Holidays and Other Excursions

Category: Germany

Euro Tour 3 – Berlin to Prague

Tuesday 25 July 2017

It is still raining this morning so we remain in the hotel until our lunchtime departure.  The time is used firstly to get an internet connection.  Euro roaming is now within my monthly data cap which means I can use my phone as a hot spot.  Then using the Flickr app I can upload photos and progress is made!  It is not as elegant as the old app on the old phone which could do it direct from the photo gallery app without involving the Flickr app.  I probably should investigate another app for the photo gallery; it would be particularly good if the app could load an entire sub directory of photos on the phone straight into an album as I move photos from the two cameras to the phone before uploading.

Our train is electrically hauled (the station in Berlin is dark and the photos cannot be used) and feels similar in some respects to BR mark 2 stock but obviously benefiting from the larger loading gauge.  2+2 seating or three aside in second class compartments (and yes they do still have compartments).  I did not go forward to identify the arrangements in first class.  Some airline seating is used for half of the coach.  The trains are loaded with a lot of rucksack carrying “students” – presumably on interrail or similar.

The area of Germany through which we are passing is fairly flat and agricultural as we head south.  Throughout Germany there is none of the advertised wifi on the train; magically once we enter the Czech Republic everyone’s phones connect (much pinging everywhere) and we are all catching up with the rest of the world.   The occupants of neighbouring seats (who are also on our tour) appear not to be able to get The Archers as they complain about not being up to date.  It seems odd as I believe BBC Radio iPlayer should allow downloads – and certainly my podcast downloads work; I do not admit to having the episodes concerned!  One of our fellow tour travellers is listening to operatic music (on headphones) and humming along (slightly tunelessly) to the sounds which emanate to the wider world.  It is a pity really as if the opera had not been imposed on us I could have been making copies of The Archers available.  I am mean!

Catering on board  appeared limited; I think I had the only two sandwiches on the train (which reminds of the situation on the train to Portland last year).   As we progress through the first part of the Czech Republic we are following the river Elbe and the scenery is rather more attractive.  Then the sun comes out which is more cheering before we are once again passing through wide open farming countryside.  It darkens again before we arrive, although it does not rain.

When we arrive I have a brief moment to take photos of some colourful local trains.

The Hotel Diplomat is functional although some of the decoration upstairs might need slight refurbishment.  We are a little way out of the main city.  However we do have a great view of Prague Cathedral from our window which looks like this:

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The hotel does not register a credit card – so it is all pay as you go.  At least there will be little delay settling the bill.

Dinner on the first floor is a buffet, for me tomato soup, beef stew, not spicy.  Finished off by some local cheeses.  It is a decent improvement on the buffet in Berlin as the selection is far more varied.  Then early to bed as we have to be away from the hotel at 08:15 apparently.

Euro Tour 2 – Berlin

Monday 24 July 2017

Breakfast is a little like dinner the previous night and is inevitably a buffet.  It is good on all of the cold options but a little lacking in variety on cooked items.  Several styles of egg, but only one type of sausage and no bacon!  Good coffee though (but not perhaps damn fine coffee).

This morning is a three hour coach tour of the major local sites in Berlin.  Our first stop is at the short remaining portion of the Berlin Wall seeing it from the now decorated eastern side.  The decoration is explained here.  Although the Wall has been largely removed the route it followed through Berlin is delineated throughout the city by a twin strip of pebbles which marks the space it occupied through the streets.

Moving onwards our next halting point is the remnant of the infamous Checkpoint Charlie – really just a photo opportunity.  As the tour continues we briefly move into the former Allied occupied sector (West Berlin) which in the period between 1961 and 1989 saw many of the facilities in the former city become duplicated – two zoos, two opera houses etc.  We are driven through the Tiergarten before a stop at the Brandenburg Gate, that great symbol of Berlin.  It was here that the television scenes of the people dismantling the wall in 1989 were so powerful as the former East Germany effectively collapsed – along with much of the Communist system as we have previously seen in south east Asia.

