The last destination of our trip! We arrived in Cologne mid-afternoon to grey skies and pouring rain. Our hotel, the Art’otel on the river bank was a pleasant surprise, a bright modern hotel and a big airy room. Despite the weather we decided to head into town for dinner, we needed some fresh air and a chance to stretch our legs after a day travelling. Some online research suggested we try the Brauerei zur Malzmuehle, a local brewery restaurant serving traditional German cuisine, best of all it was only 400m away, we put up our hoods and headed out in to the rain. When we reached the restaurant, we pushed through a big wooden revolving door, and then through some heavy woollen curtains emerging into a dining room with scrubbed wooden tables and waiters in long blue aprons, it looked like it hadn’t changed since it opened 150 years ago. Having found a table, the waiter asked how many beers we wanted, not whether we wanted beer, or which beer we wanted just how many, as it was a brewery pub we decided to go with it and asked for two. The beers, a local brew called Kolsch, exclusive to Cologne, arrived in small glasses which seems to be how it is served here, just as well because it is quite strong. Using the weather as a good excuse to indulge in some hearty German cooking we ordered potato soup to start, I had meatloaf with fried potatoes and red cabbage to follow and Mark had spicy polish sausage with potatoes and sauerkraut, it was all delicious but very filling so we had to pass on the applestreudel. Continue reading Koln→
Next stop on our Grand European Tour was Berlin. Our hotel was just south of the city centre but a comfortable walking distance to the main sites so walk we did. We headed towards the Brandenburg Gate via Potsdamer Platz. On the way we noticed a whole square covered in concrete blocks, on closer inspection we discovered that it was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, its form reflects the style of a Jewish cemetery and you can wander between the rows of blocks and gaze down the alleyways created by the grid layout. Later on we came across a memorial to the murdered Roma and travellers, these sights made us wonder about the difficult balance the city has to achieve between properly honouring the past and continuing to rebuild itself as a modern, progressive city. Continue reading Berlin→
Next stop was Prague, and what a treat it proved to be. As we left Vienna it was cloudy and grey and it had rained hard over-night, no matter, it was a travel day so the weather couldn’t spoil anything for us. The train journey from Vienna was very easy, to start with we travelled across bare farmland that grey brown colour you get when the ground has been covered by snow for weeks. Midway through the journey we started to climb through wooded hills and gorges, beside the track we could see pockets of snow still laying in shady corners and some of the streams feeding into the river were frozen solid. It was hard to think that not much more than a week ago we were enjoying the lush green coastal plains of Sri Lanka. We were about an hour late arriving in Prague due to some disruption on the line, rather than holding us on the line the train took a detour through some very small towns where people on the stations seemed very surprised to see an intercity train passing through. Continue reading Prague→
The next stop on our trip across Europe was Vienna, we caught the train from Budapest station and settled in for a journey of about three hours, train travel in Europe is much cheaper than at home so we have treated ourselves to first class tickets as far as Brussels then cattle class on Eurostar which is much more expensive. We enjoyed having more room and waiter service at our seats. Continue reading Vienna→
We had a good flight from Dubai to Budapest, a large part of the journey took us over the snow-covered mountains of Iran; the skies were clear and we had a fantastic view the mountains themselves and lakes and villages scattered through them.
We arrived in Budapest in mid-afternoon and took a taxi to our hotel on the Pest side of the river; the outskirts were quite bleak with derelict buildings and lots of drab soviet era housing blocks, not very promising for a city break! Once we had checked in and freshened up we put on our jumpers and coats (strange to be wearing socks again!)and went for a walk in the immediate vicinity of the hotel looking for somewhere for an early supper. The neighbourhood felt more historic and we found a small, traditional restaurant opposite the Academy of Music where we tucked in to Goulash and noodles. We had had an early start, and had gained 4 hours so back at the hotel we admitted defeat and went to bed. Continue reading Budapest→
From Colombo we flew to Dubai for a very brief stopover, we arrived late at night, had one full day and were due to leave early the following morning. After breakfast we headed up to the 15th floor to have a look at the rooftop pool, the view across Dubai Creek and out over the city was amazing even though the weather was quite hazy. In the distance we could see the Burj Khalifa Tower, the building that supplanted the Petronas Towers in KL as the highest building in the world, it appeared like a needle stretching high into the sky. We had some admin to do for our trip across Europe sorting out hotel vouchers and train tickets and planned to print them out in the hotels business centre, unfortunately that took much longer than we planned because the hotel Wi-Fi was on the blink and kept dropping out. Eventually, after much frustration we got it all done and turned our attention to Dubai. We asked the hotel concierge to recommend a restaurant where we could get an authentic, Arabic meal; we also mentioned that we would like to see the fountains at the Dubai Mall, he killed two birds with one stone and booked us a table at a restaurant overlooking the fountain, perfect. Continue reading Dubai→
Our final stop in Sri Lanka was Bentota a holiday centre on the coast between Galle and Colombo. After two busy weeks exploring the country we were looking forward to a couple of days R&R at the Club Villa hotel, a small boutique hotel promising a good restaurant and a pool in the gardens.
Odi picked us up from Galle mid-morning for the drive to Bentota, on the way we stopped at a centre specialising in wood carving to look for some souvenirs we wanted; after some hard bargaining, we got what we wanted and the salesman threw in a box of teabags as a gift!! From there we headed up the coast road, along the way we saw a lot more evidence of the impact the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. There were graves along the side of the road, memorials and a lot of houses that had been destroyed by the force of the water and never rebuilt, presumably because there was nobody left alive to need them or repair them. Continue reading Bentota→