Category Archives: Europe

Berlin: ” It’s for me”

Berlin is a liberating city. There is a vibe of being young, free and creative. Here and there, half torn-down buildings and ill-lit alleys look kind of rough, but in a nice way. Yeah, that does not sound right, but it feels right.

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I am not saying that I really know the city. I was there only for an extended weekend. I didn’t even visit main attractions, or the outer west and north side of the city. I am sure there are places in Berlin that you should not wander about when you are alone at night. It is just like any other big cities. However, much a novice as I am, I found it hard to not love Berlin.

People are so very friendly and open

I’ve met and talked to so many strangers in Berlin. German and foreigners. The young and the old. The straight and the lesbians. The city dwellers and the town visitors. One thing in common: most are so open to having a conversation. I wonder if it’s the water (and the beer) there that brings out the friendliness. Mentioning the beer…

Beer is tasty and cheap

We tried a lot of beer in Berlin. From crafted bottles in a festival to the typical German one mentioned in The Life of Others. Somehow out of the so many types we’ve tried, none is bad and most are excellent. May the odds be always in our favour!

Prices are lower than of the similar ones you get in Amsterdam, which is a good start (with a potentially bad ending).

Graffiti, graffiti and graffiti

Along bridges over some underground stations. 20 metres off the ground by the window of a fifth-floor apartment. On the street. And most famously: East Side Gallery. It is the longest part of the Berlin wall that is still standing and reminding us of all the extreme. After the fall of the Wall, that standing stretch was painted by various artists for ten years, if I remember it right. You can find all styles of graffiti there. Some are abstract. Others are scarily real. Sadly, there is also work of vandalism. I never understand the ignorance and the vanity of ones who scribble their names on other people’s work.

A boy at East Side Gallery

All in all, I found the abundance of graffiti in every corner of Berlin thought-provoking. I don’t love all of them. But I can almost feel the freedom of the street artists. It must be really liberating.

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What I’ve found in Brugge

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Brugge is a tourist town. Period.

That of course means a lot of tourists everywhere, at all times. In the two days in Brugge, I’ve counted a great deal of teenage boys and girls on school trips. I waved to many other fellow Asian travellers. I also saw two groups of the Russian-looking elderly at a break of dawn. And European families with selfie sticks!

In the touristic Brugge, most street fronts are dedicated to more or less four kinds of store.

The first group includes restaurants, bakeries, and food stores. Basically where you can find things to eat. And food in Brugges was amazing from my humble experience. In the 10 minute-walking radius with our airbnb at the centre, there are three Michelin star restaurants. Not that I tried any but it must count for something, right. Within the same distance, I found an amazing bakery, a high end organic food store stuffed with cheese, and a vibrant outdoor market. I swear I have found the best French ham and pâté there.

The second group includes bars and pubs. It’s where beer lovers like us hang out at night, or during the day even. The one night we spent in Brugge, my boyfriend and I found this place with a 15-cm thick beer menu. I could have drunk beer with all sorts of ingredients and in all sorts of glasses. Like, speculoos beer and a horn-shape glass, for example. It’s not at the same time though, they are classy beer drinkers in Belgium 😉

15-cm thick beer menu

The third one is beer shops, also for the like of us. Hundreds and thousands of bottles. Some cost up to 20 euros per bottle. There, you can find the best of those famous Trappist beer brewed by monks. I love Trappist’s dark and deep taste, like down in the abbey I guess 😀

Last but not least, it’s all round favourite: chocolate. There are chocolate shops on the main streets door by door. On a hidden corner, down by the canal, behind the church — you name it and you will most likely find a chocolate shop. My boyfriend bought a little ducky for my 18-month old nephew. He is not two yet, and he already expresses quite a love for chocolate.

So here you go. If you like to drink beer, eat good food and nibble on chocolate, you should definitely visit Brugge. If you are into architecture, do go as well. Don’t leave without checking the Church of Our Lady, please. It is so beautiful.

