I am the Enemy you killed, my Friend: 1916 – 1917 Battlefield Tour

Ah France, how long it is since I have seen you. March, wasn’t it? Far too long to be parted from your fine wine and cheese. However, my jaunt across the channel this time couldn’t have been further from my romantic birthday trip to Paris. Whereas my last trip was full of pretty artwork and enchanting bookshops, this trip took me 100 years back in time to the worn torn trenches of WWI. Despite the radiant sunshine for the entirety of the trip, the mood as we walked through the silent headstones, righted fallen poppies, and stood amongst the cabbage patches underneath which a generation was unknowingly buried, was sombre. But it was also a fantastic, educational and worthwhile visit. Almost every family in Britain carries a scar of the Great War, having lost fathers, brothers, sons and friends, and for that reason 100 years on many will be making the pilgrimage across the channel to pay homage to those who died in what was one of the most horrific wars of history.

Given it is 2017 our trip primarily focused on the battles of 1917, specifically Cambrai, Bullecourt and Arras, though we did also visit many of the important sites of the Somme 1916 offensives too. For the history nerds who are reading this, it will seem a given, but for those who are less familiar I will quickly explain why we did so, and why I would recommend you do the same.

Day One

With over one million casualties the Somme is perhaps one of the most horrific battles of the war – it’s certainly the most known. Hollywood loves nothing more than to romanticise the horrors men as young as 14 faced, teachers real of the figures of human sacrifice from the first push to hammer home to children the true loss of the war, and the amount of memorials France has to the Somme alone turns the heart cold. However, the Somme also led to the largest capture of enemy territory since the start of the war two years previously, penetrating 6 miles further into France. Importantly for 1917, it set up the new front line and the battles of Arras, Cambrai and Bullecourt which were further allied victories.

20622782_10155617459689111_753641869_oThese are just a few of the reasons the first day of our tour focused on the Somme. It gave a background to what the soldiers had seen only six months previously, had survived, only to go into what we would see in the following days. No battlefield tour is complete without a visit to Thiepval Memorial. As you round the gravelled path, the looming arched structure surrounded by poppies is rather beautiful. It is only when you get closer and realise every side is covered in names, does the real loss of the Somme hit you. Around 72,000 names are etched into the marble, to commemorate the lost. These are just the men whose bodies were never found, never returned to their native lands. There are further graves at the foot of the memorial of the unknown, bodies that were found but were so beyond recognition no name could be put to them. French and British, side by side, row upon row. You could spend hours here trawling through the names. What really struck me was the amount of families who were eradicated. Brothers often signed up together, or whole towns of friends, and in battles like the Somme it left households and villages without their entire male population. Efforts to split brothers and friends up came into play in order to reduce this problem later on, and Thiepval is a perfect illustration as to why this was a necessary step. If a whole family or local regiment were destroyed in one catastrophic battle, it would have harrowing consequences for after the war.

20629877_10155617459669111_201614130_oSome other recommendations for your day on the Somme would be the Devonshire Commonwealth Cemetery, which is a beautiful small burial site for some of the men killed during the Somme by Mametz. It’s quite a popular site with school trips and literature fans as this is the final resting place for quite a few WWI poets, such as Lt. William Noel Hodgson who wrote ‘Before Action’. From the sunken position of the cemetery you also get a beautiful view out over the rest of what was the Somme. Siegfried Sasson was positioned just over the top of the hill you’ll be able to see from here.

20641330_10155617459754111_1616320478_oNewfoundland Memorial was one of my favourite stops along the Somme trip. Favourite sounds a bit morbid given what I was visiting on this trip, but if you visit you will see why. It’s beautiful. There are no harsh concrete constructions here to remember the dead. Wild flowers attract a mass of butterflies, the still visible trenches are slowly being reclaimed by mother nature, and alone in the flat lands that used to be no man’s land, stands a lonely tree who weathered the storm of the Somme. It feels wrong to call a spot where thousands died beautiful, but I personally prefer the more subtle memorials like this. It reminds me of many poems from the soldiers who would talk about how birds still flew, flowers still grew, how the sun shone, despite the horrors. With the knowledge of what happened in your mind, you appreciate the beauty of a place like Newfoundlands far more than you would back home. And, personally, I believe it does more to honour the fallen’s memory than to shed a tear or two.

Lochnagar Crater Memorial is another must see stop. It’s a lot nicer here since my last visit – which was in the pouring rain when I was 13 – when it was literally just a muddy whole in the ground. They’ve now built a proper walk way around here making it more accessible for those with disabilities, there’s toilets and even a small road side cafe. The crater measures 90 meters in diameter, 20 in depth, and was created when mines that were dug under the German lines was detonated before the first push of the Somme. It is a rather shocking physical reminder of how big an impact the war had on the land.

Day Two

Now you’ve had a bit of background, the problems of 1917 will all become a bit clearer. There was several changes in staff, especially in the higher tiers of the French army, which had a big impact on the battles of 1917. I would also say 1917 was the year it became most obvious how important the Commonwealth effort was. With the Somme and the deaths of such a high number, the victims and survivors alike became faceless in a way. British became the universal label for the men of the British Isles and the Empire. In 1917 however, regiments from Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India and many more committed truly heroic deeds in the effort for victory.

19897758_10155538821139111_265469939_oI would start with Vimy Ridge. If, like me, you decide to do a quick trip around France and you stop off at Vimy this year you will have the honour of visiting this site not only on it’s 100th anniversary but the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation. The battle of Vimy is regarded by historians as the birth of Canadian nationalism which started their journey to becoming an independent country. You can take a tour of the tunnels the soldiers dug, and the walk to the striking memorial is pleasant in the summer – though you can drive. The tour guides are absolutely fantastic here and they are all volunteers from Canada. The passion and love and pure admiration they have for the history is intoxicating. As it is entirely free you have no excuse not to take advantage of their knowledge.

Vimy will take up a good portion of your day as there is so much to see and take in, so I would perhaps take it easy for the rest of the day or perhaps do this on one of your travelling days – either on your way to the hotel or home. Alternatively combine it with one of the other locations I’ve suggested for the other days.

Day Three

20630116_10155617459799111_798647885_oI’m suggesting these sites are done together because a lot of the battles work well with one another and they are also very close to one another, so it limits your time in a car or on the coach. Start in Monchy-le-Preux, where is a tiny village you could almost blink and miss as you travel through. What happened here was probably one of the most upsetting things for me to hear given my love of horses. The town, which was held by Germans was won in an amazing performance of cavalry skill. It is one of the examples historians point to when saying the cavalry was still a valid and important part of the make up of the Allied forces. However, after the capture of the town it suffered heavy bombing from the Germans, who decided the town should be obliterated rather than held on. The attack saw the obliteration or abandonment of most of the cavalry forces. The Germans then attempted to take what remained of the town with their infantry but the line was held by just 12 Brits. It’s a fascinating story which is better told as you are standing where they stood so I shan’t go further than this.

Head then onto Bullecourt which is only a little further on. This is a good place to discuss the Hindenburg Line fighting and the struggles the allied forces faced here due to uncut wire, skewered reports, and lack of men. Again, it is an injustice for me to reel off the stories told here of the men but of particular note here is the work of the Australian regiments, who were the one group to break through the line on the designated day and take the German line. Command thought they were lost due to communication loss, but their sudden appearance at a later storming guaranteed a victory for the allies when it looked as though the Germans were about to win.

