Monthly Archives: July 2016

Day 26: Pompeii.

Our curtains did little to soften the morning sunlight though that barely mattered, the streets of Rome shading us from the worst of it. The early morning air was already heavy with heat, the sun’s unrelenting heat apparent the second you stepped into the light. We were up early in order to get to Pompeii at a reasonable hour, our first train set to depart not long before 9AM. It was also a pre-booked trip so missing this train would ruin any further plans we’d have for the day so our breakfast and walk to Roma Termini were brisk.

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However upon arrival we found our train didn’t have a gate number mere minutes before it was due to arrive. Thankfully by the time we’d tracked someone down to ask about where it might be the platform popped up and we made our way over to the carriage. We were seated and waiting but we saw no signs of our friends. Slowly the minutes ticked by, the original departure time long since passed, and still we saw no sign of them. Thankfully the train was delayed and not too long afterwards they showed up. Apparently they had boarded another train to Naples and realized their mistake not too long after but had ventured through the dining cart to grab some breakfast before taking their seats.

Travelling to Pompeii was mostly uneventful save for the rather stark glance into Italy’s poorer suburbs that follow the train lines. I did not know that Italy had shanty towns, nor did I expect to see as many as I did on the train trip over. It appears that all of Italy isn’t as prosperous as its capitals, or even big city centers, would have tourists like us believe. No place is immune from poverty, of course, however the amount that I saw on our train journeys in and out of Rome is far beyond anything I’ve seen in Europe up until this point. I really must investigate as to why that is when I get the time.

The most grand thing about arriving in Pompeii is not the attraction itself but the large volcano of Mount Vesuvius that looms over the surrounding region. One of our friends informed us that it is classified as the most dangerous volcano in existence, due wholly to the fact that some 3 million people lie within its potential destruction path. Right now it appears like any peaceful mountain although there are the telltale signs that it’s summit is much more than it would appear to be on first glance.

Pompeii itself is an amazing snapshot of a city that thrived during the early first centuries AD. Whilst it is ruins, meaning it’s not a particularly picturesque place to visit, it is rich in history and information about the lives of the citizens who lived here thousands of years ago. Some of the larger areas, like the arena and amphitheater, are incredible examples of what the main attractions of cities would have been back in the day. It was also very interesting to see the breadth of the classes of citizens who lived there, from those just scraping to get by to the elite who had vast gardens and houses that would be large even by today’s standards.

Going in the height of summer did make the trip far more exhausting than it might have been otherwise, the unrelenting heat only abating slightly in the shade and a hair more so in the breeze. Thankfully the old aqueduct systems have been re-purposed for drinking water distribution, ensuring that you will at least not die of thirst on your adventures. We all managed to get away without sunburn, although I think numerous layers of dust rather than the sun screen might’ve been responsible for that.

Our trip back was a great way to wind down from the day, save for a small incident with a drunk on the regional metro (which my wife handled admirably). We had dinner at a place that came recommended to our friends by their hotel staff and I managed to convince both of them to share a glass of wine with me. I lucked out choosing a nice local Chianti that was incredibly smooth, very unlike the heavy reds we’re used to getting back at home.

Tomorrow, for our last day together, we make for Vatican City. Whilst we might all miss out on the awe that the more religious among us might gain from visiting such a holy sight I know there will be more than enough for someone like me to get out of it. Should we find more time after our visit we’ll probably see what else Rome has to offer as you really can’t go far here without tripping over something historic. My only hope is that the walking is a little easier this time around as Pompeii’s long ruined streets were not easy on the feet.

Day 25: When in Rome.

Our friends weren’t due to arrive until later in the day so our morning was spent lazily rolling out of bed and indulging ourselves in the absolutely ridiculous breakfast buffet that the hotel provided. Over half of what was provided was deserts, ranging from icing covered croissants to cannelloni filled with coconut whilst the rest was a more traditional breakfast affair. After we’d had our fill we headed upstairs to wait around until we got the message that they’d arrived and were eager to grab an early lunch before heading out. We quickly met up at a local restaurant for some pizza and a quick catch up before we headed out to what’s arguably Rome’s biggest attractions: the Palatine, Roman Forums and the Colosseum.

