Yesterday turned out great

My word. Considering I was claiming it was going to be a shit day, it actually went really good.

No sooner had I pressed “Send” on my previous post, Daddykins awoke, and came downstairs. Before I even had a chance to plead with him to take me somewhere, his first words uttered to me were “Get your shoes on”…

“…why? Where are we going?” I replied. It seemed a bit of an odd statement considering he’d only been awake a few minutes.

“Don’t know yet” was his reply.

I was shocked, and delighted. Me and Daddykins were going on a proper day out for the first time since at least 1997. Sure, we’d been places before, but not for a proper Father/son type thing. There had always been “complications”. OK, I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t got the new car, but I’ll not use that as an excuse. I’m sure my dad took me out because he loved me… yes, that must be the reason.

Needless to say, I took my camera. My dad must have had some idea where we were going, as we headed in the direction of the North Yorkshire Moors. Well, when I general, I mean DIRECTLY, even taking the necessary shortcuts Daddykins had picked up during his many years working around that area.

This narrowed it down to a few places… three, in fact. Whitby, Grosmont, or Goathland, the real-life village which is the setting for Heartbeat’s “Aidensfield”. Whitby was quickly ruled out, which is just as well, as it’s expensive, probably crowded, and there’s nowhere to park easily. I remember this from when we used to go to days out to Whitby as a child. We (being me, my mother, nanna, and any other freinds/relatives who tagged along) would get dropped off, then my dad used to disappear somwehre with the car, sometimes taking half an hour to return, after parking it in some obscure back lane for free.

So, Grosmont, or Goathland. I was indeed correct. Daddykins took one look at the parking situation in Grosmont, and thought “sod that”… I didn’t quite work out why, either the car park was full, or it was too expensive. Either way, we kept going, along the same road, through Grosmont, and onto Goathland. As we approached the centre of the village, our path was blocked by a policeman. Daddykins rolled the window down (or rather, pressed the button that brings the window down). and asked him what was going on…

“Oh, they’re just shooting a scene”, he replied. “Won’t take long… they’re averaging about 3 minutes per take”. Woooo! They were filming, there and then. I could hardly believe my luck. Daddykins got chatting to the copper.

“So, where’ve you came from?” The copper asked, to start conversation.
“Hartlepool… West View”, daddykins replied, quite correctly.
“Ohhh, West view Road?”, the copper replied.

Turns out that the guy’s grandparents lived on West View Road, near the Brus, and he used to eat in the (now demolished) Brus Cafe. What are the chances of that happening? It’s not quite as amazing as the time I stayed in a hotel on the Isle of Wight, and the owner knowing Eric Wilkie who used to drink in the Queens, and a good friend of mine and especially my dad. Even Coatesy knew him. Eric, you may remember, is whose front room I spewed up in on the Millenium night.

Er, anyway, I’ve swayed way off topic there. Back to Goathland. The take eventually finished, and we were free to go on our way, to the car park. It cost £2 to park up for the full day, which I consider entirely reasonable, though in previous visits, we parked for free on the edges of the road, but these are all now yellow-lined. Bugger. Either way, we parked up, and headed for the site of the filming…

Here’s one of the takes…

After I took this photo, I was told by some anonymous woman in a Hi-Vis jacket that I couldn’t take photos while they were recording. That, to me, doesn’t make much sense. 1) my camera is silent when taking photos, 2) I was in a public place.

I’ve always wondered how the law stands on such matters. I must admit, I was 100% compliant with her request – personally I just enjoyed watching the recording, and was happy in the knowledge that between takes, I could photograph what I wanted, most of it appearing very similar to what I could have shot during the takes – same people, same equipment, slightly different stance, maybe. It’s all a bit academic anyway, as I only took 6 photos while watching the filming. Ah well.

That was an added bonus to the day I wasn’t expecting in the first place.

We spent a big portion of the day at the train station, as they have steam trains there, and Daddykins loves them. As expected, the whole place is kept in a retro style, with old fashioned advertising placards dotted around.

The first thing we did when we got there was get some refreshments. Daddykins can’t function without his morning cup of coffee, and considering we’d went straight out, he never had chance to have it. I was surprised he’d went as long as he did without collapsing into a caffiene-deficiency related coma. Either way, we watched a total of 3 trains come in and out…

… each of them looking like that one. It’s a shame there’s only a few of these things running anymore, as they’re certainly impressive. And huge. And noisy.

During the wait between the trans approaching, we went for a walk up the side of the hill, which formed the valley that the station was in. Before you leave the station, however, was this gate…

Penalty for leaving the gate open, £2. I’m sure that this sign was added when two pounds was actually a lot of money, and actually a bit of a deterrent. Never mind though, as everyone who went through it did indeed close the gate. It wasn’t a hard walk, and the view for reaching the top was stunning

There was no mobile phone signal, however, even at the top of the big hill, which I was a little surprised about. I wasn’t planning to call anyone, it was merely an observation.

After we watched the trains, it was time to take a last walk around the village, and take in the scenery.Something which is clear with this place is that they will never need anyone to mow the lawns, as there’s sheep everywhere…

I thought it was great personally. Although this was a novelty for me, being an outsider, I could imagine that the residents would get really rather sick of their fluffy white prescense…

As this point, I went into Ye Olde Gift shoppe, and bought Daddykins a little momento of the day, as a thanks for the day out – another model car for his collection. 20 years ago, the roles would have been reversed – he’d have been the one buying ME the toy car, but he collects them. And he has a lot of them.