20629038_10155617456964111_1832823446_oAt the time of writing this Tank Deborah is probably on her way to her new home, but we were very fortunate to know Philippe, who is practically her lover, and so we were able to visit her before she was moved and have lunch in her shadow. Deborah is a Mark IV tank who was used in the battle of Cambrai – only three of her eight crew survived the fight. If you ever get a chance to visit, try and ensure you can talk to Philippe too, who found, excavated and then researched her history. You can actually visit the graves of the other five missing tank members right next to the new museum, and pay homage to them. It is a fantastic opportunity to see Deborah as so many of the tanks from WWI were scrapped or stolen to be reused in WWII. She is in near perfect condition apart from the gaping hole that caused her demise. She stormed the town she lives in during the battle of Cambrai and was destroyed by heavy German fire, then abandoned by her crew. Miraculously none of them actually died in the vehicle, but rather trying to make their way back to the British front line. You can even read the letters sent by the commander to the families of those who did not survive, and their harrowing story.

Explore the rest of Cambrai in the afternoon – there are lots of lovely peaceful cemeterys dedicated to different regiments and countrymen, and each one has a different story. We focused heavily on the commonwealth ones due to the group we were made up of, so I would advice doing a bit of research before you go.

Cambrai is in my opinion a very important battle which often gets overlooked by tourists. Historians, too, are guilty of dismissing the use of tanks in WWI but when you think of their importance in WWII it’s very interesting to see how their ancestors did in the first Great War. Whilst they were perhaps not the war winning pieces of technology politicians marketed them as, as you will learn from your time in the museums around here, the generals understood their value and the importance of them in future warfare. The use of tanks also developed industrial warfare, which is a very interesting area for military historians and hobbyists.

Day Four

This is another one of those half days so again perhaps you can coordinate this to fall on your leaving or arriving day. We did it as we left France.

20622676_10155617456929111_1810838848_oFirstly, Arras is a beautiful city and I would actually recommend staying here for the duration of the trip. It’s hard to imagine that the whole city had been completely razed to the ground during the war. Today, there are lovely hotels very well priced, the restaurants are fabulous, and drinking in the plaza feels like you’ve landed in one of those retro movies where artists perform on cobbled corners as people sip on martinis wearing big hats. But underneath the city is a network of tunnels dug throughout the war for the soldiers to get as close to the Germans as possible. In parts of the tunnel, the allies were so close to the Germans they could actually hear them singing. The Wellington Quarry allows you access to a section of these tunnels. In there you will see the drawings, the last minute etchings and prayers of the men who waited for the order to go over the top. You do get to wear a very cool WWI tin hat when you go under, but the merriment ends as soon as you descend into the tunnels. This is a very hard hitting and gruelling place to visit. The tourist center has done itself proud with the audio guide and visual clips of the men during the period. It gives you a flavour for what it would have been like for the men stuck down here at lengths of time.20623637_10155617457009111_481147000_o

After the emotional stories your guides will tell you of some of the men who lived and died down here, as you exit the tunnels Owen’s words from his poem hover above the exit:

“I am the Enemy you killed, my Friend.”

Tunnels often switched hands as one side gained the upper hand or the other re-took their sectors. Enemies would have found and see the intimate insights into their lives as they moved in. Pictures, prayers, notes to loved ones, names. Many men might have even left behind precious items in the hopes to return for it at a safer time. Owen’s words really hit home that on either side, these men were the same. They all had lives, loved ones, and truthfully they had no personal quarrel with each other. They might have been friends in another life, and they had to enter tunnels and see these snippets of the lives their bullets may well have ended.

On your way out of Arras, the Citadel is also worth a stop, which is another beautiful monument to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died defending Arras.

 

~

 

I hope this has given you the startings of a good trip, especially if you are interested in 1917. The brilliance of battlefield tours is that you can mix and match, so if you do find yourself having to pick the key parts to see if you want to reduce 1917 to a day, pick the ones I have hopefully given you a flavour too. It obviously also depends if you have a guide, as some of these places you cannot truly appreciate unless you have someone to tell you the stories. Based on that, if you do not have a guide, I would make sure to visit Vimy Ridge, Tank Deborah Museum and Arras’ Wellington Quarry. If you do have a guide, discuss with them the ones which fit in best with your routes in relation to your hotel location.

As always, I hope you enjoy your trip based on my recommendations. Perhaps, not as you would enjoy the trip to Paris, or my Road Trip around Ireland, but if you are a passionate historian you will enjoy the stories this land carries in its very soil now.

From 1917 with Love xoxo

 

The Perfect Budget Road Trip

Broke and suffering from wonderlust? Most of us yearn for that perfect getaway that won’t break the bank or result in the age old argument at the family dinner rearing it’s ugly head again of, if you stopped jetting off here there and everywhere you might just not have to ask for help to pay the rent.

What if I told you you could disappear through the back of the wardrobe into the forests of Narnia, walk through Westeros on the Kings Road, and give you views such as this:

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All for under £250?

Let me introduce you to the beautiful, and still relatively undiscovered by tourists, jewel that is Northern Ireland.

Ireland doesn’t conjure up the best images of sandy beaches and hot weather, but if you pick the right time of year (May-October), and you have a group of good friends, Northern Ireland is guaranteed to be one of your best holidays this year.

The Planning Phase

Northern Ireland has fully embraced Air BnB, and there are a lot of fantastic houses you can rent throughout the country, coming to no more than £130 for seven nights. That works out to just £26 per night per person based on a five person house share (and this house could sleep up to seven).

Flights from London – which was the most expensive airports to fly from – was £60 return.

I would advice then hiring a car. Northern Ireland is a tiny country – if you stay in the middle the longest journey you will have to suffer is two hours, which for most of us is a breeze. Again these rates were amazing and cost us £30 per person for a rather luxurious five person car (with air con!). Petrol for all of our journeys – which I’ll get onto in a minute – was around £20 each. With food as well, that brings you to around £250! As long as you have wheels, you can pretty much do everything else for free.

Sound good so far?

Things To Do

Of course it is not all about finding cheap tickets and accommodation to stay in. Part of the appeal of any country is of course the things you can see there. So here are some of the highlights from my trip a few weeks ago.

Giants Causeway

Suggested time here: Whole Day

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Giants Causeway is a stunning piece of the northern cost of Northern Ireland. There is an estimated 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic explosion, that make up this natural phenomenon. If you’re a geographer this has probably already sold you on Northern Ireland, I don’t know apparently it is a rather big deal, but despite it being explained to me several times what exactly this meant I was way more interested in the folklore explanation of this beautiful piece of coast.

Back in the old days, when the lands were ruled by Giants, one of the Giants of Northern Ireland was taunted by a Giant from Scotland – which he could vaguely see in the distance. Angered at the taunting, the Irish giant threw a series of rocks to great a bridge between the two countries – creating the causeway – but upon getting closer to the giant, he realised the Scot was a lot bigger than him. The Irish giant ran home in fear to his wife, but the Scot had spotted him and started chasing him. The wife, naturally annoyed with her husband being a damn idiot, made him pretend to be their newborn son.

