Sun, sand and whatever 

Palm trees waving in the Trades

I am sure that most of these all inclusive resorts are much the same; the staff are pleasant (which is must be challenging considering some of the patrons), food and drink are plentiful, and there is sun, and sand, and pools, and cabanas. 
All of this vista is sprinkled with swimsuit clad wandering holiday makers, threading their way between pools and umbrellas and bars, or splashing in water, or sprawled oilily on toweled beach furniture , either in or out of the sun depending on their complexion or their respect for melanoma. 

The place rings with loud conversation (louder as the day goes on and the sun and rum takes effect) and children’s screams. 

There is usually an assortment of ways to get food and drink; from restaurants with menus to buffets to the serving staff wandering around the place. People tend to rate the food low; and, of course, preparing food in this quantity every day is going to bring an institutional element, but I found the food good, and some of the servings in the menued evening restaurants excellent. 

Over all is the sun, and the sea, and the trade wind pushing the palms around. At night, a little cooler, but warm still, and dark enough you can see the stars, a pleasant change for city dwellers. The evening quiet is usually disrupted by assorted entertainments, but they can be avoided. 

One can do other things; there are activities available. The rest of the family went snorkeling off a catamaran, for instance. I am happy enough with the sun and the warmth and the wind, so I don’t tend to do much, except wander around and look at the people. 

Looking at people has its own hazards; I started to avoid looking at people wearing bikinis as I am short sighted, and as I got closer it would turn out I was looking at some young lady of 16, which I certainly found embarrassing even if they did not. Much better for all concerned for me to avert my gaze. 

Also, being of a hue that is best described as “frog belly white” I eschewed the whole “old bald guy in a swimsuit” look in favour of a “refugee from a somerset maugham story” look, complete with straw hat and canvas shoes. Completely inappropriate, of course, as my family tells me, but I am comfortable so I don’t care. 

And I get to tip my hat to those who greet me, and you cannot beat that. 

Looking at people has other interesting elements. I have noticed often enough looking at people driving their cars that their expressions are fairly grim. They are characterized, many times, by downturned corners of the mouth, and a stern squint, the sort of look to be found on the face of someone who had just lost their seat on a flight, or been told that their dinner reservation was not going to be honored. It was no different for most of the people here; if at rest, their faces resolved into expressions varying from irritation, through anger to disapproval. Rather unfortunate to look at the world in such a manner, I have always thought. Of course, this excludes the teenagers, whose derisory sneers are deliberate and bound onto their faces by the despicable and inane cluelessness of their elders, the inadequacy of their peers, and the irritating idiocy of their youngers.

Never mind.

We spent our first day wandering around doing not very much. The only thing of note to happen was the return of the prodigal bag from it’s stay in Chicago. This was the subject of much rejoicing, especially by those of us who had no underwear or sunscreen.

I shall take a moment in a subsequent post to give a general overview of a day as most of them were the same, because nothing very different happened from day to day (a situation that I found fairly satisfactory).

The thing to note most, in my case anyway, is the absence of “things I have to do” induced a state of mind close to sleep. I found the whole idea of ambling gently though the day from patch of shade to path of shade immensely relaxing, and I took advantage of every moment of it.


In the warm

Rather a nicer exterior that Illinois at this time of year

The flight was reasonably painless; on the long side maybe, but comfortable enough. There being 4 of us, I found myself separated from the family unit, sitting beside a nice, slightly younger, couple who were part of some large family expedition to Jamaica. 

The poor woman spent the entire trip trying to look around in the compartment behind her to see her children who, apparently, had been all seated separately. I was a poor conversationalist, so I did not then and do not now recall theirs numbers, ages, or genders, but there seem to have been about 5 of them. Her concern grew palpable as the trip drew on. 

My assurances that the screams would indicate if anything terrible had happened did not seem to reassure her, however it all seemed to have come out alright in the end.

The only other in flight entertainment was a man who seemed to have got a head start on his Caribbean rum consumption screaming at the two year old behind him to stop crying and kicking his seat.

This had the predictable result of causing the poor child to have hysterics, but I was relieved of the necessity of getting up and threatening him with violence by his traveling companions (lucky them) correctly analyzing the looks and movements of every father within earshot and getting him to shut up. 

Probably best; I’m not sure I really want to see the insides of a Jamaican police station. 

So we arrived in Montego Bay airport, where the temperature was about 40 degrees c (105 degrees f to the classicists among us) warmer than in Chicago, which was a pleasant change. The airport itself was fine, if not as frozen as a similar one in the USA would have been, but all the immigration and standing in line stuff was done competently and pleasantly, rather different than the expectation you would get from the slightly sneering references to “island time” one gets in the USA.
On the other hand, the supposedly competent and on the ball United Airlines managed to leave 1/3 of our luggage in Chicago, probably indicating that a more Jamaican attitude on their part would improve efficiency.

There was a rather nerve wracking period of waiting while we found out which bag had been abandoned in the frozen north by our airline; it was going to be all my sons’ clothes, all my clothes, or all my wife’s stuff.

Karin lost the lottery, and her stuff was missing, but she had packed some gear in her carry on, so she was not destitute. We filled out some customs forms, were promised the bag would be on the next flight from Chicago (which turned out was going to be the next day when we clarified to the nice man that Washington DC was not near Chicago). 