On the way back, I took more photos, and finally managed to get a decent shot of Roseberry Topping

And that was pretty much it. On the way home we went to the chippy, only to find that it was completely packed. Therefore, the day was completed with a trip to the Brus Chippy. The chips were very nice, if a little expensive, and a little unforgiving with the portions.

The full set of photos can be viewed here.

It’s finally, finally happened.

Since I started attending flea markets and car boot sales back in about 1993, when my Aunt Rose took me down one Wednesday morning, I have been after owning one object. It has, as far as I know, never been there. Everything else has been sold, including broken smoke alarms, rubbers in potties, and more second-hand underwear than you could shake a nasty gonorrhea infection at.

This particular object is, thankfully, none of the above, it is in fact a 7″ copy of “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and The Range. Eagle-eyed flickr-ists will notice I already have one copy, but I got that from ebay. It’s easy to get them ebay. There’s no challenge, and no sense of achievement.

Yeterday, I awoke on the sofa at 8AM. It looked like a sunny day, so off I went.

Something which is very odd, is the fact that around near where I live, they’re flattening the old hospital buildings which have been there for years. Lots of years. I’ve discussed on here that I’m glad to see the back of them, as they were very cold and sinister. Not nice places to be in at all, especially when you’re a six year old getting your chest x-rayed in them… ooo, childhood flashback.

Anyway, yes. There buildings, I believe, date back to the days when treatment was more of a punishment. I have heard it used to be a mental asylum of some sort. The surrounding walls actually have broken glass bottles embedded in the concrete. I don’t know whether that was to stop people getting in, or to stop them escaping. I guess I’ll never know. Either way, these buildings have now be reduced to this.

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Anyway, I put the camera away, and headed towards the flea market, a mere short bus ride away, which cost me £1.05. Jaysus.

I had no intention of staying a while, or anything over a few minutes, if I’m honest, but it was pretty busy, and there were a good few stalls there, for once.

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However, the ones that stood out, were the ones I didn’t expect to be any good. There’s always a few stalls which appear to be full of garbage and rusty metalwork or rusty tools, which nothing worth looking at. I walked past one of these stalls, and saw some random guy flipping through some records. I had been bitterly disappointed by the CD’s on offer from one of the stalls which are normally quite good (£1 each, and I’ve bought some great ones from there in the past.), so I thought I’d take a look. That’s when I found “it”. Its yellow, creased cover, staring back at me. The title, arranged in a semi-circle, in the middle of the cover. It was all there. I was holding it in my hands. For ten whole seconds, I just laughed to myself, and thought “Heh, Cool” as I placed it back in the box along with the rest of the records I was holding.

Of course, I suddenly had a moment of clarity, and it suddenly struck me, that this was the moment I’d waited for since way back. Every single flea market, car boot sale, record fair I’d ever been to, had been all for this moment. I was about to buy “The Way It Is”. I handed my shiny pennies over (well, OK, they were 50p each, and I bought about another 6), and I walked away with a sense of satisfaction, as if to say to myself “I’ve done it. It’s all over. It’s finished”.

The day didn’t just stop there, I continued my searching for other stuff. The next stall along had an Andrew W.K’s “I Get Wet” buried amongst the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck and Pavarotti. Needless to say, I snapped that up. I’ve been after that CD for years too.

I walked around the stalls, to see that Eric has returned permanently. Eric owns one of the good stores, he used to be the one near the Corner House (or whatever it’s called now), but in his own words, he gave up for a couple of years. I did miss his stall, as he always had a good (and varied) collection of CDs. He’s back, but with a smaller CD collection. A few other things are missing too, but hopefully he’s going to be there for a few more years to come. He had a sealed copy of Sandi Thom’s CD (oh, I wish I was a punk rocker, etc) for £2, so I bought that. I’ve not listened to it yet, as I’ve got the Andrew W.K. CD on repeat. His album is only 35 minutes long, but every track is a winner. The longest track is 3:33 in length.

Overall, a fantastic day music-wise.

The last day in Berlin…

Judging by the lack of comments on the last few posts, I guess that by this point, I’ve completely bored you all to death with my ramblings of travelling to a far-flung land. Normal service will be resumed my the end of this post. You’ll all be reading again about how much I hate work, how much I like streetlights, how much curry I’ve eaten, and how much of it flies out of my bowels at a shocking rate of knots. I bet you can’t wait. In fact, I’ll even try to cover all of them in this post.

So, anyway, it was a sunday. I awoke to see the worst weather in the whole of my time there. The building site across the road from the hotel was one big puddle. It wasn’t a nice day. Now, you’ll remember my 72-hour ticket? Well, it was used up…. and there was no point getting a travel ticket for just one day. by the time we’d got ready, the rain hadn’t let up at all… it was still lashing down.

On our way out of the door to begin the last day, Chris asked the guy behind the reception desk if they had any umbrellas. But they didn’t. The hotel was “all out of umbrellas”. I did, however, successfully manage to order a taxi, to pick us up from the hotel the following morning. Or rather, I just asked the guy behind the reception desk to do it for me.

