Sunday, 8 July 2018

The wrapup from Prague

Because we decided that the end of the holiday would be spent in Prague it will only be one post from Prague. Spent time at the Castle, walked the streets and discovered restaurants. Took many pictures of interesting buildings and generally loafed around. Read last year's account of a short trip to Prague here.

Eating a pork knuckle, this was left till the last night and was just the experience it was supposed to be - too much meat, too much fat on the outside and a once only time. 

The Castle, (wiki reference here) we skipped this last year and only walked the gardens then. Arriving early, to beat the crowds, we were at the front of the line at the entrance of the Cathedral, thinking we would buy tickets inside, only to learn that one needed a composite ticket to enter all the sites, which had to be obtained from the central ticket office. Nipping in to scan the Cathedral, we then purchased tickets for the sites in the complex.

We discovered the Old Castle, which was built in the 1100s, that also show cases the Crown Jewels, looked around the Golden Lane and the Basilica of St. George. Walking down to the Old Town from the Castle we had to cross the.......

Charles Bridge: (wiki reference here) One can never get enough of this site, in the early morning when there are no crowds or in the heat of the day when the place is packed, worse than a Japanese subway. History abounds! 

The Charles Bridge Palace Hotel: The hotel was magnificent, historical and spacious - just don’t get an outside room, one that faces the street - the drunks revel until 5am, and you will hear every one of them.

Waking up the day we supposed to leave I looked at my phone, at the airport, whilst standing in line because there was a buzz that the plane had been cancelled, and sure enough three emails had come in during the night, telling us of the fact. So after hanging around the airport to find what AC was going to do for us we arrived at the transient hotel at 1100 hrs. Stayed there for 24 hours and all meals supplied. Apparently all out of pocket expenses - which were only the taxi to the hotel from the airport and back again are going to be covered by AC. But as we got up the next day we found that the flight had been delayed four hours. But both flights were compensible so the next couple of trips are going to be discounted.

Not a bad way to finish the trip

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The end of Berlin and the start of Prague

Last day in Berlin:
A trip to the Museum Island, two trips on the UBahn and thirty five minute later we arrived at the Freidrichstrasse Haubtbahnhof. A ten minute walk-through an interesting neighbourhood and past the reconstructed buildings of the Museum District. The area had been destroyed in WW2 and it can be seen when you look at the buildings, the upper floors definitely look new.

Expecting a lineup at the Pergamon, after we found the entrance; the Museum is being renovated and is disorganized, so the entry was tucked away, we had to wait. The Museum staggers the visitors so that the Museum doesn't get overloaded (it felt full when we were there). After hitting the cloak room, all bags have to be checked in a locker that has a key-operated door that costs 1 euro. You get the euro back when you open the door to get your bag back. The only slot machine in Town that gives you your money back!

Up the stir into the Museum and you are stunned by the first exhibit - the Ishtar Gate  (wikipedia reference here). This artifact was disassembled, as it was being excavated, into over 500 packing crates and shipped to Berlin. This exhibit is worth the price of admission, just to be able to wonder at it - magnificent! Passing into the next room is also worth the money.
Here is a reconstructed Roman Building - The Market Gate of Miletus, a huge undertaking. Unfortunately it is not until you get the next floor that the remaining marvel is found.
Behind a sealed barrier is The Aleppo Room; seven walls (three are shown in the pic) of an antechamber, that would have led into a receiving room of a wealthy Merchant during the Ottoman period. Having checked out all of the Pergamon, not much to look at after the sights mentioned, we left for the next planned sight - the Berlin Cathedral.

The Berlin Cathedral  is another reconstruction, but done very well and took many years. Completed in 1963 it is now the main Church of Berlin, the Crypt contains the coffins of the Royals and famous people of Germany. Not built in a traditional design there is no Nave but four lines of pews arranged in the four stations of the Compass under the huge and ornate Dome. The Altar lines up North, congregants face North. An interesting and novel design for a Church.

Leaving the Church and getting to the train back we had to use the SBahn - a surface train that also travels underground. Back to the hotel and there is still an afternoon left. Fred napped and Doreen shopped, she had spotted a bargain yesterday and had to go back today when the stores were open. Sunday shopping is non-existent in Berlin (maybe Germany as well). And a return trip to the Restaurant Elefant, where the waiter amazed us all by not only remembering who we were but also what we had ordered. Again all the meals were large and excellent. Back in the room we watched the World Cup and managed to stay awake to watch the winning goal of the Belgium/Japan scored in the last minute of the game.

