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There and Back Again

What More Could You Want?

AUSTRALIA | Thursday, 24 January 2019 | Views [110]

2018 Trip – Amsterdam, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Edinburgh, Cambridge, London.

 A journey with themes – tolerance, walks, art, history, recovery, and of course food and beer.

 Amsterdam:

Over 30 years later we return to Amsterdam to find some changes but it still retains an easy going feeling, progressive and tolerant. We stayed in De Pijp, a short tram ride from the busy, touristy centre. We felt part of the local community and it was still easy to get around. We enjoyed watching people of all ages riding their bikes everywhere, no helmets, safely.

Guided walks became a must do in each city. The first was in Amsterdam with Freedam Walks  https://freedamtours.com/ where the wonderful Loeke educated and entertained us for 4 hours. The theme was tolerance – from prostitutes, marijuana, Jews (escaping persecution in Spain) to religion (although Catholicism was banned it was tolerated). Famous places, people and occupation during WW 2. To cap off our walk, we arrived at Dam Square and then almost got ourselves tangled in a melee between football hooligans (all males), very loud and violent. An eye opener to this dark side in the European community.

In the Rijk Museum we joined a guided group and learnt to appreciate the wonder of Rembrandt. An explanation of The Nightwatch (who is pointing the gun and why); The Jewish Bride (full of colour and detail) his self-portrait (tousled hair covering his eyes), The Wardens of Amsterdam (who has just walked in the room?). We also loved seeing Vermeer’s exquisite Milkmaid and Woman Reading a Letter. We had a great meal and wine in the Café in the museum.

On a rainy day we spent a few hours in the Dutch Resistance Museum, lots to see and read but essential to get an appreciation of this terrible time.

We went into lots of cheese shops and tried the famous Gouda and Edam cheeses, finally buying an aged Gouda which travelled with us for a few days.

 

Berlin

We travelled everywhere by train, fairly easy and cheap without the hassles of air travel and opportunities to talk to locals.

Ah Berlin - history, East and West, Nazis, edgy, grungy, vibrant, magnificent, multicultural, gentrificating, beer, street art – what more could you want?

We stayed in the Almodovar Eco Hotel in Friedfrichsheim (old East Berlin), now becoming gentrified but with enough grunge and street art to keep it real.

2 guided walks here, https://www.insidertour.com/  the first the Famous Insider Walk to become orientated and discover what’s where. Taylor, an Aussie started with an 800 year history of Berlin in 8 minutes! Another 4 hour walk include many famous sites such as  Museum Island (3 famous museums); Unter den  Linden Boulevard; Brandenburg Gate, Gendarmenmarkt Square and the memorial to the burning of books; The war memorial site Neue Wache ( a sculpture of a mother holding her dead son). We returned to the Pergamon Museum to see the Ishtar Gate and the Neue Museum to see Nefertiti’s Head.

The second walk – Berlin Today with Nickolai, who took us to 4 different neighbourhoods looking at immigration & assimilation; alternative culture; gentrification and corporate culture. We saw lots of funky street art; Turkish area of Kreuzberg and finishing at the Turkish market (an extensive market with all you need including delicious food).

We took ourselves off to the Stasi Museum (eerie and entertaining); the very Soviet War Memorial to in Treptower Park.  The Holocaust Memorial where you walk among 2,711 grey concrete slabs or stelae of varying heights is a quiet place for reflection.

Dresden

Many European cities were bombed during WW2, Dresden is certainly one of the most famous and controversial. Kurt Vonnegut’s famous book Slaughterhouse 5 is a fictionalised personal record of the event. I’d always wanted to see how the city was rebuilt. So off on another walk with https://www.dresdenwalks.com to discover the layout and points of interest. The buildings are impressive, they look as if they’ve always been there. Our favourites include Frauenkirche - a Lutheran Baroque church was built in 18th century, destroyed by the bombing in 1945 and not rebuilt until 2005. It is set in a square,  with a statue of Martin Luther in front, it’s definitely worth a visit inside, true Baroque, full of light with a high cupola, and a richly decorated alter. Be there when the bells ring.