We decided to give the outdoor cafes a miss, and instead headed off to a Starbucks nearby. I can’t see the fascination with coffee, personally, so I settled for a croissant and a bottle of water. Chris also had a croissant, and some fruit smoothie thing which just looked odd. As we weren’t going to travel around much, we decided to stay in the vacinity. The tour guide Jonathan had picked up from the hotel showed some good museums, and Chris remembered a few places he wanted to see from that very first bus trip, all of them were in the same general direction…

By the time we’d finished eating and drinking, it was getting a little bit brighter… the rain had stopped, and the place was drying out nicely. Chris wanted a closer look at this building…

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… and also to find out why it had a big V painted on the front of it. I think it was adverising some exhibition or another. Anyway, turns out it’s one of the Humboldt University buildings, therefore it was locked. And that book sale wasn’t there either. We crossed over the road, in the hope of finding something open, and while Chris and Jonathan took care of the map, I took photos…

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Unsuccessful, we crossed back over the road, and noticed a sign saying “Kunst”… First of all, I thought it was a strip club for dyslexics, but it turned out to be an arts and crafts market, though, it didn’t take me long to be in my element…

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I didn’t buy anything at this point, because there was no way they’d survive in the suitcase, and I didn’t fancy carrying LPs all the way through on hand luggage. I’d already had that Herbert Groenemeyer CD, so I was more then happy to spend only a few minutes looking through these, especially as they were expensive. Chris found joy by searching through some old print stamps… one of which he’d pay €20 for later in the day. The craft fair ended after about 20 stalls, and we followed the road round until we came to something more like a traditional flea market affair, selling CDs for cheap. €1 each. Happiness! I ended up buying the Gladiators (yes, GladiatorS) soundtrack, and a song called Highland, by Swedish band “One More Time” (Wiki), which are of no musical relation to Swedish band One 2 Many. Apparently.

Another stall sold 7″ singles, by far my audio format favourite. I picked “I promised Myself” by Nick Kamen – a song which I’d heard originally in the Hartlepool shopping centre, at about 8AM in the morning before the shops even opened. But that’s a story for another day. I also bought two others which aren’t really worth mentioning, as they were simply ro replace scratched copies of records I already had.

Either way, I bought these records, and it looked like it was about to piss down, so the next step was to find a cheap umbrella that we could all share. And, there was indeed a store that sold umbrellas. Wooo. So, for €6, we ended up with the shoddiest looking umbrella you have ever seen, with holes in to complete the job. Ironically, about 30 seconds later, the rain stopped, so it wasn’t much use anyway. We returned to the hotel, and I dropped off my musical delights.

Within seconds we were back out of the door, and heading back in the same direction from whence we came, but this time omitting the KunstMarkt, or whatever it was called, and headed over the bridge to the other side of the river. We had a quick look around the Berliner Dom, an architectually stunning building….

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The next stop was the DDR museum – a museum showing the way of life in the old East Germany, including a real-life trabant…

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Chris was more than excited at the sight of an old model kit he used to have as a kid. I also managed to get a shot of the traffic lights which are all over the city. For some reason, they’re a lot more “jolly” than the ones we have over here. The green man has a hat on, and he looks like he’s all set off for a bloody good stroll…

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Classy. By this time, it was mid afternoon so we headed back out, in the search of some “luxury” items to take back. I ended up getting a pen, a t-shirt, and some…. strange thing with little gold coins in it. It was all a terrible waste of money, but it was better than lots of useless Euros bashing about in my wallet.

It was getting on, so we returned back to the hotel, and began the tedious task of packing our belongings away. This was relatively straightforward for me… everything liquid based went in the bin. Everything else went in the case. I travelled light in all honesty, so I was finished within an hour or so. Chris and Jonathan took slightly longer, as Chris had to work out how to pack two boxes of chocolates without them getting shattered or melted.

Eventually, we were finished, and headed off out just one more time. Unfortunately, it looked like it was about to absolutely piss down….

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This was around the same time that the last of my electrical items went back in the case, so I’m sure you’ll all be glad to know that there are no more big photos to look at.

So, we wanted somewhere not too far away, under cover… Have a guess where we went. Yes, of course… the INDIAN. I just had to have one more German curry. Even Chris went for the Madras.

Before the main meal, they left these poppadom things I’ve never seen before. They weren’t just normal poppadoms, but they had some stupidly hot flavouring to them. I was in *love*. Unfortunately, I don’t know the German for “What were those hot poppadom things?” so exactly what they were will remain forever a mystery. Bugger.

The meal was consumed, and I was as happy as a pig in shit. I’d somehow survived a week where I didn’t know the food, didn’t know the language, and more importantly, I learned that there was more to a trip away than just finding the nearest Gregg’s….

The finale of the night was spent back at the Berliner Republik…. the place where we’d spent most of our mornings getting stocked up on pretzels and Currywurst. This time, we sat inside, and tried out something which wouldn’t be allowed in England… beer trading.

To put it bluntly, Beer trading means the prices of the different beers change every 6 minutes, up or down, depending on some unknwon factor.

I was down to my last few Euros, so I was taking this beer trading thing seriously, sipping my pseudo-pint slowly, until the price of the beer I was drinking changed. I watched the screen… Oooo! My preferred tipple had went down from €3.70 to €3.50… GREAT! I quickly call a waitress over (easier said than done), point at my glass, she takes a note and then disappears off to fetch the beer.

The clock slowly counts down, with no sign of the beer…

4 minutes left before the price change… then two minutes… one minute… thirty seconds… five seconds… DING! The prices change.. aaaand, my beer’s gone up to €3.90.

