Krakow - Berlin - Hamburg - Amsterdam

Crikey! Writing that title makes me realise how far I have travelled in the last few days.

The sleeper train from Krakow to Berlin was much better equipped than the previous one from Prague to Krakow (a much newer carriage) and I was hoping for a better sleep, but in fact since the train kept stopping through the night and another passenger joined us around 1am I felt rather shattered on reaching Germany.

Here is a top tip now for anyone following in my footsteps: when you switch from the Polish train to the DB train (German operated) at some God-awful hour in the morning after a broken night's sleep, make sure you have enough Euros in your bags for a coffee on board because the guy operating the on-board restaurant does not accept Polish currency or anything else!

I was only in Berlin really to break my journey up to Hamburg but I felt that spending a night there would be worthwhile and I'm glad I did. The city is huge though - walking from the Hbf (Central Station) down into the area where I was hoping to find accommodation took around 45 minutes but on the second attempt I found a bed for the night. However, despite needing a shower and a coffee and ideally 3 hours sleep, I was not allowed into the room until 3pm (it was now around 9am) but I could dump my bag, grab a breakfast and a city map and decide where to go next.

I took the opportunity to walk down to Checkpoint Charlie and the Topography of Terror exhibition next door. Checkpoint Charley is a tourist trap but there is an informative series of bilboards that surround the site and give some excellent views and descriptions of life in East Berlin, seperated from loved ones and neighbours overnight by the Berlin Wall. There is also a 200m section of Berlin Wall there preserved by a fence (how ironic?) one of the few sections left in the city. 

The Topography of Terror exhibition is an outdoor site on the former grounds of various buildings occupied by the SS and the Gestapo. In due course there will be an indoor museum but for now you can read about the building and their uses and see some excavated cellars from the Gestapo Headquarters.

Around the corner is the starting point for the Trabant Safari tour company, where a group can hire upto 6 of these magnificant vehicles and follow a guided tour, driving around East Berlin while a guide tells you what is what on the radio from the lead Trabbi. This company seems to have collected more Trabbis in one place than I have ever seen before (and a couple of Ural 375 ex Russian trucks for good measure). One to do if in Berlin in a group.

That night I dined on The Place To Be in East Berlin it seemed, with Ferrari's and other exotic motors cruising past (a distinct lack of Land Rovers, though) and even a few tarts to see if I wanted a good time (I needed my dinner too much)! My main meal was a kebab of various sausages with onions and peppers and large dollops of mayonnaise and ketchup, sitting enjoying the night sights and the warm air. The waitress told me that the winter had been "fu*king cold" (said in English with a German accent it sounds very funny) and it was only in the past week that the tables had come outside again for the spring.

The following morning I arrived at the base of the TV tower for my second, and hopefully more successful, Segway tour of my holiday. And so it proved: A proper introduction of how to ride a Segway, no alcohol allowed which in hindsight is a bonus, and a good overview of the main sights and sounds of East Berlin. Really enjoyable and I managed not to fall off! With more time I would have taken the guide's advice to revisit many of the sights and explore them more thoroughly such as the Jewish memorial.

However, I had a train to catch, to Hamburg, which was my main reason for being in the area. Not a bad trip although the train was running 30 minutes late and by the time we pulled in to Hamburg Hbf it was chucking down with rain. I used the Tourist Info at the station to book into a Hotel in the Reeperbahn (Red Light area) as there was little other choice at such short notice. Unfortunately and typically it was another dump - expensive and a room that stank of stale tobacco smoke, with rude reception staff. However, at least it was a private room and living in mixed dorms is cheap but not a good place to rest, so there we are.

My main reason for coming to Hamburg was the Minatur Wunderland, situated in a converted warehouse in the old docks. Visited by 6 million people so far it is a wonderful depiction of imagined scence from both Germany and further afield, in tiny scale. Basically, think of a huge model train set with exquisitely detailed scenery and 100s of thousands of little figures and vehicles at every turn. I cannot really describe it properly, but spread over 3 floors it occupied about 3 hours and could probably have take longer, had it not been so crowded on a Sunday afternoon.

