Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008 Amsterdam Holland. Jennifer and I were up and out early today, around 9 a.m. After a continental breakfast at the hotel, we made our way over to the market area. I needed to have some laundry done, and there was a vendor there who would do the work for me. For a couple of extra Euros, my clothes were washed, dried and folded. We walked along the street-market for a bit, bought a gift or two and then decided to make our way to the Jewish Museum in downtown Amsterdam.

It was a beautiful day, so we decided to walk. I was surprised to find that, when walking straight along the street and not following the tram tracks, it only took us around 20 minutes to get to the museum. We paid our entry fee and each of us got an audio tour. The museum was originally a synagogue dating back to 1671. After the Second World War, the synagogue lay unattended and in disrepair, but in 1989 the building was renovated and the museum opened its doors. Although it is not the first Jewish museum that has been in Amsterdam, it is now the only one in the city. The collection is about Jewish life in Amsterdam from the late 17th century to present. Jennifer and I spent around 2 1/2 hours going through the collection thoroughly.

As we left the museum, we noticed the Amstel Diamond building across the canal. Jennifer recalled that there were tours given, so we took our chances and went to the front door. We gained entrance and, yes indeed, we were given an introduction to the cutting, polishing and setting of diamonds. We stayed around 45 minutes. On the way back into the center of town, we stopped at a coffee shop on Rembrandtplein for some coffee and conversation.

We thought it would be a good idea to get the train ticket for the journey to the airport tomorrow morning. We both need to be there early. I went ahead to the train station while Jennifer checked out one of the many beautiful stores along the canal. We met 45 minutes later and decided we'd take a tour of Amsterdam by canal. So, we found a canal boat to our liking and spent the next hour going around the city from that perspective. It was a warm and delightful day, and being on the water was just the perfect end a day of sightseeing.

By 6 p.m. we were back at the laundry, I picked up my clothes and we decided to go to our favorite tapas restaurant for dinner and drinks. The restaurant is called Pilsvogel, and we liked it so much that we've gone back 3 times now. This was our last evening in Amsterdam and we wanted to enjoy a good meal, talk about our experiences together and pursue one of our favorite passtimes -- people watching!!

So, tomorrow it's to the airport and back to reality. What a wonderful 9 days in Amsterdam. What an absolute wonderful 2 months in Europe. It's hard to believe it is coming to an end, but while these kind of trips always do -- there's always next year.

Bye for now....
Sunday June 29, 2008 Amsterdam Holland. Today was a most unusual day, as Jennifer and got up at around 1 p.m.!! After running around Amsterdam for the week and going off to Brugge then Brussels and Antwerp, we must've needed the sleep. As we were leaving the hotel, we rented 2 bicycles and set out to explore a bit. At first, we stayed in the immediate vicinity of the hotel to get used to riding a two-wheeler again! We zigged and zagged, but finally got our bearings.

set off to find some breakfast and rode over to the marketplace, and weren't surprised to find the market closed as it was Sunday. But there was a restaurant or two open and we chose one we had seen over the past few days. We sat down outside and had some coffee to get started. As we enjoyed the morning, I struck up a conversation with a couple of young folks at the next table, and after a couple of minutes asked them if they'd like to join us. They did.

Daniel and Martine are delightful young folks from Lo
ndon. They had flown to Amsterdam for a weekend holiday and stopped at the restaurant for breakfast. We spent the next 3 hours laughing, exchanging stories, exploring ideas about travel, politics and the European Union. The food was good too. Toward the end of our visit together, we exchanged the promise to email each other, and I gave Daniel my blog and website information. Jennifer and I both hope they'll be in touch, and we feel we made some friends during our time here.

We jumped back on the bikes again and headed out of the city.
At first we stayed on quiet streets and it didn't take long for us to get into more residential areas of the city. The homes were large and beautiful and we were sure we found the "high rent" district of Amsterdam. We continued along one of the canals for a good time and kept going away from the hotel for around 45 minutes or so. We decided to turn around and head back. Between Jennifer and I we were able to return directly to the hotel area without any problems.

