June, 2012 Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna
After ten months seeing to the wedding of one daughter and babysitting the new baby of another, we are back in Europe for eleven weeks. This sojourn is short as we have promised another seven months of babysitting. This completes our 21st month in Europe since 2009. By the way, please forgive any spelling errors of foreign sites. I just don't have the time to go back and look them all up! If you are interested in a daily blog with pictures go to roadeveron.blogspot.com
Paris, as all huge cities, is somewhat difficult to visit by motorhome so when long-time friends offered to share their two bedroom apartment near the Eiffel Tower for a week, we were happy to start our summer there. Flying in from Amsterdam, we took the Air France bus to the Arc d Triumph at 29 E round trip and then a taxi for 10 E to the apartment. We should have taken the RER train, and we would have ended up only 2 blocks from the apartment. I had forgotten that the RER train is really easy to navigate. In fact, within the main historical area it uses the same ticket as the metro though it doesn't run as often. By the way, buy metro tickets in groups of 10 for savings and also because some stations don't have machines or ticket windows. Also the machines can be very finicky about the bills they take and some only take coins.
At the Orangery we bought the combo ticket for the Orsay which turned out to be a very good idea as the ticket lines at the Orsay were long. FYI there is no place to picnic inside the Orsay and you can't leave and get back in unlike the Louvre. Also it is quite easy to just buy a drink and eat your own food in the Louvre cafe though the lines were long. We avoided the long entrance lines to the Louvre by getting there at 8:40 and using the Carousel entrance. You could also use the Lion entrance. Both are on the farther end but not far from the RER station at Orsay. By the way, see the Mona Lisa and the rest of Italian painting and the Egyptian section in the am. In the afternoon, you couldn't even get into the room with the Lisa. Since we were only going to three museums we didn't opt for the museum pass this time. Walking past other attractions, we were appalled at the long lines at the Eiffel Tower, Saint Chapelle, and even to get into Notre Dame. It would be well worth your time to try to figure out some time when Paris isn't packed to the gills. Early June used to be okay but not now and the museums were also full of student field trips.
We had dinner at Auberge Nicholas Flamel, and it was a bargain. 31 E for a 3 course gourmet meal. And it is in the oldest house in Paris, so lots of atmosphere. You can make a reservation by emailing them at the address in their website—no deposit was necessary.
We decided to reserve a cab by phone for the morning we left. We had to pay 5E for the phone reservation and the cabby charged us extra too—16 E, so a total of 21E for the same ride we paid 10E for when we hailed a cab. Something to keep in mind. The bus takes about an hour in traffic to the airport if you decide to go that route.
Amsterdam June 12
We called Parking 24 7 for a ride from the airport to our storage facility for 25E. We met them in front of the Sheraton which is just outside the baggage gates. Our camper was waiting in the parking lot, and everything was working. What a relief after 11 months in storage! Gerard also has an air pump and water so we filled the tires and water tank. Camping Amsterdam is only 1.5 miles away so first we stopped at a supermarket to get supplies. Camping Amsterdam is at N 52.29401 E4.82314. We paid 19.5 E a night including electricity which is included whether you want it or not. This is still the low season rate. Showers are 1E. They also have all kinds of cabins and a big communal kitchen. The bus is 4-6 E each way and takes 40 minutes into Amsterdam. The best fare is 13.50 E for two persons for the bus system all day. You can buy tickets from the driver. Camping Amsterdam also has lots of cabins sleeping 2-8 persons, with and without bathrooms from 35E a night to over a 100E.
In Amsterdam we wanted to have pommes frites, walk around, and see the Rjikesmuseum. A long day on my feet, but successful. But we should have gotten the audio at the museum, even after watching 24 hrs of art lectures, you just don't know enough.
Berlin June 15
The drive took 8 hrs. because of construction work on the highway which took an hour to stop and go through. There is rest stop right at the German border, about two hours from Amsterdam, if you want to save a night's camping fee. The Netherlands does not permit wild camping. Germany lets you wild camp anywhere, and we did so right in the city last time. Because we will have the baby we actually made advance reservations at Wohnmobilpark Berlin, which is fancy stellplatz in Tegel. (n52.59311, e13.28697 Note: We used to enter everything in minutes, degrees and seconds, but our new Camperstop book has switched to this form, so have we.) It is 14e a day for 7 meters long camper, 3e for electricity, and 4e if you want keys to toilet/showers. Tegel was a pleasant 10-15 minute walk for both the S bahn and the U bahn. It has a huge downtown and a nice air conditioned mall just 3 blocks from town. Besides that shopping, there is a discount supermarket right across from the stellplatz and a little restaurant where two currywurst and a large fries will set you back a whopping 4e. Our only problem was that we didn't know we needed to arrive before 7pm, Mark wiggled through the gate and luckily the warden was still there and let us in—pay in advance in cash and she speaks very limited English. Wifi is available through the Tmobile hotspot widely available in Germany at McDonald's etc. so we bought 10 hrs for 19e. However, connectivity has still been spotty even up at reception. There are Internet cafes just at the edge of town though, right over the S bahn tracks.
