Monday, March 20, 2017

Romania

Needing a change of scenery, I decided to take another weekend trip outside of Berlin. This time, I was eastbound. I was browsing Ryanair's deals and found some extremely cheap flights to Bucharest, Romania, and thought "why not!" My dad has been there once and absolutely loved it, and I have always wanted to see a bit more of Eastern Europe, so this was a perfect opportunity to start!
I didn't know much about Bucharest or Romania in general, other than Dracula, of course, so it was really nice that everything was new. It was also the first time in a very, very long time that I went to a country where I didn't know the language, and I loved being out of my element.

Bucharest may not be the most beautiful city in Europe, but it definitely has personality and a ton of history. I went on a walking tour where I discovered a lot about the different architecture styles; French, Turkish, Communist, Roman, to name a few. People from all over came through Romania with the Silk Route and left a piece of their culture behind or settled and brought their own architecture with them. The Communist architecture is the most noticeable since it is the most recent part of Romania's history. They're gigantic buildings, very square, very stern.



The biggest of them all if the Palace of the Parliament, the second biggest administrative building in the world (the Pentagon being the biggest) and my goodness is it ever huge! Unfortunately, it was closed due to the recent protests in the city (peaceful protests against the corruption in the government), but the outside was still very impressive!


The food was absolutely incredible. Romanians love porc and serve it with everything, and they sure know how to cook it! The best part of the food though, is the traditional dessert called "Papanasi," a sort of cheese dumpling or doughnut topped with sour creme and jam. It may sound like a strange mix, but it's actually amazing! The sour creme neutralizes a bit of the jam's sugar and gives it a perfectly balances taste that you won't be able to get enough of.

A trip to Romania would be nothing without a trip to Transylvania and a visit to Dracula's castle. Transylvania is a beautiful part of the country just beyond the Carpathian mountains and the view from every angle is breathtaking. I did a day trip where we headed to Peles Castle, a castle that was built by Romania's first king, King Carol I. It's near the top of the mountain, has incredible views and the castle itself is the definition of luxury itself. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside, though, but I can tell you, the details in the statues, even the staircase pillars were mesmerizing.





After Peles, we headed to the famous Bran Castle, known as Dracula's castle. This castle was in fact built as a fortress and border control at the borders of Romania and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since 1212, the first version of the castle, it has been destroyed and been rebuilt many many times. It is perched on top of the mountain to get the best view of the ancient border wall.

Secret Tunnel in the castle

Ancient Border Wall



The story of Dracula is actually an interesting one. In the 15th century, Romania had a king or ruler named Vlad the Empaler, or Vlad Tepes. He was famous for using empaling as a form of torture and execution. He had found a way to empale people so that the stake would miss the important organs and drag out death for 18-24 hours. All this, mixed with the fact that his father was often named "Dracul" which meant "the Devil" and Vlad was then "Dracula," of "the Son of the Devil," and all the other legends of Romania, an Irish author (who had never been to Romania) was inspired to write his famous novel, Dracula. Though Vlad may have never drank blood, or even lived at Bran Castle, he became famous once again for a whole different reason. Bran Castle was only chosen as his castle because it was the castle that fit the description in the book.
The things you learn, am I right?!

The tour ends in the beautiful city of Brasov, with a Hollywood-type sign above on the mountain and a beautiful central square where you can find musicians and the best restaurant of the city. On a sunny day like we had, everyone is in the square, enjoying the sunshine.




One thing that surprised me the most was how lively Bucharest was. The streets are extremely busy at all hours of the day. It may be the capital and not as big as Berlin (1 million people compared to Berlin's 4 million), but it felt busier. Also, it seemed like everyone could speak English, and very well at that! Everyone was very friendly and I never once felt suspicious or in danger. It still needs a lot of progress and work, but Bucharest is definitely an incredible city to visit. I wish I had spent a bit longer to see all the museums and all its quirks!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

In early February, I headed to London for the weekend (like the typical European I now am) to go see the newest addition to the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I bought my tickets over a year ago, not willing to take a chance in the tickets selling out or the play ending before I got to see it.
I have heard a lot of mixed reviews about it... Many people who had read the script alone had said it wasn't anything close to something Rowling would have written, and those who had seen the play were completely amazed. I decided to wait to see the play to read the script/book and I'm so glad I did.



The two parts of the play happen in the Palace Theatre, an enormous and beautiful theatre in the West End, the sort of "theatre district" of London. It's surrounded by small cafés and other theatres, but this one stands out with its red brick face and of course, the giant Cursed Child logo on the front. There are about 1,400 seats and is sold out every night!

