Having had a wonderful night at Fletchers Farm, we hit the road north, Ruby’s wheels heading for Edinburgh. Unfortunately it seemed the rest of the world were also heading north and our 3 hour journey turned into a 5 hour journey. We did however manage to stop off at Carter Bar for lunch and we found the journey along the A66 very picturesque- we normally are on this stretch at midnight!
We arrived at Keith’s cousin Simon’s house in Leith late afternoon and embarked on a lovely couple of days in the sunshine enjoying one of our favourite cities.
We like Leith and as the Proclaimers sang, the sun really DID shine on Leith during our stay. The shore
area is particularly lovely and dotted with bars with outside seating. It felt very continental.
We stocked up on Haggis too- enjoying a full Scottish breakfast and also some Haggis Scotch eggs from the market.
Despite the Fringe festival and the Tattoo being cancelled due to Covid, the centre of Edinburgh was busier than I expected- I mean not as busy as a normal August by far, but still plenty out and about.
We had a nice meal on Grassmarket and did a great 10+ mile walk taking in the sites.
It was lovely to see Simon again too.
Tomorrow we venture further north again; heading for the Cairngorms.
Wednesday morning 7am, and the MS Volendam docked for the final time of our tour, in Vancouver. It was time to disembark and I felt flat as a pancake about this. All good adventures must come to an end, I know, but I was willing to have another week on the ship, you know, just to check we weren’t missing out on anything! Today the rest of our Great Rail Journeys group were flying home. It really was the end of their adventure, but not us. We’d tacked on a 3 night stay down the coast in Seattle. One of the things we like about using Great Rail Journeys as a tour operator is that they are very open to you doing your own thing at the beginning or end of the tour and will sort this out for you happily. This time, their hotel was out of our price range, so they sorted out our flights home and train (which actually ended up being a coach) to Seattle whilst we arranged an air b n b for our accommodation.
We waved bye to our group at the cruise terminal and suddenly we were on our own. We took the Skytrain the short distance to the Pacific Station where we promply discovered our tickets were for Vancouver WA and not Vancouver DC. After a very short panic and some fabulous customer service from the team back in York we ended up on the coach transfer to Seattle leaving an hour early (but we’d arrived 3 hours early!) Thanks Gary and Links for sorting us out.
Our coach journey crossed the international border from Canada into USA and as such we had to empty the coach with all our luggage and go through customs etc. This took roughly 30 minutes and then we were back on the highway towards Seattle. The journey took about 4.5 hours so not too bad at all.
We used UBER to get to our accommodation, a cool little basement in the Central District, before heading out in search of a Seattle beer or two and some dinner. We didn’t need to go too far – there was a nice local bar 10 mins away with a great menu, and we were in time for happy hour which meant £2.20 pints! We set up camp there for a while before heading back for an early night as we were pretty drained!
I didn’t sleep very well as I was missing the movement from the sea! We had a fairly lazy morning – as in we didn’t set an alarm for the first time in the 2 week holiday, but around 10am we headed into town via the local Downtown bus which took about 20 mins.
Our first stop was the Space needle observation tower. This was built in the 60s to coincide with the World Fair in 1962. When it was built it was the tallest tower west of the Mississippi, and its unique shape makes for a very interesting skyline.
We couldn’t have picked a better day to go up – the weather was amazing and visibility was brilliant. Mount Rainier – named after the beer we drank last night!! – stood proudly and snow topped – it almost looked like a painting actually, it was picture perfect and we couldn’t take our eyes off it.
We spent quite some time at the top, enjoying the views and the interactive photo points. We even managed a beer at the top – surprise surprise! We also enjoyed (in a loose sense of the world!) the glass revolving floor.
After our visit, we took the 2 minute ride on the Seattle Monorail, also built for the World Fair in 1962. This one mile stretch of track which is above ground in the air, connects the Seattle centre with downtown near to Pike Market, which was where we were heading for lunch
Pike Market was a sensory overload. Flowers, food, trinkets, you name it- we loved it! there was even a man playing the MOP!
We joined the queue for “the world’s best mac n cheese”. They make their own cheese and the mac n cheese was amazing.
Just down the street was the first ever Starbucks but we didn’t go in as it was queuing and heaving!
By now it was getting towards 30 degrees and the sun was just so hot. We had a quick beer and water stop at the historical Virginia inn before grabbing a nice air conditioned uber back to our digs.
We had a siesta and after a shower and change headed back out, this time on the bus, for a pizza at the Diller Hotel, which dated from the late 1800s.
