Hot Oregon Summer – Berlin Next

Gendarmenmarkt Berlin – depositphotos.com

Gardening and Wildfires

It’s been a restful, contemplative summer in Oregon working in my garden with deer, wild turkeys, annoying yellow jackets, and a stray Gothic-looking black cat. Sadly, dry and windy conditions combined with record-breaking heat resulted in raging wildfires all around us.

Garden Visitor

Cute Stray Cat

The massive Carr Fire near the California / Oregon border created terrifying “fire tornadoes“. They occur when a fire acquires “vertical vorticity and forms a whirl”. Fire tornadoes can “grow to gargantuan size with winds of over 90 mph”.

Fire Tornado – zmescience.com

Carr Fire Chopper – The Mercury News Bay Area

The Carr Fire ignited in late July. A month later, after “torching more than 200,000 acres,” it’s about 90 percent contained!  Smoke from fires in Oregon, California, Washington, and nearby Colorado and Canada creates a surreal aura, bringing an eerie atmospheric haze, poor air quality, and vivid sunrises and sunsets.

Wildfire Sunset San Francisco Bay – Fstoppers.com

Wildfire Smoke at Sunrise – Jonathan Hayward Canadian Press

Brave Wildfire Fighter – Charlie Nash Photography

Next Long Trip

I’ve started getting into the specifics of my next travel adventure. No matter what, this time I’m traveling with one piece of luggage!

Berlin Boroughs and Districts

Like in 2017, I’ll begin in Europe and eventually make my way back to South Africa. I decided to start in Berlin – a new city for me. I’ve studied Berlin’s East and West boroughs and have a few leads for rental apartments in well-located areas near attractions and transportation – Mitte, Charlottenburg-WilmersdorfFriedrichshain-Kreuzberg, and Neukölln. Rents are reasonable, and the apartments look comfortable.

Museum Island River Spree – Stock Photo

Return to South Africa

I’m apprehensive about violence in many parts of Africa – Congo, Mali, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, et al. Although I’ve never experienced violence during my travels in Africa, six cities in South Africa – Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Pietermaritzburg, Rustenburg, and Johannesburg – made the top ten list of the most dangerous cities on the African continent. Xenophobic related violence in South Africa is disturbing. Here in the US, we clearly have our own problems and brand of political tension, civil unrest, violence, and a vast chasm between “left versus right” ideologies…

Berlin Cathedral – Wikimedia.org 

Thankfully Day Zero in Cape Town’s drought is now pushed out beyond 2019, but the government’s move toward land expropriation without compensation is a concern. More than two decades after the end of apartheid, land ownership remains a “highly emotive” subject for South Africans – that may be an understatement. According to the ruling ANC government, white people own 72 percent of private land, black people 4 percent, and other ethnic groups 24 percent.

Berlin Cathedral at Museum Island – 123RF.com

Land expropriation is said to be “the most pressing social issue in the country”. However, some think high crime, corruption, and the “triple-time-bomb of poverty, unemployment, and inequality” are the issues keeping South Africans awake at night.

Kayelitsha Township Outside Cape Town – Dan Kitwood Getty Images

Julius Malema Leader Economic Freedem Fighters (EFF) -blouinnews

Julius Sello Malema Leader Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – blouinnews.com

The ANC-led government and members of the militant, aggressive Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party differ in their approach to land expropriation. The EFF – founded in 2013 and led by outspoken Julius Sello Malema – is a self-proclaimed “radical leftist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist movement that draws inspiration from the broad Marxist-Leninist tradition.

Mmusi Maimane – Leader Democratic Alliance

The Democratic Alliance (DA) – the ANC’s official opposition and second largest political party – accuses both the ANC and EFF of “misleading the public on land expropriation”. They claim to have the best land-reform plan. DA leader Mmusi Maimane says, “there can be no new dawn for South Africa until the ANC is out of power“.

My extended South African visa expires in 2020 – a regular entry (tourist) visa issued at the airport is good for 90 days. I haven’t decided whether to pursue the rigorous renewal process. The “retirement visa” has allowed me to make long trips (up to five years) to explore and better understand South Africa. I especially enjoy the Western Cape, hiking Table Mountain, volunteer work with young children, and vibrant Cape Town – a special and dear place to me. South Africa is a strikingly beautiful but complex and sometimes difficult country that can’t possibly be understood without spending extended time there.

Unter den Linden by Night – 123RF.com

During this period of rapid change, the National Development Plan (NDP) is the country’s detailed proposal addressing key issues for uniting South Africans.The lofty NDP goals to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality are to be implemented by 2030. What little I know of the NDP, it seems overwhelming, but I’m digressing – back to Berlin

Clouds Over Table Mountain from Signal Hill Cape Town – Erik Pronske Getty Images

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The NDP’s goal is to “unite South Africans, unleash the energies of its citizens, grow an inclusive economy, build capabilities, and enable the state and leaders to work together to solve complex problems”…

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Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Berlin State Opera Staatsoper Unter den Linden – Wikipedia

Berlin This Fall

I plan to arrive in Berlin in September. Their fall weather is much like Oregon’s with cool but mild temperatures. When winter comes and it starts getting really cold, I’ll move south – not sure where yet. I’m considering exploring new places versus returning to more familiar areas. New countries of interest include Romania and Albania, but Italy and Spain also have moderate winter climates.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate at Dusk – pond5.com

I’m looking for a three-month rental apartment in the Berlin-Mitte borough, the central section of former East Berlin. “Before the war and division of the city, Mitte was the center of Berlin. It’s regained its former pre-eminence to such an extent that many visitors never see the western side of the city.”

Bode Museum Mitte – Wikimedia.org

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Mitte is the oldest and most historic part of Berlin with many cultural attractions and “ever-expanding restaurant, club, and arts scenes”.

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Strandbar at Bode Museum Mitte

Mitte begins at Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate on the east side of Tiergarten Park. The grand boulevard, Unter den Linden, is lined with 18th- and 19th-century palaces and monuments.

Mitte – VanDam StreetSmart Maps

Tiergarten Park – berlijn-blog.nl

Komische Opera House Berlin – operawire.com

I’m excited to attend theater performances and the Berlin opera! Berlin is teeming with performing arts theaters, cabarets, and clubs. The Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin’s main opera house, and the Komische Oper, the third largest, are both in Mitte. Berlin’s Philharmonic Season begins in late September. Other major attractions in the area include Gendarmenmarkt, a neoclassical square, Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), and Museumsinsel (Museum Island) with five major museums. Frivolous activities that top my list are – mingling with locals, hanging out in cafés, overnight side trips, and exploring less-traveled backstreets.

Christmas Berlin – efcollegebreak.com 

Germany’s festive Christmas Markets are legendary. These are the top five:

  1. Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt
  2. Berliner Weihnachtszeit at Roten Rathaus
  3. Wintertraum am Alexa
  4. Winterwelt am Potsdamer Platz
  5. Weihnachtsmarkt am Gedächtniskirche

Christmas Markets Berlin – classictic.com

I don’t speak German but am learning key phrases and pronunciation rules hoping I don’t butcher the language too much. During past travels in Germany, English was spoken everywhere. Mehr später…

Monbijou Park Embankment River Spree

Cities of Central and Eastern Europe

Blue Mosque Istanbul

Blue Mosque Istanbul

Settling into normal life after a trip abroad requires serious adjustment. Long absences skew reality and it takes time to absorb new experiences, sort them out, and write about the memories.

Since returning in September, I’ve spent hours pondering the latest trip but haven’t put pen to paper or rather fingers to keyboard. It’s clear that I most enjoyed the large cities and their energy, unique history, and distinct personalities.

Istanbul, Athens, and Prague were the cities where I spent the most time and they definitely impressed. Some other cities that linger in my mind include Ljubljana, Zagreb, Split, Budapest, Salzburg, and Vienna – all beautiful flowers.

Near Taksim Square

Near Taksim Square

Athens

Athens

For me it’s best to become an invisible traveler. It’s exciting blending with the local atmosphere as you forget yourself and move from a state of normalcy and routine into the unknown of a foreign country.

Connecting with locals on a one-on-one basis changes the dynamic and is an enriching experience. I often get involved in volunteer projects during my travels but didn’t this time. Although there were many encounters and interactions, I knew they would be short-lived.

Acropolis

Acropolis

Now that I’ve had some time to digest the latest travel adventure I’ll revisit each city mentally and see where the memories lead. It’s not fair playing favorites but Istanbul may have fascinated the most. Reading Turkish author Elif Shafak’s beautifully written novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, brought back the sights, sounds, and smells of that powerful, exotic city divided by the magnificent hulking Bosphorus!

Prague

Prague

After a long trip, it’s wonderful savoring the comforts and safety of home. A cozy environment makes it easy to dwell on those faraway places and the invaluable lessons learned.

I’m once again ensconced in the chosen pursuits of my retirement – yoga, oil painting, hiking, and volunteering are a few – but am already planning the next exciting travel adventure – South America in late 2014.

South American countries briefly visited in the past include Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. There are many treasures in South America and the plan is to take a more leisurely approach this time allowing a deeper look at the people, culture, and terrain. Preparation includes planning an itinerary and daily bumbling with on-line Spanish tutorials….

Bosphorus Strait

It will be interesting to see what happens as I combine factual blog postings and more personal memories into travel vignettes!

Split to Zagreb

Zagreb

Zagreb Croatia

I arrived in Zagreb early this morning – 3:00 a.m. The city and country transitions on this trip have been a bit rough. This one was no exception. A few minutes before departure passengers received news about cancellation of the overnight train (9 pm to 7 am) from Split to Zagreb. Instead, a bus picked us up and drove everyone to Zagreb. The bus arrived in Zagreb four hours earlier than expected and dropped us off at the central train station. What now?

The trams aren’t running at that hour of the morning but several taxis were waiting outside the train terminal. I talked to a few Aussies who were new to Zagreb as well and equally bewildered about what to do. They decided to use their smartphone mapping software to walk to their hostel in the dark – about an hour away by foot. We wished each other good luck and parted.

The owner of my apartment in Zagreb specifically advised against taking a taxi from the train station. He said the taxis waiting there were known for confusing and cheating tourists. I was a little rummy from the bus ride but realized there was no way to get to my apartment at 3:00 am without taking a taxi. The original plan was to go from the train station to the main square in central Zagreb and catch a taxi there since I was aware of the proper taxi fare from that point. After talking to (or trying to talk to) several shady drivers, I declined getting into their taxis. They were unhappy to be asked questions about their fares.

As I was pondering my predicament, a man standing by the train terminal approached and asked where I was going. I gave him the address – an upscale residential neighborhood near the university. He said his friend was an honest driver with a metered taxi and he would take me there and not cheat me. Since there was no choice except to trust someone I got into his taxi and the driver proceeded to the apartment – about a 10 to 15 minute drive. Central Zagreb was lite up beautifully at night and the buildings were gorgeous!

Zagreb Cityscape

Zagreb Cityscape

The taxi driver was soft-spoken and polite. I got there safely and paid him a reasonable taxi fare. The owner was up and let me into the apartment – which is the beginning of the next story…

The apartment owner, Mladen Kahlina, is a former opera singer who was up at that hour playing the piano and working on some lyrics. He’s retired from opera singing and now teaches and manages his small apartment building. Surprised to see me at 3:00 am – a really early arrival – Mladen said he wasn’t quite finished preparing the apartment.

While he finished putting things together, we had an interesting conversation about opera (he did the talking) which lasted for over an hour. At that point I’d been up all night – so what was a few more hours? He lectured me on Giuseppe Verdi and various other operatic composers and even sang a few lines – nice voice. Then he brought me a beautiful CD by Maria Bethania (a Brazilian singer) to listen to while winding down after the long day of travel. I love her music – it’s in Portuguese.

The apartment is cozy (with a Jacuzzi bathtub – yeah – and a small deck). Since I hadn’t slept for over 24 hours I almost immediately fell into a deep sleep. Will begin exploring tomorrow…

Zagreb is the capital of Croatia and considered the cultural and political hub of the country. Mladen left a brochure on June 2013 events and performances – there are plenty of interesting things to see and do in Zagreb!

Athens Photo Memories

Monastiraki Square Athens

Athens is a magnificent city! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the people, rich history, modern and classic architecture, and vibrant atmosphere. The cliché “It’s all Greek to me…” has taken on new meaning – in a good way :)…

These are photos of memories that travel with me to Croatia.

Gazi District Athens

Jazz Festival

Technopolis Jazz Festival Posters

Gazi is a popular, unique district in Athens. It’s named after the Public Gas Works which operated there between 1864 and 1884. After reading upbeat articles about it in the New York Times, I decided to check it out.  The 2013 Athens Jazz Festival begins at the Gazi Technopolis tomorrow night and I plan to attend.

Gazi Street Art

Gazi Street Art

“The area acquired a bad reputation due to the brothels which flourished  there. In 1999, the biggest centre of culture in the city – Municipality of Athens Technopolis – was founded there. It changed the area and made successful use of the old Gas Works premises. Gradually things began to take shape and today popular Gazi has over 60 places to wine and dine, 20 theatres, a variety of music venues, and an outdoor summer cinema.”

Gazi Restaurant

Gazi Restaurant

Gazi Technopolis

Gazi Technopolis

Some reviews must have been written during better times when Gazi and its clubs were the “in” place for young Athenians. Today I took the Metro to the Keramikos Station which stops almost in front of the Technopolis. Walking out of the station the area looked like an industrial ghost town – vacant with no people. It reminded me of San Francisco’s South of Market Area (SOMA) in the 1970s before extensive development.

Gazi Graffiti

Gazi Street Art

Near the Metro exit on the way to the Technopolis I saw empty cafés with employees preparing for something – maybe evening guests or the jazz festival crowd. I stopped at one café and ordered iced coffee. As I sat in the shade and enjoyed the artistic ambience, several thin, dirty street children approached me.

I walked around the main streets, Pireos and Konstantinoupoleos, and to the Museum of Traditional Pottery, the Islāmic Museum (first mosque seen so far in Athens), and the entrance to the Technopolis. It was almost noon and no one else was out and about, at least not on foot. The streets were full of graffiti. There were a few upscale buildings that were either lofts or boutique hotels – couldn’t tell which – and they were cordoned off from the street. It will be interesting to see how different Gazi looks at night when the jazz festival begins.

Graffiti

Gazi Graffiti

One article I read from 2010 said, “The Gazi is the new cool place to be in Athens, full of restaurants, cafés, music, and art by the old city gas-works turned museum-cultural center that may be unique in all of Europe.” Things have certainly changed since that writing, but hopefully events like the jazz festival will bring business back to the Gazi. It clearly has a creative vibe and artistic potential.

Upscale Gazi Building

Upscale Gazi Building

run down building

Rundown Gazi Building

Ceiling Keramikos Metro Station

Secreto Bar Sign

Gazi Cafe

I’ve been out several nights for dinner and to some favorite cafés. One evening I stumbled on a wonderful old movie theater near the Panepistimiou Metro station – small but with plush comfy seats, fabulous chandeliers, and a great sound system. They were playing the new Gatsby film – based on one of my favorite Scott Fitzgerald novels. It was pure delight watching the movie in that theater – the perfect place! I feel reasonably safe on the Athens Metro but have not been out very late at night. Assuming I’m not maimed or mugged (smile), I’ll write a post after the Jazz Festival.

Gazi at Night

Gazi at Night

Mars Hill Athens

It was another hot day in Athens so I went walking early in the morning. I took the Metro to Sygrou – Fix station in the Koukaki District – and walked toward Mars Hill. The views were gorgeous and along the way I passed by interesting neighborhoods and street scenes.

View from Mars Hill

View from Mars Hill

Mars Hill (also known as the Areopagus) is a marble hill located near the Acropolis. According to Greek mythology the gods tried Ares (the god of war, known to the Romans as Mars) there for the murder of Poseidon’s son. The hill’s name comes from this legend.

“Pre-classical Areopagus was the council of elders of the city. Like the Roman Senate, its membership derived from those who held high public office. The Areopagus functioned as the chief homicide court of Athens. At the foot of the Areopagus was a temple dedicated to the Erinyes (Greek Goddesses or retribution), where murderers could find sanctuary.”

Mars Hill is of interest to some visitors because of the biblical account of St. Paul giving his famous sermon about the identity of “The Unknown God” there. I also hiked on Filopappos Hill which is near Mars Hill and on the back side of the Acropolis. The hill is named after Filopappos, a prince from the Kingdom of Commagene, who died in 116. To honor his memory, the citizens of Athens erected a tomb structure on a hill near the Acropolis, today known as Filopappos Hill. Didn’t realize it until I had walked some distance that Filopappos Hill is now a place where many of Athens’ homeless live. Since the rains have stopped and the weather is warmer the number living there will likely increase.