Wed. Jun. 3: Berlin, Germany. Stayed in the hotel again Thursday (28th--in Krakow) to rest my knee, but even after three days it was the same. Walking is such an essential part of traveling that when it becomes painful it's a real problem. I decided this had gone on long enough and it was time to see a doctor--but when we got to Berlin, not in Poland. Kathey went to the salt mines that same day in Krakow--said it was interesting but nothing spectacular--good answer since I didn't get to go. She said the salt sculptures were dark green, not white. Friday (29th) we took a morning train to Warsaw. Arrived about lunch time and took a tram to a YHA--hard to find because the street didn't actually go through to the main street where we thought it connected. They only had separate dorms for men and women, so we took a double room for 160,000 Zl. (US$12). It was the "expensive, comfortable room", so they didn't enforce the usual 10-5 lockout with us. Tons of crazed, running, and screaming school kids, and a really horrible smelling bathroom--but we had a TV in our room! Polish shows of course, but sometimes an American movie with Polish translation on top of the English. Sometimes there would be two women talking and a male Polish voice translating for both of them. We weren't impressed with Warsaw. It's a big city, and looks like one. The "old town" is a little more interesting, but nothing compared to beautiful Prague or even pretty and comfortable Krakow.
Maybe it was the location of our hostel, but we had problems finding places to eat. Grocery stores were small and didn't have very much, and restaurants were expensive. Went to the GPO and got letters from Per & Ulrika and Robert & Åsa. We had written them telling when we would arrive, and they were excited about seeing us soon. We saw a Levi's store with a line out the door--not sure why, but when you're that close to Russia lines take on a new meaning. Otherwise, we didn't really see that much of that type of thing. Things are less modern, but not like I'd expected. Still hard to communicate, as it was in Czechoslovakia. Only stayed 2 days in Warsaw, then took an early train to Berlin Sun. the 31st. Our Eurail Passes aren't valid in Czech. or Poland, so we had to buy tickets from the border onward. The ticket from Munich to Prague cost about $31 each for a night train and a couchette. (Czech. border to Prague actually, since Munich to the Czech. border is covered by the pass.) Prague to Krakow was only $16 each for a couchette. Krakow to Warsaw was $11 each for a seat. Warsaw to the German border was $18.50 each for a seat. Talked to two American exchange students most of the way to Berlin. They were studying in Germany and had spent the weekend in Poland. We've seen a lot of students doing that here in Europe. Arrived in Berlin around noon at the Haupt Bahnhoff (main station) in East Berlin, then took an "S" line (fast metro) to a hostel near the "Bahnhoff Zoo". The S line is free for Eurail holders. The "Zoo" is the main underground station, and a good area to stay in.
The hostel was at Hardenberg 9a. Good (but separate) dorms, but expensive at 35DM (US$23) and no breakfast. But nice rooms and lots of hot water. It's really hard to find bottled water in Germany that's not carbonated. When that happened in Austria we found out that the tap water was ok to drink. So we assumed the same was true here--haven't gotten sick yet! It's funny how important bottled water has become on this trip. I wonder if I'll be able to drink tap water at home again. We always carry half-litre plastic bottles of water with us during the day, and in most countries that's the only water you can drink--even in Europe. Berlin is big. Several things to see, and you can see a lot of them by just taking bus #100 from the Zoo. We got a tourist brochure about it at the Zoo. The U-bahn (underground, or "metro") is expensive in Germany. We got a 24 hour card a couple of times and used it for the U-bahn, S-bahn, and buses. Cost 12DM (US$7.80) each, but single tickets are almost 3 DM. We've gone way over budget in Germany. Things are really expensive here. Our budget, by the way, is $70 per day, which covers both of us for food, housing, admission fees, and public transportation within a city. We've tried to use that for all of Europe, so we've saved money in some countries like Czech. and Poland. (Asia was completely different, and changed with each country.) The biggest attraction of Berlin is of course the wall. They're still selling "supposedly" authentic pieces of it, even 2 1/2 years after it came down. Not much of it left to see, but it's interesting to see places like the Brandenberg Gate
