Familiar Faces in Foreign Places

You’re in your home country at a bus stop or in a lift or some other enclosed space, joined only by an older stranger. The stranger begins speaking to you and so you engage in polite small talk to fill the time, almost because it feels necessary in order to avoid an awkward silence. Then you part ways and forget about the other person. A few days later, you see them again in a more public context, but they are not looking to be busy themselves. They don’t notice you and you have no reason to speak to them. What would you do – walk right past them whilst looking in the opposite direction, or go up to speak to them, regardless of hardly knowing them? ‘It would depend on how attractive they were,’ I hear you say. Removing that element from the equation, it is hard to believe that one would feel any desire to approach them. Even one’s sense of legitimacy to go up to the person would probably be quite low. The social-networking generation seems almost too afraid of the potential gawkiness of human interaction to strike up conversation with a random person they share no established connection with. Familiarity is a comfort. When someone is certain of their position in their nearby surroundings, they are less likely to feel the need to communicate with a vaguely familiar human being. If you go on a solo trip to a foreign-speaking country, you might find yourself amazed at how easily the rules of the equation can change.

Day One in the Black Forest, Germany. I had spent the night in a youth hostel in Freudenstadt, a market town in the north of the area. Before a day of hiking commenced, I dropped into the tourist office to quickly find inspiration for a route. Walking out of the door whilst running the rough directions through my mind, I almost bumped into a man chaining up his bike. “Hey there!” he said cheerily in an accent I instantly recognised as Canadian. “You’re staying up at the youth hostel, aren’t you?” I was taken aback by his genial approach and said “Yeah” uncertainly, wondering how he knew. “I cycled past you on the way here – I’m at a guesthouse in town,” he added, as if recognising an initial look of suspicion on my face. He looked to be in his early forties, but despite his older age I still found his confident chattiness quite surprising, and a tiny bit unsettling too. Even so, it seemed only polite to ask a short question or two.  After sharing his plan for the day, he remarked, “You’ve picked a great day for a hike,” nodding at my outfit and then up at the blue sky. This seemed like an appropriate time to move on, so I wished him a good trip and we parted ways.  My thoughts having been interrupted, I returned to recalling the name of the path I was looking for, and my brief encounter with the man was promptly forgotten in favour of sign posts and sweet little streams.

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A few days of moving southwards later, I ended up in Freiburg im Breisgau, where I would spend a few hours of the morning before heading back to Heidelberg. The town is famed for its Minster and for being Germany’s sunniest city. Sunlight wasn’t out on show today though. Thick clouds looked down lethargically as I dawdled through the large hoard of tourists and students in the university town. It was market day and I squeezed and side-stepped past people looking at various cheeses and vegetables and wines, feeling like a mouse amongst the mania. Elbows knocked me and I looked around dazed as the air was filled with rapid German chatter. The past few days had been filled with walking and my legs felt sluggish. The weather and the people were draining, and I suddenly felt a little overwhelmed by my surroundings. I needed to stop and recover for a minute.

 

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An ice cream sign called me over. One scoop of mint choc chip – heck, why not two? I walked on past a row of picnic benches filled with tourists gorging on bratwurst and burgers. Suddenly, one of the munching men caught my eye. I realised it was the Canadian man I’d seen a few days earlier. Without thinking twice I bounded over to say hello, feeling a wave of respite from the mass mouth of unfamiliar tongues. Caught unaware, the man looked up mid-ketchup-spurting-bite with wide eyes of surprised embarrassment, to see me standing in front of him holding an ice cream in my hand with a big grin on my face, like a little kid. We both laughed at how innocent and pitiful we looked. After a proper greeting, he asked if I’d like to join him for a drink at a nearby beer garden that served only Swabian speciality beers.  I said yes without hesitation.

My initial dubious impression of the man had completely vanished. In the last three days I had only uttered about 50 words. I was craving some human contact through which I would be able to have a fluid conversation in my own language for a few minutes. Having felt lost in and exhausted by the busy state of the town, his familiar face provided an element of reassurance. So I went ahead and did something that would have probably been classed as ‘breaking a rule’ back home – going to have a drink with a male I hardly knew, and a much older male at that. But the man’s age wasn’t on my mind at all as we found a table on an upstairs terrace and chatted about Canada. He said I seemed to know the western side of the country better than him. His name was Kevin and he worked in the civil service, but loved cycling in his free time. As he ordered and paid for our drinks, attempting some basic German with our waitress, I realised that he was a genuinely good-natured person.  I told him about my degree and my hobbies, and that I would be volunteering at the Olympics when I returned. With a big smile he said, “Well it seems like you have a lot going for you, Shannon.” Those words have stuck with me since.

Once we had finished our beers (I tactically ordered a half-pint so he wouldn’t have to wait for me), we headed back downstairs into the street. I felt rejuvenated – my batteries had been recharged within an hour by a device I was accustomed to. Now I would be able to finish the trip with no more feelings of disorientation and detachment.  Kevin planned to spend a few more hours in Freiburg, while I needed to head back to the station. After a standard hug-and-kiss-on-the-cheek goodbye, we parted ways for the second and final time. There would be no sharing of contact details to keep in touch, as is so often the trend amongst young travellers who have spent a few drunken hours together; it was just simply an hour of shared company that made the day a little more interesting for both. I’ll never see that man again, and so he will never know how valuable I found his company for that short time (unless, of course, he finds this blog!) I had never felt so glad to see such a familiar face whose owner I was so unfamiliar with.

My dad told me two things before I went travelling: 1) that travelling alone makes one more open to new people and new experiences, and 2) that it makes one realise that people are nice. After that morning in Freiburg, I realised that I had underestimated the applicability of his statement. It’s something that is not just relevant to people you meet in bars or on a tour, someone sat next to you on the bus or sleeping in your dorm; it can also be relevant to random situations where there is no expectation of speech and interaction. If someone is alone abroad, they are likely to feel more receptive to the company of an unfamiliar person, if that person seems more familiar than the alternatives. A person’s slight sense of vulnerability can make them more willing to do something that would probably never enter their intentions back home. This can perhaps explain why study abroad students or immigrants tend to hang out with those who share their nationality. It’s not that they are reluctant to integrate into the new culture; speaking with someone who shares their native language simply acts as a maternal comfort – a cuddle to reassure and settle when one is feeling insecure in or disillusioned by their unfamiliar surroundings. There is no shame in craving some ‘home-away-from-home’ moments – everyone is bound to experience that need at some point whilst travelling alone.

