Saturday, February 27, 2016

Holiday Photo Diary: Germany (Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg)

Germany was sort of my home base as I traveled through Europe. I stopped at Cologne on the way through to Prague, spent some time in Berlin before heading into Scandinavia and stopped into Hamburg before making my way to my final stop in Amsterdam. I'd spent most of 2015 learning German on the Duolingo app so it was one of the countries I felt most comfortable in, language wise, which was was a welcome relief while travelling by myself.

I mentioned being sick at the start of my Prague visit, and sadly it was at its worst in Cologne. I had caught an overnight bus from London so I was tired, stressed and aching. The train station in Cologne is huge, but I think there are maybe 4 seats in the whole place so I wandered around the area before trying to grab a seat in Starbucks to warm up and rest my weary bones. Sick or not, the cathedral was seriously stunning.

Berlin was also amazing. My photos make it seem a little grey and morose, but it certainly felt brighter and more exuberant in person. I was staying in Mitte, which put me in the perfect positon to visit all the iconic sites from world war 2. I have so much respect for the Germans and their absolute refusal to hide from their history. It's a dark and devastating past and you can't walk down a street without a reminder of exactly how horrific it was, but at the same time the city is so alive and positive. I took another one of the free walking tours which started at the Brandenburg Gate, and went past the Reichstagg, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Hitler's Bunker (or rather the carpark that sits there today), Luftwaffe HQ, Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery and some other spots. The tour guide was fantastic and gave us a great history of Germany both pre- and post- WWII. I did tours through a few different companies, but I did a few through Sandemanns and I wholeheartedly recommend their free walking tours. Such an excellent way to get your head around the city and some free advice on what you should visit and what can be skipped. After the tour I took a train out to Sonnenalee to get a tattoo by the amazing Daisy. She's actually from my home town (small world or what?!) and if you are anywhere near Berlin pay her a visit. Her line work is so delicate and her style is incomparable. After my tattoo session I went down to the turkish markets that are in the area. If I lived in Berlin I would buy all of my food there, it was all so mouthwatering. There are non-food things for sale too, but honestly I was so hungry that they were basically blurs as I hunted down the food stalls.

The next day I started with a coffee and a walk through the Tiergarten, the large park right beside the Brandenburg Gate. It's a gorgeous park, but it's also home to a lot of monuments commemorating people who were persecuted during WWII. My favourite monument was probably the one commemorating the persecuted homosexuals, it's a grey block of concrete with a small screen on one end which screens a short film of two men kissing. It's so simple but it's so deliberate and unapologetic and I loved it, I can't really explain it any better than that. I had signed up for a tour out to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, which took up the majority of my afternoon. It was such a raw experience, it paralleled the visit Tom and I took to Hiroshima a few years ago. One of the most mind-boggling aspects was getting off the bus and seeing all of the houses buttressed against the camp. I can't imagine trying to live a regular life with such an unavoidable reminder of human suffering outside of your window. I think it'd probably be incredibly humbling, but I don't think I'd be strong enough. The tour guide sat with each person individually on the train back into Berlin and helped us find somewhere to visit to help balance out the experience of Sachsenhausen and I really appreciated that. He also gave everyone a list of books and movies about the concentration camps that he recommends, both fiction and non-fiction. He really went above and beyond the usual tour guide role.

In direct comparison to my rather somber Berlin visit (I swear it wasn't all WWII and concentration camps!), I spent my day in Hamburg literally just hopping between Christmas markets. It was divine. They opened at around 10, and there were at least 4 within a short-ish walk from each other. I started at the Weisserzauber markets on the edge of Binnenalster, where I drank mulled wine at 10.30am and then had to make a beeline for some bratwurst because it went straight to my head! The next market was at the Hamburg Rathaus (town hall). These markets were absolutely packed full of people and I shuffled along with everyone drinking hot chocolate and buying little handmade Christmas decorations. Each market had their own souvenir mugs and by the time I made my way back to the hotel my bag was clinking from all of the cups I had purchased. There was a parade of dancing children and small floats riding around the streets and it was the cheeriest parade ever. There's something about Wham Chistmas carols and snow machine and dancing gingerbread which makes my heart shine.

Actually I lied, I didn't spend my whole day at the Christmas markets. I did spend most of my day there, but I spent the afternoon at the Museum Für Kunst und Gewerbe. They had an exhibit of 'jugenstil' or the art nouveau movement which was a nice compliment to the Mucha museum in Prague. I also got to see some exhibits on modernity and fashion and interiors, islamic art and flatstock gig posters. And when I went to find a bathroom I found a group of 6 little girls dressed like Marie Antoinette dancing in a alcove. It was basically the most perfect museum ever. They also had a local artist market in one section and I'll tell ya, if I had the money I would have bought my weight in hand-dyed scarves, jewelry and pottery.

Cologne Cathedral
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin
The memorial is said to be inspired by the Jewish cemetery in Prague, which incidentally Hitler wanted to conserve as a museum of the extinct Jews. Just in case you didn't already think he was an awful, awful, awful person.

Brandenburg Gate

Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, Berlin
My new tattoo!
East Side Gallery, Berlin

Christmas parade in Hamburg, complete with snow machine!


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Holiday Photo Diary: Amsterdam

By the time I got to Amsterdam I was pretty exhausted and the weather seemed determined to make my sightseeing as complicated as possible. Grey skies, persistent rain and wind so rough that umbrellas were impossible. But I persevered and saw as much of the sweet gingerbread city as I could before I had to just give up and retire to a coffee shop for a few hours to dry off.