We were received in a nice place in the airport, given juice, and then dropped on a shuttle bus for a short ride in a dual carriageway to the resort. My wife and sons had some reservations about the whole “steering-wheel-on-the-wrong-side/driving-on-the-wrong-side” thing; I had more about the presence of some American vehicles with the steering wheel on the left who were driving along with us. 

The ride to the resort was short; the only thing of interest was the presence of armed coppers, in an odd little police pick up truck that rode beside us for a bit. There were 4 of them, filling the club cab on a smaller pick up to overflowing; black uniforms, body armor, and what looked like m4 carbines much in evidence. They gave my younger son, he of the long hair and Hawaiian shirts, a good hard look as they passed on the inside, until one caught my eye, grinned, and they shot ahead. 

I must admit I’d probably look at him twice too.

The hotel was welcoming, and cool, and right on the beach. A warm breeze caressed us. A world away from the bleak midwinter we had left. 

Headed south

An unsuitable hat for December in Chicago

Vacation would be much more satisfactory if the process of getting to wherever it is you are going were a little bit less of an effort. 

I assume that there are people for whom the hustle and bustle of stressed people standing in long lines is part of life’s rich tapestry and they enjoy it; for me it is not a particularly enlightening experience, and it just serves to make me tired. And grumpy. And usually sweaty. 

I do wonder about that last one; is it the crowds of happy travelers? Some sort of appalling hvac failure? A personal issue involving my sweat glands? It is not aided by the usual winter-in-Chicago conundrum of dressing for the weather outside, and then spending all ones time inside, where it as a balmy 72 degrees and one is too warm and overburdened with redundant outerwear. 

In any case, O’Hare seems to get worse every time I go there. It could be the holidays, it could be me changing, not the place, but I must admit every time I go there I am less enthusiastic.

For all my grumbling and moaning though, it is remarkable how often one gets through the place without major disruption. We had a couple of gate changes, but they were early in the process, so they didn’t really matter. 

We boarded at the scheduled time, and found ourselves in a nice aluminum tube, tightly packed with a lot of other people headed to the Caribbean for a winter get away.

I’d be a lot more enthusiastic if I was not so forcibly reminded of canned sausages as I look over the rows of heads. 

In any case, that’s the plan. We are off to a resort in Jamaica for a vacation. Karin pointed out that we had not managed to have one this year, and indicated that if one was not forthcoming her outlook on life would be reduced to a state where “incidents” became likely rather than a distant possibility. As the chap who was the likely recipient of any such “incidentals ” I was very motivated to agree. And that’s all I have to do. Karin loves planning these things (I think the planning and anticipation form a significant part of the pleasure for her) so I just have to light the blue touch paper and retire.

It does mean that I usually end up a little confused as to where I am going and what I am going to do, but such is a small price to pay for a good level of domestic harmony. And besides, most of my acquaintance will verify that I go through life mostly in a state of general bemusement, so a small layer of true confusion on top does not really have a major impact. 

The upshot (is that still a word? Was it ever a word, or just some familial pidgin?) is that I know we are off to Montego Bay, to stay in some sort of Hyatt thing. I am assured there are beaches, warmth , and rum drinks. I admit that those were my basic needs, so I more or less lost interest in the rest of the details. My sons continued to research, and have told me many times the facilities that are supposed to be present. I just don’t seem to get past the beaches/warmth/drinks level. Oh well.

Taking a 16 and 19 year old to Jamaica does seem to give rise to a reasonable amount of speculation, usually involving various sorts of mind altering substances, on the part of the people that we have discussed it with. These discussions have a tone that seems to be completely dependent on the world view of the people with whom we are chatting. If I were to lend a lot of credence to some of these discussions, I would come to the conclusion that we are bound for a sink of iniquity, and have secured damnation for all our souls.

One can only hope. I really doubt it is going to be that eye opening. It would be nice to have something fun to report, though; my current plans seem to revolve around napping, so any relating of this particular trip is likely to be fairly soporific. 

We’ll see.

Unwarranted excitement

I have pursued my current avocation (you cannot call it a job without bringing up the whole “getting paid” and “career” thing. The “careers” that 11 years of looking after a house and children has qualified me for appear to be short order cook (a mediocre one) and janitor. I am not particularly interested in trying to monetize these skills, I must admit) for some time now, and I must admit that, compared to my previous occupations, there are some significant differences. The difference that stands out most, I think, is the ability of this particular activity to shift from boring inactivity to mind-boggling frustration without much elapsed time whatsoever.

Let us take as an example a Tuesday over the early this year. A mild and unexceptional day; took the younger sprog to an appointment, dawdled the ritual hour over a cup of coffee reading a book, an activity that every parental taxi service will recognise, and then dragged him off home to wait while I went to a doctor’s appointment. The lad is in high school  and more than capable of fending for himself for a little while and is always grateful for the opportunity to be left alone with his computer and cable television.

I am not even going to speculate why this would be; I was teenage boy once, and do tend avoid remembering the experience.

In any case, I trundled off to see the double headed Gastroenterologist/Nephrologist about my various medical needs.

As one ages one accretes doctors as statues in a park accrete pigeon poo; in my case one of my squad of medicos had spotted something nefarious in a blood test, and had urged me in the direction of a liver specialist with clucking noises and waves of the hands.

