Athens and Anafiotika

Back when I was a younger traveler – both in age and experience – I was all about Lonely Planet guides. And they were all great until I had literally the worst experience ever in Ecuador with a LP guide that – upon research – had terrible reviews, inaccurate outdated information and generally terrible guiding in a country where you actually need it.

Whereas Latin America often requires a guide book since the tourist sites aren’t well marked or easy to get to, as an English speaker in Europe, you really don’t need a guidebook for the most part. The major sites are well traveled, they all have English information pamphlets and most of the picture/statuary legends are translated into English. Plus there’s the entirety of the internet for hotel and food recommendations so traveling advice is everywhere if you want it.

But I still buy guidebooks because I often don’t have internet access when I’m wandering about in a city and when I travel to Europe, I buy a Rick Steves guide because he has kick ass city walking tours. Really, that’s my main thing. I love a good tourist site but what I really want to do in a new city is walk around, see the neighborhoods, find some beautiful stuff and learn a few things. Overall, Rick Steves is great for that kind of traveling and I’ve had great luck with his guides in Berlin, Istanbul, Spain and Belgium.

Rick Steves and Greek Coffee

The Rick Steves guide to Greece, however, has some great walking tours but he admits to bias for mainland Greece over the islands and he doesn’t like Athens. Weirdly, he wasn’t alone in that! He – and almost everyone else I talked to before I left – said “don’t stay in Athens any longer than you need to. Get in, see a few things and get out.”

I totally disagree.

Ya’ll, Athens is cool as hell. I found the city to be colorful and intriguing and full of a captivating cast of characters.

Athens Balloon Man

There were international groups of backpacking kids with 1 euro beers sitting in the Monastiraki square, rich European ladies dragging YSL luggage in their stiletto heels on cobblestones (!), craggy Greek men sitting around small café tables with permanently installed cigarettes discussing the world’s problems and crowds of young Greeks bustling about the business of life.

The city is full of street art. A lot of it is scribble but there are some really legitimately beautiful pieces all over the city.

Athens street art

Corey in Athens

It reminded me of Berlin. I suspect that with Athens’ economic issues, it’s like Berlin circa 1993 after the wall fell but before the city got back in its feet.

My favorite neighborhood was Anafiotika in the Plaka, a gorgeous neighborhood built by islanders from Anafi. It climbs right up the hill to the Acropolis

Anafiotika

Via long sets of stairs

Anafiotika

It’s a beautiful windy space full of cozy white buildings tucked into corners with blue shutters, blooming bougainvillea

Anafiotika

Trees growing into the buildings

Anafiotika

and always the neighborhood cats

Anafiotika

I saw the best street art in the whole city up in this neighborhood, like these Three Graceful Harpies

Three Graceful Harpies

This Humpty Dumpty reading

Humpty Dumpty reads

These lovers by our cafe table

The Lovers - Anafiotika

These tiny murals

Anafiotika

And this memento of the ocean

Anafiotika

The views of Athens were stunning from this hillside perch

Athens from Anafiotika

And I found myself dreaming of coming back here and living for a few months. I would rent a tiny place in this neighborhood and I likely wouldn’t ever come back with a view like this every day.

Anafiotika

We only spent a few days in Athens but I would go back in a minute. I found the city easy to navigate, full of beautiful things and I wanted more time to explore the neighborhoods and find some decent food. We had crap luck with food until the end of our trip.

But for real, Athens you’re a stunner. I can’t wait to revisit you!

MJH in Berlin

MJH in Berlin

Matt made it to Berlin! And despite flying for 6 hours and arriving at 1am his time, fielding a new country, currency and language and making his way to downtown Berlin to find my apartment, he had a less eventful morning than I did.

It’s been so dry here that I woke up with a bloody nose and then spilled coffee all over… well, all over something white that doesn’t belong to me. Given that this whole apartment is white, that gives me a lot of options. So my morning consisted of a lot of bad language and frantic attempts to clean blood off my face and coffee out of things for which it was never intended. And all this before 8am.

Despite that, I think the matter is solved – certainly my nose has stopped bleeding – and Matt arrived to be a witness to my insanity and patiently endured my endless “can you see the coffee here? how about here? here? Can you see it here?” questions when really he just wanted to drink some coffee and perhaps take a nap.

