Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Berlin Week One

A wonderful first week getting to know our new friend, Berlin. The first few days were absolutely miserable and grey, what I might have imagined Berlin weather to be like in the winter. And then miraculously, the weather turned to bright, sunny and 13 degrees. It's been beeeeaaaautiful. We've been all early-bird-gets-the-work stylez and have been getting up at 9am. We are starting (almost) every day with a German lesson and trying our best to ask for things in German wherever we go. It's a challenge but hopefully by the time we leave we will be able to have some basic small talk.

Christian, our awesome host and house-swapper, showed us around a bit and told us about the neighbourhood. We are in Mitte, which is a stone's throw away from some the last remaining remnants of the wall. When we leave the house, we walk down a path in park that used to be a death zone. It's pretty mind-blowing to think about. We also went to the a museum, Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, which is a Berlin Wall Memorial that contains the last piece of Berlin Wall with the preserved grounds behind it. It's been shocking how much of the wall still exists and it sort of brings you back to reality, makes everything that happened here seem that much more real. It's hard to believe it the wall only came down in 1989. It's amazing to see. The history feels like a living thing in Berlin. Walking around the other day, Dave spotted some bullet holes in an apartment building.

Also down the street is Mauer Park (translation: Wall Park), which has this totally crazy and massive flea market on Sundays. It has everything under the sun. One of the nicest things that I've seen in every place we've been in Europe so far is that Sunday is not all about shopping -- it's about hanging out. And in this park, a HUGE crowd gathers to do just that. On the hillside, there must have been like 1000 people sitting there watching a stage where people sing karaoke. And on the other side of the field was a techno dance party with another 300 people. Apparently just an average Sunday afternoon in Berlin. Pretty wild.

So far, we've been to the Pergamonmuseum, explored some neighbourhoods including Prenzlauerberg (way more to explore there) and Kreuzberg (way more to explore there too). Yesterday we did a Kreuzberg Krawl... an afternoon drink turned into a bar crawl, which led us to my favourite bar so far, where darts were all the rage and people looked at us strangely because normally, the only people that go there are the regulars. Super kitschy, beer steins, lanterns, old couples that looked like they hadn't moved from their table in 30 years. We had a blast and felt like it might be our new Cheers by the end of the evening.

A nice picture from a restaurant we went to...

The food in Berlin, so far, is really making me miss the food in Toronto. I know I'm always complaining about the food in Toronto (I do think there's tons of room for improvement) but I'm seeing that Toronto does ethnic food really well, and I'm missing that here. But on the plus side, it's encouraging us to cook. I think we're both going to into a bit of sugar withdrawl since we've been here... the treats aren't all that tempting, but we did find an awesome little coffee shop that was a dessert utopia, and we got our fix.

Beer, however, is another story. I fear that I may return with a Berlin Belly. Beer and wine are SO CHEAP. Like a bottle of a decent wine is 3 euros??? I don't even like beer that much and I can't help but drink it because it feels like I'm saying no to a bargain every time. And I unfortunately discovered a drink that I love, which is called Berliner Weissbier Schüss, which basically means that they put a magical raspberry or green apple elixir into your white beer and it's delicious. Too delicious.

It's been a pleasant surprise to get here and find things are even cheaper than we thought they would be. I haven't done much shopping but so far I've seen sooo many vintage and used clothing stores. I really felt like I was in Germany when we went into a thrift store and they actually had a whole rack for lederhosen and this cute little German hat.

Our houseswapping partner has gone off to Canada (I'm sorry to hear there is snow there!!) and we have been left to settle into an apartment that is nothing short of incredible. I absolutely love it. Dave has a room to do his music, I have a room to work on my doodles, and there's lots of room to spare. Here's a sample, but more pics with the link below!

I think I've been getting a little bit better with the camera too! Inspiring subjects all around.

:::::::::::::: SEE MY BERLIN WEEK ONE PICTURES HERE ::::::::::::::

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Finally... Berlin bound :: March 15/16

Super, super excited to be on our way to Berlin. We booked a little private room on the night train to Berlin and had more fun than the train sounds like it would be. They had one of those awesome dining cars that looked straight out of the movies. We had a blast and had some wine and ended up experimenting with my camera and getting some funny, creepy and weirdo shots. Including some 'the train is on fire' shots. And then woke up in Berlin.

