My time in Spain (The Basque Country). The JOB.


FCA4E702-448B-41A9-97FD-8AFCB1C99060

I left for Zarautz in September 2015, my aim to stay for three years working at the Academy of English.Travelling from Manchester to Bilbao on a Sunday morning I landed full of positivity and ambition and that was to continue for a several weeks. My reception was efficient and I was introduced to the owners family but they were typically Basque and cold.

The apartment was large, old fashioned and on the face of it ok but at a cost of €650 a month. The next day was chaotic visiting the town hall, estate agents etc and beginning work at 10:30am. I had no timetable and was told it would evolve over the next two weeks. The apartment turned out to be a death trap with sockets that left the walls and a heating system that was archaic and didn’t work.

Eventually i was teaching 29 hours over 5 days when I’d actually agreed to work 4 days when I left the UK. My timetable included teenagers and adults studying for Cambridge exams and 3 corporate clients. Most of the students were great except the ones who’d studied English in summer camps overseas who were intolerable. They (the minority) constantly questioned me when I corrected their mistakes trying to change my language to fit their grammar rules. At this juncture i have to say they are taught in Basque at school and not in Spanish. My adult students were at a variety of levels but mostly lovely but my favourite work was in the engineering companies where everybody was essentially positive.

I worked with 3 colleagues the mother and daughter from the family and a San Sebastian local. The daughter was lovely if a little distant outside work, the mother was an intolerable control freak who cared about money rather than the quality of education, the guy from SS was on the autistic spectrum. I am going to close my comments about work because I want to celebrate the region in which I live. I lasted until mid-January when I resigned to retain my sanity.

 

The Rest of Buda and Pest


The city Budapest has widespread evidence of its 1,000-year-old culture and of others who settled here. Remains exist of both Roman occupation and that of the Turks. After the Ottomans departed the union with Austria had a particular influence on the city’s form and style.

The capital has two sides, Buda and Pest, stretching along the banks of the Danube, representing two different characters of the city.

Suburban Buda and its historic castle district offer medieval streets and houses, museums, caves and Roman ruins. The dynamic Pest side boasts the largest parliament building in Europe, riverside promenades, flea markets, bookstores, antique stores, trendy “Ruin Pubs” for example Szimpla & Fogashaz alongside historic café houses such as the New York.

Michelle has rented an apartment in the up and coming eighth district. Peruse this article from the Guardian to lean more. A Day in Budapest’s Eighth district.

Here are some of the happier shots of Buda & Pest.

 

 

Kileti Station: The Crisis in Budapest


Last week I made my fourth visit to Budapest to see my compadre from SK Michelle. As most people know there’s an ongoing humanitarian crisis which I experienced first hand at Budapest Kileti Station.

Here’s a photo diary of my time around Budapest Kileti Train Station  which includes some sad images.

IMG_1799 IMG_1800 IMG_1801 IMG_1802 IMG_1803 IMG_1808 IMG_1809 IMG_1811 IMG_1812 IMG_1813 IMG_1814 IMG_1815 IMG_1816 IMG_1817

 

 

Next Posting!


Well my next posting will be in the beautiful Basque Country of Northern Spain many leagues away from Asia. I’ll be working in a language school in Zarautz near San Sebastian and I’m really looking forward with excitement to a new country, students and culture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The area’s famous for its beautiful scenery, wine, gastronomy and the fierce independence of the Basque people themselves. I am hoping to learn Spanish and some Basque (as they have their own language) and continue to fill this blog with my adventures.

April in Paris


My final destination before blighty and it seriously never disappoints. I arrived after the 5 hour train journey from Amsterdam. At Garde du Nord there was a little more security than normal but I scurried through and climbed the hill towards Pigalle and my hotel, the Regent Montmartre. The view from my room towards the Sacre Cour was nothing less than spectacular and the weather unbeatable.

As I hadn’t eaten and a recommended brasserie was nearby, that’s where I headed. Le Zebra de Montmartre is traditional but with a modern menu.  I  pottered around the haunts of Amelie before sauntering up the hill towards the basilica. Easter means too many bodies but I headed over the hill towards Au Lapin Agile (Nimble Rabbit), historic haunt of Picasso and Mondigliani. Adjacent to this is La Maison Rose where I settled for a tipple and people watch.

IMG_4362

Later that evening I took the subway to Isle de la Cite before crossing over to Le Marais for dinner at Le Coude Fou which I visit overtime I come to Paris. After dinner I wandered over to the Pompidou before a couple more at Le Baiser Sale for some Jazz.

The next day I went on a saunter back in the heart of Paris, Ile de la Cite (City island) has been inhabited since the Roman Empire. As the religious and political heart of France for centuries, the stroll from Notre-Dame to Place Dauphine and Square du Vert Galant is really worth taking. Ile de la Cite features three top sights: Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Conciergerie prison and Sainte Chapelle. It also features a number old bridges like 1603 Pont Neuf, the oldest Paris bridge. I arrived too early but the light was fantastic, a warm glow illuminated Notre Dame. I strolled down Rue d’areole then settled down in Le Parvais for coffee and Pain au Chocolate, the chissle jawed waiter surely a Truffaut movie extra. At 9:45 I strolled back towards the Cathedral to be met by a 100 metre queue forth 10:00am opening. What I hadn’t realised was that the multi-national coach parties had preference for entry. An hour later entry was gained and ticket purchased. The steep spiral staircase was energy sapping and lung tightening but the views at the top are worth the pain and simply spectacular.

IMG_4479

Notre-Dame’s gargoyles were built into the ends of the gutters to drain rainwater off the roof; since the gargoyles extend beyond the side of the roof that rainwater falls away from the walls to prevent damage. The chimeras are merely decorations. Most of them are on the façade. The sculptors created animal and human figures, half-man and half-beast, grotesque, horrific, fantastic creatures with eagles’ beaks and wings, lions’ talons, and serpents’ tails. I captured as may snaps as could, the carvings seem much more threatening in silhouette than close up.

