Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Summer in Berlin: off the top of my head


As per meutererin’s recent recommendation, I just re-watched Everything Is Illuminated... I like holding onto memories and oftentimes am left aghast when I’m told it’s better to leg go of a memory and then it will come back to you when you least expect it. I don’t know, if I don’t write something down or take a picture of it or have something to remember the event by, there is a big chance I can forget it. Especially when my most treasured memories are connected to travel and since I’ve done so much of the figural tramping by myself lately, I don’t want to take any chances.

So I kept a list of a few memorable things I did throughout July-September, much like the one I had for my first stay in Berlin.

  1. My July flatshare at Kreuzberg 10969. I had a huge room across the apartment to myself, and a fantastic balcony for brunches. A perfect place for entertaining old and new friends. In that same flatshare I learned that some Germans like salads that include raw mushrooms, now I like them myself.
  2. Visited Bread and Butter with Bernardo. I am no fan of fashion, but it was quite special to be at a closed fashion fair located on the grounds of the former Tempelhof airport. All those free drinks didn’t hurt, either.
  3. Went to a gay bear wedding celebration.
  4. Explored some of Berlin’s lakes. Got introduced to FKK (free body culture) there and quite liked it. Who knew almost everyone in the GDR was a nudist!..
  5. Bought a bike and had to replace both tubes and tires on it, but it was liberating and breathtaking, riding a bike through Berlin. Very cool. I loved discovering new routes.
  6. Was left soaking wet 4 times in the 4 weeks of July after cycling in thunderstorm. Not cool.
  7. For August and September I returned to my already familiar vegan flatshare at Neukölln 12055. It felt like home. With my bar table and an armchair that I dragged all the way up to the 4th floor by myself (pffftt). Being vegan is easy in Berlin. Loved shopping at Maybachufer every Tuesday or Friday.
  8. Juls stopped by and we had a fantastic extended weekend that resulted in her almost leaving with my invalid/back-up foreign passport and me keeping hers.
  9. Had a 1-meter pizza with my friends and couchsurfers in Rixdorf, twice. You need to be 7 or 8 to finish it off. 
  10. Briefly visited the Berlin Bierfestival on Frankfurter Allee with Bernardo. Turns out, a beer festival is just a place with a lot of drunken people and even more beer. Boooring. And no need to ever bother with Oktoberfest.
  11. Played ping pong with couchsurfers on different occasions. The area around the Wasserturm in Prenzlauer Berg is perfect for it.
  12. Re-established the Wednesday party in Schwuz as well as Soul Explosion in Festsaal Kreuzberg  as my favorite Berlin parties. Danced on the stage in Schwuz and felt all vain and good when people had their pictures taken with me (with me and my T shirt, the one that says, a bad day fishing beats a good day working).
  13. Helene visited Berlin and thus me, twice. Fun memories. A lot of conversations about my favorite topics, reminiscing on Istanbul, exploring a couple of exhibitions together, seeing good films, talking life.
  14. Also went to see the final installment of Harry Potter with Helene and her friend. That cost us 12 Euro per person. And I thought 12 Euro for some of the Berlinale films earlier this year was expensive!
  15. Had a nice experience watching the All-German Sunday night TV series, Tatort, in a bar with Helene.
  16. Volksküche!
  17. Went to Milan, Turin and Nice with my mother and had my worst nightmare come to life, we missed her return flight. Bought a last-minute ticket for her to Berlin with me and she stayed with us in our vegan flatshare… Showed her Berlin and introduced her to a couple of restaurants. She is now in love with Berliner Schrippen. As much as I am in love with Laugenbrezeln, still.
  18. Was on the beach in Nice in the evening of August 15, France’s Assumption of Mary holiday. Great fireworks from 3 boats in the sea.
  19. Had an accident on my bike and almost broke a finger on 9/11.
  20. Reconnected with Mandy. Hung out with Lindsay and Brandy, who I’d previously met in Istanbul and again Berlin. Got to know Adam, of Travels of Adam. Got a massage from Andrew “Magic Hands”, a Canadian IT guy and couchsurfer. And… got to know a few other great people.
  21. Checked out a few modern art exhibitions/establishments. Oberbaumbrückegallerie, Based in Berlin, some Dutch exhibition.
  22. Fell in love with Asiagerichte. And finally got over my love for peanut butter.
  23. Kollektivabendbrot with Mandy. A small project café in Friedrichshain hosts a dinner once a week where random people bring food to share and hang out together.
  24. Established Puschkinallee as one of my favorite places to ride a bike.
  25. Experienced verkaufsöffener Sonntag. Let’s call it delayed gratification after all those Sundays when every store in town is closed.
  26. Found Ian through Twitter and interpreted for a Whistleblowers documentary interview with Alexandr Nikitin, the one man who won a case against the FSB/KGB on the grounds of espionage and treason. 
  27. After the bad weather that we had in July and August, September was perfect with its warmth and generous sun. 
  28. One of my last nights in Berlin spent with Bernardo, Rainer, a bottle of vodka, maracuya juice and a bag of ice on top of a hill in Berlin’s Victoriapark. Only followed by an amazing night of dancing in Schwuz.

Sigh.




Monday, October 17, 2011

Cost of a 2-month trip to Istanbul/Turkey



It has been a little over 4 months since my trip to Istanbul ended and finally I am doing a round-up on how much money I spent there.

All in all my time in Istanbul was not my best trip. Several factors contributed to this:

1) The weather sucked. I spent 59 days in Turkey (April and May) and most of this time it was rainy, windy or cloudy or a free combination of those. Only the last 10-14 finally reminded me it was spring.

2) I had bad luck connecting with people over couchsurfing. Again, until about the last 2 weeks when I became part of a delightful group of people, both Turks and foreigners. Alas, it was time to leave soon.

3) In order to save money, I chose the cheapest accommodation available and it was a mistake. I went after the cheapness of it, not after location or who I was going to live with. Granted, it was far from being the middle of nowhere, but there was no connection to the central European area of the city. Last combination of boat+bus was leaving at about 21.30, last direct bus from Taksim was at midnight.

I lived with a couple of newlyweds, in their shiny spotless new apartment. They went to work and watched TV. They were sweet. But I had a bed and a wardrobe in my room and that’s about it, I was literally forced to be either in the living room or the kitchen. Part of the deal was that I spoke English with them thus they had some language practice, so basically my 75EUR per month covered only gas, electricity and other utilities, so it was quite a deal for Istanbul. Except it was NOT worth it. My advice to anyone doing a similar trip would be to live in Europe, pay more and enjoy life more.

4) I also had a lot of unwanted male attention. That really unnerved me and brought me down for quite a while.

In other words, my expenses were quite low, but that came at its own price.

59 days in Turkey, including 53 days in Istanbul and 6 days on a trip to Izmir, Cesme, Ephesus and Selcuk amounted to the following sum (in TL, Turkish Lira):

Tickets ------------------------------->   225
Accommodation ---------------------->  333
Food --------------------------------->  436.22
Entertainment ------------------------->  138.25
Transport ----------------------------->  266.9
Clothes ------------------------------->  20
Travel (intercity bus/train)--------------> 165.5
Visa-----------------------------------> 30
Other (e.g. cell phone)---------------->  98.29

--------------------------------------> 1713.16 TL

At the time 1TL was 1.5USD or 2.22EUR, so the total in American dollars would be 1142USD, in Euro it would be 772EUR.  

