A Travellerspoint blog

Brussels

We got off the train from Bruges to Brussels in good time Monday morning. It was pretty rainy so we had a very wet but still nice walk to our hostel. My friend Noor, who I worked with at CIBC, met up with us at the hostel as she would be tagging along for a while before a family trip to London. Noor, Colby, and I headed out to go for a wander, which was shortened by an absolute downpour. Once the rain slowed down we found a restaurant where we had a nice seafood dinner of mussels and prawns, before heading out for the night with some people we had met at the hostel. The first bar we went to was called the Celtica, which had an amazing deal of a beer for 2 Euros until midnight. We took advantage of that as long as we could, because who wouldn't? After that we headed to the world famous Delirium Bar, which held a whopping selection of over 3000 beers (a Guinness world record). We did our best to try as many as possible before calling it a night. Unfortunately, we didn't make a dent in the 3000, so we'd have to strap up our boots and go back the next night.

Our only full day in Brussels consisted of a free walking tour, which gave us a good historical take on the city. It took us through the main square, where we saw the gothic town hall building. There is a legend about the building that the architect jumped off of the top to his death because he was angry that it was not symmetrical. The tour also took us by the Manneken Pis, which means “little man pee”. It is a famous statue of a young boy peeing in to a fountain, and it is almost 400 years old. Someone decided that in the interest of fairness there needed to be female version, so 30 years ago a statue of a little girl squatting and peeing was built, called the Jeanneke Pis. The boy statue was familiar and funny, but the girl one was weird and almost inappropriate. We walked by the grand palace, a few beautiful churches, and a gigantic park. We learned the horrible history of the Dutch occupation of the Congo and all they did to cover it up, before ending at the top of a hill with a wonderful scenic view of the city. We capped the day off with some shopping and food. Our night again consisted of a seafood dinner (this time we had a delicious paella), before following the same path of pubs as the night before.

Our last morning in Brussels was when I said goodbye to Colby, as it was the end of his trip. I did not envy him going home. After that, Noor and I grabbed a train to Amsterdam.

Posted by geoffboulton 13:38 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Bruges

Colby and I got to Bruges on Saturday morning after a pretty gruelling overnight train from Munich. Every time we take a form of overnight transport, we vow never to do so again, and this time was no different! Sometimes it's just either the only option, or only affordable option. What made it worse was the 30 minute trek to our hotel with our backpacks on! We opted for a hotel because the hostels were pretty booked up and we were pretty keen to not sleep in a dorm room this time. We had a good nap when we got there and then headed to the city. That night we did a brisk walk around, checking out the sites and buildings. We decided to go for a nice Belgian dinner and the first order of business was ordering a beer that came in the funniest glass. After dinner, we walked around a little more before calling it a night.

The next day we got a bit of a slow start as we were taking advantage of our luxury of privacy, comfy beds, and a good shower for a change! By the time we got in to town, we did more or less the same thing as the day before. The town of Bruges is wonderful to walk around in, with neat cobblestone side streets, plenty of churches, and a ton of history. The city had a lot of signage around town, explaining the history and significance of various landmarks. That night, Colby went to sleep and I appropriately watched the movie "In Bruges" as I waited to find out around midnight what the result of the gender reveal was back in Surrey. I can now call my sister’s baby she instead of "it"!

We headed out in good time for Brussels the next day.

Posted by geoffboulton 13:11 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Munich

Beer!

To get from Berlin to Munich we rented a tiny little yellow Opal – since there were three of us it was definitely the cheapest way of transporting us between these 2 cities. It ended up being a lot of fun because we got to take the little car (that we named Sally) for a ride on the Autobahn, and decided to test her limits. I got her up to a shaky 205 km/hour, while Colby took advantage of a good downhill and got her up to 215 km/hour. Even at those speeds, other cars were passing us! We made a detour to stop in Dresden for lunch, which did not work out well since there was construction that added a couple of hours to our drive. We had a quick lunch there, walked around a bit, and took some photos before firing Sally back up and heading straight to Munich. We got there pretty late, but still in time to meet up with one of our Australian friends that we had met in Croatia.

The next day was mostly consumed by our attempt to take the car back to the Munich airport. Colby and I had to deal with some crazy traffic, and then ended up at a worse version of the Boundary Bay airport, which was the wrong airport! By the time we found the international airport, dropped the car off, and took a 50 minute tram back to the city, our day was pretty much gone. In the late afternoon, we met up with our Aussie friend, Matt, and two of Ramsey's friends (who are our friends, too) and headed to the famous beer hall called the Hofbrau House. We ordered a couple of 1L beers (because we had to try the light one and the dark one!) before going to another famous hall called the Augustine House for one more. We then went back to the hostel to play cards.

