European Road Trip - Part 3 - Berlin

07/02/2017 Berlin, Germany

Up again with another early start, this time leaving the city to make headway on the metro towards the Park & Ride facility on the outskirts of Amsterdam; hoping and praying that the car was still there and in one piece. The massive sense of relief that we had upon seeing the car when we arrived was soon diminished though upon setting up the Sat Nav and seeing just how long of a drive we had ahead of us towards Berlin.

The roughly 6 hour long drive began, leading us onto experiencing the German unrestricted Autobahn motorway for the first time which was an awesome experience packed with as some serious speed. After many a stop at McDonalds, consuming copious amounts of caffeine, exhausting all of my playlists on Spotify and rekindling our love for 90's gangsta rap (We didn't forget about Dre), we had finally made it into Berlin on the evening - just in time for a visit to the local Hard Rock where we got to know the waitress who served us a little. After settling the bill she helped us plan our full stay in Berlin a little more, giving us some tips with what to avoid, places to see and how to save money.

Awake with batteries fully charged and ready to go, we were ready to take on our first full day in Berlin. Many of the attractions and museums are fairly spread out across the city so we decided to make headway towards the Reichstag building and head onwards towards other great sight seeing opportunities from there. You hear stories of the Reichstag building and learn about it, as well as the powerful people who took up within it's halls during History class at school but you really don't get how impressive it is until you see it in person. On the lawns outside, there stood two blokes who I can't say I'd trust with my coat, running a small stall packed with posters, propaganda and conspiracies of how the German government is trying to build it's new 4th Reich under the EU. I've seen such theories in the depths of the internet and some of it does add up though admittedly, most of it does sound like the ramblings of a madman.

Just around the corner from the Reichstag building was the Berlin Victory Column and Soviet War Memorial which we quickly paid a visit to before heading back towards the main part of the city. The impressive sights were awesome to look at and with nearby plaques we were able to learn about the history of both.

Making our way back through the main area of the city we soon arrived at Alexanderplatz where we walked through the main Art, Historical and Theatre sector of Berlin. The Germans are certainly a flamboyant bunch who love their architecture. Some of the statues and buildings that really stood out to me where the above which had a very Ancient Greek and Roman style to them, especially along the Schloßbrücke (Palace Bridge) which had statues of various Greek Gods on either side of the bridge. The one that stood out the most to me was that of Athena, protecting a warrior. From there, we both grabbed a German sausage that had various sauces and spices mixed into it with a side of chips and a Berliner Kindl beer from a small nearby restaurant.

After devouring some fine German cuisine we realised that we were stood right near the DDR (Deutsch Demokratische Republik) Museum which was on our list of things to do in Berlin that the Hard Rock waitress had so kindly given us. We headed in and learnt all about the Cold War period of Germany, featuring the splitting of East and West of Berlin under Soviet, US, British and French control after the Second World War; and the effects that it had on the German people. The Cold War period is one of my favourites in history, with so much tension between such powerful nations; all of which trying to ensure that no one power would ever emerge again from Germany and spark another world war. The exhibit was really interesting though by the end of it we were soon hit by exhaustion from the amount we had travelled the day previously and how much we had walked around Berlin so we decided to head back to the hotel to recuperate before our next full day in the capital.

Feeling human again, we set off onto our final full day in Berlin, this time we made the wise decision of choosing to go by car to all of the sights that included the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and the Topography of Terror Museum as it was quite a way away from our hotel and we didn't fancy another full day of walking, especially seeing as we were going to be travelling back home the next day. 

We started off the day by visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial which was a huge site in the city where you could walk amongst various parts of the ruins which had nearby plaques and tour guide boards which gave detailed history to the surroundings. Perhaps the biggest eyeopener was actually being stood where the wall had stood not so long ago and where many had died trying to escape from one side to the other. There were many pieces of graffiti along the remaining parts of the wall though the one that stood out to me the most was the line:

'Please don't be angry when I'm not there for you. Love me like I love you always and forever.'

I'm a sucker for pieces like this as something so simple can be so relatable by many. 

