Tag Archives: travel

Update and Stanage Sunshine

Hello readers,

Apologies for taking a whole year out of blogging.

Time blurred by packing and planning for a 5 week tour of New Zealand (via Singapore) in November last year.

To get the best experience you need to take least several weeks off work and have a couple of grand saved. We went in December which is the height of their summer and you can then use the bank holidays to minimise the impact on annual leave.

We stayed at Air BnB houses to save on accommodation costs. We got recommendations from friendly locals who were warm and welcoming. Tourism is big business in New Zealand and there is so much to see and do.

I caught up with everything and shivered my way through the winter, mostly hibernating in my bedroom in a onesie.

In Spring I was catching up with family and I turned another year older. I am sorry to say that I am now in the last year of my twenties.

I have had a lovely summer holiday sunbathing, cycling, canoeing, visiting castles and medieval villages and seeing the Tour de France whizz by in a little village of around 1,000 people an hour south of Toulouse. When I got back I reconnected with an old friend and enjoyed getting to know local folk by joining a walking and jogging group. The jogging group is fun and friendly but is on hold while I rehearse for a work carol concert. I am also still enjoying netball twice a week and I have recently switched from driving lessons in a car with gears to one without. After over two years trying I am hoping that taking the gears out of the equation will get me to test stage again, like I was in the summer before my skills hit the brakes. Since I got even busier it has been hard to find time to blog.

The last few weekends have been incredible. I’ve been to Anglesey, Wales, a really scenic spot which again I would highly recommend, and much cheaper than the tropical paradise holiday as far away as you can fly (32 hours non-stop or you can make it more bearable with a stopover).

I’ve been to a festival in London and even got sunburnt in late September and I’ve been on a weekend away with the walking group to Stour Valley, Suffolk, exploring the coastline there at Orford Ness, the island that the Ministry of Defence used to test bombs and detonators – so it was important to stick to the path. It is now owned by The National Trust, a nature and heritage conservation charity which was founded in 1884 when Octavia Hill, a social reformer, was asked to help preserve Sayes Court garden in south east London. In 1885, Octavia raised public awareness of railway developments threatening the Lake District. This collaboration led to the foundation of The National Trust for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Natural Beauty, to hold land and buildings in perpetuity “for ever, for everyone”.

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Octavia Hill, social reformer

Today it has over 3.4 million members and it is currently seeking to ensure that Britain’s coastline is maintained. There was a map at Orford Ness showing how the project was doing. It is about half complete.

I am not a National Trust member but I often visit their land, stately homes and cafes. I am a member of the Ramblers Association, a charity whose goal is to ensure that routes and places people go walking are maintained and enjoyed.

I also enjoyed a walk across Essex farmland on the group’s weekend away, with friendly horses and cows and alongside a Wind in the Willows river with rowing boats sliding by, admiring thatched cottages.

I’ll post the highlights along with more current events.

I made my first apple crumble of the Autumn season today with apples from the garden. An easy dessert but so tasty and warming, it was lovely. I used oats, brown sugar and a light dusting of cinnamon for the topping and I got a good crisp finish with that.

These photos are the best I can do with a camera phone as I can take ages when I have my proper camera with me, but here is what I have been up to this weekend:

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I like country walks in the nearby Peak District. It is such a privilege to live so close to such beautiful scenery and wild nature. It was peaceful on Stanage Edge today, with a slight breeze and occasional sunshine. The sky was reflected in the rippling pools of standing water. Stanage is a beauty spot, a long gritstone edge popular with climbers, ramblers, fell runners and mountain bikers. You can walk along the top for miles and the views of the surrounding hills and valleys are incredible, especially when the sun illuminates all the bright colours of the landscape which inspires local artists.

We walked to Stanage Pole -a replica of a boundary marker that divided Sheffield, South Yorkshire with the High Peak, Derbyshire.

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How To Avoid Mosquitoes This Summer

images (1)Fed up of feeling like a piece of meat on your holidays? Want to stick to blood donation for people?

Here is a bite-sized guide to mozzie magnets and the precautions you can take to get them to buzz off.

What are mozzies attracted to?

Carbon Dioxide

We can’t help attracting mosquitoes as they hone in on the carbon dioxide plumes we exhale. So we have to take steps to defend ourselves.

Please do not bother with citronella though, research have found it is less effective than DEET – the active incredient in most bug repellant products – protecting for merely 3 hours or less.