Seconds after the price change, out pops the waitress… surely, I’d only be charged the €3.50? No ‘king way. The receipt said €3.90. At that point, I just totally lost interest in “beer trading”, which is clearly just a rip-off. I didn’t feel like drinking anyway, as I was completely stuffed from the wonderful curry I’d eaten earlier. It was about 10:30 by this point, and we decided to move on… except everywhere else was shutting up. It was like a ghost town. The bad weather had held off, so that wasn’t to blame. It was just all very eerie and quiet.

We walked back to the hotel, crossing the River Spree one final time, and we headed into the hotel bar for one last drink of authentic German Pilsner, knowing it would be one hell of a long time before I would ever come into contact with it again. Sob.

We left the bar, and returned to our respective hotel rooms for one last time, knowing that there was a 600-mile journey back to blightly in front of us the next day… I awoke, at 4AM, with the biggest case of the shits I’ve had in years. I have no idea if it was the curry or the beer. I’ll steer clear of the details, but this went on for two hours. It did give me a chance to take some last photos out of the window. It was amazing how quiet and still everything was at 6AM in the morning.

Eventually, I got back off to sleep and awoke at 8AM, to find one of the machines on the building site completely ruined….

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Chris said there was one hell of a bang as it went over. Somehow, I slept through it.

The last of the packing was done, I double-checked, and triple checked everything, and jumped into the taxi for the journey back to the airport. The taxi driver was the most miserable bastard in the whole history of the world. The only words he spoke (with the exception of expletives and horn-sound) was “AIR BERLIN???”, as we approached the airport. Not understanding him, we all nodded politely and said “yes”, suddenly realising that Air Berlin was the name of one of the departure gates. But it was too late. The driver huffed and puffed, like I’d just taken his toys away, and eventually dropped us at the airport. The total cost was €18. I gave him 20. The bastard didn’t even give me any change.

The airport was the same rigmariole as before, only I knew what to expect, so it was even more boring. We get a drink, then check in. Our bags disappear to places unknown, and we sit around, waiting for the plane to turn up. Oh, and I bought some duty free, namely a box of Dime (I refuse to call them Daim) bars, and a 500-gram bag of Haribo cola bottles. Larvely. No alcohol, though. I was disappointed in myself.

Eventually, the plane turns up, we board, and the journey starts. I didn’t have a window seat, so I studied the on-board literature. A lot. Though, there could only be so many times I could read about fastening my seatbelt before it came tedious. Sandwhiches were passed around. they had a wonderful choice of two (count ’em! TWO!) types. Salmon and something, and Cheese and something… I passed, but did take up the opportunity of having a nice, cold refreshing can of beer. After all, it was 11AM by this point. Erm.

So, we land in Amsterdam. The weather was better than it was on the journey there. No chance of any delays THIS time. Once again, we go through the usual security checks… empty pockets, take off belt, blah de blah. Now I’d managed to get through three of these things, surely I’d be able to get through the fourth…. No.

It beeped. The whole thing lit up like a christmas tree. What the fooch?

“Step to one side, sir”… said some balding, middle aged bloke.

“Do you mind if I search you?”.

“No, of course, not”, I reply. After all, what were my alternatives? I really didn’t fancy the ol’ “rubber Glove” treatment, so I let him do his thing. Thankfully I was free to go, though I was still unaware of what made the machine squeal. Maybe the can of beer I’d drank contained a shiny penny? I will never know.

The journey from Amsterdam back to Newcastle was even more boring. Chris and Jonathan were on one side of the aisle, I was on the other. I couldn’t even see out of the window, without looking over everyone else. Shite. The only reason it’s worth mentioning is that I had another can of beer.

Upon my return back to the UK, I switched on my phone, to find that Daddykins was picking me up, and waiting in the car park, which eventually cost him £6. the final stupid expense of the trip. The A1 back home was completely blocked by an overturned lorry, which shed 18 tonnes of cable over the carriageway. This led to a detour around the suburbs of South Tyneside, and getting lost about three times.

And that, is it. The end. There is no more. Actually, there’s lots more, but I thought that after three weeks of typing this holiday up, I’ll draw the line here and now. I shall conclude by posting Youtube links to the video I made while I was there….

Day 1… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=fJRuIbhX260 (Incomplete due to a tape fault)
Day 2 part 1… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=MIbDSfEkrIg
Day 2 part 2… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=fYhQZ95Vw78
Day 2 dart 3… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=2Tg6gE1EQjo
Day 3… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=1k4ozi1bcTc

The rest of the days coming soon, including the zoo footage…

Now I can get back to talking about other stuff. Wooooo.

Saturdays in Berlin…

Yikes… it was a weekend, though it didn’t exactly feel like it. We had 24 hours of our “City Tour” ticket left, and there were still so many places left to see. This day was a relatively early start for me, with the first image being taken on the camera at 9:20 AM.

Now knowing that my wallet was running on vapours, my task for the morning was to find a working cashpoint. This was a city, so it couldn’t have been hard. Jonathan mentioned there was a cashpoint on the station a few yards away. Great! That’s that sorted. I look, and I look, and couldn’t find a thing. I did, however, find a supermarket selling the necessities (drink, but not of the alcoholic kind.. apple juice and coke). I decide to walk in a northerly direction up Friedrichstrasse, in the hope to find a cash point. I fail miserably, on my first visit. On my way back down to the hotel, I notice some woman walking into a glass fronted building. I have no idea what it was, but it looked like it might have been a bank.

