Considering travel to anywhere is pretty much obsolete at this point, I decided to explore my home. I spend so much time working that I don’t spend a ton of time here. Well, in the past week I’ve uncovered and traveled to every nook and cranny.
I thought baby’s room would be really soothing and comforting – so I started off there. I’ll be honest – it wasn’t exactly what I imagined. There is only one local living there and he speaks the indigenous language of baby’s room – so it was difficult to communicate. He seemed pretty demanding. I’m not one to disrespect the culture and people of a destination. However, the inhabitant of baby’s room…was a little stinky. I announced I wouldn’t be staying, and he seemed indifferent to losing my business. He was way too focused with picking up a single cheerio.
This part of the condo might be my favorite. It has a lot of offer and you’re never really bored. I was able to work on my laptop, do some exercise, watch TV, and hang out on the giant “L” shaped couch that is offered to guests for relaxation. I will definitely be visiting this part of the condo again, probably at least 3,000 times before the pandemic is over 10/10!
I’d say this area was about average – not great/not terrible. If I had to describe my experience in the restroom with one word – practical. I’ve heard some restrooms have TOO much toilet paper during this pandemic – others, not enough. I’d say this restroom had an average amount. The latest travel trend is washing hands – and the restroom offered a space for doing that called the sink. My hands felt incredibly clean afterwards, and the smell of the soap offered was divine.
My heart goes out to the people who live in bedroom. It had clearly been ravaged by a tornado seconds before I landed and arrived. There were clothes, accessories, and belongings scattered around like a war zone. My husband pledged to do everything he can to help with the disaster relief efforts. He doesn’t know that yet, but he’s going to do that
Without a doubt, the best place to grab a quick bite in the condo is the kitchen. Kitchen’s menu is centered around a nonperishable cuisine concept. Kitchen employees take a “grab whatever the fuck is left approach” when considering what to bring each week into their eatery. One of my favorite dishes is their Kraft Deluxe Easy mac. Most restaurants can take upwards of 20 minutes from ordering to getting your food. From the minute I decided I was hungry to eating the Easy Mac took about three minutes in total. Other popular items on the menu include Top Ramen, canned soup, frozen chicken breasts (put your order in ahead of time for that one) and Quest Bars.
I have long been a fan of the day long layover. By opting for a 12 hour layover or day trips, I’ve been able to see some of my most desired locations at a fraction of the price. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is also the quickest way to exhaust oneself. Taking a 12 hour layover in Lisbon two years ago before reaching Romania left me staying up for 48 hours! I’ve never not been exhausted by one of these long haul mini-trips.
I thought for a while that I would never be able to do these types of trips with a child. I personally could pull through prolonged sleepless hours and crash on the plane, but a 9 month old? Let’s all laugh together, BAHAHAHAH. Even if you’re not a parent, surely you realize what hell this would be.
So, I did it anyway. We decided to explore San Jose, Costa Rica in one day! After a week on the Costa coastline, we spent 12 hours in San Jose before jumping on a red eye flight. San Jose has a reputation of being dangerous, gritty, and crime ridden. And if you know me, you know that is exactly why I went to see it. I love cities that have an edge to them. Most people do not visit Central America for its cities. The region is more known for its bounty of beaches. However, in the past few years since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve taken on the persona of urbanite. Therefore, we traveled to the city.
Long Layover Hack
A long day in a bustling city sounds painful when involving an infant, right? Not if you rent a hotel room for the day.
We paid exactly $48 dollars for a room at the Hotel Cultura Plaza. It was a walking distance to everything that we wanted to see. We paid this even though we would be leaving hours before check out and not actually staying over. Let me say, it was worth every penny. The room was pristine, modern, and was just enough space for the three of us and our belongings.
Having the room for the day allowed us to have a “home base”. We were able to go in and out of our luggage as we pleased. Its central proximity to sites allowed us to return to the room when we were too hot, needed to change a diaper, or wanted to change clothes. It was a Godsend to be able to shower and change into comfy clothes right before we left for the airport. The best part? At around 6:30 we were spent – we didn’t have the energy for any more sites. It was amazing for the three of us to lay in bed, watch movies, cuddle up, and sleep before a long five hour flight!
To recap, day trips with kids are possible, but book that cheap-ass room before you go.
The Jade Museum
I know what you’re thinking. Because it was exactly what I was thinking when I found out that the Jade Museum was a top attraction in San Jose. Jade? As in the stone? An entire museum…dedicated to…a particular type of stone? Like…a rock, kind of? Stick with me, I promise the Jade Museum is dope!
The Jade Museum boasts five floors of jade discovered in the Americas. It has the world’s largest collection. The historical significance of jade in early Costa Rican people is significant and trippy. The Jade Museum is one place that I could certainly have spent the entire day exploring. I say that without a shred of exaggeration. The words, “this is so cool” left my lips no less than a hundred times during my exploration.
I have an utter fascination with weirdly specific parts of history. I’m especially interested in the spiritual beliefs and traditions of ancient societies. In particular, I’m captivated by anything involving Shamanism. If you know anyone in need of someone to do investigative reporting in this area – I’m your broad!
I love the idea of connecting with nature, spirituality, and the occasional hallucinogenic as a form of healing both physically and emotionally. Shamanism seems so mystical and so pure. My mind blows wide open when I consider its role in a history that spans hundreds of years. In pre-Colombian Costa Rica – Shamans relied heavily on jade and believed in its potential for healing.
It was long believed that spirits could shapeshift and take on the form of various creatures, turn invisible, and manifest through instruments of the shamans such as stones and jade pendants. Spirits were thought to dictate nearly everything in life from illness to protection of nature, animals, and people. Spirits could be both good and evil simultaneously. This is why so many of the jade objects depict having two heads.
When a person in the tribe fell sick, Shamans used jade stones (considered magical) to communicate with the spirit of the ill person. In earlier days, people believed that Shamans could shape shift into animals particularly at night made possible through the stone.
Although much isn’t known, Shamanism was practiced by a small amount of females in Costa Rica. Mainly elderly women could be educated in the ways of Shamanism to hold priestess positions. Certain jade objects depict women in authority over ceremonial proceedings.
There were two rooms entitled “day” and “night.” In the day room you are able to see how Costa Ricans built their homes and used jade in their day to day living such as for jewelry and curing illness.
It is no surprise that my wild ass like the night room much better. It was full of stories of war, burials, sacrifice, and more Shamanic and spiritual uses of jade.
Teatro Nacional de…Costa Rica?
I’ve long been writing a novel set in Costa Rica. I’ve been working out a scene that takes place in the Teatro Nacional Costa Rica. Luckily, there are so many pictures on the internet to use as inspiration. However, it’s been a dream of mine since beginning the novel to see it in person. That was four years ago, on my first trip to Costa Rica where I decided to write my book. I finally was able to soak in every detail during my visit to the city. Seeing this theater was paramount to my experience of San Jose, Costa Rica in one day!
