Friday 24th July 2015 Day 5
I think the enormity of our intrepid global travelling has caught up with us...
We were shattered - both emotionally and physically from all the preparation for this adventure and packing the entire house up, as well as leaving loved ones behind for a whole year. We took the opportunity, thanks to Jackie and Martin's kind hospitality to do .... absolutely nothing in the morning.
We caught up on mail - and social media!!!, re-jigged our kit - again - and wandered over to the nearby restaurant for a light lunch and a beer or two.
With Jackie and Martin in lovely Heusden
One note to emphasise somewhat heavily here, is that all this social media malarkey, is in itself a steep learning curve in addition to the enormity of our challenge. Neither of us are Facebook fiends or Tweeters of the Twitter kind.
This is really a 'learn as you travel' experience and so we are are both educating ourselves as we trundle on as if we haven't got a big enough challenge!
So, back to the story...
The idea was to catch the train to Amsterdam in the afternoon and chill there for a few days, but unfortunately, for some reason, the accommodation seemed extortionately high and scarce.
With a little further investigation, we found out why: Gay Pride Week in probably the most liberal of cities in the world starts on 25th July...
So, to another city? But where?
Bearing in mind that we could go practically anywhere within northern Europe, we decided on Berlin, as it still left us the option of reaching St.Petersburg via the Scandinavian countries by hopping to Denmark, or Sweden, over to Tallinn in Estonia by overnight ferry, followed by a further quick ferry to Helsinki and then to St. Petersburg.
The alternative route is via the Baltic nations through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and then to Helsinki and into Russia. It looked sensible move and most importantly, kept our options open.
So, off to Berlin it is...Captain Manwairing and Pyke would have been impressed.
Saturday 25th July 2015. DAY 4
We caught the train at 10.14 am from Den Bosch to Deventer and then the high speed train to Berlin. This was our sixth train and it was only Day 4!
The journey was a pleasant 6 hours and we arrived slightly behind schedule at 6.00 pm. We crashed out at the Best Western Ost in old "East Berlin", having caught a local train and then a tram. A quick meal with a sample of local beers was all that we needed. The plan was to have an early start in the morning.
in our quest to keep a reasonable record of all of our modes of transport, we've decided not to include "commutes" - that is, buses or trams from the main station to our hotel/hostel. We will only include those journeys of significance.
Sunday 26th July 2015. Day 5
In true Kate and John style, we were off and out by 09.00 am, having nipped to the local supermarket for yoghurt and fruit to eat in our bedroom. We had packed lightweight bowls and cutlery. (We are on a tight budget and doing this saves us about £5.00 per day, which over the year is a substantial amount - approximately £1,000 to £2,000.) The other benefit is that it is a healthy option by avoiding all those fattening pastries in the hotel's restaurant.
We had discovered a "free" walking tour of Berlin - you just tipped the guide as much as you thought he was worth. I had adamantly stated that I was "not going to follow a man with a brolly" - how wrong was I!
However, Theo was excellent; his history degree and sense of humour (he was English!) made it very interesting. We started his 3 hour tour at 10.00 am from the Brandenburg Gate.
Brandenburg Gate - a bit like Marble Arch?
Kate and I literally walked from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm, with barely any stops. We did all the usual tourist traps and the pics below are some of the highlights. We even sneaked into the 5 star Hotel Adlon to freshen up.
This was the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his young son over the banister some years ago. We took full advantage of being bold and middle-aged - despite my shorts and day pack, by striding past the concierge on the door as if we were long-term residents. Lovely loos by the way, which we used pre and post tour!
The Birds invade Berlin!
We covered a great deal of ground and this included visiting Hitler's bunker site, which is now nothing more than a non-descript car park and at the opposite end of the scale, Mrs. Merkel's Reichstag is very impressive.
What was extremely impressive, was the Holocaust Memorial. This was a striking and formal layout of 2,711 basalt like blocks, some as high as 3 metres. very stark and very thought-provoking...
Holocaust Memorial - 2,711 blocks of various sizes...