I have also passed the age of 50; in the Good old US of A this seems to mean that one is in need of a camera jammed up ones nether regions at regular intervals. The chap seemed to be able perform both functions, out of a surfeit of ambition on his part, or possibly a rather morbid interest in the digestive doings, so I made a noise like a hoop and rolled off in his direction.

The appointment proceeded apace; I got told my liver is fatty (unsurprising given the condition of the rest of me, I’m just surprised it took so long to catch up) and I would need to lose some completely unreasonable percentage of my body weight and not drink alcohol ever again to fix this (some of you may wonder why I would put such personal medical information on the internet. I have no fear of public exposure; anyone is much more likely to get the good word from hacking the assemblage of hospitals, doctors office, pharmacies, and drug companies that has the information than reading it here.)

In any case, having passed me the good news about my condition (or his completely unreasonable expectations, delete as you choose) he trotted off and sent in a nice young lady to schedule the whole camera up the rectum experience. And one does wonder why a doctors appointment involves quite so many people; a positive parade of computer punching, blood pressure taking and schedule filling workers are involved. It does seem as there might be a slightly less labour intensive way to go about the whole thing.

With the arrival of the nice young lady, the whole day went from a mildly tedious exercise in time wasting to incredibly frustrating without even touching the sides.

My phone has long since been turned to silent so it does not buzz, beep or otherwise twitch when I get messages, emails, or calls. I regard this whole “available to everyone all the time” thing as a dreadful mistake, and only use the thing if I need someone else to do something, or if the car breaks down. “Being available” appears to transition into “getting more stuff to do” much too easily for my taste.

In any case, I only noticed the text from the younger son because I was putting the appointment for the exciting exercise in internal photography into my calendar.

To paraphrase, it said “the dog has eaten a box of chocolates, what do I do”

Well, as always, these stupid brief texts raise more questions than answers. I know chocolates are not good for dogs; how much has the animal eaten? How on earth did she get at a box of chocolates? Hang on, I’m fairly sure there were no boxes of chocolates in the house when I left, where did it come from? How did she open the box, or did she just ingest the the thing whole? And, if so, should I be more worried about the packaging rather than the chocolate? As a side note the dog is rather large (125lbs) and is probably capable of consuming  boxes of chocolates of quite unreasonable size.

I need to get some of the questions answered, so I made my excuses to the young lady and compose some deep and insightful questions which I text to my son. Like where the heck did we get chocolates from, and how did he let her eat them…

The people who design medical offices have probably put much effort in to making it so one can receive text messages, but sending them fails absolutely. My panicked questions about how many chocolates, how did she get them, and how much packaging she had eaten sat unrequited on my phone, while a steady stream of different information was received from my son. Gymnastics near the window bringing to mind the ones we used to perform with the rabbit’s ears on the television (who remembers that?) were completely bootless, except probably to amuse the poor young lady, who sat looking at me in increasing horror. Finally, the son said said that he had found something on the internet, which had caused him to call the Vet, because the website said to, and that the situation had been resolved.

I, of course, did not believe this, and bolted through the rest of the appointment, and then broke  all sorts of local traffic laws on the way home.

When I got there I found the dog looking guilty and the boy looking relieved. “It’s ok” he said; he had gone to a website that allowed to put in the mount of chocolate the dog had eaten and it would tell you what to do. He had panicked when he had put in the amount and the website had said, basically, that the pooch was going to turn up it’s toes, so he called the vet.

He then was pointed to the fact that the website not only needed the weight of the chocolate, but the weight of the dog, which was set to 10lbs as a default.

This being the weight of one of his dog’s paws, the result went from “Break out the rosaries and the stomach pump” to “Slap her over the head with the empty chocolate box” when the correct weight (125lbs) was entered.

So all ended well, except that my doctor’s staff had prima facie evidence that I was a nutter, and I now had a never ending grudge against the designers of medical offices.

And I had it once more demonstrated to me how a boring job could turn panic filled in a matter of moments.

And now for something different

Customarily, I have tried to write these things daily, just to keep the old shooting match going. Unfortunately, this means the actual entries become a little monotonous in form, “we got up, we ate, we saw stuff, we ate”. Also it sounds as if we spend the entire time eating. We do, of course, but we would prefer for it not to look like that.
So, now we shall have a slightly new departure. I shall just write about our entire stay in Prague, which will let me not have to indulge in a litany of “and then we went”.
We travelled by train to Prague, from Berlin. This was both for reasons of economy and comfort, and in general it worked out fine.

The tower at the end of St. Charles bridge, intended to keep the riffraff out

The tower at the end of St. Charles bridge, intended to keep the riffraff out

The train itself was not as new, or as fast, as the one that took us from Copenhagen to Berlin; confused me at first (Karin wanted an early train, and I am easily confused at that time in the morning) but after a slowish trip south to Dresden I figured out why; the first part of the journey was through rolling German countryside, complete with small rural stations (a platform and station in the middle of farm fields, not another building to be seen. Stack of metal milk cans on the ends of the platform) the like of which I certainly do not recall seeing still in use elsewhere; groups of cyclists waiting at level crossings (it was early, were they headed to school? But it is July. Was there some sort of huge German bike-out today? I have no idea. Just that there were little clusters of cyclists at the level crossings we passed).
There were chimneys too. Tall brick chimneys by the railroad tracks. I saw a few of them; unattached to any other structures, sitting in, usually, waste ground (though one appeared to be in a field of barley). Various thoughts went through my rather fatigued mind (sleep had been a little at a premium the night before). Underground factories from the old DDR? Indeed underground cloning facilities for the fabled DDR female Olympians? To reach back further, maybe a ventilation system for Nibelungen, lurking in smithies under Brandenburg.
Or maybe not. Closer inspection revealed that the chimneys all carried cellphone transmitters at the top. It looks like the practical locals just decided to reuse the tall things they had left over.
I liked my original ideas better.

