Trip Diary - April 11-23, 2011
Day 1: Monday-Tuesday (April 11-12) The “Longest Day”
We left the lake at and drove to Herndon, visited the old house, talked to the new owners and old neighbors.. We ate in Burger King, dropped off the car and arrived at Dulles around .
Trouble with the Auto Kiosk – It doesn’t
work for Air
We took off on time. A
bumpy ride, lots of turbulence all the way. Good food though and free wine. We landed in
At we boarded the shuttle bus with other conference attendees. All seats were full and the luggage is stuffed in too. I’d been awake for 28 hrs and fell asleep on the bus.
We checked in at the hotel and fell asleep for 2 more hours. Dinner in the hotel with other conference attendees was very good. I had stuffed chicken (kurece) and Joe had CARP – a specialty! Strudel and ice cream (zmrzlina) Yum! Nice conversation with the others and then back to the room to figure out my “Eurobuzz” phone after a call to customer support, I left a message for Jeannie.
Day 2: Wednesday
Joe got up early and went to the conference. I slept until 8 and went to breakfast – a very nice buffet. I ate sensibly, a little of everything. I posted on Runango – the only site I could log into, given the European keyboard with multiple letters/symbols per key.
Then with a vague map in hand I took off walking to
the university. It was cold & rainy. I
took a few wrong turns. I was able to ask directions using my basic
Slovak. I met Joe at the conference
and talked with delegates from the
Dinner was at the hotel again with US and
Now some observations about bathrooms. At the hotel there are 2 separate “flush” buttons – one for ‘small’ amounts of water and one for ‘large.’ At the university each ‘stall’ is like a tiny soundproof room with its own light with tile walls floor to ceiling.
Turkish delegates asked me to explain the “special day” coming up in
Day 3: Thursday
Finally I decided to go for a run. After some coffee, juice and some kind of chocolate
mousse covered waffle. I set off
with a map for the trail around the castle. Somehow
I missed a turn and ended up in an industrial area with groups of people
going to work. Finally in a church
cemetery I found a woman who understood my Slovak and directed me back
to town. After my 2nd breakfast
I walked to town and the shopping mall which could have been anywhere
When I finally found Joe, we decided not to have lunch since we both had a late breakfast. So I walked back to the hotel and took a short nap while watching CNN. My sleep patterns are still mixed up.
The evening official conference dinner was at the castle. After touring the museum and taking pictures of the peacocks strolling the grounds, we went into dinner. There were all kinds of foods set out. Some looked like works of art. The main courses were served buffet style and like last night, I was given a mountain of potatoes. I must look like a potato eating woman. Once again, I couldn’t eat them all. I did eat every single type of dessert. They were smallish portions, about a dozen different kinds. There were also vanilla and chocolate fountains in which guests were dipping assorted fruit, bread and anything else that could be coated in chocolate.
Finally there was a fireworks display from very nearby – the moat, I think. The noise annoyed the peacocks which by now were trying to sleep in the trees. We could hear them squawking and shrieking. One peacock was pure white. I’ll have to look that up.
The beer and wine flowed freely and after more drinking and conversation, we walked back to the hotel through the cobblestone streets of the old town.
Day 4: Friday
It was difficult to sleep since Joe was loudly snoring and I had nowhere to banish him to. He left for the conference early and I slept til . This was a problem since breakfast is only served until 10. I threw on some clothes and ran to the dining room. I was still able to get some food from the buffet – croissants, melon, turkey and cheese on roll, yogurt and coffee.
I then decided to take another walking tour of the old town and castle area taking photos along the way. I really know my way around now. I returned about 2 hours later to find Joe waiting for me in front of the hotel. Off we went again together through the new and old town. They were setting up for the half marathon race tomorrow. I now have a small poster advertising the race. The runners are now visible around the area and I’m sorry I won’t be joining them.
We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant in old town, chosen because it had the least smoke in the air. Joe got a “small” pizza and I got a “small” calzone. Both were huge as were our glasses of beer. How do people stay so slim around here with these portion sizes? We continued to sightsee until about .