One of the flats was owned by Katarina Witt, an ice skater who won medals for East Germany at the Sarajevo Olympics. Believe me, they were grim, but supposedly the best available and kept for elite athletes...
Memorial to all the Russian soldiers who died in the final days of capturing Berlin.
During the war, 80% of Berlin was turned to rubble.
A side note........
(I would like to praise Kate for the way she has taken to our intrepid global task. We had a few wobbles at the beginning, but we are now getting into our stride. Packing and unpacking is easier and less stressful. Wearing clothes for 'just another day' now seems OK and a sensible thing to do.)
Back to the story........
Checkpoint Charlie, famed escape route, highlight on many black and white films and border point between east and west is now a tatty commercial tourist ploy.
Although Germany invaded parts of Europe - twice and failed... I can't help but think that the "third" invasion is now well under-way.... and this time by cheap, low-cost American (mostly) food chain restaurants. McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, KFC et al are everywhere.
Commercialism at its worst! McDonalds and fake
American GI's wearing fanny packs!
We saw this blue bear in Berlin close to an old part of the Berlin wall. Strangely enough we were to see him again 10 days later in St. Petersburg!? Theo told us of some successful and not so successful escape antics, including a family who built a hot air balloon out of bedding and a chap who zip-wired across the border.
Berlin Wall in the background. Apparently, not so much the wall, with the curved
top edges but the land mines on the eastern side stretching out for 500 metres.
Take a look at Gunter Schabowski on youtube...apparently, the Berlin Wall didn't fall because of Gorbachev or Reagan's master-plan, but because an East German PR guy hadn't read his notes prior to going to face the world press and made a massive cock-up!
Monday 27th July 2015. Day 6
Some times when you travel, you have to have days where you do very little. I hopped out of bed very early and wandered the streets... only to discover the world's best laundrette! Complete with coffee bar, white leather seating, it was a haven of peace whilst our smalls whizzed around the washer.
Kate was able to catch up on her social media responsibilities using the available internet! A morning of not doing a great deal, but also doing the essentials.
It even sold wine!
That evening we had a meal in a Syrian restaurant, but prior to that, we bought a few beers from a corner shop and "hung out" with a load of much younger people (about 300!) in a park, lying on the grass, listening to impromptu jazz music played by a Rasta chap and his buddies. I reckon we were the oldest there by at least 20 years. I've also noted that nose rings are big in Berlin, as are tattoos!
Berlin was a great city; modern, diverse, liberal and yet my thoughts are that had there not been a war (or two), I am not sure there would be much else there and perhaps it wouldn't be the powerhouse city it is today. or am I just getting cynical?
Tuesday 28th July 2015. Day 7
We are cracking this internet malarkey! We are now downloading apps and buying tickets through them and instead of printing tickets off, (because a printer doesn't fit into a rucksack), we just flash my phone, complete with ticket at the train inspector, where they simply scan our ticket or QR code. Simple!
So back to our dilemma: which way? Poland or to Sweden?
The latter it is... the line between Warsaw and Tallinn in Estonia is being modernised and there is considerable disruption. Travel would mean several long and arduous bus journeys and we are not ready for them just yet.
So, to a certain degree, the decision as to which route to take has been made for us. We have enough on our plate without adding to our burdens!
By the way, an absolutely fantastic website is: www.seat61.com
It's been an invaluable source of information and is also incredibly accurate. I can see us using it a great deal. Check it out.
We caught the train from Berlin to Rostock on the north German coast and then a five hour ferry to Trelleborg, on the southern tip of Sweden. Lounging at the stern (is that the back of the boat?) was heaven. Five hours of sunshine .... doing .... absolutely nothing!
We've learned a few more tricks. Booking hotels via the internet is really easy and you can really shop around. But you have to weigh in the fact of travel to the accommodation when you arrive in a port or a station. So, in the main, we have plumbed for hotels near to railway stations or ports. It saves both time and money and is less stressful!
Trelleborg: Not a lot there!
More to follow soon! Including Jo's poem!