My photos don't do it justice, but if you click to enlarge them you can see a little of the detail that has gone into this, and is still ongoing as more scenes are added.

The rest of Hamburg was pleasant and I enjoyed a harbour cruise which took us up close and personal with some of the commercial ships docked and unloading which was interesting. There was also a huge funfair in town for Spring which I wandered around on Sunday Evening, marvelling at the portable bars serving beer and spirits (you would NOT be allowed to do anything like that in the UK) and some of the rides which were truly terrifying. Unfortunately there were intermittent showers which were keeping the crowds away and you could tell the stall holders were looking forwards to closing for the night.

So, onto Amsterdam. My train for some reason was delayed by an hour when reaching the German/Dutch border so I was able to switch onto the slow, stopping, change-train-every-five-minutes local network, but pulled into Centraal Station around 7.30pm, on a journey that should have lasted 6 hours but actually took nine. Thankfully I have been to Amsterdam 2-3 times before and could easily navigate to my hotel, avoiding the places selling city maps for 3 Euros (when they are available for free everywhere). Now, my hotel is in the Red Light area and you might have noticed a pattern developing here, but I promise you this is only because I need cheap accommodation and not for any other reason, honest!

Last night I had an early night, but today I have done some laundry, visited the Torture Museum which is rubbish, the one in Ghent is much better if you like that sort of thing, yomped around the city for a while and also visited the Museum of Dutch Resistance. This is pretty good, tucked away off the main drag but worth a look as it neatly covers the time of German Occupation in the Netherlands.

I have also now managed to book my ferry home, I had hoped to travel back overnight on Thursday arriving in Harwich on Friday but for various reasons have had to slip this for 24 hours, so have now got an extra day to fill here. I may well pop down to Brussels or else take a look around Rotterdam, not really sure yet.

Hamburg very quickly

I am in Hamburg and leaving for Amsterdam tomorrow.

Nice city but another lousy hotel (why do I find them?), went on a harbour cruise today and also visited the Minature Wunderland which James May visited and I have wanted to see ever since.

Unfortunately the weather has turned to heavy showers which makes walking around looking at stuff much less fun. And. I have not found any decent food to share with you!

More soon when I have a better wifi connection (ie one I don't have to pay for).

Krakow - Nice city.

My sleeper train to Berlin leaves tonight at 7.30pm so I have a couple of hours spare to type up my thoughts about Krakow.

I came here really because of wanting to visit Auschwitz and not because I had any other expectations of what I would find. In fact, I really like this city and while I have only been here a couple of days I know that I would like to revisit in the future. There are loads of things I have not explored (there is a huge salt mine that is open in part to the public and I have not been to the castle or inside any of the historic buildings) but I have found everyone to be very helpful and friendly and luckily have also found some good food along the way.

The photo on the left shows my starter last night in a lovely Mexican restaurant situated about 5 minutes walk from my hostel. Beef Carpaccio, marinated in rosemary and garlic, served with a spicy salsa and tortilla chips. Fantastic.

I did also eat some more typical Polish food - this shows a dish of my own assembly, that is pierogi with meat with a salad of mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes. Just the thing for a light lunch.

The centre of Krakow, the Old town, is rather touristy but there are plenty of good places to eat and many sites of interest to keep you busy. The castle is just off the main square to the South and although I have not been inside it occupies a big site, which one guide claims would occupy you for most of a day.

About 10 minutes walk from the main square, again to the South and on the banks of the River Wista is the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz, where I am staying. Here there are many historical buildings, narrow streets and interesting sites which unfortunately I have just not had time to explore properly. According to those in the know (two lads in my dorm at the hostel) some good nightlife is situated around here as well.

