A weekend in York (Day 1)

You know, it seems sometimes all I post about on here is Amiga stuff and charity shops. It’s pretty much what my life has became recently. Sometimes I do leave the house, and this time it was for a mooch around York. Well, yes, there were charity shops involved, but there was other stuff too.

In early July, Martlepool hosted a leg of the Tall Ships race. It’s something that has happened before, way back in 2010. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend much of those festivities thanks to work commitments. this time, 13 years later, I avoided it through coice. This time, it promised absolute carnage for the lovely little fishing village of Hartlepool. Chris, who you may remember from many blogs previously, lives in an area of the ‘village’ affected by the traffic measures, so he decided to get out of the way for a few days, and head to Leeds and York, instead of having to fight the council for a parking permit. Plans were made for me to join him half way through this trip. I said I’d get the train down on the Saturday, meet up with him and stay overnight, and come back with him on the Sunday. Of course, there was possible “industrial action” on the train to worry about. Would I actually make it down?

I booked the ticket the week previously. I was surprised just how easy it was. I’ve never actually ordered tickets on my phone before. Despite my technical knowledge, I can’t help but think that paper tickets, or having some physical representation of a ticket is the best way to go. Anyway, no sooner had I paid, it got put into my “online wallet”, and I was all set. I was genuinely amazed at how simple it went.

Anyway, as mentioned. There were train strikes, and that was my worry. This particular train company didn’t have the greatest reputation when it comes to reliability. I’d have thought that any excuse to cancel a train, they’d be all over it. Anyway, I awoke early on the Saturday, still expecting to read my phone and find that the train had been cancelled. Amazingly, this never happened. I arrived at the station to find the board was still showing it was turning up. While in the waiting room, the guy next to me ran out without his phone charger. Amusingly, I’ve known the person who I spoke to for about 30 years, I’d totally forgotten he’s worked there, and to complete the circle of life, he still has some Amiga disks with my handwriting on. If only Elton John and Tim Rice were in the vacinity. I do wonder if this guy ever collected his phone charger.

This particular train company was even a guy walking up and down the platform showing people where to stand to get onto the right carriage. Never had that service before, so this was my position while I waited…

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the other platorm (which was supposed to be ready in time for the Tall Ships) is still out of bounds. There’s now a bridge connecting both platforms, but it’s not ready yet, and there’s no canopies or lighting installed on that side.

Anyway, I successfully boarded the train, and took in the sights of Teesside and Yorkshire, as the bone rattler wound its way through many little villages and towns.

An hour or so later, I was in York., and I was taking in the sights and sounds… of a place I’d been to about 60 times before, but I still can’t help busting the camera out.

That last one is of “Grape Lane”. A street that has had a slightly different name in times of yore. I’ll leave you, the viewer to find out what that is.

As menitoned previously, I hit the charity shops. And by golly, did I find some classic tat in there…

At some point during the “Wayne King” record, and the Metrocentre postcard, Chris met up with me. Of course, we had a mooch around a few more shops (many of them may, or may not have been of the charity variety), before the weather started to turn. It was raining. Not much, but enough to think “Oh, there’s a microbrewery. Let’s have a sneaky pint”. And so, that’s exactly what we did.

I love that little ornament of the eagle, and his little hat made out of beermats. Sadly, I doubt he was for sale, so that photo will have to do.

Sadly, the rain kept up, so I didn’t get many more photos. Instead we headed off to Drake’s for some chips. Seems everyone had that same idea, because it seemed like the world’s longest wait for two portions of curry and chips. They weren’t bad, I guess, but could have done without the wait!

With the charity shops plundered and time getting on, we headed off to the B+B. And what a nice little place it was, about half a mile away from the city centre.

Sadly, I didn’t really get a decent photo of the size of the room, but Chris had that big bed, and I had my own bed, right next to the open window. This would become beneficial later on.

Shortly after, we went out to the first of the pubs we’d passed on the way.

A nice little place. I think I had a pint of something called “White Rat”. It was nice whatever it was. We stopped at another place. The “Royal Oak”. I think we had one or two in there, and then decided to go for the most predictable part of the night… an Indian! I’m guessing it must have only been about 6PM at that point. Turns out this was the best decision of the day. We entered, asked for a table, the guy shuffled his papers for what seemed like an age, and then ushered us to a table. It was right near the door. this meant that we could hear everyone that came in. “Sorry, we’re fully booked until 9:30”. Ha! We’d just got the last table, and it was lovely. Not quite as nice as the one in Macclesfield, but it was certainly enjoyable, and the fact we were the last ones to get an unbooked table just added that little extra spice to it all.

No trip to York is complete without a stop in the “Three Legged Mare”. One of my favourite haunts in York Something interesting always happens.

We’d grabbed a seat right at the front. Little did we know that there was going to be a band/duo on, until they turned up with all of their equipment.

I must admit, I wish I could remember their names, because they were bloody good.

I’m bound to find out, and I’ll update when I do.

We began to head back relatively early. Chris wasn’t sure what time the B+B closed its doors, so we were back by 10.

About 10 minutes after getting back, we opened the window and found out that our timing was, once again, impeccable. We looked out, and there was a thunderstorm going on outside. I think we spent the next two hours or so discussing which presenter was at the centre of the latest BBC shenannegans. Turns out my guess was completely wrong.

