Speed can not be seen.

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Speed like the wind can not be seen, but unlike the wind you don’t feel speed.

Our Paris taxi had been ordered for 6.00 am on our departure day and it was a pleasure to see it pull up on the stroke of six, for the twenty-minute drive to Gare de Lyon. As I mentioned in the previous blog we had decided to use the train to our next destination, Barcelona, rather than fly.
The train being a double decker allowed us to book four seats upstairs around our own table. The extra height, due to double decking, gave us a much better view of the scenery during our trip to our first Spanish city. The transit time was supposed to be about six and a half hours, but due to a problem on the line we were about half an hour late. The delay didn’t bother us because we were not due to meet our ‘greeter’ at the apartment until 3.00 pm.
The trip was well worth the money because of the views of the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Sea at the same time as we glided along at over 300 km per hour.

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 Pyrenees in the distance.

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Crossing very low lying ground on the coast

We stopped at Perpignan, 30 km short of the Spanish border, followed by the next stop Figueres Vilafant, which is in Spain, via the 8.3 km Perthus Tunnel.
Until recently passengers had to change trains, because the rail gauge in Spain was different than that of France. Fortunately for us, this problem had been fixed in December 2013.

Our apartment was a three-bedded apartment with the master bedroom en suite and the second bedroom next to the main bathroom. The layout was quite ‘roomy’ and it also had a large balcony with a table and four chairs for our ‘Happy Hour’ before dinner. Although we had everything that we wished, from microwave to percolator, the one thing that was missing was a kettle to make a simple cup of tea! We had to use the microwave to boil the water.DSC02723r.jpg
We were on the second floor. The lift looked ‘old’, but it wasn’t, plus it was very efficient.

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This is the corridor from the main entrance – our bedroom and the main bathroom was on the right.

I searched my original booking looking for website pictures of the bedrooms, but the whole place has been refurbished.

27723388What a difference to my original picture of the corridor from the entrance. The mirror made the place look a lot bigger and lighter.

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Our room which has been refurbished, I couldn’t find a photograph of the room during our visit.

Our friends had the main bedroom and en-suit, after all they did sleep with a washing machine in Paris.

P8290340r.jpgThis a a picture of the original main bedroom.

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Dining come sitting area in the large lounge. In the picture below you can see the door to the main bedroom.

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dsc02820arHappy Hour area

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Our location was about a ten to fifteen-minute walk to the major shopping stores and the main city square – very convenient. Our first port of call was to the tourist office for a map so as to familiarise ourselves with the layout of the city. As the sun set the lights of Barcelona added to the excitement of the city.

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Barcelona is a vibrant and entertaining city with plenty of places to visit on foot, although we did use the metro system a couple of times – buy ten trips and get a discount. We were four adults so we passed the card back and forth over the barrier every time we used the system – this worked very well and the system, being colour coded, was easy to follow after our first usage.

The difference in the standard of accommodation between Paris and Barcelona was huge. The pictures of the Barcelona apartment matched the web site. Decent accommodation adds to the overall enjoyment of the first visit to any city.
We would return to the Barcelona apartment if we ever do the self catering again in that city, but there is now way that we would return to the Paris accommodation – even if it was free.

Next stop Madrid.

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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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.