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Trip report: Amsterdam, Munich, Salzburg, Prague, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Bonn and back to Amsterdam

Trip report: Amsterdam, Munich, Salzburg, Prague, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Bonn and back to Amsterdam

Old Dec 31st, 2005, 04:02 PM
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Trip report: Amsterdam, Munich, Salzburg, Prague, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Bonn and back to Amsterdam

One day in early November I was thinking about my holiday plans while I was watching the Amazing Race. Not the smartest move on my part. I thought to myself I could do that. How hard could that be?

I travel throughout the states for a living, so I am used to staying at 5 star hotels with a limo or car service picking ushering me wherever I needed to go, my travel plans arranged with a phone call.

I wanted to do something different, something outside my comfort zone. I wanted to rough it. I was going to travel alone and use this time to have my mid life crisis. So I thought 14 Days in Europe via the train system, staying at budget hotels and even a hostel here and there.

I did a luxury trip to Paris earlier this year so I thought I should keep the trip to about 2300 US dollars. I had no idea where to start so I went to my preferred airlines website and started entering in different cities all over Europe and I got a hit Newark to Amsterdam $340.00. I figured itís a great place to start my race.

The only problem with this idea was that I didnít have a backpack and I had never backpacked in my life, so I logged onto Fodorís and starting posting questions. Since I was on a budget I created an EBAY account and started to bid on a backpack. I won a Dana Design Far Flung Bag for $40. I thought I was all set. The bag came and it smelled like the owner smoked two packs a day. This was not going to work.

So I went shopping at the local yuppie / Gen X sporting goods store Paragan. For those of you in the NYC area you know I really lostmymind when I entered the store. 2 hours later and $600+ later I had a brand new Kelty Red Cloud bag, stuff sacks, compression bags, bag locks, hand warmers, a down coat, and one pair of Northface all weather pants. I soon realized that rough it takes a lot of cash.

When I got home I wanted to do a dry run with all my stuff in my bag, so I packed it up and walked down 7th ave. This was a big wake up for me; the bag was way too heavy. I lighted the load. It now contained 2 pairs of pants, one all weather pants, 2 fleece sweaters, 6 each of underwear and socks, 2 long underwear, 4 long sleeve thermal shirts, 12 protein bars, travel journal, chapters from several travel books, chargers, various toiletries and my PSP (playstation portable). The bag was still stuffed but I could carry it for a long period of time.
I did not want to check the bag, but when it was packed, with all the buckles and straps it looked huge, so I took a very light weight duffle bag and used it to hold the back pack so it would cause concern from the flight staff. This tactic worked really well because it compressed the bag further and kept the straps from hanging lose. (This was also a key item when I checked the bag coming home the ticket clerk was relieved when I slipped the backpack into the duffle bag, she didnít want to check it with the straps hanging)

Since I was going to the airport directly from the office I had to take my bag to work. I left a little later then usual since I didnít want to encounter a crowd on the PATH. I did well and I didnít tip over, which was a huge concern of mine. (The trip to work only takes 15 minutes one train 3 stops)

It was 4:00 and time to get to the airport, I had a choice, take car service to the airport (ten minute ride) or start this trip off right and take public transportation. I went with the public transportation, which consisted of three trains and a short walk. When I finally checked in, I was exhausted already and I was rethinking this whole backpacking thing.

My flight was three hours delayed and fully booked, but we finally made it to Amsterdam! I grabbed my bag and off I went.

I had posted questions on Fodorís on how to get to town. Someone had suggested Connexxion, a bus that goes to the major hotels, other suggested that I just go downstairs to the train and take it to Central Station. I went with the train.

I had a fist full of Euros from my trip to Paris so I was ready to purchase my tickets, but I couldnít understand the machines, I donít read Dutch. I was getting nervous, but then I saw the ticket counter and the clerk spoke English! The cost of the train is 3.40 Euros.

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Old Dec 31st, 2005, 04:07 PM
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Now it was time to find my hotel, I had did a little research and I made a deal with myself that I was not going to pay more then 80 Euros for a room. In Amsterdam this was a 2 to 3 star hotel. I picked Hotel Telminus (70 Euros), three blocks from the station and right outside the red light district. I checked in, was shocked by what a single room really means, sucked it up and headed back out. I was on a race and had to see everything.

It was 10:00 and I didnít sleep on the plane but I was too excited, so I hit the road. I had my list of must see places for day one: The Anne Frank house, Rembradt House, Flower District, Sex museum, and the red light district. All worth going to. I walked into my first Christmas market of my trip and enjoyed a waffle and cotton candy. I had an 8 Euro dinner at pizza place. This included salad, pasta and a coke light.

