Berlin Part 2: Charlottenburg Palace and the Soviet War Memorial

5 October 2015. I had no more plans for the rest of my stay in Berlin, so I had plenty of time to just wing it. The only thing that I desperately wanted to do was a Third Reich tour. I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to do it, so I used the Get Your Guide app to help me. I actually had 3 full days to kill, so I booked it for the next day, 6 October – the day before I was going to leave.

Charlottenburg Palace

With the Third Reich tour all booked, I decided to go see Charlottenburg Palace. I wasn’t sure what the entrance fee would be, but I figured I’d at least be able to see the area around it.

I continued on passed the Friedrichstraße station, roughly 2km up the road from my hotel, so I could take in the beauty around the Spree River.

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After figuring out which train I needed to take, I got on the S-bahn to he Charlottenburg stop. There was a closer station (at least, one for a bus), but I wanted to walk a bit so I could see the area. It was a little out of the CBD, so I expected it to be a little more laid back and spacious. It was exactly that.

I took a really slow walk because it was still early in the day, and had that feeling again…the one where I was going in the wrong direction. It was the first time that happened since Hallstatt. I was using my map to navigate out of the station onto the main street, but I had lost my bearings after getting off the train due to the layout of the station. Instead of turning right, I turned left i.e. south. I lost myself (literally and figuratively) for at least 3o minutes before realising that the sun was supposed to be on my right, not my left. It was still early enough for me to be able to use the sun to navigate, but I was just too busy taking pictures and enjoying the weather to have noticed sooner. Once I figured out which way was north, I had to whip out my phone just to make sure that I was actually standing where I thought I was, and then to determine where the nearest main street was. I was only about 2 blocks off, so once I got onto Kaiser-Friedrich-Straße, it was straight ahead from there.Charlottenburg

About an hour later, I got to the palace. There weren’t many people around, and my next task was to find the entrance. It didn’t seem very obvious as there was some construction going on. I figured I’d walk around the perimeter to find a way in and it wasn’t long before I found one. I had completely forgotten about my Berlin Welcome Card, which could have saved me quite a bit on the €16 entrance fee. It was because of the price that I decided not to do the palace tour. I felt better by reminding myself that a lot of palaces looked the same, and since I had been to Neuschwanstein, the chances of Charlottenburg being better wasn’t that high.

The palace gardens were massive so my backup plan of exploring them kicked in. I felt like I had discovered another Secret Garden. It reminded me a little of the Nymphenburg Palace gardens in Munich, but it was much more manicured and tame. As for the noise? Non-existent.

Charlottenburg Palace Gardens

The thing I remember most about the gardens was the squirrel I made friends with. While walking through one of the lanes, I noticed a tree stump in the foliage, and it had some cut up pieces of carrot on it. It was when I first realised that the squirrels would come to take it. Since it wasn’t too far in, I decided to take some of the carrot sticks and try my luck, since I had seen a squirrel scurrying about nearby. To my delight, it came quite close to me, so I got down on my haunches and put my hand out, waiting for it to come. And it did.

Having gotten the encounter with a squirrel that I always wanted, I went off to admire the rest of the gardens. There was one particular view of the palace that I wanted, so I went as far into the garden as I possibly could until I eventually got it.

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That for me marked the end of my trip to the palace, so I had to now find my way back into the city centre. I actually thought it would be better to go back to my hotel to have a bit of a break, and also call my friend for her birthday (I promised her before leaving SA that I would). I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for the rest of the afternoon, but for now, I needed to find a shorter way back to the city. I also was pretty hungry because I had totally walked off what I had eaten for breakfast, but I didn’t worry about it too much because my meal times had generally become so messed up on this trip anyway.

Richard Wagner Platz

I took a walk all the way to the nearest bus stop, whose name amused me a little – Richard-Wagner-Platz. I caught the U7 to Yorckstraße, which was actually a little out of the way, but it was a pain in the ass trying to read the transportation map because sometimes the S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations were the same, and sometimes they’d be across the street or a block or 2 away from each other. It’s good to keep that in mind and plan your route properly in advance. Anyway, getting to Yorckstraße then made it extremely easy for me to get back to Potsdamer Platz because I could get straight on the U2 to Bernau which stopped directly in Potsdamer Platz.

I spent about an hour in my hotel freshening up, catching up on social media and letting my friends know where I was, and finally getting hold of my friend to wish her for her birthday. I mean, how often do you get a chance to call a friend from Berlin?

Brandenburg Gate

After I spoke to her, I headed out again and decided to go to Brandenburg Gate and meet up with a guy I had chatted to a little. He was also on holiday for a couple days in Berlin and happened to be leaving that evening, so we literally had about 30 minutes to say hi and walk around the area a bit. Don’t ask about how I was chatting to him, but you can probably guess. I had made it clear that I was on holiday and was not interested in any funny business if you know what I mean. I’m always open to meeting new people so thought one more friend or connection couldn’t hurt.

