Peaceful Prague

While in Prague we stayed at the Hotel General, where all the bedrooms are dedicated to different military generals.

Hotel General – Prague – http://www.hotel-general.com/en/  the building dates from 1890 – and was converted to the current hotel in 2007.

This hotel is out of the tourist area, which is a positive, because the evenings were quiet and traffic was light. The hotel is first class, and all the staff members go out of their way to make your stay memorable.
Vicky, the receptionist who greeted us, spent time explaining how the transport system worked in Prague, and she suggested restaurants, as well as answering all our questions. Our chat time was over complimentary drinks of our choice – we had Champagne – it was a very pleasant way to be welcomed to a new city.
Breakfast was from 7.00 am, which was a buffet for the cereals and juices etc, but white gloved waiters served eggs to order and all coffee was made on request. If you want to have breakfast in your room, this would not be a problem (at no extra cost). During breakfast you could, if you wished, watch the DVD of interesting places in and around Prague.
Rooms were a good size, and were spotless, as was the en suit, which had the shower over the bath. We had plenty of room in the bathroom for stowing our personal items.

The cost of the local tram in to the city was around $1.30 – the tickets are bought from sellers (newsagents etc) rather than from the tram driver. The ticket has to be validated when boarding the tram. Most days we walked to the city (about 20 minutes) for the exercise and to experience Prague. It is an easy flat walk. We used the tram to get back to the hotel after a day of sight seeing.

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Easy to walk everywhere
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Astro clock

I think Prague was our favourite of all the cities that we visited during this holiday.

It was a slower pace than Berlin and small enough that one could walk around all of the main areas without too much trouble.

Car- less

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if you get tired you can always hire a car DSC01187r.jpg

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Charles Bridge

DSC01199r ex tram bar in Wenceslas Square

My friend and I were in this small bar waiting for our wives to finish some shopping when the waiter offered me a Budweiser beer. Thinking he was referring to the American beer that I had some years ago, and didn’t like, I refused, and asked him for Czech beer. The Budweiser, he told me, was Czech beer and had nothing to do with the US brand. I trusted him and ordered the local Budweiser, which was very good. I’d forgotten about the name connection with the American beer.

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Everyone has a gimmick – as soon as he saw me taking his picture out came his sword.DSC01241r

DSC01244rI’d never have thought I stand at the foot of King Wenceslas statue.

We loved to sit and people watch –

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I just wondered if someone was taking photos of us, taking photos of others . . .

We had a lovely meal in the Blue Duck – a little expensive, but the ambiance, the taste and the service was worth that little extra.

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Try the basil sorbet, so different.

There is so much to see in Prague from clocks to castles . .

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From gardens to views

or an outside BBQ, perhaps a hole in the wall bar hidden behind the castle.

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All good things come to an end –

Prague – Budapest by train

Prague station is easy to navigate and all announcements are made in Czech and English. We were booked in first class, which was the first coach (wagon) after the engine. This trip was a much more pleasurable journey than Berlin to Prague. We had our own table and plenty of storage space for the suitcases. The storage space, other than on the rack over our heads, was the unused seats. The coach was not crowded and the ride was smooth once we left the main area of Prague. Passing through the Prague area the train was jerky which caused an unsettling feeling of being in the back seat of a car when the driver keeps speeding up and breaking. This went on for the first hour after which, it stopped and the remainder of the trip was smooth.

Being a train lover from my childhood I found the different coloured coaches from various countries across Europe, such as Russia, German, Slovakia fascinating.

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and I did like to keep an eye on the carriage in front . . .

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Onions and Bombay Beer

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My first visit to Bombay (as it was then) as a cadet opened my eyes to India with its teaming millions, garri wallhas (motorised rickshaw now commonly called tuk tuks), honking horns, the ringing of bicycle bells, and the ever mouth watering smell of spiced food.

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I’d grown to love curries, because at lunchtime on the Company’s vessels, the officers would be offered curry (as well as European food). The curries were different every day, from beef through to fish or vegetables. We had two galleys on the ship (sometimes more if we had Muslim & Hindu crews), one for the European officers and the other for the crew. The deck crew might have all been hired from one village in India or Pakistan, and the engine room crew from another village. The cooks and stewards for the Europeans were Goanese, which was a colony of Portugal until 1961. The Indian cooks might have been Muslim or Hindu, which meant that the officers would not be able to eat their bacon (Muslims will not touch pig meat) and eggs, or their roast beef (Hindu will not touch cow meat), so the solution was to hire people from Goa to attend to the officers, because they were generally Catholics, due to the influence of Portugal, so everyone was happy! The Goanese Company cooks produce great curries.