Our next day was devoted to our go-to activity in a new city, a free walking tour! Munich wasn't nearly as fascinating as Berlin in terms of the history that I'm interested in (mostly WW2), but it was another good tour that took us to a lot of places. We went to some beautiful churches, including the Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, which is famous for the “Devil’s Footstep”. That is a black mark on the step just inside the door that was supposed to have been made by the devil, and there are many different stories about why it is there. One version is that the devil came to see the church riding on the wind, but he could not get past the first step so he stomped his foot furiously, leaving the mark He then stormed away leaving the wind behind, which is why it is always windy around the area where the church stands. The cathedral was heavily damaged during the war, but the mark survived. We went to the main square and saw the Rathaus Glockenspiel on the New Town Hall (actually over a hundred years old). It is a kind of cuckoo clock that had life size painted people in it that come out on the hour and spin around to music. The clock is supposed to be one of Munich's main attractions, but just like the one in Prague, was a little underwhelming. On the tour, we learned that our precious Hofbrau house is considered the sight of Hitler's first speech as the ruler of the Nazi party. Our tour guide taught us about the origins and ongoing success of Oktoberfest, which was quite interesting as apparently so many Australians lose their passports during the festivities that they open up a temporary embassy in town! That night, we went to another beer hall for dinner, and then back to the hostel.

On the Thursday, Colby and I went on a little adventure to their Olympic park. Along the way, we passed by a famous beer garden, so we had lunch and enjoyed a tasty brew. When we got to our destination, we found a beautiful park with some live music, kids in zorbs (big plastic spheres) in the water and a BMW museum! We took it all in before heading back into town to meet up with Ramsey and the rest of our crew. I know that I've been talking about beer a lot in this post, but it's what Munich is famous for! Again that night, we went to a beautiful beer garden, which lived up to its name as it was built within trees and actually resembled a garden. We had a good night there, before playing more cards back at the hostel.

Our last day in Munich involved saying goodbye to our Aussie friends, finding our final beer garden, and checking out the wave river. The latest beer garden was beside a large Chinese inspired building that had live polka music playing all day. With that, we had hit all the major beer gardens and halls in town! We had to walk through a huge beautiful park called the English Garden to get there, which made for a wonderful setting. It is the largest urban park in the world, bigger than Central Park. We then headed to a river that they had partially dammed to make an artificial wave. It was awesome to watch, as people took turns jumping on to their boards and surfing! I guess because the ocean is far away, they had to make their own surf!

We took a night train on Friday the 29th to our next destination of Bruges, Belgium.

Posted by geoffboulton 11:09 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Berlin

We left Krakow for Berlin on the night of May 22. We always go with the cheapest mode of transportation, which in this case was an overnight bus. Despite our best efforts to squeeze a decent sleep out of it, the bus trip was awful. It was an 8 hour bus ride that left at 11 PM and arrived at 7 AM the next morning (no time change between Poland and Germany). Needless to say, our first day in Berlin was marred a little by our state of exhaustion!

We did try to power through and make some sort of day out of it, though. After checking in to our hostel, we headed to Brandenburg Gate, the big arch where the first section of the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989. We had planned on catching a free walking tour, which has been the first thing we try to do in every city. Just to clarify, these tours are not entirely free as you have to tip at the end, but they are a great cheap way to see and learn about a city from a local, before exploring on your own. In this case, the walking tour was full, so we decided to explore by ourselves and try to get there a little earlier the next day. Our exploration was again impacted by our fatigue, but we did see a part of the Berlin Wall, the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe (unofficially the holocaust memorial), the Reichstag (the German parliament), and the TV tower. We would learn the significance of these places the next day. We ended our exploration with a beer on the patio, before heading back to the hostel for a nap. That night, we were sensible by having only a couple beers at the hostel bar, and then hitting the hay in good time.

We were motivated to get a good start in the morning, after missing the walking tour the day before. The walking tour took us to a lot of the same places we had discovered by ourselves, but this time with explanations. We learned a lot about various buildings and their involvement in both World War II and the Cold War. Our first stop was the renovated Reichstag building, which was first built in 1894 but then was pretty much abandoned after WW II. Some refurbishment was done in the 1960’s, and it was fully restored after German reunification in 1990. It is now home to the current German parliament. We saw the location of Hitler’s Bunker, which was the centre of the Nazi regime until the end of the war, but is now sealed off so you only see the plaque indicating where it was. We also saw the untouched former base of the Luftwaffe. The allies never bombed this base because it was a good reference point for the fighter pilots, and they assumed the buildings held valuable information they could use. We saw the TV Tower, built 50 years ago as a television antenna but now a well-known tourist site. You can go up to the top to an observation deck and restaurant, but we didn’t go up as we were on the walking tour. One interesting fact, which I am sure was not planned, is that when the sun shines on the stainless steel dome, the reflection usually appears in the form of a cross. It has been nicknamed the "Pope's Revenge" by the people of Berlin! We were lastly taken to Checkpoint Charlie, which is a re-creation of the most common checkpoint to cross between East and West Berlin. It was a great tour!

