A Ticket Doesn't Guarantee You A Seat?!

Trip Start Sep 21, 2005
Trip End Oct 09, 2005

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Where I stayed
Radisson Blu Senator Hotel, Lubeck Lübeck
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Germany  , Schleswig-Holstein,
Saturday, October 1, 2005

We awoke to the sound of pouring rain. The threatening skies of the day before had burst open during the night.  It looked like a long, wet day of travel ahead of us.

The plan for the day was to catch a train for a three day "excursion."  During those three days, we planned to visit Lubeck, Cologne, and Aachen.  This excursion would be undertaken by just Dianne and I.  While we were enjoying our time with Kelly, Denise, and Julia, we also felt like we were being somewhat of a disruption to their everyday lifestyle.  Consequently, we thought a short break would allow them to resume their normal lives for a few days, and allow us a bit more freedom in seeing sights we wanted to see.  We packed all of our essentials into our backpacks (thereby leaving the luggage behind at Kelly's apartment) and set off for Mannheim.

The original plan was to catch a train in Kaiserslautern, transfer to a train in Mannheim, transfer to another train in Hamburg, and arrive in Lubeck.  But, since the train in Kaiserslautern left at 8 a.m., Kelly said he'd be willing to drive us to Mannheim to catch our 10 a.m. train to Hamburg.  That way, he’d get to sleep an extra hour and a half.  We thought it was a great idea.

Unfortunately, when Kelly made the proposal, the weather was dry.  But, once we got on the road, it was clear that the wet weather was going to make travel much slower.  We had left Ramstein at 8:50 a.m.  Kelly said it took an hour to get to Mannheim.  But, the weather added another 15 minutes to the trip.  Consequently, we ended up missing our 10 a.m. train to Hamburg. 

The missed train turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  There was another train to Hamburg at 11 a.m., so the delay allowed us to validate our five-day train passes, and grab some berliners (jelly-filled doughnuts) to make up for the breakfast which we had missed because we hurried out of the house. 

At 11 a.m., we boarded the train.  We were under the assumption that having a ticket meant that we’d have a seat.  We soon found out that we were wrong.  All that buying a ticket means is that you have bought the right to be on the train.  To guarantee a seat, you have to pay an additional fee for a seat reservation.  Of course, we didn’t find this out until we were on the train to Hamburg.  So, we ended up standing in the aisles for the entire five-hour trip.  That experience taught us very quickly that we needed to obtain a seat reservation on our next long-distance train trip.

This seems like a good time to describe how we ended up picking Lubeck as a destination.  When planning out the trip’s itinerary, we had quickly built an "excursion" to Cologne and Aachen into the schedule.  Even after that "excursion" was added, we still had two days before the "excursion" for which we had no plan.  I knew that one of those days would be filled with our Rhine excursion.  That left one more day to fill.  I began flipping through a guide book, looking for things that might be interesting to visit, yet close enough to Cologne to complete the itinerary.  Eventually, I came across the writeup and pictures for Lubeck.  The interesting architecture and the fact it was yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site made Lubeck an intriguing choice.  Plus, it was a relatively easy train connection to Cologne from Lubeck, which meant we could keep our planned trip to Cologne, and see even more of northern Germany.  All those reasons made us add a one-day trip to Lubeck to our itinerary.

At about 4 p.m., we arrived in Hamburg.  After about a 15 minute layover, we boarded a train for the 1 hour trip to Lubeck.  We arrived in Lubeck at right on schedule.  We were greeted by a soggy sight.  Even though the rain had not stopped during our entire train travels, we were hopeful that it would stop by the time we reached Lubeck.  Instead, it was raining harder in Lubeck than it was at Ramstein.  What made matters worse was that the train station was being renovated.  So, we had to walk through wet, drafty hallways before exiting into even more rain.  It wasn’t an auspicious start to our side trip.

