The first instalment of this narrative covered the concept and planning of a round Europe rail trip a student friend and I made, back in the summer of 1975, making use of the Interrail Pass. Having caught the ferry across from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, my companion and I made the short train journey to Amsterdam, which is where the story continues.
|Your's truly - 41 years ago!|
We stayed at the Youth Hostel in central Amsterdam. Unlike similar hostels in Britain, and very unlike the Youth Hostel we stayed at in Hamburg (see below), our stopover in the Dutch capital was a very civilised affair, with the doors not locked until 1am and soft classical music played over the tannoy system in the morning, in order to awaken the residents. My only gripe was the triple-rise bunks in the dormitories, which required the ability to climb like a mountain goat, plus a head for heights; and guess who got lumbered with the top bunk!
Heineken’s city centre brewery was still operational at the time of our visit, so we did the obvious thing and booked a tour – one Dutch Guilder if my memory serves me right. The tour of course, included a number of free beers, which were gratefully received at the time.
We visited several Amsterdam bars during our three day stay in the capital. This was my first introduction to Europe’s “café culture”, and I felt I could really get used to sitting outside one of the traditional Dutch Brown Cafés, enjoying a few beers whilst watching the world go by.
Two things we found slightly less appealing were the small 33cl glasses and the peculiar Dutch habit of scraping the head off the top of the beer with a wooden spatula. We didn’t go overboard on the beer front though, as of necessity, we were on a tight budget and had to think about matters such as food. Here, a paper cone full of chips, smothered in mayonnaise, came into its own, acting as a cheap and tasty stomach-filler.
Copenhagen: The Danish capital was our next stop, and being Denmark we found it rather expensive. It’s worth briefly mentioning that our rail journey to Copenhagen involved our train being shunted onto a ferry, as we journeyed from the mainland of the Jutland Peninsula to the large island where the Danish capital is situated.
|Elephant Gate - Carlsberg Brewery|
There was also a generous sampling of beer after the tour; something which didn’t sit too well on an empty stomach. The unseasonably cold and damp July weather also put a bit of a dampener on things as well, so much so that we abandoned the afternoon’s visit to Tuborg; Copenhagen’s other major brewery. This was probably a wise move at the time, but looking back was something of lost opportunity; especially as the plant is now closed.
Hamburg: There’s nothing to report on the beer front here, and little on any other front. The Youth Hostel is worth mentioning, if only because its strict regime required residents to be back before 10pm, when the doors were locked and used a loud and annoying bell to jolt sleepers out of their slumbers at 6am! So no chance of a wild evening in St Pauli and the Reeperbahn then!
|River Rhine - Cologne|
The plan was for my companion to head south to Stuttgart, where he would be spending a few days with a former girl-friend, who was living and working in the city, as part of her foreign languages course. I would also be travelling south but only as far as the great Rhineland city of Cologne. I would be staying there with a school friend who was doing a similar language-based course to Nick’s girlfriend.
The arrangement was that a few days later I would board a pre-selected Munich-bound train, which passed through Stuttgart, and my travelling companion would be waiting on the platform to board the same train. There was no contingency plan, and no real way of getting in touch with each other should something happen to spoil the arrangement, but fortunately, thanks in no small part to the strict punctuality of Deutsche Bahn, things ran like clockwork, and true to form Nick was waiting on the platform at Stuttgart station, ready to be waved off by his girlfriend.
|Cologne's impressive cathedral|
I was met off the train at Cologne Hauptbahnhof by my school chum, who quickly whisked me off to his workplace, where a “leaving do” of some description was taking place. The reason for his haste was an attractive and highly polished wooden barrel of beer perched up on a table. What was even better was his boss’s instruction to “Make sure Mick’s friend has plenty to drink, and that his glass remains full!” Consequently, by the time the party was drawing to an end, I was viewing the world from a totally different perspective. I don’t know what the beer was, or whether it may have been the local speciality - Kölsch, but it was very nice. After the party ended, we went on to a restaurant with Mick’s boss, where there was yet more beer, plus some welcome and much needed food.
|Beer from the wood|
It’s worth mentioning briefly the rail journey from Cologne down to Stuttgart, as the 185 kilometre stretch south to Mainz, is one of the most scenic routes imaginable. The rail line follows the course of the River Rhine, almost hugging the west bank of the river at times, as it negotiates the narrow Rhine Gorge. High on the hills, overlooking the gorge, are a number of strategically-placed old castles, now mostly ruined, but coupled with the extensive vineyards covering many of the valley slopes, they give a real romantic feel to the region .
We will leave the narrative here for now, as the next time we stepped off a train, apart from when changing on to another, we had traversed the Alps and were in Croatia. That is definitely southern Europe, so I will continue with this "less beery" part of the continent in the next instalment.