it, so if you look closely, you can see that the brick work really is unusual and beautiful.


Chilehaus is just an office building with a few shops and restaurants in the bottom. What also drew me to the Chilehaus was its proximity to the Chocoversum. This is basically a chocolate museum. I had previously looked online and knew that there was an English language tour at 1:45, so since I was there, I decided to inquire. It seemed clear that you had to take a tour (90 minutes!), so I bought a ticket for that as well!

Although I really hadn’t done much, it was about time for lunch. I wanted something inexpensive and healthy. I had seen people setting up some food trucks/booths at a plaza near the apartment, so I thought I would check that out. There was a produce stand, a place with vegeterian wraps, a place with fish sandwiches, and a few others. I decided that I didn’t want any of them. I had also noticed an Asian place with a lunch special for around 9 Euros. That seemed interesting, so that’s where I went. It was actually a buffet, but the food was delicious, particularly the Tom Kha Gai. I ate a little bit too much, but at least it was mostly vegetables.


After lunch, I had an amazing 15 minute nap and awoke feeling ready to make it to my afternoon appointments. First stop was the Chocoversum. There was a group of about 20 people there, and the rush to the start of the tour felt like entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. After scanning our ticket and going through the turnstile, we were given a small waffle. This was a small, crispy waffle–sort of like a large communion wafer. The guide told us that we would use it in the next room, and when we entered the next room, we encountered a chocolate fountain that would dispense warm milk chocolate onto our waffle. It was quite delicious and a fun way to start the tour.


We then were sent into the next room, where we were told all about harvesting cocoa beans. The guide had a real cocoa bean that was split open, and she gave a spoonful of the pulp and a seed for 3 people to taste. They said that it tasted ok but nothing like chocolate. She then explained that the pulp and seeds are then fermented for a period of time and then dried. The dried beans are then roasted. The roasted beans are cracked open, and the cacao nibs are separated from the shell. We each got a roasted bean to open up and eat the nibs. I have eaten cacao nibs before, but these were much more delicious. Maybe it’s because they were freshly roasted or because it is better quality.

We then learned the different ratios of cacao to sugar and dried milk for making dark chocolate and milk chocolate. White chocolate was also mentioned, and only cocoa butter is used in white chocolate–no cacao. 


She then showed us the three different machines that are used in making chocolate. We got to taste it at every stage, which was interesting and always tasted great.


Somewhere along the way, we went in a room and created our own chocolate bar. We chose either dark or milk chocolate, and we were given a mold filled with melted chocolate. Then we were supposed to take a small paper cup (like the ketchup cups as Wendy’s) and fill it with three different ingredients. The ingredients ranged from raisins to sprinkles–about 16 different things to choose from. I chose dark chocolate with coffee beans, hazelnut brittle, and cacao nibs, with a few sprinkles. I also sprinkled a bit of cinnamon and chili powder on top.


After we finished the entire tour, we were given our bars that had been sitting the refrigerator for about 45 minutes. We had to unmold our chocolate and put it in a cellophane bag, and then we were released. The whole thing was very informative but not exactly fun, outside of learning about and tasting chocolate. The pace was a bit slow. This isn’t necessarily a complaint–more of an observation. I think we all enjoyed the tour, and I felt like I should have a diploma or certificate of completion after it!


After Chocoversum, I walked back to the Miniatur Wunderland. With my ticket, I was able to walk right in. It was very crowded, and I made my way through as quickly as possible. It was pretty fun but not my thing, and I left after about 30 minutes, when I felt that I had seen everything. Here are a few pictures:


I wanted to go back to the Elbphilharmonie to spend a bit more time on the plaza, so I walked over there, which was not a very long walk. I found the ticket machine for getting free tickets onto the plaza, and then I made my way up the escalator. This time, without the huge crowds, I was able to see the curve in the escalator. I also read that it is the world’s first curved escalator, and the entire trip takes about 2.5 minutes. I took a few pictures and walked to some places that I hadn’t seen the previous night. I also walked into the Westin Hotel lobby, which is also part of the Elbphilharmonie. On top of the concert hall is where the hotel rooms are, so the view from them must be amazing. From what I found before my trip, the cheapest rooms are about $400/night. All I could see was the lobby, and I wasn’t able to go to the top floor without having a room key. I did find the elevator down, though, and that took me to the very bottom to the exit. 


