26th November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

Maisie the crazy cat

So it was getting to the stage where I was coming across Europe to reach my final destination of Amsterdam and I was too early. I had about ten or so ‘spare’ days to do something with. Yeah, tough life. I decided to hop across the ocean and visit Scotland and my sister in Edinburgh. This pleased quite a few people in the family, with everyone being big Scotland travellers, except me even though ive covered most of Europe. I checked out the Ryanair website (did they deliberately make it look shit?) and found flights leaving Brussels Charleroi airport on the dates I wanted. I booked those and also paid the ridiculous amount of money to add a checked 20kg bag. I had to get to the airport from Cologne so I went on the Thalys website and booked a train to Brussels-Midi station, and would then catch the shuttle to the airport. Getting pretty good at this these days.

I left nothing to chance and although my flight wasn’t to leave till 9pm I got to the airport at about 2pm just incase trains or shuttles were delayed. The wait seemed to go on forever. I eventually checked in and my bag was 20.1kg, im a pro packer. Got through EU passport control fine, the guy didn’t really check much, didn’t notice I was way over my visa, or didn’t care (more on that in another blog). Even got on to the plane with my backpack and camera separate. This was my first Ryanair flight so it kind of threw me when I realised there was no allocated seats, you just sit where you want. It left on time and landed on time in Edinburgh, about 10:30pm. Then it was time for UK passport control, who are notorious for being by the book to the extreme, along with the US and us Aussies. I was asked what I was doing there, where I was staying, how long I was in Europe for, and then asked to write down sisters name and date of birth on a piece of paper. Then it was ok no worries thanks see you later.

Picked up my bags, got some pounds out of an ATM, and went to the bus. Went to walk on to the Lothian 35 bus with a 10’er and was told to get some change. It was the last bus and leaving in 3mins. Ran to the airport express bus counter and the guy was really nice and gave me change. On the bus and about 45mins later im standing on Easter Road wondering where the street my sisters apartment is on. Find it, get let inside and its a pretty sweet place. Good to just not be in a hostel. A bed with no one else in the room is a luxury I havent had for a while. Got to finally meet not-so-little-anymore Maisie. Crazy crazy cat. Then crashed in a nice comfy bed.


24th November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

The christmas markets under the cathedral

From Hamburg it was off south-west to Cologne. I didn’t really know anything about Cologne, apart from that it has a hektik cathedral, but it was also in the direction I needed to be heading and its serviced by direct high speed ICE trains. Got off the train and made the short 5min walk to the hostel, probably the best located of all the Cologne hostels. It was a pretty sweet hostel, only opened in July of this year so everything was really new. The kitchen was purpose made for hostels, kinda like a schools kitchen with multiple tables with stove tops, multiple sinks etc. The rooms had wooden made bunks as well, so theres no loud creaking. And they had ensuite bathrooms. Supermarket just up the road to buy things to make dinner. All in all pretty good choice. Something which ive gotten pretty good at.

The weather on the first day was pretty bad, raining on and off. I headed straight to the cathedral as thats all I really knew to do. It is pretty damn huge. The inside however isn’t that impressive, its rather plain and boring, but the sheer size makes up for it. I bought a ticket for the top and started on my way up. 510 stairs later, which has to be the most of any cathedral ive been to, I was at the top. It was bitterly cold at the top, with a roaring wind freezing my face off. Because its a very popular place to visit there is metal grid fencing all around the tower, and my camera didn’t fit through the rather small holes. I did my best and still got some good photos. Rest of the time was spent just wandering around the streets. The whole main centre of the city is walking streets only with a really good selection of shops, mainly clothing. There is of course quite a few camera shops, all advertising the German made Leica brand. I went in to one of the shops which was quite large and had a large selection of products, including a LOT of film stuff. Not just your normal 35mm stuff either. They had an abundance of cameras, parts, film, etc for medium and large format. As I was looking around a rack of various little gadgets caught my eye. For a couple of years now ive been looking for a hot-shoe with 3.5mm cable for use with Elinchrome Skyport wireless receivers. Id been using dodgy ones I soldered up myself and they weren’t the best. AND THIS SHOP SOLD THEM!@# Sure they were 20euros each for what is basically a piece of plastic and a 10cm wire, but I had to have them. Another thing that was annoying me was a month or so ago I lost one of the rubber things on my Sennheiser earplugs, so i was reduced to using the standard ipod ones which are shithouse. I found a MediaMarkt store, which is like JB-Hifi but a zillion times better, and they sold replacement earphone rubber thingos. YEAHHHHHHHHH.