I had nothing to lose by following her. I walk into the building and fall to my knees. SEVEN CASH MACHINES. ALL THE COLOURS OF THE RAINBOW. Ok, that’s not strictly true, but there were indeed seven of them. I was delighted.

I watch some guy finishing up with his transaction, and I decide to use his machine, as it appeared to be working correctly. I insert my card, and… nothing. It wouldn’t even take the card. Surely, there was some mistake. I push that little harder. Nothing. I was ready to cry, but then I look at the little diagram on the card reader… it needed to be inserted strip-side-up. How odd is that? This time, the card was accepted, and thankfully, I was able to get some funds from it. I return to the supermarket I’d found earlier, and purchase the apple juice, and some strange cola drink. It was called Vita-Cola It’s totally uninspiring. Sorry, I really didn’t like it much at all.

By the time I returned back to the hotel, I knocked on Chris + Jonathan’s door. They were already awake, so I told them of my great discovery – cashpoints and reasonably priced soft drinks. With only two days to go, they were hardly enthusiastic, but I was happy anyway.

Anway, the plan was to go to Spandau to see the prison. There was an unknwon delay which meant we didn’t set off until around Midday. Maybe we went for breakfast, maybe we didn’t. I have no idea. I don’t think we did.

Anwyay, by this time, despite our problems with the trains over the last couple of days, we had got the hang of it, and even knew the station where we needed to change to get to Spandau. This, however wall Chris and Jonathan’s doing, as I still didn’t really have a clue. We boarded the train, and I spent the next 20 minutes in geek filled heaven. Actually, no, this is more of a nerd thing. Skip this paragraph if you’re not interested.

Inside the carriages are scrolling LED display boards which tell you where the next station is, so you know where to get off. They don’t appear to be anything special. 5×7 font, green LEDs. The one above where I was sitting would begin to show the station, then crash, resulting in a SELFTEST message being displayed. It struck me later on in the day where I had seen it. Someone else (a total stranger) on flickr had posted an image of an identical display doing the same thing. Woo!

OK, so onto Spandau. We get off the train, and land in a market. It was just a normal market, however, with nothing special on offer. Just the usual fruit, vegetables, meat, etc. The whole point of the trip was to go and find Spandau prison. Except it wasn’t marked on any of the maps, so we didn’t know if we’d even be able to find it. We walked up a row of shops, similar in appearance to the ones we experienced in Potsdam.

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This photo was taken at the end of the road, where again, there was a church. It must be a common feature, main shopping parades have churches at the end of them. Odd.

It appeared there was a wedding or something happening at this church, as there were a lot of people roaming about, all dressed up. There was a display of some sort in the church, but we didn’t go in incase it was cancelled because of whatever was happening. Instead, we walked around for a bit again.

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At this point, I spie a Woolworths! Or rather, just Woolworth. We couldn’t resist a look in, to see just how different it was. Naturally, I went over to the CD section… basically, about 1 foot of shelf space. They didn’t seem to be big on music over there. I spied one CD there, which I just had to buy… Through the Barricades, by Spandau Ballet. I can claim to be one of the few people in the entire world to have bought a Spandau Ballet CD from Spandau. I will now wait until the fateful day, years down the line, when someone flips through my CD collection, spots it, and asks where I bought it from. I shall reply with Spandau. And they shall go “Wow”. And I’ll be like, “Yeah, I totally did”. And they’ll be like “NO WAY!” And I’ll be like, “WAY!”… And, I appear to have gotten stuck in a 1990 loop.

Other things purchased at the Woolworth store were a packet of Big Red Gum, which I talked about briefly in another post, two Daim bars, mainly to see if they tasted any different over there, and some spare batteries for my camera, just in case I needed them.

We walked back up the street towards the station, and passed underneath it towards a large and impressive looking shopping centre – The Spandau Arcaden, which looked like it had just been built 15 minutes ago. There wasn’t exactly a wide range of shops in there, but at the end of one floor was a stupidly large supermarket. I forget the name of it, but it was enormous. Outside the store were boxes full of CDs for sale. I couldn’t resist a flick through them. One thing I don’t think I’ve mentioned, is that I also travelled to Germany to purchase a song. Just one song. “Manner” by Herbert Groenemeyer. After viewing every CD on sale, I didn’t find it. Shite. There was only one day to go.

I didn’t go home empty handed, however. I purchased the greatest hits of Albert Hammond for €3, for the song “The Free Electric Band”. We all had a Maccy D’s to see if it tasted different over there. Apparently, the burgers were greasier, but the chips… sorry, fries, were just as acceptable.

We had seen the sights of Spandau, and so we headed back. Two things I learned while typing this entry is that “The term Spandau Ballet referred to the spasms of the Nazi war criminals as they “danced at the end of the rope”, when they were hanged at Spandau Prison.” (source: wikipedia, so that’s probably wrong), and that Spandau Prison was demolished after Rudolph Hess died. So, no matter how much we searched for it, we’d have never found it. It was just over a mile from where we were anyway.

The trip back was interesting. The train seemed to be full of beggars and vagrants. This seemed odd, as we’d hardly seen any in the whole of our time there. Some guy hopped from carriage to carriage, changing each time the train stopped at a station. Unlike most of the trains here in the UK, you can’t walk between carriages. There were also beggars at the station, and a pack of cheeky beggars on the bridge near the hotel…

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The mad looking one standing up with the mohawk attempted to intimidate people by walking right up to them and asking for spare change. He tried it on Jonathan and got told to fuck off not-so-politely. What isn’t in this picture, however, is that there were another load of them on the other side of the road doing exactly the same thing, all part of the same gang, as they would both put their ill-gotten gains into one kitty. This was the only time they were there.