Dresden came, and went, and I discovered why the slower train. The line ran along the river valley (the Elbe maybe? I dunno. German geography hazy, check back later) through the mountains. The valley was steep, and the line sinuous. No fast trains here.
And it was beautiful.

It's a boat onna river. That's all I knows

It’s a boat onna river. That’s all I knows

Castles stood on the crests, and I think monasteries. The towns straggled up the wooded slopes with red roofs and pastel walls. The river was wide enough to accommodate paddle steamers and pleasure boats.
It looked like a good place to spend a vacation. I was temped to get off the train at one of the stops, but the other two would have had a combined conniption so I decided not.
The land flattens out, coming into Czech Republic, and is screened once more by hedges. All you can really see are the buildings by the railroad, which are really basic industrial, until you come to Prague, were you get a wonderful view of the city from the train windows.
The center of Prague is very old European, to my eyes anyway. Attached buildings of 4 or 5 stores, with retail on the bottom, over narrow winding streets, most of which have some form of cobbles on them (challenging for us with bad knees). I’d not want to try and park a car there, if I lived in the town center.. The buildings are plain in front, but all seem to have some form of central courtyard. Very late 19th century looking, to my eyes, though all well painted and kept up.
Interspersed with this maze of smaller streets are the grand avenues of the late 19th century, complete with trees down the middle, and the squares with churches of earlier centuries. A lot of churches. Every corner you go around there seemed to be another one. Or on some cases, in the old Jewish town near the old square, synagogues.
imageFrom what we saw from the train, the outer reaches of the city were more modern, with the tallish apartment blocks I now realize I have always associated with Germany in the 1980s. We did not get out there, so I cannot really comment. All our time was spend in the city center.
We did not actually ride much, so I cannot comment on the public transportation really. They did seem to have a rather large variety of trams in service. One wonders do they just replace completely broken ones with new ones? I swear I saw trams from the 1950s right beside ones that looked brand new. We only rode on one tram, in a failed attempt to get to Prague castle at the top of the hill. Due to a terminal miscommunication between my wife and son, we ended up disembarking at the bottom of the several million steps up to the castle precinct, rather than the top.

Oh my god all those bloody steps

Oh my god all those bloody steps

My constant swearing as I climbed the steps was enough to encourage everyone, my family, other tourists, and poor random Czech folk to give me a wide berth. I will possibly agree that the castle at the top and the view from it over the city was worth the climb, but I would have preferred the tram.
The only other transport related comment I have, is that the one way system in Prague appears to be pretty belligerent. Getting from the station to the rental apartment included much driving, and as we navigated around the city that mapping function on our devices frequently reported the local equivalent of “you cannot get there from here, go somewhere else and start”. We were better off walking.
Which indeed we did; the place is very pedestrianized, and there are a lot of things to see on foot, fun things like the astrological clock, just off the main square in the old town , where one can join the little crowd waiting for the show when it strikes the hour,
the square itself, where there is always a bunch of entertainers around, and assorted

Entertainment in the central square in Prague. They are wearing leather maxi dresses playing bagpipes. Again, that's all I know

Entertainment in the central square in Prague. They are wearing leather maxi dresses playing bagpipes. Again, that’s all I know

other people trying to sell one something and St Charles’ bridge, which dates from the 14th century, lined with statues, and with a really splendid tower at one end (we saw this one coming back from the castle on a really hot day, having climbed and come back down those bloody stairs so I may not have given it the attention it deserved).
That castle I have spoken of is marvelous, with a wonderful cathedral inside, along with museums, and meeting halls, and the room where the defenestration of Bohemia took place (no idea how they survived that fall). In fact it just looks good to walk around,and I would recommend going to see it.
The view from there is marvelous too.
The main square and surrounding areas are fun too, with both interesting stores and historical features to look at. We saw as well the New Synagogue on Jerusalem street, which really was interesting inside,dating from 1900 odd with a sort of deco-ish

Inside of a deco-moorish-synagogue

Inside of a deco-moorish-synagogue

moorish theme inside.
We took a river tour as well, which helped alleviate the heat somewhat, and it was a pleasure to see the city from the river, it really presents well, and looks clean and well maintained.
As I said, it was hot there when we were there, and air conditioning is at a premium. We spend a number of days very hot, walking around.
Along, I must say, with a lot of other people. The place was crowded with tourists. It was some sort of holiday weekend (something uplifting like the anniversary of the burning at he stake of Jan Huss) so there were a lot of locals out and about, but it was clear from when we arrived that tourism certainty was a big thing. There were a lot of foreigners there, with a lot of British (including, interestingly, Marks and Spencer’s stores). While not as many people spoke English as in Copenhagen (so I was somewhat less humiliated) certainly it was not a problem, and most people could get by.
We also noticed that Prague was very inexpensive, which may explain the tourism.

