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Poland and NE Germany, April-May 2018

My wife and I recently returned from a trip to Poland and Germany that ran from late April to mid-May. Here was our itinerary:

Gdansk (3 nights)--Admiral Hotel (great business class hotel listed in Rick’s book, best breakfasts we had during this trip).
Krakow (2 nights)--Hotel Batory (nice quiet location, ten or fifteen minute walk from the main square).
Goerlitz (2 nights)--Hotel am Goldenen Strauss (across the street from the art deco former department store that served as the location for the film The Grand Budapest Hotel. They gave a nice room upgrade).
Dresden (2 nights)—Cityherberge (great location at a combination hostel/hotel. We stayed on the hotel side. A good budget option in a city than can be expensive for hotels).
Berlin (4 nights)--Hampton by Hilton Berlin City West (stayed on points, Charlottenburg is a great choice for a location).

As anticipated history (especially 20th Century history) hangs heavy in the air in the places we visited, despite the fact that a lot of the buildings were destroyed during World War II. This was our seventeenth Europe trip together on vacation, but other than a business trip that I had made to Berlin years ago, all of these places were new to us. This was a very worthwhile itinerary for us, filled with great stops. It's hard to name a favorite, because all of these places were worthwhile in their own way. We did not run into many American tourists at all.

We found the people to be very friendly throughout. Very good customer service orientation from those in the tourist industry. English was widely spoken, no surprise in Germany but somewhat of a surprise in Poland. Of course we were going places where tourists go, so our view of the world may have been skewed.

Poland turned out to be an unexpectedly good country for food. Some combination of the local cuisine being good and they know how to cater to tourists. (For example, I had a couple of very good Greek salads). The standard of hotels throughout the itinerary was very high, extremely clean and with good to great breakfasts. The kind of breakfasts that will keep you going past noon. We paid $80-120 for a hotel and $40-50 for dinner. Berlin used to have a reputation for being inexpensive but that’s somewhat outdated. I would call it more in the moderate category. We probably would have paid about $150 per night for a hotel if not staying on points.

We traveled with Rick's Gdansk/Warsaw/Poland and Germany books, even though the latter was a lot to carry for just the Berlin and Dresden sections. We supplemented this with electronic versions of Lonely Planet Poland and Germany. We booked all of our hotels through booking.com.

The best/most worthwhile sights among those that we visited:
1) Solidarity Museum in Gdansk. The presentation of this museum is stunning, and the audio guide was excellent.
2) Malbork Castle. I list this reluctantly because when we were there it was crazy overrun with locals and our visit was impeded by this (holiday). But as a castle fancier, it was a good one.
3) Auschwitz (day trip on a tour from Krakow); the sight, not the way we saw it which was on a bus tour.
4) Dresden museums: Historical Green Vault, New Green Vault, Armory and the Old Masters Gallery.
5) Reichstag guided tour and dome visit, Berlin. The guided tour was definitely worthwhile.
6) Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Book a timed entry, a lot of it is closed and they were letting in fifteen people every ten minutes. We spent three hours here and if had all been open, it could have been a full day.
7) Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. Surprising amount of Botticelli and Raphael. Brueghal the Elder, Bosch and Vermeer. Just a really word-class art museum, totally uncrowded when we visited.
8) Walking the city in any and all of our stops. Kazimierz and main square in Krakow, Royal Way and the waterfront in Gdansk, the whole town of Goerlitz.

Too much travel goodness, already planning the next one.

Posted by
12875 posts

Thanks for the interesting observations and experiences on Berlin and Poland. I can relate to those on Berlin since I was there for a week from 8 May, got in on the night train from Düsseldorf, to 16 May, when I took off to Schleswig-Holstein. Very true, I hardly saw any American tourists, except for a few backpacker types who happen to be on the same S-Bahn line as I was.