After descending the towers I exited and turned left towards the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) home to cultural, fashion and artistic riches a swell as the sorbonne. I crossed the main road adjacent to the Square Rene Viviani where the bookstore Shakespeare & Company is a literary magnet. I the streets around here lthe cozy cafes and cobblestone streets give the Left Bank a timeless charm. My aim was to stop, take lunch then wander down side streets to absorb the atmosphere and history of Saint Germain and the Latin Quarter. I’d done some Internet research (10 Best Budget Restaurants in Paris) and discovered a small chain called Chez Gladines, a branch was located on the Boulevard St-Germain.  I settled down to a bottle of house red and for €7:20 a humongous Salade Lardon/Chevre. After lunch I doubled back and began my walk in front of Saint Severin Church, wandering down back streets that overflow with lively cafes where the writers and post-war existentialist philosophers of the Belle Époque wrote and drank their way through life. At the entrance to the Sorbonne is a park which afforded many the space and shade to take their packed lunches. Crying on along the Boulevard Saint-Germain I came to the famous cafes Les Deux Magots and Cafe de Flores where I turned left up rue de Rennes.
At 8 Rue de Cherche-Midi I found the Poilâne Bakery, which has been churning out the same large wheels of tangy sourdough from its basement wood-burning oven for 83 years. On Rue Bonaparte isPierre Hermé, France’s “Picasso of Pastries,” which sells cakes and macarons almost too gorgeous to eat, I succumbed!. Nearby is Elise Saint-Sulpice made famous in the movie The Davinci Code and Act III, scene ii of Massenet‘s Manon takes place in Saint-Sulpice, where Manon convinces des Grieux to run away with her once more. Close by is the Marché Saint-Germain (a the covered market), where moneyed locals scoop up their saucisson, fresh milk and seasonal produce. I wandered back through the side-streets to Cafe de Flores where I never stop to drink or eat because of the inflated prices but often I ponder to people watch for a moment or two. I first grabbed a takeaway coffee before parking on a bench outside the Elise de Saint Germaine des Pres. I grabbed my Olympus telephoto to snap the overly rich and often pissed eccentrics.
Returning to Rue Bonaparte I headed towards La Seine, Quai Macaques and past the outdoor book stalls descended steps to the Port des Saint-Peres. The breeze from the river was welcome as I gazed over towards the Pont des Arts and the Louvre. Teaming pleasure boats plied their trade whilst cats and dogs entered into warfare on the moored barges. I took a nap before ascending the bridge to cross over to the Louvre. The “Love-locks” were still in situ but I’m glad to report they have since been moved. The deposits were not just clichéd & ugly, they were also unsafe. The bridge was not engineered to support the extra weight of the manifold padlocks and became structurally unsafe.
IMG_4506
At the end of the bridge across Quai Francois Mitterand is the Cour Carrée. Pierre Lescot’s Renaissance facade, the oldest in the Louvre, was commissioned by François I shortly before his death in 1545. The decorative sculpture by Jean Goujon pays homage to the French sovereign. Through a stone arch is The Louvre Pyramid which was built as part of a project known as the ‘Grand Louvre’, first proposed in 1981 by the French president François Mitterrand, to expand and modernize the Louvre Museum. At sunset this grand square is a fantastic place to rest and watch the poseurs. I passed through the passage Richelieu to the Le Palais Royal where the French had gone into late afternoon hibernation anywhere they could lay down. The Palais Royal is one of my favourite places all year round but bathed in sunshine it is glorious. I only had an hour to spare so I walked around the cloisters of the Palais, the striking shadows affording glimpses of coiffured ladies and their dogs. I left in need of lubrication and settled at Cafe des Inities where a butch lass served me house wine. Later that evening I had dinner at Chez Marianne before  a mini bar crawl ended at Le Carrefour Cafe.
IMG_4543
Rising early the next day I’d decide to find the new Louis Vuitton exhibition space in the Bois de Boulogne. Exiting the metro at Les Sablons on Avenue Charles de Gaulle there is a busy cafe Sequoia but I suggest taking a right down Rue d’Orleans and just on the right before Boulevard des Sablons. Here is a smaller but cosier venue the Cafe de la porte des Sablons. After breakfast I carried on down Boulevard des Sablons to a roundabout adjacent to Le Jardin d’acclimatisation, don’t enter just take a right down Avenue du Mahatma Ghandi where the Fondation Louis Vuitton is located. Frank Gehry has conceived a landmark building wrapped in swirling glass sails.
With its shiplike exterior of billowing glass sails, the 126,000-square-foot, 2.5-story building is rather avant-garde and sits in a verdant sea of centuries-old trees, observers will  judge it as they do when they reflect on marmite. For me it’s spectacular if (on my visit) inaccessible due to the even more almighty queues.
IMG_4576
 I crossed through the park stopping to enjoy the spring weather and the horses out for morning exercise. A former hunting ground for the Kings of France, the Bois de Boulogne has a surface area of 850 hectares, and encompasses the Parc de Bagatelle, the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, the Pré-Catelan and the Jardin d’Acclimatation. It offers numerous walkways, 28 km of bridleways and 15 km of touristic cycle routes.
Boating-at-the-Bois-de-Boulogne
I enjoyed reading the views of American violators to the park on Trip Advisor.
“Some rather dodgy and seedy people around in amongst the bushes. The lake is rather lovely but I won’t be visiting this park again.”
“Someone suggested my husband and I go here for a run. Said it was safe during the day and “like Central Park in NYC”…Well, it was neither. It was overgrown and prostitutes were in several places. I would never have gone there had I known it was going to be so sketchy. One group of ladies was just finishing up with a couple of guys and she threw some bag in the bushes. We got out of there as quickly as possible. Would NEVER go here again!”
I continued my walk leaving the park without judging any folk inhabiting bushes or seeing anything “sketchy” and without feeling inhibited. I’d seen the horses, cyclists, joggers, old folk holding hands, Kids playing happily, locals enjoying the boating lake and enjoyed a fabulous Americano at the cafe. I’d also chatted to an old fella who wanted to improve his english before he toured the UK. Glad i’m not a nervous, twitching nerd from North Carolina.
Passing over the Boulevard Peripherique, i stopped in the park sandwiched in the centre of the Avenue de Pologne before emerging in Rue de Longchamp. It was a steep 10 minute walk before the road opened up at the circular Place de Mexico where I had a fine salad lunch at Brasserie du Mexico La.
Taking Avenue d’Eylau I reached the Trocadero (1937). Set on the summit of the Chaillot hill, the Trocadéro’s site overlooks the Seine, opposite the Eiffel tower. It includes the Palais de Chaillot, which houses several museums, the place du Trocadéro and an underground Aquarium. The Jardins du Trocadero were buzzing and the enormous water canons welcome respite from the heat for many visitors. I crossed the Seine stopping to take some aerial shots of the embankment before passing under the Tour Eiffel to the Champ de Mars. Opened in 1780, the Parc du Champ-de-Mars extends from the École Militaire to the Eiffel Tower. The park was packed with Parisians and tourists picnicing, playing music, and sunbathing. The more sensible and senior of us took to the leafy shaded areas to escape the afternoon heat. My walk continued along the Avenue de la Bourdonais before taking a left along Rue de Grenelle. This street is a Paris favourite for me, it runs between the 6th and the 7th arrondiesments and has a street market, artisan shops and has an awesome ambience. The market offers neatly displayed stalls with fresh fish, cheeses, breads, fruits and vegetables, and sausages. An Americam from Asheville (?) described the street as “very safe”; so it’s a must then?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the end of the street is the Place des Invalides and in the museums armoury Napoleons Tomb. The weather was too grand for museums so I crossed over the square and made my way to Pont Alexandre III towards the Grand Palace. From here its a short walk to Place de la Concorde probably the busiest round-about in Paris. In 1792, during the French revolution the square was called Place de la Révolution. A guillotine was installed at the centre of the square and some 1344 people were beheaded here. Amongst them King Louis XVI, Marie-Antionette, and the revolutionary Robespierre. The fountains here are marvellous and it’s 3300-year-old pink granite obelisk was a gift from Egypt in 1831. Taking my life in my hands I crossed over to Jardin des Tuileries where most of Paris seemed semi-comatose.
The late afternoon sun is a magnet for many but one again I headed for the shaded perimeters held greater attraction. Spring is one of the best times to visit the garden as the tulips and the beautiful Cercis trees are in full flower, and the colours are simply stunning! Wandering through I came across fountains, pools and magnificent statues by Maillot, Rodin and Giacometti. The garden is lined with free chairs, some of which are reclined, and it is the perfect place to relax and watch the world go by. There are attractive play areas for kids, including a large, enclosed trampoline and in very French style a “tour de manège” merry-go-round! There are places to dine in the garden, which tend to be on the expensive side. However, it is such an idyllic place to enjoy a meal. Another good option is to grab something from the nearby Rue de Rivoli enjoy a picnic in the gardens whilst soaking up the sun and the atmosphere.
This had been a monumental walking day and the knee tendons had started to tighten so after showering I plastered on some ibuprofen rub before heading out for dinner. The waiters at Pizzeria Vito were rude and appropriately admonished but this eat Restaurant L’Ange 20 were much more accommodating. This 20 seat eatery was top notch and both the duck and wine excellent.
Next day I headed to Belville, few tourists venture this way despite the fact it is a mere five stops away from Hôtel de Ville on the metro (line 11). From the belvédère on rue Piat, by the entrance to the steeply downward-sloping Parc de Belleville, the panorama that is the Paris skyline is remarkable. The only people you’ll meet are elderly Chinese ladies doing Tai Chi, nannies pushing their charges through the park, speculative guitarists or locals taking a stroll with their pooches.
A former hilltop village surrounded by farms and vineyards Bellviile retains a certain charm. By 1860, it had a reputation for its guingettes, vast establishments where hundreds of bohemians came to eat, drink and dance. Workers arrived in Belleville en masse when Baron Haussmann began demolishing inner-city slums in the mid-19th century, and during the workers’ uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871, the last barricades to fall were in Belleville. The neighbourhood is still home to the headquarters of the Parti Communiste Français, as well as two of France’s largest trade unions.
IMG_4404

