Czeching In

23rd-26th July

Arriving:
We took a train from Munich to Nuremberg, then a bus to Prague from there. The bus was actually very nice and had wifi and a coffee machine on board.

Staying:
We stayed at Old Prague Hostel which was walking distance from most of the sights of Prague. It was £19.06 per person per night in a seven bed mixed dorm.

It was a large room with three sets of bunk beds and a single bed. There were massive lockers which had locks and their own keys. The toilets and showers were down the corridor. There was no air con, but large windows that could be opened. The view was just down onto the street, but below us was a very load bar where the Prague pub crawl began which kept us awake (especially Emily – I was okay because I had brought earplugs with me). There was also a lounge area and a small and ill-equipped kitchen (no oven and the hobs turned out not to work, so it was microwave and kettle!). The wifi here was terrible.

Day 1:
We arrived, paid and made dinner – cooking pasta in a microwave isn’t easy, but it is possible. We had also bought some ciders from the nearby shop – they were around £1 each! After the expense of Munich, Prague seemed incredibly cheap – we all overestimated how much money we would need. We went to bed quite early as we had gotten up early to catch our train.

Day 2:
The hostel provided breakfast “sandwiches” for free. They were terrible, basically all margarine, not recommended. We then headed out for another free walking tour (with Discover Prague) which met round the corner from our hostel by the Old Town Square. We were with Bianca, a very enthusiastic lady, who led us around the old town. We saw the astronomical clock, the buildings in the old town square – such as the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, the opera house, the Jewish quarter and some of the new town. The best thing about free walking tours is that you hear a lot of the stories behind the places you see, things you wouldn’t otherwise know.

We then found lunch at a place called Bagueterie Boulevard, which consisted of some lovely iced tea, a baguette and some wedges with tartare sauce. We ate this is the old town square. Afterwards we had a look round some of the churches in the square, such as St Nicholas Church, before heading to the Jewish quarter to see the Spanish Synagogue which has a gorgeous interior.

We then walked back to the Old Town Square to join the Prague Castle Tour. This was also with Discover Prague and our guide, Givi, was brilliant. He was knowledgeable and funny which made it a really worthwhile tour. The views from the castle district are also spectacular.The tour takes you through the castle district, you see Strahov monastery (which houses a massive library and was burnt down four times), the castle buildings which are all in different architectural styles, St Vitus Cathedral and a wonderful statue of a naked youth whose penis brings you luck if you touch it (isn’t that a good line)!

Our legs were tired at this point – perhaps two walking tours in one day is too much! We walked down the hill to find dinner and settled for a small pizza place called U Bodovce that also served traditional food. Becky and I shared a pork knuckle and a goulash – they were both very tasty. The same restaurant had a live jazz band playing.

We then went home to change and go out to look at the Charles Bridge – it is very popular and busy in the day but quieter at night. Prague was stunning at night, especially the castle which is all lit up (thanks to the Rolling Stones who visited and were surprised the building was unlit so paid for the lighting).

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Charles Bridge by night

Day 3:
We got up and headed to the station to take the train to Kutna Hora (about an hour’s journey) to see a church called the Sedlec Ossuary there which is decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. The train was old and the brakes squealed in the heat every time we slowed down or stopped. When we arrived, we walked through the dusty heat to the church. It was weird, but fascinating. There were piles of skulls in each corner of the quite small church, garlands of bones, a shield of bones and a giant goblet of bones.

We found lunch at a supermarket and went back to Prague to see some more of the Jewish Museum. First we visited the Pinkas Synagogue where thousands of names and dates of Jews from Prague were written on the walls in memorial. There was also had an exhibition of children’s drawings from the concentration camp Terezin – some of happy dreams, some of their terrible situation. It was really quite haunting, especially as there were dates by the drawings indicating that most of them had died between the ages of ten to fourteen.

Afterwards we visited the Jewish Cemetery, which was too small for the needs of the Jewish town, so graves were layered on top of one another, sometimes up to ten deep. There were many headstones, all tilted at odd angles – Prague is full of these kinds of fascinating places.

We then took a tram to the castle side of the river to take the funicular railway up Petrin Hill to the rose garden at the top. Our legs were so tired that we just sat around in the afternoon sun for a while before returning to our hostel for tea.

The previous evening we had walked through Old Town Square and it had been full of young people sitting on the floor, drinking and chatting. We decided to do the same and headed out with some beers and ciders to sit and soak up the atmosphere of the square at night. It was such a beautiful, tranquil place to sit – until a road sweeper came along and forced everyone to stand up and move over as it went by! Must keep that square clean eh?

Day 4:
We checked out, but remained in the hostel to read and use the wifi until we had to leave for our train. On the way we walked past the stunningly ornate Jerusalem synagogue – my parting shot of Prague!