Before picking up our daughter, son-in-law and baby Penelope (14 months), we spent two days in the city. Our first stop was to the Pergamon Museum which was closed when we were here before. It is more than amazing and worth a trip to Berlin to see it alone. It is very popular and we waited 45 minutes in line just for tickets. To avoid that, go into any of the other museums on Museum Island and buy a museum pass. It is only 19e, you can skip all the lines, and it is good for 3 days. It also allows you to leave a museum to have lunch and go right back in again. The admission includes free audio at the Museums. Allow about 2-3 hrs for the Pergamon and there are two cafes right outside. It does get hot in the afternoon so morning is best. There are the three biggies—the Pergamon altar, the Babylonian processional gate and way, and the Miletus gate. Anyone of them is world class on their own, but do go upstairs to the Islamic art exhibit at least to see the wooden room—.on the right side after the stairs. My daughter and son-in-law ate at Pergamonkeller in Berlin for classic German food.
We also used the pass to spend about 45 minutes in the Neues Kunst Museum to see the two rooms of Impressionist paintings, and the next door Altes Museum (1-2hrs) to see the items brought back from Troy and the Egyptian collection, which includes the famous bust of Nefertiti. It is unbelievable how haunting it is in person.
Another day we went to Pottsdammer Platz to the Gemaldagalerie. It has everything from Massacio and Botticelli to Bruegel, Pouson, lots of Rembrandt, even Reynolds and Gainsborough. Not the best or most famous work of each artist but still a wonderful way to spend 3 hours. We have visited the Wall etc. before so spent our extra two days in Tegel just lazing around the camper with Penelope, who adjusted to the jet lag much better than we do. After sightseeing or traveling for ten days straight, it is wonderful just to do nothing.
Dresden- June 20
In Dresden we camped at a pension Werner Knopf about a 25 minute bus ride from old town. (n51.08131, e13.65563) We had stayed there two years ago and the sweet grandfather (who speaks no English) remembered us. The bus stop is less than a block and the cost to park is still only 5e plus 2 for electricity. There is water and his English speaking daughter asked if we needed toilet or shower but we didn't. We didn't see a dump but didn't ask about it. I wanted to see the Green Treasure rooms again so Mark watched the baby while the three of us went. They are very strict about the timed entrance to the Historical room; we saw a couple lose their entrance when they were 1 minute late! Though both rooms only take about an hour, I highly recommend doing one in the morning, having lunch, and then the other. We have now seen nearly all the treasure rooms of Europe and this is by far the best, but it can be overwhelming. Photography is not allowed. The Turkish collection is also good. We liked the huge tent and the sword collection is superb.
The next day we had a super good Thai lunch at very reasonable prices—6-7e with soup and huge portions at the Happy FriendsThai (in New Town, just north of the river, but reasonable walking distance.) We then went to the Gemaldagalerie, including the baby. There is a special exhibition for the 500th year of Raphael's Madonna and Child with the famous two little angels. Lots of interesting other paintings, sketches, take-offs, etc. but the glare on the actual painting was horrific and in the afternoon it (and the entire gallery) was very crowded. When we were here two years ago in August I saw the picture practically alone! Baby Penelope was pretty good, but I felt rushed and again wished I had bought the audio. (You will notice I always say that—I am going to start getting the audio!) I would say to allow 3-4 days for Dresden if you can.
Prague June 22
Going to Prague means buying a vignette for the toll roads or taking the old roads. Legally we are supposed to buy the truck vignette as we are over 3.5 metric tons. Last time in ignorance we did not. This time we didn't either. Ten days was 13e. In Prague we left the camper at Camping Drusus (n50.04393, e14.28418) where we had stayed two years ago. I had emailed ahead and arranged an incredible storage only price of $10 total for 4 nights. The older gentleman who runs the place is a sweetie and even accepts Euros if you haven't had a chance to change money yet. It is somewhat further out than other campgrounds though. The bus and metro to the city takes 30-40 minutes. Rebecca had rented a 3 bedroom apartment just half a block from the Dancing building. It was a great apartment with a washer but on the top floor, facing west. It got quite hot in the afternoons and evenings, and we had a spider invasion through the skylights at night—the only window openings in the bedrooms. But it was convenient to be right in the city. We love Prague because it is still somewhat cheaper than the rest of Europe and also because of the beautiful architecture from all periods. We are all great fans of Alfonso Mucha, the father of art nouveau. We again visited the small museum run by his grandson with its very informative 30 minute film. However, the highlight of our visit was the tour of the Municipal House. We had missed the tour last trip but had wandered around the open areas on our own and thought it beautiful as everything is art nouveau. They have tours two or three times a day at 11, 1, 3—must buy same day and they do sell out. The tour was worth a special visit to Prague even if you saw nothing else. We went through about 9 rooms that are closed except on tour, each more exquisitely designed than the last. The Mucha room was entirely done to his design—stained glass, light fixtures, paintings, watercolors, upholstery, grating covers—to be in that room is to be drenched in art nouveau. It was fantastic!
