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27 August 2011

The Hangover, Sunday Market, and Rainy Goodbyes

Day 79-80: Sunday, 7 August 2011 - Monday, 8 August 2011

I woke up, somehow. I felt significantly better than the day before. There was less poison in my body, that was for sure.

I swore there was a giant bug on the wall. I was afraid to move, so I sat there just staring at it.

Where was I again? Oh yeah, at a friend's place in Kreuzberg. And when was it? It was sometime around mid-day, and the others were already stirring awake.

We needed to get food. Nourishment. We were in the right city for it, and Mika said that he knew of a good place right on the Ufer of the canal. But when we got there, it just didn't seem right for us, more expensive and less of a selection than we wanted. There was a wildly decorated boat right on the canal, though. Very Berlin.

We continued walking, wandering the streets of Kreuzberg. Somewhere along the way Antti and Mika were separated from the rest of us. We sat at a corner cafe and ordered some pizza and omelets. Quietly, we waited. I could hear my inner monologue going fast and sounding peculiarly like Anthony Bourdain. The last few days of debauchery were ones to remember, for sure, but somehow I couldn't remember much.

No need to worry, it was Sunday in Berlin. And Sunday in Berlin means Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, aka the big flea market at the Mauerpark (Berlin Wall park). It's a big outdoor market filled with funky, alternative, vintage, cheap trinkets where you can get some good finds. It is precisely what you would expect in Berlin too: Great, quality, funky apparel and accessories just waiting for the taking.

But that's not all. There's also karaoke! And not just any kind of karaoke, but a huge outdoor karaoke, where an audience of maybe 1000 people watch you sing. It's called bearpit karaoke, and it looks frighteningly intimidating for all but the least stage-frightened. Needless to say I was attracted to it.

One Crazy Weekend

Days 76-79: Thursday, 4 August 2011 - Sunday 7 August 2011
I was feeling a mix of pure awesomeness and misery.

I returned to Berlin on Thursday evening, dropped off in Potsdam, where I took the S-Bahn into the city. It was damp but warm, not exactly pleasant.

Saskia was in town, so we had to meet up! She was out with Stephanie at our Thursday evening spot, Supanova. There was Jojo also. We caught up and chatted amongst the couchsurfing crowd. I was also looking forward to meeting up with Topi, Aaro, and their friends from Finland who were in Berlin for a few days too. I told them to meet us, and they did just as we were walking back to the S-Bahn station.

We circled around on the S-Bahn toward the Ostkreuz, where the train stopped for the night. We had to walk to Warschauer Straße, where we did karaoke for the evening while gulping down beers. It was cramped and uncomfortably hot inside, but fun nonetheless. The girls said bye and I ended up having more Jäger or something back at the Finnish guys' place (which was right by Görlitzer Bahnhof in Kreuzberg by the way). It was half past 6 when I returned home. The early morning commuters were already out as I stumbled home.

It was Friday, and sleeping through the rest of the morning, I awoke in the early afternoon with a strong craving for pho. So I arranged to meet up with Saskia at Alexanderplatz. We then walked to a Vietnamese restaurant that looked good online. The food was good, and really hit the spot, as we sat outside and enjoyed the lack of rain.

There was the Berlin beer festival going on, so we headed over to that to check it out. It stretched on for about a mile, and it was full of many different types of beer and stereotypically German foods (wurst).

We had a nice large beer, though in retrospect, I should have gotten a small glass and tried the many different kinds of beer available. Who cares? The drunk middle-aged Germans dancing in the street certainly didn't.

26 August 2011

One More Day Enjoying Amsterdam, then Hitchhiking All the Way to Berlin

Days 75-76: Wednesday, 3 August 2011 - Thursday, 4 August 2011
I forgot my laptop charger cable in Berlin, so the battery on my laptop quickly ran out. I had to rely on using Paul's internet connection. As Paul had work to do, I explored much of the city on my own. I walked around, through the Red Light District and all the gawky tourists bouncing around coffeeshops.

I bought some souvenirs to bring back to Berlin, but I was also running low on cash. Unfortunately, my bank does not have an agreement with any bank in the Netherlands, so I couldn't withdraw cash from anywhere without incurring a $10 fee; thus, I just limited my spending and budgeted for the next day.

The city was manageable and had plenty of quiet pockets in which to escape the hordes of tourists. Pockets of serenity where you could just reflect while looking over a canal, and where bicyclists would actually yield some space to pedestrians.

