Postcards from Saint-Julien-Chapteuil | France

Saint-Julien-ChapteuilSaint-Julien-Chapteuil

Last Summer, I went to a tiny village nestled among the volcanic hills of Auvergne called Saint-Julien-Chapteuil. I was to spend a week there with my friend and her sweet little family who had recently relocated from Belgium. I was especially eager to finally meet their adorable baby. Two trains and some seven hours later, Brussels far far behind me, I was sitting in her van in a middle of an intense catch-up session while she was driving us to the village I had heard so much of already.

Saint-Julien-Chapteuil

The week spent there was one of the most peaceful of my life. Every morning, I’d be woken by Saint Julien’s bells. More often than not, I would ignore them and fall back asleep. We were living on baby schedule, time before noon was slow and cosy, you would probably find me in the kitchen window stuffing my face with apricots. We had bought a whole crate for a ridiculous price at the end of the market. In the afternoons, if the sun wasn’t too hot, we would go on hikes in the mountains surrounding the village. The volcanic region offers some interesting rock formations like “basalt organ pipes” not unlike the one you can see at the Giant’s Causeway.

Saint-Julien-ChapteuilSaint-Julien-Chapteuil

The views over the valley were breathtaking and the air so pure. So was the water, can you believe the tap water tasted better than bottled?!

The evenings were spent cooking with good wholesome food. Sometimes we would set our table on the terrace, facing the mountains where the sun would eventually lie, lighting the sky orange and violet. And as the stars shone bright in a star-gazer’s perfect dream, we would play cards until our eyelids felt heavy. I would fall asleep to the song of cicadas, sometimes punctuated by the cymbals of thunderstorms.

Saint-Julien-Chapteuil

Ever since I left Saint-Julien-Chapteuil, I’ve been thinking of its slower pace of life (certainly enhanced by our lack of wifi) and its wonderfully old-fashioned events like the soapbox races and the Soup festival where people from the surrounding villages would come and gather in Saint Joseph’s school courtyard to eat cabbage soup, drink wine and dance to the old French tunes sung by an old lady with a quivering voice. For a long time, London has been on my mind but as I grow older, I feel ready for a change of pace.

What about you? Could you see yourself living in a village in the middle of nowhere or are you a city person through and through?
Next week, I’ll show you Le-Puy-en-Velay where we spent an afternoon. This picturesque town is famous for being one of the starting points of the Santiago de Compostela’s pilgrim route.

Kylemore Abbey | co. Galway

Kylemore Abbey

Seeing Kylemore Abbey roll out over the horizon when you drive down the N59 is something that must be experienced once in a life-time. A few years ago, My friend and I were road tripping in the Connemara when we both simultaneously gasped and squealed at the sight of the castle standing majestically over a mirror-like lake. This is the kind of stuff fairy-tales are made of.

You can visit the ground floor of the castle where you’ll learn of its history. It was built in the 1860s by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy London doctor, for his wife Margaret who fell in love with the region. They lived there very happily and had 9 (!) children. Alas, their story took a tragic turn when Margaret died of a fever during a trip to Egypt. Inconsolable, Mitchell built a Gothic Church and a mausoleum in honour of his wife, which you can still visit today in Kylemore. He left the premises, pained by the memory of his wife too present there. The castle was then acquired by the Duke and Duchess of Manchester who had to let it go a few years later due to gambling debts.
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore AbbeyKylemore Abbey

This brings us to 1920 and the current owners of the estate, the Benedictine nuns. They were looking for a new home after their Belgian monastery was destroyed in World War I. They found it in Kylemore Castle which then became Kylemore Abbey. They still live there today, living off admissions, donations and the handmade goods they sell at the gift shop.
Kylemore AbbeyKylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as enthralled by the rooms of Kylemore Abbey as I was for its outside. For me the true gem of the estate is the Victorian Walled Garden. Nestled between hilltops, the abbey gardens are a stunning example of Irish landscaping. Inside the stone walls, you’ll find a vegetable garden, orchards, glasshouses and the Head Gardener’s house. The latter’s period rooms are beautifully laid out in pastel hues. I can’t start to imagine the life led by those who took care of this land, an oasis between lake and mountains.
Kylemore Abbey