We then walked down Harbour Steps to the waterfront where we joined an hours harbour cruise to watch the sunset
. This was a lovely way to spend our evening. The waterfront area was alive and buzzing. There were loads of delicious looking seafood restaurants and a big ferris wheel. It was a lovely place to spend the evening.
After our cruise, we couldn’t resist some of the “best clam chowder” at Ivan’s takeout before heading back to the accomodation.We can confirm the clam chowder was delicious!
Our last day of our adventure! Sad faces all round.
It was forecasted to be another scorcher, so we decided we would take the ferry to West Seattle’s Alki Beach. On our way to theferry at pier 52, we stopped for a drink at Pike Place Brewery
checked out Post Alley
and it’s very random Gum wall
and also did a taster flight at Seattle’s Copperworks Distillery, which resulted in some more gin being purchased!
We then got tempted by the close proximity that we were to Ivan’s, so decided to have lunch there before going to the beach. We bagged a fabulous waterfront outdoor seat and ordered more clam chowder and then battered jumbo shrimp and chips. Yum!
We then made our way across the sound on the ferry ($12 for two) to West Seattle and jumped on the free shuttle to Alki Beach.
As it was rather hot by now it was heaving, but we enjoyed our time there. We couldn’t go in the sea as there was a lot of seaweed unfortunately but the sea breeze cooled us down, as did the west seattle brewing company lager!
We had an Uber back to the air b n b, and another siesta before heading out in search of BBQ! We found it on Capitol Hill – similar to Soho, and enjoyed brisket, ribs, mac n cheese and coleslaw before walking it off with an explore of Capitol Hill area.
By now, we were starting to feel sad about our imminent departure and also a bit sensory overload! We had eaten and drank to our hearts content for 2.5 weeks and there is only so much that you can take. Plus, similarly to Vancouver,there were some interesting characters out on the street- falling out with themselves and wandering down the middle of the road. Like Vancouver there is a high level of homelessness, and you can’t help but wonder if its linked to the legalisation of cannabis. Maybe not- Who knows, but I wouldn’t have wanted to have been there without my big strapping 6 foot 4 hubby!
Saturday arrived and it was time to fly home. I was distraught. We had THE BEST time ever. I can’t even begin to describe how much we enjoyed our trip, and wholeheartedly recommend this trip to anyone. Travel with Great Rail Journeys and you have the security of a tour manager and logistics team behind you every step of the way. You also have enough free time for you not to feel like you are on an escorted tour. But you get to enjoy their group discounts, which means the price is really competitive and hard to beat by going solo.
Keith is a huge history enthusiast and has expressed a desire to visit Colditz Castle for as long as I’ve known him. In fact, we almost made it there in Bluebell the Motorhome in 2016, however decided to stay in Austria and revisit another time when we were a little more prepared. The opportunity finally arose this year as I decided to book tickets for Keith’s Christmas present – the man who has every gadget under the sun – and it went down brilliantly! Due to work commitments, I decided that rather than drive, we would grab a quick weekend return flight from Stansted to Berlin, however I’ve included motorhome/campervan stopovers too on this blog.
We stayed overnight prior to flying at the Holiday Inn Express Stansted, which was convenient as it offers onsite parking and evening meals – we wouldn’t arrive until gone 8pm following work so would need dinner. Free breakfast was also offered, and was actually very pleasant despite it being 5am! A shuttle bus took us to the departures terminal in just 7 minutes at a cost of £3pp.
10.30am local time on Friday saw us touchdown at Berlin Schönefeld airport and by 11am we had picked up our wheels for the weekend – a VW Golf hired from Sixt.com. They did manage to sneak some added extras on which meant we ended up spending over €100 extra to the hire charge which was a bit of an irritating beginning.
Although we had flown to Berlin, due to the regularity of flights available to ensure we got the most time possible from our limited time away, our destination was 2 hours south – Leipzig. It is possible to fly direct to Leipzig however they only fly twice a week from Stansted and it didn’t work timing wise for us.
Leipzig is a very exciting place to visit as a musician, and I can’t help but feel that it’s massively overlooked on the tourist trail. Leipzig was home to J.S.Bach, who worked at Thomaskirche as the Kapellmeister for many years.
His family, many of whom were also musicians, also were based in Leipzig, and although their family home no longer exists because of WW2 Damage, the cathedral does and their neighbours and friends house is now The Bach Museum and Archives.
Inside the church you can see Bach’s grave along with many very rare and historical musical instruments from the Baroque Period.
