Thursday, August 23, 2012

As Berlin creeps closer...

This morning I thought that in three weeks, I'll be in Berlin.  For the first five nights, I will set up shop in the former West Berlin.  This wasn't really by design, but just because I found what I think is a great place to stay for an extended period.  Then I remembered the excitement of setting out that first morning in a city new to me, right off the plane (but freshly showered) and walking off towards all the things I'd only read about to that point.  I will have already pretty much mapped out where I'm going and what I'll see, but it's always good to sight the nearest underground stop, closest shop to buy bottled water and restaurants near the hotel.  For the next five nights and six days, this will become my neighborhood and I will probably beat the same path on and off this street more than I do on my own street at home on any given day.  I mean come on, be honest, how often do you actually walk off your street and explore? point proven!

I am still up in the air on what to do on day one.  It has to be outdoors, preferably, so that the fresh air and daylight will reset my body clock (which will be at about 4 a.m. when I land in Berlin).  It has to be something that won't take a lot of brain work.  Usually I hike directly to the famous monument or landmark that absolutely must be seen to prove to myself that I'm there (in this case, the Brandenburg Gate) but maybe the Berlin Zoo is calling to me.

This week, Berlin's Zoo lost its panda.  Bao Bao had lived there since 1980 and he passed on Tuesday at the ripe age of 34 years (extraordinary for pandas, even captive ones!).  I'd so hoped to see him but heard he'd not been well, so I'm glad he didn't hold out for me.  But Berlin Zoo also has a few new babies to be seen, like elephant and rhino, so maybe I'll do that on day one.  It's relatively nearby and would be a nice, mindless way to pass that first jetlagged day outdoors!

I am excited now.  Just wish there was a fast forward on the next 20 days!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Overcrowded itinerary - it happens

I laugh now when I think about a time when I thought 10 days in Berlin was going to be too much.  As can often happen, the more I read and research, the more crowded my itinerary becomes.  Just now, I found a former Stasi prison in Eastern Berlin that offers tours given by former inmates.  Move that to the "Must Do" column.

Except now, the "Must Do" column runneth over.

I've  just now started to outline my days in earnest.  And a bit of panic is setting in.  Trying to organize things logistically so that I visit things in an order that makes sense AND makes the best use of my time available.  It is a bit frustrating in that I'm not 100% sure of what the walking tour I take on the first full day I'm there will cover, so there may or may not be things I either return to or skip the rest of the week I'm there.  I think I need one long session of spreading everything out on the kitchen table and mapping it, but fluidity may have to rule.  Riding by the seat of my pants is not my strong suit.

I have also started My Daily Phrase German lessons on the iPod.  German is turning out to be quite the mouthful, as Russian was, but at least I'm getting to the basics.

Under four weeks....trial size toiletries shopping tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

T-Minus Four Weeks to Germany

Today is officially four weeks.  Excitement has started to build quite a bit, actually.  I've read more on the internet, and reviewed the guide books that have been collecting dust on the end table in my living room.  Now, I'm afraid, I have too much to do in what I thought was too much time.  Gasp. Who knew?

I purchased train travel for Berlin to Dresden and back.  I got my reservation for a private tour of the Reichstag (Parliament).  So I'm fully reserved for everything that needs reservations.  The itinerary is sorting itself out it seems.  I am reviewing a private walking tour operator for my first full day to get my feet under me and get acclimated.  I have the Reichstag mid-day on the Sunday.  Dresden is Tuesday - Thursday morning.  Museums on museum island are open late both Thursdays that I am there.  The Zoo (and its one panda) is a logical choice for Monday, since so much else is closed.  It's all falling into place nicely on its own.

In a stroke of random good fortune, I discovered the maker of a particular cat figurine I'd bought in Cologne on a day trip there in 2007.  I've since "lost" that figurine in one of several moves of home over the years, and I was crushed.  Somehow a Google search today produced this, and I'm glad to say I should be able to find a replacement pretty easily, Goebel being a very common product in Germany.  I hope!

My sister is off to Paris, on her own, next week.  While I worry about her doing this for the first time (and am not so secretly jealous that she's going back!) I am proud of her for continuing to follow her passion for art through travel.  Bon voyage, ma soeur!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Getting ready for Berlin

As promised, I did turn my sights toward my trip to Germany, finally, over last weekend.  I did some power shopping and managed to find a second pair of jeans and a pair of yoga pants to travel in.  I found or bought some shoulder-season type long sleeved shirts and light sweaters.  I identified the coat I want to wear (I think).

One new travel resource I found was the Rick Steves app on my iPhone.  The files that you download to it are city, country or region specific and are either Steves' own radio show episodes or interviews he's done with local guides or residents.  I listened to one on Berlin 20 years after the fall of the Wall, and another on The Berlin Wall.  I also have one on Potsdam and one on Berlin today.  What these did for me was stimulate an interest in a part of the city I hadn't given much thought of in the former East Germany, where the East Side Gallery is.  The gallery is a section of the wall that has not yet been torn down that artists are allowed to still paint or design on.  Well, something else added to my list.  And listening to these helped me get excited, stirring the pot.

I am excited now, as I approach the T-minus four week mark.  I will have to start thinking about travel sized cosmetics and making the pile in my home office of "to be packed" things!

Friday, August 3, 2012

One more post about safari

I know, I literally just said I am now focusing on Germany.  But now that the paperwork and flights are done, I can't help but continue to read forums and watch and read whatever I can find about safari and Africa.

What is becoming more and more obvious though is that we absolutely made the right choice in our tour operator.  I read forum posts and see things like "You need at least two nights in Ndutu and three in Serengeti in February, that's where the action is."  And I pull up the pdf of our itinerary that is saved on my work PC and home PC desktops.  And wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what we have planned.

Then CNN ran a feature on the best hot air balloon rides in the world, and one over the Serengeti makes the list.  For me that was an absolute no brainer, but it made me giddy with excitement that we'd already planned to do that.

I have started to eye large duffles for luggage and think about clothing for safari, but am going to try to refrain from purchasing until post-Germany.  Try.

Germany back in the forefront

As each day of the calendar starts to slip away, I realized this week I really and truly need to buckle down and give Germany some serious thought.  I mean honestly, I'd even forgotten where I'm staying in Dresden.

If you've read any of the preceding trip-preparation posts, you know this is so unlike me.  But I have that little distraction called safari and my world has been tipped upside down.  This week I turned back to planning for Berlin and Dresden and good thing I did.

One experience that needs to be pre-booked is a tour of the Bundestag, or Germany's Parliament, at the Reichstag, either a tour or just a visit to the glass dome, which offers stellar views of the city.  Forums that I read leaned toward taking the tour in order to learn something, so that is the option I went for.  Good thing I looked into this now, as pickings were very slim for the time I am in Berlin. I ended up with a tour time of 1:30 on Sunday afternoon.  Not ideal, but I'll make it work.  What is interesting is the application process for tickets to the tour and/or dome.  Visitors must submit a request for times.   An email from the German government comes, and from that visitors follow a link to submit the dates of birth of everyone in the group (or just me, in my case).  There is some security clearance done, and then they issue an email with which of the times the visitor is approved for.  The total turnaround for me was less than 24 hours.  Pretty efficient.

I have also started to look into places to eat.  Because really, after the experience of the trip itself, food is the most important thing and probably what I'll write more about than anything!  I'm ready for some big hearty German meals!  And what about some wine, hmmmm?

I will, I swear, spend this long weekend (yet another medical-procedure with two days of down time required landing me on the sofa) fleshing out the rest of my time in Berlin.  I am, after all, under 40 days away!