KYLEMORE ABBEY PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Kylemore Abbey – website
Connemara
co. Galway, Ireland

Admission
General €13 / Seniors €10 / Student €9 / Children under 10 Free

Opening Times
9.30am-5.30pm (Every Day, Mar-Nov)
9am-7pm (Every Day, July-Aug)
10am-4.30pm (Every Day, Nov-March)

Mount Usher Gardens | co. Wicklow

Mount Usher Gardens

Can you believe this picture was only taken a couple of weeks ago? That’s the magic of maple trees bringing you Autumn in the middle of Spring! The Mount Usher Gardens in county Wicklow have a beautiful maple walk and more than 5000 different varieties of trees, shrubs and plants in which you can happily wander.

I had been patiently waiting Spring this year to finally visit one of the most renowned gardens in Ireland. I had first heard of it thanks to Magda’s colourful post and as I’m ticking off my list of things to do in Wicklow, it started to feel slightly wrong that I hadn’t explored one of its star-gardens yet. An hour bus journey or so will take you to Ashford, a little town where the gardens are located. As you go through the car park, you’ll find yourself in a courtyard surrounded by charming little shops. Delicatessen, garden centre and clothes shop,… if you know Avoca you’ll be familiar with the aesthetic. They manage the garden, and in typical Avoca’s fashion, they graced the place with an inviting cafe with a gorgeous vista on the garden’s gazebo. I sat ‘front row seat’ near the window and ordered a peanut butter parfait and a pot of peppermint tea. While I enjoyed my dessert, I observed the rich life of the garden unfolding right before my eyes, insects going about their day and perfectly round robins perched on nearby branches staring right at me.
Mount Usher GardensMount Usher Gardens

At the entrance you’re presented with a map offering a choice of trails. The lady at the desk recommended that I follow the tree trail as they have some champion trees of Ireland and the UK. It was fun to try to guess the varieties according to the leaf shapes and have a close look at weirdly exotic trees from Iran or China. I would have never thought these could thrive on Irish soil. Wild garlic was covering the forest ground, filling it with its sharp fragrance.
But call me frivolous, I think I am more of a ‘flower girl’ than a tree-hugger because the area I enjoyed the most was the ‘Island’, a patch right next to the house where so many posies bloom in eye-catching bursts of colours. I was also lucky to catch the tail-end of the bluebell season. I don’t think there’s something that invites more to the reverie than a bluebell wood. Will you look at that purple blanket, don’t you want to dive in it?
Mount Usher GardensMount Usher GardensMount Usher GardensMount Usher Gardens

Mount Usher gardens were founded in 1868 by Edward pole and stayed in his family’s estate for a little more than a century. There’s an interesting philosophy behind the creation of this beautiful piece of land. The family was greatly influenced by William Robinson, a famous Irish gardener who reacted against the rigid approach of gardening of his time. He believed a garden should grow on nature’s term.
In the Eighties, Madeleine Jay, a garden lover, bought the property and took the Robinsonian style a step further by managing the property organically. A way of doing that is still carried on today by Avoca.

Mount Usher Gardens
The Walpole family’s pet cemetery Mount Usher Gardens

The Vartry River runs through the gardens and I think, instinctively, people tend to walk along it. It’s a pleasant walk, there are beautiful little cascades, suspension bridges and from time to time, a fish burst out of the water to catch a fly or a mosquito. But wander off the river path and you’ll find yourself inside a beautiful Irish oil painting.