As we we
re riding back to the hotel, it was around 6 p.m., we thought it'd be fun to check out the cinema and see "In Bruges" with Colin Ferrell and Ralph Finnes. We figured that, because we had been there, In Bruges would be a great film to see together. We locked the bicicyles near the tram and took the short ride into town. We bought tickets for the 19:15 (7:15 p.m.) showing and decided to find a coffee shop while waiting for the film to start. It wasn't a far walk to a nice shop on Rembrandtplein before Jennifer and I were enjoying a nice cup of coffee and enjoyed and some of Amsterdam's finest . . .

Back at the hotel we checked in the bicycles and then made our way back to our favorite "tapas" restaurant. It was the final game of the Euro2008 Cup with Germany and Spain as the finalists, so we sat outside to watch the game. There was about 20 minutes to go. A couple of beers and a dish of olives capped off a most enjoyable day. We both realized that tomorrow, June 30, is our last day in Amsterdam. The time has gone too quickly, but we agreed we've had a wonderful visit to this most wonderful city.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday, June 28, Amsterdam Holland with day trips to Brussels and Antwerp. We were up early again this morning so as to make an 8:59 a.m. train to Brussels. Unlike the train to Brugge yesterday, this one did not require a train change, and we rode straight through. We got to Brussels around noon and found our way to the tourist information center. As it turns out, the tourist office was outside the train station in a large square. It was a 5 minute walk there.

initial impression of Brussels is that it is beautiful European city with lots of little streets that wind themselves here and there. Brussels is a large city with more than one million people living there. It is the administrative heart of the European Union. Brussels is considered the "defacto" capital of Belgium. It is also the home of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

After our stop at the tourist information office,
we were armed with a map of the city and learned that much of what we wanted to see was nearby. We went deeper into the city, following cute little streets with lots of shops and restaurants. Earlier in the day, it was obvious that it had rained, but now the sky started to clear and the sun began to warm us. We explored for about an hour before taking some time for a quick snack of won-ton soup and some tea.

As we continued our explorations, we happened onto th
e formation of a parade. We asked what the occasion was, and were told that it was a parade in celebration of "Meyboom". Meyboom is a Belgian holiday celebrating a "feat of arms" in the 14th Century. Meyboom means "tree of joy" and the celebration takes place with the planting of a tree on the 9th of August. The parade is complete with brass bands and giant puppets. Jennifer and I watched the parade, with the giant puppets and all, and were told it was a "pre-planting celebration". We followed the parade back into the heart of the city.

By now it was around 3:30 and we decided to take the train back to Antwerp for a look around there too. We boarded the train and we arrived in Antwerp after an hour journey. There was an orchestra playing some delightful music at the train station, so we stopped and listened until they packed up their instruments and left.

As we left the train station and started walking along one of the main streets, we noticed a cinema and decided to take a look. We enjoyed a showing of "Made of Honor" and then continued exploring the city for the next hour or so. Antwerp is a beautiful city, as well, and has a population of around 470,000 people. We were limited in our time and stayed on the main streets most of the time. Unlike Brussels, Antwerp didn't seem to have the many twisty streets, but we may have missed those sections altogether.

Jennifer and I headed back to the train station so as to make the 7:59 train to Amsterdam and got back into the city around 10:30. It was just getting dark and we were tired, so we made our way back to the hotel for a good nights sleep. Tomorrow we plan to rent some bicycles, visit the Jewish Museum and explore more of the city. We also want to take a boat ride on the canals before we have to leave on Tuesday.

Ciao for now.....

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008, Amsterdam Holland. After such a long day yesterday, Jennifer and I got a late state this morning and left the hotel at 10:30 a.m. I needed to buy a sweatshirt, so went went to the outdoor market not far from the hotel. The market is called the Albert Cuypmarkt and is the best known and busiest in Amsterdam. It's around 4 or 5 blocks long along a nice section of town. After an hour or so, I was the owner of a new sweat-shirt with a hood. Perfect for the cool evenings in the city.