Along Boulevard de Belleville, Chinese supermarkets nestle with Jewish-Tunisian couscous restaurants and, in the side streets around rue des Couronnes, plantains are on offer to their African clientele. Belleville has seen many waves of immigration over the past century. The most recent arrivals, in this era of spiralling property prices, are the bourgeois-bohèmians looking for cheaper places to live. The Terrasse of Aux Folies, the Belleville bar adjacent to the former Folies-Belleville cabaret (now a discount supermarket), where Piaf and Chevalier performed is a good place to sip vino. Its fun to people watch in the cosy restaurants at the top end of up-and-coming rue Rebeval, and the arty boutiques that have sprung up along boulevard de la Villette.

If lunch or refreshment is the order of the day at the top of Bellville Park on Rue Plat is the cafe de l’O and Bar sympa. I walked down Rue des Envierges past the recommended restaurant Le Vieux Bellville to the roundabout where there is a sound bakery which is not even listed on Googlrmaps. I sat on the stairs at Rue Levert to eat a formidable cheese and ham baguette before turning left and  crossing Rue des Pyreneesup Rue du Jourdain and opposite the Metro Boulangerie Au 140. I grabbed a couple of croissants and a coffee  which I ate on the steps of the church Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Bellville before heading down Rue de Bellville.

Popping open Googlemaps I traced a route back to Bastille in search of graffiti art.

IMG_4446 IMG_4448

After stopping for refreshment at Les Foundres on Avenue Gambetta opposite the Cimitiere Pere-Lachaise, I skirted the cemetery passing down Rue du Chemin Vert and then left towards Square de la Roquette. During 1825-1836, a prison was built here by architect Hippolyte Lebas, who was also the architect for the church of Notre Dame de Lorette which was being built at the same time. The prison had the look of a grim fortified castle. These days Square de la Petite Roquette covers 2,000 square meters of land and it’s a cool park. It has a lovely fountain at the entrance and a cactus garden, which is unusual for this latitude. There are walking paths that wind up and down this butte crossing through lovely lawns and an abundance of flowers, trees, rose bushes and many other kinds of flora.
After passing Voltaire Metro I followed Rue de la Roquette towards Bastille. Chez Aline 85, Rue de laRoquette is a fabulous little  lunch place where DelphineZalpetti (ex LeVerreVolé) cooks up fresh simple dishes. It is a great place to head for a mid-week lunch.  There is a Synagogue of LaRoquette, whichwas besieged by a violent mob of between 200 and 300 people in 2014. Theyproported that they were celebrating Bastille Day; thiswas demonstrated by chanting violent, racist slogans, waving the banners of Hezbollah and Hamas, and attempting to storm the synagogue in what appears to have been an attempt at a new kind of communal terror against French Jews. Viva La France!