I went to the Rembrandt Museum, which is basically his house refitted as it was when he lived there. Your entry includes an audio tour and you can get some insight into the artist and the man. They were able to furnish his house partially by looking at the paintings which used his house as a setting, but also from when he lost his money and they repossessed all of his things. Which is such a depressing idea, but hey, at least we get a glimpse into how his kitchen, drawing room and student studios were set out! They also have demonstrations of the etching process he used for his prints. I didn't make it to any of the other museums because the rain brought the crowds in droves, but I did take a walk down to the museum district to take a look from afar.

The next day was my last day in Europe and I started it with a walking tour around the area. I walked through the red light district (I actually walked through it the night before, but was so focused on getting out of the rain I didn't even notice!), past oude kirk, the Dutch East India Company Headquarters, Neuw-markt square, Nieuwe kirk, the Beginhof (a convent) and even got a cheese tasting. The tour ended at Anne Frank's House, which again I didn't end up going into because of the massive, massive crowds. Note to future travelers, everyone in Amsterdam loves museums so plan ahead! I went over to the Film Eye after my tour ended. It's across the river from central Amsterdam, but there's a free ferry that runs between the two sides. You've got to love the ease and availability of  European public transport. Film Eye is a phenomenal modern building which regularly screen films (sadly I couldn't get into one that day) but it also has exhibits on film directors, films, genres and general film content. An excellent way to spend a cold and wet day in Amsterdam. Second only to shoving stroopwafels in my mouth until I make myself sick.

Stairs in Rembrandt's home

Student studio at Rembrandt's home

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Holiday Photo Diary: Scandinavia (Odense, Copenhagen, Malmö, Lund)

This post will be my smallest holiday diary because I went from my conference in Odense to spending time with some friends in Sweden, so I didn't really do the usual tourism and photo deal. But it was lovely and you'll have to take my word for it.

The conference was in Odense, the home of Hans Christian Andersen. I was only there for the days of the conference so I didn't get a chance to visit his home or the museum, but there were statues and memorials for him dotted around the whole town. If you ever take a trip to Denmark I highly recommend stopping in to Odense. It's about an hour or two outside of Copenhagen and utterly charming. We had a conference dinner at the restaurant No 61 in the centre of town and it was a mouthwatering Danish meal. On another night I went to Christian Firtal, a brewery in town, with a couple of other attendees. It was a perfect hideaway and I had a beer called Hoppy Christmas - perfect place is perfect.

After the conference I caught a train up to Lund, Sweden where a couple of my friends moved a few years ago. It was the first time I met their gorgeous little son, and together we walked around the pretty town of Lund and caught a train out to Malmö (about 45 minutes) to visit the town squares. I wish I'd had more time to really explore Sweden. Next time for sure. After an night of catching up and reading their son Mister Men and Little Miss books, we caught a train out to Copenhagen. Little kids means that everything takes a lot longer so I didn't get to see a lot of Copenhagen, but we did take a stroll past Tivoli Gardens, the amusement park, and down to Nyhavn, the 17th waterfront entertainment district populated with colourful buildings.

The quiet little street I stayed on in Odense

My home for the conference

Hoppy Christmas, Christian Firtal
Walking through Lund with my pals
Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Friday, February 5, 2016

Holiday Photo Diary: England

My actual first stop on my whirlwind trip was England, i.e. the place Laura lives. I did a whole bunch over this week, a trip up to Bristol to visit one of my oldest friends, visits to the Science Museum, Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden etc etc but really this week can be summed up by two thing: LAURA and HARRY POTTER!

Laura and I caught up over three days, first we went to Covent Garden for Shake Shack and a trip to the Science Museum for the Cosmonauts exhibit, which was basically us walking around the exhibits and Laura reporting on how attractive she found various Russian astronauts and communists :P
Day 2 we played ultimate tourist. We met at Green Park and walked and walked and walked, occassionally stopping to snap photos of Buckingham Palace, Shakespeare's Globe (which was the first time Laura had visited it!), The Tower of London, The National Gallery, and all of the many other attractions dotted along the walk. We ended up at the British Library which was around the corner from where I was staying. It was such a perfect place to end the day and honestly we spent as much time in the gift shop as we did in the treasure collection. If I had all the money I would buy all the store. All of it.

And then it was time for Harry Potter. So a little background. For my birthday Tom bought me a gift ticket to cover my entry to the HP exhibit and issue number 1 was that these gift tickets don't have a serial number that you can simply enter online to redeem. No, you have to call and book your entry time or wing it and hope that you can get it. So thank god I had Laura to act as my secretary/booking agent and settle this all on her end. Problem 2, when we went to book the damn place was going to be closed for the ENTIRE TIME I WAS IN ENGLAND. They were literally like the only 4 days they close, which they use to switch over to Christmas. A frantic rearrangement occurred and I stayed on in London an extra day simply to see Harry Potter. CHRISTMASSY Harry Potter. Worth it.

The place is phenomenal. Not only was I completely surrounded by Harry Potter paraphernalia but it was such a cool little blast of information about all the behind the scenes aspects of the films. The blueprints for all of the buildings and small-scale models were definitely my favourite part. What I would have given to work on those films! We also had the obligatory butterbeer at the food court and I almost ordered the butterbeer ice cream as well, but even mid-Harry-Potter-happiness-coma I could recognise how terrible an idea that would be. And then we spent a lot of time in the gift shop where I contemplated buying a whole lot of stuff I really didn't need and didn't particularly want to cart around with me for another three weeks in Europe. Tempting though.

Bristol Waterway
Banksy in Bristol

There was something going on when Laura and I were playing tourist. I don't think we ever worked out what exactly it was though?

Two babes meeting in the flesh!

She made it to the Globe. Finally!


Such amazing detail!

Snowy Hogwarts


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