SO SO SO excited to be here! The apartment we're living in for the next few months is completely amazing, I keep telling Dave to pinch me. Seriously. It's crazy and amazing. Christian, the guy we're doing the house swap in, showed us around today and I already feel right at home. YAY!

:::::::::::::: SEE MY TRAIN PICTURES HERE ::::::::::::::

Monday March 14 :: On to Amiens

Funny little thing about Brussels -- they play pop music in the subway... it was the Culture Club that bid us adieu as we left this amazing city. I absolutely loved this place, would return in a heartbeat!

Caught the train to Amiens (a super cute place, lots of colourful houses and these crazy knotted wood street art things) where Dave was playing a show at the Grand Wazoo, which was a blast -- the first Merm On'Ry show was totally awesome. Met some new french folks who were the great hosts and we felt right at home. And had enough drinks to agree to have a full french conversation with a super nice girl, and she humoured me even though I doubt I made an ounce of sense.

:::::::::::::: SEE MY BRUSSELS PICTURES HERE ::::::::::::::

Brussels Day 2 :: Sunday March 13

Dave tested out his music equipment and blew out the power in 5 floors so we decided maybe we should just nip out for a while so we headed off and found a lovely little Belgian cafe called Le Salon that served us tasty brunch and this piece of delicious chocolat moelleux. The city pretty much shuts down on Sunday but we found some serious gems.

We went to the Horta museum which was just one of the most amazing things my eyes have been dazzled with... The preserved home of Art Nouveau Designer/Architect Victor Horta. Every little thing in that house was thought Bout in detail and with design in mind. Right down to the keyholes in the furniture. The nails that brought two pieces of organically shaped metal railings together. And then there were the things that made the house look as if it were actually a living and breathing thing... The wooden banisters carved into ornate knots. Shelves grew into walls which grew into support beams and ceilings so much so that you forgot it could serve any other purpose than to exist for beauty alone. It was like looking into a forest where everything had coexisted for so long that everything began to morph and grow into each other. It was incredible. And must have cost an absolute fortune. No pictures allowed so I couldn't really capture things properly but I did sneak a few with my phone...

Then we went to a brown bar which is what they call an old bar with lots of dark wood that has retained characteristics of days gone by. And enjoyed some more beer. Rodenbach was my fave from this trip. Rochefort for Dave. Yum. Smoking allowed too... A strange thing to encounter after many years of hanging out in non-smoking bars.

One of the belgian culinary specialties are their frites and even better, is Moules frites (mussels and fries). So we dove in. I researched some spots, and we decided to go all out and sample a few restaurants to see if we could seek out the best. The best we found was at this completely charming place in a more working class neighborhood of Madou, called La Bonne Humeur. The belgian equivalent to a Chippy, it was a charming but no frills little spot that put some serious love into the food. Off the beaten path and well worth it.

Getting soooo much better with my new camera... but photos are still a bit dodgy in spots.

:::::::::::::: SEE MY BRUSSELS PICTURES HERE ::::::::::::::

Au Revoir Paris, Bonjour Bruxelles :: Saturday March 12

There is something so fresh and exciting about flying by the seat of your pants while traveling. Truthfully, I'm usually more of a planner but it's been a blast making it up as we go. Like Saturday, when we were supposed to go to Brittany to see on of Dave's friends but had our first encounter with the rail system and realized the trains were all full... So a change of plans was required so we looked at a map and decided, what the heck, let's go to Brussels. Why not!

Our Eurail passes found us doing it up first class styles -- free drinks, fancy snacks and red velvet seats -- and Pricelined a hotel for an amazing price and turned up to find we had booked ourselves into a swanky hotel room with a king sized bed. Ballin'!

We took a big jaunt out into the night and headed toward grand place, which is like the old town area of the city. All cobblestone and totally lovely and lively, full of restaurants and bars where we had our first encounter with Moules Frites and naturally sampled a bunch of different Belgian beers. When in Rome. Fun area! And then we weaved our way home through the windy, hilly streets and passed out in our king sized bed.

Man does it help to have a boyfriend who is totally fluent in french! In Belgium they speak French, German and Flemish and lord knows I know none of the above. BUT I'm trying.