Our huge lunch at 2 meant we didn’t want more food, but we did want dessert. So we stopped in a small cucaren which had similar pastries to those at the castle last night. We bought 4 and split them between us. I asked for a knife (nož). I knew practicing the similar words, night (noč), nose (nos) and knife would eventually come in handy. We also had hot chocolate – very, very, sweet & thick liquid with a mountain of whipped cream on top. Again, how do the residents stay so slip? Everyone is eating this stuff.
With all the walking, we napped til 8:30
PM. Dinner is out of the question. We
watched TV – CNN etc. and a very unusual Czech fantasy movie – a mixture
of real actors and animation. Then
another Czech movie which was really an Agatha Christie
story about passengers on a
Day 5: Saturday
Today we left
We had our regular buffet breakfast, packed up, checked out and began our walk to the train station dragging our luggage. It took about 40 minutes so probably about 2 miles.
In the terminal we bought our tickets. Prosim, kolko kupiť dva listok na
The train was 10 min late and there were announcements of apology in Czech and English. Joe hauled our huge suitcases aboard. A strong young man helped him heave it into the overhead compartment. It was about a 3 hr ride through the countryside.
As we got off the train, Joe noticed that the wheel of his new suitcase had broken. Mine was fine. We took a taxi to the hotel since we couldn’t drag the broken suitcase for approximately 2 miles.
We ate in the hotel restaurant for lots of
Euros and not that much food. It’s
a lot cheaper in the
The first ATM rejected our card and I was feeling dejected. The next ATM with instructions in English gave us money and we stopped in a nice coffee shop for cakes and water. We shared 3 desserts. We walked around and by luck found the Catholic Church just as Mass was starting. The pews were very wide and hard. My knees hurt from the kneelers. The church was reconstructed in 1991-1997. It had been in ruins since the war and the exterior still had the burn marks of the bombing firestorm. We looked at the river, but returned to the hotel for needed sleep.
Day 6: Sunday
After about 12 hrs of sleep, I wanted coffee, lots of coffee and didn’t want to wait for Joe and his morning ritual. So I walked ½ mile to McDonalds since I knew they would be open (23 hrs!) I had a grande coffee in McCafe, still not as much as I was used to drinking at home.
Back at the hotel Joe was now ready and we
walked to the old city and saw the palace, the cathedral, the Frauenkirche (the
one that was rebuilt after the bombing using as many of the original
stone as possible) and a film in the tourist office. But
first we both had a McDonald’s breakfast, just about the same menu as
Next stop was the “
One observation: We haven’t heard a single word of English anywhere except for the young staff (waitresses etc. who are hired for their language skills. Mostly we heard German and a bit of Russian and an Asian tour group – NO ENGLISH, not even on the signs.
After lunch we saw the sites on the new side
of the river including the
Once back across the bridge in the old city, Joe bought 2 prints from a local artist and we attended a concert in the Frauenkirche – orchestra, chorus and 4 soloists performing Handel’s “Te Deum.” Beautiful surroundings, acoustics and performance. One unusual thing – the alto soloist was male. I never heard a man sing in that range.
Afterwards, the man next to me asked in English how
we liked the concert. He was German
but had been living in
After a short rest back at the hotel, we
set out for dinner. But first
Joe wanted to detour to get more Euros and investigate the shopping center
train station. Lots of people
walking around, but all the stores were closed. So
we trekked back to the old city. We
decided on a restaurant and ordered 2 different dishes to share - bratwurst,
mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, pork, sauerkraut, potato pancakes and
beer. So here we were in the old city eating traditional German food
and the music in the background?? Aura
Lee (Love Me Tender), Polywaddle Doodle All the Day,
Day 7: Monday
We began the day with a ½ mile trek to McDonald’s for breakfast. Two reasons: It was quick and there was American style coffee, both in taste and size plus free refills.
Today was a museum day. We
walked past the shops including the “Euro Shop”
We went to the ticket office and got tickets to the
new Green vault and
Basically the royalty had lots of money and people to make loads of intricate stuff – clocks, goblets, chests (cabinets), home altars, jewelry and items that even the experts didn’t know the purpose of.
