OH MY GOODNESS!!! I must really apologise to all the people who have been waiting and hoping for my update!! But at long, long, long, long, LONG last here it is!
This first post takes us from the 12th of April until the 21st, days 94 – 103! Some days are a little sporadic in note form, I hope this is ok with you guys!
12th A long and slow wander around the Tiergarten, I got approached by two people wielding a video camera, who then asked me to eat a chocolate quark cake thing and talk about what I thought, so, basically anyone could get me to eat chocolate if they just asked, so I went for it. A rather funny situation, I was expecting to be asked questions but I just had to say stuff, as it came to me, so it was all a little awkward. But I think I got away with it!! After that I wandered the length of the Tiergarten and then back towards the city centre, and this time on the way back I visited the Russian memorial, a large imposing structure right near the Reichstag, I wandered around the rear of the monument where there is a short, but interesting history of. Then I wandered to the Reichstag and took the usual touristy photo, then to the main train station to check out times and prices of trains to various onward options, then I headed home, though moved out to stay with another pair of friends for the night. We went to the opening night of a show, which had some work by an artist that my friend is assistant to
13th The next day I actually moved into a place to myself, just for the next two weeks, it’s nice, a good size for one and has a balcony and lots of lovely sunshine pours in through the large windows. No photos of this day I’m afraid.
14th A nice walk to Friedrichshain area of Eastern Berlin and around shops and markets. Then I wandered down Karl Marx Allee, a long, long, beautiful street, the sun was shining brightly, I made it to the fountain and sat next to the statue of Karl Marx for a while, enjoying the sunshine and the passers by taking photos. More shops and wandering after that, found a Club Mate ‘Ice Tea’ version (image on previous post). Not much different, maybe a little stronger in taste. That evening I met up with Annett, a good old friend of mine, who, it turned out I’ve not seen in 3 years!, and her new boyfriend for a drink. We had some good chat, they seem very besotted with one another, which is sweet.
15th, My friend Marta arrived in Berlin for a few days. I spent the wandering around some more before I went to meet her at the bus station, and show her where she was! Whilst I waited I had a tasty Green-Oolong Milky Bubble tea with popping lychee balls! Bubble teas seem to be all the rage in Berlin at the minute, they are quite expensive, but this one was quite tasty and the popping lychee ‘QQ’ were novelty enough!
16th, Today I took Marta to Friedrichshain to try to find film for her Holga camera, which failed because it was all far too expensive. But it was a lovely wander around. We wandered along the East Side Gallery, the largest stretch of the Berlin Wall which has been recently repainted, but with the same images as the original murals created, so it is looking really great. We stopped of and had cake in a Turkish bakery near to Schlesisches Tor.
17th, A quick visit to the market that stretches along the canal around the corner from where I am staying, it sells mostly food stuff, veg, cake, cheese, bread. Followed by a long walk to Victoria Park and the Kreuzberg monument, after which the area is named; Kreuzberg translating literally into ‘Cross Mountain’ basically a big green pointing thing with a cross on the top at the top of a tall hill, with a fake waterfall built onto it. Then walked further West into the Shoneberg district, had a hot chocolate in a little old ice cream parlour that looks like it has existed forever, really old school decoration and wooden walls. Then walked to Kliest park, and then found an old war time bunker as well as the area where the sports hall once existed that Hitler used to give his big speeches, including the one where he asked the crowd whether they want total war and the crowd cheered in agreement. It is now a housing development.
18th, A walk to the city centre. To the TV tower and Neptune fountain, then down towards the Brandenburg gate meandering about and finding old churches and other old buildings, the old Aeroflot office, that Marta told me used to still have the Hammer and Sickle on the sign, but not anymore it would seem, the Russian embassy, just a little way down the road though, still does have the hammer and sickle on its façade! Then to the Holocaust memorial and found the area that once had a lot more of Hitlers bunkers, as well as the one in which he, and Eva Braun committed suicide, before their bodies were removed and burned. Then also found the North Korean consulate / living quarters. Strange place, seemed to be just normal flats and apartments, but totally caged in and then people came outside whilst we were taking photos of the place… Coffee and cake at Checkpoint Charlie in Einstein’s. A little expensive but the cake was very good, and huge slices too! Walked home via international supermarket and through a really nice area of Kreuzberg, near a synagogue, that has a 24 hour guard and gates and fences up everywhere, seems mad that such a place still needs protection! But the general area is beautiful, with some great apartments looking out onto the canal.
