Happy Birthday to Eddie and Florence....
We left Dresden on a dreary day, but we really enjoyed our time there. It was chilly morning. It has been hovering around 5 degrees the last week. We are hoping in snows, which maybe a possiblity given that it snowed in London on the weekend. The trip on the train was fairly uneventful and we are getting used to the first class. Arriving at Berlin station we knew we were in for a great stay. The station is massive. About 8 stories high. Trains on each different level going in different directions. There is shopping on each level, with food halls, homewares and clothing stores. We found our hotel very easily. As our room was not yet available we decided to go exploring. After just walking a couple of blocks, we turned the corner and ran into about 20000 Berliners attempting the Berlin Half Marathon. It was a fairly festive atmosphere with street performers on the corner. Anna Lisa and I stood where there were some drummers encourgaing the runners along. We looked closely for Jill, but unfortunately didnt see her. We assumed she must have been up the front with all the Kenyans. The afternoon was spent hitting the main tourist route. After McDonalds for lunch of course. We headed towards Postdamer Platz and saw our first glimpse of the former Berlin Wall. Of course we took the wacky tourist shot with Ann on either side of West and East Berlin. A short walk from the wall we entered the Holocaust Memorial. It was a fascinating place to visit. We took an audio guide around the memorial and were introduced to a whole range of different Holocaust stories. It was a moving exprience and well worth the visit. Before we knew, 2.5 hours had passed. We made our way towards the Brandenburg Gate for some happy snaps. However off into the distance we were intrigued by people surrounding a red carpet leading into the Brandenburg Hotel. At first we thought it was Mariah Carey arriving, as she has been following us through Germany. She was on Idol last night. Idol is terrible over here. Then we thought it might be Heidi Klum and Germanys next top models. We have also been following this show on MTV over here. Or Anna-Lisa has anyway. But it wasnt her either. In the end we discovered it was some German Actors arriving for possibly the German Logies. There were cameras and media everywhere. We hung around for about 45 minutes in the freezing cold, hoping to catch a glimpse of some actors we didnt care very much about. When we realised our feet were frozen solid and how stupid we were, we moved on. Arriving back late to our Hotel we looked forward to what Berlin had to offer.
Today we decided to explore Berlin at our own pace. We bought all day train tickets and headed into the main tourist areas. We first visited the Gardens and had a lovely long stroll through the parks. It was needed after another round at Kamps for Breakfast, no Butter Cake this morning though. We made our way to the Berlin Parliament Building. We decided not to visit as there were huge queues and to be honest we werent that interested. So we picked up an info booklet and were on our way. Next stop on this exciting tour, saw us try and search for the book burning memorial. We didn't find it. So we moved on. One of the passengers on this tour (Ann) was getting frustrated with the navigator who wasnt so good with the map on this occassion. So I bribed her with lunch. After lunch we found the site of Hitlers Bunker. It is actually just a car park now in front of some apartment blocks, but very interesting nonetheless. A short walk around the corner (well navigated on this occassion) took us to Checkpoint Charlie. It was swarming with tourists and for what it was, neither of us could work out what all the fuss was about. Getting late in the afternoon we decided to head out to the Olympic Stadium. Both of us still want to see some major sporting event whilst we are here, but it doesnt look promising. There isnt any soccer matches in the towns we are in when we are there. The Berlin Stadium was pretty cool. The0y have a stone plaque at one end of the stadium which lists the winners of the 1936 Olympic Games. Our tour ended with dinner at the Doner Kebab shop near our house. It was so good. It cost about an eighth of what lunch did yesterday and was just as satisfying. Next stop Cologne and hopefully these reports are not as flowery as this one according to Ann.
Our first impression of Amsterdam is that it is very different to the many European cities we have visited. We are very pleased with our accomodation on Bens Boat. It is a houseboat on one of the canals. We have a good landmark to work from, we are located just near the brewery windmill. Ann is very excited because when she wakes up in the morning she can see the water flowing pst her window, has fresh flowers on her breakfast table and can see the ducks swimming past. Our breakfast is fully laid on for us. All healthy food, which is a good change from some of the bad stuff we eat during the day. Our first trip into the city was an eye opener. Especially for my sweet innocent Ann. After trying to navigate ourselves towards the city to find some food, Ann turns around to look into a shop window and didnt see any food. All she got was an eyeful of some floozy selling herself to the tourists. They were half naked and flaunting themselves in the windows. We had accidently stumbled upon the red light district. Ann couldnt believe her eyes as it was only two in the afternoon. Anyway.. moving right along. Ann had to pick her jaw off the pavement and we found some food.
