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Just back from Berlin and Amsterdam, Frommer's editor Jennifer Polland joins host Kelly Regan to explain why these capital cities are getting attention from a new generation of cool hunting travelers. Polland talks about Berlin's summer beach bars and a stretch of buildings that seems straight out of a sci-fi flick, then explains how to live it up with the locals in Amsterdam -- without breaking your budget.

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Top Tips from This Podcast

See transcript below for links to more information.

  • Berlin on Bike: Gain a new perspective of the city by taking a bike tour along the Berlin Wall.
  • Beach Bars (Berlin): A new phenomenon, simulated "fake" beaches within bars along the Spree River.
  • Like-A-Local: An organization which sets you up with locals of the city who take you on tours of their favorite spots of the city. See www.like-a-local.com
  • Accommodations (Berlin): The Generator Hostel ("free hangover included"), The Ellington Hotel.
  • Accommodations (Amsterdam): Ibis City Stopera Hotel.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Announcement: Welcome to the Frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit us at www.frommers.com.
Kelly Regan: Hi! Welcome to the Frommers.com podcast, the latest in our continuing conversations about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, editorial director of the Frommer's travel guides. I'll be your host.

My guest today is Jennifer Polland, who works in the editorial department here at Frommer's. She's just back from a trip to Berlin and Amsterdam, so I invited her to come talk to us about her experiences, and to tell us just a little bit about what's going on in those two cities. Jen, welcome; thanks for being here!
Jennifer Polland: Hi! Thanks for having me!
Kelly: Sure. As I said, you just got back from a trip in which you visited both Berlin and Amsterdam, so let's start with Berlin. What's the vibe like in the city these days? A while back, I had a conversation with our MTV writers about Berlin, and one of them described the city as one big dive bar, which I thought was a great way to talk about a city. But what's your take? What surprised you the most about the city when you were there?
Jennifer: Well, the dive bar comment is partially true. Parts of the city definitely feel like they have that sort of grungy gritty feel to it, mostly in the East. The West still has that classical, old, grand feeling.

But it's a really interesting time to be in the city, because so much of the city is rapidly, rapidly changing. Everywhere you look was construction. I feel like if I were to go back ten years from now, it would look completely different than it did today.

The city has been destroyed so many times during the wars, and when the wall was up...everything. So it's a really interesting time because parts of the city are really, really old and parts of the city are brand new. Pottsdamer Platz is the most modern -- almost sci-fi -- hi-tech part of the city that I went to. So it's a really interesting, perpetually changing time right now.
Kelly: That's great. One of the things that you and I talked about when you first got back was that Berlin's Love Parade is this wild annual street fair that millions of people have attended in the past, and that the Love Parade has pulled up stakes and they're not going to do it in Berlin anymore. Is that right?
Jennifer: Yes. I know in past years it had been cancelled because they were worried about crowd control and who was going to be organizing the crowd control. For people who might have been wanting to plan a trip, they should know that for 2007 they decided to go find another city to host the parade. We're not quite sure where that is, but we'll definitely keep everybody posted.
Kelly: One of the things you did in Berlin is, you took a bike tour that followed the footprint of the Berlin Wall. Is that right?
Jennifer: Yeah.
Kelly: Tell us what that was like.
Jennifer: That was probably one of the best experiences I had in Berlin. We went with Berlin on Bike. It's an organization where you can rent bikes and they set you up with tour guides if you want. We went with this tour guide and he took us on a specific tour along the Berlin wall.

It was so interesting, because although most of the wall is torn down and very little remains -- actually what does remain is mostly just aimed at tourists -- it's now no longer the scary, ominous, plain construction of a wall. Now all the parts of the wall that remain have been decorated by specific artists just coming in and it's a way of reviving it and --
Kelly: -- memorializing it.
Jennifer: Yeah, exactly. It was really interesting because throughout the city there's a brick line in the pavement that marks where the wall was. Even though it doesn't exist anymore, it sort of there...
Kelly: You still have the reminder of it.
Jennifer: Yeah. We drove, basically, along the wall. Parts of it was just a beautiful bike ride; parts of it we were driving through dirt bikepaths, and we would drive along the Spree river. Then we would ride through Prinz Lauerberg, which is the hip young neighborhood. But every so often we would pass through parts that were still a little ominous and a little bit...
Kelly: Dicey?
Jennifer: Yeah. It was just things like, we'd drive by and there would be a watchtower of where the guards used to stand to shoot the people who were trying to cross. Then, there were certain parts we drove by that there were memorials to all the people who died trying to cross the wall. I think there were something like sixty people -- documented -- who were killed in trying to cross that wall.

