Berlin. A Photo Travel Blog.

So I started a little travel blog a while back that got a lot of good feedback from you guys. It was detailing my upcoming trip to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest in September-October 2011. I never got around to finish it, so here goes. For those interested - here's the first blog post: http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/stepside/a-trip-of-a-lifetime/30-85989/

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After a 14 hour trip from Ottawa via London-Heathrow, my wife Julie and I finally got off the plane in Berlin. After the obligatory passport weirdness (we were sent to the E.U. line even though we're clearly North Americans) it was nice to finally get going.

We stayed here the first night - Circus Berlin http://www.circus-berlin.de/circus_hotel_berlin.html Awesome little boutique hotel right downtown. The neighborhood is called Rosenthalerplatz - really close to 4 whole streets of outdoor cafes, bars, pubs, restaurants and shopping. Really central (literally 2 minute walk to the Rosenthalerplatz U-Bahn metro stop). After checking in, we decided to do some exploring and grab a pint of beer or two. I gotta say, the German beer (and its accompanying beer culture) is outstanding. Their food...not so much. More on that later.

The view of Rosenthalerplatz from the Circus Hotel on our first night abroad.

I actually ended up getting decently drunk the first night - which surprised even me, considering I'm not a huge public drinker. But I figured when in Rome... We stopped at three or four places, all with adult patrons (no fratboys to be found, just a nice 25-35 yr old crowd) and had an amazing night overall. Met some great people, some really chill bartenders (who can all speak 5+ languages, crazy) and loved the vibe of the city. Super safe, Benzes and Bimmers everywhere, beautiful architecture and a very lively feel. Really safe vibe as well, people just kept to themselves. No hassles with beggars or sketchbags like in Paris or NYC.

We ended up staying 2 more nights at a hostel in Kreutzberg (southern part of Berlin, lots of Turkish immigrants [i.e. great middle-eastern food and super-friendly people]) but I wouldn't recommend the hostel. If we could have done it all over again, we would have stayed at the Circus for all three nights.

Brandenburg Gate

As for the city itself, we checked out Alexanderplatz, Potsdamerplatz, the Tiergarten (Berlin's main public park), the Holocaust memorial, the Homosexual memorial (gays persecuted during WWII), Checkpoint Charlie (cheesy but worth seeing) and everything in between..

Holocaust Memorial
Berliner Dom on the Spree River

As I mentioned earlier, the Beer in Berlin is phenomenal. They come in huge sizes and run at about 6-9% alcohol content (from the selection I had anyway). What I found astounding was how many women drank beer with regular meals and how in shape they were. Baffling really - hot 5'10 blonde German chicks maintaining their 120lbs while chugging daily mouthfuls of Pilsner. I think the fact that everybody is incredibly active really has a helping hand in this however; we saw men in $3,000 suits and women in full evening wear on bicycles plowing through traffic from sun-up to dawn.

Great German beer
Awesome Turkish coffee.

I also mentioned the food....well, there's that, and it's well worth mentioning. What we found is the food is bland as all hell. We could have doused most of our meals in BBQ sauce and it would still have tasted like, well, nothing. I was expecting a lot of meat in tube form, but deep fried meat was the order of the day in most of the spots we went to, Kreutzberg aside.

I think the highlight was the East Side Gallery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Side_Gallery). It's an open-air street-art and mural art gallery on the longest-remaining segment of the Berlin wall. Julie and I are huge fans of street art in general, let alone street art on the existing portion of the Berlin Wall. Amazing.

A street artist at work
Optimus painted just west of the wall itself.

I took about 100 pictures of the Gallery, but the above are a few choice shots.

All in all, we spent about 7 hours each day walking (Julie's destroyed heels can attest to that) and just enjoyed the friendly, yet reserved people of Berlin and their wicked city. I'd highly recommend this place as a great hopping-off point for Europe for the weary or first time traveler. It's a safe, incredibly interesting spot with tons to see and do. I could have spent another weeks there immersed in art, history (WWII in particular) and people. English is spoken everywhere and the public transport system is beyond efficient. We had a wicked time.

Once it was time to leave, we grabbed a U-Bahn and headed for the Main Train Station for an incredibly trip through Bohemia on the way to Prague...the city of 500 spires. More to come...

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A trip of a lifetime 4 - Leaving for Berlin

Part 3 here: http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/stepside/a-trip-of-a-lifetime-3-are-flight-attendants-overpaid/30-86231/

Leaving for Berlin tonight. Gonna be rocking out the red-eye with a quick 3 hour stopover in London so hopefully I'll be able to sleep a bit on the plane (which I've never EVER been able to do.) I've been re-reading some old history literature about Germany, especially the division between East and West, the Habsburg dynasty and the ever ubiquitous WWII stuff I have laying around. I'm super stoked - should be beyond interesting. I'm fully packed and our house is about ready to be left alone for 15 days (cat is taken care of). Bring on the currywurst!

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A trip of a lifetime 3 - Are flight attendants overpaid?

So after I woke up yesterday, my usual coffee, cigarette and newspaper in hand, I read that the Air Canada flight attendants are going on strike. Greeeat. Glad I'm not going to be making any international (or domestic for that matter) flights across the pond any time soon...ugh. Our itinerary was to take a red-eye flight from Ottawa to London direct (on Air Canada) on Sunday the 25th, landing in London Monday morning and hopping on a regional flight to Berlin to officially begin our journey. Now that that those perky stewardesses have decided to strike on Wednesday, that leaves us with a couple options.