The verdict? I'm torn.

The play itself, was amazing! The script was great, the actors were extremely talented, the sets were so clever and the entire mise-en-scène was spectacular. Being a story about magic, they managed to have spells with light, fire, things and people lifting up in the air, even a scene under water and not one of these special effects seemed cheap. You could hear the sighs and "wow!"s or the crowd with each new special effect and sometimes even just from the dialogue. Both nights when the curtain fell over the stage, we all left the theatre in total awe and excitement.

The story itself, on the other hand, I'm not so fond of. If you take the play for a single piece of theatre unrelated to the Harry Potter series, then it's fantastic. But if you consider it a part of the series, you'll be quite disappointed by the story. Without giving any spoilers away, I'll try to explain what I mean. The play is set 19 years later, and starts exactly where book 7 left off, on the platform 3/4, with Harry's kids leaving for Hogwarts. Of course, we have a whole new set of characters, but also a lot of familiar faces coming back as we find out what happened to them as well. I don't know about you, but people don't usually change drastically when they go from their teenage years to their adult years, at least not a whole 180 in personality.
There were so many characters that would say or do things and I kept thinking "No way, they would never ever do/say that!" A few events also made me shake my head, thinking it would be impossible for this to happen, making the story a little hard to believe, if -and only if- you take it straight from Harry Potter.

I compare it a little bit with The Hobbit movies, with all the extra storylines they added that were unnecessary. As a movie on its own, it's great, but if you follow the story, it's not so great. Cursed Child is much the same.

All in all though, it was a really wonderful play and would still recommend that every Harry Potter fan should see it.  Five years after the last movie and nine years after the last book, we get to dive into our favourite story all over again.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Catching Up

I keep opening this page, writing words, erasing them and giving up. I've been trying to write for a few months but I can never find the right words or the motivation to finish a post. Writer's block is killer! I just have to force myself to write and eventually, things will roll off the tip of my fingers.

My last post was three months ago! A lot of things have happened since and also, well a lot of things have happened before that last post that I didn't mention, so let's get started!


I've been living in Berlin for over a year now and I still love it. It was really really tough at first, but now things have finally seemed to settle and life is so much better, even if life is always going to be somewhat stressful.... I managed to get a new visa to extend my stay in Germany for another two years! I didn't get just any kind of visa. I got a freelance visa, which brings me to my next piece of news. I changed careers. Well that's a bit of an exaggeration, seeing as I have never really had a career to begin with, but I went for entry-level cook jobs to actually finding something I could see myself doing for a very long time. I started working as a language teacher! I now teach English and French at various schools in Berlin, ranging from kids to adults and I love it.  I have also decided to go back to another love of mine and will be starting as a tour guide next week! Ironic how I came to Germany to speak German and I end up teaching and touring in English instead, right?

Another big thing that's new is moving in with my boyfriend! I had been spending more at his place than at my own (I have had crazy roommate after crazy roommate), and it just seemed logical for me to stay. It was almost more his idea than mine, so no one can say I pushed it on him ;)
It was quite the adjustment at first, but I really love living with him. His roommates have become my friends and it has become my home and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. It's also a big bonus that he is a very good cook!

One thing that hasn't change is that I am still running and traveling, and still craving any and every race I can find, any destination I can reach. I have quite a few races and trips planned for this year and I will talk about those soon in an upcoming post! The one thing about running that is different is that I joined a running group! Adidas Runners is an amazing group that offers runs every day, and workouts on most days, giving everyone a chance to run when they can, morning or evening, yoga, core training, pace training, etc all for free. It has become a community and though the season only started about a month ago, I am absolutely loving this sense of community and the friendships I have started forming! Running with these people and seeing them run extremely fast gives a renewed motivation to run, which is always a good thing! There's a point system so the more you participate, the more points you accumulate and get to be part of special events, get free registrations to races or all kinds of other goodies like community t-shirts or a discount at the exclusive store! All bonus things you get for being part of a wonderful, slightly crazy running community.