Most were beautiful but some were the equivalent of conspicuous consumption and some were downright ugly, even if they were made of gold and precious stones.
The Turkish exhibit was from the period when
the Prussian King was allying himself with the
The museums were a wonderful experience. The only problem (though understandable) was that no pictures were allowed, not even without flash. So the only record of this day is a small brochure and our memories.
We then walked across the bridge to the
Then we set off on a long trek to see
Then we trekked back stopping at our
favorite café where
Joe continued his pastry march across
Day 8: Tuesday
Once again to get a BIG coffee we had breakfast in McDonalds. We packed up and got a taxi to the train station. Our big suitcases were hard to fit into the small car. Joe gave the driver a big tip. At the station Joe bought our tickets – (Take a number, just like our DMV) and we took an elevator to the platform. We held up boarding a bit since our suitcases were so big they blocked most of the aisle. We found a compartment with “unreserved” seats and Joe heaved those suitcases into the overhead shelf. Note: Next time smaller suitcases if we’ve traveling by train.
We were joined by 3 young people in the compartment
dressed for business. One had
a job interview in
At the main
The main stop on our route was “Checkpoint Charlie” and the stories of the escape attempts over the Berlin Wall – some successful and some tragically unsuccessful. The penalty for “deserting the republic” was death or prison.
We also stopped at a supermarket where I bought a zmrzlina (ice cream) and bags of cookies – all very inexpensive. Unfortunately I ate a good amount of them all by myself. Oh well, Joe outdoes me in the bakeries. We watched 2 movies in English and some BBC and even Aljezeera before falling asleep.
Day 9: Wednesday
This hotel provides an electric pot for hot water so we could have our wake-up coffee. Then we went out in search of breakfast. The big 16 Euro breakfast at the hotel didn’t appeal to us and I nixed Joe’s choice of a bakery breakfast. So we compromised on the supermarket bakery/café bar. I got a sandwich of sliced hard boiled egg, tomato and lettuce on roll. I really like the bread around here and Joe, of course, had 2 pastries.
Then we walked to the meeting point for the bike tour. I kept checking the stores to buy a visor, but there were none to be had. So both Joe and I bought hats at the bike tour place. That’s OK. Now we’re walking advertisements.
There were about 80 people on the tour (4 guides) all
in English. In our group we were
the only ones from the
The Advil did its job, but the ice cream, mine at least, was an unfortunate choice. It was HUGE and while the picture looked like chocolate, it was heidelbeeren (a small, extremely tart, even bitter, type of blueberry called bilberries). There were tons of them frozen into a scoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. I could hardly taste the ice cream through all those berries.
We walked around some more scoping out museums we will visit tomorrow. Strolling by the river and through the parks was very pleasant.
Almost back at the hotel I was hungry for real food and stopped in to that handy supermarket for another sandwich which I ate while watching TV – news and a Star Trek movie in German.
Day 10: Thursday
We began the day as usual with coffee in the room followed by breakfast at the supermarket. We heard our first American accents at the next table. When you order a large coffee, you get this huge, wide ceramic cup which is hard to hold and balance and a cookie too.
Today is another walking day – destination – museums. First stop was the Berlin Dom which was a large
Next stop was the DDR museum. “See real life in
Then we walked
to the “old” museum with its Romanesque
colonnades. But the architecture
was the most interesting part so we skipped the exhibit and walked to
There was also an extensive coin collection for 600 years BDC to the present day. The ancient counterfeiting tools were a surprise as was a Russian coin marked “Moneta” in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Time for lunch – in a healthy cuisine restaurant called “Super Good for Me.” We had the special – a veggie burger plate. No fries! The side dishes were spring rolls and polenta sticks. Then back to museums. We spent a few very serious hours in the “Topography of Terror” Museum which described the Nazi years from 1933-1945 using text, original documents and photographs. Even the seating areas lit up maps with interrogation stations, work, concentration and death camps. There was a smaller exhibit outside just showing a timeline of the dark days. It paralleled the section of the Berlin Wall which is still being preserved. Most of the wall has been dismantled. You can buy pieces of it in every souvenir shop. There are double rows of bricks through the city tracing where the wall once stood.
