Speaking about weather. Once November came , it became very cold, in 30's and one day there were snowflakes. Tourists started to buy warm things. I had to buy a wool hat. None of the hats looks good on me and this one is traditional Czech peasant hat . Funny, but everybody is wearing these. Either this or russian fur like hats or russian military hats. No, thank you very much.
Nov 3, we took taxi from Oriental hotel. Service is very good at Oriental. I am going to miss it and also will miss that heated floor in the bathroom! Staf knew us by name. Maybe too much attention but I like it. George does not. When we had dinner, the chef came in and asked how we liked it . The waiters kept hovering all over us. However, we had a business conversation and it was bothersome after a while.
Anyway, we came to Holesowice train station. It is a gloomy concrete station, with some shady characters. So watch your wallets. Toilets 6krones but atttendant keeps it clean. When we arrived, the porter offered his services and we took him and glad we did. He showed us where to buy tickets. We communicated with him and casheir in Russian. Cashier suggested to buy seats without reservation. We bought again second class tickets, they cost 60 eur both tickets. We waited until departure, we still had one more hour. The porter said will come back in 40 mins and we waited in waiting area. He came back and took us to the train. I did not see other porters at all. He might have been the only one there. He took our suitcases to the compartment and choose a compartment for us. That train consisted of apartments. He asked 50 czk ($2.5 usd) but we paid he $5. He was very grateful. The train stopped in Prague only for 7 minutes so it was good that we got the porter help us. I am sure we would managed ourselves, but it took stress off us to have a porter.
In our compartment for 6 pax was only one young man who left on next station in Czech republic and we continued just two of us. So second class again was acceptable.
Dresden has 2 stations - main and Neustadt (new town). We looked at the map where our hotel Westin Bellevue is and it was in Neustadt. So we off at next station after main - Neustadt. There are 9 mins between stations and train stops only for 2 mins at each one. We got off and got our suitcases ourselves. Next time I will take even less clothes. We also by that time had one extra bag with brochures and tourist info collected on the way and some souvenirs with us. Dresden station had stairs to go down so we could not have used cart. Fortunately it was short walk downstairs to taxi and we got to hotel in 10 mins. 6 eur. I am glad we got off at right station otherwise drive from main station would be twice as much.
At hotel unlike Oriental, the doorman did not even shown up. For such hotel is unacceptable.
I noted at receiption desk and they wanted to send a porter to take our bags t othe room, but no thanks. We managed ourselves. George who complained for Oriental doorman who beat George to the door all the time, now saw the difference. But anyway, the room was fine.http://www.starwoodhotels.com/westin/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1106
No heated floors though.. :-)
Location is very good - 10 min walk to old town by bridge and also in quiet residential area with a nice shopping outdoor mall. Concierge at hotel recommended local brewhouse Watzke across the stree,t we went there. We were the only ones Americans there, but waiters spoke English. They recommended Saxon specialties and we had a great dinner and it was inexpensive. We had beer, roasted meat with dimplings, red cabbage. The portions were huge and we asked for small portions. We also got a small beer mugs. For dessert, I got vanilla ice cream with red berries compote (stewed fruit), which looked like red currant and goosebery and rhubarb. It was very good. After dinner, we went to hotel and rested at the pool area and sauna.
Tomorrow we will have all day to explore Dresden. It is a capital of Saxony, Baroque architecture and was destroyed at WWII by allied bombing. The old town was mostly restored and still being worked on. They new town where we are now, was newly built. After war, Dresden was under soviet rulle and only 15 years it gained inependence and joined Western Germany along with other cities of GDR.
Dresden is a capital of Saxony and located on both sides of Elne River, north and south. We are in new town, about 10 min walk from center across bridge. Nov 4, it is the worst weather for all our trip. Prague was cold but at least it was sunny. Today, it is rain, wind and very gloomy weather. We managed to walk to old town so sightseeing today was limited to mostly indoors. We planned to go to Green Vault (Grunes Gewolbe) in Royal Palace. It is a collection of treasures started by Saxon King Augustus the Strong. It is an incredible collection of artifacts from different centures - amber room, gold, bronze, etc. It is hard to get in. First there is a line to get in and when you get to the cashier , they assign a time for you to visit. Since they can accommodate only 250 people at once. It opened at 10am and we stayed in line to get in, we got in to cashier at 10:30 and were offered tickets for 11:30 . We were lucky since at that time it was pouring rain outside and we were able to spend some time in museum area inside before 11:30 entrance. We got into Green Vault, and again we had to wait for audio guides become available. It is very popular exhibit. There was enormous security - we had to walk through double doors. They asked us to leave even my purse in the coat room. But it was very enjoyable experience.
When we walked out, it was still raining, so we ran from Green Vault under rain to the Zwinger - museum complex where we went to Old Masters gallery. Many works of Rubens, Rembrandt, Canaletto, and German late renaissance by Durer. The highlight of the museum is Raphael's Sistine Madonna. We ended sitting by Madonna for a while, resting and admiring .
There is also another gallery - new masters, but there is so much you can see in one day.