We were lucky enough to hear the organist perform some Bach’s Organ Pieces which was incredibly moving and really very exciting.
Our visit to the Bach Museum also didn’t disappoint, we got to see some very rare, handwritten by Bach manuscript, which was ridiculously neat and just completely awesome to see. (No pics allowed)
We did some of the Music Trail although time was not on our side – you could easily enjoy 2 days + here. Other famous musicians who are linked to Leipzig are Felix Mendelssohn’s who died here- his house is now a museum which we’d have liked to have visited but we ran out of time, and Richard Wagner.
During the walking tour we enjoyed looking at some of the beautiful buildings which have survived the war including the opera house.
We also stumbled across a traditional winter fayre, which was a great chance to warm up with some Gluwein.
We had three delicious meals in Leipzig – lunch at Ratskeller, a really atmospheric beerhouse which serves local Saxon Fayre, a bratwurst at the winter fayre, and finally our evening meal at the historic and atmospheric Auerbachs Keller and tried loads of absolutely delicious local beer and even a Leipzig gin!
Our home for the night was the Mercure Hotel which as just down the road from Mendelssohn’s house and had an underground carpark for us to leave the car whilst we explored on foot.
On Saturday we were up fairly early and checked out at 9am. Keith was very excited as today was our trip to Colditz Castle. His reaction as we caught our first sight of the beautiful looking castle was priceless.
I’d booked us the extended tour (€18 pp payable in cash on arrival) and we were surprised to learn that we were the only one booked on the tour – so it was to be a private tour – an unexpected perk of being out of season. Our guide Steffi, began leading us around the vast corridors, cellars, and grounds, giving us brilliant commentary throughout.
Colditz Castle is a striking Renaissance Castle, sat perched on a large rocky outcrop, high above the River Mulde and became best known during WW2 – it was used as a High Security Prisoner of War camp for allied officers who had repeatedly tried to escape from other POW camps. Despite being considered as a high security camp, it had the highest number of successful escape attempts and only one assassination, and that was, according to Steffi, an accident. Prisoners here were treated with respect and a little more dignity than elsewhere and had huge libraries to peruse, a fully functional theatre in which they used to put on full scale productions and also the dorms were less crammed in and some officers even had their own rooms which were bigger than you may expect.
During the tour we got to see the famous gap in which Pat Reid managed to escape from – he later went on to develop the famous boardgame “Escape from Colditz”;
The French tunnel which ran 44m in length right underneath the chapel
The end of the British tunnel
the attic room where the famous glider was built in secret and found when the Americans liberated the castle
and much more. We saw the theatre, complete with secret trap door under the stage,
the officers rooms, the British Dorms, and heard story after story of escape efforts – some successful and some not. Despite the nature of the history here it was hard not to feel inspired here, the sheer determination of those who were held here almost lives on in the walls, its just truly fascinating – even for someone who isn’t such a history buff as her husband!
Our tour was supposed to last 2 hours, but Steffi, encouraged by our enthusiasm and interest I think, showed us some extra places and we actually ended up being there for over 3 hours!
There is a Campsite within walking distance if you go in your campervan/motorhome and also a Stellplatz (overnight parking area) in the next town – although Colditz is very small and I’m not sure I’d fancy driving our old motorhome up to the castle.
Our final stop of the trip was 1.5 hours down the road on the border of Czech Republic, at Bastei. This addition to our itinerary was last minute after reading about it in the Lonely Planet Germany Book and my goodness are we pleased we discovered it.
Bastei is a large area of rock formations which tower 194m high above the River Elbe. There is a fabulous bridge nestled amongst the rocks and lots of viewing platforms dotted around – some of which aren’t for the faint hearted, especially when they are covered in ice and snow as they were for our visit!
I managed to put my big girl pants on and conquered them all, despite a few deep controlling breathes and jelly legs as you can just about see from this pic!
We managed an hour of exploring the paths before we lost the sunlight
and enjoyed a bratwurst sausage and beer (alcohol free for me being Des, but it was fab!!) at the kiosk just as they shut, before returning to our car and discovering a car parking ticket -whoops!
Our journey back to Berlin Schönefeld Airport took just under 2 hours, where we stayed in an airport hotel (which was grim but served its purpose) ready for our extremely early 06.30 flight back home. We had a lovely traditional meal of Schnitzel at the local Gasthaus – which we needed to drive to as there was nowhere within walking distance of the hotel and no restaurant at the hotel. Check out the size of those Schnitzel’s!
