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To Berlin We Go….

3rd December 2011

Soppy Moment Warning: Once we had finally figured out how to get my SIM card active, I sent Buddha a message to let him know my number in Germany. He replied around 1am Germany time, I saw it but was too tired to reply. About 5min later he sent another checking if I got the first. By now the jet lag and effectively kicked my butt and I was in no condition to reply. In all he sent 3 texts and tried to call me twice. It was kind of sweet that he wanted to reach me so badly.

Berlin Bound

To get to Berlin we were taking the subway to a meeting spot where we were meeting up with a rideshare. It makes traveling in Germany so much easier and cheaper using the rideshare website. As we waited for the train I sent Buddha a quick text saying I got his. He called me almost immediately and it was so good to talk to him, and he sounded thrilled to have reached me, but unfortunately the train pulled up at that moment…

Taking the train to the city center we found our rideshare. Cathleen had warned the lady that I was at the end of a world tour and had 2 big bags, she had assured Cathleen that there was space and she might not offer the 3rd seat just in case. Well turns out she had a tiny car that was already pretty chocka-block full and she had offered the 3rd seat. After much shifting and squeezing we managed to fit ourselves and the bags in and set off. The guy sitting in the back with me kept spreading out and eventually I was almost sitting on the door handle, all the time with my backpack in my lap. At the same time, our rather… eccentric (that seems like a safe word), used this down time of driving 2 hours to catch up on all her phone calls, without a headset.

I don’t think Cathleen and I have been happier to fold out of a car as we were when we reached our destination. It was just crazy, but makes for a funny story in hindsight and it only cost us 14 euro each, about a third of the price if we had taken the train all the way.

3 Little Pigs Hostel

We had been dropped off at the train station and it was just a short ride to our exit for the hostel. The train exit was at the beautiful old ruin, originally the station during WW2 I believe.

As we emerged two wizened old men asked us if we were going to “The Church”. We said no and looked a little confused. When we reached the hostel we realised it had been converted from an old convent and it still had the church up and running. Hahahahah it was rather amusing after we had stood and disagreed with the old fellas just moments before. 3 Little Pigs Hostel was rather impressive, but it was barely 11am and check in was only at 3pm. So after stowing our gear we headed out for the first half of the walking tour that Cathleen had chosen. Of course as we stepped outside it started raining.

Berlin had Bear statues everywhere. Reminded of the pigs we had all over Seattle, Washington in the states. I couldn’t resist getting a photo with at least one of them.

Heading for the Platz

Just down the way from the hostel was the new up and coming trendy area called Potsdamer Platz. With tons of restaurants and stores to choose from, it was also the site of the next Christmas Market. We decided to save that for later though.

Walking the Wall

I remember hearing about the Berlin Wall growing up, studying it in history class and watching on TV when it was finally torn down. I never thought I would be standing in the shadow of its remnants. It just made you wonder why, why and how politics so often destroys lives.

Started in 1961, the wall was built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and completely cut off West Berlin from East Germany and East Berlin. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German Reunification. The wall was torn down for the most part in 1990. During those almost 30yrs the wall tore apart families, friends and an entire country.

Part of the Wall Left as a Reminder

At this section of wall there was also a museum that gave full accounts of life during Nazi Germany, the camps and Hitler. It was a rather poignant reminder of that time and I was impressed that even though it was a time of shame in so many ways, there was no attempt to hide it.

Holocaust Memorial

As we followed the Walking Tour we came across one of the largest memorials I have ever seen, The Holocaust Memorial. Covering 4.6 acres it is covered with large stone stelae (slabs) numbering 2711. The stelae are of varying heights and arranged on a sloping field. According to Eisenman’s (the architect) project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. And it certainly does just that. Within the midsts of the stelae, especially on the grey cloudy day, the feeling is hauntingly eerie.

Gates

Continuing the walking tour we followed the East / West line towards the Brandenburge Gates, the ultimate symbol of German reunification.