Meanwhile the Scottish Giant has shown up at their door, demanding to be let in. The wife opens the door, feigns innocence in having seen her husband and invites him in to wait. The Scot graciously accepts, downs a pint, and waits it out. However, as time ticks on, the Scottish Giant hears a noise from behind a curtain. Jumping up in triumph, thinking he would find the husband, he pulls back the curtain to see what he thinks is a baby. Now this ‘baby’ is of course the Irish giant, but the Scot doesn’t know that and freaks out at the size of the baby, thinking my God if this is his son how big is he, and pegs it back to Scotland, destroying the bridge as he goes.

I don’t know about you but Giants sound way more fun than volcanoes.

Dunluce Castle

Suggested time here: 1 – 3 hours

19225902_10155462924174111_7346197406711387375_nDunluce is considered the most romantic castle in the whole of Ireland, though we never did find out why whilst we were there. It is however a delight for anyone who is a fan of history. It’s an old medieval castle that was owned by the clans of Northern Ireland and eventually fell into ruin during Cromwells take over of Ireland. It then sadly fell into ruin. However, you can still make out the amazing tactical advantages it provided against attacks from the Vikings by sea.

I would also 100% recommend the little cafe there. Everything is homemade, cheap, and tastes amazing. Plus the guy who owns it gave us one of his adorable spoons which he hand made.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Suggested time here: 3 – 4 hours

19275323_10155462933274111_5128236461214177238_nThis is a beautiful piece of the Irish coast and is worth the visit just for that. For a little bit of extra money however, you can cross the rather perilous medieval rope bridge. The bridge connects the mainland with a little island fishermen used to store their boats and catch the best fish from. For anyone afraid of heights this will take a bit of convincing to do. As someone who feels like crying when they go up a ladder, this was a bit of challenge for me. The whole time across I felt like Donkey in Shrek when they’re crossing that boiling pit of lava.

But once you get across it is like a little oasis of calm. Totally worth the minute of heart attack inducing fear there and back.

Dark Hedges

Suggested time here: 20 – 30 minutes.

19850877_10155512194239111_1822257110_oA lot of people will drive down the road and wonder why on earth people are climbing into the follow trees or pretending to throw a sword around. For the nerds amongst you however, you may recognise this as being the Kings Road from Game of Thrones. The set locators actually compiled a list of sexy trees to feature in the series, and of course the Dark Hedges here were top of the list. It takes about 10 minutes to walk the full length and back, but it’s a really nice stop on your way back from any of your coastal day trips.

Marble Arch Caves

Suggested time here: One Day

19718705_10155512194294111_1067239828_oMarble Arch Caves are one of the finest show caves in Europe and features an under water cave straight out of Lord of the Rings, and a series of limestone formations that made all the geographers in our group make a similar noise to the one I make when I see an adorable puppy. If you are touring around the island on a weekday you should be fine with just turning up to book onto a tour, but if you are going in peak time, then I would phone in advance.

It’s situated in a wonderful forest with plenty of woodland trails. About five minutes down the road, situated in the same forest, is also Florence Court, which is a Georgian mansion house. So there is something for everyone in this rugged part of Northern Ireland.

Dublin

Suggested time here: One Day

19748029_10155512194514111_1866951657_oThat’s right – why not turn your trip into two holidays?! There’s a soft boarder between Northern Ireland and Ireland which means you won’t get stopped for your passport details as you cross over (though I would recommend taking it just encase). Dublin is a fantastic city rich in history and buzzing nightlife. Some of my main recommendations, and bare in mind I am a historian, are the General Post Office – where you can see the Irish Bill of Independence – and Dublin Castle, which was once called the worst castle in all of Christendom. This is especially funny when you take into account it was considered one of King John’s greatest achievements. Awkward.

In terms of nightlife there are a lot of live music performances to catch at the multiple bars and clubs. Dublin also love their comedy performances, so be sure to check out their version of Time Out for what’s on in the local area.

Game of Thrones Tour

Suggest time here: One Day

19830104_10155512194419111_1470026603_oIf you are a fan of the HBO series Game of Thrones, then it seems natural to book onto one of the many Game of Thrones tours they have to offer. You’ll meet your guide in Belfast, and he’ll then take you across the Narrow Sea to the land of Westeros. On the way you’ll see Winterfell, The Twins, Robb’s Camp, Beyond the Wall, the bridge under which the Starks found their Direwolves, and actually get to meet the puppies! Well, two of them, and they are a lot bigger now.

As well as being somewhere to get your nerd on, it’s also a great way to see a large part of Eastern Northern Ireland in a day, without making your driver do it. Tours cost you around £50 with lunch included, and there is a chance to dress up and run around with a sword for a bit.

It’s like they know what we really want to be in life.

Belfast

Suggested time here: One Day

19424502_10155479860994111_2027996162064857567_nNo trip to the green isles is complete without a visit to the capital. Much like Dublin, it has its own rich and wonderful history and nightlife. I would highly recommend taking one of the hop on hop off bus tours which is a great way to get an over view of the cities history and main attractions in the space of two hours. You can then hop off and explore them in greater detail if you so wish. Of particular interest, which you might want to check out, are Belfast Castle and the Titanic Centre. Oh and there’s a giant colourful fish that if you kiss, grants to knowledge of everything.

Again I would recommend checking Time Out for the nightlife scene and big events happening in the city.

 

So that’s Northern Ireland for you. Hopefully I’ve given you the beginnings of your own amazing road trip across this beautiful country, and something to throw in the next persons face who criticises you for your addiction to travel.

Happy adventures, travellers.

From Northern Ireland, with love xox

 

The City of Love for the Romantically Hopeless

Paris. The city of soft candle light, smooth accents and ideal kissing spots. As you walk down the street, it is impossible not to meet couples draped over one another, clearly wishing they were back in the hotel room with the windows thrown open to the Paris skyline. It is a feeling that surrounds this city, especially when you are visiting with your significant other. Yet if you are anything like me, romantically hopeless, this feeling is easily brushed aside and replaced with the pure awe of being in Paris – the city of the revolution, medieval tyrants and – most importantly – cheese.

I will confess I was a little worried about going to Paris. I don’t think I have a romantic bone in my body – ask my partner, he will testify my idea of romance is leaving him the last spoonful of our shared dessert (how is that not romantic by the way?) And there is a lot of hype about visiting the city of love with your partner. “Oh you’re not even going to leave your hotel room”, “It is SUCH a romantic city”, “Oh the sunset over the river -sigh-”

Pass me the bucket. Is it bad that inside all I was thinking about was how cool it was going to be to stand in the square all those nobles had their heads unceremoniously separated from their body? No? Well here are my tips on how to navigate Paris for the romantically hopeless.

Day One

17799104_10155197230724111_6876423913333218213_nStart the first day off feeling incredibly cultured in the Louvre, which is the largest museum in the world. Last year I did five museums in one day in Berlin, but even that did not prepare me for the amount of history I would need to absorb in this museum. True, it is mostly full of art rather than teaming with information on this battle and that battle, but each corner you turn round holds another rare artefact from a long forgotten age. This museum not only showcases France’s turbulant history, but protects the delicate threads of histories across the world and throughout time. From ancient Egypt, right through to China during WW2. My favourite bit was discovering the Louvre was actually built on top of the old medieval foundations of a fortress, which the museum is positioned around in order to allow visitors to see what remains of this fascinating structure.