Eventually, I drifted off to sleep, with the sound of the rain and thunder being a perfect white noise generator. Day 2, the journey home, should be fun.

Paris, Day 1

Hello, and welcome to Day 1 of my Paris holiday write-up. Let me tell you that this should be well documented, as I have taken over 1,000 photos. No, seriously.

Right, where to start? Well, the beginning would be nice, I suppose. therefore, I shall whisk you back to approximately 7AM on Tuesday, 15th July 2008. I awoke from my steaming pit at that time, as we were going to pick up Jonathan and Chris at 7:30. Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

I had a quick bath, only for Daddykins to inform me that he actually wanted to set off at 7:20 and get to Chris’s by 7:30. Oh, the joy of it all. Therefore, the quick bath got even quicker. In fact, I barely had enough time to stick my balls under the tap.

I then jumped out the bath and began meticulously checking my hand written list of things I was taking, just to make sure everything I needed was there. It looked as if it was. Awesome!

We set off, and arrived at Chris and Jonathan’s house by ooooh, 7:34. So, only 4 minutes late. Not too bad.

I knock on the door, only to find that Jonathan wasn’t ready, due to the fact he’d been driving up here until 2AM in the morning, as he currently lives daaaahn saaaaf.

Off we jolly well popped, up the A19 to Newcastle Airport. It wasn’t long until the camera was broken out, though for now, I’ll not resort to showing you scary photos, or photos of streetlights, there’s plenty of time for that in the next hundred or so updates I’ll write about this trip.

After last years’ fiasco over parking, where Daddykins got charged £6 for waiting about 15 minutes in Newcastle Airport, he dropped us off on the outskirts, near the roundabout, meaning that there was a slight walk to the entrance. Perfectly acceptable, I thought, especially as we’d be doing plenty of walking over the coming days.

So, we enter the complex and arrive at the check-in desk. The lovely young lady behind the counter instructs us to the use the self check-in machines. As much as I love computers, I absolutely hate anything that has the word “self” at the beginning. They just never work. This was no exception. After following the instructions on the screen, it prints out ONE boarding card. There are three of us. The bloody self-service machine brings up an error, and then instructs us to contact the lovely young lady sat behind the Air France desk, who then checks the other two of us in. Why couldn’t she have done that in the sodding first place? Sigh.

As our bags disappeared along the conveyor belt into the unknown, I nipped off to buy a little travel guide – one of the Lonely Planet ones. £6 it cost, but did turn out to be very handy. I’d say that it was probably better than the one I bought for Berlin last year.

Chris got his money exchanged, and we headed to the departure lounge. Of course, this involves the added indignity of having to remove your belt, and in some cases, shoes too. It’s something that is necessary, yet strangely humiliating (though not as humiliating as getting frisked like I had to be last year).

Thankfully, this year we didn’t change planes, so didn’t have to do this twice in each direction.

Once again, the passports were checked, and we headed off to find the bar we went to last year… Disaster! The departure lounge had completely changed, and the bar was boarded up and closed! The large seating areas were now taken up by another bar (it was actually the same bar I was referring to, but it had moved out of its old location, and into where the seating area was).

The large amounts of open space has also been “built on”, and to access the gates, you had to go through a duty-free store. This annoyed me, slightly.

I went into WH Smiths, in order to buy something to read on the plane, Chris bought something to drink from the same shop, and Jonathan looked around somewhere else. As could be predicted, we got separated, and had to cross through this bloody duty free shop.

A heavily done up assistant approached me, looking like she’d just tripped up in the make-up aisle.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?”, she asked, Geordily.

I looked at Chris and said “Yes, his brother…”

There was a few moments silence, and she walked off looking slightly bemused. Eventually, we met up with Jonathan (the shop assistant was no help at all on that one), and proceeded to another bar which had been constructed, coincidentally in a Parisienne style fashion. Now, considering this was a duty free area, the beer was 33% more expensive than it was last year, and it tasted 33% warmer too.

At some point during this whole waiting procedure, we looked out across the runway to see an awesome looking flighter jet getting some service done to it.

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We then hovered about, watching the destination boards, waiting for our plane to come up and show a gate number. This seemed to take forever, but eventually, up it came, and we headed off in that general direction. I believe it was the same departure gate we were at for Berlin last year, but can’t really remember. It seemed to look very familiar.

The plane was tiny. It looked even smaller than the little fokker I flew in last year. I didn’t really mind, but I was a bit concerned that we’d have to land half way through so someone could get out and wind the elastic band back up.

We headed out onto the tarmac, but not before getting our passports checked AGAIN. The flight was perfectly fine. I got chatting to a nice young lady sat next to me who explained she was off to Disneyland with her neice who was in front.

We landed, and the weather was lovely. Let me just try to explain how big Charles De Gaulle airport is… HUGE. I’m surprised it doesn’t have its own national anthem.

According to a quick play with Google Earth, Heathrow Airport is 3.3 miles from corner to corner, this is 5.5 miles.