We spent the next 2 hours gawking at spectacular architecture and looking for either a Christmas Market or coffee shop as it was raining and freezing!! The only market we found you had to pay to enter but just down the street was a coffee shop. So we huddled in there to get warm. Cathleen had hoped we would get more of the walking tour done but, after 11months of travel, sitting in a coffee shop and watching people go by seemed like a much better plan to me.

Hostel Room

Finally the time rolled round when we could check into the hostel and we hurried in that direction. Walking into our room was like walking into what a backpacker might consider 5 star. The room was huge with only 6 beds. The beds were large and comfy and clean and had HUGE pillows. After 4 hours of walking in the rain and being soaked almost to our skivvies, there was only one thing to do…NAP.

Potsdamer Platz Revisited

Around 6pm, with much difficulty, we rolled out of bed, rebundled against rain and cold and decided to head back to the Platz for the Christmas Market. I had my first bratwurst here and think I could have had 10. It was divine, especially with my mug of gluwein. My second gluwein mug is also one of my favorites, tall and slim with frosted glass.

Mug 2

Back at the hostel and in bed around 10pm, I fear I literally passed out and have no recollection of anything, only waking at 7am, as 2 male roommates returned after a rather successful night out… by the smell of them anyway.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Exploring Hamburg!

2nd December 2011

Why Germany in Winter

Many people asked me with a shocked look on their faces why in the hell I was going to Germany in the winter. My response consisted of FOUR things:

1 – Christmas Cookies
2 – Christmas Markets
3 – Gluwein
4 – Bratwurst

No one really does Christmas like the Germans and I couldn’t wait to get into the holiday spirit. Although on numerous occasions this proved a little difficult as the mammoth realizations that I would soon be ending this odyssey and that I had developed feelings for a guy from Nepal, began to weigh heavily on me. I am not ashamed to admit that I cracked on more than one…. ok five occasions, but my amazing friends Cathleen and Nadine were always there to support me.

Hamburg a Little Jet Lagged

After nearly giving Cathleen a heart attack that first morning by popping my head up from the floor and saying good morning, we started to plan our day.

Side Note: I have a history of changing sleeping positions. Growing up my mum would go to wake me up and find my feet on the pillow instead of my head. And when I find a bed too soft or after traveling for a long time, I often find the floor more comfortable. Strange but true.

Hendrik and Cathleen had ensured that I had the best options for breakfast, with rolls and meats and cheese and German granola WITH chocolate chunks… I thought I was in a 5 star hotel. You guys were great!! Although it did take 2 Germans and a South African/American to figure out the fancy coffee machine… was probably made in Switzerland (that’s our excuse).

Despite the lack of sleep and ever increasing jet lag Cathleen and I went to explore Hamburg, as we would be leaving to Berlin in the morning.

NOTE, culture shock is inevitable when leaving the embodiment of chaos that is Kathmandu and Nepal and arriving in German perfection and planning. Everyone was wearing conservative winter clothes and here I was in multi colored sweat shirt and scarf from Nepal (mainly because I had chucked all my others to fit in the new). I was easy to mark as a tourist. Oh well I guess I have to play the tourist at least once.

We walked past a statue of Otto Von Bismarck, if I remember correctly. Cathleen was surprised I had studied him in high school.

Why yes… after a quick google search this is in fact the most well known of the statues of Otto Von Bismarck, the statesman who unified the German States into a German Empire in the late 1800’s

Heading to a famous church with beautiful architecture we not only discovered it had been rented out for a function, we also discovered a bit of a nutter in a santa suit with a gorgeous German Shepherd (would it be just a Shepherd if it was in Germany??) and a rather large “elf”. He was, apparently, protesting the function, although we couldn’t really understand him, but his 7ft tall “Elf” in the trench coat was certainly a bit intimidating.

Protesting “Santa” and his “Elf”


The statue outside the church

Tea please
Since it was downright frigid, ok maybe not quite, but close enough to it, we decided to have tea and Cathleen knew just the spot. It could have come out of Diagon Alley and some other story book, as the place was tiny and situated between 2 large buildings.

Entrance to the Alley

It turned out what I thought was the entrance to the tea shop, was in fact the entrance to a hidden alley that dated back to 1718. The little shops brought back visions of an era long past.

