Monday, August 31, 2015

Letenske Sady, Municiple House & Wencelas Square

Day 4

Today was not unlike the previous days here, we went to bed the night before somewhere around 4-5am and slept until 3-5pm.  It seems like a trend, but man it is too hot to go out earlier.  

I'm dealing with more swelling in my ankles with this heat, so I end up icing them for as long as I can stand before going to sleep and it seems to be helping.  It's time to get some better walking shoes, I know because my flip flops although comfortable don't cut it for really extended periods of time on my feet, and my bob's that I brought don't provide enough structure or impact cushion on the cobblestone street.

We went to an italian restaurant first to grab some dinner/breakfast and had a wonderful meal.  This place was an interesting blend of a coffee shop vibe with a restaurant.  The pendant lamps had homemade shades made of coffee packets.  It was so interesting.

We walked toward the water and across a bridge, then up the hill to find out what was at the top.  We had thought it was how to get to Letenske park that Catherine had raved about Saturday.  This hill was not easy to climb, even with stairs and paved trails all the way.  It was steep and sharp.  We got to the top eventually, and by the time I got up there I felt so incredibly sticky and hot it was uncomfortable.  Again we were in the heat, but this time in the shade so it was marginally better.  We walked along the park's trail, and I kept thinking of that Scorpian song "Winds of Change" and Gorky Park even though I have never really been to Gorky Park, but somehow my brain equated this place with that one, as if I had seen something connecting the two as a teen.  Now as I write this I find it quite ironic because that song's video had many scenes in it of the communism dictatorship in it, and I'm writing about Prague, which just a little over 25 years ago was definitely under communist rule.  This park is beautiful, vibrant, full of trees, grass, children's play areas and benches to relax in.  We stop in a children's play area and Ashley plays on just about everything in the area, Jared too.  I was still feeling so hot from the walk up and the sheer warmth still in the air I watched and took photos.

We kept walking down the pathway until we came across an area where there was once a gigantic statue of Joseph Stalin, but now houses the Prague Metronome.  There were many young people there, right as the sun was setting.  On one end of the enormous paved area were skateboarders grinding away, and the other side overlooking the river young lovers sat with their legs dangling down off the side of the ledge watching the sun go down.  The Metronome to me looked like a huge remnant of soviet days, and looked pretty lethal.

We decided we needed some water, so we headed down the hill to find some water.  We found the beer garden at the end of the park, and enjoyed some bottles of water.  Then Jared and Ashley enjoyed some beer and cider.  As the sun went down it cooled down nicely.  We sat next to a bocci ball area where young people were playing in groups.  It is a great people watching area.  Young boisterous people being loud, older people enjoying a beer or two, young college groups taking photos and talking in French, dogs, kids, people of all ages go here.  Some from here, some are visitors like us.  We hung out there for a few hours.  

We finished off the night out and about by going back up to the corner sausage stand we found on night one (top of Wenceles square).  Jared and I both went with the spicy sausage, while Ashley had a falafel.  The food at this little stand is amazing, and the sausage guy is so meticulous about how he makes each and every one of them.  Highly recommended.

Today's observations:
  • Hot and sticky is not the time to climb a steep hill
  • There was a bit of a sad feeling in several areas of the park, and it was more intense near where the Stalin statue was
  • The beer garden had incredible views
  • Lots of spiders come out at night and lurk in every available nook and cranny - be careful along any rail!
  • The night is the only time to go out when it's 90+Fahrenheit in Prague
  • Prague natives say this weather is outrageous and not so fun either

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Holy Moly... Another unbearably hot day?!

Day 3

As with the first day here, we were up until very late last night, so we didn't rouse today until around 3pm.  Today Ashley wanted to find this tattoo shop she had researched because she had decided she wanted a tattoo in Prague.  We took our time getting ready 'again' and went to old town to get some food first.  We sat down at this Irish Pub outside and ordered some food and beer (well those two ordered beer, I had water).  We all tried something outside of our sphere of food knowledge - Ashley and I trying Irish sandwiches and Jared trying Bangers and Mash.  We ended up spending the entire afternoon/evening/night at that pub, drinking beer/cider/water and chatting with several different people around us.

There was this group of three people at a table near us, two guys and one woman.  One man orders this giant beer in this giant glass, and there seems to be no way he is going to finish this gigantic beer today by himself.  His friend orders an abnormally tall large beer, and has even more of a difficult time to finish.

We see this group of grown men all in different costumes, Robin, Banana Man, the Joker, Spider Man and Flash Gordan to name a few.  Turns out they are from England and are celebrating a 'Stag' party - the English version of a Bachelor party.  The big brothers of the groom told everyone to dress up as their favorite superhero.  The groom didn't have a costume, so the brothers and friends dressed the groom up as a woman, with a dress, a wig, lipstick and pumps.  They were hilarious.  One of the older brothers sat with us for a few minutes and talked with us before joining the group.  They stayed at the pub almost as long as we did.

