Wednesday, June 27, 2012

TallyHo-Traveller’s Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 - Final Day Twelve

Wake up Thursday the 12th to a full travel day back to the US! We had yet another efficient checkout of the Holiday Inn Mitte. After deciding the evening before to use a taxi to return to the airport because of the amount of luggage we were bringing back, the front desk promptly handled our request for a large taxi. Within minutes the auto arrived with enough room for 5 people and all our luggage – all this for less than 20 euros! What a deal!

Since the check in process for BA did not start until 90 minutes prior to departure, we stopped at the airport coffee shop Wien for juice, cappuccino and the biggest slice of cheesecake ever! Finally we said our goodbyes to Kaitlin and checked in, quickly went through Passport Control and Security (all the same queue) and after a short wait, boarded the plane.

An hour and a half later the plane landed at London Heathrow and, having eaten a smaller breakfast while approaching lunchtime, we opted to dine at Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food. Chris and I loved the beef carpaccio appetizer! While the fishcakes others ate were a little dry (Shame, Gordon!), the banana toffee pudding was fantastic. Not a cheap lunch, but a great location for watching planes take off and taxi to their respective gates!

After lunch, a final cruise of the duty free shops while awaiting the posting of a gate during the 1 and ½ hour delayed BA Flight #991 back to Denver. Finally a gate was posted and we took the underground train to Terminal 5 Concourse C to reach our departure gate. Eventually boarding began and the flight back to home was underway.

The flight crew aboard this plane was very friendly and competent – MUCH better than the other trans-Atlantic flight! I watched the movie, The Iron Lady, while eating a very flavorful dinner that came with complimentary wine and other beverages(when requested). After the dinner trays were removed and the Iron Lady ended, I started to watch War Horse but fell asleep halfway through (probably due to a combination of the previous week’s activity and not feeling well more than the actual movie itself). Upon awakening, I viewed part of the movie Tower Heist prior to a hard landing in Denver, but we brought the RAIN back with us (which we desperately needed)!!

All in all our April gallop through Northern and Central Europe was a fantastically memorable trip and we didn’t get lost once (Thanks to Vanessa)!!

Can’t wait ‘til our next visit…

TallyHo-Traveller’s Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 - Day Eleven

Wednesday, April 4th – our last full day in Berlin! After breakfast Randy and Chris decided to visit the computer gaming museum in the southeast part of the city while we gals went to Ku’damm for some retail therapy. Sitting outside a small Italian coffee shop while Kaitlin savored “the best double chocolate cake in Berlin” we watched the birds at an adjacent outdoor aviary. A large crow entertained us as well by trying to decide which piece of biscotti to steal from the table next to us. After selecting the prized piece, the crow flew off victoriously, leaving the remainder for two sparrows to squabble over, much to our amusement! As we walked around the corner of the mini-shopping area, I spied a Meissen porcelain outlet. A few short minutes of marveling over the various wares (along with sticker shock at the prices) quickly showed me that even the outlet prices were definitely out of my price range. I did, however, take a complimentary Spring catalog as a souvenir.

Onward to H&M (there are ONLY 5 or 6 on the Ku’damm) for more value oriented shopping! I found a gold pleated dress just perfect for special occasions as well as a clearance blouse for springtime wear. Across the street at C&A, another value priced clothing store (as well as a competitor of H&M), Kaitlin and I both found some brightly colored springtime tops. We then popped in briefly at Karstadt to look at certain perfume pricing (and compare to airport duty free shop prices). By then the guys were finished with their museum experience and texted that we would all meet up soon.

We revisited the Irish Pub in the Europa Center for a late lunch – you can’t go wrong with an Irish coffee alongside a toasted ham ‘n cheese sandwich! After lunch it was back to the Ku-damm for more shopping, meeting up with the guys again at the hugely famous (or was it famously huge) department store KaDeWe. Our heads were on swivels as we tried to take in all the wares and activity inside the store’s main sales floor. Then off to the escalators to the 6th floor, home of the only food hall in Europe larger than Harrod’s of London! The cakes and pastries section looked divine and there was even a section of American foods. We laughed at the $8 Poptarts and $11 Quaker Oats Instant oatmeal pricing – one has to REALLY be homesick for the US of A to pay those prices when the German pastries and tortes beckon!! Out of the store we hurried back down the street to the S1 to keep a dinner appointment with yet another set of German cousins.

We arrived at our destination with just a couple of minutes to spare and walked to a small restaurant just outside the train station. Another type of schnitzel for me for our last dinner in Germany! I also tried a hot Gluhwein as an afterdinner balm to soothe my throat and help clear away the sinus congestion – the Gluhwein was very warm but not as sweet as I had imagined, but seemed to work well as a medicinal remedy. Another lovely evening spent with relatives ended too soon with a train ride back our hotel for an early bedtime in anticipation of another early wakeup call then next morning.