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After elbowing our way through the crowds and various street peddlers (mostly selling frozen bottles of water and selfie sticks) we figured the lines for the Colosseum probably weren’t worth it at that point in time. Instead we got our tickets and headed over to the Palatine Hill/Roman Forum, figuring we could wander around there until the crowds died down.

This area proved to be almost as popular as crowds gathered at nearly everything we walked to. It was an amazing look into a time that had it roots in prehistory and had changed so much over the course of its life. However calling the area anything more than a ruin would be generous as much of what was built was either re-purposed, pillaged or simply destroyed. That’s pretty much inevitable though given how old everything here was, predating many of the other great buildings that we’ve visited on our trip.

We decided to head over to the Colosseum at 4PM in the hopes that the lines would be much more manageable. As far we could tell they were a little shorter but there was still a massive throng of people gathering at the entrance. Thankfully the wait in line wasn’t too long and we were in the Colosseum in short order. The building itself is an incredibly impressive structure, something that would’ve been awe inspiring back in its hey days. Even today it’s an impressive structure with the various catacombs exposed to show the complex labyrinth that made it such an amazing stage.

It was at this time however that the flight that our friends just got off of started to catch up with them and their energy levels dropped through the floor. We ambled our way out of the Colosseum in search of dinner, settling on a place that was not too far away. Our dinner was simple but highly enjoyable, even if our friends looked like they could fall asleep at the drop of a hat. We still managed to get ourselves some gelato on the way home however and I’m hopeful that the sugar rush was enough to get them home safe.

Tomorrow we’ll make for Pompeii, a trip that will likely take the whole day from us. All I’m hoping for is a train trip that’s air conditioned and a cool sea breeze as the temperature doesn’t look like it’ll go down any time soon. Not that I’m complaining mind, especially given the stories I’m hearing from back at home, but I’d prefer to come back medium-rare rather than well done.

Day 24: Auf Wiedersehen Munich, Ciao Roma.

I spent the night before out flight out of Munich like I always do: fretting about making sure we’ve got everything lined up so we can get there on time. Initially we were doing well: getting up early, having a brisk breakfast and getting checked out on time. All in all we left a little later than I wanted to but this was more than made up for by a cab driver who had little respect for speed limits. We arrived at the airport almost exactly 2 hours before our departure time, the amount I had been told I’d need to make it through Munich airport.

But this is where the wheels started to come off.

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I routinely forget that the cabs here are mostly cash-only, meaning the meager amount of euros I carry around with me usually gets depleted by cab fares alone. This time was no different however the cab fair was, frankly, extortion, and the amount I had in my wallet wasn’t enough to cover it. So I darted out into the airport in search of an ATM, luckily being able to find one after 5 minutes of semi-panicked running about. However our little cash card said there wasn’t sufficient balance on it, forcing me to pull out the credit card (which will incur the dreadful day 1 interest rate slug). With the cab driver paid we lined up at the Air Berlin check-in counter which was moving painfully slow.

Worried that we wouldn’t get checked in on time I got on the wifi to do a web check-in. The website then helpfully informed me that the booking, made via Air Berlin, was being serviced by their partner airline Alitalia. Since we’d been in the line for about 20 minutes at this point I got a little worried and tracked down the information desk to figure out what the go was. As it turns out had I stayed in that line I might very well of not got on the flight as we couldn’t check in at the Air Berlin desk. Even more frustrating was the fact that our booking didn’t allow web check-in for some reason, making the wait in line a rather stressful affair.

Thankfully we managed to get checked in and everything was ok but it certainly wasn’t the way I was hoping to spend my morning. The flight over was your stock standard cut rate affair, although they did have a free snack service which was a nice touch. Once we landed it was a quick trip through the airport to get our bags and then out to a cab which would take us straight to the hotel.

