I’m just back from a flying visit to Ilmenau in Germany, as James has been there for the past month doing a placement at the university. Ilmenau is a pretty little mountain town in Thuringia, roughly in the centre of Germany. I flew to Frankfurt and then took a hire car to Ilmenau since my flight arrived after the last connecting train. I have driven plenty on the right hand side of the road, and on the famous Autobahn (in case you’re not familiar – no speed limit!), but I’ve always started my journeys on the “wrong” side of the road in a quiet place like a village, and then gradually arrived on bigger roads once I’d had a bit of time to adjust. So it was a bit of a shock to the system to come out of the car park and be immediately on the Autobahn! Thankfully I’d decided to hire a sat nav as I’d have been completely overwhelmed without the calm-but-firm lady telling me to “bear right”. I got my hire car from Budget, and I actually got a free upgrade – I’d booked the cheapest car plus a sat nav, but they gave me a car from the next level up since it had a built-in sat nav 😀 I had actually looked at getting the “luxury economy” option from Europcar, listed as “e.g. Audi A1”, but looked at some of the reviews and although I didn’t see any complaints, the cars people got for that option were mostly VWs… nothing against VW, but I wouldn’t really call them a luxury brand! The difference in price for the “luxury” version at Europcar compared to their regular economy car was small enough that I might have tried it, but after looking around some more I discovered Budget’s cheapest category was around 50 Euro cheaper! My car turned out to be a Peugeot and I was 100% happy with both it and the customer service.
My drive was overall fine – as I got further into the mountains, the scenery began to get absolutely beautiful, with a full moon shining off the snow… and then I reached The Tunnels of Doom. It shouldn’t really have been a surprise, as of course to get to a town far in the mountains, it’s fairly standard that you’d have to go through tunnels and over bridges. Unfortunately I have a phobia of certain man-made structures: bridges, stairs you can see through, dams, and, apparently, tunnels. I’d pretty much forgotten the tunnel thing because I don’t exactly encounter them very often, and I was ok for the first several, but after what felt like an endless series of tunnels and helpfully labelled bridges, I found myself in the Rennsteig Tunnel, which is 7.9km long, and (Wikipedia has just informed me) the longest road tunnel in Germany. I may have had a little sob. However I had my big-girl pants on and I made it through 😉 As it turned out, that was the second-last one on the way to Ilmenau, and because it was out the way early on my return journey, it wasn’t so bad, especially as it was uphill in that direction and it seemed to be the endless downhill straight that freaked me out the first time through.
James has been staying at a guesthouse called Zur Post. The guesthouse has thin walls and the obligatory creepy china dolls that these places always seem to have, but otherwise was great. And to be honest the thin walls were only a problem for an hour or two on my last night – I don’t think anyone was staying in the next-door room until then, and when someone did move in, they were just talking… just unfortunate as I had to get up at 5.00 to drive back to the airport! Anyway the staff are absolutely lovely, and have been very sweet and patient with James – he doesn’t speak German, and they don’t speak English, so it’s been a little challenging for an extended stay! His main struggle has been trying to avoid getting the pickle/cabbage/onion side salad which comes with most of the dishes, as these are all of his least favourite things – the first time he tried to ask for no side salad, he got… not only the side salad as usual, but also a salad starter! Haha. With that said though, the food is very tasty German pub grub, with generous portions. I had a ham and cheese Schnitzel and James had a steak.
We also went for a walk around Erfurt, a bigger town nearby. It has a beautiful cathedral overlooking a large open square, which I imagine would be a wonderful place to spend a lazy summer afternoon, having coffee and cake outside a cafe! The cathedral is free to visit (donations welcome) and I took lots of pictures of the interior, especially the beautiful stained glass windows, but I’m still getting used to my new camera and all-but-one came out terribly blurry! The town itself is very traditional, cute and impressive at the same time. It reminded me of the Netherlands a little, as there’s a small river through the centre of town with little islands, so lots of bridges, plus the multi-coloured buildings. I treated myself to a quick pop in to a few of the shops we don’t have in Aberdeen – Esprit, Tally Weijl, Mango and S Oliver – and found a shirt in Mango that I’m looking forward to wearing. It’s cream, and a very soft and light material, and is to replace a well-loved River Island one that I’ve had for a few years and worn to death.
Our visit to Erfurt was the only touristy activity, since it was so cold we spent most of the time just eating and drinking coffee! As well as Zur Post we ate at Sharma’s Indian restaurant and the Lindenhof hotel. Sharma’s was quite decent, especially given that there’s not a huge market for Indian cuisine in Germany! James had been before but kindly forgot to mention that the chicken is a little iffy – not undercooked or anything, but a bit strange in texture, as though it’s perhaps been pre-cooked. But the sauce was very tasty, and the naan was great, nice and light but not flaky. James opted for lamb and reported it was very nice. They also give you a pot of rice in the middle of the table to scoop your share out of, which is a simple idea but really helped with that cluttered feeling I often get with lots of individual side dishes! As for Lindenhof, I could happily have spent hours sitting in their conservatory, which looks out onto a pedestrianised shopping street. I loved the decor – they have lots of books, both on a shelf around the top of the conservatory, and in a cozy nook-type area inside, and there were also some wooden ducks suspended from the ceiling in the conservatory, complete with adorable woollen scarves and hats! Despite the knick-knacks, it didn’t seem cluttered, as they balanced out with the open feel of the big conservatory windows to make it feel homely. I had a latte and a mushroom goulash, both yummy.
And that’s it! Unless I get any surprise opportunities, that will be my last trip for a little while as I’m saving up to go to the USA in October, but I still have a couple of holidays from last year to post about. Plus James will be home in a couple of days and spring is sloowwly springing, so I’m looking forward to getting out and about locally a bit more.