Hot Skin

Common areas include the forehead, wrists, elbows and neck. You can protect your head and neck with a buff, a versatile scarf that can be worn in a variety of ways.

According to research published in 2000 in medical journal the Lancet, pregnant women are twice as likely to be bitten due to being hotter and exhaling more carbon dioxide.

Dark clothing

Some mosquitoes are visual hunters that search people out from their outline against the horizon. No need to break out the camouflage from that army surplus store – there is a range of bug repellant clothing.

Scented perfumes, colognes and lotions

Unless the perfume is bug-repellant deodorant.

Cholesterol

A reason to exercise before that tropical holiday.

Lactic acid

A good excuse not to exercise once abroad.

Movement

Unless you are a statue impersonator you won’t have much luck with this, so cover up. You may feel like strutting in your Speedoes/bronzing in your bikini but you won’t look so good covered in bites.

Type “O” blood

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found mosquitoes landed on people with type O blood nearly twice as often as those with type A. O well, you will just have to follow the above advice.

Avoid going out at dawn or dusk as this is when mosquitoes are particularly active.

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My First “Airbnb” Experience

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For my birthday I was going to see Prodigy in London with a friend. I was delighted that my cousin had decided to join us.

It was the weekend before the event so there were hardly any places left in the bed and breakfast (bnb) houses we were looking at. Only the expensive or low-rated options were left and the nearest hotel was 5 miles away.

A “B ‘n B” breakthrough

“What can we do?” I asked my cousin “this place only has a single room left! and this one is a bit too expensive isn’t it.”

My cousin would know best as she was an experienced traveller. On a break in between her Masters degree she had gone to Spain spontaneously on her own. She is a student and I am saving for a big holiday (of course I will blog about it) so we are both skint. We had already shelled out £50 for the gig ticket.

“Well…” she replied “when I was in Madrid I stayed in a really nice air bnb place. It was really cheap and overlooking the main plaza! It would have been really expensive to stay at a hotel in that location.”

“What is air bnb?” I asked. I vaguely recollected an advert on it.

“Is it that one where you sleep on people’s sofas? cos I’m not doing that!”

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I had spent one night on a sofa and hadn’t slept a wink as I tried to find a way to get my long legs spread out without having the arm of the sofa digging in. There wasn’t enough width to curl up. It was a nightmare and there was no chance of it being a dream. I had emerged from that student house looking like I’d spent the night in a hedge, and that probably would have been more comfortable.

My cultured cousin laughed. “No it’s not that one! Though I think there is one like that. It’s called couch-surfing isn’t it? This is similar but you get a proper bed.”

“A proper bed? isn’t that the same as a proper bed and breakfast then?”

“It’s like that but it’s where someone rents out their spare room. You get to meet lots of different people doing it and the ones I’ve met have all been lovely. You don’t always get breakfast but they’re usually in good locations.”

I was intrigued. The other choices were pretty limited so I thought we should give it a try.

You just needed an email address and password to set up an account and it was free. You could search by country as well as by city.

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The places were advertised with a picture of the bedroom with the Google map location on the right. Perfect. We looked and most of the good places were taken but there was one that stood out.

London Luxury

The photograph that I liked featured a beautiful white “Victorian” bathroom with a vintage bath (a new bath in an old style, not a tin one). The house looked modern and spacious for London. Not only that but it was a 10 minute walk from the venue. There was a paragraph or two about the owner, a smiling middle-aged lady who had travelled around Ecuador and liked the theatre. There were good reviews and it wasn’t too expensive.

The house was close to the station and my cousin was already there.

As I walked up to the stained-glass front door I felt a bit nervous. It seemed odd to walk in to a stranger’s house and stay there like one of their friends or family. But my anxiety subsided when our host opened the door and greeted me, grinning from ear to ear.

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She was a warm, friendly lady with a healthy glow and a slight tan. She served us tea and sat with us in their airy conservatory with a view onto a verdant garden. There was a little shed at the end and a trellis with flowering plants.

My cousin looked relaxed and had enjoyed a pleasant chat. I had not expected such peace and quiet. But it was a privileged residential area and of course, only parts of (mostly inner) London are chaotic, dirty and noisy.

I felt that I needed a shower on arrival to the house, as I had been on the Tube and became conscious of the grimy soot sticking to me. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. That and the gig atmosphere turned the bathwater grey the next day.