I promise I will be writing more frequently from now on! A lot of exciting things are happening this year and I can't wait to share it all with you!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Let's See How Far We've Come

I'm back!
I haven't written anything since July.... I tried, many many times, but I just didn't have the motivation anymore, then when I changed jobs, I just didn't have the time anymore. I did miss blogging, but couldn't bring myself to pick it up again. Then my sister messaged me yesterday asking me to write more and even giving me a list of ideas to write about! So I might as well write something for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and after that, we will see what happens. I have a ton of stuff to catch everyone up on!
2016 has been a rollercoaster of a year. A ton of good and a whole lot of bad as well. Even though the bad is easy to remember and complain about, I will try to concentrate on the good. After all, the good parts of life is what keeps us living.

2016: A Year in Review
January
January was amazing. I left Winnipeg on January 5th to start my travels in Great Britain. I landed in lively but rainy Dublin, explored the overwhelming Cliffs of Moher, spent a few days in Belfast and took a tour of the breathtaking Giant's Causeway, then flew to Glasgow. This is where things changed for me. Walking through Glasgow and taking a trip to the Highlands up to Loch Ness is how I fell completely in love with Scotland. Even more so in Edinburgh. There's just something about the Highlands that stay with you, touch your soul somehow. Edinburgh, this beautiful, old city where you feel like you stepped through time as you walk down the Royal Mile, was incredible. After the short love affair with this incredible country and vowing to come back as soon as I could, I headed south to Liverpool, to follow the steps of The Beatles. Heading more south, I visited a friend in Bristol, and together we visited Stonehenge before I made my way to London.





February
I finished my incredible trip with 10 days in London where I stayed with a friend of mine. Admittedly, I spent most of my time on the Tube, trying to get to one end of the city to another in order to really see as much as possible, but I did explore a whole lot of what London had to offer, including the Harry Potter Studios, one of the highlights of the trip! After fast-paced London tired me out, I flew over to Germany to visit my host family in Kassel, who had hosted me during my student exchange in 2013. I visited for a few days, but soon enough, it was time to start my new life in Berlin, where I had decided to spend a year. I was living in a hostel in the mean time and had a job lined up at a museum, so everything seemed to be coming together nicely. I started my job at the museum, which ended up being an unimportant internship where we had maybe one task a day and the rest of the time we tried to keep ourselves busy with random things on the internet (or blogging, in my case). I finally found a temporary apartment when my hostel room was robbed clean... I lost all my valuables aside from my phone, laptop, passport and money, which I thankfully had on me. But that meant my GoPro, my brand-new Polaroid camera, all my charging cables (including my laptop cable), my backpack which they used to take everything, and heartbreakingly enough, my running shoes. I gave a statement to the police (all in German, I might add), and then called my mom, crying. She told me to wipe my tears, that things would turn out okay. And they did.


March
March was a good month. Though there wasn't anything incredible that happened, it was when life seemed to have finally stabilized itself. I joined and sometimes organized a running group, where I met my running friend Gaurav, and just simply enjoyed living in the wonderful city that is Berlin.

April
I started the month by running the Berlin Half Marathon, which didn't go quite as I had hoped, but it was still a great race. The weather was incredible and I was lucky to be in Berlin. A week later, I ran the Airport Night Run, another half marathon, this one taking place on the not-yet-finished airport just outside Berlin, where I beat my personal record by NINE seconds! At the end of April, I found a new job in a restaurant, which was full time and paid a great deal more than the internship salary of the museum. So I went from invisible intern to full-time waitress.



May
In May I found a new, more permanent place to live and spent a lot of time running around the neighbourhood, which bordered the great Tiergarten, the "Central Park" of Berlin. I got injured, of course, with a case of Achille's Tendonitis, but that wasn't going to stop me. I joined the gym across the street from my apartment and started working out instead of running.

June
For my 21st birthday, I flew to Scotland and ran a half marathon on the Isle of Skye, where I renewed my deep love for the country. I camped in a campground just outside the capital of Skye, Portree. The whole island seemed to be straight out of a Scottish legend. Every gust of wind, every rock, mountain, moor and river has a story and you can feel it surround you. I dream of going back to Skye just to see its beauty again. Once I got back to Berlin, my parents came to visit for two weeks and together we explored a bit of more Berlin together. We hadn't seen each other in six months, so you could imagine how good it was to see them!




July
I worked hard in July, barely taking a day off, slowly dying from the suffocating heat. It seemed to be the month of travelling for everyone else as I had a ton of visitors! There was a solid two-week period where I was constantly spending time with people from home that were in Berlin! Between that and the running, it was definitely not a boring month.