My mistake was to hit the red light district after dark and when I was tired and cranky. I got really lost and was really upset that every where I turned was a window with a girl in it.

So my initial reaction to Amsterdam was not a good one, in fact I was so upset I decided that I would leave Amsterdam the very next day and head to Munich!

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Old Jan 1st, 2006, 06:53 AM
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Just curious--did you know what a Red Light District is before you went there? If so, why were you upset?
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Old Jan 1st, 2006, 02:44 PM
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Keep writing! I'm right there with you. CJ
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Old Jan 1st, 2006, 02:48 PM
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Can't wait for the next installment. I've often thought I couldn't travel like Amazing Race because I just don't have that kind of energy.
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Old Jan 1st, 2006, 03:06 PM
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OK, I'm hooked! Ready for your next installment. Very interesting to change you travel style....Hard for me to imagine being that random, but hope it worked well??
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Old Jan 1st, 2006, 03:41 PM
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Oh yes, I want more. I hope you changed your mind about Amsterdam as it is one of my favorite cities. There is much more to see than the Red Light District!
Diane
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Old Jan 3rd, 2006, 07:41 PM
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Sorry for the delay, I had to fly to San Francisco at the last minute. now that i am settled and i am over the jet leg, i can think clearly again. Ok i was off to Munich!

I went to the train station in the morning to book the train, it was very efficent you took a number and waited in the chairs to the side, they spoke english and explained to me that I could book a sleep that was a classified as women only. so i booked a double and set off to get some snacks for this evening journey.

The main grocery store's name in Amsterdam escapes me but i think it begins with Albert..The great thing is that they have these snack size bags of fruits and veggies, cut apples and pears, grapes and peeled carrots, very cool.

Since i was well rested i was able to really enjoy Amsterdam i rented a bike and enjoyed the other side of the city.
I checked out of the hotel and and made my way to the train. At the station there were plenty of backpackers getting on the road as well. The train was on time of course the very helpful conductor help me find my cabin and informed me i would most likely be alone. That was great news because the cabin was 8 x4 and i couldnt image another soul in there!
I woke around 3 am when a family of three was trying to get into the cabin next to me. I dont know how they did it but they did.

The conductor knocked on my door at 7 to tell me we will be arriving in Munich in 30 minutes.
The Munich station was amazing very cool and historic. I rented a locker for 4 euros and set out to find a hotel room. The lockers were huge i met a pair of girls from the mid west putting a very large hard sided bag into a locker.

As soon as i walked outside i saw the easyinternet cafe and updated my blog. I then took a walk to see where all the the hotels were. I found one that looked clean and I walked in and asked what the rates were, they had a room for 70 euro and it was available now at 9 in the morning. i paid and ran and got my bag. The room was great a very nice size with a huge bathroom. I was very happy!
I took a quick shower and set off to find the christmas markets, I found one and noticed a crowd gathering. i asked a couple who had an American flag on their bag what was going on and they said it was a tour to Dachau for 30 Euros. I pulled our my money and paid the leader.

The weather was very cold and it was snowing, the tour guide said that we were going to trace the victoms steps and walk to the camp from the train,
it was about 2 miles. it was very hard to enter the camp you could feel the pain right away. For some reason I kept touching the walls. I wanted to feel and to touch what i could. The tour lasted 5 hours.

I was spent. I went back to the hotel and napped.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2006, 08:23 PM
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I really enjoyed the christmas markets, these were different than the ones in amsterdam. More families, gallons of mulled wine and a lot fun! I bought this great hat with floppy ears 30 euros, the best purchase of my entire journey! It kept me so warm.

I grabbed some dinner at pizza hut where to my amazement they put corn on my pizza, but it was cheap, 8 euros including my coke light! During the day i must have eaten a dozen soft pretzels, ok maybe two but they were so good and cost only one euro!

I went back to the internet cafe and checked the train schedule, i wanted to go Salzburg, Austria. There were many trains so i decided that i would take one around 9.

The next morning I was on the train again speeding to Austria, I had my WOW moment looking at the mountains.

The station looked a little shady so i carried my bag and set out to find a hotel.