So there is sort of a very dangerous history there, but it's also a wonderful ride, and a wonderful way to get to know the city, because more than driving with a car, you can go along paths that pedestrians can only go on, and you can see a lot more of the city on a bike than you can walking.
Kelly: Sure. You talked about riding through some of the younger, hipper neighborhoods. You and I talked about Berlin nightlife. There's this funny new phenomenon in Berlin called "the beach bar, " and I'm really curious for you to tell people more about that and what that's like.
Jennifer: The beach bar is the funniest, coolest phenomenon I've seen. Somehow this trend has sweeped across the entire city. Basically, there are these bars that have been planted all along the Spree river, which runs through the city. They've imported sand to these bars. They all vary, but some of them have volleyball nets and beach chairs and chaise lounges and deejay's spinning and tropical drinks. In the middle of this urban sphere, you're sitting at a beach!

One of the best beach bars that we went to -- we did a tour of several of the beach bars -- the best one that we went to is called Badeschiff. Basically, it's a beach bar in East Berlin. We went with a tour guide; I would never have known to go on my own. He took us to what basically what looks like an industrial, little bit seedy, warehouse area.

So we walk behind this factory, not really knowing what we are doing or where we are going. We get to the back and all of a sudden it's like this oasis! There's a beach --
Kelly: A fake beach, of course!
Jennifer: [laughs] -- a fake beach, with a volleyball net and chaise lounges. People are laying out in bathing suits. There's a wooden patio, and on the other side of the patio is a floating pool in the river. Basically, it was a hollowed out barge. It was a former barge and they hollowed it out and turned it into a big crystal clear swimming pool that's floating in the river right next to the beach. It was one of the coolest experiences. They had a deejay spinning and next door they were giving salsa lessons. It was a really fun atmosphere.
Kelly: That's great, it's definitely something to check out. You were saying that you think that they're opening a beach bar in New York?
Jennifer: I'm not sure if it's a beach bar, but I saw, in New York under the Brooklyn Bridge, they're opening some sort of floating pool where they've imported sand. I don't know if it's a bar or if it's just a place to go swim in the floating pool.
Kelly: We'll have to keep an eye out for that. Well, let's move over to Amsterdam. When you were there, I know you hooked up with a fascinating group called "Like-a-Local, " which sets up interactions with local residents to give you kind of a different perspective on the city. Can you explain a little bit more about how that works, and what activities you did through the company?
Jennifer: Sure. Like-a-Local is an organization that sets you up with locals who have different interests and can take you on different types of tours. There was Go! Like-a-Local, which means that they would set you up with a local who takes you on a tour of, maybe, a neighborhood that they love, or a sports arena if they're athletic, or whatever it is.

Then there's Eat! Like-a-Local, where you can go into a local's home and they can cook a meal for you or serve you drinks or whatever it is. Then there's Live! Like-a-Local, where you can sleep in someone's home.

We did, first, a tour with a local in Vondelpark, which is the big park in Amsterdam. It's beautiful. We went with this woman named Fiona. And she grew up in the neighborhood, knows the park very well, gave us the entire spectrum of the history. And then we went through and she's point out, "Oh yeah. Look, there's where I saw my first puppet show in the children's theater..."
Kelly: Yeah.
Jennifer: "And there's a lake where all the young people hang out in the summer, and they come barbecue and picnic." It was a really great experience to see it through the eyes of someone who...
Kelly: Who's lived there all her life, yeah.
Jennifer: Yeah. And she took us, and we sat and we had coffee in a little coffee shop inside the park. And was a really wonderful experience to get to know someone, and feel like you got to know the city better through her eyes.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jennifer: Then we went on a second trip with Like-a-local. This one, we went on a canal tour.
Kelly: OK.
Jennifer: But rather than being on a public boat, where they have these big cruise ships that are tourist cruise ships, this was a man's private boat.
Kelly: OK.
Jennifer: They were small. There were six of us, and he took us around the canals on his private, old boat. And it was a really great experience, where he's point out what's along the canal, what museum is that. There was another local who was on the boat with us who, her specialty was night life.
Kelly: Oh! That's great!
Jennifer: So as we're touring, she says, "Oh, that's a great bar. You have to go check out this club." And they were pointing out things as we went along. We're drinking red wine, cruising through the canals, and laughing at the people on the tourist ship as they passed by.

[laughter]
Kelly: That's great. That's great.
Jennifer: It was really nice. And then they dropped us off at a third local's home, where this time, we went into someone's home. And in Amsterdam, all the old, old houses are located along the canals...
Kelly: Canals...
Jennifer: And as I passed by, I always wonder what it looks like on the inside of those homes, and this time, you actually go into one of these old homes. And it was really fascinating, because the house was built in 1630...
Kelly: Wow!
Jennifer: Which is older than our country.
Kelly: Of course.

