A Travellerspoint blog

Scotland

Whiskey with a view!

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Hello from the beautiful hills of Scotland!

A week ago I had no idea I would be here and I have to say, this has possibly been the best decision I have made all trip. Scotland has blown my mind and surpassed all of my expectations.

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After Rome, I needed space.



I needed somewhere I wouldn't wait in line once all day. So, in a matter of hours I had booked a flight to Edinburgh, rented a car and planned a four day driving tour through this beautiful country.

And speaking of driving, they drive on the left side of the road. Steering wheel on the right and stick shift on the left. Awesome.
(Why does my arm look so fat? Probably all that pasta I ate in Italy. Apologies.)
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Fun fact: I don't drive stick shift. In fact, I had only ever done so once for a weekend about 8 years ago. I may or may not have youtubed "How to drive a stick shift" an hour before I picked up the car. Nothing like diving into the deep end! I actually picked it up very quickly - even the roundabouts - which run clockwise.

I spent two days in Edinburgh (more on that shortly) and then headed north to Inverness, then over to the Isle of Skye and then back down to Glasgow.

To help give you some idea, here is a map of what that tour looks like:
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The most incredible place was the Isle of Skye in the northwest.

This place is huge.
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I'm not kidding.
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And there is no one around.

Here are a few shots from my road trip:
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I took a ferry across to the Isle of Skye and caught this shots while crossing.
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One morning I had breakfast on Loch Ness but there was no sight of Nessie. I guess she wasn't tempted by delicious meats and cheeses.
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Despite these shots, I still felt like they failed to truly capture just how grand this landscape is. So I put together a one minute montage of some of the sites to help give you a better feel for it all. Best played on full screen.



Besides needing a little space, coming to Scotland to tour some of the whiskey distilleries has been a major bucket list item for me for years. I was able to make it to three of them over a day or so and it was really cool to see the whole process from start to finish.

I visited the Dalwhinnie distillery. It is the highest in Scotland and it snowed as I reached the summit for my visit.

I also took a tour of Glenfiddich:
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As well as Talisker:
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The funny thing about the tours is that they are all the same. The overall process for making whiskey doesn't differ at all from distillery to distillery so by the third tour I was well ahead of the tour guide. I think the thing to do is to go for a tour of your favorite distilleries but when you visit the others, just do a tasting. Still, all in all, I was very excited to make these visits happen during this trip.

As I mentioned, I stayed in Edinburgh for two days and really loved the city. Here are a few shots in and around town.
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I also took a hike up Arthur's Seat (Thanks Paddy!)- a chain of hills in Edinburgh that provide great panoramic views from the top. It is described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design." Who was I to argue? Up I went!
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The hill itself:
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A nice view from the top:
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As equally enjoyable as the landscape are the Scottish people. They are warm and welcoming and genuine. Over the last few days I have wandered into pubs without knowing anyone and by the end of the night, I was well drunk and felt like I had 40 new best friends. Between the guys on a bachelor party who were teaching me traditional Welsh greetings and showing me their tattoos to the young Scot who also ordered a Glenfiddich because I did and then proceeded to take it like a shot, only to have his eyes water up and a "I've made a huge mistake" look wash over his face - the people I have met have made this experience that much better.

I know this post has been unlike many of my past entries. I wish I had a lot of witty or funny things to say about this leg of the trip but the truth of it is that for the most part, it has just been me, my trusty Honda Civic and a land that seems to be frozen in time.

I know that sounds lonely, but it's funny how a bit of wide open space will help you sort through things in your head. It's almost like it gives your mind space to breath as well.

That is really what this whole trip is about and I have been grateful to this beautiful country for allowing me that opportunity.

I can't wait to return one day.


With all of that being said, I am super excited that on Saturday morning I meet my brother in Iceland! I have enjoyed every minute of traveling solo over the last six weeks but I am really looking forward to linking up with him for another overseas adventure. We have quite an itinerary in store so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading.

Go-go gadget long undies, wool mittens and scarves! To Iceland!

Posted by meagle 14:17 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland travel skye whiskey Comments (1)

Roma!