At this point, Chris wanted to head off back to Checkpoint Charlie to get his passport stamped. If you pay €2, you can get it stamped with the Checkpoint Charlie logo. I was a bit tired, so I retired to the hotel for a bit of a lie down while he went up there and got it stamped. He returned quite a bit later, but with his passport successfully stamped. I’d have thought that would be illegal, but nope, it isn’t.

I livened myself up rather unspectacularly. I’d taken a huge swig of apple juice before I laid down, which only seemed to ferment in my stomach, making me feel like I was about to throw up for about half an hour. Unfortunately, this half an hour consisted of a ride on the underground system, and then 15 minutes, in he hottest train I have ever been in my entire life. The sweat was dripping off me, but luckily, this caused the fermeting apple juice to be absorbed into my body so I didn’t feel sick anymore.

Our destination was the KaDeWe – the German version of Harrods, though we didn’t know it at the time. We walked through the doors into a marble hallway, with watch manufacturers either side, with prices ranging from €1,000 to €WTF,000. I felt a little out of place, walking around in my £4 Matalan T-shirt. We started on the top floor and worked our way down, as it was about 6PM, and the store closed at 8PM. The top floor was a restaurant / bar. No interest there, so we moved down into the food section. It had everything. And when I mean everything, I mean it even had a fish counter that I could actually walk around without borking my ring up. It’s the first place that sells fresh fish where I could actually breathe the air. Now that’s a sign of a good shop.

Of course, there wasn’t just the fish counter, there was everyhing else from bread to ornemental bottles of rice vinegar. We did spend a bit of time here, especially in the confectionary section … Chris bought the sugariest cake of all time (more on that later), and I bought some pressies. It came to something extortionate, but at least they allowed me to use my card.

The floor below it was the technology section. Large CD and DVD selection. Obviously, the DVD’s would be in German, but the music section should have that CD I was looking for. After about half an hour of searching though the G’s, I finally strike gold…

The store had a very interesting computer system which allowed you to scan a barcode, and hear the appropriate CD via email, just to make sure it was the one you wanted. A quick scan later, and there it was… Manner…. Track 2.

I don’t know why I like the song so much, as I can’t understand a word of it, but I “knew of” it, thanks to someone in #speccy. While at work, months aro, the German language speakers were streaming some unknown German radio station via the interwebs. All of a sudden, ‘Manner’ came on. I jumped out of my chair, stood upright, pointing at the speakers, shouting “I KNOW THIS ONE!”

I don’t know whether this made me like it more or not, but it certainly didn’t harm my opinion of it. As far as I was concerned, I was holding his CD in my hand. This was my biggest wanted souvenir of the trip, and although I knew it would cost €18.99, I knew that if I put it back on the shelf, I’d be horribly disappointed in myself. Therefore, it was bought, and although it was probably in the top 10 of the most expensive CDs I’d bought, it would be money well spent.

We walked around the store, mainly gasping at the price of everything… my personal favourite was €300 for a 1Gb USB stick… it was clear, anyone who bought that must have a very small cock.

The last main stop was the men’s clothes section, just in case there was a bargain or two to be found. There wasn’t anything close to being a bargain. I think the cheapest thing I saw in there was an ugly green polo shirt for €25. Eveything else was closer to the €100 mark. There was no way I was even coming close to spending that amount.

After that, we left, and decided to head back, so we could get something to eat. We remembered how bad the underground was, and luckily, I noticed a signpost, pointing to the zoo, some 800 metres away. This was good, as we knew the station. We set off, and begin to head off into the suburbs. This wasn’t looking like it was the way to go. Eventually, we turn back, and come to the conclusion that some jokers had turned the signpost around. We complete a full circle, and end up back where we were originally. Walking was for losers, and seeing as our train tickets were also allowed on buses, we got the bus to the station.

This time, we knew exactly where to go, and boarded the train back to Friedrichstrasse. The beggars hadn’t let up, and were still roaming the carriages. Dark clouds were beginning to form overhead. Could this be rain?

We get back to the hotel, and begin to devour Chris’s cake, and found it more sugary than any of us had possibly imagined. I devoured the licorice bits on top, which weren’t really licorice, they tasted like cherry cola. I think I was the only one that liked them.

The main cake itself wasn’t made out of marshmallow as originally thought, instead it was made almost entirely out of sugar. Hard sugar. Chris began to attempt to eat it, but didn’t even break the surface until the sugar rush was too much. We headed out for some fresh air. Chris noticed, that while he was wandering around the hotel, it had a terrace…. or rather, a roof section that was accessible. I have no idea whether we were supposed to be on the roof or not, but opening the door didn’t set off the fire alarm. Naturally, I used this as an excuse to take more photos.

It started to rain, so we headed back inside, and got changed for the night. The penultimate night saw us back at the Argentinian steak house, where I had burger and chips. Jonathan had the same (I think), and I have no idea what Chris had. We all enjoyed our meal, and had a couple more back at the Kartoffelkeller, before retiring to the hotel, and having one or two there. Jonathan didn’t join us, however, so me and Chris stayed and had a couple more, before calling it a night.

Only one more day to go.

Day 5… Berlin zoo.

