Preface: 2 1/2 hours of wine drinking ahead of me while I wait for the wine festival in Gumpoldskirchen to start. I find myself in a wine bar were a lot of locals are at drinking wine…. The first wine is a local grape variety called Blauer Portugieser that is only 1.60 for 1/8th liter but honestly tastes like shit.

I promise myself just the one glass so I don’t ruin my palate before the real wine tasting begins… 10 minutes after I ordered my shit first wine I’m drinking another. This time I go for the Pinot Noir, at 20 cents more I hope it’s slightly better.

Swirl. Sniff. Gulp. Still shit.

2 more hours to go… Time to do some journal writing.

Amsterdam to Berlin: my first ICE experience

The fast trains of Europe aren’t so fast. My train was supposed to take 7 hours, but ended up taking about 2.5 hours more due to what the train driver would only describe was an engine malfunction.

So the train departed Amsterdam Centraal at 12:56, and only about 60 minutes after we left the driver decided to bring the train to a complete stop. After about 5 minutes of us wondering WTF is going on, he mumbled in German (or was it Dutch?) that there are some problems and they’re working on it. A bit vague, but it’s early times so you can’t expect them to know everything.

About maybe 20 minutes later they tell us that they have nothing new to report but they are still looking into the problem. I concluded that some update, even though completely un informative of the actual nature of the situation, is better than none. 10 minutes later they grace us with the same (lack of) information, but after a certain amount of time they finally tell us that the engine is refusing to cooperate and that another transport is on the way to help out. What that other transport will do to help the situation is anybody’s guess, probably as much ours as it is the drivers.

Then they tell us they are opening the doors because it’s become quite hot, but to please not jump out after they do so. So I hang around by the door and try to lighten the mood by telling my best impromptu jokes to the Dutch and French who seem concerned about what’s going on. They laugh wholeheartedly and I decide that I like this audience.

After what seemed like almost 2 hours of standing around and not knowing anything more than the engine ha gone kaput, I see a bus that looks like it’s pulled up in front of the train and joke that that bus is our rescue bus and we all have to get on it.

The train driver announces that we all need to get on the bus.

It might have been a little bit helpful if he said where we were going, but I suppose most people were happy they were going somewhere that they didn’t really care. I, however, did ask and he mumbled a German train station name that meant nothing to me.

So we all changed to a bus and then arrived on this station, where some information on what to do from here might have been useful but none was given. So almost everyone goes to the Information center to ask how the hell to get to Berlin from there.

We jump on a train that is bound for Berlin from there, and after 10 minutes of getting nice and cosy, a German comes on board and says I’m on his seat. I tell him our story and he sits down next to me and says that German trains are not what they used to be… His train to Berlin was delayed as well by 90 minutes that day, and i told him that was probably becuase of our train. I think they hijaked some random train coming, because as we were getting on board there seemed to be a lot of grumpy Germans getting off!

Apparently since the rain storms a few months ago, his train journey into Berlin has taken now almost 2 hours longer than normal. I shook my head in sympathy and as soon as he finished telling me this story he fell into a deep sleep.

[This wine is really shit. I should stop drinking it. I’m almost tempted to edit my earlier post on great Austrian wine, I wouldn’t get this crap in Spain.]

Anyway, I arrive in Berlin finally around 1015 pm in the main station, Hauptbanhoff, a colossal central station that I immediately get lost in. My survival instincts kick in first though and I get myself a salad as a late dinner, and in doing so miss the 1040 train that I wanted to get. I jump on the next one and make my journey to Merringdamm, where upon arriving get completely lost to where the flat of Jose is either because it’s pissing rain, pitch black as it’s close to midnight or that my sense of direction is not that of a trained hunter. I eventually do arrive at midnight though to my wonderful French host Jose, who turns out to be the nicest airbnb host one could ever hope for.

What a long day.

Walking tour of Berlin and Monster Karaoke

[Locals are raising their glasses in cheers behind me to the abomination of a wine that this place is serving. My expectation of this wine festival starting soon is dropping rapidly]

Lucie convinces me to join Gertha (a Polish girl who lives in Finchley who struggles to smile) in an 11am walking tour of East Berlin despite my lazy self being in opposition to the idea. I’m glad I do go as it turns out to be a great tour: we start off at Brandenburg Tor, walk though the Jewish memorial, then off to the nearby parking lot that is above the site which was where Hitler’s bunker was and where he and his wife ate the cyanide pill, then in front of one of a segment of the Berlin Wall, check point Charlie and on to Museumspiel – a tiny island with a collection of magnificently built museums in it and the Berlin Cathedral, which we went up in after the tour.

The cathedral itself is beautiful, but to be honest I’ve seen more churches and cathedrals in my lifetime that it really has to be something unique to leave an impression on me… I remember the organ being particularly stunning, but I wouldn’t be surprised if future Liam reading this hasn’t recollection of the interior of the cathedral. We walk to the top and marvel at the views, which being quite Grey and Communist looking aren’t particularly marvellous.

