Three fabulous days in Portugal

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Porto, Portugal

Just a few weeks after my trips to London and Chiemsee, it was time to get out the Ryanair-approved overnight bag once more and prepare for a trip to see a good friend in Porto. She moved there for an overseas university semester, and was always guaranteed a visit from me. It wasn’t the best season to be skipping over to the usually-warm Portugal but I was sure we’d make the most of it.

The first day we were incredibly lucky with the weather – the sun was shining and the locals appeared to be out and about taking advantage of what they thought might be the last day like this for a while. We wandered the markets by the river, caught the bus to the beach and took in the scenery, and had ice cream on the docks before taking a cable car up to the top of the bridge for a brilliant view of the city.

Porto centre, on the docks

Porto centre, on the docks

Walking into town from the beach - definitely need to visit again in summer!

Walking into town from the beach – definitely need to visit again in summer!

The beach near Porto... so beautiful

The beach near Porto… so beautiful

From the churches to the train stations and the winding streets, Porto is every bit as beautiful as I imagined – a stop here for a glass of port and a stop there for some tapas made the day a wonderful one. We finished it off by heading to the Estadio do Dragao to watch Porto FC in action against Nacional. It wasn’t a massive crowd but was every bit the European football match full of great supporters you’d expect.

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The next day the rain came, and as a result we abandoned plans to go to Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal, and went for Braga instead. It was pouring from the heavens by the time our train arrived and we had to run for the nearest café for the next couple of hours. I ordered a hot chocolate and the waitress knew little English, and signalled to me a spoon. I answered yes, and apparently in Portugal this means it’s a hot chocolate mousse rather than a hot chocolate drink. And a delightful one at that.

We walked around Braga as the sun poked through the clouds and it was every bit as beautiful as Porto and completely deserted because of the weather.

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Over to the next day, the rain was falling hard – apparently this is the case in Porto for most of the winter – and so we decided port tasting would be a great wet-weather activity.

We chose a tour at Calems for 5 euro and as it didn’t start for three hours we got considerably tipsy at a tavern nearby on port-sangria. The tapas were equally delicious – by now I was seriously in love with the food, which is so cheap and offering such a big range – and it was turning out to be a very affordable holiday as a result. We had been told about the Portuguese music ‘Fado’ and heard of some tourist spots to head to catch some. But in our small tavern, the head waitress was singing it the way the locals do – spontaneously while her friends joined in. As nighttime came around we went to the hostel I was staying at – called Rivoli and cinema-themed – and made pizza and played Wii. It was a great three days, I felt like I had seen everything necessary in the city and there were enough wet-weather activities to make the terrible weather ok.

Our view from lunch on the last day - raining but spectacular all the same!

Our view from lunch on the last day – raining but spectacular all the same!

Coming back, I was aware of how busy things will become in the lead-up to Christmas. There are trips to Liverpool, Paris and Finland planned before we embark on South Africa and a free weekend will be hard to come by now. But Portugal was so relaxing, I feel prepared for everything that is to come.

Falling in love with a city once, twice, three times and maybe more

Where I waited every day to take the ferry to work in Sydney - bliss.

Where I waited every day to take the ferry to work in Sydney – bliss.

When I moved to Sydney it took me one day to fall in love with the city. I visited a flat and agreed to rent it – it was a steal in the quiet expensive area of Neutral Bay for $160 a week – and we were advised that the best way into the centre was to take the ferry. We walked 5 minutes, and waited at the beautiful harbour, marvelling at the small and quaint park behind us and the sweet breakfast café on the wharf. When we took to the ferry, it drove through all the sailboats and yachts and turned the corner to a picturesque site of Sydney with the Opera House and Bridge in full view. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as it pulled into the Circular Quay, a place where people had travelled for days just to take a picture. This was a place I knew I would love living in.

Fast forward two years and I was excited to be leaving. The sheen had worn off, the love had gone a long time ago and I hadn’t yet faced it until that point, and as I packed my final things and thought about the good times I couldn’t wait to start a new chapter elsewhere.

