Cold noses and laughter in Berlin
The train trip from Innsbruck to Berlin was a long one, 8 hours sitting and wondering what Berlin would be like. Anyone we knew that had visited Berlin said it was amazing and awesome, I was worried that we wouldn’t like it as much as our favourite cities in Italy because it was so new in comparison. Little did I know how wrong I could be.
Our first full day was spent in the company of our Polish friend Tomasz, his girlfriend Barbara and Tomasz’ s family friend we called Boogie. Boogie had lived in Berlin for 40 years and she had lots to share, starting with a visit to her place of work: the Humboldt University library. We had woken up to a light sprinkling of snowflakes, the temperature and our noses got colder as we walked along the river to the Reichstag and our smiles got wider. As cold as it was, Marty and I were loving our walk in the snow and it seemed incredible to be standing under an umbrella, watching as snow fell one of the world’s most famous and modern, government buildings. Our friends were used to this inclement weather and our enjoyment amused them greatly. Tomasz did a bit of translating for Boogie, her English was good but she sometimes searched for the right word so Tomasz would help out and often he would add a little something extra and we would all end up having a good laugh.
We didn’t spend the day doing all the typical things that tourists do in Berlin, Boogie wanted to open our eyes to what life was like during the cold war and when she first moved to Berlin so she took us to the “Palace of Tears” or the Tränenpalast,the former border crossing at Berlin Friedrichstraße station where East Germans said goodbye to family and friends going back to West Germany. The Tränenpalast museum is now a modern history museum, the exhibits highlighting the division between east and west and how that impact the lives of Germans during the Cold War era. It is free to visit, but handbags have to be left in a locker which cost 1 or 2 euros. Adding to that experience was a visit to the DDR Museum. The DDR Museum is an interactive experience that gives the visitor the opportunity to see what daily life was like in East Berlin. Hubby had a simulated driving experience in a Trabant, a popular and cheap car for East Germans and apparently not that easy to ‘drive’ as the experience ended with a crash into a pole. I enjoyed exploring the living room and kitchen installations, the formica and colour scheme reminding me of some of the cheaper places I lived in as a university student.
Boogie also led us out of the centre of Berlin, several trains and buses later, to find a well known, popular vegetarian restaurant. I stopped counting how many changes we made after the first couple of stations and I had absolutely no idea where we were, thank goodness for Boogies. By the time we reached our destination, the smiles had worn off a little and our feet were cold and wet. As it turned out the restaurant was closed until later that day, feeling famished we entered the nearest open restaurant and proceeded to order a Chinese banquet. The food was fresh, tasty and very cheap and the time spent there allowed our shoes to dry a little and our feet to warm. Without Boogie we would never have found a delightful ‘village’ in the middle of Berlin, she took us to a restaurant that specialised in potato dishes and showed us beautifully decorated buildings. It was a truly wonderful introduction to Berlin, I’m not sure we would have loved this city as much without the Boogie walking tour and the company of our friends Tomasz and Barbara.
Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette
Jet streams in the sky above Burg Stahleck, a medieval castle in Bacharach which overlooks the Rhine River.
For more about the Weekly Photo Challenge click here.
Our Europe top ten
Since arriving home we’ve been asked about our favourite destinations and experiences and it is really hard to narrow it down to one or two things, so much of what we have experienced has been incredible and we loved (almost) every minute of our trip. Marty and I also differ when it comes to selecting our special moments, Marty likes to sit and watch the world go by, meet new people and enjoy the moment whereas I like to get moving and explore each destination and what it has to offer. For those of you who are interested, here are my top ten favourite experiences and my top ten less-than favourite experiences, some of them you may already have read about in previous posts.
Top ten favourites:
- Walking through the doors of the Musee d’Orsay and making my way through the Impressionist collection. Degas, Renoir, Monet, Manet and Seurat were the artists who inspired me when I was in High School and changed the way I looked at my surroundings.
- A perfect day in Bavaria (a very small part of Bavaria anyway) starting with a scenic train ride through the countryside where we met two lovely German ladies and spoke about The Thorn Birds, Brisbane’s floods and the beautiful region we were travelling through. Joe, dressed in traditional clothing met us at the Füssen train station, we took a horse and carriage ride up to Neuschwanstein, drank beer on a snow covered mountain and that evening we had dinner with Joe’s family at his mother’s house.