I walked over to the grocery store near the apartment, where I bought a water, a yogurt for the morning, and a small plate from the salad bar. That was my dinner since I thought I would just relax in the apartment before going to the opera.

I walked over to the opera, which is about a 20 minute walk and is just past the busy shopping part of town. The opera house is a large, impressive, but I didn’t think it was particularly beautiful inside or out. Actually, I found what I thought was my seat, until a lady came and informed me that it was my seat. I showed her my ticket, and she pointed to where I should be. It was nearby but not quite as good of a seat since the view was slightly obstructed. When I found my seat, the hall was mostly empty. The Germans were all out at the various bars/cafes in the lobby eating and drinking, etc. They all sort of came in suddenly, just before the opera was to begin. I mainly bought this ticket because I wanted to see an opera in Germany, but also the opera was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Benjamin Britten. It is one of my favorite operas. Now, I knew that I was going to be seeing it in Germany, but I didn’t know whether the singers would be native English speakers or Germans. Also, Germans I know are generally very concerned with language and speak English as well as any American. The opera begins with a children’s chorus, and I couldn’t understand a single word. This concerned me a bit, but I thought that maybe the children were local and had not been coached in English diction. Then Puck came out, and I could understand his English a bit better, but not every word. When some of the singers sang, I truly could not tell what language they were singing. This made the opera very boring and frustrating, and with the typically European lack of ventilation (warm & stuffy), I had a very difficult time staying awake. Sometime during the second scene or second act (not sure which), I woke up a bit, but I was still bored. Although the finale is my favorite part of the whole opera, I left at intermission. I could not imagine sitting through another hour being frustrated that they didn’t take greater care at singing well in English. I don’t think I’m wrong about this, but I think Americans (and other English speakers) go to great lengths to sound as native as possible when singing in other languages. I’m not sure what happened here, but they definitely needed more work on their English.


I strolled through town. It was about 10:00, so the sun was nearly set. Most businesses were closed, other than restaurants, and the buildings were becoming illuminated for the night. It was lovely. What I really wanted was a scoop of ice cream, though. I actually could not find an ice cream stand open anywhere between the opera house and the apartment. I even stopped in front of the Apple Store for wifi and googled ice cream, and I found that all of the shops were closing at 10. I made my way back to the area near the apartment, where everything was also closed, and I decided to call it a night. I had a few pieces of chocolate to satiate my slight hunger and somewhat satisfy my cravings. I did some research for Amsterdam before going to sleep, including looking at the menu for the restaurant where I have a reservation for Saturday night. It is a Michelin rated restaurant where everything is €15 or less, so before I left home, I decided that I needed to try it. We’ll see what tomorrow holds…..

Day 9: Hamburg & Elbphilharmonie Ticket!

The view directly off my balcony.

When the sun rises around 5 am, it’s hard for me to sleep much longer. When it sets around 10 pm, it’s hard to go to bed around that time. I guess if I lived here, I would have really good blackout curtains! I went up to the buffet to get some of the muesli and fruit for breakfast again and took it to my room to eat leisurely and enjoy the room as long as possible. I did a short run on the treadmill  in the gym also, and got myself ready to meet Otto on deck 7 for priority disembarkation. When I was there around 9:15, he was there directing a small group of people to the exit. The priority part of this was the fact that we had a shorter distance to walk, and he shook our hands as he said goodbye to us. It was a nice touch, and it might be hard to go back to being a normal second class citizen on my next cruise!

There was a very short line for stamping passports, and then I was in Hamburg! Our port was by a fish market, which also had a number of shops and restaurants. Fortunately, although nothing was open, I was able to go in the market area and get some wifi to update my map and get directions to my Airbnb. It was about 2.5 mi away, and I had 2 hours to kill until I could get into the apartment where I was staying in the Hafen-City part of town. This walk basically took me from one end of town to the other, along the Elb River. Here are a few of the sights along the way:

My first view of the Elbphilharmonie
Alexa, play that song with the words “boy come back soon”
Fancy hotel up on a hill
The Finnish Church
The Norwegian Church, next door to the Finnish one…

HafenCity, where I was staying is sort of the place to be right now. I’d say it’s like living along the Beltline in Atlanta. It is a redevelopment of an old industrial part of town. http://www.hafencity.com/en/overview/the-hafencity-project.html

As I approached HafenCity, it looked like I expected. Since it is a revitalization of old warehouses on the water, it’s kind of like a newer version of Venice. The buildings are right on the water and connected by a bunch of bridges. When I got very close to the Airbnb, I still had about 30 minutes to kill, so I wandered into a grocery store. I always love a grocery store in another country! I just needed a liter of water, but here are some other fun things I saw:

I just translated this, and “Katzenzungen” means cat tongues?!?!

