Category Archives: Germany

Travelogue Baltic 2: Rostock

 BALTIC CRUISE – ROSTOCK  (GERMANY)

17 June 2016

The beauty of this cruise is that the vast majority of the sailing is done overnight, so you wake up (almost) every morning in a new port in a new country.  Today was the turn of Rostock, Germany.

Organised excursions for the day varied from a day trip to Berlin, a tour of beachtown Warnemunde and a tour of university-town Rostock. None appealed to us since Berlin was a 3 hour bus trip each way, it wasn’t the weather for the beach (barely 20 degrees and gloomy) and we felt a group tour might frustrating, constantly being herded and hindered (especially since we’re a good 20+ years below the average age on this cruise!)

We made arrangements to catch a shuttle into town to make our own way around Rostock and headed for the gangway (which was conveniently on our deck!). The disembarkation process was simple enough, just requiring a flash of the sea pass to log our departure, so within minutes we were in Germany. Of course, I can’t say “on dry land” because, as dumb luck would have it, it started to rain the moment we disembarked the ship.

It was only a very light drizzle, but it brought out the crazy in everyone, apparently! A short walk down the pier and we were at the bus stop. The only thing that demarcated this was an actual bus stopped there.

We arrived to mayhem. A beanpole of a young German chap in cruise uniform was in the doorway of the bus, taking a heated verbal lambasting from some fiery Mexicans at the foot of the bus’s steps who were clearly displeased at not being able to fit on the current bus, which already had its full complement of passengers – and was clearly subject to the “only want to hear one click” German flexibility when it came to allowing additional, which the troupe of Mexicans were animatedly asserting was the solution. It escalated to the point that the little cluster tried to storm the Bastille and push their way onto the bus and had it not been for the fact that the German chap was a quarter of their age and twice their average height, they might very well have succeeded! Despite a little old lady trying to squeeze her way past him (squealing in the process), his superior wingspan outed and he scooped the lot of them out of the bus, yelling for the bus driver to close the door quickly behind him.

Poor fella then found himself on the ground with all sorts of yelling and hand waving in his face. He did his best to get everyone to form a line, but there was to be none of that – nobody was prepared to concede even a single position in case they didn’t get their seat on the next bus. Giving up, the German retreated to his box of supplies, swearing audibly to himself and pretending to look busy counting tickets. I walked up to him to ask for a tourist map and he gave me a death stare… calming only (marginally) when he realised I wasn’t there to complain.

It couldn’t have been more than a minute or two later that the next bus arrived. The German had given up; he didn’t even try to get the orderly queueing system line in place. Good thing too as there was physical violence in the doorway of the new bus as an American almost leapfrogged over the Mexicans to get on the bus. It was almost comical as the American pushed them aside with his best “talk to the hand” palm, shouting justification that he’d already missed 3 busses and wasn’t missing this one, as 2 tiny old Mexican ladies grabbed at his shirt and one of their husbands threw punches. The American landed on the top step, swiveled around and was squashed flat against the driver as he tried to get in position for his old school thumb-in fist slow rotation circular undercut punching. His wife had been left behind in this skirmish and was now looking bewildered at him through the bus window as he took his seat in the front row, dishevelled but smug.

We had no such trouble. We asserted ourselves into the throng and rode the wave onto the bus. It was like very noisy body-surfing. Most of the people who missed that bus did so because they were so busy faffing with their brollies, which made us almost glad that we’d (already!) misplaced our Copenhagen one.

It was about 20 minutes into Rostock and we were deposited on Long Street, aptly named for being the longest street in the historical centre, reconstructed into a parade street of monumental buildings in the GDR era.

We were grateful for the buildings to get out of the rain – and fortuitously found ourselves in the Galleria where we got new brollies, down from 49 Euros to a bargain 5 Euros (the Germans do know how to have a decent sale!) so we got 2.

The brollies made it more comfortable to walk to the tourist office, where we sought refuge for the 15 mins of hard rain while collecting tourist maps and plotting our course.

Rostock is a perfect day trip stop as everything is within walking distance in a convenient circuit with no double-backing required. A quick review of the map and its accompanying legend determined that our day would be a university-church-market-hall-wall-gate-church-church-harbour-church-church tour. Somewhere in the middle there would also be a leisurely visit to the craft brewery.

The tour started with a single step. Literally. The University of Rostock’s main building is adjacent to the tourist office, so taking a step outside revealed the first sight on the map. The university is one of the oldest in the world, founded in 1419, and is in a beautiful terracotta Renaissance style building so we felt we’d already achieved something.

A walk down the main shopping street, Kropeliner, got us to the New Market (well, as new as new can be, being almost a thousand years old) and town hall (“Rathaus”, built in 1270). The square is surrounded with a facade of pastel gabled houses and is a bit like Warsaw’s square, but filled with fruit and vegetables stalls instead of cafés and restaurants.