I wandered around quite a bit, from east to west, checking in to an apple store to see that a laptop charger would cost me €70,-! I ended up south, having a late lunch at a Turkish cafe called Güllüoglu, which accepted credit cards :), and where I had the most delicious veggie burger I had had in my life!

Gone to Amsterdam!

Days 73-74: Monday, 1 August 2011- Tuesday, 2 August 2011
It's August already. I was lucky enough to come into possession of a one-way train ticket from Berlin to Amsterdam, so it was a no-brainer that I simply had to use it. It's Amsterdam, after all, and even though I had been there already, there was still more of the city and lifestyle to experience. It was a welcome break from rainy Berlin.

So on Monday morning, I woke up and hastily put my stuff together and rushed to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. My haste wasn't good enough: I arrived just after my scheduled train left.

The Permanent Rain (1st Weekend in Berlin)

Days 70-72: Friday, 29 July 2011 - Sunday, 31 July 2011

"Something is wrong with the sky," I commented. It had begun to rain on Thursday, and the weather did not relent through the entire weekend. Showers and moderate rain fell constantly. I looked at the radar map and saw a band of rain streaming over Berlin. The rest of Germany was dry. And it stayed like this for 4 days.

And Berlin is not the same as any of the destinations I had been to so far on this trip. Instead of finding myself in a new and unfamiliar place and meeting all new people, I was in a city I had visited 7 years ago, and I was surrounded by familiar friends. And because I'd be in Berlin for several weeks, I didn't have to try to see every sight all in a day or two.

The weekend was filled with birthday celebrations.

I Made It to Berlin!

Day 69: Thursday, 28 July 2011
After a long journey so far, I have arrived in Germany. It feels remarkably odd, someplace familiar after being in so many new places. It's not a bad thing, it's just like reverse culture shock or deja vu. It also feels weird to be able to speak the local language, although my German skills have atrophied quite significantly since I stopped studying and practicing it regularly

I arrived in Berlin around 8:30pm. Christoph, my rideshare, drove me to Spandau. I got a ticket and sat on the S-Bahn. A couple stops in, at Olympia-stadion, a huge crowd of people boarded the train. They had seemingly just come from a football match (FC Hertha). I soon got to Zoologischer Garten and walked over to the U-Bahn and arrived at my destination neighborhood soon thereafter. I was a bit confused by the street numbering - instead of going odd-even across from each other, the numbers went up one side of the street and down the other.

The first night in Berlin was quiet; after dropping my stuff off, Felix and I simply got some beers and chilled inside. This day, Thursday, Felix had work early, so he left before I woke up. I didn't leave the apartment until after noon, when I walked all the way to the Reichstag and tried to figure out how to buy a one-month transit pass.

Frustratingly, none of the ticket machines were accepting credit cards (I'd soon discover that, even more frustratingly, few places in Germany accept credit cards).

25 August 2011

Gothenburg (or, Yot-eh-bore-y)

Day 66-68: Monday - Wednesday, 25 - 27 July 2011

After a pretty bad ordeal with my train from Stockholm, I still didn't feel that great as I arrived in Gothenburg. I got a call from my host, Hampus, as I arrived, and he was there at the train station, with another couchsurfer he's hosting, Bernhard from Germany. It was both their first time couchsurfing, but they are really cool guys. Hampus has just started working at a bar and is enjoying it (and its perks) very much, and he will start studying geology in the fall. Bernhard is a music student in Dresden and a bass player in a couple bands. Anyway, we met up, had some food at Burger King, got our transit tickets, and I bought my Swedish flag. We then went to Hampus's apartment, in the "ghetto" of Gothenburg. It's nice and spacious, and the many immigrants make the neighborhood feel somewhat like England to me.

We hung out for a bit, having a coffee, and then Hampus enthusiastically showed us around the city! We took the tram in to the city center, and walked around to the university and his high school. We passed the science center, where we glimpsed a couple anacondas, and in the distance was a brand-new theme park ride that dropped riders several hundred feet straight down from a tower.

Worst Train Ride Ever?

Day 66: Monday, 25 July 2011
Trip update. I'm traveling on a train from Stockholm to Göteborg (which is pronounced "yot-eh-boory", or you could just default to the English name, Gothenburg. I'm blasting through Sweden, only stopping in these two cities. I had thought that I might just casually hitchhike across Sweden, but time constraints ended up popping up: I just need to get to Berlin by the end of the week.

