Train to Praha. Mi Scusi!

We opted to avoid the tourist breakfast at the hotel this morning in favour of hunting down a local bakery or cafe – I was hoping for some typical local fare, but yale found well, I think it was a curry sausage house that happened to be open for breakfast? So breakfast ‘Stage One’, ended up being currywurst and fries for yale.  Yeurck!
A little further down the street, I found a famous bakery called Bäckerei Möbius that has been here since 1908, so we stopped for aSchwarzer Tee and some schnecken before doing another quick turn around the city.

The blue pipes that are used to move groundwater all over the city… not very attractive, but I imagine it would cost absolutete fortune to bury them all at this point. Memorial marker for a place where a medieval church had been but had been destroyed by bombing in WWII. Der Cholerabrunnen – the Dresden Cholera Fountain – was constructed in the mid-1840s for Baron Eugen von Gutschmid as a celebration of the sparing of the city from a Cholera epidemic that ravaged the region in 1841/2. No idea why, but it is covered in lizards…A nearby restaurant shows its ingenuity in getting around language barriers on menus. Advertising for a high-end jeweller – let’s not muck around, let’s show them we can make elaborate Rennaisance/Baroque masterpieces! Bit much for everyday wear, I think. The Semperoper Dresden looking much more impressive in the morning light. The back of the Katholische Hofkirche… needs some serious restoration work done. I think many of Dresden’s buildings could do with a bit of time under scaffold being cleaned – they appear to be wearing most of the 19th/20thC grime that most other European countries have long since cleaned up.

Fürstenzug in the day light:

We also stumbled into some open stores – at least two of which were perennial Christmas stores!  Exactly like the one we saw in Quebec in July – only with a clean, crisp, minimalist Nordic / Ikea feel to it. Also doubled back around on the Frauenkirche, and it was open this morning so we were able to go in and enjoy the interiors.
Saw the strangest ‘weird tourist’ moment in the church this morning when a woman put her €1 in the collection box to pay for a votive candle, and instead of lighting it and saying a prayer – she gave it to her kid who pocketed it.  No idea where they were from, but I’m never seen someone ‘buy’ a votive candle to take home before. Neumarkt: Our hotel. Lovely place, highly recommend it… and so cheap compared to Iceland!  😛  I have a feeling that is going to be a running theme for the rest of our stay in Eastern Europe.

For our next trick – we will be taking a train from Dresden to Praha… and the only thing I can think about is this guy in Eurotrip! Let’s hope he’s not on our train!

Now the next bit should have been easy – drop back the hire car at the Hertz place at the Dresden Hauptbanhof, which was barely 5 minutes drive from our hotel, and make our way to the correct train platform.  Only, we get to the train station and there are no signs directing customers to the Hertz rental returns and we drive around in circles for ten mintues looking for entrances on all the one way streets around the station. Eventually, I give up and phone them asking if someone at the end of the phone speaks English and asking for directions to return the vehicle.  Thankfully, the fellow on the phone kindly directs us to an underground carpark where we finally see a 1′ x 2′ sign saying ‘Hertz’ so we at least knew we had the right carpark.  We go in, and no more signs saying where to drop the vehicle so we take a ticket and go underground looking for the Hertz drop off!  Second floor down, we find half a dozen spaces marked, ‘Hertz’… but no staff and no office. We go up into the train station and yale leaves me with the luggage in search of an office -finding only a random desk with a 6″ x 9″ sign in among all the train ticketing offices and food stalls, where he then lines up for FORTY-FIVE minutes to hand back the keys.  No shit.

Stopped to fill up the petrol before taking the car back… was gobsmacked to find so much alcohol at places where you are about to get in your car and drive?!

We went from thinking we would have an hour and a half to kill to now running around looking for our platform – which according to the boards was Platform 3.  We make our way to Platform 3, only to see it all closed off with Police tape and plenty of uniformed officers standing around.  We have 10 minutes to our train now and I’m starting to go, ‘Oh fuck, fuck, fuck!’, in my head.  We ran over to an information desk and were told there was an unattended parcel on the platform so our train had been moved and just wait for the update on the boards. Argh!  A moment or so later, we find we have been moved to Platform 17, which of course is at the other end of the rather largish station, so we hightail it down there.On the way through – I saw this awesome luggage conveyor belt to help you get your luggage up long flights of stairs when there are limited or no lift facilities. Never seen anything so brilliant before in my life – Japan, New York, take notes: You need these!

