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In Pursuit of Vikings, Fjords and Cooler Weather, thursdaysd Goes North

In Pursuit of Vikings, Fjords and Cooler Weather, thursdaysd Goes North

Old Jul 26th, 2015, 12:09 PM
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gertie - UK end of August, London beginning of September. Then I wander south - different TR.
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Old Jul 26th, 2015, 12:12 PM
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Lol. By then I will be in Galapagos. Also different TR!!
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Old Jul 26th, 2015, 02:24 PM
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Following along also!
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Old Jul 26th, 2015, 03:25 PM
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I'm glad to hear you enjoyed Nefertiti (and I loved your description of her!), at least parts of the Pergamon, and the Kunstgewerbemuseum When I visited the Kunstgewerbemuseum, the place was nearly empty, and any number of docents took it upon themselves to show me things. There was even a man in the textile section who trotted off so he could bring a bunch of things from the archives for me to see. Awesome! It was a remarkable and memorable experience, particularly because none of the docents were at all pushy, they were just unbelievably informative.

Looking forward to hearing more!
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Old Jul 30th, 2015, 11:45 AM
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<b>July 22-24, 2014: Smiling in Schwerin</b>

Berlin has been attracting a lot of favorable comment lately, mostly of the "happening place" variety. I suspect that means night life, but since my idea of a good night out, if there is no ballet or English language theater on offer, is a leisurely two or three course meal with wine, a "happening" scene is not what I'm looking for. So perhaps it's not surprising that Berlin, while clearly a pleasant enough city, at least in cooler weather, did not make my revisit list. Maybe in a few years when the museum renovations are finished, and Unter den Linden is no longer a construction zone.

Therefore, I was happy to board a train to Schwerin, a small northern town with what looked like a killer castle. The locals sitting next to me on the platform turned out to be going to Dusseldorf, and seemed very surprised that I was headed to Schwerin. Since northern Germany is pretty flat, with stretches of forest followed by farm fields followed by more forest, I used the train trip mostly to write a blog post. When I arrived I found that data service on my smart phone had miraculously returned, and I followed its directions for the short walk to my Gasthof - after hefting my bag up 55 steps from the platform, as the lift at Schwerin Mitte wasn't working. Pack light!

While the Gasthof Zur guten Quelle was as much (fairly mediocre) restaurant as pension, and my room overlooked the outdoor eating area, it was comfortable, breakfast was adequate, and the weather cool enough I didn't miss AC. I was saving the interior of the castle for my one full day in town, but after unpacking I set off for a look at the outside, and to visit the nearby museum.

The photographs hadn't lied. I walked down the street, turned the corner, and stopped short. Wow. A purist might have the horrors, but it really is a fantastic sight, straight out of a fairy story. Built and rebuilt over the centuries, it's a mish-mash of styles, but the overall effect is charming. It sits on its own little island, just over a bridge from the old town, and the grounds are charming too. The Schweriner See stretches away to the east, an orangery, tucked under one wall, offers food and drink, and to the south weeping willows sweep down to the water and provide shade for ducks and swans. Take the other bridge, away from the old center, and you find a formal park, with canals and statues.

The museum, a bit to my surprise, was eminently skippable. One of my guidebooks - none of which had much if anything to say about Schwerin - had spoken well of it. I was not particularly impressed. i admired one so-so Gainsborough and rather enjoyed the Dutch church interiors, with bare naves soaring over the tiny figures, but was revolted by a particularly lecherous "Lot and Daughters" by Rubens, and went through most of the rest at high speed. I consoled myself with a decadent ice cream with raspberries and cream in the orangery, and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the grounds.

While I wouldn't say that the inside of the castle quite lived up to the outside, I enjoyed my tour. Much more interesting than the museum! Plenty of lavishly decorated floors and ceilings, and an impressive throne room testified to the wealth and power of the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg. I had hoped to also make it to an open air museum nearby, but getting there would have taken a couple of buses (the boat I had expected to take no longer went there) and the weather was threatening rain. (Which duly arrived.)

Schwerin wasn't on the coast, but had plenty of water none-the-less. Besides the lake with the castle's island, there was a smaller (and smellier) lake in the middle of town, another, larger, to the north, and an even larger one north of that. I also found a reasonable number of interesting buildings. The interior of the cathedral looked very much like those of the Dutch paintings in the museum. One aisle held plaques commemorating the town's war dead: 1813-15, 1870-71 and (with many more dead) 1914-1918. But nothing for WWII.

