Coffee and Canals

My last full day in Amsterdam and my city bike tour doesn’t start to till 11 so I thought I’d get out reasonably early and go out for breakfast before the start of the ride and look around whilst it’s still quiet.

It’s so quiet just before 9 I even see a couple of cats wandering around the streets. I’d seen a cafe that looked interesting yesterday “Black Gold” which was a combination vinyl record and cafe, without a cloud of pot smoke in the air which I thought looked promising. It was open at 9 so I grabbed a takeaway flat white to have whilst I continued to wander

It was a great coffee, healthy 7.5/10 so much nicer than the rubbish I was served yesterday at the other cafe. With coffee in hand I continued the wander

On my wandering I was passed by a bike tour and sure enough the guide was Pete from Mike’s Bikes who recognised me on his way past. Hi Pete!

Pete recommend the Bakers and Roaster cafe for good coffee. A google check says it’s the top rated coffee place in Amsterdam and it’s run by one of our Kiwi cousins so that’s a great sign. It’s also not a pot house masquerading as a cafe.

The coffee is a healthy 7/10. Not as good as I expected given the rating. I think Black Gold was better, however their breakfast options are fantastic which is why I suspect it gets such high ratings

Since I’ve got another bike ride, I decide to carb load 😳 😱😱

And as if I’ve not already had enough caffeine, the waiter suggests a cold ice coffee. How can I resist such temptation on a hot day

Amsterdam is quite a large tourist place, but I’m convinced it only has a handful of actual shops, but hundreds of exactly the same thing, some combine a few of these things together.

  • souvenir / tourist shite shop
  • Pot / weed / seed shop
  • Pub Cafe combination.
  • Frites (chip shop)
  • Sex toy shop
  • Bike rental shop
  • Hamburger shop
  • All major tourist places are exactly same, Prague was similar minus the weed shops.
  • Auf Wiedersehen, Wien

    I’m leaving Vienna for Amsterdam today, this involves a mammoth 1200km right across Western Europe. This involves one train change in Frankfurt, 10 hours on the train. This could likely cure me of my love of European train travel. At least the trains have plenty of space to move around and there is a restaurant car.

    It’s a very wet day today, probably the worst weather I’ve had in the entire time I’ve been here so a good day for train travel. This might be a long entry by the end of the day

    On this train they even give out a little travel guide for this particular train with the services and stops explained

    Train left Vienna and within 15 minutes we were out of the city and it had a distinct country look to the scenery

    For all the modern technology, tickets are still stamped by an inspector

    The ICE train has a dining car, but no food…

    Onboard coffee is predictably bad

    This river forms the Austrian / German border near Passau

    Passau is the first stop in Germany. The police bordered the train and were checking everyone out but not checking everyone’s identification. Looks a very pretty town. Danube, Ilz and Inn river all join here.

    Anyone for a riverboat cruise ?

    Thankfully I brought some food onboard with me as they are supposed to have food but don’t. Not sure if they ran out or were just slack. Suspecting slack as I asked about it just after leaving Vienna. Not what I would have suspected from a German operated service.

    Deep in the heart of Germany now

    Some massive solar installs here in Germany. This one alongside the tracks must have been at least 1km long

    DB have travel maps and speed directly in their onboard website accessible via wifi. Stops are marked in red. You can zoom in and out

    On almost every field in Germany near the woods you see little boxes like this. A bit of googling determined hunters use them to hide and watch for deer emerging from the woods

    Train stops at Würzburg and heaps of people take a short break for a smoke. So much more prevalent here than at home.

    Wine country

    we arrived at Frankfurt late but more than enough time to make my connection. Train to Amsterdam. The one to Amsterdam departed 35 min late. Not sure what happened to the legendary German punctuality, add to that the lack of food and almost all the toilets on the last train were broken. The Austrians are lording it all over the Germans as far as trains are concerned, the OBB trains all look fabulous.

