Prague Berlin Trip Report

Dec 3rd, 2006, 06:14 PM
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Prague Berlin Trip Report

Hi, Everybody. We returned from our short trip to Prague and Berlin Thursday night (Nov. 30). We left on KLM from Washington DC (IAD) Wednesday evening, Nov. 22. Changed planes in Amsterdam (Czech Air) and landed in Prague around 11 AM Nov. 23. Left Prague around 2:30 PM on Sunday Nov. 26, arriving at our hotel in Berlin at just before 7:00 PM. There were 4 of us, two couples, traveling together.

No major hitches on the trip--weather was better than we had prepared for. Highs in the upper 40s and low 50s. A few scattered showers the day we arrived in Prague, and a couple of hours of misty rain in Potsdam on our last full day in Berlin. Other than that, clear and cool, but not cold. Lucky.

Washington Dulles was a piece of cake--10 minutes to check in and another 10 minutes thru security. Had plenty of time to kill in the airport.

Flight to Prague via Amsterdam was fine. I lost 50 pounds last year, and that has made flying much easier. Having the personal entertainment center with plenty of movies and features to choose from makes the flight go really quickly for me. The planes were almost full, but there were a few empty seats scattered about.

No problems in AMS--landed 40 minutes early. The Czech Air flight was a few minutes late taking off because they couldn't couldn't get the boarding tube-thingy to work, but they made up the time in the air.

We had a bit of concern at the airport when we couldn't find the driver our hotel had arranged for us--turns out he was holding a sign with my first name instead of last name. (My real name is NOT Rufus T. Firefly). Pleasant drive from the airport to our hotel (20 euro plus a 2 euro tip). Driver said people are unhappy with the political situation in the Republic (sounds familiar to me). He also doesn't like all the cobblestone streets--he has to spend a lot on car maintenance and repairs. He thinks they should keep a small area of cobblestones in the middle of the city for the tourists and cover the rest (the rest of the cobblestones, not the tourists).

We stayed at the Bellagio Hotel in the old Jewish neighborhood. 5 minutes walk to the old town square--but out of all the hustle, bustle, and traffic. It is a nice hotel, and we all enjoyed our stay there. 4 stars. We normally stay in B&Bs or pensions, but because it's the off season we got pretty good deals on the hotels (about $120 a night in Prague with breakfast buffet; same in Berlin without the buffet).

Rooms were roomy--it's in an old building that they pretty much gutted, but there is some variation in room configurations. The two rooms our party had were about the same size in total, but the other couple had a larger bathroom, while we had more room in our sleeping/sitting areas.

All modern inside--bath had shower/tub with handheld sprayer that you could also hang up like a regular shower (and a shower curtain!); toilet that actually flushed well; bidet; and a nice sink. Big mirror. Nice big bed (two beds pushed together, but they were bigger than regular single beds); 2 comfy chairs; an ottoman; desk; cable TV; a couple of tables; plenty of space for clothing. View of an old church out of the double windows that opened--windows blocked out noise very well. Lots of lights around the room. You do have to insert the room card in a slot by the door to use the lights.

Hotel staff are friendly and capable--and they speak English well enough. I had asked to have a bowl of fruit and bottle of iced Bohemia Sekt in each room on arrival. All was done beautifully. The sparkling wine made a nice start to our Prague adventures, and helped energize us for that afternoon.

We had our wine, freshened up, and decided to make an orientation stroll to the Charles Bridge. When we stepped out the door I knew something was wrong--I was totally turned around and misoriented.

It turns out that a map I had printed off the internet and had been studying for a couple of weeks had the hotel on the wrong side of the street. Everything was backwards for me--I had the images of what should be where so well implanted in my brain that I remained misoriented in terms of the hotel for the entire time we were in Prague. I was OK as long as I wasn't just leaving the hotel or trying to get back to it--so I just followed someone else when leaving or returning to the hotel.

Prague is a beautiful city. We really enjoyed our stroll to the Charles Bridge--the architecture is wonderful and it's an easy city to walk (thought the cobblestones can be hard on the feet). We decided to walk along the river to the bridge instead of cutting through the old town square. It was cloudy and showers came and went, but not enough to cause any problems.

