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

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
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. :)


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

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.)


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 61-68: Berlin: a walk in Friedrichshain

I had some nice walks in Friedrichshain in the last week of February. It's a popular going out area with its Simon-Dach-Straße that has become a bit overpriced in the last years (so I am told), Boxhagenerplatz that is home to a flea market and a lot of street art. Sonntagstraße will offer you a couple of joints with cheap pizza (starting at 2EUR)

Children's playground just off Ostkreuz:

Friedrichshain, Berlin
Blue daydreaming dude on Boxhagener Straße:

Friedrichshain, Berlin

Monday, March 7, 2011

Berlin Nightlife | Best Bars and Kneipen in Berlin

Bars in Berlin

Berlin is a city of individualists, wannabes, hipsters, people who think they are alternative (the most commonly used word in the neighborhood, I swear), Wahlberliners, artists and other special people.

The awesome thing is that all of these people will find something that suits their interests. Of course the most popular place of deployment for all these types is a bar. Now, a bar in Berlin is something special and stopping by for a bottle or a glass of beer is a must for any person who considers themselves a true Berliner even for a short while (the true species is supposedly extinct, but you catch the drift).

Berlin bar crawl, anyone?

It ain’t hard to go on a bar or a pub crawl in Berlin. All you need to do is to deliver yourself to one of the nightlife packed streets in the city which include but are not limited to:

Simon-Dach-Straße in Friedrichshain
Oranienstraße in Kreuzberg
Oranienburger Straße in Mitte
Weserstraße + Pannierstraße in Neukölln
Kastanienalle + Ebertswalder Straße in Prenzlauer Berg

Once there, you can freely go from bar to bar and establish your own favorite locations, but my recommendations would include

I am slightly biased as I am a Rixdorfer Süße myself, it’s a bar pretty much around the corner from where I am located, but do believe me when I say it is worth a visit. It is spacious and cozy at the same time, the light is just perfect for an evening out with your friends or with someone you have a special interest in. They are open daily from 7p.m. and offer a wide range or drinks and cocktails. They have a wide selection of drinks (and you'll like the prices) and are popular among a young local and not so local crowd.

SPECIAL: Every Wednesday they have vegetarian/vegan Volxküche (in German) which means you can get a huge plate of tasty food for however much you're willing to spend. And my however much I mean 1-4EUR. 2EUR being the net cost. Highly recommended!

Special: Every Sunday you are invited to join the broadcast of Tatort (…German CSI, hello!)

Address: Mareschstraße 1, Neukölln

Berlin Bars - Couchsurfing bar - Soupanova
A Thursday night hangout of Couchsurfers in Berlin. I make no secret of being a screaming fangirl of Couchsurfing and so it would only be logical to include this location to the list. Every week the bar sees from 20 to 80 people show up for the 8pm meet up. There is a separate room with more or less an open mic for anyone who wishes to perform or say what’s on their mind. Every once in a while a nice DJ will pop up or someone will bring equipment for a Silent Disco (something I personally have yet to experience).

It’s not all about the CS community though (although clearly many visitors have it on their to do list in Berlin), Soupanova has something or a party happening every night, so Thursday night is not the only time when you can have fun there.

Address: Stargarder Str. 24, Prenzlauer Berg

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 58-61: Berlin: Rathaus and Schloss Charlottenburg

As mentioned in the previous post, Charlottenburg to me appears to be a mix of several cities.

Here is Rathaus Charlottenburg (reminiscent of Moscow metropolitan)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 54-57: Berlin: Charlottenburg, a mix of Paris, Brussels, Karlsruhe and Moscow

Everything changes when the sun comes out. Previously I only briefly explored Charlottenburg, but now finally had the chance to devote a decent amount of time to it.

Basically, Charlottenburg is home of the rich and is reminiscent of 4 cities:

  • (Obviously) Paris, as the Kurfürstendamm looks a lot like Champs-Élysées in the French capital. A lot of stores (too much H&M per square meter), starting with youth clothing stores and ending with Gucci, Valentino and the like. Shopping heaven for any type and size of wallet.
  • Sidestreets, on the other hand, reminded me of Brussels. Quiet and at the same time slightly posh streets with nice-looking houses (as, for example, opposed to the ugly Karl-Marx-Allee, previously officially named and to this day looking exactly like a Stalinallee).
  • If you have been to Karlsruhe, Schloss Charlottenburg will definitely remind you of the local Schloss. Same style that honestly looks a bit boring for Berlin.
  • And finally, if you have been inside Moscow subway, Rathaus Charlottenburg will remind you of the some of the metro stations in the Russian capital.

The Paris and Brussels parts are below.

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