This would explain the queue for the passport checks that we were in that must have been at least a quarter of a mile long. In fact by the time we’d reached halfway down the queue, I’d eaten an entire bag of Haribo chews. The person who I’d talked to on the plane got right to the front of the queue instanmtly because their family had a kid. By the looks of the line, it seemed quite possible that I could court, copulate and become a father by the time I got to passport control. In the sheer boredom, I began to wonder if there was anyone even slightly famous in the queue.

We collected our bags, and attempted to find some type of exit. Apparently the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was in that queue somewhere, as someone was waiting to pick them up outside the airport, waving a big white card.

Now, finding our way to the centre of Paris was going to be fun. Something that we (or rather I, as I decided which hotel to book) didn’t take into account is the distance of the airport from the hotel. A taxi may have been possible, but expensive. We decided to risk the train system. We must have spent about an hour trying to work out the tube map and roughly where we wanted to be. It would have been a good idea to actually plan that type of stuff before I’d left England, or at least consulted Google Earth for the nearest tube map. It would be something I’d kick myself later on in the day about.

We consulted the tiny (yet useful as the week went on) tube map, and got a train to one of the main stations in Paris – the name of which escapes me (Gare Du Nord, or Gare De Lyon, I think), and then get on to the metro to a station named Invalides. Unfortunately, this metro station was 0.6 miles away from the hotel, and Chris’s homing-pigeon instincts let us down for the first time EVER, and we headed off in completely the wrong direction, meaning that the journey we’d taken walking with heavy bags actually went on for 1.2 miles. Luckily, on the way there was a shop that sold water at a reasonable price, otherwise I don’t think I’d have made it. Although it was warm at the airport, the city heat just made it unbearable, especially when we didn’t know where we were going, with no end in sight. Eventually, after what felt like a month, we just happened to stumble upon the hotel. We checked in, and after taking a moment to regain composure, and to soak up the sweat, we headed up to the rooms.

The first of (thankfully not many) embarrasing moments came when I collected my key and couldn’t actually open the door – Jonathan showed me how to do it. Turns out the handle on the front of the door is just for show. you open the door by turning the key clockwise, and then pushing. Clever, but confusing when you’re dehydrated, hungry and fed up of lugging a case and a bag around a capital city. Actually, it’s not clever at all. I guess I just suck at opening other people’s doors. Maybe I’m the ani-burglar, or something

Anyway, I went into my room, Chris and Jonathan (hereafter referred to as C+J as it’s too hard to type otherwise) went in theirs. It was about 6PM at this point, and we arranged to meet an hour later to go out and see the Eiffel Tower, as it was less than a mile away from the hotel. I decided to have a proper bath seeing as my earlier one had been so rudely interrupted, and a lie down.

Two hours later I awoke. I went to C+J’s room, and knocked on the door. No answer. Were they both dead? Had they gone and left me all on my own?

At great expense, I called Jonathan on his mobile. Chris answered. I asked where they were, and they replied they were already at the Eiffel Tower. He’d knocked on my door, and there was absolutely no answer. How odd.

Anyway, they made their way back along to meet me, and all three of us had a wander up to the Eiffel Tower.

This was 15th July, the day after the Bastille Day celebrations, which meant that there were still areas cordoned off. New trees which had been planted still had bits of hardboard around them, and metal barriers littered the avenue leading up to the tower. This arrangement, however, allowed some people to make use of the obscure arrangement and make a temporary football pitch in the sand.

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It’s only until you get underneath it that you notice all of the effort that had gone into creating it. it’s really quite intimidating.

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Something also intimidating is the sheer amount of foreigners selling stupid, badly made little miniature eiffel tower keyrings and shit like that. There are hundreds of them littered around the city, all selling exactly the same tat.

Something impressive was the size of the queues. to get up the tower. Absolutely enourmous. 45 minute waiting times at least. I could think of better things to do for our first night, so we gave it a miss. Instead, we crossed the River Seine for the first time, and began to take photos of the sun going down, with the Eiffel Tower mostly in the foreground.

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After the sun set, we headed off to the bars near the hotel, as there were quite a few. It was getting on, and we didn’t fancy anything to eat, so we just got beers. Extortionate is the word that would fit in nicely here. Something like €5.50 for a 250ml glass. That’s less than half a pint. Holy cow.

One small beer later, we returned to the hotel to sum up the day, but not before we nipped into a local shop to pick up some essentials, and those essentials would be… BACON FLAVOUR BUGLES! My word, I had no idea they still made Bugles! I know they don’t over here. I think the last packet of those I had was back in March 2002 when I went down to London. I much prefer the BBQ flavour, but they don’t seem to exist anymore, even in France. Ah well.

I went to put the stuff in my room, and as I exited, Chris was in the middle of saying something…

“And then after that, we can… wait, did you come out of room 302?”

I nodded affirmatively, and audibly confirmed this with an “Aaaaaye?”

“BOLLOCKS. I thought you were in room 301. I was knocking on the wrong door earlier…”

I ate my Bugles, and went to bed. It was far too warm to sleep with the window closed, and far too noisy to sleep with the window open. Turns out that the hotel is situated alongside a military school, with nice solid walls so any traffic noise, or in fact the noise of people breathing echoes upwards. What doesn’t help either is the fact that the end of the road was actually on cobbles.

