Berlin photos

The last 1/3 of our trip was spent in Berlin and Amsterdam, a significant transition from our tour de Italia. For one thing, the drivers in Berlin didn’t try to constantly run us over like in Rome.

Also, Berlin is a much more modern city in comparison to Florence and Rome. Technically, it’s old in years, but considering that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it’s still quite a young city. You can feel the new energy of the city when you’re there – tons of interesting street art, up-and-coming neighborhoods, hip restaurants and shops.

We really enjoyed our time in Berlin, simply because it’s such an interesting and dynamic place to be. We went on two walking tours by SANDEMANs – one all-encompassing tour that including a lot of history and interesting tidbits, and one “alternative” tour, which focused on Berlin street art and culture. Both were highly enjoyable, and provided solid overviews of both old and new Berlin.

Overall, while I loved every city we visited, I’m inclined to say that Berlin was my overall favorite. It’s so interesting to think about all that the city has been through in the past 100 years, how it has managed to survive, and how it continues to exist to this day. We had good beer and good food, and met some really friendly and nice people. Also, our hostel, Pfefferbett Hostel, was arguably the nicest one that we stayed in – big bunk beds, in-room lockers that locked with our room keys, comfortable and modern lobby with lots of seating, fast wi-fi, a bar and decent food.

Fall in Berlin:

We saw these crows all over Europe, which caught our attention because of all the grey patches. We looked into it, and apparently they are known as hooded crows:

The Fernsehturm:

Brandenburg Gate:

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This is a very interesting, subtle, thought-provoking memorial, taking up a whole square in Berlin:

More of the memorial:

This is a picture of an unkempt lawn, next to a basic parking lot, for cars that belong to residents of a nearby apartment complex. Why take a photo of this? Because it’s right above Hitler’s bunker, which is now flooded and of course not worth recovering. 

Interesting sidenote: during the World Cup in Germany in 2006, Berlin was flooded with tourists, and said tourists were constantly knocking on the nearby apartment doors, asking if this was really the location of Hitler’s bunker. The residents became so annoyed that they paid for a small sign to be placed nearby, which simply states that yes, this is the location of Hitler’s bunker.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Underground memorial for all of the books burned during World War II (sort of tough to see, but it’s a big empty room of empty book shelves):

Burgermeister! Just because.

This was one of the few buildings that didn’t get totally demolished during the wars, but it still experienced some gun shot damage. All of the white boxes that you see are where the building was hit with bullets and later repaired.

Humboldt Universitaet, where all sorts of famous people have studied – and also where the big incident of Nazi book burning once occurred:

To help pay tribute to all the books that were burned, every day there are a bunch of books on sale in front of the University for half-price:

Jeffrey in one of the exhibits at the Jewish Museum:

One of the exhibits at the Museum – a bit of an oral history exhibit:

We heart you too, Berlin:

View of the Berlin Cathedral from one of the museums on Museum Island:

One of the floors of a big artist co-op in Berlin – tons of graffiti and open studio spaces. We went on a tour of Berlin street art, but it was raining throughout the whole tour, so this was pretty much the only good photo I managed to get.

Crazy Jeffrey’s Travel Tipz

If you’re planning a Europe trip, there are some things you should know!

Eurail travel passes are expensive and unnecessary. It is almost always better to buy tickets from individual rail service websites (SNCF, Trenitalia, DB Bahn – use Google Chrome to automatically translate these sites) or at the station on the day of your trip. Remember to validate your tickets if required (ugh)! The Man in Seat Sixty-One gives pretty solid advice.

Couchettes (sleeping cars) are uncomfortable. If you are a light sleeper, do not use. While it seems like a way to save time and money by combining sleep and travel, chances are you’ll require a nap the next day, offsetting your time savings. You might even spend less on a plane trip plus an extra night in a hostel.

Also, don’t be afraid to fly! Plane trips are competitive with train trips and definitely get you there faster (even counting the whole security song and dance). Airlines like easyJet let you purchase carbon offsets, if you’re a hippy.

We used OffMaps ($2) to download entire city maps to our iPhones. A few dollars more ($1 per city) and we could have also downloaded an index of all of the places in each city, but instead we bookmarked where we wanted to go with the help of our laptop at the beginning of each day.

