Monthly Archives: August 2007

Berlin

First a note on the Hostel I was staying at. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Citystay Berlin Mitte. It is very reasonably priced, has a great central location, friendly staff, and clean facilities. The prices in the 23hr bar/lounge attached are pretty good and they play hip music. By “hip music” of course I mean the music I listen to. The only drawback is that while they have a wonderful courtyard, they fail to enforce the 10pm quiet-time and you occasionally get drunken French girls grunting out classical music until 2am. (name this tune: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah blah-blah-blah blah) Still, I’ll be staying here when I come back through Berlin.

A note on prices in Berlin. I’ve been comfortably getting by on 5 euro a day for food and drinks if I choose not to have a beer. That will blow the budget. For about 5 Euro you can stop by a grocery store get some fruit and yogurt and a bottle of water for breakfast (1.5eur), stop at a food stand for some kind of “wurst” – try the Currywurst – (1-2eur) for lunch and then find a hearty Doner Kebap (2.5eur) for dinner. There is no reason anyone should go broke or hungry while you’re here. Of course, you can spend as much as you’d like on food and drinks. I’ve chosen the budget route which allows me to spend some money on the sights.

I’ve chosen to skip some of the major ones. The TV tower just a few blocks away is 8.5eur for a ride to the top. That, in my opinion, is too much for an elevator ride. I’m sure the view is great but I’ll check a postcard for that. The museums on Museuminsel (Museum Island) just down the street are well worth the money if you are interested in Greek or Egyptian antiquity. Although I have no capacity to remember the names or dates of the major figures in any civilization I do enjoy seeing the progression of art and skill through the ages. They have an English audio tour available, which is helpful since nearly all the placards are only in German. However this does mean that you are subject to the artistic interpretation of the narrator. I found her descriptions of some of the sculptures to be way over the top. Such as “you’ll find this figure with her attentive eyes and regal posture absolutely straining against her robes as if poised for action!” Maybe I punched in the wrong number, but the sculpture I saw was a figure, sitting, hands over closed robe, open eyed, and calm. It was an excellent piece, but I was under no impression it was about to hop up and order a pyramid built.

With its great art and antiques Berlin also has its past to consider. It does so tastefully and with humility. I visited the “Topography of Terror” memorial which chronicles the Nazi reign of atrocities from 1933 when Hitler sized power to the eventual prosecution or execution of their many officers. There are many lessons here for citizens of any country. Get the audio tour and listen to the whole thing.

Like I’d mentioned in the last post the wall is down but not forgotten. There are several memorials: Checkpoint Charlie (the American checkpoint in West Berlin), A section of wall near the Brandenburg Gate, another section of the wall at Potzdamer Platz, and finally all the concrete, asphalt, brickwork, etc. that the wall used to live on has been replaced with memorial markers so that as you’re walking you know where it stood for those 28 years.

There are many more exhibits, memorials, museums, and attractions that I had neither time nor money to see. Plan to spend at least a week there to appreciate it.

I’m off to Paris now and will actually (hopefully) be there at the time of this post. My friend Thibault has offered me a place to stay and is willing to show me a French time. I seriously doubt that my high school French will do me any good. I’ve got the basics, but anything more advanced than “may I use the bathroom” will get me in trouble. There’s universal sign language for that anyway (enter: “the pee-pee dance”). So it will be great to have a guide.

Update on the Paris journey: I went to the ticket office in Berlin’s main station to get my reservations for the trains to Paris. Yes, you need reservations and they cost money. During the journey from Essen to Berlin I was playing a bit of musical chairs as people with actual assigned seats showed up at the different stops. I only had to move twice but I was always waiting for someone to tap me. Like when you “upgrade” your own seats at a concert, hoping the people that actually paid for those front row seats aren’t just stuck in traffic.

Anyway, so the ticket lady gives me a reservation for the first train Berlin to Koln (pronounced like cologne) and tells me that she can’t make me a reservation on the Koln to Paris leg. “Just talk to the conductor” she says. “OK, I’ll do that” and everything is great. Nice train, first class, little monitors, and food service. When I get to Koln I find the ticket director and show him my Eurail pass and tell him what I was told. “This pass is only valid with reservation, and this train is full, go talk to the ticket center” he says. “OK, I’ll do that”

I got the last reservation in the class for my pass… I’m still going to Paris today I’ll just arrive a little later.

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Filed under Europe, France, Germany, Round The World, Travel

Walls

“Ich bin ein Berliner” [I am a citizen of Berlin] was said by John F. Kennedy in 1963 as a moral boost to the West Berliners and as an affront to the Soviets who had just constructed the Berlin wall. Separating East from West.

From his speech:
“Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’…All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!'”

Then after September 11th, 2001 the French newspaper “Le Monde” echoed that sentiment. Their headline on September 12th read “Nous sommes tous Américains” [We are all Americans].