MJH in Berlin

Coffee first while we waited for Berlin to wake up and start serving breakfast. But somehow my favorite place never opened – Factory Girl! Why why?? – so we went to another coffee house where we had breakfast sandwiches and Matt posted this picture on Facebook exclaiming “first meal in Berlin!”

MJH breakfast

My favorite comment on that picture was “and you ordered a bagel???” Even in Europe, bagels win out occasionally.

I then had my almost last German lesson where I suffered through instructions on how to tell time on a 12 hour clock. If you don’t think that’s complicated, read this post because he explains it more lucidly than I ever could. Then I came home with my head positively stuffed with knowledge to roust Matt from his slumbers and drag him out to enjoy Berlin.

We started with food. BBQ in fact.

Markthalle Neun

I know! This is Berlin! Bagels and BBQ? What are we even doing?? But you know what? it was bad-assedly delicious so I’m not even sorry.

I took him through Kreuzberg, my favorite street art neighborhood where I always find something new. Here are a few finds from this trip:

These painted lovers

Oberbaum Bridge

And this sprawling epic depicting the fall of the Berlin wall and the rise of the almighty Euro.

Kreuzberg

We ended up at East Side Gallery, for my third visit. And I found new sights there as well, of which this was one of my favorites.

Berlin wall

And this tagged tagger tagging “sic semper tyrannis”

Sic semper tyrannis

A few silly photos because these faces demand it

MJH in Berlin

And a final sobering reminder of the reason for this wall

Berlin Wall

I love this gallery. It remains one of my favorite things in Berlin.

We finished the day on the other side of town at KaDaWe, Berlin’s fanciest department store. Berliners love these whirling cyclone-like installations apparently. This one reminds me a lot of the cyclone in the Reichstag Dome.

KaDaWe

KaDaWe’s 6th floor is all gourmet food. Dinner? As if you had to ask. How about currywurst? (and an Asian salute)

MJH and Currywurst

An upscale shi-shi department store version of Berliner street food, Kaitlyn.? For real? I know. Our food has been all kinds of backwards today. But it was damn good and I’d do it again. And this rhubarb, raspberry, white chocolate dessert too.

KaDaWe

Ok, that’s a quick and dirty first day. Tomorrow, more Berlin.

Berlin Wall

Prague Castle and John Lennon

Prague Castle

It’s my last morning in Prague and I thought I should see the castle . The walled castle complex is ginormous and stretches along the whole top of that picture above (on the far right is the St. Nicholas cathedral, which isn’t part of the castle complex). Plus it’s on top of the tallest hill in a city of pretty impressive hills. Seemed like the proper way to end this trip.

But note the pretty blue skies from yesterday in the picture above and the grey leaden rainy skies from today. Boo.

St. Vitus Cathedral Prague

This is the back of St. Vitus Cathedral. I couldn’t get a decent picture of the front because of the size and scale of the building and proximity to other walls and buildings making it impossible to back up the required half mile to get the whole structure in the picture. Hereafter this is known as the Prague Photo Dilemma. I was also in danger of getting trampled by approximately 2000 tour groups all shrieking and milling about waving cameras and umbrellas.

The inside of St. Vitus is gorgeous and gothic and grandiose, all the G’s for which Prague is famous, but this picture is all you get because of the tour groups and my fear of death.

St. Vitus Cathedral

I fled to the much quieter, less grand but still gorgeous St. George’s Monastery where I wish I could have gotten closer to this little chapel with the beautiful ceiling.

St.George's Monastary

A few buildings over in the royal palace, this crown I wasn’t supposed to photograph seemed worthy of mention.

Wenceslas Crown Jewels Prague

Doesn’t it look like costume jewelry? I do not want to believe those stones are real.

And with that, I was castled out. It didn’t take long.

Weary cherub overlooking Prague

And so I found myself photographing this weary cherub, overcome with his view over rainy Prague when I noticed that all down the hill (mountain, let’s be honest) are terraced gardens that I didn’t know about  because my (admittedly terrible) guidebook decided to spend 4 pages on the St. Vitus Cathedral and about 2 lines on the 12 acres of grounds surrounding the cathedral.

