Hello Hawick, Goodbye Scotland

We were bumping along on the bus to Hawick by 9:30 the next day. I took up my usual habit of listening to music and staring out the window as the bus bounced and weaved along the increasingly windy road. Mom and I hadn’t spared much time for breakfast before we left; a bit of toast and a half a cup of tea had been about it. When we arrived in Hawick, we found our way back along familiar streets to the Heritage Hub.

But before Mom dived into her research, we ducked into the Damascus café for second breakfast. This time I enjoyed a full cup of tea, but not before having to run to the nearest ATM to pull out some more cash to actually pay for the tea. We each had a bagel with hummus, exchanging few sentences and filling most of the time looking around the little café. Kathy and Zilla were at the Heritage Hub just like last time. Kathy gave us a warm welcome and got to work straight away with Mom. They went off to a computer near the other end of the room while I sat at one of the side tables to catch up on my trip notes.

Mom finished things up just as lunchtime came around. The Hub was closing up for the lunch hour anyway so it was perfect timing. We said our thank yous and goodbyes to Kathy, and also picked up a good tip to fly through Dublin next time we visited. We left the Heritage Hub for the last time and made our way back to the bus stop. From Hawick we traveled northeast over to Kelso.

Kelso is a much smaller town than Hawick is. The bus dropped us right at the center of town, and even in the heart of town there wasn’t much to see. Not being sure where we were going or what we were looking for, our first stop was in the Visitor Center. It was a small shop with some souvenirs and lots of brochures on things to see in the area. A single woman was behind the counter. We asked if there was any sort of family history center but she told us there wasn’t one. Instead she suggested we try the library.

A short walk took us there. Two librarians sat behind the desk when we arrived. We explained our situation and what we were looking for, and together, with some help from the group having a meeting in the back room (it was some sort of history society of women or something), we managed to glean that the old poorhouse where our ancestor had lived had since been converted into a hospital. They assured us there was a date stone left on the building and that if we went round there we could find it.

We thanked the librarians for all their help, and I went away with another thing to add to my list of why librarians (and libraries) are so awesome. The hospital was another short walk away, and as we came up the drive I found myself having a similar sensation to the one I had when Mom and I walked to the Wellington airport. It just seemed a bit odd to be walking up to a hospital when you were neither sick, injured, or visiting someone who was. Nonetheless, we stepped into the reception area.

Once again, we pestered some poor, unsuspecting person with our quest to trace our ancestry. The woman behind the window wasn’t one hundred percent sure whether or not what the librarians had told us was true. She tried asking a few people to confirm it, and in the end just suggested we have a walk around to see for ourselves.

There was an obvious shift in the exterior of the building, which we had taken note of as we walked in. An older stone half gave way to a much more modern looking addition. We walked back down the drive, turned a corner, and crossed into a small sitting area behind the building. It didn’t look like the place got used much. Several of the chairs and tables had webs strung between them and the nearby plant life. But this didn’t matter to us, because as we came around the corner we found what we were looking for.

The building was nothing to look at, just gray stone with a bit of white piping running along its surface and window and door frames that had clearly been upgrade in the last few years. But there, at the top, was the date stone we were looking for. 1854. Mom and I both took a moment to stare up at the lightly flourished numbers. The sun was low in the sky and sent streaks of sunlight and shadow across the stones. This was the closest thing Edith Sutor would ever have to a headstone. I stood for a time in silence, letting Mom take in the moment.

We left the old poorhouse behind after spending a few poignant minutes in front of the date stone. Back on the main walkway an older gentleman stopped us. He told us he had just been talking with the receptionist and that she had told him about what we were looking for. We spent a few minutes talking to him about Kelso and its history before moving back towards the center of town.

The center of town was quite literally a town square. Mom and I walked the perimeter, looking into the various shop windows with our eyes trained for any shops that might carry thistle earrings. One shop looked promising, so we stepped inside to have a look. The space was a small narrow strip of a room, and there was one woman inside running the shop. We got chatting with her as we looked around. Sadly there were no thistle earrings to be had, but we did walk away with a new earring organizer for Mom and a nice set of bookmarks bearing images of the Scottish Borders.

There was still some time to kill before our bus would take us back to Edinburgh so we popped into a café called the White Swan. We each ordered a pot of tea as well as a scone to split and took a seat outside. The ladies working the café were very friendly and we got to chatting when I brought in our dishes from outside. One woman was telling me about a large horse festival that takes place in Kelso every year and said I should come back and see it. I told her I most certainly would be back.

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One last stop was made before returning to the bus. Just next door to the White Swan was a watch shop, and I had been in desperate need of a new watch for some time (ha, get it? I do apologize for the unintentional bad pun). I spotted one I the window I thought would do quite well but took a quick look at the watches inside before I made my decision. If you’re wondering, the watch from the window is still going strong today, over a year later.

After our brief jaunt around Kelso, we found ourselves in the familiar interior of the bus, once again being jostled back north to Edinburgh and what promised to be a good night’s sleep after several hours of driving. The last of the sunlight was disappearing from the streets as we arrived back at the flat, pale patches of orange receding back into the darkened corners of buildings. The house was quiet. We walked down the hall to our room and flopped onto our respective beds.

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Tomorrow we would be flying back home and leaving the home of our ancestors behind. The night was spent organizing all our belongings back into our bags, making sure the various souvenirs we bought along the way fit comfortably with all we had brought from home. I’d started the journey with two books in my possession. I was going home with 10.

When we entered the room, we found two little visitors waiting for us on the window ledge. Maya had left the Highland cow egg cups there for us to take home. It was a very sweet gesture but Mom insisted she couldn’t take them. She asked me to include a P.S in my thank you note saying as much. I sat down to write the note after we had packed everything away and after I had written a draft of the note down in my journal to make sure I’d included everything I wanted to. I wrote the note on a postcard we’d brought back from Berlin, one that was supposed to be Peter’s only I’d forgotten to give it to him before getting on the train. Oh well. He knows where to get more.

I’m not sure why, but by the end of the trip, I felt like we hadn’t had enough time. Our time was shorter than when we’d visited New Zealand, but not by much, and we’d had fewer things planned. But somehow it just felt like there was so much we hadn’t done. For any passionate traveler this feeling is always present when a journey comes to an end. There is always more to see, more to do. Scotland is a place I know I’ll return to soon. It’s a place built of rock and stone and tougher things. The people are grounded, charming, and friendly. And for all the rough edges there is also beauty and a sense of tranquility to be found.

My adventures in Alba aren’t over yet. But for now there are other adventures to be had. My time in Scotland is simply on hold.

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~Ren

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Close Encounters in Tartan

One would think, having just returned from Germany and having gone through a travel nightmare the day before, we’d be traveled out. One might think we’d be happy spending the last couple of days in Scotland just wandering the streets of Edinburgh, finding cozy cafes to wile away hour upon hour in. How mistaken one would be! The day after our return from Germany did see us spending our time exploring nooks and crannies in Edinburgh. But we also had one or two more bus trips left in us before all would be said and done.

We took our time waking up that morning. Our first waking hours were spent putzing around the room getting things organized for the flight home. Then it was breakfast, where we enjoyed toast and sipped from steaming mugs of tea. When we reached the last bites we began to formulate our plan for the day. The only real goal was to drop off donation copies of Goodnight Brew to the library. A simple enough task. There were a couple locations to pick from, and after visiting the National Library I decided to leave the books with the Central Library (National felt a bit too uppity).

After leaving the library, Mom and I made our way back up the Royal Mile. One right turn later and we were in front of the same vendor stalls we’d passed on nearly every other visit to the Royal Mile. Often when we passed, I found myself seriously eyeballing one stall displaying a variety of shirts with images of all sorts printed on the front. I was captured by the style of the artwork, so finally I stopped to take a closer look. After a few minutes deliberation, and a nice chat with the man running the booth, I left with a cream colored tank covered in blue clouds sprinkling rain into an assortment of glasses gathered below.

We then rather unexpectedly (or not unexpectedly at all) found ourselves at the Scottish Family History Society. We had passed by the same sandwich board we’d seen when Peter was with us over a week ago. It was surely to blame. I should say we eventually found ourselves there as it took a bit of searching to find the place. The phrase ‘nooks and crannies’ is an apt description of the streets of Edinburgh. After popping into a restaurant to ask for directions, we found the History Society office down a flight of steps in an alley.

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The culprit.

It was a productive visit. Mom was taken to the far side of the main room to be helped by an older gentleman. She was hoping to discover the names of the closes (narrow alleys) where her ancestors had lived. I planted myself at a long table just inside to door and began to get a bit of note taking done. I’d only been at it for a few minutes before the man sitting at the table with me struck up a conversation. This time around I didn’t mind. Eventually I’d run out of travel notes to make and then where would I be?

The man was visiting from California with his family. Like us, they had come to Scotland partly for genealogical reasons. We shared stories about our time in Scotland and the successes and failures his wife and my mother had had in their genealogical endeavors. Finally, Mom returned with the location of two closes where her relatives had lived. I said goodbye to my tablemate and we left to find our first close.

Both closes were located along the Royal Mile. Long, rectangular placards mounted above narrow entryways made it easy to spot them. Even the copious amounts of souvenir displays lining the sidewalk weren’t enough to hide these modest portals to more secluded parts of the city. The first we found was Chalmers’ Close. I snapped a quick photo of Mom beneath the plaque, and then we descended the ramp into the close. At the bottom we found Forsyth’s Tea Room. Had we not already gotten our morning beverage we would have stopped in for a cuppa. Instead, we spent a few moments taking pictures and gazing up at the looming brick walls of the surrounding structures.

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The brick on our left looked positively worn compared to what I was sure was a new exterior on its next-door neighbor. Exposed piping snaked from inside the building out and up the walls. The shop fronts on the High Street were just the first layer of a much deeper world beyond. When we’d finished, we walked back up the water-streaked pavement to the street level and headed to the next close.

Trunk’s Close was a ways up the High Street from Chalmers’ Close. We each cast a lazy eye over the tourist shops with all their trinkets on display as we walked by, more enjoying the colors and energy of the street than looking for anything to buy. The entrance to Trunk’s close was set adjacent to a stairwell, and several sandwich boards were placed around it. Once again we followed the slopping path down into the depths of the city. The rough rock walls were covered with slim, dingy windows, and more exposed piping.

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The first break in the buildings gave way to a small courtyard. Here there was a circular planter and a few benches. Set to one side was a large bronze statue of a rooster with a thick comb set proudly atop his head. It was rather peculiar, standing there in this modern city built on so much history. And here we stood in front of a bit of our own history. Our ancestors could’ve looked out those same grimy windows onto the flat stones Mom and I now occupied. I felt haunted and exhilarated all at once.

After we’d had our fill of the hidden depths of the High Street, Mom and I reemerged to find our next adventure. We began walking back the way we had come, toward Chalmer’s Close, when I looked over and saw a full-length, red tartan dress on display in a shop window. I hadn’t yet purchased anything tartan, and I’d been in need of a good ‘going out’ outfit for a while. A sexy red tartan dress seemed a good choice to fill both needs.

I expressed my desire for the dress to Mom, who was equally thrilled by the idea, so we stepped inside. There was a single clerk working, a young man who I think was from somewhere in Eastern Europe. We found the display outfit on the rack and discovered it was a two-piece deal. The top was a corset, and the full-length skirt came separate. This worked better, because who’s gonna wear a full-length skirt every time they go out for a night on the town? No. Instead, I ended up getting something I was just as unlikely to wear out. Instead, I got a mini-skirt.

Let me just say that I rarely even wear shorts that don’t reach my knees, so a mini-skirt was way outside my comfort zone. But, it went with the corset, and one mini-skirt never hurt anyone, right? So, I stood patiently while the young male clerk very awkwardly tried to measure my bust to find my size then took the pieces into the dressing room to try on. As if trying on a corset and mini-skirt weren’t enough to make me sweat, the dressing rooms were right on the sales floor and had a curtain rather than a door. So that was fun. Also, like an idiot, I struggled to loosen the lacing on the corset for about ten minutes before realizing, of course, there was a zipper.

Once I figured that out and we found the right sizes for everything, I stepped from behind the curtain in all my red tartan and pale-skin glory. I must have run my hands over my butt 20 times while modeling for my Mom and the clerk. After they assured me several times I looked fantastic, I scampered back into the dressing room to get my all-covering pants back on. We left the shop a few minutes later, a big bag of tartan clutched in my hand.

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Our spontaneous shopping excursion finished just as it was rolling around to lunchtime. We headed back to Spoon to eat, mostly because I wanted another pot of their delicious lemon ginger tea before we left for home. We took our time eating and sipping our tea. There was one day left in our trip, and it was going to be a day full of bus rides. I think we each felt a minimum amount of guilt deciding to spend most of that day relaxing. When our teapot was empty and our bellies were full, we left Spoon and stopped by Sainsbury to shop for that night’s dinner.

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Back at the flat, we spent some time lounging about, checking email, tidying the room and making sure our suitcases were orderly. Hunger finally caught up with us again so we cooked up our last bit of pasta for dinner. Maya and Malc popped into the kitchen while we were eating, and we spent some time chatting with them. We finished and washed up so the kitchen was free for someone else and retreated back to our room. Next morning we would have an early start for our back down to the Borders, so it wasn’t long before were both slipped into our PJs, snuggled under the covers and fell asleep.

~Ren

Leaving Berlin

The next day was the last we would spend in Berlin. It had been a short, rather tiring, but nevertheless fun trip. Mom and I were both excited to be going back to Edinburgh though, but we didn’t say as much to Peter. Shhh. (Now that this is about to go public, I could change this bit, but I won’t. Sorry, Peter! <3) Checkout for the flat wasn’t until noon but we weren’t going to wait around all morning until then to start the day, and we certainly weren’t going to go out that morning only to come back some few hours later to get our stuff. So we were up early to pack and tidy up the flat a bit before catching the U-bahn to Peter’s.

Both of us knew the night before that this morning was going to, well, be a bit of a trial. Remember, there is no elevator in Peter’s apartment building, and he’s on the top floor. I mean, we did leave our biggest suitcase back at Maya’s place but we still had bulging backpacks and a decent sized carry-on bag to lug up all those stairs. I may be wrong, but writing that sentence may be the first moment I’ve realized that’s why we call it luggage. I digress. Either way, we still had a lot of heavy shit to carry up a lot of stairs.

