Today we became Basquet cases…

We set off for Spain two days ago, this was quite planned and not a reflction of my driving speed or my ability to become lost and exasperated with the sat nav…though that often occurs….

Our first overnight stop was at the Chalet Lyrique hotel in Gradignan, a southern suburb of Bordeaux. It’s a very pleasant hotel and it should be noted lays on an excellent buffet breakfast. This morning we took the autoroute as far as Saint Jean De Luz, where we stopped for lunch at a Courtpaille and then topped up with fuel at a nearby LeClerc….I then put our destination, Mutriku in the sat nav and requested an ‘eco’ route avoiding the toll roads. Oh, how quickly things can go wrong…..

At first things went swimmingly, we drove through Irun, crossing over the river which forms the border between France and Spain. We passed some strange market place which reminded us of Brixton and continued out of town…..some of what passed after is slightly blurred but we seemed to go round in circles and the mileage and time to our destination went up, not down. We drove up into the hills, along single track roads wreathed in low lying sea mist and back down the other side. Eventually we popped up at a roundabout next to ‘opitaleak’ which is indeed a hospital. By a large piece of luck we ended up in San Sebastian town centre. Sadly the piece of luck wasn’t that good. San Sebastian has a gorgeous town centre, though it’s beauty was lost to a stressed out driver trying to avoid the Spanish bus and taxi drivers. We drove along the sea front and headed along the cliffs taking the coast road which seemed to be beset by roadworks. There were some delightful small towns along the way. I even stopped at one to take photos because it had stopped raining…yes, rain…

Our passage through the next two or three towns was considerably easier and we arrived here, at the Hotel Zumalabe The view from our room is really something..

It may be even better in the morning if the sun is shining. Oh yes, tomorrow we drive to Bilbao Airport, where we leave the car and fly off to Jerez for Cadiz. The satnav will be set to ‘fast’ and ‘use autoroutes’….once bitten etc…..


Poland V may go down to penalties…

It’s really not a fair analogy, to compare our holiday in those two countries to a football match. But I think they are pretty close as destinations.

Obviously we spent more time in and travelled through Poland. We were more keen on Wroclaw than anywhere, Krakow can be seen in a relatively short time, as can Bydgodszcz, though both have areas of interest. Gdansk has more to see, though one can only ride on a pirate ship a finite number of times. We would go back and include other towns and historic sites, such as Malbork and Torun. Overall we loved the country, it’s people, it’s historic towns and sites and scenery. We would however avoid market stall pierogis and ‘house brick’ loaves of bread.

One place that everyone should see is Auschwitz – Birkenau. It contains images that I can’t eradicate from my memory, nor should I. But I wouldn’t, or more correctly, couldn’t go back.

Berlin is a vibrant, busy capital city. Yet it has a laid back feel to it. Though we saw most of the major sites, we felt that we’d only scratched the surface. It’s more cultural than the places we visited in Poland. There are renowned museums, galleries and concert halls. It’s also huge and requires fresh legs to enable better exploring.

Restaurants we thought were on about a par. We ate well in both countries but we try and avoid the more ‘tourist’ slanted places, (I have still to sample a curry wurst). Berlin has the edge as far as choice of which cuisine you’d like to try and I think caters to a younger demographic, with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options.

If we planned to do it again (which we vaguely are) it would be in reverse, Berlin first, then Poland. We’d still travel by rail, as it was an excellent way to get around. So, there we are, I can’t really differentiate between the two countries…..see, I knew it would go to a replay..

Ausfahrt Berlin…from a pair of Vienna sausages…

We were up fairly early yesterday morning, there were last minute things to pack, we intended to have our last breakfast ‘out’ and we had to leave the apartment by 11am promptly.

Oliv, where we had eaten breakfast is closed on a Sunday, so we walked about 20 metres up the street and tried Queen of Muffins . It was a shame we hadn’t had breakfast there before. Their croissants were lovely and Susie had a bowl of granola that was packed with fruit and delicious. We chatted with the charming young guy behind the counter, whose English was just about perfect and found the whole place warm and welcoming.

Anyway, we pottered about in the apartment till we bit the bullet and looked for a taxi to take us to Schonefeld for the flight home, despite being way too early. It’s about a 40 minute ride and the airport is on the small side and very busy. We were checking in cases (all the smuggled out pierogis took us over the hand luggage limit) and the screens in Terminal A showed that our Transavia desks were in Terminal D. A shortish walk and we were there, but of course the desks weren’t open. We settled for two large plates of “Daisy’s Diner” fries to while away the time and secure two seats.

Eventually check in opened and after depositing the cases, we headed off through security, which was super quick thanks to Susie’s stick. It seemed a very small departures lounge, with only five or six gates. Eventually our gate flashed up on the screen, #69. Now where do you think that was? Yes, miles away, back in terminal A. I’m not sure any other nation on Earth has the same attitude to queueing as do the British. Breathless, we joined the large scrum forming at the gate door. We had already booked seats so it didn’t matter too much when we boarded, though somehow we managed to be amongst the first few.

The flight was quite smooth and I even managed to snooze. After landing at Nantes, we had a long wait for the luggage (no doubt the sniffer dogs were working overtime on those pierogies) but eventually our cases turned up on the belt. We stopped for a quick drink and bite to eat before walking along to an area where we were collected by the parking shuttle. Some three hours later we were home….

Observations on Poland and Germany to follow as soon as my brain gets back into France mode…

From bench to bench..The Hobblers guide to Tiergarten

We began this morning with a spring in our step…no, that’s a lie we dragged our limbs up to Saesons where we had a buffet breakfast. I’m not one who relishes big breakfasts, so an ‘all you can eat’ buffet is a bit lost on me. Not so one of the hotels guests, who I swear filled his plate three times. We chatted to another one of Saesons’s charming staff, Alexis from Costa Rica. I don’t know what the interview/staff training process for this chain of hotels is, but it obviously works…

Why we ended up walking through Tiergarten I’m not really sure, given how we are both in need of bath chairs and attendants. However, we got up there by way of the Bahaus Archive, some really posh flats and a few large embassies.

Tiergarten is quite Hyde Parkish. though perhaps not as full of open green spaces. We saw a man who appeared to be in the nude practicing yoga. (I really didn’t want to get closer to find out), tourists on bikes, Berliners jogging (it’s the Berlin Marathon next weekend) and even a man by the lake who’d slung a hammock between two trees and was dozing peacefully. Yes, I think it really is that laid back here.

After hobbling from bench to bench, we cheated and caught a taxi back to Potsdamer Strasse. A quick check in at Oliv for soup, water, coffee and cheesecake, separately not in the same bowl, we made it back here to have an hours rest before our last dinner in Berlin….I promise you, curry wurst is not on the menu….

Kultur…by drip feed..

There, no point in waiting round. I’ve plonked a photo of a Vermeer (Woman with a Pearl Necklace) at the top of this page. I didn’t expect to see paintings by Rembrant, Vermeer, Gainsborough, Franz Hals and Canaletto during this holiday but I have.

We took a look round the Gemaldegalerie yesterday. This forms only one part of a cultural complex near the Berlin Philharmonic. In the piazza leading up to the building, there was an art installation. Trees in planters, hooked up to hospitals drips containing water, with some chairs attached at the side so you could ‘visit’. Once in the gallery paintings are arranged in small rooms in a long oblong and you walk round it’s perimeter. The early works did not in the main interest either of us. They concentrate on saints, cruxifitions and other religious subjects. It was only the later works that awoke our interest.

I quickly get bored in galleries unless they display more modern works. I was surprised to see the Dutch Masters and works from Englsh and Italian painters and some of these won me over. However both of us began to suffer with gallery fatigue and we made an early exit. The cafeteria provided us with a quick lunch and we headed up to the Sony Centre for a cold drink and to people watch for a while.

I don’t know how I have the gall to include images of old masters and a Newcastle Brown Ale beer mat in the same blog, but I have. The Newcastle Brown was available on draught…or ‘draft’ as they write it here. It’s not supposed to be served cold…..

After a quick shop in the Berlin Mall (this really will be the last time..) we wandered back, stopping at Saesons for dinner, before falling into bed, exhausted from another days explorations..


C’mon Berlin, we’d like a hygge…

Since arriving in Berlin some five days ago it’s fair to say that we haven’t starved. Our forays into the gastronomic hinterland have been a little restricted by legs that are suffering from nearly thirty days of walking, which is unprecedented.

We’ve had fish and chips on our arrival at Hauptbahnhof. Salads, large and small, good and indifferent at lunch times. Berlin isn’t a cheap place for eating out by any means, after all it’s a large cosmopolitan city that receives huge numbers of tourists. However we have come up with a few gems, all on Potsdamer Strasse and within 10 minutes walk of our apartment.

We found a lovely place for breakfast, Oliv Eat It’s not fancy but provides croissants and pain aux chocolate, super coffee and a bowl of museli, packed with fruit. The staff are charming and it’s a great way to begin Berlining…

Next door to Oliv, we had a great dinner at Panama a courtyard restaurant, sufficiently far away from the main road to be shielded from traffic noise. It’s slightly different in that you choose a main dish and the waiter suggests complimentary other courses. It definitely works, as we shared a very tasty pulled lamb dish that was set off by a refreshing first course. The atmosphere is lively and fun and the staff all friendly and chatty. We’re going again tomorrow…

A little further up the road, there’s Sticks and Sushi . It’s probably self evident what type of cuisine this restaurant serves. I’m the first to admit sushi is more for Susie than me. What we had was excellent and Susie was impressed. We ate outside and the service we got was second to none. Definitely one to try if you like food with a Japanese theme.

Finally we found Saesons which is a restaurant attached to the Lulu Guldsmeden hotel near the top of Potsdamer Strasse. It’s a very eco friendly chain of Nordic hotels and likes it’s guests to feel the ‘hygge’, which is more of a phrase than a Nordic word. Hygge conveys coziness, comfort and contentment. A bit like the English word ‘hug’.. The food is exceptionally good, inventive with interesting flavour combinations. The hotel has quirky interiors and well…that warm feeling. From the staff to the food to the atmosphere, it’s wonderful. So wonderful we’ve eaten there twice and decided that when we return to Berlin we’ll be staying there. We’ve been well and truly ‘hyggled’…

Berlin, it’s streets ahead for art…

One of the ‘activities’ we’d prebooked for the Berlin section of our mini European tour was a walk round ‘alternative Berlin’. Sadly we had to cry off this, as our already exhausted limbs couldn’t cope with a three hour walk at someone elses pace. However, a bit more research found us in Bulow Strasse this morning, just a couple of streets south of our apartment. This small area of Berlin is home to the Urban Nation which runs the Museum For Contemporary Art. It’s quite a vibrant part of Berlin with large murals on blocks of flats, other smaller works crop up just about anywhere and whole buildings can become a blue starscape..

The Urban Nation runs a wonderful free gallery (though you can donate on entry) with some stunning pieces. It does occur to me that some may find it difficult to define the difference between urban art and graffiti. For the most part, I’d say that the works we saw on display this morning are art, pure and simple. Well executed and crafted with significant thought about their conception. Our visit was a really rewarding experience..

We paused briefly for lunch, then hailed a taxi to take us to the East Side Gallery by the River Spree. A kilometre of wall has been left mostly intact and has been decorated with murals. Most famous of which is a depiction of the kiss between Brezhnev and Honeker. But oh dear, it was Checkpoint Charlie all over again. Artisans selling wares, buskers and lots of selfie taking tourists.

We wandered along and ended up sat by the river watching the wide sightseeing cruisers and their captive on board audiences. It was warm, we were tired and we opted for another taxi back to the apartment. After an OAP snooze we went out for a meal, which reminds me that I’ve written precious little about our culinary experiences in Berlin…perhaps that should be next and no, I haven’t had a curry wurst…