The rare coincidence of seeing someone again in a foreign land makes it seem stupid to avoid approaching them out of reluctance to risk getting involved in uncomfortable communication. Would you rather feel lonely and bored, or sociable and entertained? Yep, thought as much. So if an older male (or female) stranger starts talking to you enthusiastically, don’t be quick to make assumptions about their intentions, subsequently trying to dismiss them out of uncertainty. A few days later, you might find that their bold and unconditional friendliness would be very welcome.

 

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Sharing Cars with Strangers in Germany

What was one of the first things your parents told you when you went outside to play? I can imagine it was either “Don’t talk to strangers” or “Don’t get into a car with a stranger”. Well, now you’re older, you can be a little more flexible with that advice. If you’re on a trip at home or abroad alone and make a spontaneous decision to travel somewhere else located a few hours away, chances are that you will pay a pricey fee for a last-minute train. Buses may not run regularly and will take a long time, whilst planes can be an expensive hassle. So why not share a lift with someone? A stranger, that is.

I first became introduced to carpooling when I was in Germany. Help-exchanging at the home of a teacher in Hamburg for a week, I then had to make my way to a village in the Rhineland-Palatinate. As I searched for trains on my host’s laptop one evening, she suggested I try ‘Mitfahrgelegenheit’. I looked at her blankly. Advertising lifts was something that I hadn’t even heard of in my own country – hitch-hiking yes, but not organised car share. My host proceeded to show me a website where drivers offered space in their car to travellers heading in the same direction, in return for a contribution towards fuel costs.  Drivers were asked to state details including whether or not they smoked, the make of their car, their mobile number and a copy of ID. I was open-minded about travelling with a man, however my host, perhaps feeling responsible for my welfare, was insistent that I travel with a female. We soon found a lady heading in the same direction as me.

At this time my German was pretty minimal. I began writing an email to this lady, in which essentially only the first and last couple of sentences were written in German. Her reply was written in good English. (It ended with the line: “I’m sorry, I know that my English is not good. I hope you can understand me.”) The lady asked for 27 Euros for this journey – about 50 Euros less than what a train would have cost. She gave me her vehicle registration number and asked to meet outside Hamburg’s Hauptbahnhof.

On a rainy Wednesday morning, I made my way to the parking lot outside the main station. I was quite excited for this new experience, but a little nervous too. What if the lady didn’t show up? What if she was a terrible driver? What if her car broke down and we were left stranded somewhere on the autobahn? What I didn’t worry about however was whether she would turn out to be different from her profile. The media will often feature horror stories of women being kidnapped by strangers posing as someone else, but I’ve had enough positive experiences to have faith in the kindness of strangers.

The street was bustling with chanting protesters. Police officers in smart blue uniforms formed barricades as they came closer to the station. I approached one officer to ask him what was going on and was told that it was a protest against a neo-Nazi demonstration.

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I wandered along the pavement, feeling very conspicuous with my big rucksack as I scanned the cars parked along the side of the road. Suddenly I spotted a navy blue Renault Clio with the registration number I was looking for. Beside it watching the protest stood a rather large woman with a pixie haircut and scruffy trainers. I introduced myself and she shook my hand with a shy smile. There was little room in the boot and so I sheepishly squeezed my backpack onto the backseat amongst her own things before sitting down in the back. A few minutes later, I heard a backpack being thrown in the boot behind me and then the passenger door in front of me opened. The smell of thick smoke, body odour (as well as a slight whiff of urine) swept through the vehicle as in jumped a male skinhead dressed in black, looking like he’d just run away from the police monitoring the protest. He turned to shake my hand and say hello with his stale breath. “Ich komme aus England,” I stated, trying not to wrinkle my nose. He nodded with an “Oh” and said no more.

As we set off, I had to bite my lip to stop myself laughing at the thought of what we must have looked like to other drivers – a bizarre combination of a rather butch-looking woman with short hair, an emo-type guy with no hair, and a standard girl with long bright blonde hair. A painfully awkward silence suffocated the car. Eventually the two Germans started to chat briefly whilst I stared out of the window, trying and failing to understand them. However, their conversation soon ran out of steam and as we joined the autobahn, the driver turned on the radio, flicking between radio stations sporadically as if realising that there was unlikely to be one which we would all enjoy. Smelly-skinhead-guy reclined his seat backwards so that his smell lingered closer and I became even more cramped. Desperate to avoid any awkward speech, I remained with my legs jammed tightly together to one side, wishing I could jam my nostrils shut too. Two hours later my driver turned off and I looked up disorientated. “We will stop here for 10 minutes,” she said to me slowly. While the guy lit a cigarette with jittery hands outside the car, I followed her into the service station to use the bathroom. One had to pay 90 cents to use the facilities. “You can use the ticket for food,” she explained again simply, pointing out a sign which showed a 50 cent discount on confectionary.

Smelly-skinhead-guy would leave us at Frankfurt airport, where he was evidently flying to South America. I didn’t probe on his motives, only pitied the passengers who would be sitting near him. I jumped into the front seat and wound the window down with relief to remove his musty smell. I hoped that the driver and I would be able to speak more now. However, as is common with languages, the lady was less confident at speaking English than writing it. Carefully-phrased questions by myself in English would receive stammered and uncertain responses from her, upon which I would attempt the question in German, with no further success as I struggled to make myself clear. It became a rather frustrating process, until eventually the conversation fizzled out helplessly. In defeat, I turned to look out of the window at the wind turbines on the side of the autobahn, before we entered rural land and the views were replaced with fields lined with vines and Church steeples poking up out of small villages. I felt bad, wishing my German was better so that I could make the experience more interesting for both of us. At the same time, my driver said apologetically, “Normally there would be more speaking.” She dropped me off on the street of my next location and I handed her the money, thanking her for the helpful lift. Then she wished me a pleasant stay and I in turn wished her a safe onward journey, before we said goodbye with an awkward wave.