What instantly struck me about Rome was the seemingly symbiotic combination of new and old work structures. We passed by many ancient bridges, towers and various other pieces of  Rome’s history that were living side by side with their modern equivalents. There are also numerous buildings that retain the old fascia of the ancient structure, only to be flagged on all sides by modern architecture built to hold it in place. It’s a fascinating contrast to many of the other historical places we’ve visited, nearly all of which preserve the entire structure in tact. I guess the population density has something to do with it, although a cursory search reveals it’s actually less dense than most of the other European capitals.

We had the rest of the afternoon free and so we decided to take a walk through the surrounding area. I found out that we weren’t too far from the Spanish Steps and figured they’d be worth a look. However they’re currently undergoing repairs so it wasn’t the photographic opportunity that I was hoping it would be. So we simply kept walking, following the large crowds to the various monuments and other attractions that were nearby. The highlight would be the little hole in the wall food shop that had these Italian shortbread biscuits that I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid, something I was very much hoping to find when we got here.te

We capped off the night with a nice dinner at a restaurant close by and gelato from the place next door.

The next 3 days are likely to be filled with activity so we thought it best not to overdo it, turning in relatively early for the night. Tomorrow will bring with it our friends who just happened to be planning to go to Rome at the same time we were and likely a flurry of activity to follow. My wife and I both agree that travel with friends is always more fun and so we’re eagerly awaiting their arrival so the group shenanigans can begin.

Day 23: Good Weather, Good Beer, Good Company.

We spent a good part of our morning scrolling through TripAdvisor, trying to puzzle out what we wanted to do today. Short of checking out a church that we had spied on the night of our arrival and visiting the famous Hofbräuhaus I wasn’t particularly fussed and so after breakfast we started ambling our way through town. We stopped off at a few sites that took our fancy, taking a few photos and looking things up on the guides we’d pilfered from the hotel. It was then that my wife noticed the free tours that were run daily and we figured they’d be a good way to spend the afternoon. Before then however I wanted to see Munich’s famous beer hall and, of course, indulge myself of their fine produce.

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Hofbräuhaus was everything that I thought the Prater Biergarten in Berlin would be, brimming with people and wait staff bustling by the tables with food, pretzels and copious steins of beer. We initially sat outside as there didn’t appear to be any tables available inside but the stiff breeze that came through had us quickly changing our minds. Once we were seated again we tried to catch the eye of several staff, eventually ending up being served by 2 different waiters who couldn’t seem to agree on who’s table it was.

Our lunch, whilst definitely not served with expediency, was definitely the kind of German cuisine I had come to expect from such a place. It was simple food but well done and the accompanying beer was definitely among some of the best I’ve had. Noting the time we finished up our meal quickly before a quick trip through the gift shop for souvenirs and we headed over to Marienplatz to kick off the afternoon tour.

The tour was great, taking us through many of the historic monuments and diving deep into the cultural history of Munich. Our guide was an excitable American who’d been in Munich for some time and spoke with a deep knowledge of the city. He also made recommendations for numerous places to eat and drink, something which would’ve been valuable if we’d had done it earlier. Of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch as this was a tip based tour but, for 3 hours of informative fun, we were more than glad to slip a decent amount of euros his way.

As the Englischer Garten was right by where the tour ended we decided a stroll through there would be a nice way to pass some time before we went back to the Weissbier hall that the guide recommended. Whilst most of the sites he had listed were either closed or basically inaccessible the beer garden in the middle was a nice place for us to take a break. There I imbibed yet another beer before we headed back into town to see if the best weissbier in the world could overcome my disdain for it.

