Photos: Berlin, Bruges and Paris

So, in the final segment of my catch-up post sequence, we have the Grand European Tour. Your typical nonstop, not nearly enough sleep, all the sightseeing sort of adventure.

We got off to a fantastic start on Monday when we missed our flight to Berlin–lesson learned, don’t trust cheap alarm clocks. Booked the next flight, got to Germany late afternoon rather than late morning, but everything was okay. And then we managed to get lost on the way to the hostel, despite the fact that the place is visible from the Bahn (subway) stop. Anyway, we went out to do a bit of sightseeing while there was still light and came across this fantastic market in Alexanderplatz–tons of food, lots of clothing vendors (largely selling winter hats, it was rather freezing), even a few carnival rides. We saw a few places in the dark and then headed to a traditional German beer hall for dinner. They even had a band playing German music, and there were a bunch of old people up there dancing and then they pulled up this group of awkward teenagers and it was adorable.

Tuesday was the big sightseeing day. We went back through the market at Alexanderplatz and bought ridiculous (fake-)furry German hats, then headed to the Berliner Dom, the big cathedral in Berlin. You can wander around the whole inside and take pictures, and then you get to climb all the way to the top of the dome to see Berlin from above. Then we wandered through ‘Museum Island’ and down to Brandenburg Gate, which used to be part of the Berlin Wall but is now a symbol of unity between East and West Berlin. Then we went to the Reichstag to stand in line for over an hour in the freezing cold to get a ticket to go inside for the next day, then another traditional German restaurant for dinner. By the way, ever wonder what traditional German vegetarian food is? Bread and cheese. And a lot of it. And occasionally sauerkraut, which isn’t bad if you only have a few bites. But mostly bread and cheese.

Wednesday we actually went up into the big glass dome in the Reichstag, to get an even better view of the city plus an audio tour that tells you a lot of the geographical history of the area. We saw the Holocaust Memorial and the Twin Cathedrals, headed over to Checkpoint Charlie (an old American spy meet-up at the edge of the American sector of Berlin) and ended with the old section of the Berlin Wall that’s still standing. They call it the East Side Gallery, and they’ve covered probably a mile of the wall with graffiti-style art portraying the end of the East-West separation and other contentious political issues. I have a ton of pictures from that. Then we ran (literally) back to the hostel and to the bus station to get on our overnight bus to Belgium.

(Note to everyone who has been traveling in Europe twenty or more years ago: Trains are not the best way to travel through Europe anymore. They’re very expensive, not particularly reliable and more of a huge pain than anything else. I know this is difficult to accept, but you don’t just get a railway pass and wander around anymore. The landscape has changed.)

We arrived in Brussels at about 5:30am Thursday morning and headed over to the hostel/hotel–there is much less of a distinction between the two in Continental Europe. The fabulous hotel staff let us into our room at 6am despite the fact that check-in time wasn’t until 3pm, so we got to shower and change before heading off on that day’s adventure: Bruges. It’s a little medieval town in Belgium, about an hour’s train ride from Brussels. It’s incredibly scenic, full of gorgeous cathedrals and other medieval architecture and has some of the best chocolate shops in Belgium. In other words, heaven. Lunch was real Belgian waffles and real Belgian fries, we went on a boat tour through the canals that surround the city to get to see even more and we ate ALL THE CHOCOLATE. Seriously, if you want to do week-after-Easter discount chocolate shopping right, go to Belgium. The highlight of Bruges is the Belfry, the town’s bell tower built in 1280 that you can climb the 366 narrow, treacherous steps up to the top of and see the whole town from above. Unfortunately, Bruges is one of those artsy little towns where everything closes at 5pm, so we didn’t get to do everything we wanted. Then it was dinner and back to Brussels for the night.

Friday morning began with the 8am bus to Paris. Of course it was late, and we spent quite a while looking for a place to store our bags for the day so we didn’t really get started until mid-afternoon. I did get real French crepes though, and then we went and saw Notre Dame, the flower and used-book markets along the Seine, the outside of the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees/Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower. Someday when I have many, many hours to spare I will actually stand in line to go inside some of those places, but we hit all of the main stops for when you only have one afternoon to spend in Paris. Then it was dinner, another race back to the bus station and an incredibly miserable overnight bus back to London–customs at 3am and the ferry ride at 4am when there’s no heat and it’s Europe’s most bizarrely long winter ever is NOT a fun experience. Still, maybe someday I’ll go on the ferry when I’m not too cold and tired to appreciate it and I might actually enjoy it.

So there’s the recap. And here is all the photos, for your viewing pleasure:

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