Opera aficionados should note that the town hosts open air opera performances in July. La Traviata was on offer for 2015. I am virtually tone deaf, so made no effort to get tickets, but I did stroll down to the venue, on the mainland just across from the castle, and could hear quite well. A couple of groups were picnicking on the grass, but I noticed empty seats in the stadium.

I really liked Schwerin and its castle, but one night might have been enough.
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Old Jul 30th, 2015, 06:18 PM
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I had to look Schwerin up just now -- looks as delightful as your description! Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Looking forward to your next installment....
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Old Jul 30th, 2015, 11:29 PM
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Ah, only a Grand Duchy since Napoleon was beaten.
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Old Aug 1st, 2015, 11:41 PM
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Wow, that is some castle.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2015, 02:11 AM
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Berlin has been attracting a lot of favorable comment lately, mostly of the "happening place" variety. I suspect that means night life, but since my idea of a good night out, if there is no ballet or English language theater on offer, is a leisurely two or three course meal with wine, a "happening" scene is not what I'm looking for. >>

me too, Thursdaysd - nightclubs are not my thing either. It is however nice to go to the theatre or to a concert and find that you can drop into a bar for a drink afterwards without the staff looking at the clock every 5 minutes.

Having flown into Berlin over all those lakes, it comes are no surprise that Schwerin is also surrounded by water, but nice though it may be, I don't think I'll be beating a path to it unless I happen to be in area.
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Old Aug 5th, 2015, 12:03 AM
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<b>July 24-27, 2015: Bremen - Better Speak German</b>

My elder sister, who lived in Germany for several years and speaks German, recommended Bremen. Reading the guidebooks, I was a little dubious, but a couple of museums sounded good, and unless I wanted beach time - and on the Baltic Sea, at that - the pickings in far northern Germany seemed slim. However, my German is limited to the usual pleasantries, and aside from a couple of business trips in the long, long ago, I have only visited the country once.

It's true that the weather turned bad while I was in Bremen, but that was balanced by a good hotel, another Motel One. Perhaps with fewer people around I might have found Bremen more worth a stop, but that would not have helped with the museums, which after all had been what sold me on the place. If you count my tour of the town hall, I visited five museums. The T.I. ran tours of the town hall, or rather of one floor of it, and provided an English language guide. He was quite informative, and the small Art Nouveau room (no entry) and large main hall (with model ships hanging from the ceiling) were worth a few photos. The other four, however....

I don't want to come across as some kind of English language chauvinist, but however you feel about it, English has become the de facto second language of tourism. Get off a plane in pretty much any city in the world, and what do you see? English. Walk into a restaurant in a tourist area, and you are likely to be offered an English menu - in fact, some tourists go to considerable trouble to find restaurants that do NOT have English menus. Pretty much any major museum in any major city will have an English audio guide, or at least English labels.

So I guess Bremen is not a major city, despite its long history as a port and manufacturing center. The "Bremen state museum"? The Focke? Top of my sightseeing list, but the only English was a couple of paragraphs on the advertising flyer. No English audio guide, no English captions. I'm not sure quite how interesting the museum would have been even with explanations, as a lot of the art and artifacts looked less than stellar, but it was not a success without them. I was reminded that the Focke in question had been a founder of the Focke-Wulf aviation concern (he was pushed out before WWII), and wikipedia informed me that he had developed a key helicopter component.

The Focke had apparently decided to deal with its storage problems by putting pretty much everything it owned on display in the basement, grouped by subject. Perhaps if I had been in a better mood when I found this section, I might have found it interesting, but as it was I was left wondering why I might want to see, for instance, four identical modern hairdryers.

The Focke's cafe was uninviting, but the heavens opened while I was waiting for a bus back to town, and I dashed into the train station for a lunch-time sandwich. Fortunately the Ethnographical Museum, the Ubersee, my next target, was close by. Again, no English audio guide. No English at all on the ground floor. I didn't actually need English for the Asian sections, but I would have liked to know more about the New Guinea exhibits. Upstairs there were English translations of the main section headings, but not of the detailed information. This left me with the feeling that I was being lectured (unnecessarily!) about global warming.

The other two museums were very minor affairs. The first, the Wilhelm Wagenfeld House, had no English and precious few exhibits, although I was amused to see a number of examples of the glass Cona coffee carafes I remembered from my childhood. The other did have an English brochure, which was just as well, as it would have been totally incomprehensible otherwise. One Christian Helwig had curated a modern display of one Gerhard Marck's sculptures. Even with the brochures I found the display less interesting than the sculptures, some of which had originally graced the cathedral.

