Saturday, 29 June 2013

Day 16; Train day 9: Stralsund to Hamburg

We thought that, because today was a train day and we could, we would take the train right out to the end of the line, to a place called Ostbadsee Binz on Rügen Island. This was a lovely journey, across causeways and bridges, at one place with the sea on both sides. However, what we really would have liked to have seen - and I think we did see a bit, from the train, was the extraordinary resort barracks Hitler caused to have built at Prora, just down the line. Ostbadsee Binz looked as though the only really good thing was the beach, and it wasn't really beach weather, so we got on the train to Hamburg. Actually, the train was to go all the way to Stuttgart, but we were only going as far as Hamburg.

When we got here, we found the station full of very shouty people in fancy dress, which was rather disconcerting of it! So we put our luggage in a locker, and then caught a tourist bus to see the sights.  Which were mostly water - lakes and canals and so on.  After which, we were both hot and sleepy, so we went into a coffee shop and I had something called a frozen orange green tea, which seemed to be mostly orange juice with ice and mint; most refreshing. The SW had a milkshake.

We then walked down the main shopping drag - stopping for a pee at a random department store - to the Rathaus, and pottered around there for awhile, watching a boat come through the lock and so on. Then we walked up the lake or canal or whatever it was back to the station, and after a bit more pottering round the station, we had a very leisurely meal in a random restaurant, and are now sitting in the waiting-room on platform 14 waiting for the night train to Utrecht, which will probably be late! 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Day 15: Stralsund in the rain

Actually, it only rained in the afternoon, and for a holiday where we must spend a great deal of time out-of-doors, we have been very lucky with the weather.

After breakfast, we caught a bus up to a very large shopping mall called Strelapark, where we had been told we could buy a suitcase, which we duly did. The two anchor stores of the mall are a MediaMarkt and a Citti hypermarket.  The Swan Whisperer went off to look round the former, while I bought milk and butter in the latter. Don't let anybody tell you that the Germans don't do hypermarkets n they jolly well do in Stralsund!

We dropped our purchases back in the hotel, and went off to explore the harbour area, and incidentally eat a delicious lunch of fried herring and salad; at which point the heavens opened. So we hopped on a sightseeing tour, which was not very good, and I fell asleep, but it was a chance to see more of the town and the ancient fortifications.

Then we bought ice-creams; the SW enjoyed his, but mine was rather sweet nothing, so we walked back to.the hotel to eat tea and watermelon and peaches and strawberries. Then the SW was just about to.go out for another walk when the heavens REALLY opened, thunder and everything, so he didn't go out until we both went to find some supper. The first place we tried was full and the waiter blithely wished us a pleasant evening, which made me cross, but we ended a nice little place that did us duck.or chicken, and then back to the hotel.

Day 14; Train day 8: Magdeburg-Berlin-Stralsund

Wouldn't you think German trains could run on time? One has this fantasy that they do, but in reality they are far, far worse than British ones. I don't think we've been on a single train run by Deutsche Bahn that has been on time, and they have mostly been st least 15 minutes late, if not more!

Yesterday's trains were no exception. The first train, to Berlin, was late, and the slow train got there first!  We went all the way to the Ostbahnhof, as I had remembered a supermarket that sold sweet sprinkles like they sell herbs. But it was a Rewe, which are ubiquitous, and the sprinkles are now all available in the UK, which they weren't 5 years ago. Did buy some salads for lunch, though.

We then took the S-bahn back to the Hauptbahnhof, which had only just opened last time we were there, and had been in the middle of a building site. It still is, rather, but there has been a lot of development.  We looked at the sightseeing boats on the river and wished we had more time.

Then down to wait for our train to Stralsund and to be very tempted be the Berlin-Warsaw express on the next platform, but eventually our train arrived, 20 minutes late of course, and we went to Stralsund, eating lunch en route.