19th, A day trip to Charlottenburg, the old palace and gardens, there was really beautiful, properly warm sunshine, wonderful flowers and atmosphere everywhere. Walked around gardens then went for pizza in this little place next to the Rathaus, made totally from fresh in front of us. Service was a little shakey but otherwise the food was very very good, Gorgonzola and Spinach pizza was great, Marta had one with anchovies, capers and fresh parma ham. Then we walked in the sun to zoologisher garden underground, found a place for more Bubble tea! Green tea with Passionfruit and tapioca balls, and Green Tea with mango and coconut cubes. Then we went into a big shopping place with lots of tea, very expensive; basically the same as somewhere like Harvey Nichols. They had a huge space with tea in big urns, and lots of the dry tea out in cups to smell, and also to potentially slip a few of the pearl style ones into your pocket for sampling later…
20th Walk along the landwehrkanal, a beautiful day and a lovely walk, reasonably easy going after all the crazy amounts of walking done so far! Lots of people out, jogging, dog walking, drinking by the river. Lovely jubbly.
21st, Walked to a market near Boddinstrasse, in Neukolln, and I bought a new old camera! An Agfa Agnar, for a hopefully bargain price of 4 euros! It even has a little shutter release lead with it for photos of yourself! With a shiny reflective viewfinder too! A little walk through Gorlitzer park, slow easy paced day, not to over do it before Marta headed back home on the bus that night.
IMAGE TIME!!! (they are smaller than usual because there are so many, but they are clickable for the larger versions!)
The first and only full day in Torun. Marta, her Mum and myself all went into the city centre in the morning for a little bit of a walk around (mostly in shoe shops for Marta and her Mum’s amusement), but also to the old Teutonic Castle ruins, past a little model of a dragon where the world’s only confirmed sighting of a real dragon was made, also a sight of a screeching pair of Peregrine falcons flying about their nest just across from the castle. I wonder how long Peregrine’s have lived near the castle? Maybe they are a medieval throwback!?!?
Then we went into this cafe / chocolaterie called Madame Chocolat. This is a fairly new place in Torun apparently. The decor is a little basic and plain, I think because it is so new, and it is potentially slightly naively named, and decorated also… We ordered: Green Pepper Hot Chocolate, Advocat Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Fondant cake, Chocolate Advocat cake, and another chocolate cake, whose contents I can’t really remember, but it was very tasty none-the-less! The chocolate was tasty and rich, nice and thick. Sadly the green pepper part was just some fresh green pepper on the top, it hadn’t been cooked with the pepper in it, so it hadn’t really got any chance to infuse the flavour. But it was still quite good hot chocolate, nice and thick. The cakes were all very good. My fondant came with a nice, but small blob of ice cream and a chocolate twirl.
After this rather indulgent start to the day we went for a bit more of a walk, to burn off a bit of the sugarific-ness. We ended up in a Gingerbread shop along with a crowd of rather merry polish guys out on a team building weekend. They appeared to be buying the who shop up, gingerbread gift baskets were flying off the shelves! All for their boss apparently, though I’m pretty sure lots were for wives and girlfriends too, an apology for the horrendous hangover they were likely to be suffering the next day…
We then headed back to the car and back to the house where lunch was being prepared. Another huge meal with everything you could imagine, including another traditional wrapped Polish dish called Gołąbki. Minced meat, rice and spices are all wrapped in boiled cabbage leaves. They were very good, despite looking a little anaemic initially. We ate until we were royally stuffed, as usual. Then sat in the beautifully sunny garden for a while drinking tea and eating (more) cake! This all took a couple of hours and then we decided to head back into the town, to visit the Centre of Contemporary Art, or CoCA. We got back in the car and were dropped off. The gallery is a nice space, surprisingly large and the work on show is of a good quality generally. There is a show on at the minute entitled The Fourth State of Water: from Micro to Macro. This is obviously all about water. It’s a strange show, a bit hit and miss and some of the curatorial decisions are a little dodgy, but it is a definite improvement on the work I saw in Krakow! The other show on at the minute is called People and the City, a collection of photography, video and the occasional painting. There are some big names here, Henri Cartier Bresson, WeeGee, Wolfgang Tillmans and Peter Blake to name a few. The collection of works is good, and is put together in a straightforward, simple, but effective way. This space is much better than the other. More open and higher ceilings.
We eventually got asked to leave the gallery, the place was closing, but luckily we had made it around everything. They shuffled us out pretty quickly, but I still managed to get a photo of this hilarious sign declaring that the gallery had been estimated as a very good gallery…
We left the gallery and went for a walk around the town as the sun began to set. The town was quite quiet for a Saturday night, that was until a group on bikes cycled past us with music blaring out from a speaker system being pulled along by one of them. We went to see Copernicus’s residence, then to this leaning tower which I fully expected to be an actual tower but turned out to just be a four story building, but it was definitely leaning…
Then we got picked up again by Marta’s mum who had been on a trip with her gran to visit the grandfather’s gravestone. We then drove across the river and found the panorama, a spot across the river where you can get a really wonderful view of the whole of the old town. Postcard perfection!
Back home and more food was prepared, pierogi’s, bread, cheese, salad. Everything!
Today (yesterday) was a lovely day. Lithuania is definitely a place I will need to go come back to. Unfortunately my time here is almost up and tomorrow (today) I will be leaving for Poland. My day started with another great breakfast, bread and cheese and then banana pancakes and yoghurt.
