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

 

 

China/Japan Cruise

We just spent 11-days sailing the high seas, exploring the coast of China and Japan. Now that I have Wi-Fi again, I will be posting the details of our trip. I will post about China today; I will post about Japan when we get back to the US – apparently there is no such thing as a 3-prong outlet in our hotel in Japan, so I don’t have enough juice to post about the Japanese ports. Bummer!

Embarkation Day

Xiamen, China

Shanghai, China

Tianjin, China

Back to Hong Kong

We were in Hong Kong just over a year ago so have recently seen the “tourist spots” in town.

This time around we just took it easy, wandering around neighborhoods and soaking up the atmosphere. I took some time off of writing about our adventures and took only a few pictures. I will just share my general impressions rather than my usual detailed post: Hong Kong 2018

If you are interested in a more detailed view of Hong Kong, along with plenty of pictures, here are my posts from last year’s trip:

Land Ho! 

HO HO!

To Market! To Market!

Christmas Eve

Christmas Day in Hong Kong

Locked Up Abroad?

Have you ever watched “Locked Up Abroad” on Nat Geo channel? Think of Midnight Express only world-wide. The show focuses on those that are stupid enough to try to smuggle drugs out of various countries in various ways. Invariably they are caught and have that “Oh, my God” moment when they are stopped at customs. From there, they are led to a special room to be interrogated and eventually arrested. Why do I bring this up? Read on.

We decided to fly to Hong Kong from Hanoi. Good decision, by the way. The train trip from Saigon to Hanoi was enough train travel to sate me for a few months, at least.

Our hotel arranged a shuttle to the airport bright and early in the morning. It was a pleasant drive since we were heading out of town, so not as much traffic. We passed by a large flower market. Do you know that the flower markets in Vietnam are open all night long and close in the morning?

We were dropped off at the international departures area at Noi Bai Airport. Check-in was easy enough. Our bags were weighed; we were given our boarding passes (JetStar Airlines did not allow web check-in for this particular flight). Did you know that some Asian airlines also weigh your carry-on bag? No more than 7 kg allowed for your carry-ons. Anyhow, we were pointed to a checkpoint on the way to immigration.

Clayton’s boarding pass and passport were scanned; he was passed through to immigration. I expected the same for me because, why not? The uniformed officer scanned my boarding pass and instead of waving me through, gestured me to stop, grabbed his walkie-talkie and started talking. Of course, he spoke not a word of English. Let’s just say he sounded very, very serious. I had no idea what the problem could be. At least my conscience was clear because I definitely wasn’t carrying any contraband. However, this is a communist country and just because I was innocent didn’t mean that things would go smoothly for me. I assumed he was calling for a female guard to escort me somewhere private for a full body cavity search.

I was getting pretty nervous by now. And I was innocent! Imagine how nerve-wracking it would be if you were doing something naughty? Eventually, the guard finished talking over the walkie-talkie and said, “go back counter”. I asked if my husband could come with me; he said yes. We went back to the ticket counter and explained what had happened. No one seemed to understand why I had been sent back. Finally, one of the agents figured out that I should have been sent to the room where luggage was being examined. She walked us over there and I handed over my documents to the man working there. I saw my suitcase had been set aside so assumed that they had seen something inside that concerned them when it was scanned.

I was asked if I had e-cigarettes in my suitcase. I answered, “absolutely not!” (I am not a smoker). I was asked to open my suitcase. I had all of my belongings (other than clothing) organized into ziplock bags which was helpful. I held up each ziplock for them to inspect. They still insisted that I had an e-cigarette in my luggage so sent it through the scanner again. He looked at the x-ray and then brought the suitcase over again for one more go-through. The offending item turned out to be a sonicare toothbrush! That would be one BIG e-cig! My boarding pass was stamped to indicate that my bag had now passed inspection and we were able to continue our journey. Whew! No body cavity search necessary!

The rest of the immigration/customs experience was fine. The flight was fine. We made it to Hong Kong and found our hotel just fine. I feel especially fine since I am not locked in a prison cell in a communist country!

 

 

Dodging Motorcycles in Hanoi

We had read all kinds of information about how crazy it is to cross the road in Hanoi; motorcycles and cars just don’t stop for you. We were curious because we had found that to be true in Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Saigon was particularly bad. Could Hanoi be any worse? Read about our time in this lovely city by clicking here: Two Days in Hanoi