Visit to London…

It was May 31st, 2014 when I arrived in London. The bus from Amsterdam dropped us off at a non-descript bus station in what seemed like the middle of town. It was 6:30 AM and I was a little rummy from lack of sleep. As I headed off with my luggage, I asked a couple guys I’d talked to during the bus ride if they knew where I needed to go to find my hostel. With the new directions in hand, and discovering that the hostel was fairly close, I invited one of the guys for some coffee so I could pick his brain about London since he lived here and all. He didn’t have much money left after his trip on the continent and appreciated the breakfast I paid for while I appreciated the info he gave me about London. And then he says, “I’ve got some time, would you like to walk over to Buckingham Palace after breakfast?” Hah! Now that’s handy. Sure, let’s do it. So off we went to BP. This early in the morning, traffic is light, not many tourists around, and I was totally unaware that we only needed to walk maybe 5-6 blocks.  See that flag? It means that the Queen IS in residence in the palace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I asked him where the doorbell is, because I wanted to say Hi to the queen, and share some crumpets and tea. And invite her to take over the colonies again since our congress didn’t seem to have any idea how to govern anymore. We couldn’t find a single doorbell. Damn.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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On the way to Amsterdam…

Next morning I quickly checked for any answers from AirBnB hosts for a room in Amsterdam. Nothing but a couple more rejections. Damn. Well, I thought, when I get to Amsterdam I’ll impose on a taxi driver to find me a hotel room or something. Still wondered what the deal was…why everything was booked? I began to wonder, based on the kinds of rejection notes I was getting, that had I’d been a cute 20 something woman if the hosts might not have suddenly had an open bed for me.

Well, whatever, made my way to the train station and off we went.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Pretty nice train. Large comfortable seats with enough empties that I had a table all to myself. Have to say it was really fast and smooth ride too. Boarded around 9:30 AM. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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2nd & 3rd Day in Berlin…

One thing you notice about Berlin…is that it looks new and modern. I am well aware of WWII and the nearly total destruction of the city and it was interesting to see some of the few buildings that survive relatively unscathed. The building I was staying in, for instance. Before the war, it was a home for orphaned Jewish deaf children. After Hitler took over, the staff and children were hustled off to Dachau and presumably murdered. Across the street from the Cityhostel where I stayed is a small park that has a commemoration plaque listing the names, and a statue dedicated to those lost souls. The park is one stop of many in Berlin on the Jewish atrocities tour. There was no hiding it, as the Germans tried to do for a while shortly after the war. Hundreds of thousands of them were shocked by the atrocities they were forced by the allies to see first hand. But there were many thousands of average citizens who knew what was going on but chose to turn a blind eye.

It’s funny that most of my life, when I’d run into a German, they would often bring up the Holocaust. Not something I would normally do, but those random strangers I’d met over the years often did. Collective guilt I always thought. The last time it happened was just last year in Mexico when I met a couple of retired Germans traveling around the world in their custom RV. We were talking about my planned visit to Europe, and Germany in particular, and they brought up Hitler and the Holocaust. Apologising for it. I explained to them that ‘we’, meaning most of the educated rest of the world our ages, didn’t hold the current older German generation responsible. It was their fathers and mothers, but even then, we weren’t blaming them. As science had shown that under the right circumstances, any peoples on earth would have probably done the same thing with a charismatic but sociopathic leader like they had had in Hitler.

Anyway, my point is that even though Germany is now a modern, secular, inclusive society, it does have a nasty history…but they aren’t hiding it. Far from it, if you have a curiosity about WWII, or are Jewish, there is plenty of tourist information specifically for you. And plenty of things to see that directly relates to those subjects. I didn’t seek them out, but I’d run into things like that as it seemed there was some historic plaque on nearly every older building. I must have bumped into 4 or 5 Jewish Holocaust tours while wandering around Berlin. Since I’ve read many books and watched numerous documentaries over the years about WWII and the Holocaust, that wasn’t my main interest. Fact is, now that I was here, I couldn’t think of any real compelling reason to come here at all, except to say that I’d been to Berlin. Whoop-tee-doo. Maybe if I was the type to go find a beer garden and spend hours there? Oh, I remember why I went. Because my brother was stationed in Germany when he was in the army and used to go on and on of how cool it was here.