If, like me, you find that after a while the older historical sites tend to blend together, you can take a trip out to Nowa Huta which was created by the Communists to supply a workforce to the enormous steelworks to the East of the city and also to act as a model town under Communist ideals. I was lucky to be shown some of the highlights of Nowa Huta as part of an afternoon tour operated by "Crazy Guides" and chauffered around in an elderly Trabant (which at the end of the tour we were allowed to try and drive, on a disused airfield). Highly recommended with a good guide and great fun.

This morning I have taken a trip out to the Aviation museum on the edge of the city which is large and slightly chaotically laid out but allows the visitor to wander around at their own pace, taking in a variety of aviation exhibits from around 1918 onwards. Unfortunately this former RAF Jaguar, pictured left, has seen better days. There seems to be a lot of building work going on at the site and a new building appears to be in the final stages of construction, so I guess in the future the displays and featured aircraft will be laid out rather more logically. They might even have reassembled the Jaguar by then!


I'm now killing time in the Prague hostel before my sleeper train leaves at 2132 for Krakow in Poland.  The architecture is stunning to look at (see the photo of the Opera House - the decoration is not unique to this building by any stretch) and the history of the City and its key components can be traced back over hundreds of years. I have enjoyed myself here immensly and would like to revisit in the future. Unlike Ljubljana, where having a companion is obligatory, here I have had a good time by myself but couples are extremely well catered for as well.

Last night, leaving at 7pm, Myself and two other punters indulged ourselves with a Segway tour of the city. For those who are unsure, a Segway is a two-wheeled device which one stands on, and its motion is controlled by your weight shifting. That is, if you wish to go forwards you lean forwards, backwards you lean backwards, and to stear you move the handlebars left or right. Clever electronics and gyroscopes handle the rest. After only 1 minute of tuition and a few minutes practice we all became confident and were able to whizz around the city, scattering pedestrians in our wake. The tour takes around three hours and setting off at dusk gave us stunning views of the city and also meant the streets were much quieter.

Unfortunately my mobile phone camera does not do these scenes justice so I can only tell you that the view from Prague Castle, overlooking the city on a clear night is simply brilliant. At the top of the hill, after looking at the castle with its various palaces (at 5 sq km the largest castle complex in the world) and with our machines needing a charge we pulled into a microbrewery for a couple of glasses of their 6.3% abv Amber Special which washed down their goulash extremely well.

At this point everything was going well, but in typical clumsy May fashion a combination of beer, a steep downhill gradient, lack of concentration and over confidence conspired to tip me off my stead and fall flat on my face! I am now sporting a grazed hand and chin and a nasty graze on my left knee. Hey ho, these things happen, I proceeded rather more cautiously to the bottom of the hill.

The tour takes around 3 hours to complete although last night with the meal break and me doing a faceplant we actually took around four. Fantastic fun, highly recommended and well worth the cost. Click this link if you are going to Prague and want to know more: Segway Prague

I have spent today mooching about in the sun, drinking perhaps a little too much beer at lunch time but enjoying the bright sunshine and warmth. Wearing just a t-shirt in late March, a slight breeze but nothing more, on the banks of the river, with a large glass of Urquell in hand, this is a lifestyle I could get used to! Apparently Prince Charles is in town and although he has not come to say hello yet I did see Camilla being driven past in a motorcade. She looked most hacked off being driven around on such a lovely day, but she did manage a wave as she passed.

So to sum up, Prague is lovely, it is a good time to come as the main tourist season is still 2-3 weeks away so while the city is busy it is not overcrowded. The weather is lovely, apparently only 3 weeks ago it was around -20 degrees centigrade with deep snow clogging the streets. However, I have found the cost of living to be pretty expensive - for a two course lunch and a single beer for one expect to pay around £20.00. At least it seems safe, the people are friendly and the food generally good. The beer, of course, is excellent!

