Crossing borders and encounters on trains

Good morning world (or limited audience of this blog)!

Chocolate and alcohol update: Nothing for 18 days! I’ve been rather good and steadfastly ignored all temptation. However, next week I’m invited to two parties and I’m attending a hen party in a few weeks. So. That will be fun and sober.

I decided this week that a little trip was in order and did some Googling for suggestions. I was looking for Bavarian cities and villages, but I came across Domažlice instead.

From Regensburg – where I live currently – you can hop on a train a few times a day which goes from Munich to Prague. There are a few other stops on the way, and one of them is Domažlice. So on Saturday, a friend and I hopped on with a shared Bayern-Boheme ticket (€31 between us) and headed there.

Our journey there was kind of interesting. A group of guys on a Junggesellenabschied (read: stag do/bachelor party) also boarded the train and partway through the journey, there was a knock on our compartment door. Something I’ve seen several times on trains here is the bride or groom to be, forced to sell random (and often more risque) items to strangers on the train, in an effort to have more money to spend on fun once they get to their destination – at least as far as I understand it!

The groom-to-be (in a kilt) joined us in our compartment once he knew we were from the UK and US, to tell us about all the places he’d been. He and a couple of his friends kept us occupied until we reached Domažlice. We graciously bought a couple of tiny bottle shots to help him on his mission.

This is Domažlice:


Something we learned about the Czech Republic? Shops like to close by 12 on a Saturday. So, when we arrived, just past 12, the place was a ghost town. Coffee shops and restaurants were open, but the tourist information spot and most shops were done for the day!

The Czech Republic is not part of the Eurozone, so the official currency is the Czech koruna. However, Domažlice is pretty close to the German border and a few places accept Euro as an alternative payment. This is pretty handy if you just want a coffee whilst you’re seeking an ATM!

We had a nice coffee in a little cafe, before going for a wander. We popped into the Birth of the Virgin Mary Church. You can’t spend much time in here, as most of the church is closed off when mass isn’t being performed. However, it was really pretty inside with a beautiful altar. The church was originally founded in 1111 AD and rebuilt a number of times, particularly after many fires in the 18th century. It also sports a tower which used to be watch tower for Domažlice.

After the church, we headed down to Chodsky Hrad, or, Chod Castle (Chodsky is the old region name). The castle was originally built in the 1200s. It was part of the fortification of the city and served in its administration. When it lost this purpose, the castle fell into disrepair. Ultimately, Chodsky Hrad burned down in the 16th century, and the tower you see in the picture below is the only remaining part of it. The ‘new’ part of the castle was built in the 18th century and today serves as a museum.

When we first went in, it seemed as dead as the rest of the town. However, we eventually found a door that opened and one employee behind a desk. The museum isn’t spectacular, but it has some interesting exhibits, so it’s worth a visit. It has items of historical significance (arrow heads, cooking implements, etc.) from various excavations, as well as art, machinery and crafts. We also went up the tower (I hate spiral staircases) and had a nice view. (Citizens of Domažlice, be careful of how you sunbathe in your back gardens…).

When the museum closed, we strolled around for a while before choosing a restaurant/pub for dinner. The service was interesting. We quickly established that German was the best option for speaking, but the waitress repeatedly asked my (fluent) friend, ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch?’ despite the fact that she was speaking in Deutsch. It got very confusing!
I ordered Schweinshaxe (don’t ask me what that is in Czech!) but I had hoped it was in sauce, so I ordered a Bohemian-style Dampfknödel to go with it. The dumpling did not show up and there wasn’t any sauce, so I ordered it again with a salad for a side dish. Note: Czech menus seem to be very specific. If it tells you how many grams your food will be, they mean it. And side dishes are not a given with a main, so make sure you double-check!


We also had a look around a little supermarket and picked up a few fun things we don’t see in Germany. Sadly, as I’m not eating chocolate, I didn’t pick up anything chocolatey. I did, however, pick up a bottle of honey mead and bunch of dried fruit, seeds and nuts (I buy these at home to perk up salads, but it was much cheaper in the Czech supermarket!).

The night started getting pretty cold and after a 20 minute walk, we really appreciated the heated waiting area at Domažlice station.

On the return journey, we had another interesting compartment visit. We were a little perturbed to see a couple of rather tough-looking men staring through the window at us. As the train was pretty empty, we didn’t really want to be joined by them! However, when they did open the door, one of them asked to see our identification cards. We realised then that they were carrying out border control checks.