We decided we'd see the Old Portuguese Synagogue, or "Esnoga", near the center of the city and took the tram in that direction. This is a truly old building dating back to its construction in 1671. The Synagogue is named for the fact that the Jewish community was expelled from Spain. They went to Portugual and finally Amsterdam in the early 17th century. As Spain and Holland were friendly countries, the Jews called themselves "the Portuguese Jews" to eliminate their immigration problems. Before 1940 there were approximitly 200,000 Jews living in Holland. Now there are around 20-25,000 Jews still in the country.

Jennifer and I went across the street to the Jewish Museum, but since it was going to close in 1 hour, we decided to see it on Sunday. We're also planning to rent bicycles from the hotel on Sunday as well, so that should be lots of fun. Amsterdam is a big city, geographically, but all of the sights are in a relatively small area, so bicycles will be a great mode of transportation for the day.

We headed back to our "favorate" tapas restaurant for a touch of dinner at around 6 p.m. and thought we'd see if there was a cinema we could see. A short tram ride back into the city center and we were at the Pathe Cinema looking for a film. We decided to see It Happened in Las Vegas with Ashton Kushner and Cameran Diaz. It was a thoughly delightful romantic comedy and we had a great time.

So, as reported, tomorrow we're on to Brussells.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008, Amsterdam, Holland day trip to Brugge Belgium. Today we were up early in order to get an 8:59 train to Brugge. The train took us to Antwerp where we changed trains and arrived in Brugge Centraal at 12:25 p.m. (the train station in Antwerp was especially beautiful, particularly the old station).

Click HERE to see where Brugge is located. Brugge is the Dutch spelling. Sometimes, it can be spelled "Bruges"

Jennifer and I found the tourist
office easily and we were armed with a map of the city and a good idea about what to do next. We decided to take the 15 minute walk into the center of town. The weather in Belgium was as elsewhere, sunny, cheerful and promised us a delightful day.

we walked into the city, we could see that Brugge is a beautiful place. The clean streets and charming buildings were all around us. The center of the city is dominated by a large cathedral, so it was easy to make our way there. As we got closer into the center of town, we saw horse-drawn carriages and a canal boat or two filled with tourists enjoying the view and commentary from their respective guides. After spending some time here, it is clear that the tourist industry is a major part of Brugge's economy. It seemed that most of the shops, hotels and other attractions are clearly serving the tourist trade. We found the "belfry" (clock tower) in the center of the Grote Markt. Á large outdoor market was set up all around and was surrounded by restaurants and shops of every kind. At one point, Jennifer and I found the "Rodeo Drive" of the city exhibiting every high-end name in fashion and hotels.

Brugge is called the "Venice of the North", with its canals and adjacent waters used for transportation and commerce. The city was chartered in 1178 and the historic city center is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After looking into a few shops, and sampling some delicious Belgian chocolate, Jennnifer and I decided we'd take a canal tour. The tour boats are easy to find, and we chose one we liked, making sure there would be an English speaking guide. He spoke good English, as well as French and Spanish. During the tour we learned that a Belgian beer brewery was nearby, so we decided to go there after the boat ride.

also wanted to see Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child" which is part of the art decoration in the "Church of Our Lady" and is believed to be the only the only Michelangelo sculpture to have left Italy during his lifetime. The church itself is a beautiful building with spires measuring 122 meters high. It is considered one of the tallest "brick" buildings in Europe. After viewing the sculpture, Jennifer and I sat in the serenity of the church for a short while.

As we left the church, we inquired about the brewery and
found it was a short 2 streets away. We walked there and found we were just in time for a 4 p.m. tour of the old brewery and beer tasting. This is the last active brewery in Brugge, the Huisbrouwerij de Halve Maan (Half Moon) and was founded in 1856. While the beer is now brewed in a new facility outside the city, the old brewery is a museum, used for tours and a delightful pub. Our guide had a great sense of humor, clearly enjoyed her city and wound us up and down over 200 stairs of the old building. At one point, we were on the roof with a beautiful view of Brugge and its many historic buildings. As promised, the end of the tour included a glass of their beer.