Wien (Vienna)

Despite wanting to go to Ljubljana for a long time, and despite planning my holiday around starting there, and despite travelling for 2 days to get there, I never really felt at home either in the City or elsewhere in Slovenia. On the train today I decided that for me, Slovenia is one of those countries where there are lots of places to enjoy a loved one's company and not so many places or things to enjoy by oneself. Take for instance the castle overlooking Ljubljana - this offers fantastically romantic views over the city and lovely courtyard dining, but not much else in the way of exhibitons or history of the building to entertain the loan visitor.

The picture shows Union beer, brewed in Ljubljana and not a bad drop.

This is Stallion Steak, on a bed of rocket, with grilled cheese and roast potatoes. Now, I ordered Stallion Steak expecting to receive Ned the Horse, and maybe I did, but it sure tasted like beef to me. Maybe that's intended...whatever it was, it was very nice.

Take also Lake Bled - widely rewiewed in the guidebooks as "the place to visit" when in Slovenia, but in fact while the views and tranquility are stunning the place itself is a bit , well, dull for the singleton.

So today's adventures didn't come off as planned in any way. The plan was to catch the early train to Lesce Beld which is 2 miles from Lake Bled, get the bus to the lake, check into a friendly and inviting hostel on the lake, dump the bag, catch to bus to Planica and watch the Ski Flying for a bit, then bus back to the lake and watch the sun go down over a cold beer or three. Tomorrow I was going to go back to Lesce Bled, catch the train to Villach (Austria) then onwards to Prague.

Funny how things work out. I missed the early train by 2 minutes, so spent 2 hours waiting for the next one. The bus to the lake was fine, but having followed the driver's directions to the centre of down I discovered that not only was it pretty much closed (still low season) but also any hostel that might be open was back up the hill, past the bus station where I had been dropped off. So I trudged back up the hill, found a deserted hostel where the owner wanted E15 for the night without breakfast/facilities/pleasantries. So moved on, tried one other that was shut and decided at that point that Lake Bled was not for me, and to be honest neither was any more Slovenian (lack of) hospitality. The hostel in Ljubljana was also lousy (dirty, uncomfortable and unhelpful) but I had thought this was a one-off. As for the ski flying, no one locally had the first idea of what it was or how to get there, buses where infrequent, etc etc. Enough was enough.

So, bus back to Lesce Bled, wait 2 hours for the next train to Villach and get on it. Luckily the sun was shining and the bar on the platform was open, so I did get my beers in the sunshine afterall. The journey to Villach takes about an hour, hopped off the platform there and straight onto an Intercity going to Wien. Not that I really cared at that point.

Funny though how I had felt really quite down while leaving Slovenia but much more cheerful as we emerged at the end of the Alpine tunnel into Austria. Must be the different kind of scenery or something.

The Intercity to Wien was pretty dull, although livened up by a dining car serving both good beer (Paulaner) and properly cooked food, pictured here. At long last we pulled into one of the 4 City Stations, I found a Tourist Information Centre still open at 9pm (beat that, Salisbury) and eventually stumbled into a Youth Hostel which had one bed left. Its mine now!

Tomorrow, as of now, the plan is to go onto Prague in the morning. There is a train at 9.30am which gets in at 2.30pm ish. This would give me time to fine a hostel and perhaps have the luxury of choosing a room/bed rather than the last one available. The, onwards to Krakow, then Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Home. The original idea of taking in the Swiss mountain railway will have to wait for the next trip - it would eat up too much time getting there and back.

Gilbanica (the National pudding)

Just the one photo from today - the perfect pudding I think. (Its about 4" in all dimensions and actually not as rich as it looks, but does take a good 10 minutes to enjoy).

My guidebook describes it as "layer after layer of poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, raisins and cottage cheese fillings separated by flaky dough, with a biscuit and honey base" A national speciality and who am I to disagree?

An otherwise uneventful day spent exploring the city, writing postcards, sitting in the sun wading my way through the above. I'm off to dinner now and off to Lake Bled in the morning where I am hoping to find a bit more life - Ljubljana is very quiet at the moment and although that is nice in some respects I would like there to be a few more people about - eating in empty restaurants is never appealing.