  • We could take an Air Transat Flight from Toronto to London. While this sounds okay, it would add another $400 to our trip because as we live in Ottawa, we'd still have to get down to Toronto. On top of that (bullshit) we'd have to deal with Air Transat's rickety planes and the constant fear of dying. As well, the Air Transat flight arrives at Gatwick airport. Our connecting flight to Berlin leaves from Heathrow. $#$^@#$^@#^@
  • We could grab an Air Lingus flight from Newark, but that all poses the same issues as mentioned above.
  • We could wait until Wednesday (when the strike actually begins)

So we're going to wait until Wednesday I think. Our Minister of Labor is getting her sweet little candyass involved in the process so hopefully she'll be able to mediate the issue. Hopefully we didn't just screw ourselves.

So it begs the question. Are flight attendants already overpaid?

Turns out that Air Canada flights attendants receive...wait for it...$51,000/year in salary. On top of that, they get an estimated $27,000 in benefits. Now that's more than most teachers. It's more than a lot of rural cops in the US. Should we treat them like valued members of the workforce? Of course we should. But on the flip-side, some can make the argument that the position is just a over-dignified waitress job. Yes they have to go through extensive training, but in the end, most airlines have started showing the "security briefing" on the seatback TVs now and with the advent of air marshals and automated systems...

Do you really deserve $51,000 to serve me water and pre-made meals and blankets? I would argue that a greasy-spoon diner waitress/waiter works his or her ass off way more than someone serving drinks in a fuselage which in the end, is a controlled environment.

What do you guys think?

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A trip of a Lifetime 2 - Hostels, Hotels and the B&B

Previous Blog Entry: http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/stepside/a-trip-of-a-lifetime/30-85989/

My wife Julie and I have finally confirmed the bookings for all of the hostels and hotels we'll be staying at for our trip. We'll be staying at six places in total, ranging from a youth hostel in Berlin to a swanky b&b in Budapest. We debated long and hard on this front - Julie having stayed at hostels in the past during her travels and my affinity for nice hotels. The middle-ground turned out to be pretty easy to find actually. During all of our research we discovered that the accommodation front pretty much boiled down to three choices: youth hostel, nice hostel and hotel/upper scale b&b. We wanted to get a feel for fellow travellers while still being comfortable enough to lay low for a few days of our 15 days abroad.

The spots we've picked:

Berlin: (3 days)

Circus Hotel: http://www.circus-berlin.de/164.htmlKind of a fancy spot, but coming off our long red-eye flights, it'll be a nice hassle-free stay, right in the centre of the City. We're only staying here for one night, and then off to...

Grand Hostel Berlin: http://www.grandhostel-berlin.de/My first ever hostel. I'm kind of exited to meet fellow travellers and make some new friends.

Prague: (4 days)

Mosaic House: http://www.mosaichouse.com/ We'll be arriving here on Julie's birthday (Sept.30th) and we're stoked. It'll be in the middle of the city and within walking distance to everything.

Vienna: (3 days)

Wombat's: http://www.wombats-hostels.com/vienna/

Bratislava: (2 days)

Skaritz Hotel: http://www.skaritz.com/We had a lot of debate about this one, but it should be awesome. It's right in the middle of Bratislava's old town which is pedestrian only, so no taxis to worry about.

Budapest: (3 days)

Brody House: http://www.brodyhouse.com/This was made on the recommendation of a co-worker's nephew who lives in Budapest. He highly recommended it and knows the owners. A couple music videos have been shot there and is really artist-friendly. Kinda pricey but it'll be a really nice way to end our trip.

On top part 3 >> http://www.giantbomb.com/forums/off-topic/31/a-trip-of-a-lifetime-3-are-flight-attendants-overpaid/515164/#1

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A trip of a lifetime?

I've fallen in love with the GiantBomb website. From its irreverent humour to the knowledgeable and opinionated masses that fill its forums and comment threads. What really caught me off guard is the intelligence displayed in most of the off topic forums. People aren't, as they say, always douches. There's some really good stuff in there. And so, in this vein, I've decided to make a travel blog for the trip I'm taking in two weeks. I'll be posting it here as well as an (unnamed) travelblog website to not only kill some hours between cities on trains, but also to get insight, opinions and tips from people on stuff to do, what to see etc...

My wife Julie and I will be spending the better part of 15 days in Eastern Europe. I'm 32 and she's 29 and we've always been interested in that part of the world; from its history, music and culture to its incredibly complicated geography. We picked 5 cities in 5 countries. We've saved up for two years to pay for it. We're stoked as balls to finally get going.

We'll be travelling to:

  • Berlin, Germany
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Budapest, Hungary

We'll be backpacking - and aside from the last two cities, we'll be staying in (admittedly) upper-class hostels. I'm all about meeting cool people so I wanted to pick the hostel route in the bigger cities but I want to avoid the 19 yr olds and their dreads. You know, It's weird being in your early 30s. You're not quite old, but you're not young anymore and you're starting to understand what you want in life. I don't want to share a bathroom. That's my thing. The thought kinda freaks me out, whereas in my late teens I couldn't give two shits about the bathroom - I'd take a leak outside in front of anybody at house parties without thinking twice. Not that I'm older, I prefer my bodily functions remain within my own site lines.

But I digress...

If you've stayed in any of these cities and recommend anything, please do. Also, what's your trip of a lifetime?

On to Blog #2....A trip of a Lifetime 2 - Hostels, Hotels and the B&B

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