I noticed too the prices had gone up; my small Pension in Charlottenburg charged me for a single (EZ) exactly a year ago 42 Euro, now that single is 45 Euro....pretty high jump in a year. Prices in general all over Germany have gone up, esp coffee. When I started staying there in 2009, the proprietor charged 38 or 39 Euro for the single. Of course, you can expect who stays there, the proprietor does not speak English, the guests are all German, or those Europeans (Finns) who can manage in German.

She explained to me why it was 45 Euro this time, almost exactly a year later from my last visit there. Even at 45 Euro I'll be there again on the next trip. Still. as a capital and a major urban center, I very much doubt many cities within and without Germany can beat Berlin in having the lowest prices, outside of Poland, Budapest,... certainly not Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, or Hamburg or Cologne,

Posted by
6868 posts

Did you have meals in Poland at local joints or in the hotel? What did you think of traditional Polish food? You should expect high standards (and higher prices) at business hotels, and English being widely spoken (all Polish kids learn English in school these days). Sounds like you had a good trip. Malbork is one of my favorite places - it's amazing. Same with Pergamon Museum.

Posted by
2458 posts

We stayed at the Hampton in Berlin also, great hotel and breakfast. We were visiting friends so we didn't see as many tourist sights as we wanted to. We will have to make another trip there. We are going to Poland this summer and am happy to read so many people are not disappointed. Glad you had a great trip.

Posted by
3018 posts

Thanks for sharing this really nice trip report. I was also in Berlin in May (5 May until 15 May), my third consecutive May with a stop there. I stay at a little 4-bedroom B&B in Charlottenburg and agree that the area is an excellent location for staying in Berlin. Public transportation can get you nearly anywhere quickly.

I would love to make it to Gdansk and Görlitz (have been to Krakow, which was spectacular) -- they are on the list of places to see!

Posted by
1878 posts

Here are some of the restaurants that we went to on our trip. We don't seek out transcendent dining experiences on our travels, we seek good value and try to avoid the outright tourist trap places. I have never found the old adage that an English menu means bad food to be true. We go with our gut after reading the menu and seem to do pretty well. My general impression was that Polish food is more varied and has more personality than what we had in the nearby Czech Republic, but the latter was in 2011 so it might be a better food country now too. Everyone's definition of good food is different, but I like trying local dishes and also having the option for a tasty salad that's something similar to what I might have back home. Local dishes when I can determine that it's relatively healthy, i.e. I don't usually go for the deep fried stuff. I favor lean protein and avoid heavy starches. The salads in Poland generally were very hearty and we did find with just that and some bread on more than one occasion.

Gdansk
Tawerna Dominikanska. We ended up eating here all three nights, it was packed with locals every night (although it was a holiday period so a lot of places were busy). The reason we ate there every night was a combination of proximity to our hotel, reasonable value, nice atmosphere, good food and friendly/responsive service. I don't understand why it only gets 3.5 stars in TripAdvisor. Some people seem to have had an issue with their fish dishes. My wife had the pierogis, we both had the stuffed cabbage (stuffed with vegetables) with tomato sauce on different nights. Large portions, good food. The Polish beers we tried were very much like Czech pilsners to my taste. Not surprising given the proximity of the Czech Republic.

Krakow
Hotel Batory They don't have their menu online, but on night two we ate at the hotel. It was a little slow getting served because there was a large group of Irish college students staying at the hotel and they all came to dinner at once. But the outside patio area is a really nice place for a meal on a warm evening.
Piwnica Pod Zlota Pipa We ate in the basement but they have outdoor seating too. I don't know when they get busy, as it was pretty quiet at 8 p.m. during a holiday period. Nice atmosphere, I cannot remember what we had but at under $40 for two it was good value. A pretty good jazz band started playing in the upstair courtyard fifteen minutes before we left.
Restauracja Stodola The decor is a faux rustic that is a little over the top. I don't remember it being spectacular but it was perfectly good.

Dresden
Wenzel Prager Bierstuben: We made it a point to make it into the new town to walk around a bit and get something to eat. This place was from Rick's book. It's rare that we seek out places from guidebooks for meals, it just seems easier to use our judgment for places located near where we happen to be. This place felt authentically German, but we had Czech beer. We sat outside because the weather was great, but as Rick indicates the interior is very pleasant as well.

