Berlin, part 2.

East Side Gallery in Berlin

Here’s part 2. I should probably come up with a better introduction. It’s late.

Food: Veganz Berlin-Friedrichshain

Apart from the supermarket around the corner, where I bought pasta, spinach and pasta sauce for dinner, I was also addicted to Currywursts. I know, WHAT A TOURIST. What can I say? There was this really great stand nearby and I’m lazy.

When I wasn’t having either of those things for meals, I made my way to Veganz (yes, with a z), down the road from my toothbrush. I had the best dinner there. By this point, I had been craving for something healthy and their vegan bowls really hit the spot.

They’ve also got a deli downstairs where you can buy kaffee, juices, pre-packed salads and other vegan goodies. I enjoyed them all. Burp.

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Art: East Side Gallery

Just a heads up, this is not your typical indoor gallery. It’s outdoors. And was previously known as the Berlin Wall. Yes, that Berlin Wall. It’s madly profound statements like this, turning something once oppressive and divisive into art that continues to draw me to Berlin.

It blows my mind how they embrace their history.

I walked along this part of the Berlin Wall in continuous awe. I also walked along the wall in the rain with nothing but my coat and beanie. I’m hardcore like that.

What a silly thing to say.

Market: Sunday market in Mauerpark

Remember that friend who told me to “shut up and be cool”? Yeah, he told me about this market and boy am I glad I went. It was a little far out but it was completely worth it. I arrived at a park, where the stalls were arranged on one side of the park; and performers, musicians and 4 or 5 or 6 member bands played on the grassy part of the park. It felt like a festival, but no, that’s just your typical Sunday afternoon flea market in Berlin.

There were food stalls, craft stalls, hipster antique stalls, hipster clothing stalls, basically, anything and everything hipster you could ever want, could be found there. It was brilliant. I queued for the longest time to get a Currywurst with fries and chomped that down as I sat on the grass watching a band play some incredible music.

I then got a cup of gluwine. I made my way to the noisiest part of the park and found a seat. Gulping down my wine to stay warm, I watched Berliners karaoke. It was so much fun. Members of the audience would line up and tell the host what they wanted to sing. Only none of them just sang it, they performed the life out of these songs.

At the end of the evening, apart from letting the audience know he wasn’t going to be back next week but the week after, he also did this: “Look at the floor. Do you see a beer can or an empty cup? Pick it up. Now, take it to the nearest bin. Thank you.”

What a champ.

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This is how to karaoke in Berlin.

As I left the park after sunset, I heard some really good beats coming from one of the entrances to the park. Being on my own with no plans for the evening, I walked over to satisfy my curiosity. There was a guy with a saxophone, a microphone, and one of those paddle-y things that let you record and play your recording on loop. Strangers went up and performed with him, including the artist to a famous song called “fuck you stupid ex-boyfriend”.

It was incredible and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the day. I stayed till he stopped playing and thanked us for being such a great crowd. I danced till my feet hurt, till I was tired. I laughed. And I danced some more. With strangers and their children. At an entrance to a park. At night.

Protest: TTIP protest

What trip would be complete without a protest? To be honest, I slept in that day and by the time I got to the site of the protest, the beer trucks were packing up and so were the other 20 Currywurst trucks. Yup, Berliners know how to stage a protest alright.

I walked past the Brandenburg Gate and found groups of people just gathering and dancing to awesome beats in the park nearby. Police officers were present, eyeing them but not stopping them. I had no idea what I walked into until I asked a couple of friendly looking guys. I learned that they had taken a 10 hour bus ride from the south of Germany just to attend the protest and were going to hop on it again in a couple of hours.

I continued walking to the Victory Column and found the remnants of a stage and bright lights and fancy displays. It looked more like a party if you ask me.

A sign left behind from the protest. "Diversity is made by FREEDOM, NOT TTIP"

Getting around: Get a multi-day pass

Definitely get a weekly pass, or a three day pass. It saves you so much time getting around, Berlin is a huge place. I ended up paying way too much for train fares because I thought I wasn’t going to need a pass. How stupid.

