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Amsterdam to Berlin

Story and photos by Les Furnanz   December 1, 2009


This past summer we wanted a three-week trip from Holland to Berlin with stops en route that represent the best of Dutch and German culture, history, and countryside. But as we attempted to make reservations using our favorite guidebooks by Rick Steves we found that lodging was booked out. What’s a traveler to do? We decided to orient ourselves via Rick’s guidebooks, and then expand our research via the Internet to nearby places. We could visit selected recommended sites while enjoying quiet villages, adding our own discoveries to the recommended itinerary. The resulting tour proved to be one of our most enjoyable and memorable, and it required only a few additional hours of planning. The highlights were the week we spent in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the week in Traben-Trarbach in the Moselle Valley, Germany. Combined with our two-day stays in Amsterdam, Wurzburg, Gorlitz, and Berlin, it was a balanced tour of bustling cities, interesting towns, and beautiful rural environments.

  Map of Amsterdam to Berlin  
Netherlands and Germany Tour (courtesy Lonely Planet)

Leiden’s Charms

Only thirty minutes by train from the Amsterdam airport, Leiden is a Dutch delight proudly enjoyed by its residents, yet truly off of the tourist path. Rolled into one town near the North Sea at the confluence of the Old and New Rhine Rivers are beautiful canals, lowland windmills, the original castle that birthed the Dutch nation, and an array of architecture spanning the middle ages to the time of Rembrandt, the town’s native son. The ancient castle on Leiden’s only hill provides 360-degree views of the old town and its many church spires, dating to the 12th century.

  Leiden Canal   Leiden Cathedral
Leiden Canal Scene
Cathedral Viewed from Leiden Castle

With a week in Leiden we were able to diversify our activities. We spent a pleasant day exploring the town via a four-mile walk along narrow lanes and canals, a day cycling the surrounding countryside and seashore, a day exploring the small historical village of Delft, a day kayaking Leiden’s canals, a day exploring Amsterdam sites, and a day of Leiden café-exploring and relaxation. We developed a strong appreciation of how the Dutch live with little need of an auto. Bicycles were economically available at the centrally located train stations in all the towns visited, and safe pathways networked the countryside and communities.

  Delft Street   Leiden Night Scene  
Colorful Delft Lane
Leiden at Night

The Moselle Valley; Vineyards, Traben-Trarbach, and Bernkastel

The Moselle Valley is a favorite vacation destination for Germans, but it sees relatively little in the way of international tourism. The valley is beloved for its beautiful riverside with vineyards of Riesling that vertically climb steep hillsides. Castle and village sites cover a 2,000-year history. Many of the hillsides forts are accessed via forest pathways, such as Grevensburg where we climbed to take in the valley vistas. Cyclists are in heaven here as well. On a 25-mile trail from Traben-Trarbach to Bullay we cycled through numerous riverside villages and vineyards, stopping often to enjoy the scenes. A local train line provided convenient and relaxing transport back to our starting point.

Whereas the village of Cochem is the most popular Moselle destination recommended by Rick Steves, we found that Traben-Trarbach further upriver also provided excellent sites and much more affordable and available lodging. This medieval village spans the Moselle via a two-lane bridge. Ferries are available throughout the day to other villages, including ancient Bernkastel where we walked its narrow, pedestrian-only alleyways of timbered homes. Here we also enjoyed excellent Riesling wine tasting at the Moselle’s oldest wine cellar, the Spitzhauschen or Pointed House, built in 1416.

  Traben-Trarbach   Bernkastle   Spitzhauschen  
Moselle River from Grevensburg
Pointed House Wine Shop
  When You Go

The itinerary cited above is great from early June through late September. The following guidebooks provide excellent information for exploring the Netherlands and Germany.

Rick Steves’ Germany (updated yearly)
Rick Steves’ Amsterdam, Bruges, and Brussels
Fodor’s Holland (covers Leiden, Delft, the Hague, etc.)

The following Web sites are also useful in finding lodging and exploring Leiden and Traben-Trarbach:

Have Smart-Phone, Will Travel

This European trip of July 2009 proved the value of our new smart-phones. No extra monthly charges were incurred as the phones were used in “Airplane Mode” (no phone service) with WiFi enabled for free hookups at cafes. We kept in touch with friends via email, researched sites via the built-in Web browser, made reservations, took photos (included here) and videos, obtained maps for our travels, found operating hours and addresses for restaurants and museums, kept a log of expenses, and took appropriate notes. The list goes on and on, but the most impressive and useful feature was being able to obtain driving directions and stage-by-stage maps for out travel segments, saving all the associated maps and text in our photo gallery for quick reference when we weren’t in range of a WiFi set-up. Purchasing road maps has become a thing of the past, and there was is no need to rent a GPS. Have smart-phone, will travel!

        Article and Photos by Les Furnanz


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