What made things even worse is that the room door was thin, and let any type of noise in. I swear, someone farted 4 doors away and I could smell it.

Eventually, I fell asleep on top of the covers, and prepared for Day 2…

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…


… 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.

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…


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…

Right, Day Four

It’s been almost two weeks, and I’m halfway through writing up my Berlin Holiday, Well I will be after I complete this particular entry.

I apologise for the length of these, and I’m fully aware that not everyone cares about every final detail. Tough, I do. Overall, I spent about a grand on this trip. I’m getting my money’s worth. I’m not going to forget it soon. I have, however, reduced the sizes of the photos, and reduced the number of posts on the front page. This should help ease the load.

Day four started off back at the same cafe (Barlier Republik) along the side of the river. I ordered another delicious pretzel, and this time, Chris ordered the currywurst. Jonathan ordered a breakfast the size of a canoe, all for a reasonable price.

The meals were scoffed, though Jonathan’s protein-on-a-plate took longer than ours, and as the day was getting on, we had to plan what to do. Earlier in the week, we planned a trip to Hamburg on the train. This wasn’t worth mentioning, however, as we soon cancelled the idea, after finding the train tickets were €200. Each. This was a little out of our price range by €190, so we decided to take a day out somewhere a little more local. We bought a 3-day S-Bahn ticket (which is their version of the Metro, I suppose… a snip at €22 for 72 hours) which took us anywhere in the vacinity of Berlin and the surrounding districts.

After a view of the S-Bahn map, a couple of places popped up straight away. Potsdam, and Spandau. We were all confused by a notice saying “Please validate your ticket”… none of us having any clue what this means. It turns out, you simply need to stick your printed ticket into a seperate machine which stamps the date and time on it. God knows why they couldn’t just make it simple, and have the ticket start from whenever you bought it.

After the initial confusion, we were in posession of three, slightly warm, fully validated train tickets. A train pulled into the station, with “S7 Potsdam” showing on its display. All of the S-Bahn trains used large backlit LCDs for their destination boards. Not that you needed to know that, but I found it interesting, as you simply don’t see those over here much. We boarded the train, and made ourselves comfortable, and watched Berlin pass us by, as we travelled the 17-mile journey (as the crow flies) to Potsdam station. This is where I take the first photos, as I couldn’t quite believe how many bicycles there were…

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We were held up slightly at this point, as Chris attempted to draw money out of the cash machine, only for his card to be “refused”. Thinking it was a fault with the machine, I put mine in, and managed to get money straight away. Chris disappeared with Jonathan’s mobile, while he phoned his bank back here, to find out why his card had been declined. Unfortunately, the bank didn’t find out why either. This left Chris worrying. What was he going to do for money? Either way, that was a worry for another hour, as I gave Chris the money I drew out, as I didn’t need it… I just wanted to test the machine.

As soon as we left the station, there was a tour bus straight in front, obviously touting for trade. As we didn’t have a clue where anything was, we decided to take the tour. After viewing the sky, and the pounding sun, I took the wise decision to stock up on water. This was going to be needed.

The tour was cheaper than the Berlin one we’d taken earlier in the week, costing €18. The bus itself was better too. it smelt new, and it actually had a guide. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English on the bus, so we had to wear headphones if we wanted to hear what was going on. Thankfully, this one worked pretty much perfectly – the headphones looked new too, so I was able to keep up with the dialogue and where we were. We drove past various sights, such as Potsdam’s very own Brandenburg Gate…

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The first stop was Cecilienhof Palace, the location of the Potsdam Conference between July 17 and August 2, 1945. The palace is now a museum and hotel.

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A very pretty building, and I have no idea who that bloke is with the beard. He just got in the way when I was taking it. The guide showed us the grounds…

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… and that’s the guide. Whenever we stopped off, he did actually speak English, and explained where we were. He knew his stuff.

On the way there, and on the way back, we had to cross the Glienicke bridge.. a very famous bridge, as it was where the east and the west exchanged spies. It even has its own domain name… http://www.glienicke-bridge.com .

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Although it simply looks like a faded white line, this was the official border line, up until 1989. The bridge itself, as a memorial to this, is painted two different shades of green.

Next step was Sanssouci, which translates in french to “carefree”. This was a very pretty place, and to save on my typing, Wikipedia has a full article about it here. Here’s a photo of it though…

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The last stop was Park Sanssouci’s New Palace. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch much of what the tour guide said about this place, for some reason. I just remember very big, impressive buildings. I think I was more concerned about the fact that I was only on day 4, and I’d almost used all of my camera batteries. I’d changed to the final set earlier in the day.

That was the last stop, and the tour was over. We now had a choice of where to get off. We decided to get off where the Postdam Brandenburg gate was, which I photographed earlier. I had a feeling that getting off at a strange place would mean only one thing – getting lost… The majority won (Jonathan and Chirs), so we got off. Turns out that the main shopping street appeared to be right next to the Brandenburg Gate…

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Chris’s first concern was to find a cash machine, so while he disappeared into the distance, Jonathan and I (ooh, correct grammeration) sat around patiently. To my right, I spotted a perfectly normal looking clothes store. As I had now been wearing the same t-shirt for 3 days, I decided I needed to buy a new one, just in case my laundry didn’t make it back to my hotel room. The price was €12, and I had €15 in my wallet… didn’t fancy spending that, but I had already spied a credit card reader next to the counter. I delved deep into my wallet, and got the old bit of plastic marked “Visa” out… “Ahh, nein”, was the response from the (admittedly friendly) shop assistant, who I assume ran her own shop… bugger.

