…And we’re off! – 26/27 May 2019!

Our ten week adventure begins. Yes, 10 weeks. Countries to include, Netherlands 🇳🇱 (our favorite), France 🇫🇷, Austria 🇦🇹, and Germany 🇩🇪. One of us will be spending 6 weeks in an archive in Rouen France, the other will be nursing a broken proximal humerus 🤕 on the coast 🤗. Together we will be exploring, as able, different parts of these countries.

We tend to explore areas that may not be on the typical travelers journeys. Yes, we do hit the more familiar ‘tourist’ sites, but rather we like to see, and more so experience, that which we find along the way.

The following posts will mostly be photos and some random comments, thoughts and musings, and perhaps a bit of pontificating along the way.

Thank you for joining us! – the 2 Travel Guys, Michael and John.

p.s. from John: I know it’s July, And, I finally have the posting app able to talk with WordPress on my iPad. (Slow internet and xml/rpc errors.) Now, I have a lot of catching up to do!!

Barvaria and Castles

Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles
Train Ride to Füssen

For the vast majority of people, a visit to the two castles of Ludwig II begins as a day trip from Munich. For the train tickets, we purchased a German Rail Pass prior to our trip, and this ticket was valid on the regional train that took us to Füssen. Another option, if you are not taking many day trips from Munich, is the Bayern Ticket, which must be purchased prior to getting on the train, but can be bought at the train station or online. There are hourly trains from Munich’s main train station to Füssen, from where you get a local bus (route 73 or 78) that takes you to the village of Hohenschwangau. You purchase your bus tickets when you get on, but make sure you get a round-trip ticket (in German, hin- und ruckfarht) This will save you money compared to buying 2 one-way tickets. The buses are timed to meet the incoming train from Munich. The day we went, 3 buses met the train.


Tickets for Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle are solely controlled by the Ticket Centre in Hohenschwangau. While day-of tickets are available for those without reservations, we would highly recommend reserving tours online before you go. The online ticketing system allows you to pick your date, language, and approximate time for the tour(s). To use this system, you must reserve your tour(s) no later than 2 days prior to visiting. After that, you must get day-of tickets. The ticket office will email you back within 24 hours with a confirmation number and the exact times of your tour(s). You must pick up your tickets at least 1 hour prior to your first tour; otherwise you will lose the reservation. The online system also requires a credit card to guarantee your reservations, but you pay for the tickets upon arrival at the ticket center. There is a discount if you get more than one tour on the same day. Check the ticket center’s website for pricing as it is will be increasing in 2017.

The day we went, people exited the bus and literally ran to the ticket center to get in the day-of ticket line. This stand-by queue gets very long, very quickly, and you can easily wait over an hour just to see if any tours are available that day in your language. The reservation line, on the other hand, had 3 people in it when we arrived. Within 5 minutes, we paid for the tickets and were on our way.


After getting our tickets for the two tours, we had time to kill before any of the village restaurants opened for lunch. So, we walked to the end of the road to Alpsee. This lake in Hohenschwangau is nestled among the mountains and provides for some amazing photographic opportunities. As it was a clear morning, we took full advantage of the sun to take some photos.

Hohenschwangau Castle

The original fortress named Schwanstein dates to 1397, but the name was changed during the 19th century. Maximillian II of Bavaria purchased Schloss Hohenschwangau, which literally translates to “Upper Swan County Palace”, in 1832 and began a 5-year renovation. Additional rooms were added until 1855. It was the childhood home of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Maximillian II’s son, who ascended to the throne after his father’s death in 1864. While Ludwig II’s mother, Marie, continued to live in Schloss Hohenschwangau, Ludwig II, who never married and disliked his mother greatly, began construction on Neuschwanstein Castle in 1869.

The wall paintings in Schloss Hohenschwangau detail the history of Schwangau (Swan District) and of the medieval German romantic stories of Parzival and Lohengrin, both of which served as inspirations for Richard Wagner’s operas Lohengrin (1848) and Parsifal (1882). Ludwig II sponsored both of Wagner’s operas. During the two World Wars, the castle did not receive any damage.

Our tour began at 1pm, which, after having lunch at a local restaurant, gave us plenty of time to hike up to the castle. As there is no other way to get to the castle, visitors must climb many sets of stairs and inclined paths to reach the castle’s courtyard. This is not an easy hike, to say the least; allot at least 20 minutes to get to the top, more if you need extra time. This is not an attraction for those with mobility challenges of any nature. Once you reach the courtyard, there is a small gift shop with various souvenirs and touristy trinkets.

Entrance to the castle itself is controlled by a pair of turnstiles. You must scan your ticket to gain access, and the turnstiles will not allow you to enter until your scheduled tour time. Once you pass through the turnstiles, there are 2 additional flights of stairs to climb before entering the actual castle. The tour, which lasts just under 30 minutes and is limited to around 20 people, is guided; self-guided tours of the castle are not permitted. Tours are available in 9 languages, with the majority in German and English. The tour guide takes you first into the main living rooms of the castle, then into the queen’s quarters. Then you climb another flight of stairs to get to the king’s quarters. After the tour, you descend several flights of stairs that the servants used and exit the castle back in the courtyard. Then comes the hike back down the path you climbed.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Commissioned by King Ludwig II in homage to Richard Wagner, construction on Schloss Neuschwanstein (New Swanstone Castle) began in 1869 on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau. Ludwig II planned the castle to be a personal refuge away from his mother, Marie, who continued to live in Hohenschwangau Castle. Architecturally, the castle is fashioned in the romantic style, a popular style in the late 1800s that involved making structures more picturesque.

In 1882, enough of the castle had been built so that Ludwig II could provisionally move in so that he could observe first-hand the construction process. Two years later, he moved into the Palas (hall), and two years after that, most of the exterior construction was complete. Dedicated to Richard Wagner, who died in 1883 without having entered the castle, Ludwig II himself only lived in the castle a total of 172 days. Six weeks after Ludwig II’s death, the local regent ordered the castle open to paying visitors. The steady flow of visitors helped to finance the castle’s construction costs. The castle survived both World Wars thanks in no small part due to its remote location. In 1945, the SS contemplated a plan to destroy the castle lest its artwork fall into Nazi enemy hands. The plan, thankfully, never came to fruition.

The journey up to the castle is not easy. Visitors either must hike uphill approximately 1 mile or pay 6 euros to go up via horse-drawn carriage. During busier months, a bus service is also available, but it was not running the day we visited. We opted for the carriage, which is well worth the money. Even after exiting the carriage, you still must hike up another quarter mile before you reach the castle’s entrance. Again, this is not an attraction for those with mobility challenges. If you are in a wheelchair and want to tour the castle, there is an elevator that allows you to partake in the tour once you actually reach the castle itself.

Parallel to the neighboring castle, the entrance into Neuschwanstein is controlled by time-sensitive turnstiles, only allowing visitors to enter at their appointed tour time. All tours are led by a tour guide, and visitors learn about the castle’s history via hand-held audio guides available in manifold languages. On very busy days, around 6,000 people visit the castle daily. While informative, the tour itself could benefit from less people per tour and better spacing. The day we went, tours began every 5 minutes.

Tips for Future Visitors

Since this was our first time to these castles, we have some tips to share that could help alleviate some of the uncertainty about this isolated village. First, make sure you have good walking shoes. This is not the time to break in your new pair of sneakers, nor the place to walk around in high heels. The terrain is too steep, and you’ll end up regretting it.

