Hanseatic League Trip – August 2018

After just 24 hours in Bremen (which is enough to get a good grasp of the town), we were to finally leave Germany. While we always call this a road trip, the reality is that we did not drive ourselves. Travelling through mainland Europe can be quite inexpensive, either by train or bus. From Copenhagen to Hamburg we took a train (a train that went into a ferry, remember?). From Hamburg to Bremen we took a Flixbus and, since the experience had been so great (and cheap!) we did the same from Bremen to Groningen, our next stop (for around €17 each!).

Remember I told you about the lovely part of Bremen and the not-so-nice one? Well, guess which one did our bus leave from? The latter, correct! Lucky us! As you know, I live in London, so I have seen it all, but I must say are fellow travellers looked… let’s say peculiar.

But, anyway, I digress…. The drive from Bremen to Groningen is a mere 2 and a half hours through motorway and through some very small villages in northern Germany. All quite uniform up until you enter The Netherlands. Boy is the change obvious! The land is as flat as a pancake: not a mountain, a hill or a side of an off the road mount… Nothing. Just land and trees that you can look at for miles, until you approach Groningen.

Groningen is almost picture perfect. And eerie. It’s one of those places where you really feel you are walking through history and I am not just saying this, I mean it. The bus leaves you right beside the train station, south of the town. Cross the bridge (first canal in The Netherlands in this trip) and you enter the “Binnenstad”. Be mindful that this is The Netherlands so of course the town has a couple of red light streets. As we walked through “Schoolholm”, we were worried that all those ladies looking at us because of the racket we were making with our wheelie suitcases, but after a minute or so, we realised what it was and were, well, mortified.

Anyway, going back to the story, the “Binnenstad” is the heart of the town, a “floating” one, since it’s perfectly surrounded by water. As you enter the town, you start going back in time until you are firmly set in the 40s. I know it’s not true and that there are a number of buildings that well precede that decade as well as others that were built after, but I felt I was walking through WWII. By the time we reached the Grote Markt (the main square), I could picture a battle on the ground, with some poor soldiers on the ground trying to reduce the sniper / snipers on the Martinitoren, the incredible gothic tower from 1220 that still stands. I could see it so vividly and I doubled guessed myself, wondering if maybe I had seen Groningen in film before, but I have not yet been able to find one. What I did find out is that there was a battle in Grote Markt in 1945 between the Germans and Canadian and Dutch troops. Thankfully, the Allied forces won, but almost 200 people died (both sides) and 300 buildings were destroyed

 We were in beautiful Groningen for just 24 hours, but it was great to be back in The Netherlands. Groningen is now very much a student town (its prestigious university has been there since 1614. It is very much a young town and has a very special vibe. We were there in August, just before Uni started again, the calm before the storm, and I was great to walk through the pretty streets, sample some of our favourite Dutch and Belgian beers (in Café Soetsdijk and Café Oblomov), had beautiful Dutch/Indonesian Satay and chilled by the Goudkantoor.

After a long day, we got back to our hotel and started planning for the next day. We knew we could have done another 24 hours in Groningen and continue basking in our love of beer and easy going towns, but we feared this would break the spell Groningen had put on us  – surely it was time to go back to one of our favourite destinations, right?