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1st Full day in Berlin…

The main floor of the hostel was very nice, with a long bar, comfy couches with lots of nearby electrical outlets, free breakfast, and uncrowded rooms. There is a central, open courtyard of which my, and every other interior room on the 4th floor, had a nice view. My room is around 25 feet long and 12 feet wide with 2 sets of bunk beds, then a single bed that I took, and a set of small lockers that were positioned right next to my head. You might think having my roommates noisily opening and closing lockers right next to my sleeping head might be a problem, but it turned out not to be, for which I was thankful. The two gurls who came in the first night and bunked next to me were on a whirlwind tour of Berlin and toured the city during the day, then stayed out late every night, but also got up early every morning to jog. So I hardly saw, or heard them.

The room had very large windows letting in lots of light, with heavy curtains that could be pulled closed if you wanted to sleep in the daytime. If the weather would have been better, I’d have probably spent more time in the courtyard down below as it was very inviting, just off the dining room. As it was, there were only a couple times it was warm enough to spend much time there. Though we did have mostly cloudy weather and some rain showers, occasionally the sun would burst through and smile on us for an hour or two at a time. And it tended to be fairly chilly even then so jacket weather mostly during my stay.

Now that I was in Germany, I was kind of at a loss about what I wanted to see here in Berlin. I’d been traveling for over a month, and was kind of museumed out if you know what I mean, so little I was finding online interested me as far as tourist attractions go.

Ok, well, I’ll just tour around. The hostel had brochures for bus tours and such, so I’ll do what I’ve done other places in Europe, take a bus tour to get oriented, then go back and visit interesting places I’d seen on the bus tour. And then there was one bike rental place the hostel recommended that seemed like something I’d like to do too.

The bus tours started just a block or 3 away from the hostel which was handy. Staged right next to a park. Had this cool naked lady. It’s the Neptune Fountain. Seems to be a copy of the one in Florence, Italy. But, whatev. Still pretty cool.

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4th Day in Prague and on to Berlin…

This is from my 4th day in Prague and this was just a sit around and relax day. I’d made arrangements a couple days before to travel to Berlin and the best way for me was by bus. Today, after a low cost breakfast at the hostel, I just spent lounging, internet, email, catching up with my cartoon reading…that sort of thing. But later that evening, I once again had dinner at The Green Tomato. This was stuffed chicken breast with sauteed veggies. Very good.

Note the loop string attached to my glasses. I’ve been known to put them down in my own house, 330 square feet of living space RV, and not find them again for hours. And in a couple instances, a couple days to find them when they’d fallen between the nightstand and the bed. But, whatever, on this trip I made sure I brought a bunch of those neck straps for my glasses. They really helped! Now, it just happened this night I’d taken them off and laid them on the table, but usually they’d be dangling around my neck. It was just too easy to wander off when distracted from nearly anywhere while traveling, but these loops prevented lost glasses time and time again. Anyway, I got 10 of them for $3 back in the states and I’m happy I did. I will use them whenever I’m traveling from now on.IMG_20140525_172538 And a last shot of the street right outside the hostel. I took the shot because I like the sidewalks with patterns in them. Cool.IMG_20140525_184101

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3rd Day in Prague…

I was having an excellent time in Prague, and I really appreciated how stuff was so low cost here in the Czech Republic. I also met so many happy 20 somethings, well aware of their luck of having been born too late to ‘enjoy’ the ‘benefits’ of the Soviet brand of communism. They have a mostly socialist state, but now with western style open market consumerism alongside. Hordes of tourists are now flooding into CR because it’s easy and fun, especially Prague. With all their money, they are causing the current building boom, refurbishments, and long neglected restorations. This helps keep many employed. As does the expanding service sector mostly there to service the tourists.  The city is no longer the dull and drab gray that personified a typical Soviet satellite city for so many decades.