Yvi, my Airbnb host, left very detailed instructions for how to let the key to her apartment. She left a lockbox on her Volkswagen, which was parked right outside her building. I got it very easily and made my way inside, and I believe I passed the previous guests as they were exiting the building. Perfect timing! As I rested a bit and posted one of my blog posts, it got very dark outside and began to pour. Fortunately, I noticed that Yvi had left an umbrella with a note saying that you’re welcome to use it, and if you want to keep it, you can leave 10 Euros. The rain seemed to be a passing thunderstorm, so I took the umbrella and went out for lunch. When in Deutschland, you go to a Biergarten, right? There was one nearby with good ratings, so I walked in that direction.

Walking with the umbrella
 

When I arrived at around 12:15, I was the only person in there, but a very nice lady helped me it out. It was good that I was the first customer, because what to do was a bit confusing. First, she offered me either kleines oder grosses bierchen, and I chose kleines (small). I then looked at the menu, and she explained that I needed to go to the counter with her to choose what I wanted. Certain items would be weighed (meat), and others were served by the serving size (vegetables). I was really trying to have a light lunch, and I think I did the best I could in this location. The things I didn’t have include, meatloaf, pork belly, and roast pork. 

This really is small…probably about 6 oz
Sausage with curry sauce
Sauerkraut, which had to be ordered from the kitchen. It’s warm

By the time I left, quite a few more people were there, and the poor server was the only person working. She was pretty stressed trying to fill orders and take care of new people who were coming in. To add to the stress, they didn’t accept credit cards under a certain amount, and my lunch was way under that amount (around 9 Euros). Since I didn’t have any cash yet, she took my card.

I then decided to venture into the historic part of town and possibly do a walk that was suggested by the Google Trips app. Like TripAdvisor, you can download the information for a city ahead of time and then use it without internet connection.The walk suggested starting at the Hamburger Kunsthalle (art museum), so I walked through town to get there. Along the way, I stopped in a church and at the Rathaus (city hall, I think), which is a beautiful building and sort of sits on the main town square.

Inside the Rathaus.

I eventually made it to the Kunsthalle, which was an enormous building, but I forgot to take a picture of it. I did take a picture of some beautiful roses growing on it, though. I also took a picture of the main train station (Hauptbanhof). 

Here are a few things inside the museum:

The pipe is attached to a gutter, so rain water slowly drips to form a stalagmite. They plan to have this installation for exactly 500 years–from 1996-2496!

It was about 4:00, and I wanted to go back to the apartment since it was now my actual check-in time. I walked back by that church and took a picture of the door, a model of the church, and a painting that I loved in an art gallery:

I took a quick nap and did some research on what to do for dinner. I seriously wanted a light dinner and didn’t want to spend much. money. I had noticed a placed called Dean & David Fresh To Eat, so that is where I decided to go. It’s a place that I assume is a chain but serves salads, soups, sandwiches, etc. I ordered a shrimp & mango salad and sat in the window to eat it. As I was sitting there, it began to pour again. Fortunately, I found some wifi, and I. looked up what concerts were happening at the Elbphilharmonie. I noticed that they were doing something called “Konzerte für Hamburg” at 7:30 and 8:30. I decided that I would try and get a ticket for the second concert. The rain stopped, and I figured ou that I could get to the hall in about 18 minutes by public transportation. I had to figure out a new system, in another language, quickly, but I did it. First, I went to the wrong platform and missed one train, but I corrected that easily and got on the right train. It was very clean, and the ride was very smooth. As we approached the hall, I could tell that other people on the train were also going there. There was a steady stream of people coming from the hall, so I made my way upstream to the hall. I found the box office and saw a short line. Although no one was speaking English, I figured out that it was a line for people hoping to get tickets for (all concerts are sold out for a long time). We were told that we had to wait about 20 minutes, and right at 8:00 the agent started selling tickets to lucky customers. When she sold a ticket to the person just before me, she said “es tut mir leid…” meaning that she was sorry but that was the last ticket. At that exact moment, a young guy in a suit showed up with a ticket in his hand and said that he was giving away a ticket. This had happened once before, and I missed that opportunity since I didn’t immediately understand the German. This time, I didn’t waste any time, and I took it!! I couldn’t believe it! He gave me the ticket for free. These concerts were not very expensive to begin with, as the highest price was 18 Euros, but it was still like being given the golden ticket!

