Fifth and final day in Berlin

Today was our last day in Berlin. We got up fairly early, had a delicious breakfast of Colombian eggs, and then headed out to Alexanderplatz. This is one of the oldest parts of the city.

Our first stop was at the Berliner Rathaus which is a stunning red brick building and is the office of the governing mayor of Berlin.

We walked around the square to see the Neptunbrunnen where Neptune is surrounded by 4 female figures symbolizing the main rivers of Prussia at the time. They were doing some work on the fountain so I couldn’t get that good a photo.

We walked on a bit more and came to the Marienkirche. This was originally built in 1270 and has an amazing baroque tower.

From here we wandered down to the river and could see the famous Berliner Dom.

Down by the river we booked a city tour on one of the river boats.

First we headed up past the Nikolaiviertel which is the city’s oldest coherent quarter and you can just see towers of the Nikolaikirche in one of the photos below.

We went past the television tower, the German history museum and under a lovely cast iron bridge.

We travelled on past the Reichstag and the parliament buildings. A bridge goes across the river from the parliament buildings on the west to those on the east.

We passed a riverside bar, some floral modern art and another couple of lovely bridges.

The last main place we passed was the museum island and back to the Berliner Dom.

From here we disembarked and made our way back to the television tower. On the way we passed the statue of Martin Luther who founded the protestant church in Germany.

We had booked lunch in the tv tower so we got the lift up to the bar and observation area.

The tv tower is over 200m tall and the lift travels at 6m per second. My ears popped on the way up.

At the bar we had a delicious lunch of Berlin meatball and Beer.

The views from the observation deck were amazing, you could see everything and lucky we had a lovely, clear, sunny day.

After our tv tower tour we walked back over the bridge to the museum island. The museum buildings are amazing and of course, the gorgeous cathedral is there too.

I think this photo is one of my favourite ones of the trip.

From the museum island we walked down Unter den Linden.

We stopped at the Neue Wache which is the central memorial for all the victims of war.

The next stop was Bebelplatz which is where the Nazis burnt all the books that they deemed not suitable. Surrounding the square are the opera house, a university building and the Hedwig cathedral.

We walked down this street, and all the buildings were really impressive- it was the street where the east Germans demonstrated their impressive power.

We walked all the way to the Brandenburg gate again and then through this, via the caller memorial onto the Soviet Memorial.

After this we went back to the apartment, finished our packing and drank a final beer before heading off to our respective destinations.

It was a fantastic five days with my sister!

I took some photos on the and leaving Berlin and arriving in London.


Fourth day in Berlin

We had to set the alarm this morning as we had agreed to meet Herbert and Heidrun at 930am for a day trip to Potsdam. Potsdam is the capital of the federal province of Brandenburg. It is a beautiful place with lots of palaces, churches and parks.

On the way to Potsdam we stopped at the famous Glienicker bridge. This bridge is where the Russians and Americans exchanged agents that had been captured by the opposite side.

On the way to the bridge we walked past the Glienicker castle and also saw a castle on the opposite side of the river.

It was just a short drive from here to Potsdam itself. Heidran dropped us at the entrance to the Neuer Garten which surrounds the Heiliger See.

There were some Dutch houses at the entrance to the gardens.

On the opposite bank of the lake there are a number of very expensive houses, one is owned by the founder of Joop and another by a famous German presenter, Gunter.

Carrying on through the park we came across the Marmopalais, largely made out of marble. It was built at the end of the 18 century by Friedrich II as a summer residence.

Just beyond this palace is the Schloss Cecilienhof. This castle was built in the style of an English country house and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

In 1945 the Potsdam Conference between Truman, Stalin and Churchill was held here. This is when they divided up Germany into east and west.

After the walk in the park we jumped back into the car and drove to a place called Krongut Bornstedt. This small area has a lovely bakery and they had a mini food festival on with an Elvis look-a-like singer. We had a walk around the area before eating a delicious lunch of smoked salmon fillet sandwich and beer.

From here we walked to the most famous castle in Potsdam, Schloss Sanssouci, which has also been designated a world heritage centre of culture by UNESCO. On the way we passed some interesting buildings.

