Disclaimer: this is where this blog temporarily turns into a personal travel log. The following entry details my recent trip to Czech republic and Germany. If you want to skip the (lengthy) narrative and just look at the pictures that’s okay. If you are already bored and want to go back to watching cute cat videos that’s okay, but if you want to know where I went and what I saw than read on. If you want to hire me to travel to foreign lands and write about what I see and do than email me at Becca@stckyjamhands.com
Swarthmore to Germany
April 1, 2017
The hardest part about getting to the Czech republic was leaving Lucy at the airport – she’s 6 now and upset about her Mom going away, I hope someday she understands, someday when I’m old(er) and we book a trip like this together. Actually the hardest part was convincing my husband that having me gone for two weeks was going to be no big deal.
Getting to Prague was long but fairly uneventful. There was a concern that our original flight was going to be delayed and we would miss our German connection – this necessitated a 90 minute phone call to Luftansa to get us rerouted through Munich on a different airline, but it ended up being no big deal.
We flew from Philadelphia to Munich Germany leaving at 6:30pm Saturday night; I had two glasses of wine at the airport and swallowed a muscle relaxer on the plane, two more glasses of wine on the plane and I even managed to sleep a little bit.
Mom, was already impatient and ‘ready-to-be-there’ the second we got on the plane, but after wine at the airport and a dose of melatonin she reclined her seat, covered herself with a blanket and tried to get some rest however about 10 minutes into the flight when the beverage cart rode by us she immediately perked up (and I mean the literal second – it was barely passed my head when her eyes shot open and her snack tray was down. She didn’t hesitate to let our steward know that it was her 75th birthday and that we were embarking on a Big Trip – you know in order to get free wine, but she needn’t have worried, not only was all the wine we got free it was poured with a HEAVY hand, I’m talking the big water cups full to the top, we only had two a piece but it must have come to about 20 ounces of wine for both of us.
Night night to us.
Munich to Prague
April 2, 2017
We landed in Munich sometime EARLY on the morning of April 2nd, we were barely awake or cognizant when we got off the plane and realized that to get to our next gate we needed to catch a bus to another part of the airport. In order to get to the bus we needed to go through security and both of us got patted down by a very handsy security agent.
After getting felt up and a navigating a very confusing bus ride we managed to find a cup of coffee and our gate to Prague. Getting to the plane however, involved another bus ride out to a distant air field to climb aboard a small commuter plane that was only half full. Mom and I had scored the emergency exit row, we stretched our legs out in front of us and fell asleep for most of the entire 40 minute flight into the Czech Republic.
We were concerned that after the mix up with the flight changes we would miss our airport pick up but thankfully there was a Viking agent waiting at the airport for us, we did miss the shuttle bus but she got us in a taxi whose cost was immediately refunded to us as soon as we got to the hotel.
We were already checked in to the hotel Corinthia when we completed the 30 minute drive from the airport, our program director Rik was there to greet us with our hotel keys, maps, itineraries, time tables etc.
Before we could make our way up to our 5th floor room we ran in to Tom and Kate in the lobby, we gave them a warm hello and sent them to the bar while we headed upstairs for a quick shower a change of clothes and cup of coffee.
The hotel was a tall 25 story newer hotel that was both more modern and farther from town than I expected, our room was nice with a large King bed and great water pressure in the shower. The distance to old town was taken care of by a complimentary Viking shuttle that ran from morning to night. Once, clean and caffeinated we headed downstairs and collected our friends from the bar and we all boarded the 3:00 shuttle to old town.
We arrived at the town center in the middle of their Easter Market, it was crowded but not unmanageable, we wandered around for a little while before we decided to grab a seat at an outdoor café across from the astronomical clock, we ordered a cheese plate and I got a beer while we talked and caught up, we stayed there long enough to watch the clock go off at 4;00, as Tom said “the most excited 20 seconds of our day”
We paid the check and once again walked around the Easter market, Mom and I picked up a few souvenirs before we headed down a side alleyway to get out of the main fray, we were headed toward a bar that Kate had heard about but that wasn’t open so we walked past in until we came upon another outside café where we took over one umbrella covered table. We had a few rounds of drinks and I had my first experience with the difficulty of the Czech language when I headed inside to the bathroom and was presented with two words I had never seen before, no pictures no other clues. I chose one at random (the one to the left) and got in and out of there as fast as possible in case I had chosen wrong. Fortunately, a quick google search back at the table told me my hunch had been correct.
We finished our drinks and headed back to the square to catch the 6:30 shuttle which (due to a communication error) never came, we ended up taking a taxi and after some hard nose negotiating on Kate’s part we got for a reasonable price.
Once back at the hotel we grabbed our jackets and headed out to a local traditional Czech restaurant that Tom and Kate had discovered the night before – you knew it was going to be good when you walked in because no one eating spoke English and there was a steady stream of locals coming in to pick up take out orders.
Mom ordered a ‘pork knee’ – literally the knee of some giant prehistoric pig skewered via some kind of scabbard to a cutting board and served with a large hunting knife. It was enough meat to feed a small village, Mom ate most of it. I ordered a delicious pork belly and we all drank beer, and then some more beer…
After dinner, we literally stumbled back to the hotel where I had enough time only to take my contacts out before falling unconscious in to bed.
April 3, 2017
Our first full day in Prague began with breakfast in the hotel where we met Tom and Kate and I discovered I could get baked beans and brown bread. We drank a lot of coffee and all jumped on the 10:00 shuttle.
The four of us parted ways at the town square – as I was on a mission to find the Narodni Knihovna – the national library of Prague which according to a very cryptically vague book I read was located down a small twisty alley not far from the Charles Bridge. This describes nearly everything close to the Charles Bridge, we literally wondered in circles for over an hour before I decided we needed coffee and found a small out of the way cafe where we stopped and got two lattes and rested out feet while sitting in the window seat, after taking advantage of a free bathroom I asked our waitress if she knew where the library was and she said, “of course, it right around the corner – out the door and to the left…” on a square we had walked through at least twice.