Once again in the evening I returned to Le Marais but not being hungry I settled for vino and snacks in Rue Vielle du Temple.
For my final full day in Paris I headed for Parc Butte de Chaumont in the north-east of Paris. It is one of the biggest green spaces in Paris, measuring 25 hectares. It’s construction on quarries explains its challenging steepness and change in levels. There are stunning views of the city from this hilly setting, especially towards the Montmartre district. Its design includes: caves and waterfalls, a suspended bridge, and a high viewing point. During my visit the parc was in the throes of a large construction project, renovation of the site will continue through 2016.
IMG_4638
I’d heard about a new Philharmonic Hall at Parc de la Villette a 15 minute stroll away. La Philharmonie de Paris is a huge project, led by the architect Jean Nouvel, which has taken the last two years to construct.It should have opened in January 2015 but the build continues. When complete it will stage  concerts, exhibitions and workshops.
IMG_4657
I passed the Cite des Sciences et de l’industrie towards Quai de la Seine passing some more Chinese ladies engaged in dance.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the Quai I stoppped for a heary  lunch at Le Bellerive.
IMG_0763
IMG_4678IMG_4676
I came to a vibrant market and then Quai de Valmy led to the Canal St Martin.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4396 IMG_4638 IMG_0763 Boating-at-the-Bois-de-Boulogne 53817

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4724 IMG_4718 IMG_4717 IMG_4716 IMG_4706 IMG_4692 IMG_4690 IMG_4687 IMG_4682 IMG_4678 IMG_4676 IMG_4673 IMG_4672 IMG_4657 IMG_4655 IMG_4638 IMG_4631 IMG_4622 IMG_4620 IMG_4619 IMG_4618 IMG_4600 IMG_4585 IMG_4580 IMG_4579 IMG_4578 IMG_4576 IMG_4567 IMG_4566 IMG_4557 IMG_4552 IMG_4548 IMG_4543 IMG_4536 IMG_4526 IMG_4521 IMG_4506 IMG_4505 IMG_4504 IMG_4501 IMG_4493 IMG_4491 IMG_4485 IMG_4484 IMG_4479 IMG_4475 IMG_4468 IMG_4467 IMG_4460 IMG_0074 IMG_0071

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4471

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4468 IMG_4467 IMG_4463 IMG_4459 IMG_4460 IMG_4458 IMG_4457

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4453 IMG_4451 IMG_4450 IMG_4449 IMG_4448 IMG_4447 IMG_4446 IMG_4444 IMG_4443 IMG_4442 IMG_4441 IMG_4440 IMG_4439 IMG_4438 IMG_4437 IMG_4435

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4434 IMG_4433 IMG_4432 IMG_4431

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4426 IMG_4421 IMG_4420

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4419 IMG_4417

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4415 IMG_4414

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4413

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_4410 IMG_4409 IMG_4407 IMG_4406 IMG_4405 IMG_4404 IMG_4403 IMG_4402 IMG_4401 IMG_4400 IMG_4399 IMG_4398 IMG_4397

 

A Juxtaposition of Serenity and Sin


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The journey to Amsterdam was another back-to-front affair with an array of passengers whose faces were frozen enough to rescind the melting of the polar ice caps. A frequent service operates each day between Berlin and Amsterdam, with a total  575km journey time of just over six hours.

My hotel the “Royal Taste” was centrally located opposite the Hash museum and adjacent to the “window” sales. Of course the city is best known for two things: prostitutes (legal) and marijuana (despite what you may have heard- illegal). It also has Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Anne Frank, clogs, windmills, Amstel and tulips. What folk don’t grasp is that the “quiet” side of Amsterdam is another world of deli’s, boutique bohemians shops and awesome cafes and bars. My time was split by visiting each area of the city on different days and wandering at a snail’s pace.

Oud-West is a leafy yet lively and eminently liveable part of town, it’s the part of West that’s closest to the city centre. Occupying an area bordered by the Vondelpark and the Singelgracht canal, Oud-West and neighbouring De Baarsjes are the result of the rapid urbanisation that took place in the final quarter of the 19th century. Prior to that, the semi-circular Singelgracht had marked Amsterdam’s outer limits.

Quiet, attractive residential areas open onto bustling shopping streets. There are various street markets as well as elegant mansions, upmarket furniture shops, underground galleries and cafés, often with great terraces on the canals.The buildings are mostly four-floor terraced houses split into apartments, with perilously steep staircases. Nowadays, following a period of regeneration – some might say gentrification – West has become extremely popular with expats. Numerous child-friendly cafés, activities and children’s clothes and toy shops bear witness to this. This is definitely and easy area to live-in…who knows what the future holds?

Over the next few days pottering I became overwhelmed by the Easter masses that had descended on this beautiful city. Stoned youths, many British staggering from “coffee shop” to window, slobbering over the goods on show. Not at all entertaining, bog off back to Benidorm!

I was drawn West and South away from this to the areas of Oud-Pijp, Neuw Pijp and Oosterparkbuurt but in the evenings I came across friendly hostelries and people such as Ibrahim from Egypt and Jan who had learned to ignore the morons and engage with the rest of us. The Dutch know how to relax, they are open and generally honest and forthright, I loved that. The early morning sunlight illuminates the canals and highlights the architecture. The old converted warehouses are immaculately kept hiding those unsurmountable staircases. Folk sit reading on window ledges, babies smile as they’re ferried around on rickety old cycles. Heavy jowelled ladies drag miniscual pooches in their wake as they do the rounds of locals delicatessans. As you sit sipping top notch coffee kids dance past hand in hand with their teachers full of joie de vivre. The fruit and veg is spectacular and fresh and there is one location with the most awesome homemade humous i’ve ever tasted, that is Cafe Brug 34 at Utrechtsestraat 19.

I stumbled across a funeral where everyone arrived by barge, marvellous graffiti, French Bulldogs, marvellous flower boxes (as expected), cross-dressers, photo-shoots, semi-naked stag does and too many other characters to mention (see the slideshow).

Leaving Amsterdam left me wanting more, `i’d love to spend at least a year there, but for me Paris beckoned.

 

 

Bohemian Berlin


I arrived at the awesome Berlin Hauptbahnhof dead on time! Once orientated I checked my Google maps to find the way to my digs The Three Pigs Hostel. Berlin’s flat so that was manageable but the bloody Australian Caribee back-pack I’d invested shed-loads in, had become the stuff of nightmares. The main buckle that fastens around the hips had spilt meaning the weight destroyed my shoulders and chest. Me being a fool I hadn’t worked out which bus to take from the station. I stoically struggled through Spreebogen Park with the Reichstag on my left.

I therefore set out on my trek stopping to avoid impending doom at the LebensArt Cafe at the corner of Großer Tiergarten and Lennestraße. The breakfast was excellent if a little steep, location, location, location. Struggling on I spotted the Berlin Buddy Bears eventually arriving at the Three Pigs which is a former nunnery! No Freudian comments please. It’s a maze of a place but the accommodation is fine the only downside being showers and bogs are not en-suite. There was a wash basin in the room.

