Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Lunch Date

One of our recent walks took us past Tom’s Fritten; a chip wagon that sells the absolute best french fries I have ever tasted. Honest. The place is about a 20 minute walk from our apartment, and yes, they are worth the 20 minute walk. The place offers hand-cut, hand-made, peel-still-on fries made to order. The generous portions can then be topped with your choice of 20+ sauces. Everything from plain old ketchup & mayo (yuck) to peanut to gremolata to….what ever.

I ordered Jägersoße (Hunter sauce) and Erwin ordered Indisches (Indian) curry. 

Just as I was polishing off my serving I had a guest brazenly plunk themselves down and ask if they could have some too. Being a total animal lover, even if their table manners leave something to be desired, I gave my last fry to this little darling.

If you look closely at the picture you’ll see that he/she has only one eye. Which may be either the reason or the result of his brazenness. Either way he was way too adorable. So I quickly fumbled for my camera, hoping he wouldn't startle and fly off before I snapped these few pics.

He quickly realized that I was finished, (Erwin had finished his too so I couldn't steal any from his dish) and flew off without so much as a “thanks for lunch.” But, his visit to our table still made my day.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

In my travels these last three months I've come across many interesting signs that have caught my attention for one reason or another. Here's a small sampling

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Weekend in Paris - Part II

As promised, here is a slide show of our trip to Paris, the song "La Vie En Rose" is sung by Edith Piaf.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Weekend in Paris

A trip to Paris has always been a dream of mine and this past weekend that dream finally came true. It was actually my anniversary gift from Erwin. We passed the 32 year mark a month ago. That day I came home from spending a few hours at the zoo and Erwin surprised me with the flight reservations and having cashed in his hotel points for a four night stay at a fancy pants hotel in central Paris . What a sweetheart. I think I’ll keep him.

We arrived in Paris on Thursday late afternoon just in time for rush-hour traffic. Erwin being the seasoned traveler always opts for a cab from airport to hotel. Our aggressive but careful driver got us through the zany traffic as we got our first glimpses of this remarkable city. The architecture is stunning, which we discovered even more so once we started walking the streets and neighborhoods.

We checked the weather forecast and discovered that the weekend didn't look to promising. On top of that I was still trying to get over horrible cold which I had graciously passed on to Erwin. Oh well, were still in Paris right? So we’ll make the most of it.

Friday morning turned out to be nicest of all with mostly clear blue skies. We strolled down the famous tree-lined Champs-Elysées from Place de la Concord to the Arc de Triomphe, stood in a surprisingly short line to scale the 286 steps to the top for a fabulous view of nearly all the top landmarks in Paris. It’s definitely worth the climb. There’s no better way to appreciate just how grand and impressive this city is than from above!

Having climbed the Arc, and because we were struggling with being sick, we decided against actually going up the Eifel Tower, besides we had lots of pics of it. We opted instead to look for La Maison du Chocolat which had been recommended (thanks B.M.) for the best éclairs ever. They did not disappoint. Later that day I briefly went shopping; you can’t go to Paris and not shop, by that time we were too sick to do much more.

Saturday we awoke to rain, which incidentally didn’t stop until just before we left Monday morning of course.  We visited the Musée du Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa. This massive museum has to be done in parts; you have to pick and choose what you want to see. I read somewhere that if you spent only 30 seconds looking at each item it would take 3 months to go through the whole place. Yikes! So we fought the crowds around the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and then went to see some art of the eras and artisans we prefer such as Rembrandt, Dürer, Raphael etc. After about three hours our brains were full, patience with crowds running short, and energy level at low.

Sunday morning we awoke to more rain and still battling colds, but we fought on. Off to see the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral. We arrived just as mass was starting, but surprisingly it’s still open for viewing, as long as no flash cameras are you used and you keep quiet. This gothic masterpiece dates back 950 years and on this day was a feast for the senses; the sound of the organ, the smell of the incense, the stained glass and carved figures, the feel of the centuries old wood. A very touching experience.

Monday morning, just before our flight, we went for another visit to the quiet cozy café around the corner from the hotel for what had become our usual breakfast of croissants and hot chocolate and double espresso for Erwin. It was there we decided that we definitely have to come back to Pairs again, but preferably when it’s not raining and we’re not sick.