We ticked off the gates and the city wall, built in 1350 and large sections of which are still preserved today. We skipped most of the churches in favour of a walk along the harbour’s popular promenade, the end of which housed the microbrewery we’d been recommended.

Zum Alten Fritz was cosy and warm inside, with traditional German wood-intensive decor. The middle of the room was dominated by a huge wooden bar with all copper vats and pipes (presumably) delivering fresh beer to the stations piled high and wide with beer glasses of various sizes. Between the bar and the front bay windows that overlooked the (damp) beergarden were a handful of high tables, where we sat, and the rest of the space was restaurant tables and booths, with people eating enormous eisbeins and other great big pork dishes. The local brew, Stortebekker, was very satisfying so we settled in and enjoyed the view and the atmosphere.

The trip to Rostock would not have been complete without at least sampling the famous Rostock beer though so we went back into town to source some.

Ironically, the first venue with Rostock branding was right underneath the famous St Marien church, renowned for its astronomical clock (built in 1472)… and now for some pretty formidable free wifi! Fortunately the beer wasn’t as strong as the wifi, so we were soon able to mobilise to get back to the bus stop to catch our shuttle back to the ship.

The bus stop was manned by a different tour director, who had effortlessly lined the guests up in single file, had everyone waiting patiently for the next bus and managed an uneventful embarkation. It was almost disappointingly orderly after the kerfuffle in the morning!

Travelogue EE 1: Joburg – Munich – Prague

05 August 2010

 

Our adventure began with using the Gautrain for the first time. Beating the rush hour in Sandton was the first victory, the short queues and helpful kiosk assistants were the second and the literal 12 minute journey the coup de gras! Well worth the R100 each!

Victory was hollow however, having arrived at the airport pre-5pm for a 20h40 flight and waiting around for the check-in gate numbers to be posted, which just never happened. When we eventually got to check in, we were horrified to find that we had seats pre-booked by our travel agent (the lovely people at eBucks who had almost lost my ticket completely because they spelled my name wrong in the original booking) THIRTY PLUS rows apart. Awesome. We managed to change them, but the only seat left side-by-side were in the middle of the middle of the 4 seat rows.

Turned out OK tho as somehow Lufthansa seems to have INCREASED the size of their seats and the amount of legroom… although this loss of income clearly must be subsidised by their savings on the entertainment front – the only ‘new’ movie was Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Junior one), the majority ‘classics’ and the never-tempting Avatar in a category all to itself. Lufthansa must be monitoring my twitter account as they managed to thwart the ‘chicken AND beef’ strategy by only having lamb left by the time they got to us. Hhhmpf.

Fortunately we had very quiet and reserved neighbours (and half a sleeping tab each) so managed 6 hours of uninterrupted blissful slumber, waking just in time for the ‘quiche’ breakfast. Amazing what those airline chefs can do with (to) an egg!

We had an 8 hour stop-over in Munich until the flight to Prague, so we darted into town to the Marienplatz for a very early beer, sausage and pretzel breakfast. The Germans are clearly very experienced with their sausaging having the marvellous idea of serving the sausages (in this case weisswurst white veal sausages) in a turine of boiling water to keep them juicy and hot. Slicing and dicing them, dipping into sweet mustard and complementing with sections of salty bready pretzels makes for a wunderbar snacky-cake!

Pity the weather was lousy, very drizzly and mizzy, so we didn’t do much walking around… but we did find the Hofbrauhaus! Big Daddies all round! Christian had a Photo Ninja moment of note when we got bust doing the ninja to an Oriental group. They took it in good spirits however and asked if we would actually be in a photo with them. Mom and teenage son piled onto our beer bench and arms around shoulders and toothy grins later, Dad took the pics. Christian then offered to take a pic of them, which they seemed quite excited about, clambering over each other to let him out, then letting mom in to sit next to me for the next ‘family holiday pic’.

Further family fun was provided due east of our table where a pre-teen was sitting with dad (?) and uncle (?) enjoying his Hot Wheels colouring-in book between swigs on a pint. To be fair though, he was only drinking pints and not 1 litre steins like the rest of us! Ironically, the oldies next to us were giving US the beady eye while we were trying to surreptitiously get a photo of the young ‘un.

Attempted without success to find a pizza bar to get a good pic of “Germans in the Pizza Bar” for the album (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evaHEryLaUE) and then it was back to the airport without incident (or excitement) (but maybe a short nap) and we were off to Prague!