London was a different story. It took me about eight months to fall in love with it, and when it finally happened, it was for much more than just the aesthetics. I had allowed an outside influence affect me and my feelings towards this brilliant city in the beginning, and when I finally got rid of it I felt freed and like this place could be my home for a long time. London went from being unhealthy for my confidence to being the perfect medicine for it within weeks. It taught me that the company you keep has a big hand in making a city great. When I had to leave, and not by my own choice at first, I really didn’t want to.

London - the city where you work hard and play harder.

London – never get tired of this city.

Next came Frankfurt, and although the German skyline-capital was much like Sydney with the immediate love factor, it was for much more grown-up reasons that I developed such a strong affinity with this place so quickly. It provided a future, somewhere to find more permanent friendships, and a place that would be affordable and enjoyable to live in. It was the first time I pictured having children in a city and it put me on a path where I felt like I was no longer a carefree kid but someone who wanted to build a long-term future with someone else.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out for long with Frankfurt – only 10 months or so – though I hope we are reunited again someday. It turns out that this whole growing up thing, and growing with someone, means you have to make sacrifices that don’t fulfil just your own needs anymore.

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Frankfurt: I miss you.

So here I am in Stuttgart. It isn’t quite love yet, just a strong like, though we’ve had our ups and downs. I am dealing with it’s flaws, and the differences it and I have. It’s also dealing with some of my flaws it would seem, forcing me to become more a part of German culture and adjust my own way of living from being an expat to ever so slowly becoming a local.

Perhaps it’s more like the slow-moving type of relationship where things blossom in a deeper way and can’t be reversed so easily. As I drove to work the other day, I crossed one of the bridges in Stuttgart central and caught a glimpse of the vineyards in my rear view mirror. It was one of the those moments that made that ‘strong like’ a little bit stronger. Who knows, maybe this will be The One after all?

Rekindling my love affair with London

 

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After feeling slightly more settled in my jobs and Stuttgart, RZ and I decided it was time for a holiday. With his birthday coming up London seemed the perfect place to go – the first visit for him and a return to the place that used to be called home for myself.

Having lived there for two years, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about coming back as a tourist. Would I miss it too much and become unsettled in my German bubble? Would I be reminded of the things I didn’t like about the place, the things that made it feel like a temporary home rather than a permanent one? The end result was somewhat mixed. I loved seeing my friends again and it made me miss being there a lot, and I felt quite sad on the last night knowing we were going home. But after a few trips on the tube in peak hour and realising how much my body is not used to hangovers on the back of too many jagerbombs and bottles of wine, I was pleased to get back to a place where a cocktail with dinner is standard on a night out rather than a bottle of cheap vodka and there’s always a seat on the train home.

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The castle at Tower Hill with the poppy memorial – so beautiful

Living in London was a fantastic party for me, but the party was always going to end. A lot like many of the parties we had in London, this trip felt like the end of the night where only your good friends are left reminiscing over what happened and who was the most ridiculous, drinking the last of the alcohol and pushing thoughts of tomorrow to the back of your mind. I loved it, and knowing that I can now enjoy this place whenever I like is a lovely feeling without having to pay the exorbitant rental prices and work 15 hour days.

We took a whole day out of our itinerary for shopping at places like Carnaby Street and we needed it!

We took a whole day out of our itinerary for shopping at places like Carnaby Street and we needed it!

For those of you who might be considering visiting London for a weekend, it is certainly doable, and on a budget as we found (apart from one extravagant night to celebrate our 3 year anniversary). But when you’re not a local, this can be difficult. Some things I found –

  • There’s an online oyster card you can buy that covers 7 zones and costs £20 a day. Unless you’re planning on going all over outer-London –I’m talking an hour to an hour and a half each way – don’t buy it. You can buy an oyster card at the station for a small deposit which you get back, and it caps at £8.40 in the first two zones each day making it slightly cheaper than a day ticket.
  • There’s a great site – afternoontea.co.uk – which offers amazing deals on afternoon tea. We chose the Harlequin restaurant and it was fantastic, the service and the all-you-can-eat macaroons were worth£20 per person.

