From Amsterdam it was on to Berlin. Berlin was never somewhere I was particularly inspired to go to, in fact the only reason I went was because it was on my Busabout route. So I really did not expect to love Berlin as much as I did. I think partly this was due to my ignorance of Berlin’s history. I knew the wars had happened and the wall existed but I didn’t know a lot more than that. Actually learning about it all where it happened was so interesting and Berlin truly is a fascinating and incredible city. I only wish I’d had longer there to properly explore it.
I did two walking tours while in Berlin. The first was an alternative tour of Berlin and was the most unusual walking tour I’ve been on. While we did look at street art and the sites in the up and coming neighbourhoods, we also had in depth discussions on topics like politics and the gentrification of Berlin. And I think it was this tour that made me appreciate just how cool Berlin is as a city. After the wall came down people fled to the west, leaving whole apartment buildings deserted. Young people who wanted to live a non-mainstream lifestyle began squatting in these, creating vibrant and artistic neigbourhoods. While many of the squat houses have been shut down, there are still are few that exist today – and apparently they have epic parties. However, these “cool” neighbourhoods have unfortunately caused their own downfall. With the rich wanting to cash in on the appeal and buying the existing apartment blocks or demolishing local hangouts to build new ones. Gentrification is an issue in most cities, but unlike most cities, Berliners have fought very hard against it, and in some cases even won. One example was when the land a local reggae beach bar was on was sold for riverfront apartments. The backlash from Berliners caused a longterm lease to be granted just up the river as the new home for the bar. Berlin is definitely a city for free thinkers and one where the rich do not have all the power.
Yaam kind of like a little commune with lots of little shacks selling food, a music venue and a beach bar with actual sand. I can understand why Berliners would not want to lose it.
Some of the street art in Berlin, apparently at night a Flag from a local car delarship shadows this wall so the spaceman is holding it.
The second walking tour I went on was a more traditional one, looking at the main sites and history of Berlin. It began to rain just as the tour started, and I was in shorts and a teeshirt. Halfway through I was drenched and freezing and ready to call it a day. The tour guide had given me and another girl an umbrella to share but it was doing much against the torrential rain. We even looked at going to buy some warmer clothes, but it was Sunday and everything was closed. Thankfully the weather cleared while we were having our half time break, and I am so glad it did – this walking tour turned out to be one of the (if not the) best ones I have done. The guide was involved in theater so he was very dramatic, tearing up several times during the tour and culminating in a 15 minute monologue.
Part of the East Side Gallery, a section of Berlin Wall that has become a gallery for street art. Such a shame to see a lot of it spoiled by shitty, talentless tagging!
The largest remaining section of the wall as it was.
Amplemann, the communist traffic signal that was so beloved it has now spread throughout Germany.
The Holocaust memorial, one of the most moving memorials I have seen. The architect has left the interpretation open. I see it as the obvious coffins or a graveyard, but also with the differing heights it gives a sense of chaos and confusion in something that looks conforming. It is also a memorial that you can move through and reflect.
Berlin is known for its nightlife, and after dinner with some friends we checked out one of the clubs, Matrix, which is located in the basement of a train station. It was very big, and very cool but not really my thing. I wish I’d had time to check out some of the smaller bars. There is so much in Berlin I didn’t get to see though, definitely have to go back there!
The next stop on the bus was the city of Prague in the Czech Republic. Prague is chaotic collection of architecture who’s end result is quite simply, stunning. I was staying near the castle – which is not really how I imagined a castle would look (basically like everywhere else in Prague) but does have an awesome Gothic cathedral. Definitely my favourite building in Prague.
Prague isn’t one of those places were there is a lot of things to tick off. Instead, my time in Prague was mostly spent hanging out with Busabout friends. The first night I took part in the infamous Prague pub crawl, which is supposedly the largest in the world (although I went on an earlier one which was a bit quieter). The following day I met Tegan & Sean and James & Francesca for an interesting walking tour of the old town.
constructed in 1410 this is the oldest working astrological clock in the world. Legend has it that the designer was blinded so that he could not repeat his work and in retaliation the designer jumped into the mechanism of the clock stopping it from working for years until a clock maker of equal caliber could be found.
The Charles Bridge connects the castle area to the old town.
After the walking tour we headed for a local bar where the boys tried some beer that is made without preservatives so only keeps for a few days after the brewing process. That night we checked out another fine Prague establishment, hooters, before going out for dinner.
My favourtie part of Prague was all the street performers. There were your usual singers and human statues but there were also puppet shows, pianists, a crazy band who played the weirdest instruments and much much more. And they were all ridiculously talented.
The Bridge Band were usually playing as I made my way from my hostel into town.
From Prague I had to leave all my busabout friends behind as I made a detour to Krakow in Poland. My journey from Prague to Krakow was my first using the train system and not a very good one. The aircon was not working for the first few hours and it got hot. We were all dripping with sweat and some people were starting to get very anxious in the stuffy, airless carriages. It was also a night train so I arrived feeling very sticky and tired. Thankfully, my hostel in Krakow was amazing, definitely the best in Europe so far, they even let me have the free breakfast when I arrived! Also checking in were two girls I had met very briefly on a tram my first day in Prague, Keisha and Ally. They recognised me (and after a minute I remembered them) and I ended up hanging out with them most of my time in Krakow.