A fine layer of sweat had formed over most of my face and gathered along my hairline by the time we reached the top. I, being the strong young one, got to carry the suitcase up. I lifted a trembling arm to knock on the door. I was slightly bent over to try and displace the weight pulling on my shoulders. It took a few seconds for the door to open but once it did Mom and I wobbled into the apartment and immediately slipped our packs from our backs.

We all but dragged our things into Peter’s room to store them while we were out for the day. From there we staggered to the kitchen for a sit and a much needed glass of water. Peter continued to get ready while we hydrated and regained normal oxygen levels, feeling the sweat cool on our brows. I was half lying when Peter asked if we were ready to go and I said yes. But he was taking us to a vegan-friendly buffet place. And food also sounded pretty good.

We descended the stairs to the U-bahn once more and traveled a few stops before climbing back to the street level. From there it was only a few minutes walk. The restaurant hadn’t quite opened when we arrived so we joined the crowd already milling about outside. Luckily it was rather warm outside, and the sun was shining so we didn’t much mind the wait. Well, I didn’t, but Mom was feeling pretty hungry. Once the doors were opened, we grabbed a table in the front corner of the room where Peter and I left Mom to go join the line for food. I’m not sure why we let Mom be the one to hold the table since she was likely the hungriest of all of us.

Anyway, Peter and I order drinks for the three of us and waited patiently as the line inched forward, bringing us closer to a spread of bowls, plates and baskets of many tasty looking items. It may seem silly to someone with a broader dietary intake but when I’m at a place where I can eat more than two things of the menu I get really excited, like, maybe irrationally so. At that little buffet in Berlin, the number of things I could eat outnumbered the things I couldn’t. And every single one of them was delicious.

Once we had our food, Peter and I hurried back to the table so Mom could go and get her plateful of food. We didn’t dig in right away. We tried to do the polite thing and wait for Mom to get back. I did nibble one or two things I had been curious about though. I passed the time by blowing on my tea and watching people pass by outside. Peter and I didn’t say much, both I think still needing to wake up a bit. Mom returned at last and breakfast properly began.

We all spent the first few bites uttering lots of “Mmm”s and “Ooh”s and the occasional “This is really good” which would always prompt the other two to sample whatever it was, whether it was on their plate or not. Around half way through the first plate, actual conversation started, punctuated by chewing and one or two trips back for seconds. It’s been too long now for me to recall in any detail what we talked about but I do remember that it was very good conversation, the kind that teaches you about yourself and the people you were with; the kind that gave me plenty to think about later on.

When we were all full up, we cleaned up our table and went to pay. This place was pretty cool since you pay what you think is fair or whatever you can spare. It’s nice because if you are a little short on cash you can still get a meal for a couple bucks and hopefully, in the future, you’ll pay it forward when you can. Anyway, after we were all paid up, we left the restaurant and walked to the nearest tram station. From there we rode through a few stops before getting off to traverse the streets on foot once more.

Since we didn’t have much time that day before we needed to head to the airport, we didn’t have anything planned except to check out this massive flea market which could take as little or as much time as we wanted. And boy, was it massive. I’ve been to flea markets before, both indoor and outdoor. And I thought I had seen big ones but this one in Berlin seemed to just keep sprawling, lining walkways and going around corners, branching into completely separate sections. There was no way I saw everything.

We passed stalls selling handmade bags and wallets, stalls with creative assortments of shirts and scarves and hats. There were food vendors and jewelry vendors, racks and racks of eclectic clothing and tables filled with rows of shoes. We walked through a pavilion with trays of dishes and glassware set up in lines underneath the pointed roof. We stopped to admire the wares in a few shops but all we ended up buying were a collection of postcards with various images from around Berlin.

Going to this flea market gave me some perspective. It made me realize just how much junk we have created over our time on earth. Humans, I mean. There were things ranging from old to new at this market but either way, it was all going to be around for the next however many years. It’s insane. And this was just one flea market in Berlin, and Berlin is just one city in one country in one continent. It worries me and makes me a little sad. Someone could surely reuse a lot of that stuff but a lot of it will always be junk.

Bringing the mood back up, when we had finished browsing the flea market we ducked through the crowd and took an exit along a wall that divided the flea market from a park. It was a long greenbelt full of people walking, playing frisbee, playing with their dogs or just lounging in the sun. The three of us took our time walking towards a rectangular space of gravel, dotted with trees and line with a low cement wall. At the far end, the wall was covered with people sitting and watching a man sing and play acoustic guitar.

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Mom, Peter and I walked around to the very end of the plaza and found an open spot on the wall to sit and watch. The guy was wearing an un-tucked, red plaid shirt with baggy blue jeans and had a sizable poof of black hair. He finished up a song just after we all sat down. The crowd applauded and he thanked them before he singled out a couple of guys sitting near us and asked one where he was from. They had a brief back and forth, the singer making a joke or two before he began another song.

The guy was very funny and had a really nice voice. We stayed until the end of the set, and when he had finished Mom and I went up to give him a tip and buy one of his CDs, which he signed for me. With another souvenir in hand, we wandered away from that end of the plaza towards the other where a full band had set up and was just about to start playing. I noticed instantly that they had a female bass player so I snapped a picture to show David when I got home.

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We stayed in the park, enjoying the sunshine and listening to the music as long as we could. But soon it was time for us to head back to Peter’s to collect our things and set out for the airport. It still wasn’t much fun, but carrying the bags down the stairs wasn’t as bad as it had been carrying them up the stairs. This time Mom didn’t even bother going all the way back to the top. She sent Peter and I up for everything while she waited below.

Peter went with us as far as the bahnhof that would put us on the S-bahn back to the airport. In Edinburgh our goodbye had been a short one, but this time we wouldn’t be seeing Peter again until he came home for Christmas. Mom and I each gave him a good hug and thanked him for the wonderful time before climbing onto the train.

I waddled down the aisle, our bag stuck between my legs, looking for a seat. I took one next to a girl about my age while Mom took one across the way from me. It was a tight fit with no where to really put your luggage besides your lap, but I managed to get comfortable enough for the short jaunt out of the city. The day so far had been very enjoyable but what we didn’t know was that the end of the train ride would be the end of the fun times, too.

Mom and I and several other people exited the train when it stopped at the airport. I recognized the platform; it was the same one we had left from. We descended the stairs before climbing back up the long, sloping ramp and following the gently curving sidewalk to the terminal. Our first pass through this building on our arrival had been short, and I had been oblivious to its very poor layout. We spent a minute or two looking around, past crowds of milling people, trying to find where the check in counter was.

Eventually we joined a long, very poorly queued lined of people, thinking only a line this long would be for something like check in. After a while, however, it got back to us that what we were actually in was the line for security. We weren’t cutting it that close to our flight time, but a giant clusterfuck of a security line still doesn’t instill much confidence for an on time departure. So we fought our way through the crowd, around the corner and over to the actual check in line.

There weren’t actually many people in this line. Probably because most of them were still stuck in the security line thinking they were in the check in line. So we got our bag checked fairly quickly and then had the joy of going back to the giant clusterfuck of a security line. By this time though it had made it out of the rather bottlenecked section it had been in before. But there was still a lot of line to go and it didn’t seem to be moving very fast.

Inch by inch we shuffled forward. I spent most of the time shifting anxiously from foot to foot. I noticed after a while that some people were being let to the front of the line, and I gathered it was because their flights were leaving very soon. When my nerves finally got the better of me I went over to inform the attendant when our flight left and if we should be cutting to the front. She told me if it came within a half hour of departure that I should say something. So I turned and went back to Mom, not feeling any better about our position.

At last we did make it through security only to be held up again before we even left the metal detectors behind. My laptop, for whatever reason, was taken aside into a nearby room and wiped down and scanned for alien technology or something. I was getting so nervous by that point that I was having even more trouble understanding the questions I was asked with a German accent. The security officers finished their tests and I got my laptop back, and from their we were back to rushing to the gate. The Berlin airport isn’t that big but a place always feels bigger when you’ve never been there and don’t know where you’re going and all your neurons are slowly frying under stress.

After a few minutes of following signs and turning corner after corner and briskly walking past slow people and kind of hoping you accidentally-on-purpose hit them with your roller bag to teach them a lesson for being slow and in your way, we made it to the immigration booth. I went up first and was checked through no problem. I walked through the doorway and stepped aside to wait for Mom. And waited. And waited. And wai­—Mom! Did you get sucked into an alternate dimension? Where are you?

At last she appeared in the doorway and told me, when I commented on the length of time, that she had gotten the newbie that took his sweet time just figuring how to open her passport. Frustrating as that might be, we had made it through the worst. Our gate was only a few short feet away. Sure, we may have to go straight from sprinting through the airport to being squished into a plane but we made it! And that’s what matters.

To our annoyance, though, the plane had not even made it to the gate by the time we arrived. Really, plane? Really? Talk about the biggest, yet most irritated, sighs of relief. I only felt like a bit of an idiot for obviously being the only person who had half sprinted all the way down to the gate. I was still too irked at the airline to care much, so Mom and I stomped off (at a much slower pace) to find a place to sit and let the sweat dry.

I was comforted by the fact the plane did show up only a few minutes after we busted through the door. Once on board, Mom and I turned our thoughts to the substance to cure all ills. Yes, I’m talking about booze. We had 20 Euro left from our stay so we did what any fiscally responsible travelers would do: we pulled out the food and beverage menu, and order just the right combination of items to spend our 20 Euro. Two gin and tonics, two bags of pretzels, and a pastry trio later, we were both buzzed and laughing about what a great story this will make later (and see how right we were?).

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Once we landed in Glasgow, we made our way out to the street where we caught a bus to the train station. We boarded with no problem and sat back to relax for the journey back to Edinburgh. We stopped at the station shop in Edinburgh to pick up something for dinner before catching the bus back to the flat. There was no food there and no energy in us to cook anyway.

Maya and Malc, true to their word, had placed our bag back in our room. We tossed our carry on and back packs into the room so we could sit in the kitchen and eat our dinner. The meal wasn’t much, but at this point we were both more tired than hungry and having something in our bellies was better then naught. Once fed, we prepared ourselves for bed and promptly fell asleep.

~Ren

 

Highland Cows in Berlin

We slept in again the next morning. It had reached the point in the trip where getting home and returning to normalcy wasn’t sounding so bad. Worn as we were, Mom and I got out of bed without letting too much of the day pass us by. We showered and dressed and I sent off a message to Peter to see what was on the docket for today. He told us to meet him at the Strausberger-Platz bahnhof in a half hour. Both of us finished getting ready and enjoyed a cup of tea until it was time to leave.

That Saturday was the first real sunny day we had in Berlin. Our visit there seemed to mirror Peter’s visit to Edinburgh. The first couple of days had been gray and overcast but then things brightened up. Mom and I enjoyed the walk down to the bahnhof. We passed by a small park and both admired the ravens strutting through the grass. They looked very distinguished with patches of gray looking like small vests over their black wings.

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On our walk, an elderly couple approached us, trying to ask directions. They were speaking in German so of course we could be no help. I told them apologetically that we did not speak German, and they gave an understanding nod and moved on. Mom and I continued on our way, but my brain was still thinking about what the old woman had said to me. I furrowed my brow and looked at Mom. “Did she say Strausberger-Platz?” I asked. Mom gave an unsure ‘ummm’ as I glanced over my shoulder to see where the couple had gone.

They were at the corner still waiting for the light to change. I didn’t wait to hear the rest of Mom’s answer. I raised my hand and shouted, “Excuse me!” as I jogged back down the street towards the man and woman. I caught their attention just as they were about to start crossing the street. I stepped up to the woman and asked “Strausberger-Platz?” She nodded and, as clearly as I could, I pointed down to the opposite corner of the street and nodded that that was the correct direction to go. The woman thanked me, I think, and we parted ways again.

It was complete chance that the couple was making their way to the very same bahnhof Mom and I were going to, but nevertheless I felt very proud of myself for being able to help someone I couldn’t understand in a place I had only been for two days. Back in Edinburgh I had confirmed for someone the presence of the North Bridge, which also made me feel pretty good about myself. It’s the little things, you know?

Peter wasn’t there yet so we positioned ourselves in the sun and waited. I kept panning back and forth like some probe droid. I wasn’t sure exactly which direction Peter would be coming from. Finally we spotted him on the diagonal corner. He was riding his own bike this time. We watched him cross one direction then the other, which brought him to our corner. “Did you see me almost eat shit?” he asked. We said we had but told him he did an expert job at catching himself. It took us a few minutes to decide what to do for breakfast, whether we should go out or make something back at Peter’s. I think what finally clinched it was the fact that Mom had yet to see Peter’s apartment. Though it may be at the top of a shit ton of stairs, it was still something Mom needed to do at least once…hopefully only once.

We descended the stairs to the platform and caught the train to Frankfurter Tor. There was a small organic market a short distance away from Peter’s apartment. Our plan was to stop here, pick up some things for what would be brunch and then walk back to the house. As we walked around a large intersection to the other side of the street, we passed a girl who stopped briefly and said hello to Peter. After the quick exchange, and once the girl was out of earshot, Peter turned around and told us he couldn’t fully remember who that was. I’ve had several instances like this happen, and they are always super weird. Eventually he did remember though. Apparently the new hair just threw him for a bit.

There was a bit of deliberation at the market about what exactly to have to brunch. But once Peter stumbled across some pre-made falafel cakes the creative juices were unlocked. We grabbed carrots and zucchini and tomatoes and hummus to dip them in. Pita bread, a baguette, some jam and some grapes also made there way into our basket. We got the baguette from a small bakery in the shop, and I saw they also had some big fat pretzels for sale. This was exciting for me because the night before, when we were coming home from the bar, still working the beer out of our systems, we had walked by some pretzel place in the bahnhof, and it gave me a craving for a soft pretzel. But at one in the morning the place was closed. When I saw the pretzel the next morning the craving was back. So Peter got us each a pretzel to munch on during the walk back to his place.

Peter pushed open the large front door, and we stepped into the high-ceilinged lobby area. Mom and I started up the stairs while Peter locked up his bike. We needed the head start. Once inside, sweating and panting, we stumbled to the kitchen to dump the bags. Caroline and Ben were sitting at the table when we walked in. Mom was introduced to both while I said hi to Ben and was now introduced to Caroline. Peter took Mom back into the hall to point everything out to her. I joined them once they went into Peter’s room. I wanted to check out the balcony again in the daylight.