I finally awoke from my steaming pit at 11AM – the latest I’d gotten up for the whole of the holiday. Breakfast once again consited of a hot pretzel at the Berliner Republik, complete with whippings of hot butter. The pretzel was so hot, however, that the butter had all melted, which made spreading it rather diffcult. That wasn’t a complaint, just an observation, as it was delicious.

Chris got the currywurst again, and I can’t remember what Jonathan got. I don’t think it was the marathon breakfast he had the day before.

On the way back from Potsdam the day before, I noticed that Berlin Zoo was one of the stops. So, without much of a discussion, we decided that would be a good day out, though it would possibly be stupidly expensive. We boarded the train again, and watched as a few stops went by, before the zoo came into sight. Or rather, a large tower block building with “ZOO” written on it. Clearly, this wasn’t part of the zoo, but a helpful arrow pointed you in the right direction. Before we knew it, we were in a queue. The prices were reasonable, I suppose… €18 each, which also gave us access to the aquarium.

By the time we’d got in, it was 1PM, and the zoo closes at 6. Great! this will give us loads of time to see absolutely everything. We wouldn’t need a map, as it was only a zoo. It wasn’t as if it was going to be rocket science. Those were possibly our two biggest mistakes of the day. The place was absolutely enourmous. You will be glad to know that I won’t be posting many photos of this particular day, as I believe you should all know what the particular animals look like. I’ll link to the appropriate flickr photo, so as not to waste the photos entirely. But I’ll post a picture of this elephant, because I thought he was great.

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Well, that was the elephants taken care of. Next, we moved onto the… um… poultry, this section was presumably for people who’d never seen a live chicken before, and always thought that their name ended in “McNugget”. The best part of this was the bantams. I didn’t know they were little fluffy white things.

The giraffes were next. An interesting fact is that this giraffe has exactly the same number of bones in its neck, as the one behind it.

The mountain goats were next, followed by the big birds, such as owls. This particular one had hilarious eyebrows. The bald eagle was suitably impressive, but was a bit camera shy on this occasion. I thought that particular photo had turned out OK. But it hadn’t.

Next were the… pork products, featuring loads of different types of pig. This particular one was my fave…

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What isn’t visible in this particular image is the litter of piglets all huddled together, lying in the sun. They smelled exactly like spicy hot dogs. It was really rather weird.

We made our way around the pig and cattle section, and eventually ended up at the bear section. At this point, I flicked the camera over to video mode, and inadvertantly filmed the same bear having a crap seconds later. This may, or may not form part of the video I’m planning on making when I get my bloody computer sorted out properly. Though, to make up for it, it did pose for the camera later on.

Right next to the bears were the wolves. I thought they were great, though a little inactive. To the right of the wolf pen were the lemurs. At this point, I thought I could smell skunks too. It wasn’t until later on in the day that Chris informed me that what I thought were the skunks, was actually a fragrant blast of flatulence caused by the currywurst… pleasant.

We walked around for a bit longer, and saw more birds, including the first batch of flamingos. Chris, at this point, spotted his favourite thing of the whole day… a duck. Despite the fact we were surrounded by some of the most impressive beasts on the planet, this plain looking duck was his lasting memory.

At this point, I spied polar bears. Naturally, I took photos. Lots of them.

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On the subject of Polar Bears, Berlin zoo is the home of Knut, the little baby polar bear rejected by his mother. Wiki Link). I have no idea if he’s in any of my pictures or not, as he’s now tret just as another normal polar bear, and is, as far as I know, in the same enclosure. Still, they cash in on it at every opportunity. I notced a large stall seeling Knut teddy bears, placed strategically next to the playground.

Shortly after, we walked around to the larger bird section, where you could actually walk into the cages and interact with the birds. This little bastard wanted to do more than react with me….

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Yes, I know it’s hard to tell where the beak ends and the head starts. I sat down on the seat inside the enclosure next to some woman (that’s why there’s a woman’s foot in the top of the photo, natch), and no sooner had I sat down, this bird starts pecking at my shirt. I didn’t really fancy being dinner today, so I pulled my shirt away. The little shit took exception to that, and thought that my fingers looked much tastier…

*crunch* *OW!* I jump up startled, the woman next to me pisses herself laughing, and I walk out of the cage with chewed fingers. I didn’t even find out what type of bird it was. The cage had signs inside telling you which birds were residents, but my new best friend seemed to be missing. Presumably the sign was pecked into submission.

We kept walking, and eventually came across the penguins Woo! The penguins were cool. Quite literally, as the empreror penguins had their own refrigerated enclosure complete with snow…

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They looked like fakes, until the one with the lop-sided head lifted its tail and shat everywhere. No, I didn’t get a video.

Well, they were exciting. Not. Outside of the penguin house, were the performing seals, with some guy in a wetsuit. I couldn’t actually see this, as the area around the pool was about 5-deep in people. He was speaking in German, so I had no idea what he was saying anyway. I attempted to move around and get a better view.

At this point, I phoned Daddykins. He seemed genuinely happy to hear my voice, and for the first time, didn’t hurry to get me off the phone. I felt homesick for approximately 37 seconds, until the performing seal guy jumped from a large rock into the pool, and soaked everyone where I’d been standing only minutes earlier.

