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Saturday, June 29, 2013


THURSDAY - Eisenach to Frankfurt, Germany and Fly Home

We are up early this morning and once again it is cloudy. There is no way we can sleep late on a travel day! it is cold and grey outside. we are ready for some sunshine. It has been very allusive since we have been in Europe. We finish packing and are in the dinning room as soon as they open and have a better breakfast than the dinner last night. It is buffet and eggs cooked to order.

One last climb to the forth floor eves to meet the bellman and back down again to check out. We are off to Frankfurt less than three hours away and it is a little after 8AM. That has got to be a record for Carolyn! The drive is pleasant and there is very little traffic until we near Frankfurt. About half way there the sun comes out and we can really see how pretty Spring is in Germany. The grasses are a lush green and there are many white and pink flowering trees intermingled with white houses with red roofs.

We get to the airport a little before 11AM and only have to circle around once to find and make the turn for the rental car return which is painless once we are in the right spot. It is a looooong hike through two terminals to check in and the airport is a little stuffy from too much heat. Final boarding passes in hand and through the dreaded security check, we begin the hunt for the BC lounge. We have about two hours until flight time. Don't know way this airport has given us so much trouble finding the lounge, except the signage is for before the concourses were finished and do not point toward the area where the lounges are now.

Finally with Dick cussing and Carolyn steaming, we find the right door and it opens to the lounge! We have a light snack and cool off in time for our boarding to be called. The plane is cool and comfortable with fully reclining seats that are also comfortable through out the 9 hour flight. We take off on U447 on time at 1:50PM for an uneventful flight.

It has been raining when we land at 6:15PM in Houston, but JW is waiting for us in the baggage section and we are off. He tells us that the airport was closed down at 2PM due to a shooting event in the domestic terminal and just reopened a little while ago. He was afraid it would disrupt our arrival as all flights had been diverted for a while. Thank goodness we weren't affected! It is evening rush hour in Houston, but we make decent time and are home in about an hour and a half.

It was a wonderful trip! But much too short for such long flights. India was incredible and we hope to be able to go back. Europe is beautiful in the Spring, we are glad we were able to see the color.


WEDNESDAY - Drive from Potsdam to Meissen to Eisenach, Germany

We wake to a very overcast sky, "boo" as today is a travel day and we begin to work our way to Frankfurt and home. We have a nice last breakfast at the hotel and say good-by to the family members that run this wonderful place.

As we leave Potsdam we do a quick driving tour of some more of the Old Historical Center checking out the Branderburger Tor, the Nauener Tor and the Hollandisches area.

We plan to send the night in Eisenach at Hotel auf der Wartburg part of the old Castle Wartburg. It is a four hour drive by the shortest way, but our plan is to see Meissen on the way. That adds about an hour to the trip. It is misty and cool this morning as we work our way out of Potsdam and on to the motorway. There is not too much traffic, but there is intermittent road work which slows things down. The countryside is rural and very German looking.

After a couple of hours we are nearing Meissen where we hope to get some lunch and see the old castle and the Cathedral. We can see the Cathedral on the hill for miles. As we cross the bridge into the town, we see that the older part is up on the hill just below the Cathedral and there is a newer section on the river. We hope to find a information center or a café as we enter, but no such luck. In fact, the town looks shut down.


According to the GPS, the big "I" is up on the hill so we follow the map. As usual for the old European towns, the streets get progressively more narrow as we go up hill. We pass through one of the Old City gates and we have nothing more than a wide path. It is mostly one way now and still no "I". There are lots of people walking around and Dick can't make any head way. Somehow we manage to turn around and get back through another Old City gate. There is a sign to near by parking, but no way can Carolyn climb back up to the Cathedral so we drive on.

So much for seeing Meissen! This has happened a number of times in Germany and Italy in the past few years, unfortunately. We drive on through the countryside stopping outside of Meissen to get a nice picture of what we couldn't see. We are off the motorway right now and continue to drive through some cute German villages.

