There is a valid argument for visiting Europe in the winter, when air fares and maybe hotel prices are lower. Nevertheless, seeing Europe in its summer splendor -- with longer days to explore and balmy nights of dining outdoors is the superior trade-off for me.
My recent trip to dynamic Berlin, always classy Prague and fairy tale Dubrovnik brought that home. These are all touchstone cities of Europe with vastly different histories, but with a common theme of a compelling draw for adventure and discovery.
The means to get there was a Star Alliance Business Class award ticket planned and booked many months ago. Using Lufthansa and Croatia Airlines I was able to get exactly what I wanted with allowed stops in both Berlin and Dubrovnik and a side trip by train to Prague. Many travelers do not do adequate planning and research to get the most out of their frequent flyer miles. Most awards allow two stops and persistence does pay off in looking for those elusive seats.
My result was non-stop in both directions, LAX-Frankfurt-LAX, on board an LH B747-8 Intercontinental with the new lie flat Business Class seats on the upper deck. Food, service and airport lounges were top notch and the on board forward and downward facing live cameras were not to be missed. I had a pilot's eye view for both take off and landing.
Berlin was the first stop. This city reinvents itself each time I am there. This time the restoration of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church is winding down and the area around that and the Zoo Rail Station had finally turned around. The Kurfurstendamn area that was tops during the former West Berlin days has changed, with rebuilt and modernized buildings that are full of life. A new high rise Waldorf-Astoria is making it mark. It is a distance from the museum area, but with lively energy, the famous KaDeWe Department Store (a must) and with excellent city transportation, this area has become a good alternative to the Unter den Linden upscale area.
The summer energizes the city at the famous Tiergarten Park, and Kreuzberg emerges with literally dozens of al fresco dining venues on or close to Bergmannstrasse, with both local and ethnic cuisine. Berlin has always been known for dining value, with less costly quality meals than many other European capitals. For some of the best Schnitzel, I recommend Sissi in the Schoenburg area.
During our stay in Berlin we did a 90-minute side trip, via ICE High Speed train, to Hamburg to see the updated and expanded Miniatur Wunderland rail and air exhibition which covers an entire floor of a warehouse. This moving, ever changing display of rail and air miniature equipment is amazing. Over 11 million people have visited it and it continues to delight. Hamburg itself is worth a visit, so a day can easily be made from the attractions there.
Then it was on to Prague for another revisit. In summer, awash with tourists, Praue is still one of the best preserved cities of Europe and that never changes. Prague Castle, a day cruise down the river and a day side trip to magical Kutna Hora were all rewarding. I stayed at the Grand Bohemia Hotel, moments from the old square. It is a solid 4-Star hotel with very good service. The location is ideal. The city now has many more dining options and continues to become more sophisticated. Be prepared for the crowds, but it is well worth it. One caution, stay away from local taxis which are mostly unregulated. You may end up spending much more than you imagine.
The final city was Dubrovnik, Croatia, a first for me. I had wanted to visit here for many years but it just never happened. In the early 1990's the city was under siege for about six months as the old Yugoslavia broke apart. Almost 75% of the roofs of the old town were destroyed and the Hotel Imperial almost burned to the ground. Today, the Imperial is a very nice Hilton Hotel just outside the old walled town. The Old Town has been completely restored with no detail left unadressed. Even the electrical and mechanical equipment are hidden from view so your entrance through the city gates is into another world. Except for the electric lights glowing through the windows, you would think you stepped back in time 500 years ago. No Starbucks or McDonald's, and that is a good thing.
What you get are local restaurants, bars and shops with outdoor areas to take full advantage of the balmy nights. The architecture is all around you and you can add even more to the experience with a few hours of cruising among the ports and islands of the region. These are scheduled boats which are of very low cost. Sesame,a family restaurant just outside the walled town was a superior recommendation for both venue and food.
The placement of Dubrovnik encourages wandering and I did a day trip to neighboring Montenegro, a country of less than 700,000 citizens, which has the Euro as its official currency even though it is not in the EU. They seem to be small enough to get away with it. It had some beautiful and outstanding architecture of its own, and some huge luxury yachts in port. Unfortunately, that day it also had torrential rains and thunder so I missed some of the best sites. I did, however, find some fun restaurants and bars.
This part of Europe is less traveled by Americans. It is well worth a visit with history, culture, intrigue and attractive surroundings that will fulfill your travel desires. Make sure you add this to your list of future world adventures.
TravelStore can help you get there worry free and with confidence.
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