Everyone scans their tickets to go through a turnstile and access the escalator. The escalator itself was an experience. Not only was it beautiful, but it was a very long ride, and it didn’t go straight up. I don’t know how to describe it, but there was a curve in it, as if it was going over a hill. This might be the best selfie/photobomb ever:

Once at the top, you had to show your ticket again and were directed to the correct entrance. I was asked whether I wanted to take stairs or elevator, and I said I would take the stairs. There were about a million of them, which I didn’t realize. Oh well, I needed to walk off those potatoes! I finally got to my seat, which was the most comfortable concert seat I had ever sat in, by the way. The hall is so large but so intimate. I felt like I had the best seat in the house, and I could really feel that the architecture had a very comforting affect. Although I had been a bit stressed about getting a ticket, then excited about getting one, then rushed up a million stairs to my seat, I was quickly relaxed. 


The orchestra came out, tuned, and the concert began. The first piece was a trumpet concerto by Bernd Alois Zimmermann (new to me). The title was “Nobody knows de trouble I see..” I must admit that I am rarely excited about orchestral music, but this piece was amazing. It engaged me from the beginning. It had elements of jazz and had moments that were very dissonant and disjunct. The soloist was fantastic too. The piece was about 15 minutes long, then the conductor came back out and made a brief explanation of “PIctures at an Exhibition,” which was the other piece to be played. Again, wasn’t too excited about hearing it. I’ve heard it before. I like the music but never found it to be all that satisfying. Well….in this hall, with this orchestra, conductor, and audience, it was a different experience. Other than the fact that every orchestra member was clearly engaged fully, and the conductor was conducting beautifully, giving and taking control (never too showy), one thing that really stood out to me was the dynamics. The soft moments were so soft and beautiful, and the loud moments were very rich and full but never overpowering. The end of “The Great Gate of Kiev,” the final movement, was so powerful. It gave me big chills, which rarely happens anymore. I was not alone. The entire audience loved it. There was not a cheap standing ovation like we see at home, but there was very enthusiastic applause for a long time, and it kept going until it was clear that there would be an encore. I think the conductor said that it had to be short so that we could get out of the hall, but they were going to play something from “Lohengrin.” It was also fantastic, and then it was over. To make it even better, this programming was fantastic. There was a familiar crowd-pleaser with “Pictures at an Exhibition” and something unfamiliar and a bit more challenging with the trumpet concerto. Also it was only an hour long, which is my type of concert. Leave the people wanting more–not wishing it would end!

There were many people taking photos and even discreetly taking video, so I made a short video of the end of “Great Gate of Kiev.”​

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​Here are a few more photos as I was leaving. The sunset was AMAZING!!


My plan was to find an ice cream and call it a night. However, there was a restaurant and brewery in the hall. I decided to look in, and I noticed that people were having flights of beer, so I thought I would try one. The server was pretty slow coming, so I asked the people next to me (communal table) how it worked. They then helped get the attention of the server, and I ordered my tasting. Every one was really quite nice. I also had a very nice conversation with the man next to me as well as his daughter’s boyfriend, who was visiting from Munich. A nice lady also sat next to me, along with her husband and another friend. We also had a nice conversation, but they left pretty soon. After we had all paid, the guys next to me asked if I’d like to walk around the building again. Mark, the older man, gave me his card and said that I should get in touch so that the next time in German we can meet again. My impression is that Germans are very friendly but keep their distance, so I feel that it is an honor to have made friends with these people. My apartment was a pretty short walk from where we parted ways, and when I got home, I had a nice conversation with Yvi, who I learned had just done a big road trip from Washington, DC to Miami, including Savannah & Charleston. She said that her favorite place was Siesta Key in Florida, which I have never heard of. Another place to add to the the list! I finally went to bed at around 12:30!