We have been back in Alberta for a week now, the jet lag has faded and I have had time to look over our pictures and think about the trip. So some final reflections on the places we visited….

Berlin is full of history – with such significant 20th century events – and museums abound, telling those stories and those of more distant history, as well as featuring an abundance of art treasures. It is a gritty city; outside the tourist centre, graffiti covers almost any reachable surface and in the early morning, you encounter litter of bottles and fast food wrappers. But it gives the impression of a livable city – unpretentious and vibrant, full of new construction as the former East Berlin still grows, 24 years after the fall of the wall. Also, the local people were so helpful – offering assistance when we hadn’t even asked!

Having visited Berlin, would I return? It’s not on the top of the list, but given the opportunity, I wouldn’t pass it by. I would like to delve a bit more into the history, by taking a walking tour and spending more time on Museum Island. I would also like to visit Potsdam and take a boat ride on the Spree.
We arrived in Dresden in the early afternoon and departed the next morning, so my impressions are fleeting. The central core we visited was an interesting mix of the old and new – or perhaps the new and the new made to look old, as 75% of the Old Town was destroyed by WWII bombing and many of the historical sights have been reconstructed. We were in Dresden on the Day of German Unity, a national holiday commemorating the reunification in 1990, so my impression is of a busy, fun area, full of local German families enjoying their day. Probably not the scene every day, but it made for a fun day for us as we mingled with the locals, enjoying wurst and Gluwein (hot mulled wine).

On another visit to Dresden (again, not topping the list, but worth consideration if in the area) , I would take the time to actually know what I was looking at, rather than just admiring the fine Baroque architecture. I would like to visit the interior of the Frauenkirche – this church from 1743 was completely destroyed by bombing, but was painstakingly rebuilt with international donations and reopened recently. Unfortunately, due to the holiday, the line-up was prohibitive when we were there. Other sights to include on a possible future visit are the Historic Green Vault, which houses a glittering Baroque treasury, and Volkswagon’s Transparent Factory where the Phaeton is produced.
Ah, Prague – what a beautiful city! I would describe ‘Praha’ as charming, historic and so unique. The architecture is amazing – the city of spires and an eclectic mix of architecture, ranging from Gothic and Renaissance to Baroque and Art Nouveau. All of the people we encountered were so friendly and made us feel welcome in their city. The opportunities for entertainment are many and varied – street performers, classical concerts, black light theatre…… And the food – we ate in small, local restaurants that rival some of the best I have encountered anywhere.

I would love to return to Prague – to wander the streets, to try more small restaurants and to further explore the sights – more time in the Castle and Jewish Quarters, a concert at the Opera House and a paddle boat on the river.
20131029-162451.jpgCesky Krumlov
Cesky Krumlov is a well-preserved fairy tale town. The narrow streets are fun to stroll through and the castle gardens are beautiful. The small town is probably crazy during the height of tourist season, but on an October afternoon and evening, it was delightful.

If passing by Krumlov in the future, I would probably stop in for a night at the wonderful Penzion Delanta and enjoy the ambiance of the town again.
Vienna is an elegant, opulent city, with wide boulevards, beautiful architecture, grand classical music and shopping for the rich and famous. But away from the central area, it is home to small excellent restaurants and coffee shops, concerts in historic venues and everyday people enjoying their lives.

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Vienna captivated my interest and I would love to return. I would visit the Opera House, attend another concert and a church service in one of the beautiful churches, watch the Lipizaner Stallions practice or perform and spend an evening at a wine tavern. I would love to take a day cruise through the Danube Valley or return to visit the Christmas market in December!
20131029-163430.jpg Salzburg
The hills really are alive in Austria. Travelling through the countryside, especially with the fall foliage, was awe-inspiring – similar, and yet very different, from travelling through the wonder of our Rocky Mountains.

Salzburg shows a different side of Austria from Vienna. It has a well preserved old town, a foreboding fortress, beautiful gardens, pride in Mozart everywhere and the Sound of Music! But it also seems fresh, outdoorsy and fun!