Once you’ve pulled yourself away from Mona Lisa’s lifeless eyes, stroll through the palace gardens with their delightful statues and perfectly sculpted bushes. As you promenade, it is easy to see why this was the place to hang out if you were a French aristocrat – until the nasty business with the guillotine. There are even deck chairs positioned neatly around the two large fountains in the garden. It was nice to see the gardens are still a popular Parisian hang out, with people playing football games amongst the statues of faeries, and dogs chasing bulls through hedges shaped like curious animals.

17795828_10155197236574111_4359745583135208230_nAt the end of the gardens you’ll hit the Paris Eye, which is worth a trip up in order to get some good skyline selfies, but if you don’t want to pay the 10 euroes, hold off until you get to the Arc de Triumph. As you stand with your back to the eye, you will think to yourself the Arc looks incredibly close. It is not close. It is not a ten minute walk, even at a good pace. That is a good half an hour hike, yes hike, because once you do first leg you start to go at a steady but definite incline. You will sweat. It will be nasty. You won’t look at your significant other who warned you that it was not a ten minute walk and is giving you that “I told you so” look. Once you stagger your way across the roundabout to the Arc, you will then find yourself faced with the chance to go up to the top, which will provide you with those lovely skyline selfies I mentioned earlier. The staircase is perhaps the worst thing I have ever been up, it is formed in the tightest spiral I have ever had the misfortune of climbing, and leaves you feeling disorientated when you get to the top. But it is worth it.  There’s even a perfect spot for pretending you can hold the Eiffel Tower in your hand.

17760068_10155197240574111_8127083220871157490_nAfter you’ve suffered the stairs on the way down, it’s time to head on over to the Eiffel Tower. This is probably the whole reason you’ve come to Paris (not really, I mean there’s still Shakespeare & Co to go yet), but it is definitely on that list of things you most probably should do whilst in Paris. There are two levels you can visit, the normal viewing platform and what they call the ‘Summit’. If you are scared of heights you will cry no matter which level you’re on so you might as well go to the top and appreciate the ground that little bit more when your feet meet again with it. If you’ve stuck to the plan I’ve outlined you’ll hit the top just as the sun is setting, which is absolutely breathtaking. I think it was the only time throughout the trip I felt even a little bit romantic. And if you don’t, there are some helpful kissing reminders around the place.

17795942_10155197243544111_2487283421091364311_nI recommend eating around here – there are some lovely little restaurants
just behind the tower – because after you finish your meal you can then see the whole thing lit up, which give the tower a whole new beauty (lets face it, it’s pretty ugly in the light).

 

Day Two

17757165_10155197219764111_3479506730868443621_nSpend your second day in the Ile de la City area with a visit to Palais de la Cité, residence of the French Kings. White built along the picturesque riverside, the palace doesn’t look like much from the outside – in fact I would have walked past it if I hadn’t seen a sign saying free entry for Europeans. It is definitely nothing like the magnificent castles of France that are scattered throughout the rest of the country. However, once you step inside you do feel as though you have fallen into one of those ludicrous fantasy history novels where helpless young women fall in love with the strapping young prince. The arches and spiral staircases are enough to make any architect or history lover squee with joy – which is exactly what I did when I found myself inside the main hall. There is a fantastic digital presentation on the history of the palace, including a series of images of how the palace transformed from a home of the royal bloodline into a prison, and eventually the centre of the revolutions trials.

That’s right, this medieval palace just got much cooler. Taken over by the bloodthirsty, barricade builders, the palace was at the centre of the famed Terror. Within these walls not only were France’s aristocracy dragged to be sentenced to death, but they also turned an entire wing into a series of prisons for their most important victims. One such prisoner was Marie Antoinette, who was actually held prisoner in her in-laws family chapel and sentenced to death in what used to be their dining room – creepy!

17425038_10155197223349111_3393796616478410635_nOnce you’ve had your fill of the bloody history of the revolution, pop next door to one of my favourite churches in the whole of Europe: Sainte-Chapelle. This is the church which made Henry III create Westminster Abbey, legend goes, because the stained glass was rumoured to be the most spectacular in Europe. It’s been on my bucket list for some time, and as it’s free for the under 25s, it is a must whilst you are in the area. We stayed here for quite some time just gazing at the way the sun changed the colours in the glass.

Stroll through the daily flower market on your way to Notre Dame, which you simply cannot ignore whilst you are in the area. It is perhaps Paris’s third most iconic landmark after the Eiffel Tower and the Arc De Triumph (second I guess depending on how highly you value the arc). This Gothic masterpiece steals your breath as you cross the river, or round the corner from the flower market, and if you look really closely you might even see Quasimodo swinging from the bells. The inside is just as breath taking as the exterior with its own collection of wonderful stained glass. However, what I fo17522982_10155197224649111_4185514928481975795_nund more interesting were the amount of famous people buried under the roof. Including a tribute to Louis Pasteur, who was originally buried here but was later moved. I would suggest spending at least an hour uncovering Paris’s dead heroes. I mean, what’s more romantic than poking around the crypts of a cathedral built in the late 14th century?

If you’re feeling peckish by this point, there is an amazing little cafe just across the road from Notre Dame, and if you’re super lucky you can get the window seat and enjoy your coffee with a view. It is pricey but the sights are so worth it – plus the food is amazing.

17523142_10155197224654111_7581171525981157556_nThis suggestion is more for the book worms amongst you, but if you walk through the park opposite the cathedral, you can visit the precious Shakespeare & Co book shop. Famous for homing many an author as they researched or completed their books, the shelves are crammed with novels across genres, from specific French literature right through to valuable rare books. You could spend hours lost amongst the shelves, or curled up upstairs in one of the many inviting chairs. Nothing upstairs is for sale by the way, but reading is encouraged.

Day 3 – 4

If you’re lucky enough to have bagged yourself more time in the city of love then I have a few more recommendations of places you should definitely check out.

17759955_10155197228279111_6363132051882596089_nFirst is the catacombs, which for anyone unfamiliar with the term is basically a large collection of skulls and bones packed on top of one another because they ran out of space in the graveyards (especially during the revolution). It is damn creepy but so much fun to creep along the narrow tunnels and see the way the builders tried to bring some amount of cheer to such a dreary place, with skulls creating patterns of hearts or large barrels. If you do it late at night then you come out when it’s dark, which just adds to the creepy feeling.

17796849_10155197228774111_3487787481079477393_nIf you’re looking to take a break from your busy schedule the Luxembourg Gardens are perfect for a place to relax in the sunshine. There’s a little model boating lake in the middle where you can get a boat with the flag of your country (or a pirate one) and let it float around the lake. When it reaches the banks you just push it off again with the handy little stick you get given. We lost quite a few hours here egging on the pirate ship which kept smashing into Britain.

