The weather the past few of days here has been glorious; blue skies, sunshine and daylight until gone half 9pm. Yesterday there was a wild, mildly tropical thunderstorm (but yesterday was a duvet day for me- so I’m not going to count that!)
On Thursday, I enjoyed a really wonderful evening in Frankfurt- spent strolling over the Eisener Steg towards Sachsenhausen, stopping for a relax on the Riverside grass along the Schaumainkai with a couple of beers. Afterwards we headed towards Sachsenhausen in search of grub.
I often think how sad it is that I’ll never get to experience London as a tourist.
It’s the most eclectic, multicultural, amazing city I’ve ever been to. It’s just so varied, full of culture, heritage, sightseeing opportunities and iconic landmarks. That being said, I love being a Londoner. This is something that has come to my attention more recently, showing international friends around the city I know and love so much…
I was born in the London Borough of Bexley- with the rate that London is growing and sprawling more and more, i’m sure one day Bexley will be considered more central than peripheral- But I grew up with it very much on the edges of the city. Close enough to the feel the buzz and experience the benefits of being a Londoner (better public transport, refuse collections and regionally inflated wages for my parents) and far enough out to feel comfortable and suburban.
The local train station, just a few minutes walk from my parents house, where I lived from the ages of 7 to 18 (and still frequent as a cheeky visitor) is in Zone 6. That probably won’t mean much to you unless you’ve spent some time in London. The transport network in London has its very own authority (Transport for London, or TfL) with the London underground and overground, privately owned regional train providers and vitally over 700 red bus routes serving the capital. It’s really so easy to get from one place to another, though not as cheap as other international transport links, it is quite efficient when you think about how much of a gargantuan operation it is to move London’s 8.64 million inhabitants everyday, (plus the 31.5 million visitors we see every year (that number was from 2015 alone)!!)
When I moved to provincial Guildford and the lush Surrey countryside for University three years ago… the lack of buses every 4-9 minutes hit me hard. What’s more, the need to carry around small change or risk the wrath of bus drivers when you sheepishly wave them a £10 note… and pray they let you ride!
When I moved to Frankfurt last summer, I was struck by the lack of ticket barriers… HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT EVERYONE HAS BOUGHT A TICKET?! The truth is you don’t… and Schwarzfahren or freeloading/riding is pretty damn common. That is something difficult to reconcile with my will to be a good person… do the right thing… and pay for a ticket… and the overwhelming temptation to see if I can get away with it. The only deterrent is a 60 euro fine if caught, which isn’t really enough to dissuade many people, though it’s definitely worth buying a week or month pass if you travel often because they are far cheaper than the fine. What i’m getting at with that point though, is that London is my yardstick for everything.
I frequently find myself saying “Oh this would be atleast twice as much money in London” (in the case of most food/drink I buy in central Europe) or “Goodness, you could get two of these for this price in London” (In the case of beer in Iceland– which is really saying something, as beer in London is not at all cheap by international standards!)
I see a ferris wheel and think… “that’s cool, but it’s no London Eye.”
I see a river and think- “that’s lovely, and much cleaner than the Thames!”
I see a clocktower and think of the Queen Elizabeth bell tower/ St. Steven’s tower (Big Ben is the name of the bell inside, actually!)
I find myself thinking- “The air is so clean here I can run without choking… must be far from home!”
As with most things in life, the place I grew up in is my imprinted scale for comparison when I travel.
It’s a blessing and a curse, having London, a great, influential sprawling city for a hometown.
Whenever I’ve been away for a while, even just in Guildford, I get a wave of relief from Heimweh I didn’t even notice I was suffering from, wash right over me as I see the skyline pulling into Waterloo.
I took a really cool photo from the window of an aeroplane back from Frankfurt a few weeks ago and the guy next to me asked me (in German) if I was going on holiday to London too. I just smiled and told him something like, ‘No, i’m just going home. But it never gets old.’
I had a wonderful, unforgettable trip to Iceland with my family at the beginning of April. We saw a good deal of Reykjavik itself, but spent a large portion of our trip hunting down the northern lights at all hours (to no avail) and visiting some of the most famous natural wonders of Iceland (The Golden Circle, The Blue Lagoon, to name a couple!)
