Beginning October, when the German railway started selling tickets for the next season, starting from the middle of December, I almost immediately booked a round trip ticket to Nürnberg and a hostel for 10 people, because at that then I could get a ticket just for 20€ per person (even though the hostel was not quite cheap). This appeared to me like an extremely attractive trip, since the Christmas market in Nürnberg is really famous. And especially regarding the fact that there are not many foreign tourists right now we could have fully enjoyed the atmosphere with little disturbances. Not surprisingly, all the spots were filled within a few days, and it looked like I would have to extend the reservation for the hostel.
All this started falling apart when the fourth wave began to intensify. Markus Söder, Bavaria’s head, who’s famous for imposing unique rules in Bavaria, first announced the ban on Christmas markets everywhere in Bavaria. Then a few more restrictions followed. Some of the people who were excited about the trip then left the group, and in the end, I was about to cancel the trip, when Zaman said we would anyway have to live with the next wave. With this argument I decided to still go ahead with the plan. So in the end, we were 8 people, which I still think is a substantial amount of people.
We took the train to Nürnberg on Friday evening at 17:22 (frankly, who could have got a better connection for the same price?). Zaman, Kartik and I almost immediately went to the restaurant car and had a small dinner there. Just as always, the restaurant had only limited offer. Who would have expected anything else.
There was a huge applause when it was announced that we were arriving 5 min earlier. Pity that we didn’t take a group photo of such a memorable moment.
We then walked directly towards the hostel and left all the stuff there. It was some time past 10pm. As we could see in the city center, there were still a lot of people around. But we couldn’t find any place open. Why?
We learned from the locals that the restaurants are actually now obliged to close by 10pm, with no exception at all. This is Bavaria. I wonder how much of effects this is really bringing. Anyway, we roamed around and found one kebab parlour where we got the most disgusting food ever and went back to the hostel. After all, it was still the Friday evening, and Friday evenings we don’t really do anything anyway on weekend trips.
By the way, when I informed the hostel that there were 2 people less than expected, I was told I had to pay a cancellation fee. I first thought that’s not very nice of them because the hostel would be anyway quite empty. As it turned out, it was not empty at all – maybe indeed someone may have profited from the extra room that we had occupied. Good to know that under these circumstances there are still people staying in hostels.
Saturday morning, I got up after a great sleep, only to find out that I got the worst news of the decade: My best friend, and my only one childhood friend, with whom I always thought we’d grow older together wherever we would live anywhere in the world, passed away. There has never been a stay in Japan for me in which I didn’t see him and over the decades we had always been contact. All this snuck up on me all of a sudden, and this moment shaped my whole weekend – all subsequent activities were overshadowed.
The breakfast started at 7:30am. Compared to the breakfast in the youth hostels we had in 2020, things got much less complicated this year. Essentially there was no difference between how it was before the corona and now. Also, maybe because it’s in Bavaria and we got the most expensive stay in a hostel so far (around 40€ / person / night), the breakfast had a higher quality than elsewhere.
Just like in every other weekend trip, we started moving at 9am. We then took the train going to Hersbruck at 9:43 and started hiking right before 10am.
Maybe it’s worth mentioning that it’s actually the very first weekend trip that I organised in the winter. The trail that I chose was therefore also much shorter than in the other trips so far. This being said, it was still much longer than the normal winter hikes that we do in NRW. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what kind of schedule would be perfect, since a 17 km-hike doesn’t really require an entire day, but I also didn’t want to dare create a super long hike, as the number of possibilities for breaks are also badly limited in the winter. It was, in this regard, a bit like an experiment to see what a 17 km-hike would result in in the end.
We were probably super lucky this weekend, because it never really rained throughout the weekend. Still we could see that it must have rained before we arrived there, as the ground was nowhere really solid. Some of the people were badly slipping, and all of us had to be super careful all the time.
At the beginning of today’s trail, we were simply going up up and up all the time. There were a few cars along the way, but then everything totally disappeared. 8 of us were walking in the totally silent nature. It’s so weird to see such an area after bumping easily several people every minute in the nature in North Rhine-Westphalia.
As we went ahead, we could partially see snow on the way. When I was small there was always snow in the winter, but things might have changed over years. Well, we were also not quite equipped for a snow hike, so maybe it was good that it wasn’t there in the end :).
At the summit of the first mountain, Großer Hansgörgel, we had our first break. I had hoped that we would have a nice view over the surrounding area, but the spot was covered with tall trees. We are in Bavaria, no chance.
It looked like the ground was getting less and less solid as we kept going. It might have been actually possible to move a significant distance just sliding at some point.
With no one in sight, and the thick fog, it almost looked like a horror movie. Look at this field of dead sunflowers and let me know what you think :).
We went down the mountain and arrived at this small town Schnaittach. We simply entered the first restaurant that we could find, which was an Italian one. It was only some time past 1pm and we had already done around 2/3, so essentially we were having still too much time. With this in mind, I got a full meal with a salad, pasta and desert + espresso. It’s true that usually we have little time, so I don’t try to get quite as much food, but it was nice to be easy going this time.
From the Italian place to our destination, Simmelsdorf, was fairly easy – we simply walked along the railway line, enjoying the Bavarian pastoral landscape.