TallyHo-Traveller’s Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 - Day Ten

It was now Tuesday morning the 10th, with only 2 full days left to tour the Berlin area – so much to potentially do and so little time. Nana, Kaitlin and Randy chose to get up early and eat over at the nearby Gesundbrunnen shopping center’s bakery. Chris and I breakfasted at the ample buffet provided at our hotel. Since we got up later and the dining area was very busy, we were soon seated at a table with a German family of 3. When the German father asked in halting English if he “could” have some milk for his coffee, his younger,middle school aged daughter teasingly admonished him in German for not saying “may”. All of us sitting at the table had a good chuckle over that (which served as a wonderful conversational ice breaker) and pleasant small talk was made until breakfast was finished and we went our separate ways.

Chris and I met up with the rest of our group and it was decided to take the train north of Berlin to the small town of Sachsenhausen, home to one of the WW II concentration camps. Arriving at the train stop in Sachsenhausen, we saw a large chimney to the west and headed in that direction. An easy 10 minute walk from the train stop, we first came upon a cemetery that contained several mass grave sites. The area was already feeling depressing and solemn. Pushing a button at one of the entrances to the camp unlocked the gate and a feeling of foreboding came over as we proceeded onto the camp grounds. There were disturbing reminders of the horrific acts committed there again and again with the written and video presentations posted around various locations of the camp. Clouds thickened and a light drizzle developed while on the camp grounds which only served to reinforce the gloomy atmosphere. The camp was a depressing and disturbing reminder of the atrocities committed against several nationalities during WW II. Upon leaving the grounds and walking back to the train stop, the clouds cleared and the sun peaked through, lifting our mood once again.

Back to Berlin via the S-bahn and U-Bahn we travelled to the southeast section of Berlin to view what is commonly called “the Castle Bridge”. The Oberbaumbrucke is a beautiful twin spired bridge created with several colors of brickwork. It was especially gorgeous when viewed by the River Spree waterfront. At our vantage point on the riverfront we could see the O2 stadium as well as several riverboats that serve as floating hotels/hostels as well as floating taxis from which to view the marvels of Berlin. Returning to the Holiday Inn Mitte Randy and Kaitlin opted to take the S1 train and watch Berlin’s own soccer team, Herta, play onscreen at the Celtic Cottage pub, while Nana and I took the elevator down to Movie, the hotel restaurant for an early dinner.

After Nana and I toasted the trip with Bailey’s doubles, we reviewed the limited evening menu of the restaurant. Having developed a bit of the sniffles earlier in the day I ordered the house potato soup, which was comfortingly warm but saltier than expected. Nana, on the other hand, ordered the most ample selection on the limited menu – the cold plate! This selection was a HUGE plate of smoked salmon, meats, cheese, crudités and a side of cold schnitzel. Each portion was so large that it took the both of us just to finish the schnitzel. The head waiter was very kind and set the remainder of the plate on a tray so we could take it back to the room for Chris to enjoy. After such a filling meal, an early evening was in order to combat the head congestion and throat tickles that were beginning in earnest. (Oh, in case you were wondering, Herta lost the game by unintentionally shooting a ball into their own goal…OOPS!)

TallyHo-Traveller’s Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 - Day Nine

Easter Monday, April 9th, dawned with a late wake up call. Downstairs, we checked out the hotel breakfast buffet;it was just as impressive as the previous ones. So much to choose from and very filling. This particular buffet has multiple juice options and over by the juice bar I spied some type of red dessert-like wine. Taking a small glass for all at our table to sample, I was very surprised by the agreeable taste (apparently for Italian breakfast palates) – even Nana said it didn’t taste too bad.

After a very leisurely breakfast we strolled across the small park again to the train station in anticipation of finding a cathedral to view (which was one of Nana’s 2 requested viewings; Schloss Marienburg was the other one). Off the train at Alexanderplatz we viewed a holiday street fair complete with adorable miniature houses and booths (as envisioned in my mind’s eye). We then walked past the famous Fernsehturm TV tower, through a small park and by a huge fountain that included a humongous statue of Neptune (Neptunbrunnen) to St Marienkirche. Inside the church, tall arched ceilings led toward a nave of darker wood carvings topped with a most unusual crown of many antlers. Turning to face the back of the sanctuary, the upper ornately (gold) gilded balcony held the most impressive pipe organ I had ever seen.

