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.
Two small side salads
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. . . . .
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.
The main gate.
Prisoners were strung up by their wrist and flogged.
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.
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.
There’s not many boys who didn’t have an interest in trains at one time or another.
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)
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.
The train was an ICE train (Inter-city Express) which left Frankfurt dead on time. Would you expect anything else from a German train?
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.
Indicator of the Berlin wall
Check point 1965
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.
There comes a time when one considers where they came from, and the history of their own family. In doing my own family ‘tree’, I remembered stories from my childhood of one particular person who had been killed in the First World War. His name was on the war memorial in our town centre, yet I knew very little about him, other than the family stories.
In 2012 my wife and I planned a visit to the UK , to allow me to take part in a 50 year reunion of those of us who left the naval college that we attended in 1962. On leaving the college most of us went to sea, and for many of us our paths never crossed again, so this reunion would be an interesting event.
While I researched the international travel arrangements my wife suggested that we visit the grave of my uncle, who was killed at the age of nineteen in World War One, and is buried at Ypres in Belgium. My uncle was my father’s brother, and growing up in the UK in the 40’s & 50’s I knew that my parents were not wealthy enough to take a trip to Belgium. I thought that this was a great idea. All of my father’s generation are now dead, which made me, as an only child, the obvious link to visit my uncle’s grave.
We flew in to Paris (via Colombo in Sri Lanka), and stayed in a small hotel called Hotel France Albion for three nights.
I’d booked us first class tickets on the TGV for Lille, which was a very fast train. The train left from Gare du Nord. The station is imposing, but we soon found our way around and realised we had an hour to wait for departure time. We’d left the hotel early to allow for traffic problems, but as luck would have it we arrived with plenty of time.
Gare du Nord outside & inside
The difference between 1st and 2nd class was not a lot of money, so we decided to treat ourselves and travel 1st Class, because we’d never travelled 1st Class on a train, so we were quite looking forward to the experience. The ticket stated that we were booked in coach 2 and gave our seat numbers. As we approached the train we could see the second coach from the engine and it had a large #2 on the side, in addition the small neon sign by the coach door flashed # 1, so we assumed that this was the first class area of coach # 2. We found our seats, but they were not positioned as I expected after seeing the coach plans. The area had a limited number of seats and was split from the rest of the coach by an electronic door, so I assumed that this was the correct area.
Later when the ticket inspector checked our tickets he never said anything other than ‘Good morning’. On reaching Lille (an hours fast ride from Paris, which is just over 200 km), we had to walk the length of the train to exit the station, and this is when I realised that we had been in the wrong coach, and we had travelled 2nd class for a first class price, so I still haven’t experienced first class rail.
I’d allowed us 20-minute transit time at Lille station. Wrong, the station was so crowded, and the queues so long to gain information about the best way of getting to Ypres in Belgium, that we missed the connection. We hadn’t bought our onward tickets as this next journey is classed as a ‘local’, and local tickets could not be bought via the web. Eventually we bought our tickets and we knew that we would have to change at Kortrijk, which is just inside Belgium. We had about fifteen minutes to change platforms / trains and from investigation the station only had eight platforms, so it didn’t look too daunting. My investigation on the internet about Kortrijk station gave me the impression that to get from one platform to another was via a subway system, which would not be too hard as there were ramps from the platform to the subway, and with our wheeled suitcases this would be easy. Wrong again – we could not find ramps only steep steps down to the subway and more steps up to the required platform. With two suitcases and only one male to manhandle them down and up the stairways, while my wife handled the hand baggage, we only just made the connection.
Ypres railways station is quaint, with a touch of old world charm,. We found a large open spaced car park, empty taxi rank, and that it was very quiet on Sunday afternoon. After checking around and realising that we would not be able to find a taxi without some help, we visited the railway ticket office. The ticket office employee was very helpful and ‘phoned for a taxi. The taxi arrived within a few minutes and we were soon at our accommodation close to Menin Gate.
After checking in to our hotel – The Albion – no connection at all with our Paris hotel of a similar name – we explored the town.
The hotel was around the corner from the town centre (Grote market) which is not a large area, but it is a very interesting area. It is a square dominated by the Cloth Hall, which we thought had been built some hundreds of years ago until we realised that Ypres had been destroyed in WW1, and rebuilt as it was before the start of the war. The Cloth Hall we so admired as being a piece of history was rebuilt in 1928! The people of Ypres used the original plans and as much of the old stones as they could, to rebuild their buildings. All the ‘old’ houses of Ypres, along with many farms and villages in the surrounding areas, which were also destroyed, were rebuilt as close as possible to how they looked prior to 1914. The town has a very nice ‘feel’, and we found the people to be very friendly and pleasant.