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With the tour over, we all marched back into the kitchen to start cooking. Ben and Caroline respectfully cleared out, though we wouldn’t have had a problem if they’d stayed. One of us cut veggies while the other washed the grapes and tomatoes and cooked falafel on the stove. Peter cleared the table and got out dishes and glasses for water. When everything was prepared it was practically a buffet.

We sat down to eat while Peter’s Berlin Dance Party playlist played quietly in the background. All of us must have been hungrier than we’d realized because we somehow managed to eat nearly everything on the table in front of us. With everything ingested that could be ingested we cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen. Nearly half the day was gone and we had things to do! A quick and much less exhaustive trot down the stairs put us back on the street and back in motion.

Berlin, like a lot of major cities nowadays, has a fantastic bike rental program. Peter had signed up for some kind of yearly pass that allowed him to check two bikes out at once. He brought his and rented two for Mom and me. Now maybe it’s just because I bike a decent amount and have become accustomed to my bike but it is suuuper weird to ride a completely new bike. For one, the city bikes were a lot heavier. The handlebars were higher than I was used to, and I couldn’t get the seat in the right place. But I forged ahead regardless.

With our bikes adjusted to the greatest comfort level, we began another anxiety-inducing activity: biking in a new city. Once we got into it some of the stress went away. It also helped that eventually we left the crowded sidewalks and busy streets behind. Our first stop wasn’t far away from where we had gotten the bikes. East Side Gallery was a pretty straight shot from where we had started. If you’re not familiar, the East Side Gallery is a segment of the Berlin Wall that has been transformed into an international memorial for freedom.

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The first thing anyone could notice about Berlin is that there is graffiti everywhere. It is part of the city’s charm and personality. East Side Gallery is more of the same but at a much higher level. Actual artistic ability is displayed here much more than just hastily drawn scribbles. It is an immense display of color and emotion, transforming the gray strip of wall into something beautiful.

Some pieces were small, simple. Others were large, intricate and greatly detailed. It was a fascinating piece of artwork to behold, and I wish I could’ve read all the messages inscribed there and known all of the stories behind the pictures. Some things would remain mysteries to me but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The gallery runs parallel to the river, and it was a very peaceful stretch to walk down. Light danced on the gently rippling surface of the water and the red bricks of the Oberbaum Bridge shone brightly against the soft blue of the sky.

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We walked down the wall on one side and back on the other. Then Mom and I decided it would be a good idea to run across a five-lane road with high curbs on either side so we could get a marginally better look at the Molecule Man statue that was down river. Believe me, it was totally worth it (this is one of those times you must insert sarcasm). After our could-have-been near-death experience, we got back on the bikes and rode into more residential areas of the city. There were no bike lanes to speak of like I’m accustomed to, but the streets were wide enough and quiet enough that I wasn’t fearing for my life every two seconds. There was only once where we made a crossing that was a little dicey.

After a few more minutes of riding down streets lined with multicolored apartment buildings, we crossed from the road into what I’ve since referred to as the Sketchy Park. Peter had warned us about the park before we ventured in, which in retrospect might have just made the ride through that much more unsettling. No one standing along the path made a move to sell me drugs or ask for drugs or anything like that, but the whole time my gaze was shifting nervously from one person to the next, watching for the slightest motion I may have to deflect.

The park itself seemed nice enough. It was lush and green with concrete walkways forming intersections that branched off in several directions deeper into the park. We left the park to bike through a bit more of the neighborhood before coming upon another, much nicer, park complete with a petting zoo. It was here that Mom and I realized just how spoiled we were by our bikes back home. The bikes we had rented were not nearly as light as ours are, and this became all too apparent when we reached the first big hill.

Peter, riding his own bike, had no problem. I just barely made it to the top still on my bike, my legs burning like I hadn’t experienced in a while. Mom had dismounted three quarters of the way to the top and walked the rest of the way. The wide slab of pavement was teeming with people that day. The three of us stood to the side to catch our breath and deliberate on whether we wanted to stop by the petting zoo for a moment. We were in no hurry so we decided we would make a quick pass along the enclosures to see if there was any animals we wanted to stop and see.

Ironically, we ended up stopping to see a Highland cow in Germany, when we had just come from Scotland and had no more than glanced a Highland cow from the bus window. As backwards as that was, we had fun standing and watching the massive orange beast strut slowly around his enclosure. He was kept company by another cow, this one black and a bit smaller. I think the sheer magnitude of these animals, and most large ungulates, is often lost on us. Most of the time when we see them they are a good distance away from us and we don’t get the full impact of their bulk and size.

It was a little easier to realize there in the zoo. The enclosure wasn’t that large and the cows had positioned themselves roughly in the center. The orange cow’s horns were each at least two feet long. He had thick stocky legs and grey cloven hooves. I watched him scratch his belly with one of the horns and was amazed he didn’t disembowel himself in the process. After we (okay, I) had snapped something like 50 photos, we turned and said hello to the wee donkey in the next paddock over. I reached out to rub his nose and his velvety lips flapped and tried to nibble my fingers.

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When we’d spent more than enough time with our furry friends, we got back on our bikes and rode the last stretch of path to our destination. We passed a wide swatch of green field just after leaving the zoo. There were people throwing frisbees and some laying out on blankets enjoying a drink. It looked so nice I was tempted to pull my bike over and insert myself into one of the groups. Figuring that would be too bold, and highly uncomfortable for all involved, I kept peddling.

The trees and the green belt soon came to an end, and the pathway intersected with a street that veered off to the left, and to the right was our destination. Tempelhofer Park used to be an airport. But once it closed down in 2008 the city reclaimed the area of 368 hectares for public use. That’s right: it was a park made from an old airport.

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When I think about it, it seems a little silly to be so excited and awestruck by a park that used to be an airfield. I’ve seen big open fields before; I’ve seen large stretches of black pavement with various markings on them before. And I’ve seen large crowds of people doing things you would in a park. But something about all those things being put together smack dab in the middle of a major city made it that much more impressive. We took a moment to gaze out at the park before locking our bikes to the fence and walking a short ways to Peter’s favorite gelato place.

It’s called Mos Eisley; yes just like the, “You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” Mos Eisley. Only these guys make really tasty gelato, not those crazy space cocktails. The place isn’t that big. We stepped in and to the back of the shop while a few other people got their gelato. They had an array of all kinds of flavors, cookies and cream, spicy mango, cheesecake, baileys cream, and many more. We had Peter help us decipher some of the more difficult German names, however we had enough of a grasp on the language to know ‘vanille’ was vanilla.

I have to give extra props to Mos Eisley because they had several vegan options available. However, back in September I was not as strict a vegan as I am now. This will come into pay in a little while. Anyway, we got our gelato and returned to the park. The day was steadily coming to an end, and by the time we were walking back through the gate, the sun was hanging low in the sky. The whole place seemed made up of green and orange and shadows. A strip of clouds blocked the sun as it sunk lower, and its light was fractured into dusty rays of gold.

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The park would be closing soon, its hours being from sunrise to sundown. This made a lot of sense because there was no lighting in the park, and it would be a terrible idea to try and windsurf in the dark. But there were lots of people taking advantage of the last moments of sunlight. People were skateboarding, windsurfing, flying kites, lounging on the grass, enjoying a nice stroll down the runway. There was a community garden not far from the entrance and we took a minute to walk through and see what people were growing.

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A few minutes after we had entered the park, out gelato cups (or in German, der becher) were empty, and Mom and I were left wanting more. We finished our viewing of the garden, tossed our cups in a bin, and returned to Mos Eisley for another scoop. This time, I forewent my pseudo-vegan diet and got the pistachio gelato that Peter had gotten the first time we went. Totally worth it, though the retroactive guilt I feel still lingers.

Savoring our last cup of gelato for the day, we strolled down the runways of the park, squinting against the sun as we looked over the expansive grounds of the park. It felt good to take a moment to just enjoy the outside. It’s small moments like that that keep you sane while you travel. The long days are filled with constant motion and sometimes you forget to breath. That being said, once we had finished our second helping of gelato and taken a minute to inspect some wooden posts topped with soaring falcons we hurried back to the bikes so we wouldn’t be late for dinner. At least, any later than we were already going to be.

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Peter had arranged for us to meet up with Emma and Jakob again, as well as his friend Anna, at some Mexican fusion place. We arrived and found it to be almost as tight a fit as Burrito Baby had been (there seems to be a trend here…). The three of us carefully, squeezed, slid, or climbed into seats at the already occupied table and began searching the menu for our dinner. I ordered a sort of flatbread pizza that turned out to be surprisingly difficult to eat with a fork and knife, but that had seemed like a better, less messy way to do it than eating it by hand. Oh well. Eventually I got it all down, before we dashed out of the restaurant to find a cab.

We were wrapping up the day with a visit to the Reichstag Dome. The dome was designed by architect Norman Foster and built to symbolize German reunification. This fixture has made the German parliament the most visited in the world (according to the Bundestag website). The dome is made entirely of glass and sits directly over the room in which the parliament gathers. Our cab let us out on the side of the building opposite the entrance. So we speed-walked to the other side and made it to the security check place just as a few other stragglers to the group were arriving.

The guards made us put our jackets and bags in tubs and walk through a metal detector, airport style, you know, before they got those full body scan things. We joined a medium-size group of other visitors to the dome and followed a guard from the small security building across a courtyard area to the front of the Reichstag Building. Another security guard buzzed us from the foyer into the lobby of the building. From there we all shuffled into an elevator that took us to the top floor.

The doors opened on a long hallway. At the far end was a doorway that lead to another long room with a long desk where you could pick up the self-guided audio tour, and behind that was the inside of the dome. Peter, Mom and I each got a pair of headphones and the audio device and stepped inside the glass dome. It’s a fairly large space, with a circular display of images and history at its center. Just inside the ring of displays is the window that looks down into the parliament room. Extending down from the top of the dome is a cone constructed complete of mirrors.

The dome was built to be energy efficient, and the cone of mirrors helps to reduce the carbon emissions of the building by directing sunlight into the parliament chamber below. The top of the dome was also left open so that rainwater could be collected and directed into the pipelines of the building. As for the domes position above the parliament chamber, this was done to symbolize that people are above the government. Someone also told me while I was there that the opening had been made so that members of parliament, if ever they were having trouble making a decision, could look up and remember the people they were serving. A nice idea, I thought.

Peter had hoped to get us here during the daytime. Many of the stops on the audio tour were a bit useless since they referred to buildings viewable from the dome, but in the dark we couldn’t make many out. However, the dome had its own kind of beauty in the dark as well. I’m not a fan of light pollution but some cities do just dazzle you in the dark with all their lights. Berlin’s night skyline boasted a sprawling, color changing tent sort of thing (I don’t remember what Peter said it was called but it looked cool in the dark), a majestically light Brandenburg Gate and several buildings that were just large blocks of light, beacons in a comparatively dim surrounding.

Steadily, the three of us wound our way around the dome, enjoying brief periods of silence before our audio tours were activated again and we came to a halt to look and listen (mostly listen since we couldn’t see most of what the man was talking about). Even though the dome was filled with people it was pretty quiet inside. The whole walk up the dome was rather relaxing. I had the sensation of floating above the entire city as I spiraled higher and higher.

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When we reached the top, we saw up close the large hole in the dome. Directly below it is a large steel drum to collect the water. We all took a seat and had a quick rest before we headed back down the opposite side. At the bottom we left the dome and stepped outside for an…outside view. Obviously. Watching all the people move around inside the dome felt a bit like watching TV. All these people moving around in this big, lit up glass structure. I was just there watching life happen.

We snapped a few pictures and Peter and I unsuccessfully jump-photo bombed Mom’s pictures before we returned our audio tours and left the building. It was getting later and later and we were all tired, Mom and I especially, after biking and running around town all day. Peter put us on the correct U-Bahn home, but not before we had figured out how tomorrow morning was going to go. It would be our last day in Berlin and we had to be checked out of the flat by 12. Before we left the bahnhof, Mom and I stopped into a shop to get a few things to eat before returning to the flat and going to bed.

~Ren

 

Seeing Berlin with Sandeman

We slept late the next morning, and took our time waking up and preparing tea. There were only a few biscuits left from the day before that we made our very meager breakfast. Neither of us felt any real urgency to get the day started. Peter would be at work until that afternoon, and there was nothing Mom and I had our hearts set on seeing that day. Without Peter we felt rather lost. He had, however, mentioned a “free” walking tour that took you around a bit of the city and showed you some of the bigger landmarks and tourist hotspots.

We were too late for the 11 o’clock group so we planned to get a late breakfast and catch the 2 o’clock group instead. After getting cleaned and dressed we walked through the park to the bahnhof and took the U-Bahn into town. We got off at the Brandenburg Gate. It was from here the tour would be leaving. Before we went off to find breakfast, we found the red umbrella that marked the ticket line. We waited our turn and got our numbered tickets before we started walking down the street looking for a place to eat breakfast.

Unlike Fort Collins, and Edinburgh to a degree, Berlin did not have a coffee shop every ten feet. There were, however, two or three within a few minutes of the Gate. I made some arbitrary decision as to which one looked best. A minute later we were walking into Einstein’s Koffee. The place was alive with early morning energy…or was it the lunch rush by then? Anyway, Mom and I stood in the doorway for a few minutes, scoping the place out and looking for a table. There was no hostess stand and no one approached us to seat us. Mom tried to ask someone how things were supposed to go but she didn’t really get an answer. So as soon as we saw a table open up we snagged it.

The dishes from the last customers were still on the table. It took several minutes for our waitress to come and clear them and bring us menus. She seemed to be having a bit of a day so I wasn’t going to hold it against her or give her a hard time (something I rarely do anyway). At one point she came over and said something to us in German. Mom responded with a friendly, “Okay.” As soon as the waitress was out of range, I looked at Mom incredulously. “You have no idea what she just said. And you agreed to it.” There were only so many things she could have said, of course, given the situation, but it was just funny to so readily agree to something you couldn’t understand.

The menu at Einstein’s was not the least bit vegan friendly so we went with a Parisian breakfast. If you’re not familiar with the Parisian breakfast it is basically bread, bread, and more bread…and some jam. Mom got tea while I ordered hot chocolate, which was served in the most unusual way. It was a three-part deal. There was an empty cup on a saucer along with a saucer for the whipped cream, and the actual chocolate itself in a small porcelain pitcher. It was still delicious but just came with more parts than I was used to.

