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3

June 2016

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4 Days In Kraków

Written by , Posted in Travel

After spending 5 fantastic days in Budapest, we hopped on a plane and headed north to Poland to spend the last 4 days of our trip in Krakow. Like Budapest, Kraków was a city that kept coming up when talking to others about which cities in Europe to visit, so we decided this would be the perfect trip to squeeze it in.

Kraków, Poland, obwarzanek, bagel, pretzel, main market square

Traditional obwarzanki sold from street carts around Kraków, somewhat of a cross between a bagel and a pretzel

As usual we rented an apartment on Airbnb – and spent a whopping $183 for 4 nights, crazy right?! Talk about affordable. The apartment was located in the Jewish Quarter of Kraków, also known as Kazimierz. Kazimierz is a great location – lots of cute little restaurants and pop-ups, bars, and small shops and it is outside of the more touristy area near the Main Market Square (Rynek Główny). The neighborhood has a ton of character with it’s narrow, cobblestone streets and awesome street art and graffiti hiding around every corner. While the area is no longer the center of Jewish life that it was prior to World War II, the history of the neighborhood survives with a plethora of historical sites, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries. Just across to river is where you can find Oskar Schindler’s factory, which now serves as Kraków’s historical museum.

Kazimierz, street art, graffiti, black and white, poland, Kraków

Street Art in Kazimierz

While we really loved the neighborhood, looking back at the end of the trip I think we would have enjoyed staying near the Rynek Główny (Main Market Square) as that was where we ended up spending a majority of our time. We usually try to stay in less “touristy” areas, but Kraków hasn’t quite reached the popularity of other major European cities, like Prague for example, and while the Main Market Square was definitely crowded during the day, it didn’t feel as commercialized as those we’ve come across in other cities. Kazimierz was great, and we really enjoyed exploring the neighborhood, but it isn’t a far walk from the square and for us it would have made more sense if our home base was closer to where we spent the majority of our time.

Kraków, Poland, Main Market Square, Europe, Rynek Główny

Rynek Główny, Kraków’s Main Market Square

While 4 days gave us plenty of time to explore all the highlights, we could have easily stayed a few more days and kept ourselves busy in Kraków and other nearby cities. Kraków has all the great things we love so much about European cities: great food, beautiful churches, impressive museums, cute cafés, a bustling main square, tons of local character, and an endless amount of winding streets and alleyways to get lost in. Read on to see how we spent our time in this beautiful city!

Krakow, Poland, Windows, Flowers, Brick, Old

Sightseeing in Kraków

 

Kazimierz

As I mentioned above, Kazimierz is also known as the Jewish Quarter of Kraków and has tons of character. I’d spend a morning/afternoon here just walking up and down the cobblestone streets, checking out the unique shops, and stopping into a bar or two (…or three) for a pit stop. You can grab a Zapiekanki from Endzior for lunch and finish it off with a little Lody from Lody na Starowiślnej (see below for details on both). There are also several great restaurants in the area so you can plan on staying a little longer and make a day of it!

Lion + Maven | Kraków

Kazimierz, Graffiti, Street Art, Black and White, Poland, Krakow

Main Market Square (Rynek Główny)
30-062 Kraków, Poland

If you’re visiting Kraków, you can’t miss the Main Square, or Rynek Główny. It is surrounded by beautiful, colorful buildings and St. Mary’s Basilica with the Cloth Hall right in the middle. You’ll find tons of vendors with carts here during the day and lots of outdoor seating from the restaurants lining the square. If carriage rides are your thing, you’ll find them all lined up here.

Kraków, Poland, Main Market Square, Europe, Rynek Główny, Horse Carriage

Kraków, Poland, Main Market Square, Europe, Rynek Główny, Night, Horse Carriage

Krakow, Poland, Main Market Square, Yellow Building

St. Mary’s Basilica

plac Mariacki 5, 31-042 Kraków, Poland

St. Mary’s Basilica is Kraków’s most famous church right off the Main Square – trust me, you can’t miss it! A beautiful church inside and out, definitely a great spot for photo ops.

Lion + Maven | Kraków

Oskar Schindler’s Factory
Lipowa 4, 30-702 Kraków, Poland

What was once Oskar Schindler‘s Enamel Factory is now home to the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition at the factory focuses on Kraków Under Nazi Occupation; they have several remnants and information on Oskar Schindler’s factory as well as interesting history on the rest of the city during this time.

Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków (MOCAK)
Lipowa 4, 30-702 Kraków, Poland

I’m pretty sure that MOCAK is the first Contemporary Art museum that Mike and I have visited, and while they definitely had a few odd exhibits, overall we really loved the museum and were very impressed!

Lion + Maven | Kraków

Kraków, Poland, MOCAK

Ghetto Heroes Square
plac Bohaterów Getta, Kraków, Poland

Previously Plac Zgody and now named plac Bohaterów Getta for the ‘heroes of the ghetto’, this public square was the largest open space in the Kraków ghetto and was the point of departure for many of Kraków’s Jews who were deported to various camps. Now the square is spotted with 70 empty metal chairs symbolizing departure and absence. Just a few blocks from MOCAK and Schindler’s factory – worth a stop if you’re on this side of the river.

Lion + Maven | Kraków

Wawel Castle
Wawel 5, 31-001 Kraków, Poland

We didn’t end up going in to tour the Wawel Royal Castle, but we did head up the hill to admire it from the outside and snap a few photos of the castle and the fire-breathing Wawel Dragon at the base of the castle. I’ll be honest…the fire-breathing dragon was my main concern here! Don’t pay the money to go down the special staircase into the dragon dungeon (which we did because we didn’t know any better), the dragon is fully visible to the public if you just walk your way down along the river.

Wawel Royal Castle, Krakow, Poland

Wale Royal Castle, Krakow, Poland, Fire-breathing Dragon

St. Francis’ Basilica (Church of St. Francis of Assisi)
pl. Wszystkich Świętych 5, 31-004 Kraków, Poland

The Church of St. Francis of Assisi is another famous church in Kraków, known for its beautiful Art Nouveau interiors and stained glass by Stanisław Wyspiański.

St Francis Basilica, Krakow, Stained Glass, Art Nouveau, Stanisław Wyspiański

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Daniłowicza 10, 32-020 Wieliczka, Poland

Since our time in Kraków was limited, Mike and I decided to set one day aside and do a double tour of Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The Salt Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and located just 20-30 minutes outside of the city in Wieliczka, so we figured we might as well visit while we were there. While the tour was somewhat interesting, it just didn’t really do it for us and if we had to do it again we would probably skip it, unless we had a few more days in Kraków to fill. We booked the tour (as well as our airports transfers) through Krakow Direct and we were more than pleased with the service. We were picked up in large, clean vans for just the two of us, our drivers were all very friendly and expertly guided us and set us up right where we needed to be.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chandeliers

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
Więźniów Oświęcimia 20, 32-603 Oświęcim, Poland

After our visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial in Germany last year, we had an idea of some of the things we would see and hear at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, but even that couldn’t really prepare us for taking in the sheer size of Birkenau and the things we saw and learned at Auschwitz. This is a place that I feel everyone should take the time to visit.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Memorial, Concentration Camp, Poland

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Memorial, Concentration Camp, Poland

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Memorial, Concentration Camp, Poland

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Memorial, Concentration Camp, Poland

Shopping in Kraków

 

Cloth Hall (Sukiennice)
Rynek Główny 1-3, Kraków, Poland

The Cloth Hall is right in the middle of the Main Market Square and impossible to miss. The inside is lined with booths of vendors selling a wide variety of goods and souveniers, some shops with more quality items than others. Amber is a popular stone found in Poland, and you’ll find plenty of it here.

Cloth Hall, Sukiennice, Krakow, Poland

Cloth Hall, Sukiennice, Krakow, Poland

Hala Targowa (Plac Targowy Unitarg)
30-962, Grzegórzecka 14, 33-332 Kraków, Poland

Hala Targowa is a huge outdoor market (I might call it more of a flea market) where you’ll find everything from fresh fruit and flowers to questionable DVDs and mismatched shoes. We walked through on our way to Wesola Cafe (see below) and it was definitely crowded and overwhelming, but interesting nonetheless.

Asortyment Shop
Bozego Ciala 22, Kraków 31-051, Poland

My favorite (non-edible) shop in Kraków was this tiny little Polish pottery shop hidden off a quiet street in the Jewish Quarter. When we were in Germany the previous year I bought a beautiful piece of Polish pottery – and paid a pretty penny for it. Well, I was kicking myself for that purchase when I stepped into this store because they had the same gorgeous pieces for a fraction of the cost. Definitely a great spot to pick up something for yourself as well as loved ones back home.