- Waking up in Paris, the realisation that we were finally in Europe hit and it was bliss! Paris is an amazing and fascinating city and 5 nights was just not enough, we can’t wait to go back there and spend more time exploring the streets, gardens and museums.
- Eating piping hot frites (chips) covered with a huge dollop of mayonnaise from the Mannekin Pis frites shopfront in Amsterdam, it was cold and miserable and these were the most delicious things to eat on such a day.
- Staying in the medieval towns of Bacharach and Rothenburg in Germany. These towns are straight from a fairytale and they were in the most picturesque places, Bacharach on the Rhine River and Rothenburg ob de Tauber surrounded by medieval walls overlooking the valley.
- Wandering the streets of Venice and watching the colours of the buildings change as the sun was setting. Truly a magical place and more so in the evening when the crowds have thinned out and the souvenir stalls have closed.
- The hilltop town of Orvieto was a wonderful destination, we enjoyed the local wine: Orvieto Classico accompanied by snacks of marinated olives, foccacia and peanuts. From Orvieto we visited the dying town of Civita de Bagnoregio, a hilltop town with few residents thanks to ongoing erosion of the volcanic stone that the town sits upon, here we had a most delectable meal grilled over an open fire and served on plastic plates.
- Participating in a cooking class in Florence. This was loads of fun and not only did we learn a little about Tuscan cooking, but we were able to enjoy the fruits of our labour accompanied by a few glasses of wine and all of our classmates.
- Rome, everywhere we walked history smacked us in the face from the ancient roman ruins, influential architecture and Egyptian obelisks to Baroque sculptures on display in piazzas, fountains and churches. The traffic was crazy, the crowds overwhelming and the food served at Cantina Kantarini delicious, an amazing city.
- Driving through the countryside in Tuscany and Umbria, being in the middle of a scene that I had only ever seen on postcards or calendars. When driving between Siena and Pienza we must have stopped at least 20 times to take photos and absorb what we were seeing, rows of cypress pines and olive trees, red poppies and Tuscan villas.
Top ten not-so favourite
- Feeling stressed about the driving in Italy, even though I was the passenger and GPS/map reader. We didn’t know how the tolls worked or how much it would cost, the limited traffic zones made me nervous after reading about the cost of the fines we could get and driving through Sorrento was a little chaotic, narrow streets with bikes, scooter, horse and carriages and women with prams all vying for road space.
- Finding our room not ready in Florence and having to spend potential ‘tourist’ time checking out of one hotel, storing luggage and then checking into the hotel we were originally booked into. Not only that, both hotels were extremely popular with school groups.
- Eating crappy, expensive pasta at a tavola calda near the Vatican City, we knew better than to make a rash decision however we were hungry and running late for our tour of the Vatican Museums. Honestly, Hungry Jacks would have been better and cheaper. The pane (bread) charge of 3 euros for the bread we never ordered was also annoying.
- The crowds in the Vatican Museum made it really difficult to spend time absorbing our location and the marvellous things we wer looking at. Next time we’ll book a private tour either early in the morning or later in the day, the money spent would be well worth it.
- Missing out on the Borghese Gallery because I didn’t try to reserve a ticket far enough in advance made me furious, I knew better but wasn’t sure what our plans were for Rome because a friend of ours was joining us for a few days. I should have just booked the ticket regardless.
- Accidentally deleting all my photos from my computer and having to download them all again from the memory cards, sadly we had deleted some of the images from the memory cards resulting in some happy snaps never being seen again. After that I backed up photos online, on my laptop and on usb sticks.
- Not making use of the metro and buses more in Paris, we walked everywhere unless the hop-on, hop-off buses could get us there (and only for a period of two days) and we were exhausted and short tempered. We walked because we wanted to ‘see’ Paris and instead it ate up valuable time that could have been spent in the Luxembourg gardens, Rodin Museum or people watching at a cafe.
- Rude tour guides in museums and galleries who think it is okay to stand right next to you and start spouting their knowledge to their tour group regardless of the fact that you’re trying to listen to an audioguide.
- Paying 22 (for 2) euros to enter Pompeii, 10 euros for the audioguides and map and finding that the majority of the villas and more interesting places to see are closed for restoration or repairs. No mention of this on the map or the guides and certainly not explained to us when we bought the tickets. Although a great place to visit, it was extremely disappointing.