They’re magnificent

Prague Castle Gardens

with such pretty little gazebos and quiet spaces

Prague Castle Gardens

And extremely steep stairs.

Prague Castle Gardens

Prague is not for the faint of heart or leg. And you’ll notice a complete lack of safety anything around these gardens. Another thing I love about Europe is their general assumption that I’ll take care of myself. Instead of massive barriers around edges and warning signs that spoil my view, Europeans are all “that unprotected bit over there with the 200ft drop? Do be careful or you could fall to your death. OK, off you go then!” I appreciate that vote of confidence.

And on that note, I exited the castle. I’d highly recommend those gardens.

I stopped for a fortifying pancake snack and a flat white at the local Starbucks. I really do enjoy seeing the way Starbucks offerings change from country to country. Why doesn’t every Starbucks offer pancakes?

Starbucks Prague

The last bit of my Prague experience was a search for the infamous John Lennon wall, a space co-opted by students in the 1980s to graffiti out their grievances against authority. Somewhere along the way a giant portrait of John Lennon was painted on the wall and this Czech student protest became known as “lennonism,” a play on “Leninism.”

John Lennon Wall Prague

I had a hard time finding this wall… which should come as no surprise. I should have just assumed someone would be playing Beatles songs and followed the music.

For years the authorities whitewashed this wall every month or so to get rid of the graffiti and then they just gave up and let the street artists have it.

john Lennon Wall Prague

Laska is love in Czech :)

Ok, I’m off to Italy. More tomorrow!

Beautiful Poznan

Citadel Park Poznan

I love a good swath of greenery in the middle of a busy city.

Poznan’s green space is Citadel Park, 89 hectares of grass and hills which contain a number of landmarks, a few cemeteries and the remains of a military stronghold.

The Bell of Peace, rung every year on Liberation Day – Febuary 23 – and allegedly heard 10km away

Citadel Park Poznan

Also these cast iron figurines created by a local artist who also did an installation in Chicago.

Citadel Park Poznan

The guidebook calls them the “headless fright patrol.” I can’t improve on that.

Citadel Park poznan

Cool, green and lovely. A nice break from the sun and the city.

Green selfie in Citadel Park

I spent today walking around, getting lost, taking pictures and exploring. Here are a few things I found:

The remains of the old city walls

Old city walls poznan

A few pieces of street art

Street art Poznan

Street art Poznan Noriaki

Lots of examples of that little guy on top, the one that looks like a tiny black alien with only one eye. As far as I can tell, the artist is a local guy named Noriaki and that little guy is everywhere.

I took pictures in Chopin Park

Chopin park poznan

I stopped by the mall because they had butterflies everywhere

poznan mall

And visited the Lesser Basilica of St. Stanislaus because it was right down the street

Lesser Basilica of St Stanislaus Poznan

 

Lesser Basilica of St Stanislaus Poznan

Lesser Basilica of St Stanislaus Poznan

And then I broke my “no museum” rule and went to the Rogalowe Museum because they had a demonstration about the St. Martin’s Croissant.

St. martin's croissant

You know it had to involve food for me to break the rules.

Problem was that the demo was in Polish. It was supposed to be in English at that time but, as they explained, if Polish people show up then they do it in Polish. Seems totally fair.

Rogalowe Museum Poznan

So I got a personal translator, that charming young man on the left, who called me “Chicago,” tried to teach me some Polish words and not only translated for me but also for the mostly German speaking lady sitting with me.

The demo was great with some funny moments and a modicum of history. The high points are as follows: St Martin was a Roman soldier who gave his cape to a beggar. He subsequently gave up his military career to help the poor. His horse lost a shoe, he became a saint and then a baker in town made a croissant in the shape of a horseshoe to honor his piety and named it after him. Perhaps I missed some salient “tying together” details? But that’s what I remember from my translator and a slightly hilarious animated film showing the history of Poland as it pertains to croissants.

By an edict of law, Poznan is the only city in Poland that can make these croissants. They’re filled with a mixture of white poppy seeds, almond flavoring, peanuts, raisins, orange peel and cookie crumbs and need to weigh between 150-250g.

Rogalowe Museum Poznan

When my young translator passed out chunks of the croissant for us to sample he said “hey, Chicago. Is this your first croissant?”

Me: nope. I had one yesterday.