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The Victory Monument lit up in the night. It was the Festival of Lights when I was there, so all the iconic buildings were decorated with fancy lights.

It’s been months since I made my trip to Berlin but it still feels like I was only there yesterday. I remember the Berlin air too vividly. I remember dancing till my feet hurt in Watergate (another club that actually let me in, YAY) as I watched the sun rise. I remember the many friends I made there. I remember the kisses and the smiles and the hugs. But most of all, I remember the music.

Oh my God, I remember the beats that vibrated through my bones.

That, I think, is what I miss most about Berlin.

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From Russia with Love: #4 Strolling about in St Petersburg

I spent a week in Russia and I fell in love with the country and its people. They remind me of the misunderstood big kid in class and I want to take my time sharing about my experience traveling there solo. I will be posting up a few short write ups about specific incidences and my thoughts about them and my understanding of the culture and the people. Post #4: Strolling about in St Petersburg.

I took the sleeper train from Moscow to St Petersburg and it was different from the previous one I had taken from Prague to Poland. I had reserved a bed in a wagon (as it’s called in Russia) filled with at least 50 other people. Thank you ear plug inventors. I’m debating if I should get an eye mask too, but I don’t want to look like a posh yuppity yup, if you know what I mean.

I arrived way too early and sat in the station for a couple of hours typing up a few posts while waiting for the sun to rise. I’ve become really good at finding places that will allow you to just sit there for hours having only ordered a cup of coffee. When it was time to move my butt, I headed for Apple Hostel, where I would spend my next 5 days. This was the first time in a long time that I had spent more than two and a half days in one place and it was such a treat to be able to take my time. I walked through countless parks on my first day out, enjoyed getting lost again, went into restaurants without prior research, it was great.

I enjoyed eating out as well because it was so much more affordable compared to Moscow. I had dumplings in Pelmenya, borsche and fancy dessert at Taste to Eat, veal with rice and more cake at the Market Place, and burgers and ice cream at Burger King, beef straganoff and brynzas in Brynza (where the alarm went off the moment we finished lunch) just to name a few. I ate, no I feasted like a queen. It was amazing.

I visited a few cathedrals as well. The two that really stood out to me were Kazan Cathedral and the Saviour on the Spilled Blood (great name). I loved Kazan Cathedral although I’m ashamed to say I didn’t take any pictures of it. In my defence, more than half of it was under renovation so the pictures would have been 70% scaffolding and 30% sky. It struck me how such a modern and urban city like St Petersburg had an Orthodox church right in its heart. The place was busy too. No, it wasn’t filled with tourists, but with locals, old and young. It was such a peaceful place too, completely silent, the sort of silence that feels like you’re being wrapped in a warm blanket. Not too far away, the cathedral called the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, was definitely a tourist attraction. I took pictures of this one because it was so beautiful but didn’t go in because I had to pay (I’d rather eat than look at the interiors of cathedrals, priorities, am I right?)

The one cathedral I did pay to go in was the first ever cathedral built in Saint Petersburg, the Peter and Paul Cathedral, in the Peter and Paul fortress, where Saint Petersburg was founded. I was, like the other buildings made for kings and queens, dripping in gold.

On my last night there, I decided to take one last stroll around the city, in all the bright lights. The view from the bridges were beautiful.

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I also stumbled across a group of fire breathers and fire throwers and fire tossers. Anything you could possibly do with fire without dying, they did. I told myself  I’d stay for 15 minutes and ended up staying for over an hour. I love watching performers who have fun performing. It was a very supportive community too, the fire people. It was a great end to my stay there.

From Russia with Love: #2 Eating Moscow with a side of Nicole

I spent a week in Russia and I fell in love with the country and its people. They remind me of the misunderstood big kid in class and I want to take my time to share about my solo travel experience there. I will be posting up a few short write ups about specific incidences and my thoughts about them and my understanding of the culture and the people. So here goes post #2: Feed me Russia!