The Prague Castle complex is quite a sight from across the river. And the Charles Bridge is interesting--we were surprised at how many visitors were in the city at the end of November. At times the Charles Bridge and the other better known locations were pretty crowded; it must be a real madhouse in the summer. We walked over the bridge taking lots of photos; rubbing statues for luck; observing the various begging styles/schemes; usual tourist stuff. But I can't emphasize enough how impressive and lovely everything was on that misty afternoon.

We decided to head back to the hotel thru the old town square, and find a place to eat on the way. I'm an advocate of getting off the beaten path to find good and interesting places to eat. However, we hadn't had anything to eat except airline food that day, and I was outvoted.

So we stopped just off the main drag (Karlov) not far from the bridge headed towards the old town square--it was a pub/restaurant near a seafood place called Restaurant Reykjavik--sorry I didn't get the name of our place, but I am pretty sure the street was Liliova. We all had some beers (Krusovice, dark and light varieties. Tasty.)--dined on: beef gulash/dumplings; chicken gulash/dumplings; beef steak/fries; and beef with cream sauce/dumplings. Prices were OK for the tourist area, and the food and service were fine as well.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2006, 09:37 PM
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Glad you had a nice trip. As charming as those cobblestones can be, I have to agree with your taxi driver, they got to us after walking all day. They're uneven and hard on our feet but we survived the cobblestones and the overwhelming crowd both times we were there. You had the right idea to go in the off season. Looking forward to your Berlin report.
DAX is offline  
Dec 4th, 2006, 02:16 PM
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RTF I'm enjoying your report, especially since we were in Prague at the exact same time! Yes, we really did luck out with the weather, didn't we ...although this Miami girl was secretly hoping for snow
Nutella is offline  
Dec 4th, 2006, 03:14 PM
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Very nice report, RTF.

We are planning a trip to Prague. How did you like Czech Air? You quoted the price for your driver in euro. Are euro widely accepted? Thanks.

Woody is offline  
Dec 4th, 2006, 05:22 PM
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Hi, Nutella. Maybe we passed one another on Charles Bridge. The city, and especially the castle, are supposed to be especially pretty in the snow.

Woody--Czech Air was OK, but it was a short flight. We were packed in there. Acceptance of the euro depends on the business involved. We used Czech Koruna almost everywhere. Sometimes places will quote a price in Euro, but actually charge in Ks. We checked the exchange rates on such quotes and none of the places we dealt with were trying to pull a fast one.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Dec 5th, 2006, 01:36 PM
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Thanks much, RTF. Guide books can't beat up-to-date information.

Woody is offline  
Dec 8th, 2006, 12:30 PM
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To finish up our first afternoon and evening in Prague (Nov. 23):

We strolled back towards Old Town Square--it was now dark, must have been at least 4:30 PM. Watched the Saints march by at the Astronomical Clock. It was OK, but it doesn't really put on much of a show--worth seeing if you are there on the hour, but I wouldn't stand around for 55 minutes for the next show if I had just missed it.

We had seen Charles Bridge in daylight, so we decided to walk back and see what it looked like lit up a night. And we are glad we did. Not so much for the bridge itself, but the Prague Castle complex looked fabulous all lit up. By this time we were getting tired, so we headed back thru the Old Town Square and to bed.

November 24: Breakfast was included in the room price. The restaurant (not owned by the hotel) is in the basement--nicely decorated. Typical Central European buffet with eggs prepared 3 ways; sausages/bacon; cold cuts; cheeses; yoghurt; French toast (but no maple syrup); potatoes; tomatoes; baked beans; fresh fruit (I remember kiwi, apples, and oranges); breads; sweet rolls; cereals; various beverages, etc. It was tasty and filling.

We try to do "must-sees" as early in a trip as possible, and we had all agreed that Prague Castle was the highest rated must-see. So we bundled up and headed out. Soon we were unbundling as the sun came out--it wasn't tropical, but warm enough that you didn't want to be tromping around with several layers of clothing tightly secured.

The walk to the castle was fairly easy, though once you cross Charles Bridge it's pretty steadily uphill. But we jsut adapted our pace to account for our jetlag and the beers we'd had the night before and were soon in the outer courtyard.

If you don't know much about Prague Castle, you'll note that I keep calling it a "complex." It isn't just a castle sitting on a hill like Burg Eltz or Neuschwanstein. It's a large walled, fortified area containing numerous churches, palaces, government buildings, residences, businesses, etc.

