Time and Space – Part 2: Don’t Fear the Reeperbahn, Berlin, and Beyond

I left Copenhagen and my dearest Nora after a week and a half of Danish bliss and took the train south and then a ferry across the Baltic Sea to another train on the other side, in Germany.

My snack on the train! And a good book to read

My snack on the train! And a good book to read

I arrived in Hamburg that afternoon and checked into my hostel – a room with four beds, two of them occupied by very sweet Taiwanese girls. I went off in search of a vegan restaurant I found online, The Loving Hut (turns out to be a chain – I love finding vegan food in Europe!). After dinner, I continued on foot, crossing little bridges and admiring the architectural details – grimacing faces scowling from the cornices.

Fish face grimace

Fish face grimace

I wandered into a lovely garden park and spent some time there as the sun sank low in the sky. A temporary amusement park shimmered beyond the green of the garden, a large ferris wheel glowed blue. I decided to check out the city’s famous Reeperbahn – a street that runs not far from the port that is the source of Hamburg’s wealth.

Plants und Blom - Garden near the center of Hamburg

Plants und Blom – Garden near the center of Hamburg

Dom amusement park

Dom amusement park

I walked toward the Reeperbahn and there was no mistaking it: neon lights and restaurants which proclaimed “authentic American food” (the mind reels).

I walked down the Vegas-like strip, sex shops and stripclubs advertising their wares. Suddenly, I found myself in front of a row of some of the prostitutes which are the hallmark of any real red-light district. I found myself ready to leave the Reeperbahn, on the double, finding its seediness anything but charming.

I walked back to the respite of the garden before continuing back to a cute little square I passed earlier for a calmer spot to have a beer and do some writing.

The next day I decided to try the free walking tour of the city, advertised by a group called Sandeman’s. I walked toward the town hall (in German called the Rathaus) and learned all sorts of interesting things from our guide, a Spanish man who visited Hamburg once and fell in love.

lovely details

lovely details

near the Rathaus

near the Rathaus

Rathaus - the town hall

Rathaus – the town hall

Hamburg's famous swans

Hamburg’s famous swans

Rathaus with Gay Pride!

Rathaus with Gay Pride!

fountain in the Rathaus - the water was delish!

fountain in the Rathaus – the water was delish!

We saw the old port and learned about the great fire which once consumed large portions of the city, and the firebombing during WWII, which destroyed even larger portions of the city and many of its inhabitants with flaming jelly that burned for weeks and melted pavements, nevermind people. It was sobering and saddening to see what destruction was wrought by the allies in that terrible time.

Memorial at the Church of St. Michael - the firebombing of Hamburg 77 years ago

Memorial at the Church of St. Michael – the firebombing of Hamburg 71 years ago

Built like a ship! Hamburg

Built like a ship! Hamburg

former commerce building - Hamburg

former commerce building – Hamburg

Vegan food in Germany!!!

Vegan food in Germany!!!

The oldest part of Hamburg - only street that survived the great fire

The oldest part of Hamburg – only street that survived the great fire

the port - Hamburg

the port – Hamburg

After the tour, I continued with an Israeli guy and an English girl who had been on it with me. We walked along the waterfront and then to a yummy Indian meal not far from the Reeperbahn. After, we went our separate ways, but with plans to meet up that night for an evening on the town.

I went back to my favorite garden for a bit before returning to the hostel to get ready.

We went out in an area called Sternschanze for drinks and then wandered in search of dancing or some other night life, enjoying the freedom to drink beers in the street.

Sadly, I began to sneeze and felt the warning of a cold coming on, so I returned to the hostel, since I planned to leave the next day for Berlin.

My sneezes predicted correctly and I awoke with a runny nose and sore throat.

I bought medicines on the way to the bus and made it in time to get on board, taking my vitamin C and tablets before sleeping as much as possible.

I got to Berlin that afternoon, made my way to my funny little hostel, the Sunflower, and got settled in.

Despite my cold, I went for a walk across the Warschaurstrasse Bridge to Goerlitzer Park (stopping for a vegan wrap along the way – seriously – so many vegan options!) and ended up in a cafe in Kreutzberg. Eventually, a German guy named Matyi approached me and eventually some Belgian girls sat next to us and suddenly it was past midnight and I decided it was time to turn into a pumpkin.