Despite this new information it still took us over 20 minutes to discover where we where supposed to go. We managed to gain entry to the card catalog room which was pretty awesome, millions of cards mostly written out by hand but unfortunately after a discussion with the circulation desk we discovered that the main reading room that I had hoped to see was under construction and closed to tourists.
Honestly, I was just thrilled at that point to actually have found it.
After being turned away we headed back outside and several wrong turns later end up in Wenceles Square where we randomly ran in to Kate and Tom who we were on their way to meet us back at the Easter market, we all walked together and headed to lunch at another small out of the way pub they had discovered the day before. We all had sausage and chips and beer and it was delicious.
After lunch we decided to use the free tickets to the chocolate museum that the hotel had comped Kate and Tom. We headed over to it and the best thing that I can say about the chocolate museum (except for the truffles that they gave you when you entered) was that it was free. The entire thing took 10 minutes to go through and reminded me of a junior high school science project. There is a museum for everything in Prague, by the way, from torture to sex machines to chocolate and everything in between. We exited quickly through the gift shop and made our way to the river, Tom and Kate had to head back to the hotel to catch their plane home and wanted a few more pictures. We said good bye and they went their way and Mom and I headed to the Charles Bridge – the Charles bridge is nothing short of spectacular (as bridges go) with two big gates on either end and statue after statue lining the sides of the low bridge.
We walked over the bridge past vendors selling everything from original watercolors to cheap jewelry and made our way to the other side of the river, as soon as we were across it started to rain, just a light, chilly drizzle which for me dressed in a tank top and light cardigan quickly became cold, we started up the hill meandering our way to the ‘castle’ on top. The castle is more of what I would call a palace, not a place of fortification but a place to entertain. We did not go inside but stopped to have our bags searched and padded down simply to walk through the grounds. The outside of the palace was pretty uniform and nothing particular caught my eye until we made out way to the opposite side to the citadel which was Hogwarts impressive and impossible to capture on film even with the good camera.
We went inside and walked around the outside and took a number of pictures and decided to head on, the rain getting harder and the temperature falling as well, before we were out of the palace grounds we found a small coffee shop were we stopped for lattes and the chance to warm up. My feet were cold and getting soar and even though Mom had a rain resistant wind breaker on it had no hood and neither of us were carrying an umbrella.
After finishing our drinks we headed back in to the rain and made our way as quickly as possible down the hill. Across the bridge and back to the bar that Kate had tried taking us to the night before. Called ‘the anonymous bar’ it is themed after the movie “V for Vendetta” and is very cool inside with large red velvet furniture, heavy drapery and smoky mirrors. The bar is known for its cocktails and the menu was extensive. Unable to make up our minds we asked the waiter for suggestions, he asked if it would be okay to surprise us, so we told him what we liked and he brought out two very unique cocktails, mine a vodka base with some serious citrus kick that had been blended slushy style and Mom’s which had a base of scotch and some kind of marmalade in it. Both drinks were delicious but together cost more than lunch for 4 had earlier; we only had one and left.
Back outside it was raining steadily, we had decided to go to an Indian restaurant for dinner and made our way there running from awning to awning to try and stay as dry as possible. The place we went was called the “Indian Jewel” and it was pretty good, we split a bottle of wine and some above average Indian food.
We caught the 7:30 shuttle back to the hotel, changed in to warm, dry clothes and headed to the lobby bar for a glass of wine (or two).
Tuesday began much like Monday, with breakfast in the hotel and a ride on the 10:00 shuttle, this time just the two of us.
We headed into old town and once again crossed the Charles bridge with our destination goal being the Stahov monastery. We knew it was on top of the hill across the river somewhere and decided instead of walking through town we’d take the scenic route and go through a park located just south of the city. Walking on cobblestones all day the night before had started wearing on our feet.
The walk (through cherry trees) took us about a mile and half straight up, we passed a cute restaurant that wasn’t open and eventually arrived at a large fortification wall. We hung a right and followed it to an observation tower that looked out over all of Prague.
Over coffees we consulted a map and decided that in order to the get the monastery we had to continue around the top of the hill to the south until we would eventually just run in to it (I have to pause here and tell you how terrible and completely useless the map we had was). We once again headed out and walked and walked and walked, we walked so far that eventually we ran in to a defunct sports stadium across the street from some student housing. We had walked off the side of our shitty map; we knew we must have gone the wrong way.
The major factor of turning back was that I needed to go to the bathroom desperately bad and I walked in to the student housing complex until I found their dining hall and was able to jjimmy the lock on the ladies room to get in. I’ve never been so happy to get to a public bathroom.
We decided to head back straight over the top of the hill instead of taking the long way around (the way we had come). It took us all of 10 minutes to get back to the observation tower where we had started from. We asked a lovely German couple who spoke no English where the monastery was and they pointed in the opposite direction we had come from.
Low and behold 50 meters down the path to the left of the observation tower was the monastery. All in all we walked about four miles that we didn’t have to.
Happy to find our destination we made a beeline to the monastic brewery – this amazing restaurant/pub was deep underground in the hills above the monastery itself in the old catacombs of the church. Lit by candlelight and warmed by a kerosene heater the place was amazing. We ordered a cheese and sausage plate and both had 2 beers before we felt sufficiently refreshed and once again headed backup in to the sunlight.
We tried to get into the monastery museum with a credit card and ended up at an ATM around the corner, where due to a mathematical error I withdrew 5 times the amount of cash than I intended to. Oops.
Inside we found our fist, grumpy unfriendly Czechs – for the most part everyone we had run in to had been pleasant and accommodating and were just in general nice people. The women who ran the museum were older, heavyset women who weren’t taking any bullshit and clearly were not at work to have a good time.
We quickly toured the museum (two roped off libraries, a hallway containing a random assortment of odd collectibles and a small gift shop) before purchasing a few postcards and two posters, we got out of there quickly.
Eager to have (another) afternoon beer I suggested that we head back down the hill to a small local pub called the ‘bar bar’ located on the canal a stones throw from the Charles Bridge. We found it with little problem and I ordered a large beer while Mom got a coffee and we rested our feet and relaxed for a few minutes.