We arrived just in time for the last English speaking tour of the theater for the day. Talk about serendipity. Might have been a nod from the universe telling me to “soldier on” with my pursuit of writing. That’s what I would like to think anyway.
When one thinks of Latin America, the image of a classical European style theater house does not usually come to mind. However, the Teatro Nacional is one such place. It doesn’t seem as though it blends in at all with the overall aesthetics of the modern and somewhat gritty capital city. Afterall, it certainly has an old world look and is most certainly not modern. It definitely does not fit in with the graffiti clad streets of San Jose. It’s not inconceivable that the theater may be a transplant from another country entirely. However, San Jose is the original and only home of the theater. Although, Italy can lay claim to its many statues.
The affluent families of San Jose in the 1800s could afford to send their children to Europe to study. Their children would return with stories of grand performances that they witnessed in the most stunning of venues. The families soon sought their own venue for performances. Thus the theater was erected with inspiration from Europe.
As soon as we entered the theater, my imagination went wild. I saw visions of ladies in giant ball gowns and men in tuxedos laughing haughtily and checking out the other guests who arrived in their finest around them. The marble statues imported from Italy and gold trim in the lobby create an elegant aesthetic that helps embolden such visions.
A DNA test that I took claims that I share a bloodline with Marie Antoinette. Seeing as my heart skips a beat in any place that resembles Versailles, I concur. The regal, airy, high class charm of the theater does indeed remind one of the sun king’s palace.
After entrance, the tour moves into a vestibule. An unassuming, naturally pretty young woman introduced herself as our tour guide and discussed each statue around us. I’ll leave the detailed history to the photo captions. Instead, I’ll just say that things did not go as expected in all of the best ways. A man, who definitely had airs of importance looked assumingly at our guide. He began insulting her and saying he didn’t think she knew anything about the theater at all.
The tour looked around awkwardly at each other. I love an awkward moment just as much as anyone. Perhaps more awkward is my mistaking this man for Lin Manuel Miranda, the Hamilton creator and genius. Things made more sense when we learned that our tour guide and her associate were ACTORS. As such, they would take turns leading while the other dressed in period clothing. Both would assume the role of various important political people who were pivotal to the development of the theater.
We were able to tour the reception room where important guests and patrons would gather. The smoking rooms on each side allow the chance to fawn over impressive art. Most interesting was golden champagne fountains in each corner of the room. The best, however, was when Lin Manuel Miranda pretty much called us all garbage people/trash for wearing flip flops and jeans to the gala. I was really impressed with his ability to see me for who I am.
The views of the stage from the balcony seating took my breath away. We were able to see the box where the president of Costa Rica sits for performances. The seat is only for him. It is front and center in a special spacious box.
In the earlier days, important patrons would sit in these balcony seats. It was surprising that their view of the stage did not offer a favorable view of the stage. In a similar situation to the Globe, these seats intended purpose was to show off the patrons. They did not care about the performance so much as being the performance.
After looking at so many photographs of the Teatro Nacional for several years, it was surreal to see it in real life. I was able to run through so many scenes that I created against the backdrop of the actual theater.
Over-Ordering from a Menu – The Pride of Americans
I easily gained 10 pounds just from our meal during dinner. Nuestra Tierra boasts a ginormous menu full of various Costa Rican dishes. It’s heavy with tourists, but the menu seemed promising.
After a long day of exploring, alcohol is well deserved and to be honest – needed. I ordered a glass of the red house sangria. I have no idea about the ingredients- but half a glass was more than enough. Being a new mom has a lot of challenges, I’m not sure I’d count newly being a lightweight this as one. I think it’s more of a money saver.
We ordered a HUGE platter of food which included rice and beans, several types of meat, fried yucca, and plantains. I felt so guilty because we didn’t even make a dent in the damn platter. The only thing more American would have been finding a Krispy Kreme after dinner. I’ll be honest, the platter did not impress me. We both thought it would be much better. For the most part it was bland, and a lot of the meat was difficult to get through due to texture. There is also a real chance that the restaurant mixed up fried yucca with fried rocks.
The stand out dish, believe it or not was a side dish. SO, side chicks. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be number one. It was a banana that was fried and covered in cheese and it was EVERYTHING. The banana was naturally sweet and cooked in oil. The cheese covering it added even more grease and a fried, stringy, goodness. The two when mixed together formed a savory and sweet connection that shouldn’t have worked, but totally did. This is the ULTIMATE booze accompaniment or stoner snack. I can’t wait to try to re-create it at home.
Out of all of the toys offered to Henry, he only wanted to play with a piece of oily, battered, cheese. I took it from him several times, each of which he screamed. Other diners looked at us as though we were in fact beating him with the cheese. Exhausted from sightseeing and relaxed from booze – I let him have it. He spent the better half of half an hour breaking it up into pieces and smacking it against every surface imaginable. At one point he smashed it into my hair and face. Even at 9 months old you apparently have to pick your battles.
After he grew bored of that, he desperately needed a diaper change. There was no changing station and so I changed him (tipsy mind you) on the floor of the restroom. Yes, I used his changing pad obviously – keyboard warriors. The light was an eco light and would shut off every 45 seconds unless I stood up and jumped. The sight of my son giggling and trying to flip over, as I try to change his diaper in the dark while jumping up from a kneeling position every 45 seconds was a sight to be seen.
The Most Brilliant Moment
The universe and stars aligned to bring together the most miraculous experience of my time in the city. Arthur, Henry, and I scaled a hill not knowing what we would find up top. It was easy to see there were a lot of people at the top of the hill. It was not easy to see why.
Upon reaching the top we saw no less than HUNDREDS of locals were gathered around. I heard a familiar cadanced, spit fire, style of music coming from the middle of the crowd. Every so often the crowd would shout “OHHHHH!” in absolute approval. There was a rap battle happening, and it was fucking magnificent. I love hip hop and rap. I’m always astounded how the uniquely Black American style of music has made its way around the world as a popular style of music.
I have no understanding whatsoever of what was happening within the lyrics. However, in a sea of strangers who looked nothing like me – I felt blissfully at home. The rhythm and feelings generated by this style of music transcend language and culture. It was easy to feel the passion and energy from the performers and crowd. I was ecstatic to witness such a pure local event. We seemed to be the only visitors. It’s exciting to be able to become lost in a scene. I enjoyed every moment.
While nature is in vogue, I love cities. This is especially true for ones with a bite to them. I’m all about scouring through concrete jungles to find gems and getting lost late into the evening. While my wild nights aren’t typically so wild with baby in tow, I was able to explore an environment that I love.