Mount Usher Gardens

MOUNT USHER GARDENS’ PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Mount Usher Gardens – website
Ashford, co. Wicklow, Ireland

Opening Hours
10am-6pm (Mon-Sun, all year)

Admission
General €7.50 / Reduced €6.50 / Children under 16 €3.50 / Children under 4 Free

Bus
133 Bus Eireann (from Dublin)

Columbia Road Flower Market | London

Columbia Road Flower Market

I’ve well and truly been bitten by the Springtime bug, fawning over every bloom I pass on the streets, getting teary-eyed over shedding cherry-blossom trees and sniffing lilac like there’s no tomorrow. Spring in Dublin is magical but I have to say I get a teeny pinch in the ticker when I see all the flowery London snaps on Instagram. I mean, have you seen the #wisteriahysteria hashtag?! And did you know that the shops in Chelsea are decked with hundreds of flowers in honour of the Chelsea Flower Show? I can’t help being a tad jealous of the floral fete London is experiencing at the moment. So I thought it would be the perfect time to reminisce over a lovely Sunday morning I spent at the flower market in East London last Summer.

It was my first time visiting the Columbia Road Flower Market despite seeing it featured countless times in blogs over the years. Truth is, waking up early on a Sunday morning was rarely on my list of priorities in my twenties. Especially when visiting my favourite city. But with the thirties come wisdom… or at least a great urge to see flowers arranged neatly in buckets.

Columbia Road Flower MarketColumbia Road Flower MarketColumbia Road Flower Market

The flower market is a great little slice of London life. You’re surrounded by the colourful accents of the sellers hollering at the passersby, elegant women who look like they could single-handedly organise a party of 150. Others who quickly scan the stalls like resolute captains of their gardens and then there are the girls who look for a little bouquet to brighten up their small rentals. When the clock strikes 11, the street gets so crowded you can hardly move. I managed to go up and down Columbia Road a few times to take these pictures. It was one of the most intense photographic exercise for me. There’s people literally everywhere, the sun was shining bright on one side of the road while the other was plunged in the dark, shaded by the street houses. I generally like to take my time when I take pictures but I had to act quickly, constantly changing settings and trying to be discreet in order not to disturb anyone. I enjoyed snapping the pretty posies – roses, peonies, sunflowers and hortensias were in season – but also the patrons carrying their loot and their cute dogs!

Columbia Road Flower MarketColumbia Road Flower Market

Becky from the blog ACCOOOHTREMENTS shared her brilliant Londoner tip in the comment section:if you get there between 3-3.30pm, the sellers that are left are often doing very good discounts (last week I got 2 gorgeous bunches of tulips for £5!) :)

The market is not the only appeal of Columbia Road and its area. There’s a cute flea market in a nearby courtyard and so many beautifully curated shops on the street itself. Three especially got my attention: A Portuguese Love Affair which will remind you of a minimalist A Vida Portuguesa if you’ve ever been to Lisbon, Mason & Painter offers a great mix of vintage and new homeware, I absolutely adored their aesthetics and finally Choosing Keeping, a very chic stationary shop that made me want to have an army of pen pals.

Columbia Road Flower MarketColumbia Road Flower MarketColumbia Road Flower Market

There’s also a great selection of eateries, bakeries and places to get refreshments. If you’re in need of coffee, which let’s face it is more than likely seeing the market’s time window, I heartily recommend the little coffee stall located in The Royal Oak‘s backyard. I’m not a coffee connoisseur by any means but their flat white was so smooth I completely skipped the mountains of sugar I usually dose my caffeinated beverages with. The pub itself is actually a great spot too, I loved its old London charm and creaky floors.

All in all, Columbia Road is one of the most charming areas I’ve visited in London and I would love to go back, maybe this time on a weekday so I can give more attention to all the beautiful shops and the street architecture.

Columbia Road Flower Market

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Columbia Road Flower Market – website
Columbia Road
London E2 7RG

Opening Hours
8am-3pm, every Sunday

Bus
26, 48, 55 (Queensbridge Road stop)
8, 388 (Barnet Grove stop)
67, 149, 242, 243 (Kingsland Road Waterson Street)

Tube
Bethnal Green (Central Line)

Overground
Cambridge Heath

7 Things to Do in Dublin this Spring | Video

springindublin

Spring has finally arrived! Well kind of, the temperatures are still on the cold side of the mercury here but the weather cast promises a full week of sunshine ahead. I wanted to celebrate this with a video featuring my favourite places to visit in Dublin during Springtime. Hope you enjoy the video!