When I got to Brandenburg Gate, there were, as usual, hundreds of people around. Fortunately though, it didn’t take me too long to find him. I felt like a complete idiot for asking if he could take a photo of me with the gate in the background, but it was only because people I had asked on the previous day were so completely useless, that I just didn’t have a decent photo. Thankfully, he managed to get one after several failed attempts of trying to get the woman behind me to move…one who was completely oblivious to her surroundings. We eventually gave up, and this was the result.

Brandenburg Gate

When I look at the picture now, I’m just glad I’m not the guy in the background who is completely missing the point.

After I said bye to my new acquaintance, I walked behind the gate towards another familiar area that was the Reichstag. There was a wurst stand that I had noticed the day before, and I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t eaten since the morning and it was nearly time for supper. I decided to get a currywurst, since I was a little too tired to go looking for another place. I also thought I’d take the opportunity to sit while I could, because there was too much left of the day for me to just go straight back to the hotel.

After eating, I went by the Reichstag again and suddenly remembered that I actually wanted to get myself a German Tshirt of some sort. There were a number of little shops opposite the Reichstag so I perused through them until I found one that I liked. It was actually a soccer jersey which I thought was awesome, and not a bad price of €15. From there, I wandered off in the direction of the prettiest looking streets, not really caring which way that was or how far I was going. Although, I did keep my general bearings in mind.

The Soviet War Memorial

After walking for a little while, I saw a really large statue peeking out over some hedges. It was obviously a soldier, but I was curious to see what it was for. As it turned out, I had stumbled upon the Tiergarten, and this happened to be the Soviet War Memorial. It was literally down the road from Brandenburg Gate, and I could have actually just walked straight from there to get to it. But just as well that I didn’t, because it was closed off from the road because of the falling of the Berlin Wall celebrations that had happened over the weekend. The road was almost entirely cleared out, so pretty much only the barriers remained.

There were some photographs with lengthy captions nearby which I enjoyed reading, as they were mostly from late 1945. The large statue of the Soviet soldier was actually hoisted on top of the monument – I would have loved to have watched that.

Soviet War Memorial

There was also an artillery on either side of the monument, and a tank. It was a little surreal.

Even though it was still a little early, I was actually pretty exhausted from all the walking. Now that I think of it, I was a complete idiot because there was one thing I wanted to do so badly while I was planning my trip, but I had completely forgotten about it when I actually got to Berlin. I will say what that was in my next post.

There was one other thing too, and that was to get a photo of Brandenburg Gate from the back. Had the barriers not been there, I would have gotten it then and there. All I could hope for was for everything to be cleared out before I left. The following night would be my last in Berlin, and I was pretty confident that the roads would be clear and ready for me by then. After all, Germans are very efficient in everything they do.

Prague to Berlin

Berlin. Just the sound of that name makes me sigh with wonder. It has been a bucket list item for countless years, and even though I have finally ticked it off, there’s still something alluring about it that I just can’t seem to put my finger on.

My desire to make Berlin happen started in 2013 after seeing The Piano Guys’ new music video, aptly named Berlin. It sounds cheesy, I know, but once a song like that gets into your brain, all sorts of things start happening. Even though I had just done a Contiki tour the previous year, it didn’t cover any major German cities, so my need to see Berlin still wasn’t satisfied.

Brooke from World Of Wanderlust is the one who put things in motion for me. She had moved to Berlin for a few months and offered for me to stay with her. So the whole thinking behind this trip was to do whatever I needed to, then save Berlin (the best) for last. Even though circumstances changed and she no longer could keep up residence there, I had made up my mind to do the trip. After all, why should her absence put me off? I’m pretty sure I’m going to bump into her again at some point. I still have to thank her for indirectly influencing me to do this trip.

I woke up very excited on the morning of October 3, 2015. I had already asked for a cab to take me to the main station, so after having my last breakfast on the wonderful Botel Matylda, I gathered my things and checked out so I would be ready to go once the cab arrived at 9:30. My train was going to leave at 10:3o so even though the station was pretty close to the hotel, I wanted to be there early. The cab fare was set at €10, much cheaper than what I had paid the day I arrived in Prague, and considering the hassle it would save me, I didn’t hesitate to arrange for one.

Praha hlavní nádraží

The friendly driver arrived early at 9:25 and loaded my bag into the car. I trusted the hotel receptionist to remind him where to drop me, since I didn’t want to make an idiot of myself by pronouncing “hlavní nádraží” incorrectly. I had become so used to German that I had to consciously remind myself to not say Hauptbahnhof.

There was only one thing I hoped for the morning I woke up to leave Prague: that I’d take one train directly to Berlin. Up until now, getting in between cities was really a mission, especially from Salzburg to Prague. From what I could tell, this was a direct train.

