A Travellerspoint blog

Germany - Part 1

Berlin, Potsdam and Hamburg

Alas, our two week tour ended in Berlin. We ended up staying in the “alternative” part of town - the southeastern part of the city called Friedrichshain. By “alternative,” what I mean is that drunks and homeless people are the majority here. Someone even passed us smelling like human feces (at which point a friend said, “Yes, yes…that’s definitely human shit.”)

BUT, even though the area had its dodgy points, I will say this: I am happy to stay anywhere where I can get a heavenly tasting shwarma (donor) sandwich for 3 euro.

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This was easily the most affordable area of Berlin, and the nightlife here was on point. In fact, it was the perfect set up for our group’s last night out, which we had big plans: talks of breaking into the zoo after hours, hitting up strip clubs, and having the end-all of dance-offs. I won’t say what happened in real life; I would hate to disappoint you. But there WAS crying involved (as we said our group goodbyes).

Since I had been to Berlin before, I decided to take some travel advice and head southwest to Potsdam for a day trip. Here are some highlights:

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This is the New Palace in Potsdam, built by Frederick the Great of Prussia. Instead of using the building for tourism, they're using the 647 rooms for Potsdam University student housing. Imagine having a dorm room next to the Lord's Chamber or Minstrel's Gallery. Pretty bad ass.

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Frederick II was so pleased with all he had achieved in his lifetime, he said that when he died, it would be without sorrow. In French, this translates to “sans souci,” which is what the gardens are named. In 1756, he ordered the planting of potatoes, which ended up becoming a staple food in Prussia, hence the potatoes on his grave. Frederick II was not buried next to his wife, but his 11 dogs. Apparently Freddy was so fond of his pups that the servants in the castle had to greet and bow to the dogs as they would people. And I thought I was a crazy dog lady...

Hamburg

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I reached Hamburg, which is Germany’s second largest city after Berlin. Tucked in the northern part of the country, and one of the biggest seaports in the world, Hamburg was a major player in the shipping industry back in the day.

I know what your first thought was: is this where the hamburger is from?

Well, sort of. To clarify, a person who is from or lives in Hamburg is in fact called a Hamburger (! What?! How cool is that?) The actual hamburger sandwich that we know today was adapted from the Russian tartare, or raw minced meat and egg mixture. The people of Hamburg, for sanitary reasons, decided this mixture should be fried. But it wasn’t until the Earl of Sandwich in England got to it did it take on two pieces of bread. But since Hamburg was big into trading with the Americans at the time, the Americans called it the hamburger.

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This is the new opera house that isn't finished. Good story, though... In 2005, the city of Hamburg announced that it would construct a Philharmonic opera house that would rival Sydney’s, and again put the music scene of Hamburg back on the global map for a modest cost of 75m euro. The structure, which is housed on the river front, was going to boost home sales and development of the entire area as it would become the major focal point of the city and also contain residences and shopping centers as well. What could possibly go wrong when building the world’s greatest music hall on a body of water? It seems that the architects did not account for the size or quantity of the barges that pass through the water, and so special acoustics had to be added to the entire structure to prevent the reverberations from interfering with the sounds. In fact, each of the 1,800 windows on the building is estimated to cost 25,000 euro. The construction is already two years overdue, with the new open date slated for 2017. And get this… costing over 1 billion euro.

I did my civic duty as a tourist and visited TripAdvisor’s #1 Thing to Do in Hamburg: Miniatur Wonderland. It’s basically six very large rooms that house city replicas built out of tiny models. Think legos, but with more realism. If this kind of thing interests you, then you would find it awesome. All I could think of the whole time was that if my brother’s little dog Ellie Moo Moo got in here, this place would be fucking destroyed.

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The waterways of Hamburg.

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Hamburg's "pan fish" which is sauteed fish with mustard sauce and fried potatoes.

Posted by NicHaris 22:31 Archived in Germany Tagged hamburg potsdam moomoo Comments (0)

36 Hours in Warsaw

Warsaw, what a surprise.

