Four Days in Amsterdam, Fourteen Days in Central Europe and Three Books

John Betjeman statue (St. Pancras International)We’d already decided on another central European railway jaunt this year then Eurostar announced its new London to Amsterdam service. The idea of arriving in a city dear to both of us without setting foot on a plane was irresistible so we decided to extend our holiday to include a few days there. John Betjeman was kind enough to see us off from St Pancras International.

Gorgeous weather meant we spent most of the time outside, in contrast to our Christmas visit a few years ago. I’ve been to Amsterdam many times during most seasons but never in June when the gardens are at their best. Amsterdammers manage to get cottage garden flowers to grow in the tiniest of cracks in the cobbles outside their home. There was an abundance of climbing Hollyhock (Amsterdam)roses, wisteria and greenery everywhere but my favourite was the good old-fashioned hollyhock.

Sunday was spent wandering around Hortus Botanicus and on Monday morning we took ourselves off to the Vondelpark, a haven for bird life with its many lakes and wild areas including a couple of storks busy feeding their four young. The afternoon’s treat was tea at the Tassen museum taken in one of their elegantly decorated rooms overlooking the Herengracht canal. Our only other bit of culture was Our Lord in the Attic, a remarkable hidden Catholic church built within a merchant’s canal house at a time when Amsterdam proclaimed its religious tolerance but could not be relied upon to practice it.

Art Nouveau frontage (Leipzig)On to Leipzig the following day, a stone’s throw away from Dresden which we visited on our last railway holiday. Lots of Arts Nouveau and Deco to ogle here, run through with arcades full of ritzy shops, and some lovely green spaces to explore around the city. Leipzig’s slice of culture was the Grassi, a complex of three museums. We only managed to see the applied arts section – so extensive, beautifully organised and rich in treasures that it could give the V & A a run for its money but, mystifyingly, we had it almost to ourselves.

Next stop Görlitz on the Polish/German border where Wes Anderson shot much of The Grand Budapest Hotel using the interior of the vast Görlitzer Warenhaus department store as a stand-in for Gorlitzthe Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary. Unlike Leipzig, Görlitz escaped the devastation of WW2 bombing. It’s a little gem of a town much beloved by film-makers, from Quentin Tarantino to Jackie Chan. Inevitably it’s been dubbed Görliwood, I suspect by the local tourist board.

Our first Polish city was WrocƗaw whose name Botanical gardens (Wroclaw)sounds nothing like it looks to an English-speaker’s eyes. WrocƗaw is one of many central European cities razed to the ground in WW2 but, like Dresden, it’s been meticulously and beautifully restored with jaw-dropping architectural delights at every turn. It’s also home to botanical gardens that put Amsterdam’s in the shade plus an exquisite Japanese garden on the edge of town.

We lost around 14°C between WrocƗaw and Poznań which was something of a Craftsmen's cottages, Rtnek (Poznan)relief. Poznań’s grand square is a little smaller than WrocƗaw’s but its row of colourfully decorated craftsmen’s cottages marks it out. Every day at noon two mechanical goats emerge from beneath the town hall clock next to the cottages and butt horns twelve times to mark the hour. A chilly wind blew a light drizzle in our faces at the appointed hour but being British we’re used to that kind of thing and we were determined not to miss the show.

House of Nicolaus Copernicus (Torun)Our penultimate stop was Toruń which, like Görlitz, emerged from WW2 miraculously unscathed. It’s a small medieval walled city stuffed with Gothic and Gothic Revival red-brick architectural gems including the supposed birthplace of Copernicus (or Copper Knickers as we used to call him, sniggeringly, at school). H and I were both somewhat taken aback to find that it’s twinned with Swindon. Apologies to any Swindon-based readers but if you look to the left you’ll understand.

