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Saturday, November 26, 2011

On caring - and showing it

I was struck recently by a friend's sincere appreciation of an act of caring. When she arrived home from work her boyfriend had picked up her dry cleaning and done various things around the home. He was not asked to do it; he did it just because. She was tickled pink, some would say as happy as if he had bought her expensive jewelry. I expect for her this was even better.

That same evening I was given a little hand drawn bookmark, perhaps with a little or a lot of thought. I am not sure. But I really like it and will appreciate it more than something  expensive given without an effort.

 In a similar fashion during the past year I have from time to time received gorgeous hand written messages inside beautiful cards, sometimes with a drawing or painting inside. Each of these is displayed on my mantel, not to show to others so much as to be a constant reminder to me that someone made a big effort to contribute to the beauty and expression in my world,  and shared that contribution with me.

This is a reminder for me, and for you too if you need it. Do the little things that show you care. Do them often. It matters.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Oh yes I am supposed to be working here in Berlin!

Notice the diver within
Berlin. Monday it was time to switch gears and hotels and go to work. I am after all here for a conference. So I am now at Radisson Blue, with a huge four story aquarium in the center of the lobby. I have never seen anything quite like it.    
From the elevator
We are just across a small park complete with arcade-like rides in one of the oldest sections of the city with many charming restaurants and bars. Although the one we chose, Reinhard's, forgot to bring my wine, stabbed me in the back with a fork (okay it was an accident) and brought me a corn salad with no corn, I guess it was still pretty good. Apparently there was a translation issue. I have since asked two German speaking people and they don't know what corn salad is either!
Cool ferris wheel in front of our hotel

Dinner at Reinhard's
Tuesday after the conference we walked to Brandenberg Gate and had a traditional roast goose dinner at Theodor Tucher. The chef and staff carried the whole goose and trimmings to our table, carved and served it tableside. It was quite a production, and one of the best meals I have eaten in Germany. Apparently this is a traditional meal eaten aound the time of St Michael's feast, but I am calling it my Thanksgiving.
Progusta Braufactum
Our server called it beer-wine!

Chef preparing to carve our goose tableside
at Theodor Tucher



Wednesday we finished up the conference and went for a very cold, very long walk to Alexander Platz, Checkpoint Charlie, Pottsdamer Platz, and a few places in between. 


Once a horror story, now a tourist attraction


    After dinner I offered to take the guys' parcels back to the hotel in a taxi so they could enjoy their long cold walk back. By the time they arrived my port and I were all warm and cozy, gazing at the marvelous aquarium.
Thursday was my last night out in Berlin. Sina and Ian met me at Stuttgarter Platz, at the restaurant Leonhardt. Suttgarter Platz is charming and must be really delightful in summer. Even in November it was  welcoming if not quite warm. After tasting the South African (not sure of the type), Shiraz, Bourdeaux and Merlot, we finally decied to just drink one of them, whether or not they were very good. Dinner was good, but as usual the company was better. And from deep within our memory banks we all together remembered how to make one of those little paper things that you write in to learn about how your life will unfold. Although Ian told us it was a girl thing, we all know who eventually succeeded! Now if only we could remember what we are supposed to write on it perhaps it would come true.

Before I forget: if you sit still long enough in Berlin someone will offer you gluhwein. If you sit still too long your ass will freeze to the seat!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Weekend in Berlin

My second visit to Berlin.

I am usually a bad tourist, refusing to buy guide books and see all the usual tourist sites. Although my colleague always sends me with a list of the things I should not miss, I rarely look at the list and never make a plan to see the sites he has given me. As a result I do miss seeing some very good things I am sure. On the other hand, I also once stumbled upon the Coliseum in Rome quite by chance, which was an indescribably beautiful way to see it. It just rose in front of my eyes! So on balance, I am happy with my choice.

In this case I gave myself a pass as soon as I planned the visit to Berlin. I had after all done some sight seeing last visit, so I was truly off the hook. Good thing, since my flight was 2 hours delayed while we waited for maintenance to replace a loose screw (I kid you not). Finally arrived at 2PM, was met by my generous friend and headed to the hotel to check in. A very nice hotel it is: The Intercontinental with some spare rooms they sold for a song on line. Lucky me. Coolest feature: from the bathtub you can open a sliding door to watch tv,  and open a blind to see or be seen from the rest of the room.

We took a long meandering walk through Tiergarten, 
Berlin's oldest public park with 23 km of pathways  
shuffled through the piles of leaves to hear that delicious sound
they make, almost went into a tea house (Ian assures me they sell beer
"Everyone sells beer!), and finally caught a tram to Alexander Platz.
There we had a gluhwein while sitting in swings outside in the sun,
then at the next place a beer, then walked to a bar 50 feet
down the street for a glass of wine, and with only another 400 metres
to go had to catch a taxi to be at dinner on time to meet Sina.

Looks pink here but was delicious there!

Following a lovely dinner and bottle of wine at an Italian restaurant, 
we headed of to a bar, recently opened by Sina's boyfriend Ricardo.
There were only a few people there when we arrived, but it soon filled up.
Really nice place and Ricardo is an excellent bartender.
I had the best White Russian I have ever tasted,
and it was beautiful to look at. We had a fun people-watching, time
trying to guess the story each of them was living for the evening.  