Whilst the Tap no 7 beer couldn’t change my mind on wheat beers the food and brown beer that followed it certainly sold me on the tour guide’s recommendation. At this point with about 2L of beer in me and a relatively early flight to catch the next morning I thought it best if we could retire for the night. We did manage to get back in short order however our friends, whom we’re meeting up with in Rome, wanted to organize a few things before we all arrived. They were a few hours behind us so my wife said we should use this opportunity to satisfy her craving for waffles. It took us some time, the waffle place she found hidden in Munich’s labyrinth of a train station, but we made it back in time to Skype with our friends.

We then all proceeded to navigate the various horrors of Italian tourist sites, trying to book tickets and trains for the following few days. We managed to get everything done eventually but not before losing 2 hours of lives and possibly sending a few more of our hairs grey. Still with it all done the next part of our trip should be a relative breeze…hopefully.

Tomorrow we make our way to Rome by plane, a prospect that’s both comforting and disqueting. Whilst I lamented them initially their convenience and flexibility are something that just doesn’t exist in the airline industry, something which can take much of the worry out of travel. Of course planes still win out over long distances, I don’t think I’d repeat the Berlin to Zurich trip again in a hurry, but anything up to a 4 hour train ride wins out over flying in my books. I’ll remember them, and the lovely views of the European countryside they provided, fondly and can only hope the rest of the flights we catch are as smooth as the trains were before them.

Day 22: Neuschwanstein Castle.

The curtains in our hotel room were far too good at their job, erasing any evidence that it was day time. My phone had no such issues however, blaring the obnoxious and familiar tone that signaled it was time to get up. I had intended to get up early in order to get to Neuschwanstein castle at a reasonable hour however our tour reservation came back for late in the afternoon. Annoying, but it gave us time to get some housekeeping out of the way before we headed out, something which had vexed me ever since we failed the night previous.

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Trusting Google in this instance seems to have been our downfall, the laundromats that showed up being only a small selection of what was actually available. I found one that was much closer than the ones we’d tried before and, thankfully, had instructions in English. An hour and about €10 later we had our newly laundered clothes ready for the rest of our trip and even helped some bewildered Americans navigate through the laundromat’s systems. Flush with victory from our housekeeping adventures we sought out a light lunch at a local hipster joint before catching the train out.

This trip was a source of consternation for me as all the guides online said there was a direct train to Fussen, the town closest to Neuschwanstein. However no matter how hard I searched I could not find said train, everything require at least 1 connection, most of them by bus. Even more frustratingly none of them mentioned the train number, precluding me from looking it up to see if anything was amiss. As it turns out the train stations on that track are currently being renovated for the next month or so and the last 3 stops have been replaced by a bus. Thankfully this didn’t seem to affect travel times too much, but it did make me worry about how we’d get back home should we stay back later than I anticipated.

The weather throughout the day had, to be honest, complete shit. It had been raining fairly steadily since we arrived and that continued as we traveled out to the castle. As I primarily wanted to go there to get some great shots I was a little disappointed although I figured I could salvage something from it regardless. Luck was with us however and the skies parted almost exactly as we arrived at the castle, providing ample opportunities to get some great shots from the location. Unfortunately one of the bridges has been out of commission for some time, precluding any good shots of the castle itself. Still I’m not complaining, especially with the picture above being one of the more average shots I got.

The tour itself was really good too, diving into the history of the relatively modern castle and the man who commissioned it: Ludwig II. Whilst it wasn’t as personal or in-depth as some of the other tours we’ve been on so far it was still very well done, streamlined to ensure they could get as many people through as humanly possible. I was a little miffed that they didn’t allow pictures, or a self paced tour, but that was more than made up for by the beautiful view and the in-depth audio guide that was included in the admission cost.

After we’d had our fill of great views we headed down to the local bus station to make our way home. Little did I know just how much time we’d spent up at the castle, arriving at around 4PM and not coming down until 7PM or so. Thankfully there was still a large throng of other tourists waiting at the former train station and, sure enough, a bus eventually arrived to pick us up. The one wrinkle in the plan was that the direct train was no longer running, although the conductor helpfully informed us of which one we’d need to catch to get home. We still didn’t get back to the hotel until 11pm however.