PS: I previously wrote on some of these spots here, if you need more info Airfield Farm | National Botanic Gardens | Killiney Hill

Aunt Benny, snow and flea market galore | Berlin, Day 5

My last day in Berlin was a Sunday which is flea market day in the German capital. So many markets happening every single week, I’m a wee bit jealous of you Berliners! They’re my favourite things to do on holidays so I made something of a military plan to cover as many of them as I could. But first I needed some fuel for the busy day ahead!
Berlin, Day 5

I went to the uber popular brunch spot, Aunt Benny, which was just down the road from my airbnb. I would lie if this didn’t majorly factor into my choice of accommodation (that and the cat of course). The place was already packed by 9.30am and as it was too cold to sit on the benches outside, the lovely waitress suggested I sat in the shoebox-sized adjacent bar. I ordered the quiche with a cup of sweet chai. It was simple but fresh and well executed. I also sampled the bagels and the homemade cream cheese, which gave me a whole new appreciation for the combination. And because I was still reeling from the previous night’s cheesecake fiasco, I may have had a naughty slice of New York cheesecake. So good!
Berlin, Day 5

The first flea market of the day was actually a couple of streets away from Aunt Benny and my airbnb. On Boxhagener Platz, the cute stalls were peppered around the square park and the little kiosk. As I got closer to the first stall, the snow started to fall heavily. I was having a real pinch-me-now moment. Everything looked so bright, kids were being pulled on their sledges by their parents between the stalls. It looked like a romantic film set, up until the path turned into an ice-skating ring and standing up straight was a matter of life and death… for my butt. I’m glad to say no damage was done and that I jumped on the tram for my next flea in one piece.
Berlin, Day 5

Mauerpark is like the mother of all flea markets. I can’t believe how big it was! Rows and rows of cardboard boxes full of junk, you could literally spend all day digging through old stuff. Once again, I was solely attracted to crockery so I reluctantly cut the research effort short knowing that it would be hard to bring anything back home. Nonetheless what a lovely way to spend a Sunday. If old stuff is not your cup of tea, there are lots of food stalls and crafted gifts. On a nearby snowy hill, kids were having a ball, sliding down on their sledges. Very picturesque! But the afternoon was getting on and I still had one flea market to check out.
Berlin, Day 5

Rathaus Schoneberg had a completely different vibe. Located in a quiet area in the West of Berlin, the market stalls were spread on the cobbled-stoned square facing the town hall. It was definitely not as busy but quite neighbourly. I had a quick browse and walked back through the snowy park to the U-bahn station where the train would take me back to Friedrichshain.
Berlin, Day 5

There, I had a little play around with the iconic photoautomat booths next to the train station before heading to the vegan supermarket. This might have been my favourite supermarket experience. What a wild statement. I love how fun the food was there. In the freezer, there was a whole fake turkey! With a limited luggage space, I had to settle on a couple small items so I picked white strawberry chocolate and vegan salami. They were so convincing. Next time I need to bring an empty suitcase to stock up!
Berlin, Day 5

For my last meal, I could not not have falafel. Luckily, I was standing a few meters away from Mustafa Demir’ Gemuse Kebap. It’s a hole in a wall kind of establishment so don’t expect comfort or chairs for that matter, you’ll have to dine on the pavement. But their falafel wrap is pretty amazing. I’d go as far to say that it was the most creative in terms of toppings I’ve had. So much going on between the flat bread, I couldn’t make out what half of it was but it was bursting with flavours, no greasy sauce needed.

That’s a wrap (!!) on my Berlin trip. Unfortunately, it was cut shorter than anticipated as Aer Lingus changed my night flight to a morning one the day after. I wish I had the time to visit the Charlottenburg palace and had it been warmer I would have definitely gone to Templehof Airfield and Spreepark, the abandoned theme park. I definitely need to plot another visit to Berlin. I hope the last few posts inspire you to do the same. One word of advice if you go, plan your trip during the warm season as I felt the city truly reveals itself while aimlessly wandering.

