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Greetings from Berlin, which today (Thursday) has begun rather overcast and moody (see above — the view from my kitchen window in Prenzlauer Berg, overlooking Mauerpark). Yesterday, as I touched down in Tegel at 8:10 AM, I found the city blanketed in snow, a not-too-frequent occurrence this year.
I also found myself arriving on the first day of a transit strike. Trams, buses, and the U-Bahn shut-down yesterday, leaving passengers with only the above-ground S-Bahn for mass transportation. The strike continues today. My taxi driver whisked through the snow and along the back streets in Prenzlauer Berg, avoiding the congested highway.
Yesterday, in that “first day, no sleep” delirium that blesses you on your first day in Europe, Pete, Meredith and I had the good fortune to meet up with Hilary from Less Than a Shoestring, that great daily blog about serious budget (or “no budget”) travels. She’s based in Berlin and really knows how to see the town on, well, nothing!
We S-Bahned it to Unter den Linden, gawked at the Brandenburg Gate (see above, Mere smiling at the gate–after the snow had melted), and headed for the Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament. The domed building, a must-visit for any traveler to Berlin, was still open at 6:30 PM when we arrived, and incredibly, had no line to speak of. (Also, as Hilary pointed out, the building has no admission charge to speak of, which makes it a “Cheapo Must.”) Within minutes we were climbing upward through the dome, looking out onto the twinkling capital city.
Euro-shock side note: On my Continental flight from Newark, the price for a small bottle of wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), is now “$5 or €3″! I hope that this special “Continental” exchange rate is not a reliable forecast of things to come!
Later today: A report from ITB, Berlin’s international travel expo. (Note, it, too is easily reachable by S-Bahn!)