    Another one that splits in two, one set to Amsterdam, one to Brussels

    At least on this one it’s obvious I’m in the correct seat

    You know you are in Germany when the train you are on drops to 180kph and the cars on the autobahn next to the railway are going faster

    Went past this, to fast to snap a pic. (Train now doing 300kph)

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limburg_an_der_Lahn

    Some technical issue now and train has stopped on a bend. Announced that since we are delayed an hour all onboard drinks are now free

    And they handed out forms to recover 25% of the ticket cost. I’m sure the cost of processing a foreign cheque for €25 will not be worthwhile, but will have to see.

    And we are in Cologne

    And I’m in the Netherlands. One of the greenhouses that make it the second largest food exporter in the world, yet one of the worlds smallest countries.

    Read about it here

    Schalkwijk. Just a random pic.

    Train running close to two hours late, finally arrived in Utrecht. Still a bit to go

    Finally arrived. 11pm on Monday and this place is still extremely lively

    Something decent to eat

    Room looks ok

    Coffee, Crypts and RailJets

    I was only in Prague overnight. My intention was to go straight from Berlin to Vienna, but when looking at a map of Europe, the most direct route is through the Czech Republic and Prague. If you do it this way, you have to change trains in Prague, and according to the man in Seat 61 (my train travel bible), if you do this there is a little known option on the Deutsche Bahn website which allow you to have an overnight stay in Prague on a single ticket. Essential you get two train trips for the price of one. Doing this I could see a few things in Prague (of course at the cost of a day in Vienna). When booking from Berlin, if you book First Class you get a reserved seat. You don’t get a reserved seat on the second leg to Vienna, but another little travel hack is to go to the Czech train website and just reserve a seat. The bonus of this is that you can reserve “Business Class” which on this train is a step above first class even. Not a bad option for A$25

    I started a little later today, as my train to Vienna wasn’t until 12.51 in the afternoon. I got  up about 8.30, went down for the included breakfast (the Falkensteiner Hotel Maria Prag has been excellent). Whilst there one of the kitchen hands dropped about 50 ceramic plates on the ground accidentally, There was broken plates everywhere, which they cleaned up in seconds, people with brooms came from all corners. I wasn’t sure what to do today, I was thinking about the Museum of Communism, as its supposed to be quite good however having done a communist tour in Poland and the DDR museum in Berlin, I was a little over communism (much like Eastern Europe really…). It was as this exact moment I got a message from my mate Virgil in Sydney telling me not to forget to go to see the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral. The reminder was like a message from some sort of divine travel guardian as if I hadn’t received it at that exact moment I probably would have missed this completely. We went past it on last nights bike tour, but somehow I’d managed to forget about it. The museum there is free entry, however if you visit please donate a few dollars to assist with the upkeep, nothing is ever free, someone pays for to keep it going. Unlike all the kitch and tacky stuff in Prague this is truly worth seeing.

    This church was the hideout used during Operation Anthropoid  in WW2 where the allies and resistance assassinated Reinhard Heydrich. The resultant search and reprisals are a truly harrowing story. If you don’t know the story and the wikipedia entry is TL;DR,  whilst Heydrich who was one of the chief architects of the Holocaust was killed, all the operatives in Prague died (either killed themselves to prevent capture or were murdered), their families were murdered and an entire town was liquidated and blown up.

    After about an hour here reading and looking, I headed back to the main square to see if I could get some decent coffee. Whilst breakfast was included in the hotel, the coffee was machine made rubbish, not even Nespresso (although as a side note the hotel did give you a Nespresso machine in the room with pods). Wasn’t sure what I’d find and as I got closer to the tourist centre I was thinking the chance of great coffee was diminishing as I walked past numerous Starbucks. Googling for coffee indicated all the great ones were over 30 minutes walk away. I chanced upon “Made in Coffee”, and it turns out this was a great decision. I could tell by the skill the Barista poured the milk into the cup that he knew what he was doing and this would be a great coffee. An 8/10. At $5 is wasn’t exactly cheap, but considering what I’d paid in Copenhagen and I was in the tourist central area not too bad. Unfortunately the famous astronomical clock here in Prague was undergoing renovations.

