When most visitors want to see castles in Germany they do a cruise of the Rhein, where turreted towers are perched on every other hill top overlooking the river thoroughfare. All too often, the summer castles of the Prussian kings in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, are overlooked.
Park Sanssouci houses numerous castles, grottos, temples and extensive parklands and all are within an easy train ride from central Berlin. The most famous is Berlin’s own miniature Versailles,ã€€the rococco-style Schloss Sanssouci which is built on a hill lined with terraces of vines. The view from below is beautiful. On the other side of the castle, where the road is, you can see across to the Ruinenberg, a hill with artificial Roman ruins. Because, in the time of Frederick the Great (1748), fake decayed buildings were cool.
Potsdam Sanssouci Palace by Wolfgang Staudt
The other big castle in the parklands is the Neue Palais (New Palace) which was built 1763-1769.ã€€This pink baroque edifice houses an amazing theatre and a grotto room smothered in seashells and shiny stones. Opposite the main castle are two matching buildings which housed the business side of royalty. Dinners cooked over there in the kitchens were rushed to the King’s halls through underground passageways.
The Orangerieschloss (Orangery Palace) is an Italian renaissance-style palace finished by Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The same king managed to bring fountains to play in the park. Orangeries are buildings created for keeping citrus fruits alive in the cold winters, and are generally large, long buildings lined with shuttered windows that face south. In keeping with the name, the Orangerieschloss has one.
Many other buildings are spread throughout the grounds. An egyptian obelisk marks one of the exits to the park, while the Neptune grotto, having undergone many differnt restorations in centuries past, now lacks the golden Venus that was there pre WWII.
Getting to Potsdam from central Berlin is easy with the S1 or S7 S-bahn lines, although you will have to buy a ticket covering zones A,B and C. Get bus 695 from the Potsdam central train station and it will drop you at Schloss Sanssouci. From here you can start discovering the beauty of the park.
Tips for What to Do in Germany
We’ve lots of travel tips for what to do in Germany.
It’s a memorial park with a difference. GrÅ«to Parkas, located near Druskininkai in the south west corner of Lithuania, hit the media when it opened it’s display of decommissioned Soviet-era statues and garnering the sound-bite nickname Stalin World. It even won the 2001 IgNobel Prize for Peace.
In the re-establishment of Lithuanian Independence following the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc in 1989, symbols of Soviet rule were systematically removed. Statues were torn down and left to rot in junk yards around the country. However in 1998 a canned mushroom tycoon gathered these together and established GrÅ«to Parkas as part historical, part art and part tourist attraction.
It is an almost disturbingly pleasant atmosphere in the park. Pleasant pathways wind through the forested area, speakers pipe tinny propaganda music and green clearings scattered throughout are now home to the representations of some arguably horrible people. A museum houses documents and films which cover the history and brutality of the era and the suffering of the Lithuanian people while outside Lenin stands, arm raised, on the banks of a pretty river.
GrÅ«to Parkas is worth a visit if you are in the area. It’s five kilometres outside Druskininkai and you can get there by bus as it lies on the Vilnius-Druskininkai route which runs several times a day. Ask the bus driver and he will let you off, but it is still a kilometre walk down a small road to get to the park itself. Entry is 15 Lita (around 4.50â‚¬) and an audio guide will cost an extra 40 Lita (11.50â‚¬).
What better way to get to know a city than to be shown around by someone who genuinely loves living there? That’s the idea behind the Paris Greeters.
- Paris – Quai de Seine by Panoramas
Paris greeters are volunteers who adore their city and love showing it off to visitors. They’ll offer you walking tours of their favourite sights or areas, showing off the architecture or the history. Greeters will take groups of up to six people (including children) on a relaxed, friendly and above all personal journey through the streets of Paris. This is a new face for the city renowned for it’s distaste for foreign tourists.
Booking a greeter is easy through their webpage. Simply fill out a form at least two weeks before you are due to arrive and the organisers will attempt to match you with a guide.Â While on the tour you will be responsible for paying your greeters and your own public transport costs.
The greeters themselves do not accept payment or tips, however the organisation behind it does and will happily take donations to keep the concept running. It is a wonderful chance to see the French capital through the eyes of a local while not forking out for a tour with a large group doing the usual tourist traps with a blasÃ© guide.