We didn’t have enough time in Salzburg and I would love to return to visit the Fortress, Hellbrunn Castle, spend another evening at the Augustiner Braustubl and travel to the lakes district.
20131029-170157.jpg Rothenburg ob der Tauber
It was a treat to visit Rothenburg. This well-preserved medieval walled town is visited by 2.5 million tourists per year, and there is a reason why! It is magical, transporting you to the Middle Ages when it was a free imperial city and a major trading stop. There are sights to see, and we enjoyed visiting some of them, but it was such fun to just explore the many small narrow streets, walk the wall, wander through the beautiful countryside outside the wall and snap photos at every turn. The Nightwatchman’s Tour is a must, again accentuating the feeling of being in the Middle Ages while outlining the history of the town.

I think we covered most every street inside the walls of old Rothenburg, so as much as we loved Rothenburg, we probably wouldn’t return – unless it was to share this fabulous experience with someone who hadn’t previously visited.
20131029-170637.jpg Wurzburg
Wurzburg wasn’t even on our trip itinerary, but we had some time to kill enroute from Rothenburg to Frankfurt, so we stopped in and were pleased that we did. We only spent a few hours, so again my impressions are from a quick look. As we drove in and out of the city, it could have been most any large city anywhere – there appeared to be urban sprawl and we could see a city skyline of tall buildings (not something we had typically seen on this trip). The Old Town that we visited was a lively, downtown area with a mix of old and new and we enjoyed wandering there.

If I were to have some time to spare on a future trip beginning or ending in Frankfurt, I might again stop in Wurzburg and further explore the Residenz Palace and the Marienberg Fortress.
20131029-170951.jpgIt was a marvellous trip – we saw so many wonderful sights, learned so much history, ate great food, drank great beer, wine & coffee and walked many kilometres. We are so lucky to be able to take trips like this and I can hardly wait for next time! Stay tuned for the next stops along our long and winding journey!


Bev & Harvey

You should get some cough medicine, Debbie…..

Once again we started our day with an in-house breakfast. Debbie has become good friends with the proprietress at the Turkish bakery!

We walked a short ways from our apartment to the East Side Gallery. This is a 1.5 km stretch of the Berlin Wall that is covered by murals. These murals were painted on the east side of the wall to celebrate the freedom to do so. There are many political statements but also many whimsical themes. It was very impressive.

My one disappointment at the East Side Gallery was the graffiti defacing the murals. Berlin is absolutely covered in graffiti, some of which is legitimate graffiti art but most of which is not. It literally covers most every surface and one doesn’t even notice it after a while. However, when it destroys the significant works of actual artists, I find it disconcerting. Last evening when I was posting the sneak peak pictures, I included one of the iconic depictions of two men kissing. It wasn’t until I saw the larger image on the blog that I realized that the mural was marked with a word that I consider to be very offensive. I quickly replaced the picture but I apologize to anyone who may have accessed the blog in the short time the post was up.

Here are a few more of the East Side Gallery murals:

Of great interest, a portion of the west side of the wall is now dedicated to an exhibit entitled WallOnWall. These murals depict scenes of the various walls that separate people in many places. A very moving exhibit, again reminding us just how privileged we are to live where we do and travel wherever we wish.
After our time at the exhibits, we strolled south over the Oberbaumbruke Bridge to the district of Kreuzberg. This area, once abutting the wall and the home to Turkish immigrants, offers a interesting look at a gritty, diverse Berlin. We enjoyed coffee & pastry, strolled through a park with some questionable loiterers, visited the busy shopping area with many unique and trendy shops, and had fabulous soup for lunch. The boys had a potato & wiener creation, while Deb & I marvelled over our puréed pumpkin & sweet potato with Jamaican spices.
We then hopped on the train to the district of Prenzlauer Berg. This area was in total contrast to Kreuzberg. Here, the neighbourhood was orderly, modern or newly renovated and judging by the number of ‘kinder’ shops, obviously home to young families. After enjoying a walk in the sun, it was on the train again and back to our apartment for a short break.

Our evening activities varied. Deb had a quick small dinner and then went off to German hot yoga class. She enjoyed this immensely but noted it was not as demanding as a Red Deer class. Larry sampled Vietnamese cuisine, bought a few records at Vinyl to Go and spent some time on his own in the neighbourhood.

Harv & I took the S-Bahn to Octoberfest at Alexandrplatz, to try out the mouthwatering food we had noticed yesterday. The goulash and spatzle, paired with a German beer, did not disappoint – it was great! We then headed over to see the Reichstag and the Brandenberg Gate at night.
On our walk about, we happened upon an outdoor, multi-media presentation about the history of the German political system. Although in German, it included English subtitles and was quite interesting.