Bistro Charlotte
plac Szczepański 2, Kraków, Poland

The best thing I brought home from Kraków was a jar of raspberry jam from Bistro Charlotte. Seriously, this stuff was so amazing – I was scraping out the jar for every last bit! I brought a jar home for my mom and she loved it too, who doesn’t love edible souvenirs?! (Plus it was super inexpensive!) If you plan on visiting Kraków and have a little extra room in your suitcase, I’d pay handsomely for a few jars!

Calik Gallery
Rynek Główny 7, 33-332 Kraków, Poland

A great little shop hidden off the Main Square with tons of beautiful hand-painted Christmas ornaments.

Krakuska Sztuka Ludowa
Szewska 9, Kraków, Poland

Krakuska is a little shop off the Main Square with a wide variety of traditional souveniers. A good option for a one-stop-shop if you’re pressed for time.

Eating in Kraków

Kraków, Poland, Sausage

Endzior
plac Nowy 4, Kraków, Poland

If there was a “dishes to eat in Poland” bucket list, a Zapiekanka would definitely be at the top. Zapiekanki are open-faced sandwiches made on half of a baguette and are very similar to what we would think of as French Bread pizzas. They are cheap and easy to make and first became popular during the Communist-Era in the 70’s. In Kraków you’ll find tons of places serving up Zapiekanki, but the most popular spot is Endzior, a tiny stand in the middle of plac Nowy in the Jewish quarter. Zapiekanki start with a base of cheese and mushrooms and traditionally (or so I heard) they are topped with ketchup – I tried this on my first Zapiekanka and as much as I love ketchup, this was not for me. We returned for a late night visit and I had an amazing combo of fried onions, chives, and bacon and it was nothing short of amazing.

Kraków, Poland, Endzior, Zapiekanki

Kraków, Poland, Endzior, Zapiekanki

Wesola Cafe
Rakowicka 17, 31-511 Kraków, Poland

We enjoyed a ton of great food in Kraków, but a simple breakfast at Wesoła Cafe was definitely one of my favorite meals. The cafe itself is super cute and very Instagram-worthy. They don’t mess around when it comes to coffee and offered a great selection of beans and brewing methods. I ordered their mixed plate with ham, gouda cheese, egg spread, another delicious spread, a spring salad, and bread and butter, along with their coconut chia pudding with fresh fruit – simple but so fresh and delicious. Mike ordered the Fried Eggs and Frankfurters and as much as I loved my plate, I had a bit of order envy…I don’t know how they made their frankfurters, but they were delicious! They can get super busy and it’s not a huge place so I played it safe and made a reservation – I’d definitely recommend that if you’re planning ahead. A little out of the way but we would have loved to return if we had the time!

Krakow, Poland, Wesola Cafe, Brunch, Breakfast, Coffee, Instagram

Kraków, Poland, Wesola Cafe, Coffee, Instagram

Coffee Cargo
Przemysłowa 3, 33-332 Kraków, Poland

Coffee Cargo is a must-visit for coffee lovers in Kraków. It’s located just a couple blocks from Schindler’s Factory and the MOCAK and somewhat hidden in a very industrial area (and building). Just a super cool space, I highly recommend checking it out.

Kraków, Poland, Coffee Cargo

Lody na Starowiślnej
Starowiślna 83, 31-038 Kraków, Poland

Over the course of our 4 days in Kraków I probably had 4 ice cream cones (I think there may have been 2 in one day) from Lody na Starowiślnej, conveniently located right across the street from our apartment. Lody means ice cream in Polish and Lody na Starowiślnej is arguably Kraków’s most popular spot to grab a little Polish lody. The ice cream is delicious – homemade with fresh, seasonal fruit – strawberry was hands down my favorite. The only downside is this tiny shop’s popularity – people lined up down the block consistently throughout the day for a taste. We stopped in during the lulls, I think I may have even had a cone one morning when they opened around 9am – there was no line, I couldn’t resist!

Kraków, Poland, Lody, Ice Cream, Strawberry

Zazie Bistro

Józefa 34, 31-056 Kraków, Poland

We had a great dinner at a cute little French restaurant, ZAZIE Bistro, in the Jewish Quarter on our second night in Kraków. We made a reservation the previous night with no problem. The dishes were hearty and comforting – we loved the steak tartare and the french potatoes gratin.