The experience was a reminder of the social restrictions that a language barrier can bring, particularly in such an intimate environment as a car. Now my German is so much better that, had I the opportunity to do it again, I would have got so much more from the journey. Nevertheless, whilst conversation between the three of us was limited, it was rare that I would find myself in that context with such different characters very often. It’s a story that I can look back on and chuckle over. Carpooling in general is something I would highly recommend. It might not be the most comfortable form of travel, but it depends on your priorities; some people want luxury, others just want to get from A to B for as cheap as possible. By choosing the latter option, one has more money to spend on the more important things! One is essentially taking the same journey as one would on a train or bus, albeit for less money and with fewer people, in a more close-knit setting. Perhaps it’s because participants are more expected to talk with other unfamiliar people that they might be put off by this travel option…

Whilst I didn’t have much luck with this myself on this occasion, ride-sharing provides an opportunity to make interesting contacts, and the act of doing a favour for a stranger is a nice, refreshing prospect. As much as I like to joke about how suspicious the guy in the car seemed, carpooling is an experience which reinforces that strangers are not to be fundamentally suspected or feared. I also wanted to mention the neo-Nazi demonstrations to highlight the importance of not letting hate fuel hate, and not letting the actions of a few people influence your opinion about an entire nation collectively.

Bensheim – my final destination

I would definitely consider using carpooling on future travels around Europe, and I’d hope other travellers would too. Something that can be regarded in this technological age as the modern version of hitch-hiking, carpooling is cheap, convenient and certified. Maybe just bring an air freshener with you as an advance gesture of gratitude…

Would you ever consider car-pooling? Have you any weird and wonderful carpooling experiences to share?

Romance on the River

July 2012. My first year of university was complete and I was spending three weeks away on my own. Whilst back home in England, thousands of tourists from all over the world were being welcomed into London for the Olympic Games, I was following various rivers up, down and across west Germany. On the way I would encounter scenes of romance that would both captivate and torment me.

Heidelberg is the epitome of ‘charming’. It’s a town bustling with activity but it still manages to retain an intimate, personal feel. During one afternoon there, the sweet sound of Spanish guitar distracted tourists from admiring the cuckoo clocks in shop windows, causing them to stop with ice cream in hand, in order to watch a juggling act. The guitarist watched the juggler carefully, corresponding his chords with his partner’s fluid movements. Wedding bells rang through the town as I began the ascent up the 300 steps to the famous Schloss. Newly married couples had their photo taken here, with its charismatic backdrop of the town and River Neckar. Even cloudy skies couldn’t dim the glow of this place.

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In the evening the sun came out. After casting a proud glance over the coverage of the Olympic swimming from London in my hostel’s bar, I ventured outside for a walk. Everything smelled fresh after the late afternoon rain shower. Squelching sounds of trainers on the puddled path recurred as chatting couples jogged past. Upon reaching the central hub of town, the activity picked up: boys and girls flirted over a game of volleyball; children charged around the water fountain, shrieking wildly in their swimsuits; elderly men and women chatted on benches, walking sticks by their sides, as middle-aged couples walked past hand-in-hand. The sun dazzled off the surface of the River Neckar and enclosed the Schloss in a perfect bubble of radiance. Groups of swans gathered together under the bridge near the river bank, before gliding off together towards the glittering path laid by the sun on the water, its cheeky twinkle promising excitement. They joined a sole rower slowly oozing his way down the river, his oars making faint ripples in the peaceful water. Topless boys on mopeds rode over the bridge, beeping at girls in short shorts in a way that made one laugh rather than feel repulsed. There was an infectious energy in the town, playful and cute.

Warmth from the evening sun on my skin made me feel relaxed and animated at the same time. I felt glad to be alone just so I could watch all the different people doing their different things, wanting to absorb all the activity around me. The moped boys came round on another loop of the bridge, whistling and calling out to the giggling girls. Normally I would have ignored them or made a face; tonight if they had offered I would have jumped on the back and rode off with them around town. It was that kind of evening – the ones that make you wish it could be summer all year round, when the sun is out and it feels like anything could happen.

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A day later I was in Mainz. On paper it’s pretty similar to Heidelberg – another river town that attracts plenty of tourists, runners and cyclists. But here I felt a completely different set of emotions altogether. An evening run took me through the Volkspark with its pretty flowerbeds and along the bank of the Rhine. Couples sat on the steps kissing, or snuggled up looking over the railings into the river. I crossed the Theodor-Heuss Bridge onto the other side, where the cosy couples continued. As my legs began to grow more weary, so did my patience. Suddenly it was no longer sweet and touching to see these scenes of affection. My shoulders were sagging as I reached the former Kaiserbrücke. Padlocks dotted the partition between the railway bridge, souvenirs left by travellers and etched with love notes – S.A ❤ T.H – and so on. I stopped to read over them pensively, wondering what the love story was behind each one. Cyclists would occasionally ride past, but there would be no interaction this evening. I turned to lean my elbows on the railing, chin in hands as I watched the sun go down wistfully. As it fell lower in the sky so did my mood, until I’d dropped into a lonely state of melancholy, the most alone I’d felt in a long time. My thoughts drifted off with the river current, and I felt sad.

We’ve maybe all been there once, experiencing that moment when you suddenly realise something about that person: that person whose perfectly-sculpted face with the dimpled smile had mesmerised you for so long, giving you butterflies every time you saw them, to the extent that there were times you couldn’t look them in the eye for fear of blushing; whose hot and cold behaviour was always excused by you out of desire to believe they felt the same way, telling yourself that you could help motivate them to become a better person; that person who you had waited on for so many months, only to be repeatedly disappointed; someone whose company could be so magical, and yet leave behind a curse of confused questions. Finally there comes a time when you realise that you were completely deluded out of desperation, and they never really had felt the same way ever. Your feelings had been governed by a vision rather than by reality. You realise how humiliatingly and obviously un-reciprocal the whole affair was. Then you think of the people in the past who actually did care, whose friendship you had possibly sacrificed because of your obsession with this other person who was so emotionally unavailable. And now, that loyal friend was perhaps no longer available either, just when you would have truly cherished their company.

I stood gazing down into the water lost in my thoughts. Suddenly a lone swan glided out from underneath the bridge, as if it had been left by its friends back in Heidelberg and come wandering upland on its own. It was a pitiful scene – a bit like those drippy ones in American films where the guy/girl has just been left by their loved one and everyone seems to ‘have someone’ apart from them. I wanted to laugh and cry at the fact that my state of being was essentially being portrayed by a swan. Any minute now someone would probably come up and implore me not to jump. I decided to leave before things got too ridiculous…

The next morning I felt completely fine again, as if I’d been spring-cleaned of some dusty, lingering substance by an emotion that had arisen purely from the environment around me. A long-awaited cleansing. Funny how two similar places can arouse completely different emotions in someone, with no apparent warning. Rivers are continuously flowing and changing direction, just like romance. It’s the extreme emotions on either side of the water that people look for, or run away from. People cross the bridges over rivers in search of a new direction to follow, or to return back to something out of need. The river below contains the memories that people try to ignore or forget about, because of the uncertainty that they create. When you’re alone and stop halfway over the bridge and look down, you might find that they come back to you unexpectedly. There and then can you finally confront the feelings that you’ve been repressing. And after you do, the current of life will carry on as normal. It will possibly be one of the most valuable experiences of loneliness and sombreness that you’ve ever felt.