Made it to our new platform, confirmed with some rather confused rail employees that we were indeed in the right place, and then had only a few minutes wait until our train arrived.  Phew.  I seriously hate the hurry up and wait of Transit Days!

The train was clean and comfortable though, but unfortunately, the onboard wifi didn’t appear to be working – that or my enquiring of the (possibily Czech) train conduction ‘Sprechen zie English?’ was off-putting and she decided not to tell us how to hook onto it.  😛

The countryside we were travelling was really pretty – for much of the journey, we were following the Elbe River.
We arrived in Prague around 3:30pm, and then went searching for taxis. On our way, we ran into another Aussie couple (the Crumpler bags and the 4163 postcode on their luggage tag told us they were from Victoria Point – about 20 mins from where I live!), they too were looking for cabs.  Directly exiting the station we found the cab rank – we needed to go all of 1.5km and they were going approximately 1.6km.  Walkable – but not really when you are dragging suitcases over cobblestones.  The cabbies were all charging flat rate of €15.00 or Kč500.00 to take you the 1.5kms to the city centre… which according to the online fare calculators, it should be somewhere around the Kč215.00 mark to do the trip.  Fuck the taxi industry – no wonder they have such shit reputations.  When I started working down the line looking for a cabbie who would agree to take us on the meter, they all refused and told me that there were taxis upstairs outside the bus station that do metered trips.  Get up to that rank and find the same bullshit ‘private car/flat rate’, Kč400.00 to get to the city.  Urgh.  It’s been a long day so once I managed two vehicles for our newly met neighbours from home, we capitulated and overpaid to get to our hotel.

We arrived at the Grand Hotel Praha and was chosen for its location and did not disappoint.  Like my trip a couple of years ago where the Trevi Fountain became almost like a personality in my stay, we had decided to stay right in Prague’s Old Town in a room with a view of the famous Prague Astronomical Clock. The view from our hotel window:

And just like Fontana Trevi – the place was overrun with people waiting for the clock to chime the hour.  The town square is packed, but I know it will be empty tomorrow morning and I will be able to get some quiet photos of the clock like it may have been hundreds of years ago.

After we got settled and showered and cleaned up a bit, we decided to go out for dinner to a restaurant that yale had found on Trip Advisor as having good local food at non-tourist prices, with decent service.  Sounds perfect.  Until we start walking there down some weird and winding little medieval backstreets covered in modern grafiti.  This was feeling less like the story of how we had a great meal, and rather more like the story of how we woke up missing a kidney in some obscure basement in Prague!As it turns out the Mlejnice Restaurant in Kozna Street is right where those barn doors are, and once we looked in, it was plenty cosy with loads of patrons.The menu was quite extensive, it was hard to choose what to have – it’s so nice to be back in the world of affordable food again!

Home made spicy pickled sausage:
Baked brie with cranberry sauce served with toast: And we totally over orded for our mains (after Icelandic food being rather fancy and small plated):   Roast duck in Blueberry Sauce: Potatoes with cream, Niva blue cheese and a bit of garlic: Beef goulash in a loaf of bread: Apple Strudel with whipped cream and Vanilla ice cream:This is happy full yale – who ordered everything he wanted and yet the bill came in just under AUD$70 including 3 pints of cider and 15% included tip!  Madness. If everything feels relative to Iceland, I think yale can afford to eat again after his two-week crash diet of cuppa noodles and wraps made in the back of the car for lunch!With full tummies and a cider buzz, we talk a short turn around the Prague Old Town looking at all the touristy shit.  The place sure has changed since I was here back in 1995… so many visitors, and flashing lights and massage parlours ( 😮 ), and souvenir stores.  And in a direct radius out from them – ALL the hugely expensive designer shopping brands, and I mean ALL of them.  It’s weird, right?  Tacky tacky souvenirs, and then across the street and fanning out – Tiffany, Boucheron, Cartier, Philippe Patek, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and on and on and on. They’re all here.

