On Friday Andy and I went to Borough market, just south of the Thames River in London. Good coffee, great food, lots of samples. You name it, they have it: cheese, meat (ostrich, springbok, beef, pork, duck, pheasant, chicken, rabbit etc etc), seafood, cakes, cheese, sweets, vegetables, mulled wine, hot cider, curries, chorizos, bratwurst, creme caramel pots (in glass, no less)...anything you want, they have. It's not enormous, but big enough to have a massive variety. One of the best things I've done in London, and while there were some tourists there it seemed to be all Londoners just getting their lunch or supplies for the weekend.
I've spent a big amount of time in London just hanging out with Kaz, Benji and Andy which has been really nice. After the weekend we took it easy on Monday and just walked around what they call 'the common' which is a big park. There are loads of them around London and you soon forget where you are when you're walking on the fallen leaves through trees, looking at the squirrels and the sunset. We had a really nice Mexican dinner at home with Kenan and Kaz with Coronas (which are way better than the Aussie brewed Coronas too). Andy and I spent Wednesday in London just walking about, drinking coffee after coffee (Bar Italia and Flat White in Soho being the picks) and checked out the National Portrait Gallery for a bit too. There was a tube strike on so it was a bit of mayhem but we got around ok, just took a bit longer if you needed to go somewhere that doesn't have buses or overground. I noticed businessmen and other people riding around the city on bikes too. Like the other European cities, London now has bike racks around the fringes of the CBD that you can hire for really cheap (first half hour is free too). Makes so much sense, and the traffic seems a lot more tolerant to slow moving or stopped vehicles, bikes and pedestrians.
On the Friday we dropped into Clapham Junction to the Dry Cleaners that Kenan and Bulent run, at night we went out to a restaurant called Giant Robot, an American themed restaurant but done really well (but not tacky in the slightest). We continued the night at a private bar called Milk & Honey, an unmarked black door on the streets of Soho with 40s decor, low lighting, jazz music & an extensive cocktail list. We downgraded a bit and finished the night at Charing Cross McDonalds, along with about half of London...it was packed! I met Connie's friends Emma, Jodie, Caitlin and their friend Eliza to get some halloween gear at the only Westfield in the UK, it was nicer than the Sydney ones but still just a big shopping centre. It was great to see so many people out though, and to see that everyone was really getting into Halloween. Andy and I had noticed the halloween shop displays had been getting bigger and better as we moved across Europe, now it was Saturday night of the halloween weekend and it seemed like everyone was ready to party. So back in Fulham we stocked up on booze, covered ourselves in black and fake blood and drank the night away at a halloween house party. A lot of fun, heaps of people had great costumes on and the house was decorated to the hilt.
After recovery on Sunday Andy and I went to his other cousin Bulent's house for dinner. His wife Sylvia made awesome chicken schnitzel, Polish gulash and vegetables, we had to walk it off afterwards. Bulent and Sylvia's youngest son Denis was super keen to go trick or treating so we walked around Clapham Junction with him. It was such a great vibe in the streets: amazingly carved pumpkins, kids knocking on strange doors, really cleverly decorated houses and....people talking to each other. Amazing. I also noticed a large amount of houses had their blinds/curtains open which also makes for a really nice community feel, not shuttered up. We had a great laugh with Denis who is a real character as he threatened people in their houses that the plastic head on a stake "could be yours one day!"
We had breakfast at the hotel today, just took it easy and finished up about midday. We had a 6pm flight so that meant we had about 4 hours to fill up. So first up we stored our bags in Hauptbahnhof and then got the S-Bahn down to Potsdamer Platz, a big CBD type area with a large dome/sail type structure over a big square. It was okay, I can imagine on a sunny day it would be really nice with blue sky and light streaming in...but today it was grey and cold so I think it lost something. So we went back to the central part of Berlin and went to Hackescher Markt, a busy shopping area that isn't all up market labels, but stalls and boutiquey type shops. It was nice just to wander around through the leaves on the ground, taking in the area. The difference between Berlin (and most European cities) and Sydney is that people actually live in the city. Sydney is built around a CBD and on the weekend it's a ghost town because everyone is back in the suburbs. In Europe there's no real distinction between residential and commercial/business. So people live above and next to offices, restaurants, shops. The advantage is that you walk out of your house and you're in the thick of it straight away.
