Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Berlin

12/27/2013: Berlin and Reichstag

The main thing I had planned for today was a visit to the Reichstage building's dome. The Reichstag is the parliament building for Germany. Since my tour didn't start until 2:15, I decided to go see part of the Berlin wall first. The walk proved longer than I expected so I only had a short time to look at it before I had to head back for my tour. It was interesting to see the area where part of the wall used to be.
Pieces of the wall all together

The remnants of the wall
My visit to the dome provided me with the chance to see more of the city and learn something about its history by listening to the audio guide talk about all the different buildings and areas that surround the building. 
 The Brandenburg Gate, I saw it on my way to the Reichstag
The Reichstag Building
After my visit I went to a nearby Starbucks to have something to drink and figure out where I wanted to go next. I decided to walk along one ofthe main streets headed for the museum island. Instead I ended up stoppping at Madam Toussad's and going to a museum about Berlin's history. One interesting thing I learned was that there had been a palace located in the center of the city, but after only being lightly damaged during WWII, was torn down. Now, there are plans to rebuild something in its place, although I don't know exactly what. 
One of the highlights of the Toussad's museum was wax Freud
When I finished the two museums, it was dinner time so I headed back the way I came and walked towards Potsdamer Square. On the way, I stopped briefly to look at the Jewish Memorial. It consisted of mostly stone slabs and grass. For dinner, I decided on American, and so stopped at Subway for a sub. Then I continued on towards the square. Before going to one of the many cinemas to see the Hobbit in English and in 3-D, I went sledding in a tube on a hill that had been constructed in the square as part of the Christmas market, I think. The Hobbit was a good, but long, movie, made longer by an intermission. It was definitely a movie worth seeing in the theater though and I am glad I went. 
 Lego Santa and sleigh, near the cinema
Afterwards, I took the subway back to my hostel/hotel and went to sleep. 

12/28/2012: The Zoo, Aquarium, Pergamon Museum, and the American themed restaurant
When I was reading the guidebook about what to do in Berlin, one of the things it mentioned was the zoo. So, I decided that the main thing I would do would be to go and see it. When I was dressed and ready, I set off for the zoo. I arrived and had to wait in a long line to buy my ticket. I bought a ticket for both the zoo and the aquarium. Like most zoos, it contained a large proportion of birds compared to other animals. The grounds and animal habitats were well set up. The zoo is located in the Tiergarten Park. However, because it was winter, many of the animals were inside. Apparently most have winter enclosures as well as summer ones, although the winter ones were much smaller especially for the big cats. The aquarium was inside the zoo grounds, and as it was sort of cold out and I had been standing outside for a while, it was one of my first stops. It contained many different fish as one would expect, but it also contained frogs, lizards, insects, and snakes. One of my favorite parts of the zoo was the dark area where they kept all the nocturnal creatures. 
The Entrance to the Aquarium
A Black Rhino
Tiger, in its winter enclosure
The polar bear enclosure
After spending a few hours at the zoo, I left and headed to the museum island and the Pergamemnom museum. The Pergamemnom museum's first room contained the partially rebuilt ruins of the altar that had been located in the ancient Greek city. 
The outside of the museum, under renovation 
The other rooms contained artifacts and reconstructed buildings from other parts of ancient history. The blue gate of Babylon was very interesting to see. There were exhibits I didn't get a chance to see because I only had an hour before the museum closed. 
One wall of the Babylon Gate
Part of the Babylon Gate
Afterwards, I walked to the Berlin Dome, but it was closed, so I went to the DDR museum instead. It contained information and interactive exhibits about East Berlin under communism. Then, I went ot the Hackescher market, which was just a series of shops as far as I could tell. It was around dinner time, so I looked for a place to eat and found an American style diner a little bit away from the market. For dinner I had a bacon cheeseburger and a shake. Eating in the restaurant was almost like being back in America except the decor was a little over the top. The seats were traditional diner seats, and there were mini jukeboxes at each table. On the walls were license plates from the 50 states and posters with American cultural themes. It reminded me of an american diner, but there was too many for it to be completely accurate. I ate, enjoyed free wi-fi, and then walked to the subway, and back to my hostel. 

12/29/2012: The Bus Tour, Art Museum, and KaDeWe 
TO see the remaining sites, I decided to take a tour on one of those hop on/hop off buses. I got on the bus at first stop, in the same area as the zoo. I looked around and learned about different buildings until I got to the fourth stop. I got off and walked into the philharmonic building. There wasn't much to see, so I went to the museum area across the street. Since I wasn't sure what each museum was, I chose one, and ended up going to an art museum. I got the audio tour and spend about an hour looking at paintings, walking around, and occasionally listening to the audio guide's information about a particular painting. When I finished, I headed back outside to wait for another tour bus. It arrived after about ten minutes and I hopped on and continued to listen to the information about Berlin. When we got to checkpoint charlie. I hopped off again. Checkpoint Charlie was the crossing point between East and West Berlin. While there, I enjoyed a curry wurst. A curry wurst is a sausage that is sliced up and covered with ketchup and curry powder served with French fries. It is quite tasty, and apparently a Berlin specialty. There was an outdoor museum that I walked around in for a bit, and then I waited for another tour bus.
A museum near the art museum
The Checkpoint Charlie sign
This time I was on the bus for a fair number of stops before I reached the Berlin Dome, a large church. On the way, I passed the East Side Gallery. From the church stop, I could see  the big open area where the Berlin Palace used to be, another museum, and the TV tower. The TV tower is a big, tall, thin tower with a ball at the top that rotates 360 degrees. I didn't have time to go up in it though. Instead, I explored the church and walked up the many steps to the view at the top of the dome. I could see much of the city from there. I also went into the basement where the crypt was. It was interesting to see the coffins in such a sterile white environment.
Part of the East Side Gallery
The East side gallery is part of the Berlin wall