Thankfully our hotel staff were more than accommodating, making us a lovely small dinner and serving us beers well until the night. The only black mark on it was the 2 young Australians talking some mad shit with an older American; both sides of the conversation big noting themselves for discernible reason at all.

We don’t have much planned for tomorrow, mostly because I only really wanted to see Neuschwanstein. I haven’t had a chance to visit any of the beer halls here however so I’ll likely be paying a few of them a visit. If we manage to do more than that great, but I’m definitely in no rush after the major success we’ve had today.

Day 21: Auf Wiedersehen Zurich, Hallo Munich.

Our room had finally cooled down to below boiling allowing us a night of rest that wasn’t interrupted by fever dreams. This was after we’d endured the various smells emanating from the restaurant below us, a lovely combination of fetid cheese, cigarette smoke and whatever the rain had dredged up. Suffice to say packing wasn’t filled with that same solemn feeling that all our previous places of rest was, especially as we tripped over each other as we were doing it. Our journey to the train station was thankfully uneventful and we boarded without issue.

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Today’s trip is the last we’ll be taking by train here in Europe. I had hoped to do all of it by train but the realities of train travel in Europe won’t accommodate the many places we want to visit. That and the fact that some trips are simply better done by plane like, say, Berlin to Zurich which would’ve taken half the time to accomplish. My wife expressed her sadness at this fact as it had been quite nice to watch the countryside go past, the green hills a stark contrast to that of what we have back home. I too lament it somewhat, although I do like the idea of not losing an entire day to travel for our last few locations.

We arrived in Munich in the late afternoon and quickly set ourselves to task in getting our laundry done. I found us a place not too far from where we were which appeared to be good and we headed out into the rainy afternoon. When we got there though they informed us that they wouldn’t be open tomorrow, nor the day after, and so couldn’t take our laundry. Perplexed that they’d be closed on a weekday we left in search of another place. Problem was we had no cash, which we quickly remedied, but then the machines only took €5 and €10 notes. Feeling defeated after wasting 2 hours trying to chase a place down we decided to leave it for tomorrow and headed out for dinner.

After stumbling back the way we came we eventually found a small Indian restaurant that seemed quite reasonable. We made the unfortunate error of ordering far too much food and were completely stuffed halfway through it. The waiter even asked us if it was no good, which we told him unequivocally no, but I can definitely see where he was coming from. With the hangries at bay we caught an Uber back to the hotel to dry off and prepare for tomorrow.

We’ll be spending the better part of tomorrow visiting Neuschwanstein Castle, said to be part of the inspiration of the Disney logo (and also home to some Bavarian royalty for a short period of time, but that’s not what anyone really cares about, right?). Hopefully we’ll be able to sort out our laundry too as there’s nothing more…uncomfortable… than wearing clothes again when they haven’t been washed. All else fails it’s the hotel sink for some socks and jocks, although I hope it never comes to that.

Day 20: Luck is Not Always With You.

The threatening grey clouds made good on their appearance, dumping torrents of rain upon us and lashing the sky with flashes of white lightning. On the one hand it was a welcome change, the sweltering heat of the day melting away in the cool showers, but on the other it torpedoed any semblance of a plan we might have had for the day. Thankfully I had found out that our target for the day, Mount Rigi, had webcams at the top so I could see before going there that it would not be worth our time. I had a backup plan however: Mount Uetilberg, a dwarf of the Swiss Alps that was a mere 30 minute train ride from Zurich central station.

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We boarded the train and then settled in for the journey to come, me with my phone games (I left my Kindle at home this time) and my wife with her book. However due to us both being distracted we didn’t notice that this particular train, even though it was the right one on the right route, didn’t go all the way up the mountain. So we found ourselves right back at Zurich central after 20 minutes or so, bewildered as to how we got there. This problem was later solved by getting off at the last stop of the current train and getting on another, one which seemed to go the full route. There was no discernable difference we could see so we chalked it up to something that only the locals could have known.