The bridge at Warschauer Strasse

The bridge at Warschauer Strasse

The next day was a market at Mauer Park (mauer, I learned later, means wall). I took my guitar and started off from the hostel, making a big line across the city, through Volkspark and Freidrichshain Park, stopping to play my guitar where I felt the call, including Grosse Bunkerberg – a hill made from the ruins of a bunker which was used by the Nazis and which was bombed and destroyed. Berlin is pretty walkable, so I arrived at Mauer Park in the middle of the afternoon and enjoyed watching the karaoke which takes place in the park every Sunday afternoon. I wanted to sing, but the battery ran out and so they ended the karaoke early.

Freidrichshain Cemetary

Freidrichshain Cemetary

Volkspark - played music for a while there

Volkspark – played music for a while there

Marchenbrunnen - Fairytale fountain

Marchenbrunnen – Fairytale fountain

Marchenbrunnen - Volkspark

Marchenbrunnen – Volkspark

I walked along the remains of the Berlin wall which is now a kind of outdoor museum, recounting the history of the wall and the many daring escapes that Berliners made to get from the East to the West to escape the communist part of the city and rejoin loved ones on the other side.

Finally, I got back to the hostel in the evening and went out for Indian food with a friendly Moroocan guy who was staying in the hostel with me.

The next day I made plans with a girl from the hostel, a Quebecoise called Lily-Charlotte, to go to the Pergamon Museum and take a walking tour of Berlin (it was so helpful in Hamburg).

We arrived at the meeting point for the tour, to discover that we had gotten it wrong and the point was elsewhere, so we decided to go straight to the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island, right in the center of Berlin. It is named after a city in Turkey from which German archaeologists lifted the remains of an entire temple.

Near Alexanderplatz - Berlin

Near Alexanderplatz – Berlin

Berlin Dom

Berlin Dom

Unfortunately, the line was enormous and it was estimated to take 4 hours just to get to the front and buy a ticket! In addition, it was spitting a light rain and 4 hours of waiting in the rain was pretty unappealing. We rethought our plans and, once again, having cell-service while traveling saved the day. (I have T-Mobile, which has decided to allow its users to access data and send SMS for free, even abroad! It is a real game changer for a traveler!).

We walked down to the river and bought tickets for the museum online (at a 1 euro discount, even) and then, voila, we skipped the line and walked right in! We felt bad for the people waiting, but quite good that we weren’t among them!

What I was most keen on seeing at the museum was the Ishtar Gate, transported from the remains of ancient Babylon by German archaeologists in the 20s.

Ishtar gate - Pergamon Museum

Ishtar gate – Pergamon Museum

Dragons and bulls on the Ishtar gate

Dragons and bulls on the Ishtar gate

The gate and the processional way have been mostly reconstructed in the museum and they are quite impressive! Even more impressive is the fact that the larger of the gates is too big to fit into the museum – there were two sets of gates leading to the ancient temple to the goddess Ishtar, and the other gate is in storage!

Also quite impressive is the remains of the temple at Pergamon, depicting the Gigantomachia, or the battle between the gods and the monsters of ancient Greek mythology.

Part of the Pergamon Temple

Part of the Pergamon Temple

Drawing of part of the temple as it might have been before its destruction

Drawing of part of the temple as it might have been before its destruction

The entry to the Pergamon Temple

The entry to the Pergamon Temple

ancient Roman facade - Pergamon Museum

ancient Roman facade – Pergamon Museum

Aside from that, the museum contains many sculptures and artifacts from other temples and excavations in Turkey and Iraq. Normally, the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti – the Beautiful One – would also have been in the museum, but it was relocated to the neighboring Neue Museum at the time, since they are refurbishing parts of the Pergamon Museum.

After the museum we continued to the walking tour of Berlin where we visited several interesting points near the Brandenburg Gate, including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews and the former headquarters of the Luftwaffe, which later became the communist Ministry of Ministries (what a name) and is now the German tax bureau. We also spent some time in the parking lot which is where Hitler’s bunker was located during the war and, subsequently where he killed himself and was mostly incinerated just after.

Brandenburg Gate - Berlin

Brandenburg Gate – Berlin

Memorial to the Murdered Jews - Berlin

Memorial to the Murdered Jews – Berlin

French church in Berlin - for the Huguenots

French church in Berlin – for the Huguenots

At the finish of the tour, we continued with a nice Russian girl, a Brazilian guy, a German, and an American whom we met on the tour. We got dinner and then made plans to go out that night, even though I was still on the mend from my cold.

When in Berlin!

We roamed around the area and found a fun science fiction themed bar called Astro and eventually ended up in a club not far from the hostel, where we danced until the early morning.

Finally, we made it back to the hostel and I watched the sun come up before finally retiring.