The hotel here is very nice but I must remember, in future, to ask for rooms on a lower floor if there is no lift, as it is a 3rd floor walk-up and my knees do not like stairs. And although there is, allegedly, free WiFi, it doesn't really work. So I have bought roaming, which is EE and just as fast, and very little more expensive than what I paid for it in Magdeburg. But why are the prices coming down on Monday? 

The SW's suitcase has disintegrated big-time, so we need to go and buy another. I had suggested he use my old one, as I bought myself a lightweight one for this trip, but he took his own. Big mistake!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Day 13: Train day 7: Hameln

"Hamelin's town in Brunswick"
- actually Lower Saxony
"By famous Hanover city"
- 45 minutes away by S-bahn
"The river Weser, deep and wide"
- not very either compared with some rivers
"washes its walls on the southern side" - um, no, western, I'm afraid!

Browning's errors of fact notwithstanding, Hamelin, or Hameln, is worth a visit.  Especially the museum, which costs €5.00, but worth it. Right now they have a special exhibition on the Pied Piper, in addition to their normal one, but there is also a lot about the history of the town and lots of early tools, and a mammoth skull, they found in the Weser.

The town makes much of the events of 1284, and there are rats everywhere - statues, images on paving-stones and, of course, souvenirs!  Wooden ones, mostly, but I saw some soft toy versions, too.

Coming back was a bit trying, as German trains are no more reliable than English trains are - less, in many ways - and the S-bahn had fallen over, so we had to wait ages in the cold -and it is cold; it doesn't seem possible that a week ago we were sweltering in >30 heat. But the train came in the end, and we just made our connection back to Magdeburg. Which was also >15 minutes late. I don't think we've been on a single train in Germany that hasn't been, except the Harz-Elbe express, and that is run by Connex, who have, I think, learned something since they lost their UK franchises!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Day 12: Magdeburg

Another rest day, and I, for one, really needed it. Went back to bed, and to sleep after breakfast and dozed on and off all morning and most of the afternoon. The SW went out for a walk in the morning, but I think he was just as happy to rest in the afternoon, too.

About 4:30, though, I got my second wind and we went out and had a very quick look at the weekly market that was just coming to an end outside the Rathaus; we then bought a day pass for the trams and spent a very happy hour going round and round and finding where they went.

Then we had an early supper at a local resto that Google Maps said was good - it was!  I had zanderfilet again. The back through the showing mall, stopping off for an ice-cream en route, and buying some more cheese in the supermarket. Earlier we had replaced our Melamine cups, which were getting very stained.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Day 11; train day 6, Quedlinburg

We had been going to stay in Magdeburg today and go to Quedlinburg tomorrow, but the line was run by Veolia, not DB, and we weren't sure they accepted inter-Rail, so if we had to pay, we would have a spare train day. However, there was no problem, and we arrived in this beautiful town at about 10:30.  The actual journey was lovely, too, through vast swathes of arable land, and I saw herons, at least one stork and several birds of prey of various kinds.

Quedlinburg is really lovely; dates back to the 10th century. Lots of half-timbered buildings and a very old town hall. The market square is being dug up, which rather spoilt photos, but I got some lovely shots anyway. The market church was open and we visited it, but the main museum isn't open on Mondays.

We had an enormous lunch in the local brewery, and drank of the local brew (yum!), and then wandered back to the station to see if we could find out about the local narrow-gauge railway. There had been a steam train in the station when we arrived, but at 14:20 there were no signs of life. The train we had arrived on, as it were, was there, though, so we got on and travelled to Thale at the end of the line.

It was, however, pouring with rain - the first time we have really been rained on all holiday - so we got back on the train and fell asleep (I did; I don't know about the Swan Whisperer!) until we were back in Magdeburg.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Day 10; train day 5; Dresden-Leipzig-Magdeburg

We were not sorry to leave the hotel this morning; we took the S-bahn to the Hauptbahnhof and then a train to Leipzig; the journey enlivened by a New Zealand farmer who talked our hind legs off all the way. Quite sweet, though.