A delightful afternoon tea!

  • If you want the novelty of the open top bus tour do it, but for the price of a daily oyster card –£8.40 – you can see the same things by foot in two days. The first day we went to London Bridge, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Tower Hill, Covent Garden and Trafalga Square, Big Ben, the Queen’s Guards, and walked around Waterloo. The second day we walked around Hyde Park and saw Buckingham Palace as well as Harrod’s. When you see the prices for the buses it works out a lot more expensive!
  • If you have a day trip somewhere and it’s in the summer, you can’t go past Brighton. It’s £15 for a return ticket if you book a couple of weeks in advance, and just walking around the laneways, the Pavillion, and having Pims on the beach is so very English. We also got a fantastic roast at The Pond for £12. It’s cheap and will fulfill many of your wishes on a trip to London!
Beautiful Brighton

Beautiful Brighton.

  • When you’re looking for trips and things to do, make sure you check out the English Groupon. They have trips to Bath and Stonehenge for half price on there, as well as boat tours in the Thames.
  • If you spend an afternoon at one of London’s markets you will find so many treasures and the food is one of a kind. I love the Spitalfields markets as well as Portobello. If you go to Borough market it will make for a brilliant few hours and you can put together a picnic for later that’s far cheaper than what’s on offer at many of London’s restaurants.
  • Lastly, do your research on the internet for prices on London’s musicals. I got 2 tickets to Jersey Boys for £20 each through Love Theatre and although we were at the back we could see everything really well. You can also wait until you get to London and check the ticket shops at Covent Garden which always have sales.
A great night out for our anniversary with only minimal translating for RZ when they spoke gangster :p

A great night out for our anniversary with only minimal translating for RZ when they spoke gangster :p

When Learning a Language Gets Interesting

Learning a language is a funny thing – you can get a word right in the sense that it is correct, but in the context of a specific culture it can mean something so different than you intended. Before moving to Germany I had never really thought about the words I use in different situations and how they could translate into other cultures. When practicing my German with a local friend, I said ‘ich habe eier’ and she burst out laughing because apparently eggs in this country can also mean balls and I just said that I had some.

Equally, finding out that the German equivalent of the English word for intercourse – Geschlechtsverkehr – literally means ‘gender traffic’ made for a particularly interesting German class a few weeks ago.

I never set out to be a language teacher myself, but the more I teach the more I enjoy it, and the subtle confusions over translations are definitely part of the fun side of learning a new language. Here’s some recent moments that have made my classes a lot more interesting:

  • Applying for a job as a scent tester (students had to pick the worst job in the world): a student wrote ‘I like to go to the gym and smell the fat boys and girls when they exercise.’
  • The same student confused ‘how to get over a cold’ with ‘how to get a cold’ – his advice for getting over it? ‘I take off my clothes and throw them in the box, then I run in my street naked in winter.’ It took us a minute to work out he got it wrong and didn’t have a weird method of dealing with sickness.
  • A student trying to politely start a meeting when everyone is talking. His attempt – ‘let’s get it on’. Er… not appropriate in that situation.
  • The constant use of ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ when Germans are speaking about friends. It made me laugh for the first time when my actual boyfriend asked how dinner with my other boyfriend was. Today another student, who has a wife, told me about his holiday with his boyfriend.
  • A student telling me his colleague couldn’t come to class because he was working on an erection for the day. The erection of a building, obviously.
  • Trying to explain to students that winky-smileys are not ok to send to people you’re not dating.
  • Of my 10 groups of students, at least 8 found it hilarious that to iron means getting the creases out of your clothes. Why? Because Iron Man. Yes he saves the world, but he does it with a perfectly pressed suit for a reason!
  • I just had a student tell me he wants to go to Australia to make some dirty parties. He meant he wanted to go to some cool parties… I wonder if someone said dirty to him one day and he asked what it meant, and they just responded with ‘it’s something cool’.
  • A week before the World Cup final my students had to say 5 defining years in their lives. One student had every year related to Germany’s World Cup triumphs apart from his marriage (which was down the bottom), and made sure he included 2014 as he was so sure they’d win it again.
  • I was teaching superlatives and asked a student who the most attractive person he had ever seen was. I was expecting a celebrity but instead he said, ‘you, (the other girls in the room) and my girlfriend are all the best’. He got some serious brownie points that day!

