Back in Oz

Away for 35 days, it was really five holidays in a row – Berlin, Erlangen, Prague, Poland and the boat trip from Passau to Budapest. The overall impression is of 500 million people on the move. A surprising number of people we met had connections with Australia, but if we dropped off the map, I think the world would just blink and carry on.

One way of judging Europe is by their cars. They drive better cars than we do, and that includes Poland and the central European countries. No bombs or rust buckets on the road. Did you know that Slovakia with a population of 5.4 million makes over a million cars per annum?

There were highlights galore, not least the visit with our friends in Erlangen and the boat trip with the other family members, a party of eight.

The downers began with the failure of half the toilets for economy class in the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380. That left three toilets for about 400 people on a 13-hour flight.

By this time they had already told us that Lufthansa had pulled a strike, so our connection from Frankfurt to Berlin would be bus or more likely rail. They said they’d look after us at Frankfurt, but they lied. We had diverse incredible adventures that day, but saw a fair bit of Germany, and ended up in our accommodation at 9 pm instead of 9 am after waiting for about two hours in Starbucks under the TV tower at Alexander Platz.

Germany is really millions of post cards stitched together, full of forests and trees, interspersed with charming villages, farmlets, and cities but with rivers of people madly on the move. Did you know that the trains of Berlin alone travel the equivalent of eight times around the world every day?

Finally, the river Danube really did run out of water and we had to bus it from Bratislava to Budapest. At 6 pm on the second last night the captain told us the sad news. Most of the guests/passengers were Americans, and they clapped him! They really were the nicest bunch of Americans you could ever hope to meet – mostly!

Then the tour director proceeded to explain Plan B. We’d have to pack up and get on the bus by 9 am the next morning, then at Budapest for the last night we boarded another Avalon boat that had just delivered a load of passengers there.

Here are a few images. First the Brandenburg Tor, near the centre of the “Mittel” in Berlin:


No tall buildings or giant squares. There is actually a plethora of squares scattered around the place including a largish one in front of the Reichstag (parliament), not far away. Even closer is a giant park, the Tier Garten, with scenes like this:


We were told that in 1946 the ground was bare!

You could spend a day walking the park, or hire a bicycle.

The next image shows the apartment blocks built during the communist era. These disfiguring boxes appear to be a feature of previously communist-occupied countries, even in places like Prague, where they have tizzed them up with pastel colours. In Berlin they are almost integrated. Generally the European cities we saw do well in integrating the new with the old:


In the distance after the row of apartment buildings you come to Potsdamer Platz, a giant new shopping precinct:


An example of the old was the Berliner Dom on Museum Island:


We were told the everything we saw that looked old was probably new, as everything was pretty much flattened during the war. The Berliner Dom largely survived, but looked like this, according to Wikipedia:

Berlin, sowjetische Soldaten vor Berliner Dom

New was the Bundeskanzleramt, Angela Merkel’s office across the square from the Reichstag:


After Berlin we had three days of lovely sightseeing from Erlangen, which included an ancient irrigation water mill, a cave, the castle where Luther holed up and translated the bible, including the table he worked at, and at Weltenburg the ancient Benedictine abbey with Roman ruins on the upper Danube.

Luther spent a few years under the protection of Prince Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (originally the name of the House of Windsor) in this place:


Here’s a detail from what looked like a heating urn near Luther’s desk:


It was cold in those castles in winter!

Here’s where we had a lovely bowl of soup in the district known as the Fränkische Schweiz, the Gasthof Stempfermühle:


Here was our view downstream:


Prague is known as the city of spires, but has many hidden secrets. Here’s one we discovered – the baroque Vrtba Garden:



I’ll jump now to the square in Wroclaw, which was just beautiful at night:


In one part of the square there was a huge display of flowers for sale, like these:


That’s an ornamental cabbage in the middle.

Over several nights we did not see a single flower purchased. We think the display must be subsidised to attract tourists.

We ended the trip in Budapest, a city smaller than Brisbane, but some of the buildings and infrastructure were constructed on a humongous scale, to compete, we were told, with the Habsburgs in Vienna. Budapest by night was unforgettable:


On the heights above Budapest is a huge palace, but with similar prominence we have the Liberty Statue:


It was erected in 1947 to celebrate the liberation of the Hungarians by the Russians. The inscription now reads:

    “To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary”

We visited a wonderfully impressive art gallery in the palace. From the modern Hungarian art it is clear that the Hungarians suffered much during the Soviet occupation, but have perhaps not yet found a reconciliation of inner and outer worlds, at least in their artistic life from the art works on display.

Nevertheless we liked Budapest and its people, and its food. Here are five fellows strolling down the shopping mall, chatting with people and posing for photos. Unfortunately I only got them from behind:


In Europe the big issue was of course the refugees. Perhaps I’ll comment on that one in another post.

During our stay in Erlangen the VW emissions scandal broke. Suffice it to say the Germans were not impressed with the outright scam perpetrated by one of their leading companies, although Angela assures us that no permanent damage will be suffered, as she would.

A medico has told me that I should expect to wait a month to get over jet lag. The whole trip seems like a dream now and reality is setting in. My body chemistry was in a bit of a swirl for other reasons before I went away, so it is yet to be seen what kind of equilibrium emerges.

11 thoughts on “Back in Oz”

  1. Welcome back Brian, I’m just one of many who missed you.

    And thanks for sharing so much of your trip. As it happened, I was chatting to a young student about next year…she has not enjoyed her first stint at uni and was considering her 2016 options. Whilst we were chatting I was wondering for how much longer are we going to be able to (safely) travel the world. It seems the regions and areas that pose a risk are increasing rapidly, and the Carte Blanche that we hardly questioned is no as available as it was.

  2. It’s always great to see Europe through Aussie eyes! You really (and typically) stuffed that tour with more than a fat pillow containing feathers. They do make ’em tough down under! It was lovely to have you here! We wish you good ruminations and digestion (not just literally) and the concomitant health.


  3. Paul, glad you liked it.

    Christoph, I’ve been going through the photographs and there are some shots from Bratislava, our second last stop, that I don’t remember seeing! I think my head was just about done in by the end.

    Geoff, someone was telling Phillip Adams the other day that objectively the world is becoming less conflicted. Certainly in Europe things have largely settled down after a couple of millennia of mayhem!

  4. Gosh youre an organised bloke Brian – I still haven’t processed overseas travel from 1975 (- or 1980 – or 198…or ) .but then I got off the plane and went to work. And didn’t think about it again for years. My sons who hated every minute of a year in Britain and Europe (or so it seemed) now tell fond stories of things they did their parents never – fortunately – knew about. Obviously retirement travel is the way to go. Or not. Thanks for sharing – A Czech couple out here researching for a year have returned home to near Prague and think NOTHING in Europe compares with wonderful wonderful Australia . But Prague I would like to have seen. Can’t imagine why we did so many “overseas volunteer ” tours to …… when Europe was there to be wondered at….
    thanks again. And hoping that whatever health problems you seem to have have been sorted.

  5. Thanks, Beth, good to hear.

    My health has settled down now. Something was going on for about four months. Could have been a burst of hyperthyroidism, which ticked many of the boxes and was measured somewhat high towards the end.

    All good now, more or less!

  6. I’ve just corrected an error. I had us visiting an the ancient Benedictine abbey at Wittenburg. It should have been Weltenburg, on the upper Danube. Anyway Wittenburg should have been Wittenberg.

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