Homelessness in Hamburg

If you go out into the woods today (in Hamburg), you may come across what appears to be Hansel and Gretel’s house, as well as some other rather weird and wonderful characters.  One of the most interesting things I find about travelling is seeing familiar political or cultural themes in a foreign context, and being able to compare them.  It’s easy to forget that similar issues arise in countries with different languages or cultures. Having lived in London for nearly three years, I’m well aware that homelessness is a regular sight in cities. The public hold mixed feelings towards people living on the streets: some express sympathy for what they regard as an unfortunate state, happily giving money and volunteering in shelters; others are quick to label them as crooks and druggies, undeserving of pity. I’ve always adopted a neutral stance towards the issue, more likely to (although yet to) volunteer in a soup kitchen and provide help of a physical form, than give money which might not go towards a worthwhile purchase. I’ll admit that there have been many times when I’ve walked past someone asking for money, knowing full well that I had some change in my purse, but reluctant to give it away, just from a first impression of the person. Bad I know. But I’m sure I’m not the only one. So what was my experience of the homeless community like in another country?

If you take a train from Hamburg’s Altona station out to the suburbs and exit at Blankenesse, you’ll find a lovely, quiet town situated next to the River Elbe, ideal for long runs complete with refreshing rain showers at regular intervals. Having abandoned my map, I found myself climbing up some steps and wandering through woodland, only to pass a fence enclosing a herd of deer. Groups of bunnies chased each other in circles around the bushes. As I perplexedly watched a peacock stroll past and wondered if I’d stumbled across the home of the Brothers Grimm, a lady crawled out from under a bush mumbling in German. After explaining that I was English, she told me to watch out for homeless men in the bushes, stating that it was a common phenomenon in Hamburg. I asked if she herself had been hiding from someone, to which she replied “Me? Oh no, I was just having a piss!” After an awkward laugh I moved on, at first quite gingerly, peeping under bushes cautiously. Then I suddenly realised how ridiculous I was being and decided that I couldn’t take the woman seriously. Why would someone come all the way to a park to steal off someone when there were hardly any people around to steal from? I discovered that the lovely area was called Hirsch Park. It’s definitely worth a visit, just watch out for batty ladies peeing in bushes…

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The next day I was meeting a friend of my sister’s, who I’d ironically met a week earlier when she stayed at our home. I had a few hours to kill so headed north from Landungsbrücken and followed signs to Elb Park. Little did I realise that it’s actually a hot spot for homeless people. A large statue of Otto von Bismarck stands on a square at the top of some steps. Nobody else was in sight as I arrived and I wondered around looking at the graffiti on the stone, my shoes crunching on broken glass and cigarette butts. The sun was out and I sat on the wall, rummaging through my bag, taking things out and putting them on the side to look for my camera, purse included. Then I looked up and saw a man at the top of the steps 10 metres away, stood completely still and staring at me. I froze with the shock of his eyes being fixed on me, noting his raggedy clothes and hairy face and remembering the strange peeing lady’s comment. The man seemed to be staring at me for a lifetime, and it made me feel uneasy. So I slowly started to pack my things away. As I did so, the man sloped off to the section of wall on my left. I jumped off the wall and walked away around the other side of the statue, not looking back.

A few minutes later as I walked back down to the riverside, a sense of shame hit me. I realised that it was probably the case that I’d simply just been sat in the man’s normal place. He probably wasn’t used to seeing people hang around here and was unlikely to have caused any harm. And yet I had let a stereotype determine my behaviour. Whilst I had tried to prevent it seeming obvious that I was leaving out of fear, my actions were bound to have reinforced the stigma that he probably felt as a homeless person – someone judged and resented by society – pretty much the same way someone in London feels living in the same condition. I compared the scenario to the time in Canada when I’d been waiting at an empty bus stop and a man in his thirties on a bike had cycled over, stopping to chat. I’d happily engaged in a brief conversation with him. The key difference? He wasn’t homeless.

Too often people, especially women, are quick to assume that they are in a position of vulnerability, just because of a social label. And yet all one has to do is look at the recent outpour of sexual abuse cases in Britain to realise that actually, famous, wealthy and respected people in positions of influence are just as – if not more so because of their ability to manipulate others through their social status – capable of posing a threat to one’s welfare as someone with no money, influence and security. Evidently however, the British stereotype towards homelessness can also be seen in other prominent cities in highly economically-developed countries, creating a culture of fear and ridicule of homeless people. It would be interesting to see if such attitudes are similar in those countries with less state and public wealth, or whether the greater level of equality influences a more socially-accepting attitude towards those without a home.

Whilst finally sharing this guilty confession isn’t going to make me start giving all my cash away to every person I see sitting on the street pavements, it’s definitely going to make me be more considerate of them as human beings. We don’t know the circumstances that caused them to get into that position, so let’s not assume that they have dangerous intentions towards more fortunate others.

Souvenirs and Sentimentality

One day as I  went to leave my flat for a class during my second year of univesity, I went to spritz myself with some body spray, but nothing came out of the can. I shook it and pressed down harder on the releaser, but there was no sound of jolting liquid from inside; instead all I heard was a pathetic gasp of empty air. I unwillingly put the can back down, feeling a brief sense of glum. I had other deodorants and perfumes that I could use, but for some reason I still left feeling incomplete, as if I’d lost something.

Then a week later, my watch stopped working. At face value it’s not a particularly special watch of huge monetary worth – a black leather strap wearing away on the inside, its face with its lightly scratched surface surrounded by a golden rim smudged with fingerprints. Most people wouldn’t look twice at it, probably thinking it was a piece of junk. I didn’t even wear it in or outside the flat and hardly even used it to check the time, using items of technology such as my phone or laptop instead. And yet just having it around provided a sense of comfort, so that when I no longer heard its faint clicking and instead saw its hand twitching weakly, I felt a pang inside.

Why was it that I was so moved by these items losing their function? They seemed so insignificant. Financially they were of minute value. But their sentimental worth was huge.

