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Hamburg view of the port with lots of ships and buildings in background

European Adventure Part Deux Hamburg

So ever since my last European outing back in 2017, a return trip was definitely in order. I couldn’t believe that two years had already passed. Amazing how time flies! I was certainly due for another European adventure! Once again, I’m including a link to all my photos…Photo Album, for those who prefer visuals along with words. The focus of this new trip would be more about reconnecting with old friends and to a lesser extent about making new ones.

The primary motivator behind my trip was being invited to a wedding along with visiting friends that I had promised to visit for quite some time now. Most of them I met during my short time in DC. Once again, it all worked out pretty conveniently and coincidentally enough. I had the time, the resources but more importantly, most people were available which is often the hardest thing to find.

It all started with an invitation from Kenia and Simone to attend their wedding in Italy. Then shortly after, I learned one of my friends (Yesi) was visiting another mutual friend of ours in Germany (Demet) around that same time. So formal invitation, convenient coincidences and a lingering desire to visit the Netherlands, combined to motivate me to promptly start making my travel plans. Not that you should ever really need an excuse nor reason but getting to spend quality time and enjoy special life experiences with friends is definitely a good one in my book!

I decided to plan my trip around Labor Day weekend which is considered the unofficial end of summer here in the states. The use of this holiday, as well as some accumulated PTO, allowed me to take off for a little over 2 weeks. This trip would once again have me flying out of NYC in order to take advantage of the good flight deals. This time instead of taking a 4.5hr bus ride from DC, I opted for taking the train. I remember starting my train journey at exactly 11:11 a.m. A good omen perhaps?

Hamburg

My friends recommended that I make it a point to visit Hamburg on this trip since I was already visiting other German cities and towns nearby. So my first official stop this time would be in the stalwart port city of Hamburg and the second-largest city in Germany.

Hamburg was also the city that took the most damage from Allied bombing during WWII and it was pretty evident in its architecture. You could still see it in the sharp contrast of old and new architecture but mostly in the form of newly recreated buildings that were designed to closely mimic what was once lost. Lost but thankfully not forgotten.

Hamburg definitely had that industrialized feel all throughout the city. Not surprisingly, everything revolves around the port with plenty of ships, cranes, waterways and inlets. The recognizable Speicherstadt district is at the heart of all this along with the iconic Wasserschloss, the famous water castle which nowadays doubles as a restaurant.

I ended up staying in the infamous Reeperbahn area which is better known as the red light district. Just like other red-light districts throughout Europe, it ends up being more of a tourist center or trap than anything else. Complete with tourist shops, convenience stores and fast food places on almost every single corner. With a few decent restaurants thrown into the mix as well but most of what you’ll find here is pretty mediocre and overpriced.

The food of choice seemed to be middle eastern fast food with Döner Kebab being the most popular. At times it felt like I was in Turkey instead of Germany. I would later find out that food-wise this would be the case all throughout most of Northern Germany.

Finding a good traditional German meal spot was tough so on my last day, I decided to try a Polish restaurant instead which was recommended by a local with the caveat warning that they had not tried it yet. It ended up being pretty mediocre as well. So lesson learned and pro travel tip number 1: if you want to find a decent meal in Hamburg you definitely have to leave the Reeperbahn.

Thankfully there were plenty of opportunities to venture out into other neighborhoods. I did the typical touristy stuff like going down to the port area of Landungsbrücken and enjoying beautiful views of the ships, buildings and of course the Elbe river. Hafencity was a personal favorite of mine which is home to one of the largest modern concert halls in the world, the Elbphilharmonie. The building itself is a product of cool looking architectural design. Going inside and enjoying the view from the top is free btw and a must-do!

The Alstadt and Neustadt areas which are home to the financial center district but also border parts of beautiful Alster Lake were equally nice to see. Of particular interest to me was an affluent neighborhood that I had heard much about called Blakenese in the far Eastern part of the city right along the Elbe. The description I read was one of elegant white houses all along the river with a promenade strand, spacious green park areas and of course the infamous mystical and some say haunted old lighthouse that watches over the Elbe.

I chose to take the ferry there from the main port area. Which brings me to pro travel tip number 2: Unlimited use of the ferries are free and included in your city transportation pass. So feel free to use them for conducting your very own harbor tour without having to pay extra, unless of course you really want that guided tour. Venturing all the way to the actual neighborhood of Blankenese still requires you to transfer to a bus but you get to enjoy all those beautiful viewpoints from the Elbe that you wouldn’t gain from any other mode of transportation.

Blankenese was just as opulent as described. A gentleman I met on the ferry joked that it was considered the poor part of town. Hardly, it actually reminded me of another equally wealthy neighborhood in San Diego, California called La Jolla which literally translates to “the Jewel.” It even had the same set of intricate stone steps all throughout.

It was indeed a beautiful area but one of my favorite memories here was stumbling across a really good Gelato place and my first good Gelato experience on this trip. The place was called La Casa del Gelato and it was run by an Italian family. Authentic Italian Gelato in Blankenese, Hamburg, who knew?

On my second to last day in Hamburg, I decided to venture out into another neighborhood that I had been hearing much about called the Sternschanze. This was the cool hipster neighborhood that was more reminiscent of what you would find in Berlin. Aside from hipsters, there’s also a small Portuguese community here as well, which translates to better food options. Tapas restaurants, small funky shops and fun bars line the streets. Not to mention more good Gelato!

I also decided to meet up with a Couchsurfing group that was hosting their weekly happy hour at a bar called the Kosmos. Turns out the guy who runs the bar is also a couch surfer. It was a good time. Typical of the kind of stuff you would expect from a Couchsurfing get together. I met people from all over the world. We laughed, we drank, we ate, we shared great travel stories and tips.

They informed me of the current state of Couchsurfing these days in Hamburg, apparently like other cities it’s not as prevalent as it once was. Still, a very nice crowd showed up and when the night was over, we all took a group picture under the bar’s neon red lights with a promise to one day meet up again.

Onward to Lübeck

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