I do remember the coffee at the Cathdral cafe (Einstein coffee) being particularly good! 😉

Lucie and myself split at this point as I had a karaoke date with some couchsurfers, one that I was thrilled to have gone to because (a) I completely rocked that karaoke and, (b) the microphones and song selections were great!!

A few people sung some German songs, which initially thought would be interesting and amusing but after listening to them for a minute realised I was wrong.

[I’ve graduated from shit wine to shit coffee in a specialty bar. Gumpoldskirchen isn’t really Rockin my boat!]

The day ended with Lucie losing her whole pub crawl group and asking me to rescue her, to which I thought would be a more interesting way to end my night than by going to a multi-storied techno club. So we passed the time in drinking cocktails in a bar that told me that they never close.

The Thief (part one)

A slow start to the day: wake up late, eat breakfast, update my website and feel generally quite hung over.

Around noon, Lucie, Gertha and myself go on a Boat tour of the river Seer, particularly around Museumspiel and the area slightly north of it where all the modern and government buildings are located. I grab a hotdog before I jump on the boat and almost immediately regret it as I watch Gertha eat her traditiona German bean soup. The boat tour wasn’t the most memorable, but it did give a good glimpse of the government buildings, music hall, and more developed western side of Berlin that I would have never seen otherwise.

Walking by the river and making our way towards Alexandraplatz, we jump on the train and go towards the Jewish memorial to visit the museum, both quite informative to the full impact the Nazi regime had on the Jews across the whole of Europe and heavy from the personal letters written by the wives and children staying in the concentration camps.
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We left and I declared that we would benefit from a little walk, so walked towards Brandenburg Tor then towards FriedrichStrasse where we found a nice strip of restaurants by the river that beckoned us. Contrary to what I would have picked being in a German city it’s own cuisine, we settled on pizza and were happily enjoying our dinner until a little girl came off from the street mumbling something to us in German and holding a piece of paper and decided to leave with Gertha’s phone!

[I’ve moved on to a ‘Rotgipfler’ sweet wine (lieblich), a local grape from this region. Much better than the first two wines (that’s not hard really), although it doesn’t have much going for it. Sweet is an understatement for this wine. Most wines in the menu are identified by one of three characteristics: “Lieblich” (sweet), “Trocken” (dry) or “Barrique” (barrell)]

So where I… Oh yeah… Some street urchin stole Gertha’s phone. So the kid nicked the phone faster than any of us could see. Gertha only realised a few seconds later that her phone was gone and cried ‘thief!’ We both ran after the girl and when we caught her she immediately lifted her arms in the air gesturing that she had nothing on her persons (I’ve never got to use that phrase before. At least Gertha’s tragedy has lent me this opportunity 🙂 ) A nearby waiter saw our distress and helped us see if she chucked the phone underneath a car (he explained that they do that sometimes) and as we saw that came to no fruit he told me to call the police! So I did and reported the stolen phone and within minutes they came over saying that they couldn’t do anything but write out a police report.

Needless to say, the evening went downhill from there. Gertha said ‘Lets get a drink!’, which given the circumstances I agreed was a good idea, but after we walked into Van Gogh (a nearby bar with live jazz music) the tension in the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I tried to sip my cocktail slowly and assured her things could be worse in life, but she gave me that ice cold stare that pretty much translated to ‘Please stop trying to cheer me up!’ So I obliged and gulped down my cocktail and that pretty much was the end of that day.

The thief (part two)

[Continuing my exploration of Austrian wine, I’m now in a pub drinking a Carnuntum Cuvée, which is a cuvée of zweigelt and Pinot noir, and a 100% zweigelt… And I’m certain now after drinking a significant amount of zweigelt, it is quite a fruity wine on its own and there’s almost too much spices coming through. Both times when I had it mixed with either merlot or Pinot noir, it softened the wine a bit and made the overall taste a lot more even…. One more cuvée then 🙂 ]

So…. Da Gardens.

The girls wanted to see the Charlottenburg Palace and Gardens, and it was in the TimeOuts top 20 things to do (well, the gardens were) so I was happy to join in. So I have a currywurst in Mehringdam as the place that sells hem ere is reputed to be one of the best, and it defintely is tasty! I continue on to FreidrichStrasse to meet the girls and we make the looooooong journey to Charlotennburg. Changed trains a couple of times, then walked a good 10-15 mins. We arrived at the palace and me being the tight ass I am, only wanted to see the gardens because they were free and the palace wasn’t (nor was the palace recommended). The girls decided they didn’t need to see the palace either so we all proceeded to the gardens together, another 10 minutes walk around the palace.

We finally get there and I very quickly learn that we are spoilt in England with the quality of our gardens. The gardens are OK. I wouldn’t write home about it. I’m writing it here because we happen to have made a Lord Of the Rings journey to get there, but it definitely felt like Berliners need to get in touch with nature a bit more if they think those gardens are a sight to behold.

I also needed to pee so I don’t know if that affected my experience of the gardens somewhat….

Anyway, the end Gertha’s holiday is fast approaching, so we make our way back to the dorm so she can get her suitcase and split. We say our goodbyes. I would say ‘See you in London’ but I’m not a very good liar, so a kiss on the cheek sufficed. Lucie runs up to freshen up before we head out for dinner; Cue the second Berlin Bandit.