The journey up the hill saw the view quickly turn from one with all of Zurich below us to that of thick fog, our visibility dropping to maybe a hundred meters or so. I had hoped that the relative low altitude of this mountain would afford us some view from the summit however it appears that was not to be, our entire world shrouded by cloud. We persisted with a journey to the summit however and it was an interesting enough walk by itself, even though it was bereft of the breathtaking views that it promised.

My wife had read online that whilst the Lindt factory no longer offered tours there was a kind of museum there that we could wander through and, without any other good options, we decided to give it a go. We boarded another train to Kilchberg and made our way over to the factory outlet. Unfortunately it appears that the Internet had lead us astray as the sales clerks said there was no such thing around and the tours had long since stopped for “health concerns”. Disappointed we consoled ourselves by buying some discount chocolate and some souvenirs for our family at home.

After spending a lazy afternoon in our now livable hotel room we decided we should at least attempt to see our surrounding area a little before we departed tomorrow. We wandered around downtown Zurich, taking in the various sights. My wife was ever so patient with me and my camera, even holding the umbrella above me as I took pictures of the various things that took my interest. We even walked down what must’ve been the most expensive street in Zurich, a horrifying prospect given how ludicrously expensive everything is here (try $60+ for 2 simple curry dishes with drinks, a travesty even at Canberra prices).

We capped off the night with a simple spread we bought from one of the local supermarkets, washed down by some thankfully cheap beers. In all honesty it felt like that was probably the only sensible reaction to the weather as pretty much all the available options were rendered unpalatable by the rain.

Tomorrow we’ll lazily make our way to Munich, hopefully arriving at a far more reasonable time than what we did here. In all honesty I’m going to be very glad to see the back of this place as it really has been one of the worst hotels we’ve stayed at. I’m hopeful that the rest won’t be this bad since it’d take a lot to beat this place. That and the fact that everything will be reasonably priced again.

Day 19: Zoo Zurich and Far Too Much Cheese.

The unrelenting heat continued well into the night, the asthmatic building air conditioning doing nothing to calm the flames. Our fitful sleep was brought to its end by the blinding column of light emanating from the bathroom, the bathroom clear bathroom door an aesthetic choice more than a practical one. Even as we stepped out into the building proper the temperature only dropped a few degrees but it was enough to grant us some brief respite. The breakfast offering was meager but filling enough although not enough to abate the simmering hatred that I was brewing for our lodgings.

But once we left things started to improve.

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Zoo Zurich is perched at the top of Zurich proper, meaning we’d need to ascend no small height to get there. Thankfully there’s a tram line helpfully named “Zoo” that takes you all the way to the top and provides a great view along the way. It was interesting to note how the increased altitude meant more affluent the neighborhood was with apartment buildings giving way to old money houses and astonishingly large plots of land without a house in sight. Once we reached the top it was a short walk to the entrance of the zoo itself and onto our adventures within.

It was your typical zoo, although obviously much better set up than many others that I’ve seen. Strolling around all the exhibits took us the better part of the day, staying longer at the ones that interested us and breezing past those that didn’t. Of course some of the enclosures were a little heart breaking to see, with many of the great apes confined to places that just didn’t seem big enough for them. That coupled with some rather obnoxious visitors did make my wife and I both feel for them. All I can hope for is that our patronage helps in improving their situation.

Of particular note were 2 attractions: the elephants and the Masoala hall. As far as great animals go you really can’t go past the elephants and their massive enclosure housed several specimens, including a young calf. My wife and I both exclaimed when we first saw them, something which a pair of American tourists responded with “We said that too!”. It’s not like I haven’t seen them before, indeed I rode one as a kid (a circus came to town with them, something I no longer support), but seeing them up close really never gets old.

