This is part 2 of Cheryl’s trip to Europe. Last time saw us in France. This time we’ll be flitting around Germany, sampling beer and schnitzel.
On our last morning in Paris, we were up and packed and out early to catch our train. Cheryl had bought us Eurailpasses for her trip, which paid for the basic train tickets. However, we were still required to purchase seat reservations for each leg of the journey. For that we had to go to a train station ticket agent in each location.
Let me start by saying that France was on its best behavior when Cheryl was there with me. I have not had the same good fortune on some visits. The hostile French stereotype reared its ugly head for me on several occasions in the past, but not this time.
Except for the ticket agent we encountered when we bought the reservations for our trip out of France. She was a nasty one, eh, Cheryl? And it was very puzzling that the reservations cost us about twice what they cost coming into the country! However, this person was the only one in Cheryl’s whole trip that was unfriendly. Pretty good record!
So we hopped the train and headed for Cologne. Thank God this train was not crowded like the one we came into Paris on! This train passed through Belgium, so Cheryl gets to count that as a country she visited. Especially since the conductor on the train charged us more money to ride through! He explained that the reservations we’d paid Ms. Nasty for the day before were only for the part that didn’t go through Belgium and that Belgium was extra. Huh. I’m still not sure if I believe all this, but whatever.
But from the train Cheryl got to see the Flemish architecture and the absolutely gorgeous countryside filled with farmland, sheep, brooks and greenery. Very pastoral. She also got to see the Atomium monument in Brussels from a distance. It’s a huge monument that was built in 1958 for the World’s Fair. It looks like a science project model of an atom made out of giant Tinker Toys covered with aluminum foil.
We transferred in Cologne from the French train to a wonderful, new German one. Several hours later we glided into Berlin’s fantastic new train station. It was just built in 2006 and it’s a modern wonder of glass and steel. Here’s a shot I took of it from across the river.
I have to say that Berlin was my favorite part of Cheryl’s trip. I had visited the city only once in the past, in 1988 when it was still divided. The Army arranged a visit for the soldier’s wives back then and we got sleep on the train overnight traveling through East Germany. We also got to visit East Berlin, which I remember as barren, drab and full of Trabi cars.
But NOW, what a city! Since the Wall came down in 1989, the Germans have set about bringing the eastern sector up to date, as Germans are wont to do. I spent way too little time there this trip, so I must go back soon!
When we arrived, we managed to find the tram to our stop near the Berlin Zoo then navigate two or three blocks to find our hotel, Pension Peters. The pension is in a building that dates from about 1898 but it has been refurbished inside. It has high ceilings and is all plaster and wood molding. Our room on the second floor overlooked a small, grassy square lined with bistros and cafes. We had a bathroom and shower IN the room and even a balcony. Plus it was located in a quiet, safe neighborhood. All this for a really cheap price, and breakfast was included!
I can’t say enough about this place! Stacey greeted us like long-lost sisters! The joint is family-owned and she was the sister of the husband of the couple who owns the place (told you it was family-owned). She went out of her way to make us feel welcome, get us maps, explain where we were and how to get to where we wanted to go.
She noticed our Rick Steves guidebook and told us about his visit there. She even pointed out where he sat for breakfast. I mentally called dibs on that spot, but it was always taken by the time we made it downstairs.
Stacey nearly talked our ears off and we truly wanted to sit and talk with her, but our Berlin clock was ticking and we were starving.
We ducked out for dinner to a place we’d seen near the tram stop called Zillemarkt. We got the Berliner Allerlei, a menu item that claimed it was for two people, but it would have fed at least four or five. It was nice that Cheryl could sample a range of German food. The dish had currywurst, bratwurst, sauerkraut, potatoes and assorted versions of pork, including my favorite, Eisbein, which in my neck of the woods is known as Haxn, a joint of fall-off-the-bone-tender pork. We washed it all down with Berliner Pils beer (wipes sleeve across mouth…Ahhhh….). We had a table outside on the quiet street and totally enjoyed ourselves.
We crashed right after that because it was getting late and we were tired from our journey. Although there was considerable noise from the café tables under the market umbrellas under our window, we left the windows and balcony door open that night because the air was so cool and there was music in the background of that pleasant din of people enjoying themselves.