When I apologized to the youngish man handing me the brochure for my lack of German, he astonished me by launching into a diatribe against the French. When I allowed as how English had indeed been sadly lacking in Paris thirty years ago, but that things were much better these days, he started in on Parisian taxi drivers. I murmured that I always took the metro and beat a hasty retreat, but I was intrigued to see that all is not sweetness and light in the new Europe.

Of course, a town is more, a lot more, than its museums. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by what I saw of Bremen. Aside from the historic main floor of the town hall, I am not sure how many apparently old buildings were actually old, but there were few of them, and most of them were in dire need of cleaning (I actually preferred a nearby modern building that had been controversial when built.) The "bohemian" section to the south held my attention longer. It seemed a pleasant, self-contained neighborhood of family-sized houses, adorned with lots of pretty flowers - been a while since I had seen hollyhocks - although rather poor graffiti. I had been especially looking forward to Bottcherstrasse, which I had expected to be in the Art Nouveau style, but aside from a striking gold relief at the entrance the buildings were of fairly plain brick.

The old section heralded by the T.I, the Schnoor, was cute enough Sunday morning, but by Sunday afternoon it was impossible to move through the narrow streets. Instead I headed north to investigate the renovated port area, finding it full of people promenading down the long wharf, and back again. The local in line for coffee next to me assured me that they were locals. A number of food stalls had set up at the landward end, and when I left a band was starting up.

My sister had said that the best thing to do in Bremen was to wander, probably through the Schnoor, but that required better weather, and preferably fewer people. She also mentioned the "musicians" statue, something else heralded by the T.I., and illustrating a supposedly famous fairy tale. (Bremen is at the north end of a "Fairy Tale Road" - this is Brothers Grimm territory). The tale, of inter-species co-operation, was not one I knew, and reading an outline I thought it mawkish and moralistic. This meant I felt no need to fight the crowds for a photograph.

Even the riverfront wasn't especially attractive. So aside from the Bohemian area and the town hall, the high point was my hotel. The location was quite good, close to a bus stop, my room was identical to the one in the Berlin Motel One, except reversed, and I treated myself to another aperol spritz. I also ate fairly well in Bremen, although I was surprised to discover that Krabben, which google translated as crab, turned out to be very small shrimps. Fortunately the chicken salad that formed the rest of the meal was filling.

Even leaving was a less than desirable experience. I had booked a direct train to Lubeck, along with Lubeck to Copenhagen, immediately before discovering that the German train company was suffering a series of strikes. Happily, these had finally been resolved by mediation before I arrived in Germany. Now, I checked my email before leaving for the station, to learn that because of a "medical emergency" my train had been canceled.... After a long wait in a hot and crowded ticket office I was rebooked with a change in Hamburg, and had barely five minutes to make my first train. Since no one showed the slightest interest in my tickets, I'm not sure why I bothered with re-booking. In fact, despite extensive use of the public transport systems in five towns in Germany, and several regular train rides, I think I was only asked for a ticket twice. It would actually have been cheaper to pay a fine than buy all the tickets involved!
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Old Aug 5th, 2015, 02:02 AM
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I'd not expect to find an English menu in Breman either ;-)

Still I'd not expect to find many English or American tourists there either
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Old Aug 5th, 2015, 02:54 AM
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English menus - yes.

English in museums - no.

And also people of many other nationalities are more likely to speak English than German.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 02:55 AM
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<b>July 27-30, 2015: Liking Lubeck</b>

In Bremen I had bad weather, a shortage of interesting buildings, but a good hotel. In Lubeck I had bad weather, a bad hotel, but a number of interesting buildings. I much preferred Lubeck. Both cities had been Hanseatic ports, back in the Middle Ages, entrepôts for traders who traveled as far as Istanbul. The league's Baltic-based trade was eventually supplanted by Atlantic routes, and it faded from history. Back then Lubeck ("Queen of the Hanse") was of greater importance than Bremen, but it is my impression that Bremen is now a more significant port and manufacturing center.

A new museum, dedicated to the league, had opened shortly before my arrival, and it was top of my sightseeing list. Unfortunately, I wasn't as impressed as I expected. Although the museum had been built around some foundational ruins, they were quite ruinous, and it was otherwise short on artifacts, most of the displays consisting of text and facsimile documents. The museum had come up with what they obviously thought was a nifty new way of handling the language problem. Your ticket was programmed for one of four languages - German, English, Swedish or Russian - and when you held it to an icon the displayed text switched languages. The museum was crowded. I seemed to be the only person who did not speak German. I would have been very much better off with an audio guide. I can only hope this innovation does not spread. (I should perhaps mention that I already knew a fair amount about the Hanseatic League, someone less knowledgeable might have found the museum more interesting.) The former friary, visited on the same ticket, had some nice ceilings.