Daily expenses: 29TL / 19USD / 13EUR 

(My 3 months in Europe last winter cost me 27.5EUR daily, a recent summer 3 months stay only about 19EUR per day, report coming up.)

As is obvious from the table above, I did not do a lot of partying. Please refer to points 2) and 3) in the beginning of the post for the reasons. I’m pretty happy with how my food costs turned out, but I did not eat out much. I mostly cooked and every once in a while had some food from a stall. Now, what I am not happy about is the transportation expenses. In Istanbul you have to pay for every change of transport and sometimes you have to change from bus to boat to bus to subway to get somewhere, so it all adds up and money disappears pretty fast. Cost of one trip ranges from 1.65TL to 3.3TL. If you have an Akbil, you can get discounts on every second trip, but it will not be a huge save nevertheless. I tried walking around. It’s virtually impossible to get anywhere by foot. Think long distance and think hills.

My trip outside of Istanbul cost me so little, because I only had to pay for several buses and a train, two nights in a cheap hostel and an entrance fee to Ephesus. The rest of the time I couchsurfed (with a great American guy in Izmir) and had two overnight buses.

...Next time I’m visiting Istanbul (and that will mark my third time), I plan for “entertainment” to surpass all other areas.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Goodbye my friend

The other day I sold my bike. Sigh. It wasn't the best and the brakes weren't good and I had to cash out several times to fix it, yet it somehow <cheesy line coming> found its way into my heart.


One more week to go now.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Land of Hipsters and Second Hands



To produce a rough percentage of hipsters currently living in Berlin would be a bit too complicated, with all the posers, true hipsters and hipsters pretending to have quit the hipster world.

As many cultural things there is to do in Berlin, as much superficiality and "party monsters" there is.

In related news, I have established I am not a fan of flea markets. When I show up there, I just walk past all the stalls with junk meanwhile running into people and make a quick exit. Maybe I need to befriend someone who has a knack for digging out pearls from heaps of crap and I’ll get a taste of it from them.

However, yesterday I finally had luck with second hand shopping – and with Humana of all places! I will be going back for more. I was in Colours on Bergmannstraße twice already and both times remained massively unimpressed.  Humana, however, has a lot of clearly frumpy stuff, but some things are actually quite good. Among them jeans from Levi’s, Mustang and so on for 10-16EUR a piece, in excellent condition, too.

I have only recently realized there is life north of Frankfurter Allee (Northern Friedrichshain) and I quite enjoy it. Very DIY there from what I can tell, in a good way. Lots of punks, too. Lots of community-type of stuff. Not a place where I'd like to be based, but it makes for a good visit.

I quite enjoy the Maybachufer market every Tuesday and Friday. It’s more about food there than anything else and I quite enjoy shopping for fruit and vegetables. And always end up buying more than is comfortable to cycle with, of course. Another area I’ve grown very fond of is Treptower Park and Puschkinallee, a very beautiful tree-lined alley. I was there once in the winter and I thought it could easily win an award for the ugliest place ever (it was slippery, snowy and no leafage of course), but now consider me a fan.

One more thing I have to direct my attention at is second hand book stores. I’ve been to a couple smaller ones, but now I’m willing to try a couple stores around Neukölln and Kreuzberg, I’m not sure about the prices yet, but in other places I’ve seen books for as little as 1-3EUR. I realized I didn't read much (except for anything on the computer) at all throughout the last two months, so now I am on a book rampage.

Also, I still have Wedding to discover.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Missed trains and a plane

So as previously mentioned, I was travelling with my mother August 12-23. We were in Italy and then in Nice, France (which was her last minute decision because she likes that boring and extremely overpriced and overrated place, I actually had flights and a hotel booked for us in Bari).

We had flights out of Milan, hers back to Russia via Istanbul, mine back to Berlin, both within an hour of each other. To cut a long story relatively short, first and then second taxi failed to show up to drive us to the train station  in Nice (we were supposed to take 3 trains to get to Milan and then a bus to the airport there), people in the street refused to help us get there (for $, obviously), regular cars wouldn't stop, it was 04.30am, so no public transportation, policemen didn't give us a ride (in films they always do...), we missed the perfectly timed trains and my actual worst nightmare came to life.

I kept thinking that I will probably wake up soon.

If it had been me alone, it wouldn't have been so bad, or me with a friend. But with my mother it was the worst, because, first of all, the stress was enormous for her and secondly, she wouldn't like... run and do something crazy like I would do to make it for the train and so on.

We took later trains, with them we had a small chance of making it for my mother's flight, but the last train was 10 minutes late (I mean this is Italy we're talking about). This was already 8 hours after the day had started for us. From Milan central station we took a taxi to the Bergamo airport (which cost me 100EUR!.. last winter I paid the same amount for 6 or 7 flights with Ryanair) and even though I called the airline and asked them to please hold the check in because "my mother has been discharged from the hospital late", they didn't and we arrived 13 minutes after the check in was closed! Talk about devastation.

My mother had already lost it several times by then and was completely uncooperative when it came to coming up with something, just crying with her sunglasses on which added to the already insane situation. I had only 45 minutes left to check in for my flight and I had to do something. There were options for her to go to another airport and fly from there, but I had no Internet and couldn't be sure there'd be tickets and she'd actually make it, also I wasn't sure my sister was skilled enough to buy a ticket from home without my supervision and so on. Plus, on top of not being perfect with directions, my mother doesn't speak enough English to get by. And I couldn't leave her in a foreign country by herself! I couldn't stay because how else would I go back and we had a limited amount of money on us. Also, we couldn't rebook her tickets for anything earlier than like 5 days from Tuesday, for an enormous fine, and we didn't have enough money for this many nights in a hotel anymore.

This was all happening in an overcrowded airport, 40C/105F outside, etc. etc. Somehow it was extremely emotional and nerve-wracking, I'm afraid words don't relay that very well. Eventually I bought a last minute ticket for her for same Ryanair flight to Berlin (the most expensive one-way ticket I ever bought, 300EUR, I had enough money by accident... I normally prefer not to take a lot of money so that there is no temptation to spend it).

We flew in here, she spent these 1.5 days in our flatshare. And then, on August 25, her birthday, she flew home. We actually had a good time here and except for the lost money, it all turned out fine, but I don't think I've ever been so stressed in my life. I mean, lots of people have missed flights in their lifetimes and probably it's not the end of the world, but it felt like it was...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Milan & Turin, Italy + Nice, France (genius title, I know)


Traveling with one’s mother is definitely no sugar-coated thing. My mother does not like to walk fast, to walk much, to be in the sun, she wants to live in cheap but great accommodation, somewhere intensely close to the main sights of a certain place. I could go on and on.

The thing is, I had our trip well planned until my mother had to change her mind last minute. We lost 4 plane tickets all together as well as about a trillion of my nerves and hair. We planned to go to Milan, Turin and Bari in Italy. Now we’re doing Milan and Turin in Italy and Nice, France. By chance I found a great 1-bedroom apartment in Old Town of Nice, booked new train tickets literally several hours before my flight out of Berlin (prior to that it’d been a week of frenetic looking for hotels, comparing prices and so on) and off we went.