Ljubljana from Munich

After a much needed night's sleep the train to Ljubjana departed Munich at 0827. En route to the station I chanced upon the ideal breakfast - takeaway currywurst freshly made with a dedicated sausage chopping up machine in a local cafe. It is pictured left and yes I did eat all of it, no I wasn't sick and yes it was as disgusting as it looks!

The journey through the Alps was nowhere near as scenic as I had hoped, just long and tiring especially after yesterday which really was shattering - up at 0530, travelling all day, don't go to bed until gone 10pm then up again at 7am to carry on. I did wonder whether to stay in Munich for an extra night and on reflection I should have, but there we are. Perhaps later in my trip I will be glad not to have "wasted" a day, although I can hardly claim to have "done" Munich.
So I am now ensconsed in the old town of Ljuljana which is very pretty but looks as though it is waiting for a few more tourists to arrive. In some ways, with the cobbled streets, pretty river and frequent river bridges it reminds me of the old town in Gent and that too suffers a bit during the off-season. However, it is not cold, not raining, I have been up to the castle this afternoon which was somewhere I wanted to visit and I have some ideas for tomorrow. There is a brewing museum which I might wander out to and also a railway museum, or I might explore a bit more of the city.

From here I plan to backtrack towards Austria, possibly stopping off at Lake Bled and/or Planica and then heading up into the Alps proper. There is still some snow lying around here and noticeable on the way through and I even spotted some skiers some hopefully I will find some proper snow at some point. After that I expect to hit Prague, before going on into Poland, then Northern Germany, then The Netherlands, before catching the Harwich ferry.

London to Munich, by Train, in a day...I must be mad

I had a lovely meal last night with two friends ex of Salisbury at The Gunmakers Arms - a pub I have long wanted to visit. It is about 5 minutes walk from Farrington Tube Station, which is on the Hammersmith and City Line so very easy to reach.

While the beer is good (Harviestoun Old Engine Oil was my favourite of the night) the food is truly outstanding. Myself and Tom both tucked into a huge plate of the finest fish and chips this side of Mars, while Tehm enjoyed a rump steak on ciabatta sandwich with the most lucious chocolate gateuax with dark cherry sauce for afters. By God it was good!

To finish off I spotted a rare bottle of Jenever behind the bar which washed everything down nicely. Top notch grub all round and somewhere that I definitely recommend to any visitors to London.

I started my travels proper at 0730 at St Pancras Station, taking the direct Eurostar service to Brussels Midi which takes about two hours. Unfortunately I then had a 2 hour wait for the Ice Train to arrive, but this was time to go to the loo, find something to eat and contemplate my navel. I could probably have gone into Brussels proper and had a good feed, but I prefer to stay in the station rather than risk missing my connection. The travel centre is extremely helpful and user-friendly and I was able to reserve my seat for the next two legs - Brussels to Cologne and Cologne to Munich.

What really stunned me, not having travelled by Ice Train before, was the level of comfort and quality of food on board. The picture to the left shows the second class cabin in which I have just spent the last 7 hours and yes, it is a comfortable place to be. Even for long-legs like me there is enough space, the seats recline, there is power to the seat for a laptop, even a choice of music playing (classical/pop/rock etc) through a headphone socket between the seats. In case you are wondering, the wooden thing is a luggage rack.

The other surprising thing is the food on board. Accustomed as I am to a bloke pushing a trolley up and down full of lukewarm British Rail tea, it came as quite a shock to realise that the Germans inevitably do it properly. In First class they serve to the seat but for the rest of us each train has a  "barbistro" car with real food and drink at not rip-off prices. I ordered a cappucino, which was made with nice coffee and properly strong and then a real, heated up from fresh pizza, on a real plate, all while zooming along at around 170mph. Should I have wanted it, they not only have 6 choices of beer available but two of those are on draught (!) and if your journey runs into the evening they even hold a Happy Hour.

