Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Final Week in Berlin 2014

Hello Folks,

Today is our last day of visiting in Berlin and it has been getting close to a week since my last posting on the blog.  Tomorrow we have an early flight from Amsterdam to Los Angeles, which means that from Berlin we have to catch a super early flight to Amsterdam, which in turn means we have to get up super duper early in order to get to the airport in time for the flight and check in.  We have already done our online check-in, all that remains is showing up on time and making the connections.  In any case if we manage to make everything work out, we should be back in LA Friday afternoon, seriously in need of a nap.

Linda and I spent our last week visiting a lot of interesting places and for the most part doing things that we have not yet done on our other trips to Berlin.  While we did have one day where we did a whirlwind tour of the  Museums on Museum island, seeing some of the best of the best sights and some new visiting exhibitions, we did find quite a few new things to do and see.  We are also planning a few more new things to go and do in a few minutes as we go out to enjoy our final day.

It might be easiest to cover this last week by working backwards in time, it is the way that it is easiest to remember things for some reason.  Yesterday we went to Dresden using a regional train to get us from the main train station in Berlin to the main train station in Dresden.  Whilst in Dresden we were able to get to the main attractions by walking. Dresden is a beautiful city, the old town had to be completely reconstructed after the war, but it was done very well.  We did have to dodge a few rain clouds, but we were able to work that in as a museum visit interspersed with touring the town, visiting the buildings, and climbing the towers.

On the train to Dresden

Old town - Old Guy - Dresden from the Elbe

Grounds - Der Dresdner Zwinger

Linda at Der Dresdner Zwinger
On our museum island day, we made the national galery our first and main stop, and then stopped off to see the old (real old) favorites like the gates of Ishtar, the Pergamon forum, and artifacts from Rome, the Etruscan, and Egypt.

Linda!  Watch out for the snake.
National Gallery


We were lucky to be able to catch a tour inside the air terminal at Templehof which was built just before the war and was for a long time the larges building in Europe. It was a massive terminal with quite a history as a civilian airline terminal, an manufacturing site for fighter planes during WWII, and the base for the Berlin Airlift during the cold war.  It was fascinating.

A US C-54 (Candy Bomber) used in the airlift

Film Storage Room used during the war - burned by the Russians

Basket Ball court in the Templehof terminal

We found a small museum outside of the main part of town called "Das Brücke Museum" ("The Bridge"), a selection from the early 20th-century expressionist movement.

The Brucke - Emil Nolde
We traveled out to the Rathaus Schöneberg, the city hall for the borough of Tempelhof-Schöneberg in Berlin where John Kennedy gave his famous "I am a Berliner" speech.  It is kind of special visiting the sites of history that was being made during our lifetime.

Commemorating JFK's speech

In front of the town hall

One other site we did finally get around to finding was the site of Hitler's bunker and suicide.  It turns out that it is just a short 5 minute walk from the apartment, just around back actually.  It is a study in understatement.  There are a few signs that talk about the bunker and the final days, but no permanent markers.  The place is being used as open space, a children's park, a parking lot, a place to walk a dog, and in one corner there is an area where a dumpster is parked.  It seemed like a good way to use and mark the spot, but you can see why there aren't a lot of pictures of the place, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about it.

We have added several pictures (toward the end) to the Picasa web album for Berlin if you want to see a few of the things we have been seeing.

Anyway, we are going out for our final day of visiting soon, home early to pack and then tomorrow we start our journey home.

We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen & Linda

Friday, May 2, 2014

Berlin - our first week

Hello folks,

It is a beautiful Saturday morning now, one short but action filled week ago, we were getting on the train in Amsterdam and heading to Berlin.  We have had a great week, with great weather and for the most part very mild temperatures.  We had been waiting for a gray and possibly rainy day for our "Museum Day" and it finally arrived yesterday, but even then the rain was just an occasional light drizzle. The rain came with a marked drop in temperature, so the extra layer of water resistant clothing felt good.  Linda and I haven't had to wait long for "Museum Days" in past visits, and we were wondering if one was going to pop up during this first week of visiting with our friends Vickie and Karin.

Karin - Ready for Rain
We were able get the most out of the week of springtime weather and see a lot of sights with flowers in bloom, and everything green and pretty.  Some of the things we visited were completely new to Linda and I, and some of them were favorites from past visits.