I’m not a fan of Milan, but it so happens I’ve been there twice in the last year. It’s a good hub for the south of Europe, I guess. Since I’m no fan of shopping anymore (in fact, I find it really hard to make myself go buy some new clothes), Milan is a bad place for me to go because there’s nothing but shopping there (although it’s better in other cities, but somehow Milan has had good marketing). Shopping, Duomo and The Last Supper. But thankfully I only had several hours to lose there and all I did was have lunch with my sister and mother and then I had a short walk in some park where I saw a big fat rat and dodgy looking people. My sister then stayed in Milan for several more days and my mother and I went on further.

Turin was a curious experience. It’s the first Italian city I’ve been to that totally corresponds to the stereotype of being nearly dead in the summer. Most shops were closed, so were many restaurants and it seemed like not many people were around. But it was still quite interesting. They have a complicated bus system there where the map isn’t necessarily up-to-date and the buses are not on time, but that shouldn’t really surprise anyone who’s visiting Italy. It was nice overall, although it turned out to be smaller than I imagined it. They sell lots of good wine there.

Nice, on the other hand… I know it there is a risk of this sounding pretentious, but Nice, France has to be one of the most boring places I’ve been to. Last time I was here was exactly 2 years ago and I was bored out of my mind. A couple of people I was travelling with went to Cannes and I was majorly excited because I’m such a movie buff still, but it was disappointing. Yes, there are palms and there is the sea, but then there’s also the outrageous prices, old+rich people in abundance and that’s it. It's hard to find anything but Italian food here, I'll be honest with ya. Nice is the same. This time around I’ve come to establish that there is some nice live music in the evening about a block down from our apartment and then there's that fantastic posh cemetery with a view on the Mediterranean Sea, but otherwise Nice, France is not my choice for vacation. My mother, on the other hand, has been heard to call it heaven on Earth which just makes me want to chuckle. :) Ah, you know me. Me and my difficult character.


Some price comparison:

Pizza Margherita (not the supermarket version): Nice - from 9EUR (average price 10.5EUR), Milan - from 5EUR, Berlin from 2.5EUR (average price 4EUR)
Tomatoes, 1kg: Berlin - 0.5-1.5EUR, Nice - 1-4.5EUR
Nectarines, 1kg: Berlin - from 2kg for 1EUR to 1EUR per 1kg, Nice - 2.5-5EUR.

And so on.

The good thing is, I’ve been working on my tan. I haven’t been this well-tanned in something like 3 or 4 years now and I must admit I do get a kick out of seeing my skin go darker and darker. I feel a bit like a valley girl when I say and think that, but what can you do. Nothing but keep on tanning and swimming.

Anyhow, in about 32 hours we’re taking a train (or more like 3 trains actually) and then for me it’s a flight to Berlin and my mother will fly to Krasnodar via Istanbul.

As always, I’m happy to return to Berlin. I hear the weather has been good for once. Baffling! It better stay this way so that I can strut my tan.




Monday, August 1, 2011

Microsoft Word is not my friend

Pfftt... I love it when you bang something out in Word and then want to save it and yet hit "no" instead of "yes" if Microsoft Office asks you about saving. I need a cigarette and a drink now. My life does not depend on it (although for a while it felt like it did!), but it was a blogpost where I described in details the events of the 4 weeks I've been in Berlin. Man. I wanted to scream, but I have three other people sitting all around me in the living room here.

Well, the short version is: all is well and even better. Meeting old and new friends and buddies, going out, hanging out, cycling, swimming, kissing, chilling, slacking off, working, receiving friends, going to art galleries and a supposedly exclusive fashion fair (although that does nothing for me) trying out nudist beaches, eating 1m long pizza and just having an overall good time.

This does not even begin to scratch the surface of the time I'm having, but... I am. Ha. Ha. <Insert funny one liner here.>

I'll be going vegan again tomorrow. Means I'll move from my temporary place in Kreuzberg to a less temporary place in Neukölln. Will have to part with eggs, milk and some other stuff for a while.

Thanks to fleetingness and Andreas for stopping by, again. :)

Mari, I must have overlooked your comment to the previous post while packing my stuff! I studied languages (although, admittedly, I squeezed out more from the Internet than school and university ever taught me re: English) and they are a personal interest of mine, but the overall knowledge of English in the country is far from being great. Although I understand now as US-based social networks are gaining more leverage in Russia, there's some progress in this department. Thank you for stopping by here, though! And here's to Berlin finally having a good hair weather day!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Idle time between my travels


Well, I have to say that June has been extremely uneventful. I planned to spend 4 weeks at home as last time I was here it was under 3 weeks and it felt they were rushed and I didn't have enough time. I suppose every time is different because now it felt like it's been  2 weeks too many.

I met almost everybody I planned to meet, but yet overall I had little to do. Somehow I found myself in between projects as well, so not only did I not truly entertain myself as most friends work desk jobs and don't have time during the day, but also I couldn't really do anything productive as half the time I had no work to do. That was the time when I was fully invested in my Internet addiction. Of course ironically I will have two simultaneous projects to work on once I arrive in Berlin, so I guess it will not be only fun at first. But I'm not complaining, work = $$$.

Nothing changed in Krasnodar, it's still a lot of umm..showing off and "glamour" Russian-style here. So I will not be sad when I leave. I was really lucky to re-connect with my friends though. I say re-connect because funnily enough my friends don't use Skype and we don't really exchange lots of emails when I'm away, some explain this as them being not prone to writing. (Sounds weird to me, too.) Also none of them really read this blog, which is frustrating, one valid reason is that some don't speak English and a less valid reason is that some don't have the time. Which makes it hard for me because people then want me to tell them stories of my travels in person and there's only so many times that I can repeat something.

I am delighted to be going back to Berlin. I'm happy to say that I have two friends that I can't wait to meet and who seem eager as well and there are some acquaintances that I will get in touch with as well as new exciting CS buddies. Yee ha! Maybe a good friend from Russia will visit as well, that will be exciting!

I can't wait to get a bike and explore Berlin on it. Here I biked to my dacha once (45km in total) only to find out we roughly had 25 cherries from 5 cherry trees. Me = devastated!

I haven't packed anything yet, but I packed and unpacked so much in the last 7 months that it takes little time and effort now. Mentally I'm definitely in Berlin already.

In the meantime, below are pictures from the one weekend trip I took in June. Namely, to the Russian side of the Black Sea. I could actually live there for a while. If they had Internet connection there.



This would be a lovely workplace 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Leaving Istanbul

Well, the ugly truth is that initially I thought I’d enjoy my time in Istanbul more. I loved it greatly when my friend and I first stopped by for 5 days in November ’10, but now I got a taste of life here. Mistake number 1 was not properly researching the area I was going to live in. I was lured in by the cheap rent (guilty as charged) and thought it didn’t matter how far it was from the European side and what the night connections looked like.

I lived in the Bulgurlu area of Uskudar, a conservative neighborhood on the Asian side. I mean there is nothing wrong with it per se, but it is an extremely suburban district where the only fun imaginable is grocery shopping and as a friend put in, you can also rent DVDs in Bulgurlu. That’s about it. I loved our local Thrursday market that was just outside the door and I loved the nearby Camlica Park, but other than that it was a pretty boring part of the city.