More Paris Tips
Paris is in Europe a la Carte’s top ten European cities to visit. Read our “Best of Paris Tips” to help you plan your visit to this lovely city.
One could say there’s a lot to see in Italy, but that would be an understatement. There are enough ruins and Romans, art and archaeology to send you into historical overload. Many travellers think that they have to hit the major metropoles to witness the grandeur of fallen empires, but that isn’t the case.
Aquileia is a small town dominated by its Roman history. Located in the far north-east of Italy, halfway between Venice and the Slovenian border, Aquileia was founded in 180BC as a garrison town, but quickly became a city of major importance in trade.
These days it is tiny enough to be easily overlooked on any map and it’s biggest attraction is the Basilica with a magnificent fourth century Roman mosaic floor.
The floor was found only recently. Over centuries of use and modernisations, the floor had been covered and it wasn’t until restoration work last century that the forgotten mosaic was rediscovered. Thanks to it’s centuries of protective covering, the mosaic is as vibrant and intact as it had been all those years ago. Newly constructed glass walkways allow you to wander above it and wonder.
- Mosaic floor of the Aquileia Basilica
Within the Basilica are also a number of apses and crypts worth checking out. The Critpa degli Affresci contains twelfth century murals including a somewhat graphic decapitation and a number of bone reliquaries, with skulls and hip bones decked, with questionable fashion sense, in sequins and lace. The Cripta degli Scavi (crypt of excavations) is where archaeological digs are uncovering layers of remains of buildings, from original parts of the Basilica down to the layers of original Roman buildings with their mosaics and canalization and the whole area pierced through by the foundations of the bell tower.
- Cripta degli Affreschi by orsorama
Aquileia contains many other ruins. A forum, the harbour, an amphitheatre and a necropolis are scattered through the little town. While only about fifty kilometres from Venice, Aquileia doesn’t suffer the hordes of camera toting tourists the large cities do yet contains enough history to keep you occupied for a pleasant day’s history hunting.
I hope you’ll excuse me, but I’d like to delve slightly away from the practicalities of travel for this post and onto a bit more of the philosophy. Or perhaps the psychology of it.
Right now I’m slowly getting organised for a trip to Japan. This is my first real journey to Asia, a surprising and somewhat embarrassing admission for an Australian to make. In my decade in Europe I’ve tended to save the really large money and vacation time for visiting home, meaning that Asia has currently been left behind in my explorations. In working out what I’m going to be doing and where I’m going to go I’ve come to a disappointing conclusion: I’m not as fearless as I used to be.
- i think she knows by Unfurled
Amanda commented on a previous post that Europe is easy, and to a large extent she is right. You can get by with English almost anywhere and the cultures aren’t that different, no matter how much the locals insist they don’t quite “get” their national neighbours. With Asia facing me I’m falling back to the feelings I had before I left Australia for the first time. Uncertain. Slightly overwhelmed. And a little scared.
Back then I was a fresh Uni graduate, eager and excited to backpack around the world, but even in my youthful daring I had moments of anxiety. One of those hit when I was talking to a friend.
“But what if I get robbed in Amsterdam?” I had asked, waving my hands in a slightly panicky, but in hindsight mostly foppish, manner. “What if I lose all my money, my passport, my tickets? What will I do?”
This friend looked at me calmly and said, simply,
That was the best advice I have ever received. Those two words have gotten me through a lot in life, from serious problems to life’s little catastrophes. There’s really nothing to stop me dealing with whatever situation I wind up in – nothing except myself. So whenever I start to get worried about standing on the train platform of a provincial town in a country where I can’t even begin to grasp the signs let alone communicate with people, I just remind myself:
“You know what? I’ll cope.”
- Don’t Panic Badge by JL2003
At the risk of becoming the geeky web girl of the blog, I wanted to point you towards another great free online tool: Eventful. I found this when getting to know TripIt, the travel organising site, and I have fallen in love. Eventful is simple, quick and gives you the information on current events that your two-year-old guidebook can’t.
Without signing up you can use the page by putting your location into the drop down window under the Eventful logo in the top left corner. Don’t put it in the search box on the right side. The search box searches for events, performers, venues or users but not destinations.Â Signing up gives you some more options.