Double delight

We were amused that we were sharing a double bed. We had dark wooden drawers and a wardrobe to match, with a fluffy turquoise carpet and curtains tied back. I laid down some ground rules – no farting in bed and no trespassing over the middle line. My cousin broke both rules by the next morning.

We got glittered-up for the rave and headed out. We clip-clopped in our heels through the drizzle along rows of tall neat Victorian houses, shivering. Pretty soon we felt rather lost and decided that we would turn back after ten minutes.

“Did you see the pictures in the bathroom?” my cousin asked.

“Yes, interesting weren’t they!” I replied. There had been pictures of the couple in skimpy 1930s-style carbaret outfits with feathers and pearls.

“Do you think they’re swingers?” my cousin giggled.

“No it’s just fancy dress.”

“Yes but there was more than one of them like that.” We laughed.

Fortunately after a 20 minute totter we found the pub our host had directed us too. But as it was 9pm they had closed for food so we went to the takeaway opposite. It took ten minutes but the kofta kebab was well worth it. As we were late we had to eat waiting for a taxi, sheltering under a tree from the relentless rain.

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The Gig – Prodigy the-prodigy

I enjoyed the band, especially the classics that reminded me of student days. Thousands filled the hall with a high ceiling and the lighting was great but unfortunately the sound at the gig was focussed at the front and there were no speakers further back. The sound system was clearly not built or configured for the electronic music either. One of the band did make an effort to remedy this by coming near us to sing (or rather shout, it is that kind of music) on a mini stage in the middle, dreadlocks swinging. Cheers erupted around us as people surged forward. Eyes bulged and hands shot up to follow the beat.

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The hyperactive crowd fully compensated for the muffled performance when he went back, as they thrashed around with reckless abandon. Beer flew everywhere and drenched us. The air was thick with the smell of that and foul body odours. Every so often I had to move as I would end up in a cloud of it and I decided that I’d grown out of grunge.

Pint pouring

When my cousin had a pint poured down her she lost it, turning round and shouting at the miscreant. He apologised and moved away. She angrily said to the man behind him “I hope you’re not going to pour that down me too!”. This started a conversation which went very well and she ended up on the bearded bloke’s shoulders waving her arms around.

We rocked out until the early hours, leaving as the orange streetlight sky started to pale. It was about 4 when we finally went to sleep after a hushed chinwag.

Healthy host

Four hours later I was woken by the sound of the front door closing as our healthy host ran to the gym. As you do on a Saturday morning. I was impressed but seriously sleepy and dozed off until an hour before our checkout time. It was a quiet area and we were in a little guest room down our own hallway with our own bathroom at the other end.

After a bath I felt rejuvenated (and much cleaner). We had a nice chat with our host, who was back from her early morning workout, and her husband. They were a good-looking, kind and knowledgeable pair. I felt guilty when I asked her if I had woken her up and she said she had heard the door shut when we came in. She assured me that it was fine and we were very quiet. She said she was a light sleeper.

We left in search of the nearest pub breakfast. As we stumbled along I decided that although I would not be going to a Prodigy gig again, I would definitely be staying with airbnb for my next trip…

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My First Ski (Accident)

whistler Ever since I watched skiers from the longest highest unsupported gondola in the world I have wanted to try it.

I was having the trip of a lifetime with my aunt. We took a coach from our hotel in Vancouver and drove for hours towards Whistler resort. After going past a large lake with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks we began to ascend and the snow started and deepened around the road. Whistler Creekside in the afternoon     whistler-view

On arrival we were greeted by the homely lights of wooden lodges and chalets. At the bottom was a fancy bar where I enjoyed a delicious Earl Grey lemon cocktail, truffle fries and fondue. Maybe this sort of food is part of the reason behind it being named the Number 1 Resort in a ski magazine. Apparently it is pricey though, a keen snowsporter told me it is £70 a day just to ski. 470033_10100541308911379_959251302_o Then we got on the 4 person gondola. We travelled at a standard height to the top of Whistler Peak and I admired the sight of skiers zig-zagging and curving down the slope. It looked so exciting I wanted to hop off and try it. There was a father and son with us. The boy of about 7 had been snowboarding so much that he was already “better than me” the dad said proudly. The boy looked up admiringly. 461643_10100541308786629_541747113_o  458266_10100541307913379_562161844_o

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View from the glass floor of the gondola dangling above a mountain with no supporting post in sight.