Second, reserve your tour times in advance on the ticket center’s website. Don’t wait and try for the day-of ticket line. You’ll waste time in a line that is easily avoidable. As mentioned earlier, you just have to guarantee the tickets with a credit card; you can pay however you want at the ticket center. You also must pick up your reserved tickets at least an hour prior to the first tour. The email you get confirming your tour times is very explicit about this. Don’t risk losing your place.

Third, to avoid the risk of not picking up your tickets in time, make sure you get an early train out of Munich. Remember that the trip to Füssen is 2 hours one way. At the time of writing, the first train out of Munich to Füssen leaves at 6:53am, putting you in Füssen at 8:55am. Then you have to get the bus to Hohenschwangau. So, unless you are overnighting in Füssen, don’t schedule your first tour before 11am to accommodate the one hour ticket pick up rule. Also, there is only 1 train per hour to Füssen, so plan accordingly.

Fourth, if you have the extra time and want to discover a small Bavarian town, consider staying in Füssen for a couple of nights. You are much closer to the castles (just a bus ride), and you get to explore the region, which is quite close to Austria. Also, an early tour of the castles would let you avoid the rush that begins around 10am.

Fifth, be ready to take some amazing photographs. Both castles and Alpsee afford fantastic views from which you can capture the surrounding countryside.

German Christmas Markets 2016

Christmas Markets in Germany – 2016

During the 4-5 weeks prior to Christmas, Christmas markets pop up in most German cities, both big and small. These markets are simultaneously individually unique and ubiquitously similar. Each market contains vendors whose goods can only be found at that particular market. Many of these goods are regional in nature, including local foodstuffs, toy makers, tree ornaments, and locally-made clothing. The individual nature of these markets, however, disappears after having visited more than a couple of them. In each market visitors can buy bratwursts, potato pancakes, gingerbread, mulled wine, and roasted nuts. But don’t let the markets’ similarities deter you from visiting them. Each market’s unique vendors emerge as the main attractions in each city.

During our recent 15-day trip to Germany and Austria, we visited the following markets: Frankfurt am Main, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Stuttgart, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Nuremberg, Bayreuth, Munich, and Salzburg. While the larger cities had multiple markets spread out in various parts of the city (Cologne had 6 different markets), the smaller cities’ markets were concentrated in the city square and the surrounding streets. On the opening night of each market, the city usually puts on some sort of holiday show, whether it be musical, historical, or religious in nature.

The most important tip we can offer regarding these markets, aside from wearing very comfortable shoes, is to go during the day if you want to purchase things because the market will rapidly become crowded as the city’s inhabitants get off work and make their way to the market every night. We also noticed that nighttime prices for food items were higher than their daytime counterparts. Vendors frequently raise their prices for roasted nuts, bratwursts, and beverages after nightfall. Thus, going earlier not only allows you the opportunity to browse the stalls without a large, chaotic crowd, but can save you some money in the process.

Browse and subscribe Playlist at German Christmas Markets -2TravelGuys

Frankfurt Hotel Review

Frankfurt Hotel Review – Adina

This is a very new hotel, having been open only 5 weeks when we stayed there. That being said, there were a few things that still need work.

First, the positives. The newness of the hotel is always a welcome thing when staying in hotels whose beds, pillows, and towels have certainly seen better days. We had a 1 bedroom “condo”, which included a separate sitting area, kitchenette with dishwasher and washing machine/dryer,, bathroom, and bedroom. The mattress was firm, and the duvet covers (1 per person) kept us warm. The bedroom has a safe, iron, ironing board, and ample closet space. The bedroom and living areas have separate air thermostats, so you can keep it at two different temperatures if you like.

The staff was quite accommodating and all spoke German (of course) and English. A few also spoke Turkish, which is expected in Germany. We only had one issue with a front desk hostess which I’ll cover later. While the hotel does serve breakfast each morning, it was not included in our room rate, so we did not partake.

The television offers over 100 channels in manifold languages, which is nice since many travelers don’t speak the language of the country to which they travel. The English channels were all from the UK, except for CNN International.

The hotel’s location was outstanding. It is right next to a mall and two blocks from either a tram stop or an U-Bahn station. Both means of transport get you into the middle of town within 15 minutes. While the hotel is not in the middle of town, the lower price we got more than made up for the travel into town. It is also adjacent to the convention center in Frankfurt, which makes it an ideal place to stay if you’re in town for a convention.

Next, the negatives. Being a new hotel, there are always things that still need working out. While walking down the hall, we could still smell the odor of carpet glue. While unpleasant, it’s certainly not a deal-breaker. The thermostats were somewhat confusing to operate until we figured out how to set the requisite temperature. Also, even though the room has a washing machine/dryer combo in the kitchenette area, the hotel charges for detergent tabs (1,50). This is strange since the room comes with two dishwasher tabs. In addition, since the washing machine is quite energy efficient, it takes almost 2 hours to do a load of laundry, even longer if you need to dry the clothes. So plan accordingly.

One day we noticed that housekeeping had put the dirty dished in the dishwasher and sink back into the cupboard without washing them. I’m not sure why the housekeeper would do this when they were clearly dirty from coffee and cake. Also, one day we came back to the room at 4:30pm and the room had yet to be serviced for the day. I went down to the front desk and informed the hostess about this. She offered neither an apology nor an explanation, but did offer to call housekeeping to let them know to clean our room. This could have happened for many reasons (low staffing, large number of check outs, etc.), but was frustrating after having been out all day. We went to dinner, and the room had been serviced by the time we returned 90 minutes later.

Would I recommend this hotel? Absolutely. It has the potential to offer guests a wonderful stay in Frankfurt, and if I were to return, I would certainly book here again. For what you get, the rate is quite reasonable, despite the smell of wurst coming from the breakfast bar as you walk out the front door.

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015 (Part 3)

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015

Part 3  – Berlin, Germany
Pictures coming soon….

Train to Berlin
After three days in Hamburg, we took an ICE high-speed train to Berlin. In under 2 hours, we arrived in Berlin at the new central train station. Opened in 2006 on the site of the former Lehrte Station, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof came to symbolize the reunification of Berlin and handles approximately 1,800 trains daily.


Berlin Pass
As we frequently do when visiting a city for the first time, we purchase the city’s tourist pass, which for Berlin is the Berlin Pass. Possessing this pass will get you unlimited travel on Berlin’s public transportation system, free entry to 60 attractions, free travel on the city’s hop-on, hop-off bus tour, and a free cruise on the River Spree. Even if you don’t visit everything that’s included, which, in reality, is highly impractical, the pass is well worth its price if you have a few days to spend in Berlin.

If you get the pass early enough, they will ship it to you, but it costs 25 euros to ship to the USA. We chose to save that money and picked up our passes for free once we arrived in Berlin. The redemption point is on Museum Island outside the Humboldt Box at Schlossplatz 5. If you aren’t staying within walking distance to this location, you will need to purchase a bus/metro ticket or take a taxi to get you there.

For the purposes of public transport, German cities are divided into zones which are either numbered or lettered. In Berlin, these zones are labels A, B, C, D, and E. The city center is within zones A & B, but the Berlin Pass gives you unlimited travel in zones A, B, & C, which is great if you want to venture outside of the city. We did exactly that on our first day by going to Wannsee.

