Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Fourth Monthlies!

As of August 17th, we will have completed our fourth month on the road. As always, here’s our best of awards for month 4. To recap where we were this month: Amsterdam, Holland – Copenhagen, Denmark – Hamburg, Germany – Nuertingen, Germany – Berlin, Germany – Prague, Czech Republic – Krakow, Poland – Wroclaw, Poland


Sleep in Heaven – Copenhagen, Denmark

We walked in and they were playing Leslie’s favorite band, The Fleet Foxes. Unfortunately, we accidentally booked one week to late, but they helped us find another hostel and we checked in the next night. There were four distinct common areas where we could hang out, relatively cheep beer and wine available, a pool table and friendly people. We didn’t find a bunch of amazing hostels this month, so this is probably the weekest of our winners, but still an excellent hostel nonetheless.


B&B Hausmann – Neurtingen, Germany

We met Kerstin and Michi Hausmann in Koh Phangan, Thailand three years ago so we looked them up when we were coming to Germany. They have a great flat outside Stuttgart in the small town of Nuertingen. Not only that, but we had a private room, with a personalized welcome note and a chocolate on the pillow! It was awesome.


Pancakes! – Amsterdam, Holland

Yes, the exclamation point is in the title. This little restaurant is set between a couple of the canals in the hip Jordaan district of Amsterdam. It was also our first destination on our bikes. Leslie got muesli pancakes and Bryan got the daily special, which was a pancake with slices of sausage and spring onions mixed into the batter. We don’t make many savory pancakes in the USA and this place made me wonder why not. It was tucked into a two story building with the cafe tables packed together very tightly. Nevertheless, there was a short wait when we got there. We actually asked for directions from the bike shop where we rented bikes. The Australian guy behind the counter hadn’t heard of the place, yet helped us find it on the map because we had an address. The Dutch woman behind the counter overheard us talking about Pancakes! and said, “That’s a good place.” We definitely agree.


Our Saviour – Copenhagen, Denmark

So this wasn’t the most impressive old church, nor the biggest, but it was oozing character. In fact, the reason it stuck out so much was that it was nowhere near prepared for the amount of people that wanted to get to the top. It was about six stories tall and the staircase actually wrapped around the outside of the steeple, so you could make it to the very top. The problem was that the staircase around the steeple was barely wide enough for two people to pass. It basically forced one way traffic. We got into the church and walked up to the point where we were about to get onto the steeple, but couldn’t get through the trap door above us because people were coming down, so we waited… and waited… and waited. Half an hour later we could go up the trap door. Because we waited so long, the steeple was empty and we very easily and quickly got to the top for some awesome views. After getting some pics and feeling the steeple sway back and forth under the weight of all the people and the wind we decided to go down. We joined the line heading down and saw the next group of waiters wondering when it would be there turn to climb the ascent of Our Savior.


Amsterdam, Holland -> Copenhagen, Denmark

So this month was marked by difficult travel days, but the train ride itself from Amsterdam to Copenhagen was beautiful. We took a train from Amsterday to Hamburg and then tried to catch the connecting train to Copenhagen. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to sit. We decided to wait, get some food and catch the next train. This time, there was a wonderful first class cabin we shared with a young Danish couple and their well-behaved son. Free coffee and bottled water was waiting for us as the train rolled along the northern coast of Germany and into Denmark. Expansive water views were fun, but paled in comparison to what came next. One of the reasons that the previous train was so crowded was that the train was very small. The reason was because the entire train rolled onto a ferry boat to navigate through the collection of islands that is eastern Denmark. The sun set as we hung out on top of the ferry. Denmark has also built a ton of wind farms in the middle of the ocean to get renewable energy, which were fun to see. An exhibit in Danish, German and English told us all about the project and gave information about it’s output. The windfarm we saw provided enough electricity for a city of 200K for a year. True, we later ended up a week early for our hostel and walked across town at 11pm, but in a month of rough travel experiences, this was relatively easy.


Berlin, Germany -> ?????

