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    Europe Travel

    Berlin for First Timers

    The Grand Adventure

    Location: Berlin Germany

    Click on any photo for an enlarged version.

    I have wanted to go to Berlin for years. I’m not sure why it took me so long. Since we have traveled to Germany, France and Italy several times, we haven’t made those countries a priority on the Grand Adventure so far. But Berlin was different. I had to go. Berlin for first timers was a whirlwind. And worth it.

    We arrived on the Deutsche Bahn train from

    Berlin for First Timers

    Deutsch Bahn

    Brugge via Brussels on a Sunday afternoon. It had been a very long journey involving three trains and  4:30am wake up.  We checked into our Airbnb and headed out to the neighborhood market only to find everything shuttered on a Sunday. So we ate delicious Turkish food for dinner in our very Turkish neighborhood and then fell fast asleep.

    With only three full days in Berlin we hit the ground running on Monday morning. Literally.  We got up and did an early morning run through our neighborhood park. Refreshed, we stopped at the now open market for supplies before heading back to our apartment to get ready for our day.

    Since we are training for the Camino we walked everywhere in Berlin, but Berlin for first timers is easy by subway, elevated train and bus system accessing most of the greater Berlin area.  There is also a wonderful taxi system and Uber.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    Berlin for First Timers

    The wall

    Our first day we walked and walked enjoying the Tiergarten, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and several sites where you can see and touch old remnants of the Berlin Wall.  These included the Topography of Terror, Checkpoint Charlie Black Box Cold War Interpretive area, and Potsdam Plaza.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Currywurst with beer

    Since we had already eaten one of Berliner’s favorite fast foods (Turkish kabob) we tried the also famous Currywurst . The invention of Currywurst is attributed to Herta Heuwer in Berlin in 1949, after she obtained ketchup (or possibly Worcestershire sauce) and curry powder from British soldiers in Germany. She mixed these ingredients with other spices and poured it over grilled pork sausage..  You can have Currywurst with skin or without (skin being the casing for the sausage before cooking ).  We tried it both ways and I preferred with the skin – a nice crunchy texture.  That said, Currywurst was not my favorite.  On another day we also had Bockwurst.  Served with potato salad and I really liked that.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

    Berlin for First Timers

    Checkpoint Charlie a recreation

    Day two began early with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial, officially titled Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  This controversial memorial encompasses 2711 concrete blocks of different heights taking up an entire square block of the city.  Underground is a very poignant and somber, yet interesting and thoughtful museum that focuses on families and the humans who lost their lives during this evil period of history.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Black Box Cold War Interpretive Panels

    On day two we also signed up for a Free Walking Tour, always one of the things we search out in any city.  Of course Free Walking Tours aren’t really “free”.  You pay the guide at the end what you think the tour was worth.  And our Free Walking Tour in Berlin was the best one we ever did.  Our guide Georgia was exceptional.  We loved it and I highly recommend New Europe Tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    On our tour we visited a lot of the same places we had seen the day before, but seeing them with Georgia our guide was a whole different experience.  We learned amazing history starting with ancient history of the region right up through the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall and of course a great deal of history about Hitler and WWII.  It was fascinating.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Car park over the bunker

    By the way, throughout Berlin there is almost no reference to Hitler. That is by design.  There is a point to not have his name included in most things.  In fact, we stood on a car park that is on top of the bunker where he committed suicide.  There is only a simple sign, added only recently when Berlin hosted the World Cup in 2006.  Did you know Hitler’s remains were dug up from the original burial site in East Germany and dumped in a river?  This is so there is no final resting place for this horrible human being and so no one can ever have a place to go and glorify him in any way.  The Nazi Swastika is outlawed in Germany.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eisbein

    Berlin for First Timers

    Weiner Schnitzel

    Following our tour we headed for lunch.  We wanted some good hearty German food so we ended up at Augustiner am Gendarmernmarkt.  More Bavarian than Berliner but it was delicious.  I had Wiener Schnitzel and my husband had a gigantic Eisbein (pork knuckle).  No dinner was necessary after the delicious lunch!

    Berlin for First Timers

    Site of the Book Burning

    Next we walked to Museum Island, just over the river you’ll find a gathering of Berlin museums.  We stopped at the Bebelplatz, where famously the Nazis burned all the books.  Here a unique memorial to that fateful event lays underground.  Then we visited the Alte National Gallery – Berlin’s best regarded Art Museum.  This is certainly no Louvre or Uffizi, but the museum is compact and easy to tour with a lot of German artists as well as nice collection of Impresionist from Renoir to Monet.