West on Karl Lieb Strasse we peeked in at the Berliner Dom, but did not enter since church services were in session. Then we stepped across the street for a photo opp in front of the fountain in the Lustgarten. Still heading west past the Lustgarten, we crossed a bridge over the River Spree (which divides Berlin in half, rather like the River Liffey does in Dublin). We saw another holiday street art fair which we cruised through that contained many interesting styles of paintings, homemade hats, fantastic stained glass pieces (that would not survived transport but I got a business card anyway), murano style old fashioned ink pens and more. I managed to bargain for a funky cat painting on canvas for Chris and a colorful cityscape lithograph for Kaitlin as their Easter gifts/souvenirs.

Winding past the Opera House and through the Humboldt University campus past the Hotel Roma, (loved the Rolls parked in front of the hotel) we made our way to the Gendarmenmarkt plaza and marveled at the architecture of the two churches on the plaza. Just then the camera decided to squirt out of my gloves and land on the concrete sidewalk (Sorry). Checking it over, the camera was still operational, so I dodged a bullet with that mishap since it was not my camera. After looking around the plaza, Kaitlin, Nana and I decided to look in a lace shop just across the street. Inside the shop were many beautiful table items, blouses and ornaments constructed of lace and all made in Germany. The opposite side of the shop housed delicate wood carvings of all types;we debated whether they would survive the return trip to the States. In the end, we opted to buy only a lovely delicate lace table runner, knowing that it would survive the trip back home.
Meeting up with the guys back at the plaza, it was time for lunch.

Walking southwest across the plaza, we spied a chocolate shop that Martin had recommended that displayed massive chocolate sculptures of famous German landmarks in the various windows fronting the street. Knowing we had to go inside after finding a spot for lunch, we walked a few blocks on Mohrenstrasse past Friedrichstrasse and found Izimi, a sushi restaurant. The sushi was very fresh and flavorful, the miso soup quite delightful and the plum wine very potent. The green tea ice cream was appreciated by everyone also.

We then walked back to the chocolate shop, Fassbender and Rausch, and went in. Business was brisk due to the holiday. There was an impressive, intricate display of a large Easter egg just inside the entrance door for all to appreciate, but not eat (or touch as the sign said). Chocolate from every country and in every shape and size was displayed inside this shop. Randy and Nana went to the specialty truffle counter (very long with many different flavor combinations) to select a few pieces. I was presented with a chocolate bunny impulse buy by Randy and Kaitlin after their checkout of some souvenirs. I have yet to find the right occasion in which to first bite its ears off (the only proper way to begin to eat a chocolate Easter bunny) – maybe Mother’s Day (or not). I’ll let you know when it happens, so stay tuned.

Back on the S1 to the Feurbachstrasse area for some down time then on to the Alt Berliner on Ku’damm (there’s another location on Unter den Linden too) for dinner (because sushi is great but doesn’t stick around that long). I started my meal with a Bailey’s coffee and it was just that – more Baileys than coffee – YUM!! Other foods sampled included beef goulash soup (not as peppery as the Angleterre Hotel’s), a flavorful currywurst (Randy’s fave), farmer’s omelette (more potato than egg) and a humongous plate of German style nachos with 3 types of dipping sauces (none of which were guacamole). The nachos had an unusual taste like a lightly fried, puffy Doritos. A leisurely train ride on the S1 after dinner brought us back to the Holiday Inn Mitte and an early night turn in.

TallyHo-Traveller’s Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 - Day Eight

The start of Easter Sunday arrived much too soon even with a late alarm of 8:15 AM. We dressed and met Kaitlin at 9 AM to walk the 4 blocks to the Einstein Cafe for breakfast. Just beating the morning rush of customers, we found a backroom table and enjoyed our light breakfast offerings of fruit, muffins, and cake as well as the mandatory coffee and tea. Since relatively few stores are open on Sunday in Germany we wandered across the street to briefly show Nana the CheckPoint Charlie memorial we had viewed in more depth the previous evening. Walking back to the Angleterre through a growing crowd of tourists I took photos of the hotel façade from across the street. Once inside the hotel, I took the lift (elevator) up to the 7th floor to check out the mini gym and sauna. Discovering both were locked at mid-day on a holiday Sunday I decided to go back and enjoy being in our lovely 2 room suite for a few more minutes before the noon checkout time. Check out was, once again, very friendly and efficient.

Back on the U6 to the S1 train we traveled on to the last hotel on our trip – the Holiday Inn Mitte, just a few short blocks from the Gesundbrunnen train station (Bahnhof).