Next day, after a fabulous breakfast buffet (including scrambled eggs!), we walked about four blocks to the Kurfurstendamm, the famous Ku’damm, which was constructed as Berlin’s version of the Champs Elysees in Paris. It was cool to be able to compare the two within such a short period of time. They are very similar, but Berlin’s is somewhat smaller. In fact, the whole city is very user-friendly. It’s a big city but travels like a small one. I didn’t spend near enough time there, and I will go back soon! Um, did I say that before?
BMW Dealer on the Ku’damm:
Ferrari on the Ku’damm:
So THAT’s where it is!
We used what we’d learned in Paris and hopped on a hop-on-hop-off bus straight away. We rode in the open top level all the way around the city loop and then decided what we wanted to hop off for on the next go-around.
Here’s a shot of some Linden blossoms from the trees on the famous Unter den Linden boulevard through the historic district. The flowers have a heavenly scent and the leaves and flowers stick to your shoes when you walk on them!
There is a strip of the old Berlin Wall still standing along the bus route that looks the same as it did back in the day, complete with barbed wire. On the other side of the street from that is a Holocaust memorial which kinda creeped me out because it looked like a bunch of coffins. Behind the wall on the other side was another memorial as well. However, we didn’t have time to visit them on foot.
One of the places we hopped off the bus was the old Checkpoint Charlie where I shot this:
There was a guy there dressed in an old US Army uniform. For five Euros he stamped our passports with old visa stamps from East Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie, the Soviet Union, etc. Then he tried to sell our passports to other passersby! We almost had to buy them back! What fun! For the record, I have a real Checkpoint Charlie stamp from my first visit in my old passport. Just sayin’.
Another hop-off was the East Side Gallery, a clever use of a part of the old Berlin Wall that’s about 4/5 of a mile long. Artists from all over the world were invited to paint murals on the wall. There are over 100 murals that are related to the fall of the Wall. The murals had been repainted recently for the 25th anniversary of the Wall’s demise.
I took a peek behind the wall at the end of the East Side Gallery, too:
We had lunch at a scrumptious Italian place called 12 Apostles. Cheryl had a wonderful handmade pizza that was just delicious and I had a tasty tomato-cucumber salad and a glass of Chianti. I could have sat in that beautiful Italian-style courtyard all afternoon!
Another stop on our route was the Brandenburg Gate, which we got to walk under around and through. This was special because on my first trip to Berlin the Gate was behind the Wall and we couldn’t actually go there.
Next to the Brandenburg Gate is the seat of the German government known as the Reichstag. The former capital of West Germany was moved from Cologne to Berlin after Reunification. At that point the new glass dome was added to the building. It’s very impressive. You can visit the dome; however, you must sign up several days in advance online, which we didn’t know. Seems they have to do a background check before admitting you.
The next day was by far the highlight of Cheryl’s whole trip for me. We made our way to the “Museum Island” district, which is an actual island with four or five museums on it – hence the name. It was rainy and chilly and we were leaving later that day, so we were a little hurried. Of course, I wanted to visit every museum on the island. However, I let Cheryl choose the first one because I figured we’d only have time for one. I was right.
We went to the Neues Museum, which means New Museum. The reason Cheryl chose it was because the famous bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti is there. People, words cannot express how exquisitely beautiful this sculpture is! Until this point, Michelangelo’s David topped the list of the most beautiful artwork I’d ever seen. However, David has had to move over and share the spot with Queen Nefertiti.
The sculpture is so delicately fashioned and looks almost alive! The sculptor was obviously fantastically gifted and the queen was so obviously absolutely beautiful. Looking at the bust you can actually feel the alignment they both must have felt when it was made! I just can’t believe how astounding this piece of work is! And the museum staff had done a perfect job of lighting it to show it off to its best advantage.
It was a good thing they made me leave my camera in the cloakroom because I’d have been dragged out of there for taking illicit photographs! I had to settle for buying a postcard in the gift shop. However, there is no photograph that can ever do justice to that piece of art! I can’t wait to go back to see her some day!
In fact, I can’t wait to go back to Berlin and visit the whole thing again. There is so much more to see than we had time for. I was so gratified to see her again after so many years and so many changes. She is thriving and beautiful and busy and fun. I just loved it there!
We collected our bags and said goodbye to our little pension family and caught a 4:00 p.m. train to Bamberg where I live. We took a cab from the station to my apartment when we arrived about 10:00 p.m. or so and immediately crashed.
Next day we slept in and did some laundry. Just as we were getting ready to head out and see the sights of Bamberg, Cheryl tentatively asked me from the next room, “Karren?”