So we bought the "see everything" ticket (which does NOT include St. Vitus Cathedral). If you do get the all-seeing ticket, then you will need several hours to get your money's worth out of it. But we all wanted to see everything, so we spent most of the daylight hours there. I'm not going to describe everything we saw--it's in all the guidebooks. But here are some things that stood out:

The place is huge--have good walking shoes. The varieties of architectural styles as the complex was built up and altered over the centuries are amazing. Mrs. Fly is a huge Kafka groupie, so she was thrilled with Golden Lane (now little tourist-oriented shops) as she could have her photo taken in front of the house where he wrote for a few years. We are glad we rented the audioguides--though they do have to be returned by 4 PM, both they and the tickets to the castle are good for 2 days.

St. Vitus is one of those special churches--it is more than just a Cathedral to the Czechs; it is one of the defining icons of Czech history and culture.

I did walk up the 287 steps of the Cathedral tower. They lie about the steps--there are 287 steps to get to the top of the inside of the tower, but if you want to go around the outside for the views and great pictures, you have to climb 2 more steps, and those last two are killers.

We had a light lunch of some sort of pretty good Czech sausages sold by a vendor inside the castle. The last thing we visited was the Prague Castle Picture Gallery.

All I can say is that we enjoyed visiting every sight included in the ticket, as well as St. Vitus. There are history, architecture, great views of Prague, wonderful mosaics, statuary, art, etc. etc. etc. All in one place. For us the castle did turn out to be a must-see and I recommend it to everyone. If you don't have time to see everything, there are reduced price tickets that are not all-inclusive.

We turned in our audioguides (which were very well done) and I retrieved my driving license (left as security). When we walked to the castle we came across Charles Bridge onto Mosteca Street, then up to Malostanske, and on to the main outer square of the castle via Ke hradu Street from the southwest.

We decided to go the other way on the return, down the steps of Zamecke schody--it was now getting dark (probably 4:30 PM) so lights were making everything quite atmospheric and romantic as our weary legs took us, hooray, downhill. We hung a right at the foot of the street passing St. Nicholas Cathedral and back to Charles Bridge.

We spent quite a while taking night photos of the bridge, the lighted castle, the river, and the pretty little square on Kamapa Island that you can see over the south side of the western end the bridge. Looked very nice with all the trees covered in lights.

Hunger and thirst had overtaken us by this time, so we discussed where to go. We all wanted a traditional Czech pub--my choice was Pivnice U Rudolfina, on Krizonnicka up in the general direction of our hotel, however the other 3 were hungry and wanted something right now, so we headed for another known and still pretty authentic pub nearer Charles Bridge.

Well we got there in about 4 minutes, walked in and were overwhelmed by the thick cigarette smoke--unfortunately, I have asthma, so there was no way we were going to dine there, though it was an interesting place. So I finally got my way (jeez, life would be so much easier if everyone would just do what I want in the first place!).

Off to Pivnice U Rudolfina--it isn't really all that far to walk anywhere in the Old town and we were there in 15 minutes or so including stopping for window shopping and general country hick gawking at things.

We really enjoyed Pivnice U Rudofina. People were smoking, but it wasn't a thick blanket, so no problem. Excellent Pilsner Urquell on tap, food was very good. For about $14 each including tip: 7 beers 1/2 liters, 1 mineral water, and 4 full meals.

The other couple is somewhat younger than Mrs. Fly and myself (about half our age) and they wanted to hit the modern Prague night life. So we all went back to the hotel to rest a while. At around 9 PM they left to hit the Face-to_Face Club, while the Mrs. and I decided to take a random stroll and perhaps have a nightcap somewhere.

We headed south towards Old Town Square and found the little spot that has a strange statue of Kafka sitting on the shoulders of a big guy with no hands or head. Across the way was a likely looking pub called the Kolkovna apparently after the street it's located on.

We went in and liked the feel of the place, but there was no place to sit. We could have gone downstairs to the restaurant, but we wanted someplace where we could see outside. So we left and went in search of another spot.

We walked around for about 20 minutes--saw several nice places but none really hooked us. We found ourselves back in front of the Kolkovna and there was a table right at the window, so back in we went. We had a couple of good unpasturized pilsners on tap and a sampler of Czech pub food--pate, ham, sausages, etc. Mrs. Fly also had the mushroom soup. Both the sampler and the soup were very good.