Apart from the weather I probably came to Cologne at the perfect time. Their christmas markets had just been open for about a week or so. They are known as one of the best in all of Europe, with the only ones besting them being other German ones such as Hamburg and Berlin. Cologne has the distinct advantage of location though. The main Hamburg one sits infront of the old school town hall, the main Berlin one sits under the giant antenna, but Cologne’s main market sits right under the huge cathedral. When you are in the ‘dom market’ it towers over you, wonderfully lit up at night time. I spent a lot of time in the different markets, walking from one to the next through the streets. Buy a bratwurst and gluwein and by the time you make it to the next one you are ready to load up again. The markets are generally themed as well. One of them might sell primarily food, another will sell goods, one has a few rides, etc. Some of the food was so awesome. I had no idea what I was buying half the time, but it tasted wicked. Bratwurst, and to a smaller extent currywurst, is everywhere. They cut a tiny 10cm roll and shove a massive 20cm sausage in it. The roll is merely just a vessel for the sausage, its not supposed to be like a sausage sandwich like in Australia. Its genius. Fries with mayo was also quite popular, and tasted wonderful. And the best of the lot was something I still don’t know entirely what it was. The main ingredient was potato, and some other stuff. Made in to a mush and thrown in a vat of fat and flattened. So its like fried crispy potato cake things. Oil just dropped off them. Omm nom nom nom. And then to top it off you get mushed apple sauce to go with it. One afternoon I had bratwurst, fries and potato things. I thought my arteries were going to be explode FROM THE FANTASTICNESS. At one of the markets I found a boiled candy shop and couldn’t help myself. Turns out the woman selling them was from Poland and was very impressed that I could pronounce Wroclaw properly. Another thing I couldn’t help myself buy was some little puzzle thingos at a toy shop. You know those puzzles where there is for example two twisted nails together and you have to figure out how to split them apart. And it takes ages to figure out and you feel like offing yourself only to figure it out and its really easy. Yeah I bought two of them. I cant figure out one of them and am going crazy. So yea the markets were great, killed a lot of hours. At night time they were absolutely packed. Would be great hanging out with friends eating and drinking the night away. After the disappointment of missing the Hamburg markets by one day this made up for it.

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21st November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

The entrance to zee ladies of the night

On Saturday night Anna said she was going to take me to the ‘Reeperbahn’ as it cannot be missed. The Reeperbahn is a street in the St Pauli district of Hamburg, it is lined with pubs, clubs, sex shops, and contains the city’s red light district. Started the night at her apartment with two of her friends, enjoyed a nice dinner and a few beers. Headed to the metro station at about 11:30pm or so, quite late to only be starting to go out I thought. The station was packed though, with most people having a beer in their hand as public drinking is legal in Germany (even on public transport). As the train got closer to the Reeperbahn station is just got more and more packed, as if the entire city was meeting up there.

We started off down the Reeperbahn and to start my experience I was taken in to what seemed to be the largest and fanciest sex shop. It costs a euro to get in and in return instead of a ticket they give you a condom, which you give back if you buy anything. This place was massive, and from what I could tell sold anything and everything one could want. Downstairs is where it started to get a bit freaky. The costumes started to come out, starting with the chicks lingerie so thats cool…but then just got weird. There was one section of the shop that was roped off, and there was some seriously hektik twisted shit in there. Full on leather suits with face masks and ball gags etc. Freaky. So I purchased a pack of postcards that had chicks in dirndls on them and left the place.

From there we went up a street called Davidstrasse. Yea, thats right. Im famous. And off that street is the red light district. Since the ’30s at either end of the street theres a wall across it with openings at the side to go through. There is also a sign saying no one under 18 and no women. It is however a public street so its not illegal for them, but the ‘workers’ wont be happy. I went for a wander through, and had a lot of chicks offering themselves. I don’t blame them really. And like Amsterdam, there is some seriously stunning looking chicks. However im sure the UV lighting helps. When I made it out to the other side I had all of the other ‘workers’ approach me. Chicks walking around the streets wearing bumbags = prostitutes. So if you’re a chick visiting Hamburg don’t walk around St Pauli wearing a bumbag.

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20th November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

The most awesome street in all of Hamburg

After 11 days in Berlin I thought it was time to move on. This time it was up North to Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany and the second largest sea port in Europe. The train from Berlin is direct and its also a high speed ICE train, so that means its expensive. I bought it ahead of time to get it slightly cheaper. The DB trains are expensive but damn they are worth it, and I cant say it enough. Reserved seating, smooth and quiet ride, power points, toilets, food. Arrived at the Hamburg-Altona station and walked to the hostel, which was a lot closer than I realised. The hostel was great, one of the combo hotel/hostel chains.

