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Breakfast is being served. The choice: cheese omelette with chicken sausage, or nasi lembak squid sambal. Not sure which one I'll pick yet. We are currently three hours from Frankfurt, flying over Ukraine, just north of Donetsk. Dawn is tinging the horizon and we can see the lights of towns below.
Supper was eight hours ago. I wanted the mushroom gnocchi, but they were out by the time we got served, so I settled for chicken and veges in a spicy pepper sauce. Michelle's veg meal was tortellini and came with a side that looked suspiciously like a vegetable mousse. Three layers of orange, green, and dark red. She wasn't game but I tried a bite and determined the red might have been adzuki bean. Still not sure about the other two layers.
We dozed on and off fitfully, never able to really sleep on a plane. We're very tired, but awake.
I tried the squid. Not bad, very spicy, and it also had some chicken in a rendang-like sauce, with coconut. We're descending into Frankfurt now, flying over a patchwork of hills and fog-filled valleys in the dawn light.
We're taxiing to take off. The 2.5 hour connection at Frankfurt was barely enough time for us to grab our luggage, go through customs (a mere nod of the head by some bored looking officers), navigate the vast rabbit warren of Frankfurt Airport, check in with our e-tickets after trying to figure out how to actually check us both in rather than just one, get a cappuccino and croissant for Michelle, clear security, and board the plane. It was 5°C outside when we landed on a fine sunny morning.
I'm glad we got a slow connection here, because the faster option would have been too fast for us. Frankfurt Airport is huge and it took us some time to figure out where and how to check our bags in for Berlin. It also smells of tobacco smoke, which we noticed almost as soon as we got off the plane. There are small "smoking point" areas scattered around the mostly non-smoking terminal, but they are out in the open with apparently no effort at all made to stop the smoke drifting anywhere. It will be good to get off in Berlin and get out in some fresh air.
We've just had a hard-earned shower and are taking a few minutes rest before hitting the streets of Berlin again. The Arte Luise Kunsthotel has rooms decorated by local artists in some rather unusual styles. Our room was designed by Dieter Mammel, and is named Mammel's Traum, or "Mammel's Dream". The bed and other furniture is giant-sized, to give one the impression of being a small child. Very cool.
We landed at Berlin-Tegel on time at 10:05. After collecting our bags, we wandered out to the arrivals area to look for the metro station. A bit of aimless wandering didn't spot anything, so we asked at information, where the lady informed us that there was no train, only buses. She pointed us vaguely in the right direction and we searched around until we located a bus sign, which we followed almost all the way around the circular terminal building before locating a ticket office and some bus stands outside.
Since I'd been expecting we could hop on the metro (at the station named Tegel on the map in our Lonely Planet - silly me), I'd only worked out how to get to our hotel that way. So I told the guy selling bus tickets our hotel name in the hope he could tell us which bus to get and where to get off. He asked for an address, which luckily I could give him. He wandered off to a back room and returned with a printout that said "TXL". Not understanding him, I said I didn't speak German, at which he said he was speaking English. We had to take bus "TXL" and get off at Karlplatz. He sold us tickets, €4.20 total, and we walked out where a TXL bus was loaded up and ready to leave.
We dashed on board and expected it to go. It didn't go.
After several minutes of the driver's faffing around, turning the engine on and off, he seemed to conclude it wasn't going to move, so most people got off. Someone on the bus advised us to join the exodus. We followed and waited on the kerb, not knowing what was up. A mechanic came and fiddled with something where the batteries were, and the driver had another go but it seemed to be dead. Then after the mechanic had another go they announced all was well and told people to get back on. Some did, but the driver closed the door before we could and tried to start up again, and the bus failed. So he opened the doors and told some people to get off. A couple did, then he closed the doors and drove off.
Luckily another bus arrived almost immediately and we piled on. This one wasn't so crowded and we got a seat. It took us through interesting streets lined with fresh spring foliage and old European buildings, past canals and churches. The bus ticket guy had said we get off at Karlplatz, one stop before the Hauptbahnhof. So when the bus pulled into a massive train station I panicked, thinking we'd missed our stop, and we dashed off the bus. Then I raced back in to query the driver if Karlplatz was behind or ahead. He said it was the next stop, which confused me, but we got back on. He was right and we got off at Karlplatz, a mere minute's easy stroll to our hotel. I later discovered that Berlin is building an immense new central railway station which was presumably the one before Karlplatz that wasn't in either our Lonely Planet map or the bus route map displayed at the airport.