Unfortunately, a few sleepless nights meant the traveler’s bug that everyone seems to have over here got on top of me and I was sick the whole time I was in Krakow. I did mange to see some of the city though in between naps, the Jewish quarter especially was very cool.
Krakow has the most glamorous horses
One of my main reasons for going to Krakow was to visit the Auschwitz concentration camps. These were the biggest network of camps during Nazi occupation and more than 1.1 million people were murdered here. Visiting a concentration camp is one of those things you have to do. It’s definitely not a fun day out, but I think it is important to truly understand what went on in these horrible places. I was quite surprised how many people felt okay taking selfies or posing for photos, they are not the kind of photos you want to stick in the family album. I didn’t even feel right taking photos inside the bunkers (although this was allowed), I think I took about 3 photos the whole time I was there, and all outside.
The thing that hit me the most there was a display showing the massive amounts of hair found at the liberation of the camp. Hair was removed from the victims by the Nazis on their arrival to the camp and after death, it was then used in manufacturing. There were piles and piles of hair, some still in their braids and this was only what was still at the camp at the time of liberation. It gave a real sense to the extent of loss that occurred here.
After the original Auschwitz camp, we also went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was the largest concentration camp during the Nazi occupation. The original Auschwitz had been a Polish army barrack before WWII and one thing that surprised me about it was how nice it looked. If you didn’t know the atrocities that went on here, and the barbed wire was removed it would look like an old fashioned school or something similar. Brikenau had none of this. This purpose built camp was an enormous, barren, prison. no doubt about it.
Auschwitz – Birkenau
The following day Keisha and I decided to go find a spot to go swimming. We went to Zakrzowek Lake, which was beautiful, but unfortunately the locals are not looking after it. There were piles and piles of picnicking rubbish everywhere. It was disgusting. There was one guy there who was spending his Saturday trying to clean it up. While we were there he took away around 8 sacks of rubbish. He told us that it would take all day just to clean one area and the next time he came back it would be filthy again. I think part of the problem is that you are not technically supposed to be there, you have to cross a torn down fence to get in and there are signs saying not to enter which is probably why the council does nothing about it. But it still doesn’t explain how people can be so feral, why would you want to sunbathe next to a pile of filth?! We left with a small bag of rubbish after a storm came in and spoiled our afternoon, at least we left it cleaner than we found it. If anyone from Krakow ever reads this please do something about it, it’s such a disgrace to your beautiful country!!
Keisha in the lake
Our afternoon turned bad after the storm set in. On our way back we didn’t validate our tram tickets, which lead to a 60 Euro fine. Then when we were walking back to the hostel (we didn’t want to go back on the tram even though we still had a valid ticket) someone spat out of a window and it landed on Keisha’s head. Not ideal. Still, despite all this, and even though I spent a lot of my time there in bed, Krakow is an awesome city and definitely worth a visit!
After a much more pleasant night train back to Prague I hopped back on the bus to Cesky Krumlov, a town in the Czech Republic. I was a bit nervous about re-joining Busabout, as all my friends had moved on. However, it couldn’t have turned out better. The hostel was a cute, homey place where you had to take off your shoes and there were 6 busabout girls staying here, 5 in the same room (which didn’t have bunk beds!). We cooked together both nights we were there and it was great to have some healthy and cheap food!
Sarah and the meal in progress
Sadly I only had one full day in Cesky Krumlov but I definitely made the most of it. In the morning we hiked up Mt Klet. This was a really pretty walk through the countryside and then forest. One of the girls was walking ahead and missed a turn off, luckily she realised after about 20 minutes and made it to the top just before we were about to leave! Dena, Sarah and I ended up walking a much longer way back and we were pretty exhausted by the end of it. But I’d already agreed to go rafting, so 4 of us piled into a raft and made our way down the river. It was very calm apart from a few man made rapids, but a lot of fun!
The castle in Cesky Krumlov has two pits outside it with bears living in them
Part of the castle, a lot of the buildings here had painted brick work on them
Walking up the hill
Dena, Sarah, Myself, Larissa and Tara at the top
The river we rafted down, you can see the man made rapids we went down on the right
From Cesky Krumlov it was on to Vienna and straight into a walking tour. Unfortunately not one of the better ones I’ve done. The guide was difficult to understand and would start talking when he reached a spot, not when the whole group had. When I asked him to please wait for everyone to get there he told me we needed to walk faster (I think trying to get a large group of people through a crowded street was the bigger problem, not our walking speed). It did end however, with a big plate of Wiener Schnitzel and Apple Strudel!
Even better than Amplemann are the Vienna crossing lights which have all sorts of couples in love
One of the tours that was being sold on the bus was a biking wine tour, it sounded awesome but at 50 Euro was a bit out of my budget. So we decided to do the next best thing. We hired bikes, each bought a bottle of wine and some snacks and biked along the Danube sampling each others wines along the way. Highlights were wine #3, swimming in the river and taking our cruisers on a BMX track.
Our last bottle, we never made it to number 6 – this is the spot we went swimming.
I didn’t have long in Vienna and it while it wasn’t my favourite city I think it would be an awesome city to live in. Right by my hostel was an awesome market filled with deli food, so good!
I know I’ve been slack, so behind on my blogs, this one has been half done for 17 days apparently. I’m gonna blame the bad internet and the constant moving. But anyway, next stop… Budapest!