    After this headed back, checked out and made my way to the station. Purchased some lunch supplies for the train ride, which also helped me unload most of the last Koruna I had. At this point I got another message from Virgil to try some Kofola which is a local Coke/Pepsi substitute. Interesting, but way to sweet for my taste.

    Business class on this train is fantastic. The seats are reclinable, and business class is almost empty. I have an entire section right by myself. The leather seats recline and are very much like the seats in a gold class cinema at home. I’m given a bottle of water, a free coffee and a €2 voucher to use against any other food order. The train also has a small display in each section which shows how far away each stop is and how fast we are travelling. I noticed it got up to 160kph on this trip. With included WiFi I’ve been able to use my laptop and write these blog entries as the beautiful Czech and Austrian countryside whizz by.

    So far Austrian Railways with their RailJet has been my best train experience this trip.

     

    Coffee and Train to Prague

    One the way into the main Berlin station early this morning (about 6.30) I let out a little cheer as the place where I bought my breakfast pretzel yesterday was open and I could grab another one. I also purchased a normal pretzel for later as this was a 4 hour train ride and food is expensive and not that great on them. I found the ‘Einstein Cafe” was open, and they did a pretty good coffee for a station shop. A passable 6.5/10

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    Later on the train they came through with a cart and offered coffee (drip style) which I bought and noticed it was provided by Starbucks. And this cost me €3.50.sheesh, you can’t escape it.

    The train as it pulls in (EC177)

    My seat

    The train was comfortable and the view along the Elbe river into Prague on this nice day was stunning.

    The hotel was only a 100m or so form the station so I checked in. It’s in a wonderful old building

    I then wandered around the old town, over the bridges and had some lunch on the main square and checked out the Apple Museum. Apple museum will be covered in later post. As will the bike tour

    Lunch. The potatoes didn’t sound too appetising on the menu but they were extraordinary

    I’m not a large beer drinker normally but can’t have a schnitzel in the part of the world without one

    Some pics from around town

    Prague is a real party town and crowded. The photos I’ve picked above don’t really show just how many people there are milling about. I thought Krakow had a party scene, it was super tame compared to Prague

    Four Hour Bike Tour in Berlin

    Following on from last nights tour, I’m doing another one today. I didn’t have a heap of time to get coffee, and couldn’t get out to the few places I was recommend for best coffee in Berlin, so grabbed one from a small cafe under the rail station. Perfectly acceptable for a random coffee place on the go, a 6.5/10. At another place I grabbed what I could only describe a breakfast pretzel. Not salty and not as sweet as it looks. Rather delicious actually.

     

     

    We all met at the same place as last night for the bike tour. I count 39 people waiting and I’m think OMG this is going to be terrible, the 25 in Copenhagen was ok but bordering on difficult. Double that is a busier city will be unmanageable. Thankfully we are split split into three groups. Daniel mentions on weekend they can have up to 200 booked in. These tours are popular.

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    At the start we are told the TV tower was designed by Swedish engineers due to brain drain on the state at the time. Interestingly enough the shape whilst looking space age casts a shadow that looks like the Christian cross. This was was quite embarrisng for the East Germans as an atheist communist state. It was promoted as the Popes revenge in the West. All the bikes have individual names so its easy to remember which one is yours. I had a red one yesterday, so I picked a blue one today.

     

    We rode over to the Opera house which was bombed twice. The Allies bombed it, Hitler fixed it at great cost even with scarce resources during the war. Once it was complete we bombed it again. The communists fixed it again but had no appreciation for musical acoustics and replaced it with a flat ceiling.

     

    We also looked into Bebelplatz (the book burning square of the Nazis). There is an underground empty library to symbolise all the missing books

    Onto Checkpoint Charlie. It’s very kitschy now. The traffic here was crazy, no lights or priority signs on a major intersection in a tourist heavy area. This is the only spot in Europe ive felt nervous riding a bike. Exasperating the traffic were hordes of Trabants being driven in convoys by tourists. Funny to look at but a pollution disaster when in numbers. When in Poland on the Communist tour I was In a single one and not driving. They are hard to drive even for people used to them, being a tourist driving one, navigating traffic in Berlin and trying to take selfies with phones is a disaster waiting to happen. Looking out for cyclists would be the last thing on their mind, hence my nervousness cycling anywhere near them. 