Hopping back in the car after around an hour walk through the Wall Memorial, we stopped by the Topography of Terror Museum which, to our surprise had free entry. Inside, we went through a roughly 2 hour long exhibition, going into great detail about the Second World War from 1939-1945 and the subsequent years after the war. There were some really interesting and saddening historical facts and photographs within the exhibition; and now thinking back on it at the time of writing this, it seemed to be one of the few places within Berlin where we could see a visual history of the Second World War. 

Just around the corner was the famous Checkpoint Charlie which didn't quite live up to the image we both had in our head of what it would be. As you can see in the picture below it is just a small checkpoint in the middle of the road. Perhaps it was just the sheer size of it, maybe it was the cold weather making us wanting to get the hell inside or maybe, just maybe it was the humongous McDonalds, KFC and about 4 other eateries placed right slap-bang next to it (facepalm). 

Never the less, the day was a success and we saw a great deal of historic sights and learnt a lot about some really key moments in history. We saw the end of the night back at Hard Rock where we ordered a Local Legendary Burger each which went down a right treat before heading back to the hotel for an early, relaxed night before we would bid Germany 'auf wiedersehen!'

The next day we set about on our roughly 11 hour journey back to Jon's, travelling back through each of the countries we had already visited and stopping off to yet more McDonald's for our dose of caffeine and greasy food - its safe to say that I need a good detox and probably won't touch a take away for a good month or so now. Once back in France, Jon had researched into where was a reasonably cheap place to pick up some cigarettes for his family and we ended up in Dunkirk. After picking them up we headed through the tolls at the Euro Shuttle to head back through to the UK and upon reaching the UK Border station at France's end we were pretty much interrogated and had the car searched before we were allowed entry onto the shuttle, all presumably because of where Jon had bought the cigarettes as they were fine with us until mentioning that we had tobacco - very odd!

All in all, this trip was an absolute blast and a whole lot easier than last year's as we didn't have to rely on Interrail travel and had the luxury of the car where we didn't have any restrictions on luggage; plus we didn't end up with food poisoning this time around, always a bonus. I'd say Amsterdam and Berlin were easily the best parts of the trip and would recommend anyone to go and visit both cities for their rich history and such amazing cultures.

I hope you enjoyed this final entry as a part of my EU Road Trip series. Have you checked out my previous posts where I go over our journey through Bruges, Brussels and Amsterdam? If not be sure to check them out HERE

Have you been to Berlin before, if so where did you visit during your stay? Let me know in the comments below.

Be sure to follow me @HiLukeTaylor on Twitter to keep up to date with when I publish new blog posts!

European Road Trip - Part 2 - Amsterdam

02/02/2017 Amsterdam, Netherlands

Up with an early start, back on the road and with copious amounts of caffeine propelling us through Belgium towards our next destination; Amsterdam was in sight. After around a 2 hour drive and an absolute comedian of a parking meter trying to charge us €120 for 3 days street parking, we'd finally found a Park & Ride complex where we could keep the car on the outskirts of the city for only €7 for the entirety of our stay in Amsterdam. The Park & Ride metro took us straight into the centre of Amsterdam we dropped our bags off at our hotel and explored the city.

With it being pretty late in the day already we decided to take it easy and just have a leisurely stroll around the city centre, picking up some street food as we went along. Naturally, I had to devour yet another waffle, this time it was absolutely ladled with Nutella, so much so that I could hardly breathe whilst eating it - 10/10 would eat again. After a fair bit of walking around and taking in the sights, we grabbed a Wok to Walk and headed on back to the hotel for an early night to be ready for a full day.

Did I mention that the hotel we were staying at had the weirdest building floor plan that I've ever set foot inside with the smallest, swirliest staircases man did ever see? No, well let me tell you, getting lost in this building was a great way to start the day. We decided that we'd have to go and check out the local Cannabis College which was apparently the go-to place for tourists to learn the basics about Cannabis, the College also had a museum and gallery nearby which we went onto visit afterward. At the College we spoke to a dude who was probably the most chilled out man I've ever had the pleasure of meeting in my entire life. Greeting us with blunt in hand and taking several key moments throughout the conversation to take a puff of said blunt before continuing to share with us his valuable knowledge of the area; going on to tell us about the basic do's and don'ts of being in Amsterdam and a little history of Cannabis before giving us a map where he circled out the best places to grab a beer, coffee, food and other things around the city. 