Wannsee is the westernmost suburb of Berlin, with a population of around 9,000, and can be reached by taking either the S1 or S7 transit line. Its lakes are known as the premier recreation and bathing spot in western Berlin. But the suburb gained notoriety in 1942 when a lakeside villa, purchased by the Nazi Security Force from Friedrich Minoux, who was a German industrialist and financier, hosted the Wannsee Conference. The purpose of this conference, led by Reinhard Heydrich, the Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, was to ensure the cooperation of administrative leaders in the implementation of the final solution. Under the pretext of resettlement, Heydrich proposed the forcible removal of Jews from their homes into concentration camps, principally in Poland, where the vast majority of the Jews were murdered. The villa, opened in 1992, houses a museum and a memorial and is free for all to visit and to learn about the about the conference. The main exhibition is in German, English, and Hebrew. The juxtaposition of a lakeside villa in a peaceful suburb with the historical significance of the building itself highlights how such a brutal regime forever changed the suburb’s atmosphere.

Our hotel was near the Kurfürstendamm, one of the most famous avenues in Berlin. Lined with many cafes, name-brand shops, hotels, and restaurants, this street was the hub of commercial activity in western Berlin when the city was divided after World War II. Reunification brought about competition with major avenues in eastern Berlin.

Berliner Dom
The Berlin Church, located on Museum Island and included in the Berlin Pass, is an Evangelical (Protestant) church that has technically never been a cathedral since it has never served as a seat of a bishop. The current building, completed in 1905, has a pipe organ with 113 stops and is played by a 4-manual console.

River Spree Cruise
As mentioned earlier, a river cruise is included in the Berlin Pass, which leaves from the Alte Börse Pier. This hour-long cruise operates from the end of March until the beginning of November and travels between the former east and west sections of Berlin. Commentary is in German and English. As we traveled down the Spree, it was quite evident from the differences in architecture of where the erstwhile division of the city was.

A large public square in the Mitte district of Berlin, Alexanderplatz derives its name from an 1805 visit of Russian Emperor Alexander I and originally served as a cattle market outside the city limits. The square gained notoriety during the Weimar Republic (1920s), alongside Potsdamer Platz, as the center of Berlin’s nightlife. During the 1960s the square became a pedestrian zone. On the square’s periphery stands the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), and the World Time Clock, a continually rotating installation, shows the time throughout the world.

Berlin’s Olympic stadium in the Charlottenburg district, included in the Berlin Pass, is easily reached via the U2 or S5 transit lines and is currently home to the Hertha Berlin Football Team, but the stadium’s origins date back to the Nazi era. When the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1936 games to Berlin, the initial concept called for a restoration of the German Stadium. But once Hitler came to power, he ordered Werner March, alongside March’s brother Walter, to construct a new stadium, which was built between 1934 and 1936. This new stadium’s capacity was around 110,000 and had a special seating area for Hitler and his compatriots. Hitler used the torch relay and the games themselves as a giant propaganda piece for the Nazi regime. It was at these games that Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals, becoming one of the most memorable parts at the 1936 Olympics. The stadium has also hosted the 1974 and 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Brandenburger Tor
One of the best known locations in Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate, built on the site of a former city gate on the edge of Pariser Platz, which is where the American and French embassies are located. Located in the Mitte district at the intersection of Unter den Linden (an east-west avenue lined with linden trees along which many notable buildings are located) and Ebertstrasse, King Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia commissioned the gate as a sign of peace, and it was completed in 1791. The quadriga (a chariot drawn by 4 horses) sits atop the gate driven by Eirene, the goddess of peace. The Brandenburg Gate was damaged during World War II, and after the Berlin Wall was constructed, neither East nor West Berliners had access to it. The refurbishment of the gate began in 2000 and was completed 2 years later.

Museum Island
In addition to housing the Berliner Dom, Museum Island is the cultural heart of the city. It is here that you’ll find five major state museums: the Altes Museum (Antiquities), the Neues Museum (Egyptian and Prehistory), the Bode Museum (sculpture and Byzantine art), the Pergamon Museum (Middle Eastern art and Islamic art), and the Alte Nationalgalerie (19th century paintings).

We went to 3 of the museums, all of which are part of the Berlin Pass. We walked right into the Bode Museum and the Altes Museum, as these are less visited than the extremely popular Pergamon Museum, for which we waited 90 minutes just to get in the door. Due to the importance of the items on display in the Pergamon Museum, entry is controlled and only a certain number of people can enter at one time. So be prepared to wait to get in unless you arrive prior to the museum’s opening time. Also, be sure you are in the correct line. Museum Island has a ticket booth, whose line snakes alongside that for the Pergamon Museum. If you already have your tickets, don’t waste time in the wrong line.

Checkpoint Charlie Museum
One of the popular museums you won’t find in the Museum Island area is that of Checkpoint Charlie. Originally called “Checkpoint C”, this was the best-known Berlin Wall crossing during the Cold War. (Charlie stems from the NATO phonetic alphabet.) A copy of the original guard house is on display in the middle of road outside the museum, and you can get your picture taken with guard impersonators – this is if you dare cross the street with the traffic. There is no crosswalk at the guard house.

The museum is well worth a visit if you have any interest in the Cold War era. On display are many photos, videos, and methods people used to cross the border, including a mannequin stuffed into a car’s hood. There are also exhibitions on the struggle for human rights and on NATO. You can either sign up for a guided tour in German, English, or French, which must be done in advance, or follow a self-guided tour. This is one of the few museums that is open every day of the year.

Berlin Wall
One of the most recognizable aspects of the Cold War was the Berliner Mauer, or Berlin Wall. The wall, whose construction began on 13 August 1961, totally enclosed West Berlin from both East Berlin and East Germany until its reopening in 1989. Demolition began the next year and was completed in 1992. The East German leaders referred to the wall as the “Anti-Fascist Protective Wall”, which equated West Germany and NATO members with fascists. During its existence it is estimated that around 5,000 people attempted to escape, with an estimated death toll of between 136 to 200+.

While 2 smaller sections of the wall still remain, the open-air Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse stretches 1.4 kilometers and is divided into 4 sections. In the first section called “The Wall and the Death Strip”, the Documentation Center chronicles the political and historical situation surrounding the wall’s construction. The Chapel of Reconciliation, located in the second section called “The Destruction of the City”, was rebuilt on the church’s original site, which was originally located in the inaccessible “death strip”, the area of land between the two walls through which people tried to cross in order to escape. The original church was blown up by the East German government in 1985, but the land was returned after reunification with the proviso that the church was rebuilt.

As you walk along the memorial, plaques on the ground commemorate the locations of tunnels people dug to aid in their attempts to escape East Berlin. They stand as a sobering reminder of the actions people will undertake in order to avoid living under a totalitarian regime.

Käthe Wohlfahrt
Germany is known for its Christmas markets held each winter holiday season in many cities, towns, and villages. But if you happen to be in Germany whilst these markets are not occurring and if you are a fan of Christmas ornaments, see if the city you’re in has an outlet of the Käthe Wohlfahrt chain of stores. There happened to be one near our hotel in Berlin, which was a two-story wonderland of holiday scenes, traditional and modern ornaments, coo coo clocks, and other holiday items. The main store is in a small town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is in northwestern Bavaria. The only branch in the USA is in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Located on Tauentzienstrasse, Das Kaufhaus des Westens (Department Store of the West) is the largest department store in continental Europe and has over 380,000 articles for sale. Originally opened in 1907, each of the store’s 8 levels is dedicated to a different type of merchandise. The top floor is a buffet restaurant that can seat around 1,000 people. While it may not be the best place for a full meal, it is a great place for a slice of cake or some other dessert and a drink.

