The bells! The bells! or how do I convince you that I still don’t like beer?
I love train stations. There’s a mix of people from literally everywhere and I enjoy the sense that you could travel anywhere from that one spot. Just find the right track and off you go.
Nowhere is that feeling stronger than at the Frankfort Hauptbahnhof (main train station). It sits in the middle of Western Europe, a hub to get from north to south and from east to west. Odds are, if you’re traveling any distance in Europe, you’ll pass through Frankfort.
And in September 1992, I had a rail pass and 11 days that would allow me to get on almost any of those trains.
Two of the three of us in Germany with the IFYE program decided to travel together and, standing in the station, realized we had more options than we knew what to do with.
Where to go? We could, if we wanted, travel all the way to Instanbul, Turkey. It was doable, though it would have eaten up nearly our whole time.
We decided on making one big circle starting and ending in Frankfort. First stop, Salzburg, Austria.
We hit Salzburg late in the evening. So late that we were wondering where we were going to sleep. I really didn’t want to sleep a whole night in the train station, no matter how much I like them.
We met some other travelers and they suggested a youth hostel not too far away. It was cheap and comfy, according to their guide book. Oddly enough, I only had a guide book on Germany. Go figure.
Off we went into the Austrian night, a group of about eight of us. We found the hostel, checked in, crashed into beds in the dorm-style rooms and slept soundly.
Until 6 a.m.
As it turned out, the hostel was part of a church. A church with very loud bells that rang every 15 minutes starting at 6 a.m. Try as I might, I could not find the snooze button on that stupid thing.
So, with no other choice, we were up and ready to head out. And what do travelers on a budget do to see as many sights as possible around Salzburg? You take the Sound of Music Tour, of course. Complete with a non-stop sing-along with every song from the movie. And I’m not joking when I say every song.
But we saw the mountaintop where Maria started singing that one song (something about hills being alive) and all the way down to the cloister she ran to. One thing that I learned that impressed me was that those two spots were nearly six miles apart, meaning she ran that distance in under five minutes. While singing.
Next was an overnighter to Florence, Italy. You go to bed in Austria and wake up in Italy. Or rather, you wake up nearly every time the train makes a stop throughout the night before you stumble out of the train in Italy.
But we made it to Florence, only to find it on strike and the youth hostel on top of a very large hill. As it turns out, the city transportation workers were on strike, and a lot of other workers were on a sympathy strike – including the museums and other tourist destinations. But we did get to see the Florence Cathedral (or Duomo), one of the largest churches I’ve ever been in.
With not a lot else to see or do, we hit the next train to Lucerne, Switzerland, which sits in the heart of the Alps. While there, we climbed mountains. Forded streams. Followed every rainbow until…Nuts! See, that music really gets stuck in your head.
Anyway, we traveled up Mt. Pilatus and had a wonderfully foggy view of…fog.
Onward, then, back into Germany.
The Höflichs (family #2) served as a stopping point for us to take a few side trips with the time we had left. We discovered that, while the trains from Frankfort Hauptbahnhof could take us anywhere in Europe, it didn’t mean we could.
For example, we thought we’d take a quick day trip to Luxemburg because there was a train going that way. Then we looked at the schedule. To get there and then catch the last train to return to Frankfort would have left us with an entire 20 minutes to see Luxemburg.
Two tracks over was a train going to Heidelburg. Let’s go there, instead. Problem solved. That was the great thing with Frankfort Hauptbahnhof, there was always a train heading somewhere.
This was also the time of the famous Octoberfest in Munich. And the Höflichs were taking us there.
Think of the largest town festival you have been to. Now multiply it. How many times? It doesn’t matter. You’ll still be thinking too small. The festival grounds were roughly the size of most towns around here. On top of that, throw in two-thirds of Cedar Point. Now you start to see what this was like. One beer “tent” alone could hold 5,000 people at once, with room left for a good-sized band.
Octoberfest is known for beer. So much beer, in fact, that they serve it in liter glasses (or steins). And, naturally, the Höflichs thought I really should get the hang of German beer and bought me a whole liter. This was Octoberfest, after all.
It was now or never. I would like beer or I wouldn’t. I would drink or I wouldn’t.
Now that liter of Coca-Cola looked good. I’ll take one of those, please.
The evening was a blur, even drinking Coke. The rides twisted and spun in neon streaks all around us. Bands played music that ran into one long polka. (Where they all playing the same song?) People sang along in whatever language they wanted to.
It started to rain. No one cared. There were so many people the rain couldn’t hit the ground.
At some point, we packed ourselves onto a Munich U-bahn train and headed back to where we were staying. I think we slept at some point before returning to Großostheim the next day.
After all of that traveling, we were worn out. We repacked and hit another train, passing through Frankfort Hauptbahnhof one more time, heading north to our penultimate families.
The next time I would pass through the Frankfort train station would be on my way to the airport to head home six weeks later.
Links to places referenced:
The Sound of Music Tour
Florence Duomo (Cathedral)