We had hoped to be able to look round Leipzig but, alas, the left-luggage lockers were too small! And there was no staffed one. But there was a steam engine although not in steam! So we got the next train and arrived in Magdeburg too early for the hotel, which looked very empty and forlorn. After a sandwich lunch in the station, and a pee which cost €1 and the loos weren't even very nice, we finally roused someone and were able to check in. Hotel itself very nice; large room and decent-sized bathroom. They rip you off by charging for Internet access, though, but once you know the password, you know it, so between two of us not so bad.

After a rest we walked round the town to see what was to be seen, and then had a leisurely supper in some random café, including a pudding, for once. They offered a chocolate cake with rhubarb ice-cream and strawberry-rhubarb compote, which was Swan Whisperer heaven, and I had something with tinned peaches and strawberry ice-cream, which was ok but a bit sweet. Now back at the hotel for an early night. It is conveniently situated between the railway station and the bus station.

And, like Dresden, Magdeburg has very wide roads and a very dense tram network. We think this must be an East Germany thing. Looks very different and strange, but we rather like it.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Day 9; Train Day 4; Marienbad-Dresden

We were sad to say goodbye to Miroslav, the proprietor of the Villa Art, and promised to recommend the place to all and sundry. He said that, despite Marienbad's having practically been founded by Edward VII, they get very few English visitors.

We had ordered the car for 10:30 (doesn't that sound grand!), but nearly made a nonsense with the trains, as the fast train was late, then they wouldn't let us on as it was reservation-only, and the train we had planned to catch was on another platform than advertised, but we just caught it by the skin of our teeth.

And so to Cheb, which has the most gloriously unreconstructed station, straight out of the Communist era, with an ultra-modern bus station outside. And then a little diesel rail-bus to Marktredwitz; it was not run by DB, so we weren't sure our tickets were valid, but nobody asked us to show them, so it didn't matter.

I was surprised to find that we were in Bavaria; I had thought we were too far north. However, we didn't stay there, we almost at once got on another train to Dresden. A taxi took us to the hotel, which is part of the BB chain and such a comedown after the Villa Art.

Tea was necessary, and then we set out to explore the city. I had fallen down the steps of the railbus and jarred my leg, and walking is, not painful, exactly, but uncomfortable. So we decided to be trippers and take a sightseeing bus round the city, which was fun. Dresden is an odd mix - the old centre reconstructed, lots of buildings left over from the Communist era, and lots of modern ones, too. And this extraordinary former cigarette factory that looks rather like a mosque.

We ate dinner in a random restaurant which was the best steak I've had for a very long time, and then walked back to the hotel.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Day 8: Marienbad

Today was very much a rest day, and what a glorious place to do it in! Thanks partly to overnight rain and partly to altitude (only 632 metres, but still), the temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler than yesterday, which was absolutely perfect, except that I think not wearing sunscreen may have been a mistake.

After a lovely breakfast - the Czechs have wonderful breakfasts - we didn't hurry out, but pottered around, and the SW washed out his T-shirts.  However, we eventually set out to explore. Most of the town appears to be parkland, and is beautiful. However, our first port of call was actually Tesco's for milk and cheese - they had a shocking selection of fruit. There was a Lidl, too...could have been at home!

The SW dropped me at a convenient pub and I ordered the beers while he put the groceries in the fridge here, and then we decided to have lunch out as we have been able to refreeze the ice blocks and our flannels so they will keep cool even if it is hot again tomorrow.

After lunch we walked and walked round the springs, duly tasting the waters (vile!) although not out of the traditional cups, which incorporate a drinking-straw in the handle, as you had to pay a deposit on those and most people were using plastic bottles! We found a spa and debated using the baths, but weren't quite sure what to ask for, so didn't.

Language has been a bit of a problem as almost nobody speaks English, but luckily they all speak German, and I.can cope in that. The default attitude to foreigners here is that they must be, or at least speak, German!

