Saturday, June 03, 2006

A thoroughly wasted day

I hate when a day is wasted and there's nothing I can do to recover the lost time.
Three days ago, when I had the tentative day ready, I called the ferry company to inquire about booking passage on the ferry to Finland. The lady on the phone told me that I could not make a reservation if I was using my Eurail pass to pay - I needed to go directly to the port agent in Rostock. So I packed up my things, left Berlin, and checked into a hostel for the night (the only hostel in Rostock is actually quite nice - Gerhardt, one of the owners, insisted upon carrying all my bags up the stairs and showing me EVERYTHING about the hostel, then lent me a guide book). It took me two hours to get to the port agent (which is only 13 km from the hostel - public transportation sucks here) and they were closed! The office is only open between 9 pm and 5 am everyday, to check people in for morning departures. WTF! It took me another two hours to get back to the hostel (this time it was raining). I decided I would take a shower and wait for the office to open, then call them and find out what the plan is. When I called three minutes after nine, the lady informed me that they were fully booked for tomorrow's ferry - I can't sail til Monday! Which only leaves me with two days in Helsinki and a day with nothing to do in Rostock. And I still have to figure out how to get there. The S-bahn stops running at 11 pm and doesn't start up again until 6 am (which is the departure time). I think I can check in starting at 10 pm the night before, so I guess that will have to do. Grrrr. I hate it when other people screw up my day. I want to go to Finland!
Of course, this means I have a day to explore the landmarks of Rostock - the world's oldest working astronomical clock and the goat market. Fun stuff.

Friday, June 02, 2006

"Blue skies, smilin' at me..."

THE SUN IS OUT!!! I've been waiting three weeks for a beautiful day, and I finally got one for my last day in Berlin. Soooooo exciting. The temperature was moderate (not to0 cold and not too hot) and the sky was a perfect mixture of sunshine and cloud cover. Aaaahhhh. I love it!
I do have one more thing to say about the whole architecture thing I was ranting on about in the last entry. Berlin is so big that I cannot possibly see it all in three days, so my view is rather skewed. Even this afternoon's adventures have changed my outlook a little - there are a few "classical" buildings left in the city (mainly I've seen them on "Museum Island", where I visited today). But even with these, they have been either heavily restored or there is still a reminder of the war left on them (ie - lots of bullet holes). I'm glad the weather was nice enough today to allow me to stroll through the city - or at least part of the city.
I finally got a chance to visit the Pergamon Museum today. IT WAS FABULOUS!!! I spent three hours there, which is about my brain's limit for absorbing information at one time. I could spend a week going back there. And the audio guide was so cool - you could either take a 30 minute "highlights" tour with it, or good through the galleries on your own and punch in the items code for anything you wanted information on. It was great - I got a lot of information on ancient Greek and Middle Eastern architecture and Islamic art. They've even recontructed the Ishmar gates of Babylon in the museum! I highly recommend it for my fellow archaeology fans - it's a gold mine. My jaw was open for a solid half-hour after I walked in.
After the museum, I was starving. That was about the time I realized that I had not eaten all day. I looked in my handy-dandy Fat Tire Bike Tour brouchure for some food suggests and made my way to Dolores' Cafe. They saved my life. I have been having burrito withdrawals for a while and here in the middle of Berlin was a California-style gourmet burrito shop. Complete with an excellent Mexican beer selection, including (drumroll....) Negra Modelo. :-D. I don't think I need to eat again for another 48 hours. That was the biggest portion of food I've had since my last Chipotle run with the 05 girls.
Aaaaahhhh, what a day!

A few reflections before I leave this place...

