Friday, July 17, 2009

Berlin Berlin!

I spent a really nice week in Berlin in the beginning of July. Weather was peachy and I hung out with my dear friends Julia and Anna, who both live in the city.

Since this was my third trip to Berlin, I didn't feel compelled to do all the touristy stuff anymore. So mostly it was just about hanging out and enjoying the atmosphere and the vibes of the place.

I stayed at Anna's who lives in Kreuzberg / Neukölln area. This is probably my favorite region of the city. Loads of cool little shops and boutiques, delicious eats in variety of nationalities, easy going atmosphere. It's so cool just stroll on the streets and spend some sunny hours by the channel in Urbanhafen. There is almost always somebody with guitar, playing nice tunes. Bring along a small picnic with you and you're all set for a nice afternoon.

Nice picnic could also take place on Kreuzberg hill. From there you can also see nice views over the city in all directions.

Facing north from Kreuzberg.

Lots of people are aware of this area, so if you yearn for more peace and quiet, the destination for you is by the Spree in Treptower Park in the east of the city (link in german, because of more photos). It's less crowded there, but equally nice. I spent a really cool day with Julia in this area, walking through this huge and very green park.

Eternal joyride?
One of the curiosities about Treptower is an abandoned amusement park in the middle of forest. Julia knew about it but hadn't never been there. So we set out to find it. This was a bit peculiar experience. -We we're by the water and saw this huge ferris wheel in the distance behind the trees, probably a kilometer away. We started to walk towards it and suddenly it vanished from the view. We walked closer and closer but it just wasn't there anymore. Then we reached the edge of the forest and, logically thinking, decided that the park has to be in there. We walked into the forest and started to follow this path.

After a while we finally come up to this fence, behind of which we can see some park gadgets all grown over with grass and shrubs. But the bloody wheel is nowhere in sight. We cooked up this storyline that would make a blockbuster horror movie: once in a lifetime you perhaps see this mirage-like ferris wheel in distance and if you try to find it, you'll end up into a forest never to be seen again. -A horror movie about this abandoned fun-park that traps people to eternal "joyride", cool huh?

Well, anyway, we were determined to find this ferris wheel. How can something that is more than 20-meters tall just disappear like that? Not possible. We walked along the fence and finally by one gate we met this guard, who instructed us some 200 meters more south. And there it finally was, the long lost wheel. But you still had to walk all the way up to the fence down there to see it behind the trees. But, yeah, it was a relief to finally find it, because we were already starting to think that we're just imagining things =)

Julia and the lost and found.

One of the things I absolutely love about Berlin, is the fact that you can find good Japanese food in ridiculous cheap prices. I really really love sushi and stuff and cannot afford it here in Switzerland. The prices are just outrageous in Basel. So the solution is to make it by myself or go elsewhere.

It's curious in Berlin, all the sushi joints seem to have an eternal happy hour. Generally daily 12-22 all the sushi is priced -50%. But in reality this extends through whole opening hours. And therefore one can get a meal containing miso-soup, tea and 3-6 nigiris and 6 makis for just 5 or 6 euros. My kind of city, indeed.

For the best quality sushi, head down to Aki Tatsu restaurant on Bergmannstrasse 93. Aki Tatsu is restaurant chain, so they are in several places in the city, but the Bergmannstrasse is definately the nicest and best quality. -Tested and proven opinion.

Other curiosities
Arena Bade Schiff is a place to go if youre not repelled of too many other sun-bathers on a restricted area. It is actually a floating swimming pool in the Spree. Go early and there might be a chance to place your towel down somewhere and even spread it out. I was there with Anna one afternoon. It was crowded, but nonetheless okay one-time-experience, because while we were there, a sort of gospel choir turned up. So, we had this entertainment of about twenty really skilled people floating in the swimming pool and singing =) (really well, I might add...)

In the evenings on the same area one can find a wide selection of nice restaurants by or on the water. Cool hang outs, definately. But these also seem to be the must-destinations in Berlin, so lots of people find their way there.

Mauerpark flea market in Prenzlauer Berg area every Sunday. This is a place to go even if you have no interest in flea markets. A big maze of booths and tables with all imaginable items for sale. Prices are reasonable and variety is great. My tip of the day would probably be the great selection of relitively cheap vinyl-albums and some cool designer items. Here I could spend a whole sunny day exploring the assortment and chilling out in one of restaurants.

Wall paintings and graffitis all over the city. -these I find very interesting. I could spend so much time just browsing these through the city. East Side Gallery is something special: a strip of the old Berlin Wall all covered up with wall art, paintings and, of course, messages of numerous visitors from all over the world.

Happy together in Kreuzberg. Cute.

Generally. In all the places I go, I enjoy just to walk around and see what's around me. Sometimes I find very cool and curious things, other occasions I amuse myself with funny sentences and / or mis-spellings of things. Some samples follow:

Bakery in Wedding: we bake. you king.
Okay, if they sa so...

Ladies rest room, quite literally, in Burger-King in Treptower:
Holder for paper bags for sanitary stuff.

Same place:
Toilet paper holder.
I don't even wanna know
what the designers were thinking.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Picture blast from Shanghai June '09

In mid-June I had an opportunity to travel to China for the first time in my life. I had tried to get to see some of it already some four years earlier during a stopover in Beijing, but got stuck at the airport, so this was finally my chance to plunge in this fascinating ancient culture of east.

I spent ten days in Shanghai for a tour performance, but the city and culture themselves are what I really want to share with you.

