Tag Archives: train

Final Notes

I made it back. Walk to tram, tram to bus, bus to airport, long check-in line, walk to gate, fly to Heathrow, go through seemingly endless labyrinthine hellscape at Heathrow, fly to Seattle, go through Customs, walk to shuttle, shuttle to car, drive home. Roughly 21 hours. I think 19 of that was in Heathrow, although BA upgraded me and let me pre-board for no apparent reason. Maybe they liked the cut of my jib, although honestly my jib was looking pretty rumpled at that point.

Some final notes:

  • I learned to say seven things in Czech: Dobrý den (good day), prosím (please), pivo (beer), káva (coffee), pokladna (cash register), papriková klobása (paprika kielbasa), and trdelník (trdelník).
  • Danish trucks don’t make a beeping noise when they back up.
  • On all the local transportation I rode (trams, subways, buses, etc.) in Copenhagen, Berlin, and Prague, I don’t think anyone ever checked my ticket. I’ve read that Prague spot-checks riders and will fine you 700 Kč if you don’t have a valid ticket. But a three-day ticket is 310 Kč, so if they check less than once per week, you’d come out ahead by paying the fine.
  • Thai massage seems to be a thing in Prague. They’re all over the place. One aspect of Thai massage involves putting your feet in a fish tank so that fish can nibble them. This takes place in the front window so that you, the idiot tourist, are on display to passersby while fish nibble your toes. I did not do this.
  • I now understand the line from the 2013 David Bowie song “Where Are We Now”.
         Had to get the train
         From Potsdamer Platz
         You never knew that
         That I could do that
    Meistersaal studio, near Potsdamer Platz, was where Bowie and Iggy Pop recorded in 1977. Potsdamer Platz was one of the ghost stations of the U-Bahn. It was in the east, but the stations on either side were in the west. Trains were not allowed to stop there and guards were posted in the station to make sure they didn’t. West Berlin had to pay the DDR for the privilege of passing through.
  • I walked a total of 118.44 miles over 18 days, for an average of 6.58 miles per day.
  • I really need to bring less luggage.

Görlitz & Zgorzelec

These are two towns on opposite sides of the Neisse river. Before the river was set as the border in 1945, they were the same town, and they’re now effectively twin cities. You can walk across a foot bridge between them.

The Border Between Germany and Poland

I remembered all of this from an earlier version of the Rick Steves guidebook on Germany, but it isn’t in the current edition. Still, I remembered that it was supposed to be a picturesque little town.

Parts of the German side are, but not any more than you would see elsewhere in Germany. The Polish side probably has a center of town somewhere, but I certainly wasn’t able to find it. The tourist map they give out in Görlitz cuts off most of Zgorzelec.

To make matters worse, I was on my way from Berlin to Prague, so I had all my luggage with me, and there’s a steep hill down to the river, and a steep hill up the other side. Google Maps drained my battery again, so I couldn’t use that, which left me just picking a likely-looking direction.

All I found was a residential area with Soviet architecture. I made a big loop and walked back to the bridge.

Picturesque Poland

Back on the German side of the bridge, I stopped to look at the map and collect my thoughts before trudging back up the hill with my luggage. As I started to cross the street, I was approached (in fact, surrounded) by three polizei who wanted to see my passport. As I started to hand it over, I remembered that I had tucked some Swiss and Danish currency in it, so I quickly pulled that out, lest he think I was trying to bribe him with roughly $15 worth of foreign currency.

Poland and Germany are both in the Schengen area, so crossing that border shouldn’t require a passport, but I guess someone crossing on foot with a lot of luggage might look a little suspicious. Fortunately, he saw my entry stamp from Copenhagen and concluded that I was legal.

Having thus made it past the polizei, I trudged up the hill to the center of town.

My phone battery was dead, but I knew I would need it to contact the Airbnb people once I got to Prague, so I found a place with a plug and bought pastries and cappuccinos until my phone was about 2/3 charged. I would have stayed longer, but the plug was right by the door, so I was partially blocking the entrance by standing there.