Taking To The German Wilderness – A Camping Trip in Chiemsee

It has taken me quite a while to get back into the blogging routine – with two new jobs starting, I have hardly had time to think about anything apart from the classes the next day, which footballer is going where and sleep. But just before my birthday, as I prepared for a girls trip to Budapest to celebrate with a fellow June 27th-er and began my first week teaching at separate companies along with my journalism job, I came up with an ambitious plan to spend a weekend in Austria with my boyfriend.

To start with we found a fantastic campsite on the edge of a lake that looked absolutely perfect; and only 3 or so hours away from Stuttgart. But as the weekend drew closer, the weather was sending out serious warning signs and the forecast wasn’t in our favour. Our tent was supposed to be waterproof, but I wasn’t 100% trusting of ebay’s guarantee, so I searched the entire southern region of Germany, the north of Switzerland, the east of France and the west of Austria, going all the way up to Czech Republic, for somewhere, anywhere!, that gave us hope of a sunny day.

And of all the places Chiemsee appeared to be the kindest weather-wise. In worst case scenario we figured we could visit Ludwig’s palace on the Herr Island and drive home early if our tent rained on us. So we drove to Bayern, hoped for the best and insisted we would have fun no matter what happened.

The rain came, but not as much as we had expected. It was just enough to spend a day in the palace, which was well worth it, and otherwise we were able to grill, relax on the lake and explore the area without much bother and only the occasional usage of an umbrella. Chiemsee surprised me – my research had failed to bring up the blue and picturesque scenery many of Austria’s lakes seemed to easily produce – but in real life it was just as amazing as any idyllic European getaway. Walking around the lake, there were beach bars and I felt like I could well have been at any beach getaway.

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The palace was equally stunning, with Ludwig spending more on it than his other two castles combined. He ran the country broke in the process and died under suspicious circumstances thereafter, and while this palace is still unfinished the rooms he did complete are exquisite. The only downside was not being able to take pictures, which we ignored until RZ was caught and called out by the tour guide ;).

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Nights spent grilling and making punch with vodka and lemons made for a fantastic camping experience. The people nearby were too happy to help with the little things we forgot and strawberries with melted chocolate one night for dessert topped off a perfect pre-birthday weekend for me.

On the final day we headed for one of the ski mountains, which had cable cars open for hikers and people looking to enjoy the sky-high views in the summer. We arrived feeling somewhat underdressed in our singlets while everyone had ski jackets on, and when we got to the top we realised why, as the temperature dropped about 10 degrees. Walking through the top of the mountains was a fantastic experience, with the peace and quiet only interrupted by the constant ringing of the bells around the roaming cows’ necks.

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After eating our picnic atop one of the rocks – with the cows watching us rather inquisitively as they constantly mounted each other (and oddly they were all female, leading to a discussion over whether female cows can be lesbians) – we headed back to Stuttgart. In the car the boyfriend was already on the phone to his friends planning a return for his birthday, with the usual trip to Oktoberfest off the list for a chance to see this little slice of paradise again.

Watching Germany Win the World Cup in Germany

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Sitting in a warm pub that made it’s own beer in the centre of the room, the big screens were aplenty and the German leis common amongst the patrons. The general consensus was clear; Netherlands would be one of the final’s competitors, and should Germany get a goal or two over Brazil, they would be able to face off with an old foe.