She comes running down 10 minutes later and declares her phone was stolen while she was in the toilet of her own room! What?!?!? I say (ask)…. It was stolen (she replies)! The unlikelihood of two thieves striking in two consecutive days is almost comical, and it takes some effort to pull on my concerned look while I stifle a giggle at the tragedy of it all.

The joke turns on me as it soon becomes feeding time for Liam while Lucie is adamant of finding the thief through either examination of the hostel camera’s or by dusting for fingerprints. She asks to call the police and I wonder why as the result will inevitably be the same as last night minus the fact that then I had eaten when this all happened so the world was a little bit more tolerable, but I surmised being robbed trumps being hungry so I hand her my phone. The police say they will take half an hour and I wonder just how long I will last until my horns come out and I just tell Lucie ‘Good luck with that!’ as I walk out to satisfy my primal needs.

Fast forwarding a little bit, the girl at the front desk tells the police not to come as they say it will take at least 30 more minutes and suggests we go straight to the police station which is just round the corner. I am torn between being hungry enough to eat a horse and being fed up spending my evenings in Berlin with the police because of other people’s problems, but my inability to abandon a damsel in distress gets the better of the situation.

Fast forwarding a bit more because wine apparently has the propensity to make me a bit superfluous, we get a bit lost en route to the police station, find it, get a police report and make our way to a nearby night spot of Berlin that the policeman informed us has the highest rate of crime in the city. I suppose we figured lightning couldn’t strike three times in a row (it doesn’t).

A chunk of German meat only worth eating when you’re as hungry as I was and a cocktail later, the evening came to an end and I was glad that it was over.

Walk like a man

I wake up with the light emanating through my thin green curtain as a natural alarm clock and glance at my iPhone to check the time.

11am… I smile approvingly at the decent lie in got and roll out of bed in hopes that the coffee Jose leaves me in the morning is still warm. It still is and a award myself another smile at the positive start to my day.

Warning: this could be a long day 5 as I’ve spent 2 paragraphs just talking about waking up. But I’m on glass number 4 now, a Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon from Penfolds Australia, as the bartender assures me this is their best wine. It actually isn’t half bad.

So, I was waking up. It takes me a while to wake up. About 2 hours I think, and all I do in that time is eat breakfast, have a shower and update my blog. The world operates in slow motion though when you are sleep deprived.

Being my last day in Berlin, I make it a point to find Schweinerhaxe as Tanja, a lovely German girl I met in Amsterdam, told me that I had to eat it and being a bit of a lover of food I never pass on an opportunity to try a recommended specialty. So making my way to a market that Jose recommended and that I never find, I stumble upon a cute restaurant that has Schweinerhaxe on the specials board outside, so I take this as a sign from God (even though I’m an agnostic) and have my lunch there.

One full and happy Liam Escario later, I walk towards the Victory Column because it seems like a thing I should see, and on my way I fall behind a hemp legalization demonstration (Hanfparade) that was impressive not only because it was the biggest pro-Marijuana campaign I’ve ever seen, but also because of the sheer efficiency of the German authorities who where cleaning up the streets literally right behind the parade.

Day 5 is dragging on a bit… But my last wine glass is nearing its end and I need to get home, so I reckon we’re going to go double time from now on.

I make my way to the victory column and when I get there and go up it I wonder why we didn’t think of coming here earlier. The tower is amazing and the view of Berlin is fantastic (I’m choosing to forget the fact that it was pissing rain and the landscape was blurred with clouds and raindrops), and after marveling at the Berlin skyline while cold wind and rain blows into my face, I decide its time to move on to try to visit the Museum of Germany before it closes in Museum Island.

I make my way through the park in the rain, somewhat enjoying the solitude of the moment as everyone has left the park in search for shelter and spotting an Einstein Cafe en route to Museum Island I stop for a coffee. I ordered a machiatto like I did last time but this time it sucks… Note to self: stick to double espresso’s.

[I’m in the back of a bus now sandwiched between a lady and a guitar. It’s only a 3 hour bus ride from Vienna to Budapest so it’s not so bad, but when I take my 13 hour bus ride from Serbia to Greece I will be running on Dr Nicolas Escario Jr. time to claim a good seat that I can actually sleep on.]

Well, I’m bored of writing about this day now as it never seems to end and all I did was walk around. From my coffee stop, it was a walk to museum island to visit the museum of Germany which was closed, then to Alexandraplatz to catch a train to trendy Hackescher Market which Maurice suggested I walk around (which was quite nice actually…. Bit like Covent Garden but a bit more Bohemian), then back to Merringdamm to grab a Turkish salad and some yummy ice cream to finish the day

So comes the end of my stay in Berlin. I’m not sure if I’d come back to be honest. I found that largely the architecture (especially of east Berlin) was a bit depressing as a lot of it was done in Communist style, the city was quite dirty and even though there were some nice glimpses of the bohemian, artistic vibe that some people love Berlin for, I can find that and more in other cities. However, if Jose still wants me to sing for him in his Eurovision festival come July 2014 and gives me free accommodation like he said he would, I just might return.

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