Bombay was a major location for the Company, having traded around the Indian coast for over a hundred years. This port had a Company Officers’ Club, which was part hotel, and part social club i.e snooker, cards etc and a small bar. The hotel part would be used by officers waiting for their ship to arrive in port.

On my first visit to the Club I entered the bar to see people drinking beer, so I asked the barman for a cold beer.
‘Chitty, Sahib’
On the ship one didn’t use money, but signed a chit for a case of beer or a carton of cigarettes, the books were balanced at the end of the voyage.
‘Chitty?’ I asked.
‘From the police, Sahib’
At this point a fellow cadet took pity on the new boy and explained the system. I had to report to the police and fill in a form stating that I was an alcoholic, and I would be given a chit allowing me to buy a limited number of beers at the Officers’ Club.

Maharashtra State, in which Bombay was located, was a ‘dry’ State! (It isn’t now). So it was pure panic to get to the police station before the senior officer went home for the night. I managed it! I wonder if I am still listed as an alcoholic in this part of India.

Outside, in the city away from the Raj like atmosphere of the Officers’ Club, one could get a large beer (650 ml) in the brothels (none of us wanted the ladies), for about ten shillings, which was very expensive, but better than nothing in the humidity of Bombay, after we’d finished our small beer allowance sanctioned by the police.
After ordering the beer we always wanted to see the un-opened bottle so that we could inspect the cap and make sure it had not been tampered with in anyway. I must admit the establishment made sure that they didn’t offend anyone (very PC for those days). Around the walls of the ‘ladies waiting room’ were pictures and photographs of most of the world leaders from,

Queen
HM Queen Elizabeth UK

 

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Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus
JFK
JFK of the US
De Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle – of France
Khrushchev
Khrushchev – USSR as it was then
Franco
General Franco of Spain
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Pope John XXIII

the above pictures are of those that I can remember, but there were many others, few leaders were left out. To me it was an eye opener to another world. The ports visited by my previous ship, which was a tanker, were very restricted for going ashore, compared to my current tramp ship.

I did hear it say that the Bombay beer, at that time, was brewed from onions, but I am unable to confirm this as fact, but after seeing people drink a few bottles of the local Bombay brew, many would often start crying, so the theory might be true!

Books that influenced my travels

Have you noticed that travelers write about travels, and the main people who read about those who travel, are those who are travelling?
Even foodie blogs write about travels – because many have pictures of food from various countries through which the writer has traveled – not a complaint, because I love to read about other people’s food & travels. My wife’s hobby is cooking, so she collects recipes from around the world, and my hobby is eating, and this makes for a perfect combination!
The seed of travel for me was sown when I was a boy after the war listening to my father’s travels during WW 2. I followed him to sea; he was Royal Navy, I joined the merchant navy.
Combining a love of the sea, with the love of books in my youth, my favourite authors, were C.S Forester, the Hornblower series,
HappyReturn
First Edition Cover – 1937

Somerset Maugham short stories of life in the Far East –

Cas tree
The Casuarina Tree
Gent in Parlour
The Gentleman in the Parlour

 

Eric Newby travel writer, describing his voyage at 18 years of age in 1938.
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Joseph Conrad’s novels – such as
Lord Jim,
Lord Jim
Rudyard Kipling’s stories & poems of Burma and India.
Who can forget
 or
– Rudyard is the name of a man-made lake in Staffordshire, UK, and Rudyard Kipling was named after this lake because his parents met there in 1863. Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai).
I first went to Burma (as it was then) in 1965 /6 and it hadn’t changed that much when I visited for a holiday in 2012.
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Street cafes in Rangoon 2012

I never did make it to Mandalay!

In my late teens I moved on to Jack Kerouac’s – On The Road – a must read for many a teenager.
JK
As one grows older travel books still have a fascination, but for me I seem to be looking back over my shoulder thanks to Gavin Young’s two books
Slow Boat to China (Pub 1984)

 

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Slow Boat to China

A great book to read while my memories of China where still sharp &  Slow Boats Home (Pub 1986) when ships where still ships, and not floating warehouses.

Slow boat home
Slow Boat Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two books below are travel books, but they’re not . . . they are about a boy living in Singapore and going to school in England – it is the author’s memoirs. For me, they are real memories of traveling fifty years ago.

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Both books bring back ‘yesterday’ of life in Singapore & Malaya.
Davison’s memories are not so far back that they are history for for me, because I can remember much of this author’s life experiences in Singapore & Malaya (for me it was Malaysia, but it hadn’t changed that much ).

You can always combine cooking and travel if you try. I bought my wife a Christmas present in 2014

French eating

mainly as a present for her, but also for me, because I also wanted to read this book.