After sightseeing, we walked to the famous restaurant, Sophienkeller http://www.sophienkeller-dresden.de/dresden_restaurant.html
It is elaborately decorate theme medieval restaurant, with waiters in costumes serving traditional Saxon food. It was very characteristic restaurant, great service and it is interesting just to wonder and look at things as in museum. They have even carousel table where people can sit in suspended chairs. I do not think it rotates though . :-)
That concluded a ay in Dresden. I am sorry we could not stroll along streets admiring baroque churches and buildings, but at least we enjoyed famous museums and sampled Saxon food.
Nov 4. We took taxi to Dresden Neustadt station and bought tickets and got on our train, again second class. Keep in mind that intermediate stations like Dresden and Berlin for example, have only train staying 3 mins. So you need to be prepared with all your luggage (many suitcases do not recommended anyway), to get into train car quickly. We made it. The Dresden Neustadt station does not have elevators, however, not too many stairs and on the stairs there is a small side escalator like beltway where you put your luggage . It proved convenient.
A bit of observations. Manhy escalators we used in Germany only start with censor when you come closer. Very throughful - energy consuming. In USA our escalators run all the time and burn electricity.
Anyway, we got into compartment for 6 pax and there was only one young woman. So again plenty of space to choose and not neccessary to make seats reservations. Saved money - twice as less as book with Rail Europe. Might not be true in high season and certain days/times.
In 2 hours we arrived to Berlin Main station. Again, train was staying only few minutes so we got prepared. It was brand new station - only 4 months old, opened for FIFA world cup. Our friend and guide Tom Williamson met us at train station. About Tom.
We originally planned to take a taxi to our hotel Mariott on Potsdamer Platz, since we've never been on this new station. Old station was in West Berlin at Zoo. But Tom adviced he will meet us and we do not need taxi to hotel. It turned out to be a good idea, since he showed us briefly the train station. What a futuristic station it is! I recall it had 8 floors and trains going on different levels, many escalators and elevators. Unbeleivable. Glass and steel. Very sleek. We took some train transfers on another level - not sure how :-)
And we got off right at Marriott. The DB ticket was valid on that transfer ride. We checked in into Marriott and agreed to meet with Tom at 2pm for a day walking tour of Berlin. What a tour it has been! We used busses, metro's, we ended up spending 8 hours including dinner, time with Tom flies by without noticing it.. His style of narrating history facts includes anecdotes on historical figures's life. He is passionate about Prussian history and Weimar years of Germany. Very interesting. In the rest of the afternoon, we saw a lot: Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Kurfunstendam (I was not impressed with it at all, just shopping boulevard), Victory Column (Siegesaulle ) and adjacent park to it. Then we went to Pariser Platz (Paris square). Near it is a controversial building of American embasssy which was supposed to be finished in 2006, however our government requested space for security buffer. There was another choice for embassy site but Uncle Sam decided to do in in the middle of Berlin, above subway station. Berlin authorities had to move major road to give space but it was not enough. American Government even went to court to solve the issue of construction site - either expand the road more or to build higher building (in Berlin regulations are no more than 11 floors). The USA government lost the case. Not sure what the fate of site will be... Next was Reichstag. Tom told us about years in Germany, from Prussia (Kind Frederick the Great) to Weimar years when Hitler came to power. The people of Germany were not happy with goverment and years after WWI were very difficult, they elected government after government and nothing worked . There was a fire of Reichstag and Hitler made speech with the burning reihstag in background and asked for 30 days of unlimited power to take care of communists who he claimed burned reihstag. People voted for unlimited power and within few weeks the generals, army and polticians who were not supporting him, were killed or dissapeared. He got the control of army and his party (Nazis) very soon started burning books. As Goethe said hundreds years ago : "the man who burns books, will be burning people". Chilling. That was perception that people supported Hitler, but Hitler got to the power by deceiving the German people. The rest is history.
After Reichstag, we went to Brandenburg gate.
We also saw incredible sites of contemporary Berlin , which was built in last 10 years. The New Holocaust Memorial consisting of more than 2,500 gravestone-like pillars. . We also saw the DZ Bank building built by Frank Gehry, the unconventional American architect. It looked kind of plain from outside, but it was done on purpose as nmot to draw attention away from the Branderburg Gate. Same is next building - Academy of Arts. We went inside and architecture is called inside is called I beleive unfinished - when beams and pipes are left visible. Very cool.
We went to Unter den Linden - old imperial Berlin, and Tom told us about Hohenzollern family who rulled Prussia and then Germany. Their imperial palaces were impressive, even though they were not built from marble (budget limitations :-) ). It was the most elegant street in Prussian Berlin, lined with Linden trees. We went to Humboldt Unviersity, famous people who studied there were Lenin and Marx (actually infamous!), brothers Grimm, Einstein taught there. There was a place where nazis burned books in 1933 and now there is a memorial (a underground empty room with bookshelves).
We went to Gendarmemarkt and bought chocolates with liquor in specialty store Fassbender and Rausch. We sampled them too and they were exquisite.
