It’s been a week of hanging out with people, both old friends and new — we stayed with Frankie, had dinner with Holger and Claudia, went on an adventure with Petr, and spent time with Moroni and Mirka.
Monday 24/9: When we were at TBU a few weeks ago, we met Nadja, who works for Visit Berlin. She was keen to help us get as much out of our stay as possible, and we met her for a coffee early on Monday morning. She’d prepared a thick folder full of maps, press releases and brochures, and she talked us through them while we sipped our drinks.
After Nadja left, Craig and I cobbled together a plan for the next few days — the main idea was to do as much in the morning as possible and work in the afternoon. Even so, a lot was going to be left undone.
Nadja had given us a couple of Welcome Cards, which gave us unlimited use of the public transport system, and we immediately hopped on an underground train to the suburb of Charlottenburg. There, we wandered around for a couple of hours, enjoying the contrast of old and new buildings and monuments.
Back home in the afternoon, we got a bit of work done, then helped Frankie prepare a truly delicious potato soup for dinner. Frankie’s boyfriend Mark was also over, and we had a fantastic evening of food, conversation, silly games, and perhaps just a little too much wine.
Tuesday 25/9: It was another earlyish start, since our Urban Adventures tour started at ten, and we didn’t want to be late like we had been the day before (not our fault! The ticket machine ate our money and didn’t print a ticket). Of course this meant we arrived half an hour early.
Berlin’s history is very noticable in the current city, but I had only a weak grasp on it. So, it was a great idea to do the Storyline of Berlin tour. Our guide, Greta, was an archaeologist and beekeeper, and she added a personal touch to the well-planned tour by occasionally discussing the archaeological aspects of what we were seeing — though, oddly, she didn’t do the same about bees. Craig and I both really enjoyed the tour, and we certainly know a lot more about Berlin’s history than we did before!
After tasty kebabs for lunch, we headed home to work. Well, Craig worked and I sent couchsurfing requests. In the evening we met our friends Claudia and Holger, who we first met in 2006 on the West Highland Way. We saw Claudia on our last visit to Berlin, but we hadn’t seen Holger since Christmas 2007 — it was great to hang out with him again! We were joined by their friend Carmen, and we headed out for a tasty dinner at a restaurant before going back to Claudia’s place for a glass of wine.
Wednesday 26/9: Frankie had recommended we take a tour of Berlin’s underground passageways, so the three of us caught the S-bahn to Gesundbrunnen to join a Berlin Unterwelten tour. There were so many people that the guides had to split us into two groups, and as we were in the second group, we had to wait a little for the trip to start. The company has six different tours on offer, but we chose the one that took us through a bunker that dated from the Second World War. The guide’s dry sense of humour, as well as her acknowledgment of a personal connection to what we were seeing, made this a really worthwhile tour — and we got a discount with our Welcome Cards!
Back at home, Frankie made us a delicious lunch (we love you, Frankie), then Craig and I headed out to do a bit more sightseeing.
Nadja had organised us tickets for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city, which is something we wouldn’t ordinarily do, but I found it really useful. The pre-recorded commentary explained what we were seeing, and even delved into a bit of history. I was annoyed that we hadn’t done this on our first day, but at the same time it was good to re-see things we’d already seen, and to hear a sometimes quite contradictory account of them compared to what Greta and some of our friends had told us.
Rather than hop on and off, we stayed on the bus for its full circuit, which took around three hours. At the end, I felt like I had a much better grasp of the geography of the city, though I would have preferred to have avoided the gaggle of shrieking Scottish women who were seated just behind us. Oh well.
Frankie was out for the evening, so we just had a light dinner and did a bit of work before bed.
Thursday 27/9: We’d been told that we couldn’t miss Potsdam, which is a small town about 25 minutes from Berlin’s main train station, and which is accessible by S-bahn. But it was raining heavily when we woke up, and the washing machine took longer than we’d expected to finish its cycle. We finally managed to leave the house at around 12.30, and arrived in Potsdam an hour later.
