berlin

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Train Time, Town Time…

Friday, August 27th, 2010

I’m on the fast train to Denmark, which I fortunately made, by sheer luck!  The train was delayed five minutes which is just what I needed, since I’d remembered the departure time at 11:36 a.m. as opposed to the actual departure of 11:26 a.m.!!  Whew…  =)

 Come to find out the reason the ticket was twice the cost of other trains I’ve traveled on the past two months is because, this train loads up on a ferry when we get to the ocean, crossing into Denmark.  How cool, I’ll get to be on the water again!  There was also a special at the bahnhof when I went to purchase my ticket, for only 5 Euros more I’m leaving Europe via first class.  I must be doing something right.

I’m due to arrive in Copenhagen around 6 p.m. where two lovely ladies will be joining me for dinner tonight; they are local Danish friends of another friend back home in the islands.  Gitte & Minna are who will be showing me around their great city of Copenhagen, which Lone left several years ago when she met & married her husband, John. It’s all about the folks you meet in life as the journey of life continues to unfold, right?   You never know where a brief hello will take you, since that is all the time I had with Gitte & Minna in Hawaii.  We met for sunset cocktails at the Hale Koa Hotel with Lone, sipping on mai tai’s together, now I’m on my way to Copenhagen.  “Life is good”, as Lone would say!

 Yet, Berlin is where I’ve just spent the past six days.  Each day the city kept revealing itself to me in a new way, even when I would see the same place on another day from a different street or mode of transport—the city just kept on redefining itself each time, with each impression.  It’s really a unique city in comparison to other European cities for many reasons.  The most obvious one is that it has rebuilt itself, after the 28 years that the Berlin Wall stood through its borders, literally separating families, friends, and communities overnight.  The wall came down in 1989; it went up in 1961, all within my lifetime.  I can only imagine what the lives of those it physically separated must have been like in those days, also in the years that followed when it finally came down.

Berlin Old & New

I remember well when the headlines read “Berlin Wall Coming Down!”  It rekindled dreams of the days when people believed that change is possible.  We could end wars, or an oppressive government, by protesting, that a collective consciousness can move mountains or walls…  How wonderful is that?

Achtung Berlin!!  What a city—from the touristy trap of Checkpoint Charlie, to the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Tiergarten, to it’s impressive museums like the Pergamon and the Jewish Museum, both left me totally impressed, moved and educated, especially the Jewish Museum for obvious reasons.  Thank God, my ancestors did not have to live through any of the horrors that happened to the Jewish people during World War II.  Although the museum really didn’t focus on that aspect at all, but more on what Germany has lost in terms of its society.  So many Jews left the country when they could, both before the war and afterwards, when they said, “Enough”, giving birth to Israel. 

But Berlin is so much more than these things today. 

 It is a vibrant city with all kinds of artists vying to make a mark in the world, be it music, visual arts, classical concerts, you name it—the best talents in the world come to Berlin to launch careers.  I found a great little spot a few blocks away from my hotel that was a music school, with students performing free shows each evening.  It was called the “Schlot”.  Great jazz…for free!  Then I noticed when I was cruising the city on my rented bicycle (the only way to really see this city in my opinion) in the Old Town area, at the Konzerhal, a “Young Euro Classics” series of classical performances in the Konzerhal.  Only 15 Euros per night!  I went yesterday on my last day, with it being a series of piano performances throughout the day at two hour intervals, for only 6 Euros!  Again, I think I’m doing something right.  The pianist came out for two encores to standing ovations—amazing final night in Berlin for me.  I had preceded that by going to the top of the “Fernsehturm” TV-Tower, to get a bird’s eye view of the city. I wound up having dinner in one of those revolving-type of restaurants with a sweet Scottish woman by the name of Violet, who was waiting for a solo seat also.  We had a great time talking over so many things, exchanging emails at the end of dinner.

 And so the journey continues…

Copenhagen via my room in Jaipur, India

Aug. 23rd 4 p.m.  (tea time)

To write of my 4 days in Copenhagen after my last 48 hours in India, may prove a bit difficult to do it justice but here I go…. 

Let me say this though, India is everything you imagine it to be like—sounds (noise, honking horns at all hours, masses of people everywhere, poverty & affluence side by side in the street, on the metro, at a temple) but for now—

Copenhagen.