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Sky High

Then we carried on to Blackcomb  – the peak opposite, in a 10 person gondola with a glass floor. Skiers and snowboarders joined us, enthusiastic, chatty and exuberant from their alpine adventures. There were fir tree forests but even here there were people off-piste skiing, darting around in the sparser areas. At the highest point the 10 foot trees looked like matchsticks and we could see the whole valley blanketed in snow. The phrase winter wonderland must have been inspired by this. I was quite nervous when we got that high, especially when someone said “I wonder what would happen if we fell now, look, we’re only supported by that wire up there, there isn’t peak2peak-after-a-snowfallanother post for miles”. I imagine I wasn’t the only one who wanted to slap him. You should definitely put it on your to do/bucket list. I’ll never forget the experience.

I wondered whether I would ever get the chance to try snow-sports as most people were already at intermediate stage that I knew or didn’t ski. People said it was risky, cold and expensive. Our holiday will cost more than £1,000 for a week just for the basics. An opportunity came round a few months ago when a new friend, Andy, a doctor working as a G.P. He said that he hadn’t been but wanted to as well. Perfect. So we booked a pricey £175 day course at Castleford Xscape, an indoor slope with real snow, at -5 degrees Celcius. It would be 8 hours and I expected to be quite confident by the end of it, ready to go on to intermediate ones later. fixedthumbnailer

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I was expecting to be fitted for skis and boots but it was every man/woman for themselves. I got the size of my feet but they were too small. I got the next size up but didn’t know how to put mine on, so I thought they didn’t fit. So I finally went back and the assistant thought my foot might have a high arch so gave me another pair which they said weren’t as good. It really wasn’t. It dug into the back of my leg and was quite sore after some hours. I went back and worked out myself how to get the boots on. You had to tear it apart to fit it. It’s even more important to get a good fit with them if you’re a woman – the structure of our knees means we’re more likely to get injuries. Skiis were heavier than they looked. ski-boot_1007324cProfeetInfographicImage Andy was getting frustrated with turns and got the instructor to give him some personalised tuition. The teaching was too general for me too. I was doing turns with snowploughs, which is where you make a pizza slice shape with your skis, the end of the slice being the front of your skis and then go back to parallel skis. Mine were fitted too long and I struggled to stop them crossing, which makes you fall. It was a gentle slope so we didn’t pick up much speed. We copied and were given the occasional tip. Then after a nice lunch around £7 of a burger and chips I had more energy for the beginner/intermediate bit of the lesson. We spent a long time going from half-way up the main slope.

Tricky Turns

It was higher but I still felt safe as although I couldn’t do parallel turns, I could do snowplough ones that slowed me down. We hadn’t been told anything about where your foot should be in the boot. Parallel turns in skiing look easy but they are not for the beginner. Every time one foot would drag and I would do a triangle (snowplough) turn instead. It was getting frustrating. I asked for help but the instructor said I was fine. I didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth. Chillfactore-beginners

Crash Landing

I’d been dreading going up to the top as it was higher than the highest slope I’d launched myself down sledging. Now I was on two tiny sledges attached to each foot and had far less control and surface area. If I fell backwards I might break my neck and that would be it. If I fell on one side I might dislocate something. Fall too hard and I might even break something. But the instructor told us to fall if we were going too fast or turn across the slope. I fell off the pomola (seat for one person on a wire) on the first try and then couldn’t get up on my massive skis. Turned out I was in between sizes so they had fitted skis which were too long and I felt like Pingu ice-skating. When I finally started down the slope I couldn’t see the bottom.

maxresdefault It was terrifying, but what could go wrong? The instructor had said that he wouldn’t have taken us up there unless he was sure we were ready, so we shouldn’t worry. I didn’t believe that. He had a schedule to keep and he was going to carry on regardless. I didn’t feel my turns were developed enough but we were following him in loops so we would be fine…surely. I did two turns and was just relaxing and thinking that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all when one foot wouldn’t turn.

The edge had become wedged in the snow. I jerked my foot to free it. It came free suddenly and turned straight as it did. My other foot spun round with it and I was going straight. I looked at the teacher but his eyes were elsewhere. I’d be ok I thought, I’d turn across the slope. But when I tried to turn my feet in my boots one size too big (I was between sizes there too) they wouldn’t budge and I continued to slide down.