It wasn’t really a big deal, but it was a little nerve-wracking to have ID demanded and to be questioned on our jobs, studies, what we bought in the Czech Republic and whether we were carrying drugs. They left pretty quickly.

I know that border checks are usually uncommon in Shengen countries these days, and as an EU citizen, I don’t need to worry when crossing borders. However, in certain areas where many refugees have been crossing into Germany, it’s become quite common. This particular area isn’t one of these routes so I didn’t expect anything.

The rest of the journey was uneventful!

Things I took away from this visit:

My first trip to the Czech Republic!

Many things are a lot cheaper there. Supermarket food isn’t a lot cheaper, but you can expect to pay a lot less for coffee, restaurant food, clothes, etc.

German came in very useful. It was refreshing not to always have English as the fallback language!

I should really check standard opening times for businesses in a new country!

It’s one place in which you can say ‘Ahoy!’ on dry land.

The summer will probably be a nicer time to visit – there’s a popular festival in August which we might swing by!

The Czechs have some fun with their road signs:

And there are amusing spelling errors in all countries. We were very immature and snicked over this one on a cocktail bar menu:


If you are interested in Domažlice’s history, there’s a short Wiki article here which is pretty interesting.

That’s all for now. Have a nice Sunday!

Crossing borders and encounters on trains

Germany: a picture of health?

Well, Days 1 and 2 of my no-alcohol-no-chocolate attempt went successfully. I went out for dinner with a couple of friends last night and I suppose it helped that they weren’t drinking either. However, I’m not sure my choice of full-fat Coke really did much for me…

Talking about health. When I thought about writing a new blog, there were a few topics that immediately came to mind. This post is one of them. And it’s a long one, so bear with me…

There are lots of amazing and lovely things here to enjoy in Germany – I’d like to get that across before I moan about something. Some time ago, a friend asked if there was anything I really missed about home. Family. Yep. Friends. Yep. Danish bacon. Yep. Was there anything I really disliked? At the time, I said I couldn’t think of anything but as I headed home, it hit me.

The smoking.

I’ll come back to this.

Something that intimidated me when I first arrived here was the sheer healthiness of the Germans. Sport and keeping yourself fit is important here. Whether you play sports, go running, attend a gym, or go hiking regularly, an interest in healthy pursuits seems to be pretty prevalent. Cycling and walking are very popular ways to get around too, despite how much the Germans stereotypically love their cars.

Now, I’m no slouch. After a substantial bit of weight gain a few years ago, I took to the gym and started running. I do now try to keep myself fit and there are plenty of opportunities here to stay active. With spring round the corner, I’m about to step up my gym routine and strap my running shoes back on. However, regardless of how much I can enjoy these things, I may never be as naturally inclined towards sport and outdoor pursuits as so many of the Germans I meet. But – as long as I live here, I think that keeping active is going to be more of a priority for me.

On top of this, we have food. Good food is important here. People here do eat junk just as much as any other nationals. And let’s not forget the huge varieties of meat, cheese, cake and beer consumed! However, there’s a big appreciation for good food – real food. I don’t see a lot of ‘diet’ products on the shelf, as I do back in the UK. I do however see a ton of organic (or Bio) foods. It isn’t a more expensive, fancy-pants option to choose an organic cucumber over the bog-standard supermarket produce. I’ll go as far as to say that there does seem to be an obsession with it that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Organic is mainstream and certainly not something to roll your eyes at. There’s even an official government stamp on thousands of products that lets you know your food item hasn’t been touched by anything chemical or unnatural.

Going back to the idea of ‘real’ food. There’s an appreciation for eating well and an enjoyment of simple, uncomplicated food which I really like. You can criticise how much meat, bread and cheese is consumed, but you can’t criticise the quality of it.

It catches on too. I linger longer in the Bio section these days and find I shop there more frequently too, I feel vaguely guilty when I buy sliced white ‘cardboard’ sandwich bread for toasting, and yesterday I ‘treated’ myself to a tub of muesli for 7 Euros.  (This is likely more my own stupidity. Yummy though.)

I also love that you have organic-only supermarkets which are mainstream. You can do all your food shopping there if you like. I’m aware of one Whole Foods back in London, but that’s all I can think of back in the UK.

