24.08.2011 - 31.08.2011 22 °C
After leaving the Hill of Crosses it was a trek across the top of Poland over to Germany to deliver the car on August 31st. Elk, or Eewk as it is pronounced, was a one nighter and once again we had carefully selected a top floor apartment with no elevator. Our bags are weighing in around 25kg each so ‘top floor’ and ‘no elevator’ are not our favourite phrases. A brief but torrential downpour had us taking refuge in the downstairs restaurant before exploring the big, wide world that was Elk after the sky cleared. Being that the main street took all of five minutes we found ourselves lured into another waterfront bar/café. Elk is located on a lake and that appears to be its main drawcard although the weather didn’t allow us to see it in all its glory, it did look pretty though. There are pedal boats there you can hire but these ones look like Rolls Royce cars. That is about as exciting or risqué as Elk is. After a quick dinner, it was upstairs to our single beds where everyone could have a restful night’s sleep before the next leg of our journey.
Gdansk is on the north coast of Poland and we had booked accommodation for two nights as ‘the bible’ had inferred it was a happening kind of place. Our accommodation was a little bit out of town and upon arrival Adam had a date to keep…….with his poker buddies. Over Skype a round of poker was played. I use the word ‘played’ loosely because there was a lot of shouting, laughing and Adam having no idea what cards had been dealt to him. An entertaining half hour was had by all even though I doubt there will be a repeat, logistically didn’t really work. Our trek into town involved public transport and the beauty of Gdansk was that there was never anyone checking tickets so being budget conscious we felt we were entitled to a few free trips, since we were contributing to the economy in other ways. Following the tourist map we walked through some old stone gates, over a bridge, past and even in some churches and then were on our way to find the ‘gothic crane’. It sounded exciting, built in the 15th Century, being labelled ‘gothic’ though was the real drawcard. Having been surrounded by old ‘stuff’ for a while now we keep reminding ourselves to truly appreciate the history and not become too blasé; the crane was not what we had pictured in our mind at all. It was attached to a building as part of the riverfront but the most interesting aspect of it was the fact that inside the crane were two massive wheels. They looked similar to the wheels on paddleboats. Men were used to lift and manoeuvre the crane by walking inside the wheels, just like hamsters. How cute!
We really liked Gdansk, it had a laid back ambience. We had a great meal of baked potato which apparently is a must do according to the tourist guide. Sloppy sauces over a crispy potato nourished us immensely and it was lucky it did. Later that night we had to walk out of a restaurant after waiting twenty minutes and four requests to order. The interesting thing was the surprised expression on the waitress’ face when we told her we no longer wished to dine at her premises. Heading home was a daunting experience because of the fifty stairs we had to ascend each time, it actually made us dizzy; this was also not fun when you are carrying 25kg of luggage.
Poznan was our last destination in Poland and was a quick one night stopover until we crossed into Germany. It is actually the town where the first uprising against communism in the East occurred. Events in Poznan eventually led to the Berlin Wall being demolished. We didn’t know this until we arrived and then gave ourselves pats on the backs for staying in such a historically important place.
Meandering our way into town, amid the sprinkles of rain, we criss-crossed our way through the streets and around the square. The cool, crisp weather called for a cool, crisp drink and out of all the restaurants in the town we sat down at the only one who had run out of white wine. Five o’clock on a Saturday and they had NO WHITE WINE, what were they thinking? After finding somewhere that DID serve white wine we relaxed and hid from the rain until the worst was over. Upon arrival back at our hotel, having a few under our belt, Adam attempted to flatter the red-headed night receptionist after mistaking her for the red-headed day receptionist. What are the odds? Telling her that they were both pretty seemed like a plausible way to dig himself out of a slightly embarrassing hole. It was an appropriate way to end our time in Poland. Polish people are not overly friendly but are polite and courteous which the lovely red-headed night receptionist continued to be.
Crossing the border back into Germany was a landmark point for us as it meant the end of the ‘Eastern European’ leg of our trip. We came across a little bit of trouble checking into our apartment in Berlin. This time we weren’t staying in a hotel but a privately owned apartment in the ‘happy’ suburb as we later discovered. After finally discovering that to check in we had to talk to the man who ran the Scottish pub next door, we were left flailing a bit when he was slurring his speech and talking gibberish. He obviously practises what he preaches. Anyway a beautiful self-contained apartment awaited us with only a short stroll to the U-Bahn (underground). Adam was subjected to a bit of scrutiny as we made our way through the local streets near our apartment as there were lots of ‘happy chaps’ around, he loved every minute of it. After much discussion we had also decided to send some of our travel ‘stuff’ home as losing the car meant losing extra storage space. We packed up two boxes and trudged around to find a post office. Following vague directions and using a bit of common sense we came across our local; well probably not the closest one but we think we did pretty well. After smiles, filling out forms and the parting of $200 we were now ten kilos lighter. Money well spent.