My speed began to snowball and I started screaming at the top of my lungs. My eyes were watering at the blast of icy air, people were blurs and the slope seemed to clear as I hurtled down. I couldn’t turn and in the panic I didn’t know what else I could do. My experience was similar to this video but faster. An instructor later told us that the top speed down there is 35 miles per hour. beginners

Suddenly three quarters of the way down, the instructor appeared and yelled “sit down!”. I was like a rabbit in the headlights so it took me a short moment to process it. But then I imagined breaking my neck as I fell over backwards. Should I roll? Then I might break something too. But before I could do anything the fence zoomed towards me and it was finally flat so I could turn. I braced myself and stiffened my shoulders. I’d hit it on the side to minimise injury. SMASH CRASH THUD THUD. My body was a projectile that collided with the wooden and (thankfully) plastic mesh fence. I hit it on one shoulder, grabbing for the mesh to slow the impact. The force of it rotated me and I hit it on my other shoulder and cut my chin on the plastic, such was the speed. The impact then threw me backwards.

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The staff responded immediately, three of them running in on all sides. One instructor I’d chatted to earlier, a tall guy with black-framed glasses and black spiky hair kindly asked questions. He reminded me of the actor Jeff Goldblum. I said I had a sore neck and started crying at the idea that I might be paralysed just from this. But as I lay on the snow with everyone gathered around I realised that it was an ache not a sharp stabbing pain like a broken bone as someone ran up next to me with a spinal board.

“I’ve just sprained it” I said weakly. Should I test it out or was that too risky? What the hell, I didn’t want to be carried off and create even more of a scene. I sat up suddenly and bent my neck. It was sore but thank goodness, not fractured. The staff gently pushed me back down.

“No sudden movements, we don’t know what your injuries are yet.” “It’s ok” I insisted, “I’ve just sprained it. I can move it fine.” He asked if anything else hurt. “My back”. I said. That ached from the fall. “Could it be broken?” he asked. “No it just aches, I’m fine.”

Andy appeared. “I’m a doctor” he announced and everyone visibly relaxed and looked to him to sort things out. He asked how I was. I tried to get up and this time they allowed it, helped by three staff. My boyfriend appeared. “Are you ok?” “Yes” I whimpered, as Mikhail-Maksimochkin-accident-stretcherAndy and the first-aider helped me to the first-aid room.

The health and safety officer was a young girl with dark eyes and hair scraped back into a small ponytail. She was brusque and dismissive. It was clear that I’d embarrassed them with this accident which required an incident form and a bump note. Andy did tests for broken bones and they were negative. He thought my nose might be broken because it looked bruised but he felt it and it was fine, just dirt from the fence.

The girl wiped the blood off my chin. It bled again but she didn’t notice as she was busy getting my account as briefly as possible. She clearly wanted it over and done with but looked sympathetic as she told me I was the fourth person to hit the fence that month. Andy had to ask for a plaster as blood was slowly pooling on my chin. I’d bit my lip as I crashed and that was stinging a bit. There wasn’t enough blood for it to drip onto my mum’s ski suit luckily. There were only bandages and massive blue plasters in the first-aid box.

The instructor came in as I was giving my statement, apologising. “Why didn’t you sit down?” he asked. He asked if I really needed the plaster. I said they’d had to put it on as my chin wouldn’t stop bleeding. He went out, saying he’d come and see me afterwards. Finally my boyfriend appeared. He said he didn’t want to crowd me. When he’s hurt he doesn’t like too much attention but likes to “get on with it”. The first-aider refused to let me complete the last hour of my lesson so I went upstairs to the cafe in a huff and sat at the window watching Andy confidently winding down and my boyfriend having fun. He looked up often which was nice.

When I booked the last hour days later, the receptionist stated how much it was. Although staff had said they’d make a note on the system they clearly hadn’t. I said I hadn’t been able to do Lesson 5 as I’d crashed and hadn’t been allowed to complete it. She said she wasn’t sure if I could get it for free and that she’d check. After speaking to an instructor she booked me in.5aac3a674db76fb1e01b4ab8f426987317038ae0

When I went back two days later I was in the 9pm slot on a weekday so it was wonderfully quiet and I didn’t have to worry about what other skiers/snowboarders were doing and whether we’d collide. My boyfriend was going to ski but at £25 (the same price as an hour’s lesson) even off-peak he didn’t bother. I built up confidence and faced my fear, pointing myself towards the bottom of the slope from the top but in a snowplough so that I could slowly turn. The coaching was personalised in that I got two tips in the hour but it was mostly again a matter of copying the instructor. Unfortunately we couldn’t see what his feet were doing in his ski boots, which is probably what prevented me from improving the last time. You need to know where to put your weight in your foot. You need to literally be on your toes when you turn. My boyfriend gave me useful tips on the way there that would have been useful in training. My arms and shoulders were achy, my knees had purple bruises, my chin had a Harry Potter mark on it and there was a red spot on my nose but I’d been really lucky. At least the incident support was great and I didn’t get any serious injuries. I didn’t get too confident or foolhardy and now I know what can go wrong I won’t take risks but will slowly build up my skills.

