Visitng Berlin, Dresden, and Prague – originally published 28 September 2005

I had no idea how beautiful the countryside would be in southern Germany and the Czech Republic.

We started our trip off on a great foot – we arrived at our hostel in Berlin on the 19th of September at 9 in the morning, after a quick breakfast & caffeine in the train station to recover from our overnight train ride from Paris. We promptly made friends with two of the hostel guests, and they offered to show us around until we could get in our room (after noon). All I could talk about that afternoon (and then bought up again and again) was how great the bike riding is in Berlin. Germans are efficient. Everything was so orderly and well planned and constructed in such a way that it all worked together. The bike lanes in Berlin are clearly marked and well used and the stoplights had a light just for cyclists. I loved it.

The hostel we stayed in totally restored my faith in hostels. To me, a hostel is a cheap place to stay with budget-minded travelers who like to meet new people. There’s a kitchen, clean bathrooms and rooms, and a certain amount of respect from the staff to help the guests learn about the place they’re staying in. Lately, I’ve gotten bitter towards hostels – places in Western Europe that charge people 30 Euro for a bunkbed in a dorm room, cater toward big groups of spring break kids, have stupid lockout rules, no common room, lose reservations, etc. It seems like a waste to me, and I’d rather use hospitality club anyway. But! This hostel was amazing and had everything I wanted. The last night we were in Berlin, a huge group of hostel guests and workers went out for drinks, and we  hung out with 2 really great kids from London all night.

Ordering beer in Berlin cracks me up. A beer in Paris is in a small glass; in Berlin they are GIANT. It’s like 3 Paris beers, and it’s cheap! We were able to eat really cheaply by sticking to take out Turkish food and cooking dinner at the hostel. Everything I read about the fall of communism and the Iron curtain and all the history just totally came to life in Berlin. I touched the wall, I saw Checkpoint Charlie, I saw the Holocaust memorials… it was unreal. That city really was destroyed, so now it seems like everything is totally modern and there are no beautiful old churches on every corner like I’ve gotten used to seeing in European cities.

We left Berlin on Thursday morning to hitchhike to Prague, which was unbelievably successful. We got our first ride after waiting for 10 minutes with a really nice woman (all the way to Dresden), and then waited another 15 minutes for a ride straight to Prague from a fucking awesome German trucker who offered us food and wine.

I felt so lucky that I got to see the Czech republic from the seat of a giant truck, high above all the cars! Truckers aren’t supposed to take passengers over the boarder, so our driver said he’d pull over and let us out, but wait for us to walk over to the other side. But once we got close, he realized there was nowhere to pull over, and quickly told us to hide in the back area where he sleeps. He was freaking out a bit, but luckily no one looked for any sneaky Americans hidden in the backseat, so we were in! The first thing you see when you arrive in Czech are tons of prostitutes that dance by the side of the road. The Czech republic and southern Germany is some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen – right up there with Ireland. Totally breathtaking mountains and castles and big blue skies, and windy mountain roads. We were let out at a gas station about 15 minutes from Praha Centrum (Prague Center), and the trucker bought me coffee before wishing us well!

Getting into the actual city was somewhat complicated. We had no Czech money at all and no access to an ATM or anything. I saw buses going by, but we were on a more-or-less highway and there was no way someone was going to pick us up in the dark (there wasn’t really even a place for cars to pull over). So I decide that the busss must be going into Prague, and now we just needed czech money. I walked into a gas station and held up 20 Euros and said “proseem?” (please?) and thank god that somehow this woman that works at a gas station understood my situation and was somehow able to exchange my money. I also bought a gross sandwich, which my boyfriend happily ate. It’s nice to travel with non-picky eaters.

We communicated through sign language and 3 words of English with a guy at the bus stop to confirm that yes, the bus was going into Prague, and then we could take a tram to the city center. We got on the bus, and just… sat down. There was no way you could pay on the bus, I could tell right away, everyone had tickets. So I just hoped for the best, and then hoped for the best again on the tram, and luckily everything worked out with more sign language and using “proseem” a lot. In the end, we were successful in getting from Berlin to Prague for free! We arrived at the home of our hospitality club hosts around 8:30 or 9pm, and they made us dinner and took us out for beer and had the cutest dog in the world who came and slept in bed with us when the Prague people left for work. We totally fell in love with the dog and took tons of pictures of her and played with her in bed and acted as though she was our pet.

Prague way more beautiful than Paris, hands down. I could ramble on and on, but it will all just come out as “amazing, beautiful, perfect, unreal,” etc. We went to the Museum of Torture (lame), walked over Charles Bridge, went to the castle, and roamed the streets. One night we saw some bands play at a little bar/club. We even went out to a restaurant for dinner, which we never do on our own… but we picked the right city to splurge. Appetizers, 3 dinners, 4 beers, and 2 cokes were about 25 Euros (we went out with our other Hospitality Club host, a great guy from the Ukraine) total. We ate yummy pastries every morning and saw street performers and took a zillion pictures.

The hitchhiking adventure from Prague back to Berlin was much, much slower. We never really found a great spot to start from in Prague, but after many hours of waiting finally got a ride to Dresden with this great Czech couple. It was almost dark when we got there, and the possibility of getting picked up after dark when you’re hitching is much less… so we just decided to stay in Dresden for the night, at another fantastic hostel. 12 Euro a night for super comfy beds, clean bathrooms, amazing kitchen, good coffee, etc. In the end, I felt like everything worked out the way it was supposed to, because I loved Dresden. It still had some old buildings left (though most of the city was bombed in the war, I guess they were able to salvage some good stuff), and the rest of the city was like Berlin – clean, modern, and efficient. There was a great punk scene, tons of great bars to choose from, and very close to nature. After exploring for a while, we ended up at a bar called “Little Creatures” where my boyfriend had one of the best milkshakes I’ve ever tasted and I had another comically large beer.

Hitching from Dresden to Berlin on Monday was also slow-going and we almost gave up a few times, but in the end, again, it all worked out great. A Czech guy who spoke perfect English picked us up at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere (a very not-crowded rest stop that was making me very nervous with the lack of people pulling over) and drove us straight into Berlin, after the first couple rides only took us about 50 kilometers of so. We were in Berlin by 6:30pm, with plenty of time to eat, rest, and catch our 9:30 train back to Paris on Monday night.

There you have it. I want to go back and spend way more time in each of the cities I visited, which is the sign that I had an awesome trip. I’m just very, very tired and I really need to do laundry. And then I want to travel more, more, more.

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