Walking back to the hotel, we went the long way around the hotel block and came upon a fairly new Korean restaurant just a few doors down the street from the hotel (Mrs. Fly is Korean). It looked good and we chatted with one of the employees for a while. We didn't go back there to eat as we have plenty of good Korean restaurants in the Baltimore/DC area.

OK, tired, leg-weary, foot sore. To bed.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Dec 8th, 2006, 02:44 PM
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Enjoying your report.

Woody is offline  
Dec 8th, 2006, 03:07 PM
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Tagging for the Berlin section. Nice report!
Betsy is offline  
Dec 10th, 2006, 03:19 PM
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I did forget to mention that on the way back to the hotel on our first night, we decided we would like some coffee and something sweet. We stopped at "Coffee Heaven" on Parizska--a Central European chain, but it was pleasant enough, with friendly service. The coffee and pastries were good--paid about $8.50 for 2 coffees and 2 pastries.

November: 25, Saturday.
Had the buffet breakfast. Got a report on some of Prague's nightlife from the youngsters. A place called Face-to-Face had been recommended to them. Ostrov Stvanice 1125 (Island in the middle of the river). That night the crowd seemed to be mostly drunk teens sporting sagging, baggy pants and baseball caps on backwards. This did not appeal, so they went to another recommended club, Mecca. This suited their tastes somewhat better. Though it seemed a bit behind the times, they did meet some interesting people (both Czechs and other tourists) and had a good time.

We walked thru the city to the Powder Tower and Municipal House. It took us a while as this was designated window shopping day. Took quite a few architecture photos. Stores were pretty expensive--which we expected for this area of Prague. But half our party derived enjoyment from looking at shoes, and clothes, and jewelry, and stuff.

Mrs. Fly and I wanted to see the Mucha Museum, but the others were museumed-out after Prague Castle the day before. They went exploring while we enjoyed Mucha's posters and other art works. We paid about $12.50 total for entry and guidesheet. It's a very nice museum if you are at all interested in Art Nouveau. I'm more of a Deco guy, but I must admit the Mucha's works are impressive. Enjoyed it quite a bit.

We had agreed to meet at the Wenceslas Statue at the southern end of Wenceslas Square. That whole area is very touristy now--T-shirt shops, fast food, etc. But given it's place in history and the number of buildings with interesting architecture, it's worth taking a stroll down there.

Everyone was hungry by that time, so we took a few photos and headed up the square (really more of a broad boulevard). Found a Christmas Market around the top of the square and looked around a bit before some in the group started to complain about hunger--there were several touristy looking places there, and I suggested we move on to someplace away from the tourist crowds (though the crowds weren't terrible). Outvoted, we plopped down outdoors at a pizza place with outdoor gas heaters.

It was fine, not too expensive and OK pizza. It filled our bellies well enough. Bruscetta, 2 pizzas, and drinks cost about $30. Not bad for 4 hungry people, but I still think we could have done better if willing to tough it out and explore a bit.

We could not resist the Christmas Market and spent a good amount of time and some money there. It wasn't the greatest, but there were some booths with nice Czech crafts.

We wandered back towards Old Town Square, getting photos of the crowd of tourists at The Clock, and a peek at the Sex Machine Museum along the way. This is one museum that Mrs. Fly vetoed.

We were heading into late afternoon now (sunset at 4 PM), and we wanted to see the Decorative Arts Museum--so we split up again, with the other couple heade to Charles Bridge as they had not seen it and the castle lit up yet. We agreed to meet back at the hotel around 7 to plan dinner.

We really enjoyed the Decorative Arts Museum--at Listopadu 2, across from the Rudolfinum. It has an EXTENSIVE collection of glass, ceramics, porcelain, photography, graphic arts, clocks and watches, clothing/textiles, furniture, metal work, toys, etc. We found it very interesting and spent quite some time inside. Besides the basic collection (thousands of items), they have temporary exhibits as well. We found it well worth our time. I especially enjoyed the clocks and watches--people have been very creative over the centuries with time telling devices.

Note on this museum, when we opened the door there was a very thick curtain covering the entryway--we weren't sure whether it was open or not, but we muddled our way thru the curtain and everything was fine. We figure the curtain is to keep cold air out when someone opens the door.