[laughter]
Jennifer: So it was really great. Inside, it was spacious. I didn't know if it was going to be small rooms or just one large room or what.
Kelly: Sure.
Jennifer: It was one large room that we went into. And actually, the floor was slanting, so if you had rolled a marble, it would have rolled right across. [laughs]
Kelly: Rolled right down the floor, yeah.
Jennifer: But it was a really great experience, because they served us traditional Dutch beers and liquors, and then they served us Dutch snacks; there were fried shrimp balls and all sorts of delicious foods that really helps make a wonderful experience.
Kelly: That's great. And this all happened through a Like-a-local...
Jennifer: Yeah.
Kelly: And what's great about Like-a-local is that it really is something that Frommer's does kind of encourage. One of the things that Arthur Frommer had started his main travel philosophy is really about trying to experience a place the way the locals do.
Jennifer: Right.
Kelly: So this a perfect way to do that. And I think Like-a-local has expanded well beyond Amsterdam. So now there are other destinations, such as Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Rotterdam, even London, and I think they've expanded into New York City as well.
Jennifer: Right, they're just starting to come into New York and hoping to expand it. They're actually looking for volunteers, if anyone wants to be part of it, be a local.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah. And if anybody wants more information about the organization, you can check them out at www.like-a-local.com.

You also biked through Amsterdam, which is an activity I think everybody associates with the city because bikes are so prevalent. What was the best part of seeing Amsterdam by bike?
Jennifer: Well, we went, again, with a tour guide, and that was probably the best part, because it wasn't just biking. I think it would have been a little bit scary if we were just biking...
Kelly: Really?
Jennifer: Because it was funny; everyone always thinks of it as THE biking city, but it's actually was not that conducive to bikers, because there were so many people biking by, cars driving by, these tiny, little, narrow roads.
Kelly: So it was a little intimidating.
Jennifer: A little bit intimidating. But we went with a tour guide who took us around and basically showed us the oldest spots, gave us the whole history of how the red light district today started back in the 1600s...
Kelly: Right.
Jennifer: It was sort of a really interesting tour of the city, and again, on a bike you can go places that cars can't and you can get right up to the sites, which was really fantastic.
Kelly Regan: Right, right. No, that's great and it's interesting that Berlin seems to like a more accessible biking city than Amsterdam, because I think many people would think the opposite.
Jennifer: Exactly, because Berlin is also a biking city, but people don't associate it with bicycles the way they do Amsterdam. In Berlin, the streets were a little bit wider, there's a little bit less traffic on the sidewalks and streets, but there were still plenty of bike paths. Going along the former Berlin Wall was probably a more rewarding experience than going along through Amsterdam.
Kelly: Yeah, sure, sure. We have time for one more question and I did want to touch on this before we finished. Everyone is talking now about how the dollar is weakening against the Euro and Pound and how traveling to Europe now for Americans was a lot more expensive than it was before. But you weren't traveling very high end, I don't think, so what kind of hostels or hotels were you staying at and did you feel you had to sacrifice cleanliness or quality to kind of avoid breaking the bank?
Jennifer: No, actually. In Berlin I stayed in two places, one was a hostel, one was a hotel. The hostel I stayed in was called The Generator Hostel, and it was fairly close to Alexanderplatz, which is in the former East Berlin. I would recommend that hostel for maybe college students, because their slogan for example is "free hangover included." It was definitely very much a party hostel.
Kelly: That pretty much tells you what you're going to get when you get there.
Jennifer: Exactly, but you know what? It was clean, there were lots of young people, and there was definitely life there, so it was clean, it was nice, it was fine. That one I would recommend to people who have that mentality. But actually, I was surprised because the next hotel I stayed in was called the Ellington, which is brand new and only opened up a few months ago. This, to me, was like a luxury hotel, and yet it fell into the category of budget traveling. The cheapest room starts at, I think 88 euros, which is definitely affordable. That's right near the Ku'Damm, which is the main shopping street. It's a brand new, clean, high end, pristine, minimalistic hotel with white everywhere, but it was a really a wonderful experience and definitely meant for budget traveling.
Kelly: That's great. What about in Amsterdam?
Jennifer: In Amsterdam we stayed in the Ibis City Stopera Hotel. Ibis is a chain which is throughout Europe, it's clean, it's reliable, it's a good deal I think, considering the euro is kind of killing the dollar. There are two Ibises in Amsterdam, this one was near Waterlooplein, the other one I believe is near Central Station.
Kelly: OK, so they're pretty centrally located.
Jennifer: Yeah, so those are definitely two good budget options.
Kelly: OK, that's great. I think that's probably all the time we have today, so I've been talking with Jennifer Polland who works in the editorial department here at Frommer's. She's just back from her trip to Berlin and Amsterdam and was nice enough to come talk to us about her experiences. Jen, thanks a lot for coming, this was a great conversation. It's gotten me kind of excited to go back to Germany for the first time in a long time. Thanks for being here.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Kelly: Join us again next week for another conversation about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan and if you like this podcast, please post a comment on iTunes. If you have comments or suggestions, don't forget to email us at editor@frommermedia.com.
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