Brandenburg Gate | Photo by Håkon Sataøen on Unsplash

Culture and history in Germany and Italy

Paul RYKENFirst Published: Last Updated: Germany, Italy

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After two months in the Americas, we travelled to Europe to visit friends and family and for me, to be challenged yet again by a couple of foreign languages.

Mantova, Verona and Venice

We flew to Milan and took the train to Mantova to visit my friends, Coreen and Gian Marco. I last visited them five years ago when they lived in Coreen’s hometown of Denver. I had also been to the quaint Italian city of Mantova a few times when I worked in the sports timing industry. It was therapeutic to return for a social visit. Coreen played tour guide for a day and we also had a great Italian meal at Gian Marco’s parents. Plying me with alcohol (Gian Marco insisted on me drinking his typical Friday drink :-)) beforehand, encouraged me to blurt out one of my future goals – to compete in an Ironman Triathlon event. Needless to say, I’d forgotten to mention this foreboding challenge to Sandra beforehand. Time will tell if I can attempt and achieve this goal.

After Mantova, we conducted whirlwind one night stops in Verona and Venice. Verona was great for some shopping and a visit to the Arena while we gave an award to the Basilica di San Marco in Venice for the best value for money attraction (and the most beautifully decorated church we have ever seen).


From Italy, we took the overnight train to Munich to visit Sandra’s brother and girlfriend. I visited my first German Beerhall (Hofbraeuhaus), first castle (Schloss Neuschwanstein) and first-day spa and nude sauna (Europa Therme Bad Fussing). We also visited the 1972 Olympic Stadium where my friend Rod Dixon had won the 1500m Bronze Medal. Sandra’s parents, Wolfgang and Gerti (I was calling them Vati and Mutti in the end) joined us in Munich and we travelled with them all the way to Berlin. This was also the first time I had travelled at 200km an hour on the autobahn – Sandra has finger marks on her thigh from me holding on so hard. I can tick that one off my don’t do this bucket list. We stayed in the town (Meiningen) where Sandra was born and caught up with her grandmothers and extended family.


In Berlin, we walked through the Brandenburg Gates, along with the East Side Gallery and spent many hours at the Check Point Charlie Museum. We also did a tour of the 1936 Olympic Stadium where New Zealander, Jack Lovelock won the 1500m Gold Medal. The stadium was renovated for the 2006 Soccer World Cup, so while the exterior was original, the interior seating and roof were all new.

Berlin is similar to New York in that you would need to spend more than a fortnight there to get through most of the museums and activities. We spent a total of 10 days in German. Next time, it will be more and I promised Mutti that I would be fluent in German by then.

London Marathon

After Berlin, we flew to London. Here we went to Bar Salsa on a rainy night for a few salsas and merengues. On Saturday, we strolled through Borough Market and visited St Paul’s Cathedral, and on Sunday we watched the Virgin London Marathon. I had initially thought about running it when we were planning the trip but realized with three months of travelling, it would have been difficult to train and would have reduced the quality of our trip.

As Sandra says, sometimes less is more. In the afternoon we took the Underground to the Camden Town Markets. In keeping with the unplanned tradition that we started, we also took a tour of the 2012 Olympic venues in the East End area. With 100 days to go, all buildings have been completed with just the paths, roads, and beautification to be done.

With Italy, Germany and England ticked off, our adventure was almost over, however being an ex-soldier and very patriotic and in Europe in April, it was only right that we also took in a pilgrimage to Gallipoli.

Our 2012 three-month dancing tour included many adventures including:

Culture and history in Germany and Italy