Also I had bad luck with the Istanbul Couchsurfing community. I got all those mass emails from the guys desperate to get laid with a foreigner, but when I tried to contact people and meet up and do something together, it didn’t really work out. I met a couple of people (out of about a dozen that I messaged), but it seemed they were a bit busy for new acquaintances, so it ended there. I was a bit surprised as this not  the CS that I know and love. And then of course it happened… In my last 2 weeks in Turkey I met some fantastic people, both local and not who made that time great by being around. We shared quite a few experiences together and of course it made me sad to leave.

Still, although I was raging about traffic and the dirty looks from men while I was there, it’s all part of Istanbul and now I miss even the things I wasn’t really fond of. But most of all I guess I miss the Bosphorus and the ferry rides. Those islands in the Marmara Sea. It feels so unusual now without the same amount of water nearby. And without any seagulls. Funny, I was also not happy about the food sold in supermarkets, but it appears I’d grown accustomed to it and now look for similar things in local supermarkets here in Russia.

But… there’s something that really, truly keeps my spirits up and it is my upcoming trip to Berlin. I set off on July 3 or 4 (depending on whether I will fly to Moscow or take the train) and wow, I am sure it will be the best summer in my life! 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What I like about living in Istanbul, Turkey

The variety of fruits and vegetables. Almost everything grows within the limits of the country and although I would be surprised if no pesticides were used to grow at least some of them, I do believe the total amount is far less than elsewhere. 

Turkish breakfast. (Again with the food, eh?) I have already professed my love for simit (like a dozen times), but I didn’t mention the bread and the olives. I do now: those olives and that bread with some of that white cheese… Yummy mummy! Best served at home, but do try some places for breakfast around Beşiktaş.

Colors. Istanbul has to be the most colorful city I have set my foot in. Red flags, yellow cabs, grey and pale red mosques, blue strait and seas, green palms, firs and poplars to name a few. All of that thrown in together makes for a vivid palette.


Emotions. This is both positive and negative. When I’m feeling low-key and go shopping on some central market or I’m walking down a touristy street, the last thing I want is the vendors to scream as if trying to save their lives thus advertising their goods or hosts to offer me their overpriced menu in high pitch. But other than that, interaction between people is almost always emotional and a nice to watch. From the side. Mostly no Turkish languages skills are needed to understand. 

Sights. Well… What can I say. Istanbul is a city of many, many hills and climbing most of them is a bit of a challenge, but once you’re out there on top, you can see Istanbul as plain as the nose on your face. Another nice view is from the side of Üsküdar (best at night), when you stand directly before the Maiden’s Tower and Sultanahmet is right behind it across the water. Sigh. It’s worth living just to see that, my friends. Or as you’re passing the always busy Bosphorus bridge, glance left and right to be amazed by the natural beauty that is the Bosphorus straight and Asia and Europe.

Water. The Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus Strait, the Black Sea. If there’s one thing Turkey’s unofficial capital doesn’t lack, it is water sources. Cozy cafes by the water are the best, too. Try some in Beylerbeyi or Çengelköy, they are so people-friendly, they actually let you bring your own breakfast and only order coffee or tea. All that for minimal prices and unbeatable views.


Ferries. In a hectic city like Istanbul, seeking tranquility might be pointless. However, it is right here. No matter what water route or direction you take, rest assured that it will be a slow-paced ride (sometimes so relaxing that it makes you doze off). Plus, those views are still there. All for less than 2TL per person.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

What I don’t like about living in Istanbul, Turkey

I have previously written about the things that I enjoy in the humongous city that is Istanbul and now it is only fair that I highlight the negative parts.

  • First of all, - and it comes first because it’s the most recent experience - no matter what they tell you, Istanbul is not as liberal as some people want it to be. Yes, Taksim is arguably the heart of modern Istanbul and everyone is pretty progressive there, so is Levent and Nisantasi and some other places, but make a step from this liberal comfort zone and you will find yourself in the debris of conservativeness. We’re talking about clothes, attitude and alcohol consumption among many other things here. It is not a pleasant thing if you’re accustomed to wearing shorts in the summer and having a beer at the neighborhood picnic. You will get stares that are bound to make you feel uncomfortable.


  • Traffic. Wow. Well, I’ve said this before, but do trust me when I say it KILLS YOU here. It fucking kills you. The regular rush hours are 7am to 10am and 5pm to 8pm. But this is just a rough guideline. Sometimes (no, I mean most of the time) there are still traffic jams in early and late afternoon. Want to really avoid traffic? Take the midnight bus. It almost guarantees you a fast ride. Worst traffic day is Saturday. Apparently not many Istanbul people party their brains out on Friday night and then sleep in on Saturday. Nope, most wake up sharply around 8am or 9am and go out shopping, dining and doing other activities that involve creating major traffic jams. It is very frustrating, believe you me.

And the thing is, you can’t walk here. I mean, you can probably swing an hour long walk, but the distances are so vast here that it is your destiny to rot in some bus where some nasty Turkish dude tries to touch your hip.

Your one safety harbor is the ferry boat. They are always on time, efficient and traffic free. Too bad they only serve on water.

  • Now, this may be controversial. Food. I know many people consider it amazing and it apparently is one of the 3 most important cuisines in the world (after… Italian and French?). So it should taste well. I thought so. But there’s only so many lentils and beans I can eat in my lifetime, you know? I do enjoy the occasional döner dürüm, tavuk dürüm, iskender kebab and some other dishes involving chicken (in that great self-service diner on Istiklal Caddesi), but on the whole, it’s not my type of food. Meat together with yogurt? It tastes weird at first, but then I guess it gets better and so does the combination of some meat-type fastfood (like döner) together with Ayran (the salty mix of yogurt and water), but I don't feel it is in my heart to eat this always.

Also, supermarkets here suck. Have you been to BIM or Dia or Migros or Sok or any other chain? Have you? Well, you’ve been to one, you’ve been to all of them. They all sell the same stuff in every town and city that I’ve been to. And the selection is quite limited, in my humble opinion. Particularly the sweets. I’m sorry, but the selection of candy here sucks (they do not have M’n’M’s here! Imagine that!) and chocolate is kind of expensive save for the cheap chocolate bars for 0.25-0.5 TL that are pretty basic. Really. My sweet tooth has been suffering a lot here. I also miss the variety of dairy that I've seen in other countries, here you get milk, ayran, and (plain yogurt). And a limited variety of cheese.

What every supermarket does offer is great bread though. And simit. But you already know I’m the queen of simits (sesame bagels).

That's it for starters...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Two days in Izmir, Turkey


Izmir was the first city after Istanbul that I visited in Turkey. And it was lovely.

After Istanbul it seemed very, very quiet. The weather was better. I did not see one traffic jam. Not a one. In fact, the waterfront (Konak) has almost no cars and buses out there and you can sit down on a bench amidst the palms and take in the amazing view and the quietness.

And then an old fisherman buys you tea just because he feels like it. Of course that’s mostly because the tea seller has no change, but it still is pleasant. And then you get two bus rides for free because two bus drivers also have no change. My, it surely is a nice place.

Izmir is a city where life is slow and no one is in a rush. Some areas are a bit like Sultanahmet in Istanbul, minus the screaming vendors, rip-offs, tourists and mosques… Well, I guess it’s nothing like Sultanahmet at all, is it? It is soothing and uplifting.