By now is was getting a bit late, so Jennifer and I decided to make our way back to the train station for the 6:20 p.m. train back to Antwerp and then Amsterdam. We boarded the train on time, but due to a delay along the track, we missed our 7:59 connection and had to wait until 8:59 to board our train for Amsterdam. We got back into town at 11:30 p.m., just in time to make one of the last trams back to our hotel. We were tired and ready for a good nights sleep, but happy that we had enjoyed such a wonderful day exploring a part of Europe many people never see.

Tomorrow, Friday, we'll be enjoying Amsterdam. Saturday, we'll be off to Brussels for another day trip.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008, Amsterdam, Holland. Jennifer and I were up at around 9:30 this morning and enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before venturing out. We had decided yesterday to visit the Rijksmuseum (this is the National Museum of Holland). The museum houses the "Dutch Masters", including Rembrandt and Vermeer. It is located in the same "Museum Plein", or square, as the Van Gogh Museum and was an easy walk from the hotel. We purchased the "audio tour" and spent around 2 hours walking through the collection. Obviously, the artwork, silver work and other parts of the collection were very beautiful. The museum was built in 1885.

We then wander
ed into the city center, exploring the streets as they wound through delightful shops, across the canals and finally had a delightful Thai dinner in a small family-owned restaurant. At one point during the day we found ourselves outside the Heineken Brewery and expected to enjoy a tour. We were told that the tour included a beer-sampling session at the bar. Our luck ran out when we found that the brewery was closed for renovation and is expected to open later this sumer. Another good reason to return to Amsterdam.

We walked back to the hotel at around 9:30 p.m. It was still daylight, of course, and we stopped at another small coffee shop to enjoy a last cup of coffee before calling it a day.

Tomorrow we are on a day trip to Brugge in Belgium. It is around 3 hours by train, and from what we've heard Brugge is a most beautiful city. So, stayed tuned, and I'll report on that outing tomorrow evening.

'Til Later...

June 23/24, Monday/Tuesday, Amsterdam, Holland. It's been a quick couple of days! Jennifer arrived on Monday and after a bit of jet-lag napping, we were out and about for an exploratory walk around the city. Yesterday, though, we had a plan. After looking at the map, we decided we'd go to the Van Gogh Museum and then see what happened next. As it turns out, the museum isn't too far from the hotel, so we decided upon walking there.

We left the hotel, took a right turn and discovered a charming neighborhood of shops and activity. There was a large open market we found, as well, as walked through there slowly. Jennifer bought a pair of sun-glasses which promptly broke. We thought 'we'd go back today and change them for another pair.

It was around a 30 minute walk to the Van Gogh Museum and we paid our 10 Euros to get inside. It's a new and brightly lit building, and we took our time going through all 5 floors of artwork. There is art from a variety of artists, as well as Van Gogh. By the time we finished the Museum, we were determined to find a cup of coffee and headed toward a street across the "plein" from the museum. We enjoyed a tasty cup of coffee an Jennifer enjoyed a 30 minute shopping excursion to a couple of nearby stores.

We decided to find our way to the Anne Frank House, so we boarded a tram and headed toward the center of town. As we walked along one of the many canals in the city, we decided we needed to take a canal boat before we left Amsterdam. We plan to do that on Friday if not today. When we reached the Anne Frank House, we found there would be a 45 minute wait to gain entrance. We stood in line and was able to tour the house at around 4 p.m. The Anne Frank House is, of course, that which has been made famous by the book Diary of Anne Frank, the story of the Frank family's attempt to hide from the Nazi's in 1942. The family was later betrayed and was deported to various death camps in 1944. Otto Frank, the father, was the only survivor.