I don’t know if I would go back to Brugge. Not that I don’t like the city. I love it. But all the surface has been polished up for the tourists. I found it so hard to see underneath and find the connection. Maybe if I have stayed longer…

While in Paris on my own

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It was Friday afternoon. Quiet hilly paths across Montmartre were filled with sunlight but rather cold. I was packed up with hat and gloves, but no city map and phone data and very little French.

I got off at a metro station in the Montmartre area. I read in a guide that it was a nice area with something nice on the top of the hill. So I started to crawling up slopes slowly.

Beautiful houses sprawled all over steep edges. More art galleries appeared each time I turned a corner. I found one window full of art objects inspired by cats. What a heaven on earth!

It was strange how climbing up Montmartre reminds me of Edinburgh as well as a small town near Hannover in Germany. Sometimes the experience of travel lies inside the self – the sensation you have there and then, rather than physical forms. To be fair, all three places are hilly. Maybe it was the dizziness I felt going up, again and again.

Once I reached the top, things changed. Quiet alleys were replaced with a big square packed with artists who tried to show off their talents in more obvious ways. Some offered to do me a portrait. At least that is what I got from my broken French. Out of no where, there were eateries after eateries. Also, delicacies, gift shops and a lot of tourists.

It is not that I wasn’t a tourist myself. It is that I didn’t see so many climbing up the hill with me. Suddenly, they filled up every inches outside and inside Sacré-Coeur. The click-click of their cameras joined the service’s choir in a rather distasteful way. Their selfie sticks did not look the part of the surrounding of this solemn place. I might sound too judgemental, I know. But I always think there is much more to a place than a chance to have nice photos.

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Sacre-Coueur itself stands impressively over looking the metropolitan Paris. But I enjoyed the stroll up the hill more than the architecture prize for those who reach the submit. I did not much like the easy steps that lead straight down to tourist traps with more gift shops (and few con men and women). I saw people pretended to bet 50 euros, one after another, on quick-eye tricks in the pavement. Either Paris was full of very rich people, or its street scammers should really try to keep the show real.

I got down to another metro station to go pick up my man at some conference that kept him from exploring Paris with me. I would probably go back to Montmartre with him the next time we pass by Paris. I hope it will still be sunny.

Deutsche Marchenstraße – The Fairy Tales Route

Bremen Squarejpg We started the Fairy Tales Routes in Bremen. Even though the four Town Musicians of Bremen never actually made it to Bremen in the Grimms tale, there are cute symbols of the four all over town, pointing you toward an exciting square with a grande rathaus (town hall), a magnificent church, a beautiful statue of Roland, and amazingly structure old houses. A tram line cut right through the square, in front of the town hall. The random ding-dong from the tram added modern flavour to our dining when we spent the evening admiring the thousand year old town. Leaving Bremen, we drove and stopped whenever we felt like. We passed some old quiet town where, once upon a time,  all the rats (and the children) were lured away . That might actually explain the stillness. where the rats go Sometimes we didn’t make enough miles because of a lingering around altstraße (old streets, phố cổ). We ended up camping in a wood on a stormy night. The thunders badly increased my wariness from the camp owner who looked like a suspicious character out of Game of Thrones. Regardless, we managed to cook pasta under the rain. It was tasty even. I told Ian it might be the evening we would never forget – like many others that we shared. On meandering roads through valleys, up some mountain forests and down to corn fields, we listened to our childhood favourite Brother Grimms tales. I remember tales like Hansel & Gretel, or The Little Red Riding Hood but am not quite sure what I took of them when I was little. Grimm Fairy Tales now seem little dark for my adult consciousness. Though they all lived happily ever after, there were plenty of jealousy, betrayal, wickedness and murders. One story told that a mouse moved in with a cat and ended up being eaten by the very cat.  That is how life turns out sometimes. How shocking! To be continue…