The cab driver didn’t speak much English, but I somehow managed to confirm with him that he was in fact taking me to the main train station. The poor guy sweetly tried to make small talk, so I used as few words as possible to make understanding simple for him. He basically asked where I was from and whether I had enjoyed Prague.

The station was very busy but it was easy to find the schedule, mostly because there were hoards of people standing in front of it. I still had a while to wait – my platform wasn’t listed until after 10.

Train schedule at Prague Central Station

There were tonnes of tourists around me, all of whom rushed as soon as the platform appeared on the screen. I just had to observe them to know which direction to go in, which, conveniently, was around the corner from where I was standing. I heard something fall in front of me, and looked down to find a palm-sized pink plastic suitcase. It obviously belonged to a child, but there was not a single one in sight. There was a young Chinese couple in front of me, and I know it sounds very stereotypical, but I figured that it might have belonged to the girl because it seemed most likely in the absence of children. I asked, but it was not hers. I decided to hang onto it and keep my eyes open for anyone that might come looking. No one came, and I realised that the child who had dropped it was probably hurrying to their platform and had already left.

I could feel that there was something in it, but didn’t want to open it until the last minute. When my platform eventually showed on the screen, I made my way to it, still looking around for someone who might want the tiny suitcase I was holding. Eventually I decided that the owner was indeed gone, so it would be fine if I looked inside. There were 4 Stickeez in it, each of a different colour. I chuckled to myself because I had heard some ridiculous stories about them being evil. It was the stupidest thing I had ever heard.

I thought about what to do with them, then decided that it would be a good way for me to remember that very moment in time, so I kept the Stickeez and threw away the little suitcase. They are now on my desk at work.

I had a few minutes to wait and enjoy the fresh air of my last few moments in Prague. I was very sad to leave, but knew that this trip wouldn’t be my last.

The Aussie and the Czech

I had booked a private compartment reserved for women, but the train was quite full, and I ended up sharing my compartment with not only another woman, but 2 men as well. I didn’t mind though, since it was a 6 seater. There was plenty of space for all of us, and for my bag too, luckily. The woman appeared to be in her mid 50s, and looked quite dignified and established, and somewhat nerdy. Of the 2 men, the older one seemed to be a local as he didn’t have any baggage, greeted only the other woman (in Czech) and went straight to sleep before the train could even leave. The younger man looked to be in his early 20s, and just had a small backpack with him. He didn’t say anything, but his blonde hair and tall, muscular physique indicated that he might be Australian.

The train journey was going to be at least 5 hours long, and I was slightly disappointed that the woman and the older man had gotten to the compartment first, meaning they got the window seats. Thankfully, the man got off the train after 2 stops, but since the younger guy was on the same side as him, he moved up towards the window.

The woman had started talking to the younger guy before he moved to the window, and as soon he opened his mouth, my suspicions of him being an Australian were confirmed. The woman, as it turned out, was a local. She was incredibly friendly and curious about the guy and I. It was certainly the most fun train ride I’ve ever had, as our conversation carried on for nearly 2 hours.

The guy, Chris, was only 24 and had been cycling around Europe for the past 3 months. He works for a company in London that was closed for 6 months in order to do some major renovations (I’d really like to know which company can afford to close for that long and still be in business). With all the free time he had, he was literally living out of a backpack with a sleeping bag and tent, while cycling through every corner of Europe he could possibly reach. He was living a dream. Well, except for the tent. We asked where he’d been and where he planned to go next, and of course, why he was on a train when he’s meant to be cycling. The reason was both amusing and frustrating: he got delayed by more than a day from cycling through the Austrian Alps, which messed up some of his schedule. So in order to make it to his reservations in Prague on time, he had to take a train there from Dresden. The problem was that that particular train he had booked did not allow bicycles on it. He had to either leave his bicycle behind (locked up on the platform), or stay behind with it. Of course, rather than lost his reservation for 5 days, it was better to just leave his bike behind and go back for it. So he was on my train only until we got to Dresden, where he’d fetch his bike and immediately head back to Prague on another train.

His plan was to head further south and end up somewhere around Istanbul. There was a bit of trouble there at the time, so I hope he made it safely. His only deadline was to be back home in Australia to spend Christmas with his family. I’m sure he made it.

The woman, whose name I didn’t really catch, was going to be with us for less time since she was going to the house that her parents left her in order to tend to the rock garden. How often does one hear a story like that? She lives in Prague and is involved in several things, one of which is being the secretary general of some organisation that helped underprivileged children. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it or what it entails exactly, but I remember being fascinated. She was also involved in other things that sent her all over the world to lecture and set up facilities in places from Kenya to Vancouver, and she had also lived in the US for several years while studying her Doctorate. She was certainly someone to look up to, and I regret not asking for her contact information so I could keep in touch.