Reichstag Building
The Reichstag Building houses the German Parliament, and visitors can walk around the roof terrace and glass dome. In order to visit the roof, you must register in advance. You cannot just go and visit when you want. There are two ways to register. There is an online option on the Bundestag’s website, which will have you choose a date and time and will require the full names and birthdates of anyone interested. If you register in person once you get to Berlin, you can do so at the Service Center on the south side of Scheidemannstrasse. You must register at least 2 hours in advance if there are spots available; you must have a passport or identity card if you are a citizen of the EU; you must all be present at the same time to register. Once registered, you’ll receive an invitation for entry, and you come back at that time with your passport/identity card and the invitation. You won’t get in without it. They are actually very strict on this.

While this may seem like a process, and it is, it is well worth the time it takes. The views from the top of the Reichstag are amazing! We went in the late afternoon and had clear views of all of Berlin. Once you are on the roof, you can spend as much time there are you want. Plaques inside the dome chronicle the history of the building, including the fire of 1933 by Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch Communist. The Nazis used the event as propaganda that communists were trying to overthrow the regime.

Next Stop…The Netherlands (coming soon)

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015 (Part 2)

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015

Part 2  – Hamberg, Germany
Pictures coming soon….


After arriving in Hamburg, we purchased our public transportation passes and made our way via Hamburg’s S-Bahn to Dammtor Station where our hotel was. Hamburg is divided into zones, and most tourists will be fine with an AB zone ticket; only if you need to go far outside the city will you need an ABCDE zone ticket. Hamburg’s public transportation company, HVV, does not sell multi-day tickets unless you need at least 7 days. Your best option is the Tageskarte (day card). It comes in 2 versions. The first is an all-day card good for 1 adult and up to 3 children under 14 years old. The second is known as the 9-Uhr-Tageskarte. It is valid only after 9 a.m. (after morning rush hour) for 1 adult and up to 3 children under 14 years old. However, if you are traveling with up to 5 people of any age and will always be traveling together, you can purchase a 9-Uhr-Gruppenkarte, which is cheaper for 2 adults than individual tickets. Again, it is only valid after 9 a.m., and all users must always travel together. But this last option can save a couple over 4 euros a day vs. 2 individual all-day cards.

Our hotel was located next to Dammtor Station, outside of which we saw a Kindertransport Statue. German for “children’s transport”, the statue commemorates a rescue effort that occurred in the nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II, during which approximately 10,000 Jewish children from all over Central and Eastern Europe were placed in foster homes, hostels, farms, and schools in the United Kingdom. In addition, around 1,400 children were brought to the United States. In 1939, influenced by Kristallnacht attacks in Germany, the Wagner-Rogers Bill aimed to admit 20,000 Jewish children into the U.S. through an increase in the immigration quota, but the bill failed in Congress due to an anti-Semitic Senator from North Carolina who blocked the bill from ever being voted upon. Often these children were the only members of their respective families to survive the war.


After storing our bags at the hotel, we walked down Colonaden, through Gastav-Mahler-Platz, to Jungfernstieg. This is a large commercial area where you can find shops like Apple, Louis Vuitton, and Hermès. The Jungfernstieg borders the Binnenalster (Inner Alster), from where you can get hour-long cruises, but more on that later.

Miniatur Wunderland

One of the main reasons we stopped over in Hamburg for two days was to go to Miniatur Wunderland. This is the largest model train display in the world and one of the most successful permanent exhibitions in Germany. The attraction, housed in a former warehouse along the Elbe River within walking distance of the Baumwall U3 station, is open 365 days a year. It is so popular with tourists and locals alike that the attraction’s website actually offers visitors a wait time predictor based on the number of pre-purchased tickets on a given day. Wait times in the mornings can easily exceed 1.5 hours. We reserved a time late in the day—after 5 p.m.—and walked right in when we got there. I would not suggest visiting Miniatur Wunderland without a reservation, and if you can avoid morning hours, do so. If you go in summer, closing time is between 10 p.m. and midnight.

We spent about 2 hours exploring everything Miniatur Wunderland has to offer and actually debated about going back a second day. Even if you aren’t into model trains, the attention to minute detail in every area of the attraction is something to be appreciated. You can see the employees working on new sections and see the massive computer displays that control the multi-level attraction. There are seven sections: the cities of Harz and Knuffingen in Southern Germany, Austria/Alps, Hamburg, America, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the Knuffingen Airport, which is the newest part to open in 2011. The construction teams are also working on opening two new sections: Italy and France. But there is no opening date for either section.

The most fascinating part was the airport. After over 6 years of constructing every piece on site, the airport showcases 40 different aircraft, including a Cessna and an A380, taxiing independently from the airport to the runway, taking off, and landing. Each plane is equipped with lights and realistic turbine sounds for take-off and landing. Also of note is the Switzerland section, which is spread out over two stories and 2,691 sq ft. The Matterhorn model is almost 20 feet tall, through which visitors can pass to see the display from above.

Planten un Blomen

In central Hamburg, just south of the Dammtor train station, is a botanical garden whose name translates to “Plants and Flowers”. Originally designed as a zoological garden, the area was converted into a recreational area in the 1930s. The garden contains a tropical greenhouse, a rose garden, a tea pavilion, and the largest Japanese garden in Europe.

Alster Lake Cruise

As we have done in most of the cities we’ve visited, we took a cruise. In Hamburg, these are not river cruises, but cruises of the Alster Lake. This is a great way to spend an hour seeing the mansions that dot the lake. While there are more options in the summer season, winter cruises can also be taken on enclosed boats. These leave from the Jungfernstieg Pier.

Musical Theatre/Opera House

If you enjoy musicals or classical music, Hamburg is the place to be in Germany. Hamburg plays host to both permanent musicals and limited-run productions, and most of the city’s theatres are in the city’s harbor district, which lines the Elbe River. For fans of classical music, Hamburg is currently constructing a new performance arts theatre called the Elbephilharmonie, located right on the Elbe River. After several delays, the new building, which will also house the Westin Hamburg, should be open by January 2017.

Next stop, Berlin! –> To continue, Click here

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015 (Part 1)

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015

Part 1  – Copenhagen, Denmark
Pictures coming soon….

Background Info

Soon after returning from our April trip, I was curious about going back to Europe sometime in the fall. Airfare prices were outrageously expensive (over $1,100 each) into the main European hubs (Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, and London), so I started looking at alternate airports into which we could fly. Three Scandinavian airports (Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo) were around $450 per person cheaper for round trip tickets than the major cities. We ended up paying around $650 per person for round trip Orlando-Copenhagen, connecting in New York (JFK) and Amsterdam. So we picked Copenhagen since we could take the train into Germany and onward to the Netherlands.


After an extremely quick connection at JFK airport (40 minutes), during which my bag did not make the transfer, we landed in Amsterdam around 6 a.m. and connected to Copenhagen some 3 hours later. We arrived in Kastrup, where Copenhagen’s airport is, just before 11 a.m. After passing through customs, we purchased our Copenhagen Card at the train ticket counter. The train ticket counter at the airport handles not only the local trains, metro, and buses, but also all of the tourist information as well.

The Copenhagen Card is available in 4 versions (24, 48, 72, and 120 hours) and includes unlimited public transport (metro, bus, and local train) for the duration of the pass. It also includes admission to 73 museums and attractions, including Tivoli Gardens (but not to ride the rides; there is a supplement to be paid at Tivoli if you want to upgrade). We highly recommend purchasing this pass if you are interested in the museums and attractions offered since you’ll save a lot of money.