Alley

The tea shop was at the end of the alley filled with sweet and tea and curio shops. It literally oozed Christmas from the decorations to the smell. There was even a chimney with a twist… literally!

Twisted!

Hamburg used to be a hub of trade for spices, cloth and other goods. These were transported on boats in the canals and the old storehouses still line the river. Makes for quite a stunning view.

Old Storehouses Become Trendy Lofts

Noting the previous photo and how narrow the canal is will give you a new appreciation of the barge drivers who manipulate them between each section.

Barge Ballet

Knowing how much I loved cooking, Cathleen surprised me with a visit to the Spice Museum, apparently the only one of its kind. It had spices of every kind from all over the world and the aromas were quite intoxicating, if I may say so. The entry ticket was a packet of fresh whole pepper corns, (just emptied them into my grinder this evening).

Christmas Market #1

Wandering around Hamburg was quite delightful but finally it was time for my first Christmas Market. We were off to meet Hendrik and some friends for Gluwein. Even though it was around 3pm on a Friday, it looked as if every other person had the same idea.

Christmas Market – Hamburg

This also meant my first encounter with Christmas Cookies!

Cookiessssssssssss!

And of course GLUWEIN!!! Gluwein is a spiced red wine that is served hot and is very yummy.

Cathleen and I enjoying Gluwein

Unlike many countries where you buy a drink in a disposable cup, here in Germany you buy your drink and pay an extra 2euros for the ceramic cup unique to that market or city. If you decide not to keep the mug then you get your 2euros back, however, if you are like me, you decide to keep it and make a collection for every Christmas market you go to… of course the reality of getting them home will be something I deal with at a later date.

Gluwein Mug 1

German SIM Cards

Heading “home” we picked up supplies for me to cook dinner as a thank you to Hendrik for putting us up or putting up with us, either way, BIG THANKS!! I made the Schmidt Family Spaghetti Bolognaise, always a hit.

After dinner we started the complicated process of trying to figure out how to set up my SIM card. In Germany there is no such thing as slipping it in and switching it on, nope you have to register on a website and then wait a few hours before its even active. But finally we had success and right before bed I sent Buddha a quick text saying that I missed him and here was my German number. He had replies to my email saying I had arrived safely with a very sweet message about how he had gone to Monkey Temple and even though the monkeys were happy to see him, they apparently missed me, so he said hello for me. So sweet, its already starting to feel so unreal…

Tomorrow it is off to Berlin!

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Hangovers, Temples and Diaries…

The day after…

Meeting Buddha for breakfast I realised he was as rough as I was. It seemed like such a good idea last night to have that second tongba. He took me to restaurant he often visited and we decided to sit up on the sun deck, another thing that seemed like a good idea until I was on the 4th flight of stairs and feeling like the room was beginning to spin. But we eventually made it to the top, barely. The sun was incredibly bright to our alcohol induced eye sensitivity. It was strange though it was like any hangover I had every experienced, I didn’t have a throbbing headache or anything like that. I just felt thick and slow, and decidedly… well… not very perky.

Raj and Yogi were meant to meet us too, but it appeared as if they were even rougher than us. So we just spent a couple of hours gingerly fiddling with our food and sipping on the nectar for hangovers, coffee.

When in Nepal, one should trek…maybe

After reaching a point where we could move a little better through the molasses of our hangover we headed to see if Raj was in his office, Mosaic Adventure Tour Company, http://www.trekntour.com/. Raj and Yogi were helping me plan my trip to Chitwan and Pokhara and possibly some trekking near Kathmandu.

The first words out of almost everyones lips are “Have you been trekking yet?”. It seemed to be the thing to do when you were in Nepal. After being on the road for over 10mths I wasn’t sure how keen I was to follow the crowd but figured I could manage a light trek at the very least.

Raj explained that I would be picked up from the hotel, my personal guide would meet me and we would begin a 2 day light trek. Day 1 would consist of at least 7hrs walking uphill and end at a local lodge.
Day 2 would only be 5hrs uphill and 2hrs reasonably flat and end at a different lodge.
Day 3 would have me return to Kathmandu and most likely pass out at a local massage parlor.