Once we were walked out, we came back to the hotel for a cup of tea and a nap, and the SW decided to go back to the singing fountain to hear the performance, which he said was basically the fountains being played in time to recorded music.  Then we went out and had a delicious meal in one of the many local restaurants, and back to the hotel.

Slight change of plan for tomorrow; we are not now going to Carlsbad, despite the lure of the eponymous plums, but straight to Dresden as that way we go via what our inter-rail maps tell us is a scenic route. We shall see!

Day 7. Train day 3. Plzen and Marianske Lasne

A final huge breakfast at the guest house - one of the few things they did well - and then we caught a bus to the station and then the 10:01 to Plzen.

Czech trains are like British ones of 25 years ago; bliss! Not quite slam-door, but very nearly; windows that open, and even compartments in some carriages. And nice clickety-click motion, so I don't have to wear seabands.

We arrived in Plzen, left our luggage in the consigne, and picked up a local map in the tourist office, then went out to see what we could see. Which turned out to be a huge Tesco's, so we popped in and I bought myself new sandals - my trusty Clark's have finally demised, more or less - and a very large Sun-hat which gave far more protection than the old one.

Then we bought bus tickets - it was far too hot to walk anywhere and I was wilting after 5 minutes - and caught the next bus to the town square. There was a fabulous cathedral which did have a small entry fee, but we got the senior citizen reduction! And a beautiful town hall. And a very nice restaurant where we ate salad and shared a honey-cake ("a luscious confection of honey and nuts with a feather-bed of whipped cream.").

Soon it was time to head back to the station, by tram this time, and profit from 15 minutes' free wifi in the waiting-room, and the second train, to Marienbad, or Marianske Lasne, as it is now called, with a few accents in odd places.

The hotel meets one at the station, and the place itself is lovely! Room not huge, but adequate, bathroom is huge, and you share a kitchen. But although it has all mod cons, it looks charmingly old-fashioned. We like it! 

The rain arrived just as we did, and there were grumbles of thunder all evening. The SW went out for a walk and to try to find a food-shop, but I was too limp from the heat. We had a picnic supper, and I think I was asleep by nine! Awake now, of course, but will go.back to sleep when I have posted this!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Day 6: Ceske Budejowice and Bavorov

Right, let's try this one more time.

We were very unimpressed on Tuesday evening as we decided to ear in the restaurant which is part of the hotel. Unfortunately, we can't read Czech, and the only dish we recognised was Goulash, which we had had for lunch. So we asked for an English menu, which they didn't have, but they did have a German one.

Unfortunately, the two bore no relation to each other in any shape or form, and the German menu was twice the price. So we drank our beers and went round the corner to another restaurant whose menu was bilingual to start with. It was dearer, nut not expensive, and I had delicious zanderfilet with potatoes and vegetables and the SW had pork with potato salad.

Yesterday morning, after an enormous breakfast, ee made friends with the local trolley-buses and went up to the Budweiser brewery.  Sadly, they only offered tours to individuals, as opposed to pre-booked groups, st 2:00 pm, which was too late for us. So we came away and looked for a supermarket near the hotel to buy fruit. We had trouble finding one, but I remembered seeing a Billa not far away, so we went there. "What do you bet," said the Swan Whisperer, "that we find s supermarket much nearer the hotel now?" Well, we didn't then, but that evening we found a Tesco Express literally round the corner...  and we've been told there is a Norma in the town square, although we didn't find it.

Anyway, that was later. After lunch, we went by bus to the village of Bavorov, home to Cestina and her dolls house museum.  This was fabulous, and well worth a visit if you are ever in the Czech Republic. The houses were so cleverly arranged, the more you looked, the more you saw. There was also one in the local museum that reminded us of Brixton Village - artists upstairs and a posh coffee shop downstairs!