Our last museum was the
Day 11: Friday
Today is Good Friday and to our surprise our supermarket was closed. Next door the bakery/café was doing a brisk business. I got my mozzarella/tomato sandwich on foccia bread and took a 2nd one for our fridge to eat tomorrow morning. There won’t be options tomorrow when we have an early flight home.
Then it was back to the “space needle” square for another bike tour – the Nazi/Third Reich tour. We covered a lot of the same landscape as the last tour but from a different perspective. Memorable was the site of the 1st successful demonstration against the Nazis by thousands of German women whose Jewish husbands had been rounded up to be sent to concentration camps. Hitler actually relented and released the men. The memorial included a figure seated on a bench a distance away. This represented the apathy of the German people to the horrors going on around them. Another series of memorials could easily be overlooked. There are small bronze plaques in the sidewalks all over the city with the names of Jews who had been taken from their homes with the dates of their internment.
In the massive monument to the murdered Jews
Lunch was at the same tiergarten (animal park) biergarten as on Wednesday, but this time we were earlier so they didn’t run out of food. Since it was Good Friday, we had the meatless pasta. I had to take an additional allergy pill since the pollen in the park was quite heavy.
We saw more monuments, statues etc. (Victory,
We also passed the facade of what was once one of the largest train stations in the world, destroyed by the bombing. The tour ended with a description of the topography of terror museum that we saw in detail yesterday.
After the tour we went back to the hotel and slept for almost 2 hours. Dinner was in the Indian restaurant across from the hotel. I never cared for Indian food, but this was excellent – eggplant and cottage cheese in a curry sauce. I may even try to find “basmati” rice when I get home.
Back at the hotel they gave us chocolate eggs and bunnies for Easter. We packed, relaxed and watched TV.
Day 12: Saturday
Up at 6 am. Coffee and breakfast in the room - the stuff we bought yesterday for this purpose. We checked out and got a taxi to the airport. We had plenty of time for one last pastry and sat around people watching. One young man was asleep across 2 chairs. Finally 2 security guards woke him up. Poor guy! He had slept through and missed his flight. He explained that he had drunk too much – lesson learned, I hope!
Once through security one problem was evident – a shortage of seats and bathrooms. One (1 stall) for all the women – same for the men, but they didn’t have a line. No wonder this airport will be replaced next year.
We were switched to seats by the emergency exits at THEIR request since we are “English speakers.” The extra leg room of these seats is an added benefit since it was an 8 hour flight. Also, there was no one next to us – just the bathrooms. So there were people standing around, but we also could tell when they were vacant.
This was a Delta flight so the food was OK,
but not like Air
The flight was smooth, but I couldn’t sleep so I watched the movies – all 4 of them. “Little Fockers (OK), some Disney fantasy (lots of dragons), “Secretariat” (very good) and “Cyrus” (too much angst for me).
We landed at JFK on time ()
and raced to get through passport check, customs, luggage pickup and
security and 23 gate areas for our flight to Dulles which was at . There were
hoards of student groups returning from
Our replacement plane was ancient, but this time our crew was not. The one very nice and friendly cabin attendant was making only his 3rd flight. That’s why he was reading all instructions from the card, checked that everyone was belted in and had cell phones put away. He also handed out snacks freely (cookies, pretzels, peanuts) with a smile and extras if you wanted.
We took off at and landed at . Then another endless trek through the airport. We could hardly recognize Dulles. The construction of the last 3 years has it looking like a spaceport from the movies with glass enclosed trams and multi-levels. We were being picked up by the Holiday Inn shuttle where we left our car. It was full since flight crews were staying there. Remember 2H for next time!
After retrieving our car at Holiday Inn, we went off to find our hotel, Country Inn and Suites. Herndon/Sterling has changed a lot too, but we finally found the place in the dark. This hotel was wonderful. I chose it since all we wanted was a cheap place to sleep ($55 total, $20 cheaper than Holiday Inn). It’s new with a beautiful lobby, complimentary cookies & candies, a huge room with 2 queen size beds, loads of towels, coffee pot, fridge, microwave, 60 TV channels and complimentary breakfast. This deserves a 5 star review on Trip Advisor. There’s even a guest laundry and nice fitness room.