This morning, I was up and out by 7:15am. My train was at 07:44, so I got to the train station at 07:35 and rushed to get my ticket, but it wouldn't work. What the hell?! I went from store to store, asking for help, but they just sent me to another office. I thought I'd just board the train without a ticket, but right when I got to the platform, the train was pulling out.

So I missed my train. I returned to the main part of the station and used one of the automatic machines to get my ticket. Now, it worked! Great. Whatever - I'd just get on the next train, so I found the platform and went there. It had begun to rain, steady rain. The train was scheduled for 8:10, and then after a few minutes, a voice announced in Swedish that it was delayed to 8:25. Then it became 8:30, and then 8:35. The train finally arrived, I boarded, and it left at 8:43. Wow. Swedish efficiency? WTF!

I'm at the point where I just get things done, travel-wise, without feeling as excited about every small detail as I used to. I've just seen so much, it's really draining to maintain that level of energy all the time. It's just time for some down time, and unfortunately Sweden has been having lots of down time so far. People always rave about Sweden, but frankly, I really don't see it as such a paradise. Based on my couple of days here so far, I don't know if I'd want to live here. It wouldn't be bad, but Finland just seems so much better.

Many bad things have happened on this trip: I've broken my camera, left my laptop behind, lost my brand-new phone, and gotten countless cuts and scrapes; 2 pairs of sunglasses are gone. This morning, I missed my train because I couldn't get my tickets printed out. And the train I got on was delayed 15 minutes, then 25 minutes, then 30 minutes. And I didn't have any seat reservation, so as people boarded the train, I was kicked out of each seat I sat in. But what could I do about it? When I was younger, I might have become frustrated and angry in each situation. But that doesn't do anything about the situation. So I just let go of these things as soon as possible, and the worry and stress disappears with them.

That's the thing that I'm trying to learn on this trip, to stop worrying about situations I can't change.

Rocking Stockholm

Days 64-65: Saturday, 23 July 2011 - Sunday, 24 July 2011
We learned that the day before, there was apparently a terrible tragedy in Oslo - a big bomb had exploded and some guy had rampaged and killed like 80 people on an island. It was surreal to learn this, especially because Lisle had to go to Oslo next. And if things had worked out differently, I could have totally been in Oslo at the time too. But it didn't. And I'm in Stockholm.

Next came our quest for IKEA. We went outside to wait for the IKEA bus, and after 15 minutes I realized that it only runs Monday-Friday. Could anything else go wrong?! We went to the tourist information office to ask them, but we had to take a number and it would be like another 45 minutes just to get some service. Lisle went outside to the map store to ask for help, and I found a free internet terminal to research. We both arrived at the same conclusion: Take the metro to Skårholmen and take a bus or walk from there to IKEA. It wasn't that hard. So we went ahead.

The IKEA in Stockholm is supposed to be the largest in the world, but I don't think it was. It was 4 stories high, with each floor designed as concentric circles. Still, I think the IKEAs that I've been to in the US are still bigger. I felt lied to.

24 August 2011

Welcome to Stockholm

Day 63: Friday, 22 July 2011

Stockholm. The capital of Sweden, and the largest city in Scandinavia. After over 2 weeks in surreal, unfamiliar, and fantastical Estonia and Finland, it was a surprise to be back in more familiar and… conventional surroundings. (It was my first time in Stockholm, but I had been to Sweden, Malmö before; and the language is one that I can sort of figure out).

My main impression of Stockholm is that it really is cosmopolitan, and that the people are so incredibly hip and trendy. Seriously, all around me, whether walking or on the metro, the people seem like they came straight out of a fashion magazine. It's like someone took all the urban chic young people from New York and put them in their own city. Maybe because I had spent much of my trip in rural areas, the transition to the city seemed so abrupt.

But Stockholm doesn't feel like a full "big city". It is all just so safe everywhere. I wasn't familiar with the neighborhoods, but I still couldn't imagine there being many ghettos here. The city is quite gorgeous too, with several islands forming part of the city. The buildings are both colorfully pastel and darkly ominous. There was more to this city than meets the eye, but at this point in my trip, I was frankly more interested in finding a comfortable place to put my bags down and rest than trying to crack the mystery of yet another city.