Berlin is bursting at the seams with history and believe it or not, Germans don’t appear to be as annoying when they are in their own country. We only had two nights which is nowhere near enough to really immerse yourself in Berlin so we had a mighty job in front of us. It meant we had to go hard at sightseeing. First stop was the Berlin War Memorial. At the point where East meets West is a blue brick line, flush with the ground, that runs through the whole city to show where the Wall existed. I always naively assumed the Wall would have gone in a straight line but it actually zig zags through the city like a goat track. At the memorial however, is a more obvious structure of iron rods and information plaques. The plaques are in the border area and near where the East German citizens were smuggled through underground passages by West Germans, some successfully, some not.
The history of the Wall is so harsh, with a matter of days or even hours being all there was between barbed wire barriers to solid concrete walls and the threat of being shot. The more time I spend in this area of the world the more enraptured I am with its history. Being a cold and semi-miserable day even suited the mood of such a place. This trip has really shown me how cruel some humans can be when the temptation of ‘absolute’ power is looming.
Next was the Brandenburg Gate. We both divulged our ignorance, having no idea of its historical value. Sure we’d heard of it but it was always so far away. However in our quest to become even smarter, we now know that it was built in the 18th century and was a symbol of entry to the city in the days of the Prussian rulers. During Berlin Wall times it was actually secured in the patrolled area, or middle ground. Fortunately no attempts were ever made to destroy or deface it. The sculptural feats in it, along with its size and pure presence, are quite remarkable. Checkpoint Charlie was the last historical visitation on our schedule. It was a slight anti-climax with a couple of faux US soldiers standing guard by what is the original (?) Checkpoint Charlie border crossing.
Berlin exceeded expectations hugely, at least for me. It was edgy, like that cool older kid at school you always wanted to be, a true modern city. They haven’t forgotten the past but are embracing the furture. I would have loved to stay another week. However the sound of the Greek Islands calling was echoing in our ears and it was time to move on to the car drop-off point….Frankfurt. We were only staying one night as Frankfurt only had one purpose and that was the car. As we arrived we only had enough time to jump on the trolley bus, one ticket lasted us the whole time of course, to have a quick scour around the central part of the city. Eisener Steg Bridge is a bit of a drawcard. Spanning the river, it is a large steel bridge with thousands upon thousands of padlocks all over it. The theory is, you engrave you and your loved ones name on the padlock, lock it onto the bridge and then throw the key into the river to symbolise unbreakable/endless love blah blah blah. No we didn’t do it in case you were wondering.
Frankfurt had a great shopping mall and let us tell you, these Germans are very bike friendly. Everywhere people are riding bikes and there are bike lanes and all through the centre of the mall are bike lock-up points. It’s fantastic and it all seems to be very harmonious as well. Delivery for the car was the next day but not until one o’clock so we zipped into town, for free of course, for a mid-morning coffee. We wanted to see the city in the light of day and it was just as lovely. Germany is very pretty and they obviously cross their t’s and dot their i‘s so to speak. Everything is clean and organised, a place for everything and everything in its place. Considering Germans have not been our number one favourite fellow tourist, Germany itself is quite impressive.
Driving out to drop the car off was a time for reminiscing and we found ourselves sharing anecdotes of “Remember this…” and “Remember that”, our own little trip down memory lane. We indulged in one last photo with our little friend before a hug and kiss goodbye. Handing over the car was a fuss-free affair with a nonchalant employee and no inspection. Sweet! Not that we had anything to hide but I was a bit concerned about what he would say about the empty fuel tank. The shuttle dropped us off and now it was time to wait…and wait…….and wait. Our flight was not until six o’clock and we couldn’t check in until three-thirty so we were in limbo, physically and emotionally. We couldn’t pass through customs and security until we had checked our bags so we had a coffee at Starbucks and then loitered at the check-in counter so we would be first. We know these Europeans well enough by now to beat them at their own game. Forty-five minutes of standing up at the counter sure showed them.
So now that was it, Eastern Europe was over and only four weeks to go before that final flight home. Athens and the islands were waiting. Sun, sand and cheap wine are all on the agenda.