Tom also showed us the place where is underground Hitler's bunker was and where he committed suicide. There is not memorial (would not be appropriate), and it might attract future nazis so there are apartments buildings there. But I was glad I saw that place, without Tom we would not know what was underneath.
After dinner in Viennese restaurant, we came back to hotel.... Speaking about hotel, it is in great location - Potsdamer Platz. Called the Time's Square of Berlin, it was cut in two by the berlin wall and was a deserted no - man land for 40 years. Today, It is ultra modern sleek octagon square with Sony entertainment complex, next to new main banhoff (train station) . It is immerse commercial, residential and entertainment center (Imax cinema in many languages), . There is a huge canopy above the Sony center www.sonycenter.de
Our hotel Marriott Berlin is brand new and is located right at the place where former Berlin wall was. There are some remainders of wall and we of course took pictures of it . There are a lot's of expos explaining a history.
The architecture is quite stunning, 11 floors (max in Berlin) and open atrium for 11 floors. Hotel is bright and modern and all amenities expected from Mariott. Great location too, short walk to Brandenburg gate.
Nov 5. Today is free day but we had a "homework" to do from Tom. We walked outside of hotel and read info on former wall. Then we continued to Checkpoint Charlie. There is museum now. On the way, there was a block long another open air museum - topography of Terror . So we read about Nazi's movement in details and Nurnberg trial. That area is former East Germany (GDR) and it brings a lot's of memories of Soviet rules and horror stories with it. A lot's of russian memorabilia. After Checkpoint Charlie, we went to Jewish Museum which is one of the best sites about Jewish history in Europe. It was designed by architect of Daniel Leibskind (who later designed World Trade center memorial in NYC). Some of the exhibits of the museum site like axis of exile and memorial garden leave you confused and disoriented and architect meant it. I did not like that garden is on slanted surface, it made me sick. I read it meant to be. So we did not spent much time in the garden but the rest of museum was interesting. We caught a taxi to next museum - Pergamon. It's highlight was Pergamon altar, from 2c bc greek temple, the Babylonian Ishtar gate and many ancient Greek and Mesopotamian treasures. We skipped Museum part of islamic art and caught taxi to to hotel.
Few words about Berlin, unlike other cities, it is large and spread out so you need ot use public transportation or taxis or take a tour to get from one place to another. Taxi was not that expensive. Paris was the most expensive town.... Berlin is still not.
We rested few hours and went to nearby futuristic Sony center for stroll and dinner. After dinner, we strolled to Brandenburg gate.
November 8. Today we toured Potsdam with Tom and his collegaue Dr. Rainer Sommer. Rainer was driving but unlike your usual driver, Professor Rainer Sommer is an art-historian so he contributed to our enlightenment.
We passed sleepy town Wannsee where the infamous meeting of Nazis took place to implement Final Solution of elimination of Jews. It is a villa. We just saw it from outside. After that we went to Potsdam, Berlin's holiday retreat. There were 2 palaces and lovely garden, English style of Frederick the Great.
We could not get into New Palace (limited number of tours), but we got into San Souci - Rococo style palace. It means "Without Care" . We had to take German tour of Palace inside and were given an info sheet in English. Tom and Rainer were not permitted to tour with us, only San Souci own guides. But this time we saw palaces of Vienna and last year in Wurzburg. This one was modest, but it meant to accept friends there, not official entrainment. We also passed historic windmill, Charlotenhof Palace and Orangerie. We also saw Steam Engine building which was built as a mosque and it pumped water for the fountains of San Souci. We also passed Marble Palace and Babelsberg Palace. Unfortunately it was closed in November. But Tom told us many story about Frederick the Great and his father king. We learned many thins about king's personalities and their wars including many details from Frederick's the Great life. I really become hooked on this king and now books about him are next on my reading list. It was the first Prussian king loved by people.
We also visited Cecilienhof Palace, built by Crown Prince William and his wife Cecile. This is also historic site of the 1945 Potsdam conference (Churchill, Stalin and Truman).
We came back to Berlin and said goodbye to Tom and Rainer. We had nice lunch at Potsdam (also accompanied by Tom's playing piano :-) ). So we did not have dinner. We found a mall at Sony center and had hot dog Berlin style (large frankfurter grilled, cut with BBQ sauce). Afterwards we went to cafe for tea and dessert. Why, why even before I open my mouth, the Germans speak English to me? I thought my wardrobe is not different from theirs :-)
Today we are leaving Berlin. We had breakfast at the same coffee bar next to hotel. By this time we know that at 8:30am they are delivered fresh pastries. Yummy and 3 times less expensive than in Marriott. We did not buy internet connection for last day so we went to Sony center in the morning to us their free wi-fi and checked emails. Then we checked out of hotel and took taxi to Tegel airport to London. It was uneventful flight. We had 4 hr layover in Heathrow which called for shopping , there are many expensive stores from Harrods to Chanel, etc.. But we already ran beyond budget. All flights were on time and we arrived JFK and then home at midnight.
Next chapter - final thoughts..