Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wittenberg, Berlin and Poland - Part 2 of 3

Our first full day in Berlin, and we had a LOT of stuff planned. This was also the day that I realized I need new shoes. :/ Stupid blisters.

First things first - breakfast! The Hotel Gat Point Charlie breakfast was AWESOME! It should be, it cost €15 per person. We would NEVER EVER pay that much for breakfast - but, it was included in our LivingSocial deal. So of COURSE we took advantage. They had a full hot section - potatoes, sausages, boil-your-own-egg station, etc. Then the normal cold station - yogurts, meats, cheeses, fish, etc. And, the bakery section - cakes, crepes, breads, etc etc etc. Just sit me in front of some bread & cheese, and I'm a happy camper. Josh goes whole hog & eats one of everything. But, we traditionally don't eat lunch while we're traveling, so we have to fill up!

Our first order of business for the day was to go buy the Berlin Welcome Card. We bought the 48-hour card, which cost us €18.50 each. It gave us unlimited travel on the subways, trams, and busses - as well as discounts to over 200 places around Berlin (including museums & restaurants). This trip - we probably shouldn't have bought the card. For one thing - we never saw anyone checking tickets in the Subway. For another thing - we didn't have time to go to any museums. Also, we didn't even use the card on the 2nd day.

I'm not saying not to buy the card - it's definitely useful. We will probably buy one on the next trip. BUT, we just didn't need it on this trip. We did, however, use it for dinner. The restaurant we went to (I'll get to that) gave us 25% off the bill since we had the Welcome card. It was an expensive place, so the cost of the card & the 25% off the meal actually evened us out.

Anywho, we bought the Welcome Card from the front desk at our hotel, but you can buy it from the big yellow machines inside the subway, or from the bus drivers.

We started our day by going to the Reichstag (the parliament building). The subway spat us out right near the Brandenburg Gate, and from there it was just a very short walk to the Reichstag.


The Rick Steves book we used had a walking tour that started out at the parliament building. We also decided to go into the dome of the Reichstag & check it out.


It was almost 9am on a Wednesday, and the streets were practically EMPTY! Weird.


You kind of have to jump thru a few (easy) hoops before you can gain entry to the Reichstag. But, it’s totally worth it - especially since it's free. First, you have to reserve your entry online. Fill out the info, and request what time slots you want. Then, you'll get an email confirming that you requested entry. Then, as long as nothing is amiss (like, the times you requested aren't booked, or they figure out you're an internationally wanted criminal, whatevs) you'll get an email confirming your visit, as well as your time.

I took the printed confirmation letter with us, but I don't know if that's necessary. In front of the Reichstag is a small building. Go there. You give them your name, passports, they check you off their list, and then you have to go thru security. It's exactly like airport security, except they don't care if you have liquids. Then, once you're thru security, you have to literally be walked up to the front door of the Reichstag by one of the security members. You basically have to be escorted everywhere (on the elevator, thru the entry/exit doors, to & from the security checkpoint), except when you're right inside the dome.

Anywho, after our little song & dance, we made it up to the dome of the Reichstag. This is where we were given our gps-driven audio guides. As you walk up & around the dome, the audio guide will explain what you're looking at (based on where you are standing). It was actually really cool! Even though it was overcast, we still got to see a lot.


This mirrored 'tornado' actually reflects light down to the parliament chambers below. Nifty.

the Brandenburg Gate


At the top of the dome!

The audio guide is actually one of the best ones we’ve listened to. Even Josh, the Anti Audio guide Advocate, really liked it.

The Reichstag took us about 50 minutes. After that, it was time to do our self-guided walking tour. All Praise Rick Steves! (every time I say 'Rick Steves', I want to add a 'bitch' afterwords. A la Dave Chappelle's, 'I'm Rick James, bitch!'). Rick Steves really missed out on a good tag line.

Word to the wise - when you're facing the Reichstag, don't go left to go around the building. Go left to look at the river if you want. But, to get back to the Brandenburg Gate - go around to the right. Trust me...it's a loooong detour.

Back at Brandenburg, we cut thru an art school building to get to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

This was a pretty eerie place to walk thru, but a must to visit.



Another must? Visiting the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled Blanket.