Besides its history as a Hanseatic port, Lubeck boasts three Nobel laureates. I did not visit the house dedicated to Thomas Mann (and his brother), nor the one celebrating Gunter Grass, but I did take a look at the one for Willy Brandt. Again, this was mostly text, with the same ticket-based language system, and a number of photographs. I hadn't previously known that Herr Brandt spent the war years in Norway and Sweden, and found this part of the exhibition quite informative.

I also visited a merchant house museum nearby, but aside from a couple of unlabelled Art Nouveau cabinets, and a Munch Madonna, it was skippable. I fared much better in the St. Annen museum quarter the next morning, with medieval religious artifacts on the ground floor, and the history of Lubeck upstairs, complete with period rooms. Although I quickly OD on religious art, this museum owned some really excellent altarpieces.

If the weather had been better, or at least drier, I would have spent most of my time wandering the streets, listening to the T.I.'s free audio guide on my phone, and admiring the restored Brick Gothic architecture that earned Lubeck a UNESCO listing. But trying to manage a camera, a phone, and a small umbrella in a driving rainstorm is not a recipe for good photos. What I did see I enjoyed: the narrow lanes at the north end of the island, where small houses had been built in larger houses' back yards, were especially charming. The one hour boat trip round the old town's island served mostly to remind me that I get bored on boats, although it did confirm that the town has plenty of green space.

Since I thought I might need AC, I had gone upmarket and stayed at the Radisson Blu Senator, just across the river from the town center. Nothing wrong with the location. Nothing wrong with the food in the cheaper restaurant. Nothing wrong with the river view, if you got one of those rooms, although almost all the rooms came with far too good a view into neighboring rooms. A great deal else was wrong, including the security lock in my first room, which pulled right out of the wall my second afternoon. At least this got me a river view room, but moving was annoying. The new room had the same very dead shag carpet in bilious green, the same grubby and uncomfortable arm chair (although the sofa wasn't bad), etc. etc. But what really infuriated me was that it closed the public areas for private functions. This was a five star hotel - it said so on the plaque right outside - but you could not get a drink, alcoholic or otherwise, at five in the afternoon as the cafe, bar and restaurants were closed. And they were closed to prepare for a concert in the lobby that would start at 10:30 pm. Good thing I had been moved, as my first room was right above the lobby and the sound-proofing wasn't very good. Do NOT stay here.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 07:14 AM
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Oh dear Thursday. You sound like me in Germany! It has never been high on my list and I always consider myself a 'southern Europe' person.
The weather sounds like it was while I was in UK. We had a spectacularly wet weekend end of July... maybe you had the same across the North Sea! Tales of juggling mobile, camera and umbrella ring very true for me too. Need more hands.
I am now back in Houston and deep in culture shock as ever. Once the sun came out, it was very hard to leave London. Even United gave me an extra day by cancelling my return flight.
Hope northern Europe and the weather improves.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 09:13 AM
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Tursday,
I'm a little late to the party, but catching up.

I completely understand your ambivalence about Berlin. So many people had told us we would love Berlin and rather like you we weren't charmed. We spent 8 days and did lots of interesting things, including some museums we loved but overall it isn't on my revisit list either.

I've thought a bit about it since we got back and I think for me in part it was the heavy hand of history, we went to the Wansee Conference House and it took me some time to recover. I'd just lost a friend in the worst circumstance and after flying to and from the UK to California unexpectedly, I didn't have the emotional resilience I needed. To visit a place where the Final Solution was planned as bureaucratic "problem" brings new insight into Arendt's "Banality of Evil". It's important to witness but it's painful. I won't even get into the idiots taking tasteless selfies at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

In terms of museums we loved the Dahlem - the ethnographic collections are incredible we spent a couple of hours in the South Pacific wing and looking at the African materials. It's a great combination with the Brucke Museum which we love, my husband is a big fan of the German Expressionists, probably a good miss for you if you're more on the decorative arts side of things.

I liked the Brohan and combined it with the Berggruen next door a wonderful collection of Picasso, Giacometti and Matisse, Klee etc. My husband chose to go to the Surrealist collection across the road )Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg) which he loved. I was sorry to have missed it, as unexpectedly it had one of the Egyptian temple that was donated when the Aswan Dam was built, there are a number of them all over the world including the famous Temple of Dender at the Met in NY.