We took the short walk back to the hotel, getting more ATM cash on the way (we used the Bankomat Czeski Sporitelny on Parizska street near Barock Restaurant and Bilkova street).

We rested a bit, and the 4 of us decided we were too tired to go far for dinner, so we dined at the Isabella, the restaurant in the basement of the hotel--though it is not a part of the hotel. The food was fine, though the waiter did suggest the most expensive menu selections and wines, that's not unusual. I had a very nice seafood pasta dish, and the others enjoyed their meals as well.

However, prices in the final bill did not always match what was on the menu (especially the wines)--and never in our favor--so I cannot in good conscience recommend this restaurant in concern for those of you who might not be interested in having to give your bill an in-depth audit before paying. They also said their computer was down, so we ended up paying cash--OK, but inconvenient. It also made reviewing the handwritten itemized bill more difficult.

Off to bed with aching legs--but anticipating a full morning in the Jewish Quarter and then our trip to Berlin.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Dec 10th, 2006, 05:30 PM
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Really enjoy the level of detail in your report. Thanks for your candor about places like Isabella restaurant.

Woody is offline  
Dec 11th, 2006, 12:18 AM
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Great trip report with fabulous detail Rufus. Keep it coming.
shandy is offline  
Dec 11th, 2006, 02:30 AM
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I read on TA com a post by a Prague local that said Old town square market this year is a lot better than in previous years, gotten rid of a lot of the tourist tat and have better food stands.
kappa is offline  
Dec 11th, 2006, 06:28 AM
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pjsparlor is offline  
Dec 11th, 2006, 06:10 PM
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Up bright and early Sunday morning, Nov. 26. Well, not too early. I took it a little easy on breakfast as my belt was getting a little tight from all the pub food and beers.

Mrs. Fly really enjoys architecture, and wants to see the Dancing House , Fred and Ginger, located at Rašínovo nábøeží 80 (right by the Jiraskuv Bridge). The other couple wants to visit the Decorative Arts Museum based on our experience. So we split up once again.

Mrs. Fly and I head for the tram stop at the intersection of listopadu and parizsa. There's a news kiosk on the corner, and we pay 20Kc each for tickets good for 90 minutes on a non-workday. Tram 17 comes along in a few minutes; we validate our ticket in the machine on the tram; and head south along the river.

The tram takes only a few minutes--and there it is, all curvy and looking like a Salvador Dali creation. We taking snaps of each, when a British couple comes by and offers to take our photo together. So we have a nice shot of ourselves with Fred and Ginger in the background. I offered to take their photo and email it to them, but someone had already done them the favor earlier.

We took some more photos in the area--river, bridge, buildings, little park with statues. Then hopped a tram back north to get the entire group back together at the hotel and then head out to visit the old Jewish cemetary.

Both couples arrived at the hotel within seconds of one another. We had asked if we could check out late as we planned to leave Prague for Berlin at 2 PM. No problem. We paid our hotel bill by credit card--no problems with either the bill or the payment process.
Then off to the Jewish cemetary.

We started off in the wrong line at one of the Synagogues, and ended up walking around the block to the right one. We got tickets to see the cemetary and several buildings, museums, etc., but not the ticket to see EVERYTHING. In the immediate vicinity of the cemetary are the Pinkas and Klausen Synagogues and the Ceremonial Hall. We first went to the cemetary, and it is quite an interesting sight. Gravestones are massed in a relatively small area; leaning at all angles; some have trees that have grown around them with part of the gravestone embedded in them. Not having anyone of the Jewish faith in our group, our guidebook research came in handy to understand about stones and coins being placed on headstones, and written notes being tucked into crevices around others. One of the more interesting graves is that of Rabbi Loew who was involved with the legend of the Golem.

After the cemetary, we went thru the other buildings which function as museums and memorials--all with interesting artifacts of Jewish Prague's daily life and burial practices. The Pinkas Synagogue has a moving memorial to the 80,000 Czech Jews killed by the Nazis--all of the names are written on the walls.

Time was short by the time we finished the cemetary sights. I needed to get some cash for the trip, Mrs. Fly wanted to buy a Prague etching (we get an etching of just about every place we visit)--I had suggested that we visit a couple of nice art stores not far from the hotel the day before, but NOOOOooooooooOOOO, we had to wait around until the last moment.