It was an excellent 3 days in Berlin. We had read that you should see the sights and then get out of town. We disagree. There are a lot of sights to see – not being museum buffs, we only scratched the surface of the museum collection. But one of our focuses when we travel is to see how the locals live and get a feel for life in the city. The location of our vrbo was great for mixing with Berliners, rather than tourists, and we felt we visited some interesting districts. Berlin is a very liveable city, altho’ on the gritty side in some areas (and they could do some work with general litter clean-up). We definitely would enjoy returning to spend more time in this city!



Another brick in the wall….

Today we breakfasted at our apartment with yogurt, fruit & muesli that we had picked up at the grocery store, supplemented by another early morning bakery run by Deb. Then we were off for another interesting, history filled day.

We took off on the S-Bahn, today realizing we could travel as a Kleiner Gruppe for a substantial discount. 🙂 Our first stop was to be at the Deutsches Museum, but I somehow got that confused and we ended up in the DDR Museum. This was however a serendipitous mistake as we all thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits at the DDR. This museum is a “hands-on experience” that shows you how the East Berliners lived from 1961 – 1989. Some aspects of their lives looked quite normal – but on closer examination, the government control was something that is hard for us to imagine. The regimentation started early, with group potty breaks – no child could leave until everyone had done their duty!

Harvey and Larry enjoyed trying out the people’s car – the Traben…. certainly not up to North American standards.

We then headed to the Deutsches Historisches Museum and this time arrived at the correct spot. This museum houses a very thorough account of German history from 100 BC to 1994. My goodness, they have had their trials & tribulations. We focused most of our attention on the period from 1918 – 1945, beginning with the German empire that emerged from the revolutionary shockwaves of the First World War to form a parliamentary democracy. The economy had a roller coaster ride, with periods of relative stability and other times with unbelievable devaluation of the currency. Entering into the 1930’s, the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (Nazi Party) gained strength with Hitler at the helm. As we all know, this led to the darkest time in German history. The museum presents the story of the Holocaust in a factual manner, not minimizing any of the details. Many of the exhibits are haunting and leave one with a better understanding of just why intervention was required.

The museums took us well past lunch time and we paused for great sandwiches at a delightful bakery & bistro.

The next stop on our historical tour was the Berlin Wall Memorial, an outdoor exhibit at the lone remaining intact stretch of the Berlin Wall. This exhibit presents the building of the wall and continuing enhancements to try to stop the escape attempts. It also focuses on those men, women and children who lost their lives while attempting to escape from East to West Berlin.

After a lot of heavy, albeit fascinating, history, we headed to a much more light-hearted event. The Berlin version of Octoberfest is taking place at Alexandrplatz and we stopped in to check out the sites. Pretty tame compared to what Kristin & Justine have told us about the celebrations in Munich, but nevertheless, we enjoyed looking around and may return tomorrow to partake in some refreshments.

It was now late afternoon and we rode the train back to Friedrichshain for a short rest before dinner. Tonight we chose a local German eatery and indulged in some of the traditional dishes. Harv tried out the Berlin speciality of currywurst, Bev had schnitzel and Larry enjoyed the goulash. Deb was the health conscious one of the group, ordering a delicious chicken salad. It was all great, paired with another good German beer.

Now off to sleep before our last day of touring Berlin – a city that we are thoroughly enjoying!


B, H, D & L

Why are we sitting in the middle of the road?

We all arose this morning between 7:30 & 8:30 am, feeling rested to various degrees. :-). Deb visited the local bakery and returned with a delightful variety of baking that we could nibble on with our Via coffee while we planned our day. At 10, we zipped across the street to the Kaufbar fir our complimentary welcome breakfast. It was great!

Feeling very well-fed, we headed off to the local S-Bahn station and traveled to the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s main train station. It is very modern and quite impressive.

We then set off on our own rambling self-guided tour. We passed the Reichstag, and continued on to take a look at the Brandenburg Gate. Lots of action there – we couldn’t determine if they were tearing down from yesterday’s Marathon or setting up for German Unification Day on Thursday.

We wandered for a ways down Unter Den Linden, checking out numerous embassies and some high end shops. A detour took us to Gendarmenmarkt where we saw the Konzerthaus. From there to Checkpoint Charlie. Although the actual checkpoint isn’t much to look at, there was a very interesting display with the history of the Berlin Wall and the many attempts to cross it, some successful but many with not-so-happy endings. L & D had driven up to the checkpoint in West Berlin in 1989, just the month before the collapse of the wall. It was very interesting for them to remember it as it was and see it today!