Later in the evening, we ventured back to the neighborhood by the hotel and found a great "tapas" restaurant for dinner. We liked it so well that we both thought having dinner there again was a good idea. We got back to the hotel round 10 p.m., after a completely delightful day in Amsterdam.

Bye for now.....

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I arrived yesterday by train and found my way to the hotel without any problems. I spent a couple of hours in the evening exploring a bit of Amsterdam. I set the alarm for 6 a.m. and got some sleep. Jennifer's plane was arriving at 7 a.m. and I wanted to meet her at the airport.

So, early this morning I boarded a tram for the central train station and th
en journeyed on to the airport. Jennifer's plane arrived at 7:30 and we said our first "hello" at 8 a.m. or so. We found our way back to the hotel and enjoyed the hotel's continental breakfast together. At around 11 a.m. we went back into central Amsterdam and explored a bit of the city. At one point, we went into the train station and arranged for train tickets to Brugge and Brussels. We will be going to these cities on Thursday and Saturday respectively.

We both faded around 3 p.m. but an hour nap helped that considerably. We were off again, this tim
e exploring the neighborhood round the hotel. There are canals in each direction and we found a number of cute shops to visit. We made our way into central Amsterdam again. We found a great little Italian restaurant for dinner, enjoyed a coffee and cappuchino at one of the many coffee houses and returned to the hotel at around 10 p.m. Amsterdam is far enough north so that it doesn't get dark untl around 11 p.m. at this time of year. More daylight for enjoying the city and its many attractions.

Tomorrow we'll do more of the "tourist" kind of things, including a visit to the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Saturday, June 21, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Amsterdam is HERE.

OK, so
when did I complain last? Never, right? Oh sure, I broke a couple of cameras, but so what!! Anyway, that's expected. I boarded the train at 12:48 p.m. from Berlin to Amsterdam and had a great ride. When we reached the German/Holland border, we were told there would be a 15 minute stop-over. If we'd like to stretch our legs, feel free. I got off the train and took a breather.

It turns out that, at the border, the train locomotive changes from a German engine to a Dutch one. So, what the heck, I walked over and watched. It was neat to watch the huge locomotive uncouple and the new one attach to the train. Meanwhile, the engineer was leaning out of the big cab, so I asked him if he'd take a picture of the inside with my camera. "Come on in," he said. "Take a picture, it'll be fine". So, I did. Then, the conductor
blows his whistle and we're ready to leave. The engineer says "you'd better get back to your compartment". So, I put my camera away climb down the 3 steep steps to the platform. I'm feeling a bit rushed, so I jump the last step, land on just fine, and my right calf muscle decides to cramp!!

I'm still not complaining, am I??
I hobbled back to the first car, got into my compartment, rubbed my calf muscle and 2 hours later we're in Amsterdam Central Train Station. Except now, I'm limping!! Geeez. I've gone almost seven weeks of walking everywhere without one incident, and now I'm a gimp!! So, after I checked into the hotel in Amsterdam, I went back out and walked and then, walked some more. Oh I limp a little, but I am getting around, and I've decided nothing will stop me!! I may slow down a bit, but I ain't gonna stop.


Sunday morning update. A good nights sleep will do one wonders. I awoke this morning feeling pretty good -- and the muscle eased up considerably. So, maybe I ain't a "gimp" after-all!!

Friday, June 20, 2008

June 20, Berlin Germany. Last night I was getting off the train and when it came to an abrupt stop and I was bumped into one of the vertical metal hang-rails. I was carrying my camera in my pocket, it bumped the metal and -- yes again -- the LCD screen broke. When I got back to my room, I looked for the receipt to no avail. So, I've decided that the camera manufacturers are going to have a splendid year. I think their sales will "spike" for the month of June!!

So, it was back to the store this morning for a camera. I was lucky, though, I found the last "floor model" of a nice Panasonic camera that I was able to get inexpensively. So, all is well. And, yes, I am now using my camera case. Twice is quite enough, as far as I'm concerned.