We decided to have dinner at a restaurant recommended by Viking not far from the square, but after getting back across the bridge we somehow got completely turned around (super easy to do) we wondered round looking for a familiar landmark for a good 30 minutes before accidentally stumbling upon a Harley Davidson shop. Mom had been looking for one and it was very fortuitous that it should show up now, not only did she buy some souvenirs but we also got direction to the the place we were headed.
Once more on the right track we headed outside and quickly found our way to the restaurant, there was a brief wait before we got seated. Mom ordered the goulash and I got a sausage which was okay – we split a bottle of wine.
We headed back to the hotel on the 8:30 shuttle where we changed in to our ‘lobby attire’ and headed downstairs for a last glass of wine. We did not linger long in the bar after our drinks.
Our third day began with hotel breakfast and a ride in to town on the 10:00 shuttle.
Instead we headed to a place called “Bar and Books” that I really wanted to check out but we discovered that they didn’t open until 5pm, so we headed to a different outdoor café on Wencles square, had two lattes and people watched for a little bit. We then headed to souvenir heaven, a different outdoor Easter market where we purchased a number of trinkets for people back home.
We meandered our way back to the old town square and decided to get tickets to climb to the top of the astronomical clock tower. After a brief wait in line we climbed up a bunch of steps and had a great view over all of old town.
We left the tower and headed across the bridge to go to an outdoor restaurant I had seen the day before nestled under the bridge that I wanted to check out. The place ended up being a French cafe, we sat next to the canal with views of the river and had some more wine and sausage. Afterwards after I took some picture from under the bridge then we headed back across the river to check out the old town brewery, we went there for two beers before heading back to the old town market for one last souvenir before we realized that we still had an hour to kill before we needed t o get back to the hotel.
We decided to have coffee somewhere on the square and chose a fancy outside café (the White Horse) but when we asked for a table they asked if we wanted to sit in their cellar (dating circa 1200 or something). Of course we said ‘sure!’
Once in the cellar we decided that we should have wine, so we ordered a glass (or two) and enjoyed the midevil atmosphere until it was time to grab the 4:30 shuttle.
Once at the hotel we changed in to clean clothes and headed back to the lobby. We ordered a glass of wine while we waited for the bus to the ‘folklore dinner’ to arrive.
The ‘folklore dinner’ ended up being cheesy dinner theater in a small barn with terrible wine. We sat with a lovely English couple named John and Lorraine whom we would get to know much better as the trip went on.
Once dinner was over, we were back on the bus, me humming “have nagela” over and over as it had been played during the show and gotten stuck in my head. (this drove Mom crazy)
Once back at the hotel we cracked open the mini fridge and had some wine and listened to some music before calling it a night.
Prage – Decin
Our last day in Prague we got up early, packed our bags and got them down to the Viking Desk by 8am. We then stopped by the breakfast buffet for coffee and toast before checking out and paying our 1630 krona bar bill.
We took the 9:00 shuttle in to town with two more people from our boat – Sue and Tom, we chatted with them on the way in and once on the square invited them to come with us, our goal for the day was to once again walk up to the monastery and have lunch underground in the brewery before we had to leave the city.
Tom and Sue also wanted to go up and see the museum so we offered to lead them, it took 5 minutes for Mom to get lost and lead us in the wrong direction. Tom ended up getting us back on track and we all successfully climbed up to the top of the neighboring hill. We left Tom and Sue at the museum and since it was too early for the brewery to be open Mom and I double backed down the hill slightly until we found a small, cute coffee shop where we sat and drank a latte (and used the bathroom).
The brewery opened at 11:00 and we ended up having to wait outside for a few minutes after our coffee, while standing there we made friends with the neighborhood cat and were the first ones to enter as soon as the door opened.
We sat in the same table we had sat two days before, we each got wine – Mom had onion soup served to her in a bread bowl and I got a ‘salad’ which ended up being a bowl of greens topped with a large round of fried goat cheese, it was delicious.
After a second glass of wine we walked back down the hill, back across the bridge and after a quick bathroom break headed back to the town square. I bought one last souvenir (wooden tulips for Lucy) and tried a cup of hot wine (terrible) while we waited for the 1:00 shuttle to the hotel.
As we left Prague these are the reflections that I noted in my journal:
- The toilet paper there is terrible, like thin dollar store paper towels
- The diet of the Czech people consists mainly of meat, potatoes, cheese, dumplings and gravy but despite all of this they seem pretty healthy and of average size. My theory for this is that because their bathrooms are so small they cannot afford to get fat.
- Literally everyone in Prague speaks in English which makes it a very easy city to ease in to and to navigate, it also takes a little bit if the fun out of foreign travel, it also makes me feel like a stupid American for just speaking one language, and not even doing that one well.
- There are no stop signs in the city and yet remarkably no one runs in to each other despite some (what I thought were) very close calls.
- All of the trash trucks were Mercedes Benzs and the police cars were Peugeots.
- Walking in the city is treacherous, no one stops for you. Trams especially will not stop, we actually learned that if a tram diver hits a person they get a 4 day paid leave, its like a little bonus for hitting tourists.
- The sidewalks are all paved with Marble mosaics – they are beautiful and incredibly labor intensive to maintain, they’ve been there for 100’s of years and really add to the city’s beauty, they do, however, get slippery when its raining and if you are walking down from the castle on a day when it is drizzling (for instance) you need to be careful.
- There are hundreds of spires in the city and most all of them are topped with gold, this is spectacularly impressive around sunset (and probably sunrise) when the sun is reflected off them.
Memorable Prague Moments:
- The first time coming back across the Charles bridge the elastic in Mom’s underwear gives way and the only reason she was able to keep them on was because she was wearing pants, she spent the rest of the afternoon walking like she had to pee.
- On the way to the dinner theater the couple behind us was having a political discussion and couldn’t remember the CA representatives name, they eventually gave up and started talking about other things, 20 minutes later out of no where Mom shouts out –“Barbara Boxer!” no one knew what the hell she as talking about.
