Wednesday, August 19, 2015

IGS Tour - part 1

For our summer tour this year we decided on a trip to Iceland, Germany and Switzerland. We booked everything ourselves online.


Pic by ALT.
20 JULY: Icelandair Flight FI600 from Toronto YYZ to Keflavik KEF, Dep 14:25, Arrival 23:40.
Scored two free Gull beers on the flight. The hostess realised she forgot to charge me and said: "They are on the house." On arrival at Keflavik we find we have to queue in a ramshackle shed for a full security check which includes searching my luggage. These folks have been on a training course behind the Iron Curtain - a sharp contrast with later arrivals at Hamburg and Zurich. Iceland is marketed as a "stopover" between North America and Europe. They need to up their game.
We rush to catch a Gray Line bus to Reykjavik, about 45 minutes, where we are decanted into a minibus for delivery to our accomodation at 02:00, efficient. I check the neighbourhood for possible supper, no chance. Villa Skolavordustigur 30, 101 Reykjavik, phone +3548231268, 20 to 23 July. Basic digs: no television, phone or breakfast. Not cheap. Located near Hallsgrimskirkja Church which is visible from most parts of Reykjavik. Walk downhill to breakfast at Prikid, est. 1951, corner of Bankastraati/Ingolfstraati. Trading as oldest cafe/bar in Iceland, restaurant shabby and unhygienic. Fluffy omelet good, extra Lavazza coffee. Friendly enough, not cheap. Stroll in downtown which shows signs of mass tourism with grupos etc. There is not much traffic and English is spoken everywhere. We head for the harbour which evokes memories of the cod wars. Trawlers and tourist boats. We take a boat ride to Viðey island, 1,100 Krona each for round trip. On the way we see the cruise ship MSC Splendida and a rather smaller cruiser called Earlier we have spotted this URL on bicycles in the town, presumably belonging to the ship. There is not much at Viðey island besides an improbable memorial to John Lennon - no accounting for taste. At one time "the only railway in Iceland" was here. We take a pot of tea served by girls who are bored rigid. Birds are the highlight.
Back in town we walk to Bonus supermarket to acquire snacks, then Sjaverbarrin, Grandagardi 9-101 for fish and chips, near the Maritime Museum, including grandma's fish cakes and Gull beer. Annette scores a Moomintroll mug near our hotel.
Next morning to Tourist Information to book Gray Line bus for 04:30 pickup. We report our impressions of the airport. I suggest they take the staff to Las Vegas to show them how an airport should be run. You could lose a bundle on the slots in LV before clearing customs at Keflavik.
Breakfast at the vaguely hip Laundromat Cafe, Austurstræti 9: "Please don't love us on Facebook, like us in life!" We did like them, but they need to heat the hot breakfast plates and make more use of bar trays. Coffee refill. By the way the laundry is in the basement.
We walk past the duckponds where I rescue litter including a floating vodka bottle. (I still suffer remorse at failing to rescue a beer bottle in St. Moritz.) Annette spots a house used as a film location in the movie Life in a Fishbowl. We walk on to the National Museum where we score free entry as their payment card gizmo is not working. There is not much about Iceland in WW2, when the Brits were here. The nearby domestic airport in Reykjavik was built at that time. Walk via wetlands and airport to the Pearl. This water tower has great views in all directions, entrance free. There is graffiti in Reykjavik, but also cycle paths with bridges that put Toronto to shame. Walk back to Icelandic Cafe Loki, nr Hallsgrimskirkja Church, for lunch, 5,090 Króna. We then walked down to the harbour and hopped a bus into town, changing for a run round the projects to Háholt and return, great views. Evening supper at Eldsmiðjan Pizza Place, Bragagata 38a (Freyjugata), Miõborg, 101 Reykjavik. Three-storey pizzeria with glacial service, share large pizza with two Thule beers, 5,685 Króna.
Next morning early start to Keflavik airport, which is running over capacity. The designer evidently didn't know about departure lounges so you stand in a corridor as other passengers fight their way past. Arrivals and departures aren't segregated so everybody is bumping into everybody else. Some of the above may be due to reconstruction. Catering satisfactory.
Would I go back to Reykjavik again? Probably not. If you have the time and inclination to travel outside the city that might be different. For Keflavik airport, 4/10 overall. This is supposed to be a holiday - cross it off your list - too much hassle getting in and out.