After a refresh I strolled over to the HoloUnknowncaust Memorial. I love the graphic simplicity of the sculpture. In May 2005, on the sixtieth anniversary of the fall of the Nazi regime and the end of World War II, the city of Berlin dedicated their Holocaust Memorial, designed to remember the murder of six million Jews at the hands of Hitler and his forces. Across the road in the Tiergarten,  are two like minded memorials. One commemorates the Sinti and Roma who died in concentration camps. The other one commemorates homosexuals who were persecuted under the Nazi Regime.

I discovered that evening that a festival was taking place in Schoenberg. After a top notch Indian at Maharadscha I stopped for a beer and watched the world or the Leather Fetishists stroll by. The Berlin Leather und Fetish Treffen is a yearly party weekend during Easter.  Gay men (I think) from all over Europe pack their leather, rubber, skingear, uniform or other fetish clothing and head to Berlin. Each to his/her own but where is the individuality and where were the women? The good thing about all this is that when queuing for a beer us none-fetishists stand out and get served quicker. I chatted to some normally attired Spaniards who also found the event immeasurably amusing. I mentioned in conversation that its not really different from being a Barcelona or Man U supporter, uniforms become de rigeur!

Day 2 started with an awesome chorizo and goats cheese bagel plus coffee at ? I  can’t remember the café name and Google maps has failed me! It’s 5 minutes walk towards Potsdamerplatz on the left. I crossed over to the Topography of Terror. The exhibit documents that between 1933 and 1945, the central institutions of Nazi persecution and terror  the Secret State Police Office with its own “house prison,” the leadership of the SS and, during the Second World War, the Reich Security Main Office –  were located here, next to the Martin Gropius Building and close to Potsdamer Platz. I was stopped by an elderly dutch woman who guessed I was English, the Dutch are not the germans greatest fans. She was glad that the museums and installations are recognising the atrocities of the past but I still felt some cynicism. “There’s a mass of information,” she said, “it’s always shocking to see the Nazis’ atrocities. I’ve asked myself many times how it could have happened. That’s the first thing you need to come to terms with.” Her husband and daughter nodded in agreement. “I think it’s good that the Nazis’ crimes are documented on this historical site. It’s important. And it’s good that the texts on the panels are presented in English and German and that you hear so many languages here.” No one should forget and German school parties are testament to the fact that we should learn from the past.

I troll over to Check-point Charlie which has become much more commercialised than my last visit. Why allow Starbucks and McD’s? I’m not sure why I should pay to enter an exhibition so I don’t. A hot air balloon is tethered ready to carry ever willing tourists.  There’s a major dichotomy here between the TOT on one side of the street and the almost theme park atmosphere here. I pass through quickly intending to head towards the Gendarmnmarkt. As I walk along I notice a perfumers Frau Tonis and enquire about their male scents. I finish up purchasing No. 48.

“This classical oriental fragrance cradles an entire bouquet of fragrant spices in warm balsamic wood: star anise, pepper, cardamom and fennel seed ignite this scent’s fiery spice, while cedar wood and vetiver create an unforgettably mellow dry down.”

This scent reminded me of Bel Ami which Hermes ain’t doing any more. Anyhow it transported me back to living in NYC in 2004 and so I was smitten.

Further along the Gendarmenmarkt is trumpeted as Berlin’s most magnificent square. The square dates back to 1700, part of King Friedrick I’s plan for Friedrickstadt, an emerging new quarter of Berlin, where the recently expelled French Protestants or Huguenots had settled following the Edict of Potsdam in 1685 which granted them asylum in the Prussian capital. The name is in fact of French origin as “Gens d ’arms” which was a Prussian regiment consisting of Huguenots soldiers. Its surrounded by posh cafes, restaurants and boutiques none of which suited my budget as I’s blown that on the No. 48.

My intention was to pass through Museum Island quickly as I’d visited before; even the Gates of Babylon couldn’t entice me inside from the lovely weather. I stopped at an art market to watch the portrait painters and then for coffee by the Kupfergraben Canal. The Berliner Dom overshadowed the wonderfully named formal Lustgarden which was crowded and flanked by cycle taxis preying on the tourists. I took lunch, chatting to some Danes, at the DDR Restaurant Domklause by the Spree Canal. I had the Pan-fried tenderloin at 15.30 €. This consisted of three small pan-fried pork sirloin steaks with a scotch egg, mushrooms and Letcho vegetables, served with peas and fried potatoes, awesome. I washed it down with a glass of Portugieser Pfortenser Köppelberg, well good! The Danish were an architecture student, Jan and his mate Lars who was an electronic musician. Jan was not a fan of the new architecture of Berlin and was into sustainable housing, an interesting pair.

Next I crossed over the dual-carriageway as I headed towards Alexanderplatz. The Neptune Fountain or Neptunbrunnen was the scene of selfie hell! Quickly moving on I saw the queue for the TV tower and again it wasn’t worth the wait. Lunch at the top is spectacular but I’d been there before. Looking at my map I noticed a local market that I’d not listed before so followed the tramlines to Hackesher. The area around Hackescher Markt is not the place for finding big chain or department stores. Instead, Hackescher Markt is a shopping hotspot for famous designer shops as well as newer and younger Berlin labels. Unusual clothes, outrageous shoes or fancy accessories can be found in small and medium-sized shops in this area. Trendsetting over I took the Sbahn to berlin hbf. The overhead railway passes old building stock rejuvenated by modern architects alongside some awesome graffiti on a very large-scale.

Leaving the station I’d decided to circumnavigate the Tiergarten. The Tiergarten (animal garden, more formally called Großer Tiergarten – great animal garden) started life as a hunting reserve for the Kurfürsten (prince electors) of Brandenburg. Under king Friedrich II (otherwise known as Friedrich der Große – Frederick the Great) of Prussia (also Kurfürst of Brandenburg), the reserve was turned into an ornamental park, with Friedrich not having much interest in hunting. The trees were cut down after World War II to be used as firewood. In their place, potatoes were planted, to help combat the food shortages of the immediate post war years. It has of course been re-planted with trees since! The Tiergarten is an awesome place to replenish after a monumental potter as I’d had today. It’s a relaxing place to stroll along overgrown paths, find ornamental bridges and small waterways, rent a boat, have a snack in a beer garden, and sunbathe on the lush lawns (weather permitting).