Hoping for an early night tonight – tomorrow we are cramming in a big day of sightseeing, so it was back to the hotel.  On the way I stopped to check the time… can you believe people are cheering every time the chimes go off on the hour?  Thank goodness we have double glazing  😉

Kveðjum Reykjavik; Willkommen zu Dresden

Transit day today… and what do we know about transit days?  In advance, we already know they are already going to suck. No matter what.  This one was starting at 3am local time, so there was likely to be an unlimited amount of suckage in store.

We packed and made our way quietly out of the Spirit House, in the dark and the cold, so we could then drive the 45 minutes out to Keflavik to drop off our trusty Jeep.  I’m glad we decided to get a larger vehicle – which was primarily chosen to accommodate 6’9″ of yale – but was super useful when we found ourselves driving through a snowstorm on the way to Myvatn with gusts up to 125kmph!  I honestly wouldn’t want to be doing that in a little Kia Picanto and it probably would have thrown our itinerary right out.

I felt moderately sorry for the people working at the rental car drop off centre (which is about five mins drive from the airport), having to be at work at 4am every day in the freezing cold, dark of early winter in Iceland.  But I’m afraid the sympathy was shortlived.  Their lack of greeting, lack of acknowledgement and overall lack of fucks given in helping us get to the airport in a timely fashion, quickly overcome any sympathy I had for them in their unfortunate chosen profession.  Many of the people working these sorts of tourist gigs are Polish apparently, and they were not so friendly when we arrived at 3pm on a lovely Saturday afternoon and have been even less friendly when we were leaving at 4am on a Wednesday morning.

Anyway, we dropped off the car and now I may have to wait up to 5-10 working days for the 290,000 ISK  insurance hold they put on my credit card to be released.  Urgh.

This morning we discovered some of the reasons why KEF (Keflavik Airport) regularly pops up in lists of the ‘World’s Worst Airports’ – even at 4am the place is chaos.  The self-check-in kiosks don’t work, you can’t print your own luggage tags, so you’ll obediently follow the signs saying you should ‘self-check-in and then proceed to baggage drop area’, only to do that and then end up in a queue waiting to get assistance anyway… where there are three different queues to get said assistance, and it looks like everyone is half asleep waiting in the one huge queue while the other two languish empty (actually this bit helped us as we found the quickest queue) and there’s no staff around directing sleepy travellers to where they need to be.  You get past the check-in and are greeted by half a kilometre of EMPTY rope lines that you are forced to march back and forth through, with a rather severe-looking customs officer standing nearby dissuading you from undoing the ropes so you could have traversed the 30m area more directly instead. And once through the screening and duty-free nonsense – the lounge areas are food court LOUD.  On the upsdie, they do have super quick wifi though, so I guess that’s something. We eventually boarded our plane – from the tarmac, of course, they don’t appear to have more than half a dozen airbridges at this entire facility.

Kveðjum Iceland… bless, bless! It’s been an amazing couple of weeks. We had an uneventful though not overly comfortable flight. Icelandair is a budget airline so it’s bend over with the sandy lube if you want a yoghurt or a sandwich mid-air, and the cabin was freezing cold, yet when I asked for a blanket – they had ‘run out’.  So I got to shiver my way to Berlin. I put on a movie which I now can’t even remember the name of, (something about illegal money being dropping at bars, Tom Hardy, I don’t know – typical crap, lots of ‘entertaining’ violence), and proceeded to nod off throughout the film.

We arrive in Berlin around 13:20 and it’s a balmy 23°C  😀  After only a minimal amount of stuffing around at TXL – Berlin Tegel Airport – we picked up a hire car and hit the road headed to Dresden.  Enroute we found ourselves stopped in traffic for roadworks and were inching back and forth with no fewer than nine of these police vehicles – right up until they got sick of the delay and hit their flashy flashy lights and the ever obedient predominantly German drivers moved out of the way, parting the traffic like the Red Sea.  Damn I wish we could have followed them!  We were stuck for about another 20mins or so. Once we got out into the clear again, the Real German motoring experience kicked in and we found oursevles cruising along at 125kmph watching every man and his dog overtaking us like we were stationery!