I think something none of us had quite bargained for before we embarked upon our holiday, was just how exceptionally pricey Iceland would be. This is something you should know if you don’t already, though you’ll probably have a rough idea from a little research.
It’s really, really expensive. I’m not exaggerating.
If you’re from anywhere with a currency that isn’t a roughly comparable Kroner (like NOK, SEK or DKK), prepare to feel financiallypillaged. The exchange rates are unfavourable from pretty much any major western currency at present, especially the weak-ass Great British Pound £, but you’ll probably feel the sting of the ISK (Icelandic Krona) regardless… Everything is really expensive. Not just because of exchange rates, in fact, they aren’t even half of the story.
The average salary in Iceland is far higher than in most other developed countries… The average Icelander earns almost 3000 euros a month before tax… compared to the average UK earner, coming in at a little under 2000 a month (still talking in euros here, just for ease of comparison.) According to some sources, Reykjavik is actually THE most expensive capital city in the world. So don’t go without being prepared for the squeeze on your wallet. I went on a family trip, and my parents by no means scrimped, but we still felt consistently conscious of the seemingly ludicrous prices…
On our first afternoon we went to nice little cafe in Reykjavik, Stofan, (which I had previously spotted on tripadvisor)… It was cosy, warm and made a forgiving escape from the relentless freezing rain and icy wind… all was well until my mother figured out that the toastie my sister wanted to order (a veggie one, with mozzarella, tomato and pesto), which you would never pay more than £7 for in even the swishest London cafe (of equivocal centrality and vibes)… was going to set us back around £25. Roughly 27 euros. $32 USD. For a vegetarian toastie… To say it was a shock to the system would be an understatement.
You really wouldn’t believe the cost of alcohol in Iceland, either. A lot of the priciness comes down to the fact it is a tiny island nation in the arctic circle… But perhaps the shock was so distinct as Reykjavik certainly didn’t feel rural at all to me, quite comparable to many other European coastal cities I’ve visited. They don’t import that much by way of finished products… so it’s expensive to buy Icelandic, but even more expensive to buy imports.
There are *some* things you can do and see in Reykjavik on a budget. We made the decision to buy a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket… as taxis are pretty extortionate and we wanted to see all the city highlights in a day.
The Hallgrímskirkja is a stunning feat of modern architechture, probably the most recognisable landmark in Reykjavik and is free to visit. For a small fee you can ascend the tower for panoramic views over the city (although by this point in our trip we had decided to conserve our Krona for food wherever possible to avoid accidental starvation.)
We also ventured to the Harpa, a stunning glass building by the Old Harbour, complete with visitor centre, theatre, gift shops and great photo opportunities.
The geometric facade of the Harpa is mesmerising, even on a grey day.
There’s a stunning view of the Esja Mountain from the coast of Reykjavik- a unique backdrop for a busy city.
Though largely frowned upon by Icelandic authorities, colourful graffiti provides a free attraction in central Reykjavik for thrifty travellers, and brightens up a grey city on a grey day no end.
The breathtaking views of the sea and mountains from the city centre are certainly a free bonus worth enjoying if you visit overpriceland!
You’ll pay a lot for excursions too, but I would say they are definitely worth it once you’re there. The only thing i’d say was a waste of money for us was our ‘northern lights tour’ (we never saw any, and stood in the cold, deserted and perfectly dark lava fields of rural iceland two nights in a row at 2am). But naturally, that’s something i’m sure those who have gotten lucky would say is worth taking a chance on.
If you want to go on trips to places like the Golden Circle (which I would recommend entirely) or the Blue Lagoon (which was also pretty cool), book in advance to save money. The two main coach trip providers are Reykjavik Excursions and Grayline. We used the former for our trips and were not disappointed.
Finally, something that may give you a little giggle- I mentioned briefly in my post on The Golden Circlethat i paid the world’s most expensive toilet a visit. On the topic of overprIceland…. here’s the view from the sink..!
If you do decide to take a trip to Iceland, make sure you’re prepared for the prices… once you’ve got your head around that as an investment, you’ll most likely be pretty impressed with the place. I certainly was!
I’m not picky at all and love sampling the local cuisine wherever I travel to. Here are just a few of my favourite German specialities I think you should try next time you’re in Deutschland! For the fully immersive German tourist experience, I’d suggest going all out on the food and drink. Try everything you can. If it’s your first time in Germany, ease yourself in…. ‘But, when in Rome, do as the Romans do!’