Izmir is a city where veggie vendors drive around their veggie trucks and housewives buy their salad ingredients from kitchen windows.

Izmir is a city where 3 housewives from two buildings across one other discuss the latest gossip from their windows (it’s a quite a sight!).

Unlike in Istanbul, people cycle here… and not just at night. Barely anyone wears a headscarf, even relatively far away from the central area. People are friendlier.

There aren’t many landmarks overall in Izmir, nevertheless it is fun spending some time there. I especially enjoyed some of its smaller and quieter streets upwards from Konak.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bus travel in Turkey

The truth is, I don’t like bus travel. It is stressful. No flight, no train, bicycle or ferry ride can even come close.

I took mid- to long-distance bus rides in a handful of countries (e.g. the U.S., Germany, France, Czech Republic, Russia, the Ukraine) and I can’t think of a good experience. It’s always too little space, someone always snores or stinks, eats, the bus is too slow and then if it’s really long distance, bus drivers are reluctant to let you use the WC inside the bus (because they have to clean it, innit?).

My first bus ride here in Turkey was an overnight trip from Istanbul to Izmir, a total of about 9 hours and 45TL (~20EUR). Frankly, I kept complaining that it was kind of expensive for this country. Until I got on the bus, that is.

First of all, any big bus company in Turkey like Metro or Pamukkale always offers what they call servis or shuttle which means if you buy a ticket in an office right around the corner from your home, if you want, you can use the company’s free shuttle bus that takes you to the bus station of your departure. Same with your arrival, they will take you to the office closest to your actual destination.

Apart from that, the following things were also included in the bus fare:

  • enough leg space (like, really… I’m 180cm and I almost never get enough leg space, which wasn’t the case here)
  • water
  • coffee/tea and snack
  • entertainment including TV, music, some films (I had Ice Age, Iron Man, Yes Man… none of them are my choices of interest, but they may be up many people’s valley) and radio
  • also a USB port so that you can charge your MP3 player.

In general it's not too easy if you don't speak Turkish, but sometimes an  English-speaking gentleman or lady will appear to help you in the most unexpected of places.

Also, the weird thing was, they didn’t check my ticket both times (I took the same bus back a few days later). Just like Deutsche Bahn around Christmas time.

I have a problem falling asleep anywhere that isn’t a couch or a bed, so I tend to be all zombie after buses, flights and sometimes trains, but on my outgoing trip I actually managed to fall asleep several times and arrived in Izmir all perky and ready to explore. That wasn’t the case on my way back as I was feeling quite hyper due to (perhaps) all the carbs consumed during the day and didn’t get to sleep, but it wasn’t the bus company’s problem.

The one truly negative thing I can say about Turkish bus companies is their stupid, dumbass websites. You get a small discount if you purchase a ticket online and everyone knows it’s just more convenient, but good luck in accomplishing that as most Turkish websites are a complete nightmare. I suspect that even I could’ve written a better code, because those pages just refuse to load ,thus Metro’s website won’t let you buy a ticket. Also, most sites will offer a non-existing English version. The state train company says you have to register before you can even look up the timetable, but of course it won’t let you register.

But once you have a ticket and are all set to go, it's not so bad.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Planning a trip outside of Istanbul

Frankly, I have become a little lazy here in Istanbul. I find that I spend too much time at home (also read: online) and too much time around the fridge. The distances here are so long (and only made worse by the traffic) that if I want to go somewhere interesting for a walk, I have to be on a bus for a while or on a bus and a ferry, so this has proved to be quite a turn off for me travel-wise. Also, in these 33 or 34 days in Istanbul I have not once left the limits of the city and it is too long a time for my current nomadic lifestyle.

So this night I'm setting off on a trip to Izmir, Cesme and Selcuk (Izmir). I can't say I'm excited because I'm just so lazy and into sitting on my ass most of the day long, but I know it will be enjoyable and I will have a good time, so that's precisely why I am taking this small trip. Later on, I think I'll go to Bursa for a day or a weekend trip.

I have found that location also does matter. I live in Üsküdar that I generally have no problem with, except it has no night connections to anywhere, it seems. So if I wanted to go party in Taksim or somewhere else, I'd have to party till as early as 6am and I don't see that happening. Even the best parties have only managed to keep me interested until 4am (like two times in my life), normally I find I'm ready to go at 3am. So yeah, spending 2 hours somewhere outside in an alcohol-induced buzzy state is non-inspiring. And it's not that I'm such a party girl that I have a need to rave and go wild (although Berlin does that to you), I guess I just feel I'm too settled and maybe even bored which is not something I'm looking for in my travel experiences.

So a trip it is.

Monday, May 2, 2011

How about learning Turkish?


I have some friends in Russia who speak little to no English and I always laughed it off when they said they can’t imagine touring a foreign country on their own not knowing its language. I always said that hey, I only speak English and German, and I’ve been to many countries where none of the two is the official language. But only now I begin to understand that things aren’t that easy somewhere where people don’t speak English.

Now I have grown to know most districts of Istanbul (and more importantly, how their names sound, because at first it seemed to me that spelling and pronunciation in the Turkish language are two non-related things) and I can say I’m okay with public transportation, but the first couple of weeks I was pretty dependent on my flatmates and couldn’t step away from the path I’d been advised. Since only a rare bus driver speaks English, it was virtually impossible for me to go somewhere unless I’d asked somebody at home.

Also, at the local Thursday market, you don’t have to be genius to say you need 1 or 2 kilos of this or that and yet still it would help if was able to speak Turkish.

I never realized before how far my English took me in places where it’s more widespread. I tend to only ask people in the street the way if I really can’t figure out the map or am just plain lost, otherwise I prefer to navigate on my own and feel almost shy to ask the directions. In an insanely chaotic city like Istanbul, I required guidance several times and I sorta wished my Turkish was a bit more advanced. It is better now when I know left, right and of course the hand gestures help tremendously.

It seems in Istanbul and perhaps Turkey in general it is not uncommon to stare at people. I get different kinds of stares. First of all, it’s the men of course; sometimes if you pass them by, they will follow you with their eyes for a while. As long as don’t say anything or start getting any ideas, it’s fine with me. But then it’s the women, mostly in conservative neighborhoods, who give me this weird look as if I was personally after their men. Yeah, right, that’s exactly why I am here. Most frequently it happens with the cashiers and women on the bus.

Observations from the past days:


  • Food ordering from home is widely practiced here. In most cases, there’s no delivery fee. Also, you can call a grocery store if you’re too lazy to walk 20-30 meters and they will bring your bread and ice cream to your doorstep. I might become a sloth here. (As if I already wasn’t one!) 
  • Or better yet, some people who live high up in a building have a basket with money they lift down from the window, the delivery guy puts the groceries there, takes the money and the basket goes up. Charming! I simply must own a picture of this.
  • Another comparison between Berlin and Istanbul. In the German capital literally no one has curtains. So, at night you can comfortably sit back in your unlit kitchen and observe what kind of activities the neighbors directly across from you are undertaking. In Istanbul, everyone has curtains and when twilight sets in and people switch the light on, there are thicker curtains to be drawn so that nobody can catch a glimpse of what you’re doing.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Religion in Istanbul


Turns out, although religion is a big part of the Turks' lives, for a whole lot of them it’s a personal matter as in, internally they may have a lot of faith, but just like many Christians they are not devout and vocal about their beliefs.