August
In August, I ran my 10th (yes, TENTH!) half-marathon! I ran it in Rostock, a small harbour town in Northern Germany. Though the terrain and route was clearly never meant to be ran as a marathon, it was still a beautiful area and nothing beat the feeling of hitting the double digits. Right after I got back to Berlin, it was now my sister's turn to come visit! We found each other at the airport, nearly in tears, and then made sure to see as much of the city as possible. My sister really did her research; she had a list of things she wanted to see and what others had recommended she saw. We topped off her visit with a quick day trip to Tropical Islands, this amazing indoor tropical world just outside Berlin. Right when she left, I found a new job at a new restaurant as the boss of the other place had decided to shut down the restaurant and gave me a week's warning, so miraculously, I managed to find something else very quickly.




September
I slowly started adjusting to the new job, with an insane schedule. We were so low-staffed that we were all working way too much. But they invited me to join them in a team run in the Olympic Stadium. These types of run are very popular in Berlin; teams from different companies get together to run a 5km race or something as a relay. We definitely weren't the fastest, but it was so nice to be part of the team! The rest of September was spent really training for the impeding marathon, though it was really tough as we had a crazy Indian Summer with temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius...!



October
I ran my first FULL marathon in October! It was most definitely not the time I had hoped for, but I finished it and I was damn proud. I had met my mom in Munich to then road trip together to Lindau, a beautiful city-island on the Lake Constance in Southern Germany, where the race would start. This marathon is quite special: it stretches over three countries over its 42km. During this run, I ran in Germany, Austria and Switzerland! It's an absolutely beautiful area of Europe and I'm so glad I got to see it. We even did a small detour to visit Liechtenstein, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber on our way back to Munich. All in all, it was a really, really great trip.




November
Complaining of stomach pains, I went to my doctor to try and see what was wrong, and was sent to a specialist, who told me it was appendicitis and that "I have time today if you want, we can have it out within the hour, or we can wait a couple of weeks to see if it gets worse." So, 2 hours later, I woke up post-surgery. Talk about Germany efficiency! I was in the hospital for two nights, and then within 5 days, was back on my feet as if nothing had happened. Of course, one of the incisions got infected and I had to get it re-opened and cleaned out, because life can never be that simple, but once that was done, all was well again! While I was recovering, I took an online TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and got certified to teach English. After sending a few emails to different schools, I landed three different job interviews and got two of the jobs! On top of offers to hire me once I got my visa for next year!


December
Christmas time in Germany is like non other. Markets and beautiful lights everywhere... It's magical. My good friend Megan came to visit and we explored the Christmas Markets as well as all the rest of Berlin, as any good tourist should. The day after she left, there was an attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin. One of the ones I had been too a couples day prior. It was heartbreaking and terrifying, but the Berliners are a tough bunch and within a few days, life went back to normal. I, on the other hand, ended up on the news across Canada, radio, television and online, as I gave an interview about the events. I hadn't been there the night of, but as a Winnipegger/Canadian in Berlin, they had wanted to know what I thought. I got my fifteen minutes of fame!
Christmas rolled around and it was a good one. I spent a lot of time on Skype with my family, had dinner at my boyfriend's parents' place and worked quite a bit as well, but all in all, it was a good holiday season. Berlin has truly become home.
Now here we are, it's the end of the year, and I'm looking back on this incredible year. So much happened in 2016, and I cannot wait to see what 2017 has in store for me.


What are your best memories of 2016?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Teufelsberg

After the Second World War, Berlin was in ruins... So what do you do with rubble and ruins of thousands upon thousands of buildings? Well in Berlin, there's a place called Teufelsberg (Devi's Mountain). This mountain is a man-made mountain in the west of the city. It's one of the highest points in the city and it is where they stored some of the war's debris. It was created in the 20 years following the war, with over 75,000,000 cubic meters of rubble. Underneath all this was a Nazi-military college that was still under construction, and on top of this mountain? A US NSA listening station called Field Station Berlin, built during the Cold War. After the war, the building was abandoned and eventually taken over by a group who takes care of the place, and it has now become a huge street art/graffiti exhibit.

It's a pretty amazing place with so much history, though most of it is not visible on its surface. The debris was covered with greenery to try and mask/beautify the area, and without knowing what the buildings were, you would have no idea that they were an American spy station.

It's quite a long walk to get there, but it's definitely worth it. This is such a different thing to visit; very typical of Berlin in a way: it's quite hidden, not very advertised, not exactly beautiful in any way, but full of history and you can spend hours there, wandering and wondering.

Rather than try to explain it, I'll just show you. Here are some pictures of Teufelsberg!




















Bella Lulu Ink Blog