One of our days, we spend visiting the farmer's market in the Turkish neighborhood near Hermannplatz, and then after stocking up on fruit and vegetables, we headed out to the botanical gardens in the area called Steglizt.

Karin, Vickie, and Linda at the Farmer's Market
Vickie, Linda, and Karin at the Botanical Garden
We spent another one of our days by renting "city bikes" and riding around Templehof.  The old airfield at Templehof was made into a historical great park that is both a monument to the Berlin airlift and a fun place for cyclists, Rollerbladers, and even some windsurfers on wheels.  The neighborhood around the airfield is quaint and pre-war with many of the roads done in cobblestones (you notice them when cycling).  We finished off the day with a German style meal at a local restaurant before dropping off the bikes and heading back to the apartment.

Coffeeshop Bike at the Templehof Great Park
 We spent another day touring the Reichstag, and then exploring the French and German Cathedrals in the Gendarmenmarkt.  The Reichstag and the cathedral tours both got us up to great views of the city along with real interesting histories of German political development.  We actually visited the French Cathedral twice that day, the first time to climb the tower and the second time to listen to an organ concert in the evening.

At the Reichstag

The Reichstag

View of the Gendarmenmarkt
For our museum day, we went to the Gemäldegalerie (Picture Gallery) to see the collection of old masters paintings.  It was spectacular.  We finished off the afternoon with a visit to a fascinating technology museum that focused on human body mechanics.  It was a wonderful demonstration of interactive learning.



Here is a link to some additional pictures from the last several days.

We hope you are doing well.

Stephen and Linda

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

First Two Days in Berlin

Hello Folk,

We have had two clear and wonderful shirtsleeve days for walking around and exploring the town.  The change in temperature since we first arrived in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago has been pretty dramatic.Our decision for planning our activities is to focus on outdoor exploration when the weather was great, saving the museum visits for cloudy or rainy days.

Our first day of exploring the town was a Sunday, so we decided to do a circle tour using the city buses and walking.  We used the buses because even though they are slower than the U-bahn and S-bahn, there is a better chance to view the areas you are traveling through. It is nice on the first day to get a broad brush look at a town and the start spending more time in the individual areas.  As it was Sunday it was not too crowded on the buses, particularly in the morning.

We traveled through the different neighborhoods some that had survived the war, others built by the East and West Germans, and others that are in the process of being rebuilt today. It is fascinating to see the different layers of old and new, historical and modern blended together.  There is an incredible amount of building and reinvestment in the infrastructure going on here.  It is no wonder that their unemployment level is so low, and that the place looks a little different with each visit.

Kurfürstendamm (Ku'damm street)

Palace grounds - Charlottenburg

Palace at Charlottenburg

We finished our first day's tour walking through Alexanderplatz, where there was some sort of festival going on.  It looked a lot like Oktoberfest, but it must be a similar springtime festival.  We stooped for a German beer at a restaurant in the Hackescher Markt, and then headed home.  We have seen evening fireworks two of the nights that we have been here, adding to the mood of a celebration.


On our second day we walked to the Brandenburg gate, down Unter Den Linden, and to the Berliner Dom.  We then revisited Alexanderplatz and then took a train to the East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin wall standing.  It is covered in modern murals, which have been sadly defaced with graffiti by visitors. After supper at the apartment we walked over to the Sony Center to see it under the multi colored lights.  We were treated to another fireworks display just before we headed off to bed.

Brandenburg Gate

Unter Den Linden

Berliner Dom

East Side Gallery

Sony Center at Night

We hope you are all doing well.

Stephen and Linda

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bike and Barge Update

Hello Folks,

We had a wonderful time on the bike and barge trip, the weather was great, the scenery was spectacular, and the mood of the trip was very relaxing. We did in fact see a lot of tulips, we were right at the peak of the season instead of the beginning of the season as planned. Apparently the Netherlands had a very mild winter bringing the tulips out a little earlier than usual. Even though the weather seemed rather chilly during our first week, if the winter doesn't furnish an opportunity for skating on the canals, it is considered to be mild.

Cycling in the Netherlands did take a little getting used to, there are often three different signals at an intersection, one for cars, one for pedestrians, and another for bicycles. You might guess that they would all turn red or green at about the same time, but if you did, you would like me, guess wrong. During the week of cycling, mostly out in the country, I never did figure out why and how the different types of lights would turn, I just took it on faith that proceeding on a red light was bad.