Things didn’t exactly pan out that way. In fact on both fronts that the Germans were expecting, it was the opposite outcome. Beating Brazil 7-1 brought with it a joy that didn’t last long as Argentina upped their defensive play to such a level that not even a rampant Netherlands side could get past them. Germany knew they were favourites to win the World Cup, they had all the ingredients necessary to take it out; and with that came a nagging feeling that it all might be too good to be true.

As the final came around, our area in Stuttgart turned into a patriot’s dream; flags, flowers in German colours, signs, cars beeping and people nodding to each other in excitement while covering themselves head to toe in Germany merchandise. At 5pm on Sunday, after much debate over where to watch it, we made the trek to the local beer garden only to find it was already full to the brim and people were filling the areas outside with no view of a screen.

We wandered around town trying to find a pub that might have a spare table for us – none would take reservations and many said they had to take their phones off the hook because they were ringing with requests so often – and finally we found a place setting up their outside chairs with a screen and got enough space to sit with a decent view. It was a small nightclub off the beaten track and as well as some people setting up a BBQ in front of it, a kebab (sorry, döner) shop down the road was ready to serve everyone dinner.

Fitting five of us onto three chairs wasn't easy!

Fitting five of us onto three chairs wasn’t easy!

This view was priceless, with all the pubs in the area full.

This view was priceless, with all the pubs in the area full.

The game itself went by incredibly slowly, with every German in the vicinity on the edge of their seats. I could feel my own boyfriend’s pounding heart throughout the entirety of extra time, who by now I was sitting on the lap of to make way for other friends to join us.

When the goal came the release of those feelings and the elation was short lived. Lionel Messi had a free kick and if anyone was going to step up and save their side from a final loss, he was surely the one you’d choose to have do it. The outside area of this usually pumping nightclub was stunned into silence. And then, within seconds, a sea of beer, high fives, sounds of fireworks and car horns were surrounding us and the roads became the scene of one massive party.

The main street in Stuttgart

The main street in Stuttgart

People dancing in front of cars

People dancing in front of cars

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Police blockades everywhere, but nobody minded

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People climbing on traffic lights to start chants

All singing the same song

All singing the same song

The rest of the night was a blur of dancing, running from fireworks, following the directions of cheerers from the tops of traffic lights and buildings, and so many flags. The police joined in, the traffic happily stopped for dancing strangers on the roads, and for one night everyone took part in the wonderful atmosphere, whether from their armchairs with their neighbours or on the streets in the centre of the city.

Sharing our lei - one went missing and we can't remember where

Sharing our lei – one went missing and we can’t remember where

The morning brought empty offices and those who did show up were in a mutual understanding that not much would be achieved. There would be celebrations in Berlin with the team and parades around the country, and while it all feels like a dream now, the flags still sit outside the apartments, and on the cars, just to remind us it really did happen.

One of the most wonderful things about winning the World Cup is that it takes more work than almost any other competition in the world. Germany came third in 2006 and 2010 in their pursuit of the trophy, but even in those last seconds of the 2014 final it looked like it might hang in the balance of penalties to get to football’s holy grail.

While for many of Europe’s fans Brazil’s World Cup is but a distant memory, Germans are going to be enjoying this tournament for a long time yet. And having moved to Europe to find football’s holy grail myself – starting in London and now ending up here – it’s something I won’t forget for a long time either.

World Cup Memories

Memories... one of the best nights of my life!

Memories… one of the best nights of my life!

Four years ago to the day I was in South Africa, having the experience of a lifetime and meeting people who would change life as I knew it. The 2010 World Cup was one of many travelling experiences I would have but it was also by far the best. Spending six weeks travelling across the country for the sake of football, and jumping over to Namibia and Botswana for a time as well, getting to know a country when it’s at it’s happiest and best – a particular achievement for South Africa considering the recent hardships they’ve been through – was something I’ll never forget.

