Tag Archives: berlin

On the train from Berlin to Gdansk

Despite some lingering concern that flooding in Germany is still disrupting rail service, my train left Berlin’s impressive new train station (hauptbahnhof) right on time, in true German style. Now we are zipping across fields of corn, wheat and some other shimmering yellow crop, through forests of spindly fir trees, stopping at the occasional village with red tile roofs and, sometimes, wind turbines, between Berlin and Gdansk. God is there anything better than a train ride to a brand new place, listening to music on an iPod, feeling decades younger than You are. Probably but I do love the liberating feel of riding a train. Never feel that way on a plane or a bus. Sometimes I feel it in a car but I’ve still got to drive or sit in a confined space. I am in a six person compartment with a sliding door and three young women who seem a little less enthralled by the ride.

What I could use is one of those computerized maps on airplanes so I knew when we are in Poland. I wonder if there will be some telltale signs…beyond signs in Polish. Not sure I know the difference but the latest sign sure looked Polish and some of the young women in my car said we are indeed inPoland and have been for the past 30 minutes or so. Who knew?

My last day in Berlin was pretty laid back. I wandered around Charlottenburg, the gentile neighborhood near my hotel, past elegant buildings and attractive cafes. I browsed around KaDeWe, an opulent department store akin to Harrod’s, although the food halls didn’t have as enticing food. near my hotel in Wilmersdorf, I stumbled upon a quiet well tended residential street (Duisberger or Dusseldorfer Strasse) with a plaque at the corner explaining that this was where Charlottenburg’s Jews were relocated before their ultimate grim destination, the death camps. Took me aback. Reminded me of a conversation I overheard during my first day in Berlin. The dad kept pointing out to his two little kids this sight and that sight but his son kept asking “are there any concentration camps here?” Dad tried ignoring his question but finally said gently, “No, this is a city that is coming back and has all this cool stuff.”

Just arrived in Gdansk and some kind young people here for a big music festival helped me find my hotel, tucked in the old town, a house circa 1451. Two of our favorite bands are playing at the festival, turns out. The National and The Kings of Leon! Who knew? Below are some photos from the train journey!





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Mitte South, Potsdamer Platz, Alexanderplatz, gendarmenmarkt, artemisia

Greetings from Berlin where my biggest frustration has been trying to get Internet access on my iPad. I had the same issue in London at my friends house but finally got it. never had any issues in Peru, when I last used it in a foreign land. I did go to a computer store nearby and the guy pressed one button and charged me 15 euros. I thought he was joking. But no.

Anyway, I walked myself silly today and although I made several wrong turns, after awhile I started to understand the lay of the land, literally, and how the various u Bahn and S Bahn trains connect, plus the 100 and 200 Buses, which are cross town buses, doubledecker no less, that offer a great respite from walking long straight streets and some terrific scenery.

I am still trying to work out where “the wall” ran and what is east vs. West Berlin. But it was intriguing to see bits of the wall here and there – the bits by the now super modern Potsdam Platz appear to be covered not only with graffiti but wads of chewing gum. A lot of Berlin requires a better imagination than I have so you can see ugly wall where there are now huge modern buildings and Hitlers bunker where there is now what appears to be an apartment block. ( Right across the street from the other women only hotel I was thinking of staying at, Intermezzo.) while Berlin has its imposing older monuments, the Brandenburg Gate, the post WW2 communist architecture and the 21st century monuments, most notably the Holocaust memorial (which got me choked up as I found myself wandering deep inside the maze of bar slabs of grey stone, laid out in a dizzying number of fluctuating heights) are really the most captivating. Anywhere else, say Chicago and its Cabrini Green housing complex, these bleak concrete slab buildings might be knocked down. But here they are a source of fascination, maybe even pride, a historical record of the brutality of communism. This seemed particularly the case around Alexanderplatz, with its famous bizarre Jetsonesque tv tower and strange mosaics and painted murals on occasional communist era buildings. I also find myself looking at the graffiti differently, as another historic artifact. So that is interesting because architecture I would gave dismissed and graffiti I would have disdained at home, is here in Berlin a surprising source of fascination.

So far, I am enjoying staying at this women only hotel. As I type outside on the fifth floor rooftop overlooking the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorff area, three women in their sixties, from Canada, Germany and Australia are talking about life, carrying for elderly parents, their adventures as retirees, where to eat dinner, which U and S bahn stations have the most stairs.

I did have my fix of grilled Bavarian coarse fried sausages, mashed potatoes and sweet cooked cabbage that I remember eating in Munich and even had a midday (Augustiner Hell) beer at Augustiner Gendarmenmarket, a lovely reconstructed square. When in Rome. But I cannot seem to bring myself to eat curry wurst…which looks even worse than I thought: sausages served with curry powder and then, even worse, ketchup. Ick.