We decided to head to the Cannabis College's museum & Gallery where we spent the best part of the day learning about all things Cannabis and Hemp related. The tour which took us right back in the Egyptian times, through to present day was really informative and had so much on display to see; with some parts of the exhibition really angering me at how 1950's Government, media and wealthy White American men with power to put it simply, branded the weed illegal simply because the African American man was benefiting from it, creating music, art, happiness and more; which of course in their backward thinking/racist eyes was unacceptable - sparking the war on drugs. Now, I won't ramble or stay on that subject for too long but man, 60 odd years on and people are still so opposed to Cannabis, despite their being scientifically proven clear health benefits, so many products that can be made from the Hemp (such as the chair seen in the picture above) and a whole load of medicinal value. It really is saddening to think of how much time, money and effort spent on combatting this plant could be used on other things for society. 

Anyway, swiftly moving on - after a good part of the day was spent learning all about Cannabis, we headed out down the canals and I managed to pop into the legendary Patta clothing store for a quick peruse though I wasn't too keen on the idea of spending around €100 on a T-shirt so we grabbed some food from a nearby restaurant and made our way back to the hotel for another early night in hopes of managing to get to Anne Frank's House in the morning as I knew there'd be long queues to get in from failed attempts to get in during my previous visit to Amsterdam.

Up, fresh and ready for another day around the city we made our way towards Anne Frank's House though were greeted by a huge queue to get in to the museum which I already expected. With the queue not moving for a good few minutes we decided to give our hopes of getting in up as a bad job, instead deciding to take it easy and wander around the city seeing the various parts that we had previously missed, during which we found some great places to eat, drink and generally watch the world go by and soon enough we were already into the evening. We'd noticed the Red Light Secrets museum of Prostitution during our walk along the canal on the evening and decided to head in to learn more about Amsterdam's iconic heritage. Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably already know that prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and there is a huge community/business surrounding it. It was really interesting to learn about the history of it and of the personal lives of the prostitutes themselves; it really isn't all what you hear in the news or what your mate probably told you. 

Towards the end of the museum were confession walls. The walls were filled with small roughly A6 sized confessions from ceiling to floor. The confessions were entirely made up of visitors who had written on these A6 sized slips in a confession booth in the corner off the room which were later hung up by staff. Some were really tongue-in-cheek confessions, whilst others were really sad to hear. All in all, a really interesting insight into what the sexual lives of others are like. 

"I am 23 years old, first time in Dam and I would happily admit that I wish I was one of those girls in the windows."

"I once got paid for sex, it was a very proud moment."

"I have been a stripper for the past 8 months and none of my family or friends know. P.S I make £1000 a night!" 

After an eventful evening learning about far too many sexual encounters of others, what a better way to start our final day in Amsterdam than to go to the Sex Museum! I've visited this museum previously though wasn't going to pass up on the opportunity to see the look on Jon's face over some of the items, pictures and exhibits inside. Dating way, way back to tribal rituals, all the way to some modern day exploits in film, the museum had it all - literally; theres a huge statue of a penis that you can sit on if you're feeling inclined to do so.

Knowing that we had a long drive ahead of us to Berlin the next day we took the rest of the day fairly easy, finding a good waffle, more beer and some good food for the evening before heading back to the hotel one last time on the metro. I love Amsterdam, this was my third visit to the city; previously I've gone on the ferries from Hull and also flown across. I'd definitely recommend driving as it gave us so much freedom to go about the city without having to rely on booking transport. The Park & Ride system that we used was so efficient and saved us so much time, effort and money during our stay in the city. 

I hope you enjoyed this entry that is a part of my EU Road Trip series. Have you checked out my previous post where I go over our journey through Bruges and Brussels, if not be sure to check it out HERE

Have you been to Amsterdam before, if so where did you visit during your stay? Let me know in the comments below.

Be sure to follow me @HiLukeTaylor on Twitter to keep up to date with when I publish new blog posts. Next up, I'll be blogging the final destination in our EU Road Trip, Berlin.

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