First we headed to the Sansoucci Park, which is part of a World Heritage Site comprising many gardens and parks in Berlin and Potsdam. It’s enormous and full of palaces and other monuments; we spent a couple of hours there admiring the architecture and greenery, but really wished we’d hired bikes for the day!
Instead, we caught a bus to Alexandrowka (the Russian quarter) then another to the Dutch quarter, and we admired the distinctive architecture of each area. We’d left lunch quite late, so we just picked up a couple of kebabs before heading to the film museum. Sadly, though, we’d run out of time — the museum was going to close in less than an hour, and we’d really need two hours to do it justice.
It definitely feels like we’ve got a lot left to do when we come back to Berlin — good thing we’ve got plans to return next summer!
Friday 28/9: Frankie had been out the night before, so we spent half an hour or so with her in the morning, talking about her plans for her trip to South America. Too soon, though, it was time to leave: we had to be at the main station by 10.30. Luckily we had no problems along the way, and we soon found ourselves en route to Prague.
The journey was comfortable and fast, and we arrived in Prague at around 3.30pm. After deciding not to change money at the station because of the 25% charge, we texted Moroni and Petr to let them know we’d arrived. Moroni (my language-learning friend who we travelled around Chile with two years ago) now lives in Prague with his Slovakian girlfriend Mirka, and they came to meet us for a quick drink before we took off again (Moroni paid, we were broke due to the conversion issue). Petr, an Indie Travel Podcast listener, arrived about ten minutes later and we chatted for half an hour or so before hopping on a train and saying goodbye to Moroni and Mirka.
Petr had invited us to stay the night at his parents’ village, promising us tasty home cooking and delicious wine. We, of course, accepted. It took about an hour and a half to get to the tiny village of Ra?ice, and we were enthusiastically welcomed by Petr’s parents, who promptly sat us down and fed us goulash. It was delicious, as was the two-colour cake that came next. I naively thought that since we’d had dessert, the meal was over, but no. We moved into the lounge, where we found an array of toasted sandwiches, cheeses, dried meat, and vegetables from Petr’s mum’s garden. And then the wine came out…
Petr’s friend Lenka arrived by car and stayed for a couple of hours, and we all talked and ate, and talked and ate some more. Petr was kind enough to act as translator between us and his parents, who thought that we were lovely but a bad influence on their son — after all, he might want to do what we’re doing and take off travelling.
Saturday 29/9: After a slight sleep in, we went downstairs for breakfast, where I won the favour of Petr’s mum by actually eating something. Then Petr took us for a short walk around the village, showing us his favourite viewpoints across the valley — it’s a really pretty place.
When we got back, lunch was ready — soup followed by roast pork, potato dumplings and cabbage. All very traditional and very very delicious. By the time we finished the large portions we’d been served (they called them “small”!) we were ready to do absolutely nothing for a while, so we sat around in the lounge and talked about travel.
After a final coffee and cake, it was time to go, so Petr and his parents showered us with gifts and Petr walked us down (quite steeply down) to the train station, where we caught the first of our two trains back to Prague.
We’re staying at Fusion Hotel, a new luxury hostel very conveniently located about ten minutes’ walk from the main station. Our room is a “high-bed” room — when set up for two people, it’s got the two top bunks aligned together, but no bottom bunks. Instead, there’s a sofa below, which can be converted into another bed when the room’s being used as a four-bed dorm. The decoration is pretty cool, and the bed is comfortable, but some of the installations seem to be having teething issues.
Sunday 30/9: After a delicious breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we recorded the podcast then headed across town to Moroni and Mirka’s place. In keeping with his family system, Moroni promptly put me into the kitchen to prepare lunch… well, I did the easy stuff and Moroni and Mirka took over when it got hard. We had a delicious dish of potato dumplings mixed with a cheesy sauce and topped with bacon — yum.
After lunch we walked to the Vysehrad Gardens, where we admired the view and checked out the cemetery before having a beer or two in Moroni’s favourite outdoor bar, which also had a fantastic view of the city. We finished the day with dinner back at Moroni and Mirka’s place.
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