Travel day:Up early, to make sure we were not rushed because of the commuters. But being surprised by the lack of commuters we arrived at the Hbf with an hour to spare. Which gave us plenty of time to explore the place.
Another impressive feat of architecture and engineering, this place was five storeys of station and a few more on top for offices. On platform 3 the next piece of the puzzle was where to stand so that we lined up with our reserved seats. By luck or design the railcar 225 ended up just where we were standing. Our seats were found, in a crowded car, and our travelling companions, in adjacent seats, were a couple of 'utes' who were travelling to Bratislava to have a biking/camping holiday.

Alighting from the railcar we headed to the rendezvous spot for the hotel pickup - "stand outside Burger King" we did and still managed to miss each other. Hailing a taxi got us to to the Hotel and we nipped out for lunch!
After that we fought the crowds and took in a quick spot of sightseeing,

Monday, 2 July 2018

We didn't walk today - rode the UBahn

Only two places to visit today and the best way to get there was by the UBahn. Both trips took about thirty five mins and entailed  switches at the massive concourse of Alexanderplatz. Naturally the the train we alit from was at one end of the station and the next one was at the other - lots of steps just riding the trains.

The first place was the Flea-Market at MauerPark.
This sprawling setup is a mixture of a Craft Fair and genuine junk sale. Sited on a piece of the Wall (in the death strip), the Wall can be seen sitting on top of an embankment on the East side of the Park (look carefully in the pic and the Wall can be seen above the steps of the "amphitheater". At the market a large number of stalls were devoted to organics, thus preserving the cultural link to the 'free-spirits' that abound in Berlin. At the end of a long walk around the stalls it was decided a beer break was in order and we came across a wrinkle - there was a 2euro deposit on the glasses, but the beer was cheap and good! Jumping on a street car, as we left the Park, we rode to the next stop for the UBahn to Bernauertrasse the site of the next visit - the Stasi Museum.

Situated in, what appears to be a stereotypical DDR neighbourhood this Museum was the home of the Stasi. The Stasi was the State Police organisation that monitored the activities of the East German population. When the DDR fell in 1990 the site was occupied by protesters and the scope of the monitoring was revealed. This complex at that time covered 54 acres and employed 7,000 people. Impressions of this Museum - tough to get to and to find the entrance, not much content but impressive because of the historical context. It is interesting to see the interior still as it was in its lifetime - 60s Swedish interior wood panelling throughout.

Back on the UBahn and back to the hotel for a rest. Doreen and I ventured out later, on a fool's mission as all the stores were closed because it was a Sunday, we wandered around the Shoneburg area. Scoping out the place for a restaurant for later. Found one and when we returned it was closed, so back to the drawing board. However the "Restaurant Elefant" was open and it was delightful. Serving German food, in a cosmopolitan neighbourhood, opposite an Indian restaurant and next door to two Italian ones, this place hit the spot. Even Fred was impressed!

That's all folks:

For those wondering how to get to the full travelog click here

Sunday, 1 July 2018

A little more walking than originally planned

The plan was a simple one - take the UBahn to Fred's old neighbourhood to see where he lived thirty years ago and then visit the Charlottenburg Castle. This was supposed to be a casual day.

But the weather threw a wrinkle at us - it was a chilly morning and Fred wanted to buy a sweatshirt. Entering the huge department store; KaDeWe, we started to look. Not knowing anything other than the fact that this store was the largest in Europe we entered, but were not prepared for the contents. It was a collection of all of the 'high-end' fashions in the world, not a cheap sweater in sight.

Hightailing it out of there we then had another lesson in life when we were confronted with the automatic ticket machines for the Subway. Intelligence prevailed, after an employee pointed out that there were other machines in another location, our machine was out of order! Tickets in hand we proceeded to the platform where we had to stamp our all-day ticket to show the inspectors - if they asked - that they were valid. One ticket for any form of transport for one day costs 7Euro ($10 cdn) not a bad deal.

Fred's old neighbourhood was about a Km away from the Castle and as we approached it  a coffee break ws in order, Sitting outside and watching it was noticed that there was a bus stop at that point and it would take us right back to where wanted to go. Now that we knew how to get back we forged on to the Castle and its sights.

Schloss Charlottenburg wiki reference here is full of good 'stuff' and the style and opulence is about  the same as we have seen before in many other Stately homes and Castles. With one exception - The Porcelain Cabinet. This room holds thousands of porcelain objects, mainly vases and plates. Truly an impressive room. The visit was cut short as the really impressive rooms - the upper floor was being renovated and inaccessible.