- The third day in to our trip I got my period (a full 10 days early) I had some stuff with me but not enough. While we were having lunch at the monastery I noticed a bowl of tampons by the sink, the second time we went there I took the whole bowl full – I stole all the feminine products that the monks had.
It took us two hours driving through the Czech countryside to reach the small riverside town of Decin. Decin was small but had a large monastery that was beautiful and a castle high above town (really a restaurant) that was quite photogenic.
We hopped off the bus and on to the boat, we met the captain and the manager and where given our room keys. The stateroom itself was tiny – 2 single beds with just enough space for one person to walk around them, they delivered our bags to the room and we had to unpack them and store them under the beds because there was no room to put them anywhere else.
As we were unpacking the best part of the entire trip happened, our house keeper, Anna, came in to introduce herself and remind us to put a note on the door when we went to breakfast , she was a little terse and seemed stressed out, my Mom said something like, “I’m old – tell her (pointing to me), she’s young she’ll remember”, Anna looked at her and said “huh, I am not thinking that you are more than 80 years old” Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! I tried hard not to pee myself laughing.
As soon as we were done unpacking we made our way to the front of the boat, where the lounge/bar was. We quickly met the one other Mom/daughter duo on the boat – Mina and Jeannie, we sat with them and ordered a glass of wine.
After everyone was aboard and settled the captain and senior staff came to the lounge, introduced themselves and we had a champagne toast to ‘send us off’ the captain’s name was Joseph, the ships manager was Stefan, we already knew Rik and we met the chef (someoneorother) and the head housekeeper neither of which I remember.
After the welcome and toast we decided to go ‘dress for dinner’ so we did. We met John and Lorraine in the dining room and ate dinner with them, I had shrimp and bacon for dinner and we discovered the excellent bread that was available on the boat (it was really really good!!)
After dinner Mom and I had talked about leaving the boat to explore the small town of Decin but we decided to stay because the ‘entertainment’ for the evening was a local Czech woman who came to talk about the Velvet Revolution. I honestly cannot remember what she said (I’m sure it wasn’t because I was sucking down wine after wine all evening). I remember thinking that she did a good job. Soon after she was done both Mom and I went to bed.
Decin – Bad Schandau – Dresden
I was up and watching from inside (because of the cold and the rain) but Mom went outside to watch Captain Joseph turn the boat around, remarkable because the river was barely wider that the boat itself.
We traveled up the river while we ate breakfast, we ate with Stefan – the boat manager, who was very interesting and we learned that he was gay and lived in the Philippines with his partner who would meet him in Germany and work on the boat on their way back to Prague, he was really looking forward to this.
After breakfast we arrived at our morning destination – a small village named Bad Schandau in a region just over the German boarder in and area known as “Saxony Switzerland” because of its geographical resemblance to Switzerland.
We left the boat when we docked, where given big red Viking umbrellas and boarded a bus which drove us up up up until we got to a park made of giant rock formations and was once the site of an old defensive fort. The views were spectacular and the day was foggy and cold so there were not many other visitors (I’ve been told it can get shoulder to shoulder crowded up there). It was hard to capture the area through photos and is something everyone should see themselves (which I guess is why it gets so crowded) it reminded me a little bit of Arizona, but lusher and more green.
We walked – slogged – through the park and then made our way to the restaurant that is located up there, we had some coffee while sitting with two other guests (I can’t remember who) as well as two members from the crew – Zoltan the bartender and Telma the guest services coordinator, both of which were very nice people. Zoltan spent a good 20 minutes telling us all the drinks he could make for us on the boat, it really solidified our friendship.
Eventually we made our way back to the bus and then back to the ship where I literally wrung the water out of my socks and changed my entire outfit to get dry. I put on my only sweater I had brought (I did not pack correctly for this trip) and headed back to the lounge to drink the afternoon away.
Over several glasses of wine we sat with and got to know a couple (Beth and Mike) from Knoxville TN, they were great and became our go-to partners on the trip. A little before dinnertime we sailed in to Dresden. Captain Joseph sailed in to Dresden, past the city and then backed up and docked on the south end so that we could get pictures. Unfortunately, it was still raining, dreary and hard to see. I went up on the sun deck and took some pictures, I was up there MUCH longer than I planned and got soaking wet.
Dinner Friday was ‘German night, Mom got dressed up for her birthday but after getting soaking wet twice in the same day, I put on jeans and a nice shirt, I simply could not put on a dress. We sat with Mike, Beth, Charlie and his grandson Justin – ate sausages and potatoes and drank many glasses of beer, the captain and crew toasted Mom for her birthday and we all had a very good time.
Back in the lounge after dinner it was ‘trivia’ night – we listened to small snippets of songs and had to come up with song name, artist and artists and nationality. Surprisingly, our group won, I don’t know how, we were all pretty drunk by the end. Rik MC’d the night and we all laughed a lot.
At the end of the game I got a text from my husband that he could call me – I hadn’t spoken to him or Lucy in a few days so I quickly got up to go back to the cabin (with the intention that I would return later) but after sitting down and trying to have a coherent conversation I thought maybe drinking more wasn’t the best idea and when Mom came in and started getting ready for bed I decided I should do the same thing.
Saturday morning dawned gray and chilly but fortunately dry. We got dressed and had breakfast before going on a walking tour with an excellent guide who was a Dresden native. She gave us a wonderful tour through the city center and then into the museum where we saw many gold drinking vessels and the crown jewels – a giant green diamond. We also went through the main church in the city center – a protestant structure that looked as though Liberace decorated it personally. We went to the opera house and saw the many palaces August the Strong had built for all of his mistresses.
The tour wound back to the boat around lunch time and we decided to eat there, have a glass of wine (or 3) and some coffee before heading back in to town on our own. We needed to get some local currency and our search for an ATM machine inadvertently lead us to a big, modern shopping mall which we quickly walked in and out of and then decided to walk across the bridge to see the golden statue of Augustus the Strong atop his horse. We stayed on the other side of the river just long enough to take some pictures and then walked back to the city center, we wondered around for a little bit and ended up at a little cafe in Augustus’s pleasure baths where we where going to order a beer and relax, but before we got service we both decided that it made more sense to go drink on the boat where we had already paid for our booze, also our feet hurt and were ready to rest for a little bit.