We return to the hotel and try to upload some photos but the software on my phone simply does not seem to want to do as instructed.  This Lenovo / Motorola has different software to my beloved Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and this is the first time I have tried uploading on it.  Another learning curve to reach the right solution.  (The right new way of doing uploads was eventually identified!).

The photographs from this morning are here.

Then we wander out the same way as yesterday and find a restaurant selling curry wurst.  We share a small portion consisting of a sausage, pronounced dodgy by Jackie, covered in ketchup which has been slightly spiced.  Jackie largely eats the fries and sauce whilst I eat the sausage.

Our restaurant was at the rear of the catholic cathedral and from there it is a simple meander into the Museum Quarter which we do emerging by the Opera House, opposite which they have just started rebuilding a former palace which will become the Humboldts Museum.

The photographs taken during this meander are here.

In the evening we again walk over to the TV tower and after some problems with tickets we make it to the revolving restaurant for our planned dinner.  Over about an hour we steadily rotate watching Berlin beneath us.  It seems that during the sixties many cities believed having a rotating restaurant way up a tower was a very good idea.  Only the BT Tower in London seems to fail to appreciate that it remains a good idea!  Views across the city are good and we can see down to the Brandenburg gate and the river Spree beneath us is also busy.  My photos are here.

This is my rather nice main course of Stone Bass.

When we emerge the promised rain has arrived – but it is only a spattering as we walk back to the hotel and into the ground floor bar again.  This time due to a lack of normal seats we remove our shoes and sit in the padded cabin area previously mentioned.  Certainly comfortable enough to go to sleep.

Time to move on tomorrow.

Euro Tour 1 – to Berlin

Sunday 23 July 2017

This is one of those holidays which has long been on the to do list – a variation on the usual Prague / Vienna / Budapest excursions as our first destination is the city of Berlin with onward travel being by rail.  Tour operator is Rail Discoveries – the secondary brand of Great Rail Journeys.

The taxi is with us at home at 05:15 for our journey to Heathrow T5.  We manage to avoid the long queue at Group check in as Jackie flashes her BA card and we are moved to a non-existent queue at Club check in (my BA membership has now dropped back to Blue status but thankfully they let me check in with her!).

We head through security and now we wait for the plane.  Breakfast is taken at Huxleys which is a new outlet (to us) I think.  Then downstairs for a wander through duty free, £20 saving on an iPad does not seem a huge amount, and trade in will provide a better net cost.  Even though we are at terminal 5 there is no opportunity to ride the shuttle service as we are going from an “A” gate.  I have still not been to the “C” gates.

We board the plane and as it is not full we are pleased to have three seats for the two of us so more comfortable than usual, greatly improved by the delivery of a glass of champagne each from the front of the plane courtesy of Angela and delivered by Mark.  Thank you very much BA.

On time arrival in Berlin then a wait for our luggage.  The coach loads and we are soon at the Alexander Park Inn and the sandwiches from Boots are consumed once we are in our room on the 24th floor as a late lunch.

The weather is much better than anticipated.  We descend to Alexandersplatz and walk under the adjacent railway line to the bottom of the TV tower which dominates the area.  We go a little further to see Neptune’s fountain, the town hall and the old but rebuilt church.  During this holiday we will be slightly restricted as Jackie is suffering from bad sciatica which is limiting the distances she can walk.  I will try not to mention it again.

The photos of this are here.

On our return to the hotel (Park Inn by Radisson) we head to the Panorama bar at the top of the building for a couple of drinks and to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.  Not an attractive space in itself – but then the building was originally a Soviet era accommodation for Comecon officials.  There was a very expensive refurbishment in 2001 to bring it up to modern standards  – we are deep in former East German Berlin.  However I can get some views of the obviously very flat city which stretches in all directions from this point.

We rejoin the group for buffet dinner in the main restaurant with an excellent selection of starters, the main course is slightly less inspired but the cheese selection was also excellent.  This was followed with a coffee in the ground floor bar (which had a very odd soft bed like “compartment” which we did not try) where we chat to some of the others on the tour.