Month: October 2015

Headed Home

As explained in my last post, I am headed to Minnesota but am taking my sweet time. That means taking the train from Berlin to Hong Kong passing through the following cities:

  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Helsinki, Finland
  • St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Kazan, Russia
  • Yekaterinburg, Russia
  • Irkutsk, Russia
  • Ulan Bator, Mongolia
  • Beijing, China
  • Xi´an, China
  • Chengdu, China
  • Chongqing, China
  • Yangshuo, China
  • Guangzhou, China
  • Hong Kong, China

I´m then flying from Hong Kong to LA and taking the train from there to Portland, OR then home to St. Paul.

I´ll be posting entries on each city along the way and you can also check out my instagram here.

 

Auf wiedersehen Berlin

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Amanda departed Berlin last month to start her new job, working from home for the same company. She is already settled in our new apartment in St. Paul and reunited with Goofy the dog.

I´m on my way home too but am taking my sweet time by traveling through Russia, Mongolia and China by train.

We already miss Berlin for so many reasons and are looking forward to returning in the future.

A short list of things I will miss about Berlin:

  • Transportation: We never once felt limited by not having a car. The bus, subway, train, tram system goes everywhere and is simple to use.
  • Costs: Coming from the Bay Area, there were many things that were cheaper in Berlin, mainly our rent and groceries.
  • The people: Generally speaking, Berliners are laid back and friendly. More so than other places in Germany. It is also a diverse city with people from all over the world. In some neighborhoods, you are more likely to hear English than German being spoken.
  • Dogs: Dogs are everywhere in the city and 90% of the time are off leash. This is never a problem as dogs are extremely well trained and know how to live in a big city with lots of people. It´s not unusual to see dogs waiting patiently outside of shops, hanging out in cafes, or running errands with delivery people.
  • German language school: Amanda is going to disagree with me here but I loved going to school and not only learned a ton of German but also got to interact with an extremely diverse group of people who came to Germany to start new lives. While it was difficult and exhausting at times, the immersion method of language really worked for me.
  • Food: When I get home I´m going to have to perfect my version of Currywurst and Doner Kebab.
  • Going to the movies: In Germany, when the movie starts, the phones are switched off and people are silent.
  • Restaurant etiquette: No server ever asked me if I had ever been to their restaurant before, no server ever gave me their name, no one ever asked me how ¨everything was tasting!¨, and the check came when I asked for it. This is the way I like dining; servers were quick and efficient and happy to help when I needed something and we never felt rushed. Amanda is going to have to restrain me the first time some overly chipper teenager in the US slips me the check while I´m still in the middle of my entree.
  • Street art: Graffiti is everywhere in the city and a lot of it is just dumb tagging but there are so many places with interesting artwork that you can enjoy by just walking around.

BER

At the end of the Cold War Berlin had three aging commercial airports. It was decided in the late 90´s that all three were too small to handle the growing traffic of the new German capital.

A new site was selected just south of the current Schoenefeld airport and construction of the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport began in 2006. Originally scheduled to open in 2010, it is now the end of 2015 and the airport remains unopened. The airport has officially cancelled four opening dates and there is currently no scheduled opening date for the airport. You can, however, take a two hour tour of the new airport, which I did a couple of weeks ago.

The main cause of the delay is the fire protection system. However, other issues have also come to light in the ensuing years of delays like, among other things, the wiring conduit being too small, roof tiles being unsafe, and the main construction engineer not having the proper training and credentials (he was actually only a qualified draftsman).

As of today, workers continue to remedy the various issues while some politicians have called for tearing the whole terminal down and just starting over.

Once the new airport is opened it will immediately need to be expanded as it will be running at or over capacity from day one.

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Krasselt’s Currywurst

Location

On my last day in Berlin (Oct 19), I had to have currywurst one last time. After some last minute errands, I headed to Krasselt’s Currywurst.