I found the watch when I was in Australia, having met up with my sister for a road trip up the East Coast. We spent a night in a hostel in Byron Bay, where it was attached to the base of the bed above me. For some reason it really caught my interest, and I lay in bed just looking at it. I knew that it had probably been left there unintentionally, and that I should probably give it into reception in case someone returned for it. But another part of me wondered if it had been left there on purpose, as a ‘gift’ from one traveller to another. In the end, I took it with me. At first I felt quite bad for proclaiming it as my own – had I not technically just stolen something? But I later came to believe that I really had been meant to take it.

A few months later I was in Canada, on my first proper solo backpacking trip, with the watch strapped securely to my left wrist. On my first full day I went to see Niagara Falls. As a girl used to the countryside over the city, my arrival in Toronto had been pretty overwhelming and I was still not quite at ease with the whole ‘going-it-alone’ process. On the bus back, we passed a sprawling lawn decorated with a flowerbed cultivated into the words ‘School of Horticulture’. The words rang a bell but I wasn’t sure why. I absent-mindedly looked at ‘my’ watch to check the time, only to fully comprehend what the tiny writing on its face said: ‘Niagara Parks Commission –  School of Horticulture’.

Excitement shot up inside me. It was a bit like the feeling you get when you finally crack the answer to a difficult question – it’s often at a time when you aren’t really thinking about it and instead the answer suddenly comes to you just like that, causing a feeling of accomplishment and disbelief. Despite the seemingly obvious word ‘Niagara’ (and image of a maple leaf), never before had I associated the watch with Canada. The overly-imaginative girl inside me began to believe it was a sign; the watch had indeed been left for me and I’d been destined to come here all along, to continue the journey that its previous owner had begun, and perhaps other owners before him/her. I didn’t want to accept the high possibility that it had just been pure coincidence. Before arriving I’d had doubts about my reasoning and ability to travel alone, but now my trip seemed to have a greater purpose, and any doubts were washed away, all thanks to a boring old watch.

The story behind the body spray isn’t as memorable. I bought it in a ‘Canada Drugs’ store a few weeks into the trip, simply because (I was increasingly conscious of my lack of showering and) it was cheap, to the extent in fact that it was almost tacky (‘Mystical – Our Version of Fantasy Britney Spears’) But it had a nice smell – like candyfloss. Whenever its fragrance filled the air after returning home, the fumes would transform my mind back to little moments from the trip where the aroma had been present: moments of joy and excitement; friendship and romance; sadness and frustration. It seems pretty fascinating, when you think about it, how powerful this sense can be for stimulating certain emotions.

From that trip onwards, the watch went on to become for me that special ‘thing’ that many people have and always treasure. It’s normally a cuddly toy that one can snuggle with for comfort or childhood nostalgia, a special stone that acts as someone’s lucky charm, a poem written by a loved one, or a piece of jewellery passed down through a family generation. But for me, it was a plain old watch – an item that only I as the owner could understand the personal significance of. The watch is often a feature in my travel photos, yet few will probably pay much attention to it, viewing it as having only a practical purpose. But it’s the personal experiences surrounding such random objects that make them so special and worth holding onto. They are a gateway to a meadow of memories.

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It’s fair to say I can get a bit OCD about collecting souvenirs though. And by ‘souvenirs’ I don’t mean t-shirts or mugs bought from a shop at the airport, baring the country’s flag. When I returned home from Canada and reluctantly began unpacking, jumbled together in a plastic bag at the bottom of my bag was a bunch of travel tickets and scrunched-up receipts from certain Canadian shops; dog-eared tour brochures and ripped maps; scraps of paper on which I’d written notes of bus times or the name of a musician I’d heard; pebbles and flattened grass stalks; wrappers and labels from confectionary and drinks specific to that country. I knew it looked slightly OTT, and yet when I discovered later that one of the chocolate wrappers had been put in my bin (mother!) I rushed over in horror to remove it and place it delicately in a box that would later become devoted to travel souvenirs, as if returning an abandoned baby to its cot. Some might say this is the behaviour of a person with worryingly excellent stalking potential, but fresh from the trip I was just so desperate to cling onto every memory.  Each random item took me back to experiences that I wanted to remember, either because they made me feel proud, happy, amused or curious.

Now I’m a little more relaxed when it comes to my souvenir-hoarding, by that meaning I’ve removed the presence of food-related memoirs (mainly because it just makes you crave something you can’t access in your own country). But I stand by the other assortments, curious as to whether, looking through them again in 40 years, they would spark a recollection of some personal event or emotion. I think on the whole, the weirder one’s collection of souvenirs, the more interesting stories they have to tell. It’s fair enough for someone to return home with a load of expensive items from Duty Free, or famous gifts from the Tourist Office shop, but it’s unlikely that these items will provide a special memory of a place. Furthermore, everyone can take a photo of one famous amazing site, but photographs alone can’t necessarily remind one of a unique memory related to it.

You might be wondering how I managed to keep a 75ml can of body spray going for two and a half years. I think that sub-consciously  I was conserving it, not wanting to finish it because that would mean the ending of a tie to certain memories. And so when there was nothing left in that can it was briefly a sad moment, because it appeared to reflect the loss of a link. Likewise, seeing the watch sit silent seemed to signal the end of something, as if a chapter had been closed. Canada was the story I’d been forced to stop reading early because an upcoming degree required other commitments,  and I was reluctant to forget the storyline and the characters completely. The spritzes of spray in the months after acted as a reminder; snippets from the plot I’d immersed myself in. Whilst I had fantastic stories to tell from countries elsewhere afterwards, Canada continued to top the list for the book I found hardest to put down. Now that the scent would no longer hover through the air and the watch no longer tick along, it was as if there were no more words to read –  it was time to accept that, two and a half years on, the trip was officially in the past and no longer a new, glossy book on my memory shelf.

Of course, this doesn’t at all mean that the memories are gone forever. But when one places so much sentimental value on an object, it is easy to feel that a connection to an experience has been weakened in some way. Some people might think trying to maintain strong attachments to travel memories through the form of objects is lame. But what’s wrong with trying to retain a nostalgic association, if the experience really meant something to you? I don’t think people should feel embarrassed about holding onto certain mementoes from a trip because they might seem pointless, unfashionable or weird to others. At the end of the day, it was your personal experience and only you can understand the sentimental worth of something.  Hold on to anything that made you feel anything, because then in later years you at least give yourself a chance to reflect and remember.