The author Ann Mah, travels around France for a year cooking and eating . . . what more could you want?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bend the knees around the luggage.

Berlin to Prague.

All to soon we had to leave Berlin for Prague – again by train, and again I booked first class seats over the internet, via the German booking system, but on Czech rail – I had no end of trouble trying to book on the Czech system.

Only after I had paid for the tickets, via the German system, did I realise that Czech rail had a higher travelling class than First Class, called Business Class!
Who in their right mind would offer a business class service higher than first class? Let’s just say that Czech Rail First Class was not as comfortable as the Frankfurt to Berlin trip, and I am being polite.

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The 8.46 am train from platform one at Berlin’s mainline station was a huge change from the German rail first class service.

We had four seats in a compartment for six, that required us to use the corridor to change our minds. Czech-train-1stThe six-seater compartment wouldn’t have been too bad, if there had only been the four of us. Unfortunately the remaining two seats were also occupied.
With our four large suitcases – we struggled to put two suitcases on the overhead racking system – the red bags in the pictures below. We held some of our hand baggage on our knees, because the available floor space was required for our remaining suitcases, plus one of the third couple’s suitcases, so once this was completed we were unable to move our legs or feet. This was not going to make for a comfortable  five-hour journey. I hate to think what it was like in economy, because every First Class and economy class compartment was packed with holidaymakers.DSC01144c

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Unlike the French TVG trains and the German ICE trains, which have special stowage areas for suitcase and bags (see picture left) our Czech train only had the overhead netted area, which is usually only for hand baggage. Plus the Czech train was a corridor / compartment train, compared to the German open plan layout.

After we left Berlin, and settled down (after a fashion) for the journey, we, like many others, moved our suitcases in to the corridor, which caused problems for people passing along to the buffet car. The corridor, being packed with suitcases, haversacks, cardboard boxes etc discouraged people from using the buffet car, because people didn’t fancy an obstacle course to get to the buffet and then have to retrace their steps carrying food and drink.

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To be fair the Czech train was very well maintained, clean and without the large volume of baggage, the journey would have been very pleasant.

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Couldn’t knock the scenery

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Had to try for a picture of Usti nad Labem – what a town with a history. It is positioned just inside the Czech border and has changed hands so many times. It was sacked by the Swedes (they were a long way from home), later it was handed over to Austria, then handed back to Czechoslovakia, and later taken over by Germany in 1938 at the Munich agreement in an attempt of ‘Pace in our time’ – better know by the Czechs as the ‘Munich Betrayal’. Usti nad Labem was (is) part of the Sudetenland.

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Neville Chamberlain, in September 1938, arriving at a London airport waving his ‘Peace in our time’ Munich agreement, which required the Sudetenland to be handed over to Germany. The Czechs refer to it as the Munich betrayal.   

While stretching my legs (more like just standing still) in the corridor I noticed the next compartment was the Business Class compartment, with just four seats and plenty of room. Only after the occupiers of this compartment left the train, about three quarters of the way through the journey, did we spread out and take advantage of the extra space. You live an learn.

Our hotel reception area was a welcome sight after our journey, and very different. The giant fish tank was real, it was not a photograph.

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Salad days

Sometimes things don’t pan out as one planned, particularly when traveling.

One evening, during our short stay in Berlin, we visited a restaurant that had been recommended.

The ambiance of the place was very friendly, the staff was helpful, but the portions were huge!

There were four of us and we were unaware of the size of the portions when we ordered. I picked calves liver with apple source for a main, and asked for a small Caesar salad, as a ‘side salad’.

My wife, and our friends, ordered a schnitzel each, and the same small salad. I also ordered a small plate of chips (french fries) on the side, to go with the liver. Nobody else want chips.

The main courses arrived on larger than normal plates, and my wife’s schnitzel, as well as our friend’s schnitzels, were so large that they hung over the side of their plates. My calve’s liver was just as large – they must have used a steam roller to get it so large, or the calf, from which the liver came, was as big as a bus!

The bowl of chips was large enough for four adults, and the ‘small side salad’  would have been a main course on its own, and even then I would have asked for a doggy bag for the remains.

A small side salad for myself, and another for my wife.

I hate to think what we would have received if we just ordered a simple salad as a main course. . . . .

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

We visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp after meeting our ‘walking’ guide at the Berlin Zoo suburban station. He escorted us to the main Berlin station to catch the train for the fifty minute trip to Oranienburg, which is the nearest station to the camp. On arrival this guide handed us over to a camp guide.

From the railway station to the camp it is a 20-minute walk through the town. As we arrived at the camp local houses where pointed out to us, because they used to be the houses where the camp commander and his senior officers lived.

