From London to Berlin (with a few months in between)
You are going to need more than a bit of spare time to read this. Top up the coffee cup, get some canned food that wont go off and tell your friends and family you love them, you could be gone for a long time.
Ok so, as you all might have realised, I haven’t exactly being keeping up to date with my blogs. This is mainly due to the fact that I was getting bored with writing. Each post was rather large and I couldn’t bring myself to continue to write that much. The other option was to write less about each day but I felt that was doing a half assed job; My dad has been trying to teach me for a very long time. I think it has finally worn off on me somewhat. Another reason I wasn’t very enthusiastic about writing was that, well basically, I had stopped travelling. I wont spoil the story too much, but I wasn’t on the move each and every day doing something or going somewhere crazy or note worthy. Basically what I am going to try to do with this is sum up my last 2 months which is ironic because this is exactly what I said I wouldn’t do. I’m shortening what I write about each day but at the same time I am still going to write a lot. So here it goes….
I’m in London… I was staying at a hostel I had stayed at before called Clink87. It is in Kings Cross which is a nice part of town, quite central but right near a tube station that takes you anywhere and everywhere. The purpose of my stay in London was to use up a few days out side of the Schengen countries so that I could go back into Southern France for Christmas and New Year. I would need to get a visa of some sort as well so that I could travel more in Europe but I really could not be bothered doing that right then. It had been only a day or 2 since the Norwegians rejected me and I was over it (little did I know….) so I was happy just chilling in London for a bit before heading to Southern France for Christmas and New Year. The hostel was just a hostel I knew. Tim, Joel and I had stayed there last time and I didn’t think much of it but at least I knew where it was and what to expect from it.
Anyway, I stayed there for the full week before going flying to Nice. My days usually consisted of spending some time in the morning at the British library (which was just down the road) using their free internet as you had to pay at the hostel far too much. After using internet for a couple of hours, I would go walking for the afternoon. Didn’t matter the weather, I would just walk. I would look at the map and pick a destination, I would then put the map away and only look at it to make sure I hadn’t missed my stop yet. I loved it. That’s how you should get to know a city. People that take the Tube everywhere get to know The Tube, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park (the corner of it), Buckingham Palace, London Eye, St Pauls Cathedral, British Museum, 483 other museums, maybe Camden town (a cool market district which I might mention later) aaaaaand maybe a touristic English pub. When you walk everywhere, you actually hear some British accents, you see how the general population go about their business, you see the kind of street food they have, what kind of shops they like, the advertising that is popular, the smells, the sounds, the architecture, the nationalities that the place has and those other things the tourists miss. This is how I saw London and like it sooo much more this time around than last. When I finished my walking for the day (usually a couple of hours) I would go the the supermarket for food and cook at the hostel. The first few days I was buying all my food at pubs cos it was sooo damn cheap and good but I wasn’t really meeting as many people as I hoped and hostel kitchens are great places to do that. Dinner would range anything from a pre-made soup from Tescos (Woolies/Coles but better), to looking in Tescos “we’re going to throw this food out tomorrow” section which put all the items at about half price even though it was still fine, and make something out of that. That was the usual thing to do. The bar opened at 6:00. It was located in the basement of the hostel where the kitchen was as well. Every night was a special thing happening in the bar.
Monday was ‘Quiz Night’, Tuesday was ‘Cocktails and Karaoke’, Wednesday was Beer Pong, Thursday was.. never the same. They never found a constant thing to do I think. Or maybe I didn’t like it so I just ignored it completely. Friday was ‘Clinkism’ which meant absolutely nothing. It was Friday, that’s all. Saturday was ‘Lockin DJ’ so they had a DJ different from the ones they hired for throughout the week there. I didn’t notice a difference. And then Sunday was movie night. I met soo many people in that bar and had so many great times. The drinks were cheap, all tasted good, the bar staff became my friends, the people living at the hostel became my friends, the bouncers became my friends and even the DJ’s knew of me. The hostel and therefore the bar was full of mostly Frenchies. The stereotype of French people tends to be kind of right when you are in London. The whole idea that they are unfriendly, can’t speak English and generally snobbish people. I mean, obviously there are some that buck the trend (Julien, Virginie) but the ones in the bar were pretty consistent with that trend. So the first week I tended to hang out with the other 20% of the hostel, which were Aussies.