I spent 4 nights in this seaside city of 3 million inhabitants.  It does live up to its reputation of being VERY expensive.  My first evening after my train ride from Berlin, I was met at my hotel lobby by the dear friends of another friend in Hawaii, Gitte & Minna, who were my “Ambassadors of Aloha”!  =)  These two wonderful women certainly did their best to show me their city and countryside, in what time they could manage to take off from their busy careers and families.

Scandinavian Sweeties

We rendezvoused around 8 p.m. and walked through the city, crossed a canal with a bunch of folks on a river cruise, were greeted with champagne corks flying, us waving to them a “royal wave” as they continued their celebration they were having.  We finished down on the harbor front in what is the original harbor of Copenhagen, off Larsens Plads.  It was lined with beautiful old homes with typical Danish architecture, somewhat like what you would see in Amsterdam or in the Netherlands.  It was a Monday evening so we didn’t stay out too late but enjoyed an appetizer & a bottle of wine together.  When I said it was expensive, this will give you an idea—I only ordered some soup which was priced about the same as other appetizers on the menu…my bowl of soup was approximately $17 USD.  Ouch!!

 We made plans to meet the next morning since Gitte wanted to drive up to the north end of the island to this seaport town called, Gilleleje–right down my alley!  Unfortunately the weather gods were not cooperating with us the next day, but it was a good day to be driving in a car, as opposed to the rain & cold all around.  By the time we got to our destination the rain had stopped.  We were able to spend a little time walking the docks looking at the various fishing vessels around, snapping a few shots of the area.  We then had a typical seaside lunch from the area, talking together and getting to know one another somewhat finally.  It was a really nice afternoon.  We topped it off by stopping at this castle called, Frederiksborg, for some coffee & dessert.  It turns out the castle’s church is where Minna was married at.  What an incredible setting!

 It literally is still surrounded by a moat, with gorgeous gardens beside it and a lake that looks out on the town where Minna has lived for several years.  We really had a great time walking around there, taking lots of pictures again, since the rain decided to stop again after our decadent dessert of walnut pie—OMG, was it delicious.

 We dropped Minna off at her car in town there and then Gitte drove me all the way back into Copenhagen, where she had to turn around and probably drive another hour to where she lives….talk about aloha spirit.  Thank you, once again.

Cycle City Copenhagen

The next day I took care of a lot of details for my next destinations, such as finding accommodations, flights and so on since it was a pretty cold rainy day.  Finally in the afternoon it cleared up, so I got out rented a bicycle for 24 hours and did some exploring on my own.  I wound up in another harbor community known as Christianshavn—beautiful.  There were tons of sailboats here, as well as houseboats.  I found one for sale that would be just down my alley for my next abode, only problem would be getting it to Hawaii.  Any takers?! =)

 My final day I just rode around the city some more on my bicycle, found the king’s gardens and his castle, Rosenborg.  Again, just gorgeous landscapes, gardens, and some tranquility in the midst of a huge city—I think the tranquility I find in these places is what keeps drawing me to them.  That and also the beauty of the garden designs, all for free. 

Rosenburg Castle

My last evening I hit Tivoli Gardens to ride an amusement ride, for an adrenaline rush.  Maybe in preparing for the rush of adrenaline that I knew awaited me in India. 

 Stay tuned…….

Trains, Towns, & traveling on…

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I write this from my seat on the train to Prague, in the Czech Republic.  I’ve just finished up 5 nights in Budapest, Hungary after having spent a week in Vienna, Austria.  Next stop after Prague is Berlin, then on to Copenhagen, where a girlfriend awaits to show me her lovely city & countryside. 

The road, the rails, the rambling this soul has been doing is starting to catch up somewhat.  The week in Vienna was excellent, since I had the pleasure of a couple of girlfriend’s company.  It was great to not have to think ahead or plan anything or research a thing.  Do I sound like I’m getting a bit tired of this traveling nomad’s life??  Perhaps, yes—but the reality is when it’s over with, I’ll wish I was on the road again.  So I’m taking it all in stride as best as I can.  Let me recap some of the highlights of the cities I’ve just visited, while they are still fresh in my memory.

Vienna…  What an elegant city–that’s how I kept describing it to people I would talk with.  Sites that were just a delight to explore more than once were definitely Shonbrunn Castle & its beautiful grounds.  I believe it is something like 40 hectares in the heart of the city.  Simply gorgeous.  Tranquil, even with all the crowds that come to see it daily.  My dear TEFL classmate, Kathi, shared it with me my first day in Vienna.  What fun to explore the grounds, we never went to tour the inside of the castle; the grounds were so spectacular we didn’t want to spend our time indoors!  I returned on another day with a friend that joined me in Vienna for a few days, without really seeing the same areas in the same manner twice.  It truly is a splendid place to spend a day or several hours.