Zazie Bistro, Krakow, Poland, Beef Tartare, Kazimierz

Pod Baranem
św. Gertrudy 21, Kraków, Poland

I love Polish food and wanted to find somewhere that I could get my fill – enter Pod Baranem. They had a great menu with traditional Polish foods and then some. Great service, lovely atmosphere, and delicious food – the perfect spot to enjoy our last meal in Kraków.

Bagelmama
Dajwór 10, 31-052 Kraków, Poland

Bagelmama is a cute little bagel shop located right around the corner from our apartment in Kazimierz. The owner is a friendly ex-pat who has lived in Kraków for the last 10 years. He and his sweet old chocolate lab Pablo (who befriended Mike immediately, of course) kept us company and made us feel at home when we stopped in for one of their delicious bagel sandwiches on multiple occasions.

Kraków, Poland, Bagelmama, Bagels, Salmon

Hummus Amamamusi
Augustiańska 3, 30-962 Kraków, Poland

We never made it to Hummus Amamamusi, but they were next on my list of places I wanted to try if we had the time. This is a tiny little spot and the reviews are great – a good option for a different type of cuisine.

U Stasi
Mikołajska 16, 31-027 Kraków, Poland

If you’re looking for a legit (read: where the locals go) Polish pierogi spot, look no further than U Stasi. Located down an alleyway off the Main Market Square, U Stasi can be difficult to find, but definitely worth the effort. This is not your typical sit down and be waited on restaurant – people sit down, order their pierogis, eat, and get on with it, very similar to a Polish Milk Bar. Don’t expect any friendly english-speaking servers here – you walk in, quickly pick your own table and place your order. I would do a quick internet search before going and plan your order ahead of time. Our pierogis came out in no time at all, we ate, and then got up to pay at the counter and head out. It seemed to be mostly locals eating alone on their lunch breaks, it was almost eerily quiet while we were there. A basic, no-frills, slightly intimidating spot, but some seriously delicious pierogis.

U Stasi, Krakow, Poland, Pierogi, Milk Bar

Kraków, Poland, U Stasi, Milk Bar, Pierogi, Bacon

Bistro Charlotte
plac Szczepański 2, Kraków, Poland

Come for a couple jars of their raspberry jam to-go, stay for a simple yet delicious breakfast with a buzzing atmosphere. Bistro Charlotte is located just off the Main Square and I stopped in for breakfast on our last morning in Kraków. I indulged with the Charle’s Breakfast – a basket of croissants, jam, an egg, and of course – a glass of bubbly, because why not?!

Kraków, Poland, Charlotte Bistro, Champagne, Jam

Krakowska Manufaktura Czekolady
Szewska 7, 31-009 Kraków, Poland

When you see photos of a beautiful cup of just straight up melted chocolate, it’s hard to avoid the indulgence. Krakowska Manufaktura Czekolady is a chocolate shop off the main square with a cafe above where you can sit down and enjoy a cup of your own. I’ll be honest though, it was incredibly rich and a little much for me…but hey, it was pretty! This would also be a great spot to grab an edible souvenir to bring home to friends and family. Warning: if you go in with kids, watch out for their selection of phalic chocolates in a wide variety and sizes and colors.

Kraków, Poland, Hot Chocolate, Krakowska Manufaktura Czekolady

Drinking in Kraków

 

House of Beer
Świętego Tomasza 35, 31-027 Kraków, Poland

After a little research we were very surprised to find that Poland is quite a hot spot for craft beer, who knew?! We stopped into a couple of craft beer bars in Kraków and House of Beer was our favorite, offering the best beer selection along with great background music and friendly bartenders.

Kraków, Poland, House of Beer, Bar

Kraków Slow Wines
Lipowa 6F, 30-702 Kraków, Poland

Just a few doors down from the MOCAK and Oskar Schindler’s factory, you’ll find Kraków Slow Wines – a bright, airy spot to try a variety of regional wines after an afternoon of sightseeing.

Hotel Stary
Szczepańska 5, 31-009 Kraków, Poland

Sadly, every single time we attempted to visit the rooftop at Hotel Stary for a drink, they were closed for one reason or another. This hotel is right off the Main Square and has great views from the rooftop bar.