Berlin is definitely one of the more interesting cities that I've visited thus far. Though there are other fascinating things to know about the city, one of the main things that I find interesting is the architecture. Now some of you may be saying, "Wow, Hannah, I didn't know you liked concrete so much." Ordinarily, I am more of a tree hugger than an asphault lover. It's not that I like the lack of green in Berlin - what I mean is that it's fascinating to see how the city has evolved into what it is today. And you can definitely see this evolution throughout the city. Let see if I can try to articulate this idea...
Berlin is definitely not the most beautiful place I've ever visited. When I say "beautiful" here, I am comparing it to the places like the Charles Bridge in Prague and the Hohensalzburg in Salzburg. Such places give me a feeling like I'm looking back on the past. The new Hauptbahnhof is amazing, but you can definitely see the newness in it's style - the arching glass roof and the grand scale are a dead giveaway. At the same time, to me it is a sort of symbol of the choices that have been made in Berlin since the end of World War II and since the reunification of the city and Germany.
Like Berlin, Munich was heavily damaged by the war's end. Something like 80 percent of the buildings in the city were destroyed. But if you visit the old downtown area (ie - Marienplatz and the surrounding area), you will see many buildings have been rebuilt to look as they once did - the people of Munich decided to incorporate the newly rebuilt buildings with the old ones, so as to make the transition less apparent. Berlin went in the opposite direction. Even before the war, a lot of concrete was being used. For example, Hitler ordered one of the most beautiful parks in the city torn up so that a parking lot could be laid down for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Then the war came along - and like Munich most of the city received heavy damage. The differences between post-war reconstruction in the East and West sectors of the city can still be seen today. In what used to be East Berlin, you can see the Soviet influence - push the rubble aside and lay down more concrete. West Berlin still has a lot of concrete, but at least I've noticed a few more classic buildings in that part of town. The biggest difference between the two is in the housing - you can definitely see that difference between communist life and the more commercial end.
What I find most fascinating is the area of town where the two parts of the city come together - around the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie and such. I can see the effort that has been made to bring Berlin into the 21st Century - the new Hauptbahnhof being a prime example. And of course, the Starbucks right across the street from the Russian Embassy (which is still located in the heart of the old East part of the city).
What people have been telling me about Berlin since the beginning of my trip is completely true - you can see that the history of the city is still very important to it's citizens and visitors. I just wish I had more time to explore it (since it is about eight times the size of Paris - this place is huge!). Alas, tomorrow I move on to Rostock, where I'll spend the night then catch the ferry early on Sunday more for Helsinki. I'll check in when I get there.
Oh, and I did finally get my visa this morning. Yay for the Russian government - They managed to process it in less than 24 hours!
Pictures will be up on flickr soon (just in case I'll put the link here again -

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Berlin has been quite an adventure and I've only been here for two and a half days.
I arrived here on Tuesday afternoon, and was awestruck by the cool new Main Station they have - it just opened two weeks ago, in fact. It's about 6 stories tall, with huge glass arches and such. It feels more like a shopping mall than a train station in Berlin.
I had a bit of difficultly on the U-bahn though. Apparently I bought to wrong ticket (a short distance pass instead of a one-way with transfer) and of course this was when the ticket inspectors stopped me. I had to pay a 40 euro fine. What makes me mad is I didn't know I had done anything wrong, and the inspector was very mean to me - kept on treating me like a criminal. But what's done is done, and worse has happened and could have happened.
Anyway, I did eventually get to the hostel. Another nice one by the way, though not quite as social as some of the others. Of course, I did fall asleep at 8 pm on the first night, so maybe I can't make the best judgement of it's social happenings.
It was raining still when I got up in the morning (as it has been every day of my trip for the last two weeks), but I decided that I would brave the cold and wetness and go on a bike tour. I had so much fun on the ones I went on in Munich, and they had suggested this one to me for Berlin. So I ran over to the Fat Tire store and joined in the fun. It poured. But it was wonderful. The guide was really funny - a guy from a little town in British Columbia. I ended up getting a pretty good overview of the city's history and saw a lot of the more famous sites. And just like in Munich, by going on the bike tour I got a discount for the Insomniac pub crawl tour. That was exciting. One of the girls in my hostel room had a birthday, so she and another of our "roommates" tagged along. We had an awesome time. As the name would suggest, I didn't get much sleep last night.
But I did wake up bright and early this morning to go visit the Russian Embassy. My paperwork finally came in yesterday, so I can now get my visa. Woohoo! I had a couple of good laughs along the way. The front gate is very scary. Lots of cameras and such - exactly as you might expect. And big burly guards. I decided I needed some coffee before testing my language skills on them. Looking around me, the only open coffee places were Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, both a block away. I found it amazing ironic that in the heart of the old communist territory (the Russian Embassy is of course in old East Berlin, right next to the Brandenburg Gate) one of the biggest symbols of American capitalism now stands ready to serve the German people. I had to have a quick latte before tackling the Russians. It was too perfect. Like the Museum of Communism in Prague - sandwiched between a McDonalds and a casino.
Anyway, I managed to find out that the Consular office is actually at the back of the building - so I had to go around the block and stand in a (suprising short) line with a bunch of screaming Russian ladies and one goofy German guy. I got in rather quickly, but that was just the beginning. I had to take a number, then wait for two and a half hours (frankly, I expected it to take longer) to once again practice my broken Russian with the visa man. Luckily he spoke superb English, and didn't seem to have any problems with my paperwork - he told me it would be ready tomorrow if I wanted it that quickly. Yay! That means I'll have time to visit Helsinki before going to St. Petersburg. Of course, what the visa man says is not always what will happen...
I think I'll go on a little museum crawl this afternoon. I want to visit Checkpoint Charlie and a couple other museums that we passed on the tour. It should be fun.
Then I'm going to bed early - I'm sick of late nights.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Fairytale Land