Ypres in 1918
In the evening (Sunday) we joined many others at the Menin Gate for the 8.00 pm short remembrance ceremony, to honour the 56,000 allied troops who do not have a known grave after the battles around Ypres. Each name is carved on the walls of the Gate.
Behind the crowd are columns & columns of names. It is a very moving ceremony, which is held every evening at 8.00 pm, having been started in 1928. The buglers who play the ‘Last Post’ are all volunteers.
The following morning we were picked up by our ‘Battlefield’ guide Jacques, for a four-hour guided tour of the Messines battlefield area outside Ypres. My uncle was killed in this battle in 1917, and is buried in Croonaert Chapel Cemetery. When arranging the tour I mentioned that if it was possible I would like to see his grave. We were shown various military advantage points as Jacques explained how the battle was fought.
After some time (about an hour) we were shown the German trenches at Bayernwald, and how the British attacked up hill.
It was then that Jacques took us to the small cemetery where my uncle is buried.
I was surprised to see how small it is with ‘only’ 66 graves. It is in the middle of a field, which is farmed for crops (wheat I think). It is not a church cemetery just a well-maintained area behind a small wall that remembers those who died.
I found the grave of my uncle, and as I stood looking down on the memorial Jacques offered me a small white cross and a single poppy to place on the grave.
As I placed the small cross on my uncle’s grave,
Jacques quoted the words of the poem ‘For the Fallen’ , which is also known as the ‘Ode of Remembrance’ by Laurence Binyon –
They went with songs to the battle; they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
My uncle joined the army for King and county, he was so keen to fight that he lied about his age – and was dead at 19.
It was a very moving moment for my wife and I, which will be remembered for the rest of our lives. The thoughtfulness of Flanders Battlefield Tours, and Jacques in particular, offering the cross and poppy, was something that I never expected. At the end of the tour I was presented with a folder, which contained all the known details of my uncle, a copy his service record and details of the part that his regiment (Cheshire Regiment) played in the Messines Battle.
On leaving Croonaert Chapel Cemetery we moved to ‘Hill 60’, you may have seen the film, which came out in 2010.
This is the memorial to the Australians involved in the tunneling under Hill 60. The dark spots on the plaque are bullet holes from WW2. Hill 60 is 60 metres above sea level – hence the name. The hill is a man-made hill from the spoil after creating a railway line cutting in 1850.
A German pillbox on Hill 60.
After the tunnelers had finished their work and placed mines (about 53,000 pounds of explosives) in the tunnels under the German lines they waited for the offensive to begin in the early hours of 7th June 1917. The Hill 60 mine was part of 23 mines placed below the enemy lines. The explosion of the mines was heard in London.
Today the remains of the blast at Hill 60 is now a large lake overgrown with vegetation. To illustrate how large the explosion was I took a photograph of our guide, who stood at one side of the crater, (the person inside the orange circle) and I stood at the other side. The experience of touring the battlefield and having detail aspects of the battle explained was well worth the long trip from Australia.
Later we visited the Tyne Cot cemetery, and with Jacques explanation we better understood the whole battle area.
The following day we caught the Eurostar from Lillie to London so as to meet up with the others attending the reunion in North Wales.
Arriving in Singapore on Saturday the 14th September 1963, the cadets were allowed to go ashore and have a swim at the Seaman’s Club. The ship was anchored off the wharf area, and we would take a small junk and be rowed, usual by a female using the single paddle at the stern of the junk, from the ship to Clifford Pier near Change Alley. Sunday the 15th was a day of rest for us, as well as all of Singapore, because that was the day the festivities would start. On the 16th September 1963 Singapore would join Malay to create a new country called Malaysia. The British were no longer in charge of Singapore.
Singapore in the 1960’s was as ‘foreign’ as one could get – it was a mixture of British, Malay, China, Indonesia, and everywhere else in between – it was Asian, and I loved it from the minute I set foot ashore on Clifford Pier.
Clifford Pier – still there today, but it is now a museum, I think.
First thing we always did on crossing the road, known as Collyer Quay, was to visit Change Alley – at that time famous for money changers. Now it is an upmarket, air-conditioned shopping area. The picture below was taken in 1970.
With ‘Sing’ dollars in our pocket one could not go past the Cellar Bar, which was below street level (obviously), and a cool, quiet place (being late morning) for a cold Tiger beer. It would liven up at lunchtime and in the evening.
To illustrate how important the Cellar Bar was to the seafaring fraternity, I will jump a head from 1963 to 1966.