The afternoon had warmed up and the sun had come out so when we got back to the boat we found seats outside on the front deck and I had the chance to update my journal and sketch a quick skyline of the city.
Mom went inside to attend a lace making demonstration while I enjoyed some peace and quiet and drank for two outside (I just kept letting them fill my her wine glass the whole time )like she had simply run to the bathroom.
After diner we headed back to the lounge to hear some local musicians play – two violins and an oboe. I stayed awake by sketching the flowers on the bar but almost everyone else present started nodding off. As soon as they were done the entire ship went to bed except for Jeannie and I – I met her at the bar and they two of us and Zoltan (our favorite bartender) stayed up late, swapping stories of child rearing and dysfunctional childhoods, it was a lot of fun. I don’t know what time I headed to bed.
It was a little rough getting up Sunday morning, my plan had been to be up early to see us pull away from Dresden but I did not make it. Mom was up though and said it was pretty cool.
I finally got up around 7:45 and met her downstairs for breakfast. We arrived in Meissen not long after departing Dresden and at 8:45 we boarded a bus for a tour. Our first stop was to the porcelain manufacturer that Meissen is famous for. We got a tour of how the porcelain is made and an opportunity to spend money in their shop. The tour was interesting but porcelain is not my thing and after seeing how cute Meissen is I would have preferred to skip the hour or two that we spent there and done some more exploring.
Eventually we left the porcelain manufacturer and headed in to town, we had an excellent guide who walked us from the bus up to the castle. Meissen is a beautifully quaint midevil town that was undamaged in the war, it winds up a hill and there are many vistas where you can overlook all the crooked streets and all the red roofs.
We made our way down the hill into the main town square where they had an Easter market going on, we had a few minutes (not enough time) to walk around on our own, I bought some wooden Easter eggs and Mom and I had a glass of the local wine (not good) before it was time to get back on the bus.
Back aboard it was sunny and warm and I sat out on the front deck in a rocking chair, drinking wine and watching the river go by. We sailed through lots of un-populated areas where there was just trees full of mistletoe balls something I had never seen before and that I assumed where birds nests before I was corrected.
Mom left me alone to go attend a cooking demonstration and I came close to my perfect moment when at one point I was the only one outside, warm and with a full glass of wine in my hand, we sailed by a German family out for a bike ride, I waved and they waved back – simple but perfect.
Around 4:00pm we docked in another small midevil town called Torgau, Rik our director offered to do an informal walking tour of the town center and we went with him. The big claim to fame of the town is that it was where the Russians and the American’s met at the end of the war.
Sidenote- after the end of the war, during soviet occupation the Russians released propaganda that never mentioned the American’s had been there, the citizens didn’t find out until 1989 the American’s had liberated them.
We went to the war memorial and then into the palace where they still have bears in the moat to guard the town (we didn’t see the bears – it was cold). Mom and I walked up the outside spiral staircase which was beautiful and amazing because it was constructed 100’s of years ago without a center support.
We walked from the castle to the main square we were came upon an Easter celebration. Local kids where playing in hay and local adults were drinking at a beer garden set up under tents. It was beautiful and I felt like we had gone back in time and intruded on something special.
Some guests stayed in town but Mom and I walked back to the ship for more cocktails and the daily briefing, we ate dinner with Beth, Mike Judy & Dennis. I had a shrimp roll, Chinese noodles and and excellent chocolate souffle (more like a lava cake) we all liked it so much that we asked our servers if we could have it again the following night.
After dinner we retired to the lounge for a photo competition, once again MC’d by Rik, I had entered two photos that were well received but not the best ones, there were also some funny ones and with Rik’s commentary we all laughed a lot.
After the competition most everyone went back to their cabins and I – once again – met Jeannie at the bar and she and Zoltan and I closed the ship down for the night. I managed to crawl in to bed without waking Mom.
Elbe River – Wittenberg
We pulled away from Torgau at 8am, Mom got up and dressed and left me to sleep in, but I was already awake. Instead of getting up I decided to lay in bed and open the blinds in our room, I laid in bed and watched the German countryside go by – it was lovely and relaxing. I had slept wrong the night before and my neck was very very sore, it was nice to just lay there.
Eventually I managed to get up and put some clothes on and met Mom downstairs in the dining room. I ate a bagel and some granola and started to feel better. At 10:00am after some Tylenol we joined the other passengers in the lounge for a short history of Germany (1945- present day) and then we had a quick discussion about the debarkation process (aka – pay your bill!).
After Rik’s talk we were served an early lunch. Mom and I decided to eat upstairs in the lounge instead of down in the dining room. I made myself a salad and ate it with a couple of glasses of wine and watched the captain sail us in to Wittenberg.
Wittenberg lays at the mouth of the Elbe and a small tributary, to dock the captain went past the tributary, back up in to it, turned the boat completely around and went back out to the Elbe so we would exit on the correct side of the ship. It was cool to see because the tributary was literally no wider than the boat itself. I watched all of this from the sundeck.
After lunch and a few more glasses of wine we left the boat and boarded a bus to go downtown Wittenberg where we met our tour guide, Christian for a tour that was 99.5% about Martin Luther. Christian was very enthusiastic but very hard to understand and after about 10 minutes I had learned everything I wanted to know about the protestant reformation but the tour went on nonetheless.
We started the tour at the castle church where Luther had been a teacher, walked all the way through the town center and ended at the Martinhaus where he and his wife had raised 6 children, it went on and on and on. We did get one small break in the town center where Mom and I had a truly awful cup of coffee and navigated a treacherous spiral staircase to use the bathroom. While we were in town the temperature dropped and the wind picked up and by the end everyone was freezing.