I think my absolute favourite thing, though, was an office made inside an old floppy-disk case, complete with computer, mouse, photocopier, fat machine... Wonderful. And a Japanese house as carefully researched as "Miss Happiness and Miss Flower". I have taken loads of photos.

Cestina very kindly gave us supper, and showed us her lovely house, and then drove us back to catch the bus back to the hotel. Where I spent 90 minutes trying to wrote a blog post on my tablet, but its auxiliary keyboard has broken and then the post didn't save, for some reason. Grr. So with much swearing, I gave it up as a bad job and went to bed!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Day 5 - Cesky Krumlov

Started the day badly by not being down to breakfast punctually at 08:00 - oops!  Still, it was copious and delicious, and the coffee was lovely, too.  Then we tidie up on the off-chance that they would do our rooms - they didn't; this is defi itely a guest-house, not a hotel - and then set off to find the bus station and our bus to Cesky Krumlov, which we had been told was unmissable if you were in the area.  Indeed, it was absolutely lovely, but incredibly hot!  I also developed a blister, which did not please me!  The place was full of tourists.  We had elevenses in one cafe, actually fizzy water for me and iced tea for the Swan Whisperer, and lunch in another. With beer!  Then we wandered slowly back to the bus station and there was a bus in ten minutes. I think we both fell asleep on the bus - I know I did.

The bus station is on top of a huge shopping mall, so we stopped for a much-needed and most refreshing cup of tea, and then bought more blister plasters and some more water and headed back to the guest house, where we both flaked out for a bit.  The SW, who is quite better now, has gone out for an explore, and later we will probably have dinner in the restaurant downstairs or else eat bread and cheese upstairs.  There is satellite tv but of course the only English-language channels are news and current affairs ones.  Sigh....

Monday, 17 June 2013

Day 4; train day 2; Munich-Linz-Ceske Budejovice

The Swan Whisperer has gradually got better all day as his antibiotics have kicked in.  But imagine being in Ceska and not able to drink beer!

We were up fairly early and at the station in good time for our train, which was a Railjet to Linz.  I must say, after the Man in Seat 61 raved about the train, I was not very impressed by the quality of the ride or the speed.  But lovely scenery which we tried, vainly for the most part, to photograph. And surprisingly nice coffee!

On arrival in Linz, we put most of our luggage in a locker and set out to explore.  The SW wanted to go to the Donau, which was about 20 minutes walk away, so we wandered off in that direction, but en route encountered a beer garden offering a lunch-time menu of grilled chicken breast fillets with asparagus and herbed rice, followed by apfelkuchen, for 7.90, with beer/apple juice and I had coffee which was not very nice.  We then walked on to the Donau and on to the bridge - it was looking very grey and not very beautiful.  We took a tram back to the station just because we could, and then I did a bit of shopping and we went up to our next train, which was utterly different - compartments, and speed was not a factor!  But it got us to Ceske Bujedowice.  But we had no idea where the hotel was, and there were no taxis!  And my satnav refused to acknowledge the existence of the pension, and in any case had run out of battery!  But the station bookstall supplied us with a town map, and we set off on a very hot and sweaty walk to the pension.

We got there eventually.  The room is lovely and large, but there are no bedside tables and there were no reading lights until we complained, whereupon they found us one.  We showered, then had a beer downstairs in the restaurant and then a picnic supper in the room.  There is free wifi but neither my ipod nor this machine recognises it up here, although my phone does.  I am going to take this down to nearer the router to try to post it.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Day 3: Munich

Dear oh my, what a day!  We woke up early, and the Swan Whisperer said he felt a lot better.  Nina and her family came to pick us up shortly after 10:30, and we went out and saw lots of the sights of Munich, including a trip up the Tower of the Town Hall, from which you had a terrifric view all over Munich.  We also visited the Hofbrauhaus, but only to have a look and spend a penny as it is expensive and I'm told the food is not very good.  We went across the road to eat Weisswurst!

