A very quick visit to Germany, made comparatively economical by a 3-night flight/hotel package from Avios, with the only rail targets being the two short lines missed in mid summer by DB's usual inability to deal with high temperatures. With only a day and a half left after the track bashing was done, we decided on a bit of sightseeing so visited a couple of museums in Berlin and took a trip over to Szczecin on the other day which featured sightseeing and a little 'beer tourism'!
No pictures this time, as almost all the ones I took were 'tourist' scenes, apart from one of a Szczecin tram.
Monday 14 November
Arriva having a good day with 11:58 motor omnibus on time as was 12:53 Train to Wolvo. Lunch taken at the Great Western, Golden Glow in good shape. 14:17 XC to New Street where arrival on P4 suited well for 14:39 to Irrational from P5A. At the airport, security was very exercised by my rucksack for some reason and it had to be picked over in detail and rescanned.
Then the long fester, enlivened by being told to trot over to the former Eurohub, and eventually a push back at 16:55, exactly on time. Haulage was a Flybe Embraer 175.
Despite cap'n's promise of early arrival, 20 minutes late at Tegel where the 'other passports' queue gave a hint of post-Brexit delights for the Eurogricer. No such problems in the current twilight world though and we were soon away on an X9 bus to Zoo where food and tomorrow's Berlin-Brandenburg-ticket were obtained. U2 then to Wittenbergplatz and a short walk to the Mercure.
Tuesday 15 November.
Into breakfast at 7:30, just managed to get a table before the coach party completely took over the too-small restaurant. Full English uninspired, memo to self: stick to Eurobreakfast, much nicer.
Off to Wittenbergplatz again to wait ticket validity at 09:00:01, then U2 to Zoo and 09:27 kart to Potsdam Hbf. Quick scamper thereat to P2 for 09:52 to Beelitz-Heilstätten thus doing the supremely annoying 'Michendorf avoider' from Ferch-Leinewitz to B-H. Back to Potsdam on the same train with just time to get a coffee before 10:47 to Königs Wusterhausen which was rolling into the platform as we got there. Dead track to KW where beer was obtained from the Spar shop and the rest of lunch from a nearby baker's shop. The Lichtenberg service was 5 late then 10 but finally rolled in about 7 late. No problem as the rest of the day was non-railway. Various bits filled in on the way to Lichtenberg via B-Schöneweide, notably the curve from Ostkreuz to Lichtenberg. After that it was U-bahn to Magdalenstraße to visit the Stasi museum and thence to Potsdamerplatz for the Topography of Terror, a gimmicky name for a very well presented and sobering account of the 1933-45 era.
Muggins thought we had time to nip back to the hotel for a cuppa before going out for our evening meal, and so we had - but only for 5 minutes before a mad dash on U-bahn, S-Bahn. and foot, via Potsdamerplatz (again) and Oranienburgerstraße to reach Sophieneck, one of the 'Around Berlin in 80 pubs' establishments. Very nice too, good atmosphere, excellent food and Sion Kölsch. What's not to like. Back to the hotel by the same route for a well earned rest for two tired grockles!
Wednesday 16 November
Cunning plan today - 06:45 breakfast to avoid the crowds. Worked well too, far more comfortable and getting full by the time we were ready to go back up to shower and change. Brightish eyed, bushyish tailed and thoroughly clean we arrived at Wittenbergplatz at 08:50. Pedantic as ever I insisted we waited until 09:00 - and lo and behold we left at 09:01 and after two stops there was a plain clothes grip. Smug grin time... Ironically we'd seen the gripper get on a preceding train at Wittenbergplatz, though at the time we didn't realise he was a gripper.
Rover brain at Potsdamerplatz caused us to go straight to the S-Bahn platforms but sense soon returned and we had plenty of time to get to the main line before the 09:27 RE to Schwedt (112 and 5 Dostos). On time at Angermünde, so just time to get a coffee before the 10:40 RB to Szczecin which went from the north end up side bay, P4, as far as you can get from the café/shop! This was a 2-car centre engine thing, 646 or some such. 2 Bundespolizei accompanied us as far as Tantow but didn't seem to be border related.