By the time we returned to the ship, Mom and I rushed to the bar for wine and then took it to our cabin where we started packing up our things. I took a hot shower to help relax my neck that was still very sore and after we were mostly packed and changed in to warmer clothes we headed back to the lounge to meet up with our friends and a toast from the captain for having us aboard. While we were drinking in the lounge we met Donna and Dennis from Toronto whom I liked immediately and when we finally went down to dinner we got one of the larger tables and Beth, Mike, Judy, Dennis,Donna and Dennis all sat with us. It was a great dinner – both food and company wise. I had scallops and a number of other things and we were all served the chocolate souffle from the night before.
After dinner we went back to the lounge for the evenings entertainment – two local actresses that put on a small skit about Catherine (martin Luther’s wife) and her best friend getting ready for their first ball. There was some audience participation and it was pretty enjoyable.
After the skit was over I realized I was exhausted and I wasn’t going to be able to stay up with Jeannie and Zoltan again. I said goodnight to them and goodbye to Zoltan since I wouldn’t see him again (there were hugs) and barely made it in to bed before I was asleep.
Elbe – Berlin
We got up early on Tuesday to finish packing , we needed to have our luggage outside our staterooms by 7:45, we were done by 7:00 – left everything and went downstairs to have breakfast.
Reflections on the River Cruise:
- Hands down I loved it – whether it was because of the amazing crew we had or all the truly awesome friends we met on the boat, the entire experience was top notch.
- The food was excellent, especially the bread. The bread was nothing short of spectacular.
- Service on the boat could not have been better, there was nothing we needed that wouldn’t have been provided to us and the bar staff were professional and friendly and if I could have brought home anything I wanted it would have been Zoltan and Ploman (Ploman was our waiter but at some point during the trip became my very best friend and personal wine server) this would have been difficult to explain to my husband.
- We did not travel very far or very often. The distance from Prague to Berlin is not very far and I realized only after getting there that we were stretching out an eight hour boat ride into six days. We never traveled at night and the times when we were cruising the river were not long. I had expected to be spending long hours on the deck of this ship curled up with a cocktail and a book. I never once cracked open any of the 3 books I lugged with me while on the boat.
- Because we didn’t ‘sail’ a lot the captain of the ship had a garden on the sundeck that he maintained obsessively, when I first boarded I thought how does he have time to do that? But the after a few days I realized his job was pretty easy, it’s really a sweet little gig that Captain Joseph had going on. Besides sailing a few hours a day (maybe) and seeing us off and back on the boat every time we left on an excursion his only real task is a champagne toast at the beginning and the end of the journey.
- Every time we arrived back from an excursion we were greeted back on the ship with a small treat, hot apple cider when it was cold and rainy, small pieces of chocolate when it was warm – little things that really put a cherry on whatever we were doing.
We were off the boat and boarded our bus at 8:45. Our first stop on the way to Berlin was a small town called Wurltz known for the Summer palace and gardens of Duke Leopold III. Despite the fact that it was cloudy damp and no more than 40 degrees we decided to take a ‘gondola’ (really just big row boat) around the lake we were told this was the best way to see the sites.
Ten of us piled in to this boat, rowed by a young German man who spoke no English, who was just able to point at things as they went by. At one point we passed what looked like an old barn and he pointed and said “Cow Haus” it was the funniest thing.
45 minutes later we finally got off the ‘gondola’ and made a beeline for the cafe, after a cup of hot chocolate to warm up we walked around the gift shop before once again getting on the bus. Our next stop was Potsdam but it would be awhile before we got there, as soon as the bus was out of the small villages and on the autobahn I fell asleep.
We arrived in Potsdam a little before lunch and we had two hours free time in the town center. We thought that would be more than enough time for lunch so we set off with Mike, Beth, Donna and Dennis to the end of the pedestrian walkway where there is a smaller and older version of Berlin’s famous Brandenburg gate, we found a small cafe next to it and got a table for the 6. We all had giant white asparagus for lunch (a German delicacy) and some good local beer, by the time we were done and we walked back to the bus our 2 hours was up.
We left the town center and headed to San Soucci (a summer palace for Frederick the great of Prussia). I wasn’t really interested in touring another palace but we had a great tour guide and the entire thing is pretty small it ended up being interesting and fun, we did the beginning and end in the rain and at the end hurried back to the bus to get warm.
The drive from Potsdam to Berlin was about 30-35 minutes, we eventually made it to the Intercontinental hotel situated on the edge of the Tiergarden at the very top of what was formally west Berlin. The hotel was really nice and by the time we arrived we were already checked in and so we just picked up our keys and went to our room (#649).
After the tiny size of our ship cabin the shear enormity of the hotel room was a welcoming sight. We had to wait some time for our bags to be brought up and in the meantime got a dinner recommendation from the concierge. I wanted a good old fashioned beer garden and he told us about one not far from the hotel.
We made some coffee and finally got our bags and then met up with Beth and Mike in the lobby, we had also run into John and Lorraine (who happened to be staying in the room right next to us) and we invited them along with us to dinner.
After a few wrong turns we managed to find the beer garden – very quaint and right on the canal, the six of us got a table and some very good local beer, there was no sausage on the menu so I ordered a salad instead which was only okay (lots of cucumbers, blech). We had a nice dinner and then all walked back to the hotel. Mom and I said goodnight to our dinner companions in the lobby and headed to the hotel bar for a nightcap.
We ended up sitting with some other viking passengers in the bar and drank 2 glasses of wine – 15 euros a piece (yikes!) we deiced to call it a night after the wine and we headed upstairs to bed.
we woke up Wednesday morning neither of us having slept well – my neck was still hurting me very much and Mom had narrowly avoided a migraine by getting up to take some pills in the middle of the night. We both just wanted a hot shower and some coffee but the shower was complicated and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on and we had drank the coffee the day before while we waited for our bags…
After struggling for a good 5 minutes with the shower I gave up and called the front desk. They sent up an elderly, distinguished gentleman in a tuxedo (I opened the door for him still in my pajamas). I explained that the water would not turn on and he looked at me, all disheveled, and said “Madam, you only need to turn it to the left…” Uh, huh – humiliated I quickly took a shower which once again had great water pressure and multiple jets, it was glorious.