Ummmm sure, if that’s a light trek what the hell is a heavy trek???? Apparently its just more days. Raj was great though and I really appreciate him not sugar coating what the trek would consist of, but after a few guilt ridden moments thinking “when in Nepal one should trek”, but once those were over I decided after 10mths on the road, walking uphill for 7-10hrs was not my cup of tea. Just have to come back I guess.

Patan Temple

Buddha took me to Patan Temple in the old city of Kathmandu, an absolutely stunning example of old architecture and many of the work is done in wood that are hundreds of years old.

Patan Temple


Carvings


Carvings

I was in awe as we walked around the temples, about 12 in total in this complex. There is something so intensely peaceful about staring up at some of the carvings even in the midsts of so much going on around you.

carvings

Once again the people watching was excellent, one of my favorite views being a line of Nepali men in traditional hats, just sitting and talking.

retirement!

Lunch…Facebook style

We headed to Buddha’s friend’s restaurant for lunch. Formerly a waitress on the cruise ships with him, she has now opened a place by the name of Facebook, all traditional Nepalese food with some western variations when needed.

Once we finally made our way through the lunch hour traffic, which gives a whole new meaning to that term, we ordered some Thakali (also known as Dal Bat).

Lunch hour traffic

The thakali, rice with different pickles traditionally eaten by hand (the right hand), was delicious. But a little on the spicy side and I had to order a second banana lassi (yoghurt drink) to cover the burn.

Thakali

The diary drama is concluded!

While we ate I tried to call the 4 phone numbers I had for Biman airlines as I hadn’t given up on finding my diaries, even though EVERYONE said there was no hope. I finally got through to someone who gave me the number of someone else… As luck would have it that person actually answered and the conversation went something like this:
me – hi I was on flight 234 from Bangladesh to Kathmandu on sunday and I forgot my book.
Biman – huh, are you Nepali?
me – no no I was on the flight do you have lost and found?
Biman – what, are you nepali?
Thinking he was asking if I spoke Nepali, as surely my accent would give away the whole foreigner aspect, I handed the phone to Buddha
Buddha – spekaing in Nepali
Buddha hands the phone back saying the guy was speaking Hindu
me – hi lost and found, do you have books?
Biman – ahhh you are foreigner from Kuala Lumpur?
me – yes yes I flew from Kuala Lumpur
Biman – come after 4pm
me – do you have the books then
Biman – come after 4pm
and then the phone went dead.

Very strange, but hopefully that meant the books were there. Buddha offered to take me on his bike later. Back at the hotel I ran some errands and then we headed over to the airport.

I went upstairs following the signs to the door with Biman and knocked. There was no answer! Just as I was getting ready to say something completely inappropriate under my breath I tried the door, it was open. Right there on the desk were my diary and my dive logbook, I noticed a guy at the far end of the office, gave him a huge smile and said thanks, then literally skipped back down the stairs. Buddha was beyond surprised that I had proved him wrong, and I decided maybe Biman air might not be that bad after all.

Return to Monkey Temple

Feeling a lot more light hearted and relieved that I had managed to rescue my books from the lost and found of Biman Air, Buddha and I headed on his bike to feed the monkeys. Something that would become a regular past time for us. We stopped to buy the cookies and then realised we didn’t have his backpack. So I shuffled things around my bag and we emptied as many into it as would fit. With around 7packets left the only resort was to stuff them into every pocket we could find. The result was rather amusing:

cookies anyone????

Sim card

Before we headed to Chinese for dinner, we went to find me a sim card for my phone. As it turned out it was quite a mission, needing a copy of your passport and 2 ID photos. Luckily I still had ID photos left over from the visa and it wasn’t too hard to find a place to make a photocopy. I am not exactly sure why all the paperwork was needed, but oh well at least it was possible to get one.

Tomorrow morning I leave at 6am to go to Chitwan National Park. And so the adventures continue…

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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