- Getting ripped off by those International phone companies that ‘help’ you with calling family back home and charge you almost $80 for the privilege. To make matters worse we could have avoided the exorbitant fee had we been better prepared and made a note of the dialling out code for Italy and bought a phone card in Venice.
It was much harder to come up with the less than favourite list, we really were lucky on our trip and avoided all the major hassles some travellers are unfortunate enough to experience and the problems we did experience could have been avoided with a little preparation.
Food, glorious food…part one
You get fed well when flying Emirates, the meals are pretty good in comparison to many airline meals I’ve eaten but it is important that you don’t eat all the food on offer otherwise you will feel extremely uncomfortable and besides delicious treats awake once you reach your destination. When travelling around Europe you expect to eat good food and drink lots of wine because its usually cheaper than soft drink and mineral water and generally tastes good as well. We’ve had some great, inexpensive meals and also a couple of ordinary expensive ones, most of the time we’re dining on baguettes, paninis or crackers with cheese and cold meat but after a while the craving for vegetables and a different taste can’t be ignored.
In Paris we tried escargots in herb and garlic butter at La Grange on Rue Mouffetard, nice except for the slight hint of dirt on one particular snail. The bread served with the meal soaked up the herb and garlic butter nicely, in France and Italy the bread comes free with the meal. The cheese we bought made our fridge smell, we threw one lot out (it may have been perfectly okay to eat however the smell made us heave) and ate the rest cruising on the train to Amsterdam. Wine was cheap and much lighter in flavour than Australian wines, we ordered the house wine on most occasions and it was served up to us in a carafe or jug.
My favourite meal in Amsterdam was frites and mayo, the dinner we had at the Blazer Brasserie was delicious and the cheap thai (9 euro) on our last night was the best value. No way was I trying the pickled fish that are sold at stalls, I’m fussy about fish and they look horrible and slimy.
I’ve tried to remember to take photos of all our meals eaten at restaurants and cafes, having started well I’m now failing dismally and usually half way through my meal before remembering that I have a camera on me. The most expensive meal we had was in Lucerne Switzerland, I forgot to photograph the main and should have scanned the bill because it is a meal we won’t forget and not because it was the best one we had. The meal was nice, local produce and wines followed by luscious creme caramel with cream and strawberries, for 120 swiss francs you might expect more, but hey, we’re in Switzerland and everything is expensive.
In Germany, Marty ate Weiner Schnitzel four nights in a row, it is a dish that brings back wonderful memories of childhood meals with his Grandparents and I have to admit that it was quite tasty. I tried having different meals even though we ate at the same restaurant in Bacharach and Rothenburg ob de Tauber, we enjoyed the company of the host at each place and the food was good. Our most memorable meal and one of our favourite experiences was courtesy of a friend of Marty’s, he took us to Neuschwanstein and showed us some of the surrounding area and then we went to his family home for the most delicious meal of roast pork, crackling, potato dumplings and salad. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat anymore Joe’s Mum brought out cherries and Bavarian cream and his Grandmother started cutting up cake. Their hospitality and friendliness really made our day, it was also nice to have freshly brewed coffee to finish the meal – we hadn’t had much success with coffee in Germany.
The food in Italy is so far, so good, breakfast was lacking initially (prepackaged croissants and toast) but our stay in Varenna on Lake Como has proven to be a ‘filling’ one. Seafood in Venice is a must, I even ate little fishes fried in batter, at first quite nice but after a while I couldn’t eat anymore and the whole prawns fried were nice (couldn’t bring myself to eat the heads) although I after consuming half the meal I was a little over eating whole fried creatures. Chocolate shops and sweet shops line the narrow streets, Lindt and Perugian chocolates of all kinds and you can pick and mix – we added to our stash of sweets for the Easter weekend. We couldn’t find crostoli anywhere, a small bakery over near the Rialto markets sold something very similar and we ate the sugary fried treat as a snack while walking back to the hotel, wish I could remember what it was called.
In Florence we’ll be attending a cooking class, maybe I’ll have something more interesting to write about, until then I’ll try to remember to take more photos.