As I mentioned, the countryside was beautiful. With an abundance of water everywhere, everything was absolutely green or blooming.  One surprise, was the number of birds that we saw, both the variety and the sheer numbers.  It seemed like we were seeing different types of birds all day long, and other than when we were in a town or city, we could hear them singing. It was very special being able to see cranes, pheasants, hawks, and several kinds of ducks and geese. The singing from the geese and ducks wasn't quite up to par with that of the other birds, but it was fun seeing them as long as they were out of pecking range.

We are now on the train to Berlin, typing on a touch pad whilst riding with a few bumps. We decided to take off a half hour earlier than originally planned in order to avoid any complications with our connection due to delays. Today is "Kings Day" in Holland, which is probably celebrated with a number of different ceremonies, but the most obvious manifestation is the wearing orange clothing and drinking beer. We should have a holiday like this.  There was a negative side effect however, the crew that man's the restaurant car and makes the coffee for the trip, did not show up. Perhaps they began celebrating too early. The conductor indicated there might be a chance for a new crew when we get to the border of Germany. 

Our train trip to Berlin did not work out as smoothly as planned.  Lighting struck the electrical wires which power the trains just ahead of our route.  The train company actually did a pretty amazing job of pushing the train back to a station where there was electrical power available and rerouting us to get us to our destination.  We did wind up getting there 4 hours late, but we made it!  We just had a late supper and are going to head of to bed.

We haven't had a chance to sort through our pictures from the bike ride yet, but when we do we will post a link to some of them.

We hope you are all doing well well,

Stephen and Linda

Friday, April 18, 2014

Starting the Bike and Barge Portion of our Trip

Hello Everybody,

We are just about ready to our start the Bike and Barge ride with our friends from the Bicycle Adventure Club (BAC).  We have been told that although there is an internet connection on the boat, we should plan to use it sparingly.  It sounds like there will be a lot of people sharing a slower connection, so the posts during the trip might be a little short and possibly infrequent. We may also have to wait for pictures until the end of the trip.

So far, the weather here in the Netherlands has been very nice but a little cool, which should be good for cycling, but with some jackets and long pants.  The tulips in Amsterdam are obviously out, so we have high hopes for seeing some beautiful fields of flowers growing during the ride.

The map below contains the area where we will be riding (you may need to adjust it a bit to see the entire area):

View Bike and Barge Netherlands in a larger map

Day 1 Saturday the 19th - we check in at 4 pm at the Merlin.  Docked behind the Centraal Train Station Amsterdam. (Violet colored map pin)

Day 2 Sunday  the 20th - The boat sails to Nigtevecht, where we actually start the riding part of the bike tour. Visit cheese farm & stay for lunch. Bike to Utrecht & meet boat. (Blue Map Pins are the star and end points of the ride)

Day 3 Monday the 21st  - The boat sails from Utrecht to Vreeswijk. We ride the bikes from Vreeswijk to Schoonhoven (Red Map Pins)

Day 4 Tuesday the 22nd - We ride from Schoonhoven (our destination from the night before) to Kinderdijk meet the boat and sail to Gouda (Red and Green Map Pins).

Day 5 Wednesday the 23rd - We ride from Gouda to Leiden (Yellow Map Pins)

Day 6 Thursday the 24th - Sail from Leiden to Lisse and nearby Keukenhof ride to Haarlem. (Purple Map Pins)

Day 7 Friday the 25th - We ride from Haarlem to Amsterdam.  Time to tour both. (Purple and Violet map Pins)

Day 8, Saturday the 26th - Amsterdam. Have an early breakfast and head for the train station and catch the train to Berlin which will be the next phase of our trip.  Two of our friends, Vickie and Karin, from the bike ride will be joining us during the first week in Berlin.  We should have a great time there and we will be staying in the same apartment that we had during our last trip to Berlin.  We loved it.

It is a short distance from the boat dock to the train station for our departure to Berlin, it is just a couple of blocks and should be an easy walk to the platform even with luggage.  Saturday is some sort of a special holiday a Kings Day, so the trains running out of Amsterdam are on a special schedule, but it should mean that we will just have to leave a half hour earlier catching an 8:30 train and making a connection in a town called Amersfoort, it should be interesting.

We will have to see if it is practical to do any postings from the boat, if not we may do a summary when we reach Berlin.

