TRAVELBITES with David Gordon

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Frankfurt Retreat

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Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time in the Frankfurt -Rhine region of Germany. It's a country I had never visited before, so it was one of those situations where I didn't quite know what to expect.

Over the next couple of blogs, we will explore the city and the country - two vastly different experiences, but only 30 miles apart.

My first proper view of Frankfurt was from the top floor of my hotel which is situated next to the 'Messe' area of the city. I was surprised to see a 'Manhattan Skyline' I think, in my minds eye I'd expected gingerbread houses! As well as being at the heart of Europe geographically, Frankfurt is the financial capital of Europe, the HQ of the European Central Bank is round the corner from the hotel, and a number of other banks have huge complexes nearby.

The Main Tower, one of the taller buildings, has an open rooftop, where visitors can get a birds eye view of the city and the surrounding areas. The local TV station has studios there too.

While we were there, the weather forecast was being broadcast from the roof. Viewers watch every night to see what "frank the weather frog" (a stuffed toy!) predicts. If he sits up, it'll be fair. If he lies down, the weather will be poor.

I discovered that the weatherman's secret is that he velcro's the stuffed toy to the table, so its not that scientific. I think we, in Northern Ireland, should stick with our own Frank to tell us the weather.

The city has an excellent public transport system, with Buses, Trams and underground trains available on the network. Tickets are relatively inexpensive too. If you are slightly more adventurous, and trusting, you could try a Velobike which is a bike-taxi.

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We had an interesting (and hair-raising) journey through the city streets to a restaurant one evening. Getting to & from the city is very easy too, with high-speed rail connections to German and European destinations. The international airport is around 15 minutes drive from the city centre.

As I discovered, the city is relatively easy to walk around. The skyscrapers surround the older part of the city and it is a maze of little streets, with dozens of bars, restaurants and shops.

My favourite area though was the Town Square, Romer Platz. It is where you will find the old town hall, the cathedral and some other beautiful buildings. In fact, it was there that I had my first taste of the local speciality, Apelwine, while sitting watching the world go by. I also discovered Romer Platz is where Frankfurt's famous Christmas market is held every year.

The city is renowned for its Apelwine Taverns, which offer all sorts of meats, sausages and cheeses washed down with large jugs of the, usually homemade, brew. It has to be said it is in acquired taste, locals usually dilute it with lemonade or sparkling water, so watching us drink it 'straight' led to some amazed looks!

Of course, if you want to experience more local gastronomic delights, I'd recommend you head to the nearby Kleinmarkthalle and Erzeugermarkt where you can sample lots of local food and drink produce.

The Main River flows through the city and it's embankments house a string of 14 museums, marking over 2000 years of the history of the area. One I visited was the recently refurbished Stadel Museum, which has assembled a collection of over 3000 paintings, 600 sculptures and 100,000 drawings & prints.

The city has, as would be expected, a plethora of accommodation options to suit all budgets. I stayed at the Maritim, which has its own rooftop pool and gym, as well as a VIP floor with private dining facilities. The hotel is also on one of the major transport routes in the city.

For further information, check out www.frankfurt-rhine-main.com