I couldn’t help myself and discuss this subject of paying to go to the toilet. In Australia it is unheard of to pay to go to the toilet. In Australia you have public toilets (free), toilets in shopping centres (free), toilets in cafes and restaurants (also free). Ah not so in Europe. Everywhere we have been in Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin has had a fee for the toilet. So what does it cost?
McDonalds Paris – 0.50€
Printemps Paris – 1.50€
Galleries La Fayette Paris – 0.75€
Gare du Nord Paris – 0.50€
McDonalds Amsterdam – 0.30€
Centraal Station Amsterdam – 0.50€
Schoenberg Airport Berlin – Free!
Alexa Shopping Centre Berlin – 0.50€
You do get a cleaner toilet I think but it doesn’t mean you won’t have to wait in line!
Didn’t have the best of sleeps last night. It might have been that first night in a new place thing, or it could have been that the bed was as hard as a rock, or that the Germans use 2 single doonas on a QS bed. Having your own doona does have its advantages, but no, I’m not a fan. Today we head out to tropical islands indoor water world. It is located about 1 hour out of Berlin and is in a big dome. The dome is eight football fields in size, taller than the statue of liberty and could lay the Eiffel Tower down on its side. It contains tropical rainforests from all parts of the world inside, including Kakadu. They are able to maintain the rainforest as it is heated to 28 degrees all year round. The water is also 28 degrees and in the lagoon 31 degrees. When you walk in its like you have walked in to a tropical island. Its warm, there lots of green foliage, tropical lagoons and swimming pools. Its amazing. The kids were excited at the waterslide section.Its reasonably priced. 29€ entry fee (bit cheaper than the $70 Movie World fee). You get a wrist band with a disk on it with a number. This entitles you to a locker where you leave all your stuff and just take your towel. When you want to buy stuff you just swipe your wrist band and at the end of the day you pay on your way out. This is so convenient, as long you keep an eye on how much you have spent. Mark and I went for a swim in the massive ‘sea’ pool. Beautifully warm. All pools are lined with stainless steel which makes for a nice, smooth clean feel. The kids, of course, headed straight for the water slides. Mark and I joined them and we all had a blast. It was fantastic fun. We had lunch at the buffet restaurant. The lagoon pool was amazing. It had waterfalls, jets, spas, whirlpools, rushing water jets – it had it all. So warm 31 degrees. My kind of temperature. The kids were able to run around and have their own fun and they certainly made the most of it. We arrived at 10am and left about 5pm so we had a fun day. We read about this on the internet and I was surprised that in the tourist offices in Berlin it is not advertised. Not sure how many people outside Germany know about this but it’s the first time on the trip that we didn’t hear English spoken all day. Amazing!
A very early start sees us travelling to the airport in the fog to catch a plane to Berlin. Amsterdam has been an amazing experience, again. Its more than just a city with a unique red light district, and one where you can buy a splif with your coffee. It’s a place where everyone has a voice. Open and honest, Amsterdam enables you to be who you are, or who you want to be. The Hotel Zanderberg, and in particular the owner Hank, has been a wonderful haven away from the buzz. His personal service to his customers is just outstanding. He made quite a few things so much easier. Thanks Hank!
This morning’s flight to Berlin is with EasyJet. I have never flown them before and have only seen them on the Airport UK show, which isn’t that flattering. I paid extra for Speedy Boarding which enables you to get on the plane first and choose your seats. Easyjet does not have allocated seating so, like a bus, you get in and sit where you want. The taxi driver told us that you would have to push the plane on the tarmac! Very funny. Check-in was easy. Going through customs was odd. You stand in this cylindrical Perspex tube (think Dr Who), raise your hands in the air (think stick ‘em up western movie) and then this things swirls around you 3 times (think MRI scan). Then you come out and wait 3 seconds and see your image on the screen. Because I showed a reading on my left hand hip I had to be padded down. I don’t mean tap tap, I mean totally padded down. It came to be that I had a metal button on my jacket. Whooooaa! Scary! Ryan got the same treatment and a bag search. It came to light that he was carrying a 100ml Apple juice popper. He got a lecture and got it confiscated. The gate felt like 3 suburbs away, but we did get on first and got front row of the plane. Awesome.