Our last two days were spent in Warsaw. The first thing we sawPalace of Culture and Science (Warsaw) when we walked out of the station was Stalin’s Palace of Culture and Science looking oddly anachronistic and slightly menacing next to the many gleaming skyscrapers but still the tallest building in the city. As the museums close on Tuesdays and we’d arrived on Monday, we chose the Museum of the History of Polish Jews over the Warsaw Rising Museum and wished we hadn’t. Overwhelming multimedia and short quotes displayed without context resulted in an exhibition which lacked any coherence. Not a patch on the Jewish Museum in Berlin. I learnt nothing from it I didn’t already know.

We spent Tuesday ambling around the old town, beautifully restored after its WW2 bashing, and loafing in the stylish Café Bristol. After nearly three weeks away we were both ready for home and wondering if Mischief would still recognise us, let alone be pleased to see us. Then I remembered that we’d be arriving almost precisely at feeding time.

 And the books? Three of the six I took hit the spot:

Anna Quindlen’s Miller’s Valley, a perceptive, small town novel about a bright young woman whose future is clouded by family complications.Cover image

Megan Bradbury’s Everyone is Watching tells four very personal stories of New York from the points-of-view of Robert Mapplethorpe, Edmund White, Walt Whitman and Robert Moses the urban planner who shaped the modern metropolis.

Karl Geary’s Montpelier Parade, a heart wrenching, beautifully written story of a young boy’s love for an older woman.

Thanks to those of you who’ve stuck with me through this very long post, and to H who planned the whole adventure and who’s already thinking about another. Back to books and brevity on Friday…

22 thoughts on “Four Days in Amsterdam, Fourteen Days in Central Europe and Three Books”

    1. They’re well worth investigating, April, paricularly the Rijksmuseum, of course, which we visted on our Christmas trip fresh from its decade-long renovation.

  1. Helen Stanton

    Wonderful! I’ve visited Wroclaw …as you say , the name is a bit off putting but I agree it’s lovely …loved Warsaw too. Your Hol sounds fabulous….thank you for sharing !

    1. I’d finally mastered Wroclaw’s pronounciation by the time we left! It’s beautiful, isn’t it? We both love this way of travel. H has already worked out that we could get to Berlin in a day by train. Thanks, Helen. These posts are a joy to write – helps me to fix the memories.

  2. Sounds like an amazing trip, all those wonderful photographs. I am quite envious! I’d love to do a train trip around Europe again, it’s a relaxing way to travel and a perfect way to really get to see a country. Glad you had a good time.

    1. Thanks, Belinda. It’s a great way to travel, isn’t it? We hope to be able to do an entire trip without flying next. It’ll take some planning but should be possible.

    1. Thanks, Jacqui. Gorlitz was one of my favourite stops on the trip. Surprsingly untouched by tourism too, although I imagine it becomes a bit of a circus when the movie-makers come to town.

  3. You went to so many interesting places! That’s one thing about traveling in Europe that is so different than here – you can cover a lot of countries in a short amount of time and distance. Too bad the Museum of Polish Jews turned out to be a disappointment.
    I love the pictures you included, especially the row of colourful houses. I’d like to imagine the lives of the people living in them. 🙂

    1. Thank you! H takes a good photo despite his protestations to the contrary. Although they’re called craftsmen’s cottages I think the people who lived in them were traders selling fish and the like in the market square. Possibly one of those translation blips. We’re both delighted to have discovered (or rediscovered) rail travel in continental Europe. So easy with Schengen and its open borders.

  4. What a super post Susan. Like you, we much prefer train travel over flights. H is clearly an excellent planner and finder of beautiful places – well done him! And those books sound fascinating. 🙂

  5. Seville was brilliant although a bit too hot to sight-see. My next trip was more about spending time with my friend who now lives in Michigan but I also managed to see and do lots of interesting things.

    1. Spanish heat can be punishing. My partner was reminding me that it can reach 40°. Hope it didn’t while you were there.

      I remember the photo you tweeted of Cat in Michigan!

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