We also met two Westminster chaps sitting at the table next to us and for the next 6+ hours commenced discussions about almost every subject under the sun.  Both of our new friends were Tennis instructors back home, and both of them were friends for the better part of 18 years.  The older friend was my age, and the other was about 7 years younger.  The one that was my age, Daniel I think his name was, had two hearing aids in (has had his loss since birth) was originally from Ireland and spoke like an Irishman, super fast and very difficult to understand.  He had been to America before.  The younger friend (I cannot remember his name for the life of me) had not been to America before, but is saving to go visit someday.  We hung out, drank, chatted and then danced with them later in the night.  We learned some Irish dancing!

We also met a couple of in training Doctors from Turkey that were on holiday from school and touring Europe during their time off.  They were great sports and were out on the dance floor dancing too for awhile.  We chatted with them for a bit, they were really eager to meet new people and practice English :)

Today's observations:
  • Stag parties are really elaborate here in Prague
  • Cobblestone does radiate heat
  • Kirkwood cider is a very good apple-like cider
  • Irish dancing at times is kind of like square dancing
  • Some Irish music is similar to 'Folk' music
  • Westminister blokes are hilarious
  • Sometimes it's really nice to just hang out in one place and chat and drink
  • Ashley never made it to the Tattoo place today, she tried but she got lost the first time and the second time she went another way and found it, but they were closed
  • Outdoor beer gardens offer a ton of free entertainment 
  • Prague really seems like Europe's 'Vegas'...
  • At the very end of the night when the pub was closing we spoke with a young guy that had the most interesting English accent, different from the Westminister guys or the Stag party guys, but it was so intriguing to hear him talk

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Too Hot to Samba...

Day 2

So today we didn't even get to sleep until around 6am, so we didn't get up until 3-4ish in the afternoon.  Jared and Ashley are smokers, so they went outside first to have their first smoke of the day and came back in letting me know it was H O T outside.  It was around 94 degrees.  We took our time getting ready to go outside, and didn't go out until around 5:30-6ish in the evening.  Even at that time it was still unbearably hot in the shade.  I kept thinking after last night, this place is more and more like Vegas.

We ate at this restaurant near our apartment called "Epopy" that had original art on all the walls.  This place was featured on some travel cooking show that Ashley knew about and she was over the moon excited that the place was less than 30 steps from our apartment.  The tables and chairs in this restaurant were all old wood, so it had an old pub restaurant charm to the place.  The high ceilings were 'raw' and had pendant lamps hanging from the ceiling, while the middle partial wall was dropped in a half moon arch and painted beautiful deep red color.  On the hand-plastered white walls were beautiful original works of art for sale, something I hadn't seen in a restaurant often.  The art looked to be a combination photo/lithograph art, but my dad might differ as to the medium when he takes a peek at my photos.  We each had something different - Ashley a burger and a bowl of fries, Jared Chicken and rice with some sort of sauce, and I with a pasta dish.  It was pretty good.  We learned that in Prague, you go up to the front and pay at the register, even at nice restaurants such as this one.

After getting some food in our starving stomachs, we set out to explore the city some more.  We wandered through the streets with no particular place in mind other than to see what it was like to get lost in Prague.  Many people told us before we got here that this city was the best place to get lost in. We went up and down random little streets, following their seemingly endless winding corners and discovering interesting buildings along the way.  We stumbled upon a cool little whimsical section where in front of a hotel was a group of lit up mushroom sculptures, and across the street a man sculpture was hanging off a electricity line by his umbrella.  I took some photos of that, because you have to see it to believe it.  From the top of the little hill of the little street this is on, it is somewhat of a concerning sight until you realize the figure is not real.  We ended up near the water, and walked along it until we got to a bridge.  From this bridge you could see the famous St. Charles Bridge down the way, and an incredible view of the Prague Castle.  It was gorgeous.  We took several photos on the bridge before deciding to wander back into the city area to head back to the apartment.  We discovered a delightful dessert place along the way that had a nice cool air conditioner and we gratefully came in to enjoy some yummy dessert and coolness the place provided.  This place makes the most decadent desserts.  Ashley and Jared had a chocolate cake and coffee, and I had a creme puff with an icing that is kind of like maple icing on it and water.  The proprietor was a very nice woman who didn't speak a heck of a lot of English, but she did alright.  Again here we paid her at the register after we ate.  Seems like there is a trend there...

We kept on wandering, following the GPS towards what we thought was the house but we ended up in Old Town Square.  This place has been in movies, I just know it.  The old world charm of all the cobblestone everywhere, the two churches (one with an atomic clock), multiple restaurants and bars all lining the giant square where cars are not allowed was evident.  There were hundreds of people watching the atomic clock and waiting for the hour to strike so that they could see the apostles peek out, people sitting in the middle of the square in groups all over, just hanging out and many people at little bistro tables at the bars and pubs with seating outside so that you could enjoy the cooler night air.

