Escape of the Week: Underground Berlin

When I was in Berlin, I enjoyed two free tours. One that took me to the historical sites (which, to my surprise, was not a snooze fest), and one that took me to the underground art scene.

In the cold and rain, our guide escorted us through squatter residences, enlightened us on the history of the street art, and educated us on the artists whose work we were enjoying.

I loved the tour. Like, really, really loved it. During that afternoon, despite the rain that was spitting down on us … in May … I quickly became enamored with the sub-culture I was just getting the tiniest peak at.

This photo is of an alley that leads to artist haunts somewhere deep in one of my favorite cities in the world.

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Sleeping in airports — part two

I knew spending the night at Frankfurt’s airport was likely my only option. I couldn’t be bothered with the logistics of getting into town, finding a hostel or hotel, getting back to the airport … it just was not something I had any desire to put myself through.

I was so close to being home.

I wandered through the terminal, eyeing possible places to sleep. In the middle of the terminal was a large area of leather lounge chairs, each one filled with the body of a sleeping or near-sleeping soon-to-be passenger.

I hit the Samsung stand (thank you sleepinginairports.com for the advice) to check my e-mail. For free. Then, I took myself to dinner.

For two hours, I sat in the restaurant, eating slowly, drinking slowly, wishing for 10 a.m. and to be sitting on my flight back to America. Not because I had any desire to go back to America — I didn’t — but because all I wanted was to see my mom and dad.

A wave of exhaustion hit me.

I would pay good money to sleep in a posh hotel bed.

Across the terminal was an airport hotel, and I grabbed my belongings and walked over there to see if there were any rooms.

Entierly sold-out. Damn.

I walked back to the terminal and began to do my own interpretation of Goldilocks.

First, I parked myself in a lounge chair. I grabbed my black scarf and draped it over my eyes to block out the bright florescent lights.

Nope.Too public.

Then, I went and laid down on the cold tile floor.

Nope. Too loud.

Then, I wandered down the terminal to a hall in the shopping area with a few metal benches.

There was only one free bench. The others were occupied with people who were sleeping already.

I had ditched most of my belongings in Trogir, so the towel I had used the first time in Belgium’s airport was no longer in my bag.

Hmmm.

I grabbed my sundress I had purchased in Bulgaria and threw it over me, resting my head of my not-so-comfortable messenger bag.

It was hard to sleep there. It was painful. It was cold. But, it was where I decided to pass out.

My mind took me home … filling me with images of happy and sad and fear.
Happy to be home. Sad for my loss. Fear of being back in America.

The next morning, I was up at 5 a.m. Starbucks had just opened. I grabbed a coffee and a snack and sat there for an hour, just staring into space.

Still feeling numb. Still feeling sad. Still feeling like a zombie.

Then, I went to go get breakfast a few hours later.

Airports in Europe aren’t like airports in America. Typically, the departure screens don’t tell you what gate your flight leaves from until two hours before. I lucked out. And, three hours before my flight was leaving, the gate appeared on the screen.

Overjoyed, I quickly cleared passport control and took over a cushioned bench and passed  out for an hour.

When they made the announcement it was time to board the flight back to America, it hit me.

D, your trip is over. You are going home.

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The slow return to America

I arrived to the Zadar airport way too early for my liking.

“This is the bus you have to take if you want to get there in time for your flight,” the receptionst at the hostel informed me.

It got me there more than three hours before my flight.

Maybe there will be something to do, I considered.

Right.

Zadar’s airport is tiny. Two gates. Two restaurants. One Duty Free store. Two little shops outside of security selling overpriced Croatian goods.

I ate, even though I still had no appetite. I wandered through Duty Free, even though I wanted nothing. I sat at the bar and paid an exuberant amount for a tiny bottle of water. I sat in a wicker chair staring into space, listening to “Sideways” for hours.

Finally, the flight boarded.

On the airplane, I sat with my head pressed against the window, tears dripping down my cheeks, as I watched Croatia disappear into the distance.

It’s over, D.

Arriving in Frankfurt, a wave of cold smacked me in the face. After spending the summer in ridiculously hot climates, Frankfurt was chilly, cloudy and about 20 degrees cooler.