The city is charming, though I was hoping for the opportunity to go into the country and browse around a small village or two. And the next day I just wandered around, eventually ending up in the old town square. Where stuff happens. I happened to notice a flyer that was a presentation of Bach and Mozart in a church right on the square. It didn’t start until 18:00 so I planned to show up in the square around 16:00. On the walk there, happened upon a crystal shop and this is their stuff. Wow. Gorgeous.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see all the tents set up. This was the day before a special soccer game day or something. I forget. Lots of stuff going on in the town square. Over where those trees are, to the right of that church, is a restaurant with bunches of outdoor tables set up inside that area, which turns out is a park. That’s where I wanted to eat because their menu featured Beef Goulash. Now I’m aware there’s several ways to make goulash but I especially wanted to try the goulash here in Prague since I believed they invented it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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2nd Day in Prague…

My room was very nice…along with the rest of the hotel, it had ultra hip drawings, paintings, and color scheme. In their ads, they call it a ‘Funky Design Hotel’. Some of the quotes painted on the walls were thought provoking, but most were funny. Nearly all of them in English. The bathroom had a very dark color scheme which didn’t quite go with the bright and airy room, but, it served it’s purpose. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel, they really do save you quite a bit of money. For instance, I was paying 22€/night here for a shared room where a private room would have cost me 55€. And the 22€ per night here is kind of spendy as most hostels charge under 20€. Can’t remember why I chose this one as it was a spur of the moment decision to go to Prague. But I did tend to read all reviews about a potential place I’d be staying. I pretty much only used hostels.com. If I was to go back to Prague this coming May, I’d stay here: Prague Tyn. It’s only $22/night for a private room, comes with breakfast. Should have stayed there instead of the Fusion.

When you’re a sightseeing traveller, you hardly do anything in your room except shower and sleep so having other people share the space isn’t that big a deal. In my room, there were 4 beds, but most people only stay one night and travel on, there were two nights here in Prague when I had the room to myself. Sometimes you’ll have women roommates, other times someone will be a snorer (all hostels sell foam ear plugs, this hostel had them at 3 freaking Euros !!! a pair when all over the world they are usually much much less).

Next morning, I wandered downstairs (my room was on the 2nd floor) and ordered a breakfast prominently featured on the menu board. This place didn’t have free breakfast like most hostels. I ordered scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, and toast. For around 5€. It was terrible. The eggs were under cooked…ruiny. The bacon…way undercooked, the fat was still white. Toast was under cooked. Coffee was weak. Gah. Horrible. The cook had no idea how to prepare a breakfast. Guess that’s why I saw so many people ordering porridge or cold cereal for breakfast. I picked at the meal and did find the sausages eatable, and a bit of the eggs. The bacon? No.

After that poor assed excuse for a breakfast, joined the tour group of about 25 people and off we went to join our guide. Hostel staff guided us to a street corner and then we waited for our tour guide. We’re standing around, I’m noticing many notices and street signs and I’ve now been here in Prague for a few hours and have noticed that I cannot make sense of a single word in Czech that I’ve seen. In Italy and France, at least once in a while I could make out a words meaning, a street name, a service, a type of business, etc., but not here in Prague. I could not figure out a thing. So I asked the tour assembler, are there any tricks to trying to figure out your language you could teach me? Any simplified rules? He looks at me in all seriousness and says, “Don’t even try”. Hah! Funny.

And, “I could not figure out a thing”, is “Nemohl jsem přijít na věc” in Czech. See what I mean? Where’s the pronoun? So street names, signs on buildings, menus, etc. were just Greek to me. Here’s a building. Loved the pattern.

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Heading for Prague…

As I said last issue, my last two days were not all that noteworthy. I just wandered around town, took a 2nd leisurely trip out to If Castle, gawked at the ocean and the cool sailboats in the harbor, and the beautiful women everywhere, etc. I did do my laundry the day before I left so I’d have a bag full of clean clothes when I got to Prague. I walked over to the north side museum and fort, but just couldn’t bring myself to spend my last few hours in Marseille inside there. Sort of walked around it and then just walked on.