Lines, crowds and testing one's patience

rain 65 °F
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Ciao da Roma!

There is an unspoken obligation when you come to Rome that you have to see certain sites. There are things here that you can't see, experience or do anywhere else in the world. But that obligation comes with a price:

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And not just lines of forty or fifty. I am talking about queues that are thousands of people long.

"You mean I am not the only one who wanted to see the Sistine Chapel today??"

* sigh *

Despite the unyielding masses in a sea of selfie sticks, I managed to check off the ol' bucket list a good number of things while here.

The Roman Colosseum was unbelievable experience.
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Imagining the crowds that used to gather here to watch gladiators fight to the death was crazy. It's hard to believe people used to cheer on men killing each other for entertainment. There is no judgement in that sentence. It is simply hard to believe given our modern society's stance on violence. I mean, people complain about UFC cage fighting to be too violent. Obviously times have changed and it's just very interesting to see how each society defines it's own boundaries.
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Just outside the Colosseum is the Roman Forum. A rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum. At the top of the hill, among the gardens, you can get a great view of much of the old city and the ruins that remain.
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You can see the Colosseum in the background of this shot.
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Ok...ok...I have to stop. I feel like I am already starting to paint too rosy a picture. Let's get back to the lines and crowds. I don't think you fully understand what I am trying to say here.

When you arrive, this is what getting on a Metro with your luggage looks like:
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Oh look, the Vatican and St. Peter's Cathedral! Let's do that!
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Wait, are those people in the foreground in the same queue as the very tiny people in the background nearest the entrance of the building?

Yep! And that's only half the line. I estimated close to 10,000 people in line here.

Well, how about we check out the Trevi Fountain?

Oh, it's under reconstruction? #face This might have been worth the price of admission in this city if it were functioning and lit up at night.
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No matter! Thanks to my very helpful Facebook friends, I bought a Fast Pass that allows me to skip many of the lines around the city. Off to the Vatican Museum!

Oh...I guess it's not much better inside...
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After about an hour of gelatinously floating my way down the halls with the masses, I finally made it to the Sistine Chapel and it was worth the wait.
There are no photos allowed but I figured the Pope would forgive me. I managed to capture what is likely the most important piece in all of Michelangelo's work in that amazing room.

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And speaking of the Pope and Catholicism, many people come to the Vatican as a pilgrimage. For many, it is holy ground. If you know me, you know that I am not religious. I do, however, have a great respect for individuals to believe what they want and as a non-Catholic, I have to say that I have been very impressed with Pope Fancis. Pope Francis time and again has been noted for his humility, his concern for the poor and his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs and faiths.

Here are just a few reasons I believe Pope Fancis is pretty awesome:

1. Pope Francis has stated several times that the Church has no right to interfere spiritually in the lives of gays and lesbians.

2. He spoke out against frivolous spending by the Church. The average set of cardinal’s clothes costs as much as $20,000. In October, Pope Francis urged officials to dress more modestly and to not squander such money. In the same month, he ordered a German bishop to explain how he had spent $3 million on a marble courtyard.

4. More recently, it has been discovered that Pope Francis regularly leaves the Vatican at night to feed the homeless dressed as an ordinary priest.

5. He has became the first Pope to take effective action against child abuse. He ammended Vatican law to make sexual abuse of children a crime, and he also established a committee to fight abuse.

I could go on.

If you are interested, check out this link for more.

The point I am trying to make is that, no matter if you are Catholic or not, Pope Fancis is setting an unbelievable example of how to be a human being. He is humble, cares for the poor among us and champions those who are discriminated against. Religious or not, we can all learn to be a better person by following his example.

Ok, ok. Enough of the serious stuff. Let's lighten the mood.

Street performers are everywhere here. Here I am totally appreciating what they are doing:
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One day I was able to take a day trip a few hours south to visit Naples and the ruins of Pompeii.