Irish Dancers by ronnie44052
Events are categorised for easy searching, so if you aren’t a band buff finding the entries on gallery openings means you don’t have to scroll through the heavy metal. The database is built upon user content, partners and web searches. It isn’t exhaustive and tends to have a lot more information on the larger cities, as you’d expect.
destinations events, which then get sent out to me weekly, most useful so far. If you wish to spare your inbox, you can define preferred locations and they will appear in a short list under the location drop-down window. There is also the increasingly-more-required social media aspect to be found under the community tab.
A lot of what the website offers in terms of searching and sorting is more geared towards people staying in a single location. However the ability to quickly and easily get a list of what’s going on in a particular city -without having to work out what the local event magazine is and get a grip on the language- is fantastically useful for travelers.
If you’re planning on spending a significant amount of time in Germany and traveling around a bit, it may be worthwhile getting a rail card (BahnCard). This card is valid for a year and will give you a discount of either 25%, 50% or 100% off the ticket price.
I can wait by malias
The BahnCard 25 costs 55â‚¬ for second class (110â‚¬ for first class) and starts saving you money if you spend over 200â‚¬ a year on rail travel. The BahnCard 50 is 220â‚¬ or 440â‚¬ for second or first class, respectively, while the BahnCard 100 – at 3500â‚¬ for second class – I think we can ignore as not being particularly appropriate for the casual tourist.
These cards only give you the respective discounts on the ticket price. This means that you will still have to pay the extra few euros to reserve a seat, something I heartily recommend if you are traveling major routes (eg. Berlin – Frankfurt) at peak times. By which I mean Friday nights – forget about getting on one of those trains without a seat reservation on a Friday night. It’s squished standing room only, and that for 5 hours. Not fun. Berlin to Frankfurt will normally cost you around 100â‚¬ each way, so the BahnCard 50 will start paying itself off after only two return journeys of that length.
Buying the BahnCard is a bit complicated online as the shop portion of the Deutsche Bahn website is only in German. However the Reisezentrum (Travel Center) in the larger train stations will organise one for you. One word of warning: the BahnCard will be automatically renewed after one year if you do not cancel that in writing at least six weeks before the expiry date.
If your needs aren’t that extensive, there are other discount offers on the German rail network: Happy Weekend Tickets and LÃ¤nder-tickets (~27â‚¬ for five people for one day in a single German state) offer cheap group fares, while the Saving fares give 25% or 50% discounts on return fares under specific conditions.
It’s a cute little town on the Normandy coast, but there are really only two reasons for visiting Bayeux – its proximity to the D-Day beaches and the Bayeux Tapestry.
Bayeux 15-10-2005 17h11 by Panoramas
The WWII sites are fodder for a much bigger and encompassing post, so I wanted to focus this one on that other war: the 1066 Battle of Hastings, picked out in vibrant threads on a millenium old cloth.
The tapestry is on display in the Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux which is in an old seminary in the town centre. Entry for adults is 7.70â‚¬ and includes an audio guide.
A full 70 metres long, the tapestry tells the story of Harold II and William the Conqueror. The earliest record of it is 1476, although it is commonly believed to have been commissioned by William’s brother which would put it at almost one thousand years old. It was a visual record of the Norman conquest and could be rolled out for the illiterate public of the time to see.
P3240031 by Webjan
In the museum it is hanging vertically in a dim room. The audio guide will take you along it, telling the story the embroidery depicts, but at a rapid pace, completing the entire length in twenty minutes. It pays to go back along it again, taking your time and really looking at the details. Halley’s comet, exposed genitalia, decapitated Saxons. The colours of the thousand year old thread are brighter than most in my wardrobe after six months and the detail, especially of the final battle, is impressive. Pictures really do not do it justice.
Now I’m aware most people would respond with “embroideryschmoidery boooring” and, even as someone who embroiders, I felt that way before seeing it. But it is more imposing than the usual museum wall hanging, with a solemn majesty that I last felt when I saw the Book of Kells. You may not want to base an entire trip on just visiting this but if you’re visiting the Normandy coast it is well worth an hour or so of your time.