After a lazy Sunday morning we eventually got ourselves organised and headed out into the cold Amsterdan wind. Ann wanted to experience some Dutch pancakes so we headed straight to the pancake house we found on our travels yesterday. After some clever navigating around the streets we came accross the place. It was rather busy and smokey, but the ham and cheese pancake and poffertjes were very satisfying. It was starting to rain outside so we thought it would be a good idea to hit the queue for the Anne Frank House. It was cold so the line quickly diminished before us... a handy hint we have learnt on our travels to avoid long lines. Despite some negative reviews we had heard in the street from an American tourist, the exhibition was interesting. It wasn't as informative as the holocaust memorial in Berlin, but nonetheless it put together nicely the book both Ann and I had read in High School. You walk from level to level in the house, learning about how the Frank family were able to survive for over 2 years during the German invasion of Holland. In particular the bookcase that covered a secret staircase showed just how cleverly hidden they were from view and the workers in the factory below. In the final rooms you hear a recording from Otto Frank, the father who was the only family member to survive. He read and published the Diary of Ann Frank. Ann died only a month before the liberation. Dinner was McDonalds, as Ann and I continued our promise to eat McDonalds in every country we visit. Of course Ro has stuck with the traditional Big Mac burger in every country, however Ann likes to experiment with the special promo burgers in each country when we arrive. On this occassion she has described the Big Tasty Bacon Burger as the best ever. Which Ro thought was a massive statement and is yet to be proven wrong.
Monday morning was also a lazy start. It was spent eating breakfast and Ann hand feeding the geese out of our bedroom window. She engaged in long conversations with them also. Rohan on the other hand was hooked on watching MTV shows. We were feeling energetic though and decided to go for a bike ride through Amsterdam. Ann charted a course for us that included a ferry trip and unlimited kilometers into the unknown fields of Holland. After Rohan gave her all the safety tips and what ifs about not having a map, or a puncture kit... we headed on that course anyway. The ferry trip accross the water was free and we soon were in the country side. Our ride took us along one of the canals and out to a place called Waterlands on the Broek. It was a pretty little town situated around a much smaller canal and an old church. With a head wind it took about 1.5 to get there. We searched and searched for food, but everything appeared closed. It was 2pm and we were starving. Just before we were going to head for home, we spotted a Pancake House. We soon inhaled some of the best pancakes we have ever tasted. We both had Bacon and Cheese Pancakes. And Ann had home made apple pie and ice cream for dessert. On the ride home we discovered why Rohan was exhausted and always appeared to be lagging behind. Turns out his wheels were considerably smaller and his gear ratio was also smaller. After switching bikes, Ann realised she had to work twice as hard to stay in front. Our bums were sore from the ride, but it was well worth it and a great finish to our time in Amsterdam. We both felt the city had won us over and we especially enjoyed our time on the boat with Ben.
Our journey from Brussels was on the Thalys Train. One of the fastest trains in the world. Rohan gets excited by the train trips and this one was particularly special as it was fully catered. Half way through the 1 hr 20 min ride, we sat down to a cold lunch. It was an OK meal, but probably didnt feel as nice as it should becuase there was some rowdy travellers who had decied that 1st class was a good chance to get drunk. Traveling from Gare du Nord train station in Pairs to your Hotel, is always an intense experience. The metro system in Paris is awesome to get around. Problem is with back packs, it can get to you. We arrived at our hotel in the Levallois. Unbeknowns to us, this is the local suburb of the Paris professional basketball team. We discovered this after walking into McDonalds. Who just happen to be the major sponsors! Of course. There was too much to do in Paris to pay them a visit and they were not playing the 3 days we were in town. The first day in Paris we retraced our steps from our Hotel down the Champs de Elysees. Of course this is Anna-Lisa's heaven. Shops galore and some of the finest clothes you can find. Our walk went past Place de Concorde, before finishing at the Louvre. It brought back many memories of our last visit to Paris when we did this walk on our first ever day in Europe, only this time we had done it in the opposite direction. The main difference has been the flowers. The gardens are coming into full bloom as spring is rapidly taking control. Our second day in Paris was spent exploring the area north of the Eiffel tower. We did not cross the river Seine last time we were here, so this also was a new experience also. The views of the Eiffel are much better from this side of the river. We were very weary today and the sunshine was beautiful. So we spent most of the time resting in the gardens. Of particular highlight were the street performers. Groups of young french boys street dancing, there own special version of "So you think you can Dance". When the hat goes around, there is no doubt why they do it. Maybe as much as 50 Euros for some of the best groups each half hour. We were endlessly hassled by trinket sellers. But you soon tune out and learn how to navigate you way around them without being asked to buy 5 keyrings for the price of 1! Paris is just too big and you can do so much to write it all down in a Blog. So we will finish with our final night in Paris. We decided that we needed to go out for dinner at a nice restaraunt. We found a place overlooking the Eiffel tower. Ann and I both had steak, but well done in France is not the same as well done in Australia! However it was great meal. Of course we wanted to scale the Eiffel at night this time, as we hadnt done this previously. It was a very clear night so the lines were massive, even when we turned up at 9.30pm. It missed going to the summit as a result, but we werent dissapointed with the views from the 2nd platform. And yes it sparkled for us. We got some great camera shots and headed home to pack.