:::::::::::::: SEE MY BRUSSELS PICTURES HERE ::::::::::::::

Paris :: Friday March 11

We embraced our inner goths (I've learned that's not a far stretch for me) and went to Père Lachaise. Yes, this is the cemetery where Jim Morrison was buried but no, that's not why we went. If anyone ever discourages you from going, do not listen -- it's a must. It was amazing to see. The most elaborate and well-crafted gravestones and monuments. It went on for miles and miles, each grave more elaborate than the next. You really got the sense that these people were being remembered in style, sent off with class, never to be forgotten. Famous artists, intellectuals and generally important (and likely wealthy) people are buried here, including Oscar Wilde whose grave has inspired many a lipstick kiss and angsty teen letter. I was just amazed by this place. I hope my pictures do it some justice!

And we had a did a little photo exploration with some resin & flower plaques there, like this image below... see the set of photos HERE.

When in Paris, try duck confit and try duck confit I did, at the Bistro de Peintres. And it was delicious. Crispy fatty rich and wonderful. No regrets and should it cross my path again and is done well, I will not hesitate to do it again. An exception but not a rule.

:::::::::::::: SEE MY PARIS PICTURES HERE ::::::::::::::

Paris :: Thursday March 10

And the weather has been spectacular. Some of karmic repayment for the punishing cold we experienced in London. Beautiful days and beautiful evenings.

So nice that we decided to pack a picnic and go to the park. We hit up a market and the beautiful and delicious boulangerie Au Blé Sucré some some bread and pastries, and ended up at the park and enjoyed the cheeses to inspire all cheeses. Comte, Chevre aux Herbes Fine, Saint Marcelin, and my favourite, Tommes de Brebis. Wine. Bread. Smoked Salmon. Tarte au caramel salé. Heaven. We also enjoyed wine in the park, which is not illegal like it is at home (what is really so wrong about having some spirits in the park? government bullsh•t!) although we forgot to bring glasses so we were drinking it hobo styles. Classy, I know.

And yes, we may have just gorged ourselves, but no visit to Paris is complete without sampling some macarons. (Luckily, lugging our luggage has been quite the workout but I'm not sure it's been enough to ward off tubby bellies. We may be a little plumper when we arrive in Berlin. The trip so far has been more of a culinary tour). We went to Ladurée, which is on the Champs Elysées and can take credit for creating the macaron. We sampled licorice, lemon, coffee and cardomom, raspberry, cherry almond, and pistacio. C'est delicieux.

And it was on this day that it occurred to me that Paris has a taste for the bizarre. Namely, jesters and clowns and stores with crazy masks to accommodate the need. Here are few examples:

Met a few more of Dave's friends, including Ben and Laurenie and beautiful little Rachel, the smartest two-and-a-half year old I've met. So smart that she learned our names and would say little things like "Colleen elle est contente, Dave il est contente" and follow most of her sentences with a perfect little ribbon: "et voila".

:::::::::::::: SEE MY PARIS PICTURES HERE ::::::::::::::

Paris :: Wednesday March 9

We got into Paris and our bodies punished us for the excessive amount of luggage we seem to be travelling with. And I was shocked at all the military men walking around with machine guns.

Stayed with Dave's friends and lovely hosts Greg and Agnes, who graciously spoke their best english with me. Over the years, my french has become increasingly weaker but I would find myself following along with the french and understanding things and then wanting to give myself some kind of internal high five. In the end, Greg & Agnes went away for a few days and we had the whole apartment to ourselves... Incredible.

Walking around Paris, I feel like a kid in a candy store. Or like I've been locked in an orphanage all my life and I'm seeing the outside world in all its splendour for the very first time. I remember visiting there in the past and how in awe I was how everything -- like really, almost everything -- was beautiful. So much CARE put into the buildings, the iron work, the overall attention to every little detail in the city. And how it simply becomes part of the lifestyle if you live there. I'm always going on about this study I heard about, saying that you can get used to anything 6 months after it's introduced to your life. So I suppose I would understand if you almost didn't see it after walking around for a while. But with fresh eyes, that city is the dazzling and beautiful and a feast for the eyes. Breathtaking.

Dave's been patient with me, being a megatourist and learning the ropes with my new camera. And I hope I have done some justice to the beauty that is so deeply embedded into this magnificent city.

