Travels with John Smith
Chapter 56 year 8 (2019)
Berlin and Lisbon
(We love Europe)
-buying a piece of the wall
-The ‘Fraternal kiss’
-What the Brandenburg Gate represents
-Naked Entertainment in the Pariser Place
-View from the River Spree
-The Cement maze memorial
-victims of the Holocaust
-Topography of Terror
-Bikini Berlin Mall
-Buddy Bear Project
-The post office
-a steep climb
-1st view of Lisbon
-Fish and Fado
-the Praco do Comercio square
-Polish tuk tuk driver
-the white church with a view
-Miradouro Largo das Portas do Sol custard tarts
-the weekend market shoe shop
-train to Sintra
-meeting with Bryce in Cascais
-more views in the old quarter
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 56 Summer year 8 (2019)
Berlin and Lisbon
We are on the 2nd floor of a tourist bus, driving alongside what is left of the Berlin Wall. It is a high grey cement structure, with large areas chipped away by souvenir hunters. There are bullet holes and sections missing. In fact there is not a lot of it left but there are markers on the ground to show us where it was. We decide to get out of the bus at a kind of museum where they talk about the history of the wall and there is a section of it where everyone gets their pictures taken in front.
We get back on the bus and are now driving towards Checkpoint Charlie. There is a huge picture of an American soldier on the side we are driving towards. On the other side of the Checkpoint, there is the picture of a Russian soldier. Checkpoint Charlie was the place that separated the East and West. It was the only place where members of the Allied forces and foreigners could pass through.
Checkpoint Charlie has been featured in many spy novels and movies, and is one of the gates where in November 1989, thousands of East Berliners streamed through to the West, after an East German politician announced travel restrictions were over and confused guards opened the gate. There is a cafe there called the Eagle cafe, where people used to sit eating or drinking, looking over at East Germany.
We go into a shop that sells tourist paraphernalia and there are many small chunks of cement that are apparently authentic pieces from the wall. It seems like an official shop but there isn’t a lot of the wall left standing so surely there must be an end to the supply of it, where there will be no more wall left to sell, if every souvenir shop has pieces of it. Despite thinking this, we buy a couple pieces too.
We buy some fridge magnets of the famous graffiti from the East side open air Gallery, where there is 1.3 kilometres of art painted on the wall. One of the most famous pictures is called ‘The Fraternal kiss’.
The image is taken from a photo of Brezhnev, who was the General Secretary of the Soviet Union at the time and Honecker, the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany. The picture now represents inclusivity but was originally meant as a brotherly socialist kiss.
We are drinking tea and eating some scrumptious apple strudel, sitting in the outdoor section of a cafe in Pariser Place, on the west side of The Brandenburg Gate. The gate is a famous structure in Berlin and has represented many different things. It was built by Frederick William II of Prussia to represent peace, then it was used as a symbol for the Nazi party during the 2nd World War. When the construction began on the Berlin Wall in 1961, the gate became part of the border between East and West Berlin and was closed until 1989, when it became a symbol of freedom and unification.
We walk into the plaza that is called Pariser Place and there is a guy busking an Ed Sheeran song on the cello. Behind him, framed by the Brandenburg gate is a thin, bronzed man, with long blonde hair standing balanced on his bicycle. He is naked, except for a fig leaf attached by a string and there is a sign written in German alongside a German flag that he holds with his left hand. There is an instagram address attached to his sign so not sure what it’s about but it’s definitely got our attention! Many people are taking pictures but most are passing by like this is an every day occurrence.
We are getting on to a boat to travel down the river Spree to see Berlin from another perspective. The sun is shining and we aren’t particularly hungry but there is a guy beside the entrance of the boat, selling pretzels. They are huge and look delicious, so we buy 2 different kinds. One has a shiny brown outside, sprinkled with salt and sesame seeds and the other has a crispy cheese topping and is lighter in colour. Both are super soft and chewy inside and very tasty. As we move down the river, under famous bridges and buildings, we break off little bits of the bread to taste. The plan was to save some of it for later but we finish them off pretty quick.
The ride along the river is gorgeous and relaxing. We travel past beautiful historic buildings and landmarks such as Museum Island, the realistic naked statues perched on top of a high wall, the oldest residential quarter and the TV Tower, etc.
We get out to walk the cobblestone streets in the old quarter, with lovely little shops and beer gardens and we come upon a very small shop that sells mostly playing cards of every sort. There are collectors cards and lots of cool designs we have never seen before. We chat with the friendly shop owners and buy a couple packs of cards before exploring the rest of the area.
People play hide and seek among square cement columns that are the same width but different heights. There are rows and rows of them so it is like a maze or a forest of cement that can feel claustrophobic, like there is no way out and if you lose someone inside you might feel that you will never see them again.
The memorial to the murdered jews of Europe was created by a New York architect who won a competition to design it. The area covers thousands of metres and there are almost 3,000 slabs of concrete here so we wander around it for a long time. Most of the people here right now are laughing, running and hiding and so are we, until we recall that this a place of remembrance, and we stop to think about and feel sadness about the horror of the Holocaust.