Day 1| Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

A singing man, a protest and the missed cheesecake | Berlin, Day 4

Berlin, Day 4
I started the day with this little white fluff of happiness, watching the snowflakes falling by the window. If you didn’t read day 1 of my Berlin trip, you might have missed that my airbnb came with a cat. He was such a personality, spending his time either napping or supervising the courtyard.

It was then time to head out the door. Like every morning, I took the U-bahn, aka the Berlin tube, to join the city centre. My airbnb was located just next to a station so it was very handy to explore the city. I quickly snapped this picture as it was the first time I got on one of these vintage carriages. So small and so seventies!
Berlin, Day 4
I decided to go back to Mitte, the city centre where the main sights are, as I realised I had forgotten to check out Gendarmenmarkt, which is often referred as one of the most beautiful squares of Europe. I, for one, think it has nothing against ‘my’ Grand Place but it wasn’t too shabby indeed! On the marketplace, you’ll find the German Cathedral, the Concert Hall and the French Cathedral (the last two pictured below). The guy next to the fountain was singing some Oasis songs at the top of his lungs and I’m not sure why but I found him quite moving. Maybe it’s because he was facing the towering Concert Hall as if he was imploring Listen to me!. I was about to give him my change when it was suggested to me that the cup he was holding was actually his coffee. Awkward situation averted, phew!

On the square, there’s also an old-fashioned toyshop with an army of nutcracker soldiers in the window and other beautiful wooden objects. The Christmas decorations were still up so there were loads to look at. Side note, I was surprised to see so many garlands and trees still up walking in Berlin mid-January. Do Germans have a hard time letting go of Christmas? Does anyone know why?
Berlin, Day 4
Next stop that morning was Bebelplabtz which is famous for being the spot where Nazis held book-burning ceremonies. I wanted to see the memorial but unfortunately it was closed for renovations. On the opposite pavement, there was a little second-hand book market which is probably the most a-propos place to sell books, don’t you think?
Berlin, Day 4
On a lighter note, I then made my way to the Mall of Berlin where I wanted to browse the home section of H&M. I’m forever jealous of the other countries where H&M homeware is stocked so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to browse IRL the goodies that had me dreaming online. In typical ‘Nora’s fashion’, I got overwhelmed and nearly left the shop empty-handed when I spotted a cute marble phone cover by the till so at least that came home with me! I wandered a bit more in the mall and browsed in Zara Home and in the Marriage Freres tea shop.

As I stepped outside, I found myself in the middle of the biggest demonstration I ever seen. I’m not 100% sure what was going on but there seemed to be a lot of discontentment against the power in place. Among groups representing Vegans, LGBT Rights and the Refugees, I listened to speeches shouted from megaphones for a while. I don’t do well in big crowds so I slipped away to a deserted side street and went for a bite in a shabby greasy spoon.
Berlin, Day 4
Going to the Topography of Terror museum wasn’t part of the plan but I ended deciding to go there on a whim after seeing it pretty much mentioned in every Berlin guide I read. It’s located just next to the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall which is a stunner of a building. It has these pretty gold medallions all over it. I took a good while admiring and photographing it, nearly getting run over by a car in the process. After googling it, I found out that it’s pretty amazing inside too so I really regret not stepping in.