We had 36 hours in this city. Like much of Europe, and especially the countries I’ve passed through, it’s hard to escape the past here. We visited the Uprising Museum, which documented how the people of Warsaw fought against the Germans in 1945 in a bid to win back their city. During WWII, Poland was divided and occupied by the Soviets and the Germans. It’s estimated that during WWII, 72 million people were killed. Poland suffered a loss of 6 million casualties between the malnutrition, concentration camps and extermination. 90% of Polish Jews were killed. 90 per cent.

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The city of Warsaw itself was completely destroyed in 1945 between the war and uprising of the locals. However, when rebuilding the city, it was constructed in much the same styles and architecture to represent what it looked like before the war.

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Today, the city has a very modern vibe. It's colorful and trendy, full of vegan restaurants, thrift shops and local designers.

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Partaking in local delicacies: pierogies. We tried the meat and cabbage accompanied by sour cream, and strawberry pierogies with sweet cream. I passed on the delicious sounding beverage.

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The nightlife in this city was just ok. But the company makes a difference, and we had such an epic night out, we were asked to keep quiet in two different establishments. Success.

Posted by NicHaris 00:13 Archived in Poland Tagged warsaw Comments (1)

Love Lithuania.

I received an email the other day from my mom, “WHERE THE HECK ARE YOU? You haven’t posted on Facebook or put up a blog since October 1!”

Only my mom would worry about me. The rest of you probably know that I’ve been having too much fun to stop and put some words on a page. But now that I’m solo traveling for a few days, I’ll try and play catch up.

We crossed the border from Latvia to Lithuania, surrounded by green farmlands, resting cattle and big blue skies. We had stopped at this random turn down the road at what’s called the Hill of Crosses. We only found out why it was called that when we saw what lay there.

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Hundreds of thousands of crosses are placed here. Back when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, crosses were banned. In their act of rebellion, the Lithuanian people escaped to this countryside, where they posted every cross and religious relic they could. Apparently, this place has been burned to the ground at least twice, but people continue to rebuild. A personal theory is that Dracula had these all put here, far from Romania.

Another stop in Lithuania took us to the Curonian Spit. It’s only interesting in that today, the 90 km strip of land is split between the Lithuanians on one side and the Russians on the other. It's a fishing village in the summer where you can find dried fish. In the off-season, when we were there, you can find loads of closed restaurants, deserted beaches and cloudy skies. My tour members would argue that it was worth the visit.

We spent two days in Vilnius, a surprisingly happening city with an edgy subculture of artists who have even claimed their own nation, Uzupis, in part of the city -- going so far as to create their own Uzupis constitution, which I found incredibly amusing. If Trump is elected president of America, I know where I'm moving...

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Our last stop in this beautiful country was in the Austijika National Park. We stayed with a family who cooked us homemade meals (a treat when you’re on the road). Amongst all of our city stops, I think we really appreciated the forced downtime and opportunity to explore nature in this awesome setting.

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Some snaps of the lake in front of our country house where we jumped in after the sauna; kayaking; home-made Lithuanian meal of sausages, potatoes and turkey in gravy; the owner of the kayak company insisted we partake in some moonshine post-kayak.

Posted by NicHaris 06:16 Archived in Lithuania Comments (3)

I'm Tallinn You, Riga is the place to be

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As we make our way through the Baltics, the weather is getting warmer and the beers cheaper.

We traveled from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia, by ferry. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this “ferry” was actually more like a cruise liner. For the two hour journey, you could play pub trivia in the lounge, eat at the many restaurants, catch some sun on the lido deck, or waste 20 euro at the slot machines, as I did.

The old town of Tallinn, itself, is quite lovely with its medieval fortress walls outlining the streets and streets of little shops - some touristy and some quite practical and modern. Before dining out, my guide who’s from Latvia had warned us that the Estonians had a reputation for their slow service. I wondered out loud if they’ve ever been called “E-slow-nians” and made her promise that when she opens her little restaurant one day, she’d name a sandwich after me and my great puns.

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Although a bit touristy, I imagine Tallinn would be a fantastic backdrop for a Christmas market, so will definitely need to come back here one year to see how they upstage the already campy decor.