On the 23rdof December, I flew to Nice, got on a train and headed to Julien and Viginies place near Hyeres. That same day we drove to Marseilles to Virginies mothers house where we stayed the night. Christmas eve is often the biggest day for Europeans and that night they give all of their gifts to people. I had kind of failed on this part and only had something for Julien and Virginie which I had whipped up just a couple of days prior to leaving. It was a dartboard with a couple of pictures of Nicolas Sarkozy pinned onto it. They liked it. Julien wanted to play straight away. On boxing day we all went off to a small place called Anliac. We were with Virginies mother, Christine and two of Julien and Virginies friends called Cindy and Vince with their 3 year old son, ‘Airone’. Now, I know very well that he was not Air Force One but that is how Virginie told me to pronounced his name, but I do think I get better after a week of “AIRONE! A SE” (Airone, sit down).
The house we were staying in is owned by Vinces family. The land had been in his family since 1645 or something around that time. The early 1600’s sometime. How cool is THAT?! To put it in perspective, the first recorded instance of white people landing in Australia is in 1606. I love the thought of that. Anyway, that’s where we were. Essentially in an old farm house in the middle of nowhere (relative for France), surrounded by hills and not many people. We had to drive through small towns that would have been around for hundreds of years, up and down hills and valleys with some snow every now and then. Really stunning trip just to get to the house. Once we got there, we settled in. This meant starting the fire that would never go out and then cooking food for dinner. These two activities along with drinking wine and sleeping made up about 80% of our stay. Julien and I made up a ‘saying’ for this. It went something like “eat-wood-sleep” or “fire-eat-sleep”. That pretty much sums it all up. We would get up in the mornings, eat breakfast (baguettes 🙂 ) and then go out for a couple of hours somewhere.
Either to a nearby village or town for supplies or just a short walk. When we did this, it was usually to a couple of the neighbouring villages/towns. One of the towns had a farmers market that was on everyday. That’s where we got our fruit and veg. It also had the bakery where we bought all our bread and Madeleines which were to kill for. You wouldn’t want to die for them because then you couldn’t eat them and that would defeat the purpose of killing yourself. All that will achieve is you dying and leaving behind a mass of grieving people and a psychiatrist that needs to find a new person with an addictive personality disorder to fill in his or her 2:45 time slot. We would then go to a closer town to get the meat from a specialist butcher. Sometimes we even had to go to a third town to get something from a supermarket. That wasn’t as much fun. Towards the end of out stay, sometimes we just opted to not leave the house out of pure comfort. When we got back at about midday, the chefs would disappear into the kitchen and come back 45 minutes later with a 3 course meal for lunch.
Entree was pretty much always the same. Bread, some dried meat or soup, foie gras, nuts and basically anything else we could find. Then the main course would be some kind of light dish. Usually some kind of vegetarian pasta but sometimes something richer. Didn’t matter. It was was all delicious to the point that I wish my stomach was the size of a grain silo that had lost the bottom. Then dessert was either fruit or cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. And so many different types as well. I wasn’t a huge fan of most types of cheese before that week but after having cheese for dessert even lunch and dinner, I couldn’t help but get a taste for it. Even the smelly stuff which I always avoided by poking it with large sticks to keep it at a safe distance and spitting at anyone who offered any to me more than once. All was served around the table with local red wine. This whole ritual would take about 2 hours at the table.
After lunch was cleaned up, we would do something else. That’s right. Something else. We had a bit more time than before lunch so we would go a bit further as in to another town or a longer walk or go somewhere close and stay for longer. We visited old towns and villages, we went for walks and one day we went to somewhere that there was a bit of snow. The pretence of this idea was that we wanted Erwan to see snow. The ‘adults’ absolutely enjoyed it as much as Erwan. The highlights of that day was making a snowman with all the usually eyes, arms, nose and button but we also pimped him out with my specs, scarf, backpack, mobile, cigar and hair before we finally let Erwan destroy it. On the way back to the car, Virginie found a hill that she could slide down on her back with Erwan on her stomach. We all did it at least once I think. Viginie and Erwan twice. After doing that, and continuing towards the car, Vince and Erwan had a nice time getting intimate with a puddle and face planting it. That was pretty funny. We did eventually get home.