    We ended our day taking a narrated boat ride on the river Spree.  It was a beautiful day and it was fun to see the city from the water and enjoy the narration providing us even more interesting facts about Berlin.  There are numerous locations around the city where you can start these boat tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The west side of the East Side Gallery Wall

    Day three was a walking day.  We had over the past couple of days enjoyed seeing some of the remains of the Berlin Wall that are in the city, but the longest remaining part of the wall is actually about six miles from the main city area.  So we walked.  It was hot, but we enjoyed the walk which took us through Alexanderplatz, where Berlin’s TV tower stands – an iconic modern soaring spire that includes a restaurant on top.  You can see the tower from anywhere in the city.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The most famous mural at the Eastside Gallery

    Our destination, the East Side Gallery is the name of the mile long portion of the wall, consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the east side of the Berlin Wall. According to the Künstlerinitiative East Side Gallery e.V., an association of the artists involved in the project, “The East Side Gallery is understood as a monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful negotiation of borders and conventions between societies and people”, and has more than three million visitors per year.[1] This was something I had seen so many times in photos and I really wanted to see it for myself.  It was amazing.  A highlight of our time.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eastside Gallery

    You don’t need to walk the six miles to the East Side Gallery.  You can take the subway, busses, taxi or Uber as well as several local tours include it.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Pretzel

    We wandered back along the river and stopped at the Tiergarten Biergarten to enjoy a couple of German beers as our amazing time in Berlin was coming to an end. The Biergarten in this beautiful park sits on a tiny little lake and you can enjoy pizza and pretzels, gelato and beer.  You can also rent a little row boat and row around the lake.  Such a pleasant way to spend a sunny day in this fascinating city.

    Berlin for first timers could include a few
    more things that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do, mainly going up into the observation dome at the Reichstag.  You need to make a reservation to do this, and we just didn’t know that with enough advance notice.  I wish we had because I understand it is really amazing.  Do it if you can.

    With a few more days we also would add some live performances.  Berlin has a thriving theater and musical performance scenes including outdoor theatre, symphony and opera.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Biergarten

    Finally, a great way to see the area would be by renting a bike.  Berlin is as flat as it possibly can be, has literally hundreds of miles of bike lanes and paths, including beautiful paths through forested parks and along rivers.  On a beautiful day seeing the city by bike would be a lot of fun.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The view from the River Spree

    So there you have it, Berlin for First Timers.  I really loved this gritty, indomitable city. Even with all the tourists it felt real and raw.  I can’t think of another European city that has witnessed so much history and hosted so much strife and animosity and come out shining on the other side.

    Berlin for First Timers.  I highly recommend it. Fabulous. Fabelhaft!

    
    

     

     

     

    Oceania Travel

    The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    Just Keep Swimming

    Location: The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills… When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” – Dory the Fish from Disney’s Finding Nemo

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Nemo

    Finding Nemo is one of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies, and this past week I have had endless Finding Nemo moments and quotes running through my head.  Being

    in Australia and finally snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, my thoughts have wandered to the

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Reef and fish

    adventures of that movie and I have smiled to myself underwater and thought “Just keep swimming.”

    Although going out on a snorkel trip on The Great Barrier Reef took us way over our Grand Adventure daily budget (actually everything in Australia is

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Birdseye view

    taking us over budget), we could not come here to beautiful Cairns and not see the reef.  It’s another one of those “I don’t have a bucket list” bucket list items.  I love snorkeling and I wanted to have that once in a lifetime opportunity.

    The weather on the day we went wasn’t great – grey and overcast and we even saw some rain.  I am in constant worry about my motion sickness

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Colorful

    problem, so I stood outside and watched the horizon the entire hour and half boat trip out to the reef, even when the rain started to come down.  Hey I was gonna get wet anyway right?  Luckily, thanks to massive amounts of drugs, my sea sickness problem did not materialize while on the boat.  That was a good sign!

    “You got a problem, buddy? Huh? Huh? Do ya, do ya, do ya?” Dory

    We booked our reef tour with Reef Magic out of

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Marine World of Reef Magic

    Cairns which took us to the outer reef and a pontoon platform stationed there called Marine World.  We disembarked the boat to the pontoon and here we were outfitted with our snorkels, fins, masks and Lycra “stinger” suits to protect us from

    Great Barriee Reef

    Jellyfish

    jellyfish.

    “I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.” Dory

    Reef Magic offers many options from the pontoon, all at an additional charge including snorkel safari, snuba, scuba, glass bottom boat, semi-submersible boat and helicopter rides.  But since

    Great Barriee Reef

    That’s us!

    we had already exceeded our budget (for two of us we paid $426 Australian about $330 US), we were just interested in snorkeling.  We were dressed and ready to go pretty quickly and one of the first people in the water.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Us with Wally

    We immediately encountered “Wally”, one of the biggest fish on the reef.  Luckily Reef Magic’s professional photographer was on hand as we entered the water and she got some amazing shots of us with Wally.  All the photos in this blog are from Reef Magic’s professional photographer.  Since we don’t have an underwater camera we have never gotten underwater photos on any of our snorkel trips on the Grand Adventure.  So, despite the fact my husband almost wet his pants when I told him the price, we bit the bullet and bought the photos for an additional $75 (about

    Great Barrier Reef

    Hey Wally

    $60 US).