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The breakfast was enough to keep us full through the tour, but after two hours of walking we were going to be ready for more. We paid and left Einstein’s, heading back to the Brandenburg Gate with a few minutes to spare before our tour would begin. There was a sort of plaza in front of the Gate, and we had been told to meet there for the start of our tour.

In twos and threes and fours people began to congregate on the plaza. A man in a tan coat came over with the red umbrella we had seen early to indicate the meeting place. Soon another man joined the group, a tall fellow with brown hair and a knee brace. This was Paul and he would be our guide. He said a few words about the time span of the tour as well as how much walking would be involved. He welcomed questions at any time and gave a short list of some of the places we’d be seeing. After that we were off.

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We crossed to the left side of the street and moved a bit closer to the Brandenburg Gate. This was our first stop. Paul started to tell us about the history of the Gate as well as that of the statue perched high atop the columned structure. At the same time, a man at the center of the plaza began giving a speech through a loud speaker. This made it rather difficult to make out all that Paul was saying about the Gate. Talk about bad timing, eh? Some big marathon was taking place the following day so there were all sorts of pre-marathon events going on the day of our tour.

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Here’s something I do remember Paul telling us. The Gate used to be a symbol of a divided Berlin. From here, citizens of East Berlin could catch a glimpse of the world outside their own, see that there was still light on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The Gate’s meaning changed after the reunification of the city, shifting from one of division to one of unity. It has undergone a couple restorations and reconstructions, both after the War and after it was officially opened to traffic in December of 1989.

The Quadriga sitting at the top of the Gate is a representation of the Goddess of Victory. Originally it had been Eirene, the Goddess of Peace. But then the statue was stolen in 1806 as a Napoleonic spoil of war. After its recovery in 1814 it underwent a redesign, a task undertaken by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The Brandenburg Gate now serves as a Prussian triumphal arch, with the Goddess Victoria, equipped with eagle and iron cross, looking down from on high.

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After the Brandenburg Gate my order of events goes out the window so I’ll just tell you about the things I remember. We left the Gate, and the annoyingly loud presenter, behind. Go figure that once we left he finished speaking and silence reigned again on the plaza. C’est la vie. We moved into a part of the city where the buildings lining either side of the street were much closer together compared to the large open area in front of the Gate. Throughout the tour Paul continued to point out to us the two-wide strip of bricks set in the pavement that marked the location of the Wall. It ran throughout the city wherever segments of the Wall no longer stood.

We stopped at a small square of grass just outside an ordinary strip of apartment buildings. This, Paul told us, was were Hitler’s bunker was located, the very one where he killed himself, his wife killed herself, and I’m pretty sure he also killed his dog there. Hitler wanted to make sure he was good and dead so not only did he ingest a cyanide capsule but he also shot himself in the head immediately after taking it. One of Hitler’s fears was what would happen to his body were it found by the Allied Forces, so he gave orders for his men to destroy his body once he was dead and make sure it wouldn’t be found. His men did succeeded in burning Hitler and his wife’s bodies, and then buried them in a shell crater. However, in early May, the remains were discovered by the Soviet Army and moved, one of many relocations to corpse would experience.

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We turned up more streets, visiting former Nazi buildings, seeing various embassies, including the U.S, U.K, Russian and French ones. We took a stop at the Gendarmenmarkt, one of Berlin’s most well known squares. It boasts a trio of beautifully constructed buildings. Two cathedrals, one French and the other German, flank the square and at its center is Schinkel’s Konzerthaus, or concert hall, if you couldn’t guess. The square was part of King Friedrick the first’s plan for the emerging quarter of Berlin called Friedrickstadt. Today it plays host to a Christmas market and ice rink from the first of Advent to the New Year.

We traded one square for another as we walked to the university and the long rectangular plaza where the book burnings took place. This stop had particular significance to me. I’ve made clear my love of books and the written world throughout my journey. To stand on those stones and think of all the pages that shriveled and burned at the hands of madmen struck me at my core. Today, it is a place of learning and knowledge, and to see that gave me hope that with time we could overcome our troubles and misunderstanding and live together in some semblance of harmony.

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A memorial to the books lost had been constructed in the square. The memorial was inaugurated in March of 1995, and is the creation of Israeli artist Micha Ullman. The piece is called “Library.” If you weren’t looking, you would miss it. It is hidden underground and can only be seen from the surface through a small, square window. There were shelves. Enough shelves to hold up to 20,000 books. The same number of books burned by the Nazi’s in 1933. The works of journalists, philosophers, writers and scientists were burned for the mere fact they threatened the Nazi ideology; they were burned for how they “undermine the moral and religious foundations of our nation” and because they acted against the German sprit.

It was a terrible thing to do, and I think the quotation set into a bronze plaque at the memorial sums it up best.

That was only a prelude, there


where they burn books,


they burn in the end people.

-
Heinrich Heine 1820

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Let’s move on to something less depressing, shall we? My favorite thing on the tour is a toss up between the site of the book burning and the memorial to the Jewish people murdered during the war. Did I say less depressing? I lied. I did a bit of reading on the memorial once I returned home and found that there is a good deal of controversy surrounding it. Half of the people that visit seem to be disappointed by it, not really understanding what it is supposed to mean or represent. Others find it is a disrespectful way to honor the lives that were lost and think it could’ve been done better. Still others find it moving and thought provoking.

The memorial sits on a plot of land not far from the Brandenburg Gate, and is located right in the city administrative centre. It is constructed completely of large gray slabs of concrete set up in a grid pattern. Every slab had the same dimensions, varying only in height as they move down the slopping plane. The area lacks any sort of symbolism or marker as to what it is. To the uninformed observer it is just a field of 2,711 gray rectangles in the middle of Berlin. After picturing this scene in your head you can maybe see why some people have a dislike for the memorial.

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The memorial’s architect, Peter Eisenman, says that the pillars are designed in a way meant to create an uneasy and confusing atmosphere, with the aim of the entire sculpture being to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. That is not how my experience of the memorial started. On the outer edges, where the blocks are set low and the air around you is clear and open, the place feels like a picnic spot or a very unimaginative playground. People were all about, sitting on blocks, have a quick bite; children were climbing on the blocks. Then I began to descend.

Paul set us loose in the pillars, saying we would meet up on the other side. I drifted away from Mom, trying to find isolation where I could in the crowded memorial. The ground slipped away so subtly I didn’t really become aware of it until the shadows began to press in around me. The air grew colder the lower I went. People suddenly began to disappear. All I could catch were brief glimpses of them as the appeared from behind one block and vanished behind another. I flinched whenever I nearly bumped into someone around a corner.

I kept turning, never walking in a straight line for very long. The pillars towered overhead. Many were streaked with thin tendrils of moisture, some faint, just ghosts in the concrete, others dark like blood from a freshly cut wound. I wasn’t entirely sure what I had felt down in the maze, I’m still not really sure today. The whole place had the feeling of a graveyard, the pillars great stone coffins set on top of the earth rather than buried below it. It was disorienting, unnerving, the way people were there one second and gone the next. The progression down to the bottom of the hill and back up again felt like the rising and fallings of life itself. And always hanging in the back of my mind was the great loss this place represented, the stinging injustice that is still felt today. People can think what they want, that was Eisenman’s intent when he built the thing, but I will always remember the profound effect it had on me.

The tour ended on Museum Island, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is home to a collection of five world-renowned museums. Mom and I wanted to visit the Pergamon museum, home of the Market Gate of Miletus, an ancient city that existed in what is now Turkey. This giant marble gateway was excavated in 1903 and piece-by-piece brought to Berlin where a building was quite literally built around it. Sadly, we were there just before it was about to close for a five-year renovation, and we didn’t have enough time to get there after the tour finished. Guess we’ll just have to come back in five years! The island is also home to the Berlin cathedral, a massive stone building accentuated with soft teal statues and domes and topped with a gleaming gold spire atop the highest dome.

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Paul gave his last history lesson before thanking us all for choosing Sandeman’s Tours. After a quick round of applause the group dispersed. A few people stayed to ask Paul some questions or say their thanks. Mom and I pulled out about 15 euro to give Paul and we said our thanks as well and how much we enjoyed the tour. We stepped away from what was left of the tour group, and a minute later Peter called. He would be leaving work shortly and wanted to see where we were. I told him we had just finished up on Museum Island, and that we were both ready for a good meal. We made plans to meet at this street market that was roughly half way between ResearchGate and Museum Island, and from there we would head to Burrito Baby.

With one last look at the behemoth buildings all around us, we left the island and walked the few blocks to our meeting place. The afternoon was slipping away into evening. The many buildings were splitting the rays of the sun, and most of its light was muted, setting the streets in a dull gray light. This made the market place a bit of a shock when we finally turned the corner on it. It was contained within a moderately sized square and flanked by rows of retail shops. Most of the stalls were constructed of sturdy looking wood and each was filled with a multitude of items. Some had fudge, others had strands and strands of kielbasa and other meats; there was also popcorn and other stalls with knickknacks and trinkets of all kinds. At the center of it all was a fountain we could only see parts of, and bright yellow lights hung over the whole scene. It was a splash of vibrant color and sounds after a drab street canvas.

Mom and I crossed to the far side of the square to a couple of steps outside the entrances to the adjacent shops. It was nice to sit after those long hours of walking on pavement. I passed the time waiting for Peter to arrive watching people come and go and half listening to the conversations of people sitting nearby. I was mid-zone when Peter swept in from my peripheral vision on a city bike and hopped off the petals to a stop in front of us. We walked back the way we had come so Peter could return his bike before we all boarded the U-Bahn.

We took seats (if we could find them), and Peter commented his surprise that the tour had taken us so long. Paul had mentioned he had gone a bit long by taking us onto the actual island but the timing seemed to have worked out well. If it had been any shorter, we would’ve been waiting that much longer for Peter to get off work. The train started to move. Peter nudged my shoulder and pointed down the length of the train. I leaned forward to look. The other day Peter had mentioned there was a train that wasn’t made up of separated cars but instead was one long continuous car. This made for a very mesmerizing U-Bahn experience. You can look down the center aisle and watch the whole train bend and curve with the tunnel. I know, doesn’t sound that great but it is actually a very neat sight.

After the train ride we walked through darkened Berlin streets to the second tiny restaurant I visited during my stay. Burrito Baby was bigger then Oases by far but it still didn’t allow for a whole lot of patrons to sit in and eat. Seating wouldn’t have been a big deal if it was just Mom, Peter, and me, but we were also meeting up with Peter’s friend Emma. It was probably a good thing his friend Jakob couldn’t meet up with us until later or one of us would’ve had to stand and eat.

It turned out a couple of people were leaving just after we ordered so we snagged their booth and an unused seat from another table and squeezed ourselves in. Emma showed up a few minutes after we did and Peter introduced us. I, and Mom to a degree, was rather quiet both before and after the food arrived. This was mostly due to fatigue. All we’d had to eat that day was our Parisian breakfast. Peter and Emma were chatting about this and that, so I was happy to just listen while Mom asked the occasional question.

Once I had a burrito in my hands all bets on talking were off. Peter had wanted to bring us here, one, because he said it had fantastic food and two, because it was vegan friendly. It was a good burrito. I kind of wished I had been paying more attention as I shoved it into my face. I’m not a foodie by any means, so I wouldn’t have gotten that detailed about a burrito any way, but it was just what I needed that day. When we were all finished we stood up to pay then filed out onto the sidewalk.

Peter was back on his phone trying to get in touch with Jakob and see where he was. He turned out to not be that far away so we waited around outside Burrito Baby until he showed up. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes we stood waiting but it was chilly that night and my long sleeved shirt and zip-up hoodie weren’t quite doing the trick. At last a lone figure in a gray jacket appeared down the sidewalk. We had introductions again and quick deliberations about where to go get a drink before setting off. Mom and I, being the foreigners as it were, were simply along for the ride.

Don’t ask me what the place was called. It was a bar, that’s all I know. We grabbed a table that was a bit closer to the door than I might have liked, and of course I took the seat closest to the door, but it wasn’t bad unless someone came in and didn’t pull the door shut behind them. Thank goodness for Jakob. He was very good about getting up and closing it when the new arrivals didn’t. Drinking in a new place, even drinking at home to an extent, is always a bit of an adventure. You have no idea what the beer is like or how good a brewery is. Heck, I couldn’t even pronounce half of the drink list!

All the beer was fine though. Peter is my fellow beer enthusiast, so if he was drinking it, it wasn’t going to be that bad a beer. It was a night out very much like a night out at home would be. We sipped our drinks and talked and laughed a cheers’d, only in Germany you say “prost.” Some live music started in a side room a short while after we arrived. We could hear snippets of it drift out the slender entryway and over the chatter of the bar. The first round was finished and Mom and I found ourselves scrapping for more cash. We managed some but Peter offered to spot us the money for a couple more drinks.

I hadn’t thought about how many beers I’d actually had until Jakob commented that I didn’t seem that drunk. I remembered then that I was drinking much closer to sea level. Had I drunk as much back home I would’ve been too far-gone to drive or walk very straight. Regardless of my newfound drinking abilities, I didn’t have more than three drinks, though a couple of them were larger than your typical pours back home.

The night was going just fine up until the moment I had to go to the bathroom. Going to the bathroom in a new place always give me a bit of anxiety but going in a place where I felt sure I wouldn’t see “Men” and “Women” on each respective door was even worse. The only person I could admit my fear to was Mom. Luckily, she had already gone so she had the scene scoped out. I tapped her leg under the table, leaned over and admitted my rather silly concern. She laughed, of course, that was fair and expected. She told me it was the door on the right. Now that I was prepared, I could walk to the bathroom in confidence.

Apparently, though, my brain was just drunk enough that I decided to make something that should’ve been easy and straight forward complicated again. As soon as I was outside the two doors, my brain whispered in my ear, ‘Did she mean right when you’re facing the doors or when you’re facing away? Eek!’ So I opened the one on the left. Fortunately no one was in there. I came face to face with a sink, a stall, and a urinal so I was pretty confident that wasn’t the right one (ha, get it?). I moved over to the door on the right, just like Mom had said. I looked down and noticed, among lots of other graffiti, large blue letters spelling out “Boys fuck everything up.” How did I not realize that was the women’s bathroom?