Near to the instalment, is another space with rooms where you can find information on the victims of the Holocaust. There are biographies, photographs, diaries and farewell letters so it’s no longer about numbers of anonymous beings. Seeing the pictures of people, hearing their voices through their writing makes it feel like we know them, and makes everything even more horrible and tragic.
We also walk alongside a long stretch of the wall here, where there is a history museum that is called ‘Topography of Terror.’ This was the location of the headquarters of the Gestapo, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office. The exhibitions here are like a warning and also documentation of Berlin during the time of the Nazi rule. The offices here were used for planning, interrogation and torture from the time the Nazis took power until the end of the war. Many of the prisoners who were kept here were later transferred to concentration camps and prisons.
There are a couple monkeys jumping on each other below us. We are standing on the patio at the very cool Bikini Berlin Mall, which is next to the Berlin Zoo. We have come here a couple of times from our hotel, which isn’t far as there is a really good, healthy food court where we can get wonderful, organic and tasty food from different countries. The shops are funky and original too and we get a taste of why this city is so popular with the young people of Europe.
I want to say something about the bears we see everywhere here. There are colourful, life size hand painted bear statues that pose in various positions, like doing a handstand, arms in the air, etc. We see them all over Berlin in strategic places.
We find out it was an idea called the Buddy Bear project. The bear is on Berlin’s coat of arms so they chose it to be the symbol of optimism to promote tolerance and peace amongst different religions and cultural groups. Over 200 artists took part in painting the bears and they have been moved to different places in the world and around Berlin. They are cool, funny and adorable!
We end up doing more shopping here and decide to send some of it back to Canada by post and which is made easy by the efficient postal service here. It’s also a fairly inexpensive way to buy stuff you want as you go and not load down your suitcase even more than it already is. The post office is close to our hotel and we pass a market with lots of German specialties to snack on and also an amazing fountain with a large group of naked statue people posing and bathing around and under a large fountain. John and I pose with them with our clothes on. There are so many things to see here and not enough time. Tomorrow we go to Lisbon.
We give the address to the taxi and we have just arrived in front of the Museu do Fado in the Alfama district. We are staying in a friend’s apartment here in Lisbon and before we got here, she sent me a message with the address, saying we needed to take a taxi here and then we would need to walk up a steep hill, then up 6 flights of stairs. I have mentioned before that we normally travel light but we have a middle sized suitcase and a carry on and a backpack this time, all of which are quite heavy. We drag the bags up the narrow, winding cobblestone street, past cool little restaurants, up steep flights of steps and arrive at the apartment building door.
A lady named Maria, who deals with the flat, meets us with the key and instructions on where everything is. She comes with us into the flat and the long climb up the wooden steps of the narrow hallway until we arrive at the top. The flat is small but delightful, decorated with understated, classic, cool European style. We walk into a kitchen with modern appliances decorated with an thick wooden table old and beautiful tiles. There are long french windows that open to the street on both sides of the apartment, with white painted shutters and a small iron balconies. We lean out of the windows to look out from above and see old women dressed in black, sitting on the benches in the small square below. We are up high enough to see the rows of mostly white, pale pink and yellow apartment buildings in both directions and what we think is the ocean beyond that.
Maria is delightful and full of information about what we should do while we are here. She tells us about a fish restaurant we should try, directly below the apartment and we head out for an early dinner.
The restaurant is a little pricy but so worth it as the seafood is very fresh and incredibly tasty. We hear about a kind of Portuguese music we should listen to, called Fado that is played in many of the live music clubs around here in the old quarter. We are told it is an important part of the culture and a must. Feeling too tired to check it out tonight, we head back to the flat to have an early night. The streets below us are alive at night and we hear people talking and laughing, glasses and cutlery clinking, and just as we are drifting off to sleep, we hear a melancholic sounding music floating in through the open window.
We wake up and go down to buy some basics we will need while we are here from the only shop open. It is tiny but has a good selection of fruit, soft drinks, jams and bread. We eat some breakfast and head out for a walk to explore.
We walk to the bottom of the hill we came up yesterday and turn right, passing many buildings with cafes full of people drinking coffee. We see a huge square called the Praca do Comercio, in front of a harbour with a statue of a guy on a horse in the middle of it. We get closer to the statue and see the horse is stepping on a whole bunch of snakes. There are beautiful big arches covering the areas in front of the shops on two sides of the square. We eat some lunch in one of the cafes that looks over the square and although the view is wonderful, the food is a little touristy, meaning it doesn’t have the local taste or feel to it.
We see a bunch of people with tuktuks on the harbour side of the square. They are all vying for our attention but we go with a confident but less pushy young woman driver. We talk about some of the things we’d like to see but also leave it open to her to make suggestions, decide on a price and set off. She is from Poland and says she came here on vacation but wanted to stay so has been studying and working as a guide in the meantime.
She tells us this square was originally the location of a palace, which was destroyed in an earthquake that was followed by a tsunami and a fire that wiped out most of Lisbon. After that it was rebuilt and the buildings were used for for commercial businesses and as a transportation hub. The square was also where the the 2nd last King of Portugal was assassinated. The port in front of the square is the River Tagus, which is the river that feeds into the Atlantic ocean.
She speeds up the streets, crossing over tram tracks in front of trams and buses, narrowly missing other vehicles we share the narrow roads with. She talks the whole time, telling us where we are and what are passing but most of the time we can’t hear what she says. The tuk tuk is comfortable, more like a double seated golf cart and it is easy to see everything from here, take pictures and jump in and out of when she decides to stop.
We arrive at a gorgeous little white church, with cobalt blue and white tiles telling a story on the side of it. Large fuchsia coloured flowers and vines cover the sides of the building and the view of the city down the side of the hill, with it’s red clay rooftops is incredible. To add to it, there are 2 older guys jamming some blues music in the shade and they are very good.
We get back into the tuk tuk and go past 17 century churches, climbing steadily until we get to the Miradouro Largo das Portas do Sol, a huge square that is like a terrace overlooking Lisbon. Here there is a guy playing a trumpet to some background music and he adds to the laid back feeling of looking out over this stunning city. There is a stand selling coffee and the traditional custard cakes I used to eat when I lived in London and went to the Portuguese cafes in Portobello. They melt in our mouths. We are in heaven.
She takes us to a few other must see places and we hear lots more music along the way, including an amazing classical guitar player sitting busking on the side of the road. We get her to drop us off near the centre so we can explore that area too.
It’s the weekend and we are at a huge flea market. It reminds us both of the one we went to in Madrid. There are lots of interesting 2nd hand things and curiosities to look at and it is spread over a lopsided large area of a garden and a square set between churches and the surrounding streets.
I see some very cool, rainbow coloured, leather sandals and we strike up a conversation with the lady who runs the booth. The shoes are hand-made by a local shoemaker and very original. I am trying them on and some American tourists come by and go crazy over the shoes too. They tell me I should buy them, that they look great and it’s true that I’ve never seen any like them and they are a pretty good price. I feel like I could fit them in my bag as they are flat. So much much for getting lighter!
I post some of the pictures of Lisbon on Facebook and I get a message from a friend I haven’t seen for many years asking if we are still here and if so, can we meet up? This friend’s name is Bryce, and he lived with us in London many years ago and I lost touch with him, only finding him on Facebook a year ago. I am so excited that he is here, say yes and he asks where we are staying as he is leaving later today. Oh no! I tell him we are on a train right now on our way to a town about an hour outside of Lisbon and I’m not sure how long we’ll be there but that I’ll try so we can at least have a coffee or something. He asks where we are going and I say Sintra. He says he is in a seaside town called Cascais which is very close to there, visiting his Dad. What are the odds? I met his Dad years ago in London when he visited Bryce from France. We make a plan to meet.
The train ride is very entertaining, with a live band coming on to the train with 2 accordions, a guitar and singer with a tambourine. It helps pass the time and they are better than most of the musicians that play on trains and subways.
John and I exit the train in Sintra and there are drivers touting for business outside the station. One of them is a girl standing outside of a convertible so we go to talk to her. We tell her about wanting to go where my friend is but wanting to see some of the countryside on our way there. We make a deal with her on the price and drive into the hills, hair in the wind, past castles, mansions, very pretty countryside and a lighthouse on the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.
There are long lineups of tourists outside some of these places so we mostly make pit stops for photos and she makes sure we see as much as possible along the way. She is delightful and when she finds out I sing and play music, she introduces us to a friend of hers who is a musician and we wish we had more time but I really want to see my friend so we push on.
We arrive in Cascais, say goodbye to our lovely guide and meet up with Bryce and his Dad. They show us around the beachside town and we walk past the beaches and the charming town centre where we see a group of men in black hats walking arm in arm singing a traditional kind of choir folk music. We have conversations in English, French and Italian. Bryce’s Dad doesn’t speak a lot of English but speaks French and he is Italian so I get to practice both of those languages with him. Bryce speaks many different languages and works in the hotel industry now. We talk as we walk around, trying to catch up on so many years lost in-between and we catch a ride with him back to Lisbon as he goes to catch his flight.
It is our last day here and we decide to explore the quarter we are staying in. We walk up some steep steps and find ourselves beside a huge church, on a patio overlooking the city, then we walk down in another direction and find a street with a tram and then a cafe inside a kind of cavern that has the most delicious pastries and an outside area that is in a crypt. We walk up and down and every time we turn a corner, we find something that looks like a painting. Whether it’s an old man sitting on the steps against a building with a painting on the side of it or beautiful mosaic tiles on a wall or another view of a courtyard or the city, everything here is stunning.
We never made it see the live Fado music but we enter a shop selling traditional tiles and other artistic crafts and we hear the music playing. There is a soulful voice accompanied by a passionate guitar. We ask if it is Fado music. Even though we don’t understand the language, it sounds and feels like it is about a deep kind of sorrow, about longing and love. The girl who works in the shop says Fado means ‘fate’. This music has been around for 150 years and this neighbourhood is where it was born. She is selling some CD’s of some of the more famous Fado singers so we buy a couple CD’s we like, to take with us.
This is a city we could easily live in. We love Lisbon!