The reason I love Lisbon? It’s the one lifestyle city that I found myself in love with. In this case, a lifestyle city is known for its relaxed atmosphere. A city where one comes to live and not to see, run, and exhaust themselves. Every person who visits can find their own piece of Lisbon, a piece they hold completely to themselves without sharing with a thwart of attention starved, selfie taking, floppy hat wearing tourists. It’s one of the only places where you can have a smoldering, passionate, and intimate love affair with a city that is private and all your own. I remember sitting in one of the, what felt like hundreds, of very small bars in the Bairro Alto section of the city. It was a Mexican bar where my husband, four locals, two Europeans and one bartender were the only guests inside. My eyes felt heavy and smoldering, my movements languid, yet my speech with the bartender – both English and Spanish was free flowing and uninhibited. My smoky eye make-up was undoubtedly making its way down my face from the scorcher of the day. The heat from the day’s sun was retained in my tan skin, and I felt warm. I was buzzed, and well fed, and among local people, and happy. God, was I happy. During my 12 hour layover to passionate Lisbon, there was no hurrying, and list checking, and walking quickly as though there were a motor in my back. There were moments like this, in this Mexican bar, stumbling across gem after gem and falling in love effortlessly with each dimly lit enclave that I visited. Like most affairs of the heart, mine was short yet memorable. It left me swearing that I won’t return here again, no matter how enjoyable because there is too much else of the world to see. However, I still often think of the city and allow myself to recall each and every feeling it kindled inside me in such a short time. I find it formidable to ever “vacation” in Europe, but Lisbon is a city where it is easy to relax and let go.
The hill I was willing to die on during this short trip was confeitaria de belem. I refused to get sucked into the tourist trail outside of this experience. This experience would surely be worth the stress of the masses. Despite the madness of the crowds at the famous cafe, I was determined to indulge in Lisbon’s famed cuisine here. After being punched in the back several times by zealous visitors, I had a sinking feeling that the experience might not make up for the abuse I suffered during the wait. However, The pasteis de nata were nothing short of a religious experience and that’s not because they were originally made by holy rollers.
I had spent weeks stalking the Portuguese egg custard tarts on social media and the internet. I had endured pushing and shoving in line while I waited my turn. I would gladly do it all again. They were the perfect breakfast. I can still do my best impression of Pavlov’s dogs when I think of flaky crust filled with a somehow sweet, almost pudding like texture with a perfectly burned, crispy, skin on top. After a long, stressful, day at my actual job – I am smiling like a fool and salivating as I write this. (Let that image sink into your mind, super creepy, I know.) The cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top of the custard added another flavor dimension entirely, but I’ll be honest, they were better on their own. I remember sitting in a park as we ate them and watching a group of school children enjoy the playground. It sounds ridiculous, but I always forget that as much as countries around the world are very different, they are also very similar. I’m always surprised by seeing something as ordinary as children being at summer camp. I couldn’t help but juxtapose our experience. I was a stranger in a far off land where things were certainly new, shiny, and different. For these children, Lisbon was their home, their backyard to climb and play in. We were both explorers in that moment, albeit in very different manners. The children delved within boundless imaginary worlds on their playground equipment; I dove recklessly into my egg tarts.
Confession. I sometimes imagine I am a historical character from a TV show given the right environment. I take my role way too far. I’m a HUGE fan of historical television shows. Right before visiting Lisbon I had binged watched The Tudors on Netflix. Many of the hallways in the Jeronimos Monastery looked like the hallways of William of Orange’s palace. I obviously stalked around them quickly with my back straight and shoes clicking, trying to look very important as if I had a message to deliver. I made sure to have a smug smirk of arrogance on as I patrolled the hallways. I will often walk into doorways acting winded, as if I ran all the way to this point with an important message. Other times I will look hopefully out a window or into a courtyard and pretend I’m meeting my love. Sometimes I get incredibly extra and re-enact a sword fight. It’s really entertaining and brings any historical site to life. It’s also very, very weird and uncomfortable for people around you. Never do this when other people are around.
No shade at Europe’s churches, but they all seem to look the same to me after awhile. I’ve yet to see a medieval church really jazz it up by serving guests their own blood of Christ sangria, or showing off their holy karaoke den. This was not the case at Jeronimo Monastery; I’m not implying that they had either of these initiatives. I’m saying it was certainly the most unique religious institution I’ve been to on the continent, I would even put it against Segrada Familia. Many of Lisbon’s commemorative sites give a nod to their early explorers and the monastery is no exception. Sailors and explorers used to pray in the nearby chapel the night before their journeys for safe passage. King Manuel built the monastery nearby to thank the early navigators of Portugal. The entire building is created in white limestone which automatically makes it unique and there are nautical and sea-faring themes intricately carved into the limestone, which as a material even looks like nautical rope. I am always looking for ways to connect with the past. Knowing that those objects were carved hundreds of years ago, have not been changed, and are now being admired by people decades later makes history palpable for me.
Wanting to know more about the nautical history of Portugal and its explorers, the padrao dos Desobrimentos was not to be missed, best of all, it’s free and entirely worth a visit. The monument was erected (LOL – so glad we use this word) to commemorate Portugal’s history of discovery and all of the brave explorers who navigated the seas and explored for Portugal. Figures such as Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama are featured in the memorial. The bank where the monument is built was often the last view of home many sailors would see, but also, the first view of home if and when they returned back to Lisbon. The monument is absolutely striking and photos do not do it justice. It demands one’s full attention and awe as it completely towers above all of its visitors and appears so lifelike. The structure has motifs of all who explored including missionaries, map makers, and artists of the 15th and 16th centuries. Lisbon is one of those cities where the ghosts of the past certainly walk among the bodies of the living. When the mist rolls in and you’re gaping at the memorial on the water, it is easy to expect the fog to clear and find yourself in a different century altogether. (Or maybe that’s just because I watch Outlander.)
The trams of the city were too scarce and too packed for me to want to take part in. However, this didn’t stop my admiring of them and taking pictures whenever I could. Lisbon is always celebrated for its historical trams, but I was pretty surprised how elusive they actually seemed to be. The lines were unfathomably long to ride them which seemed to defeat the purpose to me. The trams also didn’t seem to stop long enough to get any decent photographs – at least for me.
I made a promise to myself not to rush around like my ass was on fire. In the late afternoon, it was time to relax. What’s a good maritime city without a place to enjoy cocktails and music as the sun begins to set? I was happy when we stumbled across this scene with drinks, lounge chairs, music, and tables abundant. Time moved slowly as I drank a kick-ass sangria, hell, it might have even stood still. The sound of waves crashing in the background as Arthur and I caught up during the ultimate date night was meditative.