Outside the cemetary, there are booths selling all sorts of Jewish and Prague items. I found one that sold etchings with a couple I liked of Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge, but Mrs. Fly wasn't sure about them. So off we went to see if we could find the stores near the hotel. Of course we failed miserably as we were rushing around--and I still was turned around couldn't find my way to anything in the vicinity of the hotel.

We ended up at the Spanish Synagogue--I looked longingly at the Kolkovna pub thinking about a nice Pils, but Mrs. Fly brought me back to reality and we entered the Spanish Synagogue gift shop to see if they might have an etching we liked. No etchings, but our other couple showed up, doggedly sightseeing to the end, to take a quick peek at the Synagogue.

With about 20 minutes left until our scheduled 2 PM departure from Prague, Mrs. Fly and I head back to the cemetary area and buy one of the etchings I had found an hour before. Back to the hotel.

I think we were all tired and happy when we got to the hotel right at 2 PM, just as our driver pulled up.

We had debated the pros and cons of train vs. car, and opted for car. Either would have worked, but the car was a little faster when you factor in that they take you portal to portal and you don't have to get cabs or public transportation to and from the stations--and it was November so not a lot of tourist traffic.

Cost was 6000 Czk (about $275), including a tip for the 4 of us. Mike's Chauffeur Service did a great job, with Mike's Uncle Jan doing the driving as Mike had to babysit that did. Uncle Jan is a good driver--felt safe with him. And he and I conversed off and on during the drive so I got some "man on the street" insights concerning Czech history, politics, food, beer, etc.

Portal to portal the drive took 4-1/4 hours. It was interesting to see the countryside and smaller towns and cities. The area around the Czech/German border is very scenic with the mountains, and we had atmospheric fog here and there.

One of the most shocking sights was in the mountains just on the Czech side of the border. As we drove along, Rufus Jr. (the male half of the other couple) said "She probably should close her curtains living that close to the highway or she could cause an accident." I turned my head to see what he was talking about and saw a small house (or large hut) one end of which was all glass. And in the window was a very attractive woman walking around in quite sexy bra, panties, stockings, garter belt, and high heels.

Well, we all thought that a bit odd, but it takes all kinds. Less than a kilometer up the road, one of the ladies says, "Hey, that one has black light." Sure enough another glass wall hut went by--but this one had two scantily clas women posing and exposing their assets, so to speak.

Well, I hadn't done research on Czech highways, and did not realize that there are houses (or huts) of prostitution close to the German border. Germans come across the border for services that are much less expensive than in Germany. We read up on it a bit after we got home, and it seems that a few years ago it was a huge scandal as underage girls (many from states of the former USSR) were being sold into prostitution in the Czech Republic. This sick part of the trade has supposedly been cleaned up, but the Huts of Prostitution are still in business.

Crossing the border was easy--about 4 or 5 cars in front of us. When our turn came, the German border guards took our passports and directed us to pull to the side. I thought they were going to inspect our luggage, but they were stamping our passports and probably checking some sort of list to be sure we weren't criminals or terrorists or Neocon Republicans or something.

We arrived in Berlin after dark (well sunset was at 4 PM). Jan had never been to the Arcotel Velvet on Oranienburger Strasse before, so I read his map printout while he drove, and we got there without a hitch. Overall the drive was easy--no traffic tieups--the slowest part of the trip seemed to be the last few kms after leaving the Autobahn around Berlin and heading into the city. Anyway, we paid Uncle Jan, had handshakes and best wishes all around, and headed into the hotel.

Arcotel Velvet is an interesting place. It was one of several options that I posed to the group, and Mrs. Fly pushed for it because of its somewhat unique architecture and room layout. The next report installment will start with checking in at the Arcotel Velvet (which we enjoyed) and our first night and day in Berlin.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Dec 12th, 2006, 10:07 AM
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<< our guidebook research came in handy to understand about stones and coins being placed on headstones >>

Which guidebook did you find most helpful?

Thanks for a very enjoyable report.

Woody is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 11:02 AM
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Hi, Woody. We are partial to Michelin Green Guides for actual, on-the-spot sightseeing.

As for planning, we also use any other guidebooks and webpages we can find.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 11:33 AM
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Berlin from the evening of Nov. 26 to our flight out the morning of Nov. 30.