After the tour we decided to check out the “Topography of Terror”, which is an indoor/outdoor history museum that focuses on the horrors carried out by the Nazis. It is located at the site of the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS during WW II and the Cold War and the street it is on was the boundary between the American and Soviet occupation zones. As we walked to the museum we found a free outdoor exhibit along the section of the Berlin Wall that still stands there. This section of the Wall was never demolished and it is the longest stretch of the outer wall that still exists. The exhibit gave a timeline from the beginning to the end of the Third Reich and the Nazi party. We spent a long time there reading the information and looking at the photos and we decided we were satisfied with what we had learned and decided to skip the actual museum. We then headed over to the centre of Berlin to the East Side Gallery, which is a rebuilt 1.3 km portion of the Berlin Wall that is covered in very artistic and meaningful art and graffiti. This section if even bigger than the stretch we had just seen at the museum, but it was part of the inner wall. There are over a hundred paintings by artists from all over the world, and it was established in 1990, shortly after the Berlin Wall came down. Work is ongoing restoring the art as the elements have taken their toll. We took a lot of pictures at various points, then took a stroll by the Spree River before heading back to the hostel.

The hostel had a good kitchen so we made ourselves some home-cooked spaghetti and decided to call it an early night as we were renting a car and driving to Munich the next day.

Posted by geoffboulton 14:12 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Krakow

After our short time in Zagreb, we grabbed a quick flight over to Krakow, Poland on Monday afternoon. Our walk to the hostel was long, but made it very apparent that we were going to like this city. Krakow was awesome to see, because unlike a good majority of European cities in the area, this one was virtually untouched by World War II. The overall feel of Krakow was really historical old and the architecture was amazing. Overall it was just a really cool city. The other place in Poland that we considered going to was Warsaw, which had been 90% destroyed in the war, so it would not have had the history Krakow does. We spent our first night there walking around and exploring the city, before chilling in the hostel with some people we had met.

We dedicated our second day in Krakow to free walking tours! We did a general tour in the morning that took us around the core of the city and to many of the very numerous churches in the area. We went to the Wawel Cathedral and up to Wawel Castle, and through Jagiellonian University, all of which were built about 750 years ago. The Jagiellonian is of the oldest universities in the world and Pope John Paul II attended there. The Polish obviously have a great affection for him, and it was cool to see various places around the city that he spent time at and spoke at. He was born near Krakow and lived most of his life in the city, and has often come back for visits. He stays at the Bishop's Palace when he is in the city and we saw the window where he would speak to the crowds from. After the general walking tour, we took the food walking tour! It took us to a few restaurants around that provided us with cheap, authentic Polish food. Along the way, we tried a type of herring that was soaked in oil, which tasted almost like pickled herring, but not as good. Next, we had authentic homemade perogies along with some sort of spicy sauerkraut that made for a great meal. Our last stop was homemade Polish smoked cheese that was kind of gross, but I ate it anyway. The tour was a great experience. That night we went to the karaoke bar downstairs with some people from the hostel. At this point, I had lost my voice, which made for a great raspy rendition of a few Joe Cocker songs.

Our next day was devoted to going to the concentrations camps of Auschwitz I and Auchwitz II - Birkenau. This was an experience that is like no other and is very hard to put in writing. I think that I'll just leave it at that.

Our Thursday was slightly disturbed by the fact that we had money stolen out of our lockers at the hostel. The hostel manager was really good about it and filed a police report, but we had to go down to the station to validate it. It kind of stopped us from doing anything significant for the day, so I got some shopping done and looked for a place to get a haircut, which I couldn't find.

On Friday, Ramsey and Colby went to see the salt mines that were outside the city. I decided not to go, because I wasn't that interested and I wanted to save money. Instead, I walked around even more of the city than we had previously, before finding a nice park to sit in and finish the book I was reading. I later ran into some Americans from the hostel and we grabbed a drink, before I met back up with Colby and Ramsey and caught our night bus to Berlin.

Posted by geoffboulton 10:13 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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