We are back from an 8 day vacation with our son and daughter-in-law, and we had a wonderful time. Because plane tickets were so expensive, I decided to cash in nearly all of our frequent flier miles. After all, who knows how much longer American will be servicing the St. Louis area. They barely service it now. We had to fly to Raleigh, NC to catch our flight to London. Seriously...people in Raleigh can fly directly to London, but St. Louisans cannot. Unbelievable... Anyway, from London we met up with Andy and Megan and flew first to Berlin. For us, three flights and 16 hours later, we arrived in Berlin. We couldn't check into the hotel until 2:00 p.m., so we left our luggage with the bellman - oh wait, there wasn't one. Instead we stuck our luggage into an overflowing closet next to the reception desk, and headed down the block to a Starbucks. Sad, but true, and we all needed caffeine.
Following checkin, we strolled down the street of our hotel. Really a boulevard, Kurfurstendamm boasts stores with the names of Gucci, Luis Vuitton, Chanel and Porsche Designs. I suddenly realized I had not brought along enough euros :)
I have to admit that Berlin was not on my list of top 10 places to see before I die. I'm guessing I'm not alone in this because we saw very few tourists other than those from Germany or surrounding countries. At any rate for me I guess that is mostly because I really enjoy seeing centuries old architecture more than new. But Berlin surprised me in many ways, seeming to take great care in mixing the old buildings (the few that survived heavy bombing in WWII) with the new. The city has some very interesting architecture. Taking the bus or U-Bahn around town, we were able to hit most of the places on our "must see" list in the two and a half days we spent there.
On the 4th day we boarded a train bound for Prague. It took us about 4 hours and for a lot of that time we could have been taking a train across Missouri for all that we could see out the windows. Once we reached the southeastern part of Germany, the train traveled along the river and there were some beautiful bluffs on the other side. We arrived at the Prague train station after dark, and it was a scary place to be, at least at night. We could see a group of men huddled together in the dark off to the side near the exit of the station. Little did we know, those were the cab drivers. They are unlicensed and unregulated in Prague, so you take your chances. Following a harrowing ride to the hotel, we arrived only to find that the hotel only had one room reservation, and they were sold out. It's now 8:30 at night and we don't have a room. Once the desk clerk realized that it was his hotel's error, he quickly lined us up with two rooms in a hotel within their consortium, arranging for a car and driver to pick us up. It was on the other side of the Vltava River, and I think we actually ended up in a better place for the same room rate. After that shaky start, we had a fabulous time in Prague. It is everything I had heard and read about, and much more. Vertually untouched by any war, the area has kept its historic buildings in place and for the most part new architectural design has only been done outside the city. It is a very walkable city, albeit hilly and a little more difficult to travel with its sidewalks and roads made of cobblestones. We walked our legs off for the two full days we had there. I definitely could have used one or two days more in this location. Language was not an issue, the people are very friendly and almost all the menus were in English. My only beef (pardon the pun) is that you have to pay to use the public bathrooms, sometimes even in the places where you dined.
Leaving a beautiful place is never easy, especially when the alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m. to send you on your way. We again flew with Andy and Megan to London, where they headed off on their way to D.C. and we took off for Raleigh. Unfortunately, our flight left 45 minutes late, which caused us to miss our connection in Raleigh. Going through customs delayed us enough that even an O.J. Simpson run through the airport would not have enabled us to catch the flight. Yay - an additional 2 and a half hours to sit around the Raleigh airport! We finally got home about 8:15, which was really 3:15 in the morning for us. Was all of this worth it? Definitely - it was so nice to be with the kids for a week since we don't get to see them that often. But next time I'm finding a destination where we can fly direct!