I’ve made my way from Essen to Berlin to find an amazing city. With a population of roughly 4 Million people and who knows how many tourists it never feels crowded here. I’d read reports of rudeness like you’d find in New York, and have seen none. Absolutely everyone I’ve dealt with here has been helpful and, at the very least, pleasant. From the DMV-like attendants at the Die Bahn information stations to the little old lady that picked up the jacket I dropped while walking through a park in Potsdam. I believe she was telling me I would be very cold soon if I didn’t have that jacket, or something else. It went on for a little while. I just waited for the pause and said “danke schon” smiling back.

After arriving at my hotel and venturing out on a walk the next day I realized I was staying in East Berlin. I had no idea. I just followed the instructions to get to my hostel and didn’t give it a second thought. Other than a line in every bit of pavement that used to be home to the wall and some other memorials there is no sign that this city was divided for 28 years.

There is bustling commerce everywhere, U-bahn and S-bahn to everywhere, tourists, everywhere…

I noted those two quotes at the beginning of this post for a reason. While I found no Berlin wall, I found another wall.

I lost my passport at the Love Parade a few days back. Don’t freak out, I’ve got a backup. I know this about myself, I lose things. So I do my best to have a backup plan or an idea of what would be involved in replacing them. There are many reasons for having a second passport: having a real passport in your pocket when a Hostel asks to hold one during your stay, visiting Israel and being able to then visit Syria, or, you know, dropping it somewhere amidst a mass of people.

I waited to deal with it until I got to Berlin because I knew we had a full embassy here. So I went to visit my embassy and found giant concrete barricades blocking all the streets approaching it. I walked up to the guard booth and when I attempted to open the door the guard made a signal as if he wanted me to show him a pass. Eventually another guard came to the door and asked what I wanted. “American Citizen, lost passport” I said. To which he responded by handing me a small white piece of paper with an address and an underground stop on it. It was the address for the US Consulate somewhere else in Berlin. I thanked him and walked away. I walked past the walls blocking anything bigger than a pedestrian or a bicycle from approaching and made my way to the train station.

I’m pointing out the barricades because I’ve passed a number of other embassies during my walks. They don’t have them and I really don’t like that my country needs them.

To summarize… I found the consulate about 12:30 and they were closed (8:30am-12pm) so I had to come back this morning. This time I knew the way and was happy to have another cold-fried-egg-with-ham-on-baguette thingy at the stop for the consulate. I entered, filled out paperwork, took pictures, paid money, and will have my passport in about 10 days. I just have to be back here in Berlin to pick it up at some point. Not a problem, it’s centrally located. Now I’m working on what to do with the time in between.

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Filed under Europe, Germany, Round The World, Travel

Love Parade 2007

What do you get when you combine 1.2million people crowding a city of 500,000 to dance and party? Well in Germany it’s called the Love Parade and it is truly something to behold.

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I woke around 9:30 am to get some breakfast and noticed that another of the bunks in the 5-bed dorm I was staying in was filled. Sometime after breakfast we introduced ourselves, his name was Juan Jose (Juan-Jo for short) and he had come in from Madrid for the Parade with a couple of friends. Later he invited me to join the three of them and get some lunch before heading down to the parade. They wore matching red shirts with a white bull on the front, representing the part of Spain they were from, and all three were incredibly nice guys.

We drank a little before heading down to the parade. Some whiskey and coke and a Corona with a Doner Kebab. We didn’t see throngs of people heading for the stations so we thought maybe it was slow to start. This is the first year the Love Parade has been anywhere outside of Berlin since it began in the 90’s.

After boarding the U-bahn towards BerlinerPlatz we discovered that we were just further out than the rest of the party goers. The next stop on the line opened to the cheers of people packed into the terminal and 30seconds later the train was overflowing. Two stops further and the cheering crowd poured out of the train and we followed. Exiting the station we could hear the music and the horizon was full of people as far as you could see.

We wandered about, taking in the spectacle and then dived in to the center. I started taking pictures and people started jumping in front of the camera and grabbing their friends. What’s funny is almost always after they asked for a card showing where they could see the picture. It’s funny because a few years back I ran a nightlife website for Portland clubs (R.I.P. PDXCLUBPIX) and that’s exactly what we’d do. Snap a picture and hand out a card. I had cards printed up for an easy way to point people to this site before I left so I handed some of those out. To those of you that thought I was shooting for a magazine or online publication, sorry, I’m just a traveler, but like I promised you can see your pictures by clicking HERE.

Everyone I talked to that day was friendly and happy to be there. We stayed and danced and drank until the wee hours and then headed back to the hostel for some short sleep before our respective departures the next morning. Thanks again to my new Spanish friends for letting a goofy American tag along!

Pictures: Love Parade 2007 set on Flickr.com

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Filed under Adventure, Europe, Germany, Round The World

Learning Curve

You must understand by now that my misadventures are my adventures. Ending up in the wrong place is often as interesting as ending up in the right place. Sometimes more.

So with that said… I find myself at an AOL Kiosk in an American themed bar/resturant next to my indoor soccerplex-hostel. Country music on the stereo and belt buckles and cowboy hats on the staff, including a giant backdrop of Monument Valley behind what I imagine would be the dancefloor on a busier night….

But getting here is the story.