After a quick 1 hour flight we land in Berlin at Schoenberg Airport. Berlin has 2 Airports and these will both close to make way for the Berlin Brandenberg Airport due to open soon. Berlin is experiencing a tourist boom and has realized the need for a bigger airport. Schoenberg Airport is probably the same size as Canberra Airport. For a city that has over 3 million inhabitants, 2 small airports are a little unusual. No passport control, no customs, just get your bag and walk through this gate thing. There were a lot of customs officers at the gate and they were focusing on black people, Middle Eastern people and Russians. We braved it and got the train and bus to our apartment. Our apartment is a loft apartment in Friedrichshain. Very roomy with a great view of the television tower.
Mastering the train system here is a little ridiculous. There is the U-bahn, the S-bahn, trams and buses. It took us a while but then we sort of got the hang of it. We made our way into Alexanderplatz and went to a massive shopping centre, Alexa, to have lunch. Then Mark and the kids went up the television tower. It is one of those icons in Berlin. Not loving heights, and the ridiculous admission price meant that I would stay on the ground. Mark commented that there were more security checking points to go up the tower than to get into the country. By all reports it was a great view of Berlin. 11€ Adults and 7€. Before heading back to the apartment Mark and I did a bit of shopping at our local supermarket, Lido. It’s the equivalent to an Aldi in Australia. The prices are obscenely low. We decided on the ricotta and spinach tortellini for dinner. Bought some amazing peppermint chocolate for after dinner treats. First day impression of Berlin – very clean, amazing vibe, reasonably priced, language a barrier and not set for tourists. I am not sure of the tourist numbers here but there are some indicators that lead me to believe that its not many. More on that tomorrow.
The 100 Highlights of Amsterdam Canal Cruise was a great way to spend an evening in beautiful Amsterdam. We embarked on our cruise at 9.30pm last night and it was a beautiful way to explore the city. The mansions along the Golden Bend were opulent and luxurious. As voyeuristic as it sounds, looking in the windows was a lesson in design and interior decoration. It occurred to me that the reason I could see in the windows is that no-one as curtains. Very rare in Amsterdam. Obviously their heating systems do not rely on the insulation that window coverings offer. The other thing that amazed me was the guy who fell asleep on the cruise, woke up and took 2 photos and then went back to sleep. The cruise was a great reminder of just how unique this city is.
This morning we decided to beat the queues and head directly to the Rijksmuseum. The museum is renovating so they have crammed alot into a small area. The museum is a enlightening look into Dutch history. Paitings, relics, Delft, furniture. Such craftsmanship. The museum describes Dutch imperialism really well and sets out it display in chronological order. Some of the highlights for me were the Vermeer’s and the Rembrandts. They don’t call them the Dutch masters for nothing. Their experimentation with light and movement in oil transfixes the viewer. My favourite painting was Vermeer’s The Milk Maid. His use of light on the bread rolls is created by using white paint in a dot formation. Beautiful.
We hung around Museum square and took some photos with the I amsterdam sign. Popular photo location. The Vondelpark was beckoning us so we rented the red Mac Bikes and went for a ride through the Vondelpark. A stunning space beautifully designed. A shining example of a park. Of course it was time for an emergency waffle and then back for a rest. Dinner was at a local Amsterdam cafe Stoop & Stoop. Walk through the streets and then back home for bed. I have loved my time in Amsterdam. I have been here before and this visit has been different in so many ways. It is a reminder about what is possible when society opens their minds to truly show love, diversity and acceptance. It is a unique place that allows each person to be who they are and who they want to be.
Sleeping is sometimes a bit trickier for me than I would like. Add unfamiliarity, new bed, noises in the middle of the night and its all over. No time for tiredness today. We make our way to the breakfast room. Hank, our host is charming and very friendly. He is able to offer advice and tips for the day. The breakfast was fantastic. A few new things on the breakfast menu. I love going to foreign breakfast rooms and exploring all the new foods. There was a gingerbread type of cake, chocolate sprinkles (like you would put on a cupcake) and Ryvitas with cucumber. A great start to the day.