The next day, I planned to meet my friend Susanne, who was traveling in Europe for the summer. She is German and used to live in Berlin. Despite problems with my alarm clock, we finally connected and spent a lovely day together in Kreutzburg, exploring her old haunts and visiting some of the really nice shops in the area. She helped my straighten out my train ticket for the next day and we finished the evening with Moroccan food and a glass of wine at a nearby cozy bar before I returned to the hostel for my final night in Berlin. I packed my things and set my alarm for early the next morning to catch the train to Prague.

IMG_4007

beautiful brecky with Susanne!

Former hospital in Kreutzberg - now arts center

Former hospital in Kreutzberg – now an arts center

Kreutzberg church where we sheltered from a sudden downpour

Kreutzberg church where we sheltered from a sudden downpour

Me and Susanne! Berlin

Me and Susanne! Berlin

Luckily, I woke up on my own with not a minute to spare to catch the metro to the train station – the alarm had failed me again!

I hoofed it and made it just in time to get the train, where I was able to get a bit more shuteye, despite the canoodling Italian couple who were kissing and cooing, completely oblivious to the other people in the compartment.

We arrived in Prague by noon and my hostel there was located in the old city, not far from the main train station, so I walked through the charming streets and admired the architecture as I sweat under the weight of my backpack.

I got there quickly enough, but the room wasn’t yet ready for me, so I left my things there and went off to explore the city I’ve heard so much about but never before visited.

I walked across the bridge closest to the hostel, just to the north of the famous Charles Bridge, and explored a lovely formal garden beneath the famous chateau of Prague. When I crossed back across the Charles Bridge, I couldn’t fully enjoy much of the beauty of the sculptures, as the bridge was full of tourists, but it was lovely just the same.

Charles Bridge from afar

Charles Bridge from afar

Garden near the chateau - Prague

Garden near the chateau – Prague

eh voila! Sculpture - Prague

eh voila! Sculpture – Prague

Watch out for that snake! Prague

Watch out for that snake! Prague

Weird lumpy walls - Prague

Weird lumpy walls – Prague

Prague Old Town Square

Prague Old Town Square

I returned to the hostel by way of the famous astronomical clock designed by Tycho Brahe – the same astronomer whose island Nora and I visited in Sweden. Apparently, after the death of the king who had been his patron, he had to leave Denmark, and he chose Prague to live out the rest of his life. It wasn’t known exactly where he was interred in the city, but he was easy to find with a little looking, since he lost his nose in a duel as a young man and wore a fake nose made of silver and gold!

Astronomical clock - Prague

Astronomical clock – Prague

When I was finally able to check into my room, I met a party of boisterous Australian guys and a couple of very friendly Dutch girls.

I wen off in search of one of the several vegetarian restaurants in the area and found Maitrea, where I was lucky enough to get a table before the dinner rush. It was very popular and very yummy! I had a started of vegan sausage with onions and whole grain bread and a main course of traditional goulash (without the traditional meat) and delicious bohemian dumplings. It was the best dinner of the trip so far!

Goulash with dumplings! MMMMMMM!

Goulash with dumplings! MMMMMMM!

After, I returned to the hostel to get some shuteye. I had my ceremony coming up, so none of Czech’s famous beer for me.

The Australians returned from their night of partying in the early morning and commenced to serenading us, first with Bon Jovi and then with a symphony of snores – a snore-chestra, if you will. Ah the joys of hosteling.

The next day I went for another walking tour. We met in the Old Town Square near the astronomical clock and commenced our tour, which covered much of the history of the city and many of it’s architectural and cultural wonders.

Sculpture by the "Czech Banksy" David Cerny

Sculpture by the “Czech Banksy” David Cerny

In Utero - David Cerny

In Utero – David Cerny

Old town hall - all that's left

Old entry through the city’s gates – Municipal House in the back – Prague

Mmmm bread bowl

Mmmm bread bowl – Prague

Kafka statue

Kafka statue – Prague

Spanish synegogue

Spanish synegogue – Prague

I met a friendly Egyptian fellow and we discussed the political situation in his country and my travels there last year.

We stopped for lunch, yummy veggie soup in a bread bowl, and finished the tour. I said goodbye to my new friend and made my way from where we wrapped up, near the famous Jewish cemetary, back toward the Old Town Square. It started raining, so I ducked into the National Gallery and spent some time with the ancient things there.

After, I went to the Alphonse Mucha Museum, stopping to do some shopping on the way, as I had some camping ahead of me and no sleeping bag.