For the first day I did the NewEurope free walking tour. It was pretty damn cold outside so I was in quite a few layers, beanie, scarf and gloves. Just before the tour I met up with Anna who lives in Hamburg. I met her last year in Amsterdam, saw her again this year in Wiesbaden with Charly, and strangely ran in to her in Munich and went to the Rosenheim Festival with her (blog here). She’s a pretty cool chick and it was great to have someone to hang out with. The tour started and it was only five of us. It started outside the Town Hall, which is an awesome huge old school building like most of the Euro town halls. Unfortunately I couldn’t really get a good photo of it as the christmas markets were being setup in the main square infront of it. The tour then just went around the city going to various different places. Stopped at one building that was built to kinda look like a ships bow which was cool. Another building we passed was the headquarters for ‘Degesch’. This means nothing to most people, but to some its a rather sad reminder. They were the company that sold the Zyklon B gas that was used in the Nazi concentration camps in WW2. Outside the building there is a rather subtle plaque on the wall about this. Then meandered around the place, going over a few bridges and canals. Eventually making our way to the new part of the city. Hamburg is expanding so they just decided one day to build an entirely new part of the city. It now has the most expensive apartment buildings looking straight over the water. They are also building a new opera house, something that they want the city to be known for. The initial budget was something like 600 million euros, and by the time they dug the hole and put the foundations in that was already used up. They are now at the stage where they cant cancel the project so it costs what it costs. Once the tour was over we headed back to her apartment for dinner, finally some real food. She does cooking for a living too so it was quite good. The new Harry Potter just came out and with nothing else to do we checked that out. Was an English screening of it but it seemed the entire place was still full of Germans.

The second day I basically just tried to retrace my steps of the walking tour the day before. I don’t tend to take photos when doing the tours, prefer to listen to the guide. Turns out i wasn’t really paying attention to anything because i couldn’t remember where the hell we went. I started with a bit of a walk around the christmas markets that were being setup, slightly annoyed that i wouldn’t be here for when they were actually opening. I ventured inside the town hall to check it out, there was some art/cartoon exhibition on about the war in Iraq. There were a few pieces by famous Aussie newspaper cartoonists. After that I eventually found my way to the bombed out cathedral, with the only remaining part being the spire and a bit of the walls. Went up to the top of the spire and it wasn’t the best one for photos. Couldn’t really get a photo without anything in the way, plus the weather was shit anyways. Went to the area of the river that used to be all old warehouses but now houses a lot of touristy things, like a dungeon and miniature germany/world. Had some time so thought id go visit the miniature museum. I walked inside and the chick told me there was a three hour wait. What the hell, how could there possibly be that many tourists at this time of the year? So I just left and wandered around a bit more. Didn’t really do much else except walk around. Saw multiple Ferraris, Porsches, Bentleys, etc, its a crazy expensive city.

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15th November, 2010 by Dave Prentis

One of the many lakes in Sanssouci Park

One of the day trips you can do from Berlin is to a place called Potsdam, or ‘City of Palaces’. NewEurope offer tours there that go for a few hours, but ive had mixed experiences of the day trip style tours that they offer. So I decided to just do it myself. Germany being Germany, its extremely straight forward and easy to get there, and quite cheap. One of the S-Bahn lines goes straight to Potsdam HBF in about 45 minutes, and from there you catch a local bus to Sanssouci Park where Palaces and gardens are. Unlike most bus services in the world, the ones in Germany for the most part have electronic displays of the upcoming stops, so you know when to get off. Its a far cry from places such as Italy where there would be no signage and the connections of public transport would be shocking or non-existent.

The weather hasn’t been the best lately, so the fact that it at least wasn’t raining was enough of a reason to pick that day to go. It was still bitterly cold walking around though. It was a Monday when I went so all the palaces were actually closed, but ive been inside enough palaces lately that I wouldn’t have gone in to them anyway. They all cost to go inside too. The entire place is pretty awesome, however its rather baron at this time of the year. All of the trees don’t have leaves and all the flower beds have been ripped out for winter. Its quite strange as well because all of the statues have been covered in big wooden boxes. And this place has a LOT of statues, hundreds of them. So there is just rows and rows of grey wooden boxes everywhere. The fountains have all been drained too. Im still glad I went and saw the place, but it would look stunning in summer.

One thing that was a little weird is when I was walking around on the other side of one of the lakes there was a dude sitting on the edge in just his underwear, and a chick taking photos of him. Thats pretty weird on its own, but you gotta remember that its like 5 degrees. Then about 20 mins later in the same area I walk around a corner and he’s sitting there on a wall, completely starkers this time. He gets a shock when he sees me and quickly jumps up and puts his pants on. Being in to photography I realise that these nude art photoshoots happen in places like this, but this was different because the chick taking the photos just had a crappy point and shoot camera, so no idea what the photos were for. Soooo yea that was all interesting.

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