Maybe it is old news to everybody, but it’s a bit new to me. I don’t really watch TV, but I do follow several liberal and independent (at least I like to think they’re independent) media and even from them the impression that I had was that all Muslims pray 5 times a day, basically go on and on about religion all the time and are adamant about Islam being the world’s “best” religion.

Nobody I know here has gone to a Mosque at least once since my arrival. I was surprised to find out people don’t know the times for the 5 calls to prayer. I can tell time by four of them now. Alcohol is not uncommon (although acknowledged as a sin) and every one has their own stance on premarital sex and sex in general.[At the same time, if you're interested, pork is nowhere in sight, tampons are hard to come by.]

Nobody really asks what your religion is and people only talk about their faith when I bring it up (I have tons of questions). I wonder if I come across some atheists with a Turkish passport during my stay here and what their stance is.

I’ve been told Turkey is the most liberal country whose population practices Islam. I guess that makes sense to me now, although I have no evidence to back this opinion up as I have not yet to visit another country with a high density of Muslim population. Iran is the most conservative country.

In the process of writing this post, I was also browsing my Google Reader and stumbled upon this article, The rise of Islam and the future of secularism. In the first half of the article the author expands on the same thing I was just on about and in the second half she states the number of devout Muslims is on the rise, mostly as part of some statement. Curious.

At the same time, I don’t know how I feel about Eid al-Adha I believe it is too cruel a custom. I don’t know if it’s widespread or not, but something tells me it is. Makes me wonder what vegans think of this practice. I find it admirable that the main purpose of this is sharing with the poor, but killing animals and sort of making a show about it is too much for my liking.


And before I forget, two more articles from columnist Charlotte McPherson

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sev Sen, Istanbul (should translate as: I love you, Istanbul)*

Some more observations from the land that is in different sources listed as a country located in Europe, Middle East and Asia. Which, coincidentally, translates to the country’s self-identification. Meaning that the country is having a hard time in identifying itself.

On my first trip to Istanbul, I did not realize how liberal it was. In some ways even more liberal than several bona fide European cities that I’ve been to. E.g. headscarfs are actually banned in higher institutions nationwide. However, some neighborhoods do remain conservative and  apparently things like killing your daughter/sister for losing her virginity before marriage is not unseen even in the present day and time. Although it appears the attitude to sex in general is pretty relaxed and everyone decides for themselves what rules to follow.

So far I have met incredibly generous and hospitable people and at the same time, in the street somebody will push you hard whilst trying to squeeze in between you and the wall and will not care to apologize. I have also made friends with several local vendors and supermarket employees. Most don’t speak a word of English and I can’t force myself to say those few words that I can master in Turkish and yet we somehow understand each other and they’re being genuinely sweet to me. [I know the numbers though, helps if you can’t see your total on the display.] And yet I’m absolutely stressed out by the yelling and hassling of sellers in some touristic places or at rush hour when you leave the ferry. This is why I’ll probably never go to the Grand Bazaar again after my November experience.

It’s an old and sad expression, “city/land of contrast(s)”. I make a face every time I see it on somebody’s blog and yet I can’t find a better phrase to describe this place. It’s unique. And what makes it even more unique are all the neighborhoods that this humungous city is comprised of (e.g. Bebek, the rich neighborhood between the two bridges connecting Europe and Asia, home to the best fruit and chocolate waffle in the city, Ortaköy with its kumpir, pictured below, the fancy Bagdat street in Kadiköy and so on).

Some food-related observations from the last two weeks:

  • Turks eat yogurt with meat. Also with a variety of vegetable dishes like deep-fried paprika. It’s not a desert and seems not to be a breakfast thing.
  • Tea is more of a breakfast drink, coffee is more of an afternoon beverage.
  • Olives are mainly preserved in olive oil and thus outside the fridge. 
  • Chain supermarkets in residential neighborhoods have self-imposed lunch breaks sometimes. They just close the door for half an hour, pretend they're not there and sometimes leave a note on the door. 


Miscellaneous:

  • I said it before, but… traffic in Istanbul is really, really bad. Better walk between 7-10am and 5-8pm. Also it's pretty bad throughout Saturday. They are currently building a tunnel under the Bosphorus (my brain just collapsed) and a new subway connecting the two sides will launch in 2013.
  • On my first stay I had the illusion you could not only drive, but also walk on the Bosphorus bridge. Nuh-uh, missy. But they do close the bridge for traffic once a year for a marathon or a race and last time it happened, the bridge was swaying uncontrollably. But people kept on running.
  • Each crossing of the bridge by car costs 3 Lira.
  • Turkish MTV airs clips literally at least 20 hours a day. And many are watchable. In addition, I have become a fan of Sertab Erener and Atiye.
  • Tarkan is still very much a celebrity here and a very prolific one, too.
  • The world is small in Istanbul, just like in Berlin. At a recent couchsurfing event, I met an American I’d previously met in Berlin when I was living there and she first arrived. We met at another CS party. Umm… yeah.

In related news, my mother will visit me next weekend. She'll stay in a hotel in Sultanahmet and I, of course, will have to assume the role of a guide, listener and hand-holder. I'm already a damsel in distress about it as I have already received many a special request concerning the program. Which include but are not limited to: no long walks, preferably a guided bus tour, a lot of fish, fresh strawberry. And she needs to buy a new bed cover.

We'll see if I make it...


* - of course I had it wrong. :) I love you should read as -> seni seviyorum

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Musings from Istanbul

A few observations from my first days in Istanbul:

  • Despite the general notion, that all Turkish women are covered from head to toe, this myth is easily debunked if you turn the TV on. Half-naked female singers and presenters just like everywhere else I’ve been to. Frankly, maybe even more so than everywhere else. And no one seems to blink an eye. 
  • The thumbs up sign that supposedly symbolizes sexual desire (according to the Internet)… does not symbolize it. It means great/ok, like everywhere else.
  • Rush hour is impossible to tolerate. I was in a real traffic jam once so far and that was one time too much. A trip from the European to the Asian side during the evening rush hour will leave you with a couple of new grey hairs. 
  • Passengers are to enter the bus at the front door only; entrance from the middle or back door is allowed when it’s impossible to enter at the front (stuffed bus), in which case they pass payment/transport cards to the driver all the way through the bus. This is new to me as even in Berlin the Turks loved getting on the bus from the back and thud avoiding payment. Also, I’ve never seen buses fit in so many people. Good thing I normally score a seat, otherwise I’d prefer to walk and then swim across the Bosphorus Strait.
  • It’s uncommon to walk to get somewhere. Anything over a 20-minute walking distance will be a bus/minibus/taxi ride. I think people consider me a bit odd for taking so many walks.
  • Turkish men only pester women in touristic areas (as if that was expected from them) and they will leave you alone right away if you should no emotions and don’t pay any attention to them. In all other areas, you’ll be getting looks from people now and then because you look a bit different, but generally no one will really approach you in the street.
  • Love, love, LOVE simit.
  • Some Turkish women are quite breathtaking. A lot of women in Istanbul are very westernized, blond hair, typical European and American dressing style. Some also appear to be quite emancipated and yet they do enjoy being “led” by men and seem to submit to them upon their own wish. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Coming home

Coming home is a weird experience. I’m not a fan. On a regular day, I tend to think the grass is greener on the other side. Depending on the length of the trip, my coming home blues kick in a month to 2 days before I’m about to depart for the country that I have to call motherland.