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Relevant links: Souvenir Finder

10 Reasons to do a Help-Exchange

When planning a trip, I tend to split it into two sections – part of it involves true hostel-loving backpacking, the other a help-exchange. We’re living in a day and age where students and ‘gap yah’ kids will spend huge amounts of money to volunteer in an orphanage in a developing country for two weeks, in an attempt to boost their CV with extra credentials. Personally, I’m not a fan of this organised travel; partly for the reason that I believe it does little to encourage independence and travelling skills; partly because I’m not convinced that continuously passing young children onto different groups to be ‘cooed’ over and have photos taken with is beneficial for their mental well-being and social development. (This article sums it up brilliantly). Students may also be lured into paying extortionate amounts of money for holiday package tours, where they only mingle with fellow tourists and essentially see the country for five minutes.

If you do a help-exchange in contrast, you’ll spend so much less money, yet probably get so much more out of the experience. The system is simple – you register with a website, pay an £18-£20 membership fee that’s valid for two years, and create a profile for yourself. You can then scout the website’s host listing, or hosts can contact you. The idea is that you do four-six hours of work a day for your host in return for free meals and accommodation, so that you’re both doing each other a favour. In your free time you’re free to go off exploring on your own. A help-exchange can be done in any country on any continent, with an incredible range of options on offer – from helping an Eco camp in Africa build a school for six weeks, to looking after huskies in Norway for one week. Below are ten extensive reasons why you should consider doing one yourself!

1. Develop social skills & independence
The process of organising a help-exchange requires the sole effort of the applicant: you yourself have to find an appropriate host decisively but considerately, noting their requirements whilst taking into account your relevant skills and other travel plans. Instead of filling out an application form, you have to contact the host directly either by phone or email, ensuring you come across as friendly, coherent and suitable in a few sentences without referring to your ‘exceptional’ A level results. You have to organise how you get to your host – sometimes you might be asked to turn up at the door – in which case you need to plan travel arrangements. And finally, you have to introduce yourself to your host using communication skills that convey your genuine personality rather than the one you might use to impress someone in a job interview, and conduct yourself aptly for a guest. The process is like a less formal version of applying for a job – there are fewer competitors, no strict deadlines and no daunting interviews. Help-exchanges are also a great way to boost one’s confidence at meeting new people.

 2.  Save money & recuperate
A help-exchange is budget travel at its best. Even staying in hostels that only cost £17 per night starts to add up if you’re on a long trip. The particularly great thing about a help-exchange is how spontaneous it can be – you can contact somebody even when you’re in the country having commenced your travels – ideal if you’ve suddenly found yourself short of funds or there’s been a problem with your current accommodation. Staying in one place for a while also allows the weary traveller to rest their body and mind – it’s nice to have some time off lugging a backpack around everyday, or constantly thinking about public transport timetables and hostel bookings for the day ahead. Saving money on the practicalities of food and accommodation also means your pennies can be put towards more exciting activities in your free time. Plus, being given free meals in return for your help makes a nice change from a cheap ‘on-the-road’ diet of cheese-sandwiches, bananas and biscuits…

3. Develop new practical skills
The wide range of jobs that hosts advertise for help with means that you can guarantee learning a new skill, ranging from knitting to carpentry. Sometimes I’ve not contacted a host whose description sounded perfect in so many ways, just because I had no experience of the specific work they needed help with. But one occasion where I didn’t let this feeling of inadequacy put me off was with a family on Vancouver Island. They owned a vineyard, and as much my mum might have tried to encourage me over the years, I had no experience of pruning. As I was shown what to do on my first day thoughts of: ‘Oh crap, I’m totally going to ruin this guy’s vines, he’s going to be annoyed with me!’ filled my head. Then I remembered that it wasn’t a test, and I wouldn’t be judged for asking questions, but was actually more likely to be respected for trying to ensure I did a decent job.

Even when you’re not working, you can still learn new skills in your free time from family members. The first time I went fishing was during a help-exchange in southern BC (I wasn’t very successful). On another exchangeI learned the basics of lacrosse and after a few attempts (and one fall) had (almost) mastered the art of longboarding. It’s unlikely I would have accessed such activities so easily when travelling around alone.

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4. Inspire youth
Being the youngest of five children, I’ve never had much of an opportunity to be a ‘big sister’ to anyone, but taking part in help-exchanges has changed that, as I’ve been able to become a confidante to those a few years younger than me. Being trusted by an adult you’ve never met to take a position of responsibility over their children is a humbling gesture, and as a result makes you determined to live up to the duty and set an example. In my case this has mainly involved listening to problems, sometimes of an everyday form and sometimes more serious, and using my experience to give advice for the short or long term. With young teenage girls I think, being female myself, that it’s a particularly rewarding process. They’re going through a stage when older authority can be resented, and being a good role model without alienating them can be quite challenging. But if you get the balance right, you’re likely to see reserved body language become more confident and bored facial expressions develop into expressions of curiosity and familiarity, as they realise that the new girl in their house is actually not that bad, even though she travels by herself/is single/wearing scruffy clothes and no make-up/into running/a bit of a geek. I hope that as a result of this, most of the girls I’ve stayed with have decided that they too would like to embark on their own independent travel adventure one day. Help-exchanges demonstrate that you don’t have to be in a less-developed country (or pay lots of money) to have a strong impact on someone’s life.

5. Expand human knowledge
Taking part in help-exchanges has made me become a better reader of both individual people and families, reminding me in the process that despite any cultural differences, certain human emotional dilemmas occur universally. As a result I feel like I’ve gained greater maturity and sensitivity, which can be applied to everyday life. It’s something that can’t be taught, only obtained through observational experience. An example is from Canada, where I lived with a 15 year old girl whose life, at the insistence of her mother, revolved around horse-riding and ice hockey. Most of the time she was reserved around the household. Then at the end of the week the two of us went to the cinema and I saw an excitement in her that I hadn’t seen before, realising that it was simply because she wasn’t used to going out for social events. Away from her normal routine and slightly domineering mother, she felt freer and more open. Meanwhile on an exchange in Germany, the 18 year old daughter started tearing up as she said goodbye to her parents before they left for their holiday. She wouldn’t see them when they got back as she would be on holiday herself. “I just feel bad because by going away and doing my own things I see them less, and they’re only getting older,” she explained to me after they’d gone. I could completely empathise with her, having experienced similar feelings of guilt in relation to my own parents. It was an irrational feeling that I hadn’t considered might be felt by others. Doing a help exchange can make a ‘foreigner’ seem more familiar, while also giving you something to take back to your own family; be that a greater appreciation of or the inspiration to change its dynamic!