Another highlight was a visit to a stained glass workshop right next to the Jewish quarter. This is the real thing going back generations. They specialize in restoring stained glass and doing custom work and were chosen to restore one of the cathedral's windows. Open 7:30-4 weekdays. They have a small, but beautiful collection of small pieces for sale. I bought a section of a church window from 1917 for $75 and a new piece with the Prague dragon/lion for $45. The master was also kind enough to show us some of the windows he has collected from demolished churches. He had two with angels that were glorious at $1500 each. But so large they would have to be shipped. Since we really have no house to put them in, we settled for photos. The name of the shop is Umelecke Sklenarstvi, and it is on U Milosrdnych, in Prage, in or very near the Josefov. They do have a web site.
We had an excellent dinner at a restaurant the U Labuti, only steps from the front entrance to the Palace grounds. Highly unusual to find great food at reasonable prices in the touristy area of any city. To avoid the climb take tram 22 to the top of the hill. We had ridden it for the full distance earlier as Rick Steves had said it was an interesting way to see the city. Unfortunately, after it leaves the Palace area for the western suburbs it is very bland and easily skippable. After dinner we strolled the Palace grounds which are free in the evenings. We also were able to visit the Golden Lane which had been closed for restoration when we were here before. The tiny houses aren't open at night, but it is the only preserved servant's quarters that we have seen in Europe, so quite unique. Our only quarrel with Prague is the Cathedral badly needs cleaning (but they have started) and the Charles Bridge and environs is impossibly mobbed during the day. We did notice that in town they now have open touring cars which give you a 40 minute tour at $60 for a car that holds 5. If you have a group, that might be a good orientation and you could get off at the Palace saving the hill climb! By the way, from our last visit if you want tickets to the Palace grounds, go early or in the late afternoon as they are timed and the line is long
Vienna June 26-30th and beyond
Driving in Austria is always a challenge as to use the toll roads at over 3.5 metric tons you are supposed to purchase a special satellite box which is very, very complicated. So far no one we know has done that. We try to just stay off the toll roads. On this leg we kept seeing signs that over 3.5 tons weren't allowed on route 7, which is the alternate. I was afraid it was a low weight bridge or something, so at first we got on the toll road. However, the vignettes were sold at the gas station at the border so we didn't even see a station again to buy one. We got off onto 7 and drove the rest of the way into the city, blithely ignoring the no 3.5 signs, which are there apparently to keep the big trucks out.
We are camping at Vienna West (n48.21538, e16.25010)where we stayed last time, though looking at their brochure I think their Camping Neue Donau, on the Danube canal, might be more convenient to the city. From here to the city center is a bus ride and then at least one metro trip. In June camping is $27 plus $5 for electricity, slightly higher in July. We have a nice shady spot though and that is very important as there is a heat wave. It is supposed to be between 93 and 100 for the next four days. Wild and aire camping are great and inexpensive but you seldom have shade nor can you put out your awning. We have been here over three days and haven't had to plug in yet. It is amazing to me the difference in battery power between summer and other seasons. Laundry is expensive at 4.5e a load to wash and the same to dry, so I used our umbrella rack to hold both loads—dry in less than 3 hours in this heat! We have stayed in camp for most of the last three day, playing with Penelope and relaxing. The things we want to do here are not very baby friendly so we will do them after they all leave on Monday. We did go into town and had a wonderful meal at Fischer Brau, a biergarten Rebecca and Jeremy had found, on Billrothstrasse, on the north side near their apartment. (You have to take the tram from the center.) It it long to get there but it would be worth the trip. Rebecca and Jeremy had already eaten there and were singing its praises. I had a pork weiner snitzel as big as the plate and a side of impeccable potato salad for 9e plus tip. Rebecca had the spare ribs—a full rack stacked on a mountain of fries for 13e—enough for two. Come hungry or bring doggie bags. This place was obviously a local favorite of the neighborhood. Saturday night we will all go to one of the wine villages which is a simple bus ride from here—more on that and the rest of Vienna next month. We have been eating out more on this trip (in return for babysitting) and better because Rebecca has been using Yelp along with Steves to find good spots. I have decided we need to eat out more if we can find good places so we will certainly try it.