We did a big loop back to Hackescher Markt station and did the only thing we hadn't done in Germany that we had wanted to do: sit down and have Bratwurst with a beer. So we sat outside with a Bratwurst roll from a street vendor and downed a Berliner Kindl. We decided we should head back to pick up our bags from the station as we had a train to catch in 20-25 mins. Within 4 minutes of making that decision, we had already got to the platform, caught a train and then travelled the 2 stops to HBF station. Berlin transport is great.
We flew to London Gatwick and I was expecting the worst from the UK Immigration, but I think my frequent UK Visa stamps (and subsequent exits from the country) may mean that they finally trust me. The first few times they didn't mind grilling me at all. So we got the train to Victoria, then to Streatham Hill where Kenan (Andy's cousin) was waiting for us. It was great to see Kenan again after only a year and I finally got to meet his fiancee Karolyna (or Kaz) for the first time. She joked that she thought I might have been Kenan's secret lover because of our previous dinners/beers together and her lack of introduction to me! Last but not least we got to meet their son Benjamin for the first time, his 1st birthday tomorrow. It was really good to be with family again, and to just catchup, talk crap and have a few drinks over a nice homemade curry.
Andy and I started the day in Warschauerstrasse and walked across the bridge (Oberbaumbrücke) to an area called Treptow for breakfast. We found a little bakery and had pastries and coffee using our shitty German, only to discover the woman was Turkish and we could have got a lot further that way. Not to worry. There is quite a lot of graffiti in this part of town so we walked around checking it out for a while, talking shit. Taking a photo of the paste up of the girl below, I had too much in my hands and somehow dropped my camera. Flash busted, lens busted but mostly useable, but who knows if there is any internal damage. Bit of a bummer but I was thinking a out getting a new one anyway and this one has served me well. The paste up girl shall be known as the patron saint of broken cameras.
We went back across the river and walked the east side gallery, a large part of the wall which was originally painted by artists in 1989-90 and then repainted last year while I was here. I think I prefer the random parts of the wall I found in the suburbs of Berlin last year, but it's a bit out of the way to go see. It was cold, a 3 layer day so after the walk we sat in Ostbanhof and treated ourselves to maccas in the warmth.
We got the train over to Zoologischer Garden and went to the Helmut Newton gallery. He was a famous fashion photographer and took some really cool photos, little did we realise that he was Australian. He died a few years ago and they now have his clothes, car, camera gear and a reconstruction of his lounge room which was pretty interesting.
After that we met Julia at Berlin Hauptbanhof station and went back to the Brandenburg gate to see it at night and to go up the Reichstag. It was a little bit rainy but we could still see the whole of the city. The Reichstag is an old building that is the main government/parliament building and has a modern glass dome on top. In the dome is a spiraling ramp going to the top and then back down again. It's a good place to get a 360 view of Berlin.
We were starving and Julia decided we were going to do as the Berliners do and have currywurst for dinner. We got the train to Yorckstrasse and stood with the locals on the street eating currywurst sausage with fries and mayo, with a beer of course. They eat this stuff before the drinking, instead of afterwards like we do. Couldn't ask for a better dinner really, and the sausages didn't make you feel like cap. Amazing.
Back to another corner of Berlin and we checked out Tacheles, an art community with bars and a club downstairs. In summer last year I had a really good time there and met a lot of locals on a warm night with lots of live music. This time it was a much darker vibe, not many people (mostly tourists) and it felt a bit cold and unwelcoming. We didn't really stay too long, instead opting for a cocktail across the road before going home.