Amsterdam, Munich, Berlin and on to Prague
05.10.2011 - 15.10.2011
We made the decision long ago to travel to Europe before immigrating to Australia. Fall flights were cheap, we were jobless and in not much of a rush to get to Aus (our stuff had a month float before getting there anyways). We bought our flights 10 days out and so the hurry was on to get our Russian tourist visa, and all the packing/ shipment ready to go.
We departed on our trip on October 5 from Edmonton to Vancouver with Westjet, and then were to embark on to Amsterdam with Air Transat (for $49+ 219 tax). Unfortunately, our Air Transat flight would be delayed nearly 5 hours. I used some of my remaining Canadian coins to get us a travelling buddy; a RCMP retired Canadian beaver named Rusty. Shortly after that, Jer's sister Gina stopped by the airport to visit for a bit at the White Spot lounge before using the last couple hours of our layover to catch some zzz’s on wooden benches, what can I say- we were a bit sleep deprived!
I managed to “sleep” most of the flight, but Jer didn’t, and we were both leached by the time we got to our hotel. The transit system of Amsterdam is quite advanced, but the little nuances weren’t clear (why wouldn’t some of our cards be accepted in the train kiosks? Where’s the tram? How do we get onto the tram? – old cars load from the back, new ones along the side-- Why did we bring so many bags!?) We got to our hostel, the Hotel Princess, which was a great location, around 4pm. We only had 1 night at this location (for €70), and the weekend price jumped to €130. We opted to check out the room and look for deals online before booking another night. We hauled our luggage straight up 3 flights of stairs and found our tiny room... not worth the Friday night costs we did some online searching, but I continued to fall asleep waiting for my iPhone to load the page. I gave up and laid down for a nap around 5, quickly turning off my alarm at 8:30, and vowing to sleep through the night. Jer was up for a few hours in the night, but we did really well overall, and got over the jetlag and sleep deprivation all in one shot.
We woke up around 8, had our free breakfast and a much needed shower, used wifi (to try to get our European sim cards going) and checked out... carefully lowering our bags down the suicidal staircase, along the cobblestone sidewalks, and on to the tram to our new hotel. We checked in to the Blue Square (Best Western), then went to pick up some rental bicycles from Bike City. Happy with our newfound freedom, we were anxious to cruise around and hit some of the sights we’d been looking into. However, the rain had other ideas, and by the time we found an open spot at a pub, we were soaked. We ended up staying there for a couple hours to escape the rain, and ended up meeting a couple of older (Palestinian ) half-brothers; Ramzi and Suhail. Ramzi was by far the more talkative of the two, and ended up being a conversation dominator- a lecturer in the past, we felt like we were receiving a sermon. It was a bit much, and when asked Jeremy was upfront with him, suggesting he allow for more interaction in the conversation; he, of course, defended himself, and his brother agreed with us, they had a long discussion (which we could not understand) and Suhail left- Ramzi told us that we’d caused a huge fight and that his brother disowned him and left... It was a farce, which he owned up to, and all was fine. It was an interesting encounter, and at the very least he bought us a tea and shared some mini-pancakes with ice cream... delish. We stopped into a couple other shops, and then had supper at Barbque Castell- each having a soup, a beer, and sharing a nice chicken dish before heading back into the drizzle. Jeremy navigated us through Vondelpark and a few other nice sights. Once we got back to the hotel we utilized the wifi for further travel plans, including booking our flights from Zagreb to Moscow for Oct 26.
For breakfast we went to our local mini mall to a bakery (Bakker Bart), and a quick lap through the grocery store. We spent the day bike touring through busy Saturday traffic, as well as a walk through some of the red light district. We also enjoyed a beer on the patio of the Bull Dog, and watched the world go by... which included a group of guys spearheaded by a gent in a speedskating outfit with boxing gloves on. When they came back out of the bar they noticed me laughing and saying I needed a photo, so he came back and posed for us- giving Jer a jab to the chin- he left without explaining why he was wearing such an outfit, or even where he was from- but we had our souvenir. We biked back through the parks (this time in the daylight) and enjoyed a nice meal at a small pub (Cafe Zomberlust) near our hotel. The decore was a bit outrageous (likely due to the large ethnic population/ influence in the neighbourhood) food was great , but the most humorous part of the evening was when we saw “Mantracker” being played on cable just before leaving the cafe! We made our plan for the next few days, which included adding another night in Amsterdam, another day of bike rental, and a night train to Munich for the 10th and two nights in Berlin after that.