Busing it back we got  far as the Kurfurstendamm Strasse, it was time for another window shopping trip. This street is a mile long and a shopper's delight. Time for lunch; a Turkish Donar place was found. The portions being so big we decided to share one - basically a footlong wrap. Back to the hotel and the 'fitbit' showed over 10,000 steps. So much for  a casual day, but it was till early so that left time for recovery before Dinner.

The Wittenburg District of Schoneberg is a delightfully calm neighbourhood but not too busy with cafes and stores. Finding an Italian restaurant we encountered the owner - a busy, harried and slightly eccentric person. The World Cup was on the outside TVs, no choice - sit down and order a pasta and pizza. The evening was topped off with a cake and coffee from another establishment nearer to the hotel, as we called it a day.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

The First two days in Berlin

It is hot! And we are bused out. Using the 48hr hopon hopoff bus ticket to the max we have seen the sights and discovered how bad the traffic is. Sometimes the traffic in Berlin resembles that of Rome. The major sights have been looked at and now have to investigated.

One of these will not be the Brandenburg Gate, the Iconic symbol of Berlin. In its wisdom the City decided that the area should become a place to celebrate the Football World Cup victory by Germany - "How's that going for yer Fritz?" and erected large screens in the Park on the West side which severely disturbed the Tourists views and traffic circulation.

A trip to "Checkpoint Charlie" (CPC) was a definite yes but when was the question. On the bus two stops were very close - the moving 'Typography of Terror" - a chronological replay of Hitler's seizure of power in 1933, sited at a section of the Wall, and CPC. We alit at the wall and the panels, studied them and I was struck by the parallels between modern times and 1933 and then we walked past the Trabant Museum, where a collection of the DDR iconic motor car was assembled and then on to CPC.

At CPC there is a recreation of the actual Guard Station as well as two people dressed as sentries. It costs 3 euros for a picture. Doreen had one taken. The hat blew off in the next shot because it was so windy. At this time we were so engrossed in getting a snack - it had to be a 'currywurst' and it was, that we forgot to enter the CPC Museum. So the second day's  order of business was a trip to the CPC Museum. Must say it is not worth the price of admission; 14 euros. But a 'must-see'. There are very few real artifacts in the Museum but the panels told a powerful story.

Food and prices here are cheaper than Scandinavia but still are what we would call usual 'eurozone' high, but we expected that and are pleasantly surprised when we find "bargains". Last night was one of those. Fred, our travelling companion, googled to find Asian food. The "Saigon and More" came back as a hit. Fantastic food at half the normal price. The owner, a Turkish resident of 47 years, and his Mexican wife produce 'msg free' food and an unusual ambience - definitely a five fork performance.

As part of the bus ticket there was a boat ride - one hour on the River Spree aboard a double decker cruiser. We never ventured upstairs and just relaxed and cruised - a great break from the sun and bustle. Back to the real world I had to buy a replacement camera, mine has really under-performed and finally yesterday the electronics failed and died. In the Europa Centre, a huge shopping mall was an electronic heaven - Saturn. Found what I wanted and now just have to make it work.

So reflections on Berlin - food good, weather hot, traffic intense

Thursday, 28 June 2018

A Copenhagen roundup

So what did we do yesterday? Walked a lot, visited the Christianborg Palace, the Round Tower and strolled the shopping areas - that was the good. The bad was waiting for a while at a nonexistent bus stop. The'Red Bus' company failed to tell us that stop #21 had been re-routed. Walked to #8 and sat  on the bus to come back to #1 and the short walk to the hotel.

Places visited:

Christianborg Palace (wikilink) was a cool place in temperature and temperament, the King doesn't live here any more but uses the place for formal banquets and meetings. The Prime Minister's office is in the old Royal Apartments. The Royals live in the Amelianborg Palace. This complex has a few parts, some we could not get into - the Stables and the Chapel. We did visit the Palace rooms, the Kitchen and the Ruins. The ruins were impressive just for the engineering needed to display them. The Palace has been destroyed, burnt out and rebuilt at least six times since the first one built by King Absalon in the 1100s.

The Round Tower (wikilink) was once an observatory built in 1637. The distinguishing feature is the path to the top. No stairs just a ramp, to accommodate horses that would haul heavy astronomical equipment to the top and books to the Library, located halfway up.

Wednesday was a travel day, as noted before one of the hopon hopoff bus routes actually went out to the airport, after a stop at the aquarium. So that saved a trip to the train station and other waiting arounds. The Copenhagen airport, like all of the European airports have the screening and security  divided into Schengen Treaty country lines and others. That means once you have cleared security you can travel most countries in Europe without passport controls. So only the scanning procedure to undergo. CPH is a big long box - people on top and ramps underneath and to occupy the minds of the traveller's and get us to spend big bucks in the stores that line the building.