Start gently, with a hard-not-to-love Laugenbrezel- a traditionally german savoury bread pretzel. Tasty with butter or on their own, my favourites are the fairly plain sated ones, although you can also get them super cheesy, or covered in pumpkin seeds (Kurbis). The great thing about these is, they are cheap, tasty, filling and available pretty much everywhere. They are cheapest to eat if bought from the bakery section of a supermarket, like REWE, where you can get a fresh one for around 30 cents (definitely under 50), in comparison to the 2,50 or 3,50 you can easily end up paying if bought from a street vendor. That being said, they are wonderful warm, so sometimes its worth paying the extra bit for that.
Why not drink some Apfelwein… or Ebbelwoi as it is affectionately known in the local Hessisch dialect. It’s a delicious, often quite tart but also fairly fruity apple based alcoholic drink- (I would just call it a cider but i’m not sure my boyfriend would ever look me in the eye again if I did..!) It’s crisp and refreshing on a hot day, especially lovely drunk from a traditional glass. Fun Fact… there’s a building in Frankfurt called the Westhafen tower, which is built to resemble an Apple wine glass! If you’re in a hurry or on a budget, you can buy around a litre of decent tasting applewine for about… 1,39 euros… here is a photo of me lovingly clutching some on my very first night in Frankfurt last summer, at the gay pride parade…
Auflauf is one of those things that is just so very German it’s quite hard to explain… it’s essentially a word to describe any combination of carbs (pasta/potatoes/rice/ pastry – though not all at once) with eggy, cheesy, goodness, baked in the oven. My favourite so far has been a Spinach, Salmon, King Prawn and Pastry Auflauf (home baked in cooperation with boyfriend’s mum!) But i’ve also tried a pasta one and a potato one with different ingredient variations. It’s heavy but delicious and there’s a filling for everyones tastes…! 7
Literally translates to something like ‘cheesy egg noodles’, this fresh egg pasta dish made with ample cheese and the special pasta variety spätzle is a must-try for carb lovers. It’s most often cooked with bacon cubes, onion, garlic, and often also spinach or other veg for variation. But it’s the definition of cheesy goodness. Just eat it. Please. do it. Unfortunately don’t have my own pic of this, as I always eat it too fast to take one.
I feel as though i’m doing German cuisine the greatest injustice by reducing it to this rundown- it is pretty varied (not so carb heavy as i’m making out) and tasty… Although I love all of these things- so my recommendations are made in good faith!
If I had a pound (£) for every-time i’ve heard the words ‘gerne eine Halbliter Hefeweizen, bitte’ fly out of my mouth, i’d be half way to clearing my student debts. But seriously. I love this stuff. It’s so good and refreshing. It’s naturally cloudy, but you can also have it filtered, when it becomes ‘kristallweizen.’ A must-try for your time in Germany.
Pretty much carbonara topped thin crust pizza… yet an other gross oversimplification of the delights of german cuisine… but it’s great.
Now I couldn’t write a post with some tips on German Cuisine without including what the nation is undoubtedly most famous for; Wurst. Sausages… they come in all shapes and sizes, and are pretty much everywhere in Germany. It’s really not uncommon to see people eating snacking sausages just walking about the city… there are lots of different types… so, why not try something different?
Frankfurter Würstchen (classic, boiled, porky, great with mustard/ketchup in little a bread roll)
Weißwurst (literally- ‘white sausage’- Veal and Pork)
Rindswurst (Beef sausage- really nice with mustard
Currywurst- In my opinion… the king of sausages… usually pork/beef sausage (frankfurter/rindswurst) covered in delightful curry ketchup goodness. I cant get enough of it
Whether you want to opt for the delightfully retro spaghettieis or a more traditional scoop or two of gelato… german ice cream is generally pretty awesome- and the reason for that is, its mostly italian. There is a pretty large 3rd generation Italian expatriate community in germany, with many Italians moving to Germany to rebuild after the end of the war to offer temporary (mostly manual) labour… and a few sticking around! Totally a bonus when it comes to food.
Apple Cake, more like Apple pie… with lashings of whipped cream and plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg inside! You haveto grab a slice.