17522576_10155197244484111_293691665446317967_nThe other place I would recommend visiting is the Montmarte area. This is a great stop on the day you are heading home as it is right by the station, and you can leave your bags at the station so you’re not laden down. Basilica du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, and is also one of the oldest churches in the city. Someone is always praying in the church, even during both World Wars, one of the many locals or priests was at prayer to keep the record going. Aside from it being an absolutely beautiful area to just lounge around before spending a couple of hours on a train, it is also home to the Artist Square. This is where all of Paris’ aspiring artists come to sell their wares. You can get anything from traditional oil paintings to caricatures to take home. To top it all off there is even a little train that will take you for a tour of all the important spots in the area – including the famous Moulin Rouge.

~

So yes, Paris is the city of love, but it is also the city of art, revolution and cheese. Rest assured fellow romantically hopeless friends, you will fall in love here, it’ll just more likely be with that tiny little antique shop next to Shakespeare & Co than your hotel bed.

From Paris, with love xox

Prague in a Weekend

Ever since reading Daughter of Smoke and Fire I have wanted to see the beautiful city of Prague, with its Gothic castle and medieval little streets. I had envisioned spending at least a week in the magical city – all reports I had ever come across suggested there was too much to simply see in a few days. However, when my other half surprised me with a weekend away in my fantasy city, I was determined to cram in as much as I possibly could. Firstly, rest assured any TripAdvisor reports or Top 100 things to do in Prague are a complete exaggeration. A weekend in Prague is definitely all you need unless you are planning to do excursions to the rest of the country (which I will probably come back and do in the future) – or you plan on doing a Museum crawl (because there are hundreds of them, including a Museum of Sex Toys). So if you find yourself with a weekend in Prague here is my recommended day plan:

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Day One – The Castle

The castle district dominates the city of Prague. With numerous beautiful sculpted gardens, narrow and winding historical streets, and the rather breath-taking Gothic cathedral, it can take most of the day to explore this sprawling hillside of history. It is where I would suggest spending your first full day in Prague. Getting there early is a must – the queue is absolutely ridiculous to get into the castle grounds (which is free but you get searched so it takes time). The views when waiting, as well as the numerous entertainers who tend to set up around the square are more than ample amusement for the roughly 30 minute wait to get inside. If you time it just right like we did, you will get to watch the changing of the guards from the queue line too.

IMG_0048.JPGOnce you are inside the grounds, there are numerous parts of the grounds just waiting to be discovered – some which are for free, and others cost a small sum of 300 crowns. If you are pressed for time, If you only do one thing inside the grounds it must be to visit the inside of the Cathedral. The absolutely stunning glass work casts the whole interior in beautiful rosy, orange, yellow and blue glows. It creates an effect very similar to that of staring at the surface of water when you sit on the bottle of pool, and it definitely just as serene.

IMG_0107.JPGIf you have, however, set aside the day for the castle then you can explore the other wonderful parts of the ground. Some of my favourites were the Old Royal Palace – most of which burnt down, but the ball room, some of the upper bedrooms and study rooms still exist; St George’s Chapel, which is a very well-preserved example of an older and more sedate church that exists in the grounds from the 1000s and has some very curious representations of mythical creatures; and the Alchemist Street, which used to be home to the old Apothecaries and Alchemists and hosts some very interesting exhibits on their lives today.

End the day by booking onto one of the dinner river cruises. I would recommend Prague Boats who give you two different dinner options – a buffet dinner cruise with live music, and a La Carte Menu which is for those of you who want to be a bit fancier with waiter service and jazz music. It was a really lovely end to our day at the castle – and we got to see the city by night.

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Day Two – Old Town and the Jewish Quarter

img_0272The second day, and probably the day you are leaving this wonderful city, is best spent in Old Town. Full of snaking medieval streets with curiously eastern styled houses which lean forward to create a welcoming amount of shade in the summer sun, Old Town is a medievalist dream come true. This is also the place to do your shopping, with vendors and shops down every nook and crannies. The main thing to take a look at here, other than the beautiful architecture (there are gremlins everywhere, have fun spotting them along your way), is the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town centre. The clock was first installed in 1410 and it is still one of the most precise time keeping pieces in the world – as well as the oldest. There is a small museum inside as well, but the beauty is just watching the clock chime on every hour.

Within the town centre there is always a show going on as well – most likely puppet shows as this is what the Czech Republic is renowned for.  So sit back with an ice cream and enjoy some afternoon entertainment.

img_0261There is also the Powder Tower, which is included in the price of the all-inclusive castle ticket. The Tower used to be one of the original city gates and is now home to an exhibition on the gates history. The Powder Tower however is not near the castle – it is actually all the way over in Old Town which is on the other side of the river so you may want to do this on the day of your castle visit too. If that’s the case it’ll give you a chance to walk across the Charles Bridge – one of the oldest medieval bridges lined with great historical and religious figures.

Continuing with your day in Old Town, walk up river to the Jewish Quarter and explore some more great architecture – like the Old Orchestra Hall or the Town Square with another beautiful Gothic church.

 

 

That concludes my suggested plan of action for a weekend in Prague. I hope you have as an amazing time as we did exploring this beautiful fantasy-esq city.

With Love, Prague xox

The Deutsche Chronicles: A review of CTR

Travel writing has never really occurred to me, apart from in dreams of when I was a multi millionaire and didn’t have to worry about money. No way did I have the funds to go out on my own and build a portfolio without becoming part of the hive mind of 9 – 5 business people. So when I stumbled across CTR (City Travel Review), which is an amazing opportunity for young people who are on a gap year, or have just finished uni, or have quit their desk job to follow their dream. The scheme – which has won quite a few awards – allows you to be a travel writer for between 1 – 3 months at one of the cities they have on offer (Edinburgh, Berlin, London, Madrid, Lyon, Barcelona). The website looked great, but after much internet trolling the only other reference I could find to the scheme was on a blog a few years old. I’m not sure whether it just wasn’t explained very well in the blog, or whether it was simply out of date, but after reading it and experiencing it I was totally unprepared for it.

What do I do exactly…?

Now, this is a question my team and I were asking ourselves right up until we handed in our project. Your entire aim of the course is to produce a travel guide. You will be working in a small group – about half the size of the actual project group (10 max). When you have your first meeting you will meet the two editors who are your ‘guides’ along the way. They are there to listen in on your meetings, but mostly to provide feedback on your own personal writing style and to answer any questions. Or, if you really get off track with the project, bring you back to where you should be. The rest is entirely down to you.

There are three groups within your small team: layouters, editors and writers. Everyone is a writer, not everyone is a layouter or editor.

Layouters are theoretically meant to volunteer for the role, as editors are, but usually Lutz (who is the coordinator of the project) asks you to raise your hand if you’ve had experience in graphics design or layout before. In which case you’ll be put on that team. If there are left over spaces others will be asked to volunteer for the role. You will need to bring a laptop with you, it should be a very modern one as you will be asked to download a programme onto your laptop to do it. It’s a free trial you will get for a week (unless Lutz has taken to heart our complaining and finally brought one). It is a very stressful role, but you are in charge of the whole look of the final project. It’s demanding, and you need to work well with others. There are three positions for this group.

Editors nominate themselves for the role. Their function is to proofread the reviews sent in by writers, send back recommended changes and generally make sure the tone for the whole thing is coherent and doesn’t sound like it’s written by 10 different people. It’s difficult but it’s good fun. You’ll need to set deadlines for the rest of the group and most likely hound them for their reviews so they are on time. Within the editors group are two special roles. There is the Photo Editor, whose job it is to collect all the photos for the reviews and to select the best ones and tell writers to go out and take some more. The photo editor also works with the layouters to get any extra images they feel they need e.g. cover photos, headers, writers pictures. Then there is the Editor-in-Chief. I was very lucky and honoured to be given this position. This is the only position which is elected by the whole group out of the editors – or someone falls into the role. I kinda fell into it. This person needs to be extremely organised as you’re going to be coordinating with the writers, editors and layouters. You make the final calls when arguments start – and trust me they will. You also keep the meetings on track, check over all the other editors work to make sure they have done it right, and you will also probably be good with excel as you will need to keep track of who is writing what, who has handed in what, and whether it has been edited and is ready to be put into the magazine yet. It’s a hard job but very rewarding.

Writers are self explanatory really, but just to outline what a review should actually be might be helpful as we sure as hell didn’t know what to do. Each writer is expected to have written eight reviews by the end of the month (unless you are a layouter then you only have to do six). You can do more, but you can’t do less. You will be given the Essential Review list on your second week. These are places around the city they want you to include because a travel guide without them would be silly. These are mainly the historical places most of you will think are boring, but they include a few lakes and entertainment parks which are hot tourist places. Writers will divide this list up between them. We ended up with four essential reviews each that we had to do – some of us took on a few more because we already wanted to review those places (history nerd over here holla). You write between 150 – 200 words per review. The other four reviews are entirely up to you – you can do anything you want to.

Features: As well as writing reviews you will write features – there are ‘essential’ features. You don’t have to do them, but you will probably want to include them. It’s things like accommodation, transport, a survival guide, a brief history of the city. You’ll probably divide these up as well – two people tend to work on it together. Then there’s features you pick for yourself, if you want to write a features. Features are longer between 400 – 600 words and have a more personal tone to the more formal review structure. Your editors will talk to you more about it but they are a fun and different thing to do especially if you don’t have another position on the team.

Language Lessons: Alongside all of this you will be doing daily lessons in the language of the country you are in (Berlin, Barcelona, Lyon, Madrid). They don’t do lessons in English as they expect you all to know English in order to write the guide. They have beginner and experienced lessons, sometimes more groups if you are in a bigger group.

 

A typical day in the life of a writer ~

So know you know the basic structure and aim of the project, what does a typical day look like for you? Well, you’ll have a lesson in the morning – either a language lesson or a writing workshop. Then you get the afternoon off to go and do your reviews – whether it is writing them or going to visit the site. Mondays and Fridays you will have an excursion somewhere around the city which is paid for by the project. Weekends are free – the group tends to go out somewhere or do something, or use the time to visit another place they review. You will have to manage your own time, which is a crucial part of being a travel writer. Remember to balance fun with work – this is work experience after all.

 

Where will I be staying?

Accommodation is provided for in the cost. I don’t know what the flats look like in other cities, but in Berlin you will be staying on the East Side of the city in old Soviet Union flat blocks (seriously, if you visit the East Germany museum and see the old Soviet flats yours looks identical). It’s not the most glamorous of places, but it’s clean and comfortable and the ones in Berlin have balcony’s! They are two bedroom apartments but the bedrooms are twin rooms – this means you will be sharing a bedroom with somebody else unless you pay for a single room.

 

Admin things you should know.

Transport: You should know that you have to pay for your own transport to the country or city you will be writing in. On arrival at the station or airport, someone from the team will come and pick you up and take you to your accommodation. They will pay for this transport. On the way back however, you’re on your own. You will find that people from the group will leave around the same time as you from the same places so you can buddy up and head there together. It’ll get a little emotional on the goodbye!

Just a note – people tend to arrive mid morning/afternoon on the first day, and the leaving time is schedules for around 2pm. However, you can leave earlier and most of us did because we weren’t told by the organisers -derh-. At the end of the day go for the cheapest flights but thought I would give you a heads up.

Internet: Accommodation does NOT have internet at any of their locations apart from in the offices you have your lessons in. Even this is limited – it’s a little dongle and it’ll be used up pretty quickly with 20 + young adults hungry for contact with the outside world. You will need to get your own internet through your own dongle or otherwise for the accommodation. You will also become very familiar with the local internet cafes and libraries – trust me!

Guests: You’re not MEANT to have people over but your flatmates don’t usually mind and as long as nobody tells the landlord you’ll be fine. Nobody will ask really. They won’t have anywhere to sleep however, so you may need to get an airbed or something similar. Alternatively, I used my guests as a great opportunity to try out some hotels and air BnB places around the city for the guide.

 

Recommend it to a friend?

I most certainly would recommend it to a friend. It is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a new culture – my German is so much better now than when I did it in high school. It is also a chance to experience working in a real life environment, on your own. It gives you a great independence boost, and great time management skills. My month on this project has been one of the best of my life – it truly is a fantastic opportunity to experience what life is like as a travel writer.

I hope that’s answered any of the main questions you’ve had – if you have more feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to reply. I have only been on the Berlin one so I can better answer those questions, but generic ones I can probably at least give you a good idea on how it’ll be.

With love, Berlin xox

The Deutsche Chronicles: Saying Goodbye

Leaving Berlin was one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life. I think that’s how I knew this city had become my home. Yes, I have a home in England that I live in, but Berlin is where my heart heaved a great sigh and felt at peace.

I felt more like a local in my last week in Berlin, which was probably not helped by the fact a lot of my friends and family came out to visit me in the last week so I turned into a personal tour guide. Below is my own personal recommended tour for those of you who want to see the key sites without paying for the tours offered.

My Top Tour:

Start in Alexanderplatz – Alexanderplatz is the capital of East Berlin – you will always be able to find Alexanderplatz no matter where you are in Berlin because this place is home to the TV Tower that is such an iconic piece of the Berlin skyline. Follow the green footprints in the square to Nikolaiviertel (which I discuss in my last Chronicle post). From the square you can get a bus (100,200) which will take you to outside the Berliner Dome – though you can just walk there too. It is then a straight walk down Berlin’s most famous street, Unten Den Linden (where you will pass embassy houses, old palaces and a statue of Frederick the Great), to the Brandenburg Gate. From there I would recommend going left which will take you to the famous Holocaust Memorial. If you cut through the beautiful stone towers to the other side, cross the road and cut through what looks like a car park for a residential area. It is exactly what it looks like, however under this car park is Hitlers Bunker where he and his wife took their own lives at the end of the war. Follow the road up and take the second left – down here is an amazing little ice cream parlour which serves the best sundaes in the city. Once you get to the end of the little street turn right and head up. At the first main junction you’ll get to the East Berlin Mural which was put up at the beginning of the Soviet occupation, depicting what people thought communism would mean. Mirrored on the floor is an image of the only protest that ever took place in East Berlin and the massacre of its people. Carry on up the same road and you’ll hit the Topography of Terror and a part of the wall. Cross the main road, go past the Trebbie museum and the odd hot air balloon that looks as though it is chanting for the world to die, and you’ll hit the famous Checkpoint Charlie, where for a couple of euros you can get a picture with some very attractive men in uniform. Just behind CC is an underground where you can pop back to the Brandenburg Gate stop and visit the Reichstag, Tiergarten and Victory Tower – which are all on the right hand side. You’ll find yourself back at the gate at the end of the day where you can hop on the underground again and pop over to Postdammer Platz where you can see the Sony Centre all lit up once it gets dark.

This is a very intense little day out but it is a good route to cram a lot in for free.

Other Recommended Spots

Sanssouci park New Palace.JPGJust outside of the energetic city of Berlin lays the tranquil gem Sanssouci Park, which offers a perfect escape for anyone wanting to get away from the usual hustle and bustle of city life. The park’s purpose has not changed since its creation in 1745 by Frederick II, who intended for the acres of gardens, fountains and decedent palaces to be a retreat from royal duties. Be transported back in time by strolling along the wide boulevards, sitting amongst the wild flowers, or enjoying a picnic on one of the many sculpted lawns, as Prussian Empresses and Emperors had once done.

The park is home to over six palaces, temples, and a gallery. Start with the gardens of Charlottenburg Schloss, done in the style of a Grecian vineyard, before proceeding forward in time to the quaint roman bath house just around the corner with its still functioning water features. The Chinese House is also worthy of a visit, carved from marble and adorned with gold statues, it is an architectural wonder and leaves you in easy walking distance of all the parks palaces.

Soviet War Memorial - statue of soldier and babyThen there’s the Soviet War Memorial. Built on top of the graves of over 7,000 Red Army soldiers who fought in the Battle of Berlin, the brutal granite statues and sculptured lawns are a heart breaking tribute to lost loved ones. This beautiful and emotional physical reminder of just what was lost during the Second World War was created by a team of architects, engineers and artists, including the famous Russian sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich.

The memorial consists of several statues of the men who died, gardens with well-kept flowers, and plaques containing the speech Stalin made after the war to praise the soldiers now buried here. The most domineering aspect of the memorial is the 12 meter tall statue of Vasily Chuikov who risked his life to save that of a young German child who had been abandoned during the Battle of Berlin.

 

I would also REALLY recommend checking out Mufasa Kebabs. I didn’t really believe the rumours that it was the best kebab in the world – especially when I saw the length of the queue (if I thought kebab shack queues were bad when you came out of the club in England I was wrong. I will never complain again, Oki’s). However, when we were passing one day and the queue was relatively short, my friend convinced me to try one and I have not been able to touch the slimy rubbish they serve us in our shops today. It’s like an explosion of tastes and sensations in your mouth (I never knew potato should go in a kebab but it definitely should).

I also managed to check out some of the other lakes Berlin has to offer. I’ve visited Mugglesee, which is by the far the largest lake in Berlin with its own beach and water sport area. You can’t actually see the other side of the lake from where you are standing, it’s so big. But there are pleasant – and cheap – little shops you would expect to find along the coastline around the edges of the lake. I also went to check out Wannsee which is not as clean as the other two lakes but is a lot quicker to get to, based right in the centre of the city. It also has this great fountain thing that you can swim out to in the middle, and you can dive off the edge of it. It’s great fun.

 

My Final Tips and Tricks of Berlin:

xapothekesign2.jpg.pagespeed.ic.9RofaOsXrdThis is more for those of you living out there for a longer period of time, or if you don’t plan on eating out every night and have the benefit of staying somewhere with a working kitchen, but when you go shopping it’s like it is over here in that they won’t give you a carrier bag. It’s just a helpful thing to know before heading into the shop. ALSO, shops close on a Sunday, and not all of them are open on a Saturday so make sure to check out the local stores information before heading down on a weekend. Another tip to know about shops is that in Germany they won’t sell you medication in a normal shop like they do in England – even paracetamol. You have to go to the pharmacy (which are called Apotheke). The good thing however is that the people who work there are trained to a doctor level, so if you are really ill out there flash your health card and they’ll help you out in diagnosing you and giving you what you need.

There are meet ups happening all the time in Berlin for people who are visiting, so if you are looking to get to know Berliners I would suggest popping along to one of these. If you search online you’ll find them, there are multiple companies and events and they’re all fantastic. We popped along to one of the regular meetings that happen at the Anti-War Cafe, and another language class which happens in a pub near Alexanderplatz. Both were great ways to learn German and to meet people from Berlin and others who were visiting. I would definitely recommend finding one for the time of your stay.

That’s it really, guys! I hope you’ve liked this mini travel writing series. My next post will be about the project itself for anyone who is interested in trying it out.

With love, Berlin.

 

The Deutsche Chronicles: Week Two

Berlin has absolutely captured my heart and soul.

Firstly, getting around everywhere is so easy. There are none of those god awful waiting times like in London, everything is on time, and if for some reason a Tram has broken down there are announcements put on the message boards at stops. This week however I came in contact with the darker side of Berlin transport. You’ll be safe if you have a valid ticket, but if not beware the Ticket Master. In my last post I mentioned these guys and how they randomly do a spot check; fine, nothing seem’s that scary right? But last Sunday I witnessed some brave lass try to make a run for the platform when she spotted the ticket masters heading onto the train. Now, the ticket master was neither young nor fit, but my god was she fast. That ticket master rugby tackled that young woman and nobody but tourists on the train seemed to be gawking at such a sceptical. This young woman was shouting and using a lot of effort to try and get free whilst the ticket master calmly requested someone phone the police. Scary as hell. When I later asked our project leader he simply laughed and said “yeah, that’s how we do it out here.” What?!

Secondly, it is one of the cleanest cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The Germans have something called the Ordnungspolizei which literally translates to “Order Police” who randomly appear as if lurking in the bushes when you drop a bit of litter and insist you pick it up. Recycling is encouraged, and you even get money back for returning bottles – if you have a party the money you get back can often pay for the next round of beers. It makes visiting the many city parks a pleasure rather than a hazard, and you can see their pride in their city because of it.

Thirdly, they love dogs. Dogs are everywhere in Berlin and they are welcome too. Dog bowls are set outside every restaurant and biergarten, Tram drivers affectionately pat their heads when they climb on board, and mostly they walk off their leads attentively at their owner’s heels in the streets. I have had so many cuddles off of curious pooches that in all honesty, I think it is going to be the hardest thing about going back to England.

 

Recommended places to visit:

This week as been super busy which is why I didn’t manage to get a post to you guys on Thursday but here is a quick rundown of the places I would really recommend visiting this week based on where I have been.


Schloss_Charlottenburg_Berlin_2007Charlottenburg Palace
, which is on the Western side of Berlin and is thus quite a trek for me over in the East, was an absolutely stunning palace to visit. It opened in 1699 and was one of the biggest palaces in actual Berlin – most of the grander palaces are in Sanssouci Park or in the outskirts of Berlin. At the moment it’s under construction so we didn’t get the full force of its beauty, but it is still easy to see it was once a commanding and authoritative space. The palace itself costs 9 euros to visit all the little sections – there are different wings and outer buildings which will otherwise charge you if you don’t get the full ticket. However, the gardens are open for public use and my boyfriend and I spent a few hours just enjoying laying in the grass surrounded by roses and bubbling brook.

** I have noticed throughout my stay here and visits to the numerous museums and such, that the quality of audio guide here is far greater than the ones in London. There is a dry and sometimes dark humour to the voice overs which has often led to me opting for looking like a weirdo with my earphones rather than following one of the expert guides around the rooms. **

buddy-bear1.jpgI’ve been feeling a little bit like a fish out of water with so much modern history everywhere, even though the lure of Russians is tampering the shock to the system. However, I have found the small part of Berlin that was part of the old 12th century town Albert the Bear first wrote about when he claimed it for the Holy Roman Emperor. Nikolaiviertel is right next to the busy Alexanderplatz and it is quite jarring walking from one suddenly to the other. Alexanderplatz for example is more like a modern, busy city center. There’s Primark and phone shops, and buskers on every corner. Nikolaiviertel however is all cobbled streets and small alleyways, with hidden churches and a functioning water pump residents still use. Everything is so calm and quiet here, and I was delighted to find out every shop is an independent, local trade shop. There are some really unusual souvenirs you can pick up instead of the typical I Love Berlin tops. I am currently eyeing up a rather beautiful bit of artwork to bring back.

Fun Fact: Albert the Bear is the reason why Berlin is covered in statues and symbols of bears. When he declared Berlin its own city and free, he gifted the Berliners with their own coat of arms: a rampart bear. 

maxresdefault.jpgI cannot escape modern history in such a young country though, so I went to visit perhaps one of the most chilling sites in Berlin: The Topography of Terror. It doesn’t look like much, just a glass wall with information and photos dotted along it. I would advice starting on the far end and working back down to the entrance so you do WW2 in order. I’ve studied WW2 to death, I am rather bored of it frankly: it’s what you get for having a very military family whose favourite thing at family gatherings is to tell you their bloodiest stories. I had heard many people tell me how it would make me cry, but I scoffed. I was way too deadened to the horrors of this war to let it bother me. The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s and Anne Frank don’t so much as move this stone cold heart. But by the end of this exhibition I found myself sat on one of the benches I can only assume they set out at the end for this very reason, and I was close to tears. An elderly man next to me was freely sobbing his heart out. It took me a moment to actually regain my thoughts and get them in order, and the whole way home I kept seeing this little girl, who was murdered in the gas chambers because she had epilepsy, in my mind. The doctors had called it ‘idiocy’ and decided she didn’t have a real illness, she was simply a ‘bad gene’. Her parents had willingly handed her over to monsters. It’s definitely worth a visit but be prepared to go for a lie down after, or many stiff drinks.

13412916_10154296452589111_6395666207675877948_n.jpgI clearly hadn’t learnt my lesson for I went and watched a documentary about photography in Berlin’s Outdoor Cinema. I had mainly gone to enjoy a retro film screening, hadn’t really asked much about the film other than what it was about. A documentary about photo’s hadn’t raised any alarm bells though. There are a wide range of films shown from French Noir, to German horrors, to English comedies to the American classics like Godfather. We saw the saddest film of a political photographer which was just the cherry on top after my experience at Topography of Terror. I would recommend the cinema though, it is set in a lovely park (Volkspark Friedrichshain) which is home also to the Fairy tale Fountain – a beautiful water feature with statues from the original Grimm tales.

marchenbrunnen-fairy-tale-fountain-volkspark-friedrichsha-friedrichshain-park-berlin-germany-45026752.jpgOpposite the Fairy tale Fountain is the cocktail bar, Fairy tale. You almost walk past it because it looks like a house: you even have to ring a doorbell. But it an absolutely wonderful place to visit. All the cocktails are named after fairy tales, and the menus are old Grimm books: I would recommend the Cinderella because you drink from an actual glass slipper. When you open it butterflies fly out – don’t tell your friends because their reactions are hilarious – and at the back of the book is a vile with a sample cocktail in and a little ginger cake. The bar staff are all dressed up in costumes as well. It is a lovely atmosphere and the service is fantastic. Definitely worth a visit.

The last big thing I did this week was to attempt the Museum Island challenge. Museum Island used to be a small town in itself but it now home to five museums, which are considered the most important in Berlin. There is a ticket you can get for 9 euros which allows you entry into all of the museums but only for a day. Usually the cost per museum will be around 9 – 12 euros so this was a real bargain for me. I thought, I like history, five museums will be easy, right? Wrong. No, I’m joking, it wasn’t too bad actually. I thought it was going to be worse despite my cocky nature around my friends. The Alte and Neue Museums are both on Egyptian, Greek and Roman history so you can do the both without having too much new information thrown at you other than what you choose to read on specific artefacts. The Alte museum is also home to the Nefertiti statue which is well worth a study – it is absolutely beautiful. The Pergamon Museum was my favourite – it is all about the East and Islamic art. It was something new which is probably why I enjoyed it so much, but it really put the subtle roman and greek work to shame. I probably spent the most time here despite it being the smallest of the five. I’m not a fan of art galleries to the gallery which classes as a museum was easy enough to glide through appreciating the statues and paintings that the Prussians had stolen from across Europe. The last one – the Bode museum – is about Byzantine and the early medieval period under Charlemagne. This was also fun and new for me so I lingered here a bit longer than the others.  I would definitely recommend it if you are faced with a rainy day in Berlin – it is sadly not always sunny even in summer. I thoroughly enjoyed it but I was exhausted afterwards from all the information, so just be prepared to go home and collapse with some good TV.

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German Etiquette

Just like in England there seem to be strange rules in Germany that everyone is expected to know. I didn’t pick up on them in the first week but I’ve noticed it more this week so here are some things to watch out for:

You won’t always get in the club: It’s not like in England where you queue and you get in depending on your place inline. It can depend on what you’re wearing (one club has a black only rule), if you are in a big group (they don’t seem to like groups of more than three), your age (Watergate won’t let in under 21s) and sometimes it just seems to be based on whether the bouncer likes you or not. It can often mean you’ll be wondering around waiting for a club to let you in for hours. But don’t worry, the typical Berliner will stay out clubbing till it shuts. At 7:30 am.

Staring Competitions: I thought I was just being paranoid on my first week but it turns out this is actually a thing. German people stare at you for an uncomfortable amount of time. My project manager laughed and said they do it deliberately to unnerve tourists, so I tested his theory and stared right back at the next German who challenged me. We didn’t break eye contact for what felt like hours, but in the end he brought me a drink and apparently I passed this weird ‘tourist test’.

Bikes: This is pretty similar to England – bikes have no care where they are meant to be and where they actually go. They’ll go from pavement to road as happy as a lamb. However it is encouraged in Germany to shout at cyclists who do not stick to their proper place. This is much more fun than at home where we grumble or make a passive aggressive loud comment the cyclist probably never hears.

Cars: More of a warning, but if you see the green man on the traffic light this does not always mean you are safe to cross. Drivers here don’t give a care what the light says, if they think they can whizz over without being hit they will do so. This will often mean you are crossing a road and a car will beep loudly at you as it flies around a bend. You’re not going mad, the man is green, and it is your right of way. Germans just tend to ignore the drivers or give them a dark look, a hobbit I have happily joined in with.

 

 

That’s all this week! If you are visiting Berlin and have recommendations for places to visit please do let me know.

With love, Berlin.