isabeloutofwater

Travel, life, literature

Month: August, 2016

48 Hours in Berlin

Let me start by saying straight away that 48 hours is nowhere near enough time to spend in Berlin. Once you’ve tried to squeeze in all of the main sightseeing spots, a couple of museums and a bit of exploring into some sort of schedule, there doesn’t seem like there will be enough hours in the day to do it all. And that’s before you try to see how much currywurst, pretzels and beer you can consume within a two day period. If you can, I would highly recommend visiting Berlin over a long weekend, so you can truly get the most out of your trip, because it really is a fantastic city.

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I would recommend visiting either the TV tower or the Reichstag to be able to view Berlin’s skyline. It gives an interesting perspective of the contrasting styles and structures of Berlin, and the previous divide between East and West. For me the history is what makes Berlin so unique, the skyline isn’t coherent and uniform, and instead tells the story of the city’s turbulent history and how it has developed since the wall’s collapse. We went to the TV tower at sunset, which only added to the breathtaking effect. Alternatively you can visit the dome of the Reichstag for free. You need to apply for a visit to the Reichstag in advance, as it’s an official building, and you’ll also need photo identification.SAM_3746SAM_3743

Berlin’s quirks continue at ground level. Things like being able to get boxes of strawberries from beneath railway arches or fresh bread from the platform of the U-bahn, really added to the charm of the city. Art seems to remain at the heart of the city too, not only reserved for the East Side Gallery, we also found a gorgeous piece of street art whilst walking to the Jewish museum.

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We did visit the East Side Gallery, again we wished we had more time to properly explore all of the pieces of art, it’s a definitely a must visit. If you’re interested in the history of the wall there was also a museum in the area, which we didn’t get to visit, however we did go and see the Berlin Wall Memorial, which was very moving, and provided a good overall basis for understanding the history of the wall.

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A must visit is the Jewish museum, which provides a truly poignant perspective of the Holocaust. Architect, Daniel Libeskind, designed the building to leave specific voids and empty spaces around the building, that spoke to the Jewish experience in this period of history and attempted to convey this more viscerally. We all agreed that was the most successful part of the museum, and really worked alongside the facts and stories presented from the Holocaust, maybe not so you can comprehend it but at least so that visitors can understand the impact of the Holocaust on a much deeper level.

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Berlin is a vast city, and whilst it is well connected via public transport, don’t underestimate the amount of time you will have to spend travelling through the city. Unfortunately, as we wanted to try and fit in as much of the major sights as we could, we spent what felt like too much time on the S and U bahn. Because of this, we didn’t feel we truly got to explore the city and find places off the beaten track, and this would definitely be a priority when we revisit. I’m already planning to go back. I don’t think Berlin is the type of city you immediately, unquestioningly fall in love with. It can be challenging, the architecture can look quite bleak, and I did experience bad customer service on more than one occasion. But pushing past these potential culture clashes or feelings of discomfort is so rewarding, it’s an interesting and beautiful city in its own particular way.

 

 

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Falling in Love With Amsterdam

Every now and then you have to accept that your travels may not go to plan. Despite having an amazing 2 days in Amsterdam, this ended up being one of those trips where I wished I’d planned more and relied less on spontaneity and tourist attractions. Predominantly, our issue was with the budget we had set, and the fact that Amsterdam turned out to be more expensive than we’d thought it be, which often made us feel restricted in what we could do. So whilst I share my experiences in Amsterdam, I thought I’d also share what I learned on this trip, and what advice I’ll definitely be taking the next time I visit Amsterdam (because there will definitely be a next time!)

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  1. Start planning early. This is a very obvious first point, but it’s a piece of advice my friends and I did not take when planning our trip to Amsterdam. It was quite a last minute decision to go, and we hadn’t appreciated that this would mean the accommodation options would be drastically reduced and also quite significantly more expensive than we’d hoped. In the end we stayed at the Stay Okay Zeeburg Hostel. The hostel was was nice and clean, the room was an ok size and we got a breakfast included. However, it was quite far from the city centre, and as it was a refurbished school it was huge, which I’m not a fan of.
  2. So if we’d have taken that first point into account, we probably wouldn’t have had to get a €10 travel card each day we stayed. Because our hostel was further out, we did have to rely on public transport. However, once you are in the city centre, walking is a much better way of getting around, and you might only want to get a tram to the Museum District, and of course from the airport.
  3. Another dent in our budget was the cost of museums and attractions – a particular shock coming from London where most museums are free. There’s no real way to avoid this cost, but I would suggest prioritising in advance, what you particularly want to visit. We ended up splitting the group, four of my friends going to the Heineken Experience and my other friend and I going to the Van Gogh museum. We decided against the Heineken Experience purely because we don’t like Heineken, but it got glowing reviews from my friends, who said it was really fun with lots of interactive sections. I really enjoyed the Van Gogh museum, there was lots of information, and if you’re fan of art, or especially Van Gogh, the collection is seriously impressive. Both of these attractions cost €17, hence we split into groups. Another gallery we enjoyed was the Moco, in the same area as the Van Gogh museum,  which was showing Banksy and Warhol pieces.
  4. We wished we’d researched more restaurants and cafes before we went. I’m a big foodie and my favourite part of travelling, I have to say, is trying out new food. For dinner it would have been great to have found more budget restaurant options – that offered more than cheap bar food. We had some serious good luck in getting into the Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs restaurant, and booking is definitely recommended for this tiny and quirky – albeit touristy – pancake house. The pancakes were huge and some of the best any of us had ever eaten.
  5. The best attraction is the city itself. Cheesy but true. You really don’t need to spend a lot to enjoy Amsterdam, and just wandering around, exploring neighbourhoods can be so rewarding – I would recommend exercising a bit of caution in the Red Light District though… A particular favourite of mine was the Negen Straatjes area, just to the south of the city centre, which is dotted with independent shops and cafes. We were disappointed by the distinct lack of flowers in the main flower market, maybe we came during the wrong season? But we loved the area around the main museums, which turned out to be pretty similar to Knightsbridge in London.

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A Mini European Adventure

A few weeks ago I went on a mini trip around Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague with a few of my friends – without realising that this was the ‘lads holiday’ route of choice it has to be said.  We travelled for a week, and so whilst we only spent around two days in each city, I can honestly say we fell in love with all of them and it won’t be long until we revisit. Each city was wholly different and unique but they all offered a great balance between being cultural and interesting but also fun and relaxed.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my adventures on this blog, every Monday. I’ll show the highlights, but also the things I’ve learned and will take into account on my next visit, as I don’t feel that 48  hours in each city allows me to give a straight up travel guide. I hope you enjoy reading, and let me know if you’ve visited any of these cities and what your experiences were!

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The Wonders of Kew Gardens

Unfortunately, I can’t give you the full sensory experience of walking through Kew Gardens in this blog post. It’s hard to fully encapsulate the vibrant colours of the array of plants and flowers are almost overwhelming, and the way that everything seems carefully considered and beautifully maintained. It’s the different smells and fragrances that all of these plants give off too, that adds to the experience. But I’ve taken a particularly large selection of photos to at least try. I had always had a trip to Kew at the back of my list of things to do in London. Admittedly, I assumed botanical gardens are all a bit same-y and maybe it wasn’t worth the trip to Richmond, but on this score I was definitely wrong.

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The journey there was painless, we got a Southwestern train from Waterloo to Kew, and then it was a short walk from the station to the gardens. The setting is lovely, Kew has a village feel, albeit a village that is definitely still linked to London. Whilst we were there, there was actually a small fete going on in one of the parks, which added to the day-trip feel of our visit.

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