Later on after seaside sangria, we went in search or food in barrio alto. It was worth the nerve rattling cab ride uphill, followed by walking straight up hill further (OK, maybe that part – not so much.) We spent the night at a honeycomb of restaurants and bars. Each building hosted a unique, intimate, and captivating experience. One of my favorite memories is a Portugese grandmother yelling down from her balcony that I must try the restaurant down the street and blowing me kisses after her overture affectionate for her favorite neighborhood spot. It was truly one of those moments that people fawn about when recalling an authentic travel experience. My husband and I drank two pitchers of a very strong sangria and eating one of the most filling and delicious meals I’ve ever had. A giant plate of fish and tons of potatoes (Portuguese dishes tend to be very heavy and light on veggies.) I was stuffed to the gills – no pun intended – but could not stop eating. Full of unfairly good food, powerful booze, and the happiness that discovering a new destination brings, I became misty eyed as a Fado performance began. I had only seen Fado on my beloved Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and have been haunted by the artform ever since. The music reaches deep down into even the most stoic of hearts, squeezes, and does not let go until the song is over. It is one of the most powerful art forms I have ever experienced, it’s impact lasts long after the performance. Fado is meant to convey a sense of “longing” which is unique as a musical genre, and this can definitely be felt by the listener.
Lisbon, for all of its hills and long tram lines, was my most relaxing short trip to date. I took no issue with not knowing where my feet would take me throughout the evening. I felt more than content to wander the gritty streets and follow one surprise after another each time I turned a corner. Lisbon – a smoldering city of graffiti covered walls, warm colors, maritime views, and alcohol infused pleasures, I’ll always look back fondly on our short time together. No matter what city I wind up in, I promise to give a smirk and head nod when I think of you and the memories that only we have shared. Xoxo.
Third time’s the charm, and from this experience, I can tell you this sentiment especially rings true when one gets their nose pierced.
The first time, I was a freshmen in college taking advantage of “free piercing week.” Free is so for me that I also went back to get a lip ring. Flash forward to my mother giving me 24 hours notice that she would be visiting me, and my room-mate is pouring me vodka shots to numb the pain of her boyfriend pulling my two part lip ring out in time for mom’s arrival. The nose ring, I kept until I got a job as a teacher. Both sad and symbolic for me, my nose ring represented my care free days of my college years. Pulling it out wound up being a waste of effort, as my school is awesome and cares not that teachers have piercings and tattoos.
The second time, I got the nose piercing done RIGHT before traveling to south east Asia. I swam in dirty water in Thailand and neglected to clean my piercing entirely before it became infected and I had to eventually yank it out in Laos.
Why would the third time be different? Well, I was in an altered state of mind, and the spirit of revolution and rebellion burned within me.
I sat in front of a questionnaire and warning sheet that I barely took the time to read. Are you under the influence of alcohol? Yes, very much, but I’ll circle no. Are you pregnant? I actually WAS, but had no idea at the time, so I circled no. Some minutes later an extremely painful pinching/yanking pain of a giant needle stabbing through my thin nostril raged on, and VOILA, nose piercing #3 in all places….WALES was complete. My cousin went next, which is bad-ass considering she watched my body thrash around on the table while I got mine!(Then again she’s suffered the pain of countless tattoos and rides motorcycles – so I shouldn’t be surprised!)
So, how the fuck did I wind up here?
“Let’s do a day trip somewhere,”
“I’m diggin’ it, where to?”
“I don’t know…somewhere fuckin’ unique…What about Wales?”
“Yeah, let’s do that.”
Was exactly how I think the conversation went. We booked our bus tickets in advance, slept through a four hour journey, and arrived in the dreamy city on a random Wednesday in August. We would be documenting just how awesome Wales – and in particular the city of Cardiff could be for a day trip.
“Do you consider Wales a country?” was the question I, and my travel companion repeatedly (and tipsily) asked every native Welsh person we met on our day long journey to Cardiff. The answer, as you can imagine, was confusing at best. One person would passionately shout that Wales was indeed its own country as one could describe themselves as Welsh. Less than five feet away, a person would disagree stating that Wales was not an independent and autonomous country, but technically under the control of the United Kingdom. Nina and I jokingly decided that we would do our best to rouse a spirit of rebellion among the citizens, to break away from the UK and incite a spirit of Independence! Here’s us doing that:
Turns out, we had little work to do as a fierce spirit of Welsh pride is already abysmal. All who participated in the question of Wales being a country agreed that no matter what side of the debate one falls on, Welsh pride is abundant. The culture and language of Wales is without a doubt unique to the (I’ll call it) country. It’s a point of pride to know and speak the language. I agree that anyone who is comfortably fluent in this language should inherently feel pride in being so, more so than any other language. Wales has had it rough considering their letter combinations are largely the ones that no one else in the world wanted (presumably.) Take a look and tell me I’m lying:
(I am lying.)
We only had one day in the city, and wanted to see as much as possible. I’m not a fan in any capacity of walking a lot, so we opted for the big, red, tour bus as our means of transport. Normally, you can ride a sheep around Cardiff, but the Queen of England was in town when we visited, and her as well as her Calvary were using all of them for a grand parade later that day. If you follow this blog, you’re probably my mom, and besides that, you probably know that I’m absolutely terrible with directions. Taking the bus around eliminated the fear of not being able to see all of the city.
Cardiff Castle is worth the visit, even if it’s the only thing you do all day. It is exactly how I picture most of Wales to be. Rolling green hills with a piece of history built right in the middle still standing after thousands (2000 in this case) faithfully. Visitors are free to climb, marvel at, and explore. Cardiff Castle is reminiscent of any decent medieval fairy tale, and allows one the feeling of stepping right into the story. It is tranquil and spacious enough that it gives every visitor the opportunity to feel that he or she is discovering something unique, untouched, and all their own. As I always do, I looked out from the windows of the castle and wondered what early people must have felt when looking out those same windows a thousand years ago. I daydreamed looking among the green fields and thought it amazing that such a castle stands in the middle of a major city. I wondered and pondered dreamily, until someone shouted, “GET THE FOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW, YOU’RE HOLDING UP THE LINE.” No one said that, but it would be absolutely amazing if they did.
The interior of the castle is even more of an immersive experience. It looks largely untouched and identical to all the images that the mind conjures when we think of medieval fairy tales. It looked as though the residents of the castle had simply left for an outing and would return home soon. Spoiler alert, the residents are the three little bears. “SOMEONE HAS BEEN DRINKING OUT OF MY CHALICE!” exclaimed King Arthur bear.
The castle offers guided tours, none of which we took because I like to immerse myself in the culture and try to read the local language. So far, I’ve learned “gehguwrgurhwiuhfwun” which means “hi.” There are also movies shown on the castle ground which is a highly unique experience, one I’m sure all of the ancient royals enjoyed thousands of years ago. But, really. How many opportunities do you get to attend a movie on castle grounds?! I didn’t get to partake, but if you ever go…please do this for me! (And tag me in a picture!)