With that crisis dealt with, I returned to the table with a happy bladder. When one in the morning began creeping closer we decided it was best to leave the bar and move in the direction of bed. We parted ways with Jakob at the bar. His night was going to continue. The four of us walked towards the U-Bahn station. Conversation had all but died out on the journey home. We said our goodbyes when our stop came up and wearily shuffled the short distance back to the flat.

~Ren

Four Day Berlin Dance Party! Go!

(Okay, we didn’t really have a four day Berlin dance party. It’s just a funny thing I recall Peter saying once. Oh, Peter…here’s what really happened.)

Getting packed and out the door the next morning was a seamless process. Most everything had been put away last night so it was really just a matter of getting dressed. Rhona was up early for work so we got to say our goodbyes to her before we tiptoed down the steps and out the front door to the waiting taxi. The driver got out and helped us with our luggage before we all piled into the car and headed off.

The Glasgow airport was only a 15-minute drive from Rhona’s flat. When we arrived, we followed a stream of other early morning travelers into the terminal to check in. We found the orange EasyJet signs and took our place in line. When we got up to the counter, the woman helping us said we would have to pay 30 pounds to check our bag. In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t the biggest of deals. It had been so long since I booked the flight, and we hadn’t been sure if we would be checking a bag or not, so we could’ve been hit up with a fee regardless. I think there is just something about bullshit airline fees that piss you 0ff no matter what the circumstances are.

So we paid the fee, even if we didn’t like it, and moved on to security. They didn’t make us take our shoes off, which always throws me a bit. Until I’m safely through I just keep expecting someone to yell, “Psych! Get those shoes in the X-ray tunnel!” But thank goodness that’s never happened. We reached the other side of security with 20 minutes or so before boarding for our flight started. I checked the Departures board and saw that our gate had not even been listed yet. That just seemed to be a trend for us the whole trip. It was even more nerve-wracking because of course we had no idea what the layout of the airport was and therefore no concept of how long it would take to get to any given gate. I was also starting to stress because I was beginning to notice just how fat my backpack had grown (mostly due to books) and was beginning to worry that it might not fit under the seat, leaving me to fight for overhead bin space, which might all be taken.

But there was nothing we could do about either of those things except wait. So instead of freaking out, we went into a coffee shop across from security to get ourselves some tea and something to eat. I left Mom at a table with all of our stuff and got in line. No sooner had I returned with breakfast did they post our gate. We collected our things and began navigating our way through the airport.

EasyJet seemed to be the ugly stepfamily that children of divorce like to pretend doesn’t exist, and our gate was the most obnoxious of the stepchildren. The EasyJet gates were all in the basement. It was a long hallway with orange and gray walls everywhere. The lighting was poor and the whole place seemed like it was bordering on abandoned and derelict. Our gate was at the very end of the terminal, in the corner of the room. It wasn’t the most welcoming terminal I’d ever been in but we made it with minutes to spare. We first found a couple of seats along the wall a short distance from the gate. Then a family we had made the walk down with caught up and took the seats next to us. One of the boys was playing one of those Leap Frog Learning games or something and it was annoying as hell, so I told Mom we had to get up and move. We found a couple seats right next to the gate and planted. This is when the morning went from mediocre to complete disrepair.

While we were sitting there, I set my chai on the ground by my feet so I could get something out of my backpack. But I had set the chai too close to my bag so when I opened it and the front fell forward a bit, it bumped the cup. Luckily I was able to grab it before it tipped all the way over and there was only minor spillage. But when I set it back down, I didn’t set it far enough away not to get knocked again when I sat back and the base of the bag shifted again.

There was chai everywhere.

(Chai: before and after.)

I’m sure all the people sitting around us were watching the entire scene unfold. But I was too busy bemoaning the fate of my chai and laughing at what a klutz I am sometimes. I chose to laugh about it rather than feel mortified (though I did feel a little mortified). There was only a shallow layer of chai left in the white, chai-stained cup. The rest of it was slowly being absorbed in the carpet. We hadn’t grabbed any napkins and there wasn’t even a bathroom nearby for us to run into and grab some paper towels. I glanced over at the people standing by the ticket counter. If they had seen the spill, they were acting like it hadn’t happened; either that or they were completely indifferent to the beige amoeba that had appeared on the carpet, happy to leave it for the cleaning crew later.

I sighed, feeling defeated. I just wanted to be on the plane, flying to Berlin, forgetting about the chai that never was. I had barely gotten two sips out of it before it met its untimely end. I could only hope the day would get better from there. And it did. Soon people began to queue, even before they had officially started boarding. Mom and I sat and watched the line lengthen, thinking everyone was a bit foolish for getting up already but admiring them for their ability to form an actual distinct line. We just get this blob of people back home that shuffles to the counter in some sort of order.

At last we were on the plane, and my bag did indeed fit under the seat. The flight was more or less the same as flying to California back home. It took us about two hours. Once we had landed and walked through the airport, we found ourselves having the same feeling we did when we arrived in Edinburgh. We hadn’t had anyone rifle through our stuff so of course we were feeling a little apprehensive. That worry was short lived, however. We had bigger fish to fry. We had just arrived in a country where English is not the primary language. Our first obstacle to overcome was the ticketing machine for the trains.

Peter, who is a fantastic host and very well prepared, had sent us very detailed instructions on how to get tickets and which trains to ride and how to get to his office. But despite his help, we still approached the machine with some degree of anxiety. The other people waiting behind us didn’t help either. We moved forward and made one attempt before getting halfway through and panicking that we had picked the wrong option. So we stepped aside and let the group behind us go. They proceeded to take forever, but once they had left we tried again. Maybe we were just temporarily blind that day but we couldn’t see the ticket option Peter had told us to get. We gave up and went over to the ticketing desk to be helped by a human being. At this point, I should mention that when we stopped at the ATM earlier to get cash Euros, all the machine gave us were 50s. WTF, ATM?

A thin-faced, gray-haired, stereotypically stern-looking old German woman was sitting behind the desk. I went up and told her what we wanted and she gave me a total. I set one of the 50 Euro bills on the desk. She mumbled something I couldn’t here and didn’t take the bill. I realized she must be asking if we had any other bills we could pay with so I said, “The ATM only gave us 50s. Sorry.” She waited another moment before she took the money from the desk and began making change. She muttered something else under her breath that I couldn’t make out, then handed me the change and our tickets. We thanked her and left.

That was probably the most unpleasant experience we had our whole time in Berlin. I don’t even know what the big deal was. She had plenty of bills to make change with in that drawer. It’s not like we were going to clean her out. Whatever, I’m sure she had her reasons, even if they were silly. We left the airport and began following a long, gently curving sidewalk that took us to the train station. It was here I first really started to pay attention to all the signs I couldn’t read.

People were both coming and going. This was clearly the main fairway to and from the airport. How nice it must be to have public transportation that would take you straight to the airport. *Sigh* A girl can dream. Anyway, we reached the station and took a left down a long ramp. This brought us to another long passageway lined with openings leading to all the different platforms.

I checked Peter’s directions again for the platform number we needed. The numbering system was a bit weird but about halfway down the tunnel we found our number and hiked up another long ramp to the tracks. The platform, and most of those around it were still pretty empty. More and more people began to show up as we waited. Riding the trains, at least when we weren’t with Peter, was always an interesting experience. They announced stops just like they did in Edinburgh, but we had no idea how to pronounce most of the words. So we had to rely completely on recognizing the names of places to know if we had arrived or not.

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A long, boxy red and yellow train soon pulled into the station. We stepped on board and began looking for a spot where our bag and we would fit without blocking the walkway. It was a pretty nice looking train with big comfy seats. I referred to Peter’s notes again so I could show Mom the name of the stop we wanted. Our host couldn’t meet us until after 5 o’clock so first we were going to Peter’s office.

We had one transfer to the U-Bahn to make (we started out on the S-Bahn). The switch was made at the Natural History Museum stop and they had this kickass big picture of guys dusting dinosaur bones hanging on the wall over the tracks. How cool of a job would that be? The U-Bahn took us to our final destination. Peter had given us directions right down to which direction to turn out of the train. Which was good because even though we had finally gotten 3G back in Scotland it was completely useless in Berlin, and I hadn’t gotten set up for Vodafone’s Europe plan so all our trust was in Peter.

And he did a wonderful job! We left the bahnhof, walked a couple of blocks, passed through some major construction and found the ResearchGate front door. We pushed the buzzer and waited. In a few seconds, that lanky, blonde-headed Peter kid showed up and opened the door. “You made it!” he cried. We stepped inside and each gave him a hug. He quickly introduced us to the woman sitting several feet away in the reception area and directed us to a small storage cupboard where we could stash our luggage for a bit.

We then followed him from the reception area back through the dining hall, which still had a few people finishing up lunch, and into a room at the back of the building with nothing but a ping pong table in it. About seven people were running around it and maintaining a constant volley between ever-changing opponents. I was already jealous of Peter’s new job. I mean, he’d already been there for over a year but it is still the newest job he’s had.

We had another quick introduction to people whose names I wouldn’t, and don’t, remember before we left the ping-pong match behind and left for lunch. Back out on the street, Peter began making some suggestions for lunch. One was Middle Eastern and another was Asian. The restaurant names respectively were DaDa and DuDu. We went with DuDu.

It took us a couple blocks to leave the construction behind. Peter told us it was expected to go on for a good while longer, and how they never really seemed to make any progress. Whenever they did, he said, they ended up having to tear it up and start over again for some reason or another. We walked and talked the whole way; Peter did most of the talking though. Which was somewhat harmful to his walking skills. He was ahead of us at times, and would look back over his shoulder and go a bit crooked in his path. One time he almost ran into a woman coming the other direction and she expertly pulled off a well timed, “Allo!” to let him know he better watch himself. We laughed and made jokes about it for most of the trip.

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We also saw these out walking around. It’s funny, but probably only to me and a few others. 😉

It started to rain when we were still a few minutes away from the restaurant. Just drizzly rain, nothing much, but still more than we had seen in Scotland. We attempted to find a spot under the awning out front but no matter where we tried there was a little dribble sneaking through the cracks. So we took a table inside. I had Peter help with my pronunciation of the dish I was going to get and a few other phrases I saw in the menu. I didn’t want to be that obviously American.

We finished lunch, which was quite delicious, and walked back to ResearchGate. Peter took us on a tour of the whole place. We walked back through the dinning area and saw the ping-pong table again. Mom made a quick stop in the bathroom so Peter and I grabbed a couple of paddles and had a few volleys. He kicked my ass, but it seemed a bit unfair, since he got to practice at work and I didn’t. After that we saw the Relaxation Room (no, I’m not kidding) and all the various offices spread throughout the building. Peter showed us the floor he used to work on and then took us to his current office. His two officemates, (whose names I also don’t remember) were in there working when we walked in.

We spent a bit of time in there while he explained to us the work he was doing and what his job was in maintaining and modifying the site. I was glad to see Peter had settled into his new job, and new home, so well. Sure it had been a year, even more, since he had arrived, and you might expect anyone that had been in a place that long would have adjusted. But Peter felt like he belonged there, he’d really become a part of the city; you could see how comfortable he was, and I was glad to see it. Sure, I still missed him like hell back home, but we all have to move on with our lives eventually.

It was finally time for Peter to get back to work, so he walked us back down to the entrance and told us the way to the Berlin Wall Memorial Park a few blocks away. I listened carefully so I could recognize the street names later, and we went off to kill the last couple of hours before we could check in. The park wasn’t too far away and was easy enough to spot that we didn’t have any trouble finding it. There were smalls clusters of people already walking around between the various informational pillars scattered across the plot of grass.

Mom and I didn’t talk much as we made our way further into the park. Places like the park always flood you with information, which I appreciate and find interesting, but I always walk away feeling more or less the same as I did when I arrived. A decrepit section of the wall still stood between the street and the park. It was covered with splatters of graffiti, and it was riddled with holes and crumbling bits. The park was located in what would have been the no man’s land between the inner and outer wall. Low walls had been constructed around the old remains of building foundations that had once belonged to guard houses and watch towers. Rusted steel cords reached up out of the ground like tentacles, all that remained of a light post. More segments of the wall had been placed inside the park, disassembled into single pieces, all collected together and overgrown with trees and shrubs.

Between the wall and the sidewalk snaking through the park was another kind of wall, a memorial to all those people who had tried to escape East Berlin and, sadly, failed. I was horrified to find out some people committed suicide after failing to make it across to the other side. So many terrible things happened her, not just on the strip of land I walked across but in this entire city. The more time I spent in Berlin the more I heard about how much of it had been destroyed and rebuilt into something unrecognizable from its former incarnation. It is a truth that is very unfortunate.

And that’s the feeling I get, a sort of sinking sensations when I think about how unfortunate and horrible so much of our past is. Memorials like the Berlin Wall are always very sobering places to visit. I’m always baffled when I leave; I marvel at how humans allowed such atrocities to happen, and how we still allow them to happen today. Allow isn’t exactly the right word, not in every situation anyway. The fact that some humans commit hideous and terrifying acts knowingly is all the more baffling, and I sometimes find it hard to reconcile that fact with myself. That some people sit by idly and let it happen is a nasty side effect.

We left the park feeling less elated than when we had left ResearchGate. But soon we would have more important things to worry about, like how the heck to get to our accommodation. It was no problem finding the U-Bahn station again. We made it to our stop, Ostbahnhof, without any trouble but once we got off the train the trouble started. Peter had given us directions on how to get there from the station; we even talked to him once we got off the train. But none of that really matters when you exit the station in the wrong direction, making everything you were told completely null and void.

Coloradans, or at least Mom and I, are completely clueless as to the cardinal directions when we aren’t in Colorado. We have no mountains as reference! Don’t use cardinal directions with us outside CO because we will have no idea what that means in this new place. So yeah, we left the station in what we thought was a northwesterly direction but apparently it was a northeasterly direction. For a second I thought I saw the street name Peter had mentioned but I was just being delusional. We kept walking, asking almost everyone we passed if they knew where Andreasstrasse was, yet no one seemed to know with any great deal of confidence.

Eventually we asked a woman who was nice enough to take out her phone and look it up. Sure enough, she pointed us back in the direction we had come. We thanked her and followed the street back until we came to an intersection with a sign proclaiming ‘Andreasstrasse’ hanging over it. At last! We took a right and in a block or two came to a tall, bland building set apart from all the other surrounding buildings at the edge of a park.