After this great start to the day I left the house and walked down the huge staircase (210 steps) to the town centre. First stop was the bus ticket office where I bought my ticket to Warsaw for another bargain price of 29litas, about 8.5 Euro. The lady in the ticket office was very friendly and helpful with everything, printed me off my ticket and then I headed into the town centre. I wandered down the long main high street Laisvės alėja, lined with trees and that leads all the way to the old town. The old town starts after you have traveled beneath the main road and come up the other side. Immediately recognisable as an Eastern European / Baltic Old Town, with the building styles and layouts. The first street is still the main street and leads directly to the town square. There are lovely little shops, a tea shop (though not cafe), which I popped in to have a look and a smell, but didn’t buy anything. Then I went to a little glass fronted photography gallery just off the town square. A nice space with some good work on show, though I have totally forgotten by who, and their website isn’t up to date yet. In the town square there were workmen taking down a huge christmas tree made from recycled green plastic bottles. I imagine it must have looked quite cool at night time. Apparently the tree is only just being taken down because some wise fellow decided that the weather had been much too cold for people to work outside at such a job and so it had been left until now, when the weather is reasonably milder. A very good idea! I wandered around and then decided to take a seat next to a sculpture of Maironis, Lithuania’s most celebrated poet, who had studied during his high-school years in Kaunas. While I was sitting there in the peace and quiet a delivery lorry turned up and two young people were, rather unceremoniously left holding a mattress. After a few attempts to lift and carry the thing I decided that I would offer some help to the young couple. So I got up, went over, apologised for my lack of Lithuanian but offered help. We carried the mattress the few hundred yards to their front door, had a little chat about why I was in Lithuania and what they did (students, one studying Music Technology, the other Medicine), and then I went back to the town square.
I then walked a little while north and found myself at Kaunas Castle, an old, semi-ruined, semi-reconstructed (and therefore sort of ruined a little more), building that stands more or less at the point where the two rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, meet. It also marks the start of a small area of parkland that is the true point of the land where the two rivers meet. The little park is only a few meters higher than the river level, the ice of one river was pretty much mostly frozen, but on the other, the Nemunas the ice was breaking up and shifting. Huge great chunks of glacial blue ice slowly floated down the river, creaking and bobbing about. It was quite an amazing sight.
After that I went back into the Old Town Square, I had spied a place to get a little treat. Chocolaterie, as it is simply named, is a sweet little chocolate and coffee cafe. It isn’t cheap, and especially not by Lithuanian standards, but as a small treat it is ok. I had the above hot chocolate, and espresso sized cup filled with glorious liquid chocolate, I also treated myself to a piece of cake, true gluttony as the chocolate by itself was much more than enough sweetness. But the cake was really good, chocolate, cherries, more chocolate, and not just sponge but a layer of solid chocolate in the middle too. Very, very bad for you, and therefore very, very good for your soul…
I sat there for a while, then wandered through some of the side streets of the Old Town. Taking my life in my hands down the icy narrow, cobbled streets until I reached the Nemunas River again, but this time further up stream, by a large bridge that leads into the heart of the old town. A huge sundial sits on the wall of one building, it’s smiling face greeting all those that arrive. I then met up with Lina’s brother and one of his friends who decided to take me to the Žalgiris Arena, the huge black basketball arena that sits on a small island in the New Town area of Kaunas. Basketball is actually Lithuania’s national sport, and they are very passionate and proud about it. In the arena a competition was on between a lot of Lithuanian schools (though I don’t know if it was just local schools or the whole country). The stadium is mostly black, outside and in, which is actually quite nice to sit in, the focus is really on the basketball court. We sat and watched for a while. Small three person competitions taking up the time between quarters of the main game of the day. Then a small challenge for a member of the audience to throw a basketball from the centre of the court into the basket, but, as if this wasn’t hard enough, they were blindfolded. When they inevitably missed the audience was told to scream and shout as if they had made the shot. The guy throwing was very almost convinced!
After a while I decided I would head back home, so, leaving Lina’s brother and friend I walked across the main bridge back to the mainland, walked past the huge empty unfinished Soviet era hotel. This is an almost solid block of concrete, about 12 stories high and probably the size of a few football pitches. The thing is built so solid that it is apparently near impossible to break it down, the reinforced concrete latticed with steel. No one knows what will happen to the thing, but everyone hopes something will happen to it. It is like a huge, grey, gloomy reminder of the past. Making it back home, through the little park, that was once a graveyard, then a sports arena (another Soviet influence) and now a park with reference to the previous graveyard, and back up the 210 steps, myself, Lina and Algis sat a chatted for a while. Then we ate some traditional Lithuanian dumplings, little parcels of pastry filled with meat or mushrooms which are boiled and served with sour cream and salad. Very satisfying food! Then a couple of Algis’s friends arrived and we sat with some wine and a few card games, and another round of Dixit (the game I failed to explain yesterday). Then by the time all that was over it was time for bed!