If you read yesterd
ay's blog, I mentioned I would be taking a day trip to either Dresden or Potsdam. Going to the store for the camera, and the train timetable, made the decision for me -- I went to Potsdam. I boarded an 11:30 a.m. train and was in Potsdam by noon or so. It's a suburb of Berlin, whereas Dresden would have been a 2 hour journey.

While I'm not sure what Dresden would have been like, I did find Potsdam boring, very touristy and commercial. It is a very nice city, but not much to see, unless one likes castles, churches and official-looking buildings. I did ask about the building in which Churchilll, Stalin and FDR had their famous meeting held on July 18, 1945. I was shown where the building was on the map and told that not much public transportation goes there. I did walk around Potsdam for a couple of hours, enjoyed an outdoor market and sat in front of a nice pub and had a beer. But, all in all, it was a waste of time.

When I returned to Berlin, I decided it was time to move along. So, I went to the train station and purchased a ticket for Amsterdam. I'll be there tomorrow, a day early. I called the hotel and made sure they had a place for me to sleep and I'll get into Amsterdam around 7:30 p.m. tomorrow. Jennifer arrives on Monday, so I'll have a day to get the lay of the land, find out about the transportation system and how to get to the airport (to pick up "J"). I plan to relax much of the day and hold off sightseeing until Jennifer comes in.

'Til later, then......

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thursday June 19, 2008, Berlin, Germany. Today was the day to see the city. I was up early and went to the train station at around 9 a.m. to see the city Tourist Information Office. They were very helpful, gave me a great map of the city and and good map of the subway. Actually, Berlin has a dual transportation system, an underground (the U trains) and the surface tram system (the S trains). They cover the city very well, and one can buy a day pass to take care of all the cost.

I found a double-decker sight-seeing bus and they were nice enough to give me a map with a "walking tour" of their route. So, for no additional cost at all, I walked the entire tour they suggested. It took in everything I wanted to see. It was a nice warm day, a bit humid, so walking was a great way to see the city and get some exercise.

Upon leaving the main train station, Hauptbahnhof, I walked to the German Reichstag building. It was a 10 minute walk. The building is famous, in that a "staged fire" by Hitler in the latest 1930's solidified his claim as German Chancellor. Sort of the beginning of the end. it is a beautiful building erected in 1894 and housed the first parliament of the German Empire.

A few blocks down the road was the Brandenburg Gate. Construction on the Gate was completed in 1798, and through the years, it has served as a powerful symbol in one way or the other. The Nazi's used the gate as their symbol. In 1963, President Kennedy spoke there, declaring that because the Berlin wall had been erected, we were "all Berliners". Again, in 1987, President Regan spoke at the gate as well, demanding that "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!". Today, it still stands in Berlin as a symbol, but now it is one of peace and conciliation. (an interesting note: there is a sizable "Starbucks" coffee shop on the square with the Gate -- a fitting testament to "commerce in the city").

Not far away I came upon the Holocaust Memorial. This s a huge 4.7 acre site right in the middle of Berlin with granite blocks of various heights. They are aligned in perfect rows and are designed to commemorate the murdered Jews during World War II. The austere presence of the blocks demands that one consider their meaning. The memorial is built one block away from the Brandenburg Gate, another symbol of its design and meaning.

Not far away is the Memorial of the Topographie of Terror. This is an area of the city that h
as been transformed into a museum under the skies. It is the location of the buildings and complex that made up the Nazi SS prison, a place of torture and execution. As I think about the subject matter of this blog over the last couple of days, I can see a recurring theme. It is hard to be in Eastern Europe or Berlin without recalling the history of the Nazi period, 1933-1945. It's a subject that is trust upon you and one that cannot be avoided.

Next on the walking tour was Checkpoint Charlie.
Checkpoint Charlie was the name given by the Western Allies to a crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War, While other crossings into East Berlin existed as well, Checkpoint Charlie was the crossing for foreigners or Allied forces. Now, it is the center of commerce and tourist-related businesses. By the time I got to Checkpoint Charlie, I was ready for a break, so I sat down at a cute coffee "haus" and had a drink. People watching there was great fun.