Even with pouring rain and horribly low temperatures, TODAY WAS AWESOME! I went on a tour to Neuschwanstein Castle, one of Mad King Ludwig's pet projects. It's the castle that Disney based his on. And it looked it too. Especially when we hiked up to the Maria Bridge, which overlooks the castle and a waterfall, and had a spectacular view of the castle through the mist. I can't wait to load this pictures, though I have to admit they are aweful. Like I said, it was pouring the whole time, so pictures of the day are scattered and blurry. I'll upload them on to flickr (use the same link from below) as soon as I get a chance.
Right now I need to go defrost in a nice warm shower - if the two showers we have for forty people are not occupied - then go find something to eat. I'm thinking a pizza might be in order.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Oh, almost forgot the pictures

Because Thomas is awesome, I've started uploading pictures on to my Flickr account instead of on seperate pages on the UTD webspace. This way you can all see the info on the pictures (everything from the date I took it and where I was to the shutter speed and camera I used). You can leave comments too, just like on the blog. So check it out (don't worry, I keep reminding you too)...


Sorry to have been a bit out of touch for a few days - time has been flying by here in Munich and I'm just now catching up.
I arrived here on Friday morning, still recovering from my final night in Salzburg. Even though they had told me to be here by noon to be able to keep my reservation at the hostel, they wouldn't let me check in until 2 pm, so I had to find some way to entertain myself til then. I wandered about the city (which is very beautiful, I must say), then came back and fell asleep on the very comfy couch in the bar at the hostel. I didn't really do much for the rest of the day - continued my nap in my bed (one of twenty in my room), found something to eat, then just read and fell asleep. Altogether a relaxing day.
Yesterday I went on the much talked about Mike's Bike Tour of Munich. It was so much fun! I hadn't been on a bike since I left Dallas, so it was nice to pedal around for awhile. And the guides were so much fun - they described their tour as "the most fun you can have in Munich with your pants on." It was so true. Halfway through the tour we stopped at one of the really big beer gardens (the kind that serve whole liters of beer), and had a little break - then we had 60 beer-filled tourists all pedaling back to the bike shop. It was hilarious. The guides also told us about a nightlife tour going on in the evening and gave us discounts, so I ended up going on that as well with a couple of the other "bikers." All in all it was a spectacular day.
Today was fun, but I didn't do a whole heck of a lot. I woke up late (a side effect of the pub crawl), then went to the Bavarian National Museum. Very cool indeed - though nothing was in English. It was raining when I left, so I stopped at the Hofbrauhaus (Munich's biggest beer garden). Great lunch break.
Now I'm just chillin out again back at the hostel. I think I'll go get a good dinner tonight - I need one.