Cold noses and laughter in Berlin

Our local train station, Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse
Our local train station, Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse

The train trip from Innsbruck to Berlin was a long one, 8 hours sitting and wondering what Berlin would be like. Anyone we knew that had visited Berlin said it was amazing and awesome, I was worried that we wouldn’t like it as much as our favourite cities in Italy because it was so new in comparison. Little did I know how wrong I could be.

Our first full day was spent in the company of our Polish friend Tomasz, his girlfriend Barbara and Tomasz’ s family friend we called Boogie. Boogie had lived in Berlin for 40 years and she had lots to share, starting with a visit to her place of work: the Humboldt University library. We had woken up to a light sprinkling of snowflakes, the temperature and our noses got colder as we walked along the river to the Reichstag and our smiles got wider. As cold as it was, Marty and I were loving our walk in the snow and it seemed incredible to be standing under an umbrella, watching as snow fell one of the world’s most famous and modern, government buildings. Our friends were used to this inclement weather and our enjoyment amused them greatly. Tomasz did a bit of translating for Boogie, her English was good but she sometimes searched for the right word so Tomasz would help out and often he would add a little something extra and we would all end up having a good laugh.

Snow on the Reichstag
Snow on the Reichstag
Boogie's walking tour of Berlin
Boogie’s walking tour of Berlin

We didn’t spend the day doing all the typical things that tourists do in Berlin, Boogie wanted to open our eyes to what life was like during the cold war and when she first moved to Berlin so she took us to the “Palace of Tears” or  the Tränenpalast,the former border crossing at Berlin Friedrichstraße station where East Germans said goodbye to family and friends going back to West Germany. The Tränenpalast museum is now a modern history museum, the exhibits highlighting the division between east and west and how that impact the lives of Germans during the Cold War era. It is free to visit, but handbags have to be left in a locker which cost 1 or 2 euros. Adding to that experience was a visit to the DDR Museum. The DDR Museum is an interactive experience that gives the visitor the opportunity to see what daily life was like in East Berlin. Hubby had a simulated driving experience in a Trabant, a popular and cheap car for East Germans and apparently not that easy to ‘drive’ as the experience ended with a crash into a pole. I enjoyed exploring the living room and kitchen installations, the formica and colour scheme reminding me of some of the cheaper places I lived in as a university student.

Boogie also led us out of the centre of Berlin, several trains and buses later, to find a well known, popular vegetarian restaurant. I stopped counting how many changes we made after the first couple of stations and I had absolutely no idea where we were, thank goodness for Boogies. By the time we reached our destination, the smiles had worn off a little and our feet were cold and wet. As it turned out the restaurant was closed until later that day, feeling famished we entered the nearest open restaurant and proceeded to order a Chinese banquet. The food was fresh, tasty and very cheap and the time spent there allowed our shoes to dry a little and our feet to warm. Without Boogie we would never have found a delightful ‘village’ in the middle of Berlin, she took us to a restaurant that specialised in potato dishes and showed us beautifully decorated buildings. It was a truly wonderful introduction to Berlin, I’m not sure we would have loved this city as much without the Boogie walking tour and the company of our friends Tomasz and Barbara.


The joy of snow

Living in coastal Queensland means hot and humid summers, very mild winters and lovely seasons in between. We don’t really get to experience the four seasons because they seem to merge together so for us, spending a couple of days in the cooler climes of Innsbruck, Austria was utterly delightful. Both Hubby and I wanted to see snow, and perhaps explore some Christmas markets,  the timing wasn’t perfect however we discovered that the markets in Verona, Innsbruck and Berlin opened late November. In the days leading up to our arrival in Innsbruck we kept checking the weather reports and were happy to see that snow was predicted during our stay. Snow is not something we’ll ever experience where we live, Queenslanders complain about the cold if the temperature drops below 20 degrees celsius.

My first visit to Innsbruck was in 1999 and it was summer, no snow then just lots of rain. This time we travelled in late Autumn and I imagined snow covered mountains, Christmas decorations and huge Christmas trees covered in lights, Innsbruck did not disappoint. Hubby was ecstatic! On our second day in Innsbruck it snowed, we woke up to a view of snow covered rooftops and couldn’t believe our luck. The previous night we discovered the joy of Gluhwein, the spiced wine warming us from the inside out and it worked a treat during the day as well especially when combined with delicious food sold at the Christmas stalls. It wasn’t hard to spot the tourists, we were the ones with broad smiles, standing in the middle of the square and taking photos of each other in the snow.

The food in Innsbruck’s old town caters to tourists, the quality might be considered average and the offerings kitschy or old fashioned. We didn’t really care and were looking forward to schnitzel and strudel, dishes that Hubby’s Italian Nanna cooked for him as a child. The lovely staff at the Hotel Weisses Kreuz sent us to a couple of places where we could enjoy a tasty schnitzel and for afternoon tea, apple strudel and hot chocolate. The food was delicious and the hot chocolate incredible, served up was a large ball of dark chocolate that I dropped into a steaming glass of milk and stirred until it melted. The apple strudel was also good, apparently not as good as Nanna’s but I enjoyed every mouthful. There is nothing quite like a good, hearty meal on a cold, snowy day and not a day goes this summer without me wishing I was back in Innsbruck.

Images of New Zealand

With the Rugby World Cup currently underway and images of New Zealand being shown all over the world I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos taken over the last couple of years. Most of these images are from popular locations on the South Island, however I have spent much more time on the North Island because of family ties and while the scenery may not be considered as spectacular as that of the South there is much to love and the Maori culture is more evident further North.


Backcountry Saddle Expeditions offers horse riding in the Cardrona Valley, only 20 minutes from Lake Wanaka, I signed up for the short trek because it had been a while since I rode a horse and a full day in the saddle would have left me quite sore.


Milford Sound (technically a Fjord) is a popular spot for tourists and travellers from around the world and although you can drive there or catch a bus I took the scenic flight option in a little 6 seater plane. It was an amazing experience, even though I occasionally looked down at the jagged mountain edges poking through the snow wondering whether there would be any chance of surviving should the plane crash. Once at Milford Sound I took a cruise and the weather was perfect for spotting fur seals lazing on rocks and getting a little wet by spray from a waterfall.


Larnach Castle in Dunedin is the only castle in NZ, the only way to get there is via a long and winding road but the beautiful garden and view from the tower is well worth the drive.


Lake Wanaka is a ski resort in Winter but during Summer watersports are all the rage. I was there early Autumn, hoping to see the seasonal change of colours and as a bonus experienced waking up one morning to see snow on the mountains that border the lake.


This is one of those jagged mountains that I hoped we wouldn’t crash into on the way to Milford Sound, we flew over the Southern Alps, Mt Aspiring National Park and Matukituki Valley – it was an unforgettable experience and so much better than spending hours travelling on a bus.


Maori carving at the Kauri Museum in the village of Matakohe on the North Island. The day spent at the museum was one of the last days I got to spend with my Nanna and although looking at timber and Kauri gum (amber) doesn’t excite most people it was a special day for me.


The native Kea is a destructive bird with dull looking feathers until they spread their wings and take flight. These cheeky parrots are inquisitive, they will happily take food from your hand and just love pulling apart rubber bits on your car or motorbike.


Ruakaka Beach, not far from Whangarei on the North island.


Glendhu Bay, South Island. The glass-like surface of the lake was just begging to be photographed. Later in the day it was windy and the surface choppy, I was thrilled that I’d taken the time to stop. There is a motorhome camp on the edge of the bay, it must be one of the best places to stay in this region, such a spectacular sight to wake up to each day and lots of activities close by.