As my Yorkshire champion instructor said “if you have the tiniest bit of doubt in your mind, don’t do it.”

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The beautiful Kate Middleton is a skiing fan. She was first spotted kissing Prince William on a ski holiday.

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Potty About Potsdam

Today I am celebrating the second anniversary of my blog, which I started as a response to unemployment. A big thank you to all you readers and especially my followers who continue to inspire me.

So much has happened since then. I was soon employed and am now able to go on holidays and have driving lessons. Driving is still scaring me but apparently I have good handling of the car. Speeding is my main problem, as everyone else does so I feel like I am holding them up, but it is also quite fun. However I am aware that having points on a provisional licence would not be ideal. My instructor is right to eye that “speedo” like a hawk. The amount of time I spend waiting for buses alone may justify the expense of a car. In today’s fast-paced society, time is money. I’m also saving for a house but the deposit alone is £60,000 so even though I am responsible for half, it’s going to take me years if not decades.

But I digress. As promised here is Potsdam in December. We went on a walking tour which wasn’t worth the money but it’s a lovely city.

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The Germans are almost as excited about cycling as the Dutch.

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Bahnhof is German for station.

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A reconstruction.

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Building work is transformed into art and a cement mixer features a family for no apparent reason.

 

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French influence.

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Excellent reconstructions.

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A church seen from the palace (reconstructed due to extensive bombing in the Second World War).

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Glienicke bridge where three spy exchanges happened between East and West Berlin from 1962-86.

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One of Potsdam’s many parks. People used to try to swim across to West Berlin from here in the Cold War days.

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The Christmas market here looked more authentic and less touristy than Berlin’s.

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Beer-lin at Christmas

December was a busy month with trips to Birmingham, Berlin, Lancaster, Norwich and Great Yarmouth and a visit from my cousins, where I cooked for five for the first time.

I learnt that you need to have everything prepared and ready to go for the day of the visit. I spent that morning scouring local farms for turkey, only to be told that it had to be ordered in advance. I was saved by a pre-prepared one at Waitrose.

There was so much to see and do in Berlin. The city had a festive atmosphere with Christmas lights and markets. Temperatures were close to zero so my thermals came in handy.

Hotel Indigo was comfortable, clean and stylish and was lovely to return to after a day on our feet. We had an executive room with a balcony and we wrapped up to admire the view.

It was easy to get around using the S-Bahn and U-Bahn train systems. The U-Bahn is the Underground. You have to get your ticket stamped by the machine or you can be fined.

Transport links from Schönefeld airport were dismal, perhaps the reason for its rating on Google of under 3 stars. We were shattered after our budget airline experience featuring the usual lengthy queues. I nearly fell over as I had labyrinthitis – an inner-ear infection causing balance issues and disorientation. I had just started swimming again and medical opinion was that it had pushed infection further into my ear. Luckily it was the last 24 hours of it.

There was a long walk to the train station which was a vast concrete space with confusing German signposting to unfamiliar areas and some omnipotent machines. You needed to have the right amount of coins as they did not take cards and most did not like notes. Perhaps this is to encourage those in the know to buy at the airport. There were no officials and no information desk. In England there are information points at almost every major station so it was a culture-shock. I’d already been jarred by the lack of warm water in public toilets. Economical efficiency at its best but punishing in winter. Hand-warmers are recommended.

Berlin Photo Tour

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

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This pint features the German bear in front of the dome of Berlin’s parliament or Bundestag which is one of the subjects of my next post. Bears first appeared on a city seal (emblem) in 1280. The earliest city seal from 1253 didn’t feature a bear but an eagle, which was the symbol of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, an important part of the Holy Roman Empire that included Berlin. In 1280 the second emblem featured a Brandenburg eagle flanked by two standing bears. When Cölln and Berlin were merged into one city in 1709, the coat of arms featured the bear below two eagles -red for Brandenburg and black for Prussia. By 1875, the bear gained a crown signifying Berlin’s status as a free city.