Arcotel Velvet is easily recognizable at the top of Oranienburgerstr. just a few steps away from Friedrichstr. The rooms have distinctive ceiling to floor windows. The lobby is pleasant and spacious enough, with a nice size bar on the right as you enter, and the entrance to Lutter & Wegner Restaurant on the left (though the door is not marked as such--there is also a street entrance to the restaurant).

We were greeted politely and warmly by a competent young gentleman manning the desk. I gave him a Guten Abend, and Ich heisse in MY best German as remembered from Gymnasium and Universitat. He assured us in English that all was in good order with our reservation--I guess my accented German sort of gives me away as a non-native speaker. Well, after 1-1/2 years of junior high, 2 years of high school, and 2 years of college German, this was only the 3rd time I'd ever had a chance to use it in the past 35 years. So it's not surprising that my accent is a bit off.

Anyway, our rooms were on the 5th floor, or was it 4th with the ground floor thing? Anyway, we really enjoyed the room design with the outer wall being all window; the open bathroom design (note that the toilet is not part of the open bathroom design--it is in its own room with a door).

Our traveling companions called us up to tell us they thought they had the room for physically special people (I don't know the proper term for this month) as their sink was very long and it would difficult to reach anything.

I had not given them the details of the room layout, but decided we were all too tired to make some sort of protracted joke out of it--so I told them that they should stand at the side of the sink. And if they opened the medicine cabinet door they would find that both sides had a mirror so you could see yourself from any of the 3 sides of the sink.

There was also a full mirror on the shower/sink area wall. We had a shower/tub combo. They had just a shower. All the usual little bottles and packs of stuff were there--shampoo, lotion, cotton swabs, nail file, soap, etc. Some were cutely labeled "I am your soap" and such.

There was a mini-bar stocked with all sorts of booze, wine, beer, snacks--and a music CD you could buy, some sort of cotton gloves, plus "The Male Pill" set with a condom, and some other items that I don't remember.

Flat screen TV, CD player, radio--better lighting than most hotel rooms. Clean and modern. And a great view of the Oranienburgerstrasse pedestrian traffic, restaurants, bars, Imbiss joints (including what the youngsters said is an excellent Donerkabob place).

We were all more hungry than tired, so agreed to freshen up and rest for 45 minutes and then find a place to chow down.

Have to pause for a while. I'll be back with the story of our pleasant first meal and beers in Berlin and my brief encounters with several ladies of the evening.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Dec 15th, 2006, 01:00 PM
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OK, we all met in the lobby--it wasn't too late in the evening yet. Decided we would like a casual German meal--some beer place with schnitzels and wursts would do nicely.

The desk clerk (a different one this time) said there was such a place 2 minutes walk away right where Oranienburgerstr. meets Friedrichstr. Sure enough, just across Friedrichstr. we found the Baeren Schenke--at least that was on a sign at the door; hopefully it's the name of the place.

Looked fairly typical--bar area with several locals drinking beer, chatting, playing cards. Some were smoking, but it wasn't bad. We went thru the bar area to the tables and booths in the back.

Our host (perhaps the owner from the way he presented himself) was attentive. We all ordered beer--a couple of Pilsners, a dark, and an unfiltered wheat beer. Mrs. Fly does not ordinarily drink much beer (or much of anything since that night in 1973 which ended up with us being engaged). All were greatly appreciated.

For dinner I had pork schnitzel stuffed with cheese and ham. It came with brocolli (or broccolli, or broccoli) and very nice new potatoes. Mrs. Fly had beef goulash with fried potatoes and red cabbage. The other couple had Bratwurst/fried spuds/sauerkraut and grilled chicken breast/red cabbage/asparagus.

In addition the ladies ordered salads, which turned out to be very, very large. And there was very good bread. We ended up with coffee--and two of us had desserts. I capped things off with a Schapps. Oh, on the way to dessert we had 4 litres of beer and a bottle of mineral water.

It was all done very nicely--not Michelin star stuff, but delicious, hot comfort food. Total bill with a small tip was 63 euro, or a bit under $21 each.

When it came time to pay the bill, I presented my credit card only to find they do not take same. We only had about 40 euro among us left over from prior trips, so I asked if there was Geld machine nearby. The host indicated that there was one just a bit down Friedrichstr. So I headed out.