Of the areas we explored, my most favourite was La Marais. Beautiful architecture that has stood the test of time, building after building, iron work that looks inspired and delicate and ornate and gorgeous. Endless examples of the most beautiful handpainted signs. Signs that appear to have been done many years ago but are just so timeless and exude a classiness you can't fake. Beauty is just so engrained into the fabric of this city. We wandered for a few hours, me taking pictures, Dave wishing he had a bigger stomach for all the food he wanted to relive after living there for so long, after we ate a gorgeous lunch at a little café called Les Philosophes, outside, in typical parisian fashion. Doesn't it look delicious? It was every bit as good as it looks.

Paris, c'est cool.

:::::::::::::: SEE MORE PICTURES HERE ::::::::::::::

London to Paris :: March 8

Today we ventured from London to Paris, by the Eurostar aka the Chunnel and it was awesome. We left from St. Pancras station which was beautiful and this is just a sample of it, but it was a beautiful train station, as I'm learning is the norm for european train stations. Beautiful.

I swear we went through a tunnel for 10 minutes and boom -- in France. Left on a high note with lunch from M&S -- the british in me can't get enough of Marks & Spencers. BUT also, they just do things right. It's food on the go but it's actually GOOD! And FRESH! And it wasn't like $15 for a salad! A weird concept for my Torontonian brain to understand. Ate lunch on the train as we passed through the british and french countrysides. A good start to Paris.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More London pics

Are up on my flickr:

Sunday, the Day of Roast

The day started off right with Sunday Roast. I got to have everything that I love about thanksgiving, for breakfast. And you can do this every Sunday. It's probably good we don't do it at home... gravy, mashed potatoes, yorkshire pudding and cauliflower cheese... for breakfast. (I can't believe I didn't take a photo).

Went to Columbia Road flower market afterwards, to the Rob Ryan shop/gallery which was incredible, since I'm such a huge fan of his work! More cute art shops like Elphicks which I successfully resisted purchasing anything in as my CDN dollars don't go very far here. Yikes.

Dave and I went on a little journey along the Thames after that (so nice, the architecture and care that goes into everything here is incredible) and popped into the Tate Modern.

Then Mark, Moi and I went to see the Cut Copy show which was so good! It's kind of ridiculous how different some things are here... the venue we went to was likely done in the 1920s, super ornate wood working, gold everywhere, balcony seating. Though I'm still a big fan of a well-loved, scungey, beer-soaked venue. Dave is off, exploring the London Transit system and trying to find his way home, since the tube closes SO EARLY here! Kind of strange for a city with such a crazy nightlife.

Saturday :: WWTBD?

What would the british do? We've been fully embracing the 'when in Rome' philosophy when it comes to eating and drinking. Second to cidering, we've been eating a carb-rich british diet. Fish and chips. Sunday Roast! English breakfast. Sticky toffee pudding. Moira (below - I love this yellow-on-yellow pic of her) and Mark have been AMAZING hosts and have been taking us to yummy spots for food, including the Breakfast Club which had the cutest signs ever. I just took this picture, wish I took more. A day of mainly markets and pubs to warm up. This british cold seeps into your bones.

LDN Begins

Though London is known for its rain, we have been extremely lucky the last few days. No umbrellas required! Days have been flying by... and while I would like to dispell the idea that the brits just spend their days in pubs, I can't really say much to argue with that... since we've been right there with them. BUT the pubs are just so nice, you can't feel guilty about it. It's obviously not like hanging out at Fionn McCool's or Scruffy McMurphy's. These are the real deal.

Bye Bye YYZ

Unfortunately starting via the TTC. Let me tell you, packing for 3 months is not easy nor is it easy to carry on a bus, a subway and another bus. But alas, we did it and have arrived safe and sound in LDN.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

This is it

Today is the day. In a few hours we'll be off to the airport and no more Canadian sleeps for three months. Super nervous and excited! I took this picture and it probably looks like we've been really good packers... but truthfully, it's not a very accurate representation of what we're taking with us. We each have another bag each and it all weighs a TON! But the art director in me just knew it wouldn't look as nice. Anyway, take care everyone and I'll check back in and recount some european adventures soon!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Tomorrow we'll be flying away...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Zwei tage

This really did start out as a 2! As in, two more days!