 

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Schnitzel was nothing special.

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The apple cake was delicious.

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Our walking tour started in front of the Brandenburg Gate, outside Starbucks. It was free if you were heartless but our charismatic guide explained that he lived on donations and 15 Euros was the going rate. It was well worth it as we felt we had seen all the key sights and were fully briefed in the history. All questions were answered.

Just past the Gate on the road is the dividing line of the Wall that divided East and West Berlin until 1989, stretching off into the traffic. Division seems a distant memory, one that many would surely rather forget.

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz where over 1 million people died. An estimated 90 per cent of these victims were Jews, with Poles, Romani gypsies, Soviet Prisoners, homosexuals and others deemed “undesirable” making up the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish victims that were killed at the hands of the Nazis. The death toll is inconceivable. I thought of my grandfather, who liberated and dealt with the aftermath of Bergen-Belsen. Hell on earth. He never spoke of it and it must have been easier to repress than think about. Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish Auschwitz survivor, writer and chemist, remarked  “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man” quoting the Robert Burns poem “Man Was Made to Mourn”.  

The Jewish Memorial in Berlin was quite an experience. It was a series of concrete blocks gradually getting taller until you were engulfed by oppressive blank columns trapping you on all sides. You are suddenly in a narrow space overshadowed by heavy grey monoliths leaning towards you which blocked out the light.

It was even more powerful at night. I couldn’t see anything but a gloomy, shadowy passage in front of me. It was eerily silent and you could hardly see the sky.

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You could go on a “Trabi” tour. Trabant cars, affectionately termed “trabis”, were iconic vehicles used by the Soviets of East Berlin. There is a museum for almost everything in Berlin, from those cars to computer science.067

Balloon sightseeing looked fun but freezing. We didn’t get a chance to see the Berlin Wall art but click here for a good website with it.

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Source: ampelmann.de

The East side still retained some differences such as the pedestrian crossing signs which featured a large man in a hat. The design was conceived by a traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau. The thinking behind it was that we react more quickly to appealing symbols.

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The history of a divided East/West Berlin reminded me of North/South Korea. The Russians called the East the Federal Republic and the British, French and Americans named the West the Democratic Republic. The wishful thinking post-War was that both halves would be run harmoniously. But the 1950s saw the fear of Communism explode in the States with witch hunts including even Charlie Chaplin. There were uprisings in the East which were dealt with by the Stasi, the secret police. Around 2.7 million East Berliners defected from 1949 until the Wall was built, with 200,000 leaving the year before in 1960. Reasons for escape were economic, social or political.One reason was the introduction of a collectivization policy in the 1950s. The goal was to consolidate individual land and labour into collective farms in order to increase food supply. But this meant that profits decreased and there were food shortages and riots instead.

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The Wall was publicly built to prevent a war for the city but privately it was

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

also to stop the East-West exodus. The East-German leader Walter Ubricht termed it an “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart” protecting the Federal Republic from “military adventurers”.

The photo above shows border guard Conrad Schumann who left two days after Wall construction began. His fellow soldiers were distracted and he saw his chance. West Berliners encouraged him to jump and after deciding for a moment he went for it. The moment was captured by passing photographer Peter Liebing. The iconic photograph was used as propaganda.

There were some unusual escapes, such as by tightrope-walking and with a car converted to go under the crossing barrier. Many who succeeded were guards, with over 1,300 fleeing in the first two years of the Wall’s construction. This led to the installation of locks and further walls requiring several soldiers to open them.

There was a good exhibition at Nordbahnhof S-geisterbahnhof_21_01606Bahn station about the division of the Underground. Tube trains from the West could pass through Eastern stops but they could not be used and became “ghost” stations. Even here soldiers escaped, so they would be locked in a platform bunker until the end of their shift.

Officially, 136 Berliners died fleeing to the West. Some wanted to earn more money, others were trying to join family members. Friedrichstraße station was nicknamed “The Palace of Tears” as it was the station where East Berliners would have tearful goodbyes to West Berliners returning, unsure when they would be allowed to see them again.

Many casualties were not recorded by the secretive Soviets. But a victims research group called “August 13 Working Group”  has claimed there were more than 1,100 fatalities linked to the division of states. West Berliners used it to fly-tip.