At the entrance to Schloss Sanssouci there’s an old windmill.

The castle itself is enormous and pretty amazing.

As you walk towards the gardens there is a grave of Fredrich the Great and alongside him the graves of his dogs. His grave has fresh potatoes on it as he is the petson who bought the potato to Germany.

We walked down the terraces to the gorgeous gardens. The gardens themselves cover 709 acres – we only walked through part of it.

We walked to the Chinesisches Haus which used to be a teahouse and dining room.

From here we carried on through the gardens to the Neues Palais which was built for Fredrich the Great and apparently is one of the most beautiful palaces in Germany – I prefer the Sanssouice or even the Charlottenburg personally.

From here we walked to the Orangerie where we exited the castle.

We then had a little walk back to the car and we drive back to Berlin to Potsdamer Platz where we stopped to have a delicious ice cream. In a little square here they had a piano set up that anyone could play, one girl played whilst we were there and she was really good.

Herbet and Heidrun then drove us back to our apartment and we said out goodbyes. It was so lovely and interesting to meet them and they were such great tour guides too!

We had a couple of drinks at the apartment, including some gin that another person had obviously left behind – and it was really nice – before heading out again.

In the evening we went to the Weineri Forum which is basically a bar where you can taste different wines and pay as much as you think it’s worth, the same for the food. It’s a great concept and they do provide some guidance/ suggestions on the costs of the different wines.

When we got back to the apartment we finished off the bottle of red we had opened previously and went to bed very tired.

Third day in Berlin

After a good night’s sleep we both woke up quite early, so we had breakfast and headed out to Charlottenburg. This is a piece of street art right by our flat, I really like it.

We got the underground out to Schloss Charlottenburg which is a little bit on the outskirts of Berlin.

The traffic lights in Berlin have a particular man on them – the ampel man – you don’t see him anywhere else in Germany.

Schloss Charlottenburg was made as a summer residence for Sophie Charlotte who was the wife of Fredrich III. It is made up of several sections and Queen Sophie, who died at the tender age of 36, never got to see the finished building.

The inside of the palace was amazing. Obviously some of it was bombed during the war but much of it has been restored to it’s former glory, although a lot of the furniture was destroyed. The pictures below are of the ballroom in the Neuer Fluegel part of the castle and also a photo of the original alter in the chapel.

The gardens are also magnificent. We walked through them and took some photos looking back at the castle.

In the grounds of the castle is a Belvedere. Basically this is a summer residence built as a place to escape to away from the castle.

From here we walked across a small bridge over one of the lakes in the garden to get across to the other side.

The next stop was the mausoleum where queen Sophie and Fredrich are buried alongside two other Prussian monarchs.

From Schloss Charlottenburg we were going to take a boat into the city centre along the river Spree but all of them took several hours so we decided to get the tube instead. We made a stop to see the Deutscher opera house, which is a very modern building and not what I was expecting at all.

However, the next stop was a lot more interesting – Checkpoint Charlie. On the way we walked past some abstract art and a really nice building.

There isn’t a huge amount to see at Checkpoint Charlie itself but it serves as a memorial of how difficult it was to cross over from east to west. The original sign to let you know you are leaving the American side still stands today.

They also have a large display showing the American solider in the West and the Russian soldier in the east.

As we were waiting around at Checkpoint Charlie a few of the old Trabis came by. They really smell as they are fueled with two stroke petrol. They were a sought after car in east Germany before the wall came down.

Throughout Berlin they have marked where the Berlin wall used to be by a set of double bricks on the ground. This is me standing one foot in the east and one foot in the west.

A friend of my sister, Herbert, came and picked us up from checkpoint Charlie and drove us pack to his for coffee and cake. On the way we stopped at Treptower park where there is a huge Soviet memorial to the Russian soldiers who died during the war. The huge statue depicts a Russian soldier holding a small German child that he had just rescued from a burning house.

Herbert, and his wife Heidrun, both lived in east Berlin when the wall was up so it was really interesting to talk to them and hear about it from their perspective.