and the Reichstag. Also went to Checkpoint Charlie. There's a museum with tons of information and "escape paraphernalia", including things like self-made planes, scuba gear, and other things used in successful escapes throughout the years. East Berlin is more modern than I thought it would be--don't know how much has changed since the wall came down. Finally got my Dad's Christmas present here. We had a drawing done of the both of us by an artist in one of the squares. Came out really good. Don't get a haircut in Berlin! It was fairly short already, but after yesterday I'm lucky to have any at all. We're taking a night train (and ferry) tonight to Malmö, Sweden to visit Robert and Åsa. The train rolls right onto the ferry and you don't even have to get off. May is the perfect month for traveling in Europe. It's not too cold in the north, not too hot in the south, and not swarming with tourists yet. We've rarely had a problem finding a place to stay, even arriving by lunch sometimes. The weather has been really good everywhere, except for some rain in Poland. Well, the Russia trip seems to be impossible. My mom and Dan have been communicating with the families there, and have found out that the invitation forms were going to take one to one and a half months, so we won't be able to do it this time. And Africa seems to be not happening either because of my knee. I saw a doctor today (recommended by American Express) and x-rays showed that there were no major bone problems, so it's probably a ligament messed up. She said I could continue the trip as long as it didn't get worse. So I wear the elastic brace and we use the subways more. (And we just don't go as many places.) Egypt and Kenya will both require a lot of walking, so at this point we think we're going to skip the 3-4 weeks planned there. That means we'll probably be home in about 3 weeks, on the 23rd of June. Three weeks!! I can't believe it! We're suddenly talking about going home a lot more. Mixed feelings, as I knew we'd have. Home sounds wonderful--and scary. It'll mean working again, possibly new jobs, finding a place to live, and a thousand other things. But it'll still be home!
Sweden exchange rate:
Sun. Jun. 7: Malmö, Sweden. We took a night train Wed. and arrived Thurs. morning here in Malmö. Had a good trip--talked with two American exchange students and a Swedish guy most of the evening. The train rolled on and off the ferry just as they said--we didn't even realize it. Stepped off the train at 8:30 am to find Robert waiting for us. It was the first time anyone was there to meet us as we arrived in a new city. They have a very nice and comfortable apartment--it's great to sit on a couch and walk barefoot on a clean carpet again. Walked around the town that afternoon and checked for mail--nothing--but we were expecting some, so maybe we can have it sent to Eskilstuna later. It's a pretty town. A couple of nice squares and parks, and it's at the edge of the ocean. Very modern--good buses and huge grocery stores. Things are expensive here. I'm so glad we have someone to stay with. A Big Mac is 25.50 Kr (US$4.50) and beer can be very expensive. Beer comes in 3 classes. The higher the class, the higher the alcohol content and price. Class I is 1.8%, II is 2.8%, and III is 3.6 and above. In the grocery stores (class II only), it's only about 4.75 Kr (US 80 cents) per half-liter. But at restaurants, a half-liter of class III beer is about 44 Kr (US$7.80!). A single bus ride within Malmö is 11 Kr. (US$1.95). But our $70 a day budget is doing fine since we're staying with friends. As a matter of fact, we're eating and drinking a lot better here than we have in a long time. Friday (5th) we took the fast ferry to Copenhagen, Denmark. (78 Kr--$13.85 each, round trip). Only took 45 min. each way. Very comfortable. As usual, no border hassles. Not even a passport check. Copenhagen is pretty. We walked down a few pedestrian malls--with a couple of beer stops along the way--and ended up at Tivoli, a big amusement park with lots of games and rides. The beautiful, warm weather contributed to a great day.
The temp. has been near 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) every day--they say it's a recent change from weeks of cold gray weather. Sat. they borrowed a car and we went driving along the coast road towards the eastern part of Skåne ("Skoh-nah"), which is the southern section of Sweden. Really pretty little towns all along the blue water. Stopped at lunch time and BBQ'd a steak in one of the parks. The brand name of the steak was Flinta ("Flintstones" in Swedish) and had a picture of Fred on the front. :-) We stopped at one of Åsa's friends' house and her friend's parents were there. So as soon as they discovered we were American they had to show us the "traditional Swedish farm" nearby, and take us to their house. And at their house we had to have juice and cookies. And we had to try the traditional Swedish drink made from flowers--Fläderblom. But very friendly people, and we had lots of fun. Also saw a few other things like the southern-most tip of Sweden, Ales Stenar,
"Smygehuk", and Viking graves. Sun. there was a festival at one of the parks, so we went and listened to bands and had a picnic.
Then walked to the beach and looked around a little. Spent the rest of the day relaxing and sewing patches onto our packs (still collecting them) back at the apartment. Mon. we said goodbye to Robert and Åsa after 4 fun days and headed to Eskilstuna.