After a beer at Cafe am neuen See I exited by crossing over the Landwehrkanal as I knew I could follow the canal back to Kreuzberg and my hotel. Built between 1845 and 1850, the canal connects the Eastern part of the Spree in Friedrichshain with the Western part in Charlottenburg. I was at the Charlottenburg end, it’s one of the most beautiful strolls you can take on a sunny day in Berlin. Along the waterside you will meet boule players, sunbathers and other followers of the bohemian lifestyle – along with plenty of nice cafés and beer gardens to quench your thirst. The hour-long stroll as a result took 2.5 hours.

I spent the evening in the trendy bars of Turkish Kreuzberg. There is one must – the Ankerklause, a nearly mythical pub in this district. The pub is decorated in a kind of “sailor-style”, a little battered but very funny. Feed the jukebox for your favourite songs and enjoy a very tasty Czech lager.  Opposite this pub lies the Fuchsbau – also very nice, but far from being battered. It’s a quite hip and down-to-earth bar in a nice and very basic room. Next the Luzia. A very hip location in-between a bar and a club (on weekends) with an excellent and enormous room, furnished with chattels from the fifties. Then the Sofia – a rather run-downed and bad taste but very funny bar in a former Greek (?) restaurant. Finally the San Remo Upflamör. A bit calmer but nevertheless a fine bar to start the evening with a few drinks, situated almost directly at the river Spree and the former run of the Berlin Wall. Next   day three.

Day 3 was cancelled (see above) but I toddled over to Schoenberg in the evening and met up with some new pals Suzanne et al for some beers.

Rejuvenated day 4 was bike hire day. I headed past the Kreuzberg Jewish Cemetery and then took a left towards the former Templehof Airport. Berlin is fantastic for cycling with almost every road having an independent cycle lane. I entered the former airport through the Volkspark Hasenheide whch was slightly bizarre. This was broad daylight and the dog walkers were out in force along with the African drug dealers who appeared nonplussed by the city gardeners. Volkspark Hasenheide is a place of contrasts. Its open sunlit meadows are ideal for volley ball, football/soccer matches, sunbathing, kite-flying, and family picnics or barbecues. Those meadows are separated by long stands of wonderful shade trees, beneath which local musicians gather for jam sessions. On the other hand drug dealers congregate at the park’s entrances, and have no compunction about approaching visitors both in and on their way out of the park. They stash their wares in the bushes to avoid being arrested for possession. During the day the dealers usually stick to peddling hash or grass, but if you decide to take in a film after dark, you might be approached by someone with hard drugs. Just keep your head down and keep walking and you should be fine, actually avoid after dusk!

I crossed the road passing a mosque to enter the former Tempelhof airport (built in the early 1920s). After the airport closed in 2008, the city of Berlin reclaimed the 386-hectare open space and one of the world’s largest buildings in a central location for public use.
Today, the area has a six-kilometre cycling, skating and jogging trail, a 2.5-hectare BBQ area, a dog-walking field covering around four hectares and an enormous picnic area for visitors. Bike riding is by far the most popular activity for visitors to Tempelhofer Freiheit. They take advantage of the wide former take-off and landing runways for exercise or just to have a relaxing ride. The former airfield however has its very own characteristic it’s NOT flat. There were rollerbladers, joggers, dog walkers and para-gliders but bizarrely nowhere to sit.

Passing out of the park at the end of the runway I was in Neukoln. Air B&B says:

“Often referred to as “Little Istanbul,” Neukölln brims with Turkish specialities, but cumin-flavored delicacies are only part of this southeast Berlin neighborhood’s appeal. Artists congregate in Neukölln’s reimagined public parks and easy-going bars that invite fierce self-expression and late night philosophising. This progressive-leaning neighbourhood’s busy streets and graffiti-covered surfaces look intimidating, but underneath its brusque exterior is a community based on shared support”

Translating this into “it’s trendy” is about right.  Apartments are relatively affordable for a European city and there are smart cafes and bars that give it a youthful and busy vibe. I stopped for a Mocha and Apple Strudel. Once again Google Street View is out of date and I can’t remember the name but I think it was around 21 Herrfurthstrasse. The host was really friendly and the café busy, the coffee, food and wi-fi excellent.

I cycled on stopping at a Santander to withdraw money, which was an unfruitful stop. Heed this NEVER EVER open a Santander account. Even though I have a Visa Debit and I was inside a Santander (Germany) branch my card would not work. Speaking perfect english the staff could not help me, this is Santander Germany your card is Santander UK you need to call them. I explained about my journey from Korea and that I had no cellphone account just wi-fi. They refused to help full-stop!

Continuing on I crossed the Neukollner Schiffahrtskanal and cycled down Elsenstrasse on the way to Treptower Park. Treptower Park is part of the larger borough of Treptow-Köpenick. The park dates back to the end of the 18th century, when the area it now stands on was partly cleared of a forest. Treptower Park was born, and in 1896, the Berlin Industrial Expo took place on the land, which spurred industry and development and heavily influenced the surrounding areas. I reached the communist memorials which are atypical and epic. Stretching over 10 hectares, the memorial consists of two enormous triangular red granite flags which flank a walkway down the middle. On one end, a statue of mother Russia weeps; on the other, a 70-ton bronze statue of a Soviet soldier stands upon a burial mound. He holds a German child in one hand, and a sword in the other, which he thrusts powerfully into a swastika under his feet The memorial is home to the bodies of 7,000 soviet soldiers, and commemorates the death of the 20,000 Russians who lost their lives in the Battle of Berlin. I met an elderly man and his wife who took a great interest in my Olympus Penn. He asked me where I was staying and that he now does not use hostels, he travels 6 months a year but uses Air B & B. I chuckled as he explained as the bones get older you need something more comfortable. He said hostels have become too noisy with parties of school kids, my experience thus far at The Three Pigs meant I fully concurred.

Cycling along the Spree, the quirkiness and ingenuity of Berliners is obvious. Parked along the river are rows and rows of boats. At first glance, they look perfectly normal: just some more tourist river cruises and yachts. But among closer inspection, potted plants, dining tables, and in one case even a mobile home atop the boats can be spotted. These are Berlin’s Wohn-Schiffe (House Boats), and they have a long tradition in Berlin. The boats range from 20-100 years old, and have been reincarnated to house Berlin’s adventurous river-dwellers.