Blues means something different every other time. Can be anything from quiet hysteria to moody swings and mild aggression.

Between Berlin and Istanbul I made a 20-day stop at home (Krasnodar, Russia)  and although initially I was not at all happy about having to come back, it turned out to be a nice stop. The main reason I decided to spend some time home, was the fact that my grandmother turned 90 on March 25. I think it was a good reason, I’m truly glad I was there on this day, it was important for both her and me.

I also met most of my friends, some I met every other day as we couldn’t get enough of each other and just had to make up for some of the time that we were apart.

I didn’t mention here previously that I had a surprise prepared for my immediate family. I’d told them I had return tickets for March 25 but came back a week earlier. I like doing things like that for the sheer excitement of this for every party.

I met a friend’s baby for the first time. The kid is only 4.5 months old. I was glad to find both the mother and the daughter in a good place and in a happy state of mind and yet I once again saw for myself that I probably am not the type to have babies. Maybe adoption one day if it feels right, but in general I do not feel am a motherly type although my relatives think I will come back to my senses and my maternal instinct will kick in. Time will tell, I suppose.

All in all, I had a good time with my friends and family, recuperated from all the travel experiences of the last three months… and now, Merhaba, Istanbul!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Russia Loves Innovation - Part 2

This is a continuation from the Monday post on the same subject. Just some pictures from my homeland.

23. Just some pretty balconies.


24. Pretty roads and manholes.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Russia Loves Innovation - Part 1

Russia (or rather the government in Russia and all state organs as well as all state-owned mass media) claims it is rapidly developing, we put innovations to the forefront, take care of our people, build a better country. And so on.

The pictures below were taken at the end of March '11. The city in question is Krasnodar. For an unknown to me reason, some people refer to it as our little Paris. See for yourself exactly how much resemblance to Paris it bears.

1. Russian people love innovation of all sorts. Especially what concerns renovation and electricity works. FYI, pictured is the capital of the region that is going to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.


2. This ain't the 70's or the 80's, more like 2011.

3. Fancy living in downtown in Krasnodar?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cost of a 3-month trip to Europe


Ten days have passed since I finished my longest to date European tour and as always, being outside of Russia was a delight.

As previously mentioned in the post on my travel expenses for a 10-day trip in 4 European countries, I split my expenses into the following categories:

accommodation – this includes the rent that I had for my room in Berlin plus expenses for Couchsurfing (zero), the best travel experience in the world

food – all things grocery

entertainment – umbrella term for a lot of things and could include: movie tickets, coffee&cake or alcohol at cafés and bars, entrance fees, any street food I might leave on – basically any purchase that in a perfect cost-saving world I could do without

transport 1 – airport buses, intercity buses, intercity railway tickets and any single- or multi-trip tickets in any of the destinations I’ve been to (transportation prices in Europe are just too unfair!)

transport 2 – monthly tickets in Berlin

airfare – flight tickets

IT – USB Wireless, SIM-card, emergency laptop adapter…

clothes – it used to be the major spending category, however in the recent months I have found myself to start thinking material possessions like clothing are exuberant and not as important as my travel experiences (although it doesn’t mean I wear shabby clothes, I just don’t shop for the sake of shopping)

other – anything that couldn’t fit into the above category, might include things like shampoo, toothpaste, books, presents, etc.

And without further ado, here’s how much was spent on this 85-day trip (in EUR):

Monday, March 28, 2011

Top 10 Best Hangouts in Berlin


After the Fall of the Wall things started rapidly developing for Berlin, artists flocked to the city in massive waves and the word gentrification was to be heard out of every window. Nowadays the capital of Germany can still boast a diverse crowd of people living there, a lot of street art, museums that will suit every taste and most importantly, it seems, bars and clubs that still deliver.

Bars in Berlin have characteristically low prices for alcohol, even in areas like Kreuzkölln and Friedrichshain you can find a 0.5l bottle of beer starting at 1.5EUR. Cocktails are available throughout the city starting at 3.8EUR during happy hour (4EUR is the most common price), however this is not to say that if you look hard enough, you won’t find offers for 10EUR and more. Despite the general notion that Berlin is a very affordable metropolitan capital, it can be expensive if you really, really want it to be.

Kreuzberg, Kreuzkölln and Prenzlauer Berg are traditionally considered to be Berlin’s best locations for nightlife, morning paper and numerous food stalls. Most of the hangouts listed below are located in these districts.

Kaffee Burger
Kaffee Burger is a good place to start your time in Berlin. It is currently considered a bit too mainstream by people who previously hung out here and it is not unusual that it is full of tourists and travelers alike and there most definitely will be a queue. However, don’t let this spook you as Kaffee Burger is a synonym to having fun. You might consider visiting the bi-weekly Russendisko party by book author Wladimir Kaminer. Frankly, it is equally Russian as it is Ukrainian and Balkan Beats-oriented, but be prepared for some fun nevertheless. One floor for smokers and one (packed from ceiling to the ground) floor for non-smokers.

Address: Torstraße 60

Schwuz
Berlin’s finest gay club. The German capital has been famous for its respect and admiration for the LGBT community for a while now and still most clubs only organize gay or lesbian nights once or several times per week, however Schwuz is a pure-water gay club that always has your head spinning and your body dancing to its tunes. Three dance floors and relaxed and yet energized atmosphere will make sure you won’t feel like leaving the dancefloor (of which there are three here) for a while.

Address: Mehringdamm 61

Friday, March 25, 2011

Best and Worst Airports in Europe

sleeping in airports

Pros and cons of travel

As all travelers, nomads and vagabonds will tell you, a life of travel is all they could ask for. It offers new discoveries on a regular basis, friends and acquaintances in places some people have not heard of and the convenience of being your own boss (if you are your own boss, that is). To me, nothing can compare to the thrill of travel, but like with everything else, there are setbacks in travel as well.

For instance, as the title of this post suggests, it is rather unlikely that you will come across somebody who loves hanging out in airports and the airport experience in general. It is always time–consuming even if you arrive right before the check-in ends (which I do not recommend anyway) or, furthermore, have checked in online and arrive only for the security check and the boarding. (Maybe it’s not so bad if you hang out in the best airport lounges of this world, but since I have not joined the elite club just yet, I’m talking about us regular people here.) There will always be a person who will create a queue by either losing his passport or a boarding pass or having twice as many liquids or some other issue, the queue will be getting anxious, tensions will rise, etc.

If you come too early, you might want to work a bit on your laptop. But there’s almost always the socket problem or it will be too hot or too cold or too crowded or too much stuff online and you think, “Down with work! I’d rather just surf!” (or is it just me?) Not to mention airports always insist on having uncomfortable chairs…

The food is expensive, too many boutiques and tax-free shops somehow have double to triple prices on regular products. The list goes on and on.

Here are three airports that I think offer their customer the worst airport experiences:

Worst airports in Europe

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 82-85: Berlin: The End

charlottenburg berlin


Well, not really. The end of this trip. It’s not my last time there, so this goodbye thing is just temporary.