Travelling to South Africa made me realise how much I wanted to live abroad, and upon meeting some English guys who asked what my plans were after the tournament, I immediately said I was moving to England – it was a decision that happened so fast and without any thought and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Naturally, when the final game was over in Johannesburg my mind turned to planning a trip to Brazil. But the last four years have brought so much change, and going from a carefree singleton with no job and a dream to travel to living with my boyfriend, setting up my own company and considering the possibility of starting a family, it would appear that life has made it much more difficult to drop everything for six weeks and let the wind take me to new and amazing places and people.

So the decision was made to sit this one out – to enjoy it in Europe for the first time, and in a country who are one of the favourites to win it – and I know it was the right one to make. Money is now going towards things like paying accountants and saving for a house. And with RZ currently finishing his thesis for his Masters, the thought of taking a big life-changing trip without him was something I didn’t want to do.

But when the first game began on Thursday night, as we sat in a small Mexican bar in the middle of Stuttgart, I really missed being there. I missed being able to witness the happiness and excitement in the streets, the sounds of horns and signing and the feeling that life itself really can be a big party. As the tournament continues I’m sure the interest in Germany will increase – we’re off tonight to the local beer garden to watch their first group match and I’ll definitely get a good taste of the World Cup atmosphere – but I couldn’t help but feel a longing deep down watching a news piece on the Copacabana beach last night that I’m missing something amazing.

Anyone considering travelling to a World Cup, even if you don’t like football – just do it. It was the best travelling experience I have ever had and though it cost a fortune and left me broke afterwards I don’t regret a thing. If it wasn’t for that trip I wouldn’t be the person I am now or in the place I am now. And while I’ve been happy to sit this one out thanks to life getting in the way, when 2018 rolls around and my boyfriend’s native Russia is hosting… just try and keep me away.

 

xx

A Wonderful, Relaxing, Hyggelig Time in Copenhagan

The Danish have a special word for the feeling of contentment and the experience of a good time – Hygge. If you mess with their hygge, you mess with the whole of Denmark and the entire country will fight to the death to protect their hyggely lifestyle and sense of being. That’s why the country is one of the most equal in the world in terms of minority and gender rights and that’s also why they saved 99.7% of their Jewish population when Hitler was desperately trying to send them to concentration camps. And after visiting Copenhagen for a long weekend, I can see why this country is so intent on preserving a state of mind which is so positive and has made them the happiest nation in the world, despite their abhorrent winter weather.

Walking through Copenhagen will lead you on a host of interesting trails, from the canals to the Hans Christian Andersen sights to the beautiful streets and the palace and parliament with horses always guarding out front. The weather was on our side as we arrived from rainy Berlin and quickly dropping our things at the Sleep in Heaven hostel, we headed out for the free walking tour at 11am, which leaves from the town square every day.

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Danish Parliament

Danish Parliament

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Markets in the town square

Markets in the town square

Our guide, who was a born-and-bred Dane, was the perfect person to show us through the sites from the second oldest theme park in the world, to the war sites with tales of Danish James Bonds and a Parliament standing tall against the Nazis, to the reasons behind the rivalries between the Nordic countries. Finishing near the Little Mermaid we wandered along the docks where every building had an artistic story behind it and music, food and festivals lit up the shoreline. By night we headed for the nightclub district and found bars to fulfil our need to dance and have jager shots. The prices weren’t cheap, but the happy hour deals made it affordable, and at around 3am we wandered home past the waterfront with a brightly lit boat that looked more like a castle from a fairytale.

The next day we headed for Christiana. Arriving at the train station we were a little confused; it looked a lot like the rest of Copenhagen and not the hippy town I had pictured. But after getting orientated and heading up the Church of our Saviour for a good view of the city – and catching a wedding while we were doing it – we found this place were there is a law unto itself and anything goes. Proclaimed the ‘green light district’, it’s no surprise that no photos were allowed to be taken inside the area. I did, however, get some good ones of the outside.