The morning came to take the subway over to the Marseille airport and since my plane didn’t board until 10:45, I had plenty of time. When I did get into the security line, my computer went in one bin, luggage bag in the next, then various other items not usually separated from your bags at other airports in a 3rd bin. They had strict rules (I thought) about what had to be removed from your luggage and placed in separate bins.  I had my small can of shave cream confiscated, and when I quietly complained, the agent says I can buy mini cans anywhere. Bullshit. I’d looked in at least 50 stores around Europe by this time in my trip and that simply wasn’t true. BTW, they have a much simpler way to handle the bins at this airport, down below the roller tables were ‘return’ roller pathways where you’d put your empty bin when you reached the end of the line and it would make its own way back to the beginning. No running out of bins like they do in US airports all the time. Eventually we made it through though and soon we’re on the plane.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When I’d arranged this trip, I had found that the Prague Airport is miles outside of town, around 20KM. Way too far for a taxi to be economical. Originally I was planning on taking the bus, but then I found a shuttle service on the internet that would take you right to your door. Nice new vans or cars, uniformed drivers, and quite inexpensive, comparatively. It was still early in the day when I got down to the area in the airport where I was suppose to meet my driver (pre-arranged online). I see a line of 20 drivers from my service, and other services were there as well, holding up signs, but my name was nowhere to be found. So I just hung around and nearby bought some Czech money. The driver was suppose to meet me soon after my flight landed. After an hour, I’m starting to wonder. So I go and ask 2-3 of the drivers still there. Most of the other drivers had picked up their rides. They sort of just shrugged or said they didn’t know or whatever. None of them offered any suggestions or reached for a phone to call their office. Well, crap, something screwed up about this. So I go outside (beautiful weather, shirt sleeve) where the buses and taxis and locals picking up family are. I see a bus I can take but I really don’t know where I’m going so not quite sure the bus idea will work. I’m aware that the taxis from the airport to downtown are very, very expensive and every travel guide I’d read told me to avoid them at all costs. On the other hand, I had the address to my hostel and they could take me right to the front door.

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5th Day in Marseille…

So today’s plan was to walk past the harbor, visit the fort overlooking the harbor entrance, retrace my steps back to board the subway, to the train station, hop on the Cassis train, make my way to the Cassis Harbor by bus or taxi, buy a boat ticket to visit the French Fjords, spend a couple hours on a boat, have a nice dinner there in Cassis, then back to Marseille. That was my hoped for adventure.

Early in the morning, near 8 AM, I’d already walked the couple miles from my apartment to the southern tip of the harbor. The Fort St. Nicolas complex is a fort built atop an outcropping overlooking the sea at the mouth of the Marseille Harbor. There’s a museum in the area too. I’d hoped to be able to tour the entire complex over a couple hours but when I walked up to the forts gate, a construction manager shooed me away, because they weren’t open yet. I could see lots of interesting stuff though. The construction manager had his office in an old rock carved room with a desk, drawing table strewn with drawings, a landline phone, a strangely anachronistic computer and printer, etc. I ask if I could go into the courtyard for pictures? Not for another year he tells me. I saw a sign to that effect just before entering the open main gate, but didn’t really pay attention. They do allow people to wander around the outer grounds of the fort, but not the inner section. Here’s a shot just after entering the main gate on the right, climbing those stairs and up the path to the main fort entrance.

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3rd & 4th Day in Marseille…

Another beautiful day in Marseille…I was NOT regretting my decision to travel down here. Another beginning to what looked like a weather perfect day. What was happening though was that we had a very early morning rainstorm. I could feel it and smell it on the breeze when I got up. And see the puddles down on the street. Storms heading north to Paris it turned out.

As you might imagine, after a month doing the tourist dance in Europe, I was getting to a point where I wanted to take my time and spend more time sitting than walking. I felt I should leave walking, jogging, and running to those times I’d need to catch a form of public transportation or escape a band of thieves. Not that I worried much about thieves, but doesn’t hurt to be constantly prepared and vigilant.

Today was going to be a tour bus day, but not until after I visited the outdoor market for some fresh fruit and veggies.

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