Saturday, 21st September 2019
This trip is a Great Railway Journeys (GRJ) tour. It is titled ‘Imperial Cities and 5 star Danube Cruise’. GRJ have a cruise ship that will travel for seven days from Budapest along the Danube to Passau. There are several options for getting to the cruise ship, these include direct flight; two days by train (first or second class) or four days by train (first or second class) travelling via either Berlin and Prague or via Bavaria.
My tour is the four day tour, second class, via Berlin and Prague to Budapest. At Budapest I will leave the group on the cruise ship and return home to the UK. I then journey back later in the week to meet the group at Passau and take them back to the UK over two days, staying in Köln on the way back.
Since it is an early start from St Pancras on the Sunday morning, I travel up to London on the Saturday afternoon and stay in a hotel close to St Pancras.
Sunday, 22nd September 2019
I am up early on Sunday morning and meeting and greeting the tourees from 07:00 to 08:00 at the GreatRail offices, upstairs at St Pancras. This is a busy day for GreatRail with nine tours going out from St Pancras the same morning.
The Eurostar train departs London St Pancras at 08:55 and arrives in Brussels at 12:05 where we are met by man and a baggage cage and our luggage is taken from us on the platform. We walk down to the concourse underneath the platforms when there is approximately three quarters of an hour to have a break and stock up on supplies ready for the next train.
At 13:25 we catch the Thalys train to Brussels, arriving at Cologne at 15:15. There is not much time at Cologne before we depart on our next train, only about half an hour. Handily we only have to cross over the platform from 3 to 2 to wait for the train. Here we have good views of Köln Cathedral.
The 15:48 InterCity train departs Köln, arriving in Berlin Spandau station at 20:38. Berlin Spandau is a little way outside Berlin so it takes an hour, transferring by coach, before we are settled in our hotel. The Maritm Hotel Berlin is a spectacular, large hotel. Following the buffet dinner it is time for bed after a very long day spent travelling.
Monday, 23rd September 2019
After a good buffet breakfast it is on to a coach for a guided tour of Berlin. Our first stop for a brief walk around is Check Point Charlie. At the end of WWII and henceforth, during the Cold War, Berlin was divided by a wall between East Berlin, controlled by USSR and West Berlin which had the USA, French and British sectors. To travel from West to East required travelling through four checkpoints, A, B, C, & D. The Checkpoint Charlie that you see today is a reconstruction of the C checkpoint and was used to cross from the USA sector through to the Soviet sector.
Back on the coach and it is a short stop to visit the only part of the Berlin Wall still standing at its original location.
The Wall is located next to a new museum called the Topography of Terror, which is built on the site of the former headquarters of the Gestapo.
The building next door still has bullet holes from the battle of Berlin.
Next stop on the tour is the Brandenburg Gate. Built in the 1780s by the Prussian king Frederick William II to mark the end of the Thirty Years’ War. In 1989 when the Berlin Wall was demolished it became the symbol of freedom and German reunification. Just prior to the fall of the wall in 1989, David Hasselholf was eight weeks at number one in Germany with his song Looking for Freedom. It became an anthem for the fight to bring down the wall. A couple of weeks after the wall came down, at a New Year’s Eve concert he performed the song in front of an audience of 100,000 people holding cigarette lighters aloft. He performed here again to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall in November 2014. The Germans love the Hoff!
The coach tour continued around the old parts of East Berlin before finishing at the Reichstag.
Opened in 1894 as the seat of government of the German Empire, it was partially destroyed by a fire, in a plot conceived by the Nazis, in 1933, to seize power. It finally reopened in 1999.
Following the coach tour time was had purchasing a travel lunch at Berlin main station before catching a 12:41 train to Prague.
The EC175 train arrived in Prague at 17:35.
A coach transferred us from the main station in Prague . . .
. . . to our hotel near the Prague Conference center.
Again a nice buffet dinner was followed by a couple of drinks before bedtime.
Great Railway Journeys Tour Map:
Video of the day:
Selfie of the day:
- Welsh Highland Railway & Caernarfon
- Ffestiniog Railway & Portmeirion
- Passau and Home [via Köln]
- London to Munich [for Oktoberfest]