     

    Here is an example of a convoy I’ve uploaded to YouTube.

    From here we moved over to the Fuherbunker (Hitler’s underground lair). It is marked with a sign, but its just an insignificant car park. As I read elsewhere once its an historically significant site but not a culturally significant one so it only gets minimal attention.

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    Brandenburg Gate was next, then the Jewish Memorial then into the Tiergarten.

     

    The Jewish memorial is massive, I was shocked at how tall some of the concrete blocks are. there are apparently 2711 of them.

     

    The Tiergarten is beautiful and massive. We had lunch here, I had a Bavarian Meatloaf slice on a bun. This is basically a square frankfurt sausage. Tastes way nicer than it looks. In the video below there are some shots of the Tiergarten. There were some very tame birds who would take the food off your plate if you left it for a few moments.

     

     

    After lunch it was a trip over to the Reichstag and Museum island.

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    And here is the video from the trip. What other music could I possibly have used other than 99 Luftballons ?

     

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    Berlin Bike and Food Tour

    When I got to Berlin and headed off for the food & bike tour, I found the Fat Tire meeting place for the tour really easily. The TV tower in Alexanderplatz is super hard to miss. It’s very Sputnik like, it was built by the old East Germans, using help from some Swedish engineers apparently. Met our tour guide Alex, easy name to remember considering where I was in Alexanderplatz. This was a small tour only one other lady (Eva). Both Alex and Eva are from Canada. 

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    We are fitted with Bikes, and I really like the Fat Tire ones, very easy to ride and they don’t have back pedal brakes, so I can reverse the pedals normally to get them in the right position. All bikes in Copenhagen had them. For some reason Eva’s bike does have them as well as the normal brakes so she had plenty of stopping power.

    We set off and stop at a bride not far from Alexanderplatz and we are served Champagne (well German sparking wine technically as it’s not from Champagne in France). This was an old East German brand, sweeter than I expected and not heavy on the bubbles. This could be downed quite easily on a hot day. I’m instantly reminded that I’m not in Australia as I could not imagine this would pass muster with our RSA (responsible service of Alcohol) laws, especially considering we are on the road with traffic. I’m sticking to one only as I quite certain Germany will have similar drink driving/cycling laws to Australia if it came to the crunch. Even though I’ve been in Europe for a few weeks riding on the right is still strange and the brakes on the bike are back to front for me.

     

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    As this is a food tour we head over to a place that servers middle eastern style food and we have falafel, fried haloumi, some pita bread, tabouli and hummus etc. all incredibly delicious and equally as good as good as what I’ve had at home in Sydney. Over this we just discuss life the universe and everything about Berlin and how Alex as a Canadian ended up running bike tours in Berlin. 

     

    After this we head off and tour some sections of Berlin where the wall used to be and there is a recreation of the wall in a section and a park that has some memorials. You can always tell if you were on the west side if you can read the text in the ground. If it’s upside down you are on the old East side. Germany never considers the DDR a seperate Germany, it was just Soviet occupied Germany on which they had no control. Anyone escaping could reclaim their German citizenship instantly.

     

    The traffic light walk and stop symbol here in Berlin use the old East German symbol. This is quite famous and probably most loved bit left over from the old East Germany. It’s called Ampelmannchen. Of course plenty of shops sell all sorts of Ampelman stuff.

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    After this we head into Prenzlauerberg, one of the trendiest and nicest sections of Berlin and go to the “Schule” restaurant and have a type of German Tapas sampling menu. We have currry wurst, schnitzel, Spatzle (German macaroni & cheese) and a type of pizza they used to test the ovens for the correct temperature too cook bread. flammkuchen (flamecake) .I wash this down with a glass of Weißburgunder. Yum, yum, yum.

