Kurt: Come outside, I know it's dark and cold but I've got something that will really turn your day around.
Me: Is it a puppy?
Kurt: No
Me: Is it a kitten?
Kurt: No
Me: It's not the moon is it, I've seen that.
Kurt: No it's not the moon.
(now in the driveway behind our car)
Me: You kept my puppy in the boot all night?
Kurt: There is no puppy in your immediate future Claire.

What was my suprise? Kurt had replaced the struts in the boot and hood of the car and was very pleased with his handiwork. He stood there grinning at me as he opened and shut the boot many times while marvelling at the spaceship sounds it made. I told him that I would have almost rather he'd taken me out to see the moon, which was actually very shiny that night.
 
 
The Hamburg-Berlin is the best must-do in Berlin! Fine food, fine beer, fine atmosphere.
 
Hamburg-Berlin: Anklamer Straße 8, 10115 Berlin http://hamburg-berlin.co/
 
Coming from the middle of the CBD, you will likely start from Alexanderplatz. Alexanderplatz station is in the middle of Berlin and is quite near Fernsehturm television tower which you can see from almost anywhere in the CBD. The tower has a big bauble on top and any Berliner you ask will know what you mean. They will know where Alexanderplatz is too. Tip for Australians: Alexanderplatz is like Southern Cross station in Melbourne, or Central Station in Sydney.
 
From Alexanderplatz station take the U (which means ‘underground’) train to Bernaustraße station, and get off there. Walk back down Bernaustraße towards the city until you come to Anklamerstraße and turn right. The Hamburg-Berlin is on the corner of Anklamerstraße and Strelitzerstraße.
 
Get the schinken-schnitzel (pork schnitzel) which will come with pickles, potato and salad. If you don’t get this, please lie to me and say you did. They have excellent weissbier too. 
  
After you finish your meal, you can visit the Berlin Wall documentation centre which is quite close. It is a very good museum. As you exit the Hamburg-Berlin, continue down Anklamerstraße and turn right up Ackerstraße. You will come to a main road which is Bernauerstraße and the centre is on this street. You will need to cross the road. To get back into the CBD, just walk up Bernauerstraße to Bernauerstraße U station and catch a U train back to Alexanderplatz.
 
Please take photos of yourselves and your food at Hamburg-Berlin and send them to me!!!!
 
Another fine place to visit is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (sounds grim, but it’s a really moving memorial). It’s quite near Branderburger Tor (the Brandenburg Gate, which you should also visit and is extremely easy to find – walk down Unter Den Linden until you get to the end – you will be following the crowd as it’s a very popular sight).
 
To visit the memorial, walk south down Ebertstraße away from the Brandenburg Gate, which is a pleasant walk alongside a large park (Grober Tiergarten). You will see the memorial directly on your left after a few hundred meters.
 
Otherwise, just walking around Berlin with a pint of beer in the hot sun is a very nice way to see the city. Up and down Unter Den Linden are some very nice old buildings like the University and a lot of churches and other buildings. Berlin holds some of my happiest memories in Europe.
 
 
Want to know what people do on their holidays? Today, I spent an hour riding around on Kurt's back in the swimming pool while he used pretend tai chi 'moves' to gently guide bugs and leaves in the water out of our path.
 
 
"I don't think I've seen one woman driving a car since arriving in Turkey."

"You know some Muslim women aren't allowed to drive right?"

"No, actually I didn't."

"I've seen one woman driving."

"Where?"

"In Izmir. She nearly ran me over."

"Well I guess the system is in place for a reason then."
 
 
Anyone who knows me well knows that I maintain a fear of stairs. It is maintained very well; I tenderly nurture it like a small child cares for her dolly. I don't know where the fear came from; I tend to believe that I died in a past life by falling down a staircase, probably very dramatically.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached my first walk around town in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Any picture you see of Dubrovnik leaves you understanding in no uncertain terms that the Old Town is full of stairs. I'm not just talking about a few stairs. No. There are endless flights of stairs. To get into the city from any of the gates, you must descend at least at least ten flights - flights comprised of stones rubbed shiny from years of wear. The World Famous Tourist Parade regularly comes to Dubrovnik and it shows. Shiny slippery stairs.

For me, the walk down is far worse than the walk up. The walk up is fantastic for the butt and thighs - Dubrovnik is actually a ThighMaster workout masquerading as a city. I am scared of falling, not a firm tushie. But I was not going to let my fear-dolly stop me from enjoying the delicious risotto with scampi that I knew awaited me down in the city.

So with my husband there to cling to each time I thought I might fall (ie: the whole way down) and some decent shoes, I conquered Dubrovnik and my fear of falling to my death down flights of shiny stairs! Fear-Dolly was relegated to the air conditioning of our accommodation and is starting to look a little raggedy.
 
 
When Australian musician Tim Freedman sang 'you gotta love this city' about his native Sydney, he wasn't being complimentary. The line is 'you gotta love this city for its body and not its brains'. 

He reckons Sydney is a dumb blonde. The protagonist of the song is fired from his job, spends the next few days in bed jerking off to phone sex operators and eventually jumps off the Sydney Harbour Bridge to kill himself. He's pissed off that Sydney won the bid to host the Olympic Games, opening its legs like a whore to the world.

I had this track running through my head on repeat the whole time I was in Prague. Not because Praguians think their city is a dumb blonde - in fact, the total opposite. We went on two different walking tours while in Prague and it struck me how much respect and reverence the Czechs have for their capital. They talk about Jan Palach, the young philosophy student who set himself alight in Wenceslas Square in protest of communism, with the light of freedom shining from their eyes. They burst with pride when speaking about how much Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart loved Prague - so much, they say, that he chose to premiere his opera Don Giovanni there, and not his native Vienna. They recount how it was the people of Prague that drove the Nazis from the city at the end of WWII! Not the Americans or the Red Army! 