6. Practise a language
The best way to learn a language is through immersion – visit the relevant country and spend time with native-speakers, listening to their conversations and attempting to initiate ones yourself. Even if you’re not planning to learn the language (mastering Icelandic in two weeks would have been asking a bit too much), it’s nice to simply listen to the different sounds and watch people interact through it, sometimes being able to guess what they’re talking about from their actions. While staying with a small family in Germany, I would carry a notepad around with me, at times randomly asking the daughter, “How would I say this?” or “What does that word you keep saying mean?” She would also ask for clarification that her English was okay too, so that both of us were benefitting. I was then able to use what I’d learned after I moved on from the family. It makes a nice change from hostels and charity volunteering camps where, on the whole, English is the international language. And even better: the tuition is free.

7. Learn about other cultures
Living in a family’s home creates an intimate environment where you can witness the everyday native lifestyle – it’s the best way to learn about the values and norms of the country, either through conversations or general observation. Whilst on my Icelandic help-exchange I was told about Christmas traditions (including a detailed description, involving a picture book, of the 13 different Santas), as well as the less obvious and random traits of the country’s culture. For example: when trying to establish ages, an Icelander will always ask for year of birth over the actual number; a wife doesn’t take her husband’s surname – instead it is always the father’s name, ending with the prefix ‘dottir’ for girls and ‘son’ for boys; names of all residents are written underneath the house number next to the door; dried haddock is a popular snack, and so forth… Staying with locals gives one a greater awareness of and access to the signature brands and dishes of that country, such as ‘Tim Hortons’ in Canada and Skyr yoghurt in Iceland.

Doing a few help-exchanges in different areas is even better, as you get to witness the variety of the country for yourself, just like someone travelling to England would notice changes between London and Yorkshire. For example, I could sense varying attitudes towards immigration, marriage and careers in different areas of BC which, as a History student, I found really interesting. What’s more, if there are other foreign helpers staying at the house, you can learn more about their culture too. The first time I had a proper conversation with someone from China was during a help-exchange in Canada, while meeting a few Germans there partly inspired my decision to travel there the next summer.

8. Integrate into a family and community
In previous posts I’ve written about the overwhelming effect of being welcomed into a host’s life so warmly. Sometimes the ‘click’ won’t happen, either inevitably from significant differences in outlook, or as a result of events during the exchange. But when it does, especially in such a short period, it’s a very touching experience. This, combined with getting to know the local area well, can make you really feel ‘at home’. Doing errands for a host in Germany such as going to the post office and doing the shopping required me to familiarise myself with the area, making me feel like part of the community by the end of the exchange. By the end of my week with a family in Reykjavík, I was on greeting terms with an old man who walked his pug at the same time as I walked my host’s border collie. At family dinners or parties, I’ve been involved in the conversation almost, at times, like a member of the family. Such moments can lead to a bond with a family – a long-term bond that hasn’t been formed through the influence of alcohol and consolidated by the desire for a companion to provide temporary convenience and security, as is quite often the case with volunteer-travel friendships.

For me having no younger siblings, forming a bond with a child or young teenager is particularly special. At first introduction they are often quite shy and making conversation isn’t so easy. My Icelandic help-exchange also involved babysitting an eight year old. His English was exceptional, but there still seemed to be a barrier as we sat eating breakfast on my first morning. After getting a shrug in response to “What’s your favourite subject at school?” I asked if he wanted to walk the dog with me: “Nahhh”; or go swimming: “No thanks.” Hmmm. ‘It’s going to be a long week,’ I though despairingly. “Maybe you’d like to play a game?” I asked hopefully. The boy said nothing. Then suddenly his eyes lit up: “Do you like Star Wars?” Ermm… “Yeahhhhh!” I replied enthusiastically. I know nothing about Star Wars. The next two hours was spent playing a game with no idea what I was doing. But it was worth it, because by the end of it the boy was interacting with me more. Within the next few days I was making him laugh as we played toy soldiers or football, and chatting animatedly with him. Then came the day when he asked “Will you be here this time next week?” followed by a sad “N’owhh” when I said no, and upon hearing that I welled up.

One might say that the same emotion can be experienced after looking after an orphan as part of a charity project, but I would disagree. A charity scheme essentially requires a bond to be formed, by expecting volunteers to devote complete attention to a child who is not already emotionally attached to a regularly-present biological relative. In contrast, children from a host family are less likely to require or crave a new bond, simply because they already have a strong and satisfying connection with their family.  The process of forming a bond is therefore more contingent on both characters involved, which subsequently makes it feel more treasurable.

9. See incredible places & do amazing activities for free
They say that guide books shouldn’t be relied on as source for travel ideas, and help-exchanges prove it. A key reason I’m such a big fan of them is because of their potential to help one discover a phenomenal area of the world, or be given a rare opportunity to do something wonderful. For example, one of my help-exchanges in BC involved working on an Andalusian horse farm, where I helped care for and exercise the horses. Being allowed to ride such beautiful animals as ‘work’ made me feel so lucky, as I thought about what some people would give to be in my position. Another family took me tubing down the Similkameen River, and on my final night with them we drank beers and ate ‘smors’ around a campfire in the Okanogan forest, giving me a true rural Canadian experience. This was an area that I would probably not have considered visiting had I been touring the area independently, because of both the lack of tourist accommodation and lack of attention given to it in my guide book. On Vancouver Island, my hosts lived five minutes from the beach, from where I could admire some of the most enchanting sunsets I’ve ever seen. I was given a tour of Victoria and taken out on the family’s boat for an evening cruise. Meanwhile in Germany I was taken on an afternoon sight-seeing tour of Frankfurt with all the benefits of local knowledge, and in Iceland I got to experience the brilliant Culture Night celebrations with native company. For just a few hours work a day, you can receive something back in return that no salary, no matter how big, could buy.