Some of the interesting things one can find near the main square

Some of the interesting things one can find near the main square

For an example, two of us dined very well in a local bar with a couple of large beers apiece for about $20. This makes the whole thing much more reasonable.
We noticed the central area especially was full of tourists and the bars and cafes catering to them, and on Friday night the density of young people who had been somewhat over served was rather high. Seemed all good natured though.
We ate well there, with everything from traditional Czech food, to touristy places for a quick snack, to an excellent Italian restaurant. We ate on a boat moored on the river too, but whatever the food we like the 1980s English electronic playing put me off, if only by dint of making me feel elderly.
One thing I first noticed here, though on reflection I think it was the case in Berlin also, was the bringing of cutlery to the table in a container, complete with napkins, and leaving the punter to help oneself. It is certainly not a problem, but it is one of those small things that reminds one that one is not at home, and can serve as an irritant, I find, if one is not consciously aware of it.
People do get stressed by being away from home, one of my memories from Prague is slogging along in the 90 degree heat behind my wife and son, listening to them bicker ahead of me, seemingly endlessly, about nothing. This was just them destressing, I think, trying to relieve the slight stress of everything being a little different and a little more challenging.

The defenestration of Bohemia window

The defenestration of Bohemia window

The same thing was noticeable when we arrived. Karin looked out over the city from the railway station and declared that she did not like it.
This was not a reaction to the experience of the city, just the reaction of someone who had already been traveling for a week being confronted with a city that looked very Central European: rows of 19th century 5 story stone buildings, and certainly not what she is used to. The stress of travel will get in the way of your enjoying the trip, unless you are aware of it and accommodate it.
I cannot speak to hotel rooms there; we had a rental apartment which could have fit 10 people, never mind the three of us. Very pleasant, though not air conditioned, so therefore somewhat warm for some of the time. It also had that odd setup I had noticed before on European apartments, where there is a set of double doors at the front, and another set immediately behind. I have no idea at all what the purpose of this is, and if anyone could enlighten me I would be delighted. The cielings in the place must have been comfortably more than 12 feet though, maybe even 16. I really liked that.
I enjoyed Prague. I certainly did not see everything there, and would go back. It had a different feel to it than Berlin, a little more fun and open, a little more chaotic, maybe, a little less regulated.
Either because of the Czechs or the tourists or both, I suppose.

The cathedral inside Warsaw castle

The cathedral inside Warsaw castle

A large town in Germany

It really should not have surprised anyone. Given the early rising the day before, and the fact that we still had not adjusted time zones, we slept in very late. And then we blundered around slowly, like dinosaurs, trying to get organised.
The plan for the day was simple. Due to some miscommunication, one of the 3 device chargers we had brought had the wrong form of connector. This led to endless mild squabbles over rights to the other two, which tended to erode my vacation-reduced patience, leading in consequence to an agreement to go to the local Apple store to purchase the requisite gadget (thus shutting me up).
The U-Bahn trip was painless, and I was optimistic as we ascended the stairs at the Friedrichstrasse station. This, I thought to myself, should be easy; but I wonder what ll that loud techno music is for?

Berlin Pride. Of course we need to be on the far side....

Berlin Pride. Of course we need to be on the far side….

And when we got to street level I reassessed my estimation. We were in the middle of the Berlin gay pride parade (of course the Apple store was on the far side) complete with buses full of folk looking like they were auditioning for roles in the Village People, along with other people on the pavement, dressed in even more striking fashions. Or completely undressed, in some cases, which was a bit of a surprise.
I saw a bunch of people in t-shirts with CSD on them. I dimly remembered that this was some german political party, and and was mildly surprised that the political party was so prominent in a pride parade.
Only later did I discover that Pride day in Germany is known as Christopher Street Day, thus CSD.
DUH me. Wrong again.
We managed to get the gadget from the Apple store, and after getting completely lost for a while, in the cheering masses, I managed to get us up to the Brandenburg gate (where it looked like the parade was ending) via the Holocaust

Cloudy at the Bramdenburg gate

Cloudy at the Bramdenburg gate

Memorial and a detour through the edge of the Tiergarten. The Memorial was rather grey and grim, as fitting; the Tiergarten cool and green and a touch unmanicured, very refreshing on a hot day full of crowds, and the Gate is a large stone edifice with a lady in a chariot on top. Monumental architecture really is not my thing, though I do like the statuary.
Feeling a little ragged by then, we stopped by the Hotel Adlon (I had to because it is mentioned so often in Alan Furst books) where the dynamic duo filled up on ice creams of the fanciest sort, and I ate stew, because I should not eat ice cream. Does not mean I was terribly happy about it.

I got no idea where that soviet guy put up the hammer and sickle

I got no idea where that soviet guy put up the hammer and sickle

We wandered off again, to see the Riechstag (didn’t tour because there was a significant wait, and I still cannot figure out which end of the building the picture with the chap hanging up the hammer and sickle was taken) and further down through the edge of the Tiergarten to the soviet war memorial, which is very large and Soviet looking.
Grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, on the way noticing again the flowers on apartment balconies. It seems like many german apartments have small balconies, and on many of them are profusion of window boxes, sometimes a riot of color, and sometimes not. I do like to think one can tell the age of the inhabitants by the plants on their balconies, geraniums are the elderly, maybe and grasses younger people (no, not those grasses). Probably not, though.