In front of  Topography of Terror, there’s a segment of the Berlin Wall still standing as well as the excavated cellar where prisoners were tortured and executed by the Nazis. The museum is indeed built where the Gestapo HQ used to stand. The Topography of Terror examines the Nazi institutions and the crimes they carried. One thing I would say is that the exhibition is quite static. Chuck loads of information is displayed on white boards so I would probably advise you to watch a good documentary on the subject beforehand and then focus on the areas in the exhibition you’re interested in. Queuing to read the boards can get a bit tedious otherwise. The part that captivated my attention the most was the beginnings of the National Socialist party and how they managed to gain so much power with such a vile agenda. It turns out that voters’ indifference is probably the most powerful political tool. It is a delicate balance achieved by giving something to the people they want then taking away something else and repeat the process. It is scary how that method still rings true today.
Berlin, Day 4
When I left the museum, I headed to the nearest U-bahn entrance. I rode South to the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg. The atmosphere there was probably the liveliest of all the areas in Berlin I had visited so far. The streets there were a pleasant combination of Kebab restaurants and indie shops. In a courtyard, I found the hipster Voo Store where cool magazines, designer clothes and beautiful people drinking coffee formed a harmonious hub. I quickly browsed the thoughtfully curated items on display and made my way towards my last cultural stop of the day: The Museum of Things. How do I describe this museum with this strangely vague name? If you love collections, you will enjoy browsing these cabinets. Objects are displayed according to function, material or colour. It’s incredibly eye and camera-pleasing. As you can imagine, I went a bit snap-happy so no doubt I will expand on this place in a later post.

By the time I got out of the museum, the night had fallen on the city. However, I was in the mood for cake and looking on my mapstr, I noticed that Five Elephant was on the way to my airbnb. It turns out that once again I underestimated Berlin geography. The walk felt long, although the cold and the neighbourhood with the creepy circus and the questionable street-sellers might have had something to do with it. I passed many cute cafes but my heart was set on Five Elephant as it came recommended by Mariell’s blog. She claimed they serve the best cheesecake in history. If that’s not an incentive, I don’t know what is! Unfortunately, when I finally got there, the place was packed. Thick-condensation-on-the-window packed! I turned on my heels and jumped on the bus home.

Are you all caught up with my Berlin trip so far? Here are Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 if you missed them.

Parc Tournay-Solvay | Brussels

I had planned a post on my trip to Berlin this week but I just want to talk about Brussels. Last year when the city was on lockdown and continuously portrayed as a terrorist den in the media, I froze at first and eventually I felt like reacting by publishing a post on the joyful Brussels I know. The terror and frustration of last year have been replaced by numbness and incomprehension after the attacks this week. My heart breaks for the lives lost and broken, for the ones who have to live with the absence and the pain, and for the light-hearted Brussels of yesterday.  I’ve been going through my pictures of last summer which filled me with a painful nostalgia, I long for my city to come back to a peaceful place. As fate would have it, the last post on Brussels I have in my archives is of the most serene place I know of. 

Parc Tournay-Solvay

The Tournay-Solvay park is a secret garden in the South of the Belgian Capital. I haven’t seen it mentioned that often in guides which is a pity because I think it’s pretty magical. Although I might be biased because this place is linked to many memories and formative moments in my life. It is here that my mum would bring me as a toddler to burn some energy as I learned to walk. Later, I would come with my primary school to learn how to recognise trees by their leaves. I made my first herbarium here and saw the life cycles of many frogs, dragonflies and butterflies. I think it’s safe to say that my love for nature stems a lot from this place. When I was a teenager, I would hang here and laze in the sun or play petanque. And finally, the lost young adult I was would escape here to breathe and reflect when things were a bit too much. I would sit on the bench at the foot of the burnt castle that overlooks the ponds while listening to Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible or Patrick Wolf’s Lycanthropy on repeat.

Parc Tournay-SolvayParc Tournay-SolvayParc Tournay-Solvay

This park that was created in the early 20th century has so many beautiful features, it’s well worth taking an afternoon to explore the various parts of it. It has a rose garden, an apple tree orchard, ponds, a walled garden, centenary trees, the ruins of a castle on a hill and rows of rhubarb leaves that look like umbrellas. If you leave through the kitchen garden’s exit, you’ll find yourself in the Sonian Forest’s dried swamps. We’re so lucky that the forest so close to our city has been so well preserved. It’s not unusual to catch the sight of a shy roe and in the summer nights, the fireflies come twinkling over the swamps.