Despite all the fun stuff we did (street art walking tour, literary walking tour and a walking tour of Isherwood's Berlin) and the excellent restaurants, I couldn't warm to Berlin. The endless construction is ghastly and the architecture uninspiring, the scale also isn't my thing the large boulevards and wide roads don't have much charm. When you get out into the neighborhood, Kreuzberg etc. I can see that Berlin could be a great place to live (affordable, lots of nice water and green space, independent shops,a good art scene, very open, progressive etc) but for me it wouldn't be a top choice even though we liked the museums very much. I guess what I discovered is that even though we are big museum people museums alone aren't enough.

I wasn't a fan of the Jewish Museum, I thought the experiential section at the beginning would make much more sense at the end -after people get the history/information. I really wonder if some people find the conventional museum section upstairs? I think art installations are better done by artists than architects so the only piece I "got" was the room where you walk over the metal faces and that was designed by a contemporary artist not the architect. Overall I'm not a fan of the new move towards the "experiential " museum, there's a kind of emotional manipulation as if you are being told what to feel. However, It is also good to visit a museum that catalogue the vibrance and diversity of the Jewish culture in Germany before the war. For anyone who is going to Berlin soon and is a contemporary/installation art fan I can say that the Peter Greenaway piece "I am Isaac" at the Jewish Museum is fabulous and rescued the entire visit for me.

Sorry to hear your Tmobile connection gave out ours worked well for us throughout Europe. We found City Mapper great and found buses, trams and the U and S Bahn easy to use. I highly recommend downloading the app.

I've turned this into a mini TR but your descriptions felt so familiar as we were almost there at the same time and boy it was hot. Sometimes on Fodors you wish you could sit down and chat with the person and that's how your reports make me feel!

I've only read your Berlin section but I'm looking forward to reading the rest and traveling along with you...
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 10:55 AM
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Hi Thursdays, it sounds like Germany in general was not your cup of tea. I've spent limited time in Germany, but I felt like I didn't need to return.

I'm looking forward to your next stops, hopefully they will be more interesting for you.

(And there is nothing like paying up for a hotel and having a bad experience to sour you on the stay!)
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 11:45 AM
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Hi gertie - yes, I'm sure it was the same storm. It was supposed to break the heat wave in the south, but that doesn't seem to have lasted. Can't say welcome home since I'm not there.... Are you watching THE debate, lol?

Hi WTB - so nice to see you here after I've enjoyed your London thread so much. Thanks for the extra info on Berlin. And yes, far too hot for a city that is opposed to AC.

Hi Kathie - I actually rather liked the Rhineland, which was my other German trip, but I was staying with my nephew.

I have been thinking, about Germany.... It is a little odd, that my elder sister, who was alive during WWII - she was three at the start - lived happily in Germany for several years, speaks German, and has been back a number of times, while I, who was born after the war - although I remember food rationing (didn't end until 1955 in the UK) and bomb sites - am not over eager to visit.

On the hotel issue, a plus side. I am staying in another Radisson Blu, in Stockholm, and when I checked in today I mentioned that I hoped my room would be better than the one in Lubeck. That got me a renovated handicap room! It's a single, so small, but has tiled floor in the foyer and bath and pale wood floor in the rest. Plus it's in the same wing as the Junior Suites and business class rooms, so I get a fancy door, lol.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 12:07 PM
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"But what really infuriated me was that it closed the public areas for private functions. This was a five star hotel - it said so on the plaque right outside - but you could not get a drink, alcoholic or otherwise, at five in the afternoon as the cafe, bar and restaurants were closed"

Now that is incredible, I assume you got a discount?
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 12:38 PM
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Discount? Hardly. I actually got a shrug from one employee. The front desk did eventually rustle up someone bearing a cup of regular coffee, but I wanted espresso. What was especially annoying was that the day before the barrista had made me the first good macchiato I had had in Germany, so I chose to go back to the hotel for coffee instead of staying in town. Then I was delayed by changing rooms. A fellow guest thought that lieu of coffee he could get a beer in the cheaper restaurant, but that was closed too. Most of the places I stay only serve breakfast, but if I am paying five star prices I expect five star facilities. The only question is whether my TA review will one or two stars.

BTW, WTB, my T-Mobile service has been fine, except for the last two days in Berlin! it worked when I first got to Berlin, it worked after I arrived in Bremen, but for those two days, nada. Bizarre!
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 12:58 PM
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THE debate? Don't think so. Still mentally in UK where I am glued to the Jeremy Corbyn saga. Have even rejoined the Labour Party so as to be able to vote.
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