We eventually got dressed and made it downstairs for breakfast, we sat with Jeannie and Mina and I had my usual granola and yogurt as well as several croissants that were flaky and buttery and lovely (and not very big).
At 8:45 we met in the lobby and boarded a bus for our Berlin tour . We spent the next 4 hours on a bus with Irene, our guide. We traveled all around Berlin, we got out at checkpoint Charlie(emotional) and again at the wall(there is a remnant still standing that artists use as a canvas) and then again at Brandenburg gate.
The tour was good but my biggest take away was Irene’s stories – she grew up in East Berlin, she lived in an apartment block which had one bathroom shared by 4-5 families, there were also public restrooms out on the street, green 8 sided structures which they called ‘the octagon bar’ as in ‘hey, I’m running out to the octagon bar!’
She also told us that as a child children they were required to learn Russian in elementary school but once they got to middle school they could chose another language to speak, she and her friends all chose English, not because she ever though she would leave east Berlin or ever interact with ‘westerners’ but because she wanted to know what the Rolling Stones were signing.
These stories remind me of what we learned from our guide in Meissen who also grew up behind the iron curtain, she went to University to study software engineering but when she got out she interviewed at a factory who asked her what religion was and she told them she was a catholic. They told her that Catholics weren’t allowed to work on computers, they hired her anyway and she literally sat at a desk for 4 years, just an empty desk unable to touch the computers – so that the soviets could say their unemployment rate was 0%.
Our tour ended at 1:00, we were dropped at the hotel and we made a plan with Beth and Mike to meet up in the hotel lobby in 30 minutes to go out to lunch.
We refreshed ourselves and met up with them to walk the 2 blocks to a huge department store called Ka-da-we which is world famous and very close to our hotel. The 6th floor of the store is a giant food ‘court’. At this point I was desperate for a sausage so after walking around a few minutes we parted ways; Beth ,being a vegetarian, wanted to go get fish and Mom and I headed to the butchers.
We grabbed seats at a bar – ordered two sausages and some beer which were both excellent. After we ate we walked around a little bit and just gaped at everything. We decided to grab some wine and sandwiches and just stay ‘in’ that night and be low key. We met up with Mike and Beth briefly again and they went off to go shopping and we headed to the wine section. After we had our food we explored the store for a little bit but it was HOT in there and both of us were pretty tired, we didn’t stay long.
We headed back to the hotel and had a glass of wine in our room during which I decided that I should take advantage of the hotels spa, I called down at 6:30 and made an appointment for a 7:00 deep tissue massage.
Mom went down with me and took advantage of the pool and hot tub while I got the best massage of my life by someone named… Wilham? Who knows or cares, it was great and I came out feeling much better. I drank a big glass of water, collected Mom and we headed upstairs where we got comfortable, finished the bottle of wine we had opened earlier, ate our sandwiches and listened to music.
Thursday, we both felt better and the day dawned warm and sunny, we decided to spend the day walking the city and seeing the things on foot that we only glanced at from the bus the day before.
After breakfast in the hotel we briefly met up with Mike and Beth in the lobby to say goodbye (most of the passengers on our ship left on Thursday morning). John and Lorraine and another couple from Seattle (that we didn’t know) were the only other Viking people staying for the extra two day extension. We made plans with John and Lorraine to have dinner together before heading out. We walked west through Teirgarden towards Brandenburg gate. The park was exceptionally beautiful, with well maintained paths and gorgeous trees and gardens, it is hard to imagine that in 1945 the entire thing was completely destroyed, it looks old from the inside.
One of the best things I love about Berlin is that it is a very green city – they really take care to have as many green spaces as possible and go so far as to give each and every tree in the city a number, every tree regardless if its on a sidewalk or in a park has a tag and a unique number and this way they know at any given time exactly how many trees they have. (currently 483,000)
we got through the park and came out right at Brandenburg gate, we stopped for a few pictures and then walked over to the holocaust memorial (just a block away) I thought the memorial was well done, its interpretive and gives no names or dates but when you are there you feel as though you are in a sacred place, Mom and I both left with tears in our eyes.
We left there and walked past the Gendermenmarkt – a square which boasts two midevil churches and a large museum, one of the churches is open and for 3 euros you can walk to the top of it – of course we did that – took a bunch of photos and headed out.
Another goal for our walk on Thursday was to finish the last of our souvenir shopping, we had consulted with the concierge about the best place to do this and he directed us to a shop very close to museum island, so we headed in that direction, crossed over the canal and decided that it was time to stop for a beverage, we entered the quaintest most adorable little bar where I had a beer and Mom got coffee and we shared some delicious lemon mouse thing with raspberry topping.
Feeling refreshed we continued down the same street and found some excellent little shops where we finished almost all of our shopping and decided to start back, we chose a different way to walk and soon found ourselves walking past the site of the future “House of One”. (sidenote: the house of one is a new religious center where the heads of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths and can meet and talk). On the back side of the construction zone is a small alleyway with a little cafe, we decided to go to this cafe for lunch.
I had sausage and beer and Mom got asparagus and potatoes and beer, the food was excellent and the place was super cute and not touristy in any way, the service was terrible (we had to interrupt our waiter’s lunch to get the bill) but it was a neat little experience.
After lunch we headed back towards the less historical and more commercial parts of the former east Berlin. We got to the ‘Mall of Berlin’ just as it started raining and popped in, I was on a desperate hunt for good German beer steins. We were unsuccessful in locating any and Mom was READY TO GO – so we headed out the other end of the mall just as the rained stopped.
Around this time I started getting tired and cranky, my ankles were beginning to hurt from walking (all told we did about 11.5 miles that day) and I was starting to slide into a funk. We decided to stop at the Sony center (an impressively huge cinema center) we sat at an outside cafe and got two lattes before heading on.
The Sony center is also on the edge of the Teirgarden and it was easy for us to cross the street and walk along the side of the park back to the area our hotel was in. I could feel myself getting grumpy and unpleasant and I had a brief thought about going back to the hotel and laying down for awhile but then I gave myself a pep talk and realized I only had a day and a half left of vacation and I needed to suck it up – I suggested to Mom that instead of going back to the hotel that we head to the little beer garden on the canal that we went to the first night for dinner. Mom readily agreed (most likely because she had to pee so bad she was about to have an accident). We headed there quickly, I ordered us beers while she went to the bathroom. We both perked up after that and spent a pleasant time drinking and watching the locals.
