The biggest success of my entire ten months abroad was only falling sick twice - once in March and once in late September. Anyone who knows me will know that’s a bit of a miracle - I’m not someone with a hardy constitution and prone to allergies. Part of it I attribute to constantly being on the move and my tendency to really get energised by travelling. But another part was Hamburg. If you’re travelling for an extended period of time, I highly recommend adding a ‘self care’ city.
‘Self care’ while travelling means different things for different people and it requires you having an honest assessment of your travelling style. I’m a compulsive travel planner, prone to anxiety and stress, and easily overwhelmed by too much sensory information. If you’re like me, the most difficult part of travelling was to be at peace with cutting things out so I could properly process things, and stopping that voice in my head worrying I wasn’t ‘making the most’ of every moment.
The way to solve this? Forgive yourself. Let yourself breathe. Part of this was in deciding to cut an entire German city out in favour of spending a longer amount of time in Hamburg (4 days total). I also left my itinerary in Hamburg largely blank - only giving myself a general area for an afternoon so I could spend that time wandering around. I gave myself permission to sleep in, to leave the house at noon so I could do ‘silly’ things like browsing Twitter, editing some photos, drawing or chatting with friends. I gave myself permission to be antisocial (introvert problems) and to consciously not pressure myself to visit more than a handful of tourist sights per day. Sometimes you need a bit of ‘regularity’ to make you feel up for exploring something new.
Sure, that meant I missed quite a bit even in 4 days, but the tradeoff was that I felt like I really got a mental break and allowed myself to just exist in the moment. It also let me actually ‘stumble upon’ interesting shops and stores that I wasn’t just looking up from another blog.
The hardest thing about travelling - especially solo - is being honest with yourself and not forcing yourself to go and do something just because you feel like you ‘should’, if your gut feeling deep down is telling you that you won’t enjoy it.
It’s also sometimes listening to your gut and your body’s signals, even if it might seem counterintuitive.
I remember walking along Hamburg’s main shopping street and stumbling upon a public square where they were airing the 2018 World Cup live, to a rowdy (mostly drunken) crowd of Germans, all seated at public tables and benches with beers and food. Everything about the ‘general’ travel playbook said ‘observe and move on’ — I still had a lot of Hamburg to explore and could not afford to watch a 2hr game. But my gut was telling me: just watch for a bit, rest. So I did and I ended up getting super invested in the game and delighting in the energy, noise and emotion of the crowd. And then I went back a few more days. And nights.
In hindsight, it was probably exhaustion (I could feel myself starting to get sick once I reached Hamburg but the extra rest chased the cold away), a little bit of travel loneliness and the fact I hadn’t given myself the luxury of just vegging out in front of something mindless for a good two months. But that’s a fond memory I will forever associate with Hamburg (and not St Petersburg, go figure). Maybe I didn’t visit every place in Hamburg because of those games but I have zero regrets. When in Rome, do as the Roman (and German, and Belgian, and Russian) football fans do, right?
I repeatedly described Hamburg as ‘the city designed straight from a Pokemon game’. It was truly a beautiful city, pulled out of a storybook: the red brick and intricate architecture of Speicherstadt (an absolute must visit) or the gorgeous bridges connecting canals. You can even walk (or bike) under the river, through the Old Elbe Tunnel (spoiler alert: pretty tunnel but basically nothing to see on the other side). I loved the way it felt oddly familiar - likely due to the Danish influences as Hamburg lies on the border of Germany and Denmark. Even the names of places like Alcatraz sounded like something pulled straight from my thirteen-year-old original fantasy novel. It helped that I managed to catch Hamburg during perfect weather - sunshine and golden hour illuminated all the architecture and made it into such an experience to just walk around in the afternoon.
I’m hugely thankful to my lovely Airbnb hostess Ina, who was such a warm and soothing presence. She made me tea and we had some lovely conversation on her verandah about travelling.
I’m a huge sucker for miniature figures, so Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg was right up my alley. It features the world’s largest railway and a huge range of displays of countries all around Europe and the world and was, as you may expect, a delight to photograph
Wake up at 4AM to visit to the famous Fish Market which features a mass space of fresh fruit, seafood and souvenir vendors in an open space. Against all better judgment, have a bunch of seafood for breakfast (I was only mildly queasy afterwards)
Elbphilharmonie Laeiszhalle Hamburg - A beautiful concert hall that looks almost like a sailboat in the distance, you can go up and visit the foyer and lobby area as a visitor even if you’re not attending a concert. Definitely worth going to the balcony to get a birds eye view of the city.
Planten un Blomen - Beautiful public park
Sternschanze and Feldstraße - This neighbourhood is teaming with small boutiques, street art and leafy streets. I loved some of the stores I found here, mostly super trendy clothing and homewares boutiques
Underpressure Hip Hop Store
The Mono Room
Kauf Dich Glucklich Hamburg
Broke + Schön
Kunsthalle - the largest art gallery in Germany, make sure you go and visit the modern wing of the gallery and ideally not realise it exists 1hr before closing time on your last day in Hamburg so you have to run through the whole thing