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PART I: Welcome to Germany!

Day Zero - 29th April, Friday.

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View Germany 2016 on lanadima's travel map.

<- Introduction

Day Zero - 29th April, Friday.
So long, New York!

We were ready: all bags were packed yesterday, I checked, double-checked and re-checked everything from passports to cell phones - those things that cannot be replaced if lost in a trip. Actually, one can do without a phone, but it has long since become an extension of my arm, so without it I feel amputated....
Our flight was scheduled at 9:30PM and, because we live 20 minutes from airport JFK in New York, we planned to leave around 6:30 PM. But then we arrived at the airport and saw the line to the security check which reminded my years growing up in the USSR, standing in endless lines in the department stores: it was long, it was wide, it had multiple turns, apparently frustrated people standing there more than an hour and no end in sight. I thanked God and Lufthansa one more time for putting us to the business class so we could wait in much shorter line! Nevertheless, we still spent about an hour to get thru security check. Looking ahead I add that upon return I read a series of articles in The New York Times about the "opening of the holiday season," many hours of queuing, delays on flights, etc. Anyway, let's not talk about sad things, let's talk about three weeks of vacation ahead of us!

Day One - 30th April, Saturday.
Cologne.

Out flight went well: we had a surprisingly good dinner, watched a movie and slept through the night. Our ticket was to Cologne and included one-hour trip on DB BAHN train from Frankfurt Airport to Cologne central railway station (Köln Hauptbahnhof). The first thing that caught our attention looking at the train window was unusually bright beautiful yellow fields. We immediately googled and found our it was canola fields that bloom only a few weeks in May, so that is another plus in favor of the chosen timing for our trip ! It was a good sign for a start of our journey.
As soon as we arrived to Cologne we confirmed the right decision to make a half-day stop in this city: entering the rail station lobby you immediately can see the famous Cologne Cathedral right behind the glass on the station plaza.

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We put our luggage to the locker, and without further ado went to make a first acquaintance with Cologne, and indeed with Germany. Our plan for several hours in Cologne was to see the Cathedral, of course, walk around town, have a dinner and return to the station to get on the 11PM night train to Berlin. I must say that weather was not cooperating, it was cold and there was that pesky drizzling nasty rain, when you hesitate either to open an umbrella or not to bother.

Therefore, after taking must-do pictures of us with the cathedral on the background, we hurried inside. Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in Germany and you can feel it: the height and power, both outside and inside cannot be described in words neither do a justice in pictures. Insanely beautiful stained glass windows (my favorite element in Gothic architecture), sculptures, details of the cathedral was the best introductory to what we should expect to see in Germany.

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Unfortunately we missed the English-speaking tour, and remaining tours for the rest of the day were in German, so we just walked around Cathedral, sat on benches and, finally, decided to climb the Cathedral tower.

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I would not say that the climb was easy, it was not, the steep spiral staircase was quite long, but worth the effort: a view of the Rhine River, the bridge and the city was really good.

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Going down, we took the city map in the info center and went for a walk around the city. I must say that besides the Cathedral we were not impressed much with Cologne: dirty, a lot of shady characters and beggars, and it says a lot considering that we were from New York! We walked a central shopping area where but did not buy much, the prices were steep, and I repeat: it says a lot considering that we were from New York! The only thing we bought was an electrical converter for our phone chargers.

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But our first introduction to German cuisine, when we stopped for dinner at one of the restaurants, was a success: Dmitry ordered a large pork knuckle with a giant glass of beer, and I had a delicious soup with liver dumplings. But the part was a dessert named "Bavarian cream", that was super yummy: something similar to a mousse with cherry and raspberry compote.
After such a calorie-packed dinner, we needed to walk: my ongoing battle with extra weight could not sustain Bavarian cream attack that greatly undermined my position in the war against weight gain.

We walked to the waterfront, which was much nicer and cleaner than the area surrounding the Cathedral, and went on bridge to cross over to the other Rein river bank. Here on a bridge we learned about German tradition of 'locks of love" when couples confirm their feelings by chaining padlocks on the fence or a bridge. There were thousands of different padlocks on the bridge: huge and tiny, highly decorated and plain, golden, copper, wooden, you name it! If we knew we would've brought our "Lock of love" as well.