RyanAir doesn’t fly into Frankfurt Main, it flies into the other Frankfurt airport, two hours outside of the city. (I have no idea how it can even be called a Frankfurt aiport).

I caught the shuttle bus, eyes glued to the gorgeous green German countryside, still listening to my song.

Today is Grandma’s funeral.

In my mind, I could see everyone standing outside in the rolling Pennsylvania hills. I could hear my blog post being read to the family and friends that had gathered there. I could feel their grief, their loss, as I sat on the bus, alone.

And once again, I cried.

I arrived to the aiport as it was getting dark, around 7:30 p.m. I only had 15 hours to waist at the airport.

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Berlin – the other love

I may love Madrid, but Berlin … man, it comes in a close second.

Seriously.

It may have been really cold … and windy … and rainy in Berlin, but after escaping Borris‘, I was hit smack in the face with all of its awesomeness.

First, it was Hostel Aloha. It didn’t even bother me I had to climb countless flights of stairs each time (it’s all about building endurance, right?). The hostel was awesome. The people there were awesome. The breakfast was … you guessed it … awesome. (I’m talking fresh bread, Nutella, bananas, PEANUT BUTTER!!!!)

Then, it was the New Europe free tours. I took the East Berlin tour with Paul (an Israeli I had met in Prague) my first day in the city and it was fascinating. I am not one for countless churches or museums, but the minute you start talking about World War II and Hitler, I get really into it. At one point, we stood where Hitler’s bunker was, the place where he killed himself. Now, it is a parking lot surrounded by some nicer Communist apartment buildings. (Quite fitting cars now park where Hitler took his last breath, if you ask me.)

Later on the tour, we stood where a vicious gun battle had broken out once Communism had taken hold. I looked from a mural depicting everyone smiling because of living a Communist lifestyle to the reality — columns and walls riddled with bullet holes only recently covered up. And then, the Wall. Well, the remnants. And then … Checkpoint Charlie. Reconstructed, but still Checkpoint Charlie.

The next day, I fell deeper in love with the city. Armed with my 48-hour train pass and my iPod, I took the Sbahn to the Zoo (home of Knut, the once adorable baby polar bear who morphed into a moody grownup) and walked back to Alexanderplaz. A hefty walk. But, beautiful. The sun  had come out for the day (!!!) and the weather was mild, so walking through Tiergarten was perfect.

That evening, Berlin got even better with Chris (@TheAussieNomad) arriving from Amsterdam and joining me for a pub crawl. The pub crawl, not so great, but Chris’ company was.

The next morning, he checked into Aloha and we headed to another walking tour — this time of the colorful graffiti and squatter haunts of Berlin. Even in the pouring rain and cold, it was fascinating. We walked around “beach” bars, went to a warehouse riddled with colorful graffiti and artists’ studios, and learned about the sub-culture that makes Berlin really interesting and different from … oh, most places.

We even went to an indoor skate park near an old train depot that was bombed during the war.

And then, there was Chris’ and my search for the perfect kebab. We found it at Mustafa’s. A delicious combo of chicken, fried veggies and potatoes topped with spicy goodness. Loved it.

Even that night, just making pasta and hanging out with everyone in the hostel was a good time.

Sadly, the only day with sun was my first real day in the city. It was hard for me to leave — I wanted to experience more of the sub-culture of Berlin — the graffiti laden beach bars, the markets — but the sun never came out enough to make it possible.

My first day in the city, I had met two Aussies who were planning to be there for a week.

“That’s a long time,” I had said.

“This city is absolutely amazing,” they replied.

At the time, I hadn’t felt it. But, by the time my train to Amsterdam was pulling up at the station, I knew precisely what they meant.

Berlin, I will be back. Promise.

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I’ll always remember my first time … Couch Surfing

Up until Berlin, I was a couch surfing virgin. Yup. Never had I slept on anyone’s couch via the very cool CouchSurfing.

I had planned on surfing during my travels, not just to save a little cash, but because I have heard nothing but raves about the experiences people have had … the insight into cultures they receive … the friends they made.

I should have known better when I agreed to couch surf with Borris* (yes, I am changing his name, this is a rare case) in Berlin.

Why?

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