When we told Peter where we were staying he had laughed and told us it was called a Plattenbau. It was a boring, nondescript building that had become a popular style back during the war. It is a style constructed of large, prefabricated concrete slabs and is relatively quick and inexpensive to make, hence its popularity in war-ravaged Berlin. It was essentially nothing more than a big gray box. He wasn’t wrong. The whole building was painted two different shades of gray and had no other ornamentation on the outside except for the windows and the front door. The inside looked no different. Gray walls, no carpeting, the whole thing echoed like a dungeon. The actual apartment we stayed in was much nicer. It actually had some color and personality.

We pushed the button with Kati’s name next to it outside the door and she buzzed us in. I hit the button to call the elevator and was surprised when the doors slide open to reveal a bright pink inside. It shot us up to the sixth floor in a second and we stepped out into the barren hallway. As soon as I was clear of the doors I voiced my concern that we didn’t know which apartment was Kati’s. It reverberated back at me, and it was no surprise that Kati heard us and walked over. I mean, I’m sure that was her plan anyway but the echoing certainly helped to announce our presence. I apologized for being a bit late and told her we had gotten turned around at the station. I felt a little bad because we had also taken our time at the park, and I hadn’t really given much thought to the fact Kati would have to sit and wait for us to show up once she had finished her test.

She didn’t hang around long, just gave us the key, asked if we had any questions and then wished us a nice stay. When Kati was gone, we did the obligatory look over of the place. We opened up the cabinets and the fridge; we located all the light switches, did a sweep over the bookshelf and tested out the bed. It was a small place but just the right size for one or two people. When we had finished snooping, Mom plopped herself down at the table while I made us each a cup of tea and dug the last of our biscuits out of my bag. We spent the next hour and a half this way, just waiting for Peter to get off work and come entertain us.

The biscuits were soon spent and the last of the tea gone so we continued to sit motionless at the table, moving only our thumbs and forefingers as we continued to pass the time on our phones. You know, writing about my travels makes me realize how much time I actually spend on my phone sometimes. I’d like to think it isn’t quite the same at home because there I have more things that require my attention, but that’s probably only half true. Anyway, at last Peter called me and said he was on his way out. I told him which buzzer to hit and what floor we were on.

That turned out to be pointless act since Peter ended up calling me when he was outside saying he couldn’t find the buzzer. So I went down and let him in myself, and we went back up to the flat together. We all spent several minutes up there talking about tomorrow’s plans and ideas of what to do that night for dinner and such. Mom ended up deciding to have a night in to rest while Peter and I went out. We said goodbye and offered to pick her up anything to eat if she wanted, and then we were off.

Our first stop was Peter’s flat. The only real reason for stopping here first was so Peter could drop off his bag, I think. But it was also so I could see Peter’s new digs. It was an equally exciting and exhausting trip to make. Peter’s building is older, and as a result has no elevator. In addition, he also lives on the top floor of a, oh I don’t know, seven story building? I’m sure you can guess what that means: lots and lots of stairs. At least it wasn’t like in Edinburgh that first day where we had all those stairs to climb, and all of our luggage to carry. It was a still a pain in the ass, legs and knees though.

Now sweating profusely, I reached the top. The battered front door opened onto a single hallway with several rooms branching off on either side. Immediately to the right of the front door was the bathroom and next to that was the toilet. Yes, the toilet had a room all to itself. Past that was the kitchen. On the left side of the hall were the bedrooms. The first belonged to Caroline (I think her name was), one of Peter’s flatmates. His was the next, and at the end of the hall was Ben’s room, Peter’s other flatmate. I quickly poked my head into the bathroom and kitchen before following Peter into his room.

It was longer than it was wide. He had a loft bed, sitting high above everything else, with a rack of clothes beneath it. At the far end of the room were a desk, some shelves and a tattered couch with a glass coffee table in front of it. The best part of the room wasn’t even in the room. It was the balcony just beyond the large swath of windows at the end of the room. It didn’t reach far out over the street, but there was enough room for a chair and a few potted plants, and really, what more do you need? I was just impressed that Peter had plants.

I spent a few minutes standing out in the crisp night air while Peter moved around the room busying himself with this or that. I squeezed back through the mildly obstructed doorway into the room just as Ben entered. Peter introduced us and we spent a few minutes talking, telling Ben about our plans for the night. Ben had plans of his own to keep or else I imagine he would’ve taken Peter’s offer to join us. After that we left the flat and headed to get some dinner.

Peter was taking me to this tiny little whole-in-the-wall place that served excellent falafel. And I am a fan of falafel. We took the U-Bahn to another part of town then walked the couple of blocks to Oases. He hadn’t been exaggerating about the size. There was barely enough space for the two of us to stand comfortably and order, let alone the two other guys there waiting for their order. I stood to the side and let Peter do the ordering. It was a curious sensation, standing there and one, watching Peter carry on a conversation in German, and two, having no idea what either he or the gentleman behind the counter was saying. It may have been equally unnerving because food was involved and I’m already extra paranoid about that since I’m vegetarian/vegan on a good day. Peter only turned to ask me a few questions before we both sat down to wait.

I spent a good deal of time gazing up at the community bulletin board on the wall and found myself thinking how interesting it was that I took more notice when I couldn’t read something than when I could, mostly considering I was in another country and I would think it would’ve been the other way around. But the brain is funny like that I guess. Our pita wraps came up one by one. The pita was stuffed to just the right girth. Peppers, falafel and greens stuck out the top, and it smelled fantastic.

I took my first bite. It may have been the fact that this was only my second really good meal eaten during the course of a very busy day that made it so tasty, but I like to think it was just really tasty. Just writing this scene made me crave falafel the other night! Anyway, we sat in the tiny shop and ate our scrumptious wraps before snagging some baklava for take away. We were on our way now to a bar called Hops and Barley. I remember I kept wanting to call it Hops and Berries, which is the name of a brewing supply store back home. Peter had wanted to try it out for a while and I was up for anywhere as long as I could get a beer.

We passed the package of baklava back and forth as we walked. Peter continuously pointed things out to me as we walked and talked about life in Berlin. I listened and chewed my baklava, looking around, getting accustomed to the city. Finally we came to a storefront with one short and one long table set up on either side of the door. Most of the space outside was already occupied. It was a busy night at Hops and Barley. Peter and I stepped inside to check out the seating situation. No openings to be found. There had been just enough room at the end of the bench at the long table outside so we squeezed in there.

We waited a few minutes, and when a waitress walked by a couple times without asking us for our orders we realized we must have to order at the bar. We got up and pushed our way towards the bar. It was then Peter noticed the back room. There was one small table just inside the entryway, so we ordered and sat there instead. I was thankful because it had been a little chilly outside.

We passed the time talking about anything that came to mind. The occasional loud cheer from the neighboring table punctuated our conversation every time the rowdy group took a shot. Peter felt sure it was a stag party. One of the guys was wearing a sash. It wasn’t a big deal. The whole bar was noisy and hazy with cigarette smoke. That was something that perplexed me for a moment. Nowhere back home could you smoke indoors unless it was your own house or some designated smoking area type thing.

Noise aside, I was just happy to be sitting, sipping a beer, and catching up with my good friend. For a long time, I was always super nervous about spending time with Peter, or our other friend, Collin, when it was just the two of us. The three of us hadn’t always been as close as we are now. Peter and Collin were really David’s friends, but as we grew up and David and I began to spend more time together, Collin and Peter and I grew closer. Now, I don’t worry so much about holding a solo conversation with either one of them.

We called it a night after one beer. I was tired from the trip and Peter had work the next morning. I mean, he had mentioned that he was in at about ten everyday so it wasn’t like he was going to have an early morning. But still. We stepped out of Hops and Barely onto the near empty streets of Berlin. The air still held a chill and I wrapped my arms around myself to conserve what heat I could. It was just turning midnight when we reached the bahnhof. Peter took me as far as the stairs down to the tracks.

There we said our goodnights and goodbyes and I got out my anxiety at riding public transportation by myself in a foreign country where I couldn’t read any of the signs. Peter laughed at me and assured me I’d be fine. I smiled at him but still walked with a little extra stiffness in my spine down the steps and onto the train. Once I was back at Ostbahnhof, there was only a short minute where I wasn’t sure which direction to go, but I came down the stairs to see the familiar park that was between the station and our flat. I walked quickly. No one was around but I still felt a bit paranoid.

I rode up the pink elevator and walked as quietly as I could to the door and slipped inside. It was dark inside but Mom had left the bathroom light on so I could at least see a little. As quietly as I could I slipped off my shoes, brushed my teeth and changed into my pajamas. I switched the lights back off and crept over to the bed, taking care not to stub any toes on the way. I said goodnight to Mom but only received a garbled reply from the pillow next to me.

~Ren

Good Morning Glasgow

Breakfast the next morning consisted of cold pasta, which was a whole new experience for me. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t that bad. It was our last chance to get rid of the rest of our food so we powered through our less than conventional breakfast. We managed to see Maya and Malc before we left and we thanked them again for watch our stuff while we were gone. Then we were on our way back to Haymarket Station.

There was still plenty of time before our train left. In fact, there was more than one train we could’ve taken, so while we sat and had a cup of tea in the café on the platform, we deliberated about which would be the best to take. We went back and forth, weighing our options and the benefits, but in the end we decided to stick with our original time. It would work out best for our meeting time with our host, Rhona. She had been kind enough to meet us on her lunch break so we could get into her flat instead of having to kill several hours in Glasgow while she was at work.

We passed most of the time on the train to Glasgow playing cards again, but this time there were no epic battles between spades and clubs. An hour later we alighted the train onto the platform and climbed up to the street level. It took me a moment to orient with the street and my phone once we were outside the station. A few turns and a short walk later we were outside the large department store Rhona had said she’d meet us in front of. On our way, we walked by the equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington. As some Tumblr post had promised me, a traffic cone was perched on top of his head. The act of placing a traffic cone on the Duke’s head has been a long-standing tradition, and despite efforts to stop it, the cone remains.

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We planted ourselves next to a short stone pillar outside the store and waited for Rhona. I kept up a watch for anyone that remotely resembled the person I could only see half of in the AirB&B picture. In the end Rhona spotted us. She handed over a key and a slip of paper with some directions scribbled on it. She walked us through the steps of which bus to catch and which stop to get off at and was then off to enjoy the rest of her lunch.

The walk to the bus station took us by a bookstore, so we had one thing we knew we’d be doing when we came back into town. We actually stopped in before we went to Rhona’s but that was just because Mom needed to use the bathroom. I have rarely been in a bookstore like it. It had at least three floors, maybe more! I didn’t even see them all. It was insane! There was no way we weren’t coming back.

The bus ride took us out of the heart of the city and into a much quieter suburb. Glasgow has a much different feeling that Edinburgh does. I could feel it as soon as we stepped off the train. Everything is much more industrial and not nearly as cultural and historic. The buildings feel newer and have substantially less personality. The history feels like it started in the Industrial Revolution. But Rhona’s place was far enough away from it all that it felt peaceful again. I didn’t learn this until we were in Berlin, but Glasgow was actually a target for the German’s in World War Two, for the simple reason that it was an industrial center. Edinburgh, for the most part, went unscathed.

We had a bit of trouble actually finding Rhona’s place. We got off at the right stop and turned down the right street and came right down to the street she lived on. But the numbering on the buildings threw us for a loop. I can’t even really explain how anymore. I can’t quite remember why the numbers confused us, it was something like, the numbers in both directions from the first house we saw went up, or one way the numbers went up numerically and the other way they made large jumps, I don’t know. We asked two people if they knew where this mysterious building was, and neither of them were very sure.

Finally we were smart and just walked down the street a bit further and found number 62. No sooner were we inside the building, however, we started fighting with the lock on Rhona’s door. It turned out the door was just a little snug in the frame and took a bit of muscle to push open. Having overcome the last of our obstacles, we shrugged of our bags and relaxed for a bit inside our new accommodations.

It was a nice sized room, big enough for two people to move around in comfortably. The window overlooked the street and park below and the sun cascaded in and spilled onto the floor. We poked around the rest of the flat a bit. It wasn’t big at all but felt the perfect size for one person to live in. The bathroom was tiny and the shower had no curtain to it, which I thought would make for an interesting experience when I showered later that night. The living room was cozy and had lots of personality. There was a large window in here that made the space feel more open and inviting.

After we had regained some momentum, we left the flat and walked back down to the bus stop. We hadn’t had anything to eat since out breakfast of pasta so we were headed to a place called The Flying Duck. It was another restaurant Happy Cow had recommended to us. They hadn’t been wrong yet so why should they be now? They weren’t wrong, but they also weren’t the best about telling you the place was undergoing renovations and that to enter you had to go down some sketchy-looking alley and a stairwell that made you feel like you were walking into a horror film.

No unexpected stabbings took place, however. We ambled into a dimly lit space with an assortment of tables and chairs. The bar was across the room from us and next to a hallway that I think lead to the kitchens. There was only one other person there that I could see. The whole place felt very similar to a 24-hour café that was back home. We crossed the room to the bar and the woman behind it greeted us. Mom asked if they still served vegan food. I imagine she wanted to confirm just because the whole excursion had not gone quite as expected and she wanted to be sure we would be getting what we had been promised.

The woman told us they did indeed have a vegan menu. We each ordered a different kind of veggie burger and a cider from the bar and took a seat. When we had finished eating, we finished our ciders as I flipped through a book of pub trivia, quizzing Mom on biology, movies, and music. When we had exhausted all of the good trivia topics, we left the bar to explore more of Glasgow. We walked to a street a few blocks away from The Flying Duck in hopes of locating a bar that Darren (the waiter) had recommended we visit. He told us they made a knockout cocktail that was definitely worth a try.

I couldn’t get the place to come up on Google and we didn’t see a sign for it anywhere along the street. It was probably for the best we didn’t find it though. The street seemed very high end and posh for us and I’m sure the drink would’ve cost us way more than anyone should ever pay for a drink unless it was served in the Holy Grail or something. When we came to the end of the shopping strip, we turned right and discovered there was some sort of open-air street fair taking place. It looked a bit like our New West Fest that we celebrate back home.

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We also saw a red version of the TARDIS!

