I didn’t publish much on The Next Phase Blog last week because I was out of the office, something I don’t announce publicly because my office is in my house. Enough said. Where were we? On vacation. We took Viking’s “Elegant Elbe” river cruise from Berlin to Prague.
Why April for a European vacation? We had several reasons. (1) The rivers have more water in the spring; (2) There are fewer people in Europe then; (3) It’s cooler, which makes it easier to walk around; (4) Viking’s prices are cheaper in the shoulder seasons; I could finish vacation before the summer tour season starts.
On this trip, the Elbe, a shallow river that can shrink in a dry year, was running fast and hard.
Changeable European Weather
We did the same thing last year and lucked out on the weather. It was cold and miserable when we left New England but warm and sunny when we reached Lucerne. That gorgeous spring weather lasted for most of our trip. We had no such luck this year.
The weather was cold, windy and rainy here and cold, windy and rainy when we arrived in Berlin. I had a good fleece and a lined slicker but wished constantly for my winter coat and gloves—which I had left at home.
Last year I would not have needed them and was afraid I would overpack this year if I included them. As usual, the old adage applies: It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
The cold weather did make a difference to our enjoyment of the cruise, as it’s difficult to take pictures when you’re juggling your camera and an umbrella and hard to appreciate your surroundings when all you want to do is go inside and get warm. But I love to travel and even a bad weather day is a good travel day.
A Few Observations
Having said that, I made some observations about our European experiences compared to the US.
The cities of Western Europe are doing their best to conserve energy in the face of Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. Buildings are not lit up at night. We stopped in a shopping mall in Prague to pick up a few things and I noticed that the down escalators were not running. But they started up as soon as we approached and tripped the electric eye. Water in restroom sinks is uniformly cold.
- Berlin is a very gray city. Some of this comes from the Communist influence on East Berlin but I didn’t notice much difference on the Western side. The cloudy weather may also have had something to do with it. Many of the world’s most notable architects have designed buildings in Berlin but none of them made me look twice—and I love good architecture.
- The only vibrant color I saw in Berlin lined the walls of the Gemaldegalerie, the city’s great art museum. We spent a wonderful (and warm) afternoon there browsing both the regular collection and their current exhibition of work by Hugo van der Goes.
- Our onsite tour guides did not seem enthusiastic about taking us into churches. Now, I love browsing through old churches, especially those of the Baroque style. I know that guides have to keep their tours on time and 90 percent of Czechs are atheists, so churches many not mean as much to them. I pushed the issue a bit and got into a few churches and others in the group also seemed to appreciate the interiors as well.
The Un-Freedom Trail
- The path of the Berlin Wall is marked by a double line of gray bricks that winds through the city. Today, we can stand with one foot in West Berlin and the other in East Berlin–something impossible when the wall was up. Also, it would have been worth your life. We have something similar in Boston: a double line of red bricks that connects sites important to the Revolutionary War. We call it the Freedom Trail and I couldn’t help thinking of the Berlin version as their Un-Freedom Trail.
- Several of our guides spent time talking about life the former German Democratic Republic which, as they noted, was neither Democratic nor a Republic. It provided an interesting and very personal background to what we here in the U.S. experienced mostly as a political problem.
Even in the old East Germany, public transportation works better than it does herein America. Trains, trams, and subways run on time. In Prague, we were told that the trams were free for people over 65 but we should carry proof of age. Later we discovered that this only applied to European citizens. But we did take the tram and, not only did we get a free ride, but young people even got up to give us their seats. Try that in the U.S.!
- Dresden, a city that the Allies firebombed into ash during WWII, has been rebuilt. That’s not surprising after more than 70 years. What is astonishing is that they reconstructed buildings from the old, original plans in the Baroque style, complete with statues, cupolas, domes, and archways. I don’t even know where they found the craftsmen who could do such work. The result is a city that looks like it was never touched by war.
Catching Up at Home
Now we’re back from our European trip and adjusting to a new time zone as well as tackling all the dirty laundry. Mookie, our rescue kitty, was happy to see us after a week of only the cat sitter for company. But we brought the cold, rainy weather with us. It had an impact on the Boston Marathon and the Patriots Day Red Sox game. Sorry about that.
I have to buckle down and work on our congregation’s annual Rummage Sale. This is the first time we’ve done it since the pandemic began, and it takes a lot of sorting.
After that comes summer and the tour season. I’m one of those people who is so busy in retirement I wonder how I ever had the time to work. The difference, of course, is that now I can do what I want to do and that is a big improvement.