Flowerpots on balconies

Flowerpots on balconies

We went to restaurant More for dinner. Karin did not know this when she chose it, some time before, but it was in a gay neighborhood, so there was a lot going on when we arrived with people in costume and the rest of it. We enjoyed an excellent german meal, with wonderful service during which we discussed the next day’s activities. We decided that going to Museum Island would be a good idea, though the expression on Karin’s face when we explained the contents of the five museums was a bit of a study. Not much of an antiquarian, our Karin.
We then set off to find a cab back to the hotel. The streets were crowded with ex- and current pride celebrants, with the odd leather shop there too (a bit of an eye opener for the 17 year old).

Well, this I a bit of a surprise on a quiet residential street

Well, this I a bit of a surprise on a quiet residential street

We managed to get a taxi back to the hotel, which only confirmed my resolution to get some form of multi day public transport ticket as soon as possible, because I was sure that this guy was going to kill us. I felt the same way about the one in the afternoon, they drove like suicidal maniacs for whom traffic regulations were something that happened to someone else.

We woke the next day and Karin took us off to a breakfast buffet. Now, for me, German breakfasts ave always been simple affairs. Good coffee, cold meat, maybe an egg, some bread; I must admit I was confused when she first mentioned a breakfast buffet. How could this be different, I thought? Well, it wasn’t really. but it was terribly good; this is the place.
We then trotted on down to Museum Island…. along with everyone else, it seemed. It was a hot day, and the lines for most of the museums were prohibitive. We ended going to the Alte Museum (mostly full of Egyptian stuff) and enjoyed it, and hung around outside for while, looking at the people and listening to the street performers (who really are very good).

Kultur is to be found on museum island

Kultur is to be found on museum island

All cultured out, we departed in search of the old east german TV tower (which we saw. shaped rather like a scallion, I think and very 1960s), and some lunch, which we managed in a rather interesting self serve place where one ordered on what looked like an iPad mini and then picked one’s food up from a window. In honor of the whole Berlin Experience thing, I had a currywurst which I approached with a deal of hesitation, but which turned out to be rather yummy. Some sort of combination of ketchup, curry powder, and I think Worcester sauce on a sausage, how bad can this be?

Curry wurst tastes better than it looks

Curry wurst tastes better than it looks

I confirmed my tourism-ness by getting us thoroughly lost on the way bak to the hotel, so we confined our later activities to a quick trip to an Irish bar (someone wanted some cider) and some very good asian food in a restaurant near the hotel.
Up and on to more tourist stuff the next day. At least partially. We decided to hit up Checkpoint Charlie so Karin could relive her previous visit (there was aa wall then. For all I know there were dinosaurs and cavemen also It was some time ago). This proved fairly interesting, but pretty much the most touristy place we saw, with a lot of souvenir stores. there is a little exhibit there, though with a lot of photographs blown up, and information and data about the wall.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

Walked from there to the Jewish museum. which I found interesting, but frustratingly organised, The building itself was designed as part of the exhibit, and the recondite layout of the building, with odd corridors and low rooms, while probably full of meaning for someone, for me just served to break up and in some cases conceal the interesting contents. I found it quite frustrating (and if some bright spark is going to come over tome and tell me that being frustrated is part of the experience, I’m going to have conversation with them about the purpose of museums)
We decided to walk to the Brandenburg gate again, and that took us through the ritzy government area of the city, where the family discovered a fancy chocolate shop (to the betterment of my rapidly spreading waistline, I stayed outside while they bought stuff) and some very nice shopping areas which were noted for future exploration.
We decided to eat Austrian food for dinner, in a restaurant in Charlotteburg. The meal was wonderful, and we went and returned from the place on public transport, having acquired some form of three day pass earlier in the day.
Public transport in Berlin is enormous. There are buses (never got on one of them), trams (light rail, if you prefer, I suppose, we used that a bit), U-Bahn (underground rail, used this a lot), S-Bahn (above ground rail, more or less like the U-Bahn but no tunnels), and something called Bahn which I think is DB and therefore longer distance trains.
Managing this would be completely impractical without the handy-dandy free app that is available that allows one to plan your route. Even with the benefit of this, however, there was a number of times we found ourselves looking for particular lines we knew were there, for some considerable time (where the hell is the U6 springs to mind). So be warned.
The next day we hd decided to go and see the Potsdam Palace complex. This is in a park some ways outside Berlin, so we had nice ride on the Bahn regional train, seeing countryside as well as suburbs and small towns.

The new palace. Apparently the row of statues at the top was to impress visitors

The new palace. Apparently the row of statues at the top was to impress visitors

The chinoiserie in Potsdam Park. That's what I call a folly

The chinoiserie in Potsdam Park. That’s what I call a folly

The park itself is marvelous, with a combination of parkland and maintained gardens, with palace spread through it and the odd wonderful folly. The Sans Souci, Frederick the Great’s palace, is a wonderful place, at the top of a vineyard terrace, complete with fountains. The building itself is small (for a palace) but very pretty, and painted that yellow ochre colour I always with central european government buildings, with a great semi-circular colonnade on the side that isn’t terraced.
We ate in a park restaurant, narrowly escaping the chap who was setting up in the corner with two laptops to do karaoke versions of 1960s German dance tunes. As we left and looked back through the windows, we saw a number of elderly yet still sprightly folk dancing to tunes of half a century ago, or more. I do not begrudge them their fun, but I would not care to have listened to it over lunch either.