Time traveling is difficult work, and thus, a stroll through Castle Quarter Arcades to find food. A fair amount of options are available within the arcades, which by the way is a term used to describe a building with many shops. We settled on waffles for breakfast which didn’t thrill me initially because…typical choice. When they arrived I realized just how wrong I was. Enter…the pop banofee and strawberry sundae waffles! A filling and cozy breakfast alongside a giant mug of coffee with booze was the perfect way to settle into a cozy, rainy, vibe of a day in Cardiff.
I can’t overstate enough that the red bus was a fantastic way to see the city. Not only does it stop at the castle, it also stops at the National Museum of Wales and Cardiff Bay. The Roald Dahl plaza named after the famed Welsh author is a performing arts center which also hosts outdoor events in the summer.
I should mention that the bar scene in Cardiff is incredible. The watering holes in the city are right there with the best of them. We spent the better part of the afternoon throwing back fancy infused drinks and talking about life in a secluded section of a sexy and artistic lounge. Who knows how many beverages later, we enlisted the help of the bartender to pose in our #WhatAboutWales photo series. We had a good laugh about it afterwards, and made good friends with both him and another bartender about the autonomy of Wales, the Russian language (don’t ask), and life in Cardiff.
Returning to the exposition of the story, Cardiff is littered with piercing salons. The sheer volume of piercing pagodas next to an equally high number of bars nearly begs visitors to get something…anything studded after a quality day of drinking. Through a booze fueled haze, we pressed forward with our #WhatAboutWales photo series. This was becoming more and more entertaining, and more and more ridiculous as the day continued.
Freshly punctured, what better way to numb the pain other than more imbibing? We ducked into a spacious, casual bar for some giant ciders, Welsh cakes, and fooseball. We were having such a great adventure that we couldn’t remember how to find the bus to get back to London. You know the feeling of everything seeming like a good idea when you’re intoxicated? Well, we came frighteningly close to saying, “screw the bus” and staying over night in Cardiff with no accommodation whatsoever. Not to mention, we would be leaving my husband and his best friend who were working during the day in London. Literally as we were excitedly talking about what a grand plan this was, the bus to London pulled up right in front of the castle. A sign.
Four plus hours later, we groggily got off the bus and rushed to a dinner reservation to meet the guys. Hungover and noses pierced, we sat at the booth exhausted. I would have a lot of explaining to do.
What I Learned Is: I saw a lot less of London in the week that I was there because I took an entire day to visit Wales. Sometimes, the long road around is worth it. In this case, I feel that it was entirely worth it. Wales, and Cardiff especially is not England. I was fortunate enough to get a sampling of the culture, history, and language of Wales and to intimately meet the Welsh people who show a fierce love and pride for their country. Nearly everyone I met in Cardiff had a manner which made me feel as though I were the only person who mattered in that moment and at that time. They are skilled in story telling, incredibly helpful, and skilled in the art of meaningful conversation. Cardiff is ethereal and comfortable. I feel as though I may have found the only city that is not frenzied, bitter, and chaotic. A day in Cardiff spreads out before the adventurer in a slow and tranquil manner. It is a place that one can explore at a relaxed pace with plenty of time to lounge in the pubs and watering holes before, in between, and after a day of delving.
Oslo. A deep, thumping, primal, desire to visit thumped within me. It could be the 0.3% of Scandinavian blood in my hereditary line, or it could be my obsession with the Viking era (and mostly the characters from the show on the History Channel) which compelled me to visit.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Iceland – where the price of just about anything froze me in my tracks way more than chilling temps, but I loved it something fierce all the same. I didn’t know when I would be able to afford another full length adventure to Scandinavia – my assumption was probably never. However, my husband and I embarked on a 12 hour layover on the way home from our honeymoon to the capital city of Norway as a compromise.
I knew that the summer of 2018 would mean the end of long summers of international travels for a while, as we anticipated moving forward with doing things like increasing our savings account and starting a family. Ending our trip with such a bucket list destination, helped put me at peace with such a major shift in my life. In fact, being able to add many bucket list destinations in the form of long layovers has actually helped me feel more than comfortable with reducing the rate at which I will be traveling in a grandiose fashion for a while. I’ve been able to see a lot of place in the world that would have otherwise only been dreams filed under “someday.”
Viking Ship Museum: I’m obsessed with all things Viking. I won’t lie to you, this was largely instigated by History Channel’s show, Vikings. For sure the story line and the sex appeal of so many of the characters draws me in, but it’s not just that. It’s their true to life entire way of life, their government, their clothing, and especially their religious beliefs and culture that fascinates me. Every winter I re-read a book of Norse sagas and stories, and whenever there is a thunderstorm outside, I give a little wink to the small statue of Thor that I have in my room. (Image of me creepily winking unavailable, check back later) I’ve read books on the Vikings and seen many of the documentaries available, and I’m enamored to say the least; I’m hooked. I’d love to be able to time travel to one of their holy ceremonies, or to witness the building of one of their massive ships.
While I can’t literally time travel, the Viking Ship museum provided the second best way to take a look into the past at this civilization. From taking off in Santorini to actually arriving at the museum, I was FULL of energy and the phrase, “when the fuck are we going to get there!” definitely left my mouth more than once. Upon arriving, I pushed wide eyed children and the elderly out of my way as I RAN to the entrance. Don’t judge me, as I was showing an appreciation for the Viking culture. Do you think the Vikings were polite and would just allow slow moving people to stand in the way of their endeavors? No, and I wasn’t about to either. It’s called cultural immersion, sweetie.
The museum was everything I’d hoped it would be. My first mission was to see the famed Viking ships, one of which is the Oseberg ship. This ship is one of the most well preserved and was discovered nearly in its entirety within a burial mound. There were two female skeletons on board dressed in luxury garments indicating that at least one of the women was of high importance in society. Many commodities found on board the ship also support the theory. I cannot imagine the shock and awe of uncovering an entire and massive Viking ship during an excavation, but the thought makes me want to pee my pants, if only a little.
Upon the ships entering my line of vision, I ran away from my map getting, logic using, plan having, husband who was moving too slowly, I couldn’t have any dead weight holding me back on this mission and thought it was best to leave him behind entirely whatever the cost. There are two staircases which lead you up to a platform where you can see the actual, resurrected Viking ships in their entirety. I noticed that people who were engaged in full on chatter upon entering the museum were stunned into silence upon viewing the ships. Although I didn’t cry, I did become teary eyed. The realization that I was actually seeing something that has been on my bucket list was humbling. You might not see the big deal if it’s not on your list, but any traveler who has seen one of their “must sees” in real life knows this feeling. I’m a big believer that God makes most if not all opportunities possible for me, and the fact that He consistently thinks I’m worthy of seeing so many unimaginably remarkable experiences on my travels fills me with such gratitude, that it absolutely felt appropriate to become filled with tears at that moment. It’s incomparable. I let myself become lost in my imagination. I imagined the Vikings walking back and forth across the ship. I thought about their painted shields hanging off the sides of the boat, and I pictured their loved ones saying goodbye before an arduous journey. I envisioned the excitement they faced on their adventures and if they felt the same thumping in their heart as I did flying to Oslo to visit this very ship. I spent a good amount of time walking around the ships themselves, and I nearly had to be pried away to move onto the rest of the museum. I came back several times smiling stupidly at the ship, like I do at the cheeses in the cheese aisle when I’m on a diet. “Funny seeing you here again…”
The rest of the museum displayed various artifacts from within the ships such as grave gifts, religious pieces, and ordinary items such as cooking utensils. You can also see an immersive film about the Viking way of life three times every hour at the museum. I had waited so long to see this place, anticipating everything from my emotions at seeing the ships to which souvenirs I would buy and I’m so entirely grateful that I had the experience.