Taxi guy waiting when we got there, we were planted at the apartment, with Christian’s cousin Lucy and her hubby Mick all ready and waiting to meet-and-greet with cold beers and Cava sparkling wine (and Mick’s genius refrigerated glasses). Anyone planning to stay at Krakovska 3 when visiting Prague should know that Apartment 19 (Mick & Lucy’s) was the one used for the photos for all the web references. The rest of the building looks nothing like it. They got the looks, but we got the TV and washing machine. Granted only sport and Czech channels and was our first day so we had no washing, but still…

Straight off into the Prague night, deftly avoiding being too close to one-man-bandness and super-chuffed to be where we were, we slugged back some beers and played catch-up and nice-to-meet-yous.

Prague is excellent, but don’t eat at Mike’s Cafe. We did. Trying to sample Czech cuisine, we’d bypassed firm favourites like the Colonel and Mickey D’s and the one-on-every-corner pizza/pasta spots to find somewhere authentic. drinks served and ready to order from their Czech Speciality section, we were told they were out of goulash and Czech chicken (which was 3 of our 4 orders). Hmmmm. Christian and I ordered the pork steak, which was served looking and tasting a lot like beef steak, but the waiter, having consulted his notepad (rather than the meal itself) was indignant and aggressively insistent that it was pork. No chance. Mick had the ‘tabaco’ chicken, which was described in the menu as ‘chicken (with garlic, spicy)’. When Mick asked the waiter what the chicken was all about he said it was “chicken, with garlic. spicy”. Very helpful. Especially from someone who’d moments earlier told us that they were out of chicken.

Nonetheless, good time had by all… and we headed for home to rest up for the Big Weekend ahead. Sniffles had set in, likely from the plane germs and walking around in the rain, so Mother Cain’s Care Package was welcome solace, with a comforting lem sip putting us out like lights. Very street.

Saturday was sadly also intermittently rainy, but didn’t dampen spirits! Our hotel was amazingly well situated, right at the top of Wenceslas Square by the museum, making for easy landmarking and being a natural starting point to adventure through the centre, past the Astronomical Clock, over King Charles Bridge and into the Old Town (and up the hill trek to the castle etc). Found a most excellent pub to wile away the afternoon in – medieval tavern style – dark and dingy and all by candlelight. A quick beer became several (as we do).

Disillusioned from previous night’s meal debacle, we decided to play it safe and opt Indian. We shared a lamb madras and a butter chicken, with garlic Naan bread (and the inevitable ubiquitous Praha beer) – a rare gem on Stepanska Street and really recommendable (and the Cain / Lawton / Newcombe lines are no beginners to curry, I’m told).

A lick and a promise later, we were out for the night, ditching the planned tour pub crawl because it was too far to mission in the rain and sliding down the stairs to the Majora Zemana pub literally next door to the hotel. Interesting spot. hundreds of open books nailed to the roof to create a lowered layered ceiling, weird wallpaper of pages from what looked like genetic experiments and rare diseases, life-size mannequins in military uniforms, weird Communist looking portraits painted directly onto the walls, arms and ammunition suspended from the rafters and a map showing what Europe would have looked like in 1941. Tried to take some pics, but the waitron rushed over, index finger extended and wagging and told us ‘No photo! No photo! Police bar’. Uh-huh.

The rest of the pub crawl relied more on us and our witty banter and cracking humour to keep ourselves entertained – 2 Irish bars, a rock ‘n roll themed bar and the knock-knock Club (24hour with slot machines, crusty locals, dodgy Czech music-heavy jukebox and Blade 2 on the tv).

A good night had by all 🙂

On Sunday we did the last of the city that we hadn’t seen in ‘abundant sunshine’ (Mick’s weather forecaster’s prediction) and succumbed to pizza slices for breakfast – although in our defence we had entered the sandwich shop we got them from in order to buy, you guessed it, sandwiches. They ‘were out’. Same like the Czech dishes the night before, but different.

We had a really good river stroll which showed us most of the city from a whole new perspective – and it was the perfect weather for it – and then wandered through the old town again and headed back up towards our hotel from an unchartered angle. Found a delightfully local looking spot to have lunch – finally tracking down the goulash we’d been after. Good 3 course meal option. Easy for us, not so much for Lucy. Being a vegetarian, she wasn’t doing the goulash, but inquired about the breaded cauliflower, only to be told they ‘were out’. False alarm this time though and they came back resolved that they indeed had it and she was on the 3-course bandwagon. Only to find that the lentil soup we’d been served for starters had bacon in it! Clearly, I’m not the only person who thinks bacon is garnish and should be an honorary vegetable!

Fed and watered (well, beered), we meandered back to the hotel, got our stuff, said our goodbyes and headed for the train station. Christian is really good at the time-keeping thing (me not so much) so we were (over-)cautiously early, with a good 45 minutes on our side. And then the train was delayed. What a waste of what could have been more Praha-haha time.

No mind though, very comfortable train and fleeting journey, taught Christian Spite & Malice (the very best card game ever) and before we knew it we were in Hotel Kyjev in Bratislava.

But more about that at another time…