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10. Form special memories & valuable contacts
The sense of accomplishment after discovering or arriving at a stunning place completely on my own is what makes me love travelling alone…but I’d be lying if I said that some of my favourite and strongest memories from trips haven’t come from help-exchange experiences. Some of them are from the examples stated in #9, while some weren’t necessarily so treasured at the time but in hindsight have provided extraordinary tales of great humour that, without a help-exchange, I probably wouldn’t have experienced. Take the time I went to a house party in Canada, only to find myself constructing a sling out of a tea towel for a guy who broke his collarbone after falling off his quad-bike whilst riding under a very very large influence; or the time a host asked me to give her daughter a lift to a bonfire party in her car (as if having to quickly adjust to driving in an opposite way to what I was used to without damaging her car wasn’t enough, I then had to reverse half a mile along a dyke in the dark after we took a wrong turn); and last but not least was the time one family’s 12 year old daughter jokingly drove a lawnmower towards where I was sunbathing on a downhill slope before parking up, only for someone to start screaming at me to move (she’d forgotten to put the handbrake on…)

Then of course, there are the friends that can be made from a help-exchange, either host’s children or fellow helpers, who themselves account for many of the memories formed. I’m still in regular contact with many of those people I’ve been fortunate to stay with, one of whom I visited in Germany after meeting her in Canada, and one of whom I travelled around the USA with three years after first meeting. These people provide a travel contact either for at the time of the exchange or in future, and meeting them has inspired me to become a host one day myself, in the hope of meeting even more special people and creating even more special memories.

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Being involved in a help-exchange is beneficial for a range of reasons: the potential to help a person develop for the better whilst allowing them to have an impact on someone else; the potential for new knowledge, exciting opportunities and significant experiences; the potential to form strong friendships; and simply for the potential to produce a fulfilling sense of knowing you’ve done someone a favour, whilst also feeling extremely grateful for what they’ve done for you. And the best thing about it is that these elements can be attained without having to spend thousands of pounds.

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Been convinced? Check out some of the websites below and get your own help-exchange adventure started!

http://www.workaway.info/
http://www.helpx.net/
http://www.wwoof.net/

Saturday Nights in Hamburg

One of the first words that springs to mind when one thinks of Germany is ‘Oktoberfest’. The world-famous festival brings natives and tourists alike to Munich to engage in plenty of dirndl-donning, beer-drinking and würst-eating. In the past few days, friends in Germany have been filling my Facebook newsfeed with updates about and photos of the festivities. Apart from making me feel extremely jealous, these posts also brought back memories of just how fun partying in Germany can be.

But for once, Berlin is not the destination of topic. Whilst the capital may boast a circus of energetic youth, Hamburg is actually regarded by many Germans as the country’s best city. And after spending a week there in July 2012, I can see why. Situated on the River Elbe in the north, this city has many options to help ensure that during a summer visit, you have a memorable(?) Saturday evening.

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 If the weather is good, a perfect place to start your Saturday evening in Hamburg is at a river-beach bar, such as StrandPauli. Sand and rustic umbrellas created an authentic setting and the youthful summer vibe was completed by a sound system playing the likes of MGMT and Empire of the Sun. Guys on deck chairs nudged their mates in the direction of groups of girls gossiping over glasses of sparkling rhubarb punch, daring each other to go over. Order a bottle of the refreshingly fruity Schöfferhofer Weizen-Mix, pop your shades on and your feet up, and you’ll forget that you’re actually in a city…

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Around 7pm, get rid of your hunger pangs by sampling some German cuisine. ‘Frank und Frei’ is situated near the Sternschanze S-bahn directly north of StrandPauli. This laid-back mixture of a pub and restaurant had plenty of outdoor seating, and you might even make friends with a local cat or two…Flammkuchen was one of the specialities – it’s a bit like pizza but with a thinner base and no tomato sauce. Cheese and pear were a great combination.

A trip to Planten un Blomen is a must on a Saturday evening in summer. If you carry on along the S-bahn and exit at Dammtor, the beacon of Heinrich Hertz Turm will guide you the short way to the beautiful park, home to a flurry of flower-beds showing all kinds of colours. A large pond sits in the middle of the grounds, complete with a little family of ducks. Every evening in the summer season, columns of water illuminated with different colours are projected from a machine beneath this pond in time to classical music. It’s a very enchanting performance. Visitors sit on the banks or stand, watching in respectful serenity. The tranquil environment that results from the combination of sounds and sights makes these outdoor concerts popular with all ages of people wishing to be serenaded after a busy day in the office, or as a treat for the family.

What’s particularly great about Planten un Blomen is that it’s free to enter, so you could enjoy the concerts every night, even in the rain. With its quintessential romantic setting, Planten un Blomen offers visitors the chance to enjoy both music and the outdoors in perfect harmony (pun intended). Bring a rug, some wine, and a date.

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I soon learned just how much variation Hamburg has to offer on that same night when I visited St Pauli, home of the Reeperbahn – Hamburg’s red light district. The streets were bustling with party people as women paraded around selling condoms and sex toys alongside clubs flashing ‘Table Dancers’ in bright lights above steamy windows. I’d joined up with an international youth camp for my visit. The male tour guide looked quite uncomfortable as a scantily-clad lady in a window beckoned him over…

The Reeperbahn is a popular choice for hen and stag-do parties, and I myself was approached in a bar by an English man out with a groom-to-be and friends, who greeted me with a cocky “Now my German isn’t great, but…” Awkward. The fact that 16 year olds are allowed in bars until 12 midnight could make this a potential cause for concern, but on the whole (ignoring the Herbertstrasse which prohibits all non-working women from entering) the area felt safe due to the large but not over-bearing police presence.

Along with offering various restaurants, clubs and all that other naughty stuff, the Reeperbahn is also home to a number of music venues where the Beatles used to perform before hitting the big time. One of them was the club Grosse Freiheit 36, situated right amongst all the street action. This could explain the large queues to get inside. A more intimate and chilled place to have drinks is Albers Bar. Located on the outside street of the Reeperbahn, this had a fun vibe inside, playing requests which included Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday’. The super-chilled staff would sing along behind the bar as they made cocktails and drank shots with customers. I was handed a Pina Colada “with extra rum”.

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The U-Bahn conveniently runs until 3 a.m. which made a nice change from London’s 12 midnight deadline, and I was able to walk back in the dark alone from Altona station to my accommodation with no problems. If you wake on Sunday morning feeling unsatisfied with your antics from the night before, you can head down to the Fischmarkt situated just below Langdungsbrϋcken. I arrived just as the stalls were clearing up, although the smell still lingered…Evidently this is the place where the hardcore party-lovers stumble to at 5 a.m. in the morning to complete the “hair of the dog” in the Fischauktionshalle, which also shows live music.

My Saturday night in Hamburg provided so many different experiences, each of which brought a fresh new mood to the evening. Whether you’re looking for peace and romance or parties and risqué fun, Hamburg is guaranteed to have something up your street, whatever colour of light is your favourite…