Tues. Jun. 9: Eskilstuna, Sweden. Took the 9 am train--cost 20 Kr (US$3.50) each for a seat--and arrived about 3:30 after changing trains once. Per met us there, and we drove back to their new apartment. When they got home in February, which seems like years ago, they bought an apartment and began renovating it. They've done a lot of work here, and it looks really great. It's so good to see them again. And there are a couple of changes in their lives. First, Per shaved his beard that he began on Fiji, and second, Ulrika is pregnant! (And she's quick to assure people that this is an Eskilstuna baby, not a Bangkok baby.) Per and Ulrika parents! I'm sure the next time we see them will be very different. They're happy about it, and we're happy for them--they'll be good parents.
Wed. Jun. 10: Eskilstuna. Walked around town yesterday--had lunch and did a few errands like the GPO (nothing), the bank (more traveler's checks), and the mall to get a couple of English books and more shampoo. Like Malmö (except a little smaller), Eskilstuna is a pretty, small town with nice parks and squares.
I think about all the beautiful cities and towns we've been through and Dallas seems different than it used to. I used to think of it as a big city where lots of major companies are based and you can find anything you need. But now it seems more like a huge city that's too big for pedestrian malls and squares and parks that you can walk to in five minutes from your house. Sweden is one of the easiest countries to travel in that we've seen. Tons of people speak excellent English, and when they don't they're quick to smile and try to help anyway. I haven't come across a rude person yet, and that includes dealing with train conductors, train station agents, postal workers, bank tellers, and news agent people. And those are usually the ones that always start the day in a bad mood.
Fri. Jun. 12: Eskilstuna. Wed. we drove to a castle about 45 minutes away called Gripsholm. Also looked at more Viking carvings. Pretty countryside--green and lots of trees. I constantly wonder what this country looks like covered in snow, which is the way it is most of the year. Yesterday we drove to Stockholm, about an hour and a half east of here. Unfortunately, the closer we got, the darker the clouds became, and by the time we arrived it was very cold, windy, and drizzling. We had dressed for the usual 80 degrees (27 degrees C), so we froze in-between restaurants and shops, wearing our shorts and t-shirts. But we managed to have a good time anyway, and walked around the old town and went to the top of the City Hall Tower for a great view.
Fri. Jun. 19: Brussels, Belgium. Last Fri, in Eskilstuna, we had a party at Ulrika's mother's house and they invited a lot of their friends. Lots of fun--everybody brought something to put on the grill, and there certainly was no lack of alcohol. Sat. we all woke up late, with headaches. We had changed our train reservation so we could take the afternoon train to Malmö. More rain and cold. It was so good to look through all their pictures and watch their videotapes. They're making copies of some of them for us. We didn't shoot any videotape, so that'll be good to have. It's been 4 months since they came home--but I think they feel like it's been a lot longer. Said our sad goodbyes Sat. afternoon and left for Malmö. Arrived about 10:30 pm, and Robert gave us a ride to their apartment. Sun. we found out that our train to Amsterdam was full. We were unable to reserve it in Esk. because it was international. So we stayed Sun. night also, and took the night train Mon. After seeing all of R & Å's pictures also, I can't wait to see ours, especially the ones of countries they didn't go to. Took the ferry Mon. to Copenhagen, and then a bus to the train station. Finally had a full room on the train--all 6 couchettes were full. I guess we're in high season now.
Netherlands exchange rate:
Arrived in Amsterdam Tues. morning and took a tram to one of the YHA's (22 f--$12.76). Amsterdam is a rare mix of big city & all the problems associated with it, and small town & all the pretty squares, parks, and canals.
Lots of drugs (slightly more tolerated by the police) and crime, but the free attitude is a big part of the city.