We made our way to the Ann Frank Museum and it was easy to detect from a distance by the long queue snaking around the corner. The queue moved fast and the kids went inside for visit. Mark and I remember it from last time so we did a walk around the block whilst the kids were busy. It is a very important museum but also a very confronting one. I still can’t reconcile that they made it so close from being detected. Such tragic and unimaginable circumstances.
We moved on to the National Library and the Science/Maritime Museum. The National Library is an architectural gem. The design is captivating and quite frankly makes the library seductive and someone you want to be. Books are king here – not facebook! Mark and Ryan checked out the Nemo (Science/Maritime) and by all reports it too was amazing. The architecture resembles a ship jutting out of the water. Genius. We then make our way for an emergency waffle before some rest at the hotel.
I awake this morning know that I have to say goodbye to my beloved Paris. It is a perfect morning. Last croissants and baguettes. I will miss this place, this city that touches my soul. For a total contrast, today we move on to Amsterdam. We catch the Thalys fast train from Gare du Nord to Amsterdam Centraal. Just over 3 hours with speeds up to 300km/h. With first class tickets in hand we settle in to our roomy seats, hook into the free wi-fi and settle back for the journey. I have travelled this route before on the Thalys. Was my romantic memory blinding me or have the standards slipped. We were served snacks. Interesting sandwiches with sweet snacks. When it came to the main meal they had apparently miscalculated the meals and quite a few passengers including us missed out. They offered a replacement from the buffet car. Its not that I don’t appreciate it but I don’t really eat 50 second microwave burgers. Bunch of chemicals purporting to look like food. Arrival into Amsterdam on a Sunny afternoon.
We are staying at the Hotel Zandenberg near the Vondelpark which is in a beautiful area of Amsterdam away from the tourist traps and seedy nightlife. A great little boutique hotel. Went for a big walk along the streets filled with shops and people out enjoying the weather. Caitlin and I were a bit peckish so we got the Frites from the hole in the wall [see previous blog]. So nice. We went for a walk through the Red Light District. Not many girls in the windows yet and those that were working were totally off chop. I always thought these girls would be young and reasonable looking. Not the case. They seem to have a bit of age about them. It really is a walk down unfortunate and sad street. A part of the culture here though, along with the brown cafes whose aroma wafts for blocks. Guys having big reefers followed by the big bong cough. Had dinner at a nice little Italian restaurant in the Lidelsplein area. Followed by a begian waffle, ice cream and chocolate sauce. OMG – unbelievable. The waffles really are to die for. Amsterdam is so picturesque, beautiful architecture, canals, diverse and tolerant. Great mix!
This morning the sun bathed Paris in warmth and light. It bathes my heart with love. My last day in Paris. What a wonderful week we have had. I know it won’t be my last and long already for the time when I will be back. Today we headed for the Jardin des Plantes. Its Paris’ equivalent of the botanical gardens. It also houses a zoo. It originally served as gardens for one of the Louis. The kids went into the zoo and Mark and I sat on the park bench and watched Parisian’s going for their morning jog. I am fine with jogging, yes its bad on your knees and I really have never got into it. But if I did, I am sure that I would dress appropriately and try to emulate some of the people who look fantastic when they jog. Today a few people caught my eye. Firstly there was Fat French Arse. A guy about 6″4′ with a very big, what I call a rugby arse, no undies and very tight around the front region. The other guy I called the ‘log jog’. He ran like he needed a poo, like he has a turtle’s head. Also I don’t think he was wearing undies and really there was lots of movement at the front. Not good. I just sat there in fits of laughter. We then headed to Rue Mouffetard in the 5th. This street used by a thoruoghfare in roman times. It was amazing. Ryan and I sampled the gelato which was out of this world! A light lunch was on order and then back to the apartment. Mark and I went for our last visit to Rue Montorgueil. We bought some incredible beef, vegies and an apple tart for dessert. This foodie heaven is must for any visitor to Paris. I made Paris butter to go with the beef and dinner was simply devine. Time for a walk to aid digestion. We walked to the Il de Cite and admired paris at night. It certainly lives up to its name as the city of lights. Notre Dame is exquisite. We watched some street performers who were very entertaining. Strolling the streets back to the apartment. We have had the most amazing week. Tomorrow we leave for Amsterdam. I will miss you Paris. J’taime Paris.