Well, it’s only a few short blocks to the hotel providing you get off the train and head in the proper direction. As luck would have it, we did not and ended up walking around the long (i.e. scenic route) way to the hotel (Berlin city street maps are always a good idea). We walked through a small park on the way and arrived at the hotel about an hour prior to the published check in time. Luck was partially on our side, as the Reception Desk staff on duty informed us that one of our 2 requested rooms was ready, so we could certainly check in early with that one. We decided to drop off all of our luggage in the readied room and check in to the other once we returned to the hotel after meeting our German cousins.

Taking the train to Bornholmerstrasse in the former East Berlin section wto meet with our cousins at a coffee shop by the name of Elf (translated to “eleven” in English) we arrived just a few minutes before Cousin Martin. We sat in the backroom, anticipating ordering one of the sublime pieces of cake displayed in the front of the café. Various cake slices were eagerly ordered after Martin’s arrival – both Martin and Randy ordered a plum marzipan torte, Kaitlin and Nana had the raspberry torte and I opted for the schokoladen/orangen (chocolate/orange) torte which was heavenly! Chris chose a meat, cheese, fruit platter that was quite substantial (and quite tasty he said). Soon Cousin Kati and their 2 children arrived and introductions were made all around. Soon enough the toddlers became restless and Kati, being the good mother she is, took them across the street to the park while we conversed with Martin. After a couple of hours, naptime for the children beckoned, and we departed the café, but not before Nana and I ordered a couple of cake slices for carry out (I bet you can guess which types we chose) fas a late night dessert. Walking along with the cousins until we reached their apartment building, we bid adieu then walked back to the train station via another Berlin Wall memorial. This memorial commemorated the demise of the Wall and the reintroduction of the East Berliners with their West Berlin brothers and sisters via the bridge that stood immediately before us. A humbling experience and one all should see if given the opportunity.

Back to the Holiday Inn Mitte via train, we arrived just in time to dine at the hotel restaurant, Movie, and enjoy the Sunday Schnitzel Special menu. Eager with anticipation both Randy and I ordered the Wiener schnitzel – would it live up to our schnitzel expectations? Emphatically YES – the schnitzel was extraordinary as was the potato/ham/pickle salad that accompanied it. (Could we please bring the chef back to the States with us?) Nana enjoyed the chicken schnitzel (more like a chicken cordon bleu), Kaitlin savored her schnitzel selection and Chris truly appreciated the non-breaded pork schnitzel with “tasty buttery” potatoes on the side. Add the obligatory Berliner Weisse (red, not green) as the finish to a perfect European Easter Sunday.

After dinner Nana decided on a few short games of FreeCell on her Kindle while the rest of us decided to check out the sauna and observatory on the 6th floor. We discovered a fantastic view of nighttime Berlin from the outdoor portion of the conservatory and definitely sweated off some of the day’s calories in the menthol scented sauna (supposedly 5 minute limit per use which we eventually figured out). Then back to our rooms around 10 PM for much needed showers and sleep.

TallyHo-Traveller’s Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 - Day Seven

We awoke to a 7 AM alarm Saturday the 7th in a Hotel Ibis’ newly refurbished fourth floor triple room. After preparing for the day, we all made our way downstairs to the hotel breakfast buffet. Tasty bread, rolls, pastries, cheese, ham, leberwurst, various herring dishes and an unusual-but-tasty beet salad beckoned as different breakfast options. All the various dishes we tried were very delectable and the coffee and juice were perfect finishing touches to start another very busy day. Our morning check out of the hotel was again very efficient and friendly; a large taxi called by the front desk for us arrived within 5 minutes of the phone call. A short taxi ride to Malmo’s Trianglin train station later, we purchased tickets for the train to CPH which arrived within 1 minute of our arrival to the train platform. Talk about efficient timing (and a little luck!). Alas, we had to be back in Berlin for Easter Sunday, but wished we had planned more time to explore and enjoy the city of Malmo (a great reason for a return future visit!).

Arriving at the Copenhagen airport with time to spare, Nana and I decided to do some window shopping and complimentary food sample tastings. After purchasing some duty free souvenirs (should have bought some of those addictive caramel wafer cookies, darn) we met up with the rest of our traveling party and walked to the gate posted on the Departures board for our return trip to Berlin. Prior to boarding, there were about 10 different newspapers for reading on board our 40 minute SAS flight – I snagged a London newspaper that surprisingly contained a colorful feature article on the flowers blooming in the Netherlands (how appropriate and déjà vu). After deicing the plane (it started to snow on our arrival to CPH) due to the cold and snow, we lifted off into the low clouds. The clouds prevented us from seeing any interesting land sites below until almost time for landing again at Berlin Tegel airport.