We continued to walk down Unter den Linden, checking out the sites.

St. Hedwig's Church

Humboldt University

We got to the Humboldt University (Marx, Lenin, and the Grimms studied here) and decided it was time for a small rest. As highlighted in Rick Steves’ (bitch) book, we stopped in at ‘Tim’s Espressobar’ in the former state library. Good choice, Rick. It’s a typical college cafe, and the prices are AWESOME. We split a sandwich, and each had a drink, and it cost us *maybe* €7 total.

After we warmed up a little, it was back to walkin’. We walked straight over Museum Island without stopping. Next time we go to Berlin, we will DEFINITELY hang out on the island & go to the museums! We just plain didn’t have time on this trip. :(




Once we got off of Museum Island, it was just a few more minutes til we were at the famous TV tower. Supposedly. We never actually *saw* the tower. The clouds were just so low-hanging! But, it’s ok, because what did we come upon next?

A CHRISTMAS MARKET!!! :D

At the base of the TV tower (again, supposedly) was the Alexanderplatz Christmas market. This is probably the best Christmas market that I've been to yet - at least, it's definitely my favorite. The stands/booths were turned into a cute little Christmas village (they all had old fashioned building facades). There were a ton of booths - food, drink, crafts. They had a little petting zoo, and a few rides. There was also an ice skating rink - Josh could have sat in front of that rink for hours. He loves watching people fall on ice (he once broke his nose while ice skating...it's gotta be some sick Freudian obsession of his at this point). Of course we had gl├╝hwein. It was just a really fun Christmas market! And, since it was in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, it was relatively empty!

That's the TV tower on the right. I guess.




After the market, it was time to head down to Checkpoint Charlie. It was verrrry touristy down here, but it’s one of those places you just have to see. You can get your passport stamped at the checkpoint if you wish. They have like 10 different stamps, and if you want them all, it’ll cost you something like €12 (or is it 12 stamps for €10?)

No thank you.

But, like I said, it was cool to see the place.




From Checkpoint Charlie, it’s a quick walk to the Topography of Terror. Scary name, eh? It’s a large section of the Berlin wall, plus a covered section of the cellar walls of the former SS/Gestapo Headquarters. There is also a museum, but we didn’t have time (next time, I swear).



I’m not gonna lie...at this point, I was getting kinda grouchy. But, thankfully, we were now on our way to Charlottenburg. It was pretty far out (about 40 minutes on the subway...at least it *felt* like 40 minutes), so we had a little rest on our way. Good thing, too. One thing we did notice about Berlin - there are a lot of English-speaking students that live in Berlin! I never realized this city was a hotspot for study-abroad programs. But, based on all the people we came across in the trains - it definitely is!

Unfortunately there really isn’t a subway stop near the palace, so we had to hoof it for about 15 minutes. At this point, the sun was going down, and it was getting coooold.
But, no worries, because there was ANOTHER Christmas Market at Charlottenburg!!! Happy day.

Next time we go to Berlin, we will definitely take a tour of Charlottenburg. It was so pretty! But, since we were running out of time for the evening (we had to make it back to the hotel to freshen up before our big dinner) we just hung around the market. It was smaller than Alexanderplatz, and more crowded. But, it was still awesome. This one seemed to have more rides for kids, and more ‘higher-end’ shops for adults.





At this point, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up a bit before dinner.

You should be getting very excited at this point, because I’m getting ready to tell you about the restaurant we went to. It is the Unsicht Bar. It’s a blind restaurant!!! One of those restaurants where you eat in complete darkness!!

We were SOOOOOO EXCITED!!! We’d never done anything like this. Josh was a little scared (so was I). But, I have always wanted to do one of these. It was just a quick subway ride from hotel, and then a quick walk. Then, we arrived!




Our reservations were at 8pm. When you walk in, you are in the lit bar area. The lighting was very dim, but in keeping with any cozy bar, really. We checked our coats, then looked at the menu. You could get the 3-course (salad, main, dessert) or the 4-course (soup, salad, main, dessert). Really, you don’t need to look at the menu. They don’t tell you what you will eat - you just order which “theme” you want: seafood, poultry, red meat, vegetarian, and ‘surprise’. Josh ordered the ‘poultry’ menu, and I ordered the ‘vegetarian’ menu. The menus did try to give you clues as to what you were about to eat. For instance, the description of a dish might say, “The Asian woman swims naked in a sea of spicy tubers.” Really, that would be a Japanese soba ginger soup with chicken breasts.

