France, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and now Italy… somebody stop us! Since leaving Spain we’ve endured the summer crowds in Paris, sampled amazing craft beers in Berlin and wound our way through eastern Europe on some of the ricketiest trains you’d hope to find. We’ve seen so many places there’s no way we could possibly fit everything in just one blog… So where to start?
After being away for most of the year what could be better than spending time with family in Paris? We’d been looking forward to seeing my Mum and Dad for some time and we all made the most of our stay. Of course we visited the usual tourist spots (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe and Sacré-Cœur), but we were also quite happy to window shop, lounge at the hotel and eat at the many cafes and restaurants near our hotel.
Mum and Dad on the Metro.
The highlight? An unforgettable night at the Moulin Rouge for Mum’s birthday! As if we weren’t excited enough, upon showing our tickets on arrival, we were escorted through a cluster of waiting people into the famous hall right to an elevated table with a perfect centre view of the stage. Best seats in the house hands down!
Our three-course champagne dinner was unbelievably good, and the cabaret itself? There are many people who consider the modern Moulin Rouge a pale imitation of its former glory years. I can’t vouch for previous eras but the current show is spectacular. If beautiful, sultry can-can girls and a slapstick gangsta trio don’t do it for you, the Amazonian-like woman who swims with a giant python surely will.
We parted ways with Mum and Dad, who travelled to Amsterdam to start their river cruise down the Danube. In two weeks time we’d see them in Hungary, but before then we were off to Germany and the hipster capital of Europe – Berlin! Here, the old and new go hand-in-hand, with derelict graffiti-covered shopfronts straddling funky bars and restaurants. Remnants of the wall – which divided East and West Germany – are scattered throughout the city and the mighty Brandenburg Gate towers over Pariser Platz – an apt symbol of Germany’s status as a true European powerhouse.
Two hours south of Berlin lies Dresden, a classically beautiful city where everything from the architecture, streetscapes and food is just so European. The Allies battered Dresden relentlessly during WWII leaving most of the city in ruins. Fortunately it’s been faithfully rebuilt and we spent a good chunk of our time there walking around admiring the facades.
Next up was a visit to Prague, which like Paris, was heaving with visitors. Summer storms similar to those we get in Brisbane meant we mostly ventured out in the mornings before the rains arrived later in the day. Prague is very picturesque – there are countless bridges and high vantage points around, which make it a great city for photos (we took some of our best at night).
Eight hours, 500kms and three trains later, we were in Krakow – where cheap vodka, cloudy days and stony faces are in abundance (do Poles ever smile?). Despite somehow always being short of Polish Zlotys, your bloggers had a blast there. We marvelled at St Mary’s Basilica – it has the most ornate interior of any church we’ve seen – while the exhibition at Oskar Schindler’s factory revealed just how much of an iron grip the Nazi’s had on Krakow during the second world war.
On our last day in Krakow I took a trip to Auschwitz, which is located near the small town of Oswiecim. It’s a solemn place, best visited early when you don’t have to battle the constant influx of tour groups wandering about. My early bus had me at Auschwitz 1 just after 8:00 am, which gave me some priceless quiet time before the crowds arrived.
L: View from inside. C: Block 11 – the ‘Wall of Death’ yard. R: High voltage.
I took around three hours to see the first camp before venturing to the much larger Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where around 90% of all Auschwitz victims were murdered. Birkenau is an enormous site and the foundations of several gas chambers are still clearly visible, despite Nazi efforts to destroy the evidence when the war was at an end. Seeing what humanity is capable of was quite confronting, but if you’re ever in Poland you should visit for yourself – if only to help ensure the horrors of the past aren’t ever forgotten.
The next day I realised I’d probably spent longer at Auschwitz than the majority of those who’d been brought there to die. Sobering stuff.