Running in Frankfurt

Running in Frankfurt

It’s always a sunny day when you arrive in Frankfurt. You might think this is impossible, but Frankfurt is like Seattle: apparently it rains all the time, but never on your first day. (It helps to arrive in the summer months.)

I’ve been here on a dozen stopovers, nearly half of them last year when I was using up half a million U.S. Airways miles for flights on Lufthansa. Each time I’d stay a night, maybe two nights, and learn a little more about the city each time.

Having tried various lodging options during the first few stops—an unimpressive Marriott, a string of indie places, a hostel—I finally settled on the two-star Ibis Centrum, located a short (and always sunny) walk from the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof.

One reaches the Hauptbahnhof by direct connection from the airport, fifteen minutes away. According to some, this train costs €3.90, but in practice it’s more of a suggested donation. In what has become a recurring story in adventures, I couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket the first time I landed here. I finally just got on the train to the city, hoped for the best, and got off at the main station without encountering any ticket inspections. On the way back I did the same thing, and was hooked on free rides from then on. Once you realize that paying for your train fare is merely a suggestion, there’s no going back.

This time in FRA airport, I notice a sign has been added for my benefit—conveniently in English as well as German— which advises riders that the €3.90 isn’t actually a suggestion; the authorities really would like everyone to please pay it. This time I attempt to be honest and pay up, but once again, can’t figure out the ticket machine. One day I’ll probably receive a bill from the German National Railways for all of these joyrides, but until then, it’s a long walk to the city. I get on the train and successfully disembark on the other side.

After visits #3 and #4, the walk to the Ibis became a ritual. Ten months after my last visit, I pick it up again, crossing the street, avoiding the tram, and wandering over to the riverbank. The green space and winding water are familiar friends; I know them from all the stopovers. Before I get settled, I sit on a bench and look out at the river. The trip this time took me from the West Coast through New York City and, finally, a short connection to Boston … but now I’m here.

Beginning to feel sleepy in the afternoon sun, I check into the room and unpack my running shoes, putting them by the door in hopes of increasing the odds that I will actually use them. Jet lag and general travel fatigue from a lack of sleep the night before tend to keep me dozing in the hotel room, but I know it will be worth it to persevere. I unpack everything else and put it on the bed. Supplies for later: a banana, an apple, and a San Miguel beer—all courtesy of the Lufthansa Arrivals Lounge.

In less than five minutes, I fall fast asleep on the bed.

I sleep for two hours, an acceptable first-day-in-Europe afternoon nap, and force myself to avoid a full sleep cycle. (Once a jet lag nap goes beyond three hours, you’ve lost the battle.) A cup of coffee from the downstairs bar perks me up. Outside, it’s 7pm and still sunny. I head out to the waterfront and hit the road, running a kilometre in one direction before crossing the bridge to the other side for the next forty minutes.

Over on the opposite riverbank, a festival of sorts has brought out the crowds. There are concert stages, beer gardens, sunbathers, and ice cream cones. Bitter lemon with gin or vodka is on special. A bouncy castle offers fifteen minutes of babysitting for €3. I have no money on hand and no kinder who need watching, so I forego the bouncy castle and keep running.

It’s still a glorious day at 7:30pm, with no sunset in sight. I take off my shirt and keep my sunglasses on. As I make my way, the Indigo Girls send messages to me courtesy of my iPod shuffle:

Don’t you write it down
Remember this in your head

Don’t take a picture
Remember this in your heart

Don’t leave a message
Talk to me face to face

After three months of no real travel, I’ve been craving this feeling. Travel is a wonder drug like no other. If you aren’t feeling alive, pack your bags, leave town, and determine what comes next as you move along. Follow the sun where it leads. In my case, the sun often leads to Frankfurt, courtesy of Star Alliance and all those U.S. Airways miles.

As I wind down my waterfront run, a band on the stage is playing a cover of Two Tickets to Paradise. Tomorrow at noon I have just one ticket to the south of France, where I’ll take the train to Monaco, my 155th country. After I return from the quick trip and have another layover in Frankfurt, I have a ticket to Angola (which doesn’t look much like paradise), but no visa despite weeks of effort. This is potentially a big problem … but there’s nothing I can do about it at the moment, so I put it out of my head. I’m happy to run and dream.

