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!