There has to be ducks, or it's not a park

There has to be ducks, or it’s not a park

Potsdam ate most of the day, though very enjoyable, so the evening consisted of a trip to the Jolly restaurant near museum island (why were we eating asian food? It was hot out, and we were tired, and needed something light, I think) and a stagger back to the hotel.
The stagger was illuminated by wandering along Oranienburger Tor where it amused me to watch my 17 year old son discover that prostitution is legal in Germany, by dint of seeing a number of young women who were pursuing their trade. They didn’t bother anyone, they were just standing there, dressed as one would expect. Im sure it will give him something to tell his friends about.
The practicalities of travel caught up with us the next day. Socks and underwear was running short, so some was washed and we attempted to dry it with the dryer in the hotel bathroom. Which worked for about 35 seconds, before stopping. We hung the stuff up and left.
We left slowly. We had been walking about 8 to 10 miles a day, and I had managed to develop a stunning blister on my right foot, so I intended to limit my activities as best I could. The other two tended to streak off ahead, leaving me hobbling along. In fits of generosity they would wait for me every so often.
The son had decided to go off and see the Video game museum, and we were going shopping. He went with serious expression and a transit ticket, and we wet into malls. Or galleria, or whatever one calls them when they are in the middle of the city.
The shopping was mostly unsuccessful (we got some souvenirs) the high points being Karin deciding to get a manicure, and me sitting in some form of german designed accident-waiting-to-happen disguised as a seat, which made a solid attempt to dump me on the back of my head, causing everyone in the place to laugh hysterically.
And then Karin had to call off the manicure in media res, as she claimed the nice young lady was trying to pull her fingernails off. Not a great success.
We ate lunch with a collection of well groomed and dressed German business folk in the great Borchardt Restaurant, probably lowering the tone of the place significantly.
Then, burdened with less bags than we had hoped for or expected, we headed back.
Another thing to note about Berlin is the profusion of well behaved dogs. They are everywhere, on the public transport, at the back of shops, quietly sitting and not bothering anyone, except the allergic, I suppose. We had even noticed a young man training a puppy on the train out to Potsdam, teaching him to sit quietly and not bother anyone. It really seems like a good idea.
We dined at an Austrian restaurant near the hotel, as we had to leave for Prague early the next day.
We had noticed, in Berlin, the fact that every restaurant and bar had tables outside. Even if you only had a seat on a strip of concrete with a superb view of the building site across the narrow street, they were still sitting outside. I’m an inside sort of chap, myself, and the benefits of this were clearly displayed when the people sitting outside the window we were at where deluged by water from some apartment about, causing much yelling in german (I have no idea what was said, unfortunately) and the restauranteur putting out his awning (presumably to prevent a recurrence).
It’s nice to be right every so often.

Perfectly normal day in Berlin, right?

Perfectly normal day in Berlin, right?

Fish and Trains

Sleep seemed to be in short supply our first night in Copenhagen. No one appeared to manage very much sleep, though it really was not the fault of the accommodations. We were staying in the Astor Apartments, which was a rather nice self contained unit, with kitchenette (we completely failed to use it). On top of the unused cooking facilities was access from both sides of the apartment to a roof deck, which while shared, gave wonderful views out over the city.
Given my rather tired state, I must admit I embarked on Karin’s aggressive tourist program with some trepidation. She wanted to visit the Rosenborg Castle to see the gardens and treasures, and Graeham wanted to go and have a look at the Kastallet near the harbour, which we had seen the night before.
Added to this was a necessary visit to the creperie of the night before. Due to some technical error they had contrived to charge us in Swiss Francs rather than Danish Kroner for our meal. That had turned the thing from “great dinner” to “jaw droppingly expensive” as the Kroner is more or less 7 to the dollar, and the Swiss Franc 1. This indicated a revisit to get it sorted out.
In any case, off we went, grabbing a cup of coffee and a sandwich at one of the many coffee bars the city seems to contain.

Not so much castle, as country house. Not in the country, of course

Not so much castle, as country house. Not in the country, of course

The weather was sunny and pleasant, if not terribly warm, the cyclists as present and as carefree as the day before, and the walk to Rosenborg Castle was soon done. The place was guarded by gentlemen in fatigues carrying M16s (their barracks was next door) so apparently the Danish Royal treasure was worth looking out for.
And indeed it was. The tour of the treasure was separate from the tour of the castle (which is not a castle as I think of it, it was built in the early 17th century as a residence and used for about 100 years until something fancier was made). The treasure lives in the basement (an old wine cellar) and is large and varied; carved ivory, amber, hunting crossbows and firearms much inlaid, china, and, in an actual vault room the crowns and regalia themselves. The Danish Royal family have been around a while, so there is quite a bit of it, very impressive in all; apparently one needs to refresh the old crown jewels every couple of hundred years or so.
I found the tour of the building itself a little odd. It was dark in there, not completely, but something that would take some time to get used too, coming in from a sunlit day. This was not aided by som of the rooms being wood paneled and covered in flemish oil paintings. And, then, oddly for me, the rooms were not all consistently decorated. There were rooms from the 17th century, and then other rooms from the 18th, up through the 19th.