As our trip wound down, and Berlin wore us down, we started to opt even more for expediency than earlier in the trip. So not much interesting to report from Berlin in the food department.

Posted by
2982 posts

Polish people are very passionate about their cuisine and once you've eaten there, it's not hard to see why. I'm a perogie addict, anyway.

Thanks for the report! Poland, especially Krakow, has been on my list for a while (I've only been to Posnan so far, but loved it). I haven't been to Dresden yet but my inner museum nerd is calling on me to go there soon.

I find that people on this board tend to stay in West Berlin more than East and that may reflect your experience with prices. While I've definately noted that Berlin is becoming more expensive since my first visit in 2012, we usually stay over in Kreuzberg-Ost or Fredrichsain, which are on their way to being gentrified but are still quite affordable with a wide variety of good value restaurants.

Glad you enjoyed!

Posted by
1878 posts

This was primarily a big city itinerary and we did it entirely by trains and buses between cities. We used taxis, trams and of course walked a lot within cities, plus in Berlin the U and S-Bahn.

Trains ran on time throughout, no surprise in Germany but we did not know what to expect in Poland. Track work at the Gdansk station meant that almost every train left from the same track. They seemed to handle it o.k. but it was confusing being sure that the train that just pulled up was indeed ours (no overhead monitors). We later figured out the destination is taped to the door of the train.

Track work near the station in Krakow narrowed out choices for continuing on west to Goerlitz. We knew this before departing (based upon a lot of up front research). and so booked a bus trip from Krakow to Wroclaw on Flixbus. If you want to sit together with your travel partner, show up early. We arrived fifteen minutes prior to departure and the bus was mostly full. Buses are a good options in some cases, but as in other countries the legroom is pretty poor.

Taxis in Gdansk were inexpensive and effective for getting to some of the farther out places such as the Solidarity Museum. All of the taxis we encountered were honest and went by the meter. No trying to charge you an inflated flat fee off the meter.

We booked our ticket from Gdansk to Krakow in advance, especially since it was a holiday period. Initially the way the Polish rail site worked did not give me a sense of confidence that I could transact it correctly but it worked out great. They say it’s worth it to book first class on Polish trains, but for this high speed train we would have been fine in 2nd class, and saved quite a lot. The 2nd class seats were four across, the first class three across. There was a nice dining car where you could get something to eat and drink.

Taxi from Krakow train station did the old flat fee method, off the meter. We had been lulled into complacency by the Gdansk taxis. When you try and communicate in advanced with them about whether they will use the meter, their English gets a lot worse. Oh well on average we did really well with taxis on this trip.

We only got to ride the tram in Krakow once, but it worked great. We rode the tram to and from the train station to our hotel in Dresden, and it worked great. Also rode the tram from the new town in Dresden back to the vicinity of our hotel. All of these worked great, wished we had had the chance to ride them more.

Posted by
12875 posts

Prices in Berlin are now higher than a year ago, ie May 2017. I use the example of my Pension, which charges 45 Euro for a single (EZ). A year ago the price was 42 Euro. The Pension is located in Charlottenburg, ca. 10 walk from Bahnhof Zoo. Still, at 45 Euro for the single it is fantastic.

To go back to 2012 , I would have to see my receipt I keep all my receipts from that Pension to see the price the EZ cost me then. I was there in 2012 too. Hardly any foreign tourists stay there, let alone Americans....only Germans, 98.9 %, mostly older.

Posted by
3018 posts

Thanks for adding your dining and transportation experiences. I'm also a pierogi fan. I did the Crazy Guides Communist Tour in Krakow; it was part kitsch (including riding around in a Trabant), part history. We stopped at a milk cafeteria, where I had my best meal in Krakow -- our guide picked a variety of items for myself and another participant to sample. It was all wonderful, and included a few varieties of pierogi.