The bay of Naples with Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.
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A shot of the city of Naples itself.
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Walking through the ruins was really interesting. I am not a fan of guided tours but there is such specific history here that I caved.
Because of the direction of the wind that day, Pompeii was covered in up to 12 meters of ash and volcanic rock. Of the more than 20,000 inhabitants, all but 2,000 or so managed to flee to safety. Those that couldn't mostly suffocated as they were covered.
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A few miscellaneous extras:

Fun fact: Italians spell tobacco like North Carolinians pronounce it.
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Roman architecture is very impressive.
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A shot of the Pantheon.
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And thanks, Caroline, for the suggestion of gelato from San Crispino.
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I have to say, the only way I look forward to returning to this city is if I don't have to do anything touristy. I am sure there charm and culture here but you certainly won't find it waiting in line at any of the city's main attractions.

After four days of crowds, I need some space. I think the hills of Scotland for a week are just what the doctor ordered. I have organized a self-driven whiskey tour through some of the county's most renowned distilleries.

The conversation in my head went something like this:

"Have you ever driven a car on the opposite side of the road with the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car?"

Nope!

"Can you drive a manual?"

Not well!

"Sweet, let's do this!"




Thanks for reading! To Scotland!

Posted by meagle 11:05 Archived in Italy Tagged italy rome Comments (0)

Florence

Carb-loading through the boot of Europe

sunny 69 °F
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Buonasera, from Florence!

I have spent four days in this beautiful city and while it is hard to compete with the charm of Venice, Florence has a wonderful charm all its own.

Obligatory selfie with the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
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Sunset from the Ponte Vecchio bridge overlooking the Arno river.
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The bridge itself is a Medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River noted for still having shops built along it which was once common. (Thanks wikipedia!)
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In the center of town is the Florence Cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo. Built in 1296, the exterior is all marble.
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This thing is huge!
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If you haven't had too much to drink the night before, you can walk the 463 steps to the top of the dome for an amazing view of the city.
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Sweaty me after climbing to the top.
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The highlight of this city for me by far has got to be seeing Michelangelo's David. Growing up, the human body was my favorite subject to draw, paint and sculpt. I began by drawing comic book characters as a kid. I remember that I would take them to my dad to show him and he would then use that opportunity to teach me about human anatomy. Comic book characters were, after all, full of muscle and while often exaggerated, the way they were drawn was typically rooted in an anatomically correct base. They really made the perfect teaching tool for my dad to show me how muscle groups worked together and how and where they attached to the bones. I don't think I realized at the time how instrumental those moments with him were in shaping my interests and abilities, culminating in a Master's thesis in digital sculpting.

With that in mind, it is no wonder that the moment I turned the corner and saw the statue of David for the first time, I got chills. It is perfect. There is no other way to say it. Every line, every muscle, the form, the weight. For me personally, it is the most awe inspiring piece of art I have ever seen.
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After an obligatory amazement selfie, I just sat and enjoyed it for about an hour. Cheesy, I know, but deal with it.
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Another highlight was the day I got outside the city to explore the Tuscan hills with a hostel-mate who had a car. About an hour south of Florence you will find a great Chianti region full of wineries.
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It was nice to spend a day exploring the countryside and going to various wineries for tastings.
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For my foodie friends, Italy has no shortage of amazing cuisine.

Whether it's pizza with prosciutto.
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Or pesto gnocchi with various cheeses and jams.
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Or a fresh pastry.
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Or a warm prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich, you better do a lot of site seeing to walk off all the carbs.
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Miscellaneous extras:

The Uffizi art gallery down by the water is supposed to be among the oldest and most famous art museums of Europe and the world. Now, I am not sure if I was just hangry from waiting in line for more then two hours but I wasn't super enthused about what was inside. The majority of the works are Italian artist's paintings of Mary and baby Jesus. Or just Mary. Or just baby Jesus. People looking at baby Jesus. People waning over baby Jesus wile Mary looks sullen. Ugh. Awful. They are like picture of dolphins. They all end up looking the same.

I mean, look at this. Mary doesn't even look human. And baby Jesus's head is way too small. In fact, if anything, infant's heads are larger proportionally than they eventually become as adults.
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Mary is a bit better here but baby Jesus looks like a girl who needed to be put back in the over a bit longer. Works like this were in almost every room of one entire floor. #readmyface
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Here is a fun one of Mary looking like E.T.. Jesus clearly needs a nap and good arm day at the gym and by the end, I felt like whoever that is on the right.
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My advice, enjoy the statues and sculptures and make your way quickly to the second floor of "international artists." I did see some nice Rembrandt - one of my favorite painters.
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Oh, I also found a 15th century Noah Wyle. So that's fun.
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Ok, end rant about the Uffizi gallery.

Lastly, while traveling here, I usually I try to avoid other Americans like the plague. They tend to be tourists and not travelers. Not all, but a lot of them. Plus, I didn't really come to Europe to just spend time with more Americans. Up to this point, I hadn't really run into too many anyway. In any case, there happened to be four Americans in my room who were also traveling solo. We all bonded quickly and I made my last day or two in Florence really enjoyable.

On the last night, we, along with a very cool German, walked up to an overlook of the city, enjoyed some wine and live music.
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Florence was a great stop along the way and I hope to return one way for another visit.

But for now, south to Rome!

Thanks for reading!

Posted by meagle 03:40 Archived in Italy Tagged florence Comments (1)

Venice!

Canals, winding streets and wonderful people

sunny 65 °F
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Ciao da Venezia!

A week ago I had no idea I would be in Italy but if Venice is any indication of the experiences to come, I can't wait to see what the rest of Italy has in store.

What a stunning place. I have never seen anything like it.
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From the Grand Canal to the winding stone streets, the charm of this city is undeniable.
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The city is basically an island on which there are no cars or motorbikes, or even regular bikes. Everyone walks or takes a water taxi. The streets average no more than 6 to 10 feet across they zig zag in what can quickly become a confusing maze. Almost everyone has a city map in their hand. Those that don't are often found crying in a corner.
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Cafes and restaurants line the streets while gondolas drift by in the adjacent canals.
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Venice at night is quiet but equally beautiful.
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The city itself is quite small. You can walk most of the city in an afternoon if you really wanted. Faster if you didn't have to stop every twenty steps to check your map. I was only here for two full days and it was the right amount of time.

I took a half day boat trip out to the islands of Murano and Burano, just north of Venice. Murano is known for its glass blowing artisans while Burano is known for its brightly colored fisherman's houses. I highly recommend hoping a water bus out to these islands if you ever visit.

Burano was my favorite. Such a quaint island. It was hard not to be in a good mood with all of the brightly colored houses.
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But despite how amazing the city itself is, my favorite part of this stop were the people I met.

The first night at my hostel I met a traveler from Chile. He is literally traveling around the world over seven months. He spoke very good English but it gave me a chance to speak Spanish with him as we grabbed a beer and saw some sites around town.

It was recommended to me that I have a drink at Harry's Bar (thanks Dustin). It is an old bar on the water where Ernest Hemingway used to drink and also the birthplace of the Bellini.

This is a $24 old fashioned from Harry's. It cost more than my hostel for the night. #priorities
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Carefully made and filled to the brim with Four Roses, I figured I should splurge on one. While at the bar I met a German couple sitting next to me, Mr. and Mrs. Wagner. We struck up conversation and they turned out to be the nicest couple I had met in a long time. Married for more than 30 years, they own a bed and breakfast south or Hamburg. They are both chefs and recent grandparents. They insisted on buying me two more old fashioneds as we talked at the bar for more than two hours. A good friend of theirs had just suddenly passed away and they stressed the importance of "living now." I shared with them my father's passing and that being a similar reason I was on this trip. We cheersed to living now and to those we have lost and by the end of the night it was settled that I need to visit Hamburg to find a good girl and then I could come stay with them in their hotel and enjoy a good meal.

Fun fact, Mr. Wagner also has seven blackbelts and sparred with Chuck Norris in the 80's.

Simply wonderful people. I wish them the best on the rest of their trip.
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Yesterday afternoon I found myself tired of walking and decided to take a seat on the water's edge and enjoy a bit of the sunshine. I heard a couple next to me speaking English (American) and I stuck up a conversation. Their names are Nick and Megan and they are traveling around Europe for a few weeks before returning home to southern Illinois.
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We all agreed that the best way to enjoy any city is to grab a bottle of wine and sit somewhere with a nice view and have a chat. Hours later, we had finished five bottles of wine and the sun had set. When we parted ways for the night, we had agreed that I would try to come to Nick's Beer Olympics Birthday Bash in November dressed as the Pope, representing the country of the Vatican. Yes, it is a country. Fun fact. I may just take them up on their offer.
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When you meet good people, it is immediately obvious and I was tremendously lucky to have shared time in this beautiful city with them. I look forward to keeping in touch with both couples when I return home.

A few miscellaneous leftovers:

From Berlin I flew over the Alps and had a great view from 30,000 ft.
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Pasta and prosecco. Yes please.
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Thanks for reading. Off to Florence!

Posted by meagle 02:01 Archived in Italy Tagged venice Comments (2)

Berlin

History class meets art class

overcast 55 °F
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Guten tag, from Berlin!

After hostel life for the last few weeks, I needed a break from weird men in my bed and drunk people climbing onto the top bunk at 4am. I decided that I would book a hotel for the duration of my stay here to rest up before another long jaunt of glorious hostel life through Italy.

Having a bit of privacy and a good night's sleep has been great but the trade off is that it is not nearly as social. While hostel life is short on creature comforts, it is long on sociability and makes meeting people very easy. Useful if you are traveling alone.

No matter, Berlin has been both an educational and relaxing stop along my journey. Let's get to it:

I began by visiting a number of the WWII memorial and war-related sites around the city. There likely isn't another city so steeped in modern history that ties nations and people together, for better or worse.

The Berlin Wall was a powerful experience.
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In a place called the East Side Gallery, a portion of the wall has been left intact and artists have covered it with art.
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I also visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also known as the Holocaust Memorial. The memorial is designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.
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What I found so interesting was Berlin's openness to the realities of what happened during the world wars and the atrocities that happened within that time. The openness and honesty seems to be rooted in a feeling that if talked about and known, these things would never happen again.
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It's a heavy subject. My grandfather fought under Gen. Patton through WWII. He and his men blew the chains off the gates at Buchenwald - a Nazi concentration camp that was before then unknown. I remember asking him about it a few years before he passed and even then the memories were too difficult to talk about. He pretended to have something caught in his throat so his grandson wouldn't see him crying.

Some hours after visiting these memorials, I was at a cafe reading Cry The Beloved Country and came across an excerpt that seemed to sum up what I had seen that day. It read:

"There are times, no doubt, when God seems no more to be about the world."

I guess sometimes that seems about right.

But despite its checkered past, Berlin is a city that has emerged from the ashes and now boasts one of the most vibrant and growing street art cultures anywhere in the world. It is a movement that has been embraced by the people and has literally changed the face of the city. I took a four hour walking tour of some of the best street art in Berlin and learned a lot about the culture itself, the difference between graffiti and street art and the ways it has helped shape this city over the last few decades.
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I even got to learn how to make a bit of street art myself at the end of the tour using stencils.


Oh, and fun fact. When your name is Matt Eagle, people tend to laugh at you in Germany. Mettigel is an old German dish of minced pork shaped to look like a hedgehog. In case you can't visualize that, it looks like this: haase-partyservice-chemnitz-mettigel.jpg

Awesome...

Miscellaneous extras:

Berlin Victory Colum
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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church - Bombed during WWII and left in disrepair as a memorial.
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Checkpoint Charlie. The name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.
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There is a joke here somewhere.
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Tried a bottle of Original Berliner Cidre. Pretty solid. The wine glass and candle light pushed it up to an 8/10.
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And lastly, for my cigar smoking crew: I have been a bit lax posting these, but I want you to know I have been representing you well.
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All in all, I have enjoyed my time here in Berlin. It is a city that I know would grow on me the longer I was here. All of the people have been very welcoming and friendly and I am grateful for the city's hospitality.

I wish I could stay longer but I have a hankering for some pasta. To Italy!

Posted by meagle 10:58 Archived in Germany Tagged berlin Comments (0)

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