We dropped our luggage at the hotel, being too early to check in, and went straight out for a wander.
We're back at the hotel again for an early night in so we can catch up on sleep.
Earlier, after dropping our bags off, we walked straight down Luisestraße, under the train line, and across the Spree River, where there was some sort of fitness expo on, complete with a fun run event that we saw the start of. We also got our first look at the Reichstag, an impressive old stone edifice with a bizarre steel and glass dome bubbling out of the top of it. We continued south down Willhelmstraße to Unter den Linden where we turned right for our first sight-seeing of the Brandenburg Gate. Before getting there though, we had to dodge our way past a huge queue of people. We had no idea what they were waiting for until we got to the head of the queue some 50 metres down the street and saw it was the French embassy and there was a notice posted about today's French elections.
Back to the Gate. Despite having seen numerous photos, it's amazing to see it in real life. The view from Pariser Platz on the eastern side was awe-inspiring. Despite being atop the colossal stone columns and lintel, those copper horses and figure still look huge. We took numerous photos, then went to check out the Room of Silence, which we saw but had no idea what it was. It's a non-denominational room insulated (mostly) from the hustle and bustle of the platz outside, sparsely decorated, where people can just sit in silence and contemplate the history of this area or whatever else they want. The reason I say mostly is because on the western side of the Gate was a kinderfest with a very loud concert going on that penetrated the silence in a muffled way. Still, it was powerful stuff, sitting in that very quiet, sparse room
Brandenburg Gate and the stones of Pariser Platz
We walked through the Gate and were turned right by the kinderfest, which occupied the street leading into the Tiergarten, and was charging admission. So we turned north towards the Reichstag. I paused to buy a Berliner currywurst from a street stall named "WURST :-)" (yes, with a smiley). It was basically just a sausage smothered in tomato sauce and then sprinkled liberally with curry powder. Good, but not terribly filling.
Michelle decided she needed some lunch, so we followed a sign we'd spotted advertising Adhâri, a vegetarian restaurant, 650 metres away down Wilhelmstraße. It turned out to be a south-east Asian place in a small plaza of several restaurants. We ordered fried won-tons for starters, then a yellow curry rice for me and fried noodles and veges in a soya sauce for Michelle. We got as far as ordering drinks before the waitress realised we spoke English, so that was pretty good. The food was excellent, though perhaps a tiny bit expensive. I fear this will be an expensive trip.
From there, we walked back to Unter den Linden and turned east to check out what looked to be a shopping district, thick with souvenir shops. Michelle browsed in several. We turned north at Friedrichstraße to go back towards the Hofbahnhof and the hotel for a rest. We found a grocery store in the station and Michelle got some dried dates from a fruit and nut store. We bought fresh apples and pears from a grocery store, then walked back to the hotel.
We checked in to our room and finally shed the clothes we'd been wearing since Sydney. A couple of hot showers later, and we felt almost human again.
After a brief rest, we headed back out just after 17:00 to go see the Berliner Dom - a nice easy goal allowing us to get back for an early night. We walked back to Freidrichstraße and Unter den Linden via the station grocery store, where we bought some bread rolls, ham, and cheese, for a simple dinner and a 1.5 litre bottle of water for the very nice price of €0.29.
Then we walked east along Unter den Linden, passing the Russian embassy - a squat square block of granite - and emerging into the area flanked by Humboldt University and the State Opera House. Next to the uni was Max Planck's house, so I got a photo of course.
Heading further east, we boggled at the size and grandeur of the Berliner Dom. We wanted to look inside, but there was a service in progress so we couldn't go in and be all touristy. We meandered back to the hotel by a new route, more northerly and along the river most of the way. Despite there being nothing particular we'd chosen to see along this way, there were some interesting and scenic buildings and neighbourhoods. We saw a couple of swans on the river. We stumbled across a very promising place for dinner tomorrow: Kartoffel Keller. We took a menu as we strolled back to our hotel.
Inside, we ate our bread rolls while I transferred today's photos to the iPod and scrawled these notes. And now, at 20:30, it's time for an early night and 11 hours of sleep. Hopefully.
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