Translator: so… you would say that yesterday was a very important day for you. Perhaps one of the best of your life?

He also informed me that the word “butt” in Polish sounds like “America” and he doesn’t know why but perhaps because neither one can be easily seen because they’re far away.

Polish people have an engaging sense of humor, a theory underscored by the man at the liquor store who tried to ring up my vodka and then finally said “Are you American?” When I said yes, he said “Let me help you out because you are buying the vodka of poor people.” Then he took all of my small bottles away and gave me a bunch of other ones.

Joel, get ready because we’re sampling these on your birthday.

Joel's Polish Vodka

 

And that was the end of my Polish adventure. I was so pleasantly surprised by Poznan! Such a lovely little city, friendly people and great food. I’d recommend it highly to anyone staying in Berlin.

Dziękuję Poznan! I had the best time and I can’t wait to come back.

Tomorrow, back in Berlin.

Weekend Highlights

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt, a little area just south of me, has a couple of fun rabbit trails leading to yet more beautiful street art. I have an almost limitless capacity for street art, apparently, but there’s so much here that even I’m getting a little jaded and all “yeah, it’s pretty… seen that… ok, that’s interesting…” about it all. Here are some highlights that got past my filters:

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt

Hackescher Markt

And this painted backdrop that looks so real

Hackescher Markt

Overall, Hackescher Markt is pretty touristy but there are definitely a few things worth seeing outside of the square.

And for something completely different, how about the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church?

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Mostly destroyed in the war with just this spire and entrance hall still standing after 1945. This is the roof inside the old church, complete with resealed cracks from the bombing

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

They “rebuilt” this church by leaving the old church standing but creating a new modern church space beside, around and attached to the old church. I think it’s an unusual choice since the two spaces could not look more different

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Although the new space is quite beautiful with all that stained glass.

Hung on the wall of this new church is the Stalingrad Madonna

Stalingrad Madonna Berlin

Lt. Reuber, a German soldier, physician and pastor, drew this Madonna and child on the back of a Soviet map during WW2 at Christmastime. He was subsequently captured by the Soviet army and died a POW but his letters and this drawing were flown out of the encampment on the last transport to leave that part of Russia and eventually made their way to his wife. This Madonna has since become a symbol of peace and reconciliation so copies are on display in the former Stalingrad, but this one is the original.

We checked out Bite Club, a food festival that happens on Friday nights.

Bite Club

It was fun, with many of the same vendors we saw at Street Food Thursday. That seating on the boat is quite cool plus it backs into an outdoor pool/beach club called Badeschiff

Badeschiff

but still… nothing matches Street Food Thursday.

But while we’re on the subject of food, this is a dining room in what has to be the fanciest McDonald’s in all of the world.

McDonalds Berlin

That’s a crystal chandelier. I saw people eating off of real plates. But still with the red plastic chairs. I’m at a loss for words.

These guys are a notorious motorcycle club from Russia called the Night Wolves.

Russia's Night Wolves

They’re here in town to commemorate the Nazi surrender that happened on May 9, 1945 and they drove here from Russia, though they were denied entry into Poland probably for political reasons since there’s no love lost between those two countries right now. In Russia they’re good friends with Putin – who occasionally rides with them – they’re associated with the Russian Orthodox Church and they’re funded by the Kremlin while also running tattoo parlors, rock concerts and the occasional shoot out with rival gangs. While trying to picture any scenario in which Obama rides with the Hell’s Angels, I think words fail me here too.

As a final note, this is Berlin’s most notorious after hours club

Berghain

It opens at 2AM sunday morning and stays open until Monday. The stories from here are legendary and I’m hoping to see more than the outside but chances are I won’t get in as they turn away 8 of every 10 people in line. Matt, get ready because we’re going to see what we can do to get in.

Berghain

If we do get in, you may (or may not) get a report.

Ok… that’s it! More tomorrow from Poland.

Street Art in Kreuzberg

Kreuzberg Berlin

I only have one 3 weeks left in Berlin! I’m already getting sad about leaving and wishing, of course, that I could stay here through the summer. The city is just beginning to open up under all the sunshine. I can see all the festivals and warm weather in the future and I want to be here for it! But… I have other things I need to do so I know I’ll head back to the states in 3 week. However, until then I need to suck up as much Berlin as possible before I go.

