Nom de Plumage

July 24, 2013

The Somme Valley

Filed under: Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 3:57 pm
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Allow me to rewind my travel clock, to a time last September, sitting on a train bound for Zürich and having a wonderful conversation with a French woman. Our two hours of conversation quickly set the tone of friendship and procured me an offer to visit this woman at her home in the Somme Valley at a later date. In all honesty, I was not sure about this and felt somewhat uncomfortable, but to pass up an opportunity to visit such a historic place, could not be passed up lightly. Fast forward the months and this time I am sitting on a train bound for Amiens and the French woman’s home. You must excuse my lack of personal information in this part of my travels for reasons of discord and pain, which came to the surface a few days later and one that I wish I could forget. But the Somme is a dream come true and a majestic part of the world, that I could not pass these few days by without a recording of what transpired. So, the French woman’s name thus far, I will not mention.

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She was a few minutes late to pick me up from the train station and it was lovely to see her again after many months. We drove back to her home; a beautiful two hundred year old brick home in the heart of the Picardy valley. It was nice to have the opportunity once again to live in a home, with a private room, a bathroom with privacy, an open fire and home cooked meals. True to form, lunch was waiting for me after I settled into my room and it was very French and very delicious; green salad for starter, mashed potato with pan-fried duck breast in a cream sauce, cheese platter and a pithivier for dessert. We caught up with each other’s lives and at times I felt like I was treading on egg shells in fear of offending her. After lunch, we went for a drive to the picturesque valley and a place rich in history.

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In another moment in time, these marshlands were nothing but vast expanse of mud, the stench of decaying bodies littered the land and the deafening sounds of bombs and guns, permeated the surrounding area. Death and horror shaped and transformed this valley and yet here I stand, almost one hundred years later, to a place of utter beauty and serenity. I really had no idea what to expect, for certainly the many photo’s and footage of the war showed only destruction. What lays before me is a place of colour of the vast flat valley, the mirror calmness of the water that is everywhere and the historic village and ancient ruins that dot the hills. The Bay of Somme is a sea that is ruled by the tide and when we arrived, the sea had all but disappeared and wet sand lay exposed to the winter sunset.

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The village is part modern and part historic. The modern part caters to the tourists and the locals and feels very much like a seaside village. The narrow main road through the town is peaceful and very pretty. But for me, it is the historic part that I loved the most. The old uneven stone structures that have survived the war somehow, dot the valley and the lush greenery of the hills and gardens bring life and renewal back to a place once covered in death. Whatever I was expecting, it certainly wasn’t this. We walked over the hills and along the bay. The day was almost over, but not before a splendid marriage of colour over the sea and marshlands as the sun was going down. I stood transfixed and camera happy watching the brilliant pinks and blue of the sky.

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We arrived home late and she prepared a very unusual dinner that consisted of zucchini, onion, aubergine, mashed potato and cheese. I have to admit, different but tasty. Afterwards, I washed the dishes and we made plans for tomorrow. I guess this was the moment when things started to go pear-shaped because when she invited me to her home, it was on the precursor of her showing me around the Somme and the War sites. She either had forgotten or did not want to go and so I had to remind her of my purpose for my visit. She became defensive towards me and made me feel guilty about my family life, my freedom and my travel experience. I knew then, that my three-day visit would be harder than I had anticipated.

 

July 2, 2013

Paris Again

Filed under: Solo Travelling,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 6:04 pm
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Paris is my destination before I leave Europe for good in a weeks time. It is only fitting that I should leave from the city from which I first arrived many months ago. The weather has not improved since my last visit, cold and wet; but at least it has kept the tourists away and that gives me a little more breathing space. This time, I will stay away from the main tourist attractions and see what else Paris has to offer. But of the places that I wish to revisit, it would have Notre Dame and the Arc de Triumph.

I have seen many cathedrals on my travels and Italy has the best by far. Notre Dame would seem almost paltry compared to the Vatican and yet, it is my favourite cathedral. I just had to come back and visit. This time at a more leisurely pace. It was pouring with rain and the cathedral offered shelter and warmth, it also offered peace and music. A choir was practising and I sat and listened to the beautiful music. What I love about Notre Dame has nothing to do with any religious affiliation, but the gothic architecture so unique to any other building associated with religion.

I then ventured within the suburbs of Paris on a literary sojourn. St Germaine is a beautiful suburb associated with writers and one place of residence was a little hard to find. I was on the hunt for house that Voltaire died in and it took a lot of searching for a very small plaque to direct me. I found it! The other very famous place, is actually a café famous for the literary élite who would visit regularly during the period between both wars. The café Les Deux Maggots is a very posh beautiful place and the temptation to go and have a coffee was strong, but ultimately my nerves failed me and I observed from afar. Something about Parisian café intimidate me.

If you are looking to spend an hour or so having fun, may I suggest the Arc de Triumph. Just stand or sit on the pavement that surrounds the Arc and watch cars navigate their way around the infamous round-about. It make you not only cringe, but admire the sheer chaos as cars somehow manage to get on and off without having an accident. There are no rules; every car for themselves and may God help you. Loved it!

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Paris has its own version of Madame Tussaud’s and it is called Grevin. I love going to these types of museums because it is something we do not have in Australia and it is also wonderful to see life-like figures of famous people who I would otherwise not see. Grevin is smaller than the other wax museums and it is also set out in a different manner. Each section is divided into scenes that relate to the era that the person(s) lived and so you get a feel for who the characters were. There are the movie stars and my two favourites, Jean Reno and Thierry Lemitte; and kings, sport stars and writer’s. French history intrigues and I love reading about the exploits of the King Louis XIV and the ribald career of Moliere and Voltaire. Each is represented here.Worth the visit and a lot of fun.

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June 30, 2013

Ghent and The Adoration of the Lamb

Filed under: Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 1:31 pm
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A medieval city on the cusp of major rebuilding, I arrive in this large city somewhat surprised with all the scaffolding and upheaval. It is a Monday and unbeknownst to me, all museums and places of interest is closed. The only option I have is to walk through the city and explore and visit a few more chocolate shops and shopping precincts.

 

I said my goodbye’s to Cherry this morning and promised to meet up again soon in London when I eventually get over there in a few weeks time. She mentioned before she left about a famous painting by the Van Eyck brother’s and told me to visit it. Honestly, I have never heard of this painting, being the painter enthusiast that I am; and went in search of it once I arrived. It was not hard to find and it is in a beautiful cathedral within the main town square. For a small entrance fee of four euros, I walk through glass doors to an enclosed glass room and there before me, is the large painting coveted by Hitler. Thankfully, it was known that he was after it and was hidden. After seeing so many religious paintings in Italy, I was not sure that I was ready to view another, but this painting is special. Painted on wooden panels and depicting scenes other than the crucifixion or birth of Jesus, this painting is of bright colours and beautiful scenes with knights and ordinary folk, Adam and Eve, priests and angelic women. Well worth the visit.

 

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Back in Brussels, I discover (to my surprise) a beautiful area that comprises of palaces, museums and a park. It intrigues me, considering that this is the ‘ugliest city in europe” and yet, there are hints of something special. I enjoy exploring this part and find some hidden wonders (and not all chocolate shops) of more parks, cathedrals and a stunning building at the ned of a boulevard, that has a great view overlooking the city. Never found out what the building was because it looked abandoned and very old. I can appreciate that all cities of the world have beautiful parts and parts that bring shame, even the mighty Paris has many ugly parts; but I believe unfairly, that Brussels has been given a title that may just be unfair. Oh well, who am I to judge! I have enjoyed my stay and tomorrow I am bound for Paris once again.

 

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The Ghent Altarpiece (wings open)

The Ghent Altarpiece (wings open) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

June 29, 2013

I Fall in Love in Brugge

Filed under: Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 3:43 pm
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Whist travelling, I have the opportunity to meet some wonderful people and then some really bizarre people and today was one of those days. I started my morning on the internet emailing my family and friends back home, when a black man from the UK comes and starts talking with me. We continue our conversation outside as I am waiting for my roommate to get ready for our day out in Brugge, when the man starts to hug me. I am stunned at first and then taken off guard, but he says that he is lonely and needs a hug. Ok, I get that! But when he starts to grab my behind to push my lower body into his, that is where the hugs end and I get pissed-off. Angry, I walk back to my room to see where Cherry is and tell her my story. Well, I gave her something to tease me about for the rest of the day.

We depart for our hour-long train journey to Brugge with the sun shinning and no hint of the cold winter weather. The scenery is nothing special, but the company is and we enjoy ourselves. Cherry has been to the city before, so she is my guide today. Our first stop is the toilets, which is located inside a brewery/restaurant and in good tourist spirit, we stop for a beer (the first of many). Called “Blonde Beer”, it is a delicious light beer on tap and that we both enjoyed. The brewery is also a wonderful place and the people very friendly. Belgium‘s love their beer and it is a completely different drinking atmosphere to that in Australia. It isn’t about getting drunk, but socialising and women partake in the beer drinking tradition that is usually associated with men.

Brugge is a city that I have seen many times on TV and of all the cities in Belgium, it is the one I was looking forward to most. Canals divide the picturesque town and chocolate shops rule. In one street alone, I counted six chocolate shops and each one does a roaring trade. We stop at one of Cherry’s friends shop called Dumon, to pick up her order. Chantal is the owner and very friendly, especially when she discovers what my job is back home. She allows me to taste some of her selection and appreciate the hand-made chocolates and the work that goes into making them. Chocolate in Australia is expensive due to the import tax, but here, it is more affordable and you get more for your money.

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Tucked away from the main square and down a narrow long alley, is a little bar that Cherry is very fond of. The setting is perfect, with wooden interior and an open fire; wonderful hosts and only a handful of customers. Naturally, we order a beer and this time I opt for a Duval. It is the nicest beer and one of my favourites and I enjoy it more here than in Australia when you understand that it cost $20 for a glass back home. Bloody taxes! The alcohol slowly starts to make me light-headed and I am in need of some lunch. At first, we are both unsure if the pub serves food and when Cherry asks the waiter, he explains that they serve sandwiches only. Fine by us, and we order a simple sandwich with parma ham, cucumber, tomato, pickled onions and mustard. And then I met my dream man……………

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He staggers slightly towards the front door (where we are sitting), slightly intoxicated and with a smile on his face. Here he grabs his jacket, scarf and beret and when he hears Cherry and I speaking English, he starts to talk to us. Elegant, polite, charming and very funny, this man oozed appeal and his age – about eighty. I feel in love and wanted to wrap him up and take him home with me. He spoke perfect English and is an adorable man who can charm women with his charisma. Oh, if only……he were younger and not married. His beautiful little wife came over eventually, ready to leave and we could see the love they share and her trust in her husband. Very special.

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After lunch, Cherry and I go our separate ways and I am left to explore the rest of Brugge on my own. It is a small town and does not take long before I am heading back towards Brussels. I stop at the local supermarket for some dinner and make my way back to my room. My friend shows up a little later and we enjoy a picnic style dinner and talk about the days events. But the night is far from over and after dinner, we go downstairs to the bar for another two beers, this time honey flavoured. How many flavours do they have? A sleepless night after too much alcohol.

 

June 28, 2013

Is Brussels The Ugliest City?

Filed under: Diary,Solo Travelling,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 3:31 pm
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Well, it most certainly isn’t the prettiest, nor is it the most easiest city to navigate. I arrived in Brussels about 6pm with a map giving me directions to my hostel in Flemish. But when I exit the train station and start walking, all the street signs are in French, and the two did not correlate. I stood in the street confused and bewildered about how I was to find my hostel when nothing made sense. I wasted about an hour before I could take it no more and went to the taxi stand. The taxi driver was very rude and made it evident that he looked down upon women and especially solo women traveller’s. He was Muslim and refused to help me get my luggage in his car boot and then he refused me the front seat of the car. I have travelled now to many countries and met many people of different nationalities and religious beliefs, but never did I receive such rude treatment. I had to bite my tongue and be thankful that he was taking me to my hostel.

Up until this point, I had no idea that Brussels is labelled the ‘ugliest city’ and by the locals nonetheless. At my hostel and even within the brochures of the city, it definitely states it clearly. This statement has certainly piqued my interest and I wasted no time to explore. In all fairness, Brussels is divided into two halves and each half is invariably different from the other. The predominant part and the one associated with the European Council, is definitely clean and a nice part of the city. It is the part that I enjoyed the most and there are hints of classic old European city style buildings and streets. But the other side, is the side that I found truly ugly and very intriguing. Rubbish lines the streets, something that I only saw in Naples; and the overall look and feel of the place is very dirty and uncomfortable. I did explore and it is predominately part of the city that is populated with foreigners.

The city centre is a maze of narrow streets lined with shops and cafe’s and it was actually a relief to see that there is some promising aspects to this place. Chocolate shops rule and for me personally – heaven. I love all things chocolate and no wonder, considering I work in a chocolate shop back home. It is always refreshing to see how the master’s produce and sell their creations and I know that while I am here, I will take every advantage to indulge in my greatest weakness. Let me not forget the beer. I am not a beer drinker, wine is more to my taste, but while I was living in Germany that changed and I came to enjoy German beer. I have always known the Belgium reputation for their beer. They drink it as we would drink coke or coffee, but never to get intoxicated, just to enjoy. There are so many beer producing places, bars, restaurants etc, that sell a wonderful and diverse range of beer, that I had to join in and partake in this tradition. I was never disappointed and enjoyed the many varied flavours of beer. My personal favourites are the Krieg (cherry) and Krystal (a light beer).

I have made a new friend, an older woman from England with the wonderful name Cherry. What I love about her is her quirkiness and zest for life and it is refreshing to me a female solo traveller who knows how to enjoy herself. We get along very well and make plans to visit Brugge tomorrow. Very excited.

 

June 23, 2013

Sachsenhaussen Concentration Camp in Berlin

Filed under: Diary,Solo Travelling,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 4:04 pm
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Many years ago when I was living in both Stuttgart and Munich, the thought had come to my mind many times about whether I would like to visit a concentration camp. The infamous Dachau camp was not very far from Stuttgart and I asked my friends and work colleagues about it. The look on their faces was enough deterrent as I knew that emotionally I was not ready to see the horrors by myself. Fast forward many years and my attitude has changed.

When I arrived in Berlin, I had not even heard about the Sachsenhaussen Camp and had no inclination to visit one. That is until I spoke to my two American roommates who had just visited the day before and they convinced me that the time was now or never. What I did know, is that it is not a place I want to visit on my own and so I booked a tour. So why now? Honestly, not because it fascinates me or that I wish to see the horrors, but because the need to try to comprehend human nature and the brutality of war compels me to bury my ignorance and face emotions and grasp a time in history that will never be forgotten.

The weather perfectly suited my thoughts and emotions for what I was about to see; cold, grey and miserable. I had to run to the S-Bahn station and I was almost there when the train pulls into the station. A man overtakes me and runs in the vain hope of getting on board before the doors close. The conductor was nice and opened the doors. The man boards the train and holds open the door and gestures me to get in. Very thankful. I arrived at the tour’s meeting point with time to spare and met some nice people. We were standing out in the open when it started to rain, then the rain froze and ice fell and finally it started to snow. I just knew that this will be a long day.

At the Bombardier train station we meet with our group leader Jakob. A young man originally from Czech but now living in Berlin, speaks perfect English. Due to the severity of the weather, many trains are either cancelled or delayed and for some time we had no idea if a train would come. Thankfully one did and we board the RE for Oranienburg. We arrive more than thirty minutes later and Jakob recommends that we have some lunch first from the local bakery because there is no food at  the camp. We all opt for a sandwich, a sweet pastry and coffee and are very satisfied except for a young American couple who ask where there nearest McDonald’s is. We all shake our heads.

Our fifteen minute walk to the camp is the same journey that the prisoner’s walked on their way to uncertainty. When we turn the last corner, the camp comes into sight and something profound and even pathetic hits me. The street is lined with houses that end at the very barricade that circumnavigates the camp. These houses were built before the war and housed the families of the SS officers. The children and wives would have seen the prisoners, heard the gunshots and smelt the thick unnatural smell of bodies being cremated. It begs the question; did they know what was happening?

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The entrance is before me and the black steel gate with the immortalised words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Life is not Free) brings a shiver down my spine. Reality could never have prepared me for what I have seen many times on TV or in books and no amount of anticipation can ever displace the fear of seeing those words before me. Through the gate and the triangle courtyard awaits. The bitter cold vastness of the inner courtyard is a powerful reminder that here the prisoners stood barely clothed and starving for a roll call every morning.  Sachsenhaussen was the first camp built and the model for all other camps to follow. Barely anything exists of its former days because once the war was over, people destroyed what valuable material they could to rebuild their homes. The high stone fences, barbed-wire fences and guard towers still are the original. A house that once was the local socialising and drinking venue for the officers after a hard days work (?) still stands, albeit bordered up. Two dormitories that housed the prisoners has been rebuilt.

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There are two museums on the premises. The first one beautifully recreates the lives of some of the men, women and children who were prisoners here. There are no graphic photos, but the stories are poignant reminders of the hardship and probable deaths faced every day by the thousands who are incarcerated here. The other museum is more in-your-face because it shows the actual weapons or equipment used to kill the prisoners. The chipped wooden frame used for hanging stands in the centre of the room. It permeated a foul smell that can only be associated with death. The other sinister wooden structure, looked almost unimportant until our tour guide explained how it was used. But of the brutality, some hope could be found downstairs in the cold rooms were the food was stored and prepared by the prisoners. On the concrete pillars are comical pictures painted by some prisoners who had possibly some humour and hope even in those terrifying times.

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We arrive at our final destination within the camp and are a sign that reads, “the only way to freedom is through the Z station”, is before us. What is the Z station? A simplified explanation; the place of execution (freedom). Freedom came in the expensive form of a bullet and then cremation. The early days before mass extermination was invented. The place still stands were prisoners were shot and as you walk further to an enclosed area, the dilapidated ovens come into view and a sick an overwhelming feeling strikes hard. Of all the places, this was the hardest to visit because all hope ended and everything became so brutally final. Our tour guide mentioned that at one stage there was so many bodies to be cremated that a thick black plume of smoke covered the surrounding town for days. The suffocating stench of burning human flesh and the stifling smoke must have been unbearable and yet I ask the question: were the people who lived nearby aware of what was happening?

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We departed from the camp bewildered and in silence for what we had all just seen. It is one thing to read about it and watch it in movies or on TV, but something wholly different in reality. I cannot write that I feel better for coming or that I may even except what happened during the war, but I can certainly write that it has changed me.

When we arrived at the train station, there was confusion about which platform we should wait on for our train and in the ensuing drama, the group separated and some got on another train. The other half of the group which I was apart of, got the next train but it did not take us directly back to the city. We had to change at a station called Lichtenberg. Thankfully, I was in a group because this station made me feel very uncomfortable. Drunk youths were singing racists songs and the feeling of tension and hate was in the air. The war maybe over, but for some, denial and hate are still ever-present.

June 18, 2013

Berlin – The City of Museums

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I started my day back at the very gate that welcomed me to Berlin; the Brandenburg Gate. The Kennedy Museum is next to the US Embassy and the first of many museums that I would visit today. I have always been fascinated with America’s royal family and the power and tragedy that came at a high price. The museum is mainly a photo gallery of the main Kennedy players, along with wonderful memorabilia of John F Kennedy.

Linten Strasse is a wide and very impressive street that is lined with beautiful neo-classical buildings. I unexpectedly came upon the Humboldt University and wanted so much to go inside, but I was not allowed for obvious reasons. I am content with a photograph and walked further down the street to a very beautiful and very pink building that is the German History Museum. I am not deterred by the unusual colour and enter to discover a wonderfully rich and varied collection from ancient to modern times, royal families, art, philosopher’s and both world war’s. A great museum and one of my favourite displays is dedicated to philosopher’s such as Voltaire, Rousseau and many other’s. But the most outstanding of all, would be the moving and confronting memorabilia of both wars. To actually see SS and Nazi uniforms and footage of the destruction of both lives and cities, is very powerful viewing.

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Directly beside the pink museum is a channel of water that is partly frozen. I turn and follow this frozen path and what stands before me, is again, beautiful classical stone structures that could easily find a home in ancient Greece or Rome. The Pergamon Museum is a huge building dedicated to Egyptian and Islāmic works. The front entrance is impressive enough, but when you enter the building, ancient makes way to a modern interior housing very old precious artefacts. Further up the road is the Bode Museum and this smaller building has a very regal entrance and even more regal antiquity. From German, Greek and Roman artefacts, to sculptures, paintings and silver and bronze pieces of workmanship, this museum is also wonderful.

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But wait……there are more museums.

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I would like to write and boast that I visited every museum within the vicinity, but that would be a lie. It would not have been humanely possible nor could I have done justice. There is also the possibility that I may have come away either cross-eyed or blinded from all the reading and glare from the precious metal and stones, that I thought better of it as I still have some way to travel. These buildings are very impressive and I do not even know if any of them are the original or if they were rebuilt after the war. What I can write, is that no city that I have visited thus far, has been able to fuse ancient or modern, stone or glass; quite so perfectly as Berlin has.  What I do know, is that the Berliner Dom was destroyed in the war and was painstakingly rebuilt to its original design. What is even more surprising, is that the royal family crypt is all that survived the bombings. I am sure that the royal bones were rattled a bit, but there place of rest is once again at peace.

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Needless to say, that the cathedral was not only beautiful, but built-in stone, marble, gold and wood. There is a small museum upstairs that shows drawings, paintings and model replica’s of the cathedral and other old buildings. The guide was very friendly and even directed me on which angle and position I should stand to get the best photo’s. Very sweet!

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Alexanderplatz is a modern precinct where I stopped to have lunch. In all honesty, I was not overly impressed. But in saying that, I can see that what my not be impressive now, will change very quickly. It is still an area of vast open space, filled with modern glass high rises and growing at an unprecedented rate. It is edging closer to the old Berlin and what is a construction site now, will be something amazing in the future.

June 13, 2013

Food, Gadgets and a Wonderful Department Store in Berlin

Filed under: Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 2:09 pm
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A viod in the Jewish Museum, Berlin

A void in the Jewish Museum, Berlin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Jewish Museum Berlin, slabs.

Jewish Museum Berlin, slabs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The 6th-floor food hall at Kaufhaus des Westen...

The 6th-floor food hall at Kaufhaus des Westens, Berlin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

English: The winter garden with restaurant on ...

English: The winter garden with restaurant on top level of KaDeWe department store in Berlin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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The Judisches (Jewish) Museum is a place that my friend really wanted to visit and I went with her. I really had no expectation and actually thought that the museum would concentrate solely on the Holocaust. But I could not have been more wrong and in fact, I did enjoy parts of the exhibition. The entrance fee is very reasonable at four euros and security is tight. We enter and walk down stairs to a bleak expanse of corridors that tell the story of the tragedy of World War II. The exhibition was sparse and I expected more. To our disappointment, the newest outside exhibition is closed due to the bad weather and heavy snow fall. The first two levels I found boring and I parted with Christiane in search of the two upper levels. The museum is huge and when I eventually did find what I was looking for, I was not disappointed. There was so much information to read and absorb, photographs, footage and wonderful stories to read. I loved it! It was not just about Holocaust, it was much more. Well worth the visit and very happy that Christiane convinced me to visit.

 

After our lunch break, we caught the U-Bahn to the Europa Centre and I was in awe of the place. The long wide street, is a mecca for technology junkies and a haven for shoppers. We spent an hour just in the electronic’s department, which is actually not a lot when you consider there is six levels of gadgets and much more. If only I had the money! Towards the end of the street, is Germany‘s famous department store called Ka De We. I have never heard of this place and had no idea what to expect, but I can write now, that it is the best department store I have seen so far.

 

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Ka De We is all that you would expect of a first-class department store. Six levels of the finest wares, designer brands and more choices that only help to spoil your choices. Needless to write, that the prices most definitely matched the quality of the goods and both my friend and I, absolutely loved this place. But for me personally, the fifth level was my favourite. A huge level dedicated to food. It consisted of many different sections, whereby each section represents something different i.e. seafood/fish, fresh meat/processed, cheese, fruit/vegetables, packaged goods and more. Small restaurants are throughout the level selling a wonderful different array of cooked food. The smell was amazing and it was also great to see the chefs cook the meals fresh in front of the guests. My favourite section by far, is the one dedicated to chocolate. I have never seen so much chocolate, both packaged and hand-made.

 

The sixth and final level, comprises of a massive buffet area selling a wide assortment of hot and cold food, both savoury and sweet. We stopped here for our dinner and are spoilt for choice. It has only been my second full day in Berlin and I am already loving it. It is our final day together. Christiane leaves early tomorrow morning, bound for home and I will miss her very much. She has been a great companion and has a crazy and affectionate personality.

 

June 11, 2013

Ich Einer Berliner

Come on, it is one of the greatest faux pas ever and I love it. So when in Berlin………

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Berlin is one of the more unusual cities that I have visited and I say that with affection and awe. It is the capital of Germany and yet, there are no crowds as you would expect. There are large vacant plots of land within the city, which is something you do not expect in a capital city and it is a metropolis with an eclectic mix of stunning old stone architecture and amazing modern glass design. It is a city of wide boulevards, culture, fabulous museums and relatively cheap compared to other world capitals. One cannot deny its violent history and nothing represents this more than the infamous Brandenburg Gate. I have seen it countless times in photo’s and footages of World War II and remember the live telecast when the Berlin Wall is pulled apart with bare hands and hammers, right in front of this gate. A most profound and surreal feeling as I stand before it. It is a beautiful piece of architecture and the gateway to a wonderful wide boulevard of Unten Linden Strasse.

Christiane and I walked through the gate and directly on either side of the boulevard, is fittingly, the American and French Embassies. This street has some wonderful shops and museums i.e. the Kennedy Museum, Madame Tussaud’s and my favourite, a whole shop dedicated to one of Germany’s famous products – Nivea. It is the only shop that I have come across, where people gasp in delight when they see it (me included). We spent some time here and then went to the wax museum because Christiane has never seen a museum like this and it is also great fun.

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This is my second wax museum and it won’t be my last. There is something bizarre about seeing your idol or someone famous up close and let’s face it, for the majority of us, this is as good as it gets! We had great fun. Each wax museum will have famous personalities that represent something that the world admires and loves i.e. Nelson Mandela or Einstein, plus a wonderful mix of famous national celebrities. Here in the Berlin Madame Tussaud’s is Beethoven, Sissy, Carl Jung, Anne Frank, Steffi Graff, Boris Becker and my favourite – Oliver Khan. The pose is just perfect!

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Friedrichstrasse is the main boulevard within the city. It is very long and it was once famously cut in half by the Berlin Wall. It is here that we find an amazing shopping precinct and stop for lunch. It is a fairly decent size mall that offers a wonderful array of food shops to choose from. The problem was, which one to choose and so we both opted for something simple and light. Christiane discovered an alcohol shop to die for. She is in the industry and was very envious of the size and array of different alcohols from around the world. Just around the corner from our lunch stop, is Berlin’s most beautiful square. Beautiful ornate stone buildings circumnavigate this square. There is a theatre and the Franzossischer Dom. For a few euros, we climbed the million stair spiral staircase (just joking about the million, but it bloody felt like it) and exited to the roof top for a spectacular 360 degree view of the city. Unfortunately, the weather was not great.

 

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Towards the middle of Friedrichstrasse, is Check Point Charlie. For any tourist visiting this city, I highly recommend seeing it and the museum. It is an iconic representation of the communist era and although there is a soldier standing at the gate, it is now only for show. There is a place where for one euro each stamp, you can get your passport stamped with East German, Russian, USA, Britain and French stamps. I did it and thought nothing of it; until later. One must remember that your passport is an official document and your identity when travelling in foreign countries. Those stamps sold for one euro are not official and therefore, you are allowing illegal stamps in a legal document. I do not believe anyone has ever had their passport confiscated (I got a warning), most tourists visiting the city have fallen into the same trap, but it begs the question, why do they allow it when they know what the ramifications could be?

I went to the museum alone because my companion has already see it. It was full with tourists. Several levels and many rooms filled with tragic stories of betrayal and survival of victims who had to endure the brutal regime. There was so much information to absorb. Other countries that are also affected by the brutal communist regime are represented here. There are documents, footage, memorabilia and so much more crammed into this place. At the entrance to this place, is a giant piece of the Berlin Wall, graffiti and all.

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Night is closing in and we are both hungry after having only a light lunch. Not far from the museum is a Thai restaurant that looks very modern and has a calming atmosphere. I ordered a non alcoholic fruit cocktail that not only was big, but it had a zing that exploded in my mouth. It was delicious! My meal of noodles with vegetables in a coconut sauce is a dish that I almost always order because nothing represents fresh Thai food than noodles and vegetables. The coconut sauce is my weakness.  For dessert, a fruit salad accompanied with an amazing and very unusual tea of ginger, chilli, honey and milk froth. Wow!

 

 

 

 

 

June 10, 2013

Berlin Here I Come

Filed under: Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 4:50 pm
Tags: , ,

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I fondly remember an occasion several months ago in Milan, talking with several tourists from different parts of the world about places we have visited or places we want to visit. It is the Englishman who stands out profoundly as he did no favours selling any possible reason I might wish to travel to Berlin. In fact, he almost persuaded me in not visiting the city at all. Almost! There is this underlying message that keeps rearing itself as my travels progress and that is I need to make the decision  for myself about which country I should visit and then decide if it was worth it. And so I depart Luzern early in the morning and travel almost the length of Europe to a city on the cusp of a new and exciting era.

There are times that I decide to take a risk and not reserve a seat. Reservation expenses start to add up and I believed I may get away with it this time. Yeah! For about two hours I did. I made sure to seat myself in a non-reserved seat and thought I would be safe, but it was not to be. I was kindly informed to vacate the seat and found myself standing in the aisle for an hour because the train was full. It worked out well because I meet an Australian family and we started talking about our travel experiences. Before I knew it, the train arrives in Frankfurt and the quickly empties, giving me a relaxing five-hour journey through the heart of Germany.

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The name itself, “Bombardier”, evokes power and nothing can prepare you for the amazing massive structure that looms before you as the train slowly pulls into Berlin’s main train station. I am speechless and had no idea that such a modern and awe-inspiring building existed. It is more amazing at night when the building is lit up like a scene from Star Wars. When my train arrives, I have yet to realise the size of this thing, that is until I exit the main platform and make my way down the escalator to the main concord, and then it really hits. What lays before me is several platforms containing shops and cafe’s and then the last platform at the very bottom, where trains depart for the outer suburbs of Berlin. Massive! Very modern and very efficient. I have to write, a good way to start my Berlin journey and I know that it is a prelude of what is too come. I cannot wait!

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It is late in the evening and I am tired from doing nothing all day. I find it funny to write that, to sit all day reading and watching the world pass by, it is

Opened in 2006, Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a large...

Opened in 2006, Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a large station at the crossing point of two major railways and features modern, abstract architecture. Berlin used to have a ring of terminus stations, similar to London and Paris, but these were gradually replaced with through stations over the period of 1882-1952. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

exhausting. I catch the train that will take me to my hostel and quickly realise that my hostel is half way back to Luzern. It is a forty minute journey and I had no idea it would be so far out from the city. Funny enough, it is the first thing Christiane says (even before a hello) when she arrives quite unexpectedly later that evening. Sorry! But, we are happy to see each other once again and make plans for our day tomorrow.

 

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