Into Szczecin on time (bay platform, Peron > 1) and the only bit of track for the day,tram 6 from Glowny to Wyszynskiego. Thence to Browar Wyszak, to find it didn't open for another 50 minutes. Time for sightseeing therefore, so away to St Jacob's cathedral and its tower with viewing platform which is 150m and PLZ10 up, requires two lifts, is enclosed and worth every groszy. We then went into the cathedral itself, for which we were relieved of a further PLZ 8 each. Once again worth every groszy (though in principle I'm opposed to entrance fees for churches of any denomination). It's a stunning building, brick built in the usual Baltic coast manner and beautifully restored/maintained.
Back to Wyszak for beer ('helles' or Polish equivalent) and food, both excellent if at tourist prices. It's an extremely smart pub in the brick cellars of the former town hall.
A quick look at the castle of the Dukes of Pomerania, a Zvolen style conversion from defensive fortress to 'keeping up with the Bismarcks' residence, then to Browar Stara Komenda, a rather more humdrum establishment next door to a hotel/nightclub. This was far more pubby and sold a really excellent wheat beer inter alia, an A+ at least.
Last port of call, after witnessing a seriously alarming near miss on a pedestrian crossing, was Nowy Browar Szczecin. This one's smarter than Stara Komenda but much less so than Wyszak and finished up an interesting trio. Too many staff for too few customers; the unfiltered Pils was OK but not really to my taste with (pseud alert) its very bitter finish.
By the time we'd finished at Nowy Browar the tram with its 12 minute service interval was looking a bit dodgy so we walked down to the station in drizzle, arriving in time to avoid a downpour which we were able to watch from the comparative comfort of a 646.
Completely uneventful ride back to Angermünde on the same 646, arriving 3 late for a 3 minute connection P5-P2. The connection was 1 down and was held for stragglers anyway, so no problem. On time at Berlin Hbf where complete mayhem ruled on the S-Bahn due to a visit by soon to be ex-president Obama. We managed to get to Hackescher Markt for a swift 'alf at Lemke, which was expensive, and very unexceptional to my taste – this was 'Original', which I'd tried on a previous visit on 4.3.06. Judging by my comments at the time I wasn't that impressed with it then either – pity I didn't read that before I got to Lemke today, then I might have tried something different!
By the time we left for the hotel, via Alexanderplatz/U2, normality was resuming, so presumably Mr Pres was tucked up in comfortable quarters somewhere.
Thursday 17 November
Home day, after a too-brief visit. Not wanting to get involved in any traffic problems, Obama related or otherwise, it seemed sensible to follow the usual policy of getting as far as feasible by rail and only bus the last bit to Tegel. It wasn't raining so we walked up to Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn again and took U2 to Bismarckstrasse and U7 to Jakob-Kaiser-Platz where we found a 109 bus just approaching. Tegel was reached the prescribed 2 hours early (well, almost) and inevitably, despite the warning notices about tightened security requiring an earlier arrival, we were through check-in (still no 21 st century facilities at Tegel) and security within 10 minutes and had to settle for the usual long fester. Flybe were in early and out on time fortunately, so we reached Birmingham more or less on time, on the same Embraer that we had going out. Immigration at Birmingham was on reasonably good form and we made 11:33 Virgin Voyager to Telford with ease, dining at 'Spoon's before the bus home.
Mission accomplished on this one, and a nice change (as with the return flight from the summer Interrail) to be using Birmingham for the UK end instead of having to traipse to and from (in order of cost and awfulness) Luton, Heathrow or Stansted. Next venture - who knows. There is a very appealing Czech tour in prospect in July 2017, and a visit to the Republic of Ireland is long, long overdue. With closures frequently threatened, RoI could be a priority sooner rather than later.
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