Wodka Bar
Mikołajska 5, Kraków, Poland

Another spot we just didn’t have the time to squeeze in was Wódka, a vodka bar just off the Main Square. Convenient location and a ton of fun flavors to choose from.

Lion + Maven | Kraków

 

Well, I think that covers it! We had a fantastic time in Kraków and for anyone considering a visit, Mike and I highly recommend this fun, beautiful city – you won’t be disappointed!

Tuesday

21

October 2014

2

COMMENTS

Sightseeing in Prague

Written by , Posted in Travel

After a quick 3 days in Berlin, it was time to pack up our things and catch a train to the next stop on our trip, Prague. Prague was the only city we visited outside of Germany and as soon as our taxi pulled onto the cobbled streets of Malá Strana, I was completely in love. Like we did in Berlin, we used Airbnb to book an apartment in Prague and the location was absolutely perfect. It was a HUGE apartment and we were on the 3rd floor; we were literally right across the street from the Charles Bridge and we could see the castle from our bathroom window! Prague’s famous bridge is always crowded during the day, but I made a point to wake up early while we were there to enjoy its beauty minus all the hustle and bustle. Trust me, the peacefulness at that time of day is totally worth the early wake-up call.

Prague, Charles Bridge

Prague, Charles Bridge

Prague Castle

Prague, Charles Bridge

Our train arrived in the early afternoon, so we only had 2 1/2 days to take in as much of Prague as possible. Like we did in Berlin, we decided to hit the ground running and start our visit with a guided tour to get acquainted with the city. Mike and I had never ridden on segways, and even though we’re always annoyed by the tourists on segways in Chicago, we decided to give the Prague on Segway tour a try. They were rated #1 on TripAdvisor and they only do private, 2-person tours. Because it was just Mike and me, our guide was able to customize the tour to our specifications. We told him we had just arrived and wanted a good overview of the city, and that’s exactly what we got!

We started our tour from the Prague on Segway office right across from the American Embassy in Malá Strana. From there we made a stop at St. Nicholas Church on our way up to the Prague Castle and gardens. It’s a bit of a steep climb up to the castle, but the beautiful views from the top are absolutely worth it. We cheated and let our Segways do all of the work, but I would definitely expend the energy for this viewpoint.

Prague, Mala Strana

Prague Mala Strana

Prague Castle

Prague Castle Gardens

From the gardens we rode through Letná Park, stopping at several other great viewpoints along the way. We made our way back down the hill and crossed the bridge to explore Old Town, or Staré Město. The architecture in Prague is insanely beautiful, as we rode through the streets of Old Town I wanted to stop and stare at every corner. The colors and the details in these old buildings could keep you busy for hours on end, I highly recommend taking some time to let yourself get lost in Prague’s web of small cobblestone streets and alleyways.

After grabbing our first of many glasses of unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell from Lokál, we made a stop in the Old Town Square. This square is one of the most popular in Prague; you’ll find the Prague Astronomical Clock and the Gothic Týn Church here, two big tourist favorites. We then rode through Old Town, checking out other buildings and famous landmarks like Wenceslas Square, before crossing back over the Vltava river to end our tour. If you’re in Prague for a short period of time and want to quickly get acquainted with the city, the Prague on Segway tours are a great way to do just that.

Prague, Architecture, Pink

Prague, Charles Bridge

Prague Old Town

Prague, Old Town Square

Prague, Old Town Square, Astronomical Clock

Prague, Wenceslas Square

Prague, Tram

Over the next couple of days we ate and drank our way around Prague (more on the eating and drinking to come!), revisiting several of the places where we had quickly stopped on our Segway tour. We also did our fair share of wandering and visiting other points of interest like the Old Jewish Cemetery. If you don’t want to shell out the cash for a guided tour and have time to spare, wandering around a new city is one of my favorite things to do – you’ll find places you wouldn’t have found otherwise and you get a more genuine feel of the city and its people. I feel in love with Prague over our short visit and hope to get back someday. If this European capital isn’t already on your bucket list, put it on there now!

Prague, Farmers Market

Prague, Old Jewish Cemetery

Prague, Flower Shop

Tuesday

7

October 2014

2

COMMENTS

3 Days in Berlin

Written by , Posted in Travel

Last week Mike and I returned from an amazing 2 1/2 week trip to Germany. Mike studied and worked in northern Germany for several months in college but this was my first time in the land of beer, pretzels, and wurst. Although we did have a LOT of all three of those things during our trip, there is much more to Germany than its stereotypes and we were lucky enough to have the time to explore much of the beauty this country has to offer.