However they paled in comparison to the Masoala hall which is a giant artificial jungle that plays host to numerous plant and animal species. Indeed the photo atop this post comes from an encounter we had in there, the chameleon just hanging off a nearby try that many people had walked past without noticing them. It even contains a board walk which takes you to the top, a rather harrowing adventure but not for the height but for the heat. At the top was a roasty 35 degrees with 80+ humidty which soaked us both to the bone in minutes.

At the very beginning of the walk through the hall my wife noticed a leemur that jumped quickly out of sight when I looked at it. After we reached the end of the walk (which finished in a beautifully air conditioned aquarium) we decided to walk back through hoping to catch them again. As luck would have it we did, seeing 3 of them jumping between the trees. My wife was elated and we left the hall happy.

My wife had been hoping to do a tour of the Lindt factory as she’d seen some tours available on a couple sites. So we went back to the hotel to figure out which one we’d do. As it turns out there’s no such tour to be had, there’s only a factory outlet nearby that’ll sell you Lindt for a small discount. Deflated my wife decided it wasn’t worth the effort and instead we spent the afternoon lounging in the oven of our hotel room as we plotted our next moves.

We’d settled on fondue for dinner, wanting to indulge in some local cuisine again. We found a local place that came well recommended and settled in for a night of cheese and bread. It was delicious but honestly I don’t think man was ever meant to have that much cheese as a meal, even if it’s accompanied by bear and some salad. Satisfied we waddled back to our hotel room to settle in for the night.

Tomorrow we make for Mount Rigi, the so-called Queen of the Mountains. The weather prediction for tomorrow is rather grim but I’m hoping our luck, and maybe the altitude, will give us some good views over the surrounding countryside. That’s likely going to be a full day in of itself so we haven’t planned on doing much further. Not that I mind doing nothing, especially considering the number of days that we’re starting to rack up abroad.

Day 18: Auf Wiedersehen Berlin, Hallo Zurich.

Our alarm went off at a leisurely, but not yesterday’s leisurely, time this morning. Today we had nothing more planned than a simple train journey from Berlin to Zurich, our only train journey that had us connecting onto a different route. Buoyed by our success in navigating Berlin’s train network we decided to catch that into the main train station as well, eliminating the need for an exorbitant taxi ride. So once breakfast was out of the way we checked out and began our short trek to the closest train station and our journey to Zurich.

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Getting on our first and second trains proved to be no issue. We’d already caught the same train numerous times over to get us around the middle of Berlin as they all seem to share the same route within the more touristy areas. The second was a train that was very comparable to the Thalys one we’d caught some days prior, being quite new and outfitted with free wifi. However as we got closer to our arrival time I noticed that we weren’t really close to anything I’d call a major station, nor had there been any announcements over the intercom. The time kept ticking away until it past it, and continued to do so until we arrived 20 minutes late.

This posed something of an issue for us as our connecting train was scheduled to depart not 15 minutes after our original arrival time. Try as we might to get to the right platform in time we arrived nothing, our connecting train apparently bang on time. So there we were in the Hanover train station with nowhere to go, the efficiency of the train system cutting us both ways. Undeterred, although a little anxious, I made straight for the ticketing station to figure out where we’d go from there.

The ticketing station runs on those RTA style booths that print you out a ticket with a number on it. I left my wife behind whilst I went in search of wifi, figuring this was a problem I could solve with a little Google-fu. Thankfully these trains run every 2 hours and another one was due to leave in the not too distant future. However for the Eurail pass you typically need to reserve trains before you board them, especially the high speed inter-city ones. Thankfully the ticket clerk was more than able to help us and not 20 minutes after our delayed arrival we were booked on another train.

The rest of the trip was largely uneventful, the German countryside slowly fading away to the rolling hills of Switerzland. The quaint little towns, usually flocked on all sides by crops or vineyards, were a picturesque backdrop to the relative calm of the train. Our 2 hour delay meant we were getting in at around 10PM at night although the city was far from asleep, the Euro cup match ensuring the streets were still filled with people. We managed to find a quiet Italian place to have dinner (one that didn’t have a TV out in the open) which my wife enjoyed thoroughly.