Trabant in Berlin, pic by RLT.
23 JULY: Icelandair Flight FI510 from KEF to HAM, Dep 07:50, Arr 13:05. We are through Hamburg Airport in a heartbeat and hop the 'S' Bahn to the Hauptbahnhof. It is very busy so after activating our Eurail Regional Pass we retreat into nearby Galeria Kaufhof for a snack lunch. Hamburg to Hanover: ICE Train 771, Dep 15:24, Arr 16:38, the train runs 36 minutes late. Three nights at Central-hotel Kaiserhof, Ernst-august-platz 4, 30159 Hanover. The hotel is opposite the magnificent station across a large square. Comfortably old fashioned but the location is a mixed blessing, being very noisy in our room overlooking the platz. Among the delights are tuner cars peeling out at all hours. The trams aren't running here due to road works. Evening on the terrasse with Bitburger beer, watching the world go by. (I used to be a regular visitor to Hanover for Cebit, the computer exhibition, while at the Post Office.)
Next day we took the 'U' Bahn from Kroepcke to Herrenhausen. TagesGruppenTicket 9.60 euro for 1 Zone. A scumbag tried to rob Annette at the 'U' Bahn station, fortunately unsuccessfully. We have come to see the Palace (rebuilt, it was bombed flat in 1943) and Gardens, of the Hanoverian Royals.The museum at Herrenhausen says the Allies targeted the Palace, as if we could have been that accurate. It was just bad luck all round. A replica calculating machine attributed to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz from 1693 was the source of much fascination. Spendy lunch at the Gottfried Wilhelm Schlossküche. Stroll round the Berggarten and Georgengarten.
We consulted tourist information in town where a man carefully explained it was impossible to visit the Schloss Marienburg by public transit. He underestimated us. It did take all morning but we got there on three buses, departing the crummy suburb of Steintor, and arriving at 12:00. TagesGruppenTicket 15.10 euro for 3 Zones. Two guided tours and a torrential downpour later, we head back on the 14:15 #310/300 bus all the way to Hanover ZOB (Zentraler Omnibus Bahnhof), a short walk from our hotel.
Supper at Mövenpick Kroepcke, Georgstrasse 35, 30159 Hannover; 47.60 euro.
26 JULY: Hanover to Berlin: Train 1645 ICE Dep 11: 31, Arr 13:08. Delayed, Dep 12:14. We gain access to the first class lounge (we are turned away in Hamburg and Berlin). Like in Animal Farm some first class passengers are more important than others.
Both Hamburg-Hannover and Hannover-Berlin trains delayed so far. The once mighty ICE trains now have faded paintwork, some with graffiti, and run when they feel like it. The Germans have caught the British disease.
Arrive Berlin Hauptbahnhof and take taxi to three nights at Ameron Hotel Abion Spreebogen, Alt-Moabit 99, Berlin +49-30-399200. Outstanding value at approx $100 CDN per night, quiet room overlooking River Spree. Hard to fault. Quick reconnaissance of neighbourhood, locating nearby Bellevue 'S' Bahn station across the river. Turns out we are staying in the old British sector. Supper outdoors at Lanninger, the hotel restaurant.
Next morning walk by River Spree to Mitte (city centre) and Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, Pariser Platz, and Potsdamer Platz. We take the 'U' Bahn to Eberwalder Strasse, exit Danziger Strasse, to Berlin on Bike in an old brewery complex.
Take an escorted bike ride round the sights, 15 km, 19 euros each. I choose SRAM (ex-Sachs) three-speed step-through with rear coaster brake for tour. Here, and in Hannover, Sachs lives on with many survivors and also SRAM 3-speeds everywhere. Flat country makes them very suitable - hardly any hills in Berlin and bikes everywhere - bike lanes throughout. Typical bike hire is 10-14 euro per day and bike stands are everywhere. Bought the book Dresden, Tuesday 13 February 1945 by Frederick Taylor, re the bombing, at: St. George's English Book Shop, Wörther Str. 27, 10405 Berlin. Tram to Alexanderplatz, 'S' Bahn to hotel.
Next morning walk to laundry at Freddy Leck sein Waschsalon, Gotzkowskystraße 11, Berlin. Spotted eight 2CVs rallying at Ernst Reuter Platz, also Trabant, smart roadster, Ape etc. Outdoor breakfast at Manufactum brot&butter Berlin, Hardenbergstraße 4-5,10623 Berlin, 17.00 euro for two. Walk on to the Zoo, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche and Kurfürstendamm.
Took train from the Zoo to Potsdam. Bought tageskarte - day ticket go anywhere on bus, tram and train. On arrival the buses at the Hauptbahhof for Sans Souci Royal Palace are heavily oversubscribed with grupo leaders queue barging, so we walk back in the direction of Babelsberg, enjoying the Deutsche Bahn Werk ruin porn. We pick up the #94 tram to Schloß Charlottenhof which is relatively uncrowded. After a walk in the park we ride on a free red golf cart to Sans Souci. The driver is delighted to be compared to Sebastian Vettel. After tea in town we return to Berlin, via Babelsberg.
Dinner for two with wine 30 euro approx at Lombardi Pizzeria, down the street from hotel.
29 JULY: Berlin to Dresden: Train 175 EC, Dep 10:46, Arr 13:13. We spent some time at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, one of the modern wonders of the railway world. Arriving at the historic Dresden Hauptbahnhof we took two trams to the hotel, which should have been easy to find but wasn't. The Elbe river is nearby. Two nights at Dresden Hilton, An der Frauenkirche 5, Altstadt, Dresden, 01067, +493518642700.
After time out we fitted in a quick visit to the transport museum at a reduced price with one hour to go. Verkehrs Museum, Augustusstraße 1, 01067 Dresden. There are cars, motorbikes, mopeds and bicycles of East German origin that you are unlikely to see elsewhere. Some suited gentlemen are demonstrating the Scrooser in the square.
Supper at the Bistro-Hilton Dresden, 34.80 euro.
Up early next morning exploring I found myself in a McCafe - the only place open. We ride the #4 tram trying to find Radebeul-Ost. We overshot and back tracked two stops on the 'S' Bahn. Here we found the old Deutsche Reichsbahn steam train to Radeburg. Time for a top-notch breakfast at Dresdner Backhaus, Sidonienstr, Radebeul, Sachsen, 16.10 euro for two, arguably the breakfast of the tour. The Lößnitzgrundbahn is a narrow-gauge line, and I marvel at the thought of riding a steam train through the East German countryside. Time for a quick coffee with a friendly steam fundi at Radeburg, then we back track to Moritzburg. A route march into town and quick visit to the Käthe Kollwitz haus, and 'walk by' of the Schloss Moritzburg. Back at Radebeul-Ost we find the Karl May Museum (author of German wild west fantasies), at end of steam train ride. Tram back to town.
Supper outdoors at Foersters Restaurant & Bar, Weisse Gasse 5, 01067 Dresden, 32.30 euro for two.

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