The Refugee Crisis

Chris, the woman and I spoke about many things including the refugee crisis, and it was very interesting getting her (i.e.: a local European) opinion. As we all know, the Czech Republic was not open to the Syrian refugees, and the media feeds us a lot of stories that we as outsiders tend to believe. She was not speaking on behalf of all Czech people. but her personal opinion was that she did not want the refugees to come into her country as from what she saw happening in some of the other European countries, the refugees were demanding things from the locals.

Even though they were in desperate need, they did not accept food and water from a certain Christian organisation as the items they were distributing had the symbol of a cross on it. According to her, they went as far as emptying the water bottles and throwing the food away. That to me was horrifying, and certainly not what I expected to hear. She said that if you are going to someone for help, you should take what you can get; you should not be fussy about what they offer you. I do agree with that, but it saddens me that in some (I’m sure not all) cases this is not what has been happening. She also felt that by them coming in, cultures and traditions would get lost, and she was too proud of being Czech to want that mixture to happen.

It was a very interesting conversation indeed.

Dresden to Berlin

The woman said goodbye and wished us well as she left the train at the last stop before entering Germany, leaving me with Chris. After she left, I changed seats and moved to the window next to which she had sat. We had about an hour to get to Dresden, so Chris and I decided to have a bite to eat. The woman had given me half of her sandwich, after much persuasion. It was incredibly kind of her, and I was very grateful because I hadn’t bought anything to eat before leaving Prague. The only food I had with me was a pack of Oreos which I decided to keep for later. The sandwich was enough to keep me going till after Dresden, and I figured I’d get something upon my arrival in Berlin.

We passed incredibly beautiful towns (or rather, villages) on the way to Dresden, the majority of which lay alongside a river which I assumed was the Rhine. Turns out it’s actually the Elbe. Chris said it was such a pity he hadn’t had the chance to stop at any of them. He was on a midnight train to Prague the night before and everything was pitch black, so he had no idea what he was going passed.

Dresden HBF

As we approached Dresden, I was surprised at how big it was. I was expecting a town, not a city. How naive I was. I asked Chris about it and he said it was wonderful, and that there was so much to do. I did consider doing a day trip out of Berlin, but figured I didn’t have enough time in Berlin to spend a whole day going back in the direction I had just come from. Ideally, I should have spent a night in Dresden and headed to Berlin from there. Oh well, now I know!

I had the next hour to myself to enjoy the peace and quiet, not to mention the scenic rail route I was on. I took my iPod out again for the first time since the woman had started talking about 30 minutes after leaving Prague. I had a theme song for this trip, and it has now become my motto:

“One day you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember.”

When I arrived in Berlin, I was shocked at how massive the main station was. I had seen pictures of it from the outside, but I didn’t realise it would resemble a shopping mall on the inside. There were several levels and escalators and lifts all over the place, not to mention shops and restaurants.

Berlin HBF

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Once I left the train, my next step was to get a ticket to Potsdamer Platz, where my hotel was. It wasn’t long before I found a ticket machine, however finding the right platform turned out to be a bit of a mission as I thought all the trains were on the same level, when in fact the local trains ran a few levels up from the level I had arrived on, not to mention perpendicular to them. Luckily there are tonnes of friendly people to ask. It was also a mission to find a map of the network so I’d know which direction to go in. Thankfully the station had WiFi, so I was able to look it up.

Berlin HBF

Motel One

I arrived at Potsdamer Platz within about 10 minutes, and because I had studied the area on Google Maps and Street View, I knew which direction to exit the station from. The station was about 100m from my hotel, and there were escalators going up, so it was very easy for me to reach my hotel from there. I had definitely picked an awesome spot to stay.

Motel One, Berlin

When I arrived at the Motel One, check in was seamless apart from the fact that I had to make my payment. It was one of 2 destinations on this trip that required payment upon arrival. I was then handed my check in confirmation, which included my unique WiFi password. It was the biggest hotel I had stayed in on my trip, and I was excited to be checking into a place that chic. I was on the 7th floor so I thought I’d have brilliant views, but the direction I was facing wasn’t that desirable, although I was directly above the glass ceiling of the Mall of Berlin.

Mall of Berlin

I was completely exhausted that evening, and even though I was starving, I spent the rest of the evening hibernating in my room. I thought of going out to find something to eat, but I just wanted to stay in bed.

The next few days were going to be busy, so I needed all the rest I could get. Since I had a decent tv in my room which automatically turned on when I put my room key card in its slot, I decided to watch some local tv to find out what was going on. Turns out it was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, and that there were major festivities happening at Brandenburg Gate. I considered taking a walk to see what was going on, but my body was just tired. Brandenburg gate was only about 1.2km away, so I figured I’d just take a walk there the following day.