After our days adventures, the chefs would disappear again and their presence was replaced by delicious smells. It was usually my job to entertain Erwan which was ok for me. I had fun with it for the most part. He loved cars so most of our playing involved cars. This ranged from a very fun and none violent game of pushing the cars across the table at each other to him pretty much ditching them in my general direction and then losing them behind furniture. Not a problem. He thought it was funny to lose his cars but I never got them back for him. We also did some drawings on a white board he was given for Christmas. At first it was fair. He would draw something and I would translate that into something. Usually a car. The game evolved into one where he would rub out whatever I drew even as I was drawing it. This got boring somewhat quickly. So we both started learning the colours together. Not that I can remember any of it now. While doing any of our activities, we would be talking and having really good conversations. Every now and then the others would just crack up laughing cos I managed to answer correctly or I would say something just completely stupid. He obviously couldn’t speak a word of English and I couldn’t speak a word of French but both of us being children, it didn’t bother us at all. He would say something and I would answer, then he would say something else. It was perfect. Like a normal conversation. Something like “Qu’est-ce que vous” and I would reply “That is a very nice car you have drawn”. He would say “Pourquoi le livre drole d’odeur?” and I would ask “What colour is the car?” We had fun at least. And without the constant attention, he would run a muck and annoy everyone instead.
When dinner was ready, we would pack all the toys away and set the table. Dinner was up to four courses. It would start with the usually appetiser of soup, pretzels, dried meats and sometimes cheese. Main course was something a lot heavier and contained meat. One night we had Boudin Noir which is like black pudding, but with more blood and less of everything else. Every night we had something different and it was always fantastic. Very rich, fattening, delicious and making me want to never leave this place. Ever. The next course was cheese, naturally, and then finished with dessert which was the same sort of stuff we had for lunch. The meal we had on the final night was nothing short of a royal banquet. We had duck confit, pork sausages, dried meats, olives, soup, cheese, wine, baguette and other things that I cant even remember even the next day when I was writing notes. After dinner was finished, we would clean up and depending on what time it was, we would either go straight to bed (yes, dinner would last 3 hours sometimes) or do something else. We played trivial pursuit one night and then Pictionary the other night. Both of these were very difficult for whoever was on my team as they needed to translate and I slowed the games down a bit. You would think Pictionary would be easy in different languages but it still required Virgine to translate things in her head very quickly. Another night we had some of Vinces family over for pre dinner drinks until 11:30. Another night I learnt to play Tarot, which is a card game, but usually we just relaxed with a nice cup of mint tea.
After staying in Anliac, I went back to Virginies mothers house for a night before I flew back to London on the 2ndof January. When in London, I did nothing. Well, I started researching my options for staying in Europe. It took me about a week to get it out of the English that I couldn’t get a visa from them while I was there.
So I flew to Ireland. During that week I drank lots of alcohol by night and by day did some touristy stuff whenever I felt like it. Similar to before Christmas and basically just generally had a lot of fun in the hostel bar with people. I met a couple of great Irish people that I met up with while in Dublin the following week. When I actually arrived in Dublin, I quickly found out that not even they would let me apply from there… This made me preeeeetty angry. Basically it was a wasted week in Dublin. When I say wasted, I still had fun doing similar stuff as I was in London but I didn’t need to spend all the money getting there. I did enjoy it more than the last time I went on the last trip though.
After a week in Dublin, I went back to London. This time I looked at applying for German visa. I had that idea before I left to come to Europe in the first place but decided against it because I didn’t want to tie myself down to an idea that I might not want to follow through with. The visa last for a year and I believe you can only get it once in your life so if I didn’t use it then it would be a huge waste. I had been warned that getting visas in Europe would be harder but I never thought impossible. Anyway, after doing reconfirming the research I had done, I was able to apply. I had to make a booking to hand over my stuff to the Germans which was in several days. In the time I was stuffing around London, I did manage to break one of the laws of the World and started to get some of the Frenchies to talk to me. That made my stay there so much better. I ended up with this group of friends that were really fun people. A few Frenchies, Italian girl, an Aussie guy (that loved hitting on girls but he was soo funny when he did in the right way), a South African guy, and Aussie girl, a British guy (that liked hitting on girls but did he was soo funny for the wrong reasons but he liked cooking and wine so that made him better), an Aussie guy who worked at reception, a bunch of the employees and others that came and went. I continued my habit of drinking a bit each night and then doing whatever during the day. Some of the ‘during the day’ activities involved teaching the Frenchies that it is very funny changing your friends birthday on their Facebook to the following day when they weren’t looking. Was very entertaining. I also gained a huge liking to cooking. On a couple of occasions I spent several hours in the kitchen making a meal for 5 or 6 people. Maybe that’s why the Frenchies liked me…
The day I had to hand in my visa application was the 26thof January. To Australians, this will mean something. It’s Australia day. In Australia its a nice public holiday that you spend with friends. When anywhere else in the world it means get ridiculously drunk at the nearest Australian pub and don all of the green and gold that you have in your wardrobe. I had to be up at 6:30 that morning for the interview with the Germans.
On the way back, I filled an important tradition and got Maccas before getting back to the hostel. I went downstairs to where the bar and kitchen are to eat it. All my Frenchies were there (When I say Frechies, I mean all the people that I hang out with regularly) and they were sober (It was only 8:00). The Maccas, however, gave me a second wind.
Now that was a night. I picked the drinking back up and we all had a fantastic time. I have never drunk so much in one day but I didn’t feel ill, I didn’t wake up with much of a hangover, I just managed to have a good night. I think it was because it was such a long day and some good spread out drinking. I ended up going to bed at 4:00am. That meant I was drinking for about 12-13 hours (Bar closes at 3. I don’t know when my last drink was) and I had been up for about 22 hours. Epic day. And the best Australia day I have ever had. Will never forget it. I know it was a hollow patriotic atmosphere, but it really felt good just to be with so many people that think similar to you. Way different from my Frenchies.
The weekend after Australia day, I went to Wales. I did this while I waited for the German visa to come through and also I was getting itchy feet. Yes, I was having fun but I am still a traveller and I wanted something new for a bit. I went into Cardiff with no idea what to expect and just booked a hostel. Cardiff was ok. Not very much happening, not too much to see but I spent most of my days trying to see stuff. I had this plan to try and make it up to the north of Wales which is supposed to be really very nice. Turns out the Albanian bus system is better than the Welsh one. It was going to be difficult so I just went to a small town on the west coast called Fishguard.
I was staying in a hostel but it was more like Couchsurfing that I paid 16 pounds a night for. The guy let me eat his food, use his TV and I even went out with him and his old country mates to the local pub. Was a really good experience. I stayed for about 4 nights, one of those days I didn’t leave the house as I was sick and wanted to get better, but I did day trips the other days to St Davids and some other places of lesser note.
Was all very nice. I then went back to London via Bristol for 2 nights. I stayed with 2 German girls that I had met in Cardiff. One lived there and was a carer for children with serious mental difficulties and the other was just visiting her. They lived in a large apartment that housed about 12 other Germans. It was pretty fun 🙂
When I got back to London, I had about 2 nights before I had a flight to Berlin. The night I arrived back was big. It is the first time in my life that I have large sections of the night that I simply do not remember at all. I know I was having fun as I found some photos on my camera, as well as a very embarrassing video for me. I still put it up on Facebook. The following night was not heavy at all for me. I just played beerpong and stopped drinking.
I had a flight to catch the next morning at 7:00. I did however spend the whole night up. I was having plenty of fun with my people that I didn’t want to go to bed and before I knew it the bar was closed and I wanted to be leaving for the airport in a hour. I had packed all my stuff already and I just stayed up. I left and caught my flight somehow. I was so tired. I hear people telling stories of staying up late for flights and stuff like that and I never knew why anyone would put themselves through that but I now I get it. Its not that hard really…
When I arrived in Berlin, It was about 10:00am. The max temperature for that day was -7. Minimum was -15. Bit of plummet from the nice 2 of London. I was staying at a hostel that got fantastic reviews but was boring as. Plus it didn’t have a kitchen. I didn’t go outside at all while I stayed there. It was too bitterly cold. I wasn’t in any rush. I would be living in Berlin for at least a few months. I’m sure I will see everything I want to in that time. I then moved to the hostel that we stayed in when I was with my parents called Wambats. I had applied for a language school in Berlin which didn’t start for a week so I went back to doing what I knew best which was drinking in the hostel. It worked out nicely cos my hostels happy hour was from 6-8 (I would usually start at 7:00/7:30) and then a hostel around the corner had a bar that had happy hour until 10:00. At that place, me and a couple of Aussies that I was hanging out with, met a huge group of Swedes. We all would hang until happy hour finished and then head out somewhere. I met heaps of other people along the way but they didn’t really compare to my Frenchies.