We waited for about five minutes, before our waiter came to get us & another couple. All of the waitstaff in the restaurant are blind or visually impaired. Our waiter talked with us a little bit, and explained to us what was about to happen. In order for us to get to our table, we each had to grab onto each others' shoulders. So, I stood behind the waiter & held his shoulders. Josh stood behind me & held my shoulders, and so on. There was no door going into the restaurant, just an s-shaped hallway. The waiter told us that as we walked thru the hallway, it would gradually get darker - until we were in total darkness.

BULL! As SOON as we turned the corner, it was like black punched us in the face. We could hear the sounds of people all around us - the sounds of clinking glasses, silverware on plates, laughter, chatting. But we could literally see NOTHING.

The waiter showed me to my chair first, then sat Josh across the way from me. While he took the other couple to their seats, Josh and I sat there and giggled. We also felt the area around us. The table was large - lengthwise, at least. We were seated against a wall on one side. We kept reaching out to each other, to make sure we knew where the other one was.

It was the most surreal experience I have ever had. I didn't know what to do with myself!! Josh later told me he sat upright & alert the whole time. I had the opposite reaction. I leaned up against the wall, head cocked up, mouth halfway open (don't make nasty jokes), eyes half closed. If the lights were on, I would have looked like an absolute mental case.

The waiter came back to verify our meal choices & to get our drink order. We just ordered beer - I didn't want to have to deal with water glasses & wine glasses. Beer seemed the safer choice (I always need water at restaurants if I'm drinking wine. When I drink beer, it's refreshing enough so that I don't need water. Also, beer is the same price as water, if not cheaper, in European restaurants).

In the meantime, another couple was seated next to us. Remember how I said our table was long? We deduced that it was a 6 person table - but they leave the middle two seats empty - for good reason! I kept my beer glass pretty far out - I was really worried about knocking it over.

We opted out of the soup, so we started with our salad dish. Here's where the differences between Josh & I really became apparent. His reaction to being given food in the dark was to try and act completely normal. He sat up straight, kept his silverware in his hand, and tried to eat as normally as possible. Yes, he said it was hard for him to get food on his fork sometimes, but he managed. I, on the other hand, turned into Smeagol. I sat COMPLETELY hunched over my food. I kept my fork in my right hand the entire time - BUT I HARDLY USED IT! I spent the entire time eating the food with my left hand. I had to feel what I was about to eat. I know I made an absolute mess of myself. Or, I would have, if I wasn't hunkered over the plate like a hog at trough.

The salad was pretty easy to figure out, though. Josh figured he had a chicken skewer with peanut sauce. I EASILY figured out the main component of my salad - beets.

Blergh.

I am not a fan of beets. But, the lettuce & dressing was good. I did have a hard time figuring out that I had marinated grape tomatoes on my plate. Felt just like eyeballs.

After our salad, the waiter came by & said our main dishes were taking longer than usual.

Le poop.

But, no worries - we're pretty patient when it comes to restaurants. Especially since being in Europe. Eating out is an event not to be taken lightly. Eating out in such a special type of restaurant DEFINITELY warranted even more patience.

Finally, the waiter brought us our meal.

I actually debated on whether I should tell what happened next. But...for the sake of a story, I have to tell. We had SUCH a great time at the restaurant, and we would DEFINITELY go back (please please please don't let what I'm about to tell you keep you from going to the Unsicht Bar in Berlin)...however, we did have an issue.

Since I've been a vegetarian for 16 years, I am totally used to having to check my meals to make sure there is no wayward meat. It happens *all* the time. I order a salad - it comes with bacon. I ask for the black bean burger - they accidentally give me a meat burger. It happens, I get it. It doesn't make me mad, it doesn't gross me out. It's just something I know I have to deal with, so I deal with it.

The blind restaurant is no different. I had to double check the food with my fingers, to make sure I didn't feel any meat.