Today's observations:

  • It's somewhat stinky in several areas of the city, maybe it has to do with the heat
  • Night sky makes a romantic city
  • I got a video of an awesome hologram fashion show in the window of this designer
  • Speaking of designers, there are many gorgeous dresses and garments in the windows of all these fabulous fashion designers
  • Cobblestone everywhere, don't think it's a good idea to wear heels as the cobblestone tends to follow the curve of the land, and there are unexpected dips everywhere
  • The cobblestone didn't stop this one woman from wearing sky high stilettos, I took a photo of them - they were beautiful but way too high for me.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Prague... Trains, Pubs and Hills - Day one

Today was our last day in Berlin - well not full day but partial day as we didn't have time for anything really in Berlin.  We woke up about 20 minutes before our scheduled train to Prague was to leave, so obviously we had to reschedule that.  We left the apartment around noon, headed to our new favorite coffee and tea shop down the street, and after some great conversation, coffee, breakfast bread and breakfast juice we were off to Berlin's main train station, Berlin Hauptbanhof.  We missed our next scheduled train by seconds by the time we got to the station, so we booked yet another train for the next scheduled time to Prague and vowed not to miss this one.  We hung out around the train station for another couple of hours, so we had some lunch, took some pictures, looked around at some of the stores.  Hauptbanhof Berlin is a huge train station and it has all kinds of shops to buy pretty much anything you might want.  Shoes, souvenirs, groceries, food, clothes, books, drug-store like items, they've got a shop for you.

We made the third attempt easily, and settled into our section quickly.  It's a six seat section of the car, with windows on both sides, and on one side the window is actually a sliding glass door.  The train is similar to the old European style trains I've seen on TV or movies before, where there is a walkway on the right, and these 'rooms' on the left are for groups of travelers.  We started off with five of us in the 'room', then after a couple of stops one got out and another person came in.  I took quite a few pictures on the train ride, it was about five hours long.  You of course could get up and walk around, use the restroom, etc.  I did that a few times.  Not good to do when the train stops though because confusion with people trying to leave or get on the train usually ensues.  About 1/2 way to Prague after the last person joined our room, we started talking to the two other people besides our party.  We learn that one of them is from Czech Republic but lives in Dresden, and the other is a young Irish girl that has unexpectedly needed to travel alone to Prague.  We invite the Irish girl to go have dinner with us after we all settle into our places, and she gets my information so we are connected.  The train ride was uneventful and on time, we arrive in Prague around 7pm, chat with Catherine (the Irish girl), make a plan and head to the apartment.  We pass by the largest Jewish synague on the way to the apartment, and pull our luggage across the small cobblestone sidewalk, occasionally walking on the larger cobblestone street.  About seven minutes later we are in front of the apartment, and our host greets us outside.  She takes us in and shows us around, leaves two keys and bids us adeau. 

The apartment is on the third floor, reachable by stairs or this tiny lift (elevator) that is controlled by this magnet key.  The lift has barely enough room for my 26" suitcase, backpack, me and Inka (my host).  We had to leave Jared and Ashley behind the first ride.  We go through another door to the hallway of our apartment, this hallway is shared with another apartment and is very sunny, all windows.  We go into the door of our apartment and see the two bedrooms, the 'great room' and bathroom.  This place is maybe 700 square feet big.  The kitchen is open and doesn't feel that small, although we didn't cook in it.  The second bedroom is so big it has a couch, dining table and chairs, a desk with a vintage Mac computer, two armoires and a queen bed.  Two sets of huge windows fill an entire section of the wall, and the ceiling is lined by beautiful crown molding and centered by a vintage light.  The flooring is herringbone wood, looks like it took forever to lay down.

We met up with Catherine after getting our stuff in the new place and went off in search of someplace to eat.  By now it's about 2130 (930 pm), and the area around the hostel where Catherine is staying looks pretty low on restaurant prospects that are open.  We walk around for a bit until we finally find a pub that is serving food, however, the place is full of smoke as all the people in the establishment are smoking away.  Oh yeah, I forgot you could smoke inside in Czech Republic.  We are all so hungry it doesn't matter, we pile in and enjoy a wonderful meal.  It's bright but hazy from the smoke, and I can feel it reach my throat as I breathe.  After eating the food we decide to head outside and find a bar for some more to drink (minus the smoke maybe).  We walk up and down streets for about two hours until we finally find a place that is both acceptable in terms of smoke AND has an outdoor area to drink in.  We hung out there until about 0430 (4:30am) when they closed.  We walked Catherine back to her hostel, and chatted some more until about 0530 (5:30am) when we finally headed back to our apartment and crashed.

