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.

No comments:

Post a Comment