Brilliant Berlin

I’ve been away for a while, going back home to Ireland for personal reasons, but now I’m back on my travels for the time being at least and decided to head to Berlin. I have heard people raving about Berlin and I have to say I wasn’t to be disappointed. It really is a wonderful city. The juxtaposition between the east and west sides is an amazing way to see the different paths that history took in Germany. It is easy for younger people to forget that under 25 years ago, Germany was split into two different parts. Although Berlin actually sits in the area formerly known as East Germany, the city itself was also partitioned into Eastern and Western sections.

Some History

To stop East Germans from getting into the Western section (and out of East Germany), a wall was built around the area and an area of “no mans’ land” was set up. The majority of this wall was torn down in the late 80 and early 90’s when the two Germanys reunited with one another. However, it is possible to see areas where sections of the wall still stand. There is a large section close to the river which is famous for its amazing graffiti. This graffiti shares a lot of amazing political and historical sentiments from people from both sides of the wall. Down by this “gallery” there are also some tributes to the people who died whilst trying to cross the wall.

I head over to Checkpoint Charlie as well, which is the site where one of the old crossing points used to be. I think this was one which was administered by the American military. For a small fee, you can even get a stamp put in your passport to show that you have been thorough here! The Checkpoint Charlie museum is a must visit exhibition if you are interested in the differences between the East and the West and the whole Cold War. One of the most interesting sections talks about all of the different ways that East German citizens tried to escape to the West. One family built a car with a false top which was designed to come off when it hit the checkpoint barrier, so that the car could drive under the barrier without having to stop! There are also some fantastic bits of espionage kit, which really make you think about what kind of spy technology must exist by now…

Berlin Attractions

One of the best free attractions in Berlin is the Reichstag Dome. Although you need to book online before you visit, there is no charge for this service, and you get to step inside one of the most iconic buildings in Europe. It is worth noting that the dome may be closed at short notice due to the fact the Reichstag building is where the German parliament sits. If a foreign head of state is visiting, they may shut parts of the building, including the dome, although I think that it is still sometimes possible to see down and view the parliament in session. If you do go to visit the dome, you should know that they will not accept large bags and you will need to go through security to make sure that you do not have any harmful weapons.

I also enjoyed visiting the Mauerpark market, which is the largest market in Berlin. It’s full of amazing handmade/homemade stuff, as well as lots of little second hand trinkets. It is also a great place to go if you want to try a plethora of different street foods from around the world. The grass area overlooking the market is also a cultural haven, where street musicians and performers just turn up and compete to entertain the crowds. If you don’t like what you are listening to, you can vote with your feet and wander off to find a performer who you find more pleasing. I spent almost the whole day here just enjoying the sunshine and soaking up the amazing atmosphere. It is the perfect park for an afternoon with friends.

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Goethe and Gardens

Well it’s been a few weeks since my last post as I had to nip back to Ireland due to a family emergency which in the end all ended well, thankfully. So after leaving home again the next stop on this whirlwind tour of Europe is Frankfurt.

I have travelled to Frankfurt once before as part of a work seminar, and I have a few connections there who I felt that it would be lovely to catch up with. Frankfurt is basically the financial centre of Germany, but I was visiting with the intention of seeing a different side. The financial skyline is amazing (especially at night), but I wanted to look around some different bits.

Frankfurt is a great place to go if you do not speak German, as almost everyone in the city will be able to converse with you in almost perfect English. I wanted the opportunity to practice my (slightly rusty) German language skills, but as soon as I showed any sign of faltering, the people that I was trying to converse with would immediately switch to English.

Unlike some of the other cities that I have visited on my trip so far, Frankfurt has a very modern vibe to it. Although there are a few historical attractions, many of the older buildings in the city were destroyed during the war and have now been rebuilt. One of the most impressive historical sites to visit is the city’s cathedral. It was at a cathedral on this site that the kings of the Holy Roman Emperor used to be crowned. In terms of European unity and the concepts of a unified Europe, this site is a very important one.

The cathedral itself has been rebuilt a number of times, due to fire and bombardments, but it retains an amazing gothic style. Likewise, concepts of European unity have been destroyed and rebuilt many times since the Holy Roman Empire. As per usual, I took the opportunity to climb up as many steps as I could so that I could see the city from above. This is definitely becoming a theme for my travels.

Chinese Gardens

I also decided to take a look around the Chinese Gardens, which were looking gorgeous at this time of year. One of the maintenance staff told me that they have had a great season this year for growing, although from our ensuing discussion, he did seem as though he was a perennially perky person. The tagline for the Chinese Garden is that it is a “peaceful place to rest” and it is hard to disagree with this sentiment. There seemed to be many Frankfurters visiting the garden to enjoy their lunch break, even though it had been a rather wet morning.


For those with a literary mind, a trip to the Goethe museum is also well worth it. Goethe is one of Frankfurt’s most famous sons, and you will be able to pick up Goethe memorabilia in every souvenir shop in the city. His original home was another of the historic buildings which was destroyed by shelling during the Second World War, but a German charity has painstakingly restored the house so that it resembles the original as it looked whilst Goethe was alive.

I have loved Goethe since school (when we studied some of his work in our German language classes), and this visit gave me the perfect chance to imagine him in his Baroque bourgeois lifestyle. The restoration of his study was particularly inspiring for one who enjoys putting (metaphorical) pen to paper. Of course, I went out and bought some of his works “auf Deutsch” to keep me entertained for the rest of my trip. I guess I better go and brush up on my German language skills!

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Camping in Luxembourg

Well it’s been almost a month since I last posted and a lot has happened in that time in France, some of it not so good.

I decided to get out of France for now and I elected to head off to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Patrick’s friends were heading away for a few days to celebrate the end of their studies, and they had a spare place in their car. As long as I was happy to pitch in for petrol, then they were pleased to be able to have an extra person along for the ride.

Camping and Fairytale Castles

A few of Patrick’s friends knew of a small campsite near to a town called Vianden, which is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in the whole country. It has its own castle sat on the hillside overlooking the village and river. This castle is straight out of a children’s fairytale, and has plenty of its own amazing stories to boot.

If you are not interested in the history of the place, visit the castle for the views alone: you will not be disappointed. When we went, it was actually pretty miserable weather, and most of the valley was shrouded in (strangely beautiful) mist for the first half of the trip, but suddenly, the clouds lifted, the sun came out and the view was stunning.

Tree Top Adventure

The guys I was with really wanted to go to the local high ropes course as well. It’s not the cheapest activity for a shoestring traveller to take part in, but it was less expensive than similar activities back in the motherland. We went on a school day, so there weren’t too many children around, which was great because it meant that I could unleash my inner child. This is not one for people who don’t like heights, so know your limits before you pay as there are no refunds if you chicken out! Make sure you wear sensible shoes and rent out a locker so that you can safely store all of your stuff.

Luxembourg City

After our stay in Vianden, we headed off to Luxembourg City to stay in another campsite just outside the centre. The site arranged shuttle access for people to the main city centre, because parking is at a premium in certain areas. On the plus side, public transport in the country is amazingly good value, so you won’t really be at a loss if you do not have wheels of your own.

The Old Town area (“Ville Haute”) is pedestrianised so it is a great place to just wander around and take in the sights and sounds of the city. This area is a veritable paradise if you love European Medieval architecture. The Old Town is also the best place to go if you want to be reminded that Luxembourg is also well-known for its opulence and riches, because the area is crammed with luxury shops and bars. Thankfully, us cheapskate students had packed our own lunches so we didn’t have to worry about coppering up our cents to afford a few morsels.

Luxembourg City also has a spectacular river basin area, where the river has carved its way through the local sandstone rock. If you have had your fill of the old town opulence, then you should take a stroll through the Ville Basse area. Although there is plenty more medieval sites for you to see, you will also find that this area is a little bit greener and more reminiscent of the geographical quirks which serve to make Luxembourg a very interesting country to take a trip to.

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My Thoughts on Brexit

It’s been a couple of weeks now and I have finally managed to compose my own thoughts on the Leave vote. It took me a while to write this post, because I have so many emotions rattling around in my head about Brexit. Because of my dual citizenship, I am stuck on both sides of the divide, but I also have the “golden ticket” that so many people now seek. I’m told that immediately after the vote there was a spike in the number of “British” people trying to find out how they could get an Irish passport. Still, it is a shame that I may now need both passports to be able to travel freely to see my family in both areas.

There are a lot of people still trying challenge the vote in the United Kingdom, but I don’t think that will make the situation better. People already feel disconnected from politicians, so politicians overturning the will of the people could only serve to alienate the general populace further from the political classes. Likewise, all this backstabbing and backroom dealing that is apparently going on in Westminster seems to be taking British politics back decades. Then again, it may well make politicians understand that it is the British people who really should be listened to as in recent times they seem to have been somewhat ignored, and it could indeed make for a better future for all British people.

One of my main concerns about Brexit however is that this could reignite the troubles in Ireland? Northern Irish people voted in favour of staying “in”, with 56% of people thinking that it was better to “Remain”. When the UK eventually leaves the EU, I suspect that this could create some extra friction in an area that is still trying to overcome centuries of hate. Especially with so much talk about Scotland leaving the Union, there is a real potential for more violence if Irish people seek to follow the same path. I hope in this I am wrong.

For myself, (selfishly perhaps?) I’m worried about how this could affect my travels. But I’m also worried about the effects on the economy. The whole world seems to have been shaken by the actions of one little (geographically speaking) country, and I’m concerned that this means that my savings won’t reach as far. I mean, there has already been a lot of talk about how this could inflate the flight prices of all of my favourite low-cost airlines. It seems a selfish perspective, but I think I might have to change my plans a bit based on the economic instability. I may even have to go home to support my parents if I find that they are beginning to struggle financially. We are it seems at the moment at least in a real period of uncertainty, so all that any of us can really do right now is wait. If only someone (anyone? Please?) had made a plan….

My one real wish about the referendum is that there could have been more control about the messages which were put out there by BOTH sides. There seemed to be no rules and regulations about who could say what, and lies were constantly dressed up as fact. Interviews after the results were announced showed that many people regretted their votes, and many of those who didn’t actually understand what the vote was really about. Tighter regulations on disinformation could really have changed the results I feel. Hopefully lessons will be learnt for the future.

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The Student Life in Lille

From Ypres, I decided to move on towards the French city of Lille. Although I had heard a few good things about it from other people in hostels, my visit was primarily motivated by the fact that I have a friend who is living there. The city has a big student population and my friend is doing an Erasmus Study Abroad year there.

First Impressions

The city seems to have a casual, relaxed vibe when you are in the “studenty” areas. There are lots of fantastically beautiful buildings and structures to see as you walk around the streets. Lille’s situation means that there is inspiration from the French and Flemish. The old town area is full of the types of winding narrow streets that I absolutely love.

The best thing about staying with a friend in Lille is that he is off away on a trip home next week, and has generously offered to take some souvenirs home for my family. He is a “slow traveller” too, which means he can travel back home with more than just one tiny piece of hand luggage. Lille is a great place to go souvenirs shopping, because of its mixed heritage. There are some brilliant shopping areas in the city, if you like that sort of thing. Suffice to say, my ma and pa will be getting a few lovely gifts in the next few weeks.

In addition to souvenir shopping, I also enjoyed the bustling Wazemmes Market. I think my love of fresh food means that I always want to explore the local marketplaces. Staying over with Patrick also meant that I had the chance to actually purchase some of the traders’ wares AND be able to rustle up a tasty meal in his fully stocked kitchen! As much as I enjoy hostelling, their kitchen facilities are not always up to scratch.

Lille Belfry

The town hall belfry is one of the tallest historical structures in the city, and is pleased to welcome visitors for a few hours each day. You normally have to book in advance, but it is well worth the trip to the top. Standing at 104 metres high, the tower offers spectacular views of the town, and off into the mountains in the distance. Getting to the top is also a brilliant workout. Thankfully my WWOOFing in the Netherlands had kept me healthy enough to make it to the top without cheating and using the lift. There are also some displays to help you to understand how Lille has changed over the course of its history.

Pres Du Hem

Patrick also decided that we should go to Hem with some of his fellow students. If you have the opportunity to visit in the warmer months, you will definitely find something to keep you entertained, although I have been told that it can get a little overcrowded in the summer holidays. Whilst it is touted by some as a children’s attraction, we (a group of young adults) enjoyed ourselves.

There are lots of watersports to try your hand at, including kayaks, dingy and windsurfing, as well as nature walks and conservation efforts. If you enjoy the outdoors and like to get a little bit wet, then I would thoroughly recommend this day trip out of Lille, especially if you get the chance to go with some likeminded spirits.

Good News!

Just as I was finishing up writing this quick post I had a phone call from England and thought I’d share what it was about here. I won’t go into much detail but a couple of weeks before I started out on my travels I travelled to a friends flat in Croydon, England after being invited to stay the weekend to catch up. He also had a spare ticket to the England v Ireland game at Twickenham in the Six Nations so I could hardly refuse!Everything was great, except the result because Ireland lost, but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyhow.

Unfortunately on the way back to Ireland and still in England I got rear ended by a car (not my fault) and ended up with mild whiplash. To cut a longish story short, after looking for some advice on car accidents and whiplash, I ended up starting a personal injury claim, and I’ve just been notified my claim has been successful. I should very shortly be receiving some compensation in my bank account, and although it isn’t really much it is certainly better than nothing, and a little extra cash always helps when you’re travelling on a budget!


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