Sunday's gentle start included coffee in the sun at Pottsdamer Platz, and gluhwein (manadatory!) under the heaters. Strolled through the Chrsitmas market stalls, enjoying the sights and smells.

Chrsitmas market
Pottsdamer Platz

Since the shops were all closed we had
a late lunch at Lutter & Wegner.
Excellent food and wine.
Young wine packed with
color and flavor.

We then went to see The Blue Man Group - interesting experience. I have seen it in Boston and New York, but never with an audience like this. We were surrounded by 40 or 50 party goers, including a young man in front of us who slept through pretty much the entire performance. They all had fun and  participated in the show except him. Finished the evening with you guessed it - gluhwein, and early to bed.

I am still at least a little in love with Berlin.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Between men and women

 Yesterday my male friend said to me' "I don't understand women's obsession with shoes! Why do you need more than two pairs?". Now I realize that this is a question men often ask women, not because they want to know the answer, but because they want to convince us that 2 pairs of shoes should be sufficient for anyone. But this guy seemed like he really wanted to understand. So I painted this story for him.

Me: Have you ever seen a woman enter a tack shop? She will immediately stop, breath in the scents, run her hands over the leather, and truly appreciate the experience.
Him: Yeah okay I get the leather thing but why so many pairs?
Me: Okay let me approach this a different way. You love to read?
Him: Yes. I have a lot of books.
Me: Why not just buy a Kindle?
Him: Because I love the whole experience of the book, the pages that become a bit worn, or the brand new shiny pages that no one has marked up yet, the sections i or someone else has made marks on... I like the feel of the book in my hand.
Me: Yes I do understand. But why so many books? Why not just two? If you want to feel and experience the book just go take it off the shelf and experience the one or two that you have.
Him: Yes okay I get it.

It reminds me of a conversation I had in the past with a boyfriend. He was kindly helping me set up a rather complicated A/V sytem with several components and a rat's nest of cables. His way of being helpful included showing me each necessary connection and explaining where it went and why. At some point the glaze across my face became obvious I guess. He said "You are not interested?" I said "Honey, I really appreciate you assembling this for me. But you know how you glaze over when a woman talks in infinite detail about her feelings? Well this is the reverse."

Since then I get the help without the details. And I saved my "feelings" talks for my girlfriends. Beauty!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Budapest or Bust

A cheap flight from Easy Jet and a super low price for Intercontinental Hotel on the bank of the Danube led us to Budapest for the weekend.

Julie was being all loyal to her employer, so she flew Air France, arriving 20 minutes after us. Upon arrival we discovered that our terminals were 7 KM apart. We also noticed how many fewer words it takes for a greeting in Hungarian, as in 1 word Koszonjuk vs. 9 Thank you and have a great time in Hungary. Granted, the word in Hungarian is as hard as 9 words in English, but still...

We all met at the hotel and proceeded to explore our neighborhood
Alex was most surprised to see the changes in the past 10 years as Hungary has moved toward full blown capitalism. The typical assortment of high end retailers made us feel right at home, if not exactly charmed by the sameness of all European high streets. 

We also found an old world shopping center
maybe in the process of being restored?

And a second hand store with
clothes by the pound.

We traeted ourselves to a hot mulled wine and shut off our inner voices for the weekend.

Friday included dinner at Halaszbastya, within the Buda Castle. Best view in town 
without a close second, and fairy tale evening. Excellent food, wine and company, 
all in a glamorous setting made us feel like royalty.

Saturday after breakfast we all agreed to cross the Danube at the Chain Bridge, 
and "funicular up" to Castle Hill.
Chain Bridge

The area around the palace and castle is charming and full of beautiful sights: statues, monuments, church and  castle that made us linger for a very long time

Julie, Alex, Alison, Melanie
We even found a famous cake shop

Good thing about the cake shop, because when we stopped for bean and sausage soup, it had only one of the key ingredients. The waitress could not understand our criticism. Okay, she could not understand our English either, but she really didn't think it mattered if bean and sausage soup had sausage or not.
Alex begged off anything that might turn into a shopping spree (admittedly after buying a few little things) and headed off for a nap. Alison, Julie and I checked out a few more shops,(I bought a scarf and hat)  walked to the palace, and down a series of steps to get back to the river and home.

Fountain of St Mathias

Saturday evening we strolled along the main shopping street, with its Christmas market stalls. Alex asked "Has anyone in the history of mankind ever bought anything at one of these markets?" and ended up with 2 bags of goodies. A bit later we were innocently walking along Andrassy when a shirt store reached out and dragged us in. Poor Alex suffered the most with at least 6 new shirts attaching themselves to him. Julie and I were luckier, managing to shake off all but one. Alison must have been secretly vaccinated before the trip; only she emerged unscathed.
Following the trauma of the shirt store, we were forced to find a cute little street and have drinks and dinner.

Bohemian Restaurant - Excellent food
Bohemian Restaurant - very tiny drinks

Sunday morning was all about the spa for me. This is a beautiful oasis of calm, and the services are very reasonably priced compared to other cities. I do recommend it.

If you have not spent a weekend in Budapest, please do so. You will find good restaurants, nice people, beautiful views, and lots of fun. I know we did!

If you sit still long enough in Budapest someone will bring you a delicious cake.
If you still sit for too long someone will charge you double or quadruple for a drink.