The first impression of Shanghai was something totally different than I was expecting. Our hotel was some 30 minutes up north from downtown, so there was no skycrapers and "Bladerunner-cityscapes". Everything seemed more lowrise, green and open than I had anticipated. Surprising, indeed. The climate was hot and humid, and one can't really see the blue sky through never-dissolving fog.

A view from my 13th floor hotel room.
Across the road Fudan University campus.

The new
I made some trips to downtown, and I encountered the infrastructure I was expecting. During the taxi drive one can see it all: the multi-layered motorways, futuristic buildings and neon signs.

Three storeys at this point.

A part of cityscape through a car window.

Modern adaptation of the Sauron's eye?

Nanjing Rd. in the evening.

The old
The Old Shanghai is something really worth seeing, -if you have the guts to face all the other tourists. Yuyuan garden in the heart of this old town is breathtakingly idyllic labyrinth-like place with dozens of old style houses and stone arrangements. Despite all the other folks there it still manages to give you a peaceful atmosphere and feeling of time standing still.

The old and new in the same frame.
A house on the edge of old town and the tallest
building in Shanghai on the background.

A narrow lane of Old Shanghai.

Yuyuan garden.

Yuyuan garden.

Me in the garden, pic taken by Sajad Rahmani.

In the old town we were looking for a traditional tea ceremony, but couldn't unfortunately find one, since english is not very widely spoken anywhere, except for haggling the prices. -A tea ceremony would have been something soothing after the whole day of sweaty exploring. Luckily we did find this local girl (one scratching her nose in the photo below) who was kind enough to show us to a tea house and join us for some tea tasting. Very sweet of her. And the tea flavors were delicious too, something totally different from Lipton's (sorry britons, heh). Even me, not so big tea-lover, felt compelled to buy some =)

Our gang in a tea house in old town.

Next canditate: Jasmin.

These were the very mid-range priced teas,
only 40-60 € for a cake (diam. app 17 cm.)

Zhouzhuang, the water village
Some two hours in a bus, and you'll reach a little village called Zhouzhuang, also known as the Venice of the Orient.

This village was built sometime starting around 14th century and is renowned by it's water ways, channels and many bridges. One can board a (wo)man-powered boat anywhere and see the surroundings from a different perspective. If you throw in couple of yuans to bargain, the lady rowing the boat will sing to you.

I spent a whole roasting hot day exploring the old houses and culture there. - A very beautiful and touristy spot, see for yourselves.

Such a beautiful day.

One of many bridges.

Boats lining up, or a traffic jam =)

Songs about the history of the village and it's people.

Ancient theatre of Zhouzhuang, nice and calm atmosphere.

For the end of the day the organizers of our trip had reserved a real treat for us; An 90 minute spectacle staged on a floating venue just outside the actual water village. The bottomline in the performance was to depict the history and traditions of the village, but the outcome was something like Disney meets post-Mao efficiency and tv-quizzes. Although they had it all; smoke-, fire- and water-effects, four gigantic video-beamers, approximately hundred moving lights and the whole spectrum of all the colors possible, the experience was absolutely painstakingly hideous, sorry to say. The four seasons of this idyllic village among other things were just kitschy.

This is winter, as I recall.

Just a small clip to prove my point =)

There was something endearing also at the end of the day. Along the walkways from the venue locals had set up dozens of these figurines, lit up from the inside. they looked sort of cute in the dark evening.

Traditional dragon.

Bugs of a sort and a fallen snail.

A real bug, on the street, size app. match-box.

Apropos bugs, that reminds me of food. No, this time I didn't eat anything suspicious, I think. Although, there would have been everything on the menu, staring from intestines going all the way up to pig balls, just to mention few.

Anyway, China is a culinary adventure, but that we all already knew. But to get to the origin, really my friends, I must say, is something extraordinary. The sweet and sour is somewhat totally different experience and that's just the starting point of it! I haven't eaten so well in ages! And 95% of the stuff I tasted was amazing. One great opportunity was the conference banquets, where the food just kept on coming to the table, dish after dish. I was forced to realise that I was still tasting everything even long after there was no place for anything new anymore, but it all just looked so yummy! So, keep it spinning!

Chinese banquet at it's first round, very spacey still.
-Both in the table and in me XD!

One of the best picks on the menus:
roasted oysters with garlic and chili

The food is staring at me...?

...or is it all in my head?

Never having been a big friend of dumplings and dim sum, o-o-boy have I seen the light! Thanks for this goes to Charlie, who showed us something we would never have discovered on our own. He also took us to this Chinese Grill Joint, very humble looking establishment that served absolutely gorgeous things, all impaled in skewers. It is also true in China, that the best food ones can find, if they follow the locals and forget about the Mac-Do and Pizza-Hut.

Chinese barbeque joint; just stick it.

I really, really liked Shanghai and I wish I'll have a chance to visit it again sometime in the future. But the main reason for good times is always the good gang to hang out with. So, thanks to Maria, Beata, Kenya, Monica, Charlie and Sajad and others, for great fun in the east! Hope to see you all soon and do it again!

Passing time at the airport playing Yatzy.
Our flight was delayed for 2 hours because of suspected influenza.
The whole plane was desinfected and the crew and 100 passengers
quarantined for 10 days.
Luckily it didn't happen on our flight in.
That would have been all of Shanghai for me then =)

They do take it seriously:
health officials boarded our plane
and took the temperature of each and every passenger.
Zap me. Far out...

Homebound: Turku archipelaco, midsummer.