The church we climbed before heading into Christiana

The church we climbed before heading into Christiana

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The night brought a search for sushi, and after finding the Trivoli hotel was booked we headed for our area in Forum and found multiple places offering deals on our favourite Japanese fanfare. Of course, it was ridiculously expensive compared to Germany – in Berlin we had all-you-can-eat sushi for 13 euro. In Copenhagen? 20 euro for six pieces and a small drink.

I found that making a visit to the supermarket in the mornings helped to ease my cash flow to an extent; Copenhagen has a Lidl, which is a German supermarket well known for being cheap, and dropping in there for some water, fruit and baguettes to take along the way made the search for cheap food a lot easier throughout the day.

After another night out we had to check out by 11am and found Danish hotdogs to soothe our hangovers as we sat in the park in the sunshine. We questioned how people can afford to live in a country where tax is at least 50%, VAT is 25% and car taxes are 200% and then food is triple the price of Germany. But like our guide explained with the metaphor of a bumble bee, somehow Copenhagen makes it work even though the fat body and the little wings make it seem impossible to fly.

Copenhagen was my first taste of the Nordic countries and now I desperately want to see more. Luckily my mother is visiting in November and plans to do Norway and Sweden, and will likely be paying for me if I join her.

Denmark is were Lego was invented and the store is lots of fun even for grown ups!

Denmark is were Lego was invented and the store is lots of fun even for grown ups!

Watching the changing of the guards, worth doing as they're right in front of you

Watching the changing of the guards, worth doing as they’re right in front of you

Where Hans Christian Andersen lived, and coined the term 'to travel is to live'

Where Hans Christian Andersen lived, and coined the term ‘to travel is to live’

The little mermaid - a little overrated but I'm glad we saw it

The little mermaid – a little overrated but I’m glad we saw it

Berlin; not a town for the faint-hearted

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There’s been a slight amount of radio-silence over the last week as I’ve been away in Berlin, Copenhagen and sorting the beginning of two teaching jobs and making sure I actually have a working visa. Now, today is the first chance I’ve had to rest and recover from what has been a manic seven days, and a very successful seven days at that. I’m now the proud owner of German residency and after the hoops we’ve had to jump through to get this it’s quite a miracle; and having taught my first business English class on Tuesday it feels like everything is coming together.

Heading for Berlin last Wednesday, it would be the third time I have visited Germany’s capital and one of Europe’s top cities for art, nightlife and culture. The problem is though that the last two times I’ve been to this place I’ve left feeling worse for wear; the city has something about it that makes you forget the need to sleep and find solace in one of the many brilliant bars on offer. I love a good party and I love to go out late, but in the last year these habits have dwindled as I start to consider my health more and make plans for the future, as well as making friends with people who feel the same. But Berlin is like a bubble where the party will never stop and no matter how much you insist it won’t be a big night because you’ve got an early flight/want to do some sightseeing/want to make it for the free breakfast, somehow at 1am you’re looking for dinner and complaining that you can’t find any sushi (possibly happened on this trip).

So we went to Berlin to see Robbie Williams and thought we’d start the trip with a bang, attending the Alternative Berlin pub crawl on our first night. The bars they take you to are more interesting than what the usual pub crawl offers and after making friends with some Australians and visiting death metal, ping pong and upside-down (yep, this actually exists) establishments we ended up at a reggae club dancing for hours on end.

It got to 3am and felt like time to go home. But as we were walking through one of the best nightlife districts we couldn’t help but hear some fantastic music coming from one well-lit bar. Wandering in to see what it was all about, in what felt like minutes later we were still dancing as the sun was coming up through the windows. At about 6:30am we headed out for some of the finest currywurst and walked home to find our hostel friends getting ready for their day ahead.

Before this visit, I was in Berlin with a group of friends and my family for New Years Eve. We spent the night on a boat and New Years Day was mostly spent at McDonalds and the hotel club room with my parents, trying desperately to get over our hangover. The time before that, I was in Berlin on the back of a two week trip to Poland for the Euro football tournament. My voice was on it’s last ropes and as a result of a night out with the hostel staff it was completely gone for three days afterwards.