Let’s talk about beverages too. Germans drink their own share of nasty alcoholic concoctions, of course, but beer is different. Beer production here is governed by special purity laws, ensuring that it’s brewed to a very specific, all-natural standard. This seems to be an important source of pride here.

Recycling is important too. Luckily, living in Japan waaaaay over-prepared me for a complicated recycling system. Germans like to recycle but it’s fortunately not as complex here as it was in the land of the rising sun. (Remind me to tell the story about the older gentleman who used to lie in wait for me to put out my plastic rubbish before going through it – and in one case, returning it to my building).
Here, we have less categories of recycling, but it’s important you abide by them. There’s also the ‘Pfand’ system, where you pay a small extra fee on many plastic or glass bottles which will be returned to you upon return of the bottle. (I think this is a great idea, but it does lead to substantial collections of plastic bottles in my apartment….).

Anyway, I digress! My point is that when living in Germany as a foreigner, you start to become very aware of healthy living and a responsibility to the environment. These are just a few of the things I’ve noticed. Depending on where you’re from, you might disagree with me. Regardless, I have a huge admiration for this way of life. There are certain things that other nations could definitely take a lesson from.

Bearing this admiration of the health-oriented culture I observe so often in mind, you might understand my sheer disbelief at how much smoking I see here.

As in the UK, you (typically) cannot smoke in public establishments anymore. Pubs, bars and restaurants are off-limits. But outside of public places? It’s everywhere! I’m stunned. There also seems to be a blatant disregard for non-smokers. I would say that on a daily basis, I find myself moving away from the smoker sitting next to me at the bus stop, or speeding ahead of the group blowing smoke backwards into my face. Then there’s the university – groups of students hang around entrances and seating areas, puffing away. I don’t recall seeing that many whilst at university in the UK.

I suppose what bothers me is that so many of the smokers here don’t try to shield you from the smoke or make an effort to distance themselves. There are also so many young smokers. According to a census taken in 2013, 35% of 18 to 25-year-olds are smokers. I don’t know how that figure stands in 2016, but that seems high in a society that seems to embrace such healthy lifestyles and has been discouraging smoking via laws for a number of years now. I can’t quote more numbers than that, but I ask any other fellow foreigners to observe the level of smoking here and ask how it compares to their home country. Does it seem excessive?

On top of that, there’s actually still advertising for cigarette brands, which I find incredible. The topic came up in one of my sociolinguistics seminars last semester and an Australian student and I expressed our shock at this still being the case here. Here’s a few modern examples:

Finally. I already mentioned recycling and it should be said that I rarely observe littering here. I believe it’s taken quite seriously if you’re observed throwing rubbish on the ground – particularly by the Polizei. But cigarette butts? There seems to be no such regard. They’re simply tossed to the ground. I’ve had two occasions on which I had to jump out of the way of someone throwing a still-hot butt in my direction before getting on a bus.

It’s really a conundrum for me. I am full of admiration and praise for the good food, healthy lifestyles and respect for the environment that I see here. But when it comes to smoking, all of this seems to evaporate. It doesn’t add up. Am I imagining things? Am I overstating the healthy lifestyle here? I’m sure there are some good social reasons underlying this, but the undeniably high volume of smoking shocks me every day. I’d love to hear other opinions on this.



Germany: a picture of health?

Question of survival: thirty days without alcohol and chocolate?

Hello world!

Germany is a relatively straightforward nation to take up residence in, as an English-speaking foreigner. However, it comes with its difficulties, frustrations and hilarities.

St Englmar

(Sankt Englmar, January 2016 – spectacular snow and forest to explore.)

I’m a Brit living in Regensburg, in the heart of beautiful Bavaria, Southern Germany. I blog sometimes about my experiences in Germany but about the general flotsam of life too.

I’ll start by saying the last couple of months have not been a walk in the park. When I try to break out of a funk. I usually start looking for challenges to distract me. This time around, I want to live without a couple of vices for a while. For thirty days, starting 10th February, I will attempt to avoid alcohol and chocolate. If I make it 30 days, I will consider extending this until Easter.

So, I will attempt to document this in this blog to see whether this really is a challenge. One can hope that no alcohol should pose little challenge, but I have a feeling that social situations are going to strain me a bit. I live in the land of beer (and chocolate) (and cake).



Naturally I’m buying something stupendously chocolate-y tomorrow to have with my alcohol.

Question of survival: thirty days without alcohol and chocolate?