Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Travelling to Bamberg

There is an old Japanese proverb that says "It is better to travel in hope than to arrive disenchanted." I wouldn't say at all that our trip to Bamberg, in northern Bavaria, earlier this summer, was in any way disenchanting, far from it - we had an absolutely brilliant time. What I am saying though is that whilst our journey there wasn't the most straight forward of affairs, it was still an interesting one nevertheless.

The easiest, and quickest way of reaching this wonderfully unspoilt Franconian city from the UK is to fly to Nuremberg, from Stanstead, and then take the train. Air Berlin are the only budget carrier I know that operate this route, and I have used this option before, but this year, possibly because I left our booking a little late, their flights seemed rather expensive. Looking at alternatives I discovered that Easy Jet flights to Munich were considerably cheaper, so being someone who prefers to spend money on the important things in life ie. beer, I decided to explore this option further.

I knew from past experience that Deutsche Bahn offer their excellent Bayern Ticket, which allows up to five adults to travel by train, anywhere within the state of Bavaria for just 30 Euros. This ticket would also have been the cheapest option had we chosen to take the train from Nuremberg, so financially the Munich route looked by far the better deal. The only slight snag was the increased journey times; four and a half hours travel from Munich, as opposed to one and a half hours from Nuremberg, (I have included the time taken to travel to and from the airport).

Taking the time factor into consideration, we decided to go for the Munich option; after all a journey by train, with DB, would afford the chance to view the Bavarian countryside and, what's more, we had full days at the beginning and the end of the holiday to make the journey. All that remained to be done was book the flights with Easy Jet, and check on the Deutsche Bahn website for a detailed breakdown of our journey.

They say the best laid plans sometimes go astray and so it proved on the day of our departure. We arrived bright and early at Stanstead, only to discover there was a delay to our flight. In the end the delay only turned out to be a 90 minute one, but it still meant that the train times I had so carefully researched and printed off were rendered useless.

Leaving a wet and windy Stanstead behind and arriving in 30 degree heat at Munich's Franz Josef Strauss Airport, we made our way to the Deutsche Bahn booking information centre, where I proceeded, in my best German, to enquire about travelling to Bamberg by means of a Bayern Ticket. The gentleman behind the desk explained that if we caught a bus to nearby Freising, we would be able to board a direct train to Nuremberg, thereby negating having to travel into Munich Hauptbahnhof. The short bus section of the journey was covered by our ticket, and to assist us even further, along with our ticket, he kindly printed us off a detailed journey-plan, giving details of train departure and arrival times, platform numbers etc. Now that's what I call service - UK Train Operators please take note!

It was a short walk to the bus stop just outside the terminal, and then an equally short wait for the bus. We then had a ride out passed the various airport out-buildings and car parks and out into some very pleasant open countryside, before arriving in Freising some 20 minutes later.

Freising is an ancient ecclesiastical town to the north-west of Munich, and is home to several breweries, including the world-renowned Weihenstephan Brauerei. I had visited Freising five years previously, on my first visit to Munich, and had our original schedule gone to plan there would have been time to sample the wares of one the aforementioned breweries. Unfortunately time was not on our side, so after alighting at the station, and with only half an hour to wait before our train, we just had sufficient time to nip into the local REWE supermarket and buy some bottled water, plus nibbles to consume on the train, before hastily grabbing a couple of rolls from a kiosk at the station.

Our journey took us roughly north-eastwards towards Regensburg, through some pleasant country-side, but unfortunately it was rather hot on the train as the air-conditioning didn't appear to be working. Pulling into Regensburg brought back memories of an excellent holiday two years previously in this pleasant eastern Bavarian town and as we continued towards Nuremberg, the air-conditioning miraculously sprang back into life so we ended up enjoying the rest of the journey in comfort.

It was the start of the rush hour when we arrived in Nuremberg, and our onward train to Bamberg was very crowded. We ended up standing most of the way, but fortunately the journey time was only 45 minutes. We reached our destination just after 5.30pm, local time, and after checking into our holiday apartment, unpacking and freshening up, were soon ensconced in the pleasant beer garden at the rear of Greifenklau Brauerei.

The homeward journey was more or less the reverse of the outward, except that we caught the RE Nuremberg - Munich Express, which instead of running via Regensburg, took a more direct, and very scenic route via Ingolstadt. There were some high rolling hills to admire, and consequent long tunnels to travel through. We also got a good glimpse of Germany's main hop-growing region, the Hallertau, which lies to the north of Munich.

This time we journeyed right into the centre of Munich, and after depositing our bags in the left luggage lockers at the Hauptbahnhof, had the afternoon free for some last minute shopping, plus a bit of drinking. We made the obligatory visit to the Hofbraeuhaus, and after a spot of lunch spent the afternoon in the shady beer garden of the Augustiner Keller. This turned out to be a good means of escaping the high temperatures which, by this time must have been in the mid thirties!

All in all then, it was a most successful trip and whilst not the quickest route to our holiday destination, certainly turned out to be an interesting one.