  • Train rides through Europe are delightful
  • Belfast Irish Women are awesome
  • Man there's a lot of smoke everywhere... so many smokers that smoke inside
  • It is kind of warm here...
  • I think we scored on our apartment

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Wall

Day 6.... the final full day

The 'Topography of Terror' is the name of the documentation center that sits near what is left of the Berlin wall.  This center sits right next to the original 'Gestapo House' - a secret police prison that unspeakable treatment of people took place.  This location is also the Reich security headquarters.  The energy here is very different depending on what area of the site you go to.

The Wall
What is left of the wall stands with graffiti and small and large worn holes in the concrete. The wall itself isn't that thick, only 18 inches, and 12 feet high.  It is here that I watch people young and old, from all over the world including Germany watch, inspect, laugh, take pictures and experience.  I thought I'd feel like I did at Bernauer Srause, but I didn't.  I felt more hope and victory standing in each section.  I looked at the graffiti, some written in the 70's, some later - with simple words such as Why, to birthday wishes, to no longer understood largely worn off letters that I can only imagine what they say.  The rebar inside peeks out in several areas, like arms that are reaching from the binds of the concrete.  In one area the hole looks like someone took a wrecking ball to it, leaving a three man wide size gaping space with the rebar warped from the impact.  It's tall, and as you look to your right on the East side, you see that there were bunkers right there, keeping people from getting that close to the wall.  On the other side of the wall lies a busy four lane road, cars and bicycles whizzing by constantly - in the days of the wall being up no one could get that close to the wall. 

The Trench
Next to the wall is a trench made to uncover the cellar headquarters.  The area has many glass boards with clippings of articles, artifacts from the secret police, photos and information about the movement, resistance and people; while behind are the excavated remains of the headquarter's cellar.  Here there is so much information it takes at least an hour to read all of the sections and really absorb it all.  The feel here is mixed, some anger, sadness and confused actually. 

The House Prison
The Gestapo House Prison is no longer standing, but there is a perimeter marked next to the documentation center.  It is here that more than 15,000 people were tortured for information before they either committed suicide or were sent away to a camp or elsewhere.  The feeling at this site is interesting, more hopeful than anything else.  Sometimes I felt defiance and resolution, but more hope than anything in this area.

Across the street - West Berlin
Across the street is now the home of the German Parliament, and a large building that I never found out what it actually was.  This building looks a bit like an institution, but not that old.  There is a sculpture that represents the wall, people peering through it on one side, the other blood red handprints and marks seemingly represent the struggles that went on near the wall.  Along a fence is a cartoon depiction of the famous east German family that escaped their home by sliding down a homemade zip-line to the west.

We headed out for some food after exploring the wall and surrounding grounds.  We found a little German pub that had photos from many years ago all over.  The walls and floors were made of wood, and the inside tables were very sturdy.  We sat at the back of the restaurant, on benches along a long narrow table that wasn't wide enough for two regular sized plates to coexist  from each other.  In the center of the room is an old two-lantern light that is no longer used, as electric big Christmas like lights surround the room.  The food was fantastic and plentiful, and we left very happy.  Next up; Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate
This gate has a long history, dating back to the 1730s as one of 18 gates in the walled city of Berlin.  It was replaced between 1788-1791with a beautiful twelve columns, and again in the 1800s with what we see today.  It was restored in 2000.  The gate is majestic.  It is dominant, formidable and gorgeous.  Many people were here taking photos just like us of this historic site.  I believe it was here that President Reagan urged for the fall of the Berlin wall in 1987, and two years later it happened.  Many celebrations are centered here, for this gate was clearly made for it.

The walk back to the train
We headed back through the Tiergarten to the train and discovered another site with tanks in front of it, the dome building and finally found an Absinthe bar near the apartment when I went a different way than we had gone before.  We all tried the Absinthe, I myself thought it was awful, super strong liquor that tasted like black licorice (I do not like black licorice or the taste of strong alcohol), but Ashley and Jared seemed to like it, they went on to have two more shots of the stuff, but different varieties.  I got a few pictures of the bar area, every bottle is of Absinthe, made all over.  Just before we left that place a group of about 20 young people came to the bar to try it as well.

Today's thoughts:
  • Did I mention how awesome the rhubarb spritzer/soda is?
  • Today is probably my favorite day in Berlin
  • So much amazingness all over the world, we in America need to get out more and explore!  OK well I definitely want to and will.
  • The wall was somehow how I thought it would be
  • The gate is just beautiful at night, and the cobblestone street is perfect
  • Absinthe + me = Nope
  • I really like Berlin

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Prenzlaur Berg

Day 5

We stayed close to the apartment today, walking around the 'hood shopping.  Turns out going the other way we have been going uncovered a lively several streets and wonderful little shops.  We started off by going to this Pho place we've seen along the way home for some lunch.  Ashley tried the duck fried rice, I had a Pho shrimp, and Jared had a chicken curry.  It was great!