The exit near the ponds will lead you to the Boitsfort lakes which is another fab place to have a walk. And they’re right next to one of the most creative Brussels neighbourhood, the Coin du Balai (literally meaning ‘Broomstick’s Corner’). You’ll fall in love with the colourful facades. The residents love to decorate their abodes with potted plants and various knick-knacks there.

Parc Tournay-Solvay

When I visited the park last Summer, I was surprised to see it in the process of being renovated. ‘My’ bench had disappeared and new areas to accommodate visitors had been laid out. The eerie ruins of the burnt castle had been replaced by a construction site. I’m a tad worried that this park’s old charms will make place to something too new and too shiny for its own good but I think it’ll be interesting to see what they will make of it. This might strengthen its position on the Brussels map. I’m guessing tourists don’t come here too often because it’s a 40 minute tramway journey from the city centre but if you have a thing for green space, pretty architecture and quiet suburbs, head South next time you’re in the Belgian Capital.

Parc Tournay-Solvay
PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Parc Tournay-Solvay
Chaussee de La Hulpe
1170 Brussels

Admission
Free

Opening Hours
Every day from 8am – 6pm (Oct-Mar); 8am-7pm (Apr); 8am-9pm (May-Aug); 8am-8pm (Sep)

Bus
17 (Etangs de Boitsfort Stop)

Tram
94 (Boitsfort Gare Stop)

Train
Gare de Boitsfort

 

Eyeliner, french toast and an evening in the museums | Berlin, Day 3

Berlin, Day 3
Day 3 in Berlin started with a spot of shopping. I can’t say it was the promise of browsing that lured me in the giant shopping mall Alexa, just off Alexanderplatz. I think I was more interested by any source of heat at that stage. I’m glad I stepped in as I stumbled upon a Kiko shop that was having the most ridiculous sale ever. So while warming up, I stocked up on my favourite eyeliner and other bits. I’m all about that kind of multitasking.
Berlin, Day 3
Berlin, Day 3
First on my list of things to see that day was the Berlin Cathedral. It’s quite an impressive building. There is something about the way it looms over the river Spree that reminded me of Notre Dame de Paris and the Seine. It made the area quite romantic really, even the bridge next to it had something French about it.

Standing on the bank of the river, I could see a gold dome shining in the distance. I followed it like the old magpie I am, thinking it would probably be a Russian Orthodox church. It turns out it was the New Synagogue. The most beautiful one I ever did see, it looked like an intricate wooden jewellery box. It’s certainly worth a look if you’re in the area. And the surrounding street is actually very lively, Oranienburger Strasse seemed to be a haven for hip bars and restaurants. I didn’t put any of these places to the test as I was on my way to the House of Small Wonder, near Friedrichstrasse.
Berlin, Day 3
I had been dreaming of their infamous Croissant French Toast ever since reading about them on Jess-On-Thames’ blog. I vaguely pretended to look at the menu and ordered them straight away and accompanied by a matcha latte. They were indeed delicious although I would say that the portion is rather on the small side, just a warning in case you are really hungry. Maybe, I was too greedy… The decor of that place was absolutely magical, so many plants, it had an air of French Indochina.
Berlin, Day 3
I then headed to the Charite University Hospital. The campus was so eerie, blocks and blocks of stern buildings that looked like abandoned asylums. I couldn’t help thinking it would make a brilliant map for a video-game. There, I visited the medical museum with its gory collection of jars filled with diseased organs. This stuff wasn’t for the faint-hearted, I’m sure you’re grateful that photography wasn’t allowed inside.
Berlin, Day 3
Next stop, keeping with the creepy and weird theme, was the Design Panoptikum. This ‘surreal museum for industrial objects’ was such a great surprise. And something I will be sure to write more about here. The charismatic founder, Vlad, takes you away on a journey where things are not always what they seem. Loved it!
Berlin, Day 3
My ‘night at the museum’ ended with the DDR Museum. The museum presents the daily life of the people who lived in East Germany in a very interactive way, through a collection of mundane objects, from their beach essentials to the cars they drove.

