Monday, April 26, 2010

berlin and eyjafjallajoekull

So in the end it turned out not to be about the things i saw and did but the people who were there. Open, joyful and generous - I was so content to be "stuck" there that I began to believe that volcano exploded just for me. At the train station Wednesday (5 days after my planned departure) my heart sank as the kind woman behind the Deutsche-Bahn counter informed me that I'd be able to leave that night. No more excuse to stay. I thought I'd be so sad to leave, but as the train pulled out of the station I couldn't help smiling to myself as I relived the week's events. Did all of that really just happen to me in a week? To the best of my knowledge it did...

conclusions reached:

1) couchsurfing is a wonderful network of fun people functions fantastically, judging by my first experience.

2) There is no city like Berlin.

This is the view from the roof of my host's apartment

being a good tourist at Checkpoint Charlie

at Brandenburg gate

some other peeps also getting their picture taken infront of the Brandenburg Gate

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Kurfürstendamm


Tuesday market in Kreuzberg

Schloss Charlottenburg

ALL the appartments were like this. (Kidding! But this oddball made me happy!)

The Wall.

Köpenick - lake country

karaoke at Mauer Park. There is a giant flea market in the background.

Lastly, quite possibly the coolest thing I saw in Berlin which I would never have found without the aid of my fantastic host Caro. There's an abandoned US radar station just west of Berlin which is officially closed down (you had to sneak through a hole in the fence) but which was full of people anyway. The site itself was super interesting. Someone had tried to rennovate themselves a little flat in one section of the tower (had hardwood floors and everything) and there were large concrete slabs on one level that served as the structure for a graffiti gallery. also: best. view. EVER. 

door to nowhere...

echo...  echo...   echo.....

"I'm flying..."

Monday, March 22, 2010

carnaval !

In Europe, they don't have Halloween. When discussing this with my students, it was revealed that a few years ago "they" tried to impose Halloween upon the French people. Guided by the leading and somewhat pointed questions of their teacher, my students decided that "they" must be a group of private enterprises looking for further ways to make money off the French people. Like Valentines day. My students were probably right.

By now, it may seem like I have a pro-Europe bias. (Which is not true! As part of my experience living abroad, I've genuinely come to love and adore North America's open mindedness and imagination and identify myself as a Canadian above all, through and through - perhaps more on that in another post...) But it must be said that while carnaval resembles Halloween in its use of costumes and fireworks, I found it to be a far superior celebratory experience.

There was the giant (and I mean gargantuan) bonfire. Then there was the costumed march with paper torches from the Main Square to the river ending with fireworks and hundreds of costumed participants simultaneously casting their torches into the river - a truly breathtaking effect. The abundance of men in ridiculous drag didn't hurt carnaval's standing in my eyes either.

But above all, it was the successfully created spirit of community, inclusiveness and having a silly fun time that really sold me.

(photo credit: Matthieu)
Before I go any further, I must confess to being a long-standing Halloween-humbug (a bias possibly created whilst I was living on a university campus). It's been the predictable neverending parade of stumbling floozies in lingerie and animal ears followed at a few slinking paces by the requisite throng of creepy dudes that's made Halloween ghastly for me in all the wrong ways. When you're too old to be a child going door to door and too young to be at home giving out candy - this scenario is difficult to completely avoid.

Perhaps I'll be ambitious and try to organize something that injects that carnaval spirit into Halloween next year now that I'm sure that fun times with costumes can be done right. Party at my place?

Monday, March 1, 2010

my cold, cold vacation part 2: Londontown

Day 1!

I arrived in the afternoon, got settled, wandered around a bit and saw Waiting for Godot in the evening. An auspicious start :)

This is just outside my hostel - people spilling over the bridge from the TATE Modern on the opposite bank of the Thames.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Walking along the Victoria embankment - still not too far from my hostel.

Highlight of the Victoria & Albert fashion installment: Early 1930s beaded tulle evening gown by Jean Patou.

Low point of the Victoria & Albert fashion exhibit. Yes, that's Juicy Couture. I decided to leave.

The West End. On my way to Godot!

Secret Illegal footage from inside Haymarket Theatre.

Chinatown Feb 13th - Chinese New Year's Eve.

Thames at night. (My little camera was trying really hard to take good night photos...)

Day 2!

Guided tour of "the major sights" in the morning, followed by Soho and further wandering - ending with delicious curry from Brick Lane.

Whoever decided that this needed to be painted at every crosswalk probably saved my life:

B-ham Palace was, aside from the shiny, shiny gate and the tour guide's comical account of the "Michael Fagan incident," not as impressive as I thought it might be.

St. James's Palace had more character.

In the guard box - taking advantage of touristy photo-op.

Vancouver and Canada love from London.

Admiralty Arch.

Westminster Abbey.

Westminster was really stunning in person. Enormous and ornate beyond belief.

On to SoHo: Regent Street

The CAMPER store.

Saville Row: where British dandies park their Mini Coopers :)

Lloyd's insurance building also know as "the Inside-Out Building." According to a tour guide this takes the prize for London's most hated building (over The Gherkin! which apparently people have started to feel affection for...) Architect Richard Rogers also worked on the Centre Pompidou, Paris's most hated piece of architecture.

Night bunnies.

Day 3!

Portobello Road! A side trip motivated mainly by the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Portobello Road's modern incarnation did not disappoint - plenty of fabulous antiques shops, street markets, colourful storefronts and appartments, artsy cafes and adorable boutiques! Though I don't have any pictures from the rest of the day (my camera's battery finally bit it), I also met my friend Rom for lunch who gave me a quick tour of LSE campus and divided the rest of my day between the National Portrait Gellery and the TATE Modern.

The blue circle on the blue house tells us that this is the former residence of George Orwell.

Just try not to feel giddy walking down this street :)


Too many reflective surfaces :P

So despite the cold, and going in without much in the way of a plan - I succeeded in having a great time in London. Loved it almost as much as New York. Londoners, you are a lucky, lucky people.