After staying for a week at this hostel I was able to move into my apartment that was provided by the school I was studying with. It is very centrally located, right next to the Brandenburg Gate and Tiergaten (The Berlin equivalent of New York’s Central Park). The first two weeks I was living with a Brazilian guy who is in the same class as me. It was pretty awesome cos we get on well and the place is supposed to sleep 5 so plenty of space. Just this week we got a new house mate from Romania. He seems cool so far and he is helping me a fair bit with the German as he is at a much more advanced level than myself. The German is coming along. Not as well as I hoped but it’s happening. My favourite day of the week is Monday actually. Class starts an hour later and then at night is the Stammtisch which basically translates to “reserved table”. What it means for us is you go to the restaurant at school and have a couple of drinks and meet people. And there is basically no Aussies. I have only met 2 out of about 70 people that appear at Stammtisch every Monday. Makes me a little happy. Its not that I don’t like Aussies, its just more interesting meeting others. The second weekend I was in Berlin, Me and Thomas (that’s the Brazilian house mate) went to Prague. I was sceptical as I went on my last trip and thought it was somewhat average compared to the hype that surrounds it. We left after class on Friday and got back to Berlin at about 11:00 Sunday night. My opinion of Prague only improved slightly. We had the best weather. It was the hottest it had been for me in about 3 months at 12 degrees but the tourists were still there. It is just covered in tourists and I think the place has been somewhat ruined by it. I remember Prague was ruined for me last time cos Ellis, Tim, Joel and I had just come from Budapest, Belgrade, Sarajevo and Croatia. When people go to Prague they like to say things like “I went to Prague, its Eastern Europe, it was amazing, so nice, so different, so cheap” but to me it just seemed like Western Europe. Yes it was cheaper but the Eastern Europeaness had been chased out not long after Communism fell in the area. The one thing it definitely had that I missed last time was magnificent beer. I don’t know how I missed it last time but this stuff is truly incredible. We tried about 10-12 different styles and producers and the thing is that even these really good beers cost about the same as beer in Germany which is about half what we pay for crap in Australia. It very nice. We spent several hours just chilling and have some slow, delicious beers in our time their. And Prague is still nice. It is worth a detour if your in the area, I just felt it didn’t live up to the hype.
I have done a few other things as well. The most noteworthy things would be the DDR museum which is all about the Communist time in Berlin and a day trip I did to Potsdam. I went to the DDR museum with the school and I really liked it. I felt that it was relatively unbiased and told the plus and minuses of both sides of the wall quite well. Granted, it wasn’t perfect in this regard and you still felt the positives well and truly outweighed the negatives but that might have actually had something to do with the fact that the positives really did outweigh the negatives. They had lots of information about the daily lives of people all the way from school and through to retirement. They had information about sports, technology (which they did excel in in some areas), what the people could buy and how the whole ‘getting goods so that you survive’ thing worked (or not). They had one of the old Trabant cars which was the communist car that they gave out to the populous. They were good if you could get one. You were usually on the waiting list for up to 13 years for one and they were very basic machines. But they did the job just fine.
The other thing I did was a day trip to Potsdam. When I say day trip, I was staying at Wombats at the time and I was usually getting up around 11. So by the time I had breakfast and decided what I was going to do it was closer to 1 when I left the hostel. People had told me that I needed a full full day but I was keen to go right then so I did anyway. It was only 45mins by S-Bahn (City train. Kind of like going to Mandurah) and when I arrived it took me a little while to get orientated. And by orientated, I mean find absolutely anything. I had no map nor any idea about what I was supposed to be seeing so I started following signs to the tourist information place. On the way I kind of discovered a fair bit about the city. It was very clean and shiny. That’s about all. Well, no, that’s not quite all. I found a few of the ‘off the beaten track’ parts as the signs for the tourist info were few and far between. The thing is that they had the sign posts up and pointing to where various things were but only 1 in 3 had the tourist information centre written on it. I just kind of had to guess. I do love getting lost so this was only slightly frustrating while most people would have been pulling there hair out by the handfuls. I did eventually find it and the lady was about to tell me why I was there. She generously gave me a map for 2 Euro and then told me where to go. Potsdam used to be where a few of the Prussian or maybe even the German Kings had their residences so basically they had this huge area with many many palaces. The park its they were in was huge, I spent the next 4 hours just walking from one end to the next. The palaces were all very nice and large and yellow and the parks had plenty of space and not many tourists or even normal people. I had such a good time just wondering. The problem was I ran out of time and I needed to start heading back before I got to see everything that I wanted. I did get to see all the palaces but there was some other things I also wanted to see but it might have taken me an extra 2 or 3 hours to get there. Oh well, Just another reason to go again.
And that brings us up to now. I hope you enjoyed it. I wrote it over about a week when I had some spare time. I doubt I got down everything I wanted to write about if I make any major changes then I will make a separate post. I am not going to write about each day because that would just be silly but if I do a weekend away then I will do a post on that. Thanks for reading!