One hour flight and we are landing in Berlin: there was a 300 metre walk from the Terminal building to the train station. We had bought our tickets inside the Terminal and all we had to do was to find the right platform and stamp our tickets. This done we settled down to a one our train ride through the City of Berlin. A wonderful and relaxing way to get to the hotel. We did get turned around in the second Ubahn station but didn't lose much time. Met up with our friend Fred, who is going to be in the same hotel for the same time we are here and went for dinner. Not many happy German faces here tonight - the Germans had just been eliminated from the World Cup.

Note, it should be noted that a day ago the normal lens on my camera failed (there is a factory recall on it) so the piccies may be not be as comprehensive as much as i would like them to be. I have to use my telefoto lens and that creates problems for normal shots.

Monday, 25 June 2018

A full day in Copenhgen

Not much difference in style when it's a full day in CPH as opposed to half a day - same stuff twice as much.

First thing - the hopon hopoff bus; this SOP for any new City. The problem is choosing the company. Most places have at least two and each is different in routes and pricing. We settled for the bus that has three routes and the cheapest price. A 24hr pass, with a boat ride, has two extra days, so you really get three days and the kicker is that one of the routes goes to the airport. Money saved again!

So where did we go and what did we see. Twenty-three stops took us all over downtown and included a boat ride. The bus ride was ninety minutes and hit all the spots that one would go back to - the Castle, the National Museum and if you really wanted to brave the crowds hit up the "Little Mermaid".

"Little Mermaid" a rear view
This icon of CPH is on the list of every tour in the Country, consequently the traffic and crowds are horrendous. We passed on seeing it from the bus but the boat ride took us to the spot. The pic on the left is a rear view and the one on the right shows the crowds jostling to get on the rock in front of the statue to pose. Perhaps tomorrow we will try to get a pic with the icon if we feel like braving the crowds.

After the bus trip we walked to the boat through the Town Hall Square, entering the Town Hall for a looky-loo, and along a kilometre of a shopping street called 'Strogat", the Danes have a funny habit of naming the streets in pieces, it is not uncommon for a long street to have many name - makes mapreading tricky.

The same route was followed on the way back and again a 'coffee-stop' was needed ($21cdn) to buy two muffins and two coffees. If you want to get acclimatised to European prices do all of you coffee breaks at Starbucks!

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Half a day in Copenhagen

Arriving in Copenhagen was easy - go to the automatic ticket machine, buy with a credit card and follow the instructions in English. As there are no reservations on the train it is hit and miss in getting a seat. Having downloaded the offline map for Google Maps finding the hotel was a snap.
Off to find lunch we explored, the neighbourhood was like a lot of area around the main train station - dodgy. A homeless shelter showed up on the map two hundred yards away.

But cafes were open and we had coffee and a beer and a cheese plate - very good.
Off to find lunch we explored, the neighbourhood was like a lot of area around the main train station - dodgy. A homeless shelter showed up on the map two hundred yards away.

Back to the hotel and the day was still young! Studying the map it was seen that the world-famous Tivoli Gardens was only three blocks away - a no-brainer. Paying our $25 to get in we meandered around , watched amateur acrobats and yoga people.
Looked in a few stores, studied prices and marveled at the parkland and flowers. Ogled the rides and admired the courage of the riders, especially the ones in the video. A parade honouring the 175th Anniversary of the Gardens was scheduled to start at 6pm. We stayed to watch, a bunch of people dressed in impressive costumes followed a drummer and then danced for a while.

Tomorrow the hopon hopoff bus and the sights

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Where are all the Swedes?

Today is the Saturday of the long weekend that is the Swedish National Holiday - Midsummer. Almost all the stores were closed today and the sight we wanted to see was too. But of course nobody knows this until you arrive and find the place closed. so it was that our walk to the Malmo Museum - Castle was in vain.

But the walk was not in vain entirely as we did see the largest park in Town with its meandering canals and a full size windmill.
Again tons of public art, which is nice but makes one wonder just what the budget is for this stuff and if the population really supports it.

Malmo is really compact and although the population is big - the third largest City in Sweden one wonders just where the neighborhoods are. Most of the downtown buildings are six storeys high and large - a lot of people live there, but there are few coffee shops and neighbourhood stores - the stuff that make neighbourhoods, so what do these people do in their spare time?

Anyway as we came back to the place we started it was time to get on the boat. This trip is an hour long ride around the canal that circles the downtown. As boat trips go this one was better than most, small, informative and not boring. One of the sights we did see was a number of small boats that can be rented to laze  on the river.