Sure enough - as soon as I put my fingers in my food, I KNEW it was a piece of meat. Veggie girl can always tell. I did have Josh try it, and he knew right away that it was meat. He actually ended up with a steak dish - when he ordered the poultry dish.

Uh-oh.

When you need to get your waiter's attention in a blind restaurant, you have to call out their name. They ask you where you are from before you get into the restaurant (so they don't have to remember names). So, we called out for our waiter, and he calls back, "Who's that?" Then we say, "It's Texas!" He came right to us.

So, we started explaining the situation to him. You could tell it didn't happen very often, because the waiter seemed to be upset about it. Then, the girl at the other end of our table pipes up - she thinks she has the vegetarian by accident, when she ordered the meat. Her guy ordered the 'surprise' dish, so he doesn't care. Really, I think they just must have turned around the tray on the poor blind waiter. I know it was just an accident, and not really anyone's fault. So - we didn't gripe about it. I'm a really careful veggie, though - if I had taken a bite of meat, I would have been pissed (but what self-respecting vegetarian would take a bite of food willy-nilly, without inspecting it for meat? Yes, that's really high-maintenance, but it's what we have to do).

Unfortunately, we had to wait even LONGER for our food. The kitchen was still backed up, so we were there for a lot longer.

Finally, we get our correct food. Again, I go to Neanderthal mode & start eating with my hands. I knew I had gnocchi, some sort of vegetable, and some sort of patty. The gnocchi was the only thing I could figure out. It was all really delicious, though. Josh had what he *thought* was chicken, over noodles & sauce.

After we were done with dinner, it was time for dessert!! This was the most fun. They gave us plates with three different little desserts. Some kind of crunchy, nutty square, a square of cake with passion fruit on top, and some sort of mousse. It was sooooo good. My fingers were a mess. But, at this point, we realize that there isn't a whole lot of noise going on around us.

Oh, holy crap. We were the last ones in the restaurant. I mean, I know we had an issue with our meal & had to wait, but still....

Since we were the last ones, our waiter let us walk out of the restaurant on our own. Everyone else was led out the way they came in, but we got to try it ourselves.

It was really difficult!

The waiter stood towards where I guessed the entrance was, and snapped his fingers for us - so we could follow the noise. He had us put our hands to our sides to make sure we weren't about to run into anything. Josh was in front of me. I kept getting scared that I was left behind, so I kept calling out for Josh - really, just to hear my own echo & to make sure that I was on the right path.

Finally, we made it back to the s-shaped hallway. We were literally blinded by the light for a few seconds - remember the dim bar light I was talking about? Yeah, that was blinding us now.

The waiter shook our hand, and I went to the restroom while Josh paid the bill. While I was washing my hands, I looked down & noticed the shelf of crumbs across my boobs. Oops.

At least the waiter didn't notice (blind joke - hey-oh!!).

With two beers each, and the 25% off for having the Welcome Card, our total came to €80ish. Expensive, yes. BUT TOTALLY WORTH IT!!

We got to read the 'real' menu once we came out. Josh's main dish was actually turkey, not chicken. The patty I couldn't figure out? Potato. The vegetable I couldn't figure out? Carrot. The mousse I couldn't figure out? Mango. Basically, I could identify all the weird shit (beet, gnocchi, passion fruit) but completely blanked on the basic (potato, carrot).

It was such a great time - we had an absolute blast. It was such a *weird* experience, too! We got back to the subway to go back to the hotel, and finally saw a clock. Holy Crap, it was 11:30pm!!!! We had just spent 3.5 hours having dinner! It definitely did NOT feel like it took that long.

Back at the hotel, we crashed. It was such a long day, but sooo good!! We love Berlin! But, Poland was on our agenda for the next day. We had to get a good night's sleep before our adventure there.

1 comment:

  1. For one thing - we never saw anyone checking tickets in the Subway.

    You don't want to be caught out riding black, though. Those fines are *pricey.*

    The dining in the dark restaurant sounds fascinating and nerve-wracking.

    I think I took a lot of the same pictures in Berlin as you did- Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust Memorial, etc. I was there in May though, so it was quite sunny.

    (http://stevenglassman.de/category/berlin/)

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