After I’d finished my time as a cadet, and passed the exams for a Second Mates ticket I was sent, in April 1966, to Singapore to join an LST (Landing Ship Tank) as third mate. The Company had the contract to supply officers and crews for the various LSTs controlled by the British Ministry of Defence around the world. From 1962 to 1966 Malaya and Indonesia had been fighting an undeclared war, which dragged Britain, Australia & New Zealand in to this ‘confrontation’.
I joined LST Frederick Clover, which was built in 1945 as LST 3001, and named ‘Frederick Clover’ after the war, gross tonnage 4225, so not a particularly large vessel.
Our duties were to carry supplies and troops (the troops to and from) Borneo in support of the fight against Indonesia.
There were other LSTs on similar runs to Borneo, and the officers used to socialise at the Cellar Bar whenever their ship was in port. One day I asked, at the naval office, when a particular LST would be in port, because the third mate in this LST was a friend of mine. I was told that they couldn’t tell me because I wasn’t security cleared, and the movement of the LSTs were on a ‘need to know’ basis. I even explained that I was part of the LST fleet, but as I was still a merchant seaman, rather than Royal Navy, they couldn’t help me, although I’d signed the Official Secrets Act in case I gave away the top speed (10 kts) of the Frederick Clover.
Not a problem, my next stop was the Cellar Bar and I asked the girls behind the bar if they knew when my friend was due in Singapore. They were quite happy to tell me the name of his LST, and that he was due into Singapore the following day!, so much for ‘need to know’, and naval security.
Let’s move back to the celebrations of Singapore joining Malaya, to create the new country of Malaysia.
Early evening we visited Bugis Street for something to eat – the place was already ‘jumping’. Bugis St was famous for the food stalls, beer halls and ‘girls’, although many were not female, but males dressed as females. The ‘trans’ girls would parade up and down the street in their finery and offer to sit near or on someone’s lap while photographs were taken. For this service ‘she’ would charge a small fee. If they worked the street for a number of hours they would earn a very good living. It was known that certain first tripper boy seamen, around fifteen or sixteen years old would be caught up with the whole ambiance of Bugis St and slide off with one of the very attractive ‘attractions’. It didn’t take long for his mates to see the young first tripper running like mad towards them, as if the hounds of hell were after him. His introduction to Bugis Street nightlife was not what he expected.
Early evening for food and beer.
Around mid-night the ‘girls’ would show up.
Anybody wish to take my picture?
How to tell the difference between the ‘she’ men and real women? The real women couldn’t afford to dress as well as the ‘she’ men. I was always told to check the Adams apple on the ‘women’ – but I never got that close!
In the 1980’s Bugis Street was closed due to the building of the MRT station. Later the Government realised that they had killed off a major Singapore ‘attraction’, so they opened ‘new’ Bugis Street, which is across the main road (Victoria Street), and is now an open air market stall area. Regardless of the promotional effort Bugis Street is ‘dead’.
The picture shows Bugis Street today (the original area not the ‘new’ street)
The celebrations went on for a few days, but the ‘marriage’ of Singapore and Malaya didn’t last. It was all over by the 9th August 1965, when Singapore became an independent state. This was still in the future.
During my travels I have flown with quite a few airlines, from bone shakers and certain national carriers that shouldn’t have been allowed to fly, to airlines that have won awards year after year.
Some people have made negative comments about the low cost carriers, but one low cost carrier, for me, stands out as an airline that I am happy to fly with, as long as the cost and schedules fits my requirements.
having flown with them from Cambodia to Malaysia, Singapore to Borneo, Malaysia to Sri Lanka three times and on each occasion I couldn’t fault the service. On certain sectors they do offer business class, but, as yet, I have not tried this service. I have read that Air Asia business class is not the normal business class of regular airlines – more like Premium Economy, than business class, but the price reflects the service level.
I bought two economy seats from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo in Sri Lanka in 2014, at a good price, for the three and a half hour flight. The price was cheaper than the two major carries on the same route.
I did consider business class, but for such a short flight I considered the price was a little too expensive. While booking the economy seats I was offered the middle seat of three for AUD $11, each way, as long as they did not sell the seat to someone for a standard fare. If they did sell the seat, my $11 would be refunded. A ‘no brainer! as far as I was concerned.
I bought the ‘extra seat option’ (Air Asia’s name for the service) for the round trip, and also prepaid our meals in both directions. All the planning worked like a dream – on boarding I realised that we had our centre seat, it hadn’t been sold.
We flew out of KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2), which had not been open long and still smelled ‘new’, and we found the terminal easy to navigate. I checked us in on line, and all we had to do was drop our bags – along with hundreds of others who had checked in on line, and were trying to drop their bags. To be fair the line moved reasonably quickly – it took us thirty minutes from joining the queue to lodging our bags. They had a number of lodgement stations, which covered all Air Asia flights, but the staff was always friendly and helpful. One agent called the next in line and had 18 family members descend on his counter, with one person waving a wad of passports. Air Asia sent help to break the backlog at this counter and split the family over four counters. Everything was calm, quiet and efficient.