We stop in one to stretch our legs and look for some place to eat. There doesn't seem to be any cafes, but there is a pretty little village church and its WWI war memorial. After some help from a local we finally find the entrance to the motorway and then a service center for food, restrooms and gas.

All problems solved, we head on to Eisenach and our hotel for the night passing some ruins of castles on the hill tops. The hotel is on top of the mountain above the busy Victorian era resort town just below the Castle Wartburg, built in around 1100AD. The hotel its self is almost 200 years old and in a spectacular setting.

It was built as a resort and has been well restored, but there is no elevator and our room is on the forth floor! We get settled and then go to the castle for a very interesting tour.

It is getting toward dusk when we get back to the hotel so go straight to the bar and have a drink sitting in the nice lounge in front of the is cold out side! From there we move into the dinning room and have a nice view but costly marginally good dinner. Finally it is back up the stairs and to bed.


TUESDAY - Potsdam

Today, we wake to sunshine. It is a bit cool as we go to breakfast. We have really had good included breakfasts this trip, something we enjoy. Afterwards we do some historic site exploring.

First on our agenda is the site of the Potsdam Conference. The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern, in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from July 17 to August 2, 1945. Cecilienhof is now a high end hotel and the conference site is preserved as it was in 1945.  We explore the exterior of the hotel. Outside the hotel, there is all sorts of graffiti from the time of the Russian occupation. It seems to have been left for its historical interest. Several gardeners are at work and the Spring flowers are beautiful.

Our tour tickets are for a the self-guided tour. The ticket includes a headset and audio descriptor so we each can listen as much or as little as we want. We see the offices assigned to Truman, Stalin and Churchill as well as the main conference room. The tour is really interesting and we spend well over an hour doing it. There are several tour groups, but with the head phone set ups, we are not bothered by them.

Head phones were used by the tour guides on the river cruise tours and we really liked them. The guide could speak in a low voice and we could hear on the head set even if we had fallen behind looking more closely at something. On a tour like this one, the self tour people can listen to their tape with the sets of detailed info on the site while the tour groups listen to their guide on their head sets and everyone can hear their tour information! We saw this everywhere in Europe and it is a definite improvement! 

Cecileinhof is in a huge park with trails going to several other points of interest. Unfortunately we just can't walk as much as we use to. We want to see the San Souci Park with its palaces this afternoon so we do a fast drive through the old Russian district, Alexandrowka, then head back to the hotel for a light lunch and some rest before we tackle the next park. 

Within walking distance of our hotel lies Sans Souci, one of the favorite homes of Frederick the Great and the site of his grave. It is set in a huge beautiful park area with several other palaces and points of interest. One could spend days walking the paths in this park. We walk around San Souci and enjoy the view from the hill on which the palace is built. Frederick and some other family members are buried on this hill in the shadow of the palace.

We for go a visit into the palace in favor of a walk through some of the park, past the windmill to visit the Orangery Palace to the west of Sans Souci. This was built to house San Souci's guests. It is a bit of a hike so we assume there was carriage service for the guests to go between the palaces. The Orangery is huge with an impressive entrance by a number of stairs leading up to a big reflecting pool in the front. The building is in the shape of a U with the ends being the actual guest accommodation with the center the orangery. There are other buildings to walk to, but we opt to go back to the car and drive around the park once again. The sun is setting and there are nice long shadows in the wooded areas.

We drive through the park and get pictures of the Neuw Palace, now part of the University of Potsdam, and a neat looking pavilion. Then we go back to the hotel.

We go to the bar for a drink and have a pleasant visit with one of the brothers who own the hotel. He is the bar tender tonight and speaks the most English of the family. This is a family run enterprise. The two brothers, their sister and spouses live and work in the hotel.

We decide to go back to the great little restaurant we went to the first night so the host calls and gets us 7PM reservations. Once again we have a great meal. These days in Potsdam have been a real treat. The hotel is wonderful and very reasonably priced. Potsdam is a wonderful city with lots of things to see, unfortunately the real world is calling us home so we pack up before heading to bed.