We arrived in Dresen just as twilight was starting.  We are only staying overnight here on our way to Prague, so won’t have much time for playing tourist.
We made our way to the Aparthotel Am Schloss (Hotel at the Castle) and found ourselves in the most enormous studio apartment I have ever seen in an inner city European city.  It was easily 20′ square, without the bathroom (that is bigger than our main bathroom at home!) and 16′ ceilings.  Not only was it huge, but it was also about 25.00 cheaper than most of the guesthouses we have been staying at in Iceland! We quickly checked in and went for a wander around town before we lost the light.

Dresden Cathedral aka the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, previously called the Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony, also called, in German, Katholishe Hofkirche and since 1980 also known as Cathedral Sanctissimae Trinitatis!  It is the main Catholic Cathedral of Dresden. I remember the many names things from churches we visited in Russia – no idea why they do that.

The  Münzkabinett, or coin collection museum.

Dresden Frauenkirche, Church of Our Lady.  Originally built in the 18th century, the church was completely destroyed in the bombing of Dresden during World War II. The ruins were left as ruins, for 50 years as a sort of war memorial.  Howver after the reunification of Germany started in 1994, the church was rebuilt with the exterior completed only in 2004 and the interior completed in 2005.  That could explain why it looks so clean compared to other buildings of similar age in the city. Statue dedicated to Martin Luther. The Neumarkt square surrounding the Frauenkirche has many impressive baroque buildings that also underwent extensive reconstruction in 2004. Neumarkt with the afternoon sun falling on the Frauenkirche

The Fürstenzug is a long, dramatic mural made of porcelain tiles which depict the history of the various Saxon rulers.At 102m long, it is considered the largest known porcelain artwork in the world. The mural represents ancestral portraits of the 35 margraves, electors, Dukes and Kings of the House of Wettin between 1127 and 1904.

Statue of “Friedrich August dem Gerechten”, (important dead white guy -Frederick Augustus I was a member of the House of Wettin who reigned as Elector of Saxony from 1763 to 1806 and as King of Saxony from 1806 to 1827) outside the Oberlandesgericht Dresden (Dresden Courthouse).Semperoper Dresden or the Dresden Opera House, which was originally built in 1841, but was rebuilt by the original architect after a fire destroyed it in 1869.The Zwinger and the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Museum of Fine Arts.  Unfortunately closed this evening and we won’t have time to see it in the morning *sad face*.  That is the real tragedy of transit days.

After having a quick tourist sprint around the city we found somewhere to have a bit of dinner – it was actually a little difficult to find somewhere with a nice local looking menu.  We walked past two Mexican places, a couple of Italian places, one French restaurant and even a Swiss restaurant (fondue!?) before deciding to have dinner at the Freiberger Schankhaus – and mostly because a ‘Schankhaus’ sounded like somewhere we wanted to be after hunting so hard for local fare!

Here they served, beer, beer and beer.  But no cider.  The menu was as we had hoped and full of good German food options. Rye bread made in house served with crackling fat (that looks alarming like gelato but has the texture of butter). I tried the Braised Ox Cheek served with Mashed Potatoes and Carrots – no bloody celeriac paste in sight!  It was delicious, though not the sort of slow cooked falling apart texture you tend to expect from beef cheek.
yale ordered the Shankhaus Pan – roast pork, smoked pork, roasted blood sausage, barbeque sausage with bacon and pickled cabbage and fried potatoes.  I’ve never seen him defeated by a meal before, but I guess after a bowl of Lentil Stew and having nearly all the crunchy rye bread with crackling fat, it was bound to happen!

Then it was back to the Aparthotel Am Schoss for a well earned sleep before hitting, yes!  Another transit day tomorrow!  Why, you might ask?  Well, it’s because they won’t let us take a car hired in Germany into most of Eastern Europe.  So we have had to ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ to visit all the places we want to.

It’s going to be quite the adventure!

Warnemunde and Rostock

As a cruise port, most people use Warnemunde as a gateway to Berlin, but if you’ve been to Berlin before or you think Berlin needs more than just eight hours of exploration, then you might find yourself exploring the little seaside towns of Rostock and Warnemunde instead. Which is what we decided to do today.

Rostock is the largest city in the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, located on the Warnow River.  It is a beautiful university town, with the University of Rostock at its centre having been founded in the early 1400s.

