Copenhagen is a truly magical city, and one of my favorite places that we visited (although Cameron says I have good taste since it is also one of the more expensive cities that we visited). After a long train ride from Berlin, we settled into our last AirBnb in the Christianshavn neighborhood, a short walk over a nearby bridge to the city center. On our street sat the famous Church of Our Savior with a brilliant twisting edifice that we climbed - over 400 steps to the top (not for the the faint of heart - very tight quarters and a thin rail between you and a steep descent). After visiting the top of the church and catching some amazing views, we made our way into the sanctuary and listened to some live music from the magnificent organ. This little excursion came shortly after we had visited the free town of Christiania, a commune within the city limits of Copenhagen that plays by its own rules. Cameron told me I needed a bit more common sense when strolling into places like Christiania, for when a gentleman in front of me dropped a package, I stooped to pick it up, and he quickly snatched it from me. I guess I accidentally picked up his drugs!
Our 2nd week in Berlin was bookended by interesting train ride conversations. The first, on the return trip from Prague, was when we shared a compartment with two girls from L.A. One in particular was very well-traveled and told us incredible stories about beaches in Vietnam and the wonders of Budapest. The train ride at the end of the week from Berlin to Copenhagen had us sharing an apartment with a fascinating couple who left their home in Australia in February of 2014 to go and travel the world via bike! They had been everywhere – from Span to Croatia, Germany to Denmark. He was a great storyteller, and we had a blast on the ride, especially when we discovered that our train had boarded onto a ferry to cross the Baltic Sea to Copenhagen…only in Europe!
As a weekend trip nestled between our two weeks in Berlin, we hopped a train with our Eurail pass to Prague. After passing through some picturesque scenery with rivers nestled into the valleys of fascinating hills made of rock formations, we arrived at the train station and rolled our bags over the cobblestones of Wenceslas Square to our very modern Airbnb. After climbing an exhausting 6 flights of stairs (no way was I taking that tiny elevator with my claustrophobia!), we entered a gorgeous attic apartment that contained breathtaking views of the tops of old Czech houses and museums. Nicely, our host had outlined some good places to eat and visit so we set off for dinner at a steak place called Cestr. Now the exchange rate between USD and CZK was very favorable, so we had a delectable 3 course meal + wine at a great price! After dinner, we walked about the hustle and bustle of Wenceslas Square (yes, named after that Christmas icon “Good King Wenceslas”). And then went to sleep a bit early in order to prepare for our jam-packed Saturday.
Ahh Berlin…a city of contradictions. A city built and rebuilt and rebuilt again. A city that manages to have a buzzing hope for the future while still managing to be reverent of its complicated past. A dirty city – a beautiful city. A city full of cranes and restaurants and museums and monuments and massive garden parks. A city full of cigarette smoke that we could never seem to escape. A city once split in two - we constantly had to remind ourselves…are we in the east or the west side? If you like complexity, history, and a diversity of experiences, then Berlin is your spot!
After about a month of travel, we took it decidedly slower in our explorations of Amsterdam, opting to a get a feel for the city as a local might live rather than doing non-stop sightseeing. Our flight from Dublin to Amsterdam had us arriving later in the evening, so we jumped on a bus and headed to our Airbnb, which straddled the neighborhoods of the quieter Oud-West and the DINK (Double-income, no kids)-infested Jordaan. Needless to say, we fit right in! After climbing three flights of incredibly steep and narrow stairs to drop our bags in the new digs, we realized that we needed to find a place ASAP as it was nearly 10 pm. Luckily, a cute little café nearby, Café Toussaint, was up to the task, and we enjoyed quiche, an antipasto platter, and beer that hit the spot.
The next morning, a canal cruise beckoned, and our English audio guide pointed out the sights and architecture of the city as we drifted along its many man-made waterways. As we later learned in the Amsterdam Museum, this city is an architectural and engineering marvel! Were it not for strategically placed poles under buildings and carefully constructed dams, much of the city would be under water. We also learned at the Amsterdam Museum (a well-crafted, very digestible historical account of the city’s history) about the town’s legacy of leniency and its embrace of diversity. From gay marriage, to prostitution, to drugs, anything was and is permissible in Amsterdam long before it was acceptable elsewhere. The “provos” (provocateurs) of the 60s give San Francisco’s hippy counterculture a run for their money.
We lucked out in Dublin. Finally, we had absolutely gorgeous weather to accompany our stay in Ireland’s capital city. As we rode the bus into the city center, you could feel the town’s excitement at the prospect of sunshine. Pre-teen boys decked out in wetsuits and tennis shoes leapt from the heights of bridges into the River Liffey below, daring feats into water that looked a little too murky for my liking. Our boutique hotel, the Morgan, we soon discovered was quite literally in the center of the party. The Temple Bar district was teeming with locals and visitors alike who were standing on the streets with a pint in hand, seemingly to welcome us to our new home for the week. After switching rooms 3 times (problems with locks, televisions, and refrigerators), we were ready to explore the city!
We began the 2nd week of our European adventure with a fun-filled excursion for Cameron - driving the Autobahn. We arrived at our rental car pick up in Binz only to discover that the facility was closed. We searched open cars, looked all around the building, and tried calling the number on the locked door to no avail. About ready to turn and hop on a train instead, we soon realized that we had made the cardinal Amazing Race rookie mistake…we hadn’t read all of the clue card! Evidently, in fine print at the bottom of the rental email, it indicated that we should travel next door to the gas station and ask the attendant on duty for the car keys. What made this stipulation even more hilarious was that the woman did not speak English and we did not speak German, so her inspection of our American passports made both of us giggle at the trivial formality.
Part One: One if by plane, two if by train, three if by bus, four if by boat, and five if by car
As you can see from the title of this section, it is quite complicated to get to Ostseebad Binz. After finally making it to Copenhagen (one day late), we hopped the train over the bridge/water to Malmo, Sweden, where we got on a bus and quickly realized we were not in Kansas anymore. From this point forward, we were the only native English speakers that we encountered until we reached Hamburg. We drove out of town and spotted a gigantic Ikea, bidding us adieu as we entered into the Swedish countryside. Trelleborg was our destination at this point, but after the 4th stop in the small town, we started to get nervous that perhaps we had missed our stop. Kindly, a gentleman who was also headed for the ferry to meet a friend agreed to escort us through the rain to the ocean. It’s a small world after all as we quickly realized that this gentleman had visited San Francisco and had quite a bit to say about our hometown. After confirming our tickets on the ferry, we had an hour or two to spare so we decided to frequent the Turkish establishment we had passed on our walk through the town. Running past a beautiful statue/waterfall that spilled over the top of bronze women with umbrellas, we settled in for a cappuccino (which was just ok) and a kebab wrap (which was excellent). Without our phones to guide us (the Frankfurt airport tried to rip us off by charging 39.99 euros for just the card with no data!), we sat and chatted as the rain poured down on the passersby, none of which seemed to need an umbrella.