Krasselt’s is located on Steglitzer Damm about a 10 minute walk from our apartment. We rode by here on the bus every day on our ride to school and it was always busy.

What Did I Have?

I had a currywurst with casing for 1.80 euro and fries for 1.50 euro and mayo was an extra 0.30 euro.

My Review

Krasselt’s makes a tasty sausage. It is spiced a little different, more like a frankfurter than a bratwurst. They also add a little brown sauce before pouring on the traditional currywurst sauce. Overall the brown sauce added a nice hearty, meaty flavor to the experience. The curry powder was also a little spicier than other currywursts I’ve had. The currywurst sauce was very tangy, a nice balance between sweet and acidic. The only downside is that they are a little too generous with the currywurst sauce. By the time I was done I still had a ton of sauce left over.

The fries here were good, nice and fresh and crispy on the outside without being dried out.

Overall rating: Currywurst: 4 out of 5 | Fries: 3.5 out of 5

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Roma

We went to Rome for our anniversary back in September. We had a packed 3 days of museum hopping, pasta eating, and vino swilling.

Day 1 – Vatican and Villa Borghese, interrupted by an impromptu haircut

We stayed in a lovely hotel just a block away from the Ottaviano metro station, steps away from the Vatican. In fact, on our first morning, I looked out our hotel window and the stream of tourists, nuns, priests, and touts were already flowing into the Vatican museum’s main entrance by 8:30 am.

Thankfully, we got tickets ahead of time so we waltzed right into the museum right at opening. Actually, museum is an understatement; this place comprises 54 galleries topped off by arguably the greatest work of Renaissance art in the Sistine Chapel.  Highlights for us were, of course, the Sistine Chapel and the Map Rooms. As first time visitors we were awestruck at every turn; one room here would be the highlight of any other city’s art collection.

After a couple of hours in the Vatican Museums we walked over to St. Peter’s Basilica and got in line. While the line looked long we were inside within 10 minutes. Just like the Vatican Museums, the scale of St. Peter’s is hard to describe and photographs do not do it justice. I know there were thousands of visitors inside but we never felt that it was overcrowded.

#stpetersbasilica dome. #vatican #rome

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After the Vatican, we hopped on a bus and headed across the Tiber River to Piazza Navona where we grabbed lunch and a quick coffee and then went inside the Pantheon for about a half hour.

By this time, all that looking up at the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s and the Pantheon was starting to give our necks a strain. What better way to relax than with a visit to an Italian barber? While I got a haircut, the proprietor plied Amanda with chocolates and ran out to get us both espressos.

We had tickets for the Villa Borghese at 5pm so, after my haircut, we flew up the Spanish Steps and walked across the beautiful park to the gallery. Again, one room in this place would be the highlight in any other city.

After all that culture, we walked down to Piazza de Popolo for negronis and a wonderful meal at Porto di Ripetta.

Day 2 – Trastevere and more pasta

I woke up early and let Amanda sleep while I walked along the Tiber to the Trastevere neighborhood. This is a neighborhood that still looks medieval, with narrow winding streets and small churches seemingly on every corner.

After wandering around for a couple of hours and having a couple of great slices of Roman style pizza at la Renella bakery, I then met Amanda at Campo di Fiori for an early afternoon drink.

That evening we had our best meal in Rome at Salumeria Roscioli.

Day 3 – Ancient Rome and even more pasta

We got up early and headed to the ancient ruins. The ancient site comprises three parts: The Colosseum, The Forum, and the Palantine Hill.  Knowing that most people start at the Colosseum and then tour the Forum, we did the opposite and started at the Palatine Hill.

This turned out to be a smart move as we had the place to ourselves for about the first hour we were there. The lack of crowds probably contributed to the Palatine Hill being our favorite section. We then headed down the hill into the Forum. By the time we were done with the Forum it was already after noon so we skipped going inside the Colosseum. Even though we had tickets it was clearly crowded inside.