Next time we’d like to take in a show at the Moulin Rouge, and maybe visit the Pere-Lachaise graveyard of celebrities like, Sarah Bernhardt, Frédéric Chopin, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde. Or maybe visit the catacombs or the original site of the Paris guillotine, or do a sewer tour for morbid and grim but fascinating lessons of Parisian history. There is so much to do in Paris and not enough time. Then of course there’s the food to come back too, even in crazy busy places we had no bad meal or bad service for that matter anywhere, it was all soooo good, all I can say is “more please.”

Contrary to what we thought would happen we didn’t run into any rude waiters, or impolite Parisians…those were the fellow tourists. I’ve been to New York and London and Rome, among many other world cities, and now living in Berlin. Pairs is different. Berlin is brash. Paris is refined. Not that one is better than the other, just a different observation. I think Paris is a city to be savored and enjoyed slowly, the art, the food, the twists and turns of its story…it’s what will draw us back.

For those of you haven’t seen Erwin’s pictures of our trip to Paris that he posted on Facebook or want to see some more or different ones, I’m working on a video post which will hopefully be up tomorrow.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Berne & Lucerne

When our daughter and son-in-law decided to move to Switzerland last year we were super excited for them. Still are of course. What could be better than getting to live in a post card and getting paid to do it? Plus, now that we’re in the same time zone for at least a little while we get to see each other way more often.

So we decided that since we’re all Canadians and used to a family dinner of turkey & stuffing on the second weekend in October, we would celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving together at their place in Berne Switzerland. By the way, Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Europe the way it is in North America. Not even close. Some churches may have a special harvest service, but that’s about it.

Erwin has been to visit T & H in Switzerland a couple of times, in fact he even found their apartment for them, but I have only seen the dramatic scenery in the pictures that T posts on her blog and on FB. Besides wanting to share Thanksgiving dinner with them I also wanted to see this post card they live in for myself. So we took a very loooong but direct train from Berlin to Berne with frozen turkey pieces (meat is stupid expensive there) and German dill pickles in our suitcase to spend the weekend with them.

Weather wise wasn’t too bad, could have been worse. The Alps that are visible from their balcony were hazy, and a mist had settled in the valley and over Lac Lucerne, but the sun did break through enough at times in order to give a glimpse.

We packed a lot into the few days; in spite of the horrible-terrible-lost-my-voice-very-bad- cold that I had. We strolled the cobblestone streets of Berne, peeking into shops here and there, stopping for Glühwein (me) and Beer (them) and to people watch.
A Bernese mountain dog relaxing at an outdoor cafe in Berne...cliche I know, but I had to take this photo...bought my self a stuffed one, since the owner probably wouldn't have let me take this one.
One of the restaurants is right beside a bear pit, it's even called the Bärengraben (bearpit) Brasserie.

We went to the Swiss Toy Convention which happened to be going on in Berne .... lots of fun.
Scarey rolling balance thing.

For a moment I did consider buying an 18000 piece puzzle

A trip to the Communications Museum was also in order...the research part of this trip.

The name of the computer exhibits. Geek humour.
We had on like that...I feel sooo old.
We also took the hour long train from Berne through the beautiful Swiss country side to Lucerne to visit the glass factory. 

*Insert imaginary non-hazy-drizzly-foggy alpine photo not taken from a moving train here*
There we got to try our hand our more accurately our mouth at blowing our won Christmas Tree ornament.
Erwin blows...LOL
Liquid glass ready to be molded.

 We of course enjoyed our turkey dinner, and Skyped with our son in Lloydminster, Alberta...

 ...soooo thankful for family and spending time with them not matter how or where.  

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Berlin’s Elephant in the Room

"Broken Chain" symbolizing broken east/west connection

Berlin is endlessly compelling…a city full of colour and energy, but you can’t honestly blog or talk about Berlin without mentioning its past. Especially today, October 3; the day that is celebrated nationally as “Tag der Deutschen Einheit” or German Unity Day. As much as Berlin has become a world city of 3.5 million people in addition to hords of tourists, it's still able to maintain lovely residential neighborhoods full of parks and gardens, with planters and flowers seemingly on every balcony, not to mention the wealth of cultural opportunities from music to theater to galleries to museums but …. not everything about Berlin is gorgeous.

The city wears the veil of a very dark history. Bullet holes still riddle the walls of old buildings. Others are derelict and abandoned, remnants from earlier times. Half-standing churches that were bombed, plaques (Stolpersterine) literally tripping stones in the sidewalk where Jews were torn from their homes and sent to concentration camps.There are monuments and memorials everywhere, not only from WWII and Berlin’s unique place in history during that time, but from previous wars and struggles, in fact 775 years worth.

