European Rail Adventure week #8: Cologne, Germany and back to the USA

It is truly amazing how quickly two months can pass by. Our last stop before returning home was Cologne. While there, we took a day trip to Cochem, which was a nice place to wrap up our stay.

We are home now, trying to overcome jet lag. We learned so much from traveling around by train; I put together a few thoughts that might be helpful if you are planning a trip to Europe, whether you are traveling by train or not. I hope you have enjoyed reading about our adventures!

Cologne, Germany

Cochem, Germany

Top Tips for European Travel by Train

 

European Rail Adventure week #7: Belgium and the Netherlands

Brussels is where we hung our hats for our time in Belgium, but we also visited a couple of other places. Belgium is a small country, so it is very easy to take day trips from Brussels. It was a bit disconcerting at first to find that there are very few places with English translations. Brussels is predominantly French-speaking, but Dutch is also commonly spoken, so signage is in both languages. If you don’t speak either language, it does complicate matters a bit!

Brussels, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Antwerp, Belgium

Vibrant, hip, eclectic – we’re in Rotterdam! What a change of scenery from the other European cities we’ve visited! It turns out our hotel is the “Cool District” – how cool is that?! We visited Rotterdam a year ago as part of a European Cities Cruise. Our experience here was a bit mixed, given our travel “don’t” visit to Kinderdijk, (Rotterdam), but we decided to spend a few days here as a cheaper alternative to staying in Amsterdam. The train ride in to Amsterdam is only 40 minutes and the trains run frequently, so it is easy to get into the “big” city. Rotterdam is a big city in its own right, but it is a completely different vibe than Amsterdam.

 

Amsterdam

Utrecht, the Netherlands

 

 

 

 

European Rail Adventure week #6: Munich-ish

I wish I could post pictures of Munich, but though we have been here for a little over a week, we have not actually toured the city! Instead, we have used it as a hub for other adventures. The city is located about 2 hours away from other places we wanted to visit. Unfortunately, on the days that we were in Munich, we had a rainout and a sick day, so never did get to see the sights here. Obviously, we will need to come back again to explore!

Salzburg/Sound of Music Tour (sort of)

Neuschwanstein Castle

Dachau Concentration Camp

The Romantic Road

Innsbruck, Austria

 

 

European Rail Adventure Week #4: Vienna and Budapest

Two beautiful cities filled with amazing architecture, delicious food, friendly people, and fabulous culture. What more could a person want?

Not counting travel day, we had two days to tour each of the cities. The cemetery in Vienna was particularly interesting. Visiting a cemetery may not be at the top of everyone’s list for sightseeing, but this one was unique.

Walking Tour of Vienna

Vienna’s Central Cemetery

Train to Budapest – don’t stop in Kelenföld!

Budapest, Hungary

European Rail Adventure Week 3: Krakow and Prague

The best part of Krakow is how walkable it is! Stare Miasto, the Old Town area is very compact and utterly charming. It is surrounded by a park with plenty of benches that are perfect for taking a break from sightseeing. There are tour companies on every block offering tours to Auschwitz and to the Wieliczka Salt Mines as well as little trams that offer narrated tours (using headphones) that will take you to see Schindler’s Factory as well.

Every hour, a trumpet tune is broadcast from the Old Town Square. The tune ends abruptly. Legend has it that the original trumpeter was shot with an arrow, so the tune ends there.

It seems like every 3rd or 4th shop sells ice cream. My kind of place!

We did tours of Auschwitz and the Salt Mines, but were not able to get to Schindler’s Factory because it was closed for Armed Forces Day. Instead, we were treated to folk dancing and traditional music in the town square!

Train from Warsaw to Krakow

Tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau

Armed Forces Day Celebration in Krakow

Pictures of Old Town, Krakow

After a nearly 7 hour train ride from Krakow, we arrived in Prague. Our hotel was right in the heart of Old Town; a short cab ride away from the train station. The traffic was horrible but it was around 6 pm, so that may be the reason why. We used an app called Taxify, which seems to be similar to Uber. It was very convenient because our driver spoke no English; we obviously don’t speak any Czech.

We stayed at the Pushkin Apartments which is right across from the Apple Museum. I am not sure why there is an Apple Museum in Prague and certainly don’t intend to spend any money finding out why, either! Fortunately, the hotel had good soundproofing because lots of partying in the streets was going on until all hours. Unfortunately, there was no air conditioning so in order to block out the noise, we had to close the windows.

We were in Prague three days. It is called the fairy tale city, and it is immediately apparent why. According to our tour guide, Hitler loved the city so much that he planned to retire here. That probably explains why Prague was not bombed like other major European cities. They only experienced one day of bombing toward the end of the war (May 7, 1945). After the Nazis learned that Hitler had killed himself, they attacked. That attack was short-lived and so there was very little damage here.

During our time here, we did a free walking tour of the city with White Umbrella Tours, toured Prague Castle, and visited the area called Vsehrad. The heat wave continued for our entire stay and it looks like Vienna, our next stop, will be excessively hot as well.