I found a great best western with a room for 70 euro. This was the best hotel room yet. Very clean and a great size. The bath had only a shower but it was still a great size. They also had free internet access and a very large breakfast buffet.
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Old Jan 4th, 2006, 08:30 AM
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What a brave concept of travelling. I am enjoying your report tremendously.
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Old Jan 4th, 2006, 09:42 AM
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Nice report - looking foward to more.
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Old Jan 4th, 2006, 07:53 PM
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So I dropped my bags, put on the all weather pants, my boots and the big brown fuzzy hat that I bought in Munich. I also put hand warmers in my gloves shoved a protein bar in my pocket, and grabbed a map from the front desk and I was off. It was a ten minute walk from the hotel to the old town, but what a great walk it was, the surrounding mountains was amazing, I really looked like a tourist looking up and saying wow every few yards.

I found a tour that lasted 1 hour and would give me a good idea of how the town was laid out and would point out some important spots that I may miss on my own. The tour was 20 euro and started in 5 minutes.

Basically the tour bus was a small mini van that held 6 people, the five others were German so the tour guide did the tour in both English and German.

He took us around the town and then to the sound of music house, Mozartís place of birth and pointed out some great things, but I felt I was not getting the full effect so I asked him to stop the van and I got out.

You have to cross a bridge to get to the old town but just standing there at the foot of the bridge I was amazed, words canít describe it. (I have pictures in my blog http://whereintheworldisalex.blogspot.com/)

I walk slowly through the small streets taking in everything, then I stumbled into another Christmas market. This one was even bigger than Munich and there were people singing and dancing.

As I was snapping photos I notice tracks going up the side of the mountain. I found out they go up to a fortress. I had my morning plans! I was now looking for dinner. Not being a fan or pork or beef, this has been a challenge to find a good dinner, but I did find a pasta place where dinner cost about 12 euroís. I got back to the hotel and I met a gentleman from the US who has been on the road for two months and he mention that he was done with Salzburg and was on his way to Innsbrook. Maybe thatís next I thought to myself.

I was out of the hotel at 8:00 and headed back to the old town and took the tram up, it cost 9 euroís and took 8 minutes to get up there, but once I was there WOW I was in awe again!

I went back down and made it back to the hotel for check out. I packed up and made it to the train by 1:00. Here was the big decision, Innsbrook, Vienna, Prague via Munich? Where do I go?


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Old Jan 4th, 2006, 08:25 PM
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Prague it is! ok the plan was to get back to Munich and buy an overnight ticket to Prague.

When i got to Munich I put my bag in a locker then went to the ticket office. I wanted to buy a 1st class ticket sleeper to Prague since i wouldnt need a hotel for the night. Also i had heard some bad stories about the overnight train so i wanted be safe.

When i requested the ticket I was told I could not buy the ticket because i could not reserve the same day internation seat. I had to buy a regular 2nd class ticket. Oh no!!!

Well when the train pulled in I bribed the conductor to give me a sleeper and to look after me.

It was a Czech train much older than the German train, but i happy to see that the sleepers were much bigger than the german train!

Around 3am i heard some loud noises outside my sleeper and I was scared at first but it was passport control! Yes i have another stamp. (the countries within the European union dont stamp if you travel by train)
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Old Jan 5th, 2006, 02:02 PM
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I arrived in Prague or Praha, the station was very shady and a little scary. I made my way to the outside and looked around. My first impression was "this is it?? whats everyone raving about?"
I started walking down the first street I could find, i walk for about 10 minutes until i saw the light at the end of the tunnel!! a Marriott!!
I fought with myself for a few minutes and I said what the heck I could break my rule for only two nights, i was tired and I really wanted a hot bath.
I am a platium member of marriott so i knew they would have a room for me. So I stumbled in backpack and all, pulled out the card and within 10 minutes a hot bath!
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Old Jan 5th, 2006, 03:09 PM
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This is GREAT. I am now longing to do something similar. We too have the Kelty bag and we carry it to Europe with us religiously. Hubby carries it on his back and wheels a small carry-on size suitcase, while I carry a daypack and the duffel with our toiletries. Works great for us!
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Old Jan 5th, 2006, 07:20 PM
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After selling my soul to chain hotels, I was ready to explore the city. I asked the front desk where is it that everyone goes in this town and she gave me directions.

Keep in mind I was not planing on going to Prague and had no books or language guides and no clue.

I made it to the town and I was looking for the Charles river bridge. But since i have no sense of direction, I got really really lost. As you may have guessed no one spoke english and I was starting to panic, almost to the point of tears. But i laid out the map and got my barrings and i was actually just a few blocks away.

The bridge of course was amazing and the view stunning, everything about it was great. I was on my toes because people warned me of pick pockets on the bridge.

I had decided that i would not cross the bridge until tomorrow. I set out for some food. I found this great italian place which was located in the basement of a great old building and i had the most amazing meal of my trip. Total cost 500 czech dollars. I have no clue what that was equal to.