Polar Fram Museum: I’m a trip-tator, I admit it. I do not “roll with the punches.” I have little to no interest in hearing about how my travel buddies would do things if they conflict with how I would do things on our trip, but I’m working on it. My husband said, “How about this place” and I instantaneously felt myself panic as it wasn’t chiseled into my tediously planned agenda for the day. This was one of those museums that I really had zero interest in visiting, but left the experience thinking, “Thank GOD I didn’t miss that one.” I’m a fan of immersive museums, and I can’t think of a better experience in that than this place! You could spend at least half, if not an entire day at the Polar Fram Museum. Hell, I could live in the Polar Fram Museum – it’s that cool. (No pun intended.) The museum tells the story of Norwegian polar exploration and it’s impossible not to find it fascinating. The interior of the Fram is entirely intact and you can explore the whole thing – and it is HUGE. You start by climbing on the deck of the ship and you’re free to check out every single nook and cranny within – from the bedrooms to the kitchen to the engine room and beyond. We spent so much time on board and the ship and museum is decorated in such a painstakingly detailed manner than I actually felt as though we were transported to the arctic. There are SO many artifacts scattered about that it’s honestly dizzying, and you wind up spending so much time within that boat that you get a complete feel and understanding for how the explorers lived for months on end. Outside the polar ship, you can explore what the polar region is like by venturing inside a model igloo and coming face to face with taxidermy wildlife. Around every corner of the museum there is something to climb, jump over, pull, push, and marvel at. This museum is way more than I expected and I cannot recommend it enough! A MUST experience if there ever was one!
City Walk (free): If you’ve been keeping up with this blog (SO much more fun and disturbing than keeping up with the Kardouchians) than you know some of the dynamic between my husband and I. He LOVES walking tours, and I believe has taken some form of one in every place he’s ever visited and is proud of this. I like food tours and just eating food in general. I’m proud to say I’ve eaten a lot of food in every place I’ve ever visited. Well, there was no food on this tour, not even a snack, so it’s already not a ten star experience as you might imagine. I’ll keep it brief since there’s no, I want to reiterate, no food involved. The tour was free of cost and the guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. We definitely got a better feel for the layout of the city and a lot of information on the culture and history of Oslo.
There were a lot of highlights such as walking down by the water to check out the boats and seeing the Oslo Opera House which rises out of the water like an iceberg. I walked away from the lecture momentarily to throw my arms around the Henrik Ibsen statue and take selfies, much to the embarrassment of my husband and dismay of our guide. (English nerd, me, not him) I really liked visiting city hall because there is an amazing mural depicting scenes from the Norse sagas outside, it was fun to read the descriptions and give kudos to the artistry. We also passed the Nobel Peace Center and it was interesting to hear much of the history about it. Obviously not interesting enough to remember any of it, as I haven’t written anything that I learned, but I remember in the moment, being very interested and I don’t actually mean that sarcastically. Does this happen to anyone else on walking tours? As you’re hearing the guide you’re like THIS IS ALL AMAZING, YESSSS! As soon as you return home, you can’t remember a single thing he or she has taught you?
Let’s pause here to note that it was excruciatingly hot on this particular day, and we decided that walking to all places was a good idea, and even better, we had not slept in over 24 hours. On our arduous journey back to the center where we began, we passed a supermarket and hung out in the walk-in fridge for 20 minutes pretending that we were looking at prices of meat. It’s one of my favorite memories…ever. I NEVER miss an opportunity to be corny and laugh with my hubs!
Folk Museum: By the time we’d gotten to this museum, it had been OVER 24 hours since we last slept. My love of history and culture was getting me through just fine, my husband, however, was coming down with a vicious case of the “sleepies.” Be prepared that if you are to visit this museum, you can spend an entire day here, probably two days, there is a massive amount to see. The Folk Museum is a HUGE open air-museum which was perfect for summer and enjoying the great weather. Visiting in the summer offers the opportunity to see many of the animals, like horses and pigs. There are over 100 historical buildings and houses that you can visit and tour the inside of, and there are some costumed actors that walk around. With costumed actors, it’s sometimes fun to play “ghost, or real person?”
The vast variety of sites to see ensures that you are not standing shoulder to shoulder with many other tourists and makes for a peaceful day of self exploration.The highlight, for me, was the 1200 year old stave church, as a matter of fact I literally ran uphill (which you all know I’d never do under any other circumstances – there is a Viking connection here) to get to is faster. Stave churches are not ornate and elegant, but rather, wooden and harken back to the medieval days. It is believed that Stave churches were old Viking places of worship turned into Christian churches, and some also believe that they are constructed out of pieces of Viking ships as per their winged roofs. The one we visited reminded me a lot of an episode from Vikings (SEASON ONE, EPISODE EIGHT TO BE EXACT) While there were Christian images all around, I kept imagining tall wooden statues of Odin and Thor. (Because I have an unhealthy obsession and I can’t just let things go and accept that this was a church and not a Viking pagan temple. I’m sure my Italian – Catholic mother will be thrilled to read that.) Following the Stave church, we sat and watched a performance of traditional folk song and dance. The lead performer stressed how important this type of art was to their culture and that it goes back hundreds of years. Naturally, Arthur took this seriously as he fell asleep several times and did his best impression of bobbing for apples with his eyes closed. I can’t tell you how happy I am that we were in the front row where the performers could all see this. Super. fucking. thrilled.
Egon restaurant: The restaurant so nice (and reasonably located and cheapest in price) we ate here twice. We spent both breakfast and lunch at the Egon restaurant near the main rail station. Food and drink in Oslo is expensive, it’s not a secret. The all you can eat breakfast included a HUGE variety including smoothies. There was a mix of both traditional Norwegian and common breakfast foods and eating so much definitely kept me full throughout the day. I don’t usually give out “tips” but I’d say in coming here for breakfast – you get your bang for your buck. Egon offers both indoor and outdoor seating and during both meals the wait was not long at all. To me, smoked salmon is the quintessential Norwegian food. I wanted to like it so bad, I put it on my plate, onto my fork, onto my tongue and EVERYTHING…I just couldn’t enjoy it. I like fish…I like sushi…I like smokey flavors…why not smoked salmon? I guess I’ll never know. Anyone have an opinion on smoked salmon? Also, where do we stand on lox?