“Have you seen my camera?” Um, no…. and we COULDN’T FIND IT ANYWHERE. Her camera containing all the photos from the first half of her once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe was nowhere to be found. We checked the apartment, we checked the stairwell, we asked the downstairs neighbors. Nothing. And the last place she remembered having it was in the cab. Damn.
So we forewent the planned tour in favor of visiting all the taxi stands in town looking for the driver we had the night before. Unfortunately, we couldn’t remember if the cab even had a company name on it, much less what that name might be. And unfortunately I’d told the driver to drop us off across the street at the bakery, so he hadn’t even heard my address. Unfortunately I’d paid cash so he didn’t have my name. Unfortunately, we were screwed. Also unfortunately, we didn’t find the driver that day, either. Damn.
So, with a subdued resignation, we visited some of the sights in my fair city that afternoon. It was really warm that day and we were still tired from France, so we came home early evening and did more laundry and watched some movies. It was kinda quiet around there.
‘Long about 9:30 the door buzzer rang. Now, I usually don’t answer the door here unless I’m expecting someone, especially after dark and especially when I’m alone. But something made me answer it that night. Maybe it was because the landlady was not home downstairs or because Cheryl was here, but I buzzed the door open downstairs and headed down to see who it was.
Halfway down I was met by a strange man heading up the stairs. I was about to start yelling at him and was looking around for something to throw when he looked up (he looked slightly familiar somehow…) and held up CHERYL’S CAMERA!!!! It was the cab driver from the night before!
The next few minutes were a blur. I yelled back up the stairs to let Cheryl know the driver had brought her camera, thinking she might want to come down to thank him, but she just immediately burst into tears and kinda stared at me from the doorway.
I took the camera from the driver and called him an angel in German, inadvertently using the highly improper familiar grammar form. He kinda looked confused and kinda fled! By the time I realized I should tip him, we could hear the cab speed away! My god, it was just a freakin’ MIRACLE!!! I think we giggled for the next two or three hours! Wahoo!!!
We still have no clue how the guy found my apartment, but we were, oh, so glad he did! And I still look for him in town, but I’ve never seen him again. I think he was afraid we would kiss him or something, so maybe he’s hiding from me!
After Camera Miracle 2011, we daytripped to Wurzburg to visit the Residenz, which is Franconia’s version of Versailles. In fact, I think the Residenz is even more beautiful. Last time I was there the Imperial Hall was covered in scaffolding for a facelift and I didn’t get to see it. It’s magnificent! Score!
We visited the churches and other sights then had lunch at Alte Muhle, which is a restaurant in the building that used to be the town flour mill. It even still has the water wheel. We sat overlooking the Main River as we ate some pretty crunch risotto. But the wine was good. We could see the Wurzburg castle and surrounding vineyards and watched the river traffic.
Here’s a shot I took in the church there to add to my votives-in-a-church series – I shot a similar one there in black-and-white a few years ago:
Too soon it was time to hoof it back to Munich for Cheryl’s return flight. We headed out early on a Saturday morning so we could stop off in Nuremburg on the way. We stashed our bags in a locker at the train station there and did a tour of the old historic district.
It was raining off and on, but we visited the sights and a couple of churches there. Here’s a shot I took to add to my votives-in-a-church series:
Later we turned the gold ring for luck on the wrought iron framework of the famous Schöne Brunnen fountain. We had a delicious lunch at a restaurant overlooking the square where Cheryl had the best schnitzel ever! Even better than the one they serve next to where I live, which is saying something.
We got back on a train later in the afternoon and went to Munich. A chilly rain put the kibash on our plans for strolling the Marienplatz that night, so we just headed straight for the hotel.
My husband had been generous with his Marriott points and we had a great room at the airport Marriott! Nice, big, American-sized shower, cushy beds, channels on the TV where they actually speak English – tops! We rented “Unstoppable” for an exorbitant price and later fell asleep watching Leno. A rare pleasure for me!
Next morning I put Cheryl on the plane for her return trip. It was hard to say goodbye. But I’m so glad she came because I otherwise wouldn’t have done and seen all those fantastic things! Or gotten to visit with my best friend!
When I got back to Bamberg, there was a huge party on the central square for the local basketball team. They had just won the German title:
So that’s it for Cheryl’s Europe. What a whirlwind trip – but she chose well for a first-time-to-Europe adventure!
Photo for No Apparent Reason: