Posts Tagged ‘ food ’

Mont Saint Michel

After 13 days on the go around France, I had a day of rest last Friday.  I suppose rest is a relative term, I was back in Paris and had a lie in before I went out to do lots of little jobs that needed to be done.  I was back on the move on Saturday though on a day trip to Mont Saint Michel.

Mont Saint Michel is a rock off the coast of Normandy which used to be linked to the mainland before the land in between was eroded away.  Now it stands in the English Channel with a road linking it to the rest of Normandy, where you find a small town, a church and at the top there’s a monastery.  It lies right at the western border of Normandy with Brittany, and when you climb up you can see a river which acts as a natural delimiter between the two regions.

mont saint michel river

Brittany on the right and a carpark/Normandy on the left

I’d been told by people at work that it was an impressive sight and if I had the chance I should go and see it.  I’d tried once before when I visited Saint Malo, but public transport’s not so good out there in the off season so I didn’t manage it.  Second time lucky though as I booked a day long coach trip with a guide (of sorts).

mont saint michel mont

Ground level

It’s five hours drive from Paris, which meant an early start.  I was up at 5:30am and met up with the group at 7:15, and most of us slept until the 10 o’clock pit stop at a service station.  The people were pretty varied with absolutely no French people but there were Americans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Japanese and Taiwanese people, and probably more nationalities that I didn’t get to know about.

After the stop at the service station we were all a little more awake, and Sergei the guide started giving us some commentary about Normandy.  Seems that the areas we passed were all about cheese, apples and allied landings.  He was very enthusiastic about the cheese which he claimed was some of the best in France, and told us that as Normandy wasn’t wine country they grew apples to make cider and calvados instead which doesn’t seem like a bad trade off.

He motioned out into the fields along the motorway pointing out apple trees as we went, but as I couldn’t see any apples on them they could’ve been olive trees for all I knew.  At least the dairy cows I could see and recognise as something that might produce milk.  He wasn’t a great guide, he was just about OK, but he could speak a lot of languages.  The only thing I learned was “pica pica” which is “photo” or photo opportunity in Japanese as far as I could tell.

Anyway, we finally made it to the Mont, and it did look impressive.  We got there early and there were only three or four other coaches parked, so I headed straight up to the abbey at the top where there was no queue thankfully.  Walking around the abbey was a little dull though, as it was just an old religious building which isn’t unexpected but I was expecting something a little more spectacular.  For me the location was much more interesting than what had been built there.

mont saint michel monkey

Some bored Spaniards

Apparently the archangel Michael appeared to a bishop in the 8th century, telling him to build a church on the island, and so the abbey was created.  After visiting the abbey for an hour I still had two hours left until the coach left, so I went to investigate the island along with half of the tourists in Normandy it seemed.  In the past it was also fort complete with a nice set of ramparts that you could walk around.  There’s a small island a few hundred metres away that we were told was the English base during the Hundred Years War, but despite being so close they never managed to capture the Mont whose tall rocky sides and fortifications kept them out.

These days it’s a huge tourist trap, complete with Japanese tourists buying piles of souvenirs.  I’m not so interested in souvenirs as photos are much easier to keep, but I did have my first ice cream of the year which was a nice surprise as I was half expecting it to be pouring with rain.  Food (though not ice lollies) are something the island is famous for though, as it has a restaurant which is well known for it’s omelettes.  So well known in fact that I heard that they cost between 20 and 30 Euros. I imagine they’re much better than those that I make at home, but I can’t imagine any omelette could be worth so much.

mont saint michel street

Main street

And that’s it.  It looks good, but there’s not a whole lot to see there.  If I’d stayed at home I probably would’ve wasted my Saturday, so at least I did something.


I’m not sure what to make of Marseille

I’ve been in Marseille for two days now, and I’m still not sure what to think of it.  I’ve been endlessly walking about, and the biggest attractions that I’ve found are the sun, sea and fish.  It’s not as bad as it sounds as the warm weather puts you in a good mood, but I wish I could find more things to do that didn’t involve wandering about outside.

marseille fish

Fish being sold at the Vieux Port

Before I even made it to my hotel on Sunday night, I could see that the city had a very different vibe.  Lots of Middle Eastern and North African fast food outlets and people all over the streets.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that my route from the station took me straight through the area called Noaille where the shops are grouped.

I went to the Tourist Information centre yesterday morning, and they gave me a map, a city guide and a shopping/eating booklet.  They’re not bad, but also not really helpful, and I don’t have much else to go on.  A friend of a friend lives in Marseille, and she’s been giving me lots of information to work with too luckily.

When I looked out of my window yesterday morning I decided to take my sunglasses with me, and it was a good decision.  The first sight I went to visit was the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica which is 150m above sea level, which made it a good look out point in the past as it has a great view over the sea and pretty much everyone in the city can see it.  Unlike Lyon there wasn’t a funicular railway to take me there, so I walked.  By the time I got to the top it was sunny and hot, and I ended up in my t-shirt and sunglasses with my jacket slung over my bag.  Second church of the holiday, and it was OK but very different to the Fourvière Basilica in Lyon.  The interior is very busy with lots of memorial plaques and model ships which make it look quite messy, and it’s also pretty small.  I suppose it only serves a small part of the city that live close to it and can get to the top of the hill.

marseille basilica

Interior of the basilica where the walls are covered with messages

A colleague once told me that he wished that he had a gigapixel camera, but unfortunately neither he or I do.  There were some great views over the city and I hope they won’t go too fuzzy in my memory.

The city feels really laid back.  I’m not sure if that’s what happens to life when you live near the Mediterranean or if it’s the large number of people who seem to live and work on the streets.  There are lots of men, young and old, who are sitting around in squares smoking and drinking, so guess there’s more unemployment here than the other cities that I’ve visited but I haven’t really looked into it.

In the afternoon I went for a walk around the Panier, which is the Old Quarter of the city.  It’s filled with narrow streets and old buildings, and also lots of churches.  I walked past one at the end of a funeral ceremony, and saw that the priest was quite young and was wearing thick black glasses (as is the inexplicable fashion at the moment) and a goatee, and I found it hard to take him seriously.  Would you like a guy with glasses like that overseeing your funeral?

My overriding memory of the Panier was avoiding all the crap on the streets, I feel like I spent more time looking at my feet than at the stuff around me, and someone else agrees.

marseille merde

"Pavement of shits"

Today I went to visit two areas that were recommended to me by my friend of a friend, Noaille which I already mentioned and La Plaine which is the artistic or creative area of the city.  The first view of Noaille that I had this morning was of the market that takes place on the Longue des Capucins which looks just like a normal market taking place in a city square, except that a majority of the shoppers are North African or Middle Eastern.  When you start walking into the side streets you begin to notice that all of the shops are selling Moroccan or Lebanese or Algerian food, and they cover quite a big area.  I’ve been to Edgware Road in London lots of times, but there it seems that Middle Eastern shops mix with general shops, but that’s not really the case in Marseille.  I didn’t take many photos when I was there as I’d read that it wasn’t such a safe area and that there were dodgy people around, and when you’re told something like that you begin to see people acting strangely such as the guy who had 2 packs of cigarettes hidden on top of a tourist information sign, which was bizarre.

Afterwards I went to the neighbouring La Plaine area where I started off by walking along Cours Julien which is a wide pedestrianised street.  I realised it was the first place in Marseille that I really liked.  It was quiet and clean, had cafés opening out onto the central area and a nice looking water feature.  All the other people around me were also enjoying it, and maybe they were exiles from the dirty, noisy parts of the city too.  The streets coming off it were different but still interesting as they had the feel of an artistic area, with lots of graffiti and ‘modifications’ to the standard street furniture and some alternative shops.  Lots of restaurants too, but most of them were closed even in the early afternoon which was weird.  If I get a chance I’ll head back there in the evening to see if it’s a bit more alive.

marseille cours julien

Lunchtime on Cours Julien

marseille la plaine

Shops in the La Plaine area

After lunch I ventured out of the centre of the city to an area called l’Estaque which is around 30 minutes away by bus.  It was apparently an inspirational place for artists and writers such as Paul Cézanne, George Braques and Émile Zola, and I can imagine that it was a beautiful little town built on top of a rocky seafront.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) at the turn of the 20th century satellite dishes, television antennas, cars and telephone poles were not common landscape features so they don’t appear in the paintings inspired by l’Estaque.  Even if they did exist back then, artistic licence can remove things that shouldn’t be in a composition, but with photography it’s a little more difficult unless your Photoshop skills are up to removing things.  Now you can see that it’s still a beautiful place, blue sky, terracotta roof tiles, boats in the marina, but technological progress has blotted the landscape.

I also read that there are two types of food that are unique to l’Estaque, and maybe I should have taken that as a warning, Chichi Freggi (like a doughnut the size of half a baguette and covered in sugar) and Panisses which are fried chickpea paste disks.  I decided to try the Panisses because the Chichi Freggi looked *huge*, like eating 4 or 5 doughnuts I imagine.  The Panisses were odd and I can understand why they haven’t caught on anywhere else.  They taste like salty chickpeas, imagine falafel with more salt and without all the lovely coriander and other herbs and you’ll be close.  They’re not bad, just not very good.

I escaped l’Estaque a couple of hours after I arrived, and went to buy a little present for my mum.  I started speaking in French to the woman who ran the shop for a few sentences, but when I went to pay it turned out that she was American.  She said that she used to live in Paris but had moved to Marseille many years ago, but there wasn’t much to do here and she missed the cultural life that you get in Paris.  That pretty much echos my view of Marseille so far, although maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow.  I also mentioned to her about shops and restaurants being closed, and she just replied by saying that Marseille was like that and didn’t explain any further so it’s still a mystery.

Finally I had Aioli for dinner, which is like a French-Mediterranean ploughmans lunch, with cod, mussels, potatoes, green beans, carrots and cauliflowers all cooked separately and put on the plate, and it’s served with lots of garlic sauce which is the part that I would normally call aioli.  I still feel stuffed 3 hours later and it’s time to go to bed…

First stop: Lyon

I made it to Lyon last night, the first city on my 13 day ‘to visit’ list.   I’d read a little bit about it before I got here but I really wasn’t sure what to expect as on one hand I heard that it had some lovely traditional areas with cobbled streets and old buildings, and on the other I read that some terrible decisions had been made in the past when they modernised parts of it.

I spent all day on Saturday walking and I only stopped to eat or take the métro to a different area, where I started walking some more.  It was a nice way to get to know the city but I feel like I didn’t achieve much, but I crossed a few places off my checklist of things to see.  My day started well with possibly the best croissant I’ve had while in France.  It was still warm, lovely and soft, and compared to Paris it was very cheap.  I nearly had to ask the person who served me to tell me the price again because I thought I’d misheard.

The first part of the city that I visited was Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) which as the name suggests is old.  It dates back to the renaissance and is full of the narrow cobbled streets and old buildings that I think European cities should have.  It also has quite a few churches and lots of traboules, which is an architectural feature found all over Lyon.  It’s a path, sometimes with a courtyard, which passes through buildings.  You go in a door on a street, and the internal path takes you to another street.  They’re a tourist attraction mostly because it’s an unusual idea I guess, but some of them also feature in the city’s history.

After wandering around looking for an hour looking for doors that opened on to traboules (there’s a map of them so I didn’t randomly knock on doors), I decided to go and see some real sights.  The first place I went was the Jardin des Curiosités, which was interesting but a little underwhelming.  It was a garden gifted to Lyon by the city of Montreal (imagine trying to sneak that present into the the city without the recipient knowing), and I’d read that it was a little bit surrealistic, but in reality it was just a garden that was on a hill and perched at the edge of a steep drop.  The big hill and the drop meant that it you could get a great view of all of Lyon from there though, at least if visibility is good, which it wasn’t when I was there.

lyon jardin des curiosites

On a clear day I should be able to see Mont Blanc... bah!

To get up the hill there’s a little funicular railway which has 2 lines and a grand total of 4 stations, and it doesn’t cover a huge area.  I heard that the Basilica (which I visited later) is 150m above Vieux Lyon, so while it was possible to walk up the hill, I decided not to bother straining my legs more than I was already going to.

Near the Jardin des Curiosités there are two Roman theatres which date back to around 15 AD, which are a UNESCO heritage site because they’re well preserved.  There’s a small semi-circular area that was used for concerts, and a larger area which was used for theatrical productions and could hold up to 11,000 people.  Now you can wander around them, which seems a little wrong, because if they’re trying to protect something surely they should stop hundreds of thousands of pairs of feet a year from walking all over the thing they’re trying to protect – although I guess it’s the same at the Colloseum or any number of other ancient tourist attractions too.  Even though they’re way smaller than modern stadiums, they have a big presence, maybe because they’re big stone structures and not made to look nice like modern sleekly designed arenas.

lyon roman theatres

Having a chat on an ancient monument

Next up was Fourvière Basilica which is right at the top of the big hill that overlooks Vieux Lyon, and it was pretty nice.  First church of the trip, so I’m not bored of them yet.  It’s beautifully mosaiced inside with blue, grey, green and gold tiles covering all of the walls at eye level, with a few large stained glass windows letting in lots of light.  The gold didn’t seem too overdone, and it was all very tasteful assuming that you forget the cost of adorning a big church in this way.  While I was there I was constantly hearing the sound of beep-beep-click from the cameras of the visitors.  I think a ban on pointless camera noises wouldn’t really work, but we need a public education program to get people to turn the sounds off.

lyon fourviere basilica

The Basilica taken that evening

I had lunch in a different part of the city, sitting on a terrace on the square in front of the City Hall.  I guess that would make the place a tourist trap, but there were French people there too and I think a Salad Lyonnais is simple enough that it can’t go too wrong and it tasted good!  After lunch I was traboule hunting again in the Croix-Rousse area of the city, which is where their effect on history comes in.  Croix-Rousse was historically where all the silk workers of Lyon lived and worked, and they’d already rioted twice before France’s 1848 revolution calling for the right to work and for fair pay.  One of the traboules which I visited called the Traboule of the Voracious Court was at the heart of these revolts.

That was the end of my sightseeing for the day as it was almost 5pm, but I kept going and took a stroll on the Rhône which was nice.  Except for a couple of hours in the afternoon when I had lunch and walked through Croix-Rousse, it had looked like spring all day but felt as cold as winter.  Walking along the Rhône made me feel like it was summer though.  There were people cycling along the river bank together, families playing, musicians practising and their friends singing along, and there were a group of people showing off their juggling and cocktail making tricks.

lyon jugging

Showing off

After that I finally made it to the main tourist and shopping area of the city, where my hotel is, Presqu’île.  The parts of it that I saw could have been any European city though.  Maybe I missed something but most of it is just a big shopping area.  I decided to have another look on Sunday though.

Dinner wasn’t too great, as I was trying to find somewhere that served traditional Lyon cuisine, but on a Saturday night without a reservation that plan didn’t go too well.  I did end up having a kind of traditional dinner, but not prepared or served in the way that it normally would be.  I’ll need to plan ahead a little more for the next stops to find out where I’m going to eat.

After dinner, another quick walk around to take some night time shots like the photo of the Basilica above, then off to bed 13 hours after I started where I began writing this post but started nodding off half way through.  That’s why it’s a day late.

Friday 6:30pm

Pack up
"Bon weekend"
"À lundi!"
Grab headphones
Pickup bag
Put on jacket
Colleagues, young, old
Beer, wine, peanuts
Terrace, smoking, gossip
Long night ahead
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-┼--┼- Going home, going out
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-┼--┼- Happy, bored, tired, relieved
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-┼--┼- Concentrating, playing, texting, reading
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-┼--┼- Friends, planning
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-┼--┼- Couples, chatting

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--┘           └--
Activity, energy, bustling, almost home
Shopkeepers, shuffling, packing, impatient
Baker, greengrocer, cheese seller, butcher
Fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh fruit, dinner


After my train adventures yesterday, I still tried to get up early so I wouldn’t waste the only full day that I had in Strasbourg.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got here as the main reason I came was on the recommendation of a colleague.  He told me that it was the French city to visit in December, and as it was kind of on my way I decided to spend a couple of days here.

Strasbourg should be visited in December because it goes xmas market crazy, with every square dotted with little wooden huts.  Like other cities, but more widespread.  I think that the city is very beautiful even without the wooden huts, so a visit at any time of year would be good.  Strasbourg has some similar stalls to other cities, with lots of places selling gluhwein, star shaped lights and games, but there are also many artisan stalls selling more unique items and that’s part of its charm.

Strasbourg painted houses

Painted houses on the river

I started the day by taking an audio walking tour of the city which was good at the start but I lost interest in by the end.  I did learn a few interesting things though, for example timber framed houses are common in the old part of the city, and one of the benefits of them is that you can take them apart and take them with you.  So when you moved house, you could actually take your house with you.

Strasbourg timber framed house

A timber framed house in Strasbourg

I went to see the Astronomical Clock at the cathedral at midday.  The first time that I saw an astronomical clock was in Lund in Sweden, and I left a little underwhelmed.  There wasn’t a description of what was going to happen or why I should be impressed by it, so when I saw some figures moving around I didn’t understand what was so great about it.  This time the clock was similar, but there was a video beforehand explaining the features and imagery of the clock.  The operation of the clock was pretty similar, at 12:30 bells began to chime, there were some figures which walked past a skeleton and the 12 apostles walking past Jesus.  The clock also shows the positions of the sun and moon.  After the age of mechanisation and now that computer’s control everything, on the surface it’s not really amazing to see something like this, but now I can better appreciate that it would have been quite complicated to make a clock like this in the mid 19th century.

I also climbed the cathedral’s tower that gives a view over the city from 66m up, which doesn’t sound like much, but there aren’t any skyscrapers to get in the way.  Getting to the top was good exercise and I was rewarded with a view over the city that reminded me of a christmas card scene, it was really beautiful.  On the way back down I realised the monotony of a tight narrow spiral staircase, and had to steady myself a couple of times when I felt my concentration drifting to other things.

Strasbourg xmas card

Christmas card scene from the cathedral tower

For the remainder of the day I kept walking around the city and saw that there’s a time capsule in the Place Du Château which is not to be opened until 3790AD.  I wonder what the future will think of our time capsules, or if they’ll even care now that everything we do is so well documented.  I suppose even if we do document things, the question is if people in the future will have the (2000 year old) technology to use them.  These days 500 year old books are difficult to read because the language has changed, and 30 year old VHS cassettes are almost obsolete.

Strasbourg time capsule

Time capsule

One thing that I didn’t notice until about 4pm was that there are no chain stores in the old part of the city.  There are a few large shopping streets which have the usual McDonalds, Orange shops and FNAC, but there are not many of them and it took me 6 hours before I came across them.  It’s surprising and kinda welcome.  Sometimes it’s comforting to find a shop that you recognise when you arrive in a new city, but I like cities that are a little different and I don’t like chain stores dominating cities and shopping centres as they do in the UK.

For dinner I went to a microbrewery that I had read was recommended for their flammeküchen (or tarte flambées) which is an Alsatian specialty.  It’s like a thin pizza or lahmajin with a cream and onion sauce and various toppings.  I had one with the classic onion and lardons, plus melted cheese on top and then one with spicy beef which I assume isn’t a classic recipe.  They’re very good and I think I’ll be having more of them when I’m back in Paris as there’s a restaurant chain called Flamms not far from the office.

Strasbourg angels

Christmas scene in the Place Kleber

That rounds out my day, just got to pack again and get ready for another train trip.  Hopefully I’ll make it back to Paris tomorrow evening, but all of the north of France seems to have been hit by bad weather so I’ll wait and see.

Berlin day 3: Concentration camp

A slightly more sombre post than yesterday, and much shorter thankfully as yesterday’s was longer that my final high school English dissertation.

Sion, the guide from yesterday, mentioned to us that it was possible to visit Sachsenhausen concentration camp which was just to the north of Berlin.  He told us that the importance of Sachsenhausen was that it was like a “teaching camp” in the same way that you can have teaching hospitals, as new techniques were tried out in Sachsenhausen before they were implemented across the Nazi occupied territories.

So I decided that instead of going to a standard art gallery that I could see anywhere in the world, I would do something a little more unusual with my time in Berlin.  I wish I had an extra day here to go to the Pergamon Museum, but it’s not meant to be as I’m planning to spend tomorrow at the Deutsches Technikmuseum.  Also spending all my time in museums would be kinda boring.

Berlin sachsenhausen

Berlin Sachsenhausen

It’s important to point out that Sachsenhausen wasn’t a death camp, but a prison and work camp where Jews, homosexuals, political dissidents and others were sent.  That doesn’t mean that people didn’t die there, because they did in large numbers near the end of the war, but it wasn’t the main purpose of the camp.  It seems ironic that while trying to exterminate these groups of people, they were also being used to create goods required for the German war machine to help conquer Europe.

Getting to the camp should have been easy, take one S-Bahn line from the central Friedrichstraße station, then walk 15 minutes to the camp.  It took us 20 minutes and 2 missed trains to realise that one train would take us half way there, then we would have to change to another train still on the same line, and eventually change a second time until we got to our destination at the end of the line.

Berlin sachsenhausen gate

Gate of Tower A

The camp was created by the Nazis with a triangular shape with an administrative building called Tower A at the base of the triangle in a central position.  There was a semi-circular role call area in front of the tower, then behind that the buildings fanned out like rays of light from the central point of Tower A.  This meant in theory that the machine gun mounted on the top of Tower A could shoot at any location in the camp, in reality though extra watch towers were built around the perimeter of the camp wall.  The entrance to the camp through a gate at Tower A bore the notorious phrase “Arbeit macht frei”, and it spread to other camps from Sachsenhausen.

The museum has had four roles since it was first created by the Nazis who initially used it as a concentration camp.  Following the war it was run by the Russians as a Special Camp which was used to hold Nazis and suspected Nazis, as well as political opponents of the Soviet occupation until 1950.  In the next 11 years it was used for military training by the East German army, at which time most of the buildings fell into disrepair or were vandalised.  From 1961 until 1990 the area became a museum, but more for propaganda purposes than as a historical archive and a lot of the camp was modified to better serve as a propaganda tool.  Since 1993 it’s been changed to highlight all the crimes which took place in the camp since it opened.

There are only a few buildings of the original layout left on the site, and not all of those were originally part of Sachsenhausen as some were brought from other camps to replace those that were destroyed.  The buildings which are present are used to describe the living conditions in the camp, the health issues involved in such a large camp, the Gestapo special prison which was located in the camp, and the main display which shows the timeline of the camp from it’s creation to the end of the war.

In 1938 the living conditions became much worse than before as the camp became overcrowded, in some cases with 3 people in a single bed.  In addition to this food shortages meant that no one had enough to eat, and hygiene problems linked to the overcrowding meant that the small Infirmary couldn’t cope.

It seems like being in the Gestapo prison was actually preferable to being a normal detainee.  The Gestapo prison was one of the only brick buildings on the site, and was used to hold people on interest to the Gestapo, and while not exactly a luxury hotel it was possible to have a private room (also known as solitary confinement).  The Gestapo also tortured some of those who were held prisoner, but then random acts of victimisation and torture were also carried out on all of the prisoners.

Berlin sachsenhausen gestapo prison

Gestapo prison cell

In 1942 an extermination block was built on the site, which played a big part in the tens of thousands that died at the camp during the war.  In particular 10,000 Russians were brought to Sachsenhausen and killed when Germany invaded Russia, but although this was the single biggest loss of life, in total prisoners of 18 nationalities were killed at the camp.

Berlin sachsenhausen memorial

East German memorial to all nationalities who died at Sachsenhausen

So that’s the history, but the feeling that I had when I visited was a little strange.  Although there were quite a few people there when I visited, it seemed very peaceful because it is such a big site. In one of the less peaceful moments we were passed by a large group of teenagers, who were trudging through the snow in silence on the road leading into the camp, and I imagine it could have easily been the same noise made by the new prisoners arriving 70 years ago.

Berlin sachsenhausen extermination trench

The view from the extermination trench

I had an uneasy feeling when I was there too, as I’ve been to see places where someone had died or been killed before, but it’s different being somewhere where thousands of people died.  However while the site does a good job of giving you lots of information about what happened there, there’s too much information and it’s hard to take it all in.  Also, while there’s a lot of information, it’s hard to get a sense of what life there was actually like.  I’m not suggesting that they hire some new camp guards and randomly shoot the visitors, but something was missing.

Berlin sachsenhausen tower z memorial

Memorial located at the extermination block

OK, enough serious stuff.  After I left the camp I went back to Checkpoint Charlie to learn more about the history as there’s a temporary wall with images and text describing all the major events in the history of the wall and the Cold War.  It was pretty educational, and I think I need to do some more reading up on it.