After coffee and cake Herbert took us on a drive around Berlin to see some more of the sights. The first stop was along the bank of the river Spree to see the Molecule man statue which shows where 3 districts in Berlin come together. It is a really impressive piece of art.

We drove past another amazing building, I think it was at the end of Frankfurter Allee.

We also drove round the roundabout with the Siegessaeule. This is a victory column that used to be outside the parliament building but Hitler moved it to its current position as it would be the start of his victory parade after the war. Of course this parade ftom hete to the Brandenburg gate never happened.

The next stop on our little private tour was at Gendarmenmarkt, a beautiful square which looks like an Italian plaza. One side is taken up by the konzerthaus and to the left and right of these are the German and French cathedrals. The French one is still used as a cathedral today whereas the German one is used for exhibitions.

Behind the square was a large shopping centre so we paid it a quick visit too. Inside there was a modern art sculpture made up of old Trabis that had been squashed.

We decided to have a drink at the square as all this sightseeing is hard work!

And from here we drove to a lovely Italian restaurant, Via Nova, not too far from the east side gallery. The food was delicious and very filling.

After the food we had a little wander around the area. It was a great area with lots of bars and clubs.

Second day in Berlin

So today we had a bit of a lie in. I think we left the flat around 11am after a very delicious breakfast of mushroom and pepper omelette.

We headed to Kurfurstendamm and as we got off the tube the first thing we saw was the Gedaechtnis Kirche, and right next to it, the new church. The original church was severely damaged in the 1943 bombing and the ruins have been left as a memorial.

We then visited a shopping mall called Bikini Berlin which had a rooftop bar. From here you could look down into the ape enclosure of Berlin Zoo.

We decided we would visit the famous entrance of Berlin Zoo bit we walked the wrong way so had to double back on ourselves to see it.

From here we headed to Breitscheidplatz where there is fountain known locally as Wasserklopps (water meatballs).

The famous Europs-Center is there too with the Mercedes sign on top. This is the oldest shopping centre in Berlin and opened in 1962.

As we walked back on the other side of the street we went into the Gedaechtnis Kirche to visit the hall of memories. And we also popped into the new church next door to see the contrast.

We continued walking down the main street to see the old traffic turret. This is the last one in the city so is now a monument. A policeman used to sit in the raised glass cabin to control the traffic lights manually.

Opposite this was a shop that sells Christmas things all year round so we popped in to have a quick look.

From here we walked back down the main street to the German equivalent of Harrods – KaDeWe. We had lunch at the restaurant at the top and took some pictures of the views.

We then had to walk all the way back down the street, not very good planning, to pay a visit to hard rock cafe so I could buy myself a t-shirt.

From the west we then headed to the east walking over the famous Oberbaumbruecke. This bridge was built in 1894-6 and is one of many bridges crossing the river Spree.

On the east side of the bridge us the east side gallery. This is a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin well that remains standing today. Although officially the actual border line was in the river so this part of the wall didn’t actually run along the border. The wall is covered in some amazing street art.

We walked along most of this stretch to the Ostbahnhof. From here we got the bus and tram to a Vietnamese centre right out in the east. To be honest this probably wasn’t worth the effort. There were several huge halls filled with stores which sold everything from clothes to household goods and you could also get your haircut or your nails done.

After all this walking we decided we needed a well deserved beer. So we went to klunkenkranich – a rooftop bar on top of a multistory car park. We stayed there as the sun came down and headed home around 9pm.

First day in Berlin

Today was an early start with the alarm going off at 430am! I got to Heathrow airport with plenty of time and had s delicious breakfast at Wondertree.

Everything went smoothly and I landed in Berlin around 1145am. From the airport I had to get a bus and then the U-bahn to the apartment we were staying in. I managed to follow the instructions and find the key and let myself in.

Nicola, my sister, arrived around 15 minutes later. After a quick unpack we decided to go and be tourists and we went to Parisier Platz to visit the Brandenburg Tur. On the way we passed the British embassy so had to stop and take a photo or two.