MONDAY - Day Trip to Berlin

This is our day to see some of Berlin, looks like the sun will come out. We have never been here before and the WWII history of the place is fascinating to Dick.  Although, we know that there is not much left in modern Berlin of what was there prior to 1945, there is still a lot of interesting Berlin history that took place in our life time. 

After breakfast, we drive to the Potsdam railroad station and find a parking slot in the underground garage. With a little help we purchase round-trip tickets into Berlin, walk to the appointed track and board our electrically powered commuter train. We have a selection of seats and the train departs right on time, the hallmark of the Germany better exit or enter in the allotted two minutes or be caught in the door! It takes about 45 minutes with multiple stops for us to arrive at the Alexanderplatz S Bahn station in Berlin.

We get off and are looking for Karl Liebknecht Strasse. Carolyn knows that Bus 100 will take us to Unter den Linden and down to the Brandenburg Gate, one of our must-sees. Naturally, there is no sign and we walk out the door exactly opposite the one we need. So, we get a complete tour around the exterior of the train station before finding our bus. It is a double-decker and we move up top so as to see a little better.

Traffic is heavy and progress is very slow due to heavy construction on Unter den Linden.  Five or six long blocks from the Brandenburg Gate we give up on the bus and start walking. We find a tourist shop and explore it buying several "Pieces of the Wall" as souvenir gifts for grandchildren along with the ubiquitous "pin for Jack."

Unter den Linden is a really pretty tree lined boulevard so we crossed over to the middle and walked toward the gate passing numerous buskers dressed as various military characters. For a fee you could have your picture taken with a bear dressed as a Russian soldier. We walk under the gate and around to the right toward the Reichstag building.

Along and on a fence in this area was a makeshift memorial to people who were killed trying to escape from East Berlin before "The Wall" came down. The area around the Reichstag is closed off and heavily guarded. Circling the block, we return to Unter den Linden and cross over to the south side looking for lunch. Finding a nice looking café with an appealing menu, we sit down at an outside tables and have a nice lunch while people watching.

From the café, we walk past the British Embassy to the Holocaust Memorial or "The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe." This large open area is very stark and unfortunately the underground museum is closed on Monday. 

By now, our feet were complaining so we catch a taxi down to Gendarmenmarkt, a large plaza with the Deutscher Dom/Neue Kirche on the South side and the Französische Friedrichstadtkirche on the North side.  In the middle, on the west side, stands the Konzerthaus Berlin.  This is just a photo stop and we again catch a taxi to the Pergamon Museum Berlin, one of the museums on Museum Island. The taxi drops us as close as he can...there is a tremendous amount of restoration going on in Berlin right now.

We buy tickets to the Pergamon at a outside kiosk on the Island. We want to see the permanent exhibits of antiquities excavated in Turkey. The displays include the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus (background picture) and the Ishtar Gate. All of these are monumental in size. In addition, there are numerous displays on three floors covering smaller items. Fortunately, Carolyn's cane gets us courtesy access to a guarded service elevator as the stairs would have been difficult for both of us. We are not much on museums, but this one is most interesting.

On leaving the Pergamon Museum, we walk along the river to a bus stop by the Berlin Dom (Cathedral) on Unter den Linden getting a good view of the famous radio tower built by the Communists in East Berlin and the Berlin Dom. After waiting about 15 minutes, we catch a west bound bus and ride it through the Tiergarten to its end at the Zoo.

From here we walk into the S Bahn station and board a train back to Potsdam. It is late afternoon and the cars are crowded but not packed. We didn't see all that was on Carolyn's list, but have had an interesting day leaving things for a return trip to Berlin some day...maybe.

After cocktails, we drive into downtown Potsdam and have dinner at a little Italian restaurant. Again, no English with the menu or vorspeisen in German. We share an over priced pizza-like dish and some wine, walk around some and head back to our hotel ready for bed.