I had much to look forward to as I crawled into bed, as I would be doing a Hot Rod tour of the city the next morning. I was finally in Berlin.

2015: A Year In Pictures

This year has been one of the best I’ve had. Even though it started off with pain, I decided to let everything go and see the good side of the situation, and many others that I didn’t have control over.

2015 has taught me that there is simply no point in refusing to accept a situation you don’t have control of, as it only amounts to bitterness, hate, and all things negative. If you choose acceptance, it can only result in positive emotions such as forgiveness, hence the ability to move on.

My dreams were big this year, and a lot of them became a reality. Putting ‘the situation’ aside (yes, it was a love thing), I focussed on the other things I really wanted to do. Here’s the result:

1. Getting together with my high school friends

We are in constant contact over Whatsapp, but being able to get all but 3 together with their husbands and children was awesome. The 7 of us make up MR FANTT – Megna, Rita, Fathima, Aradhna, Natasha, Trisha, and Tamika. We are each other’s support group 24/7 and I’ve been through a lot with them. They’re friends I truly treasure. Love you all!

MR FANTT

2. I got promoted

It was something I was working very hard for, and it finally happened. I never thought I’d be good enough to have the title of Senior Developer (at least, not just yet), but getting promoted taught me to stop doubting myself. We’re all capable of much more than we think we are.

Newly appointed senior developer

3. My cousin got married

The second youngest of the cousins on my dad’s side of the family, my cousin Thenushka got married. It had been ages since the last family wedding, so it was awesome seeing everyone together.

4. Two of my three best friends finally met

I’ve known Sophia for about 18.5 years now, 10 years more than the time I’ve known Rowan, but they had never met until a few months ago. Rowan comes to visit me in Johannesburg every year (he lives in Durban), and Sophia, who lives in Cape Town, came for a quick business trip with her parents. I had not seen her for about 7 years, so to have her and Rowan on either side of me filled me with so much happiness that I actually can’t really describe it. Sophia, Rowan, and Trisha (seated to my right in the first picture above) are like 3 of my limbs. My life would be very different without them.

Rowan and Sophia

5. I attended a One Direction concert

Ok, so just to be clear, this is not something I planned on doing at all. However, I must admit, those boys are pretty talented and they churn out some rather good music. Thanks to my friend Tejal, we got some really good seats. It was the band’s first show since Zayn Malik left, and it was quite remarkable seeing people selling their tickets outside the stadium since he was the only one they came to see. The concert started over an hour late, but the music kept the crowd entertained enough for the whole stadium to get up and dance to The Macarena. It was definitely a memorable experience.

One Direction

6. I bought the car I’ve always wanted

I’ve been a fan of BMW since I was about 10 years old. I loved the way they looked and sounded, and I always dreamt of having my own. This year, I was finally able to get myself one – a 320i M Sport.

Drogon

7. I attended my friend’s baby shower

I was very excited about Shaylyn’s baby not only because she’s my colleague-turned-friend, but because she was due in August – my birthday month. The date she was given was the week of my birthday, so I was hoping right up until the very last moment that she would give birth on my birthday. However, due to the doctor’s schedule, Shaylyn (below centre) was forced to have her 3 days prior to my birthday. Nevertheless, I’ve got a very soft spot for the little Poppins (as I call her).

Shaylyn's baby shower

8. I finally attended a craft beer festival

Even though I was going to Oktoberfest in Munich less than 2 months later, my friends and I booked tickets for the Craft Beer, Food, and Wine festival about 4 months in advance. I guess you could look at it as a way to get me used to drinking beer before the big event in Munich.

We spent the entire afternoon there and enjoyed tasting different craft beers and food, and bought some delicious things to take home, too. The one thing I won’t forget is the merchant I bought a bottle of wine from – he opened it before handing it to me. Who does that?!

9. I caught up with Mayuriga

Mayuriga is the first friend I made when I started university way back in 2003. We were 2 of about 10 girls in a class of 60 mechanical engineering students. Coming from an all-girls primary and high school, suddenly being dumped in a class of 50 boys was a huge shock. Over the years, Mayuriga and I met every second year or so, but this year was the first time we could get together in Joburg. After something like 22 attempts (about 15 of which were selfies), we finally got a decent photo together.

With Mayuriga

10. I ticked off over a dozen bucket list items

The biggest thing for me this year, by far, is my recent trip to Europe (which I’m still not done writing about). What was on my bucket list to begin with and which ones did I tick off?

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What did I learn this year? Don’t take life so seriously. Do what your heart tells you; only then will you find real happiness. A friend said to me that Avicii’s The Nights reminds him of me. Because of it’s super relevant lyrics, I’ve named it my theme song.

“One day, you’ll leave this world behind. So live a life you will remember.”

Thanks, 2015.

Bavaria Part 1: Munich

My trip is actually over now and I can’t really believe it. I left with many bucket list items and am happy to report that all were ticked off.