Although modern thought implies that the ‘Hamburger’ as it is consumed in its base, patty form my millions every day is an American invention, that is certainly not the kind of Burger the Germans would like to take credit for. I have eaten some seriously EPIC burgers in Germany- Fletcher’s Better Burger, Jamy’s Burger, Die Kuh die Lacht (The laughing cow) are a few common and popular chains (especially in and around Frankfurt) BUT my personal favourite Burger joint is without a doubt Der Fette Buelle. I celebrated my birthday there, took my family there during their visit to Frankfurt in August… it is simply amazing food, and not too expensive either which is a huge win.
That was half a portion of Sweet potato fries (we were sharing!)
I hope you enjoy sampling a few of my top German delights during your next trip. Let me know if you think there’s anything I haven’t mentioned that I need to try!! (Naturally these are just my personal highlights, If I wrote everything German I’d eaten or drunk lately this post would be 30,000 words long.)
First of all… just a quick disclaimer that this list is by no means exclusive or exhaustive… Also it’s only based on my personal experiences of growing up in London, studying in Surrey and Working and Living in Frankfurt am Main… I’d be really interested to hear what you have to say, if you’ve noticed any of the same things as me or if you think I’ve missed anything instrumental!
Contrary to popular beliefs (held fairly widely in the UK atleast) other than the obvious differences of language and location, currency and history, England (my homeland) and Germany (my adopted home) share a great deal in common. Cultural attitudes to a lot of things are very similar, the general way and pace of life is roughly comparable… but there are definitely more than a couple of things you’ll notice if you move from the UK to Germany. Some are great, some are less great, but I find them all really interesting regardless.
Pfandflasche… &The Pfand system
For those of you who are wondering, what the heck a Pfandflasche is when it’s at home, click here to find out! I was so amused by and totally enamoured with them when I initially moved to Frankfurt for the summer in 2016, and became a keen recycler in no time, in order to save cents… The system keeps the streets cleaner and gives everyone a greater incentive (a financial imperative) to bother recycling their used bottles, drinks cans and flasks. It’s doubtless an innovative and efficient system…The only downside I’ve observed is that many Germans find it much more practical to hoard their Pfandflasche at home until they have an unholy, uncarriable amount to recycle all at once. I’m fairly certain that my German boyfriend has atleast 50 euros worth of Pfand goods stashed in every spare crevice and cupboard of his apartment! (though that figure just is an estimation, it’s no joke!) It can be very entertaining opening drawers, expecting towels and finding 12 empty bottles of apfelschorle instead… until you need space to store your actual belongings…!
Public (outdoor) Bookcases
I first spotted these last summer but was so shocked and bemused by the concept of a *FREE* book that I was too scared to approach one alone. Once encouraged and reassured by German friends that the contents of these magical little cabinets is in fact free for everyone to take home, swap or return, I plucked up the courage to pick a title.
I love the idea of free books and book-swapping. They are typically full of an eclectic mix of novels, manuals, educational books, children’s books, dictionaries…(sometimes even DVDs, CDs and VCRs) in a wide range of languages (The last one I visited, on Sunday, featured titles in English, German, Dutch, Russian, Danish and Hebrew at a glance!).
They’ve been around since the early 1990s and can be found all over Germany, but exist mostly in bigger cities. There are plenty in Frankfurt, with one to be found in almost every neighbourhood. Here’s a photo of the one I visited at the weekend…
They don’t all look the same. Some can be found in the form of converted telephone boxes and old fashioned wooden cabinets too. Hereis a list of all the public bookcases in Hessen! And here’s a bit about them, if you’re interested.
And incase you were wondering… I took a Beginner’s Danish book this time!
(on billboards, at bus stops, in train stations etc. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act of 2002 banned most forms of tobacco advertisement in the UK- only advertisements smaller than A5 are allowed in the premises of licenced retailers now, with a minimum of 1/3 of the page being occupied by mandatory government health warnings.) Cigarette Vending machines (until 2012, licenced premises in England and wales could still have these, but they have been illegal in the UK since. Most sizeable towns and cities in Germany have many of these, on the side of the road, and they are also quite common in in club and bar toilets.)