    We were under a red umbrella in the sun, hence the weird colour of some of these pictures.

     

    After this we head over to the water tower to try and get some sunset shots.

     

    Time for thhe cake and coffee in another part of Prenzlauerberg. The cake was fantastic. I had a flat white, it was ok but I thought it was a little watery to pass for what I’d term a flat white back home. It seemed more like a slightly milky Americano with milk froth on top. After this it was a slight downhill run for a couple of km back to the tv tower. On a warm night cruising down at a nice speed in the breeze with not traffic or pedestrians was awesome.

     

    If you are in Berlin I’d highly recommend this tour.

     

     

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    Berlin or Bust

    After the delayed train in the morning by 20 minutes we were on our way to Berlin. the delay was only 20 minutes, so I didn’t really think much of it until I check my ticket and the exact change over between trains in Hamburg was exactly 20 minutes. I’m thinking this could be a tight changeover. Website says they arrive on same platform, one on platform 5 and one directly opposite on platform 6. If this holds true it might just be do-able. We start making up a bit of time, but this goes to custard when we get to Rodby where the train is put on a ferry, and the ferry doesn’t wait. We have to wait at Rodby for the next ferry. It’s offical. I’ve missed the train I’m booked on and not quite sure what will happen now

    Where I was sitting was too good to be true, in all the confusion back in Copenhagen with the delay and two trains coming in, I’d got on the wrong carriage. This train splits and the half I was sitting on didn’t go to Hamburg. Luckily the ticket inspector pointed out my error and I was soon where I should be, with more people around me.

    The Danish ticket inspector doesn’t know what we need to do about the missed connections and says to talk to the German ticket inspector once over the border in Germany. When that happened, it was easily sorted. Just get any train she says and tell them this one was delayed. Bummer is I’ve lost my seat reservation. To fix that, there are two trains out of Hamburg that will get be to Berlin before 4pm, so I get online and reserve a seat on both of them just in case I miss the 12.51pm as it even looks like that would be a tight connection.

    Putting the train on the Ferry was very interesting, cars, busses, trucks and this train. It’s basically a car carrying duty free shop with a few cafes. Food options were Schnitzel, fish and chips, hot dog or spaghetti. Most of the major European food groups covered… As soon as the cars and train were on, we had to exit the train (safety in case the boat sinks) and almost everyone bolted for the duty free to load up on cigarettes and booze.

    Train going onto the ferry, trucks beside it, cars one level up and it was a tight squeeze getting off the train to the stairs / lift up to the main deck.

    A few shots from around the ferry. Last one is the train actually going into the ferry. Not sure if it was pulled, pushed in or under its own power.

    We get into Hamburg in plenty of time for 12.51 (6 minutes wait) it pulls in and it’s an old Czech Republic run train. Nothing wrong with them really, I took one from Auschwitz to Krakow in Poland and it was fine. A bit old and worn out, but I’ve paid to travel on the high speed ICE trains and damn it, I want that one. It leaves almost an hour later, but only arrives in Berlin 20 minutes behind the Czech one, so decision is made. Turns out it was an excellent decision, the ICE train is wonderful.

    Old Czech train vs modern sleek high speed ICE train.

    I need not have bothered booking a seat, 1st class was almost empty I had little booth all to my self. Sure enough when the ticket inspector came around I told her the Danish train was late and she said that’s all fine and scanned my ticket.

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    Train gets up to 230kph. It may have gone faster but this is what it was doing when I stuck my head around the corner to look at the display

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    Arrived in Berlin, HBF is ginormous. One of the biggest train stations I’ve ever seen. Found my hotel easily, its next door. Fantastic room, ultra modern, decent internet and it also includes free metro travel. Damn… I’m only here for two nights. A few coffee places around, headed over to Alexanderplatz to join my bike/food tour. Thought I might miss this tour with the train stuffups but made it easily with an hour to kill. Photos are of the Alexanderplatz TV tower (built during the East Germany times), the Berlin HBF station and a metro train.

    I had an ice cold coffee whilst I waited for the tour.

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