The Stueckrath's were headed back to the States through Berlin so it was time for us to go back, explore, and then say our good-byes. Berlin is just a 5 1/2 hour train ride away- a very easy peasey trip! Our second train ride to Berlin wasn't so peasey. We all decided not to pay the extra to reserve a seat on the ICE train (lesson #547: When traveling with a large group and long distance, pay the extra to reserve your seats on the ICE train!!). Now, there are a gazillion reasons why I love my husband, his being thrifty with money is one of those reasons. Our savings account, Isabelle's college account, and our retirement accounts all love him for that reason too, but this was another lesson learned! Because when all of Germany decides to go to Berlin on the same exact day, you won't be able to find a seat anywhere, and you will spend the entire 5 1/2 hour ride standing &/or crammed into a teeny, uncomfortable corner of the train where you are very careful to not to push the red "open door" button with your shoulder when the train is going 200 km/h.
It wasn't just us though, there were people sitting and standing/standing and sitting everywhere. All part of the experience, right? At least that's what we tell ourselves when things aren't going the way we want it to.
But, hey, we made it to Berlin.
My go-to websites for booking a hotel room or an apartment over here are: www.booking.com and www.airbnb.com. Since we were a larger group I thought renting an apartment for a few days would be more comfortable and less expensive than staying at a hotel. Hotels run differently here than in the states; they charge per person, so a family of four will spend more than a family of two, just because of the number of people.
We learned a valuable lesson on what not to do when we rented an apartment through Airbnb in Normandy (a really long story and a very expensive lesson). If you've been lucky and have not ran into a weird situation when renting through Airbnb then that's great! But just in case, here is what we learned the hard way:
- *Read the reviews, good and bad! Do the research!
- *Make sure the profile you are looking at has a picture of the renter so you know who you're dealing with.
- *Always meet at the apartment!
- *If the price of the property you're looking at is extremely cheap, let that be a red flag and do even more research before booking that particular place!
- *Always have a back-up plan!
Even though I was careful this time around, and had definitely learned my lesson, I was a nervous wreck from the time I booked the apartment in May to the time we arrived and dropped off our bags.
The apartment we booked in Berlin, and the service we received from Benjamin, made up for the terrible experience we had in Normandy! I had learned what can go wrong in Normandy, but what should go right in Berlin!
We were perfectly located in the Potsdamer Platz area, with gorgeous views, and a grocery store next door! We were happy campers, and I let out a BIG sigh of relief.
We had gotten to Berlin early enough to venture out and do a little sight-seeing, even though we were all worn out from the past week. We didn't want to waste a perfect afternoon, though, and gathered enough gumption to explore Potsdamer Platz and go out for a nice supper for our second to last night together!
These are just parts of the Berlin wall- this has been on Isabelle's bucket-list since she saw a portion of it at the Smithsonian last year. Eric and I absolutely love that she: 1) Has a bucket-list, and 2) That we are able to provide her the opportunities to fulfill her goals.
I think if anyone ever visits Germany it is essential to include some of the Nazi history and the horrors of the concentration camps into your visit. So, we headed over to the 'Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe'- an outdoor exhibit. We were confused by the set-up and weren't sure what it was supposed to represent, but this is what Wikipedia says: "The stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason." I don't know how accurate Wikipedia is, but I like this description, and that's really what it felt like...confusing and sad. The stelae reminded me of tombs, like we were in a cemetery, almost.
We continued around Potsdamer Platz and next stopped at the Brandenburg Gate. Behind the gate was a huge block party of sorts for the World Cup. Maybe that is why all of Germany was on the same train as us? But we went around it instead, to find food, because like I've said, if it's not my uterus, it's my tummy calling the shots.
We spent about an hour walking a large loop around the Brandenburg Gate and ended up eating at a restaurant across from the 'Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe'- you can see that behind us. We had spent the afternoon wandering around Potsdamer Platz, and now that we had full bellies and tired feet, we decided it was time to head back to the apartment....
The next day, our last day together, we spent the morning at the 'Topography of Terror' museum for more of the concentration camp history for the girls, then got on the hop-on/hop-off bus to see as much as we could possibly see during our last afternoon in Berlin.
The Berlin Wall!! This is where she felt like she could officially cross that off her bucket-list.
Checkpoint Charlie is the most well known crossing point between east and west Berlin. I didn't have the right lens on my camera to be able to get a close up of the original sign that says: "You are leaving the American Sector" in English, Russian, and German.
The hop-on/hop-off bus provided relief from the heat and was the best way for us to see almost all of Berlin's major sights, plus we didn't have to navigate our way around.
This is the Bellevue Palace where the President of Germany lives.
The weather in Germany changes all the time and by this time it had started to rain, making it really difficult to get out and actually see some of the sights, plus we had spent an entire day out and about and it was time to eat. So, we decided on a nice Italian restaurant next to the apartment and next to that block party of sorts happening near the Brandenburg Gate.
.....Which ended up being a great way to end the Schnell and Stueckrath vacation!! We all had trains &/or planes to catch early the next morning in order to get home. The actual goodbyes happened so fast that I didn't know we even said our goodbyes until we were half way down the block. I'm glad, though, that they went that fast, because I hate goodbyes, and I usually make them more awkward than they need to be.
Even with the stress of traveling, lessons learned, and having to adjust to the differences of living in a foreign country, I wouldn't trade the life we have here for anything! I'm not trying to fluff my blog with only happy things and awesome travel experiences, I just figure the other stuff isn't worth writing about. If hassle comes with the really great stuff, then I'll take it! And besides, it's all part of the experience... right?