An hour after I started, I’m back on the other side and arrive at the hotel. I stretch and return to my room, taking a shower and heading back out in street shoes for dinner. I go to my usual Indian restaurant and remember the other nights I walked the same path. Last year, the Frankfurt layovers came in between various countries in Africa and Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Burkina Faso, Algeria, and somewhere else. Back then my country count was around 130; now it’s 154. So far, so good.

Just as I think differently about New York than I do the rest of the U.S., I don’t think of Frankfurt as Germany per se; in my mind it exists as its own independent place, with its own box of memories. All those free train rides when I couldn’t figure out how to pay. The sex shop that also sells falafel. (Hint: I went for one of those two things, without realizing it was a front for the other.) The Turkish place on the corner that sells beer and universal adapters. (At that shop, I needed both.)

Back at “home,” as I call wherever I stay when I’m on the road, I reply to emails and go to bed at 11pm, waking up wide-eyed at 3:30am but successfully falling back to sleep at 4:30. Three hours later, I get ready for the paradise side trip and the uncertain trip to Angola.

The running shoes are back in the bag, and the journey continues.


Also see:

Rain Running
Running in St. Louis
Feeling Stuck?

Image: Froglet

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  • Tom Ewer says:

    Great post Chris – a word of warning about the train fare dodging – you’ll probably be hit with a fine far outweighing the cost of the fare if you are ever caught by an overzealous conductor!

    Anyway, you’ve made me feel really rather jealous. Part of the reason for me giving up running was because the scenery where I live leaves very little to be desired – sounds like you had an awesome route.

  • Nikoya says:

    Literature at best… This piece gave me the travel bug. I admire your dedication and passion to fly where you please. Godspeed 🙂

  • Molly Rider says:

    Travel is like no other drug… And, what a perfect message from the indigo Girls. I find it can be hard to fight the urge to write it down, take a picture or share it with a friend. But nothing beats the moment I let go and immerse myself fully in the moment, now.

    Thank you for sending a flood of warm traveling memories to the forefront of my mind. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  • Andrew says:

    Could not be more agreed about the feeling travelling gives you. It’s been 3 years since I was last away on significant travels (i.e. more than a holiday) and I have missed it every day since.

    It’s a huge motivation for me to strive for an unconventional lifestyle!

  • John P Morgan says:

    Cool stuff Chris. Keep it up!

    The good thing about dodging paying public transport as a traveller, is if you get caught and get a fine…there’s usually no way to make sure you even pay it. Except in London, where they fine you on the spot and require a credit card or cash. Or in Serbia…where they hold you hostage until you give them whatever currency you have in your pocket or under the seats of your van. They know you’ve got some somewhere…

  • Johnny Jet says:

    Nice job as always, Chris! The best way to use those machines is pay in cash since you probably don’t have a card with a chip in it. I was just there in May and here’s my story.

    Also the best hidden secret at FRA is the grocery story on the bottom floor. Huge bottles of water for under a $1.

  • Arndt says:

    Some research suggests that intermitten fasting before and during long-distants flights prevent jet lag. There are more health benefits to intermitten fasting, so you might wanna give it a try. There is a lot of information in the internet, check it out and keep on rolling!

  • Kelly says:

    Oh, how funny to see this article pop up in my email — I’ve been living in Frankfurt for a year and a half now! The Main Cafe (in your picture) is one of my favorite places to lounge by the river on lazy summer evenings. If you’re ever in Frankfurt on a Friday evening, you should check out the market that turns into a street party at Friedberger Platz (in the Nordend). The city moved the market to Wednesdays for the summer, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to stop the party.

    And I could tell you just what button to hit on the machine to pay that €3.90, but I’d hate to spoil your fun.

  • Andre says:

    Nice blog, Chris.

    It’s funny that you thought it was merely suggestion 🙂

    I live in Germany (Hamburg, to be precise). If you get caught taking a subway/bus/train without ticket, you would get fined for 40 euros. Plus the humiliation, because you could be surrounded by 3-4 inspectors.

  • David says:

    The train payment is an honor system. Please honor it. Ask someone if you don’t know how to buy the ticket. The checking is random and the fine is high. It’s a civilized more economical way of handling payment. “There is no free lunch” so please don’t make those of us who are honest pay for your freeloading.

