I try and avoid taking photos of people, with respect to their privacy, and because I want to focus on what brings us all to the thing we’ve travelled so far to see. However, people and crowds of them provide daily companionship.
Lest I give a false impression, we also attend to necessary housekeeping such as ensuring we smell decent, are well-fed, and keep in touch with home. And there are the frustrations of travel, such as roll-bags and the tripping hazard they guarantee, noisy drunken tourists, street fights, rudeness, the inability to communicate in the local language, physical exhaustion and knowing that for every wonderful experience we gain, we’re missing many times as much. That’s also European travel.
You may ask: Is it worth it? We answer a hearty “YES”! What we gain is far greater by what we endure and although it’s plenty hard work, travel provides an education that’s hard to come by any other way. 37 years of marriage helps because we know one another well and take good care of each other on the journey. I am particularly thankful for my attentive husband and the joy he provides as travel partner!
Berlin’s young vibe and gritty ambience, not to mention its state of the art train station, prompted a second visit to this fascinating city. The 6 hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo and the transfer to our overnight ride from Oslo to Copenhagen by sea went swimmingly. We boarded our train in Copenhagen and came into Germany by sea, train and all. That was something!
Due to a technical difficulty and a bit of a wait, we transferred trains upon arriving on German soil, taking us to Hamburg where we failed to make our connection to Berlin. Good thing trains run frequently between the two cities! We arrived in Berlin 2 hours later than planned and promptly went to bed! Or, at least, I did. My tireless husband opted for an evening walk around the neighbourhood. I marvel at his energy and wish I could find a way to bottle it up and market it. I’d make a fortune.
We’re settled in the elegant Myer’s Hotel and dined at the Reichstag (German Parliament) for a delicious lunch. Last time we visited the Reichstag, a young man approached the gate with his “Heil Hitler” and arm raised in the tell-tale gesture and was quickly whisked away by half a dozen armed police. Security around the Reichstag is tight. All that to say, admission into the restaurant meant a reservation months in advance, an airport-type security process and a triple secure room transfer before we could “wait to be seated.” Getting out was nearly as rigorous.
Berlin is a city of monuments and Germans are sensitive about their terrible 21st century war history. The slate slab in the photo below memorializes the politicians who opposed Hitler and were murdered for their resistance. Just beyond the parliament lawn stand a Jewish monument of varying sizes of granite blocks and from the highest point of the Reichstag, many of the city’s monuments shape the skyline.
On a lighter note, Gord asks me often if I think I will see anyone I know. Well today, I did. 3 years ago, while visiting the Brandenburg Gate, we met a fellow who works at the US Embassy. He waxed eloquent about southern style ribs (and food in general) and recommended an Indian restaurant that we enjoyed very much. When we recalled our last encounter he laughed and made another recommendation, which we intend to check out tomorrow. He invited us to report back on our experience. I hope to take his photo if he agrees and introduce you. He’s worked for the US Embassy in Berlin since 1981, through the fall of the wall and all the city’s growth and change. I encouraged him to write a book and he’s considering it. Not because I said he ought to, by the way.
The photos are a bit muddled — not in any kind of order. The hotel is an art gallery on the side so the statue stands in the garden. The character reminds me of a rather naked Puddleglum in the Narnia Chronicles. The “No Fake Jews” poster promotes an upcoming play produced by a Jewish theatre company. The train photo is taken on the ferry.
As I write, the North Sea churns white around us and the sun, at 8pm, sits high on the horizon. Our train for Oslo left Bergen 12 hours ago meandering its way, for 6 hours, out of the fjords toward the coast. Our ship sailed at 4:30pm from Oslo to Copenhagen, another overnight run to double up accommodation and transportation in one tidy package. We’re on our way to Berlin, leaving Viking country to the Vikings — who, by the way, now ride about on scooters with Levis and Nike bags in tow. What would their ancestors say, I wonder? Wait a minute, those are my ancestors too!
Oh, and today is our 37th wedding anniversary. My how time flies!
Here’s the day in photos.
Our 55 minute flight to Oslo meant a panoramic view of a patchwork of farms and lakes as we flew west from Stockholm. Sweden is flatter than I expected, but lush and lovely.
Oslo’s hotel prices sent us looking elsewhere for accommodation so when we found an AirB&B within 4 bus stops of the central train station, we jumped on it. The neighbourhood felt sketchy with graffiti generously decorating everything in sight. The little shop where we picked up the key is a dingy spot and when we located the building with its chaotic scaffolding and courtyard disaster zone, we nearly turned around and found somewhere else to bunk. But my intrepid husband blazed forward, determined to at least take a look at the apartment. 4 flights of stairs and 3 keyed doorways later we stepped into our little oasis in the city.
You never quite know with AirB&B’s, so we have learned in the past, but this one provides us a home away from home with its full kitchen, washer/dryer, one bedroom, and living room lay-out. The extra space is most welcome! And it’s clean!
Today it rained. The first of any consequence we’ve had in 2 and a half weeks. So we spent a good chunk of the day indoors exploring City Hall and then the National Art Gallery, with its celebrated Picasso, Edvard Munch and Rodin pieces. We ate dinner at Hard Rock Cafe, and then home again.
We heard Oslo is the most expensive of the Scandinavian countries. It’s modern, that’s for sure. Art is important here and plays a key role in historical narrative and national pride. I like that.
One more thing. We frequent Joe & the Juice nearly everyday and today we ordered cappuccino, listening to Michael Jackson while the guys boogied behind the bar. I recommend their Joe’s Green Mile smoothie if you want a good dose of greens.
Since our ferry to Tallinn, Estonia departed in the afternoon, we took the morning to explore more of Helsinki. That started with shopping in the Kuuri District in an effort to replace a weary pair of shoes. I said goodbye to my Keen slip-ones and hello to a new pair of Skechers cushiony soft-soled sandals. I’m wearing them with socks and I don’t care what the world thinks as long as my feet are happy.
On the ferry to Tallinn we met an adventurous couple from the UK, who are at the start of a 12 month trek through Europe. She put me on to an app that measures the distance walked in a day. While the rest of you may already know about this, the concept of measuring steps is new to us. Over dinner we calculated the total kilometres walked in our 17 days here. Ready? Nearly 150 kilometres! No wonder my feet are weary!
Mike and Cassie, if you’re reading this, we wish you all the best on your travels!
Now for a bit of history, if you’re up for it.
Tallinn gained independence in 1991 and has become westernized in a hurry. The draw here is the Old Town where the miraculously intact walled city draws visitors from around the world. Goods are inexpensive and the streets outside the tourist centre feel third world but the locals are lively, eager to speak English and wonder why on earth we would come to Estonia. We want to meet the people who brought about their own revolution not by force but by singing.”In 1988, 300,000 Estonians — a full one third of the population — gathered at the Song Festival Grounds outside Tallinn to sing patriotic songs at the risk of their very lives. On August 23, 1989…the people of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia held hands to make the Baltic Chain, a human chain stretching 360 miles from Tallinn to Vilnus in Lithunia.” (Rick Steves, Scandinavia, 681)
It took 2 more years for Estonians to gain freedom but they did and the memory remains very near to the hearts of the people. We came to Estonia to meet the singing revolutionaries. Speaking of revolutionaries, tonight at dinner, we got chatting with a couple from Berlin and they recalled to us their memories of the night the Berlin Wall came down. They were right there and we could taste their experience of it. Throughout the day, we found ourselves in the company of the courageous — young adventurers, singing revolutionaries, history-changers. And they engaged with ordinary people like us who are attempting to understand the world and its people a little better.