The Neuer Markt with its double gabled houses and vaulted cellars were built in 1270.

Directly opposite is the Rostock Town Hall, which is a large baroque fronted building with seven brickwork spires.Right next to this centre part of town is the St Marien Church.  With buildings across narrow streets right beside this church on every side, it is very difficult to stand back far enough to take a photo of the outside of the building – but it is a stunning and very significant church having been built in 1230 and it contains a unique medieval astronomical clock.Stained glass in the southern portal windows depicting “Christ as the Judge of the World”.  Tirolean stained glass painting. c.1904.  Wing of the Our Lady Altar, the painting depicting scenes from the passion of Christ.  (c1430-1440AD). The Prince’s Gallery and pipe organ were added in 1749-1751 for Duke Christian Ludwig II who reigned at this period.  The two-storey organ was Rostock local, Paul Schmidt, however from the outset, the instrument was deemed wheezy and it needed considerable restoration work as early as 1791.  The present organ dates from 1938 and was made in Frankfurt.  It is a 4-manual siding chest organ with electro-pneumatic action and 83 stops with 4 free combinations (which no doubt means something to someone, but very little to me).  It certainly is quite an impressive work of art. Both the organ, the Prince’s Gallery, and the pulpit which was added around the same time have been executed in a soft olive green with gilded accents to maintain a singular colour scheme with the main altar. The main altar was created by cabinet maker Kahlert and painters Hohenschildt, Marggraf and Bromann. Behind the main altar is the most extraordinary astronomical clock that was made in 1472, attributed to master clockmaker Hans Duringer.  Before this, Duringer made the Danzig Clock at St Mary’s in Danzig, which together with the Rostock Clock makes the ‘Baltic Clock Family’.  This clock in Rostock is the only one that still has its medieval clockworks, which are still in working order.  From 1641-1643, it was renovated and extended, figures were changed and a carillon was added.  The latest restoration occurred between 1974 and 1977.The clock consists of a calendarium and a clock face, figures of the apostles stand in niches at the top, and Christ is depicted in the middle.  At midday and midnight, one of the apolstlyst walks from right to left and the carillon plays at ever other hour. The field below shows the time of day, the zodiac with the appropriate month sign, the position of the sun, and the phases of the moon.   The calendarium is approximately 2m in diameter and revolves 360 degrees one every year.   Carved figures supporting the calendarium. In the northern portal is this spectacular triptych altar piece. Fountain in the Rostock University Square. The Kropelin Gate is a magnificent fortification gate built in 1280, one of 22 former city gates.  Now the ultra modern KTC shopping center sits incongruously right beside it! View from the top of the Kropelin Gate… below are part of the medieval walled fortress. Canon balls. Kropelin Gate. After wandering Rostock a little more and doing some shopping, the weather started to come in.  Normally when this happens, I head for a museum, and Rostock has an excellent museum – the Kulturhistorisches Museum of Rostock.  Unfortunately for us, it’s a Monday and that means, (in the habitually annoying habit of museums the world over), that all the museums in the town were unhappily closed today.  Instead, we decided to head back to Warnemunde to find a nice German pub to warm up and to find a couple of pints and maybe some schnitzel… as you do!

I honestly thought I was ordering a chicken fillet burger of some sort… the menu said: ‘hamburger chicken schnitzel) – turned out to be chicken schnitzel with potato and an egg on it!  Delicious still.
And… mulled wine!The canals of Warnemunde. A quaint little fountain I found in a back street… I could find no information on this and not being able to read the plaque that was situated beside it, it remains a mystery.  🙂  European lock habits strike again. As luck would have it we have arrived in the area in the middle of the summer strawberry festival – I have never seen so many strawberry based products before… strawberry soft drink, strawberry liquor, strawberry hand creams and beauty products, strawberry confectionery and strawberry homewares!

We had a lovely day in Rostock, my only lament was that the historical and cultural museum was shut.. but you have to be somewhere on a Monday when you’re traveling, and unfortunately we were here.

The port of Warnemunde is a very busy little place, and quite a nice stop for an easy day of cultural immersion instead of running all the way to Berlin and doing the headless chook thing.

I found this schedule of ships that were due in during the 2017 season – the Regal Princess is the biggest one that calls in here.