17th Century propaganda movie. In cloth. If you can affored the artists.

17th Century propaganda movie. In cloth. If you can affored the artists.

The top floor was one large reception room, with thrones at each end, full of tapestries from a late 17th century war with the Swedes. Apparently, whoever the Danish bloke in charge was, he decided bringing along artists to memorialize his military adventures would be a good plan. A large series of tapestries is the result.
From there we went on to the Kastellet, which is a 18th century 5 pointed star fort overlooking the harbour. Interestingly, still in use by the Danish military, though one does wonder about Wi-Fi reception in 18th century barracks. And running water, but whatever.
The fort itself was complete; earth walls, angled with a flooded ditch, and a covered way on the inland side, and the main gate covered at the far end by a redoubt.
By now we were stunningly tired and a return to the hotel with a stop for a bit to eat was indicated. We needed (or at least I needed) a rest before dinner.
On the way back we stopped at the creperie, and indicated with the aid of last night’s receipt, that we had been slightly overcharged. when the poor people got over their initial horror (when they worked out how much that was in Krone, they ware aghast) much technologic jiggery-pokery was indulged in to rectify the problem. Which is not yet rectified, when I last checked, because we have now been credited twice for the error, and they are our money. One hopes the credit card company will sort it out soon.
Karin had made reservations at Kødbyens Fiskebar, which was a fish place she had found on the internet, close to the hotel (which was just as well, because my legs felt like they had been worn away to stumps).

It's a fish dinner

It’s a fish dinner

So we walked over finding the restaurant in a slightly trendier neighborhood than the hotel is in. It was very trendy inside as well, but any sins it committed offending my old-fogeyness were completely absolved by the wonderful meal they served us. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
At this stage the old people were done, but the young one showed signs of life. I suggested he head off to the Tivoli gardens to go on rides or otherwise get himself in trouble. A little alarming to let ones teenager trundle off on his on in a strange city, but I had done it, so why not him?
He reappeared at 1:30am, muttering about meeting some girls, and having fun.
I don’t want to know
The next day we arose very early to haul our stuff to the train station, and hop on a train to Berlin. Copenhagen deserved more time, but we had really only gone there as it was the terminus for the cheapest flight, so on to Berlin for us.
The adults were fairly unserviceable at this stage due to fatigue, and it was as well that there was a Starbucks open in the train station able to provide caffeine, or I am sure it would have ended poorly, with us in Milan or something.
Also of assistance were more linguistically talented Danes (I am so humbled by these folk, its bloody mortifying) pointing out that only the first two carriages of the train went on the boat to Berlin, so we needed to move up the platform. Which we did, with thanks.
The train came, we got on, and found our seats. Shortly afterward we were also found by a charming lady, who spoke at least 4 languages, who claimed they were her seats. This would not be good; but we both had competing pieces of stuff claiming the real estate.
By right of “we got here first” I suggest we wait for a railway employee, too which she agreed, though burdened by children and husbands and similar deadweight. So we waited for someone to come in growing nervousness, but still convinced of the rightness of our cause.
Until her husband returned, with more paper, and a discussion took place, resulting in her telling me that her tickets were cancelled, and she had the wrong pieces of paper. From the look she gave him, I suspect her spouse was in for “meeting without coffee” sometime in the near future. I was as happy just to see them go.
The way we were sitting on the train we ended up going backward at about 100 mph. I cannot recall having done this before, though I may have, and I found the current experience a little alarming. Whitewashed county churches, the seagulls swooping over the fields and flagpoles (a lot of flagpoles, USA levels of flagpolehood) appeared beside me and zoomed into the distance in the reverse of what I am accustomed to. It was a little unsettling.
The allotments zoomed by also. There was a bunch of them (in Germany also, I noticed); small enclosures by the railway tracks, some gardens, some kitchen gardens, some just a piece of lawn with a swing set in it. Products of an apartment dwelling culture, I suppose.
Also noticeable was the graffiti. There was, to my eyes, a lot of graffiti in Denmark. It was not bad, just noticeable. In the city itself, as well as along the railway tracks.
One wonders are there just a lot of street artists? Or do they just not care to clean it up?In any case, we reached the ferry (something that had been regarded with much unhappiness by Karin), the train got on the ferry, and we had a quick 45 minute trip over a sea as smooth as glass. Even she admitted that it was painless; we then zoomed through the German countryside at 200kmph for a very long time.
Arriving in Berlin Hbf. we decided immediately to take a taxi, because the bags were heavy and we were much too fuddled to try and figure out public transport. We arrived at the Tryp Hotel in Mitte (another trendy district. Karin made the reservations, and we’re in trendy districts. I’m more or less the anti trendy, trendy is destroyed on contact with me; I wonder is she trying to tell me something?).
In any case we walked from the hotel to get some late lunch; ending up walking along the course of the Berlin wall, and reaching the place we wanted, which turned out to be a local bar with very good beer and fried food, and not a lot of linguistic expertise. We managed by pointing and sign language and everyone was very good natured about it.
Being terribly tired we wandered back to the hotel to plan the rest of the day. This turned out to involve an involuntary nap, from which Karin did not awaken easily, so I took the son out to a local cafe for more good fried food and some wonderful chicken paprikash.
On the way back we picked up some take out doer kebab for Karin, which she enthused wildly about when we got it to her. Just as well, as I was done walking.