Kathi & Shonbrunn

Something I’ve come to realize in my travels is the real joy I find when I’m in nature.  It can be in a city park, a botanical garden, or lovely settings like the national park in Plitvice, Croatia.  I find serenity in these places, but also a real connection with the environment around me.  I knew this at a young age, when I decided to major in forestry in college, later finishing in horticulture.  After my travels are done, I intend to find work in a national park seasonally. 

Vienna has so much to offer it’s really hard to put into words the feelings I felt about the city, other than it is cosmopolitan, sophisticated, culturally aware, and just a real gem of a city.  The public transportation is excellent; there are bike paths throughout the city too, so if you are so inclined the choice is really up to you.  Fun experiences were at the Rathausplatz (town hall plaza) where my final night they had the opera “Carmen” on the big 50x 80 foot screen with incredible high definition & a sound system that was equally impressive.  All for free! =)  Also, the Praterplatz with its amusement park, the Danube River of course which my friend Tina took me out on for an afternoon cruise.  All equally wonderful experiences and the list could go on & on.

Rathausplatz

Next stop was Budapest…..

But now I’m on the train from Prague heading to Berlin.

Where to pick up?  I think from where I am—although I don’t want to side step Budapest. 

The city was also beautiful, but a definite air of depression seemed to cover it too.  The buildings were covered in soot, from years and years of traffic exhaust. It sort of gave the city a feel of the obvious in terms of the years of oppression from communist ruling and occupation.  The streets are all under some type of construction with a new metro line being installed, so the city felt like it was trying to come out of its past, but it has not emerged yet.  I hope it recovers the way that the Czech Republic seems to have. 

Prague is alive. 

Budapest was best experienced for me by hitting the amazing baths it’s renowned for.  The one I went to the first day was definitely my favorite.  I went to the Gellert Baths on my last day, which is known as one of the original bath houses.  The Szecheryr Furdo baths where I went first, were pure indulgence, vibrant, & filled with all kinds of people.  I spent a good 6 hours there that day, which flew by.  At the Gellert Baths I stayed maybe 3 hours and was ready to leave at that time…enough said.

Szecheryr Furdo Chess match

Bathing Buda-style!

Budapest also has some amazing sites to visit all of which I really enjoyed, from the Parliament where the crown jewels are on display, to its castle that overlooks the Danube from the Buda-side of the river, to Margaret Island, with its lovely gardens & bike paths to ride along under beautiful wooded paths, while the Danube is circling it’s coastline.  It’s what you make of it right?!  I indeed made the best of the city, in spite of a traveling companion who turned sour quickly.  I knew something was up when that feather floated down in front of me as soon as we entered our hostel—life really is like a box of chocolates….  =)

So as I said, previously Prague is ALIVE!

Its buildings are beautiful, its architecture amazing, the pastel colors of the buildings all speak to you as you walk by them, the tender care that has been taken of them is so evident everywhere you turn.  The city is vibrant, with tourists, locals, music & art forms everywhere you turn.  The weather while I was there was cold, rainy, but instead of feeling like remaining indoors I felt inspired to take photographs in sepia my first day out!  Does that tell you something?

Prague Castle from Charles Bridge

Prague also has a beautiful river flowing through it, called the Vltava River.  It also boasts the Charles Bridge with fantastic statues every few meters on either side of it.  There is no lack of great photography that has captured it from every possible angle & time of day, via the artists that line the bridge as you walk across to the other side of town where its impressive castle is known as Prazsky Hrad.

The thing that I enjoyed the most about Prague was it’s wonderful music scene, with composers such as Mozart having adopted it as a second home, during his glory days, it has brought a diverse population of musicians with the best you could ask for in everything from classical, to opera, to jazz, blues and beyond.  I was in Prague only for 4 nights but was able to hear live music for free in the Old Town Square two of four days, due to the Prague Jazz Festival being put on by the Agartha Jazz folks.  My last night I spent listening to some hot R&B, by a Scotsman named “Stan the Man” at the U Maleho Glena club.

Berlin—you have a tall order to fill!

Prague at night