Last November I was supposed to fly to Paris. A few weeks before my departure date, the city experienced a terrorist attack and was put into a state of emergency. My flight was canceled. I thought about canceling my whole trip and I’m sure that’s what my boyfriend and my family would have preferred. But I’d been planning this trip for half a year. It was the culmination of a promise I had made to myself long before that. So I changed my itinerary slightly.
I left for Europe a month later than my original plan and I arrived first in Hamburg, Germany. Giving Paris time to settle, I would save it for last. Traveling from Hamburg to Cologne, then crossing the border into France– going to Lyon, and finally Paris, where I would fly out.
An old Oxford friend of mine is currently living in Hamburg and she invited me to come stay with her. I knew little of the city and had no real expectations. That gave me the chance to simply take the city as it was. An unusually organic traveling experience in the age of mapping out and researching everything to death.
Weirdly, when I find myself missing Europe, I find myself longing most to return to Hamburg. I was bewitched by this port city.
It’s a very watery place where rivers converge and form large, lake area quite close to my friend’s flat. Even in January, the off-season, the walking paths around the water were full of people on bikes, moms with strollers, couples with dogs. Cafes peppered the street and riverbanks, some on the water even had “boat-up” windows for the summer season.
It’s a big enough city to have a huge library, a big central shopping area, and a moderately diverse population (in my quest to cook Korean food for my hosts, I discovered several Asian markets in the immediate vicinity). It’s a very walkable and bikeable city due to its size and wide sidewalks. But it’s also fitted with a metro and bus system. The public transit was surprisingly quaint, still employing paper passes and physical ticket checks. For day to day commuting, that might prove a bit annoying. But as a break from the super high-speed, digitized world of Seoul, it was refreshing and kind of endearing.
On Sundays, nearly everything shut except some local bakeries and a local street market with homemade pasta and cheese, fresh pastries, licorice, and produce. I may have overdone it on bread and beer actually. I was even moved to try salted licorice, a phenomenon found mainly in the northern parts of Europe. Germany’s licorice isn’t as strong as the sort that some Swedish friends tried to trick me into eating once. After a few days, I started to see how it can be strangely satisfying.
Even in winter, it was a stunning city. Lots of great food and cool museums. I’d love to see it in full bloom some summer.