Our hotel, about a 15-minute walk from the Dybbølsbro train station, was located across the street from the Sydhavnen canal and near a shopping mall, the Fisketorvet. Since our room was not ready until 3 p.m., we had some time to kill. So we went to the mall to have lunch and to walk around. When hotels in Denmark inform you that your room will not be ready until 3 p.m., they really do mean it. As it turns out, the housekeeping manager manually enters each room into the system at that time, and not a minute before – literally. Also, hotels in Denmark have a 25% sales tax on them. So if you do go to Denmark, either be prepared to pay the hefty tax or to find alternate accommodation.

Designmuseum Danmark (Danish Design Museum)

After resting for a little bit once we got into our room, we headed out to visit the Danish Design Museum. We took the local train to Østerport Station and walked along the southwestern border of the Kastellet, a 17th-century star-shaped fortress. We turned right onto Bredgade and found the museum on the left. This was about a 15-20 minute walk.

Housed in a rococo-style hospital constructed during the 1750s, the building was renovated during the 1920s to convert it into a museum. Displaying exquisite examples of Danish industrial design, decorative arts, and applied arts, the museum’s collections, library, and archives compose a primary resource and research center for Danish design. The museum’s gardens, the Grønnegård, is open during operating hours and hosts theatrical performances during the summer.

Seeing that my luggage had not arrived by the next morning, we returned to the mall so that I could purchase some replacement clothing. After this, we ventured into downtown Copenhagen.

Christiansborg Slot

On the island of Slotsholmen stands the Christiansborg Slot (Christiansborg Palace). Visitors with the Copenhagen Card can enter the Royal Reception Rooms, the Theatre, the Ruins, and the Stables free of charge; otherwise adult tickets cost DKK 150 (approximately $23). The Danish Parliament, the Danish Supreme Court, and the Danish Prime Minister’s Office use this multipurpose complex, some parts of which the Danish monarchy also uses. The current complex, built between 1907 and 1928, stands on the original site of Absolon’s castle built in 1167. It is the only building in the world to house all three branches of government: judicial, executive, and legislative.

Agnete and the Merman

After touring the grounds, we did what we now try to do in each city: take some sort of cruise to see the city from a different perspective. Beside the cruise company’s ticket office stands Agnete and the Merman, a group of underwater bronze sculptures located in the Slotsholm Canal next to the Højbro Bridge. The figures portray a merman and his seven sons with outstretched arms, pleading with Agnete to come back. The work is based on the ballad “Agnete and the Mermen”, which is one of the manifold fairy tales found in Danish folklore.

The Grand Tour Cruise

Taking visitors on an hour-long cruise, the boat passes through idyllic canals and the city’s harbor. A live tour guide, as opposed to a prerecorded audio track, narrates the journey in Danish, English, and sometimes a third language (German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian). Our particular guide gave the tour in Danish, English, and German. For holders of the Copenhagen Card, the cruise is included, but you must embark at the station beside the underwater statue garden on Gammel Strand, not the one in Nyhavn.

Along the way you’ll see the Copenhagen Opera House, the Nyhavn area, the Royal Yacht, the city’s former port, and the Little Mermaid statue. While you can roll the windows up to stand up during the journey, when the boat travels under some of the bridges, you’ll have to sit down as the clearance is less than 6 inches between the boat and the bridge at some points. As we have experienced many times now, we cannot recommend river or canal cruises enough as a way to take photos you otherwise would have no access to take, to gain a different viewpoint of various attractions, and as a way to see things without walking all over the city and becoming tired.

After the cruise we walked the main pedestrian area of Copenhagen: the Købmagergade. This street is one of the main shopping streets in Copenhagen and intersects with the other main shopping street: Strøget. We took Købmagergade about ten blocks to Kultorvet, a square lined with many restaurants. We chose the Italian restaurant on the north side of the square and had a very delicious meal outdoors. Afterwards, we made our way back down to Strøget and walked toward Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square).

Copenhagen Pride

Unbeknownst to us, the square in front of Copenhagen’s City Hall was hosting Copenhagen Pride. The city was decked out in rainbow colors; even 7-11 printed special coffee cups with rainbow colors on them to celebrate. The square had about 30 booths displaying products, food items, and a music stage. We then headed down H. C. Andersens Blvd. where a statue of Hans Christian Andersen was. Across the street was Tivoli Gardens.

Tivoli Gardens

Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Tivoli Gardens is the second-longest operating amusement park in the world. Opened on 15 August 1843 under the name Tivoli and Vauxhall, as an homage to the Jardin de Tivoli in Paris (itself named after Tivoli in Rome) and Vauxhall Gardens in London, the park possessed buildings constructed in the imaginary exotic Oriental style, flower gardens, a theatre, and mechanical amusement rides. When the Nazis occupied Denmark, Nazi supporters burned many of the gardens’ buildings, but temporary buildings were quickly built and the park reopened within weeks.

The park is best known for its wooden roller coaster, Rutschebanen, which is controlled by an onboard operator so that the ride won’t gain too much speed on the hills. There are three other roller coasters and various thrill rides. In addition to the rides, Tivoli serves as a venue for the performing arts and plays an active role in Copenhagen’s cultural scene. Visitors with the Copenhagen Card can enter the gardens for free, but to ride the attractions, you must purchase a supplemental ticket.

The next morning, we took the 5:20 a.m. direct train from Copenhagen to Hamburg, Germany. The main reason we booked such an early train was the price, which was cheaper than the next train leaving two hours later by about 20 euros per person. We also wanted to get the five-hour train ride out of the way early in the day so we would have more time in Hamburg to explore.

The fascinating thing about this train, however, was the fact that from Rødbyhavn, Denmark to Puttgarden, Germany, the train travels in the hull of a ferry. The ferry contains railroad tracks on which the train rests during the 45-minute journey across the 18-kilometer wide Fehmarn Belt, a strait that connects the Bay of Mecklenburg and the Bay of Kiel in the western section of the Baltic Sea. Passengers must disembark the train once it is secured in the ferry, which has two restaurants, a convenience store, a duty free store, a currency exchange desk, and several observation decks. Prior to docking in Puttgarden, passengers get back on the train to continue their journey to Hamburg.

Originally envisioned as a bridge, there is a proposal to bore a 3-part tunnel similar to the Chunnel connecting France and the United Kingdom to link Denmark and Germany. Initial plans set completion for 2018, but domestic and EU funding pushed completion to 2024. Denmark will build the tunnel with support from Germany and Sweden, aiming to cut about an hour of travel time between the countries.

We’re off to Hamburg, Germany! –> To continue, Click here

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Cologne, Bonn, & Düsseldorf – April 2015

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Cologne, Bonn, & Düsseldorf – April 2015

While we probably wouldn’t have gone back as quick as we did, I had enough frequent flyer miles to get both of us round trip tickets to Europe on Delta. We originally were going to spend 2 weeks in the south of France, visiting Marseille, Cannes, Nice, and Monaco. After having booked our flights, however, certain events in and around Marseille influenced us to adjust our itinerary. We decided to return to the Netherlands for a few days and to spend a week in Germany.