We were just window-shopping, that is until we came to the giant display of fudge. I had never seen so much fudge in my life, and in so many different colors and flavors! They were most definitely not vegan but we had to try a few. It was too tempting a display not to! We picked out four different kinds, a banana and chocolate, one with Bailey’s, orange crunch, and ginger. As we began back down the other side of the street, we came across a French Artesian Bakery stand. We caught a few words of French from the woman helping customers and took the chance to go practice our dismal amount of French and get a baguette. Our last purchase at the fair was something called a Clootie dumpling. We mostly got it because it had the word clootie in it and we had really enjoyed the Clootie Well. If you’re not familiar, a Clootie dumpling is kind of like a fruitcake, only probably better than most fruitcakes.

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We came to where we had started, now loaded down with lots of edible goodies. It was still early but we were starting to slow down, so we headed back to the bookstore called Waterstones. Most of the bookstores we had been in up until Blackwell’s and now Waterstones were nothing like my bookstore back home. They dealt exclusively in used books, most of which had been published many years ago. Waterstone’s was all new books, so many of the things I saw I knew I could get back home. Though some books did have slightly different names. Like one, called The Intern’s Handbook in the States was called Kill Your Boss in Scotland. So that was cool.

Anyway, we started off meandering through the many tables that occupied the ground floor. There were so many more shelves here than back home and books I had never seen before. The place was brightly light and explosively colorful. The kids’ section was shelf upon shelf of red, blue, green, purple, and orange spines. There were displays of puzzles and games and mugs and notepads. Mom picked out one that had a Highland cow peeking over the bottom of the page. I was still on a mission to find something else unique to Scotland, something by a Scottish author that I could not easily obtain in the States. I went to ask the clerk behind the counter.

He suggested a few authors I was already familiar with and some that I could get back home. I thanked him for trying and went back to browsing on my own. A short while later, however, he came and found me and told me a girl named Emma had some other suggestions that matched what I was looking for. A girl with brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and who was a few inches shorter than me came over and asked if I was the one looking for Scottish fantasy writers. I said I was and she motioned for me to follow her upstairs.

This is where the fantasy and sci-fi books were. She showed me several different books, all that sounded very interesting, but there were two that really jumped out to me. One was the first book she showed me. She pulled a bright yellow book off the shelf. The cover had a black island city in the middle of the ocean on it with a fading sliver of moon hanging high above it. The title was The Moon King. She explained that the setting of the book was in a fictional city called Glassholm, and that the emotions of the city’s inhabitants were connected with the waxing and waning of the moon. The author was from Glasgow and a small press published the book. Sale number one.

Emma showed me a few others and finished with JD Oswald’s Dreamwalker. It tells the tale of Benfro, the first male dragon to be born in hundreds of years. She needn’t have continued past ‘told from the dragon’s point of view.’ I was going to read it. The book was part of a trilogy, and they had the second one there so I was tempted to pick it up, just in case I couldn’t get it back home. But I didn’t, I was trying to not go completely book crazy. Then guess what I discovered upon my return home? I couldn’t get it! You’d think that you could get a book published by Penguin over a book published by some tiny press but nooo, that would make too much sense. Oh well, if I need to I can order straight from Waterstone’s. In your face, Penguin.

I thanked Emma for her help and then Mom and I left before we bought half of the store. We walked the short distance to the bus stop and headed back to the flat. Rhona was home when we got there. She was in taking a shower so we went into our room and started on our Clootie dumpling. After Rhona finished her shower, she came in and asked us how the rest of our day had gone. We told her about The Flying Duck and the street fair. She wasn’t sure what the fair was for but it wasn’t really important to know.

Rhona offered to make us some tea and of course we couldn’t say no. The three of us stepped across the hall and Mom I stood in the entrance of narrow kitchen while Rhona busied herself making tea and dinner. She filled a frying pan with tomatoes and sausage and noodles while we talked about what she did for a living and how our trip had gone so far. I asked about her cat, which she had mentioned in her AirB&B posting, but sadly Sammy had passed away a few months ago. We offered our sympathies. Mom and I both had cats at home we were missing and also new how hard it was to loose a pet.

With her meal fixed, we all moved into the living room to keep chatting. We admired some of Rhona’s art projects she’d done and then began talking about books, which I always love to do. When Mom and I retired back to our room, Rhona came in a bit later to show me a book she had said she really enjoyed. It was going to be an early morning for us tomorrow. Our flight left just after eight in the morning so we would be leaving the flat in the neighborhood of seven. But I was in need of a shower, so I finally plucked up the courage to go and shower in a shower with no curtain to speak of.

It was an interesting experience to say the least. It was one thing to shower with nothing more than a panel of glass half the length of the tub to shield you but it was another entirely to shower with nothing at all. The feelings of vulnerability and exposedness were overwhelming. I kept watching the door, afraid that Rhona or Mom would, for whatever ridiculous reason, come walking through the door and see me there in all my wet, pale glory. I was staying as close to the wall as I could without touching it and receiving a small jolt if cold down my spine.

I finished my unconventional shower experience without getting too much water on the floor, and without anyone walking in and seeing my bare bottom. I dressed with some difficulty in the cramped space, my clothes sticking to my damp skin and the twisted towel on my head wobbling dangerously. At last, I was clothed and had brushed my teeth. I went back to the room and told Mom it was her turn. Before we both got into bed that night Rhona came in and told us she had gotten our taxi booked. We thanked her again for all her help and hospitality before switching off the light and going to sleep.

~Ren

The Borders

The following day got started later than it should have. We had plans to travel down to the Borders that day so Mom could do some more research. After a quick shower we took the bus down Prince Street to the North Bridge and had a tasty breakfast of porridge before walking to the stop for the bus to Galashiels. The drive would take roughly an hour and a half. Are you beginning to see why we should’ve gotten an early start?

At least the bus to Galashiels was a slightly more cushy bus than the ones that took you around town. I passed the bus ride as I usually do, with music, reading and staring out the window. The city disappeared and was replaced with rural landscapes and little farmhouses. There were some stops people got off at along the way that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It was easy to tell when we had arrived because the concentration of buildings increased exponentially.

We found the Borders Family History Society building down a small side street in a corner building that we walked right by at first. We had to stand and turn on the spot (in the middle of the street, mind) to finally see what we were looking for. The two older ladies inside were both in the middle of helping someone so we decided to go off for some lunch and come back. We found a nice café just up the street to lunch in. On our way we passed a body jewelry shop and I was tempted to check it out while Mom did her research. I decided against it however; the place looked a little intimidating.

When we finished eating we plodded back down the hill, full of what I’m pretty sure had been a meal of soup and bread. As we rounded the corner to the History Society, though, a locked door greeted us with a sign promising some ambiguous return time. Mom was rather dismayed. I calmed her down, saying I was sure they’d be back, that they had just popped out for lunch or something. There was nothing we could really do except stand around and wait, until Mom announced she had to go to the bathroom.

We walked back up to the street we’d been dropped at and Mom went over to the library to see if they would let her use their bathroom while I got us some more cash from a nearby ATM. I pocketed my wallet, now stuffed with cash again, then crossed the street to a little greenbelt with several benches. I did some people watching until I saw Mom coming back down the lane.

We walked back down the road to find that the History Society was open again. Mom went with the ladies into the back room while I sat on a bench in the lobby and made notes about the last few days of our trip. I was being smart this time around and taking notes, which I definitely did not do when we went to New Zealand. That made it rather troublesome to write about after the fact, especially since it took me roughly two years to finish. I’m not the best with deadlines it seems.

Mom came away from The Borders Family History Society with less than she had had when she arrived. Turns out a lot of the things she thought she had right were actually wrong. Though she did manage to come away having discovered a birth certificate. So that was something! From there we were off to Hawick, which should really be spelled like ‘Hoick’ because that’s how it’s pronounced and we felt silly because we hadn’t figured out that nothing in Scotland is pronounced the way it is spelled.

The drive down cost us another half an hour on the bus and it was already pushing five o’clock. We were as lucky here as we were in Galashiels with our drop off location. From the bus stop it was just a short jaunt down the road to the Heritage Hub. Though we did have to cross one of the trickiest roads we had come across on our travels. Eventually we made it without getting squished. We entered the building thinking we had another two hours to do some research, but when we walked in the woman behind the desk informed us that they would be closing in five minutes and that the 7:30 time listed on the website was only for special appointments.

We were a little let down to say the least; we had just spent 30 minutes on a bus to get there. But the woman was nice enough to find what she could for us in the time left to us. Let me just say that it was not a fruitless effort. The women at the Heritage Hub were named Kathy and Zilla. They began by checking a few indexes containing records with the dates Mom had given them. I was sitting quietly at the table while Mom continued to tell them what she could. Kathy was glancing over a page in a binder, talking quietly to herself when she said, “There might be something in there,” and asked Zilla to go and fetch a book. When Mom and I heard, “fetch a book,” we were thinking it would be another binder filled with photocopied pages or something like that.

That was definitely not what Kathy meant.

She meant the book.

The actually book.

The book that they used for recording keeping all those years ago.

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Mom was off in the corner talking with Kathy and looking over more binders full of indexes so I was the first to see Zilla bring out something large wrapped in yellow paper and tied shut with twine. My interest and curiosity were piqued instantly, and I watched with wide eyes as she began to unwrap the package. She spread back the flaps of paper to reveal a thick, leather bound book. It was larger than your average laptop and several inches thick.

The cover, which I imagined to have once been handsome brown leather, was now faded and tinged yellow. There were two patches of style along the spine, almost like hinges. The outer layer of the cover was peeling back from its base and flopped over in a large flap when the cover was opened. At last Mom walked over with Kathy, and when she saw the book she gasped. She said, “Wow,” and my only response was, “I know, right?”

Mom and Kathy took a seat at the table next to me, and very carefully, Kathy pulled back the cover. The white pages had lost much of their brightness over the years, but you could still make out the horizontal blues lines and the red vertical one to mark the margin. It intrigued me how similar it looked to the notebook paper we use today. The pages were covered in black ink. The words were thin and very neat. Whoever had been the scribe had a very steady hand.

Kathy began her search in the logical place: the front index. She located a page that might yield some results and began to flip through the many pages. It was a slow progression through the book, and she continued to talk with Mom as she flipped large chunks of pages from one side to the other. Her eyes scanned distractedly over pages as she spoke until suddenly she stopped and Mom uttered a soft exclamation.

There, on a page just over halfway filled with text, right at the bottom of the paragraph, was a name. It read, “Edith Bell or Soutor.”

It was here. That’s who we had been looking for. Mom’s great-great-great grandmother (maybe one more great, a lot of greats though). It was a complete fluke Kathy had even turned to that page, and it was even better luck that she and Mom had spotted it or else it may have been lost forever in the frail, off-white pages of the poorhouse ledger. Of course, we took pictures. Our stop at the Heritage Hub, though brief, was not a waste of time.

We thanked both Kathy and Zilla profusely as we departed. Mom said that if we had time when we got back from Germany that we would try and stop by again and see if there was anything else to be found. Though, I doubted anything could’ve matched that first visit. Mom calls the whole experience her “Who do you think you are?” moment.

From the Heritage Hub, we followed Kathy’s directions to the Sainsbury where we could catch the bus back to Edinburgh. On the walk I started to realize how tired I was becoming, and the chill that began to creep into the air wasn’t helping things either. Luckily, the Sainsbury had a café, and that café had chai. My savior! Mom and I each ordered one then sat down to rest our feet and warm up after our walk.

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Mmmm.

When we had finished our drinks, we wandered through the Sainsbury to pick up some things for dinner and a snack for the drive back. We walked out to the bus stand much too early, but I’m always paranoid about things like that, especially because we couldn’t really make a mad dash out of the Sainsbury to the stop. It was across the car park and there’s no way we could’ve made it in a hurry. So we sat under the dirty plastic roof of the bus stand and entertained ourselves by watching spiders and fearing that they may drop down on us at any moment.

We opened up a bag of popcorn we had got at the store. They sort of frown upon eating on the bus so we figured we’d better eat it now or we would be staying hungry for the ride home. Bus X95 finally arrived and we stepped on to a nearly empty bus. It was dark when we finally got home to a wet and drizzling Edinburgh. This was the closest thing we had gotten to a good Scottish rain, and the closet we would ever get on that trip. Hell, we got more rain in Berlin.

We shivered in the cold, without our rain jackets of course, until the bus came to take us the rest of the way home. Once we were inside, we started dinner, which turned out to be a bland and tasteless thing. Mom didn’t even finish hers. Before we climbed into bed, we spent a bit of time making sure everything was in order for tomorrow. We would be leaving for Glasgow that morning and then to Berlin the next day. Maya and Malc were kind enough to offer to store our luggage while we were gone so we only had to take one small bag instead of two.

~Ren

 

Kelpies in the Helix

The following morning we allowed ourselves a much-needed lie-in after the last few crazy days. We decided to visit Spoon for breakfast but by the time we left the flat and got there I wasn’t sure if it was more brunch or lunch. Spoon, you may recall, is the café where J.K. Rowling wrote sections of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It has since changed name and ownership but it is still the same building Rowling went to day after day to write.

Before we even made it to the café, however, we were sidetracked by, you guessed it, a bookstore. It was a bookstore that was right next to another bookstore we had stopped in when Peter was still with us, but on that day we had decided to move on without stopping in Blackwell’s. Today, however, we had all the time in the world to ignore our rumbling bellies and look at books instead. I would say it was a very successful shopping trip. We each walked away with two books: Mom with two new mystery novels, one of which she had been searching for, and me with two new Tolkien novels to add to my extensive collection. After that we went to Spoon.

It’s a sizable café filled with mismatched tables and chairs and vaguely sectioned off by segments of thin white curtains with spindly flowers embroidered on them near the bottom hem. We were seated near a window overlooking Nicolson Street. No, it wasn’t the table J.K. Rowling sat at. I mean, obviously, it’s a completely new café! But what I know from specials about Rowling’s life and the pictures I looked up on Google, Rowling sat in the corner of the café that faced the intersection of Nicolson and Drummond.

I waited to geek out until after we’d eaten. All the food was delicious but what I really want to rave about is the homemade ginger lemon tea I got. It is possibly the most luscious blend of flavors I have ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth. It was sweet without being over bearing. The lemon helped cut the impact of the sugar and the ginger was present without being overwhelming. It was warm and delicious and so nice to sip. I didn’t want it to end! It was just an added bonus that it was served to me in an adorable orange teapot and white cup and saucer with a delicate floral design. I’ve since tried to recreate the concoction at home but have yet to perfect my own recipe.