Very impressive all round and off course on time throughout the journey. I just wish we could do it in the UK.

Tomorrow I am onwards to Ljubljana in Slovenia where I shall stop, catch my tail, and work out where to go next.

Salisbury to London in a car called Desmond

Background to these posts: I am lucky to have 3 weeks holiday this Spring, so have bought an Interrail ticket and am off to see the sights of Europe by train. I have lots of places that I want to see, but will won't really know where I am going until I get there!

The journey to London from home last night was tiring but far cheaper than the train. Motto: Watch out for ageing VW Beetles (called Desmond) where the heating warms the feet of the passenger, the bottom of the driver and nothing for the back seats, and cannot be turned off. Cue me and Dave cooking and Robyn in the back freezing. Heavy traffic coming into London also meant the journey took about 3 hours. However, very nice to see Dave and Robyn again and stay at their house in Streatham.
This morning I have caught the first of many trains in to London Bridge Station, then walked along the riverside path to Tower Bridge. I was tempted by HMS Belfast (having done submarines on my last trip a battleship seemed appropriate) but the £12.95 entrance fee was rather off putting so after breakfast I succumbed to the "Tower Bridge Experience" which comprises the old engine rooms and the pedestrian walkway across the bridge.

The engine rooms occupy about 15 minutes and to my mind are rather dull but I was pleased to be channelled round into the gift shop at the end. I like a good gift shop, me. Once I had climbed the many steps to the top of the North tower you can then wonder back and forth along the foot ways to your heart's content. Both sides are open and both offer fantastic views up and down the river with notes and guides to help you decipher the views. Having a fantastic clear day as well is a definite plus. I remember going up there once before when I was a sprog and I was sure then it was open to the elements, not behind double glazing as now, but the guide assured me that this had never been the case.

After finishing at the bridge (recommended by the way and not too touristica) I waled on through the City past the Tower of London vaguely in the direction of Kings Cross but on eventually consulting my map decided that the rest of the distance should be covered by tube. This took me all the way to St Pancras International, for me to collect my ticket, have lunch and get my bearings prior to my departure early on Tuesday morning. Lunch was supplied by Yo Sushi! - very enjoyable and much cheaper than usual as they were doing a deal "all plates for £2.20". The waitress seemed surprised at how much I had eaten but then it would be rude to leave them on the conveyor belt, going round and round I felt.

Then onwards from the station to my hotel. Just outside St Pancras is a YHA and now I'm a member I was cursing for not having booked in. As I walked down the Euston Road I was pretty certain that I had made a critical mistake choosing this place instead, but now I have arrived I'm not so sure. First impressions are rather odd - you go to a local newsagent (smartly refurbished by the way) and collect your key and a member of staff shows you to the apartment. I seem good a picking places with lots of stairs and this place is no exception - the rooms are on the third floor.

With the entrance hallway looking a bit grotty, and all the steps, I was starting to feel like doing a runner there and then but once inside the place is lovely. Smartly modern interior with 3-4 small bedrooms off a shared corridor, there are two bathrooms (cramped but usable) and a good sized kitchen You are right on Tottenham Court Road which certainly provides a lively scene from the bedroom window, and a tube station is just round the corner (Goodge Street). Best of all though is the kitchen is well stocked with tea/coffee/milk/eggs/bacon/washing machine with powder/a kettle/microwave and oven etc etc, all for £45.00 per person per night.

I reckon this is the way to go - it might be a mile or so from St Pancras, and there might be sirens rushing past, but having somewhere like this that is cheap and user friendly, and best of all not full of scuzzy backpackers (like the YHA) is great. And I can plug my laptop in, make myself a cuppa, and relax (and wash my smelly socks). The link for the company behind the appartment is

Tonight I am meeting another friend for supper then a reasonably early night before heading to Brussels tomorrow morning. Next update coming soon...