With our new round trip flights in and out of Amsterdam secure, we continued our tradition of upgrading to the premium economy seats on Delta. While the food and service is parallel to the rest of the economy class, the main difference in the extra leg room. On Delta, you get up to an extra 4 inches of leg room, which on international flights makes a big difference in comfort. We also try to reserve the bulkhead seats, which are located in the first row of premium economy. While you cannot have your carry-on baggage in front of you during takeoff and landing, the absence of a reclining seat in front of you is worth the extra price alone.

I also began to search for hotels in various cities and to monitor train ticket prices. As with previous trips, I used hotels.com to book all of our reservations since its loyalty program rewards you with 1 free night for every 10 nights stayed, with the free night being valued at the median price of the 10 nights.


As with a lot of reward travel, the flight times can be somewhat restricted. We ended up arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport around 11:30 am, which we found to be a much better experience that arriving during the early morning rush (any time before 9am). Not only was it quicker to go through passport control and customs, but since we knew the hotel room wouldn’t be ready until at least 2 pm, there was really no need to rush to get to the hotel. We opted to have lunch in the airport mall area. Since Schiphol is a major domestic transportation hub, not to mention the airlines, the airport has its own mall in it, complete with grocery store, restaurants, clothing shops, bookstores, and 2 Starbucks.

Our hotel for the next 2 nights, the Best Western Premier Hotel Couture, is located in the southwest part of the city, in a neighborhood called Westlandgracht, which happens to be the name of the canal in front of the hotel. The hotel’s location is far enough out of the city center so that you don’t pay the exorbitant markup many hotels charge for being in the city center, and the #2 tram stops right outside the hotel’s entrance. The hotel is also within walking distance (about 5 minutes) of the Heemstedestraat metro station. Since we didn’t need to go all the way into Amsterdam just to come all the way back out to our hotel, we took the train to Amsterdam Lelylaan Station, transferred to the metro for 1 stop to Heemstedestraat, and walked the rest of the way to the hotel. Since our room wasn’t ready, we stored our luggage and headed into Amsterdam.

In keeping with my new obsession, we set out to find the entire collection of Starbucks mugs for the Netherlands. Using the 9292.nl app, we found the next train from Amsterdam Centraal to Hilversum, a quick 20 minute train ride. Like most Starbucks outside of Amsterdam, the one in Hilversum is located in the train station. While not a large city by any means, Hilversum is where the main Dutch television and radio stations have their studios. We then hopped the next train to Utrecht, only 15 minutes away. We then went to Arnhem and Nijmegen before returning to Amsterdam for dinner.

A quick anecdote: Starbucks manufactured the original Nijmegen mug with a picture of a bridge that is really located in Arnhem, which we found out, after talking to the barista at the Nijmegen Starbucks, caused an outrage amongst the populations of both cities. The incorrect mug was taken off the market, and the correct bridge appeared on the new version of the Nijmegen mug. But, you can still purchase the first version on resell websites, which is where I got mine. So I have the complete 11 mug series for the Netherlands.

Keukenhof Gardens

The next day we went to Keukenhof Gardens. Feted as one of the largest flower gardens in the world, Keukenhof is also known as the Garden of Europe. Every year from mid-March to mid-May around 7 million tulip bulbs are planted covering close to 79 acres. Located in the town of Lisse, which is southwest of Amsterdam, visitors can travel to the gardens via dedicated bus service from Schiphol Airport, Leiden Centraal, and Haarlem. Depending on your point of origin, you may want to purchase a train + bus + entrance ticket sold on Keukenhof’s website. For a flat fee, you can travel roundtrip to/from any train station in the Netherlands to Schiphol, Leiden, or Haarlem, transfer to the bus, and enter the grounds. The price for this ticket is €35,00 for 2016 and really only offers visitors a discount on train travel if their point of origin requires more than 40 minutes of train travel. Otherwise, I would advise just paying for each leg of the journey separately to save money. Admission to the gardens is €16,00, so for the roundtrip ticket to save you money, your travel price needs to cost more than €19,00. You can find out the exact price of your trip by visiting the 9292.nl website.

Situated on 15th-century hunting grounds, Keukenhof attracts visitors from around the world and for good reason. It’s a site to behold. The gardens visitors see today were established in 1949 as a way for tulip farmers to display their hybrids and to boost the Dutch export industry. Different varieties of gardens and garden styles are presented each year, including an English garden, a Japanese garden, a historical garden, and a nature garden. Each year a specific theme is chosen which is showcased not only throughout the grounds, but in the main display hall. There are several restaurants and several display hallslocated on the grounds, all of which have Wi-Fi connectivity for free. While touring the gardens themselves, however, there is no or extremely limited connectivity.

Regardless of when you visit during the blooming season, it will be crowded. It is quite difficult to take pictures (other than close-ups, of course) without having people in them, although it can be done if you arrive early. To see everything on display, you should budget at least one full day, and this is not an exaggeration. We were there for over 6 hours and did not see everything. If you have the time, we would suggest 2 days to experience everything the gardens offers.


The next morning prior to leaving for Rotterdam, we walked around the Museumplein where the Rijksmuseum is located. We were planning on going inside the museum, but the line was quite long, and we didn’t want to wait. If you have the chance, I would suggest purchasing your tickets to the Rijksmuseum online and printing them out. It will save you a lot of time, and you can just walk right into the museum, store your bags at the coat check desk, and then enter the exhibits. (We did this on the next trip.)


Then we walked over to the Westermarkt area, which can be reached with tram lines 13, 14, & 17. This is a square between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht where the Westerkerk (West Church) is located.Two tourist attractions are here. First, the Anne Frank Huis, which many visitors want to see, and second, the Homomonument (Gay Monument). Anne Frank’s House is where Anne Frank and her family hid from the German occupiers during World War II. Both humbling and fascinating, you can walk through the multi-level house and experience what this family did. I went through the house back in 1995 on my first trip to Amsterdam, but John has never been inside. The main problem with the old house is that it is not accessible to those with mobility issues. There are extremely steep and narrow staircases visitors have to maneuver to go from one level to another in the old house. The new building, located next to the old house and housing the café, museum, and the current exhibition, is accessible. If you arrive early, you won’t have to wait too long to get in, but the line to enter can quickly become over an hour long.

The Homomonument, proposed in 1979 and finished in 1987 due to the time it took to raise the €180.000 to pay for the site’s construction, is the world’s first monument to memorialize those persecuted because of their sexuality. Made out of 3 large pink granite triangles, each measuring 10 meters on each side, the points of the Homomonument point to 3 symbolic places in Amsterdam. The first points toward the National War Memorial in Dam Square; the second points toward Anne Frank’s House; the third points toward the headquarters of COC Nederland, the Dutch gay rights group founded in 1946.


After the morning outing, we picked up our luggage and took the afternoon train to Rotterdam for the next 3 nights. Rotterdam is the financial hub of the Netherlands and is where the Dutch stock market is located. Not knowing the city at all, I knew we wanted to be centrally located, and I found a great deal on a concierge room at the 5-star Manhattan Hotel Rotterdam located just opposite the Rotterdam Centraal train station. Upon arrival, again, we knew the room wouldn’t be ready. We stored our luggage, purchased a 3 day unlimited RET pass from the front desk, and returned to the train station, which has—you guessed it—a Starbucks where I got the Rotterdam mug. While we waited for our room to be ready, we took the metro to Den Haag, where I bought that city’s mug. Then we took the train to Leiden, a short 10 minute journey, where I bought that city’s mug as well. By the time we got back to the hotel, the room was ready.