I do not like going back home, so the end of every trip, however short or long is marked by me being upset and remembering just how uncool I feel back home. These last days were not an exception, however I mostly could get a grip of myself and only did some minor pining and had just one really bad day.

Other than that, I had a full week of going out every night and enjoying myself.

Bernardo and myself hung out a lot together on those days and the saddest day I had mentioned above later turned into a fun night when we drank Polish and German vodka on Alexanderplatz for several hours and then went to Kaffee Burger (that didn’t last long though) and I’m not even a vodka drinker at all. Bernardo didn’t remember much next afternoon when he rolled out of bed, so I enjoyed reminding him just what/where/when exactly he/we did. It was fun!

We also went to a Couchsurfing meeting together where the people were a nice bunch – as per always.

I didn’t really have a bucket list for the end of my trip in terms of what I had to see/do before I leave, but I did go back to most of the places I like in Berlin and eat some of the food that I liked. Except peanut better. Oddly enough, Berlin made me fall in love with peanut butter which I had the urge to constantly consume during my first 1.5 months there and then I stopped cold turkey because it was just too much.

I can’t say Berlin made me fall in love with beer, but it’s a huge progress that I went from detesting it and calling it names to drinking it every (other) night.

As you may well know, Berlin has a great night life. There are places to go every single day of the week, a party that feels like it’s hand-tailored personally for you and joints to go to before and after your crazy time at the club. Also, places like Berghain offer literally non-stop parties on weekends. If it’s something you’re into, go there and see for yourself. Apparently, the club is a Berlin landmark now and somehow gets money from the state, so it might be worth a visit. Apparently, they have good DJs, too.

Berlin is well-known for its numerous museums and if you only have time for a couple, I would recommend stopping by the following two:

Topography of Terror
and
Berlinische Galerie

I suggest you skip Guggenheim, or you risk being heavily disappointed. I know we were. Of course you also always hear only the good things about the Pergamon Museum, but I never had a burning desire to visit it, so… I didn’t. :)

Sigh.

I had a great time in Berlin. Lived in a vegan WG, started drinking beer, took a couple of terrific trips, started to cook, fell in love with traveling and Couchsurfing even more, met some great people and realized being location independent might be the way to go.

kulturbrauerei berlin

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 77-81: Berlin: Schöneberg

Schöneberg
In my last week in Berlin I stayed at a friend’s apartment in Berlin (and to continue professing my love for CS, I’d like to point out that we initially met on Couchsurfing) who was gracious enough to let me live there while she was on a trip to Morocco. She's Polish and I'm Russian and we speak German, it's cute if you think about it. I was sad to see her leave as we hung out quite a lot in Berlin, going to the movies, bars, taking walks, looking for coffee with soya milk and exploring the city together. But… we’ll meet again and next time is supposedly in Istanbul some time in May! Something to look forward to.

She lives in Schöneberg in Berlin which a Kiez I haven’t really explored except for one trip to a local café and numerous visits to the friend’s house for dinner or drinks.

Although my entire time in Berlin I lived right off S Sonnenallee (there is even a movie about people from this street: Sonnenallee) and quite loved it there, my friend’s location in Schöneberg close to S Südkreuz proved to be even more convenient, as with public transportation you can be on Potsdamer Platz in 6 minutes (Sonnenallee to Potsdamer Platz is 26 minutes) and although it would take you 17 to 22 minutes to get from both to Alexanderplatz, Kreuzberg is only 30 minutes away by foot from Südkreuz, while with Sonnenallee you would need 45 minutes. All of this is normally irrelevant to me, but not since getting a taste of a decent public transportation system (although sometimes the Deutsche Bahn goes on strike) – it’s nice when you can be somewhere good within 10 minutes in such a big city.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day 69-77: Eternal memory or ..?

Eternal memory or who has advice on how to remember it all?


This blog will be a good reminder of what I was doing while living in Berlin and traveling, but how can I make my brain remember every single minute of this journey ? I’ve met some great people, I’ve done some cool stuff, experienced some awesome things, hung out in some mindblowing places, barhopped like crazy every once in a while and had a good time overall. And how can I guarantee that I remember every single interesting conversation that I had or every interesting thing that I saw? I sort of don’t want to let go of anything I’ve done so far.

Nan Goldin, whose exhibition I visited recently at the Berlinische Galerie says she was taking so many pictures of people and events because she was obsessed with remembering everything and not losing people (funnily enough, she also adds that these photos now remind her how
much she lost...). If I want to remember every precious moment of the good times in my life, I have to carry a notepad for writing things down, voice recorder for some pleasant conversations, camera for all the beautiful things, have a Google Calendar to track all the meet-ups and events (actually I do/have all that, except for the recorder), but if I devote so much time to tracking my experiences, there will be no actual experiences.

Monday, March 14, 2011

17 Faces of Berlin

Berlin has many faces.

Same as every one of us plays all these social roles. You know, mother, father, daughter, son, lover, teacher, students and so on. Exactly the same can be said about Berlin, only mostly in adjectives.

1) It can be funky.

funky berlin

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Berlin public transportation | Deutsche Bahn on strike

Deutsche Bahn had a huge strike all over Germany on March 10.

It is a well known fact that the French do like to strike, but their German neighbors seem to be catching up. Anyway, the S-Bahn in Berlin is part of the Deutsche Bahn, so local employees were on strike as well, from 4.00am to 10.00am this morning. Of course this means the rest of the day was screwed up, as no transport system can recover after a strike very quickly.

Myself and most other people who had this odd inexplicable wish to use public transportation in Berlin today were not particularly happy about having to make detours on a normally direct and uninterrupted point A to point B route. What normally takes me 9 minutes took me about 30 today. Quelle dommage!

The thing about the Bahn is that it always has problems. In the winter when I came to Berlin and it was cold and snowy, the trains were late all the time and people were very pissed about that. (At first I wondered why they were mad about a 2-5 minute delay.) Later, a new winter schedule was introduced which meant the trains had a different speed and were to travel less often, the S-Bahn head had a lot of curses sent his way back then. It was a much talked about topic on the radio and could only be rivaled by Berlinale talk, a month later. Now the old schedule was introduced again and there was lots of confusion, trains were repeatedly late on the first few days . And now came the strike that left no one happy.

And the thing about this is… Berliners and some visitors are upset about that, myself included. But then I am just reminded how in Krasnodar, Russia there is NO schedule for anything, tram, bus, trolleybus, minibus. I mean, theoretically… there is a schedule as public transportation companies’ employees somehow have shifts and all that jazz, but there is no schedule at stops (and I don’t only mean an electronic schedule, you will not even find a toilet paper like sheet with times scribbled on it). Best thing you’ll know? Which buses/trolleybuses /trams pass this stop on their route.

My 90 year old grandmother is forced to stand at the stop for 20-30 until her means of transport shows up (normally too full), so after remembering this, a 2-3 minute delay and even a rare strike don’t seem so bad to me.

Apparently the DB employees who went on strike do have low salaries and they are somehow uneven for people with same skills, duties and experiences. This sounds surprising to me as DB has ridiculously high prices for their mediocre train service. And then a few people just pocket that and the rest eat crumbs. Sounds shitty to me. Strike on, my Lokführer comrades. (Just let me get to airports safe and on time.)

/rant

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