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After enjoying city view from the other side of the river, we were back to the town. It was already 8PM, still a long time before our train, but there was nothing much to do anymore in Cologne. It was too cold to walk and there were even more suspicious characters than before. AS we had a first class train ticket, we decided to go to the VIP area in the railroad station. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and the VIP area was open only till 9PM. There were no regular waiting areas or benches in the station, and when we asked a question where we are supposed to wait for the train, we were politely advised to visit station's cafés and hinted that this not their problem. Here for the first time we encounter what we would call "service without care": politely, according to the rules, but the stone-faced and unwillingness to go beyond to help.

After enjoying city view from the other side of the river, we were back to the town. It was already 8PM, still a long time before our train, but there was not much else to do in Cologne. It was too cold to walk and there were even many more suspicious characters than before. AS we had a first class train ticket, we decided to go to the VIP area in the railroad station. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and the VIP area was open only till 9PM. There were no regular waiting areas or benches in the station, and when we asked a question where we are supposed to wait for the train, we were politely advised to visit station's cafés and hinted that this not their problem. Here for the first time we encounter what we would call "service without care": politely, according to the rules, but the stone-faced and unwillingness to go beyond to help.

Followed advice, we went and sat in the cafe, I had a cup of hot tea, Dmitry read, but at 10PM they closed. In addition, the locker where we left luggage storage was also closing at 10, so we had our bulky luggage and nowhere to sit and wait an hour for a train. I just do not understand how everything is closed that the one of the biggest railroad stations in one of the biggest cities and passengers has no place to wait for the scheduled train going to the country's capital!

Eventually, we have found some nook for smoking with benches, where we huddled until our train arrived.
I grew up in small town in rural Kazakhstan, and, until there were an airport built nearby, it usually took our family a 3 days trip by train to reach our vacation destinations. I have always looked with envy at the people who were riding first class sleeper cars, and dreamed that one day I will definitely take a trip in such car. This day has come! The compartment in the car was rather small, but cozy and comfortable, with shower and toilet. There was not much space for our luggage, but for one night it was OK. The train last stop was Warsaw, the conductor was a very friendly Pole, with whom we spoke on the mixture of English, Polish and Russian. In the morning he brought us hot coffee and surprisingly tasty breakfast, where we immediately fell in love with German yogurt.

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I guess, that is it for today. Tomorrow we are arriving to Berlin!

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<- Instroduction *** Day 2: Berlin by feet

Posted by lanadima 05:41 Archived in Germany Tagged germany cologne Comments (0)

Introduction

This is a blog about our recent trip to Germany. Perhaps our experience will help somebody who is planning to visit this wonderful country.

Why Germany?

Every year we alternate continents for our vacation destinations: thanks to Daniel graduating a high school and starting his new life in the Avademy last year was "home", the North American year (we went to Cape Cod and the Bahamas). Before that we visited Asia (Japan for vacation and India for a business trip), and a year before our friends, Daniel and I went to South America (Peru).
SO, this year it was a Europe's turn, but which country? We've already been to Spain, the UK and France, we are aslo planning a trip to Italy in December to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday, so what else? Well there were plenty to choose from! It was an easy pick for Dmitry. Being a neat freak and perfectionist in everything he does, he respects Germans for the same qualities: work eithics, quality and discipline. Visitng Germnay was his long-time dream, and it was time for the dream come true.

When to go?

Now, when we became empty-nesters, we were no longer limited by school breaks and coudl go during "shoulder" season when prices are cheaper, crowds are smaller but weather is still nice: either May or September. Well, there were no questions: May was the month when 71 years ago one of the bloodiest and most sacred wars in the World history ended in Berlin. We wanted to pay a tribute to our grandfathers and granduncles that fought and lost their lives fighting nazis.

Where to go?

3 weeks in Germany: is it tool long or too short? On the one hand, everyone was asking me "What are you going to do in Germany for 2 weeks?!", and many to include visiting to neighboring Austria and France. On the other hand, when I started to do my research, I realized that 3 weeks to see everything we want to see is not enough... In the end, we decided to exclude the north of the country (with the exception of Cologne, if it can be attributed to the north) and came up with the following itinerary:

Part I: WELCOME TO GERMANY!