The Furstenzug, (the Procession of Princes) is a remarkable 102 metre long mural made of Meissen porcelain tiles. Undamaged by the bombing because the tiles are fired at a very high temperature.

The impressive Zwinger Palace, styled on Versailles (perhaps more beautiful) and used to celebrate a marriage in 1719.

The huge almost overpowering buildings are lightened by lots of excellent living statue  buskers and musicians who pop up on corners or in the square.

We recommend 2 places to eat Sankt Pauli, a friendly small local pub with a great menu and Raskolnikoff, http://www.raskolnikoff.de/ a Russian restaurant with yummy dumplings.

Someone told us to visit the Bundeswehr Museum of Military, http://www.dresden.de/en/advertisment/museum_of_military_history.php while it is a history of German warfare it seeks to challenge traditional perspectives. The entrance hall consists of warlike paintings all by women artists. We were moved and challenged by this outstanding museum.

 

Prague

Bisected by the Vltava River and crossed by many bridges is a busy touristy city. We stayed in the “new” town near Kinsky Park, trams provided easy and quick access to the “old” town and elsewhere. There are loads of guided walks in Prague, we did the Old Town and Jewish Quarter walk, again good for a potted history, main sites and other useful information.

A tram ride took us to the picturesque Strahov Monastery Brewery for a good meal and great beer.

The small Farmers’ market in Republic Square http://farmarsketrhyprahy1.cz/?language=en (Mon to Fri only) has good arts and crafts and wonderful food stalls and more beer.

The Museum of Communism is informative and well done, doesn’t take too long, lots of exhibits and audio visuals. A real eye opener as to conditions in Czechoslovakia from 1948 -1989.

A must do is walking the Charles Bridge, didn’t see any of the infamous pickpockets but I’m sure they were there. It’s crazily busy and chaotic.

We loved spotting the David Cerny sculptures scattered around the city, my favourite was the babies.

 

Edinburgh

The old part of Edinburgh certainly has a special feel in spite of the hordes of tourists. The grey ancient buildings, the castle situated atop a rocky volcanic hill, the winding cobbled streets and old passageways, church spires stretching to the sky. From here there are views to the coast and rolling green hills. The ‘new’ city also has beautiful Georgian buildings and many museums to visit.

David, another Australian, took us on our first guided walk along the Royal mile, a visit to the Greyfriar’s church and Bobby, the Grassmarket where hangings used to take place. There were many mentions of J.K.Rowling, it’s easy to see how Edinburgh influenced her writing.

The second walk with Scottish Greg took us into the castle, dating from 12th century there’s lots to explore including the tiny simple St Margaret’s chapel  built about 1130; dungeons; crown jewels; Scottish war memorial.  

We walked along the beautiful, tree lined Leith Waterway and also had a fabulous lunch at Michelin starred Martin Wishart Restaurant.

The Scottish Portrait Gallery included lots of famous people, great to explore on a cold wet day.

 

Cambridge/Stoke Newington/London

Meeting up with Anika and Ian gave us the perfect excuse to spend time in Cambridge. We got to see how they live in this famous city. We rode bikes along the ‘backs’ past grazing cows; lazily punted along the Cam with perfect views of the old colleges, took part in the magic of Evensong in King’s College, drank many beers in famous pubs and of course some wonderful food.

We had fun exploring Stoke Newington (Stokey), with a village atmosphere it has a variety of excellent restaurants/cafes, the huge Clissold Park, the wilderness of Abney Park Cemetery, a non-denominational burial ground,  William Booth, Isaac Watts and many anti-slavery people are buried here.  Amy Winehouse filmed Back in Black in Abney Park https://www.harringayonline.com/forum/topics/amy-winehouse-back-to-black-video-filmed-in-abney-park-stoke.

The street has lots of alternative independent shops – vintage, clothing, homewares and more.

We stayed in the Rose and Crown pub – excellent accommodation and handy for beer and meals.

This time we kept out of main London area and instead took it easy in Islington area– markets, pubs, canals, De Beauvoir Cafe; reacquainting ourselves with wonderful Dalston markets and lunches at Brunswick East café. What more could you want?

 

Tags: amsterdam, berlin, cambridge, dalston, dresden, london, prague, stasi museum., stoke newington

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