Many were old GDR barges that, after the fall of the wall, were sold off and then renovated. Most of them don’t have engines, so are completely stationary. There are about 100 of these boats in Berlin, and many of them can be found in the docks of Treptower Park. Each has an interesting history; the bright blue Risiko, overflowing with foliage trailing down from its roof, dates back to the 1950’s and was used to house up to 14 dockyard workers.

From here I crossed under the S Bahn and headed towards Gorlitzer Park. Once an old railway station and then home to British anarchist art communes, Görlitzer is now a full-time, run-down, graffiti-garnished park space and a meeting place for Kreuzbergers of all kinds particularly if the sun decides to shine as today. The café-come-club Edelweiss is there to lubricate proceedings. Once again the African drug dealers were out in force and the deals were being done among the pushchairs, breastfeeding, young and elderly couples. Apparently large-scale raids have been ineffective most of the sellers or their successors come right back. Primarily, they are selling marijuana, but harder drugs are also available. And visitors can no longer walk through the park without being approached. The antidote for me was no eye  contact and my Sennheisser Momentums :-).

Emerging at the far end I took a right and crossed over the Oberbaumbrucke Bridge. Berlin’s double-decker bridge links the two Berlin districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain separated by the River Spree. Traffic runs on the lower part and trains on the second level. It was built on the site of a previous timber bridge built in 1724 when the construction of an elevated railway required a reinforced structure. The result was a seven-arched concrete bridge with a granite and brickwork façade. It is distinctive architecturally because of its mock medieval turrets – which recall the function of toll bridges and arches. Obviously at one time it was also a border crossing.

On the Friedrichshain side to the left is the East Side Gallery which is the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. To the right is an area of bars and galleries including Skalitzers Contemporary Gallery and Cassiopeia Bar. I circumnavigated the former railway siding taking many images of the street art before taking a left just beyond Skalitzers towards Boxhagnersplatz where the iron-work public loos where sealed up and covered in artwork. Across the park people ate lunch at the Kurhaus Korsakow Restaurant. This area is becoming very gentrified but still has an arty atmosphere. Passing along Grunbergerstrasse I took a left along Warschauerstrasse towards the East Side Gallery.

This is an open air gallery created from the Berlin Wall which is more than a kilometre long.  After the Wall came down in 1989, hundreds of artists from all over the world gathered and transformed the eastside of the Wall which had prior to that been untouchable. The art visually represents the change from a separated to a unified Germany.

Leaving the wall I passed the Berlin Ostbahnhof Station and took a left over the Spree following the road towards Mariannenplatz and Kreuzberg. On reaching Heinrichplatz I stopped for a sandwich and vino rouge at Pfeiffers, tres satisfying. One vino rouge turned into three of course! I cycled towards Orienienplatz and then Orienenstrasse heading to another Santander near Checkpoint Charlie. You guessed it on arrival it was the same party line, this is Santander Germany blah blah friggin’ blah. Irritated I set off to the Three Pigs but on the way spotted a cash machine. Out of curiosity I tried my Santander card guess what it worked so I can officially confirm that you cannot use a Santander Visa debit card at a Santander in Berlin but at any old hole in the wall you can! Charges to follow!!!!!

Day 5 was a rest day 🙂 and the next morning I had to take the train to Amsterdam. As usual in mainland Europe the train departed Berlin on time. The journey passed without a hitch and the dining carriage was pretty good even if the prices were somewhat hiked. So there it was 575km and 6 hours and 20 minutes later I arrived at Amsterdam Central on time, transferring to my hotel the Royal Taste.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Wonderful Prague and Prague to Berlin: A train ride worth taking