  • Ulrike Langer says:

    I can sympathize with you about not knowing how to figure out the train fare machines in Frankfurt. I am German, have been to Frankfurt more than a dozen times, and I’m puzzled by the logic of these machines every single time. The weirdest part: The names of stations in real life have no correlation to the names of destinations on the machines.

    In the end it’s pure gambling: if you get away with joyriding, you win. If you get caught, you lose and pay the fine.

  • Riley says:

    I, too, thought that train fares were optional….until I got nailed with a 40 euro fine. Well, to be perfectly truthful I was actually given a choice: pay the 40 euros on the spot or make the short trip down to the Polizei Station. I paid up, and haven’t skipped on train fares since.

    I should also mention that this happened 8 years ago so it’s likely that fines have probably gone up at least 50%.

  • Tim says:

    Hey Chris,
    next time you come to Frankfurt drop me a line. I can show you some more places here that you will like 😉

  • Steven Hronek says:

    Running is one of the best ways clear away the travel haze while exploring a new places (or retracing familiar steps). It can also provide a small amount of regularity to travel that might otherwise cause a total break from the routines of everyday life.

    Darnit… now I want to go for a jog.

  • Guy says:

    Wow! This is so well writen, I got to say “Thanks!”. Keep writing and keep going! It’s not where we are that counts, it’s what we see. Thanks again Chris.

  • Ann McMahon says:

    Hi Chris, You revived some great memories for me about a long ago sunny summer in Frankfurt & the banks of the Main. Thank you.

    P.S. Try to figure out the ticket machine, if you get caught you’ll discover that Frankfurt is indeed part of Germany. I’ll say no more.

  • Kydroon says:

    Thank you very much for visiting my hometown and thank you for linking it to New York in it’s way to be special 😉

    Regarding the ticket dispensers: as you have already figured out, it is as well a ‘suggestion’ as the tip you give to waiters in… let’s say: New York. They hope you will pay and they depend on it 😉

    Actually it is overall very convenient. We spare turnstiles and enhance the user experience of travelers with our trust-based approach… however, I really have to admit the user interface of the ticket dispenser is probably the 2nd worst on the planet. Here is the english manual for the next time.

  • Jeremy says:

    Nice to see how Frankfurt has changed since I was stationed there in the late 80’s. While in the military I did lots of runs in Germany including a race that ended at Frankenstein’s castle. As for the trains, well, I think everyone who has spent time in Germany has ridden at least one train for free.

  • Sarah Russell says:

    Ooh – This is killing me today! I’m having a very restless day, and it’s already hard enough to sit down and get my work done instead of spending all morning planning dream itineraries online 🙂

    I’ve been traveling every two weeks for the last few months, and now I don’t have anything lined up for another few months. At first, I thought this would be a restful, productive break, but I’m already starting to get antsy. Time to plan more adventures!

  • Maria says:

    Hello, Chris,

    Your take of the German Railways ticket machines is fantastic – lol!

    I’m a German ex-pat, from the Frankfurt area. While still in Germany I’ve become accustomed to them through constant use. A month ago I went for a visit there, after an absence of almost seven years. Like you, I arrived at Frankfurt airport.
    It took me several minutes to figure out how those things work now (needing reading glasses didn’t help either). so, no worry 🙂

  • Brandy says:

    Wow, you make travel sound oh-so romantic. That’s not exactly been my experience, but you are a continual inspiration for me to give it another go. Also, I’m pregnant, and so find myself a bit jealous at the ease in which you eat, sleep and run (and drink beer, man, I miss beer).

    This was beautifully written. It’s got me really looking forward to reading your book.

  • Becca says:

    Hahaha, train dodging. I visited a friend in Munich and he said the same thing about the train there. When I went to Berlin, however, we figured it was the same as Munich and just popped on for 2 stops and got nailed by inspection officers. They fined us all 50 Euros a piece and took down the information on our IDs (we all just handed them our U.S. drivers licenses). We left the country the next day and they keep sending a bill to my house (in German!) raising the fine… I think it’s finally stopped (about 10 months later). So watch out! I think just some cities in Germany are more strict than others about it.