Munich, home to Oktoberfest
Munich Hbf is a busy station and possibly the largest one we’ve been to so far (at least from our perspective) and we weren’t sure about the exact location of our hotel, only that we needed to exit towards a particular street. Munich has trams, buses, cars and bikes, you can cross at a pedestrian crossing without lights or at crossings managed by lights, I’m still not used to them driving on the right and head straight for the pedestrian crossings. Marty is regularly telling me to drift right when walking and watch out for the cyclists.
Kings Hotel Center is only a few minutes walk from the station, as usual we take longer to get there because we don’t know the area and easily miss the street signs. The hotel caters mainly for business people, the environment and staff are all very well presented, the two chandeliers in the foyer catch my attention and the furniture and art are very formal in nature. Our room is not huge, but nicely furnished with a large flat screen television hanging in the corner, sadly the only English speaking channels are BBC and CNN, at least we can keep up with world news and get weather forecasts.
Munich was destroyed by allied bombing in WWII, rather than rebuild the city in a contemporary style the city chose to rebuild it as it was prior to the war, Hitler and his cronies had documented and photographed everything providing an excellent reference point for the architects and builders. Marienplatz in home to the town hall and hundreds of shops, it is pedestrianised and being a sunny Sunday afternoon the square is filled with buskers, beer drinkers and friends hanging out. The streets seem dirty, more so than Paris and Amsterdam and there is no public seating and very few rubbish bins. All the shops are closed, only cafes, beer houses and restaurants are open, the noise and crowds are a bit of a shock after our quiet, peaceful stays in Baccarach and Rothenburg. Wandering up and down marienplatz we settle on sandwiches for lunch and eat them in the square whilst listening to buskers play classical versions of pop songs. Munich is not at all familiar to me, I’ve read plenty of guide books, watched dvds and travel shows however they’re all mainly focussed on Italy and Paris. Around the corner from Marienplatz is the Residenz and Hofgarten, not sure how close or far they are, we decide to keep walking and turn back if our feet get sore. Coffee has been ordinary in Germany, Starbucks makes a nice break for us and the coffee is okay although it seems expensive at 3,60 euro. We didn’t make it into the Residenz, took a peek only at the Hofgarten and then spent a short time gazing at a loggia style building in a nearby square. On the way back to the hotel we accidentally came across the Michael Jackson memorial, two small groups of people had set up blankets next to the memorial, one of the women wearing pale makeup, a red jacket, ankle length black pants, white ankle socks and black shoes – definitely a fan. The memorial itself was covered in flowers, candles, pictures and messages of love and loss. Quite odd really, probably no different to what happens at Graceland and Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris.
Our mission that evening was to find a restaurant where we could have a meal that included vegetables, the past two weeks we have been living on a diet of bread, meat, cheese and salad and both of us craved broccoli, corn and carrots. The White Ginger is a Vietnamese restaurant just down the road from our hotel, we gave the Turkish, Thai and table dancing venue a miss and sat down to a feast of mini spring rolls, duck in a chilli, coconut cream sauce, beef and broccoli, fried rice with shredded chicken and vegetables and steamed rice. This very appetising and flavoursome food didn’t stand a chance, we virtually inhaled the meal and claimed we could eat there again (and we did). With 30 minutes free internet, courtesy of the hotel, Marty was able to log on to Facebook and organise our activities for the next day, we would be catching up with his mate Joe, seeing Neuschwanstein castle and joining Joe’s family for a meal.
Medieval Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Restless night, the walls are thin and like Amsterdam, we can hear the movement and bodily functions from the neighbouring rooms. Marty opens the windows to let in fresh air, it gets stuffy in our funny little room under the roof. Breakfast is another feast, I explain to Marty that it may not be quite as substantial in Italy, they don’t ‘do’ breakfast like we do or like we’ve had in any of the European countries. Boiled eggs, cheese, meat, bread rolls, cheese spreads and cereal are laid out on two long buffet tables, it is hard to know where to start, we try to be healthy and at least have muesli and yoghurt. The coffee is not great, lots of milk and sugar are required for me to drink it.