Our hotel room is, unfortunately, likely to be the worst of this whole trip. I’ve stayed in rooms this size for work and thought it was too small even for one person. We’ve barely got space to have our bags open on the floors, the desk is built into the wall with a little pouf for a chair and, to top it all off, it isn’t air conditioned. Considering we’re hitting 30+ degrees now this is going to be an issue and I’m honestly surprised that the reviews I read didn’t reflect these problems. Live and learn I guess.

Tomorrow we’ll be heading out to Zoo Zurich as we’ve heard it’s one of the best in Europe. Then we’ll be taking our fill of Swiss chocolate, something my wife thoroughly appreciated when I returned from my last work trip to Geneva. If we do much more I’ll be surprised, especially with this unrelenting heat dogging us at every turn.

Time to sleep.

Day 17: Topology of Terror, Beer Garden Fail and Deutsches Technikmuseum.

We were keen to build on the successes that we had the day before, not wanting to let the momentum we had recovered pass us by. That didn’t stop us from ignoring our alarms however, only rousing from our slumber by nearly 10AM. Since our hotel would stop serving breakfast at that time it was something of an issue, until my wife pointed out it was the weekend and thus breakfast would be served until later. I’ve long since passed the point where I’m able to track days well, something which I think is both a luxury and a curse when it comes to long duration travel.

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Since our tour guide advised us to go to the Topology of Terror rather than any of the other World War II museums we decided that would be our first stop. The exhibition hugs one of the last few remaining sections of the Berlin wall which itself is across from the former Nazi Ministry of Ministries. It’s part open air exhibit and indoor information center and covers nearly all aspects of the Nazi regime. Walking from one of the wall to the other you can trace the history of the movement and what led to Hitler’s rise to power. It’s both a mournful and infuriating experience, the things we can see in hindsight seeming so obvious now. I cannot honestly say if our world is better prepared to face something of that nature again, especially with the roots of similar movements appearing all over the world.

We didn’t spend as much time inside the exhibit however as there’s really only so much horror you can endure in a single day.

Our tour guide from yesterday had mentioned that Prater Beer Garden was worth visiting so we decided to head up there for lunch before deciding what to do with our afternoon. When we arrived however we found out that we were either too late for the lunch time crowd or too early for the nightly punters. The garden was basically deserted with just a handful of families sitting at a few of the tables. That combined with the fact that the food didn’t seem too appetizing we decided to leave in favor of an Italian restaurant that had tempted us on the way over. It was there we had a very reasonably priced lunch washed down with some great local dunkel lager.

We had a few options for how to spend the remainder of the day and eventually settled on visiting the Deutsches Technikmuseum. Now I know this is somewhat contrary to my previous advice from the day before however I thought the technology museum might house some peculiar German technological curiosities. For the most part it was alright (the cut open steam engine pictured above being the highlight) but I found myself disappointed upon leaving, mostly because their space exhibit was just a couple of rocket engines. I think that’s cemented my opinion on museums for a while now.

Afterwards we headed back home for a little bit of rest before we headed out again. Even late into the night I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry and floated the notion we simply grab a few things from a local supermarket. My wife had wanted to get a curry wurst before we left Berlin since they seemed to be everywhere. So we walked down to a local curry wurst place to check it out but my wife lost interest when she couldn’t see anyone else ordering one. Instead we walked into the supermarket next door and procured us a very healthy dinner of cheese, 1L of beer, crackers and some curry sausages which satisfied my wife’s cravings.

Tomorrow we make a beeline out of Berlin for Zurich in Switzerland the only European country I have visited before. I don’t have very fond memories of the place, thanks to the dengue fever I contracted in Singapore  unleashing it’s fury on me whilst I was there, however I’m determined not to make a repeat performance. As with Berlin we’ll only be there for a couple days before departing again but I’m sure we’ll find enough to occupy us between the town itself and the mountains that surround it.