The train trip from Görlitz to Prague was uneventful. For the final leg from Dresden, I had a first-class ticket and had a nice dinner in the dining car shortly before arriving. This included a Czech beer that is seemingly popular with goats.

Goat Beer

When I arrived in Prague, in a freakish twist of fate, everything went smoothly. I found an ATM and withdrew 3000 koruna, bought a three-day tram ticket from a machine, figured out the location of the tram stop right away, and got to the stop just as my tram was arriving. I got to the Airbnb apartment in about 15 minutes, and the owner showed up a few minutes later to let me in.

Not wanting to press my luck further, I think I’ll turn in for the night.

Stasi, KaDeWe, & Feuerzangenbowle

My foot and knee are still bothering me, and probably won’t recover until I stay off them for a while. So naturally today I walked almost eleven miles.

In the morning I went across the river to the East Side Gallery, which is a mile-long section of the Wall that was given over to artwork in 1990 and restored in 2009.

A lot of it is overtly political, not surprisingly, like this famous picture of Brezhnev and Honecker kissing, which until this trip I did not realize was based on photo and actual practice of communist heads of state.

Hard to imagine kissing Brezhnev. That’s the stuff of nightmares, that is. Not that Honecker would be a delight, but Brezhnev is somehow worse.

Tödliche Liebe

Some of the pieces are more fanciful.

Japanese Sector

There are signs threatening prosecution for defacing the murals, but a lot of them have graffiti anyway, like this Pink Floyd piece.

The Wall on the Wall

Of course the best is this one. Somewhere there’s a companion piece showing the other side, but I don’t know where it is. There are bits of the Wall all over the place.

Trabi

From there it was only a short hop on the U-Bahn to the Stasi museum, inside the old Stasi headquarters. There was a film crew there, so I wasn’t able to see Erich Mielke’s office, but I did snoop in some of the lesser offices when the film people weren’t paying attention.

Stasi HQ

At its peak, the Stasi complex covered 54 acres, with 50 office buildings.

Classic Communist Architecture

From there I took the train to the Checkpoint Charlie area. Of course it’s not the real Checkpoint Charlie, because that’s long gone, but everyone’s heard of Checkpoint Charlie and expects to see it, so they have a fake one. There’s also a Checkpoint Charlie museum and a film experience and a whole lot of souvenir shops all selling the same souvenirs. I bought a shirt.

Then I walked over to Unter den Linden and bought another shirt. Then I walked to the Brandenburg Gate, where someone was assembling a giant menorah.

Hitler would plotz.

Menorah at the Brandenburg Gate

Then I walked up Unter den Linden. Initially I was identifying things in the guidebook as I went, but it was getting colder and I started walking faster and I left my guidebook, and my hands, in my pockets most of the time, so I don’t know what everything was along the way.

Probably a Famous Building

In all of the tourist areas, there are guys selling genuine East German and Soviet hats and pins and flags. Absolutely for-sure real stuff.

Suspiciously New-Looking Relics

Some of the stores are even still selling pieces of the Wall. And in case you doubt them, they come with a certificate of authenticity. And certified authenticity is the most authentic authenticity.

After a brief stop at the hotel, I took the train to Kaufhaus des Westens, aka KaDeWe, the largest department store in continental Europe. All of it is impressive, but the food market is amazing. It’s an entire floor of cafes, delis, bakeries, candy stores, grocery stores, wine bars, and any other food-related thing you can think of. It is to an ordinary food court what West Berlin was to East Berlin. I think I spent close to an hour just wandering around on that floor.

KaDeWe

After I left KaDeWe, I got on the train going in the wrong direction. Could happen to anyone, really.

Eventually I made it back to Alexanderplatz and stopped in the Nikolaiviertel for a Feuerzangenbowle, as one does this time of year.