The red light district is almost a tourist attraction itself, but it really is filled with red lights, sex shops, and women standing on display in the windows. Went to the Heineken brewery (2 f) Wed.--the best we've been to. You get a free mug if it's your birthday, and can prove it--oh, you also have to prove worthiness, which means drinking the whole mug while everyone sings Happy Birthday to you. Had a lot of fun. Stayed in Amsterdam 2 nights, then took a train Thurs. morning to Brussels. Before we left Amsterdam we checked Africa prices (we'd heard they were better here), but if anything, they're higher than London. We looked in a couple of books and decided that the things we want to do require you to be in fairly good shape, which I'm not, because of my knee. Also, we decided it would be pretty foolish to risk hurting it worse when we would (possibly) be so far from good medical help. Flights from Amsterdam to Nairobi with a stop in Cairo are about $1,000 round trip, and Nairobi to Cape Town is another $700. So we sat in a Burger King for a long time and talked about it, and finally decided we should wait and do Africa when we could get our money's worth. Then we talked about what we should do now--more Europe? Stop in a few cities in the U.S. on the way home? Nothing sounded very appealing, and it all sounds like a lot of work. There are places I'd like to see in Europe still, but not right now. I feel like we've done pretty well, and had a pretty good sampling of almost all the countries in Europe. But I'd like to come back some day and spend more time in a few places--maybe a few more of the eastern countries also. So--the big question... Are we finished? Is this it? Yes! WE'RE GOING HOME!! We'll fly London to Dallas Tues, June 23rd. That will be 9 months and 8 days since we started way back on September 15th. We had originally thought it would be about 10 months, and it would have been at least that if we had done Africa. We ended up spending 3 1/2 months in Europe. Money-wise we did pretty well too. We planned to go home with $4,000 to be used for getting settled in a new home with new jobs, etc. We'll actually go home with about $5,600. So suddenly we feel extremely relieved that the decision has finally been made one way or the other--also because we know that we did it. We saw a lot of the world, and we didn't have any major accidents or run out of money half way through. It's been a long trip, and I can't wait to get home and take a vacation! What a honeymoon!
Belgium exchange rate:
Well, Brussels isn't very exciting, which is just as well, because we're about out of energy. Plus it's been raining and cold the last 2 days which doesn't help. But we managed to muster enough enthusiasm to be tourists for one last day, and walk around town a bit.
We splurged and got a nice room for $70 (!) at the Hotel Opera (2100 f), with bathroom, phone, and TV. Then had a nice semi-expensive dinner to go along with it. But we're going to keep spending carefully like we have been and save the money for when we get home and can really enjoy it (wow, that sounds strange, doesn't it?). Right now we're on a train to Paris (hence the sloppy writing). We'll stay with Bruce and Sue again until Monday, then fly to London with the return part of the free ticket we got for Belfast to Paris a couple of months ago. Bruce's brother Brent and his wife Karen (Kathey worked with Brent) are flying in to Paris Sat. to stay with Bruce and Sue for a couple of days before starting a 2 week tour of Europe. So we're going to surprise them and meet them in Paris. We called home last night to tell our parents that we're finally coming home, so I guess this is really it. We suddenly have a whole new set of emotions--so many it's hard to describe. Mostly good though, with a few worries about all the things we'll have to do soon. Feels like the night before Christmas and the first day of school at the same time. I hate to see the trip finally come to an end, and I know things will soon be all too normal again. Got 2 letters from my mom and one from my friend Doug--probably the last Poste Restante mail of the trip. From here on we're not tourists anymore. We're just stopping in a couple of familiar cities and seeing a few friends along the way home. It feels wonderful!! No more GPO stops, no more new cities, no more pictures to take, no more new transportation systems, no more new currencies, no more cold showers and uncomfortable beds, and no more worrying about money, which was always the hardest.
Tues. Jun. 23: On the plane home. Today is the day! I've thought about this day a thousand times. Last Fri. we arrived in Paris and were reminded of what an ordeal it is to get across town. Three trains, one bus, and two hours later we were sitting on Bruce and Sue's couch and playing with Sara and Brandon. It had been a month and a half since we left Paris, and it was good to be back with friends. Sat. morning we all went to the airport and met Brent and Karen, then looked around Paris a little in the rain. Sun. Brent, Karen, Kathey, and I went to the Louvre--we saw a few new things. Had fun celebrating Bruce and Brandon's birthdays, and playing cards and talking about traveling. It was funny seeing Brent and Karen starting their trip as we finished ours. They took an early train to Belgium Mon. and we flew to London. Said goodbye to Brent and Karen, knowing we would see them in a couple of weeks--something we haven't done in a long time. Seems like we're always saying long-term goodbyes lately--either to travelers we'll never see again or new friends living in Europe. Flew to London and checked into our 2nd home, the Palace Hotel, which is now £9 (instead of 8) and under new management. "Going home" is something we seem to be saying a lot lately. It's great when people ask how long we've been traveling and we say , "9 1/2 months... and we're going home tomorrow!"