The truth is that when people asked me if I’m excited about my trip, all I could think of was that I felt like I was going home. It was a strange feeling considering I was going to places I had never been to before. I had never experienced such a feeling before, and it was probably the most at peace that I’ve ever felt.

So what exactly did I get up to in Munich? Here’s a breakdown:

Accommodation

I used AirBnB for my stay in Munich as it was the only affordable accommodation close to the city centre, at least, for that time of year (since Oktoberfest is the busiest that Munich gets). I stayed on the south east side of the city, about a 10 minute walk away from the Giesing metro station.

My host was a 40-something year old man named Klaus, who was friendly and welcoming. Now I know what you must be thinking…”A single girl being hosted by a single man? That can’t be safe!”. Relax, I did enough researching before I made my booking, and only did so after I saw that a fair number of other single women had stayed with him before and had nice things to say.

There were 2 things that were off with Klaus, however. The first was that upon my arrival, he asked if I enjoy cooking, to which I replied yes. Because I had mentioned that I wanted to go to the Viktual Market, he said that I should get groceries from there so I could cook that very same evening. I was not impressed as not only was it my first day in a totally foreign city, I had also just traveled for 17 hours and had not slept, so the last thing I wanted to do was have to cook, especially when I was on holiday. I tried my best to politely refuse, but he just wouldn’t take no for an answer. In the end, he threw in so many different spices into it that it the end result was a disaster. At least, for me.

Odeonsplatz

The second thing about Klaus was that something he said to me not long after I arrived: “If any of the neighbours see you and ask who you are, just say you’re my friend and are staying with me for a few days”. This was something I had read about where tenants’ landlords are not aware that they are sub-letting the property. From the moment he said that to me, I prayed that I would not see any of his neighbours. Thankfully, I didn’t. So to avoid possibly getting kicked out, make sure you know enough about who you’re staying with.

Overall, I had a pleasant stay. I did not see Klaus much at all after my first day, since he was either working late or visiting his daughter far out of the city. I always left early in the morning before he could wake up, so there was practically no interaction with him until it was time to leave.

I would probably use AirBnB again, but since I prefer the privacy of staying alone, I would look at something where I have the place entirely to myself. Homestay is another option that I heard of recently, so I will probably try that next time.

The Viktual Market

The Viktual Market is an absolute must-do when in Munich. It is a bustling market that not only sells great food and the most amazing fresh produce, but also has a world-famous beer garden. It was here that I spent my entire first afternoon in Munich, since I had to try to find something to cook that evening.

BeerGarden2

BeerGarden1

Since I hadn’t tried German beer or curry wurst on my first 2 trips to Germany, I made sure I got both on my first day right in the Viktual Market itself. The beer garden is always busy, so the beer keeps flowing. They do not pour the beer when you order it; instead, they pour it into the various sized glasses and you pick up the one you want. This keeps the line moving quicker since you don’t need to wait for what you want.

I found a standing table near some locals, and they were only too happy to take photos not only of me, but with me too. I exchanged the favour of course, but it was lovely experiencing that German friendliness and warmth again.

Marienplatz

Marienplatz is the centre of town and was my favourite spot in the city. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful, but the atmosphere is simply electric. There is also free Wi-Fi called M-WLAN Free Wi-fi, which is strongest at the entrance to the S-Bahn closest to the Viktual Market end. The Wi-Fi is so good that I managed to make a crystal clear Skype call, 10 minutes in length, to a friend back home in South Africa.

Marienplatz

I found myself using Marienplatz as the main starting point for anywhere else that I wanted to go, and would walk hours and hours from there, only to return to take the same route back to where I was staying, which brings me to my next point.

TransportationMunich metro plan

Munich’s transportation system is by far the most convenient and easiest to navigate from all the cities I went to on this trip. There is one station per stop (which I will elaborate on when I write about Berlin) so it is a breeze to get around. I’ve used a number of metro maps before, and Munich’s one is without a doubt one of the simplest ones I’ve seen. There is an S-Bahn and a U-Bahn, which are very easy to find. Getting around the stations is seamless as they are clearly marked in both English and German in most places, so if you don’t speak the language, you’ll be fine if you have common sense.

I wanted to visit Nymphenburg Palace while I was in Munich, so Klaus advised me to take the S8 to the Hauptbahnhof then to get onto tram 17 which would take me right to the palace. Following directions was so painless and hassle free that it was impossible to get lost. I have never felt so comfortable in a foreign city the way I did in Munich.

