My daughter Marie is spending 2001 touring the world! Her plans included spending the month of June in Berlin, where she rested, resupplied, and prepared for a trip to Africa. I wanted to visit her and since Frank's daughter had a baby due in early June in Belgium, we planned our trip to around the baby's arrival and Marie's stay in Berlin.
Marie's World Tour on the Web | Our Previous trip to Belgium
Frank also had a burning desire to see London, so our itinerary became London-Brussels-Berlin. We found a nice package on the Web that gave a free hotel stay in London with British Airways tickets, and since we were able to stay with daughters in Belgium and Berlin, our hotel expense became zero.(Yes, I am a budget traveler and proud of it!)
After the typical overnight flight in which you are crowded together and able to get very little sleep, we arrived in London on June 17 and took the subway to our hotel, the Thistle Victoria. It is a grand Victorian railway hotel in the heart of London. The lobby is impressive and our room was comfortable. There were heated towel racks and our own personal safe, but no wash cloths. The hotel restaurant was a bit too fancy for my tastes, but we found adequate food in nearby restaurants, although we never found a British breakfast, which is supposed to be quite hearty. (One morning we resorted to eating fast food in the train station which was made unpleasant by the lack of a non-smoking area -Londoners still smoke everywhere. Perhaps they miss the smog, which is much less than it used to be.
Frank wanted to tour the town via double-decker bus, which is a good way to see a lot in a short time. Foolishly I let him talk me into riding in the open-top model which means I had to breathe diesel exhaust. London streets tend to be narrow and crowded, and two of the buses we rode on were involved in minor accidents - and that was in a single day!
Our bus ticket included a tour boat ride which was very pleasant. It ended near the Tower of London, but unfortunately we got there too late in the day to see the inside. Instead we went to a souvenir shop and visited McDonald's for beverages.
We wanted to see the English countryside and various bus companies advertised day trips to famous destinations outside the city. We signed up for a bus tour to Oxford - the Cotswolds - and Stratford-upon-Avon.
They picked us up in the morning outside the hotel. At Oxford we learned that the tour guide moved very quickly and we'd have to scurry to keep up with her. The Cotswolds turned out to be countryside that looked very much like the Shenandoah Valley. We stopped for lunch and a little sightseeing in a charming town there called Burford.
Stratford-upon-Avon was filled with tourists but was also charming. We crossed a little river with swans swimming in it. Our tour of Shakespeare's birthplace was brief, but it was exciting to walk in the footsteps of famous people. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and others (besides Shakespeare) had walked there long ago. I would not mind spending a few days in that town.
We drove to Anne Hathaway's house, which still has a thatched roof although it is protected by chicken wire. It also has a lovely garden.
The next day we flew Brussels where Doug (Frank's son-in-law) picked us up. He drove us to their apartment near Mons where we finally saw little Ryley Boyles, one week old! He was, of course, very small and very cute. We did not do much sightseeing in Belgium this time, since we were there to see the baby and he was too young to sightsee.
On Friday we flew to Berlin via Sabena airlines, which had a good deal round-trip. By the way, flying within Europe is much pleasanter than flying to Europe. We had roomy seats, two-across so I could see out the window and Frank still had an aisle seat.
At Tempelhof airport we were met by Marie and her friend Lynne who was visiting from the UK. We took a cab to the apartment that Marie rented for the month in the nearby neighborhood of Kreuzberg. It belonged to a woman artist and was very comfortable except that we had to walk up four flights of stairs to get there.
Marie had already become expert at navigating the Berlin subway - she has an excellent sense of direction and an ability to commit a map to memory. She remembered enough of high-school German to get around, and her friend Lynne had a fairly good command of German, so we were not hindered by our ignorance of the language.
Berlin is a bustling city with a lot of new construction. The demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989 opened up large areas for commerce and rebuilding. And the drama of the city's history is all around you, with historical sites, evidence of bomb damage, and an incredible amount of regrowth.
Our plans to take a bus tour on Saturday had to be postponed because a large parade had taken over many of the main streets. It was the Christopher Steet Parade, a gay pride event, with rock music, colorful floats and costumes. Among the crowds of onlookers were families and tourists, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
We saw some sites and went to Museum Island, where we took a boat ride on a canal. The next day we were able to take the bus tour. Lynne had to leave for the airport in the afternoon, and we went to a city museum for more history. The theme of part of the exhibit seemed to be "Don't blame us - we didn't vote for Hitler." But it was a well-done exhibit that included an audio sound-track and symbolism such as having you descend down a gloomy flight of stairs as the dark days of Nazi power were outlined.
Marie had gotten us tickets for a stage show by the Shaolin Monks, who put on a powerful display of martial arts. Afterwards we went to the subway, and here came the monks in their orange robes, going somewhere on the train. Little kids who had seen the show were entranced.
It was not a long trip, only eight days in Europe, but it was very enjoyable.