That evening we had another great meal of pasta and Italian wine. Afterwards, I promised Amanda a trip to the Trevi Fountain. While she was skeptical of my navigation skills as I didn’t have the aid of a map, I got us there without any problem. The fountain, however, was closed for cleaning. Bummer.

#romanforum

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Misc

  • Rome is full of touts, hawkers, pickpockets, and scammers. While we didn’t have any issues, we both felt we had to be more on guard than any other place we’d been. It’s no surprise since Rome has been a top tourist destination for the past 2000 years; they’ve pretty much figured out all the angles on how to part fools with their money.
  • Bars serve little snack with cocktails, like olives, small sandwiches, and nuts. So, while cocktails may seem a little expensive, at least they come with a bit of food.
  • The airport in Rome is a joke. The non-stop train from the airport to the main station was surprisingly efficient but the rest of that damnable place was a nerve-wracking  hellscape.
  • Even if it had been running, I think the Trevi Fountain would have disappointed. It’s in a small little piazza that is probably wall-to-wall people when it is running.
  • The food was the highlight, I think you could go into the most touristy restaurants and get a good meal.
  • Before going to Rome, I planned ahead to find the best Roman style pizza. Some online reviews knock places for not complying with their idea of “authentic” pizza. The fact is, traditional Roman pizza differs from what most people think it should be, which is usually more Neapolitan. Unlike in Naples, Roman pizza has a thicker, almost focaccia-like crust, can handle more toppings, and is rectangular. It is also delicious.
  • We went to Rome in mid-September, I can’t conceive of having to navigate the throngs of tourists during the high season.
  • This probably sounds stupid and cliched but there are churches everywhere here and they all have world class art inside. One could live a lifetime and not see everything.
  • The Tiber river is like the un-scenic, un-romantic cousin to the Seine. It’s flanked by high flood walls and is muddy,reedy, and slow moving. It’s really not much to look at.

Currywurst: Konnopke’s Imbiss

Location

Konnopke’s is located under U-Bahn tracks at Eberswalderstrasse Station in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood of Berlin. This is one of the most popular currywurst spots for tourists along with the mediocre Curry36. It’s an iconic place in Berlin and the lines are usually long. Thankfully, I visited on a cold, dreary day so the line only took about 5 minutes to get through.

Both Amanda and I ate here on our vacation last year so this was my second time here.

What Did I Have?

I had the “big menu” combo: Two sausages and a small fry for 5.40 euro and splurged for mayo at 0.30 euro.

My Review

This is one of the best tasting sausages, nicely spiced and just the right consistency. The casing, however, wasn’t as crispy as I’d like and the sauce was a disappointment. It was way too sweet and rather thin.  I ended up scraping most of the sauce off and just ate the excellent tasting sausage by itself.

The fries here are fine, nice and crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

 

Overall rating: Currywurst: 3 out of 5 | Fries: 3.5 out of 5

#konnopke #imbiss #berlin #currywurst

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Copenhagen Diary

Last October (2014), Amanda and I started our vacation in Copenhagen and absolutely loved it.  So, on a whim, we decided to visit again a couple of weeks ago.

We took the overnight train from Berlin to Copenhagen, arriving around 6:30 am on a Friday morning. After a short nap, I was up and exploring while Amanda stretched her nap out a couple more hours.

Food and Drink

One of the things we really like about Copenhagen is the food and beer. A must stop for both of us is Aamanns deli for some open faced sandwiches called smorrebrod. The smoked herring is the best I’ve ever had and you can wash it all down with their homemade aquavit.

Another great food location in Copenhagen is the old Meatpacking District.  This area hosts two of our favorite restaurants in Europe: Fiskbaren and Nose2Tail.

Nose2Tail in in a dark, subterranean corner of the meatpacking district. The tiled walls and drains in the floor betray it’s former function as a large-scale butcher’s. There’s no better place to enjoy pig’s hearts, pork crackling with bacon mayonnaise, or a sausage and cheese platter that can keep you full for days.