The SW had some dental work done on Wednesday before we left - he had lost a filling and there was an abcess under it, which he didn't know was there.  The dentist cleaned it out and put on a temporary filling, but obviously didn't do a very good job, as first it was very sore and then this last two days his cheek swelled up to the point he could barely open his mouth.  So Nina kindly found a 24-hour emergency dentist and we spent an hour there waiting while he had it seen to - the dentist removed the filling and has prescribed antibiotics.  They gave us a list of open-on-Sunday chemists where we got the prescription filled - he had to pay for that, but the dental treatment was covered by the EHIC card - thank goodness I got them renewed before this holiday! 

After this, we went to the Olympic Park and walked round there - the weather, I should have said, is simply glorious - and then out to a castle in the suburbs where there was a beer garden, but you could take your own food.  But it was fairly obvious that the SW had Had Enough by then, so Nina drove us back to the hotel.  Nevertheless, it has been a lovely day, and we can stop worrying about the SW, I think.  The bug is all but gone, and now we know the tooth will be all right... we can head on towards the Czech Republic with light hearts.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Day 2: Liege to Munich

I am typing the first part of this on the train to Munich, actually the first leg, which is as far as Frankfurt.  We could have changed in Cologne, but had already entered our travel details on our pass, so decided not to. 

Well, last night was a bit of a bust, as the poor Swan Whisperer felt rotten - I think he has the bug I had about ten days ago, which knocks you flat for about 36 hours.  So once we got to the hotel, all he could do was sleep.  I did go out for picnic stuff and found an Aldi, but didn't venture further.  There were buses into the city centre and, had the SW been fit, we would have undoubtedly enquired about the ticketing system and used them, but I really didn't feel it was worth it on my own.  I did explore the station, though, which is a fantastic modern edifice only finished in 2009.  I have taken some photos, but have no way of uploading them until I get home, I'm afraid; I can't quite see how to upload them to the tablet.  They will follow!

Anyway, I took myself out for a forlorn birthday dinner in a local brasserie, and made the mistake of ordering something called Boules de Liege.  All I can say is, don't bother.  Yuck.  So I left most of that, but ate the chips and enjoyed a small beer, and then went back to the hotel and had an early night.  Oh well, even if he doesn't feel up to going out tonight, I can go out with Nina and her family.

Will finish this later.

Later: Have arrived at the hotel but big mnistake as it is in the red light district!  Oh well, the room is clean, quiet and pleasant, what more can you ask?  Tried to Skype with the Boy, but to no avail.  Signal too poor.  More tomorrow.

Actually, it is not yet tomorrow, but this wouldn't post earlier.  We are just in from a lovely meal with Nina and her family at the Augustin  bierkeller, where they only sell beer by the litre... I didn't actually mean to drink all of it, but it sort of disappeared.  I did eat -  sausages and kartoffelsalat!  Yummy.  The SW had fizzy apple juice (apfelschorle) and pork with a dumpling and red cabbage - I had a taste and it was lovely.  Now home quite early, and we are all hopin g the SW will b e better in the morning!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Day 1 - Home to Liege

Up at a relatively civilised hour this morning as our train was not until 08:59.  Got to St Pancras with no problems, and mnanaged to get coffee and text my mother before it was time to board the train.  This was pleasantly half-empty and on time, and we decided to get the next available train to Liege.  This was a slow train and, when it arrived in the station, promptly broke down!  So we then got the next train from the older part of the station, and it too was late. 

However, we arrived eventually, and checked in to our hotel, only to find that the roomn they had given us was not yet made up, so we asked for another and got a very nice big one, with three huge beds, and separate bathroom and loo!  I have made us a cup of tea and am catching up; the Swan Whisperer is fast asleep!  I expect I shall have a nap soon, too, and then we must go out and find a supermarket to get the makings of a picnic lunch for tomorrow.  Our trip today was to "any Belgian station", so our inter-rail adventure really begins tomorrow.