It is easy to love Prague for its body, it is a beautiful city. But I can't say that I love the brains of Sydney the way the Czechs love the brains of Prague. It's clear from the lyrics that Tim doesn't hate his city, but he doesn't have a lot of respect for it. Perhaps a begrudging love, one that means he can slag Sydney off and woe betide anyone else that does. But that Tim Freedman chose to name the whole 1999 album after this song is somewhat telling about what he feels for Sydney.


The people of Prague love their city for its body AND its brains. And it's beautiful to observe.
 

Serbians

03/09/2011

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Take away their car horns and they will have nothing left.
 
 
If your preference is for a quiet haircut with minimal conversation, go to a hairdresser that speaks a different language to you! Bliss!
 
 
Kurt and I spent four days and three nights in Berlin recently and were determined to cram in as many schnitzels and hefeweizens as we could. We were pleasantly surprised by Berlin and wanted to share what we learned while there.


1. Berlin has bees, not flies
In Australia, when you sit down to a meal, you will be plagued by flies if you are sitting outside. It's just a fact of summertime. But in Berlin, there are bees, not flies. They are just as annoyingly persistent as flies, but the added stinger makes you scared to shoo them away. Berliners avoid bee-in-beer issues by placing an extra coaster on top of their pint glasses.


2. The food and beer is AWESOME and cheap
We have just come from Norway, and everything seems cheap in comparison (we still love you, Norway!). But Berlin is cheap even by Australian standards (although I believe Australia is considered an expensive country). A pint of beer is sold at most bars for around four Euros (about $5.50 AUD). A pint of hefeweizen of similar quality costs about $9 AUD. A 500ml bottle of the same beer bought from the local bottle-o in Berlin is even cheaper, sometimes one Euro. 

Our schnitzels with potatos, salad and gherkin (my favourite addition to any meal) cost us about nine Euros (about $12.50 AUD). In Australia, a lousy schnitzel can go for anywhere up to $25 AUD. The quality of the food was out of this world; I think I could live on schnitzels from the Hamburg-Berlin in Mitte for the rest of my life.

AND... I even became a beer drinker in Berlin. Yes me, the girl craning her neck at every bar to see if they serve cider - I became a lover of beer. It's just that good.


3. Public transport is easy to use, but walking is fun
I could write quite a lot on the virtues of the Berlin public transport system but I think I will leave that to another post. You can catch trains, trams and buses in Berlin and use the one card to ride them all. There are underground trains and above-ground trains. There are night buses that aren't just a special project forced through state parliament by the Greens. They are there all the time.

But walking is so enjoyable in Berlin if you have the day to yourself and the weather is nice. There's a lot to see and you can stop at a bottle-o along the way for a beer as it seems to be perfectly acceptable (if not legal) to walk around drinking right there on the street. If you are reading this and thinking 'big deal?', remember that public consumption of alcohol is illegal in Australia and may get you arrested if you are being a pain in the ass.

If you have someplace specific to be, renting a bike would be perfect. There are literally hundreds of bicycle rental outlets all over the city and Berlin is very bike-friendly with a wide designated bike lane on most streets and bike racks everywhere.


4. Cash is king
If, like me, you are expecting to be able to use your credit card everywhere in Berlin, think again. Yes, you can use your card at the supermarket but not at many bars or restaurants, even quite large places. Instead, the staff carry around black leather purses that hold all the change of the establishment. The question of 'can I pay with my card?' is met with a stern 'nein'. If you have a card that means you're charged through the nose each time you withdraw money, I suggest you make a large withdrawal at the start of your trip to Berlin. You will need the Euros on you.


So that's it! I loved Berlin and would definitely go back again. My experience was less of the party-time that I think a lot of people have and more of a foodie journey with a bit of history thrown in. Each and every meal was enjoyable and different and walking through such an old and historic city was truly a pleasure. Bis dann Berlin!
 
 
Would we make it, to this mythical land called Overseas? After 36 hours of flights and layovers, I was seriously beginning to doubt it.

We entered Sydney International Airport after a 3 hour bus ride from Canberra. Having arisen at 5am for this trip, my mind was already telling me I had had enough travelling for the day. Not a good sign.

We had intended to travel carry-on-only but upon checking in at the Malaysia Airways desk, the five kilo carry-on limit prevailed. We each had about eleven kilos and had to repack our little black bag with the things we thought we might need over the next 36 hours. We geniuses didn't include toothpaste or deodorant or a change of undies so we felt a bit grimy until we arrived. 

First stopover: Kuala Lumpur. Ah, KL, where the weather is hot and the beer is expensive. I was already cranky after ten hours of flying and baulked at the idea of paying $12 for a beer. Kurt craftily situated me in front of a fan and I forgot all about my troubles. 

Then it was time for the longest flight: 13 hours to London. Kurt occupied himself with the in-flight movies as he didn't sleep at all the whole way through. I managed eight hours, even if they weren't the best eight hours I've had. We got to Heathrow and after a few wrong turns, found ourselves in the correct terminal and the land of duty-free.

How delightful to wander among gleaming rows of alcohol as yet un-drunk. What times would be had under the influence of these infused vodkas, this smooth whisky, that Bombay Sapphire gin? We would soon find out...

Only 1.5 hours more flying until Oslo's Gardamoen. Would it be worth the long journey, the stinky armpits, the crushing exhaustion?

Well friends, you tell me:

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