Our camp guide was a German tour guide, so it was interesting to hear how he explained the various facts of the camp.

He was knowledgeable and overall ‘neutral’ about the history and the various details of what happened in the camp. He did not dwell on the atrocities or make any comments.

At the conclusion of the tour he told us that the camp tour was the hardest tour for any tour guide, because the guides considered it disrespectful to make the normal friendly jokes to help the tourist to feel relaxed.

I studied the build up to World War Two, and the rise of Hitler, at college; so to visit this camp was a very moving experience because it brought to ‘life’ the Nazi era of the late 1930’s.

If you have the time while in Berlin it is a ‘must see’ place just to make sure that the world doesn’t repeat this type of history.

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Work makes you free

The main gate.

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Killing ground if you step off the path
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You have been warned, step in to this area and you will be shot.
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Whipping post remains.

Prisoners were strung up by their wrist and flogged.

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Each shingle base is the remains of a single hut. There were 50 barracks for the prisoners, plus barracks for the guards etc.

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Enlarged pic of the white indicator in the previous picture.

This is the burial ground of the ashes of the victims of the concentration camp. As you see the photo above shows a small wall with stones on the top. The stones were placed there by Jewish visitors in remembrance of the murdered Jews.

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Remains of some of the ovens.
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Closer view of the ovens.

 

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The camp was liberated by the Russians and this shows the monument to them, which is within the camp.

The camp was created in 1936 to house political prisoners, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a small number of Jews.The Jewish numbers increased greatly later. Thousands of Russian & Polish civilians, and later in 1941, 12,000 Russian prisoners of war were also sent to this camp, most died.

Visiting the camp takes a full day, and is a very sobering experience. I am glad that I had the experience, but I can not comprehend why or how anyone could be so calculating barbaric and inhuman, to another human being.

The photographs above are just a small sample of the many that I took during our visit.

 

 

 

 

Trains . . . .

There’s not many boys who didn’t have an interest in trains at one time or another.

Trains

My interest started when I saved pocket money towards a Triang train set, and the love of trains has never left me – although my original train set did.

With grandchildren one can ‘remember’ to a certain extent when they allow you to play with Thomas the Tank Engine.  :-o)

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Not so long ago the thought of a train holiday around Europe took hold.

Why not fly in to Frankfurt and then use the high speed trains to move from country to country at leisurely, stress free, and economical way.

The last time I traveled on a German train was in 1960, when,as a member of the YHA I was youth hosteling along the Rhine, so how to plan and buy tickets in 2013?

Some years earlier I’d come across a very interesting site called The Man in Seat 61 http://www.seat61.com/ so I clicked on this site for advice on creating a holiday for four using the rail system. The site had expanded greatly since my last visit.

After a little research I logged in to the German rail system http://www.bahn.com/i/view/overseas/en/index.shtml and bought four tickets from Frankfurt to Berlin. While buying the tickets I was also allowed to pick the seats that I wanted, and because there were four of us I wanted us to sit around a table. The booking system is very like the airline system.

I picked the departure time and paid for the tickets using my credit card, and printed out the tickets at home in Sydney – couldn’t have been easier.

After checking the difference between the prices of a Standard ticket and First Class, I chose First Class, because I’d never traveled first class on a train before, and the difference was not as much as I expected – nothing like the huge difference between economy and business class on a plane.

We flew in to Frankfurt with Qatar Airlines and stayed at a local airport hotel for the night. A taxi, next morning, had us at the main Frankfurt railways station about forty five minutes before departure. Being First Class we had use of the lounge, which was nothing startling, but was OK for coffee and biscuits. We were called to board about ten minutes before departure so we were able to watch our train arrive in to Frankfurt station.

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The train was an ICE train (Inter-city Express) which left Frankfurt dead on time. Would you expect anything else from a German train?

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The seating in First Class is 1 x 2, and less crowded. There is nothing wrong with 2nd class, which is 2 x 2 seating, with similar leg room and comfort, but I wanted to travel 1st class by train, at least once in my life.

Using the ICE train, which traveled at up to 200 km per hour, the journey took us around four hours and was very pleasant.

We had four days in Berlin, which was long enough for a taste, but nowhere near long enough to experience Berlin life.

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Part of Berlin Railway Station (Hauptbahnhof)

 

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Brandenburg Gate

 

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Memorial to the Jews of Europe
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East Berlin
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Inside the Reichstag Building

 

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Indicator of the Berlin wall

Check point

Check point 1965

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2013
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Warning when crossing during the Cold War, if you an see it for tourists today.

We visited a concentration camp, which is about 50 minutes by train outside Berlin – see next post.

After four nights we moved on to Prague, Czech Republic, again by train, but this time we used the Czech train system.