The Mucha Museum was small, but lovely, and it brought to my attention his masterpiece, The Slav Epic, which I had never really heard of before.

Mucha!

Mucha!

On the way back to the hostel, I stopped by the Municipal House, where an exposition of art nouveau was taking place.

Municipal House - Prague

Municipal House – Prague

I filled my eyes and mind with the designs, the jewelry, the posters – there was a bit more Mucha there, and some lovely costumes from the turn of the century.

Finally I called it a day and went back to the hostel. I’d moved so much that day, I just ate leftovers at the hostel and planned the next day’s travels.

In the morning, I got my things together and checked out of the hostel before heading to the modern art museum across the river, where I went in search of the Slav Epic.

crossing the river to see more Mucha!

crossing the river to see more Mucha!

Tram wires and a lovely church - Prague

Tram wires and a lovely church – Prague

Luckily for me, it was there, despite the fact that it is normally housed in a much smaller venue outside of Prague.

I spent over an hour with his enormous paintings, full of history and symbolism, just like I like my art. It was breathtaking to see his mastery of technique, of light, of composition. It was like entering into another world.

Slav Epic - Prague

Slav Epic – Prague

Slav Epic - Prague

Slav Epic – Prague

Unfortunately, I had to leave it, back to the hostel to get my things and then to the train to leave Prague for the countryside. Once again, my phone came to my aide and I was able to buy a ticket for the train en route. I was heading a few hours outside of the city to a rural and charming area near the mountains.

From the train - Czech Republic

From the train – Czech Republic

There I planned to participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony.

I first learned of ayahuasca in 2006 from reading a clip in National Geographic, written by a woman with the same first name as me. I was in Oklahoma at the time, working for Bill Wiseman, former Oklahoma state legislator. I was interested by her account but it sounded pretty foreign to me: she visited a shaman in South America and imbibed a special tea – a mix of two plants found only in the rainforest.

Later that year, as I was traveling the world, I read a book called The Supernatural, which discussed human development in connection with different psychotropic substances: mushrooms, the fabled soma of Hindu mythology, and ayahuasca, among others.

When I returned from my travels, I met a Native American roadman who invited me to participate in peyote ceremonies. I did my first one in 2007 and another in 2012, not long after the death of my sister, Erika.

These were powerful ceremonies, but I was still curious about the ayahuasca ceremonies.

Then, last year, when I was in India again, I met a Czech man who told me he had participated in such ceremonies in the Czech Republic. He put me in touch with his friends who do the ceremony there and finally I made plans to try this powerful medicine.

I arrived in the afternoon and walked a couple of kilometers to the house where the ceremony would take place.

It was a beautiful sunny day and the countryside there was beautiful and wild. I met some very nice people there and we prepared for the ceremony that evening.

We all found our places on the floor and the ceremony began in the darkness. We took the first round of medicine and received the first purification from the shaman, an Ecuadorian man who comes to the Czech Republic a few times a year to lead such ceremonies.

The sounds and feelings are difficult to describe and I don’t think I can attempt it yet. Sensations, vision, thoughts, emotions flooded through me in the dark. I was overcome with thoughts of Erika and I found myself weeping openly in the dark, experience the sort of grief for her I’d hadn’t felt since I first learned of her sudden death.

The night was long and eventually I made my way outside to watch the night sky and finally to get a little sleep before the sun rose and the night was over.

In the morning we all took a walk in the forest together and sat among the trees, discussing our experiences and what we went through. Everyone but me spoke Czech but one of the others girls there translated for me.

We returned to the house and I played my little guitar and sang for a while before someone came to say goodbye to me and in the end, offered me a ride back to Prague. I got my things together quickly and went with him back to the city, stopping to buy some fruits along the way.

We got back to Prague and had lunch at another vegetarian restaurant, this one was mostly Indian food, not too different from what I might find in an ashram. He got me back to the hostel, where I’d left my backpack for the night. I cleaned up and prepared for the next step in my journey: a flight to Marseille, where I would meet up with someone I met 7 years ago, the first time I was in India.

As I checked in for my flight, the guy behind me asked me if it was ok to take guitars on as carryon: he, too, had a little guitar, about the same size as mine. We started talking and it turned out he was from close to Marseille and was returning home urgently after hearing that his uncle, who had been injured in a car wreck a few weeks earlier, had taken a turn for the worst and would likely leave this world very soon. We got on immediately and discussed many things as we waiting for the plane.