I wasn’t entirely sad to be leaving Moscow, 3 days is enough. This is how Human Rights Watch describe the situation in Russia.
“Russian authorities continue the crackdown on civil society and government critics that began in 2012. Enforcement of the “foreign agents” law has led to an unprecedented, nationwide inspection campaign of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Dozens of groups are fighting the prosecutors in courts, refusing to register as “foreign agents.” Parliament adopted laws restricting LGBT rights and freedom of expression and infringing on the right to privacy. Abuses in the North Caucasus continue.”
Arriving in Prague if you take the No. 119 bus you should get off at the last stop, Dejvická, where you can transfer to metro line A. In just a few metro stops you will be in the city centre. Get off at Můstek or Muzeum after planning your onward route.
I was to take Line A to Museum then line 13 to Otakarova. Once I found the tramline I was OK but line 13 doesn’t run on Sunday. A kindly gentlemen explained line 11 would land me at the same spot. I arrived at the Ramasun Hostel where they’d left a telephone number on the door, the reception was closed. If like me you’re travelling and have no Mobile phone you are f*****! Fortunately for me a local shopkeeper spoke some English and offered to call them for me. The man arrives and speaks no English, there is one sign that says you can order breakfast the night before. I enquire about this but I’m met with stunned silence, I ask about laundry, nothing, so I do I do my laundry in the shower. My double room has 2 singles, again despite me having my booking.com print out he doesn’t understand. Despite all this the accommodation IS worth the money. I just hoped my laundry would dry as it was hung all over my room.
After a nap I headed into town, the beer is remarkably cheap. Most Czech beers are light beers, brewed naturally from hand-picked hops. Increasingly, breweries are producing a dark ale too as an alternative, but most Czechs like their beer light, nicely chilled and with a tall head. When ordering a beer in a pub, ask for “male pivo” (small beer – 0.3l) or “pivo” (beer – 0.5l). I prefer the dark beer and settled for the Kozel. Kozel Černý is a dark beer which is 3.8% ABV, made of 4 different types of malts including a dark caramelised malt. This beer has an unusual dark foam. It easy to manage 3 or 4 :-).
On the second day I’d decided to climb the hill that forms Petrin Park. First to set me up for the day a humongous breakfast at Cafe Slavia opposite Shooters Island and Legii Bridge. Eggs, bacon and a giant sausage hit the spot.
Crossing the bridge I stopped to snap some graffiti and a bronze installation before being shadowed by a group of irritating American  girls.
“John Lennon wall. Like, you know, like, I think it’s nearby, maybe, I’m not sure, it could be but it might not be!”
“Is this really a castle wow? It could be a fortress but I think its a castle. Do you think the English made it because they make castles?”
“The lift (funicular) is closed, will they open it for us if we ask?” {sign says closed for maintainance}
“Is that snow? (hailstones) It’s very hard snow, I’ve never touched hard snow. Is all snow like this in Europe? Shit, they can’t make snowmen with hard snow!”
At this moment I wanted to either commit suicide to celebrate the inadequacy of the human race but on consideration decided that only through reformation of the education system can the USA irradiate cultural leprosy. I was still suffering from a tight chest and once back in blighty and MOT was on the agenda. Unperturbed by an impending cardiac arrest I set off up the hill.
I risked annihilation by navigating past a legion of Segway’s. I stopped to read the carved inscriptions on a lovers rock before reaching the Petrin Tower Observatory (1891 reconstructed 1993) which was overrun by tourists sheltering from the “hard snow”. After the hail storm came glorious sunshine. I met charming Polish people and local couples asking if I’d take their photo, all with generally perfect English. I was so happy to have left Korea and returned to civilisation.
The Petřín hill (formerly one of King Charles’ vineyards) offers beautiful views of Prague, to the rear of the tower I was able to take the walk through the former vineyards past Strahov Monastery and Library towards Prague Castle. The Bellavista restaurant has a hearty traditional menu and magnificent views on the outside terrace.
I pottered through the district of Hradcany (the Castle District) stopping at a patisserie cream vanilla slice plus coffee (£1:20). They also sold huge seeded bread with mozzarella tomato and Basil for £1:20. The buildings here are beautifully preserved and the area not too overcrowded as most visitors approach the castle across Charles Bridge at the foot of the hill. I’d no intention of entering the busy areas deterred even further by the irritating eye poking selfie sticks.  Rumour has it that the Prague Castle was most likely founded in around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty (Přemyslovci). According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m². It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At the adjacent Starbucks everyone drinking hot coffee except the SK’s who also decide they can smoke inside the Castle. I’m mildly irritated after being indoctrinated into the cult of Japanese hatred. Who burned Korea to the ground? Well the Japanese of course! Lets hope Prague isn’t burned to the ground! And how to spot the SK’s? Well the boys are wearing skinny jeans and summer weight blazers supported by no socks and of course the girls have altered eyes and unmanageable stilettos.
I quickly skirted the castle and emerged at the Villa Richter restaurant, tres posh. Further down the hill I passed another SK couple easily identified by attire, surgery and the fact that he carried her handbag. They were confused about their location so being a good Samaritan I asked them to open Google Maps on their Galaxy S6 and pointed out how to use the App. Navers no good here! lol.
On the way to the Kampa Museum I settled by the river; a man tumbled over as he foolishly decided to approach a Swan and her cygnets. I could see the Kafka museum but I wasn’t in an indoors mood and the weather was beautiful. After a short power nap I pottered to The Kampa area which despite having a craft and food market was relatively deserted. The heart of Kampa Island is a small square in the shadow of the Charles Bridge. I sat in one of the local cafés before strolling to the public park and art gallery. I was able to also visit the John Lennon Wall which the Americans had decided was on Petrin Hill, do they have Internet access in the USA? The islands been voted the second most beautiful city island in the world. Its pretty but aren’t tourist boards prone towards exaggeration?
pragueitinerary3
I doubled back to Charles Bridge. The Gothic Charles Bridge (Karlův most) is a 14th century stone bridge linking the two sides of Prague. This beautiful structure, one of the city’s finest attractions, is the main pedestrian route connecting the Old Town with the Lesser Town / Prague Castle. As usual it was uncomfortably busy and choca with vendors selling tourist trash. I celebrated on selfie stick snapping and watched amused as the Samsung Galaxy 5 plopped into the river!
Leaving on the old town side it was incredibly claustrophobic, most of Italy had defended on Prague for the Easter holiday. Why do people travel in unmanageable groups of 40/60? I thought of hiring a drone to disperse them. As I headed into the Old Town it got worse and so a sharp right took me towards U Fleku. U Fleku is a large pub, restaurant and micro-brewery and of all the traditional Czech pubs in Prague, architecturally there is no finer example. It’s located in an ancient building which dates from 1499. This huge, sprawling tavern is a complex of rooms laid out in true European beer hall-style. Unfortunately times change and there’s no entry without a booking. I settled for some Goulash and beer from Cafe Restaurant V Podloubi which was comfortably busy and the fayre terrific.
Bloody hell day 2 was a torrent of “hard snow”, so bad I went pottering around the shops before landing for a boozy lunch at La Casa Blu. The rest of the afternoon I just flaneured whist trying to avoid the crowds and to discover some street art. Later I visited a spa because that’s what you do when the “hard snow” is falling! So Bernards Beer Spa was on the agenda. The Beer Spa is a popular type of spa from the Middle Ages. It is a unique spa therapy, where only natural materials are used such as hops, yeast and other natural substances, which have a beneficial effect on your ageing body. Part of the Beer Spa experience is also the unlimited consumption of unpasteurized Beer Bernard.

It was day three and while Prague Castle gets all the hugs and screaming tourists, Vyšehrad, located in the southern part of the city, was also one of the original castles of the kings of Prague. It was built around the 10th century and contains Prague’s oldest surviving building, the Rotunda of St Martin. Few tourists ever come here (hurrah) so you’ll get the castle and its views of Prague to yourself. From the castle take the awesome walk along the river back into the centre of town. There are walking and bikes paths as well as places to stop, sit, and watch the world go by. It’s mostly locals around here, despite it being about 20 minutes from the city centre.

Day 4 was chill-out day, no plans just pottering. Coffee and reading prior to my Berlin train journey.

The Prague to Berlin journey I can confirm is one of the finest middle-distance hops anywhere in Europe. It is less than five hours by train between the two capitals. Reliable EuroCity services run every two hours along the route. This was not one of those high-speed journeys on a TGV or Eurostar. It is, rather, rail travel as it used to be. The route catches the warp and weft of the landscape, tracking north from Prague through soft Bohemian countryside and then following the Elbe Valley downstream into German Saxony. There are comfortable cabins and picture windows for sightseeing. the Czech, Austrian and Hungarian rolling stock used on the EuroCity services from Prague to Berlin all have a nicely retro feel. Grab a window seat on the right-hand side of the train for the best views. Heading north from the Czech capital you sense the spirit of the countryside that so inspired Czech composers.

Just over an hour out of Prague, the valley sides are even steeper, and the finest stretch of the journey is the spectacular gorge of the River Elbe just beyond the station stop at Decín (dreamland). Once over the border into Germany, there are fine views of sandstone turrets and perched castles, beautiful!  Later in the journey, the train sweeps through Dresden before heading north through seemingly endless forests to Berlin. This is truly a ride worth taking.

I arrive on time and happy ready for my next adventure in Berlin.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.