After all this back to the library in the hotel as they supply free coffee all day. We really would recommend this hotel it is one of the best we have stayed in over the years. Then came the big decision of the day - as frequent readers can guess it was -  where to eat tonight! Walking the back way we setout, we hadn't hit 10,000 steps yet,  and there was a church that looked interesting from the boat to see. Hitting the steps we came back to the place where the restaurants hung out. Problem was that it was before the opening hour of 4pm and most were closed because of the holiday. We ended up at theYello Mello I had the Swedish meatballs, on mashed potatoes and Doreen had the salmon. Both fantastic and average Swedish price. Finished it off with a couple of cheesecake takeaways (we had wine in the room) and we are now good until the included breakfast in the morning.

Must mention the breakfast. This one is the best we have had in all of our European visits - selection, quality and comfort. The breakfast room was built in 1307 and definitely deserves a mention for atmosphere - A1.

So off to Copenhagen tomorrow morning.

Friday, 22 June 2018

A walkaround Malmo Sweden

Hiding out in the magnificent library of the hotel: because it was really raining, we decided to wait before venturing outside. Not knowing where to go and realising that the weather might not cooperate, it was finally decided to head off to the insides of the largest Mall in Town. Not wanting to buy but just comparison shop. I must confess to a major error that I committed in the last post. When talking about prices I used the Danish Kroner as the baseline. Fortunately, for us, the Swedish Kroner is worth less against the Dollar than the Danish one. We are saving money already!!

Reaching the Mall we were not surprised by anything new. The prices were acceptable, the finish and quality of stores was good and the occupancy rate was about 90% - very good.

Town Hall
King Gustav
Anyway back to the morning walk, passing through one of the Squares, we passed the Town Hall and the Statue of one of the King Gustavs. Walking to the Mall we crossed over one of the many bridges that cross the canal. This one was decorated with public art - a string of bronzed shoes and boots. There must have been a story behind that. The one and a half mile walk to the Mall was on a closed street that has been pedestrianised. With the population of Malmo living in the five storey buildings that line the streets of the Downtown one can appreciate the fact that people who live downtown don't need cars - just bicycles. The weather had taken a real turn while we were  in the Mall - a sudden rain storm, which led us to have an extended coffee break. Finally the weather turned and we set out, in bright sunshine, to find the Folkets Park. The site of the Municipal Midsummer Festival. The origins can be read here - the Wikipedia explanation. The Swedish ritual is explained here.

Back to the hotel the next job was to decide here to eat. This event had been complicated by the holidays - Midsummer. It seems that the hospitality industry does not want to cash in  I guess the cooks want to have a day off too. With half of the selected places shut we didn't have much of a choice. So we settled for  sport bar in the Central Station. This building deserves a shout-out, the repurposing has been truly wonderful.

Tomorrow the weather will cooperate and we will explore the older part of the Town and maybe take in a boat ride.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

We have arrived

Malmo - Thursday
The Mayfair Hotel was found after landing in Copenhagen, buying  train tickets for Malmo, finding the train, and getting off on the wrong side of the station and having to ask for directions. Anyway the Mayfair Hotel is a building steeped  in history. The edifice is over seven hundred years old and has been used for many different roles, but the main building is still working as a restaurant and community hall.
"You will be eating breakfast tomorrow down the stairs in the original part of the building." Words spoken by the amiable and friendly Ann, the receptionist. We can hardly wait to see what is behind the dungeon door!

We did venture outside for a bite to eat. Wow the prices are high. A burger and coffee at TGIF cost us 218 Swedish kroner, at approximately five kroners to the Dollar, that was forty-seven dollars (for two) - just for lunch. I guess we will be loading up at the free breakfast and do the 'two meal a day plan' from now on.

The weather was OK - just. Fifteen degrees but no rain. We have landed at the right time to enjoy Swedish culture. The "Midsummer" Festival is the main cultural event after Christmas. I guess after having a long Winter, little Spring no wonder Summer is a Festival. Celebrated on the Friday of the week nearest to the Solstice, it falls tomorrow. There will be a local Festival in one of the big parks, a couple of miles away. The bonus this year is that the place shuts down on Saturday, to celebrate and that's when Sweden plays Germany in the World Cup. The Festival site also has big screens to carry the event. Methinks it will be bedlam in the park on Saturday.

Didn't take the camera today on our walk so the pics will be up tomorrow.

The wrapup from Prague

Because we decided that the end of the holiday would be spent in Prague it will only be one post from Prague. Spent time at the Castle, wal...