As we boarded, I got a text from the friend I was going to meet in Marseille that there had been a train problem and he couldn’t make it that night. This was a bit unsettling, as he had been supposed to get the key for an Air BNB rental that night. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure where I’d be sleeping that night.

My new French friend assured me that he would do what he could to get me to someplace I could sleep and would have invited me to stay with his family, if it weren’t for the difficult timing, with the impending death of his uncle.

Luckily, when I arrived, I discovered my friend had booked me a room at an airport hotel. My French friend introduced me to his mother who came to get him from the airport and they drove me to my hotel, where I promptly passed out and slept a deep exhausted sleep.

The next day, Dorian, the person I’d met in India so long ago, arrived and we set off on the next chapter of my travels. We picked up a rental car and headed north toward Grignan – a small medieval village where a friend of mine owns a campground. We stopped along the way for lunch in Salon de Provence, another charming Provencal town which I had visited several years before with my friend Quitterie. We explored the old city, where Nostradamus has once lived, and visited the museum in the chateau there.

Eglise - Salon de Provence

Eglise – Salon de Provence

Nostradamus

Nostradamus

My favorite fountain - Salon de Provence

My favorite fountain – Salon de Provence

Then we continued on our way to Grignan by the small roads, passing by picturesque villages, vineyards, and fields of sunflowers on the way.

Sunflowers! Provence

Sunflowers! Provence

We got to the campgrounds a bit after 7 pm and had time for a quick swim in the pool before it closed.

That night we went out to dine in Grignan, finding a creperie where we sat outside next to a friendly French family, with whom we conversed in French about New York and other pleasantries.

The full moon rose over the chateau as we walked around, exploring the tiny, maze-like streets of the city.

Sunset - Grignan

Sunset – Grignan

Moonrise - Grignan

Moonrise – Grignan

We passed a night in our tent and the next day, after another lovely swim, we set off to explore the area near Grignan. Many little cities with chateaus and churches dot the region and we explored several of them as we made our tour.

We also visited the Valley of the Nymphs, a former pagan site which had later, of course, been adorned with a church. But the spring there was clearly the reason for the holiness of the place and it felt very mysterious and somehow sacred there. Large frogs and small shrimp swam in the shallow rectangular pool where the springwater collected.

We headed back to the campground to find my friend Jiline, who had invited us to dine with her and some of her friends at the restaurant there.

Jiline at Les Truffieres - Grignan

Jiline at Les Truffieres – Grignan

A good time and a yummy meal was had by all, not to mention several pitchers of rose. After dinner it was quite late and we retreated to the tent, the full moon shining down on us, illuminated the night.

In the morning we did some yoga and Dorian tried to teach me some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (not the most graceful of sports – * when attempted by an amateur like myself). Then we walked to a nearby farm to buy some goat cheese and got to love on the goats there a bit before returning to the camping to eat some of the yummy cheese for breakfast.

We went for a swim and later a bike ride into Grignan to explore the chateau and see about going to the play that was being performed there that night. Sadly, the play was fully booked, so we had to content ourselves with the gorgeous views from the ramparts.

Chateau de Grignan

Chateau de Grignan 

We bought some wine and food to cook and returned to the campground. Unfortunately, there was a bit of confusion and we ended up unable to cook our food, but we were able to get some delicious ratatouille from the restaurant and enjoy our rose before retiring for our last night in Grignan.

That night it rained like crazy and we were a bit unprepared for it, so ended up with water in the tent and a wet morning that prevented us from leaving as early as we’d planned. I made us a big omelet with all the things we’d bought for dinner the night before and we had enough left over to make sandwiches for the road.

We finally got our things together and headed south and west toward Pau, where I studied one summer when I was in college, ten years ago.

We stopped off in Montpellier to explore a bit and found a Lebanese place where we got taboule and dolmas before continuing toward Pau.

We made it around 10:30 pm and found my friend Quitterie and her boyfriend Will still awake with their sweet baby, Morgan. It is always a pleasure to see Quitterie, whom I met my first time in Pau. I also met her boyfriend, Will, two years ago, when I was last in France.

We’ve had fun adventures in the southwest – I took Dorian to the chateau of Pau – the birthplace of king Henri IV, but more important was that we should have the crepes there at a traditional restaurant called Chez Maman. Though it had been ten years since I tasted their crepes with piperade (the salsa of the Basque region in southwest France), they were just as good as I remembered.