At this point, she must have realised as I was English, as I say, in best Hartlepudlian, “Er… what about this one?”, totally forgetting that “I wasn’t in Kansas anymore”…. I flap my wallet about frantically, pulling out my credit card, hoping that the Mastercard logo would bring a smile to her face, and allow me to insert my flexible blue plastic into her crusty grey slot. Again, she shrugged her shoulders, smiled politely, obviously realising that there was a 600-mile language gap here…

I had no choice but to hand over the last of my Monopoly Money (€’s) to pay for the t-shirt. I exited the shop with the t-shirt in a little plastic bag. Good stuffs. Slight problem was, that I was now completely skint. I had three coins to my name. Clearly, my cards were useless over here, which dismayed me somewhat.

Me and Jonathan stood around for what felt like an hour, waiting for Chris to come back into view. He did, eventually, clutching two boxes of chess-piece chocolates, and informing us both that we was also full of ice cream…. righty-ho. He was only supposed to be looking for a bloody cash machine.

We walked up the main shopping street, I took another load of photos, walked back down, and went to a bar pretty much next to the Brandenburg Gate for a quick drink. I visited the toilet, and froze on the spot…. I could see a door marked “Herren”, but where the fuck was “Himmen”? Suddenly, I remembered the scene in Auf Weidersehen Pet, where Dennis comes out of the bogs, and I remembered that “Herren” was the correct one. Two words about (some) German toilets… you have to flush the urinals yourself, and the taps are very confusing. I was amused to see that the paper towel dispensers were *exactly* the same as the ones we have at work. I didn’t expect that.

We finished our drinks, and headed for the bus back to the train station. The bus stop had very comfortable seats. At this point, let me give you some safet advice for visiting germany. CYCLE LANES ARE NOT A SERVING SUGGESTION. They take them very seriously. Me and Chris had claimed the comfy metal seats, and Jonathan was just loitering. From my left side, I hear a bike bell ringing… “Tringeling… Tring. Tringeling.”…. I see a biker approaching. He doesn’t slow down, instead he just keeps ringing his bell, louder and faster. I look to my right….

“Jonathan…. you’re standing on…..” [closeup to my face, wide eyes, blood draining from face] “…… RED TARMAC!!! JESUS CHRIST, MAN! GET OUT OF THE WAY!

Jonathan takes a step back onto the paving stones next to the cycle lane, Herr Bikerren gives us all a dirty look, and continues on his way. By this time, the bus was due. It arrived something like 3 minutes late, and we were almost disappointed – after the train journey, we expected everything to run like clockwork. We boarded the bus, and thankfully it was air conditioned. Wonderful. We were stood under the cold air vents for the whole journey to the station.

It had clouded over by this point, and there were a few spots of rain falling from the sky. We entered the station, and were confronted by the awful fear of… “Um, where do we go now?” Jonathan hovered around the exit, clutching a map, trying to plot on the map where we would need to go. After almost going up to the platforms which allowed NATIONAL travel, we realised that the green signs with “S” printed on them are where we needed to go after all.

We boarded a stationary train (well, OK, I didn’t fancy boarding a moving train, but you know what I mean) similar to the one we got there. We sat down, and prayed that it would go in the right direction. The train door alarms bleeped, the doors shut, the train engine started up, and we were in the move….. in completely the right direction. Phew. The half-hour jorney back was entirely uninteresting, which is why I took this photo…


See? Totally uninteresting. Great fun, though.

Eventually, the Friedrichstrasse station approached, and we disembarked. The station was literally only a hundred yards or so away from the hotel. In fact, this shows how close it is.

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This was taken from my hotel room – You actually exit the station underneath that bridge. Not far at all.

We return to the hotel, and Chris forces his chocolates into the minibar fridge. He does this by removing the entire contents, and leaving it all to stew on the top of the fridge. I’m not sure whether the hotel actually approved of this, but it’s better than carrying useless, melted chocolates for the entire journey back to England.

I return to my room, to find that the hotel elves had indeed washed my clothes, and they were conveniently hanging with the receipt stuck on top of them… the cost?

Forty-three Euros, fifty cents. That’s (according to xe.com) $59.59, £29.25, 7,104 Japanese Yen.

My jaw didn’t just drop, it almost fell out. Christ, that was more than what I paid for them originally. Though, it was done, my clothes were washed, and everything was A-OK… surely. You’d like to think so.

I slipped into my jeans, which I don’t normally need a belt for, only to find that I couldn’t go three steps without them falling around my ankles. Whether this was to do with weight loss, or the fact they’d stretched during the hotel laundry process remains a mystery. I’ll never know. Either way, I got changed, and put on a nice, clean shirt. I’d arranged with Chris and Jonathan that I’d meet them in 10 minutes, downstairs in the bar, so we could make our way along to the eaterie establishment that we’d chosen for that particualr evening. I think we’d arranged to go back to the Kartoffelkeller.