People smoking indoors…! In the UK it has been illegal to smoke in public indoor spaces including restaurants, bars, clubs, shops, music venues etc. since July 2007. Most private rented accommodation in the UK doesn’t allow smoking indoors either nowadays.
In Germany, like several other central European countries, smoking indoors is not only legal but is common practise in quite a lot of places. Of course, there are quite a lot of non-smoking venues, but if you go on a night out in Germany as a non-smoker you can probably expect to come home itching for a shower!
Nudity and Adverts on Daytime TV
Nudity on TV is far more common in Germany than in the UK. It appears in varying degrees at varying times of day, but it’s fair to say female nipples aren’t scandalous on German TV in the daytime as they would be if shown in England. I can only recall seeing full-frontal nudity a few times on British TV, and then always well into the evening, around 22:30 at the earliest, and always with ample warning from the BBC that things might get a little racy later on…!
What can be and is actually shown during the day is differs quite significantly… Adverts for alcohol, condoms and what have you are far more common on the Continent than in the UK in General, for example, where they can’t be shown until after hours.
There is a legal ‘Watershed’ in Germany too, with 16+ content appearing between 22:00 and 06:00, and 18+ material only between 23:00 and 06:00. In the UK, the ‘Watershed’ comes earlier, at 21:00, but also ends a little earlier, at 05:30.
Naturism… and public nudity
Nudist parks, nudist societies and clubs are really quite rare in the UK, and when they are found, they are most commonly used a source of a one-off day-trip giggle by tourists. Most Brits are, as the stereotypes suggest, pretty prudish when it comes to being naked. I vividly remember a family trip to Brighton beach as a child with some family friends, where the dads decided to pose behind the ‘Brighton Nudist Beach Zone’ sign… but were too embarrassed to get, nude so left their pants on behind it for the photos!
In Germany, the choice to boldy go, or should I say, to boldly go without reigns supreme. Many public parks in the middle of the city have nudist areas. There are over 200 private clubs in Germany, known as part of the Nacktkultur (or naked culture) movement. Nudity is also far more common in spas and saunas, much to the horror and amusement of many less liberated international visitors.
This being said… most German’s aren’t naturists… just like most Brits… but, there’s certainly less stigma surrounding the practise.
7. Licenced Brothels
Prostitution and almost all aspects of adult sexwork are legal in Germany- street prostitution, brothels, sexual sauna and massage parlours, escort services…You name it, it’s here.
This allows for much greater regulation than in places like the UK where many women in particular are forced to work in poorer conditions. The German government even taxes prostitution. To read more about this cultural difference, click here.
People driving the wrong way…
Cars on the Left-hand side of the road… It’s an obvious one, and I know it’s almost just us Brits still driving on the RIGHT (correct 😉 ) side of the road… but I’ll never get used to driving around a roundabout the other way!!
(now this one is a bit debatable, but hear me out!)
I suppose it depends entirely on your boundaries in defining both graffiti and wit. Having grown up in London, I’ve seen quite a lot of graffiti in my life, but I don’t think much of it has ever made an impression on me for its cleverness or humour or… Instagram-worthiness… Perhaps I’m blinded by the foreign exotic charm of some german graffiti, but I seem to see lots of much funnier wordplay, romantic proclamations and cute doodles than in the UK.
Don’t get me wrong- on the whole I’m not a huge fan of graffiti- in fact, the shabbily drawn gang tags which populate the train track-side walls of every city route I can recall back home can be a real eyesore. I actually think wittier graffiti and street art might be a non-British thing more generally… when I was in Iceland recently with my family, we noticed a really cool graffiti mural… (which i can’t currently locate a picture of, though I definitely took one!)…Some food for thought, either way.
(or literally… time to celebrate the end of the working day/ the start of the evening!)
Now there’s nothing particularly special about this word in itself… rather more fun is its significance culturally… many German’s (and guests, like myself) take the lingustic suggestion to celebrate the evening very literally, with a post- work drink. Many people don’t even wait until they’re home… seeing quite a lot of stressed out looking business people sipping a cold beer in the U-Bahn around 6 is pretty common in Frankfurt!
Thanks for reading my 10 things you’ll find in Germany that you won’t find in England post- If you liked it, please do check out my other blogs! I’m hoping to write some more culture shock posts like this one in the near future 🙂