Street art! Do I sound like a broken record yet? I’m just astounded by the amount of color and art in this city. I feel like I could live in this city for years and see something different on these walls every single day.

Kreuzberg Berlin

Jon and I went down to the Kreuzberg neighborhood yesterday. Kreuzberg is the home of the May Day riots and also where the punk rock scene was huge in the 70s and 80s. It’s still a gritty colorful rough neighborhood but it’s getting more gentrified, pushing the hipsters, artists and rockers down south to Neukolln. But there’s still a lot of street art everywhere in this neighborhood, perhaps more than any other single area of Berlin.

This mural of the cosmonaut by Victor Ash is one of the landmark tags in the neighborhood. Like Banksy, Ash is a former tagger whose work now goes for thousands of dollars in galleries around Europe.

Victor Ash cosmonaut

Street art doesn’t tend to last long around here. Even giant tags get painted over. But this one went up in 2007 and it’s still survived.

I love the range of street art, from massive wall sized pieces like this creepy guy who gives “lost in the crowd” a whole new meaning

Kreuzberg Berlin

to small emotional reminders, like this one.

Kreuzberg Berlin

I love the expressiveness of a few simple lines and two colors

Kreuzberg Berlin

Is that his heart? someone else’s heart?

And of course the political statement

Kreuzberg Berlin

Pointed at anything particular? perhaps just the whole neighborhood.

Kreuzberg has a large Turkish population so it was fun to see these ladies in their koffee klach

Kreuzberg Berlin

And the Oberbaum Bridge over the River Spree represents some of the oldest architecture in the neighborhood with beautiful brick vaulting

Oberbaum Bridge Berlin

This bridge leads into the neighborhood of Friedrichshain where the remains of the Berlin Wall and the East Side Gallery line the water. Jon hadn’t seen that part of the wall so we went down and walked the length of it.

East Side Gallery Berlin

It’s a silly photobomb but the painting as a lot to say about choice and who has it. Every time I see these paintings and the wall I’m reminded to be grateful that I have so much choice, in large part because of sacrifices others have made on my behalf.

This is a good reminder.

East Side Gallery Berlin

We ended the day at Street Food Thursday at Markthalle in Kreuzberg and it might have been one of the best food experiences of my life. More about that tomorrow.

Food Markets and Rooftop Bars in Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Berliner Sundays are all about food, music, flea markets and being outside.

Neue Heimat is a former railroad depot that became an artist squat and now has been repurposed as an outdoor Village Market serving food and selling goods from around the world against some of most colorful backgrounds I’ve ever seen.

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

I could not get over these walls

Neue Heimat Berlin

Or this doorway

Neue Heimat Berlin

I was so visually stunned, that I wandered around for a solid hour photographing a bunch of fantastic backdrops.

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Revaler Strasse

In comparison to the visuals, the food was almost secondary. Almost…

Neue Heimat Berlin

This is someone’s take on a cheese arepa with feta cheese, a variety of greens, beans and tomatoes stuffed inside an arepa like a pita. It was incredibly messy but pretty good.

However, this was my favorite nibble of the day

Neue Heimat Berlin

Paleo sweet potatoes with greens, seeds, cabbage and I don’t even know what all on it. Incredible. And while I ate it I got to watch a silly magician performing for kids

Neue Heimat Berlin

There was so much going on here, so many pictures to take and so many delicious things to eat that i’ll have to come back. They’re open Thursday and Friday nights as well so that might be a fun option.

But instead I headed off to meet these guys

Jon, Mark and MeI met Jon at the May Day BarBQ and we found Mark on the way home because he was a poor lost soul in the streams of Berliner humanity, trying to figure out how to navigate all the closed trains. This is our obligatory Americans in Berlin shot.

We went to a rooftop bar called Klunkerkranich, on top of a mall on Karl Marx Strasse overlooking all the red rooftops of Berlin.

Jon and mark at Klunkerkranich

It’s a great space that turns into a dance club when it gets late enough and all the hipster kids of Berlin congregate here for vegan pitas and beer.

Klunkerkranich Berlin

Klunkerkranich

A lovely night of silly conversation and donor kebab, culminating in a really solid Sunday. A perfect end to my second week.

Revaler Strasse