We started our trip with 3 days in Berlin, Germany’s capital and largest city. Berlin’s mantra of “poor, but sexy” has attracted many artists, writers, musicians, and the like in recent years and you can definitely feel the creative spirit running through the city. Berlin is frequently ranked as one of the top 3 gay-friendly cities in the world, a title I wasn’t aware of before visiting but was very happily surprised to see. The city is also steeped in history; from the dark history surrounding Germany’s part in World War II to the Berlin Wall and the Cold War, there is much and more to take in. We knew that with only 3 days in Berlin we were going to have to hit the ground running…

We arrived in Berlin at 7am on a Saturday morning, quickly settled into our Airbnb apartment in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood (fantastic spot!), and headed to Alexanderplatz for the All-In-One City Bike Tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours. We figured this would be a great way to get acquainted with the city and see some of the main highlights right off the bat, and we were 100% right. Berlin is a super bike-friendly city so this tour really was the easiest way to see a ton of stuff in a short amount of time.

Berlin, Germany, Prenzlauer Berg

Cobblestone streets of Prenzlauer Berg

Berlin, Germany, Fat Tire Bike Tour

My bike “Laura” on our Fat Tire Bike Tour

With our tour guide and group of about 10, we set out from Alexanderplatz and hit some of the major sights including Bebelplatz, the site of the Nazi book-burning in 1933; Gendarmenmarkt, the site of the French and German Cathedrals; Checkpoint Charlie, the former border crossing between East and West Berlin during the Cold War; the Topography of Terrors, the site where the Nazi Gestapo and SS headquarters once stood; the Berlin Wall, one of the small sections still standing; the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial); the Reichstag, home to Germany’s parliament (the Bundestag); and Brandenburger Tor, the gate that is a well-known Berlin landmark. Much of Berlin was destroyed during World War II, so you don’t see as many beautiful old buildings as you might in other European cities. This makes Berlin a little less quintessentially “pretty”, but still distinctive. Because Berlin was under Soviet rule for 44 years after World War II, Communist or Stalinist architecture can be seen in many buildings and monuments in what once was East Germany. Like I said – not the prettiest, but interesting nonetheless.

Berlin, Germany, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Berlin, Germany, Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

Berlin, Germany, Berlin Wall

A small section of the Berlin Wall still standing today in front of the Topography of Terrors

Berlin, Germany, Reichstag

Standing in front of the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building

Berlin, Germany, Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburger Tor

In the middle of our tour we spent some time riding through the Tiergarten, a large, beautiful park in the center of the city. If we had more time in Berlin this would have been a great place to return to, likely with a picnic basket and a bottle of wine. You could spend hours exploring and relaxing in this park, I highly recommend checking it out.

For lunch we stopped at Schleusenkrug, a (cash only) beer garden in the Tiergarten. I was a little worried that because of its location it might be a bit on the low-quality, touristy side, but it was actually really good. We got our first taste of German beer and pretzels (don’t miss the 2 types of mustard they have in pumps off to the side), had our first of many sausages, and had a sampling of more German cuisine. We ordered some kind of ground meat that was stuffed with bacon, gherkins, and mustard, and served with red cabbage and potatoes. I know it sounds really, super, incredibly kind of weird but it was SO GOOD. This was definitely a fun stop and the liter of beer we each downed also made the rest of the ride that much more interesting. I highly recommend a Fat Tire Bike Tour if you’re in Berlin, they offer several different tours so you can choose one based on your interests. We found it to be a very fun, informative, and active way to see the city.

Berlin, Germany, Tiergarten

Biking through Berlin’s Tiergarten

Berlin, Germany, Tiergarten

Berlin’s Tiergarten

Berlin, Germany, Beer Garden, Pretzels, Beer, Schleusenkrug

Beer and Pretzels at Schleusenkrug in Berlin’s Tiergarten

Berlin, Germany, Tiergarten, Beer Garden, Schleusenkrug

German cuisine at Schleusenkrug

Berlin, Germany, Tiergarten, Beer Garden, Schleusenkrug

Gherkins in the middle!