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Jerusalem Synagogue

Tips for Prague:
– Go for at least 4 full days – there is so much to see in Prague
– The Jewish history here is eye-opening, it is definitely worth seeing the museums and possibly doing a day trip to Terezin.
– Do a walking tour, the castle tour was especially good.
– Definitely go for a drink in the Old Town Square at night, the atmosphere is incredible – there are many bars or if you’re poor like us, grab some beers from the shop and take a seat on the floor.
– If you like meat, the traditional food is amazing – vegetarians and vegans, prepare to do some restaurant research!
– Beer is cheaper than water (not technically a tip – but good to know!)

Memories of Munich

20th – 23rd July

Arriving:
The train from Berlin Hauptbahnhoff to Munich Hauptbahnhoff is direct and takes 6hrs 15mins.

Staying:
We stayed at a Wombats Hostel, which is a chain with hostels in various European cities. We stayed at three Wombats hostels in total and were very impressed with them. It cost us £27.03 per person per night in an 6 bed mixed dorm (which we thought was all female until Emily woke up to see a naked guy standing on the other side of the room). The hostel was near to the centre, just across the road from the main station.

It was a large room with three sets of bunk beds, a bench with seats and an ensuite bathroom. There were lockers which could be locked and unlocked with your key-card. There was no air con, but there were fans in the room. The view was just down onto the street, nothing special. Downstairs there was a large lounge area, a bar which served some basic food for dinner and a cheap breakfast.

Day 1:
When we arrived and ate some very basic pizza at the hostel – I wouldn’t recommend it for evening eating – there are plenty of lovely places to eat in Munich centre. We then went out for a walk into the centre, which wasn’t far down the road. Munich is a very nice city, with some lovely buildings such as the Cathedral and the Town Hall.

As it was Becky’s birthday we decided to head to a Biergarten and have a drink. I had a beer, Emily had a coke, Becky had shandy and Hayley had a Spezi (which is like fanta and pepsi mixed together – it’s really quite nice). The place we went to was called Augustiner Klosterwirt which served a tasty light beer. It was also right next to the cathedral and a lovely fountain – the Mushroom Fountain. We paddled in the fountain, soaking up the summer evening atmosphere and took lots of photos before heading back to the hostel to get some sleep.

Day 2:
We got up suitably late after a good sleep and went down for breakfast. Hayley used to live near Munich for two years and so had planned the next couple of days for us. We caught the train out to Starnberg, where Hayley used to live, where there is a lovely big lake that you can swim in. We planned to have a lazy time swimming in the lake and lounging on the grass next to it.

Tips for Munich:
– Go for at least three full days.
– Try to get out of the city – the surrounding countryside is amazing – especially Starnberg.
– Skinny dip! If you feel inclined it is one of the best places to do it, either at Starnberg or in the Englischer Garten.
– Try the beer! Even if you’re not a massive beer fan, at least have a shandy to get you in the Bavarian spirit.
– Wander round the city centre at night. It is so serene and lovely, especially by the mushroom fountain and in Marienplatz.

Briefly Berlin

18th-20th July

Arriving:
The train from Amsterdam Centraal to Berlin Hauptbahnhoff is direct and takes 6hrs 20mins.

Staying:
We stayed at a place called Generator Hostel (we stayed at Prenzlauer Berg instead of Mitte as it was much cheaper). It cost us £12.22 per person per night in an 8 bed mixed dorm. The hostel was well out of the centre, but as the rail system is so good in Berlin, it wasn’t a problem – especially as it is right next to Landsberger Allee station.

It was a basic room with simple bed frames. Under the bed were storage cages which you could lock your stuff into. The toilets and showers were along the corridor from the room and were also very basic. There wasn’t much of a view and at the time we stayed there, there was building work happening next door which was quite noisy. Downstairs there was a bar area with a large outdoor space, but no kitchen. There was a cafeteria area, but it closed quite early. Round the corner were a few fast food places, like Burger King.

Day 1:
When we arrived it was late and the hostel had stopped serving food, so we got Burger King, then went to the bar and had a few drinks, before it closed, again quite early.

Day 2:
We decided to do a free walking tour on the second day – which is a great way to see a city on a low budget! We met at the Brandenburg Gate. Our tour was with Sandeman’s new Europe Tours and our guide was a Mancunian called Rob Shaw, who kept making jokes about the UK. He was really knowledgeable and  enthusiastic and did an amazing job of getting us excited about Berlin.

He showed us the statue of Goethe in Tierpark, the Holocaust memorial, where Hitler’s bunker was, parts of the Berlin wall, checkpoint Charlie as well as some of the older history of Berlin – the musical, artistic, cultural and educational aspects, such as the opera house and Humboldt University (where Einstein taught). By Humboldt was a memorial to the books burnt by the Nazis called the Empty Library. We finished the tour by Berlin Cathedral, which looks very old, but was actually built in the nineteenth century.

After the wonderful tour, we found lunch by the cathedral – currywurst! It is a Berlin fast food favourite – Bratwurst with curry ketchup and chips – yum!