Day 13: Easter Sunday
The breakfast was very good – eggs, sausage, muffins,
waffles, etc.- really everything you could want. We made such good time driving home that we
Day 1: Monday-Tuesday
I learned from TV that TSA chooses people for additional searches at airports according to their apparent attitude and facial expression. I must have had the telltale “expression of contempt” probably because they had just taken my unopened bottle of water only to sell one back to me on the other side at 4 times the price.
Note to self: Turbulence is worse when seated in the “swishy” tail of the plane.
Day 2: Wednesday
The cold, rainy weather was unusual for this time of
year. The desk clerk was nice to lend me an umbrella
which I didn’t actually use because of the wind. Joe realized that it is much less expensive
to buy new underwear and socks in Wal-Mart and throw them away than to have them washed. For
new shirts the cost is about equal. This
is true also in
Day 3: Thursday
Joe talked to the Czech woman about her detection device. It’s used in the Czech airport. During her demonstration with some attendees, explosives residue was found on their clothes. This is to be expected given their line of work. They make explosives!
At the castle reception I noted the irony of the buffet table being set up next to the crypt of the royal who once owned the place. I wonder what he would have thought of this event.
Day 4: Friday
We would have bought candy and a dish of Czech crystal from Joe’s favorite shop, but the owner was just closing up as we approached the store. There weren’t any appropriate souvenirs for sale.
On my walk around the castle area, I finally located the 5 km “jogging trail” that I was seeking earlier in the week. The signs, although all in Czech, provided interesting information including the wildlife that was destroying the trees. I got great pictures of the castle peacocks which fluffed out their plumage for the camera. I counted 16 at one time.
Day 5: Saturday
The lady bathroom sentry sat in a toll booth type room to monitor entry of both men and women. No one could escape her notice or avoid her.
At the hotel Joe went to the pool and spa. The water was not warm and the whirlpool spa blew strong bubbles in one corner of the pool. It was not a pool to swim in. There were “lay down” cushions with heat lamps above them. There was a coed steam room where no clothes or bathing suits were permitted. Joe did not use it.
The Catholic Church was the Cathedral or “
Day 6: Sunday
As part of the round trip sweep through the
In the tourist office where we saw the film on the history
Day 7: Monday
The Garrison Church came to be used by the parish of St. Francis Xavier because their original parish church had been destroyed by bombing.
Day 8: Tuesday
The desk clerk began speaking to us in German since our name was Backofen.
The news has a different perspective than in the
Day 9: Wednesday
We were the last of the tour groups to arrive at the lunch stop so the food we had was limited (decided) by whatever they had left.
Day 10: Thursday
Especially depressing in the terror museum was the epilogue. While some were tried and convicted of war crimes, comparatively few were executed or served lengthy sentences. Some high level men were actually not prosecuted as being “unfit to stand trial” or released for “ill health.” Contrast this with the death camps for those with physical or mental disabilities as being a burden to society. The 1957 photograph of the smiling happy faces of an SS reunion was particularly disturbing.
Day 11: Friday
On the bike tour I was watching a street traffic light while in an “open” area not noticing the tram tracks partially obscured by high grass and almost got hit by 2 different trams going in opposite directions. Realistically though, they proceed very slowly through intersections so the only real danger was making the drivers mad.
At the Indian restaurant a German couple was seated at the table next to us. After the meal she pointed out that she and I had the same haircut. We communicated in broken English and broken German. She explained that they all learned Russian in school, not English.
Day 12: Saturday
We noticed sitting at JFK how much bigger the seats
were than in
I wish I had spent more time and effort learning languages. I admire those who can switch and communicate with different nationalities.
I only gained 2 lbs. – great considering all the bread and pastry I consumed. Joe gained 4 lbs. – not bad for him. We estimated that we walked more than 50 miles. That probably had something to do with it.