We also bought a Kindle 3G, which, while providing us with reading material for travel, also provided us with completely free Internet access everywhere. Sure, the screen’s grayscale and refreshes like a snail, but that’s a small price to pay for the ability to use a WebKit-based web browser wherever there’s a data signal. I don’t expect that this capability will be around forever, but this could even be helpful in the States, if for some reason you wanted to go without a mobile data plan for a while.

Almost everyone speaks English in every major European city. We never had any trouble finding our way through any situation. (We did come across a menu that was only in Dutch, but Google Translate on the Kindle helped us through). This isn’t to say that knowing another language doesn’t hurt – learn just one Romance language and you should be able to figure the others out relatively easily. English is half Germanic, half Romance, so we weren’t in the dark linguistically at any point.

Walking tours aren’t bad. There are definitely some tours you don’t need to take – ones that take you through a single monument like the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum, for instance – but many of them, especially the ones through SANDEMANs, are fun and insightful. We toured our way through Berlin and found that it was probably the best way to see the city in a short period of time.

Finding places to see is easy. Locals and guides will often tell you to visit the same monuments. Finding places to eat, though, is probably much more important. You’ll want to consult friends who have lived or traveled where you’re going, local food blogs, travel blogs (see below!), and review sites like YelpQype and TripAdvisor, but probably as a last resort. You’ll spend half of your day eating or going to eat, so it’s important that you choose wisely. You’ll find great new routes, neighborhoods, cuisines and customs if you eat off the beaten path.

About eating: there are different payment and tipping customs wherever you go. Don’t expect to be able to leave a tip after your card is charged. Some places don’t expect to receive tips regularly, since waitstaff often receive a living wage.

P.S.

We, uh, arrived home just fine. Not dead. Not us!

Berlin and Amsterdam photos will follow within the next few days. I know you’ve all been on pins and needles. Fear not, we do indeed have photos of those two places, as I know photos of Berlin and Amsterdam are very hard to find otherwise.

We arrived in San Francisco around 1AM on Saturday morning, after BART trains ceased service. Thankfully, we realized that SamTrans (you know, that bus service that serves the peninsula) has 24-hour service from SFO to the city… for 2 bucks… and takes around the same time as BART… and it drops us off right outside Anna’s apartment. Uh, wow. Who needs BART?

Food We Ate

We received countless suggestions from countless sources on what to eat and where. Here’s a selection of the really notable ones, if you suddenly find yourself in one of these cities:

London

  • Monmouth Coffee – Great brew, better pastries.
  • Chillies – Great chicken tikka masala. Go for the food, put up with the street touting. Try to go when you’re sure other people are there, otherwise there’ll be a waiter pacing behind you the entire time.
  • Côte – A nice chain of French places, with tasty brunch. We went to the one in SoHo.

Paris

  • Pink Flamingo – Fun pizza place with unique topping arrangements and very nice people. I had the Gandhi (saag paneer and baba ganoush) and Anna had the Cantona (8 cheeses).
  • La Crêperie de Josselin – Amaaazing place with savory buckwheat crepes. This was my second time going – I went last year when visiting Hannah as well.
  • Ladurée – Fancy dessert chain with ridiculous desserts and extremely rich hot chocolate. We ended up buying way too many macarons on our way out.
  • Spirit Café – Also my second time going, this is a great Thai place with generous servings and lots of girly cocktails (my favorite).
  • Chez Prune – A cozy local bar in Oberkampf with mulled wine (we had a lot, to commemorate our last evening in Paris).

Manarola (Cinque Terre)

  • Il Porticciolo – Tasty pasta/seafood. I had some with pomodoro and half a lobster tail, and it was only 8. Anna’s salmon ravioli was similarly tasty and cheap.
  • Trattoria dal Billy – Another good pasta place with a good seafood selection. The restaurant itself was tucked away in the hills, although conveniently just up the little street from our hotel. The power went out on us a few times during the meal – it contributed toward the quaintness factor.

Florence

  • La Mangiatoia – Our first foray into Italian pizza. Baked in wood ovens, good ingredients, good price.
  • Trattoria Anita – Home of the awesome lunch special. We had three courses for only 8.
  • Pizzeria Toto’ – Another delicious pizza place in a casual setting (we ate at the counter with plastic utensils and bottled beers).
  • Gelateria dei Neri –  Our first gelato place. Great array of flavors. Look for the photo wall of gelato cups having their picture taken in locales around the world.
  • Grom – Probably even tastier gelato with an emphasis on organic ingredients and the like. And definitely the best drinking chocolate we’d ever had. We went back for seconds the next day.