We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen & Linda

Day 5 in Amsterdam

Hello folks,

We started out today with a visit to De Nieuwe Kerk (the New Church), which is right next to the hotel where we are staying. It has been closed for the last couple of days for the installation of an exhibit called the "World Press Photo Exhibit". Both the church and the exhibition were a terrific visit. The church is where the King is installed and manages to be plain and very impressive.  The exhibition featured photos and short clips that were not only excellent in quality, but left you with a lasting, almost haunting feeling. Some of the photos confronted real issues around the world, some of them rather sad. 

Photo Exhibit at the New Church

The Choir Screen at the new Church

Our next stop was the Oude Kerk (old church) which had smaller exhibits, but it is a wonderful building to see. The church did have an organ concert playing while we visited which was very nice as well. 

Organ at the old Church

Linda with Rembrandt's wife at the Old Church

Old guy - Old Church

 We then visited the National Maritime Museum, which has all sorts of displays about Dutch sailing history, maps, navigation instruments, ship models and also includes a full sized tall ship that you can explore.  This will help to get us prepared for our bike and barge trip coming up starting tomorrow. 

On the tall Ship at the Maritime Museum

On the Tall Ship

In the Captains Quarters

Ship's Decorations
We walked over to meet two of our friends, Vickie and Karin, who arrived earlier today.  We all walked around the town a bit and found a restaurant that seemed to be packed with local folks. We was great that we could all celebrate Vickie's birthday together, even if we were a day early.  Our waiter told us that the restaurant has been in business there for one hundred and sixty years. 

Karin and Vickie

We walked back, and walked by the dock where we will board the Merlijn tomorrow.  The boat is there, so we are planning to go over at about 11:00 in the morning, drop off our luggage, and go for a final walk around town.  It is kind of sad to think that we are just about done with this phase of our trip.

Here is a link to the pictures that we have taken during our visit to Amsterdam.  Some of them have appeard in the blog over the last several days, but there are several new ones.  I probably will not be posting very many pictures from the bike trip until it is over and I have enough bandwidth to upload them.

We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen and Linda

We hope you are all doing well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day Four in Amsterdam

Hello folks,

We had one more attraction that we wanted to see that seemed to be generating long lines, the Anne Frank House, so we got going early in order to be there at about 8:30 for a 9:00 opening.  We had noticed the day before that the lines seemed to be an hour to an hour and a half long, which seemed like an awfully long time to stand around waiting.  When we got there, we found that we weren't the only ones with this idea and we were at a point in the line where a sign post said the wait would be about forty five minutes - ugh.

We stuck it out, and they must have opened early because we got in the door just after 9:00 which is what we were shooting for anyway.  The visit was very interesting, with several audio visual interviews of a few of the survivors, a tour of the secret attic area, and several of the actual diary books written by Anne Frank.  When we got out it looked like the line was at least 2 or 3 hours long, and the streets looked like it was a weekend with people visiting all sorts of sights.  We were very glad we went early.  One of the rule in the Anne Frank house is no photos. There is quite a bit about the Museum with pictures at the (Museum Website - Link).

On the way to Anne Frank House

Near Anne Frank House

While we were in the area, we stopped at the Westerkerk one of the city's old churches.  It was a former Catholic Cathedral that had bee converted to a Calvinist church, which means they took a lot of things like statues, references to saints, and other ornaments out.  It is possible to design a building to look very majestic and plain.  When you take everything out of a building that was designed to be ornate, it just looks empty, like it is still under construction. As you can see from their website they do still have a very pretty tower.

We later made contact with a couple of the folks who will be riding with us on the Bike and Barge, Dick and Cheryl and had a chance to catch up and compare notes on what has been going on in our lives since we saw each other in 2012.  They had just come in this morning from the US, so they still needed to get settled in the afternoon.

Linda and I headed to the Amsterdam Museum, which focuses on the history of Amsterdam.  They do an interesting treatment of the subject, breaking it into several small bites rather than one overwhelming history.  It was real nice, and we may go back.

Amsterdam Museum

Money and Valuables Chests - Amsterdam Museum

Amsterdam Museum

All of these places were pretty close to our hotel, they are the yellow map pins on the map below.  We did not want to get too far away as the forcast was for 50% chance of rain.  It was a beautiful day, the warmest one so far, but it did rain after we were in for the night (the best time for rain).

View Amsterdam in a larger map

We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen and Linda