It is only early, the air is still fresh and cool, the streets relatively empty of tourists, many locals are out walking their dog and stopping at bakeries to pick up fresh bread and pastries. We climb the steps of the tower near our hotel and walk along the walls, they’re not walkable everywhere, at times you walk on ground level and the towers are closed, the stone is cool to touch and the small holes spaced along the walls were once used to point weapons through in defense of the town. From our room and the wall the steeples of St Jacob’s Church can be seen, we’re content to explore the streets and not venture indoors until we locate the Medieval Criminal Law Museum. The museum opens at 11am, to fill in time we snack on tasty goodies from the bakery and take in the aroma of cooking sausages and deli meats at a local butcher shop. Lunch would be a cooked Franconian sausage on a fresh roll from the butchers, at only 2,50 euro it was a bargain and delicious to boot. Whilst waiting for the sausages to cook, we taste tested salami…yum! We ate lunch outside in the sun, we were in a great position to watch the locals go about their business and to see the other tourists making their way about the town, stopping to take photos of anything and everything (sound familiar?).
Europeans take their dogs everywhere, but apparently not into the butcher shop, a dear little dog sat waiting outside, shifting slightly every now and then until his (or her) master appeared. I imagine the smell must have been making his mouth water and hope that he got a tasty treat as reward for waiting patiently.
The Criminal Law Museum has a large collection of etchings, documents, punishment devices, seals and legal symbols from seven centuries of history. The barbaric and humiliating forms of punishment for immorality, gossip and drunkenness are beyond belief, it was not a good time to be alive.
Common punishment for two women or a couple who were charged with being argumentative and always fighting was to bind them together using a device that looked like a portable stock, it was attached around each person’s neck and they had to wear it until they began behaving better towards each other. A woman who had sex before marriage had to wear head gear made of straw and could not get married in the traditional manner available to ‘good girls’. Outside the museum in the courtyard were stocks and wagons used for carting prisoners, hanging in the air was the cage that would have been used for prisoners condemned to be dunked.
Rothenburg has many bakeries and specialty shops selling ‘schneeballen’, fried pastries coated in sugar, cinnamon or chocolate. They’re a bit like crostoli in texture and taste, but rolled into a ball and the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee. We were still trying to find a coffee as good as that in Paris, a latte machiatto is not as good – too milky as you might expect however it was nicer than the hotel coffee. In addition to trying local food and drinks, our aim was to purchase Christmas decorations from the Christmas Village and have them shipped back to Australia to avoid carrying them and taking the risk of damaging them. Not sure if the lamp we bought will work in Australia, the voltage and power adapter is different, surely this can be fixed using a travel adapter (reverse of the one we had to buy to use our appliances in Europe) and if not it will still look pretty on display at Christmas time. I could have bought hundreds of dollars worth of decorations for our tree but the best ones were about 17 euro and it seemed a little extravagant, I did eventually purchase a nutcracker soldier as a typically Rothenburg souvenir.
Pork knuckle, schnitzel or sausage for dinner – big decisions, not lightly made J. The pork knuckle came with sauerkraut so I gave that a miss and we’d had sausages for lunch leaving schnitzel for Marty…again and I ordered boiled beef shank with horseradish cream, boiled taters and cranberries. My choice was a winner, Marty’s fries were delicious when dunked in the horseradish cream and his salad was equally as tasty. The waiter/owner seemed to enjoy the fact that we had returned for a second night, he told us jokes, recommended wines and at the end of the night brought out 2 complimentary glasses of ‘Franconian tap water’ some deadly sort of liqueur that had to be downed in one shot. I couldn’t drink it, the taste was disgusting to me, Marty downed both and instead I devoured a delectable apple strudel and vanilla ice cream dessert. Once back at the hotel Marty met Carlos, he was sitting alone outside the hotel and having a beer, Marty joined him for a couple of drinks and found out that Carlos was working in Rothenburg for the weekend and that he played in a band as well, the next day Marty gave Carlos a list of Australian songs that would rouse the interest of any Australian within hearing range.
Onwards to Bacharach, Germany
Our alarm goes off at 6am although I had been waking every half hour or so since 4.30am, we have to catch the early morning train to Koln, our first stop on the trip to Bacharach. With the sun not yet in the sky, mist hanging over the canals and the locals cycling to work, we heave our bags onto our backs (they’re hybrid backpacks, not the ‘real’ backpack) and make our way down the street towards the tram stop. We are sad to leave Amsterdam, our stay has been relaxing and pleasant albeit cold and occasionally wet. The people we met were mainly friendly and extremely helpful, some less so however they were the exception rather than the rule.