After our bike tour we headed back to our apartment to recharge. Berlin’s public transportation system is fantastic and was our exclusive mode of transport while in Berlin. Prenzlauer Berg, the neighborhood where we stayed, is just north of the city center and fit us perfectly. It is a family-friendly neighborhood that is still central but a bit quieter and less touristy than Mitte, and it has tons of great options for cafés, bars, restaurants, and nightlife. Thanks to the recommendation of a friend, we found a great beer garden called Prater Garten just a short walk away from our apartment that we visited twice during our stay. I tried an interesting variation of German beer here – Berliner Kindl Weisse grün (grün is German for green). Berliner Weisse is a low-alcohol wheat beer that they add syrup to, either raspberry or a German herb called woodruff. It tasted a bit like sour apple, Mike wasn’t a fan but I kind of liked it!

Berlin, Germany, Prenzlauer Berg

Ping pong tables down the street from our apartment in Prenzlauer Berg

Berlin, Germany, Sunflowers, Farmer's Market

Flowers at a farmers’ market in Prenzlauer Berg

Berlin, Germany, Prater Beer Garden

Enjoying my first Berliner Kindl Weisse grün at Prater Garten

Later that night Mike was fighting a bit of jet lag so I headed out by myself to return to the Reichstag building and check out the dome. Visiting the dome is completely free of charge and something I highly recommend. You don’t necessarily have to book in advance but doing so will help you skip major lines and the possibility that you might not be able to get in during your stay, especially if you’re only in Berlin for a short period of time.

You have a few options when booking a visit to the Reichstag: 1) Lectures in the visitors’ gallery overlooking the plenary chamber followed by a visit to the dome, 2) Guided tours followed by a visit to the dome, or 3) Visit to the dome. Mike and I did #2 and #3 on separate days. I really wanted to see the dome during the day and at night, but I wasn’t able to book a guided tour around dusk that would have covered both bases. I booked the tours over 2 months in advance, which tells you it can be difficult to get in. Option #3, just a visit to the dome, was much easier to book and had many more openings compared to the guided tour, so if you just want to visit the dome on your own you probably don’t need to plan as far in advance.

So…on our first night, Saturday, I visited the dome at 8:30pm. The views from the terrace at the base of the dome were great and I loved seeing the city lit up at night. Once you get off the elevator at the base of the dome you can pick up a free audio guide that plays information on the Reichstag, the German Bundestag, and Berlin as you wind up the dome. Mike and I returned together the following day for the guided tour at 3:30pm. The guided tour lasted about 90 minutes and we definitely learned more about the German parliament and the rest of the Reichstag building and we also were able to go into the visitor’s area of the plenary chamber. This was cool, but about 45 minutes in I was a bit bored. If I had to do it all over I would probably just go to the dome at night with the audio guide. As someone who is not all that interested in the German parliament, this would have been sufficient for me, and the dome was more crowded in the afternoon than at night. To each their own, but definitely worth a visit in Berlin!

Berlin, Germany, Reichstag

The Reichstag

Berlin, Germany, Reichstag

The Reichstag dome

Berlin, Germany, Reichstag

View from the top of the Reichstag dome

Berlin, Germany, Bundestag

The plenary chamber in the Reichstag building, home to the German Bundestag

Over the next two days we went back for a more in-depth visit at several of the stops we made on our bike tour and tried to soak in as much of Berlin as we possibly could. We went back to the Brandenburger Tor and visited the Checkpoint Charlie museum and the Topography of Terrors. We tried some of Berlin’s popular street food (more on that to come), had a fantastic dinner at Caffé Bocconi, visited the impressive KaDeWa department store (a visit to the 6th floor Gourmet section is a must!), and spent the rest of the time just wandering the streets, finding other neat spots in Prenzlauer Berg like Beakers for a nightcap, Hokey Pokey for ice cream, and Pizzeria Aviano for sidewalk sitting and pizza eating. Our time in Berlin flew by, and there was definitely more to see had we of stayed longer, but 3 days gave us just the taste we were looking for and we enjoyed every second of it.

Berlin, Germany, Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburger Tor at night

Berlin, Germany, KaDeWa

Pastries at KaDeWa

Berlin, Germany, KaDeWa

All the sausage you could ask for on KaDeWa’s Gourmet floor

Berlin, Germany, Alexanderplatz

The Berlin TV tower seen from Alexanderplatz

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