Breakfast of yogurt and pastries from the grocery store satisfied us for a few hours... Another rainy day in the city gave us more opportunity for lounging in shops and quickly navigating on our bikes. We also walked the northern part of the red light district- the part that actually has the ladies in the windows... unique experience. We stayed in the city centre for supper, eating at the Trip Advisor recommended Dubbel – good food at a reasonable price. Then we stopped back at Amnesia for some more pancakes and ice cream... out of pancakes we “settled” on some fabulous cake.
We ate a similar breakfast in the room and packed up for checkout. We left our bags in storage and took one more tour on the bikes before returning them at 2pm (the best €65 spent in Amsterdam). We did a bit more touring on foot, and lunch at another Trip Advisor spot, Broodje Bert, where I had a non-traditional burger (4 mini patties on a baguette), and Jeremy had a sandwich- both were excellent . We trammed back to our hotel, got our bags and headed to the train station. We got there just before 7, but our night train to Munich didn’t arrive until 8:15. We found our spots and settled in for the night.
We arrived in Munich around 7:30am, stored our bags in lockers at the train station, reserved a spot on the “ice train” to Berlin for 5:15pm and embarked on our one day tour of the city. We toured on foot to the Marienplatz, at breakfast at the Viktualienmarkt, viewed many churches and beautiful gothic architecture, and had a beer at the famous Hofbrauhaus. We had a late lunch at Hey Luigi (another Trip Advisor hit) and made it back to the station with time to spare. We enjoyed a six person cabin at the front of the train (were able to see through the windshield for the first hour and a half), but were disappointed in the lack of wifi.
Oct (11) 12 (13)
We arrived in Berlin at 11:30 at night, stored a few bags and navigated the metro to our hotel, arriving around 12:15. We used (somewhat reliable) wifi late into the evening, so we slept in a bit the next day. I headed down to Starbucks for better wifi, coffee and some kuchen. I finished up and was headed back to the hotel when I heard some music, so I ventured a half block up to see five guys with air instruments. While taking a photo, I was harassed by a "deaf mute" collecting donations. I offered €2, she looked sad, then scribbled down €4 minimum... are you kidding me? I told her I was travelling and could do no more, either she keep my €2 or I take it back. She shook my hand and walked away with my €2. I went back to the room and fell back asleep for a few hours, both of us waking up at 5. We checked trip advisor and decided to try the #3 overall (top German restaurant in Berlin) Marjellchen, which was a nice walk from the hotel. We were lucky to get in without reservation, and received great service, including suggestions of what to order, and fun pleasantries with the older, plump owner. The meals (German cabbage roll the size of a softball and a half with boiled potato for Jer, and a pot of potatoes, peas, carrots, pork and beef with béarnaise sauce for me) were fabulous and huge portions for a very reasonable price. Stuffed, we left to see the typical tourist sites- Brandenburg gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the remains of the wall. I managed to find a magnet with part of the wall on it, to make up for one I'd lost years ago. We got home around midnight and contemplated checking out Berlin's nightlife but the thoughts of long line-ups to be blasted with techno music made us think better of it. We stayed in and tried to work out our flight agenda some more.
