Wednesday, June 27, 2012

TallyHo Traveller's Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 -- Day Four

Wednesday the 4th of April found us rising early for another ample Hotel-Pension Kassandra breakfast buffet. After the meal Randy and Kaitlin headed to the Europa Center in a moderate rain to collect our rental car while I reluctantly checked out of the hotel. After a 30 minute wait, a rental Mercedes B Class showed up at the hotel where we quickly loaded our luggage and started on the road trip to Lisse, Netherlands for tulip viewing. After a couple of wrong turns, we finally got onto the autobahn in the direction of Hanover, driving through less and less rain the farther we traveled to the west. Once out of Berlin proper our son, Chris, deciphered the GPS navigation system (christened Vanessa by daughter Kaitlin) and set coordinates for our lunchtime diversion (and special surprise for Nana), Schloss (Castle) Marienburg, located about 45 minutes south of Hanover. Vanessa’s directions led us directly to the Schloss Marienburg parking area around noon, where we promptly located a great parking spot.

We stretched our legs as we gazed at the impressive castle grounds perched on a wooded hill ahead of us. Arriving at the expansive castle entrance gate, we turned left into the gift shop to purchase tickets (7 euro per adult) for the 2 PM tour of the castle interior; that left us ample time to relax and enjoy lunch at the onsite castle restaurant. The restaurant wait staff was friendly, as well as efficient, and our lunch of beef veggie soup, duck soup and lamb goulash was excellent (in addition to being very reasonably priced). A cool wind started to blow into the inner castle courtyard after lunch; time for the tour to begin! Our tour guide led the group into the antechamber and closed the door on the cool wind to begin the tour (no photos allowed!). Since the tour was delivered in German, Nana had elected to use the free audio tape available in English to more fully understand the spoken portion of the tour. The winding staircase to nowhere was a memorable part of the interior tour as well as the huge iron and copper pots in the fully stocked basement kitchen, library with ornate reading table and central heating grates and personal chapel with pews specifically reserved for the king and queen (AND the enormous pipe organ directly above the royal pews!).

An hour later we were back outside in the cold -- time to head back to the Autobahn and onto the Netherlands. Randy enjoyed driving the sections of the roadway where there were no posted speed limits (reaching speeds up to 160 KPH at times)! Traffic moved quite well until about 35 km east of Amsterdam. A couple of slowdown areas due to heavier traffic at rush hour and then we were back up to the posted speed (no tickets, no harm, no foul), where there was one – some areas did not have a speed limit posted.

Along the way as we inched closer to the Germany/Netherland border, those of us awake spied an old fashioned windmill – how pretty and picturesque -- Hello Holland! Kaitlin remarked that she loved her initial impression of the Netherlands – lots of green grass with horses in every pasture, it seemed, and colorful flower fields! We were getting closer to our lodging “home” for the next two days once we exited off the A44 heading for Sonnenheim. Vanessa’s directions for traveling through the numerous roundabouts (5, we counted!) were outstanding although there was some confusion at one of the roundabouts. Once that issue was resolved we decided that roundabout travel was a fun game of chicken, Holland style, when entering a roundabout. Docked along the canals next to the road were small boats of various types, some apparently used as homes, since lights emanated from their curtained windows in the early evening light.

Around 7:30 PM we arrived at our new lodging for the next 2 nights, the NH Leeuwenhorst Hotel and Conference Center. Check-in at the Reception desk was very friendly, efficient and in English! Our desk person even made same night dinner reservations for the onsite restaurant to complete the check-in process. Randy parked the Mercedes in the hotel parking garage, after we unloaded our baggage, and was back at the lobby within a few minutes. From there we proceeded to our elevator and the first floor where we were assigned 3 adjoining rooms. Since dinner reservations were not until 8:15 PM, we had plenty of time to look over our respective rooms, unpack and cruise the lobby gift shop. Dinner at the Sabre restaurant, included in our hotel package, was a pre-selected 3 course meal of 2 appetizer choices, 2 entrĂ©e choices and 2 dessert choices. My choice of venison carpaccio app, steak with mushroom sauce and chocolate mousse met with a mixed review. The appetizer was very memorable as was the dessert but the steak was a little overcooked from the medium that was ordered. I should have opted for the prawns and cod that the others had ordered and raved about. Such is life! The food in general was very good but the service was exceedingly slow – over 2 hours for a 3 course “fix pris” meal. I finally had to flag down another waiter to request the dinner check – not what I needed at 10:30 PM after a very long but enjoyable day of travel. Ending the evening in our nicely furnished rooms was a positive note – each room was furnished in soothing neutral tones with accents of burgundy red, complete with modern flatscreen TVs (English speaking channels included CNN and BBC), choice of pillow types, in room tea and both a soaking tub and separate shower in the en suite bathrooms. Sleep came quickly that evening, dreaming of the eventful day to come.

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