Along our walk we came across a young boy of about maybe 10 years old carrying an accordion.  About a half an hour later we heard him play it and enjoyed the music.  We came across a wonderful little store called "Upcycling Deluxe" and I chatted with the owner for a bit.  She makes hats from the coffee bean bags, and she trades with women owned business around the world for other recycled product useful items.  She was fantastic and her shop is definitely recommended if you are ever on the hunt for some great upcycled bags, hats, jewelry, belts and more.

Further down the street we came across a boutique of all made in Berlin clothing, accessories and jewelry for both men and women.  Really neat little place.

We saw lots of interesting little shops, eatery's and dessert places along our route, and even picked up a few fun things. 

Jared was on the hunt for some new shoes, and after walking the streets near our place and checking a few places out, we decided to go tot he Galleria back at Alexanderplatz.  We found another street performer, this time another bagpiper with a drummer, some sidewalk chalk artists and another full square to enjoy after finding some shoes.

We headed back to the apartment to eat at the same place we ate at the first night in town.  We enjoyed a great meal and then had some shots of Mampe (J and A) along with beer and a shot of Berlin Air.  Our waitress was a little firecracker from Italy.  She was great, partaking in shots with us. 

Today's observations:
  • I really like the shops within the residence areas, it's different than anywhere I've been in the US. 
  • So many people are from around the world here
  • Mampe to me tastes like cough syrup but Ashley loves the stuff
  • Clocks are seriously everywhere.  No excuse for not knowing the time!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Day 4

On this beautiful Tuesday we decided we have to go check out some green space in Berlin.  We chose Tiergarten to do just that.

Tiergarten is Berlin's version of New York's Central Park and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.  This park is incredibly beautiful and very large, with so much life going on within and around it - much like it's counterparts in the US.

We started off the day with a visit to another coffee shop slash deli that had wonderful fresh sandwiches and of course fresh coffee.  The coffee bean bags were in plain view of the patrons of this little shop, along with the tea boxes tucked under a high top table.  We all had sandwiches and A & J had coffee (are you surprised?).  Ashley said she was starting to get the hang of the foam on top of coffee thing, understanding maybe why it's there.  I find it fascinating to watch them make the coffee, from grinding the beans, packing it, putting it in the machine, the levers, the process.

We took the train in to a place near the park, and then a bus into the park so we could be more inside before wandering around.  One thing we learned in NYC is big huge parks like these you have to walk quite a ways to get to the center part of them.  The bus landed us not far from the Victory Tower, which we didn't really know was there until we exited the bus and looked around. The tower was in the middle of a large roundabout that had no crosswalks to get to the middle.   It took us a few minutes to figure out how to get to the tower (we had to go underground), but we made it.  The tunnel underground to get to the middle has a great feature inside, a screen with white dots that fill up when a person walks by;.  You can move your arms and watch on the screen the white dots show up.  I took a video here.

This tower is 60 meters high, and one can walk up to the top of it and check out the 360 degree view.  The stairs in the middle are spiral, so one gets duped into not really knowing how many stairs or flights there are, because they are in an seemingly endless loop of spirals until all of the sudden they end.  It was a tough walk up the steep spiral staircase, I stopped at every little open area I could to catch my breath.  But we all ended up going to the top and enjoyed the magnificent views from the top before whizzing down the stairs we labored to climb.  Ashley said her glasses skewed her depth perception going down the stairs and had to employ alternative measures to ensure she wouldn't fall down the stairs. 

When we all got to the bottom, we hung out on the steps for a bit and then Ashley decided to do cartwheels on the lawn nearby.  We took some more photos, then headed back outside of the circle under the road again to walk in the park and enjoy the beauty from within.  We headed down a trail and walked amongst the trees, grass and saw some apartment homes as we popped out one side of the park back to a road. 

We followed the road until we found the bus stop, and hopped on it in search for food.  Along the bus route we went by the Spandauer Vorstadt dome building that was gorgeous.  We hopped off the bus right around the water, and went in search for a waterfront place to eat.  Unfortunately, we didn't see anything there that looked good so we went in a street and found a restaurant that had excellent food and easy ordering.  They had ipads essentially that you ordered from, and the waitress would bring the food and drink to you.  Easy to get around the language barrier that way.  Our food was delicious and of course I found some more rhubarb spritzer to drink while the other two loaded up on more coffee.

As we headed back to Alexanderplatz to catch a train back to the apartment, Ashley's keen ear heard some music.  We followed the sound and found a bagpiper playing in the square.  We listened to him for a bit and then went to the train.  The night was capped off by visiting the wonderful dessert place (Sowohl Alsauch) we enjoyed a couple of days before.  This time I tried a decadent raspberry cake with more of that amazing apple juice (apfel saft), and the other two had peach cheesecake and coffee.  It was delicious, a beautiful evening in the neighborhood.