Crepes with piperade and cider by the chateau - Pau

Crepes with piperade and cider by the chateau – Pau

We walked around the downtown area, enjoying the lovely day and each others’ company. Eventually, we bought some bread and wine and went back to join Quitterie and William for dinner

The next day we went for a hike in the mountains, stopping along the way for picnic supplies, though it was difficult to find a store that was open, since it was a jour ferie – a holiday in France – and almost everything was closed.

Valley view from Plateau du Benou

Valley view from Plateau du Benou

New friend - Plateau du Benou

New friend – Plateau du Benou

Finally, we found the Platueau of Benou, which Quitterie had suggested we visit. We had a lovely picnic, joined at the end by some friendly dogs whom we plied with some of Dorian’s ham.

We went for a lovely little randonee (a hike, but kind of a lazy one) and enjoyed the view it afforded us of the valley below. The Pyrenees of southwest France are not as well-known as the Alps, but they are beautiful just the same.

We headed back to Pau and Quitterie joined us for a very late dinner in town. I’ve had such luck finding vegetarian food on this trip, but France is a different story. In the end, I had the crudites plate – which I was afraid would by a pile of uncooked carrots and other veggies, but I was surprised to find it was a tasty mix of cooked aubergine (eggplant for Americans) salad and taboule with other yummy things beside.

With Quitterie in Pau

With Quitterie in Pau

The next day was Saturday and since William could stay home with the baby, Quitterie, Dorian, myself, and Quitterie’s mother all went to the beach in Biarritz, a resort town about an hour’s drive from Pau.

We had a lovely time there, walking around and enjoying the sights.

Biarritz - rocks!

Biarritz – rocks!

Moi! Biarritz

Moi! Biarritz

La Vierge de Biarritz

La Vierge de Biarritz

In the afternoon we went swimming on one of the little beaches not far from the Grande Plage. The water in the Atlantic is refreshing and invigorating and I must say, I love doing at least a little topless bathing when I am in France.

When in France!

We had a dinner of pizza a mussels at a nearby restaurant and Dorian and I got a bit tipsy on rose before we walked back toward the car and headed back to Pau. (to clarify, we were not driving! had a DD! Quitterie!)

The next day Dorian had to leave. I drove him to Bordeaux that morning and we got to see a little of that city as we searched for breakfast before he caught his flight.

I returned to the south by way of little roads to Seignosse, another beach town, though this one is better known for the surfing there. Quitterie and her mother were there and I found them, eventually, on the beach. We had a lovely afternoon of swimming and chatting before they went back to Pau and I stayed on for dinner there.

On the drive back from Bordeaux - they love their cow-related sports in the south of France!

On the drive back from Bordeaux – they love their cow-related sports in the south of France!

Seignosse

Seignosse

Biscuit - La croix basquaise!

Biscuit – La croix basquaise!

It was all going so well until I couldn’t find a gas station and I had some tense times searching for one, only to discover when I finally found one that my card wouldn’t work there and there was no one I could pay. After a bunch of wrong turns, I got on the autoroute and found a gas station where I could pay in cash, but then I had no more cash to pay the tolls. I tried to find some town (a town called Urt, in fact) with an ATM. When I finally succeeded, after a tour of Urt, the only ATM in town turned out to be empty. Luckily, it was simple to get through the toll booths and I even exchanged pleasantries with the attendants as I explained my situation and how I had tried to get money out etc.

I drove the rest of the way to Pau on small and rather industrial routes, blue lights blinking in the distance. Quitterie and her mother agreed that I was fortunate there was someone there at that hour.

I made it back to Pau near midnight, exhausted, but happy to be off the road. Quitterie and Will were waiting up for me and I had some wine and went to bed.

Now I am on my last days in Pau – one more chance to see something of the area before I catch a plane to London tomorrow!

Well, it took forever to recount this all, so I will leave it there!

Love and miss,

Kira

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Time and Space – Part 1: Copenhagen/Ziegenhagen

And bam zam, already I’m on the road again!

It is hard to believe that it has been two years since last I came to Europe as the prelude to my trip to Burning Man in 2012: the year after my sister Erika died at the festival. That trip had been a sister trip – part of the ritual of remembering and honoring Erika. My other sister, Skye, and I went to Paris and the Riviera together.

This trip, coincidentally enough, started on the two-year anniversary – nearly to the day – of my last one.

Skye couldn’t join, but I’ve got a bodacious menu of friends to visit in various cities and countries and here is a general map, though of course I won’t be doing everything by car! Planes trains and automobiles! First stop: visiting my amazing friend Nora Ziegenhagen in her adopted home of Copenhagen.

