When you go on a nice holiday to a beautiful resort or a luxurious hotel you usually take other things with you than when you go backpaking. Ofcourse there are things you drag with you everywhere you go (like your phone, or a tablet or a camera). Yet during my travels through Europe I realised there are things I can’t go without when I go backpacking.
Arriving in Berlin, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the city had come a long way since the Berlin wall went down, but I didn’t know it came this far! For some reason when I thought of Berlin I saw images in my head of the old days, when there was still an East and West Berlin.
When I got off the train I was in awe. Hauptbahnhof Berlin is one of the biggest train stations I have seen on my backpacking trip around Europe. It’s huge! Many levels, lots of shops and food stalls. The shape of the roof reminded me of an old hangar and I don’t know why but I found it fitting to arrive in Berlin in “an old hangar” (although it’s far from old and in fact very modern!)
The Berlin Wall
Of course while in Berlin, I had to see the parts that are left of the Berlin wall. The grim reminder of the division between West and East Berlin that was finally torn down in 1989. For me it wasn’t about being a tourist and get my photo taken with the remains of the wall or at checkpoint Charlie but to in some way pay my respect to those who suffered from the wall and died trying to get to the other side. So many lives have been affected by the wall and so many lost their lives for the hope of finding a better life on the other side.
Right now there are still parts left that are displayed in an artsy way with beautiful paintings on them, as well as pieces that are left untouched and “as is”. And standing beside it reading the signs on it made me feel very small and very sad for all who had to deal with it.
Close to where we saw the remainder of part of the wall is Checkpoint Charlie, or Checkpoint C, the best-known crossing point on the wall in the cold war. Right now it’s transformed in a tourist attraction. You can get your photo taken with soldiers, if you pay. To be honest I was appalled by this. I can imagine people want to make money in certain ways but it wasn’t a fun place back then so it felt very wrong on so many levels to see people queueing up to get photographed.
Needless to say I didn’t get mine taken, nor did I stay very long. It seemed like most people there forgot what Checkpoint Charlie and the wall represented and I think that’s something we should never forget so it can never happen again.
When Sarah and I left the area of Checkpoint Charlie we headed towards the centre of Berlin. Because Berlin is not all about the wall and the tainted history. It’s a very beautiful city with lots other things to do and to see. There are wonderful parks and plenty of opportunities to shop if you’d like to.
It has very modern shopping centres, streets filled with shops, cute boutiques and restaurants. There are even people walking around with fully equipped bratwurst stations selling them on the go. And all of this amongst beautiful buildings, fountains and monuments. The atmosphere in the centre was far different from the Checkpoint Charlie area and it shows how far Berlin has come since the wall went down.
I loved Berlin, it has old and new and the people are so diverse it’s beautiful to see and experience, they’ve come a long way.
Imagine booking a hostel and receiving an email right after your booking confirmation to warn you about the city, from the same hostel! Surely it was very kind of them to send us an email to warn us to keep our valuables hidden (or not take them into the city at all) and to be aware of pickpockets and other scammers. Yet at the same time it had me a bit more weary about Prague than it deserves.
We arrived at our hostel right around dinner time, we were hungry and tired from travelling all day from Salzburg to Prague. To our surprise we were greeted with a nice warm dinner, for free! The hostel organises free dinners a few times a week for their guests and we happen to arrive on such a day. Lucky us! We even got to eat and fill our rumbling tummies before checking in. Now that’s a big two thumbs up.
After settling in to our room (with no room mates for our whole stay, win!) we made our way down to the bar to try us some Czech beer. Lots of beer for cheap, what’s wrong with that? The bar was covered with writings on the wall and country flags, New Zealand and The Netherlands represented of course!
Being tired after such a long day of travel on not very comfortable trains we finished our beers and headed up to our room for an early night.
The next day we headed in to the old city of Prague. That’s the most beautiful part of the city. A lot of old buildings have been fantastically restored to the way they looked in their glory days. This part of the city also seems a lot cleaner than the rest of Prague we’ve seen, but maybe that’s because this is the most touristy part and it has to look inviting?
Crossing one of the many bridges to make our way up to the castle we looked to our right to the Charles bridge. A very beautiful bridge made out of Bohemian sandstone. It is protected by 3 bridge towers and has a lot of statues all along the bridge. A magnificent sight, which was unfortunately diminished by a very large purple finger, contaminating the view.