“Feuerzangenbowle,” it says here in Wikipedia, “is a traditional German alcoholic drink for which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into mulled wine. It is often part of a Christmas or New Year’s Eve tradition. The name translates literally to fire-tongs punch.” It’s a close relative to glühwein and thus to gløgg, but probably a bit stronger.

Feuerzangenbowle

The venue selling this concoction was right next to the Nikolaikirche, a (mostly reconstructed) 13th-century church that is now a museum. They seem to be connected to it in some way. They sell this drink and a few others and have the 1944 movie Die Feuerzangenbowle running on a continuous loop.

Feuerzangenbowlemarkt

The Nikolaiviertel itself is supposedly the historical center of Berlin. The church is legitimate, even if it’s mostly a restoration, and some of the other buildings are authentic, too. They’re just not necessarily authentic from that particular location. And a lot of the others are idealized recreations.

All of this was put together by the East German government for Berlin’s 750th anniversary in 1987. It’s sort of a Germanic Main Street USA.

Nikolaiviertel

Arrival in East Berlin

After one train delay and rescheduling in Hamburg, I made it to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and thence to Alexanderplatz, where I immediately got lost because most of the space is given over to the Christmas Market. Or markets. There are two sections. Possibly they are rival markets. But they’re both much bigger than anything I saw in Copenhagen. And my phone battery died again, but I was able to use a map that I had that was printed on paper, like primitive humans used to use. Also, it took me longer because I had to eat bratwurst along the way.

Hauptbahnhof

Weltzeituhr und Pyramiden Treff

Christmas Market

Crossing the Fehmarn Belt

The train boarded a ferry, and we all disembarked so we could buy things on the ferry. I exchanged my kroner for euros and bought a double espresso, which I then enjoyed on the lido deck.

Note that I extend my pinky in the manner favored by Irish guitarists.

Enjoying a beverage upon the Baltic

Notes on Switzerland

  • Switzerland has more graffiti than I’ve seen outside of the US. It completely contradicts my image of Switzerland as clean and orderly. In Zürich there’s a long wall where graffiti seems to be allowed, probably in an attempt to redirect some of that tagging impulse.

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But I guess it’s not enough for some people.

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  • My German sucks*. I can read most of the signs and order things in stores, but my vocabulary far exceeds my grammar knowledge. I know words like Fußbodenschleifmaschine, but I fall all over myself trying to say that I’d like to check out of my hotel room.
  • And Swiss German is another creature entirely. I’m not sure how much I’d understand even if my Hochdeutsch were fluent. I think it would be like learning English and then taking a trip to northern Scotland. Some of the words would be familiar, but… Swiss German has a lilt that makes it sound Scandinavian. And they’ll start words with ch, which I don’t think standard German ever does. (I saw one sign that spelled Kinder as Chinder.) The standard greeting is Grüezi, which is sometimes pronounced as one would expect, but is often pronounced Grüße. And they roll their R’s like Spaniards, especially in rural areas. I wish I had a recording of the way the train conductor in Lauterbrunnen pronounced Mürren. They also frequently use merci for thank you and ciao for goodbye.
  • I like currywurst better than döner kebabs.
  • Almost everyone in Switzerland speaks English. Most of them humored** me in my attempts to speak German, but English is always available when needed.
  • Zürich’s Hauptbahnhof is one of the most trainstationy stations I’ve seen. It’s big and cavernous and the trains come right into the middle of it. I’d say it’s second only to Gare du Nord in its trainstationiness.

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  • Tessalon*** does not seem to be OTC in Switzerland. In fact, you have to ask for ibuprofen, which is $11.00 for 20 tablets.

* No, autocorrect, I don’t mean “dicks.”
** No, not “humped.”
*** Not “Thessaloniki”! Just stop!

Google Fi

I don’t know what to make of Google Fi. It works great at home, seamlessly transitioning between LTE and Wi-Fi when necessary. The signal is clear. I’ve never had any dropped calls. In fact, it’s worked fine along the coastal northwest from Vancouver to Portland, as well as in the SF Bay Area.