We then strolled back to Unter Den Linden, examining the buildings on the way. The East Berlin architectural style was certainly stark, uniform and utilitarian.

We passed through the H university area, where both Lenin and Marx studied and Einsten was a professor for a time. The historic buildings here were much more appealing.

We sat for a while in square in front of the Berliner Dom, listening to a street violinist and watching people. This is at one end of Museum Island, which is the home to a number of notable museums – and is also the home to many cranes as construction is booming! Not being real museum people, we admired the exterior of the buildings and continued on our walk. We do plan to return to visit the DDR Museum at some point this week.

By this time, it was well past time for a kaffee break and we found a delightful kaffeehaus where we relaxed for a while.

We hopped back on the S-bahn and headed back to the Brandenburg Gate. We watched some protesters who are apparently on Day 30 of a hunger strike – Deb & I think they looked a little too healthy for that?

Our next stop was the Memorial the the Murdered Jews of Europe. Consisting of 2711 stark blocks, it is a haunting monument and will hopefully continue as a statement that such atrocities cannot occur again. Hmmm – perhaps some current Russian politicians need to visit here….

The Tiergarten offered a lovely spot for a peaceful walk. Debbie commented that it always amazes her how parks such as this can seem so peaceful in the midst of a bustling city! We passed an interesting area – the Global Stone Project. There are 5 stone groups here and 5 others in the 5 continents of their origin. Once a year, on June 21, the light of the sun connects all 10 stones by reflecting the light beams. Viewers are invited to join the invisible straight lines using their imagination to create a circle a symbol of a united mankind.

Our walk in the park culminated at the Siegessaule (Victory Column), an impressive monument built to commemorate the creation of the German empire following the Treaty of Versailles.


Another trek down the street, a short U-bahn ride, a longer S-bahn trip, a bit of a walk, a stop at the supermarket and we were home. Then off to a local pizzaria for a fabulous dinner of salad and authentic Italian pizza. One of these days, we will actually get to German cuisine, but so far have been enjoying the ethnic diversity of the neighbourhood we are staying in.

Oh and Deb couldn’t finish her wine – hated to waste it. 🙂


B,H, L & D

What day is it?

We have arrived in Berlin! H & I left Stony Plain around 11 am, picked up L & D in Red Deer and then met Kelsey & Dylan in Airdrie for the first coffee stop of our trip. A quick trip down the road to the airport and we found a nice covered parkade spot – that met with Harv’s approval – for the Escape to rest for 3 weeks. We were of course mega-early for our flight, but that made check-in uneventful. Deb & Bev even had time to take in some of the local Canadian icons and for Deb to get Macleans all downloaded!


Our Air Canada flight to Frankfurt was right on time and they fed us well. Harv, Larry & I managed to get a bit of sleep while Deb bonded with the flight attendants. Harv also watched 2.75 movies (down from his record of 4 on the way to Rome) and Larry made it through 6 episodes of Big Bang.

We had a 2.5 hour layover in Frankfurt, went through what we guess was German/EU customs, and enjoyed great focaccia sandwiches for lunch (or was that breakfast?).

Another hop in the sky, with great views of the German countryside and we landed at Berlin-Tegel Airport. An interesting efficiency – as you deplaned, the luggage carousel was right at the gate! Unfortunately, we had not previously noticed that the directions we had been given to our VRBO (vacation rental by owner) apartment were from the Schonefeld Airport. Hmmm…. but we took that in stride and investigated how to get where we needed to go. Onto a bus where a very helpful local girl advised us to hop off at an earlier stop and take the metro so we wouldn’t get caught up in the craziness of today’s Berlin Marathon. Arriving at the train station, we were again somewhat confused by the directions and after a fair hike, we decided that the taxi on the side of the street looked like a good plan. He deposited us right where we needed to be.

Our apartment is great – on the 4th & 5th floors of a building with no elevator, so we will be getting our exercise! We then wandered around the neighbourhood – Friedrichshain – and landed at a wonderful Arabic restaurant – Alarbi. The boys toasted the successful journey with good German beer and we enjoyed our dinners.


Now hopefully off to a good night’s sleep and tomorrow off to explore…