Back in Berlin the clouds slowly parted and allowed the sun to shine. The temperature was definitely warmer outside Berlin-Tegel airport waiting for the bus than the start of the day in Malmo! We travelled by bus and train to Fregestrasse, off Feuerbachstrasse S-Bahn station for a short time to regroup and formulate plans for the remainder of the day until check-in time for our next hotel “home”. At a local ReWe supermarket we picked up smore gluten free snacks and a bottle of Easter day wine for our German cousins. Then we walked several blocks down Bundesallee to a gluten free bakery discovered by Kaitlin on a previous weekend jaunt. Debating where to eat a late lunch, we opted for one of Kaitlin’s regular haunts, Café Melanie. Nana and Kaitlin ordered chicken enchiladas, Chris opted for a specialty cheeseburger, sans bun, and Randy and I savored German-style cherry cheese cake (kirsch kase kuchen) and coffee. Being revived by the very good and extremely filling food offerings we slowly made our way via train (how else?!) to the next hotel on our itinerary – the Angleterre Hotel (which I had booked on a whim since we only needed rooms for one night).

Arriving at Friedrichstrasse 31 (does the street name sound familiar?), we walked to the Reception Desk only to learn that since the hotel was fully booked for that night, our 2 standard rooms request had been upgraded to 2 two room queen suites at no extra charge. Happy Easter one day early! Nana decided to R&R in her shared suite while the rest of us walked four blocks to Checkpoint Charlie. While at the site we saw where the Wall had been (I took a photo to commemorate the event) and discussed the information at the Checkpoint Charlie memorial wall. We marveled at the revitalization in the former East Berlin area around us as dusk settled in along with the wind and a light snow. Wandering back to the Angleterre the snow started in earnest due to the increased cold temperatures.

Back at the hotel, Chris picked up a complimentary voucher for free Internet room access at the front desk. Once back in Nana’s suite, we opted to order room service due to the reasonable prices posted on the menu and because we were being wimps, not wanting to venture outside again at night into the cold and snow. Room service was prompt, but there were some issues regarding the gluten free portion of the order. More on that in my upcoming expanded article on the Hotel Angleterre. Finally all ended well with a little patience on our part. Definitely a good night’s rest was enjoyed by all.

TallyHo-Traveller’s Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 - Day Six

Good Friday morning, April 6, found us awake, dressed and checked out of the NH Leeuwenhorst Hotel and Conference Center and on the road to Amsterdam Schiphol airport (AMS) by 7 AM. Chris had preprogrammed Vanessa the prior evening to stop at the closest petrol station to the airport, but forgot to reprogram afterwards so we had to make one U-turn, then followed the road signs to the AMS car rental return area. Arriving there we bade farewell and thanked Vanessa, our GPS unit, for getting us where we needed to be (worth her weight in gold!!) then began the 10 minute walk via moving walkways to the airport check in area. A new and novel experience for all of us was using the moving walkways that were pitched at a very steep incline, both lower and upper, during the walking trip to the AMS main terminal. Arriving so very early to the main terminal we were the first in line waiting for Scandinavia Airways (SAS) check-in to open. The SAS check in process was very prompt,friendly and relatively painless, as was going through airport Security and Customs. The flight from Amsterdam to Copenhagen on a SAS MD-80 was short, but relaxing with plenty of legroom and we were very efficiently served coffee or tea by an all male flight crew. Soon we began our descent over water to Copenhagen International Airport (CPH) which ended in a very smooth landing with a moderate taxi trip to our gate. Directions once inside the CPH airport were well marked, directing us to ticket kiosks for buying train tickets to Malmo, Sweden. We discovered at this point that many credit card transactions in Sweden required use of a credit card PIN number so we opted to buy the train tickets with Kaitlin’s debit card.

The train to Malmo was a short 20 minute ride with very smooth starts and stops by the train operator. Arriving at the Hyllie train stop in Malmo, our Swedish cousin Thomas was waiting to transport us to his home near the sea about 30 minutes southeast of Malmo. Along the way Thomas gave us the scenic tour with ocean views and all. We spent a fun afternoon meeting several of our Swedish cousins and showing them photos of our home in Colorado over coffee and homemade carrot cake with a few other delicacies.