Fortunately it was not cold out because I could not find the ATM. However, I remembered that I had seen people at an ATM not far from the hotel on Oranienburgerstr. So I walked back to Ostr. Headed down the street (on the side opposite the hotel) past several nice looking restaurants of various types when a young woman approached me and asked if I would like some company.

Well, if I had been unmarried and a few years younger (well maybe not even a the few years younger), I might have considered it. This woman was an absolute knockout! I'm not going to give a detailed description as, being a married man, I don't really notice such things, but she could have been in Playboy with no problema.

Anyway, I explained that I was with my wife and just needed to get something and meet her (my wife) back at the hotel. The young lady smiled and excused herself politely as she moved back to her "post."

I made it to the ATM. Inserted my card, my PIN, asked for 350 euro (my bank's daily limit is $500), and was promptly rejected. Humph. I was wondering if perhaps the rest of my party might already be washing dishes. I gave it another try--same result.

AHHHHHHHH. If you had been there I'm sure would have seen the cartoon light bulb switch on over my head. I had taken out about $150 worth of Czech currency before we left Prague. DAILY limit. So I adjusted my withdrawal downward and all was well with my wallet.

So I headed back up Ostrasse. After about 1/2 block or so, two attractive young women came up beside me, one on each side (I must have looked especially dapper that evening, or they had just seen me at the ATM).

They were also polite starting with "Hello, Sir." I guess they thought I had been knighted at one time or another. Before I could let them know that I was not interested, the blonde asked if I would like to have their company for the evening, but it had to be both of them as they always work together. The brunette was kneading my upper arm, the blond posed rather provocatively (if you are into that sort of thing) in a wasp-waist cincher garment of some sort.

I quickly blurted out that I was meeting my wife at a restaurant up the street. They protested that they did not believe me, but they did let me move on alone. As I began to stumble, er walk, up the street, the blond murmured, and it really was a murmur, something like "if you are ever in Berlin on business alone we'll be glad to see you again."

Well, that's not likely as I told Mrs. Fly and the other couple the entire story when I got back to the restaurant. I doubt that I'll ever be allowed to go anywhere by myself in this lifetime.

So--good beer, good companions, good food, and an interesting street experience on the first night in Berlin.

We all returned to the hotel for a good night's sleep. As to the hotel again, I can report that the water pressure was excellent, there was plenty of hot water, the beds were comfortable (we like them firm), and the wall-to-ceiling windows did set a mood that was interesting. A diaphanous curtain separates the sink and bath area from the rest of the room. And there are 2 internet-capable PCs at the side of the bar area in the lobby. Also the bartender on duty while we were there mixed a pretty decent Manhattan.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Dec 19th, 2006, 09:52 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
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Berlin, Monday, Nov. 27, 2006.

We had a good night's sleep and woke up a little late in the morning. We are not big breakfast eaters, so we passed on the nice, hotel buffet breakfast at Lutter & Wegner.

We went next door to Ambulance, a friendly little place with comfy chairs and ottomans--4 or 5 tables as I remember. They have many varieties of coffee, fruit drinks, cookies, pastries, etc. Several vegetarian and "organic" choices (e.g., soy milk). For 2 croissants with jelly and cream cheese, a blueberry muffin, capuccino, and a fruit power drink we paid 10 euro including a small tip.

Once our little group got together, we strolled down Friedrichstrasse to Unter den Linden and on to the Brandenburg Gate. I had read about New Berlin Tours free, 3-1/2 hour walking tour that begins at 11 AM daily outside Starbucks near the Brandenburg. It was nearing 11, so we decided to check it out.

We were impressed by the guides who showed up just before 11 (they wear red shirts to be easily recognizable), so we decided to join the walk--if it didn't turn out to be very good, we could leave the group at any time.

Turns out it was excellent. Our guide was a historian originally from New Zealand who came to Berlin to study and ended up staying. The tour covered the biggies like • The Brandenburg Gate
• The Reichstag
• Hitler’s bunker site
• The new Holocaust Memorial
• Potsdamer Platz
• The Berlin Wall
• Checkpoint Charlie
• Museum Island
• The former SS Headquarters
and much more. Our guide was entertaining, informative, and open to questions. He had a lot of historical tidbits that added a lot to our understanding of Berlin's history and culture. His rendition of how the Berlin Wall came down when it did was one highlight of the tour. We enjoyed the entire tour, but highlights included the new Holocaust Memorial; Bibelplatz bookburning site and memorials.
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