  • Kristin says:

    The way you write about your travels is very poetic and makes sitting at my desk very hard, but I know I will get back to traveling very soon, so for now thank you and keep it going. Love reading about your journeys.

  • Fiona Leonard says:

    Wise words as always from the Indigo Girls. You know you’ve crossed into a new zone of travelling when regular travel stops being a drag, something to tick off.

    It’s being able to travel with wonder, whilst still creating a sense of home wherever you are in the world. It’s easy to become jaded anywhere (abroad or on the way to the supermarket) and yet wonder abounds!

    I always find it funny that I travel a lot and yet whenever I read articles about the best places in the world to live they always talk about my old home towns. Did I miss something?

  • Marius says:

    When I gonna pass the ibis tonight I’ll spend some thoughts about where are you running trough …hey Frankfurt let’s join Chris run path next time!

  • Phil says:

    Come on, Chris! You can do better than the Ibis. If you stay up KaiserStrasse (about 5 minutes walk from the station) you can stay at the Ramada which a) let’s you collect Wyndham Rewards which can be fed directly onto a Miles and More account and b) you can use Boingo to get free high speed wifi!

    Apart from that, great article. In the end I didn’t get to Frankfurt on Monday. I got delayed in Madrid and made it Tuesday.

    I am still hoping someone (me perhaps?!) will start a blog explaining if and how Europeans can garner such ridiculous Frequent Flyer points!

    Thanks for the blog!

  • Drew says:

    Congratulations on your 154th, can’t wait for trip 155. Whenever I can’t figure out a new ticket machine, I just pay whatever the minimum is. Trains are usually a low profit margin and to keep that convienience viable, all riders should pay their fair share.

  • Steve says:

    Fun read, Chris. I’m just confused about one thing….San Miguel? From the Lufthansa lounge? I would have expected a Bitburger, Warsteiner, Paulaner, or even a Becks! Ah well, free beer is free beer, no? Enjoy this edition of you journey.

  • Scott McMurren says:

    On the road again! I’ve been through FRA 8 times….never outside of the airport. Actually one other time….never outside the Hauptbahnhof. HA. You’re a great ambassador for travelers everywhere, Chris. In your next life, perhaps we can embed a camera somewhere around your Third Eye. HAHA. Happy Trails….

  • marianney says:

    I’ve listened to that song many times, but never quite listened to it in the context you just presented today. Not that the lyrics are difficult to interpret, more that I didn’t look at them in this way. Can’t wait to pop it in and give it another listen, especially on my next trip 🙂

  • Charlotte says:

    Never rains in Franfurt, huh? Na ja, Sie haben etwas Glueck dan. 😉
    It always rains for me when I get home. Which is alright. I miss rain in Germany. It’s special and it rains no where else in the world like it does there.
    But that’s not the point (I think). I noted you had mentioned Frankfurt is not Germany, it is its own place. I have to agree, whenever I go anywhere it’s not a country or a city. It’s an experience meant to be tasted and explored and savoured and when I find tiny corners and nooks and crannies, good luck getting me out of there till I am done memorizing it.
    Happy Travels! 🙂

  • MDAccount says:

    I had the same experience in the Frankfurt train station 10 years ago, when the ticket machines baffled me. A local guy noticed my confusion and offered to help me, showing me the right buttons to push to get the right ticket. He then escorted me to the right train via the slowest elevator in the world. I know it was slow because it gave my supposed hero time to drop his pants and offer me his family jewels. I hurriedly declined, at which point he reassembled himself, escorted me off the elevator, got me to the proper track and wished me a wonderful trip! So, if someone offers to help you with the ticket machine, be sure to use the stairs….

  • Crystal says:

    Well I really enjoyed reading that one. I love following your blog of travels. Well anyway, I resolved some issues since we last spoke and thanks to you I have found my way to the CouchSurfing world. Not only will I host travelers, I will also travel so much easier and I’ve convinced my boyfriend to join me. 🙂 Thanks for all these great resources!

  • Amanda says:

    My first big solo trip was to Frankfurt when I was 17 and I couldn’t figure out the train ticket machine for the life of me! I’m so glad to hear I wasn’t the only one with this experience.

  • Mario from Mexico says:

    This is my first visit to your blog and i find it very interesting, starting from the logo (cool!).