The last thing I did tonight was to go out for dinner, which might not seem so unusual considering that I’m on holiday, but for the last 2 days I’ve survived completely on sandwiches for all of my major meals, so stopping at a Vietnamese restaurant made a nice change.  It’s the first time I’ve had Vietnamese food, though I’ve had Thai, Indonesian and Chinese before, but it was pretty good.  Standard spring rolls and some pho, but the best part was the mint tea with ginger.  I must try to make it at home, as soon as I buy a tea pot.  The only down side was that I was reduced to tears by one small red chilli in the pho, but it was worth it!

Berlin is cold!

I made it to Berlin this afternoon after a 4 hour train journey from Cologne that I yawned all the way through after not getting enough sleep and a 6am alarm. Nothing terribly interesting today, apart from checking in to a seemingly dodgy hotel, so you could stop reading here and not waste your time…

If you’re still reading, I checked out of a basic but nice hotel in Cologne that was close to the main train station that I arrived in Cologne at and left Cologne from.  It’s one thing that I look for in a hotel more than almost anything else, it’s gotta be convenient.  When I arrived in Berlin my hotel was a 10 minute walk from the station, so not too bad, and it was the only hotel in the area that wasn’t over budget – in fact it was way under budget – and had free wifi as well as having reasonable reviews on the website I booked it on, so that swung the deal.  However when I got here I found that the reception is 2 floors up and all of the rooms are on a single floor of a 6 storey building, so after passing a fitness club on the bottom floor and a physiotherapist (I think) on the first floor I made it to the hotel.

At the reception little things put together started to give me an uneasy feeling.  First the credit card machine’s out of order and they asked if I could pay in cash – OK I could manage to do that tomorrow – then I saw that the room key looks like something a 5 year old could make in a metalwork class with a vice, some tin snips and a mallet, and finally I was told that the wifi signal wasn’t very good and that I should leave the door of my room open to improve it.  Hmm I think not, so now I’m sitting in the hall rather than letting everyone see into my room.

I’ll have to reserve judgement on breakfast until tomorrow, but it’s served in the bar next door apparently.  Hopefully it’s not a liquid breakfast.

So other than the hotel, I just walked around a couple of areas of Berlin which the guidebook calls the East of the City and North of the City which used to be in East Berlin, and also took me past the cathedral.  It looked OK from the outside, but I decided not to bother going in.  I think I have Cathedral Fatigue.  It seems to be something that almost every European tourist destination has, and to be honest I can’t really appreciate the differences between them.  I can see the differences in style, but at the end of the day most of them are big stone buildings with lots of stained glass and if you asked me what a cathedral that I saw a year ago looked like, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Berlin Dom

It was pretty cold when I got here, and there was a biting cold wind that whipped up ever now and again.  Luckily the snow blizzard that I saw on the train stopped before we got to Berlin, and it probably wasn’t a blizzard, it just looked like one because we were going at 200kmph.  A lot of the pavements are frozen around the city though, with paths cleared along part of the pavement to allow people to get where they’re going.  When I came back to the hotel earlier though I could see that the cars on the road outside were already frozen, so there might be more ice tomorrow.

Other than the cathedral I just spent my time wandering about.  Most of the things in the city are quite new, so there’s lots of information like “this used to be an xyz until it was destroyed during the war.  After the war the area was regenerated and now there are lots of little shops.”  Maybe it’ll be different during the day, but I felt that it was lacking a bit of the character that an old fashioned city has.  I’ve heard that that’s one of the attractions of Berlin too, that it’s young and dynamic, so hopefully I’ll see some of that while I’m here.

Berlin fernseturm

I also unintentionally ran into 3 Xmas Markets during the day, but (almost) avoided the need to eat more fatty food.  The food at the markets is different here, as in addition to the standard wursts they have stalls which proclaim to sell authentic Dresden style food which is something that I hadn’t seen before in the West of the country.  Apart from the food the things they’re selling are pretty similar though, so nothing really caught my attention apart from the photo below.

Berlin xmas lights

Tomorrow is the first real day in Berlin and I’m planning to go on a 6 hour walking tour of the city, so I hope my feet survive.  Tonight’s gonna be an early night though as I’m hoping to catch up on some sleep.

Berlin gedenkt