Goodness, where do I even start talking about Dusseldorf?
Have you guys even heard of the city? It's on the west side of Germany, and sits snugly next to the Rhine, one of the main rivers. It's a pretty bustling city, and generally quite business driven, with many international expo's through the year.
But having said that, it's just a gorgeous city, much prettier than Frankfurt in my opinion, but I suppose having an Altstadt (old town) helps a bit there.
I'm also incredibly biased as I've mentioned previously, because for me, Dusseldorf was home for 6 months when I did an exchange program with my university in the last year of my degree.
Dusseldorf is where I grew up very quickly, got out of my comfort zone (sharing a dorm with Mexican's will make you do that), and came into my being a whole lot more. I essentially came of age (in my mind) in Dusseldorf. And so because of that, holds a very, very dear spot in my heart.
So although it was a bit further out than some other cities I could have visited during my short trip to Germany in May, a 2 hour train ride, with one change of train, I decided rather than seeing somewhere new, I would make the trek back to reminiscence in the nostalgia, just for a day.
Travelling on train in Germany is very comfortable, especially if you take the ICE, the big speedier trains. It's just a simple matter of buying a ticket (in Frankfurt there are machines at every platform) and jumping onto the train. Or if you're a bit pedantic like me, checking the schedules and costs online first before going to the machine to buy the ticket a few days in advance.
Once on the train, the conductor comes around while the train is moving to stamp your ticket and then you're left peacefully for the rest of the trip. I spent my trip with a cup of delightfully sweet snack of strawberries, and getting my nose stuck into 'The Millionaire's Vinegar' (great book for all the wine people out there), occasionally raising my head to take in the gloriously green countryside.
After a mad dash from one platform to another at Cologne station, I made it into Dusseldorf…and promptly forgot which tram to take to the Altstadt, when I then realised taking the U-bahn would be so much easier. Duhh.
Climbing up the stairs from the U-bahn up to street level, I'm hit with a wave of familiarity. The McDonalds immediately to my right, a frequent meeting spot before a big night of drinking, the Woyton's to the left an escape to grab a spot of free wifi when out and about.
It's a little surreal being in the Altstadt during the late morning, still sleepy from it's late night the night before, the streets clear and empty.
It didn't take too long to re-familiarise myself with the area, although I walked in circles a few times, it warmed my heart as I passed by restaurants I remembered eating in before with my mother when she had visited me, marvelled at the beautiful old squares, majestic architecture and delighted in the mini open air market abundant with white asparagus and gorgeous blooms.
As I wandered, I suddenly remembered I should go looking for a Mandelhorchen, one of my favourite bakery treats, but many of the small bakeries I poked my nose into didn't have it…until I found Hinkel Bakery. Oh my.
Hinkel Bakery I found on my very first day in Dusseldorf, I remember taking these same pictures of the mountains of bread stacked high in the window, all shapes and sizes…and so much dark rye bread! Ah do I miss it.
Of all the bakeries, Hinkel smelt the best, engulfing you in warm toasty goodness upon stepping in, with a lively bustle and a never ending crowd, picking up their bread and perhaps a sweet treat too. It always surprised me what sweet tooth's the Germans had, with many just settling down for a slice of cake and coffee, any time of the day really!
2 Euros later, I emerged from Hinkel with my prize, one of the best Mandelhorchen of my trip. Chewy, sweet, nutty, with just a little bit of chocolate. I really must learn to make these at home (and according to the recipes I'm finding…there's no flour in them!)
From baked goods, to fried goods, when I saw the Freitbox had opened up, I made a beeline to it for some of my favourite fries, ever. If I told you how often I had these when I was on exchange, you'd be absolutely disgusted, but they're always fried perfectly, crunchy, cheap and best of all, come with 'joppiesaus'. The Mexicans told me to try it, and I never looked back.
This trip I discovered that this mystery sauce I'd been addicted to was actually a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, onions, and curry powder…like all my favourite things. What's not to love? So delightfully moreish!