Day 0, Apr.29 - Night flight Lufthansa New York - Frankfurt
--- train---
Day 1, Apr.30 - Cologne

Part II: EAST GERMANY

Day 2-5, May 1-4 - Berlin
Day 6, 5 May - Dresden
--- car ---
Day 7, 6 May - Meissen, moving to Nuremberg

Part III: ROMANTIC ROAD, FRANCONIA

Day 8, 7 May - Nuremberg
Day 9, 8 May - Würzburg
Day 10, May 9 - Rothenburg

Part IV: BAVARIA

Day 11, 10 May - Dachau, Munich
Day 12-13, 11-12 May - Munich

Part V: GERMAN ALPS

Day 14, May 13 - Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Day 15, May 14 - Fussen
Day 16, May 15 - Allgäu

Part VI: BLACK FOREST

Day 17, May 16 - Freiburg, the road through the Black Forest
Day 18, May 17 - Baden-Baden

Part VII: MOSEL AND RHINE VALLEYS

Day 19, 18 May - visit to the Mercedes plant at Stuttgart, crossing in Bernkastel-Kues
Day 20, 19 May - the Moselle valley, Koblenz
- End cars -
- Ship -

Day 21, May 20 - a river cruise along Rhine from Koblenz to Bacharach

-- a train --

Part VIII: AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GERMANY!

Day 22, 21 May - Frankfurt
Day 23, May 22 - flight Frankfurt - New York

How to communicate?

There was absolutely no problem communicating. Typically, before a trip to a new country I attend the relevant language course. Not just for practicality, usually locals appreciate the attempt and help with more enthusiasm. But for whatever reasons I had more difficulties with German than I had with Japanese. At the end I memorized essential "Wo ist die toilet?" and I decided that this should be enough. Local most likely will not be too enthusiastic after this hopefully will point me to a right direction.
As it turned out, none of this is necessary. In western Germany, 95% speak good English, in the East not so much, but, to our surprise, a lot of people, especially in their 40-s, still remember Russian. One way or another, being fluent in both, there were almost no problem communicating.

What to bring?

As it turned out, we had to pack a lot. Weather in May can vary from region to region, plans included from hiking and biking to visiting casino and fine restaurants with a dress code. We had two big suitcases with absolutely no extra room for souvenirs we were planning to bring back home. But the day before the trip Lufthansa has made a gift upgrading us to a business class for a small fee , which means we can bring 4 pieces of luggage to the plane. The problem was solved!

Everything was ready, it's time to start having fun!

Posted by lanadima 13:27 Comments (0)

PART II - East Germany

Day Two - May 1st, Sunday. Berlin by walking.

Our train arrived to Berlin on time at 6:40 am and right off the bat we were hit by the stunningly beautiful multi-level main railroad station in Berlin. At the end of our trip I became a fan of the German modern architecture, its sort of a techno style which is, in my opinion, very German - functional, efficient and beautiful.
We took a quick 5 minutes taxi ride to our hotel Berlin Marriott Hotel (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/bermc-berlin-marriott-hotel/). The hotel was an excellent choice: conveniently located on the border of the western and eastern parts of the city in a 5-minute walk from the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, next to the futuristic Potsdamer Platz and the beautiful Tiegarten park. Room was also good: spacious, corner with large windows and a French balcony.
Last night in the train we slept very well and had a good breakfast, so after settling in the hotel we did not waste any time and went to explore Berlin. Today, our route went through the eastern part of the city and in mostly done by walking.

Monument to Soviet soldiers in Treptower Park

Website: Soviet Soldiers Memorial
Free admission

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Our first stop was in Berlin Treptower Park. Like I said, it was very important to us to pay respect to the memory of Soviet people who died defending their homeland. Yes, USSR was an evil regime, ruled by an evil man, but it no way makes the sacrifice by ordinary people any less worthy.
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What struck us in the park is how well maintained it was. We noticed that everywhere else in Germany the number of graffiti surpassed America’s. However here, in the Treptower Park we saw no graffiti, no trash, no traces of vandalism. Big respect to Germans for honoring this monument.

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East Side Gallery

Website: http://www.eastsidegallery-berlin.com
Free admission

After visiting the monument dedicated to the liberation from the Nazis, our next stop was visiting a symbol of liberation of the East German people from communism, namely the destruction of the Berlin Wall, which symbolized the end of the Cold War.
Germans brought down the wall, but they did not completely destroy it. Instead, they gave all remaining wall blocks to artists to express what people felt that time. As a result, all these artistic works were brought to one place, an open-air gallery called the East Side Gallery. It is located near beautiful two-leveled Oberbaum Bridge (Oberbaumbrücke).
The wall is quite long, to see it in full one needs at least an hour or even two. There's a lot of kitsch, but also some interesting paintings.
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Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom)

Website: http://www.berlinerdom.de
Admission: 7 € + 3 € (audioguide)

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We walked to the end of the wall, and then continued our way towards our next destination, the Museum Island (Museumsinsels). We strolled through ugly quarters of the former East Berlin along the Spree River until we reached the Nikolaiviertel, the area named after the St. Nicholai church located here. Surrounded by lovely baroque and rococo mansions, this quarter bear some atmosphere of a small town, very different from the rest of Berlin, with its new cosmopolitan futuristic buildings and the remains of socialist realism.