Nymphenburg Palace

This is another place that is a must see. The palace gardens are humongous, and they took me around 2 hours to walk around the inner pathways, although I did spend at least 30 minutes sitting at the lake. The gardens are lush and green, and made me feel as though I had stepped into the Secret Garden. It is not everyday that you get the feeling that you’re walking in a forest, but these gardens are so big and the trees are so thick in some areas that apart from the rustling of the leaves in the wind, there is no other sound. I particularly enjoyed the silence at the lake, in the company of ducks and swans. The last time I was fully alone with my thoughts like this was back in 2012 when I was being pulled up the side of Mt Pilatus on a toboggan. It is a rare pleasure that we all need every once in a while.

Nymphenburg Palace

Munich was my favourite city from this trip. I have never felt that at home in a foreign place before. If there is one place I could see myself living in, its there. The only thing I regret is not having spent at least another day there; so if you’ve never been before, I recommend staying at least 5 days in Munich as there is tonnes to see and do, and plenty of beauty to take in. The culture is what got me hooked to it more than anything else. The locals are Bavarians first, then German. They are extremely proud of their heritage and it is visible everywhere you go. If you really want to see the culture at its best i.e. when they’re in traditional wear, go during Oktoberfest. It is like nothing you have ever seen.

 

7 Reasons Why You Should Travel Solo

Whenever I say I want to go on a trip, one of the first questions I get asked is who I’m going with. A few years ago, I never imagined travelling alone. But one day, after getting tired of waiting for friends who couldn’t make their mind up, I decided to just make my bookings and go.

My first ‘solo’ trip was with Contiki, and although I was going on a tour with 50 complete strangers for 16 days, I was still alone. The thing is, when I think of that trip, ‘alone’ is not a bad word. ‘Alone’ is the ability to be completely independent if you want to be, and with company if you don’t want to be by yourself. Being alone did not mean you were lonely, which is a common misconception.

Here’s my reasons for loving solo travel:

1. Independence

You can do whatever you want, wherever you want. Want to spend money only on the cheap stuff? Fine! Want to splurge? Fine! Want to go to a museum that others might find boring? Fine! There’s no one to tell you “no”.

St Peter's Church, Zurich

St Peter’s Church, Zurich

2. Time Travel

Time can stand still. Its just you and your surroundings, and not a single thing to interrupt you.

Chamonix-Mont Blanc, France

Chamonix-Mont Blanc, France

 

Time can even move backwards.

Greek potter - Athens

Greek potter – Athens

 

3. Watching the World go by

It can be very difficult finding a travel partner that moves at the same pace as you. Chances are they’ll be lazy to wake up early and/or lack the desire to do what you want to do, leaving you both frustrated and with the feeling of not having seen or done what you set out to do in the first place. If you’re alone, however, you can sit on that bench staring at the view for however long you want. You can take as long as you want to eat that sandwich. You might want to wake up at the crack of dawn just to see a sunrise over the mountains. It is better to be alone to enjoy these little pleasures, than have the wrong company.

Young football fans playing alongside Lake Geneva

Young football fans playing alongside Lake Geneva

 

4. Making friends

You can’t really go anywhere without talking to anyone. Travelling alone encourages you to make friends by talking to the locals and meeting people from different parts of the world. Very often, you meet other travellers that might be looking for the same things that you are, like directions to an event, perhaps.

Australian friends at a train station in Paris

Australian friends at a train station in Paris

 

5. Getting to know Yourself

It sounds like such a cliché, but the truth is that when you’re completely alone in a foreign place, you learn things about yourself that you didn’t have the time to learn while you were living your crazy life. You get to know what you’re capable of, and what your heart really wants. You’re free from the distractions of your normal, everyday life. You will also feel more alive than you ever have before.

Eastborne, UK

Eastbourne, UK

 

6. Overcoming my fears

Travelling alone can be scary for those who have never tried it before. But trust me, once you do it, your fears will start to disappear. You get to challenge yourself and overcome those fears just by having a little courage. The more you travel, the less you fear.

White water rafting in the Austrian Tyrol

White water rafting in the Austrian Tyrol

 

7. Having that sense of accomplishment

Being forced to make your own decisions is the best thing that could happen to you. In a way, your survival instinct kicks in and you try to make the best of a situation. What’s the best thing I ever did, you ask? Booking that plane ticket for one. I have not regretted a single decision since. I can give myself a pat on the back for going to Europe solo just a year later, rafting even though I can’t swim, and helping some new-found friends pay less for some hats from a street vendor whom I thought was ripping them off, purely because of my use of Hindi. I can also proudly speak about chugging my first beer, yodelling on stage in front of at least 100 people, visiting CERN after trying for weeks to get a booking, and using my memory and sense of direction to walk from the Colosseum to St Peter’s Square without a map or asking anyone. Had I travelled with someone, there’s no way I would have met my German penpal of 15 years, either.

The Vatican from Castel Sant Angelo, Rome

The Vatican from Castel Sant Angelo, Rome

 

Thinking of travelling but have no one to go with? Here’s the truth: unless you stop waiting for people, its never going to happen.