From here we walked through part of the Tiergarten to the Reichstag building (Parliament building). On the way we saw the Siegessaule and stopped at the memorial for the Gypsys (Sinti and Roma). We also saw the building where Angela Merkel works.

We had a quick lunch (bratwurst and chips) in a cafe where we had a lot of feathered friends as company!

We then headed back to the main square where we were meeting the tour guide, Nils, for the History and Beer tour. Not surprisingly we started with the Brandenburg tor and also talked about the many embassies around the square. The hotel on the square, Hotel Adlon is where all the celebrities stay and rooms can cost €2000 per night. This is also the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby out of the window!

From the Parisier Platz we walked to the Holocaust memorial. This was quite a strange place as there were no signs saying what it was. It’s made up of 2711 stones and when you walk in it feels very welcoming. However, as you walk amongst the stones the ground slopes down and the stones becoming bigger. It’s quite unnerving and is obviously created this way on purpose.

From here we walked to a block of very unassuming flats. It was here that Hitler had his bunker, where he spent the last days of his life and where he committed suicide. This underground bunker has now been filled in. Hitler’s body was removed from the bunker by his SS men and then burnt. The place where his body was burnt is now a sand pit.

Our next stop was the Georg Elser memorial. Georg tried to assassinate Hitler and was around 17 mins away from doing so by the means of a timed bomb. Unfortunately Hitler had boughtbfireard the time of his speech and had left the building by the time the bomb went off but several SS men were killed and injured. Georg Elser was captured and sent to Dachau where he survieved 5 years but died 2 weeks before the war ended.

Following on from here we walked to the current building of the ministry of finance. This is one of the only surviving Nazi buildings and it used to house the Luftwaffe. During the war it is said that much of the tobacco and cigarettes were stored here which is one of the reasons it was never bombed. It’s a very impressive and intimidating building.

On the floor in front of the building is a photo showing the rebellion on 17 June 1953 where the workers demanded better conditions and showed opposition to the east German politics. In stark contrat there is a mural on the wall of the building depicting how great it was to live in a socialist state.

Our next stop was Postdamer Platz. There are lots of new and modern buildings here but it used to be the hub for nightlife. It was a very liberal area and particularly for the homosexual scene. The German spy museum is here too.

We now walked back into what was west Berlin and there is a small section of the wall still standing in its original place. The wall was built in 1961, the border was put up overnight and many families and friends were separated. The area that is now Parisier Platz was a no man some. In 1989 the wall started to come down. I must admit I thought it would be higher than it was.

We walked through the Tiergarten again but a slightly different route that took in the memorial to the homosexuals, who the Nazis also killed, and the statue of Goethe.

At the end of the tour we found ourselves back at the Reichstag building. The Nazis actually burnt down this building when there was joint powr between them and the communists. However, at the time the communists were blamed and this helped Hitler take complete control. He passed a law basically saying that he could pass any law without having agreement by parliament.

We sat on the grass in front of the building and tried 3 different German beers – hell, pilsner and weissbier. They were all delicious.

On the way back home we walked over the river and stopped at an Irish bar which wasn’t that busy. So we made our way to the stock exchange bar, the Berliner Republik, for a couple of beers before heading home.

Reconnecting with family and friends

One of the good things about being home is catching up with family and friends and catching up on all the gossip.

I phoned mum and dad as soon as I got home obviously- they were a little bit worried about me travelling alone around South America. It doesn’t matter how old you are your parents will always worry about you. Anyway, I think they’re relieved that everything went so well.

I spoke to my sister straight away too – she’s also living in Germany so I won’t see her for a little while.

And yesterday I spoke to my older brother and visited my little brother and his girlfriend, Helen, for the weekend. This is my little bruv with one of his cats.

It was a great weekend. A couple of Helen’s friends were down for the weekend too. Helen cooked a delicious spag bol, we drank gin and prosecco and had a quick dip in the jacuzzi. After all this we were dancing and singing in the kitchen until the early hours of the morning. We also watched some Eurovision – I actually thought the UK entry was pretty good but we didn’t do that well as everyone scores politically!

I probably should have felt worse than I did this morning, but I was up fairly early eating porridge and drinking coffee, watching the cats playing in the garden.