Unfortunately, during this time I’d lost my pass card for the room. I’d obviously left it somewhere in the room, but could I fuck find it. Eventually, I’d tracked it down to being in my wallet. Gah. I knock on their room door, and… got absolutely no response. No sign of life at all. Piss. They’d obviously gone without me – maybe I’d got the message confused, and by ‘bar’ they didn’t mean the hotel bar. Meh, I knew where external bar was, and I was a big boy, so I wasn’t too fussed. I walked round to the kartoffelkeller, expecting to see then tucking into masses of… kartoffel. Unfortunately, there was no sign of them, and by now, it was raining heavily. I returned back to the hotel room, slapped on the telly, and pouched some crisps I’d bought earlier in the week, thinking this was going to be my night in. Shortly after, there was a knock on the door. It was Chris, wondering where I’d been.

I explained the story, he explained how I’d already left before he knocked, and before we all went anywhere, we had a pint (rather, 500ML) in the hotel bar, and headed off to the chosen food outlet. We changed our minds, and headed to the Argentinian steakhouse over the road from the Kartoffelkeller. Personally, I didn’t have any major food – Chris got an extra portion of fries, whcih I helped demolish. In hindsight, I wish I’d ordered a proper meal, as it looked nice, though I’d pouched a (really) large bag of chipsticks only minutes before so I wasn’t really hungry. On the subject of crisps, they only have two real flavours of crisp in Germany… paprika and ready salted. This suits me down to the ground – I love both.

Anyway, we finished up, and headed off to the Karteoffelkeller, where we had another couple of half-litres. Someone nearby was smoking joints too. It smelled like my old college staffroom. Even weirder is that I think they were English.

We drank up, and headed back to the hotel. It was late by this time, and we needed another early start to make the most of our 72-hour pass… but where do we go next? Stay tuned, you might find out in a fortnight…

Day three!

OK, now we’re getting to the business end, and possibly a lot more photos to come.

I was awoken abruptly at 7AM by the building site across the road from the hotel drilling away. And, considering I was hungover, I decided the best thing to do was take a little walk. Chris and Jonathan were obviously still sleeping, and I couldn’t understand the telly, so I thought I’d pop out and see some of the sights on my own.

Now, if you remember the picture I’d taken from the hotel window, there were some cafes and bars across the river. We hadn’t been near these at all, so I thought I’d start my walk by checking these out. I noticed the menus were also printed in English, and the meals actually looked reasonably priced. Somewhere different to eat. This WAS a good sign.

I decided to follow the river for a bit to see where it goes. Despite the fact that we’d taken a bus trip less than a day before, I’d forgotten where any of the sights were. Imagine my surprise when I followed the river for no more than 10 minutes, and ended up standing in the grounds of the Reichstag, the German parliament building In fact, it was the big glass dome visible from the hotel window. And I didn’t even realise! I broke out the camera.

Unfortunately, during my exploration of the grounds, I came across the most harrowing part of the entire trip. Around the edge of the grounds are large concrete blocks which double up as seating, and prevent cars from entering the pedestrianised bit. Next to one of these blocks was a large, fresh bloodstain on the ground, with a swastika scrawled in permanent marker next to it. I suddenly felt very uneasy, and strangely cold. It hit me for a few seconds, that I was in a strange country where I couldn’t speak the language, and entirely on my own. It was intimidating to say the least. I even felt like I needed to look over my shoulder a couple of times.

I took my mind off it by taking yet more photos, all of which are on my flickr. On the subject of my flickr, I realise that several hundred photos are a lot to look through. Therefore, my Personal top 20 is available, including 21 of my favourite photos so far. I *still* haven’t got through them all, so this may change as I upload more images.

Anyway, back to my walk. After taking shots of the Reichstag, I walked over to the train station, as to my surprise, it was simply a few hundred yards from where I was standing.

The trip on the previous day made it feel much further away. I had three reasons to visit the station. The first was to take photos of it, the second was to buy some bottled water (I noticed they had an offer on it while Chris was buying those big cans), and thirdly, to take better photos of the sandcastle sculpture things.

You could take closer looks at the sculptures if you really wanted to… for the “measly” sum of €6. But, considering you could take photos of it from a nearby road bridge, like I did, there wasn’t much point.

I took some pictures of a nearby historic bridge, and began to head back to the hotel. Hopefully, Chris and Jonathan would be awake by this time.

No, they weren’t.

I retreated to my hotel room fora while, and flicked through the German telly. I was amazed to see something I recognised, straight away.


Yes, it’s CASH CAB! But entirely in German! As they don’t call them cabs over there, it was known as “Quiz Taxi”, but from what I can gather, the idea of the show was exactly the same. Shortly after, Jonathan knocked on my room door, and explained that they’d finally woken. I explained to him that I’d found some good eateries over the river, and pointed them out to him. Chris eventually surfaced too, so we headed over to them for some brekkers.

We sat outside, as it seemed to be the thing to do. Everyone else was. Me and Chris opted for a hot fresh pretzel with butter, Jonathan decided to go for the currywurst. We ordered our stuff by pointing at the menu, and stating that we would like TWO pretzels. TWO. Quite clearly. TWO.