After arriving in Vagabond Hostel (probably the cosiest hostel I’ve stayed at with the best showers), I decided to take a walk to the Red Square before finding some food to devour. The air was cool and as it was a Friday evening, the streets were filled with beautiful and tall Russians. Like, very tall. I’ve never felt so aware of my stunted growth before this.

Moscow’s bright lights made night look similar to day. Nothing about the night felt scary or dangerous, contrary to popular belief. The walk was lovely. I explored the grounds outside the Red Square and got a glimpse of St Basil lit up at night. I also walked through Alexander’s Garden and strolled past the Memorial for Unknown Soldiers. The night was beautiful and I had to stop myself from crying because it all seemed so surreal yet undoubtedly real. “I am actually here!!!”, I kept saying to myself with my inside voice, yet smiling like a goon on the outside.

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Mari Vanna

I headed to Mari Vanna for dinner, which, according to Trip Advisor, served really good home-cooked Russian cuisine. The entrance to the restaurant was rather obscure and the door didn’t seem to budge when I tried to open it. It was abruptly opened from the other side and there stood an angry looking young woman and a grumpy looking old man. I mumbled something about a table for 1 and she led me through another door into the cosy restaurant. “Here”, she said and I sat down obediently as she walked away without a trace of friendliness. “Maybe I did make a mistake”, I thought to myself.

I sat there for a while, with no menu at hand, noticing all the stylish people sitting around me. It was as though I was surrounded by models from the latest European Vogue, with just the most beautiful, chic and elegant people. (Damn my tired and acne ridden face, crappy hoodie and worn out sport shoes.) Then another waiter came over with an English menu with translations that were worded a little strange but mostly understandable. What I found interesting were the similarities between Central European and Russian cuisines. They both love meat and dumplings and drink a ton of kompot, which is a fruity drink that’s super tasty.

When the waiter came around (this time a cheerful guy, not the scary young woman) I asked him about certain items on the menu that didn’t have translations. He tried his best to explain things to me, bringing out stuff from the kitchen to show me and whipping out his phone to Wiki some items. It was an interesting interaction. I ended up ordering a salmon dish with a glass of kompot and cake to finish. By the end of the meal, I was stuffed and really happy.

My-My

The next day, I made a little effort to put some makeup on and dress a little better before I heading out for a free walking tour. For lunch, I went to MyMy (pronounced Moo Moo) as recommended by the guide. I didn’t know that it was a self-service chain restaurant so ordering was a little difficult. I ended up asking the girls in the queue behind me for help and they were nothing short of kind and tried to be as helpful as they could.

I settled for soup, cake and a drink called kvas, something the girls referred to as a non-alcoholic Russian beer (it tasted like sparkling honey water to me). As I was paying, the cashier noticed that I had not taken croutons for my soup. She quickly rectified this by producing a small saucer with croutons out of thin air and set it on my tray. “This, good in soup”, she said without the of a smile. “Speciba”, I replied with a giant grin.

Cafe Receptor

On my last day in Moscow, I wandered the streets with no plans and found myself in Cafe Receptor. I was greeted by super friendly staff and led to a table surrounded by hipster artwork and wooden panelled walls. The menu was filled with asian food like Korean soups and bimbimbap, Indian curries, Japanese sushi and a whole selection of teas to pick from.

While eating, I decided to learn a few phrases in Russian from a site I found and spent the next half an hour learning how to ask for the bill. “MOzhno chek, poZHAlusta?”, I repeated in my head a million times so that when I was done, I beamed at the waiter and said “Chek?” He, of course, looked at me like I was out of my mind. After repeating myself a few times, another waitress came over and now, even the lady at the next table was looking at me. “Bill please” I finally said, feeling well embarrassed at this point.

After paying, I went up to the waitress to ask her how it was pronounced. “Shot”, she replied. HOW ON EARTH IS “CHEK” PRONOUNCED AS “SHOT”?

I decided that the author of “Learn Useful Russian Phrases” was useless and walked out into the breezy afternoon.