I don’t think I have ever been to so many museums in one evening! I’m going to blame the cold for that. Rather tired, I ran back home but made sure to stop for a burger first. A falafel burger, natürlich.

Here are Day 1 and Day 2 if you missed them.

Chandeliers, pink rooms & film props | Berlin, Day 2

Berlin, Day 2
On Day 2, I left the city to go to Potsdam, a town 45 minutes away from Berlin. The reason I wanted to go there was to visit the Sanssouci park which comprises of several grandiose palaces and buildings. Unfortunately, only the main Sanssouci Palace and the New Palace were open during the low season but I still took the combi-ticket as I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see as many rococo rooms as I could that day.
I did find it a bit puzzling that there was no Winter ticket as you only get to see 2 palaces out of the 5 buildings open in the full season for the same price. Tickets are not cheap and on top of that, you need to buy a photo permit, maps must be bought from machines, there’s a charge to the restrooms and some parts of the palaces open that day were going under some works. I don’t regret it as it was totally worth it, I had a magnificent day out and I can imagine that the maintenance of the whole park must cost a fortune but to be perfectly honest, I do feel that there should be some kind of gesture towards the low season tourists.
Berlin, Day 2
Berlin, Day 2
Berlin, Day 2
Berlin, Day 2
First up was the main Sanssouci Palace which was the summer residence of Frederick the Great. Forgive me if I’m not very historically accurate here, but taking pictures while holding the audio guide and keeping up with the group was a bit of a challenge. The guy was reacting against the squareness of his father who thought education was frivolous. He lived for arts and philosophy. He even asked Voltaire to come and live with him at Sanssouci. You can see the room where he stayed today, it’s a mad thing! Its yellow walls are covered with wooden parrots and flowers (I will show it to you in another post, I’ve way too many pictures to share). Frederick was as exuberant in his lifestyle as in his choice for home decor. He loved French baroque and his living space is an incredible display of the rococo trend. As a visitor, I marvelled at his taste and felt like fist-bumping the guy… Not sure I would have felt the same as a tax-payer at the time!

When the tour was done, I had some time to kill before the next one would start at the New Palace. I took that opportunity to walk in the gardens surrounding the palaces. They’re huge so it took me quite a long time to get to the New Palace and my 7 minute-late arrival caused the receptionist a panic but thankfully she let me grab an audioguide and join the group…
Berlin, Day 2
Berlin, Day 2
Berlin, Day 2
Berlin, Day 2
The atmosphere inside the New Palace offers an interesting contrast to Sanssouci. The windows had been blocked off, everything felt a bit dusty and sad. The rooms were freezing cold. But I think I liked it even better, it reminded me of the abandoned house Professor Emilius Browne squats in during the Blitz in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Rococo was out of fashion at the time Frederick the Great built this palace but he could not get enough of the chandeliers, the silk tapestries and the gilded frames. His love for rococo was so strong that a new form of the style was named after him ‘Frederician Rococo’. My kinda guy.
The New Palace had some of the most impressive rooms I had seen that day. The reception hall had a sea theme and was covered with seashells and another one with pink marble from floor to ceiling. My favourite room though was the hunters lodge, surprisingly it looked like it could have been Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir, what with its feminine blush tapestries and the wooden rosebuds carved on the ceilings.

I had a little bit of time left before the night would fall so I decided to stay a bit longer in Potsdam to check out the film museum. Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed inside so I’ve nothing to show to you bar my ticket.
Berlin, Day 2

Potsdam is an important spot in the history of cinema. There, you will find Babelsberg Studios, the first ever large-scale film studio, birthplace of masterpieces such as the iconic Metropolis. To my surprise, I found out that the studios are still in activity and produced quite a few international blockbusters in recent years like Inglorious Basterds, V for Vendetta or The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Film Museum displayed quite a few props used in the nearby studios, old machinery and vintage makeup. I especially liked looking closely at the editing consoles. It turns out that editing was historically a woman’s job because of their smaller fingers. It made me smile that women had such an important role behind every great story shot on the silver screen.

Read about my first day in Berlin here.