While I don’t think I could live in Berlin at this point in my life – I loved big-cities throughout my 20s, but as I edge closer to 30 I appreciate things like space and peace – to visit this place is like entering an alternate reality where night and day don’t exist, everyone is your best friend and art is all around you in every form. I’ll always love travelling to Berlin, though I think I’ll always need a day to recover when I return.

My favourite nightspots in Berlin:

Matrix – Great for if you want to spend the night in one place, the music is really good (mostly commercial) and there’s lots of rooms to mix it up. Expect a long wait in the queue and have your ID ready.

Yesterday Bar – Where the Alternative pub crawl starts, but it’s great to visit on it’s own as well – the cocktails are lovely and the decor is vintage and will keep you amused for hours.

Monster Ronson’s Karaoke Bar – One of my favourite things about Berlin is the multicultural nature of it, and there are certainly a number of karaoke bars that have a great atmosphere. Monster Ronson’s is the best I’ve been to, with booths galore and foosball and pool as well.

Berlin Warschauer Strasse U Bahn/S Bahn – One of the great things about Berlin is that you can just head for an area and wander around checking out any bar that takes your fancy. If you get off at this station and walk across the bridge (passing the view of the o2 arena) you’ll find countless bars behind a host of currywurst stands to provide breakfast when you’re done.

Boat parties – the summer brings a host of boat parties all over Germany and the prices are very decent and often include drinks. We spent New Years on a boat (this one) and it was perfect – 70 euro for all we could drink (with good quality ones on offer) and although it wasn’t exactly summer there are indoor areas and the music is always good. So if you’re visiting Berlin it pays to have a quick google to see if there’s any going on!

Learning to Predict the Weather

The last couple of weeks I have once again been hit by the phenomenon of springtime rain, a concept that has taken some getting used to since moving to continental Europe. In Australia it hardly ever rained as we were in a shocking drought during my second decade in the country; meanwhile in England, while the country holds a visual reputation of never ending rainy days, I found it to be more of a whimper than a full blown storm most of the time, resulting in constantly getting your umbrella out and putting it back in your bag.

Springtime in the south of Germany is like London’s rain on steroids – every morning as the sun comes up it buckets down, leaving me feeling quite glad that for these last few weeks at least I haven’t had to go out there on my way to work. Next week that all changes though unfortunately.

My boyfriend and I were woken up by the storm the other night, not quite understanding what it was at first. Some workers have been doing scaffolding on the side of our house and he automatically thought it was falling down with the loud banging noises jarring in our ears. I, on the other hand, had thoughts of the apocalypse in my head. which I put down to the vivid dreams I tend to have quite regularly. So we clutched hold of each other like two little children for about 5 seconds before realising that it was just a bit of thunder. Our ridiculous reactions made us laugh for quite some time.

On the flip side, it’s lovely to be living somewhere where the seasons can be so easily pigeonholed. Reading children’s books I never quite understood what they meant when they referred to the spring rain, the long hot nights that only happen in summer and the snowy winters that took them inside for the Christmas holiday. Germany has very set actions during each particular season – in the winter they celebrate the lead-up to Christmas and then spend the next three months riding out the cold with growing frustration until the first signs of spring peep through in March.

Then this constant rain, until a few days over 25 degrees start to mix in with the springtime glow. June will likely be as it was last year, bringing more of those hot days and allowing you to turn the fan on for the first time and buy ice-pops for extra relief. And July and August… that’s the time for getting away on a beach holiday (an all-inclusive one preferably if you’re really German).

I like how these things are becoming annual traditions for me, and are allowing me to gauge exactly how far I’ve gotten through the year. It allows more time for reflection and celebration of what you’ve achieved since the last time you were doing these things.

I fly out to Berlin today and then onto Copenhagen for the weekend and I’m hoping the rain will be at least a bit limited for us to see these beautiful cities. When I return, I’m hoping the June weather will have well and truly hit and rain is a distant thought in my mind as I rejoin the daily grind.

 

xx