 

The Plan

The Plan

 

To wit, I packed my things, cleaned my apartment for a subletter, and grabbed a cab to JFK, though I’m normally a subway gal. I just had too much stuff to carry: my guitar, backpack, small backpack, and a tent I was bringing over for a coworker of Nora’s. I travel light, but I can’t take a voyage without an instrument to play.

I got a cheap flight on Norwegian Airlines – and I mean cheap! The plane seemed to be a Portuguese model from the 70s (or whenever smoking on planes was kosher). It was the first time in years I saw those tiny old screens in the backs of the seats – channels playing the same movie or show on repeat. I watched the same episode of How I met Your Mother twice and some random Jack Black/Steve Martin movie about birding, starting with the second half and eventually catching the beginning.

At least there was free wine with dinner. And a vegetarian meal. Small blessings.

The flight was direct and arrived in Copenhagen the next morning. After a quick stop at Duty Free (for booze, of course), I got my bags and eventually got on the metro. It was hot in the airport and a beautiful sunny day outside. The metro is above ground in Copenhagen, at least most of where I was taking it, and I got off right at Christianhavn Kanal – a quick walk to Nora’s street.

I collected the keys from a French-style corner cafe called Cafe Wilder and made it at last to Nora’s haven of an apartment, on a lovely little street between two canals.

 

Christianshavn Kanal - two blocks from Nora's house!

Christianshavn Kanal – two blocks from Nora’s house!

 

Nora soon arrived, graciously taking the afternoon off to hang out with me, and the two of us toured the neighborhood together, stopping at a local bakery for pastries and taking a dip in the refreshing water just a block from Nora’s place. . .

 

Harborside canal

Harborside canal

 

. . . and then continuing to Christiania.

 

The lake in Christiania

The lake in Christiania

 

Christiania is an independent state which operates virtually without interference from the Danish government, just a few blocks behind Nora’s apartment. It is one of the major attractions of Copenhagen, permeated by a funky, gutter hippy vibe. Be-dredlocked people sell jewelry and clothes I recognize from Goa in India. The most unusual part of Christiania is Pusher Street – where photos are forbidden – as is running, because it creates a panic.

 

A view of Christiania's hidden heart

A view of Christiania’s hidden heart

 

Pusher Street, as you might surmise, is where the weed is. Weed and hash. And I’m not sure what else. So called “spacecakes.”

The various dealer podiums are partially concealed with military-style camo-netting to conceal the “pushers” – many also wear hoodies and sometimes kerchiefs or masks and sunglasses. I guess the Danish government is cool, but not that cool.

Danes and tourists alike seem to partake and enjoy smoking not only in Christiania, but throughout the city, which is a contrast to other European cities I’ve been to (Amsterdam aside, obviously).

We passed by restaurants and juicebars, baked goods and cafes. There is even a concert venue there called Nemoland. Everywhere people are hanging out, smoking, shirts off (men only) to soak up the glorious summer rays. Danes – some of them anyway – get extremely tan. This, at least, is a city of sun worshipers.

We walked by some of the self-made houses near the lake behind the more touristy area. It quickly turns into a natural park. There is a bridge and swans swim there with their fuzzy grey babies (called cygnets, dontcha know).

 

Nora by the lake

Nora by the lake

 

Nora of the swans

Nora of the swans

 

That evening we took a bottle of rose to Nyhavn – pronounced Nu-hauwn – Danish for New Harbor. This was to be my first of many bike excursions in Copenhagen. Biking is the thing to do here. By far the best way to get around and bike lanes abound.

We rode over the large harbor canal and up the other side to the picturesque street, on another canal. Cafes line the cobbled streets and the sun set pink on the buildings as Nora and I sat by the canal and dined on the pizzas we’d ordered from a nearby purveyor, sipping our rose as street musicians played.

After dinner we had Irish coffees in one of the sidewalk cafes and listened to more of the performances before heading back to her street to call it a night.

Wednesday morning I roused myself eventually and went into the world to see what I would see. I strolled across the bridge and followed the road along a canal till I stumbled upon the Stork Fountain – a well-known landmark in the center of Copenhagen’s most touristic plaza.

I removed some Danish kroner from an ATM: 18 kroner to a dollar. Then I walked back till I saw what I was looking for – the boat tours – or in Danish: canalrundfart. Yes, lovely language.

The boats resemble the ones on the Seine in Paris and are  good way to see the city, though not as good as a bike.

 

 

formal naval storage turned into apartments

formal naval storage turned into apartments

 

view from the boat

view from the boat

 

As we passed one area, the guide warned us that locals like to jump in as the boats pass to splash the tourists – good-naturedly, of course.