No time to have breakfast this morning, the cheese and crackers and pieces of fruit that we packed would have to suffice. The Central Station was filled with commuters and fellow travellers, our train to Koln was a fast train, a couple of hours was all it would take to get there. Having a Eurail pass made it easy, just hop on the train and wait for the conductor to check the ticket, only problem for us was that the date on our reservation was incorrect so the seats we had booked in advance were not available. Thankfully we were able to get help from the conductor, she identified seats that were empty and we made ourselves at home in one of the ‘quiet zones’. The countryside of Holland and Germany are pretty to travel through and even though there are no blue skies to brighten the landscape, there are plenty of farm houses, cottages, flowering trees and animals to keep our attention.
From Koln we catch a train to Koblenz and then transfer to another train to get to Bacharach. Panic sets in when we get off the train at Koln, there is a train waiting on the platform opposite and it appears to be going to Koblenz but there are two destinations listed on the information sign on the platform. Everything is in German (of course), Marty asks the conductor for assistance and he tells us that this is indeed our train, time to jump aboard and find a seat. The distance between each destination is not great, the scenery is spectacular, Marty and I point out castles to each other and vineyards growing on the side of the hills, finally the sun is shining and the skies get more blue as we go through Boppard and St Goar. We are in Bacharach by midday, a gentleman at the station walks us to our hotel, he is not local but he is German and explains a little of the history of the area – no tips expected, just a good deed for two confused Australian tourists.
Bacharach is a picturesque village on the edge of the Rhine, the Burg Stahleck (castle) sits atop the town and offers cheap accommodation and meals to travellers in addition to extensive views of the area. My head was constantly turning as we rolled our bags down cobblestone streets, our hotel sits in the middle of the older part of town and near the church, the bells ring every 15 minutes and remind us of the time. Creative and decorative signs hang above shops and restaurants, ivy grows over rock walls and slate and there is an almost medieval appearance to the buildings. I fell in love with the town as soon as I saw it, could I live here? What would we do for work and would my waistline expand much on a diet of dumplings, schnitzel and potato? Our hotel is not open, I ring the bell at a neighbouring building to let the owner know we have arrived, she is young and very friendly and shows us to our huge room complete with spa bath in the bathroom. I had booked the Am Markt hotel through expedia for a very reasonable 80 euro per night, it has turned out to be an excellent choice.
We meet an American traveller, Larry, he is travelling around Germany by himself and wanted his photo taken. For half an hour we talked about the town, our travels and the places he has seen over the last 30 years and perhaps we will catch up with him on a Rhine River cruise tomorrow. Spring is such a beautiful time to be in Europe, flowers are blooming and the winter colours are changing from brown to vivid greens, yellows, pink and white. The weather is perfect, children are playing in the park, dog owners are taking the pooches for a walk and many are relaxing on park benches by the water. The walk to the castle takes about 15 minutes, the trail is muddy and we regularly stop to look around at the landscape and get a different perspective of the town. The remains of a chapel built in the 13th century lies to the left of the path, gargoyles point down from the top serving as downpipes as well as a decorative feature, spotlights surround the chapel and the path is well lit so I’m looking forward to seeing the effect at night.
The town is relatively quiet apart from the church bells and small amount of traffic, a school group is staying at the castle which means lots of laughter and screaming can be heard as the children see the sights and feast on the local ice cream and cake. Where to have dinner is the biggest decision we have to make this evening, rabbit, schnitzel and apfel (apple) strudel is on the menu for the few restaurants open during the low season. During our walk around Bacharach we pick up the scent of baked pastries and cake, the shop assistant doesn’t speak English but is still able to understand that we want to try the chocolate torte and berry shortcake, heavenly.
The view from the castle is amazing and we debated whether to have dinner up there in the bistro, the children running around and the walk up the hill on a muddy track convinced us otherwise and dinner was in a nice little restaurant down the road. Not many of the restaurants and cafes are open at this time of year, we looked at a couple of menus and for 7.50 euros Marty was able to savour a vegetable soup, salad, schnitzel and fries, I went for the venison with cranberries, potato dumplings and red cabbage for 12.50 euros – the soup and salad were also included.