The photo above captures the worst Wall stand-off caused by a senior U.S. diplomat, Lightner Jr (American for Junior, which means son of) wanting to go to the opera in East Berlin. The East Germans demanded to see his passport, which he insisted only Soviet officials had the right to check. He was forced to turn back. Due to the tank stand-off and fervent diplomacy that ensued, officials on both sides were allowed to attend the theatre and the opera over the border. As for Lightner Jr, he went to the performance days later.

This month Stasi records became available online for the first time. The Stasi were Soviet secret police. Their files have been available to their subjects since 1992. But you had to write out for them and there were delays in release. The records were saved by East German citizens who stormed Stasi offices when the Wall fell in 1989. They include the harrowing case of Manfred Smolka, a former East German border guard who was seized, thrown in solitary confinement and guillotined after he escaped to the West.  The Stasi even attempted to recruit Prime Minister Angela Merkel when she was at University.

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Our tour guide was fantastic and we felt like we had been fully briefed on the key history and sights of the city centre.

The German market looked fantastic. To the left is the Concert House where we enjoyed an orchestral and choral Bach performance.

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All photos on this page Copyright literarylydi. Please ask for permission before using. Thank you.

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You must visit Fassbender and Rauch. It’s a chocolate shop with green awnings like Harrods and has confectionary which is just as fancy. There were several iconic buildings made entirely of chocolate. Upstairs in the lift is the restaurant where they do a main meal in chocolate on Monday-Friday. There can be a queue early in the afternoon but it is worth the wait. Their petit-fours look exquisite and are delicious.

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Christmas decoration in Pottsdam, copied nicely in chocolate in Berlin. That city is the subject of my next post, along with more of Berlin.

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January 27, 2015 · 9:21 pm

Hunger Day

As I write this there’s a constant feeling of hunger in the background…today I haven’t eaten anything since dawn.

It all started after doing a 10K charity run for Cancer Research. I wasn’t going to do another charity event this year, after raising £187 for a Multiple Sclerosis rehab centre.

But then my friend’s dad, who has myeloma (bone marrow cancer) asked me to do a 10K. The money goes towards research he is participating in at Hammersmith Hospital in London. If you would like to help me out with a donation our link is here. 

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I asked some Muslim boys to help out and they said they’d sponsor me double if I did a day of Ramadan with them. Fasting has lots of health benefits, among them lowering cholesterol, levels of stress hormones in the blood and boosting brain cell production. So I thought it’s only a day, I’ll give it a go.

I’d never fasted before except two days when I was eight and travelling. I was so ill I threw everything up. We’d gone to New Zealand on a non-stop 36-hour flight and if I wasn’t suffering from food-poisoning it was travel-sickness. The irony was we stopped in Abu Dhabi and I remember we were told not to eat anything at the airport, but I was so ill I didn’t want to. I remembered the hungry eyes of the turbaned wrinkled man sitting on the tiled bench there.

The closest I’ve come to not eating in more recent times was the 5:2 diet, which I followed for a week (two days of eating 400 calories), but then I could drink as much water as I wanted. I had been inspired by Mike Mosley and lost 2kg (not that I needed to, I was doing it to improve memory and alertness as that was one of the claims).

Ramadan is really strict. No water, no food and because it’s summer, you have to do that for 18 and a half hours.

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The only time I haven’t appreciated the sun

I thought that it started at sunrise, so I excitedly got up and finished my toast and cereal breakfast for 4.40am for sunrise at 4.41am. I was reminded of the days of midnight feasts. I thought eating that close to the time was really smooth until I went to work and was told that they stop eating two hours earlier for morning prayers. This is intense.

The hardest part was at lunch. I was acutely aware of people eating, so I spent my time checking out local takeaways planning dinner (I’d be too weak to cook and I needed to have something to look forward to). I also normally snack at 10am, so I got hunger pains then. As I have IBS I was also belching and burping quite a bit at work which was really embarrassing.

After about 1am the hunger feeling faded to background noise and was easier to deal with. However by the end of the day I was getting quite distracted. But seeing food or hearing about it did not make me hungry, although the smell did. It was like part of my brain was disassociating itself for self-protection.

I felt weak and a little like I was floating when I walked. But apart from a slight ache in the belly I was fine. I had expected to have a drier mouth. I wouldn’t do it again unless I had a similar charity deal. I’d rather appreciate those who have less than myself by enjoying what I do have. It’s getting harder as it gets later. I started counting down the hours at 6pm.

Now I can’t wait to break this horrendous hunger with a buy-one-get-one-free pizza deal. Veggie and fish of course so I don’t do non-Halal meat…

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