After about 20 minutes, my pretzel arrived. Jonathan’s Currywurst arrived. And Chris ended up with… something… wrapped in foil, covered in what looked like sick. Clearly, this wasn’t a pretzel. As I demolished mine, Chris sat there, looking at his monstrousity, wondering how to say “I didn’t order this” in German. Eventually, we called the waitress over, and told her that we simply didn’t order this. In English. Grudgingly, the plate disappeared back into the building and a few minutes later, it was replaced with a pretzel. Hurrah! We eventually had our order, and we had a waitress who looked like she was about to commit suicide. Everyone’s a winner!

After checking the receipt carefully to make sure we hadn’t been charged for whatever that thing was, we paid and left. Despite the waitress’s error, I still enjoyed the pretzel, and decided I would go again at some point.

At this point, we began to plan the day, and what we would do for the rest of it. Checkpoint Charlie was only up the road, so we deicded to visit that. On the way there, we spied something rather amazing.

Yes, this IS a Bugatti Veyron. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever felt humbled in the presence of a car. It’s like a work of art. Ever since I saw it on Top Gear, I always wondered if and when I would ever see one in the flesh.

The building it was in was actually like a shopping centre for new cars. Each manufacturer had their own shop, with their latest and most expensive models on display… most of them you could sit in, and play with.

We lost Chris for about 20 minutes at this point, as he went and sat in some of the cars and twiddled with the buttons of various expensive cars. eventually, he reappaeared, and we continued up Friedrichstrasse towards Checkpoint Charlie.

The subtle hints that we were approaching it came thick and fast. I couldn’t help but laugh at a hotel sign which read “Check In, Charlie!”.

Moving on swiftly, the site of Checkpoint Charlie is now surrounded by 10 foot high boards with detailed descriptions of the history of both Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall itself. Very informative, and very interesting. This was the point where I realised my bank card worked in bank machines here, which I was thankful about, because at that point, I probably had about €80 to last me the rest of the week.

I took more photos (as usual), and we started the long walk home, but not before Chris bought an old Military police cap, and a piece of the Berlin Wall embedded in a postcard as a souvenir.

We returned back to the hotel and got changed. Well, Chris and Jonathan got changed. It was hard for me to get changed, as I’d handed all of my ruined clothes into the reception to get cleaned. More about that later. I knew, however, that tomorrow evening I’d at least be able to get out of the manky t-shirt I was wearing, and get some decent clothes on. Still, I had to wear it for one more day.

Either way, back on to the evening. We went across the river again onto the cafes to get something to eat. We stopped at one place on the corner which was a bit expensive and didn’t really have anything I fancied, so while Chris and Jonathan had a meal, I decided I would go back to the indian later, and pouch another curry. Which I did, and it was very nice. Chris and Jonathan both tagged along, and I must admit to feeling a little greedy having a curry on my own while they just had drinks. Either way, I paid for the drinks to make up for it. I really, really enjoyed the curry.

During the meal, however, I explained that I knew where the Reichstag was. As the evening was setting in and the sun was going down, we decided to take a walk over to it, following the path I’d taken earlier in the day.

I took another load of photos, including this particularly nice sunset.

Weather-wise, this sums everything up, except for the last day.

After visiting the Reichstag, Chris told me that the Brandenburg gate was only a few hundred yards away. I was surpised, as even though we’d apparently passed it on the tour the previous day, I had no idea where it was.

We got there, and it appears one hell of a lot smaller and less significant than it does on telly.

Acer Image
Acer Image

You can tell how much of a tourist attraction the place is though. Some unknown guy pulled up in his Ford Mustang, and began to take pohots of his car (and his poodle in the back seat)

He seemed to be less than happy that everyone else in the surrounding area also seemed to be taking photos of his car too. Including me.

By the time we’d finished walking round and dropped some more freshly purchased souvenirs back at the hotel, it was about 10:30. We headed along the same bars and cafes for a couple more drinks. We ended up in some place called the Kartoffelkeller… the literal translaton of which, is “Potato Cellar”. We’d already eaten, so we didn’t order food, but we picked up a menu, and intended to visit later in the week. By this point, I was shattered more than the other two, so I was happy to call it an early night… at 1AM.

The eye op

(originally posted to comp.sys.sinclair, and tidied up for on here :)

WOOOOHHHOOOOOO! aye, aye… I’m back… but only for a short time! I’ve had my operation, and I’m well on the road to recovery! The worst bit is currently getting my brain calibrated to have two working eyes! I’m seeing double of everything, and it’s too painful to focus… still, anyway, I might as well do a rundown of Tuesday…

10 AM

Arrive at the Sunderland Eye Infirmary, with Chris, a mate of mine that offered to tag along. Played pool on the wobbliest pool table I’ve ever seen in my life. Not nervous at all.

11 AM

The nurse came to give me my little arm strap thing… I laughably ask if that’s for when they carry me down the morgue… :) Obviously, still not nervous.

12 PM

Things finally start happening… I get seen by a nurse who checks my breathing, heartbeat + blood pressure. All healthy. Cool. Nervous??? Nope… I then got changed into a pair of shorts and one of those STUPID “Hospital Use Only” gown things. And could I hell fasten it.