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We walked back through Alexander Platz where the TV tower stands, now a panorama point and restaurant. We then headed east to visit the east-side gallery – a wonderful collection of art on a very long section of still-standing Berlin wall. This was excellent, the highlight of the day, definitely worth the train ride to get there.

We went back to our hostel to change, then headed to the Reichstag building where we had booked in to climb the dome. We received an audio guide, but found it a little long-winded. The views from up there are spectacular – especially as we went when the sun was going down. This is definitely worth doing.

We then went out on a pub crawl, also organised by Sandemans. You got a wristband for entry into four bars plus the club Matrix with a free drink in each of the bars. It was fun, but a LOT of walking – wear sensible shoes if you attempt this! Personally I would recommend just going to Matrix, but don’t arrive too early – Berliner’s don’t like to go out until around midnight!

Day 3:
We got up very early and staggered to the train station to go to the Hauptbahnhoff. Some work was being done, so the trains were not running as normal and it was not obvious what was happening, this meant we missed the train we intended to get to Munich. We had to sit around, tired and hungover, waiting for the next train – so much for German transport efficiency!

Tips for Berlin:
– Go for at least three full days.
– See the East Side Gallery.
– Climb the dome of the Reichstag at sunset, the views are stunning.
– If you go clubbing anywhere in Europe, do it here – Matrix is a really good club.
– The history of Berlin is part of what makes the city what it is – acquaint yourself with Berlin’s past, walking tours are a great place to start!

Amster-damn!

This summer I went InterRailing. It was a post-uni adventure for me and my three friends who also graduated from the same degree.

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Becky, Emily, me and Hayley graduating three days before we headed to Europe.

I meant to write a blog for each place as I traveled around but I had some technical issues with uploading images.

I have decided to write retrospective blogs for each place we visited just summing up what we did and my tips for visiting each place.

 

AMSTERDAM: 16th-18th July

Arriving:
Amsterdam seemed like a good place to start as it is easy to get to from the UK by a Eurostar to Brussels then a train onwards to Amsterdam Centraal.

Staying:
We stayed at a place called Meininger Hotel which cost us £28.43 per person per night for a four person room. The hostel was out of the centre which was okay for us, especially as it was the cheapest place we could find and we could get a number 22 bus into Amsterdam in just 15mins.

It was a lovely room, with comfortable, clean beds and a nice shower and toilet as well as air con (the windows don’t open). There were also big lockers in the room. The view was of another unoccupied building. Downstairs there was a bar area and a small kitchen which was relatively well equipped. There is a small food shop nearby which also sells alcohol.

Day 1:
On the first day, we went out and has some lunch at a place called Bagels and Beans, which was very nice and not particularly expensive. We then had a walk through the picturesque canal streets.


The inner part of Amsterdam is very pretty with canals, little bridges and tall houses. We walked for quite a while and went down a very narrow street, where we discovered some red-lit windows. As it was daytime the windows were mostly empty, but we had stumbled upon one of Amsterdam’s seedier offerings. We found ourselves near the main station, so headed home to have dinner at the hostel.

Day 2:
We got up early to go to the Anne Frank museum. We had booked in advance online, which is recommended, else there are very long queues. You are not allowed to take photos in the museum, but it is a very chilling place. To walk through the rooms where the family actually lived and read Anne’s eloquent descriptions of her life in the annex, was very sad. but a worthwhile experience. There were also videos to watch around the museum – including an especially emotional one  of Anne’s father discussing reading her diary after her death.

To lighten the mood after the Anne Frank museum, we visited the cheese museum along the road. It had information about how cheese is made as well as cheese samples. After this we headed to the Red Light Secrets museum, which was an eye-opener into the world of prostitution in Amsterdam. On the way we found a giant clog in Dam Square.

The prostitution museum was very interesting, especially an installation of a “window” you could sit in front of, which showed video of people walking by, leering, talking photos and laughing.

We then went for lunch in a cute yellow hut which sold incredible burgers – called Het Stadspaleis. It was lovely. After this we headed to a pub which had a neon/ UV mini-golf course in the basement. The installation/ statues were stunning.

We had a pint in the pub then walked to a panorama point on top of the NEMO science museum which has fountains on it. There were views over the whole city!

Day 3:
We only had the morning before we had to leave for our train, so we briefly went down to the museum quarter and took a photo with the “i amsterdam” sign. If we had had more time I would have liked to have visited the Van Gogh museum, Vondelpark and perhaps the Rijksmuseum – turns out that only one full day in Amsterdam is not enough.

Tips for Amsterdam:
– Go for at least three full days.
– Book early as accommodation is quite expensive.
– There are loads of amazing museums to see – the Red Light Secrets and Anne Frank museums are especially worth a visit.
– There is a strong smell of marijuana,  just to warn you. Also the red light district is very overt and sex shops display products very obviously in their windows.
– Go to Het Stadspaleis for lunch if you like perfectly cooked burgers.