But when I went to Singapore and Taiwan, it didn’t work at all, even though both places are supported.

On this trip, it found a signal right away when I landed in Amsterdam. In Nice, it picked up a signal and kept it the whole week, in both France and Italy. No problem except in Monaco, but Google Fi isn’t supported there anyway.

When I drove to Switzerland, it connected me in Geneva and mostly kept the connection until I got to about Gstaad, then lost it for good. When I crossed into Germany, it welcomed me to Germany, then immediately welcomed me to France (!). When I passed back into Switzerland, it welcomed me to Switzerland and connected me, and I stayed connected all the way back to the train station, even standing in the same spot where I had been unable to get a connection 30 minutes earlier. Then I walked down to the platform and lost the connection. I haven’t had it since.

I’ve tried rebooting the phone. I’ve tried turning airplane mode on and then off. I’ve tried turning cell data and roaming off and then on. I’ve tried selecting each of the three Swiss carriers individually. Nothing works.

Ah, but then the train passed into Liechtenstein. I immediately got a text message that had been queued up when I was back in Zürich. Google Fi welcomed me to Liechtenstein and told me I was offline.

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“Service outside the US” and “Calls to non-US numbers” are deselected. But the SMS worked, if only briefly.

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But then I got to Austria and everything worked again. Two hours in Austria with no problems, then back into Liechtenstein with a spotty connection, then into Switzerland and it all goes away again.

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I would like to have speaks with the Google people. I certainly hope they’ll be improving the service over time.

Excursion to Austria

Rolling along on the southwest side of Lake Zurich on my way through Liechtenstein to Feldkirch, Austria.

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Why Feldkirch? Well, it looked like a nice little town just over the border, and if I’m doing a run to Liechtenstein, I might as well go a little further to Austria. And it looked more interesting than Vaduz itself.

Although I was hoping we’d go through Vaduz. We seem to have bypassed it. Bummer. Rural Liechtenstein looks exactly like rural Switzerland.

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I arrived in Feldkirch at a quarter after ten and spent most of my time touring a 13th-century castle. There wasn’t much to the rest of the town, so I took the 11:48 train back rather than wait two more hours for the next train.

I think the people sitting next to me on the platform were gypsies. The daughter was speaking German, but I think the parents were speaking Romansch. But I’m mostly guessing. I’ve never heard Romansch spoken before.

The Huhn Tikka Masala in the restaurant car was quite good, and they were nice enough to give me a ten-cent discount on a double espresso so I could use up the last of my euros.

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Got back to the hotel about 1:30. Time for a short nap before I go chocolate shopping.

Zu Zürich

I didn’t go to Luzern. I hung around Bern until 11:00 to watch the clock. It didn’t really do all that much, but it is pretty interesting to see a working mechanism from 1530.

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Luzern would take several hours, and I didn’t want to get to Zürich that late, so I took the train directly to Zürich and got there by 1:00.

I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof and set off confidently in the wrong direction. I knew I needed to cross the river, but I didn’t know that there are two rivers. Fortunately, there was a Starbucks just on the other side of the Sihl, so I could map the hotel and see that I needed to cross the Limmat.

Of course, I should have been able to map it anywhere, not just at a Starbucks, but the flakiness of Google Fi will be the subject of another post.

The Hotel Arlette is small but nice, as advertised. After I checked in, I went back across the river and walked the length of Bahnhofstrasse, which for some reason makes me think of New York City in the 1920s.

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Then I walked randomly through nearby alleys and back across the Limmat to Niederdorf, which seems like Zürich’s equivalent of Paris’ Latin Quarter.

I spent most of the afternoon wandering around on both sides of the river.

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For dinner I got some currywurst at this place that has barrels for tables. I didn’t notice it at the time, but it seems to be part of the strip club next door.

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A little later I went up to Lindenhof and sat on the fourth-century Roman wall and took pictures of the city and river under the full moon. I couldn’t quite hold the camera still enough…

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