I spent the night walking the city taking photos, until i go it into my head that i wanted a tripod to really catch the night lights. So i added that to my list of things to do tomorrow.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 06:57 AM
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Thanks for a fun trip report to read, keep it coming. Your panic situations carry the Amazing Race element. I had a similar feeling getting lost in Praha. The Albert Heijn supemarket is a nice travel tip for Holland.
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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 01:50 PM
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I walked out of the hotel before 8am which is before it really gets light out, but I was on the move, I had a mission. I was going to cross the bridge and make it up to the castle, before noon.

When I got to the bridge it was already crowded with tourist everywhere. I snapped some more photos and made it to the other side, once again I had no idea where I was going I just knew it was up so I start walking up a street that was headed uphill, there I noticed stairs. I do mean a lot of stairs, a few hundred. I looked for alternate means of getting up there but I figure just do it, so up I went. I was doing ok until this grandmother type passed me on the 6th flight. But I made it to the top, and I was rewarded with the greatest view.

I toured the castle and the church, tip you canít take pictures in the church until you pay a fee. So I did and snapped some more. We donít have sights like this in NYC.

The walk down was a lot easier then the walk up, once back over the bridge I made my way to the oldest synagogue in Europe and the Jewish museum. It was amazing how long it survived. This took the rest of the afternoon. I also made it a mission to find a tripod for my big ole camera, I knew this wasnít the wisest thing to do, carry one more thing but you will soon find out that a tripod has more then one use.

So I have this tripod, and I setting up all over the old city snapping the blue Christmas tree, snapping the bridge. I tired myself out and it was time to get back to the hotel. I stopped at the hotel bar and checked out the bartenders skill in making mai tias, which was pretty good. I had two and then it was off to bed, tomorrow was back Germany, Berlin to be exact!

I had no idea what tomorrow was going to bring, but lets just say I was very handy with swinging a tripod!


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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 03:45 PM
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Great report!! Can't wait for the next installment.

I was in Prague for a week this summer with a friend. We were always getting temporarily lost. What a fun city.

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Old Jan 6th, 2006, 07:00 PM
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Once again I was out of the hotel before 8am, I had a plan. Since I knew that the station was a bit scary and I had no clue how to read Czech, I enlisted the front desk of my hotel to help me out.

I was going to get my ticket for Berlin, then come back to hotel so I didnít look so touristy. I printed out the schedule for the train and I had the front desk clerk write out several things for me.
ďOne ticket to Berlin pleaseĒ
ďhow much?Ē
ďwhich trackĒ

The only problem with this plan was I didnít have a clue how to read and pronounce what she wrote for me. So when I got to the station, which by the way is no less scarier in the morning, I went to the first window and handed the ticket clerk the paper she looked at me and laughed. But she did print me a ticket to Berlin and took my money.

The only thing was the time on the ticket was wrong according to the schedule I had. All the way back to the hotel I worked myself into a panic the times were 10 minutes apart. The thing that scared was, I didnít want to be on the slowest train of the day the schedule that I had, get me to Berlin in a short amount of time.

When I got back to the hotel I talked to the helpful clerk and told her my confusion and she explained to me that there were two stations in Prague and my schedule was for the lesser known one. Ok that made sense.

I had my backpack on and my tripod in hand, I set out for the station which was a ten minute walk from the hotel, the doorman offered the hotel car for me but I said no thank you I had enough pampering.

When I got to the station there were tons of people there and I couldnít find the track I needed to be at. When I went to a window, there was a sign ďno English hereĒ. I tried another window but more of the same. I went upstairs the at the window a women pointed for me to go down to speak English.

Everywhere I looked there was what someone trying to find direction and no one spoke the same language. Very scary.

I moved myself to corner just to get ahold of myself, when a guy came very close to me I stepped back and his friend was pulling on my backpack which was causing me to lose my balance, I looked up and it looked like there were 4 of them in all. I guess they thought I was an easy mark, in the corner lost and all by myself, but they didnít know I was from NYC and I had a very dangerous tripod in my hand. I had nothing to lose but to start swinging. So I did, I hit two in the arm, turned and pushed the one that was pulling my bag. It was on, I unbuckled the back and let it drop to the floor and I said I am ready, go ahead.

They didnít expect that, and they stepped away, I tried to get the bag back on, but I was shaking and a little old lady around 90 helped me get my bag back on.

I found my track but there was two trains on it, one on the left and one on the right. I took my chance and ended up in Berlin and not Warsaw.
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