So book that flight. Go.

It’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done.

10 Photos to Make You Want to Stay in a South African bush

A few months ago my friend and I booked a weekend away to the Mongena Game Lodge, about an hour out of Pretoria. Having grown up in South Africa, neither of us have actually explored it, and often we miss what’s right under our very noses.

 

Here are some of my favourite photos from the trip:

Breakfast outside, if you want

Breakfast outside, if you want

 

The "accidental" photo bomb

The “accidental” photo bomb

 

What are you looking at?

Curious deer that come almost within touching distance

 

Birds you can share the peace and quiet with

 

The shy giraffe

Baby giraffes that think you can’t see them if they hide their bodies behind trees

 

There was an endless fear that this guy would fall off his seat

The tracker that never seems to fall off his seat

 

The Boat House

The Boat House

 

Hiding elephants

Elephants that care only about what they’re eating

 

Reflections from the sky that make you forget the World

Reflections from the sky that make you forget the World

 

Early morning visitors that show up by your window before you've really woken up

Early morning visitors that show up by your window before you’ve really woken up

 

Where to Next?

Lately, everyone I know has been asking me when I’m travelling again, if not “where to next?”. My answer for the past year has always been the same – “I’m not sure”.

About a month ago, I did the road trip I wanted to do this year, which was to travel to the Drakensberg mountains with friends. It had been over 10 years since I had last been, so it was long overdue. I was also recovering from my Switzerland trip last September, so didn’t want to go overseas again this year. Well, ok, I did want to, but I told myself to calm down.

My first view of the Amphitheatre

Work has been insane this year, but in a good way. I made several good friends, some of which I can’t go without talking to on a daily basis. However, on the downside, I was so involved in everything that I found myself feeling like I’d be abandoning it in some way had I chosen to take a break. It was only when things became relatively quiet did I decide that I needed a week off in August – perfect time for my birthday and to do the Berg trip.

I avoid talking publicly about anything work-related, however I can’t help but share the below pic. These are the friends from work that I’m so proud to have. 3 are missing though – they know who they are. The lot below got together away from their busy schedules just to celebrate my 30th before I could make the Berg trip. They’re some of the most humble, down to earth and sincere people you’ll probably ever meet, and some of them have become closer than family. At times, I forget that we’re just friends.

20140820_162051_1

Because of the love and encouragement I’ve gotten from these friends, I have managed to get over a lot of things and think more clearly about what I want.

Since I got back to work, my next overseas trip has been picking at my brain. I’ve been so confused all year about where I wanted to go – USA? Australia? New Zealand? Thailand? Canada even? Whenever I thought about each of them, I was unsure and confused. My heart kept telling me that none of those places were where I really want to be. I’ve got friends in all of those places (except Thailand) but my heart kept holding me back. It was the reason why I kept telling people “I’m not sure”.

So where is my heart? I have come to realise that it is still in Europe. Europe is embedded in my soul, and I can’t escape it. Even though I’ve travelled neither to the west nor to the far east, those can always come later if and when I decide that I’m bored with Europe.

About 2 weeks ago while on my way to work, I had a light bulb moment. I had just stopped at a traffic light, my eyes not quite focussed on anything, and I said to myself out loud: “Berlin”. Coincidentally, later that day I read a tweet by my friend Brooke, author of World of Wanderlust (www.worldofwanderlust.com), saying that she had decided to put an end to living out of a suitcase. For a moment, I thought it was something to do with her stopping travelling, which freaked me out for a few moments. I wasted no time in reading the blog post she had attached to the tweet. Why do I say it was a coincidence? In her post, she said she had decided to move to Berlin! Now what are the odds that the very same morning, I had uttered the word “Berlin” to myself?

I do believe in 6 degrees of separation and that we have a deeper connection to people than we think. Its funny how things work and how we meet and get along with certain people. Brooke, for example, became a friend of mine through Instagram and later, Twitter. We met a couple months ago when she was visiting Johannesburg, and for me it was like meeting an old friend.

Brooke at Neighbourgoods

After meeting Brooke, we communicated even more frequently on Twitter, no matter where in the world she went to since. It is fascinating keeping up with her and her travels, not to mention insanely inspiring. The reason I bring Brooke into this post is because she has largely influenced where I want to be next. Tying in saying “Berlin” out loud with her blog post about moving there has only made my decision easier. Its not very often that 2 friends on opposite ends of the world have exactly the same place in mind on exactly the same day, without prior discussion.

So I guess that settles it then. I now have an answer to that question that I’ve been asked so much lately. But its not just Berlin; it going to be Munich (including Neuschwanstein Castle) and Prague first – all bucket list items. Of course, Brooke will not be forgotten and I plan to visit her while in Berlin. As she says, visiting her “will be the gold at the end of the rainbow”.

The time to plan is upon me, so best I make haste.