Markthal and Cube Houses

One of our favorite things to do while traveling is seeing how the city’s residents live, where they shop, and things the normal visitor might not see. The Markthal is one of those places. This building is a multi-use space where people live and shop for food. The upper floors contain apartments, and the ground floor houses 96 different food vendors. The Markthal also has several restaurants, a grocery store, a liquor store, and a drugstore. The airy architecture and interior painting help to distinguish this building. We had several meals here over the course of our 3 night stay.

Across from the Markthal is one of the architectural wonders of Rotterdam: the Cube Houses. Designed by Piet Blom, the cubes are tilted at a 45 degree angle and rest on a hexagonal pylon allowing people to walk underneath.


After the Markthal, we took the tram (line 8) to Euromast. Located next to the Parkhaven, a harbor off the main river that runs through Rotterdam, the Nieuwe Maas, the Euromast is 185 meters high. At a height of 100 meters is a restaurant and a two-level observation deck. From here, you can ride the Euroscoop, a rotating, glass-enclosed ride that takes you the additional 85 meters to the very top of the Euromast. The Euroscoop is included in the price of admission, and the view is amazing. But if you suffer from vertigo, you may want to forgo this part of the attraction. The Euromast is open late for those who want to see the city at night.

Right beside the Euromast is the Sjømannskirken, a Norwegian church serving the needs of Norwegians living in Rotterdam. While not open to the public outside of service times, behind the church is Het Parc, spacious garden through which anyone can walk.

Den Haag & Delft

The next day we took the metro
E-line to Den Haag and went to Scheveningen, which is a popular beach with the Dutch. While it was certainly too cold to actually swim, a leisurely stroll down the boardwalk on a sunny day is a great way to relax. All along the beach, restaurants offering many cuisines line the boardwalk. Most have glass partitions to keep the wind and sand out of the outside dining area. There are also indoor seats for very cold days. One of the highlights of the beach is the newly renovated pier. Originally opened in 1959, the pier has 2 levels: an enclosed lower level and an open-air upper level. A fire damaged the pier in 2011, and it went bankrupt in 2013. During our visit the pier was closed, but there are plans to reopen it after extensive renovations.

We then took the tram from Den Haag to Delft and visited the Royal Delft Museum. The tram will take you to the train station in Delft, but from there you have to transfer to a local bus or walk to the Royal Delft Museum. We chose to walk through town, which ended up being somewhat out of the way, but we saw some very architecturally interesting buildings. Once we got to the museum, we opted not to take the tour, but looked around the shop for a while. We walked back to the train station via another route which was much shorter than the original route we took. We then took the train back to Rotterdam.

That evening we walked around the harbor in Rotterdam by the Nieuwe Maas and took pictures of the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge). Named in honor of Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch Renaissance humanist, social critic, and theologian, the bridge connects the north and south sections of Rotterdam. The bridge opened in 1996 and is a combined cable-stayed and bascule bridge. The bridge’s single pylon helped to earn it the nickname “The Swan”.

The next morning we had breakfast at Bagel and Beans. We then got the train to Hoek van Holland to visit Het Keringhuis. Near the entrances to all the major waterways from the North Sea, the Dutch have constructed storm surge barriers to eliminate the possibility of the Netherlands being flooded in the event of a major storm. Het Keringhuis is one of these surge barriers, and since 1996 visitors can see how the barrier works via a behind the scenes tour. The exhibit, which received a complete overhaul in 2010, demonstrates how the barriers (1 on each bank of the river) would protect the low-lying nation were a ferocious storm to arise. The hour-long tour, given in English on the weekends, allows visitors to walk around the grounds and to walk under one of the massive barriers. The only challenge to visiting Het Keringhuis is its location. From Rotterdam, you take a local train to Hoek van Holland, which is the nearest train station. From the train station, you either have to walk or take a taxi, as the barriers are 2 miles from the station. And we walked it – both ways. If you choose to walk it, opt for the path along the raised dyke as opposed to walking through the city itself; it will save you about 20 minutes.



After 5 nights in the Netherlands, we took an early morning train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam Centraal, where we transferred from a Dutch train to a German ICE (Intercity Express) train for our 3 hour trip to Cologne, Germany. The ICE is a German high speed train, equivalent to France’s TGV. We got our one-way tickets for €39,00 each by booking directly with Deutsche Bahn. We purchased what is known as a Sparpreis Europa (Saver Fare Europe) ticket and is available for journeys to/from Germany from/to 16 other European nations. These tickets are not available for all trains and come with specific restrictions, like the inability to transfer the ticket to another train at an earlier or later time without incurring a fee. But if you plan your trips like we do, these cheap fares will save you a lot of money on train travel in Europe when compared to buying a Eurail Pass, which is a great deal if you are the type of traveler who wants to come and go as you want.

Our ICE called at Amsterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem, Oberhausen, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Frankfurt. Once we got to Cologne, we purchased a public transport pass for a week that would get us to the neighboring cities of Bonn, Aachen, and Düsseldorf. KVB is the company that runs public transportation in Cologne, and it partners with VRS to allow people to buy 1 ticket that covers both the local and regional trains. In Cologne, like most other German cities with more than just bus service, there are S-Bahnen and U-Bahnen. The former operates above ground, and the latter runs underground.

The first afternoon in Cologne we went to the Cologne Cathedral. Then we went to the Starbucks at the Cologne train station where I bought 10 mugs.
img_2410-109152906_stdThe first night in Germany we wanted to have a German meal. We asked the hotel concierge for suggestions and ended up going to Hausbrauerei Päffgen. Something we didn’t know prior to going in, but quickly learned, is that people seat themselves in Germany. If there’s an open table, you can have it. But you have to watch out for small cards on the table that signify that the table is reserved from a certain time. The food was good and hit the spot.


The next day we took the S-Bahn (S16) to Bonn. You can also take S18 to Bonn, but this route is inland while S16 runs along the river. With our KVB/VRS combination ticket, we had unlimited travel between Cologne and Bonn. S16 took about an hour to reach Bonn, but traveling along the Rhine River for most of the way was worth the extra time.

When we got to Bonn, we walked past the Bonner Münster, a Catholic church built between the 11th and 13th centuries. This is one of the oldest surviving churches in Germany. The church once served as the cathedral used by the Archbishop of Cologne. We walked through Münsterplatz and found the Bonn Information Center located on Windeckstrasse, right next to TK Maxx. (Yes, this is Germany’s version of the American store TJ Maxx.) We bought a city map and picked up some brochures, then set out to find Bonn’s most famous tourist attraction: Beethoven’s House.

Beethoven’s House

Having been a lover of classical music since the 1980s, it had always been a dream of mine to visit the birthplace of one of the best composers to ever live. After a 15 minute walk from the information center, we arrived at Beethoven-Haus at Bonngasse18-26. If you don’t want to walk, you can also take either the 62, 66, or 67 tram to Beethoven-Haus.
Founded in 1889, the Beethoven-Haus Association works to promote, to preserve, and to memorialize the composer’s life and work. The museum and archives house the largest collection of Beethoven’s work in the world. In addition to the museum, the adjoining digital collection contains more than 6,100 documents and over 1,600 audio files which can be accessed on site or via the Beethoven-Haus’ website (in German and English). Visitors must store all bags in the lockers provided since the only thing you can carry with you is a camera. Some of the ceilings in the house are quite low; at 6’2” I found myself ducking frequently to avoid hitting either the ceiling or the archways between rooms. There are guides throughout the museum to show you the advised route to take through the rooms.