We got back to the hotel with enough time to refresh and unload our souvenirs before meeting John and Lorraine for dinner. The previous day I had run into another viking passenger who had gone to a place called “Bavarian” for lunch and really liked it – it was close and I suggested we try it.
I got us there, despite going the long way around, the place was cute, in the basement of a mall, a little too German (like an over the top TGIFridays for tourists – but German). Despite that we had a nice dinner – Mom and I split a sausage, potato, meatloaf platter and an apple strudel – I had a couple beers and we had a lot of fun talking with John and Lorraine.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel and said goodnight to our friends, we drank some wine while I updated the journal and soon fell asleep.
Mom had managed to get us tickets to take a tour of Templehof, the famous Berlin airport built by Hitler, taken over by the American’s and served as the main drop for the 1948 Berlin airlifts, it was somewhere she really wanted to see. The tour was scheduled for 1:30.
After breakfast we had the morning free, Mom decided to head back up to our room to start packing up (fortunately we had both come with room to spare in our luggage because we ended up buying a significant amount of gifts).
I decided to take advantage of some free time and go out on a last ditch effort for good German beer steins. I headed out to make my way back to Ka-da-we but realized as soon as I set out that it was Good Friday and nothing was going to be open. I checked the stores anyway and then decided to just wander around, I went to the memorial church (a church close to our hotel that had been half destroyed in the war and instead of rebuilding it or knocking it down they chose to leave it there as a reminder).
I walked about 3 miles before I got a text from Mom that she was done doing what she was going to do. I met her in front of the zoo (also close to our hotel) and we walked a block or so away to a coffee shop where we waited forever for service, eventually I got a hot chocolate and mom got coffee and we sat in the window and watched people walk by.
I had done some research about places to have our last dinner in Berlin and I suggested that before we head back to the hotel to get a cab to Templehof we walk by one the of the choices and check it out.
The place was cute and very authentically German, far from the touristy areas and also further than I thought it would be from the hotel. We had to walk back to the hotel QUICKLY to get our things and hail a cab to the Templehof tour.
Despite the time crunch we arrived with plenty of time to spare, got checked in and waiting for about 15-20 minutes before it began. Our tour guide was a young architecture student at the University who gave us an excellent tour and even took us underground to the bomb shelters as well as the old archive that was accidentally blown up when the Russians arrived. It was creepy and old and awesome.
The tour took over 3 hours but we didn’t realize that until the end when we discovered it was after 4:00 as we got a taxi back to the hotel. By the time we made it back we were starving. We had tentatively made plans to dine again with John and Lorraine, so we stopped in their room and told then that we wanted to go out early and further away than they probably wanted to go (neither of them were big walkers). They chose to do their own thing and we said goodbye to them.
On our way out of the hotel I made a suggestion of another possible restaurant that was behind the zoo and perched on the edge of the Terigarden and the canal, we decided to head that way and check it out. Our route took us past the back of the zoo where we were able to see emus and flamingos and all sorts of animals. We did find the beer garden/restaurant on the other side of the zoo and it was cute and looked like a great place but very informal, no table service and had more tables outside than inside (it was pretty chilly outside).
We decided we wanted to sit inside and be waited on so we continued on and went back to the place that we had walked by earlier. I am glad that we did, the food and beer and the place we went to was exceptional – the restaurant was very busy and we got a small table in a walk way and an admonition that we couldn’t be there more than an hour (our table was previously reserved). We ate, drank and got out of there and decided to head back to the beer garden we passed up for dinner for one last drink before heading back to the hotel.
We made our way there, got a seat inside at their very small bar, ordered beers and talked about our favorite parts of the trip, when I asked Mom what she liked best she said “All of it except the Martin Luther stuff” I wholeheartedly agreed.
We finished our beers and once again walked behind the zoo to our hotel where we got ready for bed and an early morning.
Germany – Philadelphia
We were up EARLY Saturday morning because we had a taxi scheduled to take us to the airport at 7:15 and we both wanted to get coffee and breakfast before heading out. We were downstairs, luggage in hand a little after 6am, we checked out and were going to head to breakfast when we learned that on the weekends they don’t start breakfast until 7:00. Disappointed we looked for other options, but Germans are not early risers and there was nothing else open. The concierge took pity on us and arranged for a pot of coffee and a plate of croissants be brought out to the lobby for us.
We sat the the lobby eating our breakfast and drinking coffee until 7am. We chatted briefly and said goodbye to Rik who had come down to see us off and honestly couldn’t have been a better director or a nicer person, he made the trip even better than it already was, he was on the way home to England for his own holiday, we wished him well, Mom invited him to Maine and he saw us off.
The trip home was uneventful, we were at the Berlin airport 90 minutes earlier than we needed to be, we flew from there to Frankfort where I finally managed to buy some fairly authentic steins and then from there we flew to Philadelphia and after waiting for thousands of spring-breakers ahead of us in customs we finally got back to the house around 4:30.
Reflections of Berlin:
- The beer was awesome. AWESOME and I’m not really that much of a beer person.
- Berlin as was different from Prague as you can get, it was more modern than I expected, but since the majority of it is only between 27 – 72 years old I guess it’s not surprising.
- I was afraid that he city would make me sad because of all of the Nazi history but I really felt that they do a nice job of remembering what happened, reminding everyone it would never happen again and trying to move on.
- Outside the main entrance to the U-bahn (the subway) there is a small memorial that sais something like “Here is a list of atrocities that we shall never forget so that they shall never happen” – and it lists 13 concentration camps.
- The outline of the wall can still be seen on the ground in the form of double cobblestones where it once stood.
- Overall I found the German people awesome, warm and welcoming. They seemed full of life and ready to have a good time, anytime.
*Alternatively titled “200 glasses of wine in 14 days”