    “Ahh you guys made me ink.” Pearl

    Wally is a resident fish of this part of the reef.  He is an amazing species called Maori Wrasse.  This fish is a female for the first eight years of its life.  And then poof.  It’s a male.  I know – what the heck?  Isn’t that nuts?  Some times I think Mother Nature is menopausal!

    Great Barrier Reef

    Coral

    After our encounter with Wally we began to explore the reef.  Marine World has a cordoned off section of the reef for its guests to enjoy.  Within this area there was a huge variety of corals; big, small, blue, green, orange, white.  Some are soft and rounded, others spikey and dangerous looking.  In all the

    Great Barriee Reef

    Coral

    snorkeling I have done, I had never seen coral that waved in the current like it did here.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.  Most of the coral we see in our lives is dead.  And while its pretty even when it is dead and dry, the beauty of live coral is spectacular.  Yes this is an incredible living

    Great Barriee Reef

    Coral

    creature and we surely must protect it.

    “Righteous! Righteous! ” Crush

    So I loved the corals and kept going back for more of that but of course there were the fish. Many, many fish.  I don’t know all their names, but they really are beautiful to watch.  Some of the fish are very solitary, just going along and doing their

    Great Barrier Reef

    Fish!

    business, feeding and swimming and doing what fish do.  Other fish keep in groups, large schools that move together almost as one, weaving above and around the coral mountains.  There are some fish that are so tiny you don’t even see them until you are swimming right through them, while others

    Great Barrier Reef

    Giant Clam

    are so big that they freak you out a bit.  Many fish are shy and you need to look inside the coral to find them.  There are also beautiful giant clams, sea slugs, squid, eels and rays.  And no we did not see any sharks.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Ray

    From this moment on, you shall now be known as Sharkbait.” Gill

    We swam to the outer edge of the roped off area and we were alone in this section just as a beautiful turtle swam by on the surface.  We

    Great Barrier Reef

    Turtle

    almost missed him because we were looking down and he was swimming right next to us on the surface.  But then he dived and we watched him swim to the bottom looking for a snack.  I believe this was a loggerhead turtle.  We had seen this kind in Sri Lanka. Beautiful brown bodies and not too large.  We watched him swim away beyond the area we were confined to and into the great wide ocean.

    “Saw the whole thing, dude. First you were all like “whoa”, and we were like “whoa”, and you were like “whoa…” Crush

    After about an hour we went back to the pontoon to have a rest.  Reef Magic served a buffet lunch

    Great Barrier Reef

    Pontoon

    that included salads and fruit, bread, chicken, sushi, lasagna, curry and roast beef.  But I only ate a little cause I continued to worry about my motion sickness.  Arne ate my share.  It all looked good.  Great Barrier ReefCoffee, tea and water was also available and a bar on the boat was open when we weren’t underway.  Clearly they have had motion sensitive passengers before and they were well stocked with ginger beer (like ginger ale, non-alcoholic). My beverage of choice.

    “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.” Bruce the Great White Shark

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Fish in all sizes

    We headed back out to snorkel more after lunch.  The water seemed a bit calmer but it was also more cloudy so not as easy to see – but that was okay.  We tried to swim to all the areas and to the far-reaching parts of the swimming area.  We noticed most snorkelers stayed very close to the boat.  Understandably if you are an inexperienced snorkeler or not comfortable in the water.  Reef Magic had life jackets as well as float noodles and other devices for anyone looking for a little more reassurance.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Some are shy

    We snorkeled for about 30 minutes and then decided to call it a day.  We went back on the pontoon and stretched out on a lounge chair for the next hour and a half.  Surprisingly, despite the overcast sky, it was warm and we both got a bit of a sunburn.

    Great Barrier Reef

    My Fab Fifties Life!

    Finally it was time to turn in our gear and make our way off the pontoon and back to the vessel for the hour and half ride back.  Once again I stood and watched the horizon the entire way, including during a deluge about half way home.

    But I did it.  I did not get sick.  I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.  I can check that off the “I don’t have a bucket list”

    Great Barrier Reef

    Dory

    bucket list.  And remembered to just keep swimming.

    “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.” Dory

    Thanks goes to the wonderful photography of Reef Magic!

    Read more of our Australia adventure here

     

     

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