We sauntered back to the apartment and all stayed up until 3am or later hanging out there.

Today's observations:
  • 60 meters is a long ways to go up stairs!  But interestingly enough for me it was going down the stairs that was more wobbly.  My legs were so shaky!
  • Tiergarten is beautiful and the trails inside are a wonderful way to get lost and feel like you are not in the city
  • I think we found the 'lovers lane' in the Tiergarten... I'll have to remember that area next time so that I don't stumble on a couple :)
  • The view from the Victory Tower is astonishing.  Almost unreal clouds that day.
  • Efficiency is important to the Germans.  They put a lot of thought into planning places to make sure they are efficient and they feel safe too.
  • I love finding random musicians in different places.  Today was no exception!
  • This Rhubarb soda/Spitzer is amazing... better than coke or rootbeer soda!

What?  You want photos??  Here you go:

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fernsehtrum und Alexanderplatz

Day 3

This morning I was up early again, but went back to sleep because everyone else was sleeping.  We all got going in the early afternoon, and decided to go to AlexanderPlatz, a famous area in Berlin.  The day started with coffee (not me of course, A and J) from the nearby coffee shop. 

We went across the main street today to explore new to us eating establishments.  We found a few restaurants near each other, so we split up and got what we wanted and ate outside between the two establishments.  Jared got Currywurst, and Ashley and I got Sushi and Tempura/Yakitori respectively.  I have to say Japanese food in Germany has a very different taste.  They fuse different spices than I've ever tasted in Yakitori, and the Tempura was NOT like tempura at home or in Japan.

AlexanderPlatz is huge.  With large office and shop buildings surrounding a giant square, streetcars, a train station above and below ground and a giant structure called the ' ' that allows tourists to view the city from high above with a 360 degree view.  We decided we would do the 360 view at night, so we could see all the lights, and then broke apart for me to shop, the other two to enjoy their Starbucks and hang out.  There is a giant 'TK Maxx' store - exactly like a 'TJ Maxx' that is three stories high with all kinds of stuff. I walked through it but didn't find anything I had to have (yes, even the shoe section).  I walked around the building and checked out the 'Shoe City' store which is two stories and discovered brands I had no idea existed.  It was really fun to see the new to me brands.  I didn't see anything I had to own, so I met up with the other two and we walked outside of the square into the surrounding area.  We discovered a fantastic organic juice bar and I had a delicious berry juice that was so incredibly fresh and bursting with flavor.

We discovered an old gothic church that was one of the few structures that made it through the war - build in the early 14th century, a Humboldt University building, another old church built in the 1300's and restored in the early 2000's and the Mitte district (this place is like Rodeo drive in LA).  The churches were amazing, you could see some of the by hand scraping that was done on the brick. 

We wandered back from the Mite district and discovered some really fun graffiti, minions, political statements, funny images and a sculpture.  It was fun to view all of this.

The night ended with a trip up in the Fernsehturm  (TV Tower) to view Berlin from all directions.  When we got into the elevator, the guide asks everyone first about the language, German or English.  Jared was in the middle of the elevator.  When the guide asked about the language, all of the people in the elevator except for Jared said Deutsch, and the guide asked Jared 'How does it feel to be surrounded by an elevator full of Germans'?  There was a pause and everyone laughed.  This attraction has so much information on every direction along with what other cities around the world that are in that same direction.

Today's observations:
  • Clocks clocks everywhere are clocks...  Berlin does not have a shortage of them
  • Krishna indian restaurant near us - shout out to my friend Krishna!
  • There are like 7 U station entrances in AlexanderPlatz, the U we need is always wayyy far away from where we go underground
  • The 'Public Toilet' setup is pretty cool, you pay 50 cents but the place is immaculate thanks to the attendant that works down there
  • Oh yes, and Toilette's are always downstairs
  • There is always music somewhere in AlexanderPlatz

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Bernauer Straße...

Day 2

Today I woke up at 730am. I have no idea why, given the night before I went to sleep around 2am. Anyhow, for bettor or worse I'm up and no one else is. I took a few pics of outside from the apartment and putted around the apartment for about three hours until I got tired again and went back to sleep. Around 1pm Jared woke us up and we all got ready. While Ash and I got ready, Jared went to the nearby coffee shop and got a cool green juice for me and coffee for the two of them. I really liked the green juice, although the only things I knew were in it was cucumber (there was a slice there) and a stalk of celery. It had a bit of spice to it, so there was something else in there.

We all decided we wanted to see what's left of the Berlin wall, so we made our way to Strauss street and quickly found the wall memorial. We learned later it didn't have remnants of the actual 'wall' there later... more in my Thursday blog post...