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When our plates were empty, and the tea most regrettably gone, I somewhat reluctantly went over with Mom to the corner of the room. I’m sure most everyone there was either unaware of the café’s history or just didn’t care, so it felt rather silly to sit at some seemingly nondescript table next to the window and take poorly lit pictures. But I quickly got over it by telling myself what I always do when I find myself in a situation like this: I’ll never see these people again, so who the hell cares?

After doing our best to get a decent picture, which still wasn’t really that decent, we descended the stairs back to the street and headed up Nicolson towards a shop called Scayles. It’s an interesting spelling, but it’s referring to scales like musical scales not reptile scales. My brother, David, is a prolific musician and he had asked us to try and bring him back an instrument representative of the Scottish musical culture. We decided a pennywhistle would be just the thing. It was small, easy to pack, and a very prominent figure in traditional Scottish music, or so all of us Americans have been led to believe (but it is actually true).

We walked into the shop having a vague idea of what we wanted, which we relayed to the man behind the counter. He walked us over to a glass display case and began showing us several different variations of whistle. We took four different kinds, one in a different key, a couple made of different metals, and one made of wood into a small room at the back of the shop to try them out. I should say I got to try them out since of the two of us I was the musician.

They each had more or less the same tonal qualities. The change in timbre was subtle between materials with the wood whistle having the biggest difference. The small flat mouthpiece felt odd between my lips and the whistle’s lack of a thumbhole was unnerving. In the end we chose a nickel bodied whistle in the key of D with an adjustable head joint. We took all the contaminated whistles to the front counter and presented our selected whistle to the young man at the register.

I went over to a display of music books and picked out a beginner level book for the tin whistle and added that to our purchase. We had a bit of pleasant conversation with the clerks before thanking them and leaving the store. Back on the street, Mom commented that the total seemed lower than expected. I pulled the receipt out of the bag and inspected it. They had given us a 10% discount. Now I don’t mean to sound like I’m bashing the States, even though I kind of am, but what are the chances that something like that would’ve happened in the States? I mean, maaaybe. Of course I don’t know why they gave us a discount. Because we were friendly, because they were friendly (which they were) or because we were newbies to penny whistles and they were taking pity on us, who knows. But I thought it was very sweet. So if you are ever in need of a musical instrument in Edinburgh, go to Scayles because they are awesome there.

With musical needs filled we went on to fill book needs. We found our way back to the Writer’s Museum after crossing through the University of Edinburgh’s campus. The walk made me realize that a college campus is pretty much the same anywhere you go. The plaza is always covered in chalk, the buildings are big and imposing, and the students are undoubtedly students; you can just tell by looking at them. We were going back to the Writer’s Museum so I could pick up a copy of Allan’s book. You know, because I hadn’t bought enough books already. I think at this point in the trip I was up to four. I resisted buying any other books while I was there, successfully capping the day’s book purchases at three.

We hurried back to the flat before we passed another bookstore and bought even more books! It was early afternoon when we got home. There were still some hours before we had to catch the train out to Falkirk. And this time we would make the train. You wouldn’t have thought it would be that hard with the station just a couple of miles away from the flat, but regardless we left with plenty of time to spare. In the meantime, we cooked a late lunch of pasta and lounged around reading and watching YouTube videos (or I did anyway).

We had decided to take the 5:15 bus down to Haymarket, feeling it would get us there early but not so early that it would find us sitting around pulling our hair out with boredom. Thinking back on it now, I can’t remember if we took such a late train because it was the only one available or because we thought we would have more to do that day. It must have been the former, as we really had no other plans except to go see the Kelpies. Either way, this time we got on the train no problem.

Falkirk is roughly halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so about a 30-minute train ride. I passed most of it leaning against the window like I always do. Energy levels were low. Neither of us perked up much until we were stepping onto the platform in Falkirk and realizing we now had to find a way to get to The Helix. I checked bus times and routes on my phone and began to lead us in what I thought was the direction to the stop. I didn’t quite get us there; it was taking me a bit to get my bearings in a new place. But fate seemed to be on our side that afternoon.

Our search for the bus stop took us past a car park where a gentleman was getting into his car after what looked like a yoga session. Mom went over to him to ask directions to a bus that would take us to The Helix. He said he wasn’t familiar with the bus system then offered us a lift, explaining that he was going that direction. I think Mom and I both had the same thought cross our minds for a second. That thought was something like, “Are we really about to get in a car with a strange man who may or may not be a serial killer?”

We threw caution to the wind though and graciously accepted the man’s kind offer. We’ve since talked about that decision and decided that we had felt a bit more confident about the situation since we were together and not flying solo. Together our odds were a little better at taking him out if things got hairy. But really, he was a very nice guy. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. He took us right to the entrance of the park and gave us directions to a stop where we could get a bus back to the train station. He was very helpful. Once we were in the park it was a simple matter of following the posted signs to the Kelpies.

The sun was hovering just above the horizon as we moved deeper into the park. We passed a large group of kids on these bizarre tricycle contraptions and behind them trailed the several adults that were watching them all. Soon we spotted the Kelpies in the distance. They looked miniscule from that distance. As we moved closer, they grew and grew in size, great silver steeds against the backdrop of smoky sky.

The true vastness of the beasts didn’t strike until we stood across from them. One of the horse heads was bent in a graceful arc, its ears were pitched back and to the side slightly and it looked down on us with blank gray eyes. The other had its head thrown back, its ears up and alert, and mouth open in a silent scream. I imagined the rest of the body up in a panicked rear, hooves flailing madly. Its companion, in comparison, looked timid or ashamed.

Mom and I moved around them, taking pictures from nearly every possible angle as the world around us grew darker and darker. When we were satisfied with our extensive collection, we sat on a cement step and had a snack of cookies and lemonade that we had bought at Haymarket Station. It was a very peaceful evening. Nearly everyone else in the park had gone home so it was just us and the giant glowing horses. I was glad we hadn’t missed the train a second time or we might not have had the time to see them at all.

We drank the last of the lemonade but saved a few cookies for the train ride home. It was now fully night and we still had to find our way back out of the park and to the bus stop. Most of the path out was well lit. There was only one dicey part where we had to scale a steep dirt slope up to the paved path (we had decided to mix it up and go back a different way). Had my balance been the tiniest bit off, we would have slipped backwards down the hill and then we would’ve been in a world of hurt.

Back on the street, we followed the man’s direction to the bus stop. It couldn’t have been any easier. A straight walk down to the roundabout and take a right. It was a bit longer of a walk than we had anticipated but we made it in time to grab the bus back to the station. We were the only ones on the bus as we drove through the empty streets of Falkirk. Our driver was rocking out to some pop music, which made me smile, and when we reached our stop he was nice enough to check that we knew the way to the station from there. Our timing was impeccable. The next train to Edinburgh was arriving in five minutes. We waited patiently in the waiting area with one other girl. Tiredness was starting to make my eyes itch and I was enjoying the waiting area seat a little too much for how stiff it was.

The train arrived and whisked us away back to Edinburgh. We had another quiet bus ride back to the flat and actually managed to stop at the right stop! Almost every other time that week we had gotten the bus to stop at the stand before ours so we had to walk the rest of the way. By the end of our trip we were pros though. Go figure. We crawled into bed as soon as we had walked through the door and I ended the night by finishing my book.

~Ren

Rosslyn and Ryrie

Peter left for Berlin the next morning. It was sad, but not really that much. It felt more like the kind of goodbye you’d give a friend when they were leaving your house and you had plans to see them that weekend. Which was in fact true for us. After a few more days in Edinburgh we would be getting on a plane and flying down to spend the weekend in Berlin.

The morning got started slowly. Peter didn’t have to leave until about 9:30 so we took our time waking up and getting breakfast. When the time came, we saw him out the door and told him we’d see him soon. Our trio had turned back into the dynamic duo. Which was probably for the best. It had only been three days, two and a half really, that we’d spent with Peter, but there was so much we had crammed in and so much of it involved stairs that by the end of his stay we were running on just fumes.

But there were still so many adventures to be had! We couldn’t slow down, at least not to a stand still. After cleaning up, Mom and I gathered our things and returned to the Vodafone store. With Peter gone it was even more imperative that we have at least one phone that would work properly. We showed up a few minutes before they opened, as did several other people. Once the doors were open we all moved forward into the lobby. A red-haired fellow took down our names but it wasn’t really necessary. A second later a man behind the counter called us over. Short story made shorter, I gave him my phone, he did phone stuff to it, it worked, we left. Hooray!

With my phone finally functioning, I looked up the bus route to Roslin to see the Rosslyn Chapel. Why the town and the chapel are spelled differently I have no idea. We walked the block from the Vodafone store to the bus stop and prepared for the hour-long drive out of town. The ride was comfortable enough and didn’t wear on that long. We were dropped on what looked to be a completely closed down street. A few restaurants on the street corners seemed to be the only places open and doing business.

We began walking down a quiet lane with some other people from the bus, following signs to the chapel. Farmland stretched to our right and our left, divided by the road we walked on and a large grove of trees. We soon came across a car park for the chapel and a bit beyond that we reached the welcome center. The building was brand new and state of the art. It had been outfitted to tell the chapels history, and of course sell all those lovely souvenirs we just have to have.

We waited in line to get our tickets then left the welcome center and entered a gravel courtyard. This side of the chapel was in complete shadow, making the many turrets lining its roof look dark and menacing. There was a single door beneath a rounded archway set in amongst the stones. The other side of the chapel was the polar opposite. It was directly in the sunlight, a brilliant array of tan, brown and red stones with blackened spires. The entryway at the south of the building boasted the cleanest stones off all, as it had likely been added on more recently.

From the outside, Rosslyn looks much like any other religious building from its time period. What makes Rosslyn Chapel an amazing place to visit is what is inside. I’m not religious but I’ve seen enough ornately crafted religious buildings to know most of them are all about the same. But Rosslyn Chapel is on a whole other level. The chapel is a fairly small structure. It’s not anywhere near the size of the big Gothic cathedrals. That makes the number of carvings and ornaments that much more impressive. There is something to look at on every inch of the inside, and every carving tells a story or has a fascinating story behind it.

Some carvings depicted the seven sins and seven virtues. Others show the Dance of Death, depicting characters from all walks of life yet all are accompanied by Death. The Nativity Scene is there, as is the Star of Bethlehem. There is a carving of an angel playing the bagpipes, of the Green Man, a pagan figure representing the power of nature, and the Apprentice Pillar, with its own story carved into the rock. The list goes on and on. Behind the alter of the church were stairs leading down into the crypt, a location made famous after its appearance in The Da Vinci Code back in 2006.

We sat and listened to a presentation by one of the guides and learned of the chapel’s origins and history. William St. Clair founded the chapel in 1446 for his family. In its time, it has been used to stable the horses of Oliver Cromwell’s troops, been visited by the likes of Robert Burns and Dorothy Wordsworth, and was restored by architect David Bryce, after which Sunday services began to take place for the first time in 200 years. The chapel had a similar affect as the Stone of Scone. Here was this place steeped in so much history and we were standing right inside of it. It was amazing to think it had once been some decrepit, forgotten building when it was positively radiant now.

Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the chapel, but if you really want to see some of the carvings you can find them on the Rosslyn Chapel website. After seeing all we could take in, we made a quick stop in the gift shop then walked back up the lane to where the bus had dropped us. The next bus didn’t come for another 45 minutes so we had some lunch at a restaurant on the corner. The place was small and too tightly packed with tables and chairs, and we got stuck at the tiny table right next to the door. After we left, we decided we should’ve gone to the Tea Room across the street. But alas, we did not.

When we arrived back at Prince Street we had a cow to see. Mom had spotted a stuffed Highland cow inside one of the souvenir shops on our way into town that morning and she wanted to go back for a photo-op. Don’t worry, when I say “stuffed” I mean like a stuffed animal. Jeez, what kind of people do you think we are? I took a few pictures of Mom and her cow before we poked around the store a little bit. I debated getting some Scottish flag boxers but decided it wasn’t worth the pounds. We grabbed another bus back to the flat to grab something to eat and relax a bit before heading off on our next excursion. Or so we thought.

We had planned to catch a train out to Falkirk to see the Kelpies. If you don’t know, Kelpies are water beings said to inhabit the lochs and pools of Scotland, and they often appear in the form of a horse. The Kelpies we were going to see were 30-meter tall horse head sculptures created by sculptor Andy Scott. The two horse heads were erected in a park known as The Helix and each weigh over 300 tons. They are crafted from steel and filled with lights. When we went the Kelpies were lit with red but apparently the color changes from time to time. We did not, however, get there on the day we had planned.

Maya and Malc were in the kitchen when we went in to get some lunch. We got busy chatting with them about our plans and asked how things were going with them (they were right in the middle of a move when we were staying with them). We talked so long that we caught our bus too late, which made us miss our train. Of course we had only just gotten our tickets out of the machine when the train pulled out of the station. So we walked sheepishly into the office to ask if we could change our tickets for the next day. The man did so without making us feel any sillier than we already did.

Defeated and deferred from our evening activity, we did what all smart people do in our position. We went to the pub. It was the same bright blue pub we had first seen on our arrival in Edinburgh. Its name, Ryrie’s, when said out loud reminded Mom very much of Scooby-Doo. To this day, whenever we talk about it, her speech is temporarily disrupted and she turns into a cartoon Great Dane with a speak impediment. The pub was just as lovely on the inside as it was on the outside. We took a small round table in the corner with a nice vantage point of all the other goings-on in the bar. No one came over to help us so I went up to the bar and brought us back two pints.

The pub grew dimmer as the sun disappeared behind the buildings outside. The atmosphere stayed lively though. A group of people was watching the game on TV (I don’t know what game but sports fans always seem to refer to whatever is on as ‘the game’) while others sat enjoying their drinks and nice conversation with friends. It was unfortunate that we’d missed the Kelpies but it was nice to have a quite evening at the pub as well. The honey-colored liquid slowly vanished from our glasses as we passed the time alternating between people watching and brief exchanges of words.

When we left the pub, we took a minute to photograph the beautiful blue outside with its hanging flower baskets and gold lettering. The night was mild and the hour not too late so we decided to walk back home rather than spend even more time that day on a bus.

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~Ren