Little did we know the finger was not only our topic of conversation. Sarah and I were discussing the reason for the finger and how it made the view a little less attractive (and made it impossible to take proper photos without the finger showing up), when I turned around and found a microphone under my nose and a camera in my face. Brilliant, a camera crew for Czech TV. I was immediately asked about the finger, if I knew what it represented, why it was there and my feelings on communism and protesting. Thinking up the most politically correct answer I could in 3 seconds I got away as fast as I could, and I sincerely hope I didn’t end up on Czech TV.
After my 5 seconds of fame we made our way up to the Castle giving us a stunning view of the city while walking through the castle gardens. We had to walk up a lot of steps to get up there but it was absolutely worth it. Ironically enough you have to go down some more steps to get to the garden but I can really recommend doing so because the gardens are amazing, even in fall.
The one thing I really wanted to see in Prague was the John Lennon wall. Since the 1980’s this once normal wall has been filled with John Lennon inspired graffiti as well as Beatles song lyrics. In 1988 the wall was used by young Czechs to write their grievance on and it became a source of irritation for the communist regime. The wall has been painted over many times and the original portraits have been lost under numerous layers of paint. These days the wall represents a symbol of ideals like love and peace.
As you can see the wall has a lot of graffiti on it, and a lot of the lyrics and portraits are gone. I think it’s very unfortunate that most of the graffiti on it has nothing to do with the ideals of love and peace but are just spray painted names and phrases not connected to the Beatles, John Lennon or what the wall stands for these days.
The wall is located near the Charles bridge and although there are no signs (at least that I saw) you just find the John Lennon pub and it’s right across from there.
A long day of walking around the city exploring made these backpackers very hungry (Bratwurst for lunch is good though!) and we were looking forward to dinner. The hostel staff recommended restaurant Lavicka Zahradni to us, good food for a decent price. It was close to the hostel so it was an easy choice.
The food was perfect. It was absolutely delicious and well prepared. We both ate for around €20,- a person and that included a main course, a dessert and wine or cocktails. How’s that for cheap?! The cocktails I drank were the best I had this trip and prepared with real ingredients rather than syrup. If you’re in Prague, keep this place in mind. It’s not in old town, but located in the opposite direction about 20 minutes walk from the main train station. They have a tram stop practically in front of their door too and the trams go from old town straight there so no need to walk if you don’t want to!
Prague is definitely worth visiting, it’s a lot cheaper than most other cities in Europe (actually the whole of Czech Republic is) and it makes for an ideal city to spend a weekend in.
From my lack of blogging you might have the thought Sarah and I had gone missing somewhere between Salzburg and home, but we didn’t. We just had so many things to see and do that blogging wasn’t on the top of the list, this last part of our backpacking adventure.
We arrived back in The Netherlands on October 25, leaving us with a few more days to relax before I started work again and Sarah flew back home to New Zealand. We enjoyed our last few days hanging out together by going out to dinner and enjoying some more Dutch snacks like Hema rookworst in a roll.
Life after our adventure has been a little crazy for me. another reason I haven’t blogged since being back home. I just had so much to catch up on in every day life and at work! I will post more entries about the cities we visited shortly and I have yet to sort through all my photos so expect a lot more photo entries soon too!
So no worries, both me and Sarah arrived home safely and had a fantastic time travelling around Europe. More updates will follow soon and meanwhile I’m already planning my next (short) trip to London, my home away from home!
First of all an apology for the lack of posts lately but things have been a little crazy on the road 😉 that’s what happens if you take a night train out of Venice to Vienna
I love Vienna it’s one of my favourite cities mixing old and new really well. I’ve been to Vienna before and really enjoyed it then so I was looking forward to this visit.
Unfortunately we only stayed one day in Vienna and even though we saw a lot of the city such as the Spanish Riding School, we walked past the Sissy museum, went to the museum quarter and noticed a Gustav Klimt exhibition amongst other things, I would have loved to stay another few days!
A must try in Austria is of course bratwurst, you can either get it in a roll or with bread, with it without sauerkraut and mustard. It’s a cheap, easy and delicious lunch (unless you get ripped off by a cranky sales lady who didn’t give Sarah her change back!!)
Also try Wiener Schnitzel for dinner and apple strudel for dessert! It is so good it makes my mouth water just thinking about it!
The prettiest thing about Vienna to me is how the old buildings and architecture fits right in with all the beautiful new buildings combining the city as a whole.
If you like architecture and modern city life be sure to visit Vienna, I’m convinced you’ll love it too!!!