Oog. This day started rough. We were planning on going to the grocery store to get fruit, muesli and yogurt, but ended up grabbing pretzels and other baked goods before getting on our first-class German train to Krakow. This should have been easy, but as soon as we crossed the border the Polish conductor came through to check tickets, at which point we learned that the Eurail Global pass we have isn’t valid in Poland, even though the routes are clearly marked on the map. Looking back on it, we should have just paid the money to continue to Krakow, but instead, we ended up getting off the train in the little town of Legnica in Poland.
There was nothing there. It took us awhile to find the ticket counter, where we found a woman who spoke no English. We wanted tickets to Zgorzelac, Poland, which is back on the German/Polish border, but we had no Polish Zloty and they didn’t take Euro. Eventually, the woman felt bad for us and exchanged our money from her purse and we got tickets. We then headed to Zgorzelac, stayed on the train illegally for a stop until we crossed back into Germany and the Eurail became valid.
We then had to decide where to go next, so we hopped on a train south to Zittau, Germany, which is on the Czech border. The goal was to walk across the border and find a train to Prague. Instead, at about 6:30 we realized it was going to be tough to get all the way to Prague, so asked if there were any hostels in Zittau. There were three according to the guy who apparently didn’t know how many hostels were in Zittau. Two hours later we left Zittau with the goal of getting back to Dresden, Germany, which was the central hub of the region and a place where we thought we could find lodging.
The hostel we found from the lonely planet looked wonderful, but two steps inside the woman behind the desk said, “I hope you have reservations. Everything in Dresden is full!” She told us that she had called all the good hostels already and everything was filled up. Fortunately, she knew about the A&O, which is a passable, corporate chain of hostels throughout Germany. We’d stayed in one in Hamburg. She called, and they had a room, but would not hold it.
Off we went, back to the umpteenth train station of the day to catch a train to the other side of Dresden. At this point we even toyed around with the night-train back to Amsterdam just so we had somewhere to sleep as we were getting dangerously close to sleeping on the street. Fortunately, we made it to the A&O, which was much better than the one in Hamburg and they had a room for us for the night. Ug.


“Subben” – Nuertingen, Germany

So what do you think of when you think of land-locked southwest Germany? If you answered, “paddle-boarding” give yourself a pat on the back! Kerstin and Michi’s friend Rolf lead a gang of friends out onto the river and rented paddle boards. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a sport where you get a surf-board and stand on it with a paddle. It’s pretty common in Hawaii and you can now do it on the river in Nuertingen.


Mystery Food Stick, Febo – Amsterdam, Holland

Febo is a fast food place in Amsterdam with a wall of slidey doors. There’s a wall with small plastic doors that fit snacks about the size of a McDonald’s hamburger. Instead of ordering at the counter, you slide in some change and open the door to take your treat. The cook then replaces it It’s kind of like a vending machine on steroids. Unfortunately, it’s only in Dutch, so we had no idea what we were getting when I slid the 2 euros into the machine and pulled out something that looked like a supersized mozerella stick. Even after eating it, we’re not sure what it was. There was definitely some sort of ground up meat. Bryan thinks there was some pea-soup-like stuff in there as well. Whatever it was, it was rolled into a log and breaded before being deep-fried. Bryan thought it was okay and offered Leslie a taste. She made a disgusted face and we ended up with a piece of semi-chewed mystery food stick going “plop” on the ground.


Gnomes – Wroclaw, Poland

There’s over 150 small gnome statues you can go hunting for in Wroclaw, Poland! And you know what they say… when in gnome…


“The Slaughterhouse” – Nuertingen, Germany

This isn’t the right name, but we’ll always remember it as The Slaughterhouse. After subben we all went to this brewery that was in an old slaughterhouse. The food was good, the friends were great and the beer was excellent. We went on a little tour to see the meathooks where they used to hang cows.


Amsterdam, Holland

Backpackers usually end up going to similar places, usually called “The Loop”. “The Loop” changes depending on where you are. Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona and Rome are “The Loop” for lots of people who stay in Western Europe, usually with a couple other places thrown in. Amsterdam, Berlin, Krakow, Budapest and Dubrovnik are “The Loop” in the East. We’ve heard a ton of different “Loops”, but the common denominator is always Amsterdam. The reason why is pretty simple.
Amsterdam. Is. Awesome.
Dutch food is good, but the openness of Amsterdam means there’s food from all over the globe. Canals lining the street mean that everywhere you look is photogenic and most importantly, the entire city is built for bikes. It’s a bike culture, which means it’s incredibly easy to get around. Amsterdam packs much more life into much less space than anywhere else we’ve been, simply because there’s no need for parking lots all over the place. Even the fast food is different because instead of drive-throughs, people lock up their bike and walk in. There’s communal interaction, less stinky smog and still fast-food to go. We did not try using chopsitcks while biking like many of the Dutch leaving Wok 2 Walk, but we became pretty expert at fitting into the bike traffic after a few days. I’ve never seen another city that is so interdependent with the bicycle and the result is a unique and wonderful way of life.

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