We were exactly on time when we arrived at the train station. Actually the train was virtually waiting for us and started moving almost as soon as we got in. However, there came another problem: the vending machine didn’t accept banknotes, nor credit cards. In addition, the inspector, who was meant to be there for customers who have only banknotes, couldn’t find the group ticket that we were looking for. In fact, he didn’t even know that such a ticket existed. Indeed, there was very little information available in the internet in the first place, and we also had a super hard time finding the right ticket on the outward journey as well. Essentially, what happens with this ticket is that you can buy a ticket for at least 10 people for half the price. Since we were 8 people, it already made sense to get one, even though this signified that we had to throw out 2 tickets. In the end, as the inspector gave up, we could travel the first part of the journey for free, and when we changed the train, we got the rest of the train ticket.
It was only some time past 5pm when we arrived at the hostel. As I had stated above, it was the shortest hike we’ve ever had on a weekend trip. We then all took a shower, and in the meantime I booked a table in a nearby super German restaurant for 7pm. It’s true that we had some time to kill, but just having an additional hour is maybe not quite as bad as I had feared before. In my case though, I was badly struggling with the thoughts on my late friend, so I went to the city center to draw some money for no particular reason.
The fact that there was no Christmas market was only partly taken seriously, because there was a market, selling similar things, but it was simply not called a “Christmas” market. Frankly, shutting down the Christmas market while keeping the restaurants and pubs open is a total nonsense to me, so I have a better understanding for those who were going ahead with this con trick.
Here came a small problem: There’s one thing that I always do whenever I book a place, which is namely using a Japanese name that’s easier to spell, such as Honda or Kawasaki, not because my name, Waseda, is too complicated, but because these Japanese names are so famous that everyone knows immediately which one I’m talking about. After all, I’m Japanese, so in most of the restaurants they’d immediately think that that was my real name and they don’t ask farther questions. This time though the others actually arrived at the restaurant while I was drawing money outside, and even though I booked the table in the presence of Zaman, he apparently forgot about it and said my real name, which obviously created a confusion. By the time I arrived at the restaurant the problem had already been solved, but in the end by trying to make things easier, I made them more complicated, and me being Kawasaki became like a running gag for the rest of the evening and the entire trip :).
Welcome to a German restaurant in Bavaria. Here I got this thing called Schäufele, which is a huge block of crispy pork that I couldn’t finish when I was a kid. Today, with a lot of effort and sweat, I could finish it. The amount of energy that I got from it will slowly burn over the course of the days.
We then briefly went to the city center, for me to get a cup of disgusting hot wine. After all, there was no “Christmas” market. Then we went back to the hostel and almost immediately went to bed. This was yet another weekend trip in which we had a relatively short evening session.
As both Zaman and I didn’t have an idea for Sunday, we decided to go to Bamberg on Sunday, which is actually my childhood city where I also went to school etc. The unfortunate fact was, I lived in the south of the city and the school was also nearby, so that I rarely went to the city center, so I’m frankly not quite the expert of Bamberg. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful city that you’d probably anyway enjoy roaming around.
We left the hostel at 10am and took a train leaving at 10:40. It took around 40 min to reach Bamberg. In the meantime, Sarah realised that she forgot her headphones at the hostel, so our stay in Bamberg was shortened by 1h.
When I was a kid, I was always told that I shouldn’t go to the area next to the train station in Bamberg, because it was supposedly a shady area. Today, it’s true that it’s not the most attractive area of Bamberg, but things changed a lot. Now it’s a functional, but also a bit tasteless area that essentially serves everyone’s needs. We crossed this area without really looking at anything, crossed an extravagant bridge that was built around 10 years ago and reached the city center.
There’s this famous old city hall that today became super famous in the recent years. When I visited my parents last time, which was in 2019, there was a crowd of tourists there. This time, there were only mostly locals. All the souvenir shops nearby were also closed (although I cannot remember whether they were open on Sundays).
We went up to the dome on the hill, which was just as vacant as elsewhere. The photo above is the view over the city from that place.
In the end, we didn’t even have time to visit the market place (which is not particularly impressive though). We took a train back to Nürnberg, had a small lunch and took the ICE back to Düsseldorf. With no delay this time again, we arrived there before 7pm.
To be honest, every single detail of this trip was overshadowed by the sudden death of my childhood friend. So here I’m not going to say whether the trip was good or not, which I’m simply not able to.
As I stated above, the whole plan was triggered by the fact that I could get a super cheap train ticket for Nürnberg over Christmas. This has to be taken with a pinch of salt this time, because the train tickets on the spot turned out to be more expensive than the ICE tickets. In fact, I found out later that it would have been cheaper to buy a Bayern ticket on the second day, instead of the normal group ticket. Actually not only cheaper, but also less stressful, as I would have been able to order it beforehand. We made a really stupid decision in the end, really.
Anyway, as long as corona is not gone, I now understood that it’s too dangerous to organise a trip in the winter. I thought initially the overall balance would be plus after the bookkeeping of this trip, but as it turned out the deficit became larger. Let’s see how 2022 is going to look.
Oh maybe I should comment on the fact that this was the very first winter trip: Yes, it was much more successful than I had thought, although I have to say we were lucky that the weather played with us during the whole trip. Anyway, there was no unexpected trouble I was vaguely thinking of beforehand. So if corona is not quite a thing, we can go ahead with more plans in the future as well.