What I Learned:
I was extremely sad to see our honeymoon ending, but knowing that we were off to see another country – even just on a layover before stopping home provided a way to “ease into” ending our once in a lifetime adventure. I highly suggest adding shorter layovers to your journey as a way to get the most out of your trip by seeing more of the world! Tired as I may have been, I learned that adding a small layover is a cost effective way of seeing more of what the world has to offer.
Oslo holds tight to its history, while being one of the most forward thinking and progressive cities I’ve ever visited. It’s clean, efficient, and friendly. It feels safe and there is no shortage of things to learn and see. While incredibly expensive, it’s a city that I felt definitely lives up to its “hype” and to all of my expectations. Oslo is a city where even I felt confident navigating (and I’m THE WORST at navigating) and to boot I felt more than safe, it’s not a terrible large city and nature is easily accessible. One of my favorite moments was strolling by the seemingly endless fjord very early in the morning.
Looking back, I feel bad that I made such a big deal about the importance of sticking to my plan when my husband suggested the walking tour and visiting the Polar Fram museum, because at least one of them wound up being an opportunity I’m incredibly grateful to have had. I panic about following my schedule because the likelihood of me ever returning to a place like Oslo is very slim, and I want to make sure I do it right in the little time I have, and see everything I want to see. In order to make that happen, I still think it’s important to be well organized, planned, and scheduled. However, I’m learning that it’s important to allow other people to have a voice on trips and to be open to new ideas, the ideas of others which you never would have considered. Traveling as a couple or group means it is everyone’s experience, it is everyone’s one shot at checking items off a bucket list, it is everyone’s chance to make memories that are meaningful. Sometimes the old adage is right, at the end of our comfort zone lies our greatest opportunity for growth, or in my case new opportunities I would have never had.
Grittiness. Alternative Scenes. Art. I love big cities for some of these reasons, and these reasons are also why I was so amped to visit Berlin. My bestie informed me that we’d have 24 hours on our summer trip where we could squeeze one final city in, and asked how I felt about Berlin. I practically jumped through the phone, “YES!” In all fairness, I realize I probably needed way more time to properly explore the city, but this is a tale of what was and not what I wish had been!
Pure exhaustion. After sleeping in sweaty hostels and pulling all nighters, we cancelled our reservation at yet another hostel and splurged on a sky rise hotel room which was pure heaven. The bathroom was spacious and it was nice to have some privacy and not have to share the shower and toilet with others! The room was SPOTLESS and modern. The bed was one where you literally sink into, and we spent about an hour laying in it contemplating just snoozing through out entire “layover.” Looking back, I can recognize that this was a massive waste of time, but all travelers know this level of exhaustion! Our brains hurt both from too much drinking and museum-seeing, our bodies were aching from walking all over three cities prior, and a nap sounded incredibly delicious. However, we begrudgingly peeled ourselves out of bed and trekked down to reception to start our day. I realize that this is the laziest part of my post, but that’s because I REALLY want you to get a feel for how lazy and useless I felt in the moments which took place in this section. Do you feel it? No, really. Do. You. Feel. It.
On the Prowl – AKA – Uncomfortable Wiener Jokes Galore
*A Runner Up for Academy Award for Best Plot in an Action Film: Not Without My Weenie (see below)
I’ll be honest, I had one mission, and it was food, I’m sure you’re all shocked. Whenever I travel, I NEED to try the food specialties of the land, and when inquiring about Berlin, I’d heard about Currywurst repeatedly, an exotic weenie that would allegedly emit magic into my life. How could I claimed to have been to Berlin and not tried some? Well, that almost was the case. Would you believe me if I said it took us decent looking ladies at least six hours to get some sausage from off the street? Sadly, this is factual information and really put me in a bad mood.
To start, we had only a few hours to utilize the bus tour passes we had just bought. We hadn’t eaten, but found a CurryWurst stand right by our hotel. Unfortunately, it was closed and not opening until later at night. We didn’t want to spend the afternoon only looking for satisfying sausages, even though this WAS a girl’s trip. So, we settled for Mexican food before our bus tour. While the burrito bowl was pretty legit, I just felt like I was cornered into this option and that I wasn’t making the best food choice. Mexican food can be found everywhere, I wanted the real. local. deal.
The bus tour wound up being one of those hop on/hop off deals, and at each stop we DID find a Currywurst stand. Big disappointment, NONE OF THEM TOOK CREDIT CARDS! Seriously, it felt like nowhere in Berlin took credit! Every stop became a rush of excitement, followed by a huge let down. I pleaded with the final stand owner that we came across. “Please, please tell me that you take credit cards and that I can have your promising sausage.” Even though I’d made the funniest wiener joke in history, he wouldn’t oblige me. “No, cash only.” I saw red – as red as the ketchup I’d seen pictured on Currywurst. Visions of flipping his food truck over and dumping curry powder on his head and drowning him in condiments filled my mind.
What the actual fuck? Fine, I’ll play along. At one point we walked in the sweltering sun ten minutes to an ATM to retrieve cash. I was hype. Any minute now, I would be gnoshing on sausages. Upon arriving at the ATM, we both realized we had left our debit cards at the hotel. If you’ve ever seen a toddler having a meltdown, then I need not describe my reaction. I was PISSED. Eventually, after walking all the way back to our hotel from the Berlin Wall, we finally hit the Currywurst stand by our hotel right as it opened. We put in two orders and I shifted anxiously from foot to foot waiting for my food. I practically stuck my head in the window of the food truck at one point as I breathed heavily and awkwardly awaiting. The man hurried along and threw our food onto the ledge. There it was…Currywurst. I quickly snapped a photo (hence the shitty quality of the photo) and dove in. We made the realization, and I want you all to know, that currywurst is a hot dog in curry powder with some ketchup on top. HOWEVER, I love hot dogs and therefore was not disappointed in the least.
I Like Big Bus, I Cannot Lie. ‘Specially When It’s Hot Outside.