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Estonian wool sweaters. This has to be one of those travel items that looks WAY cooler in the country you're in than in real life (like puka shell necklaces, Thai genie pants, etc). I could see this being functional, though, for Ugly Sweater Parties.

After a free day exploring Tallinn, we took a public bus to Riga, Latvia. Again, the transportation keeps surprising me in these Baltic countries! The bus seats were nicer than some business class flights I’ve taken! We had our own TV set, wide seats and foot rests for the four hour journey.

The city of Riga itself has three distinct sections: the Old Town, where similar to Tallinn, you’ll find the medieval cobblestone streets, small shops selling mostly souvenirs; the Art Nouveau section of town, where the buildings have ornate architecture and sculptures a bit too fancy for a city occupied by Russians and Germans for 50 of the last 100 years; and the Downtown section, where hipster-esque bars, coffee houses and clothing stores prevail.

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From the Art Nouveau part of town.

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The Radisson was the first hotel open to foreign tourists, and widely known to have been bugged by the KGB. Today it has one of the best views of Riga from it’s 26th floor skybar.

There’s a lot to love here: the varying architecture from medieval cobblestone streets to art deco apartment buildings, the fluidity with which old meets new in a way that has great Euro charm — but completely unexpected for this particular corner of Europe. I passed a donut shop that looked like an old-fashioned pub inside, while a group of four 20-somethings were playing cards by one of the windows. New, higher-end burger shops can be found all over the city, demonstrating its pulse on western trends. You can find a coffee shop on every corner, but not one of them is a Starbucks.

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The words every traveler wants to see... "free wifi." Good sense of humor in Riga.

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Vegetable rice, eggplant ragu and a skewer of chicken for 5 euro in Riga. I like it.

Riga has my recommendation! Put it on your travel lists.

Posted by NicHaris 22:17 Archived in Latvia Tagged riga tallinn Comments (4)

To the Finnish Line!

Fun facts to finish my Finnish fun.

I've been busy learning about VERY important cultural practices to share with you. This is irresponsible investigative journalism at it's best, friends; none of what you're about to read has been fact checked except for No. 5.

1. You are allowed to own one marijuana plant, and only for decorative purposes. Because nothing adds ambience to a room quite like a marijuana plant.  They call it weed for a reason, probably because: it's not meant for decorative purposes.

2. Women are allowed to sell themselves for sex, but only if they pay taxes on their income. However, the act of purchasing sex is illegal.  So basically it’s only illegal if you get caught. Personal tip for you here: don’t claim it as a deduction if you are on the buyer’s side.  

3. Hesburger, the hamburger chain that rivals McDonald’s in Finland, has its own hotel in Turku. Congratulations, Finland, you’ve out-Americaned the Americans.

4. Before the Myllysilta bridge collapsed on the Aura River last year, residents tried tying balloons to the bridge to keep it erect. And before you think this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard, here’s a photo:

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I wish I was at that city hall meeting.  "What an air headed plan!”  “Can we float some other ideas?”  “How about some with no strings attached?!” “Have we considered Viagra?!"

5. One of my pet peeves is when these historic castles and palaces put no effort into recreating how the structures were used back in the day — especially when there’s an entrance fee. (Yes I’m talking to you Medieval Times).  I want to see authentic banquet tables with fake food. Bedrooms with beds and armoires. For its effort, I will give the Turku Castle a 2.0/5.0 for at least making the creepy rooms extra creepy with 14th century carved wooden religious relics, and docents who are dressed like serfs. But for the costume section where tourists can dress like knights and nobility — 5.0!! One of the best jousts/photo ops I’ve had in a castle.

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6. There are slot machines everywhere in Finland. Of particular interest were the ones at the front of the supermarket. All I know is, if they had these back in the states, specifically in Florida, my grandma would be addicted to “grocery shopping.”

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7. Apparently the Finns don’t discriminate when it comes to breeds of dogs and ability to sniff out drugs. I saw a policeman with a poodle on patrol, and seriously stopped in my tracks to consider this. A poodle. As a drug dog. I, for one, would readily hand over any suspicious substances for the sake of a cute poodle. Especially if it was wearing a dog sweater.

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Posted by NicHaris 12:27 Archived in Finland Comments (4)

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