We trudged the short distance from the train station to Old Town Lubeck.  Instead of checking in at our hotel (the Radisson SAS), we went right across the Trave River and past the famous Holstentor Gate into Altstadt (Old Town).  I wanted to make sure I visited Marienkirche before it closed.  All of the guidebooks that I had read on Lubeck put Marienkirche at the top of the list of “must sees” in Lubeck.  Since I didn’t know what the hours it would be open on the following day (because the next day was a Sunday), I wanted to make sure that we saw this church when we arrived.  Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to find…the two very large brick bell towers gave it away.  We went through the entrance, which was on the church’s south side facing a courtyard and the town’s famous City Hall.  Immediately, I was struck by the size of the structure and its brick construction.  It had the size of a large Gothic cathedral.  Yet, the brick pillars, which bent toward the ceiling in strange directions, were something I had never seen before.  It was truly amazing to observe.  I was also impressed by the church’s atmosphere.  The cloudy skies combined with the red brick to create a dark, gloomy atmosphere inside the church.  Far from being depressing, the atmosphere actually seemed to accentuate the building’s decorations.  That was especially true of the famous Bell Memorial in the church’s southwest bell town.  The memorial is made up of two bells that fell from the bell tower during a British World War II bombing raid and embedded themselves in the church’s floor.  The memorial seemed moving by itself.  But, with the bells being illuminated by spotlights that cut through the church’s gloom, the memorial was breathtaking.

We spent about a half hour walking around the church.  We then went to the gift shop where we found out that there was an organ concert scheduled for that evening and that the church would be open on Sunday after the 10 a.m. service.  We thought about staying for the organ concert, but our growling stomachs made the decision for us.  Even though it turned out that we could’ve waited to see Marienkirche, I was glad to have made the trip that day. 

We left Marienkirche and trudged back to our hotel.  It was now time to really try out the German that we’d be practicing for the past two months.  I confidently went to the front desk and said to the clerk, “Guten Nacht.  Wir haben eine reservierung.  Ich heiβe Michael Lima.” (translated, “Good evening.  I have a reservation.  My name is Michael Lima.”)  The clerk started the check-in process and then asked me a question in German.  What came out of her mouth sounded nothing like the German tapes to which I had been studying over the past few months.  I could do nothing but stare at her blankly.  Fortunately, she had obviously experienced this reaction from Americans with very shaky German, because she then said, “English?”  We both enthusiastically said “Yes!”, and the check-in process continued in English without incident.  While it was a bit embarrassing to reach the limits of my German skills so quickly, I was glad that I didn't get the exasperation and gruffness that I'd experienced in other parts of Germany when I tried to speak German.

Our room at the Radisson SAS was very comfortable and clean.  But, best of all, it had a perfect view of the Trave River and Marienkirche.  I took a couple of pictures of the church through our room’s window.

We spent a bit of time in the room drying off.  Once we were sufficiently dry, we headed back out into the rain and into the Altstadt.  Our mission was to find a restaurant for dinner.  Lonely Planet suggested several places just northeast of City Hall.  Unfortunately, many of the streets northeast of City Hall were being reconstructed.  Additionally, several of the restaurants were either closed for the day or closed for good.  So, we ended up making our way through muddy streets in a futile attempt to find a good place to eat. 

After about a half hour of walking, we found Miera Aubergine.  Lonely Planet had noted this restaurant as one of Lubeck’s better establishments.  It was certainly decorated as a fine restaurant.  And the food was almost as good as promised (I had a seafood pasta that was great, while Dianne had a vegetable lasagna that was passable).  But, the service was absolutely atrocious.  I’m not sure if it was because we were Americans (which, as we’ve discovered, is not very hard to determine), if it was because we were in jeans and muddy shoes (although there were others dressed in a similar manner), or if we just experienced the restaurant’s normal service.  Regardless of the reason, we found the service to be very slow and unhelpful.  The unhelpfulness was especially apparent when we tried to pay for our dinner with a credit card.  When we presented our card, our waiter asked if we had cash.  We did, but we told him that we preferred to pay by credit card.  That set off a half hour comedy of errors, during which the waiter feined that he didn’t know how to run the credit card for payment.  Eventually, we gave up and paid with cash.  While we liked Miera Aubergine’s food, the poor service convinced us that there must be better places for dinner in Lubeck.

After dinner, we made our way back through the muddy streets to City Hall.  An Oktoberfest was being held in the City Hall’s courtyard.  Even if we hadn’t just been to Munich’s Oktoberfest or Stuttgart’s Canstaetter Volkfest, I think we would’ve still been disappointed with Lubeck’s sad, one-beer tent, Oktoberfest.  Since the Oktoberfest was a bust, we made our way south to another church, Peterkirche.  While it was closed that late in the evening, we still managed to admire the spire (which appeared to be bigger than the Marienkirche’s spires).  After finishing our brief sightseeing, we went back to the hotel, dried off again, and went to sleep.
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