Rome

  • Antica Enoteca – We dined on the patio of this place in the pedestrian area near the Spanish Steps. I had a plate of roast beef topped with arugula – I have a bad habit of only ordering hot meals, but this was one exception I was glad I chose. Our waiter was sort of odd and closed off, but made an excellent red wine recommendation.
  • Sora Margherita – A much-acclaimed hidden-away hole-in-the-wall place in the Jewish Ghetto. We let the waitstaff order food for us – we got a giant ball of mozzarella, fried artichokes, and two courses of pasta. We were absolutely stuffed and happy.
  • Ci Lin – Really cheap and really awesome Chinese place. We were sort of tired of eating pizza and pasta for every meal, so this was a very welcome change.
  • Dar Poeta – Our favorite pizza on the trip. I had the Superbufala, which had buffalo mozzarella, olives, artichokes, even more cheese… quite amazing. Go for lunch or you’ll never get in.

Berlin

  • Malzcafe – All-you-can-eat brunch for €6.50 in Prenzlauer Berg! And great fruit juice, too.
  • Dolores – Click the link; we already covered this in-depth. Despite my whining, it is a good place to get a burrito.
  • Aufsturz – We happened upon this place while waiting for a tour. Great beer selection and nice quick lunch items. But most importantly, nice and warm during a rainstorm.
  • Schneeweiß – After walking around in the rain for hours, we finally made it to this fancy little place, where I had a giant leg of goose. That hit the spot.

Amsterdam

  • Bazar – We stopped into this spacious spot on Albert Cuypstraat while the street market was in full effect. Tasty, inexpensive Middle Eastern fare for lunch.
  • Patisserie Holtkamp – Everything looked astounding in this pastry shop. We ended up having some delicious cream puffs and eating them on a bridge in probably the most sloppy, obnoxious way possible.
  • Me Naam Naan – Good food is scarce in the city center, but we found this Thai place that offered up a great prix fixe menu with awesome beef and duck dishes, plus house wine and fresh strawberry ice cream.
  • Greenwoods – Brunch spot in the city center with great eggs benedict and a ridiculous club sandwich with homemade soda bread, capped off with a homemade scone (served with jam and cream).
  • Cafe Welling – We stopped into this quiet, well-lit place for a quick pint. A great place to relax after a walk through the nearby Vondelpark.
  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ – A brewery situated in the closest windmill to the city center. They had 6 great brews on tap, and an impressive display of bottles lining the walls (we spotted some vintage bottles from Rogue, an Oregon favorite). They had little meat and cheese plates to go along with your drink, too.

Time for airports!

Image

We got up at 5:00 a.m. and checked out of our hostel. We made our way to Amsterdam Centraal, where we caught a train to the airport. Our 45-minute flight to London-Heathrow included smoked salmon and cream cheese breakfast sandwiches, still partially frozen.

We are currently at the Heathrow airport, awaiting our flight to JFK. This flight will take about eight hours, where we’ll likely entertain ourselves with in-flight movies (Despicable Me! Inception!) and books on my Kindle (Zeitoun! You should read it too. Very very very good).

Once we arrive in JFK, we’ll have another layover, then the standard 5-6 hour flight back to SFO. We gather that by the end of it all, we’ll have been awake (save for any winks caught on/between flights) for roughly 24 hours.

I’m already starting to develop some of that lovely traveler’s body odor. This does not bode well for Jeffrey and our fellow airline passengers.

Rome photos

We are in Amsterdam! We have less than one day left. Tomorrow’s schedule: get up very very very early, take a train to Schiphol Airport, fly to Heathrow, wait at Heathrow for awhile, fly to JFK, wait at JFK for awhile, then fly back to SFO. Then spend the weekend relaxing/recovering before returning to work on Monday.

Meanwhile, here are photos from Rome! Rome is pretty intense. It’s huge, and packed with historical buildings, statues and monuments. And tourists. Apparently, November is the “off-season,” but you wouldn’t have been able to tell from the hoards of people.