The flight was uneventful, and very pleasant. The cabin staff couldn’t do enough for the passengers. They were very friendly, smiled a lot, and seemed to enjoy their job, plus they found to time to hold a conversation with anyone who spoke to them. I couldn’t help but compare this cabin crew to the airline that we used the previous day.
Air Asia didn’t offer in-flight entertainment, but I noticed how the passengers created their own ‘buzz’, which reminded me of how it used to be when I flew in B 707 & VC 10s in the 1960s. Without entertainment people had to talk to each other or read. Perhaps this passenger interaction helped the cabin crew enjoy their job, because they didn’t have to constantly compete with headphones to gain the passenger’s attention.
Tea and water were included in the ticket price – wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks were extra at reasonable prices.
For the record – Air Asia is unaware of this blog, and I paid for all services with my own money.
Asia has a number of major hubs to Europe – Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and recently with the growth of the Chinese airlines, various Chinese cities such as Shanghai & Guangzhou (old name being Canton).
When checking which transit hub to use to buy your business class ticket consider the economy of the country where the hub is located.
Singapore – an advanced economy, which means airline tickets are expensive.
Bangkok – a very good hub, because of the competition due to the large number airlines using Bangkok airport.
Hong Kong – again an advance economy and expensive to Europe, and the economy tickets from Australia to Hong Kong are more expensive than economy tickets to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok.
Over the years I have bought airline tickets over the internet to fly with Thai Airways in Baht, Malaysian Airlines in Ringgits, Qatar Airlines in Sri Lankan rupees, Air Asia in Singapore dollars, Laos Air in USD, KLM & Iberia in Euros and they were all cheaper than travel agents or the Australian office of the airline that I wanted to use. To purchase the tickets I used a Visa card and they charge a 3% currency conversion fee, but the overall cost has always been cheaper.
A number of times we used Kuala Lumpur as a ‘hub’ to another Asian port i.e Colombo, in Sri Lanka. After doing dummy bookings from various origins such as Seam Reap, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), Rangoon, Manila etc I found Colombo to be the cheapest place to purchase business class tickets to Europe, using a quality airline.
Flying from Sydney via Kuala Lumpur to Colombo can be completed in one go, but it would be tiring and take about twelve to thirteen hours. We normally stop over for one night in a hotel near KL airport. The following day, after breakfast, we fly late morning, arriving in Colombo in time for lunch (you fly back in time from KL to Colombo). All very civilised.
Place that my wife and I have stayed during transit stops.
http://www.samasamahotels.com/ – right on the airport.
This hotel has two entrances, one is from the transit lounge, you do not enter Malaysia, and the other entrance after you have cleared customs & immigration.
http://www.theyouniqhotel.com/ – free transport to / from airport about ten minutes drive. Not to the same level as the other hotels, but clean and convenient.
http://pullmankualalumpur.com/ – we arrived in KL around 2.00 pm so had time to go in to town via the Express train system ($12 one way). Airline schedule from Sydney has changed and the arrival time is now 8.30 pm, too late to make it worth while to sleep in the city for an overnight transit stop.
We stayed a single night in Colombo after clearing customs and immigration – no visa fee to worry about because we were still in transit, and staying less than 36 hours. http://www.paradisebeachsrilanka.com/ – about twenty minutes from the airport – hotel will arrange transport. Stayed here twice. http://www.camelot.lk/ – not far from the Paradise Beach, same arrangements for airport transport.
Our favourite hotel in Sri Lanka is the Mount Lavinia Hotel http://www.mountlaviniahotel.com/ but this hotel is too far for a single overnight, but a great place to stay for a few nights. The main picture at the top of this blog shows the hotel’s beach at Mount Lavinia.
The following day we leave the hotel at 6.30 am for a light breakfast in the business class lounge. Our flight departs at 9.15 am to the sound of corks popping for our Champagne breakfast.
The cost from Sydney to Europe can be anything from $5000 (via Manila) to $8000 with Qantas (via Dubai or Singapore) – for a combi ticket from Sydney, it would cost around $4000 to $4500 via an Asian port, and you do not get a break at the transit stop, but just keep on flying and this sector is usually a night flight, which means you sleep most of the way and miss out on the business class experience.
DIY – including all airfares and hotel costs, just under $3000 for a combi ticket. We do not like flying at night so we build our trips around daylight flights, and sleep in hotels, all prices are Australian dollars.
For my wife and I, the journey is part of the holiday, so flying business class part of the way is a holiday.