This memorial site is more than just a memorial.  It was the scene of several famous events.... the place where East German Soldier Conrad Schumann jumped the wall + barbed wire fence to defect to the West German side; where Ida Siekman leapt to her death from her apartment window trying to jump across the wall to West Germany (see full story), and the area of several successful escape tunnels dug along this area. 

A few observations at the memorial:

  • - There was a representation of the wall made out of iron rods in the ground, in a line but staggered so one could walk through them. This I thought was a great representation of the structure with the ability to freely walk and see to the other side. It seemed like a symbol of the freedom they have today yet remembering the time they were torn apart.
  • - There was a little bit of the original inner wall left to show visitors what it was like (3meters high), made of concrete. It had some worn holes in it, and the information on the sign said that people on either side of that inner wall could look through the hole and see the other side. In the early days of those holes being there, one could get into trouble if you went up to the inner wall.
  • - The guards had a mandate to find 'fugitives' before they even attempted to get over/under/through the wall. Their goal was to arrest a fugitive before they left their home. Talk about heightened paranoia!
  • - The East German guards were responsible for every attempted or successful breach of the wall, so they worked hard to put in as many measures as possible to deter 'fugitives' from getting close to the wall - including putting in iron spikes on the other side of the wall so even if you try to jump you would get hurt landing on the spikes; dogs on a dog run that would alert guards of 'fugitives' closeby and catch them if they happen to make the jump over the wall; motor vehicle blocks anchored in concrete that would high center a vehicle if it tried to go through the wall; the inner wall, additional sensors and volunteer guards. The information said that even the East German Police assisted in this massive effort, and the East German secret police monitored it all - even the EG Police and the EG Guards!
  • - There were two tunnels represented at the park, showing how guards could get from one side to the other.
  • - This place had a somber feel to it, I could feel anger, distrust, paranoia, anxiousness, despair, sadness and helplessness while walking in the area, from the inner wall out to the other side of the tunnels.
  • - Today's modern Berlin seems really open and understanding of all walks of life, even celebrating those who are very different.

After the wall memorial visit, we were on the hunt to find a place to eat. We found one not far from us (about 5 blocks) and we headed over to the restaurant. We noticed family members riding their bikes with kids in rolling baskets, parks and shops scattered along the way. It was a beautiful neighborhood. All of the homes were typical of what we've been seeing, large apartment buildings, each building seeming to have their own 'style' with facades on the windows, colors of buildings to separate one from another despite the fact they were all built side by side at the same height and width. I noticed very similar architecture in Brugge also. Some buildings white, others yellow, and others grey.  There were several little parks tucked within the area, and lots of flyers about learning German.  Something told me it was a popular expat area.

We ended up at this restaurant called "Ex Berliner Restaurant" that was fantastic.  Each of us got something different but we enjoyed it all.  Definitely a recommendation if you go to the memorial in the late afternoon or even morning to catch for dinner or lunch.  This restaurant is open 24/7.  The staff speaks some English, and they have menus that are in English.

After dinner we walked back to the apartment, but not before taking a scenic detour around the blocks near the place.  We discovered an interesting gallery, bookstores, an open (not blocked off or hidden)  adult novelty store, some interesting restaurants and stores.

To finish off the day, we went to this dessert coffee shop not far from the apartment and indulged in delicious cheesecake (J), raspberry cake (me) and carrot cake  (A) along with fresh amazing apple juice (me) and coffees (J and A).  This place is a gem!  We plan to be back.

Today's observations:
  • The restaurants bring out a plate with utensils, knives on the bottom, criss-crossing forks on top of napkins
  • The people are really cool - the ones we encountered today
  • T-Mobile really has a handle of the mobile market here in Berlin.  We see hotspots and stores everywhere
  • We are starting to be able to use a little German (A and I), but still staring like we're frozen when someone talks to us normally

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The night we arrive...

Today was such a busy day for all three of us.  In the end we all were together around 830 pm local time. I'll start at the beginning.

Ashley and Jared were the first to leave the country.  Arielle and I were texting them trying to keep up on when they left in the morning. When Ashley mom and dad picked up Jared, he came out of his place sweating and looking a little wild eyed, needing to dash somewhere to grab something he forgot before they could go.  He hadn't gone to sleep the night before.  

Those two were in the air by 230pm and arrived in Amsterdam around 9am-ish.  Ashley soon got a text from our cell carrier telling her the international service works, while Jared learned his phone couldn't get any service.  Jared had a connecting flight a little over an hour later, while Ashley had 8 hours till her flight.  They parted ways as they each made their way to where they needed to go.  Jared off to the next flight, Ashley to explore.

Ashley got money, a locker and locked her backpack up.  She then was headed to the city of Amsterdam outside of the airport grounds.  She made it through to the city after some frustration with the trains, made some English friends, got a little high and wandered a bit before going back to the airport.  She said the city was beautiful.