But you can see why so many people visit. The historical pieces of the city are huge and magnificent, and there’s so much to learn and see and enjoy. Also, the food is amazing.

A sunset greeted us for our first night in the city:

This man also greeted us. He was quite angry:

The Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II:

View of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum in the distance:

Statue in the square in front of the Piazza del Campidoglio:

The Colosseum:

From the square outside Vatican City (we didn’t go in, the line was way too long):

Old inscriptions in the foyer of the Santa Maria church in the Trastevere neighborhood. We committed a major crime and ate Chinese food here instead of Italian. We made up for it by eating gelato afterwards and then pizza at Dar Poeta the next day.

Inside the Colosseum:

Inside the Colosseum:

View of the Tiber River:

View of Palatine Hill from the outside:

View of the outside, from inside Palatine Hill:

More from the inside of the Palatine:

Three more days

We’re almost done. We have one more day fluttering around Berlin, then we hop an overnight train to Amsterdam for the last leg of our trip. It’s been wonderful.

Berlin is a fantastic city, by the way. I didn’t necessarily expect it to be as such, but I’m very glad we included this stop in our itinerary.

San Francisco Mission Burrito Photos

Being San Franciscans, we couldn’t pass up a trip to Dolores, a burrito joint in Berlin that boasts “authentic” Mission-style burritos. Well. We’ll be the judge of that! Harumph! I say! *monocle*! Here is the umpteenth review of the place that will hopefully satisfy your curiosity, at least for a little while.

One thing’s for sure: they’ve got the drink selection down. All the staples are here: Negra Modelo, Dos Equis, Pacifico, Anchor Steam (!), bottles of Coke, and uh… Pellegrino and “Bionade.” Good enough.

This bottle of Anchor is a rare case of something being imported FROM the USA. Welcome to bizarro world:

Here’s Anna dwelling where her apartment once stood, but was then coldly replaced by a doorway:

The burritos arrive, but unfortunately, negative points must already be assigned:

  • the burritos are loosely packed and wrapped in plastic and paper rather than aluminum foil
  • the chips are very thin, few in number, and cost €1.30

Pretty tasty guacamole, though.

    The interior of my burrito. Unfortunately, more negative points:

    • The carnitas is not freshly cooked
    • I ordered pinto beans, I got “refried beans”
    • The rice is also kind of mushy
    • The salsa roja has three “fire” icons next to it on the menu but is less than mild in comparison to pretty much any salsa I’ve had in San Francisco
    • The tortilla isn’t warm, and is obviously not cooked in lard like it is at Cancun or Farolito

    But probably the biggest offender: there is lettuce in the burrito! Like, mouthfuls of the stuff. Where am I, Qdoba?

    But despite all my whining, Dolores still serves what is, by all definitions, a burrito. Maybe not as authentic as the stuff you’d get in the Mission itself, but you walk away with a stomach packed with pretty much the same ingredients, so you can’t complain THAT much.

    Florence photos

    We spent a couple of days in Florence as the second leg of the Italy portion of our trip. Florence is beautiful, and quaint – at least in comparison to the really large European cities.

    The city center is very tourist-centric, full of clothing shops and restaurants. We’re not big on shopping, so we spent a lot of time walking around and just enjoying the old streets, and soaking in the atmosphere. We ate some great pizza and pasta, and some amazing gelato from a place called GROM (thanks to Jeffrey’s friend Ben for all the recommendations!). GROM also had spectacular hot chocolate … which we can say truthfully because we had it two times over the course of our visit.

    We also visited the Uffizi Gallery, which, as you can imagine, had a lot of really really old art and sculptures. Very cool.

    Here are some photos! It rained a lot while we were there, so we didn’t take too many.

    Anna next to the “Anna” store:

    Streets of Florence:

    The Arno River and Florence hillside:

    View from Giotto’s Campanile (we climbed many many steep stairs to get up there):

    Top of Giotto’s Campanile in the daytime:

    Top of the Florence Cathedral:

    Steps to the Piazzale Michelangelo:

    Jeffrey makes a new friend on the steps:

    We found a cemetery on the way to the Piazzale Michelangelo:

    We got this photo from the top of the Piazzale before it started pouring rain – too much rain to take any more. At that point, we decided to leave for Rome.