As the Altstadt started to come to life again, it was time to cleanse out my system a little (as much as I'd like to believe that chocolate followed by fries is good for you), and so I hopped over to Woyton and ordered a fresh peppermint tea.
This is something else I had all the time on exchange, especially since Woyton would give you free wifi for an hour, so I would often sit on it pirating tv shows since I had to pay for my data by the megabyte back in the dorm.
I'm honestly surprised that this isn't more common in general, so easy, so straight forward, you'd have thought the hipster cafes would have caught onto it already in melbourne!
I spent the rest of my afternoon lazily wandering around Konigsallee, window shopping in all the boutique stores, taking in the majestic architecture and reminiscing by the Rhine. Isn't she a beauty?
Throughout summer, almost every weekend there would be some festival set up along the riverside, I guess kind of like Fed Square in Melbourne…but just more picturesque.
I also had to make sure I popped into the Gewurzhaus in the Altstadt as the main reason for me coming to Dusseldorf was actually in this tiny little shop.
ABB Mustard has been produced in Dusseldorf since 1726 and when my dad and I first arrived in 2008, we discovered it's utter deliciousness and have not been able to find it anywhere since. Smooth, creamy, there's a bit of bite, but a marvellous complexity and depth in flavour as well. It's just incredibly yummy.
So yummy, that I brought home about 10 bottles which put me overweight by about 3kgs or so on the way home…hum de hum…
Instead of dragging my 1kg of mustard (probably more actually) around the Altstadt, I popped into Gut und Gerne, one of my favourite hot chocolate shops anywhere. Charming, and quaint, I love that the hot chocolate is actual chocolate melted with milk in a pot, instead of being made with powder or pre-made.
It also helps that I love the fact that the mugs of hot chocolate are more like soup bowls of the stuff, smooth and rich in flavour, but not heavy in density.
From hot chocolate, to beer. It's unorthodox, but when you've only got one day in town, you've got to make it count.
Dusseldorf has a lovely selection of microbreweries, with a lot of them located in the Altstadt, which is also appropriately known as 'the longest bar in the world', since there are supposedly more than 300 bars in the the altstadt (although some of them are pretty touristy).
Uerige is one of the better known microbreweries, expanding across the laneway to have a number of benches and outdoor seating. The beer is dark and quite bitter, but has a nice richness to it that I enjoyed as well. Uerige holds quite a number of memories for me, on a trip out with the exchange students to get to know each other better, the Mexicans in the group decided the beer was too bitter and ended up getting us all drunk on very strong vodka and sodas bought and mixed from the convenience store.
First time I ever threw up. And slept at a tram stop. Good times.
To wrap up my trip in Dusseldorf, I returned to one of the first restaurants that I ate at on my exchange with a couple of friends, that remained a firm favourite through the duration of my exchange, Zum Schiffchen.
With 380 years of history, Zum Schiffchen is supposedly the oldest restaurant in Dusseldorf. In one corner of the restaurant, they have a bust of Napoleon sitting on a shelf above where he apparently had a little power nap when he visited. True or not, it's fun to imagine!
It's a very authentic experience, with waiters who never need notepads, lots of rich wood and a menu that sings traditional and comforting.
I visit Zum Schiffchen for a few things, but the shining star for me, has always been the Schweinhaxe, the pork knuckle…loaded with sauerkraut and pan fried potatoes. It's an absolute meat extravaganza with a huge bit of crunchy crackling wrapped around it. The best.
To wrap up, there's nothing like tucking into more of Europe's beautifully sweet strawberries with ice-cream and whipped cream (they seriously love whipped cream on everything).
From there I wandered back over to the main train station to call it a day. The conductor recognised me on the trip back (guess grey space age hair is pretty unique), cheerfully saying something in German that I smiled and nodded to, before watching the rain come down on the train outside. Perhaps Dusseldorf was saying goodbye to me too?