We asked the receptionist at our hotel the best way to see the city quickly and she suggested the bus tour. It took a long time to find the stop closest to our hotel, but once we did, the tour was enjoyable for the most part. Each stop was centrally located to a major site and we were able to see quite a lot in our short time. If you’ve ever done the hop on/off bus tour, it comes equipped with earbuds which allow you to learn more about each stop. The only hiccups were that there was one instance where we had to wait over 20 minutes for the bus to come pick us up, we went into a cafe to buy sodas and snacks while we waited and SURPRISE, they didn’t take credit. Berlin really takes the idea of “living history” to heart evidenced by the fact that everyone acted as though a credit card machine were some new-fangled piece of equipment from the future. It was almost as annoying as when you visit a historical restoration in any part of the US and the people there all really act like we’re in the 1800’s, like when you ask them to take a photo of you. “Oh, what is this device here? I’ve never seen one before.” WELP I handed you sixty dollars to get into this fucking settlement and you didn’t bat an eye even though since it’s the 1800’s it should only cost me a nickel to get in this place. We also missed the last bus back which sucked big time.
We were having such a great time at the Berlin Wall that we had to walk from the Wall all the way back to our hotel. It was a heat wave outside and each step felt more and more impossible considering how exhausted we already were. Public transportation was nearly impossible to figure out and catch, and every cab that we tried to flag down ignored us. We tried to ask locals for help, all of whom also ignored us. At this point, I was pretty sure that I disliked Berlin. The people for the most part were cold, and Berlin overall just didn’t seem like an intuitive or comprehensive city. It felt icy and everything felt distant. We both became immensely frustrated and couldn’t fathom that we still had SO much further to walk.
Finally, an off duty driver pulled into a home driveway right near us. We begged him to give us a hand, and while he seemed reluctant, thank GOD his wife met him in the driveway and ordered him to take us to our hotel. While he at first seemed annoyed, reminding us at least 25 times that he was off duty and that he shouldn’t be doing this, he eventually warmed up which in Berlin is speaking a little bit about a topic other than how we’re ruining his life. We had to pay through a ride sharing app once we reached the hotel, and since there was no WI-FI in the car, Amanda had to go inside, download the app, figure it out, and pay, all while I sat hostage in the car.
Check Point Charlie: Sure it was touristy, but if one could squint there eyes a bit, it was pretty cool to see a small glimpse into what history looked like. I’d been really excited to see this, and I definitely nerded out for a while and enjoyed my time here! Check Point Charlie was the most frequented crossing point at the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin. It became deeply symbolic of the Cold War. Today, you can take photos with the acting guards there and imagine what is must have been like to have to cross from one side to the other. We didn’t pay to get our photos with the guards, but we watched as other people did. The guards seemed to be really funny and enjoy interacting with guests. Allegedly you can get your passport stamped for an addition fee, but if this is true, I’d imagine it might become problematic and confusing when other countries see the stamp. Oh this stamp? It’s from a fake country called Check Point Charlie.
Brandenburg Gate: One of the most iconic landmarks of the city! It has seen so much of history and it’s hard not to be impressed by its sheer stature alone.
Berlin Wall: Probably the best part of my short visit! How does one describe the East Side Gallery? How does one describe the feeling of seeing the STILL difference between East and West Berlin from the top of a bus? Eerie? Grateful? Surreal? All of this. Our tour told us of stories of people jumping over the wall at the eleventh hour to escape what they felt would be the impending horrors of communism. We learned about the politics of both sides of the spectrum. Normally when I think of heartbreak and devastation, my mind goes to the developing countries I’ve visited. I felt that here, hearing about the stories of real people from very recently. The East Side Gallery was everything I had hoped Berlin as a whole would be. The art is imaginative, captivating, provocative, and utterly beautiful and edgy. It embodied all of the things I love about creativity and is a pure testament to the power and importance of artistry’s ability to impact politics and society. I could have and we did spend many hours here both taking photos, and taking in the history around us.
Bar Crawl: All I’d heard about was Berlin’s incredible nightlife scene. So, where then, was the nightlife? I realize we didn’t examine the entire city, it’s far too large, but nearly every bar we walked past was closed! I kept imagining edgy basement bars with a leather clad crowd who held out since the Studio 54 days. I imagined bars entirely devoted to themes like the Roaring 20’s. We wound up visiting two spots which kept frequenting the “must see” bars list, and these, while thankfully open, were both nearly empty. First, we visited the Stagger Lee with which I fell passionately in love. Stagger Lee does the 1920’s in a truly authentic, and not at all kitschy way. If you’ve ever seen Boardwalk Empire, you would think you have wondered onto the set, it’s that well decorated. It unequivocally and completely takes you back in time. The drink menu is extensive and expensive, but I need all readers to know, that this is where I’ve had the best drinks of my lifetime ever, period. The cocktails are imaginative and top notch, every drink I threw back was pure perfection and artistry in a glass. To wrap up the evening we had a night-cap at the N.N. Train Cocktail Bar. It’s definitely one of the more unique cocktail houses I’ve ever visited as the bar is literally an old train car! The ambiance is vintage, sexy, and definitely not to be missed, and drinks were very reasonable as well. We were able to sit comfortably on Adirondack chairs outside as we enjoyed our last cocktail of our last big girls trip. That memory will always mean so much to me. Amanda and I have traveled the world from Denver to Mexico to Central America and to Europe.
We’ve seen so much of the world, and I can’t explain to you how much our lives have been changed by all of the traveling we have done together. We both got married several months before, and while very hard to admit, we just knew that this was going to be our last ever big girl’s trip. One month later I was pregnant, expecting my baby in a month’s time, and she is saving up for a house on Long Island, and those are our priorities right now, and that’s OK because we did everything we wanted to for so long prior. I didn’t want the night to end, as exhausted as I was, and we spent a long time both equally talking about all the good memories around the world, and sitting in silence quietly contemplating what the future will bring. In some ways, it never mattered where we were all these time that we traveled. It didn’t matter that our experience in Berlin was less than desirable, because the memories will always be fond and that’s because we had each other’s company.
What I Learned Is: I’m glad I got to see Berlin. I’m a history fanatic and I’m so grateful that I got to see some pieces of history that are otherwise only available in textbooks and documentaries to most people. I’m glad that I can say that yes, I’ve seen some of Germany and got a basic feel for the zeitgeist of city.
I DESPERATELY and STILL DO want to love Berlin.
I don’t completely blame Berlin for my time there. It was short, poorly planned, and I was too exhausted to put any real effort into my experience. However, the same issues I raise are reported by people who do spend an adequate amount of time there. There are many cities (New York, Paris, Chicago, Seville, Lisbon, etc) where you step right into the rhythm of the culture, hype, and reputation. For example, when New York promises tall buildings, hot night clubs, top restaurants, and history – you really don’t have to walk all over the city trying to “find” those things, it’s all around you. In Berlin, I felt that the city is so spread thin that everything falls flat. It was a lot of, “Oh, ok, here’s the one building I recognize from photos, where is everything else? Four hours later…OH ok…here’s that one bar…oh and it’s closed.”
I’m eager to return because I want to do it right before I add it to my “underwhelming destinations” list. I’m so hoping that the Berlin of my dreams is real and that I was maybe too fatigued to see it. I’m more than interested in hearing everyone else’s thoughts on Berlin!