Other interesting sights: a guy juggling while riding a unicycle in front of traffic stopped at a busy intersection (when the traffic started, he put out his collection hat and got out of the way);eight or so tourists riding some awkward contraption that they sat atop in a circle and peddled; tons of cyclists and tourists on bikes, which seems the best way to see everything. Hope to do that!!






Filed under Germany, London

Richmond Park, Gatwick, Berlin

Lovely last day in London with my friends. We rode bikes along the Thames towpath, from Mortlake to Richmond Park, easy and scenic ride. Later road back through the park.

My friends dropped me off at Clapham Junction where I had an easy two stop train ride to Gatwick which was packed with people and a bit confusing to figure out the Easyjet procedure but my Berlin flight left on time, my carry on luggage did fit in the overhead, albeit awkwardly. It was much easier than I thought it would be to get to my hotel. As promised, the bus arrived right on time outside the airport and it took me to Rudow where I transferred to the U7 subway. It is a bit odd because you just walk into the subway, without passing through any ticket stalls. The ticket you buy at the airport for the bus can be used within three hours for the train and I guess vice versa.

I found my hotel artemisia quickly, an imposing white building on a quiet street and I pressed the code into a key box and sure enough the box spit out two keys i needed to get into the front door and into the hotel and my room on the fourth floor. It’s an odd arrangement with the hotel occupying the two top floors of a building i gather is otherwise residential. But it worked. The only thing I cannot get to work is my ipad internet access. Had problems with this in London too and not sure what the issue is but fortunately this computer is available via the hotel. One odd thing is the German keyboard is different so everytime I try to type a y it comes out as a Z. So I may have to go by Betsz here instead of Betsy…..

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TripAdvisor’s “Top travel destinations” – a few surprises….

Lists are dubious but oh so easy to read – and so I sometimes do.  TripAdvisor’s “Winners 25 Best Destinations” (no word on how the “winners” were chosen) includes many obvious places  and I was pleased to see I’d been to the “top eight” (Paris, New York, London, Rome, Barcelona, Venice, San Francisco,  Florence yadah yadah yadah) but some places that we’re visiting soon also made the list. No – not Kiev (see scenes above) or Bucharest (see below) or Moldova (the world’s most unhappy place if you believe this report http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENK4rS7Y02U), where my husband is going. But Prague squeaked into the top 10 at  #9; Berlin was #11 and Chicago  #14.

Bucharest City Hall

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Lessons learning while buying train tickets for Eastern Europe

Deutsche Bahn AG

Who would have thought it would be easier to buy train tickets online for  Peru than for Germany  and  Eastern Europe? Okay, I’m not willing to say that’s true yet. But buying tickets online for train trips this summer through Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic was harder than expected. I managed to find some of the train schedules on the DB Deutsche Bahn website (a German company http://www.bahn.com) but the site didn’t always list  the fares – or indicate when or if the tickets could be purchased online. (In some cases, it looked like I’d have to buy them by making a phone call to Europe.)

Rail Europe Logo

Meanwhile, on the site that I could buy at least some tickets online – Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com) – I couldn’t always find schedules or fares. I finally had to call Rail Europe and pay a $15 fee for phone assistance – which turned out to be worth it, even if I had to leave my name on an answering machine and wait for  an hour for Rail Europe to call me back (better than lingering on hold I guess.) Here are some things I learned through this process:

– If you can find a train schedule but NOT the price or when/if the tickets can be purchased via DB Bahn, email their help line (Sales@bahn.co.uk) and you will get some if not all the information. (This is helpful especially if you’re trying to see if it costs more to take the train or fly.)

– If you can’t figure out how to buy the tix online via Rail Europe, call and pay the additional fee ($33 all toll when you add the processing fee, which includes the cost of mailing the ticket – which are paper and not available for online printout.)  I was told that it would have been very hard  to do-it-myself online because the three train trips I needed to book are unusually complicated. They’re not the typical Yank tourist routes (Berlin-Gdansk anyone? Not to mention Gdansk-Krakow and Krakow-Prague). And they involve three different countries with varying ways of selling train tickets. (The Poles, for example, won’t let you buy your ticket more than a month in advance but I could buy the tickets involving Berlin and Prague about two months in advance.) I also found help by emailing service@raileurope.com.

– Figuring out the price and booking a sleeper for an overnight train is tricky because the countries we’re visiting – unlike some others, apparently – require that you buy two separate items for each journey (a ticket, which  gets you on the train, and a reservation, which specifies a seat or compartment on the train, – as I understand it.)

– A Eurail  pass, which   we’ve used in the past, didn’t work for this trip because of our particular schedule and because we’re taking two overnight trains. Oh well. I liked the ease of the Eurail pass – but then I was traveling for months, not weeks, when I used one on several occasions.