The Inside of the Berlin Dome
The church altar
A Tomb of a king (?)
The TV Tower
The Berlin Dome Church
The View of a Ferris Wheel from the Dome
When I finished, I went back outside to wait for a tour bus. It was about 20 minutes before it arrived. Because of the wait time, the buses were both incredibly convenient and inconvenient at the same time. I got off again at the market where people were selling food, clothing, household appliances, painting, and household furnishings. I bought a cup of hot chocolate, but was unable to finish it because the bus came soon after and the bus driver wouldn't let it on. I then rode the bus back to stop number 2, KaDeWe. KaDeWe is an abbreviation, although I don't remember what for exactly. Either way, it is a giant department store where each level is almost a city block. There were clothing, toys, electronics, luggage, furniture, food, and a cafeteria style restaurant on the 7th, and top, floor. My favorite floor was the 6th. It was filled with gourmet food a quarter of which was devoted to different kinds of chocolate. I had to restrain to only buying a few different kinds for myself and a box for my host family. One of the truffles I tried was so delicious, I would have bought several if each one hadn't been so expensive. In addition to the chocolate section, there was an area selling cheese, bread, drinks, wine, meat, fish, pasta, fresh produce, and imported American products. In the American section, there were pop-tarts, Reese's Peanut Butter cups, maple syrup, salad dressing, barbecue sauce, root beer, and peanut butter, among other things. I bought root beer, peanut butter, and Reese's peanut butter cups. I would have bought much more, but many of the items were fairly expensive, and there was no way I was going to pay 8 euros for some pop-tarts. In the area selling fruits and vegetables, I purchased a fruit smoothie and some blueberries. After a bit, I got hungry and decided to head to the top floor to have dinner. The top floor served food cafeteria style. There was a section for meat, a noodle bar, a salad bar, and a pasta bar. There were also various desserts and beverages. I got noodles from the noodle bar. First I put the meat and vegetables I wanted into a bowl and gave it to the cook. I got the rice and noodles served with an Indian curry sauce. To drink, I got an Oragina, which is a particular type of carbonated orange soda. Because it had non-twist off top, I had to back to the check-out counter to get it opened. The combination made for an excellent meal. After dinner I spent a little bit longer walking around the department store before finally going back to my hostel. I put my bag in my room and then headed back out to buy groceries at a nearby supermarket. The best, and most unexpected, thing I found there was a bag of Pepperidge Farm soft-baked double chocolate cookies. After shopping, I returned to my hostel. When I got back, I spent sometime packing and talking to a woman from Serbia before going to bed. The next morning I was catching a cab to the airport and wanted to get enough sleep.

12/30/2012: Flight to Bucharest and the Train Station

My flight was at 11:40, so I left my hostel at about 9:15. It was a little bit too early because when I arrived at the airport it was too early for me to check-in. The Berlin Tegel airport was a little unusual because instead of the check-in counters being by just airline, they were by both airline and gate. As a result, at the entrance to the airport driveway was a big monitor that listed flight times, airlines, and gates. After printing my boarding pass and checking in, I went to the airport Starbucks to pass the time before I would be able to go through security. I drank my iced Frappuccino, ate my espresso brownie, and then headed back to the gate and through security. The plane boarded a little late, but I was soon on my way to Bucharest. Upon arriving in Bucharest, I went through customs and picked up my luggage. Once clear of customs and customs declaration points, I withdrew some Romanian lei and bought a ticket for the train and shuttle to the North Bucharest Train station. First, I waited for a shuttle bus that would take me to the train platform. Then after a ten minute drive to the train platform, I waited for the train to the northern Bucharest train station, I had to take a train because the airport I flew into is located in a town about an hour from Bucharest by train. The train platform was up a small hill. It had an overhang and several benches. Because it was cold, I decided to stand and wait for the train to arrive. The train arrived after I had been waiting for about twenty minutes and was a very modern looking train with nice seats with a rack above for luggage. I kept my bags next to me, however, because they were small. I watched the villages pass by and the sun set as the train made its way to the city. When I arrived, the first thing I did was buy my ticket including the couchette bed. Then, I went to a pizza place for dinner. I ate and relaxed for an hour before boarding my train, The train left on time at around 7:45pm. On the train, I talked with a Moldovan woman who want returning home on vacation after working in Greece for five years. I also managed to get some sleep. By the time I woke up, we were only about an hour from Chisinau. I woke up at the boarder too, but only for a little while. When I got to Chisinau, I headed to Peace Corps and took a shower, which felt great after the long train ride.

12/31/2012: New Years Eve in Moldova
After my shower, I relaxed for a bit before going to buy my bus ticket to my village. It was New Year's Eve, so I was worried that they might sell out. Afterwards, I went to an Italian place to have some pasta for lunch. I then headed back to Peace Corps. I hung out there fore about a half hour before taking a taxi to the northern bus station. There I waited until my rutiera (mini-bus) departed for my village. The ride to my village was pretty normal although I missed my road on the way in because I was reading and didn't notice, so I had to stay on until it went back the other way. We had a pretty normal dinner shortly after I arrived. At midnight, we lit sparklers, had some food, cake, and champagne. It was nice but very low key New Year's Eve. Despite it being pretty uneventful, it was nice to be with my host family to see their New Year's Eve traditions, especially since I didn't last year. Because I was tired, I went to bed shortly after. Overall, it was a nice ending to my vacation.

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