    I always wanted to pack my bags and fly away like you did! Europe is so exciting, when I go there I don’t ever want lo leave….

  • Etsuko says:

    This post made me a bit nostalgic as I used to live right by rhine river in Bonn for about 2 years. Good times! I haven’t been back in Germany since 2005 but summer is always a good time to visit there. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  • Zach says:

    I can almost feel how excited you are for your first trip in a long time. And combined with the running I can only imagine the euphoria you must feel. Congrats on moving forward!

  • katkins says:

    Not paying for ticket = bad travel karma. Do you really want it to catch up to you in Luanda?

  • Lynn McFarland says:

    I hate to travel so I live vicariously through others who do! Listened to you on the Success Magazine audio CD, found you online and through social media, love how all of this stuff is connected! Safe travels!

  • Tracey says:

    To echo several other commentators above, this post in particular has made my feet itch to travel – and I’m not generally a spontaneous traveller!! (Not that I dislike it – it’s usually budget-related : )

    Your description of pootling around Frankfurt makes me want to go back to visit my friends who live in Karlsruhe, about an hour by (wonderful efficient cheap) train from Frankfurt – I was last there about 7 summers ago, in the heat of August and loved it. Thanks for the reminder of that time…

    Just a thought – if you’re still struggling to get into Angola, perhaps an attempt from somewhere like South Africa might be a little easier? Good luck! Be safe 🙂

    thanks for your continued inspiration …

  • Karl says:

    I so much relate with that wonderful feeling of traveling after being settled for a time, thanks for sharing the inspiration.

  • Austin L. Church says:

    There’s nothing like running to really get to know a city. I didn’t have my shoes with me when I was in Innsbruck and Munich. There’s something thrilling about purposefully or accidentally breaking rules in a foreign city, unless of course the penalty is caning. Ride that train for free as long as you can!

  • Per says:

    Love it! “Don’t take a picture, remember this in your heart” Great blog, Chris!

  • Alex Chabot says:

    I love when you talk about the act of traveling. Thanks.

  • Josephine says:

    This one made me itch to get back on the road…I guess the ins and outs of a simple day in the life of a travel hacker still get me more inspired than any kind of advice!

  • Alex Humphrey says:

    Not having something to do is a lot harder for me. It’s one of the things I am working on in my life. I am more of a reader, thinker, and experiencer than a doer. I tend to aim forever and never shoot.

    Recently, I’ve started taking chances. Some of them have failed – but none of them have been awful. In fact, the ones that have succeeded have been some of the greatest experiences of the year.

    Thanks for the reminder, Chris. Time for a few more “Hell Yeah” moments. lol

  • Ginger says:

    Though I am German I have never been to Frankfurt. For me it has always represented the “capitalistic society” of Germany. To see it through your eyes as a traveller is truely uplifting.

    Especially, as I do have friends there awaiting my visit.

    For me it will be Berlin and Canada this summer! I can`t wait to feel the excitement you described. I just love travelling.

    It gets your mind away from the little pitty nuissances in life and lifts you up, sometimes literally, and thus your blood pressure down!

    Wishing you a great trip, Chris!

  • Mutant Supermodel says:

    These are my favorite posts of yours Chris. Your details are interesting. But I have a request– the story of the rubber duck. Please and thank you!

  • John says:

    Chris, thanks for more of your stories on running. My brother’s blog occasionally features what he calls “one and done” rides and runs. You may never be back, but go out on your own and experience it. Local runners and riders can often provide fantastic routes that will take you off the beaten track for a more unique adventure. Keep it up!!

  • Roy says:

    So the sex shop was a front for a falafel shop?? 🙂

  • Alex says:

    Hey Chris, I’m glad to hear, that you like Frankfurt 🙂 I live and work here for almost 2,5 years. Let me know, if you are next time in the city. I can show you some other cool places, you’ll never find in the tour guides.

  • Pascal says:

    Good post as usual. From today, you have one more country to visit. South Sudan has became a new country.

    Your progress is impressive. Getting good! I know the feeling of going out for a good run, think and dream.

  • GutsyLiving says:

    When I arrived at PDX and took the Max train into town for WDS, I had someone show me how to buy the ticket. No inspector came by either on the way to town, or the way back to the airport. I wonder how much the fine would have been had I not paid.

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