I looked at the map while relaxing and noted that the Jewish Museum of Berlin was just a few blocks away. So, I made my way there, and inquired about guided tours. There were none, but for 2 Euros, I rented an "audio tour" and spent about 2 hours going through the exhibits. Essentially, the museum traces Jewish life throughout Berlin's history. I also noticed alot of young kids there, all with guides and obviously on school outings. I thought that was a good sign of continued progress in this most unusual city.

OK, so I know I've done this a thousand times, but I finally got onto an "S Bahn" -- the S train -- and took the cross city ride to the Zeiss Berlin Planetarium. It's an unusual building, and as I got closer to the front door, I noticed it was closed. I saw an employee entrance and decided to knock loudly. My persistence paid off and a gentleman came to the door. I explained I was from California and would like to see the planetarium projector. He invited me inside and took me to another office where I met one of the managers. I explained myself again, and was taken to the planetarium for a picture-taking session. It was great fun, and I'm glad I took the time to "knock on the door".

Tomorrow I am planning a day trip, possibly to Dresden or Pottsdam.....

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

June 18, Berlin Germany. I was up at around 7:30 this morning and had an 11:25 train to Berlin. It was a 6 hour ride, so I arrived at the Berlin Haupbahnhoff (train station) at 5:30. The train I took this morning was an express and was very comfortable. When I bought my Eurail Pass, I bought a "first class" ticket, so I've been able to travel first-class whenever those accommodations have been available. They were today, and it was great.

I found my way to the hostel easily and I have a very nice room overlooking the courtyard. It's a nice and sunny room, so I think it'll be an enjoyable stay. The hoste
l has wireless internet throughout, so I'm having fun doing my favorite internet stuff. The Euro 2008 soccer competition is still in progress, and I've had a chance to watch some of the games (at least in part). I can see why the Europeans are so crazy for the sport. It's tough, much tougher that our own version of football, and in my opinion requires far more skill!!

I have to set a sight
seeing plan tomorrow, so I'll head to the main train station and talk to the tourist information folks. I've also decided to take a "day trip" to Dresden, probably on Friday. That should be an interesting adventure, and I'd like to find a factory where the china is made. Otherwise, I've been to so many cities now that I've discovered they are beginning to blend into each other. Still, visting the great cities of Europe has been a wonderful experience, and one that I won't soon forget.

So, dear read, this will be a short entry, and until tomorrow -- stay tuned.

Click HERE to see where I am located now...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 Warsaw Poland. As today is my last day in Warsaw, I decided I'd try to take in as many of the sights as possible. As it turns out, the Old Town, the Warsaw Ghetto Monument and Technology Museum were all pretty close to each other. I was able to walk, or use the trams, to cover everything I wanted to. The first thing I did was to walk to Ian's apartment to pick up my umbrella. It was left in the taxi yesterday. I got there around 10 a.m. we had a cup of tea together and enjoyed some conversation.

an lives adjacent to a large and beautiful park in Warsaw called Park Lazienkowski. There are number of sights in the park, but the most interesting is the Palace on the Water. It's a beautiful building, and was the private "residence" of the King in 1764. The park itself is very large with a variety of sights to be seen, but once I visited the Palace, I decided it was getting a bit late and I had lots to to, so I made my way to the Old Town.

At first I was going to walk into the Old Town, but I took a bus instead. I noticed on the map there was a Museum of the Resistance (in the Warsaw Ghetto) not too far from where I intended going, so I thought I'd start there. Unfortunately when I arrived, I discovered the museum is closed on Tuesdays so I didn't get a chance to go inside. I did learn that the museum just opened this year. It was a bit off the beaten track, but it was a new red brick building, quite large, and I'm sure the exhibits are excellent. Another good excuse to come back to Warsaw is the see the museum.