Finally we got to the Museum Island, where in addition to several art museums one of the main attraction was a famous Berlin Dom. In contrast to the strict Gothic Cologne Cathedral, the Baroque of Berlin Dom combined with much better bright sunny sky made much more pleasant impression on us.

The interior was stunning, simply beautiful. P1000774.jpg The same as in Cologne, we again decided to earn our dinner by climbing the Cathedral tower, but here we would’ve actually preferred the cooler weather: although climbing was not as long and steep as in Cologne, but the hot day made it worse. View of the city from the top of the tower however made all this effort worth.
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Egyptian Museum (Neues Museum)

Website: http://www.smb.museum/museums-institutions/neues-museum/home.html
Admission: € 12

IMG_1438.jpg There are 5 excellent museums on Museum Island in Berlin: the most popular Pergamon, Neues Museum, Art Museum, Bode, Old Gallery and the Old Museum. Of course it was no possible to visit them all in one day, so we had to make a choice to see only one of them.
IMG_1423.jpg From my childhood I remember a small bust of Nefertiti standing on the desk in my parents' study. My mother considered Nefertiti the standard of female beauty because of ideal head shape and graceful curve of the neck. I still remember how I stared at it and could not understand what my mom found beautiful in this bold woman with a pot on her head. So when I was thinking which museum to see in Berlin, the choice fell on Egyptian (Neues) Museum. Well, I must to see Nefertiti’s original bust and solve the mystery that tormented me since my childhood! :-)
In addition to Nefertiti, in this museum you can find a lot of other interesting exhibits: from a collection of papyrus to Nubia’s art which I liked the most.
Nefertiti has her own room in the museum, where unfortunately no photos allowed. Well, my childhood doubts in Nefertiti’s beauty were finally put to rest: it is impossible to take eyes from the enchanting power of this women.
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Gendarmenmarkt

Website: http://www.berlin.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/3560277-3558930-gendarmenmarkt.html
Free admission

It was already five o'clock when we left a museum and started walking back to our hotel, deciding to have a dinner somewhere along the way. On the way we stopped at one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt. It is a rectangular plaza formed by classical-style buildings: Deutscher Dom, Französischer Dom and Concert Hall (Konzerthaus). Despite the neoclassicism of these buildings, the plaza looked very cozy because of its small size and many trees. By the way, Berlin in general is very clean, no trash or traces of gum on the streets, just a very clean city. Living in New York, I have to admit that we have a lot to learn from Berliners in this regard. Do not get me wrong, I love my city, where I lived the biggest part of my life, but cleanliness is not one of its best qualities.
We found a nice-looking restaurant near Gendarmenmarkt and decided to have a dinner outdoor watching people walking at the plaza which we liked so much. Restaurant was a mixture of French and German cuisine. What could be better than a delicious meal on a sunny spring afternoon at a table with a beautiful view after such a great and eventful day!
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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas)

Website: http://www.stiftung-denkmal.de/denkmaeler/denkmal-fuer-die-ermordeten-juden-europas.html
Free admission

thumb_P1000919_1024.jpg Our day began with honoring the soldiers of the WW2, then we paid tribute to the recent past - the Cold War, then jumped in the earlier history of the Berlin Cathedral, then even further to the Egyptian prehistory, and now we were back to the days of the 2nd World War. Now we were here, at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or Holocaust Memorial, to pay respect to war victims. The tragedy of the European Jews captured in the center of Berlin in a concrete maze with walls of varying heights. This monument would look much gloomier if not many children who played, jumped and climbed on these walls, reminding us how many children could also enjoy life if they had not perished for a crazy idea in a head of the little monster. We arrived on time for a sunset and the monument looked very impressive in the last glimpse of sun.
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Back at the hotel, we decided to wash off the dirt of the first day by going to the sauna. Almost all hotels in Germany have a spa with sauna, a steam room and swimming pools, as sweating in the sauna is one of the German favorite pastime. Our Marriott had 2 saunas and a rather big nice pool, so the day ended very well.

Posted by lanadima 16:30 Comments (0)

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