On the beer front, there is much more to Copenhagen that just Carlsberg. As an aside, I used to love Carlsberg when I was younger and now, well, not so much.

Still in the meatpacking district is War Pigs which brews excellent beer of their own and also offers a couple beers from other local brewers. They also server barbecue but we only stopped by for the beers and, once, for a taste of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.

Just down the street from the meatpacking district, Mikkeller Bar is one of our favorite places for beer outside of Prague.  It is a cozy bar with a rotating 20 beers on tap from the Mikkeller brewery as well as a few others from around Denmark.

Finally, we spend the better part of an afternoon at Torvehallerne Market. This market comprises a couple dozen food stalls and some of the best and cheapest meals in the city. We started off with coffee and pastries, then had a couple of smorrebrod, enjoyed some tacos, italian wine, fish and chips, and coffee again to top it all off. We basically rolled to the station for our evening train back to Berlin.

Excellent coffee at #thecoffeecollective #torvehallerne

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Sightseeing

We had seen many of the highlights on our first trip to Copenhagen, this time we spend a couple of hours at the excellent Glypoteket. This art museum was started by the Carlsberg family and houses large collections of ancient sculpture as well as modern sculpture and 19th century painting.

We also spend a day in Helsingor, Denmark/Helsingborg, Sweden. Helsingor is the home to Kronborg castle most famous as the setting for Hamlet. The castle itself was excellent as were the grounds but it was rainy so we didn’t spend too much time outside.

Helsingborg, Sweden was a nice little town, but it continued to rain so we didn’t do too much exploring. We took the train back to Copenhagen via Malmo and across the Oresund Bridge.

#kronborg castle. #helsingør #elsinore #denmark

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Currywurst: Witty’s at Schoenefeld Airport

Location

Witty’s has 3 locations in Berlin. Their original stand is in Wittenbergplatz across the street from the massive KaDeWe department store. The location I ate at is outside terminal A of Schoenefeld Airport south of Berlin. All of their products are organic, that plus the location means a more expensive menu.

What Did I Have?

I had a currywurst with casing and fries with mayo. Currywurst is 3.50 Euro and fries with mayo are 3.50 Euro making this some of the most expensive currywurst I’ve had.

My Review

The sausage was  nicely spiced but, since they grill instead of fry, the casing was a bit tough. The sauce was also not quite to my liking. It was basically ketchup and a bit too sweet overall. That sweetness completely cancels out any spiciness you get from the curry powder. All-in-all, a good quality sausage done no favors by the preparation.

The fries were great, some of the best I’ve had in Berlin. They were a cut a bit larger and fried to order so they were hot and fresh.

If I’m ever at Schoenefeld, I’ll definitely eat here again but I would skip their Wittenbergplatz location in favor of the superior Fritz & Co.

Overall rating: Currywurst: 2.75 out of 5 | Fries: 4 out of 5

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Currywurst: Curry Baude

Location

Curry Baude is located just outside the busy Gesundbrunnen train station in the northern Berlin neighborhood of Wedding.  Curry Baude has been open since 1989 and all the sausages and sauces are homemade from secret family recipes.

What Did I Have?

I had a currywurst with casing and fries with mayo. Currywurst is 1.50 Euro and fries with mayo are 1.30 Euro.  I also asked for my currywurst to be a bit spicier which bumped up the scovilles to maybe a 100.

My Review

The sausage was  good, a little denser than other wursts that I’ve had and the casing was nice and crisp. The sauce was  thick and slightly smoky from the curry powder. There was no sweetness to the sauce, which I liked. Overall one of the better sausage/sauce combinations I’ve had.

The fries, however, were a failure on all fronts. They were not very fresh and way overcooked. To add insult to injury, the mayo that accompanied these crusty planks of bleakness was completely flavorless.

Overall rating: Currywurst: 3.5 out of 5 | Fries: 0.25 out of 5

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