After we visited the Beethoven-Haus, we wanted to grab a quick lunch. We found, by chance at the end of Bonngasse, a city market where various food carts and restaurants were. Ironically enough, the area is simply called Markt. This section of Bonn is completely pedestrian, so you will have to walk through it to get there. We chose to eat at a wurst food truck, where I had and enjoyed my first currywurst. At the eastern end of the Markt stands the Bundesstadt Bonn – Altes Rathaus, the old city hall.


After lunch we walked to the other reason for day trip to Bonn: the Haribo Store. Located a couple of blocks south of Markt on Am Neutor, this is the sole store in the world for Haribo products. There are 5 factory stores in Germany, but this is the only store front. This two-story shop sells everything Haribo makes, including merchandise. John is a huge Haribo fan, so going to Bonn without visiting the store would not have been acceptable at all.

After the Haribo store, we took regional train back to Cologne. We went to eat at an Asian restaurant on Breite Strasse. For dessert we found a gelato shop at the corner of Tunisstrasse and Breite Strasse where you can get a scoop of gelato for 1 euro, which is a great deal.

Kölner Seilbahn

The next morning we took the Kölner Seilbahn, a skyway gondola that crossed the Rhine River. On a clear day this trip affords visitors fantastic view of Cologne from above. Even though it was a cloudy day when we went on the cable car, the journey still gave us amazing views. From a practical standpoint, it is much cheaper to purchase a roundtrip ticket than a one-way ticket. But an even better deal is a combination ticket that includes the Seilbahn, the Zoo, and the Aquarium. These combination tickets must be purchased at the Kölner Seilbahn.

Kölner Zoo

Located across the street from the Kölner Seilbahn is the Cologne Zoo. If you’re into animals or just want to leave the busy city behind, the Cologne Zoo is a great place to spend a couple of hours watching animals from all over the world. The zoo offers visitors the opportunity to watch animal feedings throughout the day; check the zoo map you get at the entrance for exact times. We got to see the animal keepers feed the penguins. We also spent time at the flamingo and hippo exhibits.

Botanical Gardens

The botanical gardens are located right next to the zoo, which if you’re looking for a free activity, is a great way to spend some time. A full visit will take about an hour or so, depending on how long you spend in each section.


Chocolate Museum

Just south of the city center, on an island in the Rhine River, sits the Schokoladenmuseum (Cologne Chocolate Museum) presented by Lindt. The museum traces the history of chocolate from the Aztecs and Mayas, through the Baroque Age and the Industrial Revolution, to the refined chocolate industry of today. The visit is well worth the 9 euro price of admission, and the museum sells family tickets for 25 euros for 2 adults and all of the couple’s children under 16. Also, if you happen to visit the museum on your birthday, your admission is free!
As part of the production tour, visitors have the opportunity to make their own piece of chocolate bark (at an additional cost). You can customize the bark as you wish from a variety of toppings and the type of chocolate used. There’s also a café where you can sit and have a dessert, or a shop where you can purchase all sorts of treats.


The next day we took the train to Düsseldorf to get the Düsseldorf Starbucks mug. After striking out at the Starbucks in the train station, we asked the barista where another one was. She directed us to the one on Blumenstrasse off Königsallee. As it turns out, Königsallee (King’s Alley) was Düsseldorf’s equivalent to Avenue Montaigne in Paris. All of the high-end designers have stores along this street which is divided by the Stadtgraben (City Canal).

After walking the length of Königsallee, we walked into the pedestrian section of the city and found an open-air market on the Marktplatz. Lined to the north by the Altes Rathaus and to the south by the city’s municipal building, this open-air market offers not only food stands, but food trucks and home goods shops with plants, herbs, and artisan soaps. We even found a food stand selling Florida grapefruits.

While we didn’t spend a lot of time in Düsseldorf, we know it’s a city we would like to return to at some point in the future. We then took the regional train back to Cologne.

The next day we returned to the river area and took an hour-long cruise down the Rhine River. The docks for the river cruises are located just north of the Deutzer Bridge. We took the one-hour panorama cruise (Panoramafahrt Köln), which is a great way to see all the city’s main sites. We are big advocates of any type of city cruise as both a way to relax for approximately an hour and not have to walk and a means to see all the major tourist sites. We would advise doing these cruises on a clear day so that you can take clear photos. The day we went, the sun was shining, and there were few clouds in the sky.

Old St. Alban Church

After the cruise, we walked around the old center of Cologne and happened upon Old St. Alban Church. Originally constructed around 1172, the church was refurbished during the Middle Ages, and the church’s tower was built in 1494. The outer façade was completed in 1896.
The church suffered a near-complete blown out from a bomb during World War II, and it was not rebuilt. Only some of the outer walls and inner support beams still stand today. In 1954, the region’s Cardinal asked that the ruins become a memorial for those lost during the war. In the church’s interior, a reproduction of the sculpture “Trauerndes Elternpaar” (Grieving Parents) was installed in 1954. Since churches were supposed to be safe havens during the war, many parents would send their children to the church for safekeeping. The sculpture, situated in the middle of the ruins, is of a grieving father and mother kneeling who have realized their children have died as a result of the bombing.

NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln

This museum, housed in the former headquarters of the Cologne Gestapo between 1935 and 1945, is the largest regional memorial in Germany for Nazi victims.
In the final months of the war, several hundred people were murdered in the building’s courtyard. The museum is also dedicated to historical research and teaching about Cologne’s history during the Nazi era. The permanent exhibition depicts the political, social, and communal life in Nazi Cologne, and the temporary exhibit while we were there displayed the architecture of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The jail cells in the building are some of the best preserved in Germany since the building did not suffer much damage from Allied bombings. As with all sites of remembrance in Germany, admission is free. The German government pays for the operational budgets of all memorials as part of its wartime reparations. In 2000, the museum received a special recommendation for the prestigious European Museum of the Year Award.


After our time in Germany, we still had two nights before we flew back to the States. We took the train back to Amsterdam and stayed at a hotel near Schiphol Airport. After checking in, we took the complementary shuttle to the airport to walk around and have dinner.

Panorama Terrace

While at the airport, we found the observation deck, which is located before security. Visitors can go up to the airport’s roof and have dinner at the diner or spend time on the open-air panorama terrace, which overlooks the airport’s aprons. On the terrace, there is a life-sized Fokker 100 that visitors can enter at no cost. This airplane used to be in operation, but has been converted into an aviation experience, complete with air traffic control recordings, the original plane’s seats, and views into the baggage hold.

Zaanse Schans

On our last day in the Netherlands, we went to see the windmills at Zaanse Schans.
There are 2 ways to get here. You can take the train to the Koog-Zaandijk train station and walk through the town of Zaandijk; the walking portion takes around 20 minutes. You can also take the 391 bus from Amsterdam Centraal, which runs every half hour.

This area houses windmills, houses, barns, and museums constructed in the typical Dutch wooden style that date to the 18th and 19th centuries. You can easily spend half a day here walking through the old village, shopping, and visiting the windmills. While it is free to walk around the village, some of the windmills and the museum charge admission fees. Also, you should check the village’s website to make sure the attractions you want to see are open as not everything is open every day.
One of the highlights to us was the Museumwinkel Albert Heijn. This is the original Albert Heijn supermarket, now ubiquitous throughout the Netherlands that opened in 1887. It contains the original furnishings and stock from the 1880s. The shop was moved to Zaanse Schans from its original location in Zaandam.