My next stop was the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial. On the way, I visited the Nozyk Synagogue, the oldest in Warsaw. The Warsaw Ghetto was the most "infamous" in Europe during World War II. It was the largest of the Jewish ghettos established between 1941 and 1943. Starvation, disease and deportations to the concentration and extermination camps dropped the population of the ghetto from an estimated 450,000 to approximately 71,000. In 1943 the Warsaw Ghetto was the scene of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the first mass rebellion against the Nazi's. A small area of the former ghetto is now a park and memorial and I sat on a bench for awhile and had a bit of lunch. I stayed about 45 minutes and then made my way to the Old Town of Warsaw.

As its name implies, the Old Town of Warsaw was founded in the 13th Century. The town originally grew up around the site of a castle. The Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta) was laid out sometime in the late 13th or early 14th century. Old Town is also on UNESCO's World Heritage Site as a place that accurately reflects its history. The Market Square was alive with activity. Horse-drawn carriages, musicians, tourists and restaurants and pubs were in abundance. I walked through the entire Old Town area and found an interesting Museum dedicated to Marie Curie, the discover of radium. She was awarded 2 Nobel Prizes as well, one in physics and one in chemistry. While I thought the exhibits were limited, it was still a worthwhile visit.

As I was walking back to the train station, I spotted the Museum of Technology. Among its exhibits, it is also the home of the Warsaw Planetarium. As has been the case in every city I've visited, I was welcomed into the planetarium, took a couple of pictures, talked at some length with the manager and enjoyed the visit immensely. The planetarium projector is a fairly rare 37 year old Zeiss instrument. The only other working model, of this type, was one I saw in Prague. I also found they had an amateur radio station there, and while it wasn't open, it was fun to see.

So, tomorrow I'm off to Berlin on an 11:25 a.m. train. It's a 6 or 7 hour ride, so I'll be there tomorrow evening. From there it'll be on to Amsterdam where Jennifer will join me on the 23rd. I can't believe my European adventure is coming to a close. It's been wonderful so far, and I expect the remainder to be just as enjoyable.

Bye for now.....

Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday, June 16, Warsaw, Poland.

Click here to see where Warsaw is in Europe.

After the best night's sleep I've had for awhile, I was up at 8 a.m. an
d got ready to get onboard a 9:55 train for Warsaw. As opposed to yesterday, the sun was out again today, and it was quite a bit warmer. I found my compartment and settled in for the 3 hour transit from Krakow to Warsaw. During the trip, I had the good fortune to meet a young man, Ian Debski, from the United States who now lives in Warsaw. We discussed a variety of interesting subjects, and once we disembarked the train, Ian was nice enough to offer to share a cab and drop me at the hostel. It was great not having to navigate the streets of Warsaw until later in the day.

ce I was settled in the hostel, I made my way back to the train station and purchased a ticket for Berlin. I'll be going there on Wednesday. I also stopped by the Tourist Information Office, and I've planned my day for tomorrow. While Warsaw itself is a very big city, the Old City and the old Ghetto area are confined to a well defined section of the city. I plan to walk "into" the old section and then use public transportation to get back. Depending on the weather, and how I feel, I might walk both ways.

So, what about my first impressions of Warsaw? Warsaw is the largest city in Poland and is the capital. Its population is 1.7 million or a bit more. After World War II, about 85% of the city was destroyed, so it is no wonder that Warsaw takes on the look of any other modern city I've visited. From what I've seen so far, and to my surprise (again), Warsaw is a clean, cosmopolitan city with high-rise office buildings, a mature transportation system and shopping as good as anywhere. Right next to the train station, as was the case in Krakow, a new modern shopping mall has every shop one can imagine -- including movie theaters (cinema
as they are called in Europe). With some time to kill, I took in a movie and thoroughly enjoyed a brand new cinema with a "liquor bar" in the lobby. Now, that's civilized!!

The pictures here are of present-day Warsaw. The bottom picture is that of Ian as the taxi dropped me off at the hostel and we bid farewell. Thanks Ian...

I think one of the best parts of this trip has been the people I've met. It's been great, so far, and I expect the next two weeks will be just as good or better!!