We had a brilliant time – and can’t believe we were actually only in Germany for a day and a half. We covered 582km/361m and found German roads brilliant. A note to myself, next time the car hire kiosk asks me if I would prefer automatic or manual – get automatic! I kept going for an invisible gear stick!
Until Next Time (which won’t be long as this time next week we will be in the Lake District for half term in Ruby- woo)
Mid November, and we were having a lazy morning on a campsite in Norfolk. Keith was reading the paper and I was writing the blog. “Have we got any weekends free in December” he asks? “Errr no way” I reply – “what about any free days?” he counteracts. I look up and can almost see the cogs working overtime. “Whhyyyy?” I query.
Half an hour later, and we’ve managed to cram a mini break to Prague in on our only 3 days off in the entire month! He’s on Easyjet, I’m on AirBnB. What spurred this on? An article in the paper about the best Christmas Markets in Europe. Advertising at it’s best!
A few weeks later and we are frantically packing our cabin bags, between Christmas Concerts, Music Exam days, packing Ruby for our trip to Dad and Jenny’s in France for Christmas – leaving 12 hours after our flight from Prague gets in to Stansted. We’re both stressed to the eyeballs, absolutely SHATTERED and wondering, is this one trip too far?
In true Keith and Lydia style though, we manage to get to the bottom of our lists and before we know it we are taxi-ing down the runway at Gatwick. We land in Prague on time, despite some snow on the ground. No disruptions here though, life moves on despite a covering of snow on the ground.
On arrival, we order an UBER cab – so useful to avoid being scammed by local drivers, and half an hour later we are checking into our Prague City Centre Air BnB apartment. The apartment is fabulous, a really cool space, and a steal at only £60 a night. We love the convenience of Air BnB’s for city breaks. If you want to give one a go, use this link for £25 off your first stay.
After a quick shower, we head on down into the city centre, a short walk away.
As we get close to the centre, we start noticing little pop up Markets, all serving Mulled wine and litres of local beer. It would be rude not to try a sample, so just over an hour after touch down, there we are enjoying our first taste of Prague. We noticed a stall selling the most mouth watering pork on a spit – we could not resist a plate of this to go with our drinks.
We wandered down to the main square and got blown away by the level of cute christmas-ness. The Christmas Tree was magnificent. This was where the main market was, so we browsed some of the stalls, intermittently stopping to be refreshed of course!
As the weather was clear, but it had gone dark, we decided to ascend the town hall tower, for an arial view of the market square. There was an interesting museum to wander round too, and we got to see the insides of the unusual clock figures of the astronomical clock.
We decided to enjoy a rooftop cocktail just off the square, which felt magical, before having a traditional Czech meal of Beef Goulash, served within the bread roll. That was right up my street!
After a couple more al fresco drinks and a wander over the picturesque Charlestown bridge, we wandered back to the apartment for an earlyish night.
Day 2, and we woke up early and eager to get on. Our apartment was conveniently located right by the Underground metro, which we hopped onto towards Prague Castle. After our tube journey, we picked up a traditional chimney cake for breakfast as we walked up the long staired alley up to the Castle area. By the way, the chimney cake was AMAZING!
The first port of call for the Castle area was the Lobkowicz Palace which boasted having some original Mozart manuscript in it’s collection. It was a fantastic museum, and we near enough had it to ourselves, which suited us as we could get up and close and take our time.
After our visit, we went to the very traditional Golden Lane and I brought some lovely handmade earrings. There were some amazing little boutique shops here.
We visited all the Castle Complex sites, which were great, before heading back down towards the Bridge again, naturally stopping for a chocolate beer and some handmade Prague chocolates, at Prague Chocolate.
We had a fabulous (and really cheap!) lunch at U Labuti, and loved the £1.55 beers! The problem with Prague, is that the food and drink is so flipping cheap, that we ended up having 5 main meals! Piggies – we just couldn’t resist ordering off the menu in each pub we went to.
Our favourite had to be the EXTRAORDINARILY traditional, Golden Tiger. I was the only woman in there, and we were the only non Czech. The only thing to drink were endless pints of lager, which just kept being brought out to you. We adored it – and so did Bill Clinton by the looks of it from his picture on the wall.
We had one last mooch around the market before a couple more drinks (and some more food!) before returning back to our apartment.
48 hours in Prague had sadly come to an end, but we had had the most fabulous time. The architecture was just outstanding. Would certainly return and recommend for a cheap European city break.
Try Uber on us – it’s our go to on City Breaks and even further afield. The convenience of getting your driver details and location on your phone is brilliant when you’re in an unfamiliar location.