It then struck me that we’d not seen half of what the zoo had to offer, and time was getting on. According to the camera, it was 15:35 by the time we left the seals. It was at this point where the lack of a map became an issue. We managed to find our way to the zebras – and a map – some 8 minutes later. Of course, you can’t go to a zoo without seeing the big cats, so this was the next stop…. There were tigers (at least one), unfortunately barely visible. The one I saw spent most of its time darting from tree to tree, the result being this blurred, and totally uninspiring photo. No sooner had we left the tigers, there was a loud roar. We were indeed, approaching the lions. Hurrah! First stop, hwoever, were the leopards…

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Some of the lions were temporarily indoors for whatever reason. Well, when I mean indoors, I mean in inside pens, with one female lion violently scratching at the metal door. At this point, I got Chris to take a picture of me and said lion. I am truly apologetic for what you are about to witness…

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The lions were class, though.

The male lion, although very vocal didn’t really stay around much. He was treated to an outside pen. Only a small walk away was the panda. I’m not sure whether there was more than one. Either way, my mind was too preoccupied, trying to stop me from singing the “Sexual Harassment Pandaaaaaaaaa” song from South Park. Then it was the highlight of the day for me….. MEERKATS! I’ve always wanted to see one of these, ever since I watched a documentary in primary school called “Meerkats United”. I thought they were cool, and always did. I didn’t quite realise just how small they are…. they’re absolutely tiny. This image isn’t necessarily the best, I just noticed it had 6 7’s in its URL.

At this point, we’d paid €6 to see the aquarium, so the next thing was to find its location. At this point, I was still randomly snapping… it wasn’t until I got this photo home, featuring flamingos and ducks, that I spied something interesting. Notice how the seemingly normal ducks also stand on one leg, copying off the flamingos? Maybe there’s a lot more I need to learn about ducks, but I certainly can’t remember seeing them do that at home…. They certainly don’t do it when surrounded by orange slices… Ummm…

The primate house was next… this was a bit depressing to be honest. An orangutan, laid flat out on the floor, clearly bored as fuck. I didn’t really get many good shots in there, as it was a bit dark, my batteries were going, and my memory card was filling up. I spent most of the time in there going through my camera and deleting any images that looked crap. I could only find about 10. Bugger. It was at this point, we REALLY needed to find the aquarium. I still kept snapping though…. let me introduce you to a baboon with an erection (they went for it like monkeys seconds atfer this photo was taken, but only Jonathan saw it), better giraffe pic, and a gorilla wearing a sack.

We walked around for what felt like an age, attempting to find the aquarium, eventually finding this huge building with “AQUARIUM” written on it. Uh, that’s where the aquarium would be, then. We went in, and spied many weird and wonderful fishes… the last one before I ran out of space on my card had to be of Nemo.

So, it was official. I’d taken over 1Gb of photos and videos… I was impressed. I wasn’t stopping there, however, as I remembered my phone. Woohoo, perfect backup. Naturally, it didn’t work as well in low light, and not many of the aquarium photos turned out to be worth posting.

The last stop was upstairs…. to the reptile house. There were lots of good pictures taken here, but this one has to be one of my favourites…

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I clearly didn’t finish uploading all of the images from there, as I can’t find many. Either way, we’d just got to the snakes when we were kicked out due to closing time. Bugger. Had it really been five hours? Yes, it had. I had a pocketful of pictures, therefore I’d had a great day. There was still the job of getting home.

We retraced our steps to get to the train station from the zoo, only to be found that we’d went the wrong way… Lost. Again. Learning from the trip yesterday, surely it should have been as simple as following the green S’s. It was. The problem was FINDING the green S’s. Chris queued vainly at the customer desk. Jonathan rushed around madly, and I just sat on a bench, waiting for feedback from either of them. Eventually, Jonathan picked up the scent of green S’s, Chris picked up the scent of a doughnut shop (and bought some, two for me too), and I spied a cashpoint.

My money was running low. I was still confident that it would work, despite Chris’s oreal with the machine just one day earlier. The “GUI” to the cash machine was horrible. Clip-art graphics, grey marble style backdrop, cheery comic-sans style font. It looked llike a Powerpoint presentation I would have done in college. I insert my card, enter my pin number, select English (I don’t know whether it’s standard that cash machines ask you your language over there, or the fact it determined my card wasn’t German), and choose the amount of money I wanted… in this case it was €40. At this point, there was a queue forming behind me.

My card comes back out, like it’s supposed to. I pay no attention to what is happening on the screen, as it was hurting my eyes. I remove my card and look at the screen, with just enough time to see “SYSTEM ERROR” pop up on the screen, and for it to go back to the “Please insert your card” screen. Oh great. The same was happening to ME, now. Chris wasn’t going to be the only penniless one…

Luckily enough, I had enough to last me the rest of the day… Chris and Jonathan had a meal at the Kartoffelkeller, though I passed, as there wasn’t anything I really fancied. That is, at the first glance of the menu. It wasn’t until about halfway through the meals that I spied about three things on the menu I fancied trying. I felt too cheeky ordering late. Never mind. We head to the outside section of the “keller”, not before I sign the visitors book, and leave the URL to this website you are reading now, and adding “Jamie Rules!” to the end of it. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Sort of, like putting my website in history. In reality, it made me look like a cock. I didn’t realise this until after I’d taken a photo on my phone of what I’d written. I’ve not looked at it yet. Instead, I just shake my head and cringe each time it appears in the photo list, and skip over it, pretending it didn’t happen.

That was pretty much it for the evening. We returned back to the hotel just before midnight, and had a couple of drinks there, before calling it a night.

There were only two days left, and one day of the 72-hour train ticket…