Tour of Old Town Prague and Jewish Ghetto

Prague Castle

Vysehrad

European Rail Adventure, week 2: Berlin and Warsaw

We arrived at the Berlin HBF mid-afternoon on a Monday with the heat wave going strong. We had booked a room at the Motel One near the HBF and were relieved to find that it had air conditioning. Rather than trying to do any sightseeing in the worst heat of the day, we dropped off our bags and returned to the HBF to do some “housekeeping” items so that we could hit the ground running the following morning. We had pre-purchased Berlin Welcome Cards and had read that we would need to get them validated before using them the first time so wanted to know where to get that done. We also needed to get another travel diary page for our Eurail pass. You are required to fill in each train journey you take; since we are taking quite a few, we knew that we would run out of space on our form eventually. Since we had some time, we figured that this would be a good time to pick up a spare. Apparently, 4 o’clock on a Monday afternoon is not an optimal time to do either of these; the lines at both the TI and the DB office were out the door. Not worth the wait!

The HBF in Berlin is very modern and has multiple floors. At first glance, it is quite confusing. Trains arrive and depart from both the top and bottom level. The floors in between are comprised of multiple shops and restaurants. We wandered through, attempting to familiarize ourselves with the layout. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant, and then headed back to the room to finalize our plans for the next day.

The forecast for the week was for continued heat; by mid-morning each day, the temperature had already climbed to the 90’s and continued to climb until early evening, topping out at around 99. I knew that we would not want to do a lot of walking around in the heat but we really wanted to do a tour of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp so decided to do that on Tuesday. Wednesday, we would take the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. Thursday, we planned on visiting Checkpoint Charlie and the Topography of Terror Museum. There are so many other places here we would like to see, but realistically, it is not worth risking getting heat exhaustion or sunstroke, so we will return to Berlin another time in order to more fully experience it. There were several walking tours that we had planned on taking but again, given the weather, I knew I could not manage them.

Following Berlin, we headed to Warsaw for several days. Like Berlin, I had visited Warsaw in 1974. Things have definitely changed for the better there.

We will be visiting several Concentration Camps as part of our journey. These visits are deeply personal and meaningful for me, albeit very difficult.

As usual, click on the links below to read about our experiences:

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

A Pictorial Tour of Berlin

Topography of Terror, Berlin

Warsaw, Poland

European Rail Adventure, week 1

We have survived our first week! So far, so good. We arrived during a heat wave; the weather has ranged from 90 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit. The forecast for the next week is for more of the same. This Seattleite is having a tough time dealing with the heat! Nonetheless, we are having a wonderful time.

My intention is to update my blog weekly. We are currently in Berlin, an amazing city and will be heading to Warsaw in a couple of days. Click on the links below for what we’ve seen so far:

Flight to Frankfurt

Frankfurt, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Rüdesheim, Germany

Off to Europe!

  • Suitcases and backpacks packed
  • Cat at grandson’s
  • House cleaned
  • Mail held
  • Credit card companies notified
  • Reservations made and confirmed

It must be time for another adventure! We so enjoyed our jaunt around Great Britain last summer that we decided to do another train trip.

This time, we are heading to Europe for a two-month long trip that starts (and ends) in Frankfurt. Along the way, we will be stopping in Rüdesheim, Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, Venice, Munich, Belgium (Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp), the Netherlands (Rotterdam, Amsterdam), Cologne (with a side trip to Cochem) and finally, back to Frankfurt.

I am so excited to learn about the history and culture of the places we will be visiting. I am especially interested in the Eastern European countries. I visited Berlin and Warsaw in the summer of 1974 when they were “behind the iron curtain” and am anxious to see how they have changed. As a high school student, having armed guards point machine guns at me as I looked across the river from East to West Berlin definitely made a strong impression on me! Visiting communist countries gave me a whole new appreciation for the freedoms I took for granted as an American.

This trip took a considerable amount of planning. Besides the obvious, such as choosing an itinerary, finding hotels, and booking tours, there was the train portion. I naively assumed that this would be simple using a Eurail pass. Perhaps I have watched too many Rick Steves shows where he happily hops on and off trains around the continent. It turns out that there is a bit more to it than that! If you are interested in learning more, click here: Planning for a Eurail trip through Europe

As usual, I will try to post as we travel. This should be easier than when we cruise since we will have wi-fi everywhere we go. Of course, just because wi-fi is available doesn’t mean that it will be functional, so we shall see! I hope you enjoy reading about our adventures.

Panama Canal Cruise

For 21 days we  be cruised from New Orleans westward towards home (Seattle, Washington). The itinerary was been changed a couple of times (a recurring theme with NCL) so we had as many sea days as port days! It was definitely a relaxing cruise. The main attraction was (obviously) the Panama Canal. It was very hot and humid everywhere, similar to our time in Asia. A big difference? No air conditioning in most of the ports here.

New Orleans

Cozumel

Costa Maya

Harvest Cay

Cartagena, Colombia

Transiting the Panama Canal

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Leon, Nicaragua

Acapulco, Mexico

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico