I know this is a long time in coming since I haven’t been to Bangkok in over a month, but since I had a lot of not so pleasant things to say about my experience there, I wanted to mention some positives about the city. In particular the public transport systems.
The three systems of public transport right in the heart of the city can pretty much get you anywhere you want to go cheaply, safely, cleanly and in style. The Airport Rail goes from the Airport (imagine that!) directly downtown. The over-ground rail and underground systems take you practically anywhere else you’d want to go within the city.
It took me quite a while to figure out how exactly to go where I needed utilizing these three systems and also a while to figure out the purchase of tickets for the underground rail (I literally stood there staring at maps and watching locals purchase before making my own) but once you get the hang of it, I wouldn’t use any other mode of transport.
And unlike Germany where it’s basically an honor system as to whether you buy a ticket for the train or not, since tickets on public transport trains are rarely checked, nothing gets past the systems in Bangkok. One time I purchased a ticket for the underground (my first try) and got onto the train, but upon exiting my ticket wouldn’t open the gate for me to leave. I went to the help desk, they took my card and scanned it and found out I hadn’t purchased the correct ticket. So I simply paid the difference, they updated my card and out I went.
These three modern and clean systems were a real breath of fresh air compared to where I had been and I finally saw Bangkok as it had been described by those who love it: modern and sophisticated. Again, now that I know about them, I won’t be using a taxi or tuk-tuk again!
Ah, Berlin!! So many things to say about Berlin!! What an awesome energy!! Hip, cool, a strange mix of modern and older history. This city is just busting at the seams with a young vibe. Of course, while it does have a history that extends hundreds of years, in a way (due to being completely destroyed during WWII) it is a new city. Graffiti can be found on just about every surface throughout the city and there’s a wildness in the air that speaks to a freedom of “come as you are and you will be accepted”. Such a paradox given the very recent history of the city basically being imprisoned- either during the War or the Wall. Maybe it is only due to all the turbulence in its recent history, but Berlin also seems confused as to which direction it wants to go. There has been so much upheaval there relatively recently and I’m curious how it will continue to grow.
I stayed in a super sketchy looking section of town in a hostel called Jetpak Alternative. To their credit, they advertised that they are in a sketchy area complete with dog sh*t and lots and lots of graffiti. Across the street is a park that anyone who isn’t looking for trouble or drugs should just stay out of. The hostel itself was wonderful! It was a little nerve-wracking walking around the neighborhood after dark at times since people would often come up to you asking if you wanted drugs. But I felt safe enough and would stay in that hostel again. The people were nice and informative and it once again had that fun and inviting vibe that I had recalled of hostels while traveling in Central America yet didn’t encounter at all at the hostel in England. I really wanted to stay another night but wasn’t able to since they were fully booked. So I took that as a sign to keep on moving!
In the time I did spend there I joined in for a “free” walking tour:) The morning before the tour walked from the hostel to the meeting point (Parizer Platz) just taking in the sights and stopping along the way for pictures. I took a quick tour of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (quick because I didn’t realize I was running out of time before the tour!) which was very impressive and quite moving! The ways in which people came up with to escape Berlin while the Wall was up was amazing!
Under the Arches of Brandenburg Gates
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
We started (as mentioned above) at Parizer Platz, then headed to the Holocaust museum, the Berlin Wall, the now parking lot where Hitler’s underground bunker was located, the real Checkpoint Charlie location, to some churches, a theater and ended in the square where Hitler ordered all books be burned (across from the University). As I’ve done before I will share my favorite stories of the tour but not all the information below:)
At the end of the tour I took the train back with a guy that was also staying in my hostel (he was also in the tour) since I had been walking about 7 hours at this point! This does remind me though of the train situation in Germany… It really is on the honor system as to whether or not you buy tickets!! They don’t have any gates stopping you from getting onto the train without a ticket, so while technically one could gamble by hopping on a train for free to get to their destination, I wouldn’t recommend it simply because plain-clothed cops are apparently always present and randomly checking for people aboard without tickets. And there is a hefty fine for those who do try to ride for free… Just sayin’ 🙂
Highlights of the tour:
Hotel Adlon: this hotel is THE MOST expensive hotel to stay in Berlin. It is famous for 2 reasons… the first and most recent event, it is the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony railing. The second (and more historical) is that it is only one of two buildings that was not bombed and was still standing after the war!! Everything else was destroyed!! However, years later a group of Russians (as part of an army if memory serves) stayed in the hotel and proceeded to engage in a pastime that is quite popular among many: drink!! They drank and drank and drank and at some point someone, somehow started a fire that caught and burned down part of the hotel!! So there is a joke now where the hotel was able to survive a war, but NOT a Russian party, lol!!!! 😉
Holocaust Memorial: it was just so moving. There is a museum that is part of the memorial that I unfortunately was not able to make it to but certainly plan to when I make it back there! The artist who designed the memorial did a fabulous job with it for sure! It was thought-provoking, moving, inspiring and emotional!! A must see for anyone who visits! And I may add that it was probably one of the few areas that did not have any graffiti on it at all:)
Hitler’s Underground Bunker: Interesting information here that I’d never heard before about Hitler. First that he had Parkinson’s Disease and was taking numerous drugs (LSD, liquid cocaine eye drops, etc) to try to keep even keel, so to speak. It really shouldn’t have surprised me that he was on drugs given how absolutely loony tunes he was, but it did. The second thing was that he got married! Eva, his bride married him and agreed to a suicide pact with him. She ended up killing herself before he did himself in. Good riddance! Oh and the underground bunker isn’t marked in any way because the government doesn’t want the crazies out there setting up some sort of memorial in his honor on the site. Good idea!!
Berlin Wall: this whole idea just fascinated me… Why would a government build a wall then FORCE people to stay on one side or the other in order to build a “stronger” government???? I just don’t get it!! Anyway, my favorite bit about this part was the clever escape one family succeeded in fleeing East Berlin. The father worked in a building nearby and managed to smuggle his family in the building before it closed. They hid in the building until everyone left for the night then changed in all black clothing and went to the roof. They flung a line from the roof over the wall to the other side where a friend of theirs was waiting and basically zip-lined from the roof to the other side of the wall!! What’s even funnier is that a guard of the wall saw this activity taking place but didn’t sound any alarm because he thought for sure it was an undercover op going on, lol!!!
Escape Over the Wall
Prophecy from 1820: the below plaque basically translates to “wherever they burn books they burn only people at the end”. That isn’t an exact translation but I did find it interesting that it was a statement made in 1820 by Heinrich Heine, a German poet, and it was justly posted at the site where Hitler had ordered all books to be burned, just before he really started to come into his power. And as we all know his reign sadly and very unfortunately did end with the burning of people.
While it was time to take off and travel more of Scotland, I really was quite reluctant about it because it meant having to leave K&E!! I still miss hanging out with them for a beer (or 20 in the case of K & I, lol!! AND whiskey on occasion!!) or for a delicious home cooked meal! I had my first Cullen Skink there, and though I’m not at all a fish fan, the soup was VERY delicious and had no fishy taste to it at all!! I miss the lean event we did together on the garage, driving around town in style, being shown all the exclusive and local parts of the area, the awesome conversation and company, and Sunday night burritos!! Yea, I wasn’t looking forward to leaving, but it was time…
When looking up where to go next, I settled on Aberdeen then on to the Highlands, which are in central Scotland. I was first thinking to keep going north from Aberdeen along the coast, but it would have been trickier to get around since I didn’t have a car and only relied on buses and trains. Which brings me to a point… Scotland visitors would definitely benefit from renting a car!!! There are sooooooo many nooks and crannies to see in Scotland that aren’t possible to see because the buses don’t go there, or they only go there on Tuesdays, etc, etc.!! So if you really want to get into Scotland, rent a car!! Or a car AND a chauffeur, which is how it would have to be in my case because they drive on the “wrong” side of the road and I could totally see myself killing myself within the first few minutes of attempting to drive alone!!
Moving on… I happened to find a train ticket to Aberdeen in first class for only 3 pounds more than the 2nd class ticket. Having never traveled any mode of transportation in first class before, I thought heck, why not?! And man oh man was it ever worth it!!! Free food! Free booze!! Free WiFi!!! Comfy seats!!! I can’t say that I would have paid much more than 10 pounds more than the 2nd class seat to get a 1st class seat, but then again… Now that I know all the perks of 1st class, well it certainly made me want to always go that way!! But I’m too cheap to do that!! Or rather, the more I spend in one way means the less I can spend in traveling!! So being thrifty always wins out!!
Aberdeen is an interesting mix of a place. It is modern yet built in an old style. The whole city is quite grey due to the granite they use on many of the buildings, both old and modern. It is a very industrious town and has lots of oil business there and ship yards for various tasks such as fishing, oil, etc. Funnily enough I learned that Aberdeen is where my sister’s place of work is based out of! It’s definitely just a business place, with some character in the old buildings and the cemetery in the center of town, but that was about it.
Luckily I had only planned to simply get there, spend a few hours walking around (which I almost got lost at one point, lol!!) and then head out via the bus to Huntly. And that’s what I stuck to doing. I checked my luggage into the storage facility at the train station, walked around, then gathered my luggage and waited for my bus.