Early evening found us along with our cousins at a small seaside restaurant that had just opened for the season that day. Little did we know that we were in for such an extraordinary Swedish seafood experience – an initial extra special touch provided by the waitstaff, and much appreciated by us, was the printing of an English translation of the Swedish menu. First, out came a complimentary appetizer consisting of a salmon salad on small toasts which was exquisite! Then, an ordered starter of homemade shrimp toast (which I could have gladly lived on forever), followed by a large entrée portion of hot smoked salmon (smoked onsite at the restaurant) made for an unbelievably, exceptional meal. Add to the mix a fantastic visit with the cousins and we didn’t want the evening to end. Sadly about 9:30 that evening the cumulative effect of travel to 3 countries in 1 day plus the satisfying afterglow of such a fantastic dinner gave way to subtle yawns by some. After many hugs and farewells, Thomas delivered us safely to our Malmo hotel, the Ibis Malmo hotel, through a gentle rain and waited until we were completely checked before bidding us goodbye. Thanks again, Thomas, for all you did to make our trip less stressful and a major highlight of our 12 day adventure!

TallyHo-Traveller’s Springtime Gallop Through Northern and Central Europe 2012 - Day Five

The next morning (was it Thursday the 5th of April already?!?) dawned somewhat overcast – perfect for the day of photography that was anticipated. Waking at 7 AM we all ate breakfast at the included breakfast buffet downstairs. We were not expecting anything here to rival the breakfast buffet experience at Hotel-Pension Kassandra in Berlin. We were more than pleasantly surprised! The morning buffet at the Dali restaurant was even MORE extensive than the Kassandra’s –I especially appreciated the coffee machine that brewed everything from regular coffee to café au lait to cappuccinos and expressos – a miracle machine for early mornings! After mentally waking so very enjoyably over the leisurely and ample breakfast it was then off to the Keukenhof Gardens for a day of natural beauty among the famous flowers of the Netherlands.

On the short 10 minute drive to the Gardens (thank you, Vanessa!!) we ooohed and awed over the bright, multi-colored blocks of flowers in the numerous fields we passed by. Just when we thought we couldn’t be more impressed, we pulled into the parking field for Keukenhof. To say that cars were directed to park close together was a bit of an understatement, but just a short walk took us to the entrance gate for the gardens. Arriving just after the park opened for the day we were able to have our prepaid passes scanned at the ticket booth and then we zipped inside, looking forward to an amazing floral experience. After purchasing the Gardens booklet complete with map we chose which direction to wind our way through the various areas of the gardens. The morning started as chilly (9 degrees C) with a light wind, but progressively became warmer with the sun breaking through the clouds by mid-afternoon; it was perfect weather for a long, brisk walk while viewing the various colors and types of flowers in the gardens, complete with Europe’s largest fountain and a 700 tree labyrinth. When the weather started to get to nippy we would duck into one of five different pavilions of floral displays, each with their own distinct floral delights. But more on that subject in another article….

After a delightfully warm and filling lunch onsite of mushroom ragu over puff pastry to ward off the morning chill, Kaitlin, Chris and I shopped for a few postcard souvenirs while Randy and Nana elected to powerwalk the last remaining paths of the Gardens. After meeting near a side entrance, we spent the next hour or so driving around enjoying the vivid fields of blues, reds, purples, yellows, pinks and magentas of the hyacinths, daffodils and tulips already in bloom. Back at the hotel, after taking a short break to update my travel journal, we ventured to the hotel aquatic center. There we discovered a slightly heated indoor pool and a luke warm temperature “hottub” which we stayed in for less than ½ hour. At least the shower was nice and hot (twice as warm as the “hottub”)! After going back to our rooms to change, we explored our options for a late dinner (by American standards) at the hotel. Not seeing anything at the hotel that we could all agree on, we hopped into the Mercedes for the short drive into Sassenheim’s city center (Centrum) where we discovered a true “diamond in the rough” of dining --the EETcafe de Voogd.

The EETcafe de Voogd sat on a small quiet street in the Centrum, not looking like much from the outside. Once inside, the atmosphere of the restaurant was open and inviting. Our waitperson, Anika, was extremely pleasant and spoke perfect English. Once she learned that one of our group was gluten intolerant, she went above and beyond the call of duty to make a special effort in checking with the kitchen regarding “gluta” (or the lack thereof) in a couple of menu selections. The onion soup starter was very delicious and warmed us up nicely. Nana and I shared a traditional Dutch food, bittesballer, which was a potato croquette filled with veal, and served with sinus-clearing authentic stone ground mustard on the side. Entrees enjoyed by the others included a pasta dish, ribeye steak and another Dutch tradition, satay – a beef dish with a peanut type sauce which was quite tender and flavorful (and totally a traditional Dutch fav, Anika assured us). As a surprise ending to our evening dining adventure, Anika brought out a stellar culinary note – a complimentary dessert made of lemon, egg whites and prosecco – we don’t remember the name but definitely remember that it was devoured quickly and enjoyed by all. After reluctantly bidding Anika and the Café a fond farewell we arrived back at the hotel (Randy was really getting good at zipping through the roundabouts by then) for an early morning (6 AM) wakeup call the next morning.

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 entrée 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.

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

What a treat Tuesday morning, April 3rd, revealed -- trying to decide which of the numerous buffet items to choose from for breakfast - varied selections of breads and pastries, croissants, hard boiled eggs, several types of meats, cheeses, yogurt, several juices, milk, tea and coffee. Anna and two other employees kept the buffet well supplied until after 9 AM! Everything we ate was delectable! A fantastic way to start our Berlin adventure!

After breakfast we met up with our daughter Kaitlin and took the U-Bahn then S-Bahn trains and then bus transfer southwest of Berlin proper to a small town called Kleinmachnow. Our daughter escorted us around town and we walked to the Berlin Brandenburg International (BBIS) school, an International Baccalaureate school, where she is currently student teaching (hence one of the reasons for this trip). Along the way, we saw various trees and flowers already blooming, much earlier than when we left Colorado! An older man was walking his very cute Westie in a forested area not far from the BBIS. After touring the school grounds, we opted to walk a path that led us through the forest along a large lake. After a very long lakeside walk, we climbed a short distance to an abandoned castle (our retirement home, Kaitlin kidded), the Hakeburg Castle. The huge, stately castle sat overlooking the lake through the trees and was a complex of marvelous older buildings, complete with a cobblestone courtyard and conservatory on the side of the actual castle as well as a neglected formal garden area in back. We lingered there a short while, looking around and dreaming, if only that MegaMillions jackpot were ours! Finally we hiked back down a different (and, thankfully, shorter) path to where we had entered the woods. Opting to go back to the bus stop a different way, we walked back down the hill through a residential area (and saw two honest-to-God fixer-uppers for sale) to wait for Bus 623 to take us back to Berlin Zehlendorf.

After our extensive morning walk, it was time for lunch. Tomasa’s Restaurant’s posted menu had some interesting gluten free options so we decided to try their food. Kaitlin and I decided, not being as hungry as the others, we would share the gnocchi with shrimp and lachs. This turned out to be a fortuitous plan because the food portions were HUGE! The dish was very tasty and paired wonderfully with my Berliner Weisse (a very famous Berlin drink of weiss beer and raspberry syrup – yum)!

After lunch activities included more walking and riding the S-Bahn train to the Brandenburg Tor with a short stroll through part of the Tiergarten, all the while taking many snaps with the camera. Back past the Tor and the US Embassy onto Unter den Linden (where the street is appropriately lined with linden trees) led us to the Volswagen Automobil forum Bentley/Bugatti showroom on Friedrichstrasse. Upon entering the showroom/museum, a black Bugatti Veyron (th red accents, of course) was prominently displayed -- a source of much excitement for those brave enough to enter the building. While my husband Randy stood in awe, enjoying the view of the fastest European supercar in existence, I marveled (and took multiple photos) at the Bentley sedan displayed next to the Veyron. After a short tour of the rest of the museum, we walked south on Friedrichstrasse to the Ubahn station, hopped the U1 back to Uhlandstrasse and walked back to Hotel-Pension Kassandra.

Once we left Nana back at the room to recooperate from the day’s activities, the rest of us walked a few blocks and discovered a small health food store to stock up on some gluten free snacks. Then back around the corner to Uhlandstrasse we looked for a Konditorei to consume some late afternoon coffee and cake. At Kaffee Rosterei there were many tea and coffee varieties to select from, as well as multiple types of cakes and pastries (even a gluten free cake)! After a relaxed hour with a large latte and slice of cake, we meandered back to the hotel for the remainder of the evening.

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

Having landed at LHR a few minutes ahead of schedule on Monday, April 2nd, at noon (UK time), due to constant tail winds, all passengers were offloaded and transported to Terminal 5 by bus. The weather was in the low 60s and mostly sunny – no expected British rainshowers for once! Once inside the Terminal we followed the purple Flight Connections signs to Security and quickly went through that process. It’s amazing how much faster the Security process went with not having to take shoes off! Once belts and jackets were back on, two of us decided to window shop some of the Heathrow Terminal 5 shops – Harrods, Dior, Prada, Gucci, Burberry, Tiffany and the Caviar House (free smoked salmon samples there) – before meeting up with the others. Since we still had a 3 ½ hour layover before the next BA flight, it was time to eat lunch (or was it an early dinner?) at Terminal 5’s Crown Pub bar and restaurant. What a great decision for reasonably priced airport pub grub this choice was! I waxed poetic over a British mini-pie selection consisting of a steak and ale pie (my absolute favorite), a chicken and root veggie pie (much better than anticipated) and a shepherd’s pie (still good, but the least liked of the 3). The mini-pies were accompanied by a huge serving of mashers (mashed potatoes as we Yanks would say) and steamed mixed veggies. Add a half pint of Guinness as the perfect beverage and a perfectly memorable lunch was slowly savored. Chili and smoked salmon baguette sandwiches ordered by other members of the traveling party were equally consumed with great satifaction while we waited for a gate assignment to be posted on the Departure board for the final segment of our trip to Berlin, Germany.