In memory of Jewish family
In memory of some who died trying
When I wander the streets and ride the trams of Berlin I feel like I am traveling through a history textbook.  I’ve learned more and come to a far better understanding about the atrocities of war and of the struggles for freedom in one day on the streets here than any history book or class could ever teach me.

I have stood, with tears in my eyes, on the train platform from which my father literally ran for his life from on May 24, 1953 with the police just steps behind him. Had he been slower, or they faster…

I’ve visited the last remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, now an international memorial for freedom, a number of times over the years and it never fails to move me. In my walks I frequently cover areas where the wall or the death-strip was. It’s fascinating to watch cars race over the brick path that laces around the city where the Berlin Wall once stood, where countless people lost their lives trying to escape. Most tourists might not realize what is under their feet, but maybe that’s ok…Berlin still struggles to move on and rebuild and has in fact become a world powerhouse…but at the same time still wants to honour those who fought for it…lest we forget.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Now that's different...

As we mark one month of living in Berlin and two months since we left The Rock, I’ve observed a few things that are “unusual” or “different”, things that make me go “Huh…” I know in a few more months or even a few more weeks they won’t seem different anymore because I will have gotten use to them, so before that happens here’s some of what I’m talking about.
  •  Diagonal pedestrian crossing lights
 I’ve come across them at few crossings; the one picture here is the first intersection just a few meters from our place. It flashes yellow at regular intervals, and it means (I think), that you can legally cross diagonally across the intersection but should probably run like *&^%!  and watch-out. Personally I haven’t tried it yet, that intersection is always busy and you’re lucky to make it across during the usual green pedestrian walk light; which by the way is a green ampelmann.

Speaking of traffic lights.... 
  •  Not only do traffic lights turn yellow before they turn red like at home, but they also turn yellow before they turn green, and actually the red and yellow are lit at the same time!?! To me, if I was driving, that would be kinda bewildering. (But, I know a similar thing happens in Canada when people see a red light with a green arrow.)  I think the simultaneous red & yellow signal is saying “On your mark, get set, ….”
 Still on the subject of traffic...
  • Cities in Germany (and I’ve been to a few of them now so it’s not just Berlin), appear to have figured out how to get people and stuff from point A to point B. Most major road ways have lanes for people, lanes for cyclists, lanes for buses, lanes for cars…all down the same strip of roadway, and…..it’s respected…go figure! All city sidewalks have bicycle lanes…and don’t you dare walk there, you almost take your life in your hands, believe me I know.
 Here’s a real noggin’ scratcher….
  • Bicycle HELMETS are NOT mandatory for adults, but…wait for it….BELLS ARE!?! As well as a light in front if you’re riding at night. You read that right, not a typo. Helmets optional, bicycle bells and lights law. My guess would be so that you can ring the bell and blind the poor pedestrian that has inadvertently strayed into the bike lane while taking an evening stroll with her sweetie. (I’ve even seen a bicycle with a flashlight duct-taped to the handle bars, not sure how legal that is.) 
 Some other differences...
  • NO Sunday shopping, not even little mom & pop corner stores, lesson learned…have enough groceries to get you from Saturday evening until Monday morning, or you’re eating out.
  •  Most check-out clerks, especially those at busy places like grocery stores, sit instead of stand behind the till. Having personally worked retail in a past life I can imagine that their feet are very thankful at the end of a shift.
  •  There are various forms of public transportation including trams, trains, buses, subways available for getting around. In some places you can take only one type, others all types, and still others combinations of various types….and most confusingly….street trams can and do underground, and underground subways can and do go above ground.
  •  Most restaurants have tables outside, and this time of year when the evenings are cooler, of even on a cloudy afternoon, they provide fleecy blankets to wrap around yourself while eating or lingering over a cup of tea. If there aren’t tables and chairs, some restaurants will put cushions on their outside window ledges so you can just sit there and watch the world go by.
  • It is quite alright to linger over coffee, tea, beer, or in this case prosecco, at a café without getting the evil eye from the wait staff. I especially like doing that at my favourite café called am to pm (they're open around the clock) because they have hanging basket chairs. Erwin took this picture on our anniversary (32). While there we were treated to a street performance of jazz/swing music. Even more reason to linger .... and order another prosecco.