After driving home I started to sort out my patio but then had a little nap. Think it will be an early night tonight.

First run of the year

Today I was working from home so when I woke up at 8am I decided to get up and go for a run. As I’ve been away I haven’t been running yet this year so I took it nice and easy and just ran a gentle 5km. The sun was shining and it was really nice running along the canal.

It’s strange because when I was at school I used to hate running. I really only got into it again a few years ago. In 2014 I signed up to run the Surrey Half marathon as motivation to get me out and running. And it did motivate me, I ran the half in just over 2 hours. And I got the bug for running so decided to try a marathon. In 2015 I ran the London marathon and although I loved it on the day I didn’t enjoy training for it so I’ve vowed I won’t ever run another marathon.

Over the last few years I’ve run some more half marathons but mainly I run 10k or just a little run in the mornings, mainly at weekends. I still enjoy running, I think it’s because I’m outside and I can switch off from everything.

This year I’m not intending to do any major runs, although I might do the Denbies half marathon as they offer wine every couple of miles!

This is a photo from last year’s ‘race’. I think it took us around 5 hours to run 13.1 miles!!

First day back in the office

Today I travelled into London to go back to work. It was a lovely sunny day which made the commute in a little bit easier and nicer.

It was quite depressing though, being back at work, although of course it was lovely to see all my friends at work and catch up on everything that’s been happening whilst I was away. Another reorganisation has been put in place but luckily this doesn’t affect me directly so my job is safe for now. I think it’s just the thought of getting back into a routine and not seeing new things every day that’s a little bit hard to get my head around.

I had quite a few emails to get through – just under 2000. I deleted all the ones that were no longer relevant and answered a few of the more recent ones.

I was really tired by the end of the day and glad to head home, again in the beautiful sunshine, I’m loving this weather.

I don’t think it will take me long to settle back into work and my life back here in England but now that I’ve been travelling I really want to do more of it. I’m seriously looking into how I can make that happen!

First lake swim of 2018

After two 40th parties it was time to do some exercise. I’ve been lake swimming for the last 2-3 years and I absolutely love it, for me it’s much betterHeron Lake than a chlorine filled swimming pool despite having to wear a wetsuit and the temperature of the water. There’s something good and healthy about swimming outdoors.

My friend Paige picked me up with her daughter Jordyne, which was a good thing as my car is still dead, and we set off to Heron Lake ( It’s only a 20 minute drive away.

Because the weather was so gorgeous today, and because the surrounding lakes aren’t open yet, it was really busy. I think we waited at least 30 minutes in the queue to get in.

Paige’s husband Carl joined us at the lake too.

The lake was cold but not as cold as I thought it would be, I even managed to get my head under the water without debilitating brain freeze! Think it must have been around 11 degrees.

I swam around 500m and at least half of that was front crawl, not bad for the first swim of the year. It’s so refreshing and makes me feel really energised.

Pete and Paul and their grandson Harrison were at the lake too so we all had a coffee after the swim. It was really nice to catch up with everyone.

I’m definitely going to try and swim once a week during the summer months.

Birthday celebrations

It still feels a bit strange being home. It all feels a bit surreal, like the trip was just a dream and never really happened. It’s s bit of a culture shock coming home.

I’ve spent the last couple of days sorting out my room. I rented it whilst I was away so now I’m slowly unpacking everything and I’m sorting through it all as I go along. I already have a big suitcase full of clothes for eBay!

Saturday night we celebrated my friend Kate’s 40th at the local wine bar. Although I’ve had a few drinks whilst I’ve been travelling I haven’t had a lot all in one go so I struggled a bit and ended up going home around 11pm. Bit of a lightweight but it was a good night anyway.

And yesterday evening it was Anna’s 40th.

I was going to drive over to Faye’s – she was hosting the party – but my car battery was flat – so I got the train instead. It was a great party, good music, lots of people and lots of dancing. I did drink but made sure I had plenty of water too.

I stayed overnight at Faye’s and then headed home to do more unpacking. My room is slowly looking like normal. I think I may have managed to keep one wardrobe completely empty.