Chatted with Chris for ages while getting seen by various people. The anesthetist came, and explained that I’ll be getting a little prick in my hand (f’narrrr!). Nervousness scale? 0.

1 PM

The guy who was going to do my operation then came to see me, and explained that there was a cancellation, and I’d be moved up the list. Still not nervous. Chatted and joked about the state of the useless hospital gown, and the fact everybody could see the hair on my chest.

2 PM

There was a phonecall at the nurse’s desk… “Jamie? Yeah, he can walk down to theatre”… joked to Chris about what play I was going to see.

2.05 PM

Started off walking down to the theatre with the nurse. I’ve never felt so weird in my life. Obviously, Chris could only go so far before it was no access. Strangely enough, that’s when I got nervous.

That’s when I knew it was happening. For the first time, it hit me just what I was going to go through. Panic set in the second I saw the sight of one of those portable heart-jolt things…

At this point, one of the anaesthetic guys came out, and led me to the trolley. PANIC MODE = MAXIMUM… I somehow managed to get onto the trolley, and they lowered my head down. At this point, I REALLY started to panic. The sight of the heart monitor next to me didn’t help any, and being hooked up to it really didn’t help any… fear then became an audible bleep in my left ear. Then, it started… the anesthetist came out, and inserted one of those plastic things into my right hand, and I felt about half a pint of
blood squirt out from the vein. “Oh, how pleasant”, I thought. But if that’s all I had to worry about, things were going great. Thankfully, all I could see were the fluorescent lights on the ceiling.

And then, sleepytime came… he inserted something into my hand, which made me feel woozy, and then I had enough time to feel another whoosh of chemical enter my bloodstream before passing out.


I came around, and knew absolutely fuck all. I awoke in exactly the same position underneath the same lamps, and I didn’t even realise I’d had the op. The first thing I remember was trying to pull the plastic thing out of my hand, and someone saying something along the lines of “Don’t touch it!”. I was taken back to my bed on the same trolley, and I can still remember
the white glint of the Pepsi machine I’d bought a can out of only a day before.

I was helped back onto my bed, and there I lay. Chris returns, and I spent the next hour or two drifting in and out of consciousness. In fact, I can’t recall anything else from that time period, apart from being in a cold sweat, and feeling generally awful. My eye was, and still is, constantly watering, although this is normal.


A special guest appears… my dad! Thankfully, the effects of the anaesthetic were starting to wear off slightly, and I was able to sit
upright for a bit, and drink some water. I felt a whole lot better. That is, until I started to feel sick, eventually leading to my throwing up, and completely filling one of those Papier Mache kidney dishes with bright yellow, clear liquid. I felt more guilty than anything else!! It’s bad enough hearing anyone throwing up, but actually being literally inches away from it…


My dad took Chris home, it must have been a long day for him, and watching me just lying there can’t have been very thrilling for him…

Also, I couldn’t keep my eyes open for long periods, which made it worse. I thought, while my dad was away, I’d try and get some sleep. Famous last words. No sooner had he left, then about 6 people came to visit the old guy over the ward from me… oh, what fun. They didn’t stop arguing. I gave absolutely no sign that I was awake,and I was rather amused when they started talking about me :) Nothing much was said, obviously. My dad returns, and I was still drowsy and irritated by not being able to keep my eyes open….


The final tests came to see if I was over the anaesthetic, to see if I could eat + drink without throwing up, and pass urine. They gave me 4 slices of toast and a cup of tea… I strangely didn’t like toast until last night, but actually, I quite enjoyed it. It thankfully stayed down, and the trip to the toilet was a huge success. Woohoo, I was on my way home. They gave me some drops for my eye (which I have to put in 4 times a day) and finally removed the plastic doobrie from my hand.


I left, and my dad drove me home. The journey was particularly awful. I could still not keep my eyes open fully, and when I could, the bright amber streetlights along the A19 made things look worse… bleh. I got in, and went straight to bed.



I got up, and found that my eye had been watering all night, and most of it had dried on my nose. Urgh. I got up, and checked the post… more eBay cheques, and a Bruce Hornsby tape. I still felt grotty. I got my first look at my eye… ewww…. that’s all I’ll say. :) The first couple of hours were a learning experience… getting my eyes to synchronise. Weirdness abounds. I decided to switch on something totally unstimulating. Wimbledon first, and then the Teletubbies. Ahem.


I decided to give my eye its first trip out, and my stomach its first half decent meal for two days, as I went down the chippy. I thankfully made it there and back, and the chips were lovely.


I slept on the sofa while listening to Wimbledon again.


My dad returned home from work… there was very little to do, so I watched telly.


After watching a hilarious Simpsons (which I hadn’t actually seen), I decided I’d seen enough telly, and it was time to test my eyes on the computer. surprisingly (to me anyway), I still feel comfortable using it, although my brain gets occasionally confused, and I start typing on the wrong part of the keyboard… eeep!

And… erm, that’s it! I’m onto line #171 here, and I’ve probably all bored you to death :) Like I said, I’ll be quiet for the next week or two, at least until I can focus properly without having a searing pain shooting through the right side of my head… :)