We checked out and headed straight to the haupbanhof to catch the 12:48 train to Prague. We ate at the train station (currywurst and fries for me- a bit overrated, and a sandwich for Jer, pastry for the road) and loaded our bags onto the train. The service we rented our suite from (Prague City Apartments), ordered us a taxi from the train station (Czech cab drivers have a tendency to overcharge tourists). We waited, and when a taxi came i said "for Lisa" he said "yea" so we hopped in- he had not been called for us, but we stuck with him and chanced being ripped off. We zipped through town at dusk and arrived at our destination around 7pm. I had taken out cash (4000kn) but received it in 2, 2000kn bills. He said he couldn't make change for it, so we could pay €15. We had a 5, and a 50. He couldn't break €50, but agreed to take €5, $5CDN and $6USD. We checked in and got our keys and instructions for the apartment (we couldn't get the same room all 4 nights, so we were in a larger suite the first night and then our more economical flat for the next 3), they would move our bags for us the next day. Another cab ride and we were there. We hung out in the room a few hours, familiarizing ourselves with the city using wifi, then headed out. It was 11pm, but we found a tasty pizza shop and shared a quattro carne, and each had a beer (Krusovice). The dark beer was all I could have hoped for! After that we walked around the town a bit and met Pavel, a local on his way home from work who we visited with for a few minutes and got aquainted with the city and some tips. We wandered around and found ourselves half way to Wakati, a club we had seen online and thought we'd check out. Unable to hear any music, and seeing only one beer sign, we stopped into a very small pub with 3 other patrons remaining. The bartender said he was closing, but that we could stay for a beer... the whole vibe was rather uncomfortable, and we wished we could just share a beer and leave. We asked if they knew where Wakati was, and they said just across the street. I could feel eyes burning a hole into the side of my head, as the only other girl in the bar asked in broken English where we were from- the conversation then heated up and we quickly became the entertainment for the evening. Everyone seemed very excited to speak to us, especially the girl (who’s name I can never remember). Her boyfriend, Hanza, had been to Canada, a pro-snowboarder until only a few years ago (when he injured his knee) had filmed in Whistler, and Nelson—a fabulous coincidence, we soon had plenty to talk about. The bar tender (Adam) had also been to Canada (Montreal at age 9), and was wearing a Roots hoodie. The other patron was Tomina, a tall guy (2m- to which Hanza replied, “maybe in the morning!”) who had some differing ideas of what we should see while in the Prague area- the debate became Czesky Krumlov (Hanza) or Kutna Hora (Tomina; he offered to take us there on Saturday, so I guess he won that one)... we chatted and drank for hours, keeping Adam much later than usual. He sold us many beers, gave us some schnapps, and got us right ripped(!) The girl couldn’t stop telling us how “nice” we were (attractive, I’m assuming based on her gestures and tone), and told us we must have a child (she’s a mother of a one year old). She also invited us to go skiing with them in Switzerland (they go for a month each winter), and to come back to Prague and stay with them—seriously, she said it probably 10 times! We left the bar, very happy to have made new friends, and wandered back to our flat.
We struggled to get out of bed in time to pack up and put our bags near the door by checkout at 11. We then wandered around the old town, before stopping at Club Cafe for breakfast, wifi and a place to warm up. We sat there for about an hour, then embarked upon the market (which was right outside the cafe). We were impressed with all the beautiful wood workings, and bought a few things; with plans to return and buy more to mail home. We continued on, walking on the sunny side of the street as much as possible, got the keys to our new flat, and took many photos as we toured the old town, across Charles Bridge and toward the castle. Around 4pm we saw a pizza joint that had half price pizzas (happy hour) weekdays until 5. Unable to pass up that kind of deal, we sat down, enjoyed 2 pizzas and 2 beers, for around $15, with over a half a pizza to take back... Tired, we headed to our new flat, unpacked, and spent the night sorting out flights to Aus (settling on Finn Air from St Petersburg to Helsinki Nov 6, with a 21 hour overnight layover, Bangkok with a 10hour layover in the middle of the day, and arriving in Sydney on the 9th), booking hotels in St Petes and Sydney, and doing some laundry.
We got up, grabbed delicious (but somewhat expensive) breakfast from the Bakery (“Bakeshop”) near our flat, and met Tomina at a train station at 10, with his friends dog (but his princess, Mia; a very well tempered black lab). He took us with him to meet his friend, who would be driving us to Kutna Hora; where they would be part of a modern art play that afternoon. The guys laughed and visited the whole way (in Czech), and Jeremy and I napped... We got to Kutna Hora’s Gast (modern art museum) and the boys pointed us in the direction of the sites; the church of St. Barbara was right beside, then we had a bit of a walk to get to the “Bone Church” (Konstnice Ossuary) and Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady. We toured the town and were amazed by the age and beauty of the UNESCO protected sites, and the bizarre efforts to create the Ossuary. We got back to the museum to see part of their performance, then enjoyed complimentary finger food, and fabulous wine (from the Kutna Hora vineyard, just outside the museum). A few glasses later (it was poured and had to be drank!), we headed back to Prague. We had a beer with Tomina after his friend dropped us off, then he took us to a (free) Happiness festival. It took place in an empty building that they rented for the weeklong festival. There were 2 rooms of music, each with a unique vibe and a bar; then many smaller rooms where they had exhibits of various modern art ideas, with the Happiness theme. We hadn’t eaten yet, but they had sandwiches to buy, so that held us over. It was a great party, and we stayed until 1:30, before heading out on the vibrant street, alive with post-bar goers like us. We grabbed a delicious bratwurst and coke combo, and negotiated our way back to our flat.