Leaving Antwerp was my first use of the Eurail pass I bought. 3 months unlimited rail travel throughout 18 countries in Europe. After validating the ticket at Antwerp Central I recieved an itinnerary consisting of 4 train changes to get to Essen Germany. It should have taken about 4 hours… There was another option that would have arrived there later but with less train changes (and the insidious “suppliment”: extra money for better trains)

In the end both would have arrived about the same time.

I was dozing in and out of conciousness on the first 45 minute leg and phazed in at one point right around the time that we stopped at a station. We’d been traveling about 40 minutes at the time and other people were getting off so I switched into lemming-mode and got off as well.

After the train pulled away the sign on the station was revealed. At that point I realized I had made a mistake. The sign read “Essen.” There is an Essen in Belgium also, just before the stop I wanted.

An agent happened to be standing on the opposite side of the tracks facing me. “Rosendaal?” I said, pointing in the direction the train had just gone. He nodded in reply.
“Oops.” I said with a smile. He was able to print me another series of connections to get to Essen (Germany) and I went back to the platform to wait the 50 minutes for the next train.

Mistake #2

So after the first goof I had an hour to study the train schedule and, although it was in Dutch, it was making sense. My guesses prooved correct for the next two changes.
Until Venlo.

Upon arriving at Venlo I turtled my way over to platform 3b where the train was waiting (changing platforms requires that you go down a flight of stairs, through a tunnel and up a flight of stairs). It was early and the doors were open so I got on board.

The train started moving early. “Do they leave early?” I thought to myself as we pulled away from the station. As we passed the first stop I recognized the name.

Getting all my gear together and through the doors in my way didn’t happen in time and I was still heading in the direction I’d just come from. Oops.

I was able to hop the next Eastbound at the following stop and get back to Venlo, where I waited for the next version of the train I’d missed. During this time I realized I had entered a new country. Not because of any change in the people or architecture, but because the sound of the dominant language had changed. The more gutteral sounds of German were everywhere.

Dutch and German sound similar. I’m told by a Belgian that when the English came to Belgium they heard the language and thought it was German (or Deütch) which was then softened in the telling to “Dutch.” Also now with the announcement there was a very helpful English translation which was never present in Belgium.

Arriving in Essen (the right one) I was tired, hungry, and done with hefting my bags around. I hunted for the busses the info booth told me would be needed to get to my destination. After walking around for a little while I decided on a cab with a very nice Iranian exile for the driver. All the streets are closed for the Love Parade tomorrow so we had to take the long way…

Love Parade = up to 1,000,000 people filling the streets to enjoy dance music from DJs on floats. Google it. It should be interesting.

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Filed under Adventure, Europe, Round The World, Travel

Pictures so far – Part II

Sorry for the delay in getting this second batch of pictures up. I’m always looking to improve so any critiques are welcome.

All pictures are posted on my flicker page:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/digiboom

United States:

Saturday In The Park 2007 – Sioux City, Iowa

RAGBRAI 2007

Plymouth County Fair

Hannibal, Missouri

Wild Turkey Distillery – Lexington, Kentucky

Buffalo Trace Distillery – Lexington, Kentucky

National Corvette Museum – Bowling Green, Kentucky

Charleston, South Carolina

Across the Atlantic:

Freighter Travel

Europe:

Belgium – Antwerp (partial)

I’m off to Essen, Germany in the morning. Gonna give this Eurail thing a go.

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Filed under Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Photography, Round The World, Travel, United States

Beer, Chocolate, and Waffles

60 days… 11,000 miles… I am finally in Europe. I love Europe. For its small cars, its strange boxed fluids, for the myriad of languages (that I do not understand) heard in every corner and many, many other things.

We arrived in port on the 21st at about 1pm. I spent the morning consolidating the contents of the small duffel into the big backpack. After visiting with the immigration officers that came aboard around and showing them my passport, Eurail pass, and proof that I wasn’t broke, I was welcomed to Belgium.

I was able to call Yves, my host, from the ship and arrange for a time to meet at the Antwerp Central station.

30 minutes by cab and 41Euro later I was at the station. The timing was great and Yves walked up just a few minutes after I arrived.

Yves is an amazing and generous host, I can’t imagine a luckier turn of events than those that put me into contact with him. The first night he made me a traditional Belgian dinner complete with Belgian beer and then took me on a walking tour of the city center. Along the way we stopped into several pubs to sample more of the tasty famous ales.

There is no better way to see a place, especially a very old place, than with a local that truly enjoys it.

The next day I ventured out on my own. When exploring a city for the first time I tend to walk more than anything else. It gives you a street level view of many things and situations you would never see if you hopped on the underground and went directly to your destination. By virtue of my uncanny ability to head in the wrong direction I completely botched the directions Yves gave me and went for a very long walk. Instead of the 20 minutes it should have taken me to get to the Central Station I discovered a route that took me a little over 2 hours, which is absolutely fine by me! We figured out later that night that I probably logged somewhere in the range of 5 or 6 miles for the day.

Even though the weather has been overcast and wet, it is still a beautiful place. I’m incredibly happy to not be able to read the signs or the menus or understand what anyone says to me – until I make my quizzical “I’m sorry?” at which point they deftly switch languages to English.

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Filed under Belgium, Europe, Round The World