Posted by: on Aug 16, 2012 | No Comments

A city which rises out of nowhere. Getting the train from the north it’s all dramatic mountain ranges with small villages of farmers in the valleys in between.

From Paris to Toulouse

From Paris to Toulouse

Posted by: on Jul 20, 2012 | No Comments

Five days isn’t really enough time to eat all that France has to offer, but we gave it a decent shot.


Posted by: on Jul 7, 2008 | One Comment

In Berlin the trains run on time, the bikes pass by frequently and the hubs of life and excitement are smattered across the city, usually hidden by a graffittied facade.

Now in cold, wet and windy Edinburgh, balmy Berlin seems like a distant summer holiday.

We stayed at cool and busy Circus Hostel right at Rosenthaler Platz and wandered the nearby streets after arriving on an early train. Good thing number one about Berlin: they start late. Even for Saturday breakfast.

The wandering went on for days so maybe I should break this up a little (I’ve got a time limit on the hostel computer!).

Kreuzberg in the south, supposedly grungy but actually quite cool. Prenzlauer Berg in the north, used to be grungy but now so cool it’s fashionable. Alexanderplatz in the centre, but without being the city centre. Mitte, a large central area is beyond being described in a few words. Friedrichshain in the east has the impressively grand yet boring Karl Marx Ave. It also has a lot of punk record stores and one cute organic and soy gelato shop. Charlottenburg, in the west was once the ritzy part of town and it still is beautiful. We stepped back in time and had a tour of Pip and Carston’s amazing apartment – closest to a grand Rose Bay apartment but with more history and European-ness, and probably for less rent than a house in Newtown. Grr. Can you see why people are relocating to Berlin?

As the Lonely Planet said, Berlin has more museums than rainy days and it was true. The Checkpoint Charlie museum was the absolute low-point of the museum trail because it was so amateur. Walls were plastered with images, text in different languages and different sized fonts and no organisation to the stories being told. There were some great stories in amongst it but it was such an effort to make any sense of it.

Far more impressive were the panels surrounding the actual site of Checkpoint Charlie. Full of all the info you need about the history leading up to and after the Berlin Wall and best of all, consise, well-organised and free.

The DDR museum was small, fun and interactive. You could sit in an old East German car or watch old docos about people living in Eastern housing.

The Jewish Museum was an amazing building designed by some amazing architect who I might just name if I have time left at the end of the post. It led you chronologically through beautiful displays and peaceful surrounds. There were perhaps a few too many words and too many stories but that might just be reflecting my short attention span.

The Pergamon Museum was the highlight. It’s exhibition on Babylon was quite perfect – lots of old stuff with the history downstairs and then the stories, myths and contemporary explorations of Babylon upstairs. The museum has also recreated a giant Babylonian archway – beautiful blue tiles with mythical creatures in relief tiles. I picked up the free audio tour here and was actually impressed… never thought much of taking audio tours in the past, especially at museums where there’s already so many words, but this was a nice exhibition to drift around with something to listen to. Oh and why was a museum in Berlin holding an exhibition about Babylon? To put it bluntly, some German guy was right into digging up the ruins years ago.

Berlin was the destination where we lost interest in Eastern European food. Good place for it really. Monsieur Vuong’s on Alte Schönhauser Strasse was a hip Vietnamese restaurant just down the road from us near Hackescher Markt.

In Charlottenburg some locals took us out for Chinese on a street they think is this close to becoming Berlin’s Chinatown (although I’m not so sure those lights strung across every Chinatown in the world would look right on this massive boulevard). Afterwards we went to a local cafe where they serve a special Austrian dessert called Kaiserschmarrn. It’s kinda a pancake cooked liked scrambled eggs and served a bit soft, traditionally eaten whilst skiing or camping or something. Much tastier than it sounds.

But of course it wouldn’t be a German holiday unless there was some sausage involved. That brings me to…

Football (or soccer) and cool places to hang out…
The Eurocup final was on while we were in Berlin. Football is kinda a big deal there and so it was a really big deal this time because Germany was in the final against Spain. Peter’s friend Pip (from Charlottenburg if you were reading above) told us we’d be meeting some others at a beer garden. I should point out that Berlin beer gardens aren’t the half-arsed attempt you see in Australia. No, a table outside of a pub does not constitute a beer garden. I walked past a number of places which seemed like a vacant grassy lot with tables, umbrellas and beer but this particular place was even more interesting.

Mädcheninternat possibly used to be a girls’ school, or maybe it didn’t but they just thought it’d be a cool name for a bar. The only way we really knew we were in the right place from the street was that there were hundreds of bikes chained up on the surrounding block. We climbed the overgrown front path and walked around the side of the giant stone building to discover a crowd of people, many on yellow deckchairs, around a big screen. We continued onto the overflow area of the bitumen where there was another big screen and a smaller sea of people constructing their own seating. We went on our own little scavenger hunt through leftover building materials to see what sort of seating we could build. It’s amazing how resourceful you can be with some wood off-cuts (mind the rusty nails) and some giant polystyrene blocks.

What started off looking full of too cool people with their minimal techo (Germans love their minimal techno) turned out being balanced out with families and little kids by the time the game started. And the sausage reference? We hadn’t eaten and German sausages were the only thing on offer here. I should also mention that beer was even served in glasses here. Imagine that! Oh to live in a place not wrapped up in the red tape of public liability. It could be worse, I could live in the UK where anything remotely edible seems to have a peanut warning on it.

I really must have done a lot of aimless wandering in Berlin because I certainly didn’t do much shopping. A few good ones worth pointing out though:

Monia Herbst – beautiful leather bags just around the corner from our hostel and made in the back of the shop. I’m one shiny red bag richer for it.

Ausberlin – near Alexanderplatz this shop has interesting non-souvenir items from Berlin. Clothing, books, music, accessories etc. We went here on our first day and if I’d gone back later I would’ve been sure to buy something.

Mauerpark Markets – flea markets that are mostly full of people selling their rubbish but also with a few cool t-shirt designers. One t-shirt and two hair clips richer from this little adventure.