I left for Munich at around 850pm Friday night and arrived in Munich around 5pm Saturday evening. That flight was pretty smooth and comfortable.  Lufthansa has this thing down I tell ya.  Everything was so well organized, such a big plane and so many attendants, but they all worked together so well.  I notice the Lufthansa seats are narrower from the back to the upholstered side we sit on, very thin which translates to more leg room.  The tray folds in thirds, another great organization.

After arriving and getting out of the plane, I had to dash across the airport to make my 545 flight,only  to find I had to go through customs to get to my connecting flight's gate.  The line was so long!  This guy rushes to me from the back of the line saying something to me in German and I stare at him like he's an alien.  He looks to the lady in front of me, says the same thing and again I'm totally lost.  The lady in front of me stares at him for a split second and then says 'I have a 545 flight too, I think many of us do'.  He shakes his head and dashes to the empty crew line next to us and goes to the customs agent.  We watch him talk to the agent and get through, so the lady in front of me and I go in that line too.  I get to the agent and he's just calm, two questions and my passports stamped and I'm off.  I walk away from the agent and a second is standing at the top of the escalator we need to go down to go to the gate.  He asks for my passport and I give it to him and he tries three languages with me until I understand what the heck he was saying.  I have to answer him on how long I'm staying before he allows me to go and gives me my passport.  I run clear across the airport to my gate and it's empty except one guy.  I give him my ticket, he scans it and I go through the doors to see another set of automatic glass doors.  I get through those and proceed through a short maze then finally to the plane.  I rush on the plane find my seat and the flight attendant says are you from the San Francisco flight?  I say yes and seconds later about 8 people board the plane from my first flight.  Whew, made it!

When I get off the plane in Berlin, there is a baggage claim right in front of us. Such a great idea.

My brother Jared was in Berlin around 1pm and had a lot of time to kill in town, so he did a bit of wandering before he got to the apartment.  He had discovered in Amsterdam that his phone had no service internationally, so he was in the dark as to communication.  He had a hard time finding the 'kiosk' that our host had left the key for us, and he had no way of telling us.  When I landed in Berlin, I had a text from Ashley and we met soon after.  We high fived and shared a bit about our adventure so far before we made our way to the apartment.  After getting directions from the helpful information desk, we set out to the place.  We made it right around 8ish to the apartment.  Along the way I had gotten an email from Jared so we were connected... Via email.  We got to the apartment and Jared walked to us a few minutes later. 

We put our stuff down in the apartment and headed back out for some food, as we were all starving.  We ate at this German restaurant and each had something decidedly German to eat, all was wonderfully good.  Jared and Ashley were enjoying German bier while I stayed non alcoholic.  Our waitress, Ana was funny and lively, drawing us a map of Germany, explaining why Berlin is a great city and bringing the house specialty shots to Jared and Ashley (plus one for her) to drink.  It was a fun dinner.

When we arrived back at the apartment we of course explored the place and talked till 2 or 3am before heading to bed.  Great first night :)

Quick observations:
  • Holy moly they speak German fast!  I don't know if I can keep up!
  • Time is in the 24 hour time-clock here
  • TXL airport does NOT have a train station near it
  • It seems that there are a lot of people who are night owls around our apartment

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Germany?

The year was 1986, I was required to take 2 years of a foreign language and I had a choice between German and Spanish. I did not want to learn Spanish at all, so I thought I'd try German. The day I walked into that classroom was the day that something shifted for me. I met the teacher, a native German (Kaethe Gildersleeve then) and I was fascinated. I really enjoyed learning the language, and became determined to visit the country one day to see how everyone lives.

I tried to become an exchange student to anywhere in Germany, however, in those days the only exchange program I knew about required a direct trade and some money. Unfortunately, I was just not able to make it work to participate. Also, back then we didn't have the internet and easy exchange of information like we do now - I only knew of one program. Today there are hundreds upon hundreds of these programs. I was disappointed, but I didn't have enough knowledge about other possibilities to try other avenues at the time.

In college I took another semester of German and again looked for something that I might be able to participate in, anything that would get me to this country I wondered so much about. For some reason, I just was so fascinated by this country, culture, people and language. I couldn't explain this pull this drive to be in the country and experience it, yet I knew it was something I had to do. I thought about what it was like to live in East Berlin and see the wall separating the city. I wondered how West Berliner's felt about the wall. I wondered how this country survives the winters and the political leaders they have had in the past; what they felt passionate about; what was important and how they lived.

Life took me onto several winding paths, guided down the way by school, family, marriage, etc for about 25 some odd years, and then I was nearing my 40th birthday. I told myself then that I really needed to make this bucket list dream item come true, and I have finally done it five years later.

Tomorrow I leave to go visit this country that I have been fascinated with for so many years. I'll be joined by my daughter and brother for the first two weeks of the trip, then I'll be exploring on my own - visiting some friends that will show me around and satisfy my curiosity about this huge and interesting country to me.