After the boat, I walked toward the Round Tower – not to see the tower, but to try one of the vegan Danish-style hotdogs sold from a cart below it (on Nora’s recommendation).

 

Danish Veggie-dog

Danish Veggie-dog

 

I made a quick trip to the Rosenborg Castle Gardens before Nora got off work and I met her at a nearby market.

 

Rosenborg Castle - one gnarly lion

Rosenborg Castle – one gnarly lion

 

We shopped for picnic items – cheeses and crackers and some of the fresh and beautiful fruits they had there in abundance. Then we sipped wine at one of the booths there and met up with one of Nora’s friends, Ellah. (I found a plum that looks like male genitalia – phallic fruit is the funniest!)

 

plum package

plum package

 

After our wine, we rode our bikes to the waterfront – a long pier a bit farther south from Nora’s place where oodles of young Danes were cooking and lounging and smoking and drinking and swimming in the evening sun. Nora and I had our picnic and sunbathed and drank some wine. When in Copenhagen. . .

The sun sets around 10 pm and the crowd thinned out. Nora and I walked the bikes up the grand canal and back toward her area.

On the way home we stopped to go to a little cafe bar on a boat on Christianshavn Canal. We got a yummy tiramisu and enjoyed the water view.

Thursday morning I went to climb the tower at The Church of Our Savior – one of Copenhagen’s most famous and striking spires in a city known for its unique spires. Also, a massive organ. (what she said)

 

the Organ!

the Organ!

 

Copenhagen!

Copenhagen!

 

selfie from the top

selfie from the top

 

The climb to the top was cramped with other people and quite steep. The final bit is a spiral staircase on the outside of the tower.

I met up with Nora in the evening at a place called Tolbolden – not far from the famed Little Mermaid sculpture and the royal residences. Nora’s friend Louisa met up with us for wine and a little snack and walk around the parks.

 

Fountain near Tolbolden

Fountain near Tolbolden

 

Royal residences

Royal residences

 

Friday Nora planned to be out of the office by one and we had an outing to Helsingor, where the castle known as the Hamlet Castle is located.

I slept in a bit and met up with Louisa for coffee by a lake near her neighborhood, Norreport. Swans are everywhere here!

We dallied for a glass of cava, once Nora joined us, and reclined in a nearby park before hitting the road for Helsingor – we took our bikes on the train! Adventures!

When we got to Helsingor, the sky was threatening and it quickly made good. Nora and I ducked into a French cafe to wait it out.

 

view from the cafe

view from the cafe

 

Helsingor

Helsingor

 

The weather cleared up quickly and we rode our bikes into the fort of the castle.

 

the Castle

the Castle

 

After the castle, we rode our bikes down the coast toward Copenhagen and stopped at a beach for an afternoon swim before getting on the train again and going back to town.

 

Beach near Hesingor

Beach near Helsingor

 

Reunited and the beer's so good!

Reunited and the beer’s so good!

 

Saturday was another outing – we went to Sweden!

We left in the morning for a ferry to an island in Sweden (though it used to be part of Denmark) called Ven or Hven, known for Tycho Brahe, the famous astronomer of the middle ages. The island was home to his observatory, but today is also something of a time capsule – it is covered with farmland, fields of wheat and other grains, whispering in the breeze.

 

Ven (pronounces "vein) grains

Ven (pronounces “vein”) grains

 

Nora and I rented a tandem bike and cruised around the (blessedly mostly flat) island, stopping for breakfast along the way and then continuing around the island to the beach on the south western side.

 

Tandem selfie!

Tandem selfie!

 

the south beach of Ven

the south beach of Ven

 

We continued on, making our way around more fields and farmhouses till we got to the north beach.

 

North beach of Ven

North beach of Ven

 

the campground at Ven

the campground at Ven

 

Nora and I on the tandem

Nora and I on the tandem

 

We left Ven that afternoon, after completing the circuit of the island and buying some beer for the boat ride back.

Nora and I had a front row seat for a massive thunder storm as we passed through it. We hid under and overhang and drank our beers and laughed as everyone else ran inside to hide from the downpour.

That evening we went out for a night on the town, only slightly hampered by the holidays which caused some places to be closed. In the end we went to Nora’s standby spot and weren’t disappointed. The bartender made us yummy drinks and charged us for half of what we ordered.

We danced and drank and finally rode our bikes home.

There were several more days to my stay, but this is all she wrote for now, since this blog is huge and overdue!

 

Love and miss!

Kira