After a couple of hours we decided to walk off some of our d mouth-watering lunch and try to find information regarding our rapidly approaching departure gate. Stopping at the British Airways Customer Service desk we were given the information we needed. A short walk from that desk and we were at the correct gate. Soon our fellow passengers began descending on the area and a general boarding call was made soon after. Let the cattle call begin! After going through another Customs check with passports at the ready we actually boarded the plane via a walkway and not stairs and a bus. An improvement to be sure!

A short, efficient hour flight later we landed at Berlin’s Tegel airport. After a few minutes waiting for a gate (due to being early yet again) we finally disembarked the plane. Getting through German Customs was quick and efficient and our luggage was waiting for us at Baggage Claim when we got there. Upon exiting the Baggage Claim area our daughter, Kaitlin, met us and directed us to the bus transportation area. We took Bus 109 from the airport to the Kurfurstendamm/Uhlandstrasse stop. After deciding which direction our first hotel might be, we took a guess and headed south on Uhlandstrasse. Two blocks later and there it was, the Hotel-Pension Kassandra, located on the corner of Uhlandstrasse and Lietzenburger Strasse.

A buzz of the door button opened the wooden security door and we walked up a flight of gorgeous older white marble steps to Reception. Anna, our evening hostess, was a very efficient and friendly older German matron who took us to our room and described, Auf Deutsch, how the room’s door lock and light switches worked as well as cautioned about the step up to the bathroom. Our requested room of a quad consisted of 1 double and 2 single beds, 2 writing desks with chairs, a small TV with multiple channels and a large wardrobe for luggage and clothes. The double bed mattress was new and very comfy (NO bedbugs here!) and the feather comforter kept me VERY warm at night.

The Hotel-Pension Kassandra was a clean, but older, building in need of some TLC (in particular the threadbare carpets) but considering the price of the room, which included a wonderfully extensive breakfast buffet and the central Berlin location, our 2 night stay here was a great start to our Berlin holiday. After dumping our luggage in our room we walked and window shopped the Ku’damm down to the Europa Center and ate a late dinner at the Irish Pub bar and grill. One tasty toasted ham and cheese sandwich washed down with Irish Mist made for a satisfying end to a very exciting travel day.

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

A typical April Fool’s Day this was not! After months of planning (with a few revisions), our 12 day European adventure began with summer-like temperatures in the mid-80s during the 1 hour trip to Denver International Airport. After parking offsite at our favorite Tower Road facility, USAirport Parking, we arrived at the British Airways check in desk around 6:15 PM. Patiently waiting in the queue for about 20 minutes our travelling party finally completed an efficient, as well as pleasant, check in. After a short delay at the Concourse A Security we made our way to Concourse A’s food court and the last Micky Ds Filet-O-Fish, the best of American fast food fish sandwiches that I would eat for the next 12 days. Watching the sun set over the Rocky Mountains while the outside cargo crew loaded luggage and cargo onto the British Airways (BA) 777 which would take us over the Atlantic to London Heathrow was a fantastic start to our adventure. Finally it was time to go through the UK Customs procedure (passports available, everyone!), walk down the long walkway and board the plane.

The boarding process was relatively smooth considering it was definitely a full flight. Soon the plane pushed back from the gate. Within a half hour of takeoff, the flight attendants served the evening meal. By the time we were served the only meal option available was chicken and rice, which wasn’t horrible, but not up to the standards of a previous BA transatlantic flight. When enquiries were made it was discovered that the requested Gluten Free (GF) meal entrée for one of our traveling party did not get loaded onto the plane. The flight attendant was profusely apologetic and did locate and serve some other GF food items to keep starvation at bay (glad we thought to bring GF snacks for a contingency!) Having eagerly anticipated watching the movie “The Iron Lady” which was listed in the current selections at BA’s website for this flight, I was extremely disappointed to discover that it was not listed in the on board choices. (Major Bummer!) “The Debt” was not as exciting as the movie trailer previewed but “The Descendants” proved to be an unanticipated, pleasant surprise (George, you should have won that Oscar)! The overnight flight was a little bumpy at times and the service by the attendants was not as stellar as on a previous trans-Atlantic flight but eventually we did arrive at London’s Heathrow airport.