– Read the fine print – especially to see how many stops the train makes! There’s also various classes/speeds of train. I never really figured this all out.

– The Polish Rail website wasn’t much help.

– Rick Steves’ website also has some good information on train travel http://www.ricksteves.com/rail/

– Trains vs. Planes: Sometimes flying is comparable in price to riding the train (ex: Gdansk-Krakow) but not always (example Krakow-Prague where flying was much more expensive.)  Planes of course are a lot faster – for Gdansk-Krakow flying takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours (direct vs. connecting flight) while the direct overnight train takes  11 hours. But we went with the train 1) because we so seldom get to ride a train, especially an overnight train and still find this romantic (that may change.) 2) the times of the direct planes didn’t work well with our schedule  – one was 6:30 a.m. and the other 5:30 p.m.   3) It’s often a hassle to get to the airport vs. the train station. 4) we  do save money by taking an overnight train and not paying for a hotel that night, for what that’s worth.

– I did opt to fly (EasyJet) from London to Berlin rather than take trains. (way too complicated…)

– Paper tickets. Apparently I can’t print tickets out online. And the paper tickets won’t be mailed out until a few weeks before our departure date (even though I bought them two months in advance) because the Polish ticket can’t be issued until a month before we travel. Grrr… Here’s hoping it all works out.


Filed under Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, public transportation, train

Sweat the details when contemplating flying RyanAir and EasyJet from London

Ryanair logo.svg
Founded 1985

So my trip to Poland (Gdansk, Krakow) and Prague this summer keeps growing – first I added Berlin. And then when I saw that I’d be flying home via London, I had to figure out a way to stop there too and see all my pals and the city where I used to live and will always love.

Then came a mad search to find those great cheap flights I’ve been hearing about from London to the continent – and I found several very reasonable flights from London to Berlin but the fares kept going up as I ruled out several airports to fly out of in London (no to Southend, which I’d never heard of – it’s in Essex – and which one English friend said would take as long to get to from central London as it takes to get from Des Moines to Heathrow; and no to Luton, which I did fly to Israel out of back in, um, 1982 and is also a schlep; yes to Gatwick and Stansted, which are reasonably easy to get to via public transport from central London) and as I ruled out very early flights (which would rule out getting to the airport via public transport.)

It looks like I’ll end up with a flight for about $98 – which isn’t the $40 I first thought it could be (although that hardly seemed possible) – but it’s not bad. That’s about what it costs these days to fly from Des Moines to Chicago one-way (thanks to Southwest Airway’s arrival in Des Moines.) I was tempted to take the train from London to Berlin but it stops in Paris where you have to switch trains and I don’t think I could bear to just pass through Paris.  So plane it is!

Founded 1995

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Poland (Gdansk, Krakow) and Prague bound! Maybe Berlin too.

Gotyk HouseIt looks like we’re going to Poland in July – yes, Poland. Three years ago, two Polish teenagers from Gdansk stayed with us in Des Moines and our son later stayed with one teen’s family in the northern seaport of Gdansk. They were a lot of fun and we promised we’d visit some day. So when my husband got word that he’ll be going on a business trip to tour farms in the Ukraine-Moldova-Romania, we looked at map to see where I could meet up with him after his trip and there was POLAND! We’re very excited to see our friends and the gorgeous city they live in – which we’ve heard so much about. We’re also going to Krakow – which was one of our son’s favorite places when he visited Poland. And on to Prague – where we hope to rendezvous with friends from London. I may also throw in a solo trip before all this to…another place I’ve never been: Berlin. (We went to Munich and Bavaria to visit American friends living there in 1989 and I distinctly remember taking a train on a day trip to Saltzburg that was later going on to Prague. Prague! That sounded interesting but it wasn’t an option back then because this was just before the wall came down and as I recall we still needed some special documents to travel to Eastern Europe. No more.)

So far I’ve found two good small hotels, reasonably priced:

Gotyk House in Gdanska small  b&b in what’s reportedly this seaport city’s oldest house, built in 1541.  (see illustration above)

Karmel hotel in Krakow – in Kazimierez, the former Jewish quarter/ghetto dating back to the 1500’s. (I should feel right at home…although the Jewish ghetto has been replaced by what is now a trendy area, I’m told. And of course, the vast majority of the 60,000 Jews in the ghetto were murdered by the Nazis.) In addition to Auschwitz, we plan to visit Oskar Schindler’s factory. Apparently the nearby concentration camp Birkenau is even worse than Auschwitz. We visited Dachau years ago in Munich.

Royal Capital City of Kraków
Stołeczne Królewskie Miasto Kraków

Main Market Square, Wawel Castle, Barbican, St. Mary’s Basilica, St. Peter and Paul Church, Collegium Maius

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