Tag Archive: Berlin

Berlin & Szczecin

My annual pilgrimage to Berlin was 6-12 December this year.  Xmas markets, Currywurst and Köstritzer were just three of the things I was looking forward to.  And boy was it needed – I was working right down to the wire, there was no early check-out of work and certain other people in the office were turning into basket cases as it dawned that I wasn’t going to be around for a week.

I managed to secure a lunchtime flight this time so didn’t have to worry about getting up early.  It might cost a few more pounds but not rushing to the airport at 6am is totally worth it.  Anyway, checked in fine, passed through security without being dragged aside for looking like Walter Heisenberg and had brunch at Giraffe (Huveos Rancheros & an espresso martini for dessert!) before boarding.  There was a certain amount of whispering going on – eavesdropped harder and realised that Ricky Gervase was on the plane and everyone had noticed.  Probably more exciting celeb spot at Heathrow than Chris Eubank a few years ago.

Flight was ok, had the entire row of seats to myself on row 20, landed as the sun was setting and was able to make a quick getaway from the airport over to Kurfürstendamm as I was staying in Schönberg rather than Friedrichshain.  Naturally I got off the bus at the wrong stop (one too early) and had a longer schlep down the road to the hotel.  Still, I got to walk through my first market – ominously guarded by large black concrete barriers.

The hotel – the Axel – is sited about three minutes away from Wittenbergplatz U Bahn station, next to KaDaWe so for me, it was slap-bang in the centre.  Day 1, I was content just to unpack and head out to the markets looking for dinner and a beer rather than experience the comforts of the hotel – as there is an onsite gym, spa and rooftop Jacuzzi.

I didn’t venture very far, back to Ku’damm in fact.  Just wanted to poke around the stalls, see what was hot, what was not etc.  Crowds were half local, half tourists.  I dunno if it was my imagination but there were more food stands in evidence and fewer ornament/gift-type stalls.  Either way I enjoyed my food and then went out for a couple of drinks and then back to the hotel to pass out.

Slept badly – new bad makes for an uncomfortable Joe although the room temperature was just right.  Fortunately, that issue didn’t bother me for the rest of the stay.  Dragged myself out of bed as I had some planning to do. Y’see, one of the goals of the tip was to have a day trip to Poland, to Szczecin as it’s within easy reach of Berlin.  I had a look at ticket prices on Deutsche Bahn and they seemed to vary wildly.  Tried to book a fixed-train ticket but the site would not let me make a reservation and in the end, I took the U Bahn over to the Hauptbahnhof so that I could obtain a ticket from the Reiseburo there.

If you are planning to travel to Szczecin from Berlin, DO NOT TRY AND BOOK A TICKET ONLINE!  I was able to get an open day return from the ticket office at the station for 1/3 the cost of the online stated price at €22.  With that reward in my pocket, I decided to go east to attend to my second goal of my trip, a visit to the Stasi Museum in Lichtenberg (and coincidentally, where I’d need to get the train back from the next day).

The museum was very confusing to find that day because of all the filming going on – some TV or movie.  The Ministerial floor (i.e. head of the Stasi) was totally out of bounds that day so I only got to visit floors 1 & 3.  But what I did get to see (history, rooms etc) was very informative and I found I could read most of the German as well as the English translations (very happy).  It’s worth a visit, doesn’t cost much to enter and a good warning on the dangers of state surveillance.

Post-museum, it was to Galeria Kaufhof for clothes shopping, back to the hotel and then for something to eat at the nearby Mexican place before trying out the hotel spa for a late night sweat and steam.  All in all, a good first full day.

Friday: Poland.  Got up early, headed over to the station early and had a McDonald’s breakfast as the queues were shorter before hopping on the train.  It was a Regio train – double decker.  It was a nice smooth ride with a change at Angemünde which is the other side of the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve.  Arrived in Szczecin around 11.  Remembering the advice by novelist Sue Townsend (when in a new city, deliberately get lost so as to take your time and see things properly), I turned right at the station instead of left so that I could sweep the city via the south rather than enter right into the city centre.  I’m glad I did, as I got to see some interesting things.

I wanted something traditionally Polish for lunch but could I find anything?  Could I hell.  It wasn’t until I ventured into the Galaxy Shopping centre that I found a nice place in the food court and had something that cost me by weight rather than by item; escalop, boiled potatoes, curried beetroot and creamed spinach – very not bad.  And of all coincidences, I sat next to the only other British people in the food court.

Did a little shopping (Xmas t-shirt, Polish version of the board game Incan Gold), saw more sights, bought souvenirs, took the 1730 train home rather than the 1930 and then scrambled around looking for somewhere to eat which ended up being the Vietnamese place round the corner from Nollendorfplatz U Bahn.  Good stuff.

Saturday is when the snow started.  There was a light dusting on the ground when I woke up – but a good chunk of it had already melted.  I didn’t leave the hotel until just before noon as I didn’t get out of bed until really late.  All that walking around Szczecin had taken it out of me.  Kept the day pretty loose with a wander around Alexanderplatz (clothes), Friedrichshain – the Zozoville Gallery as that was another “must do” item on the list of activities.  Then back to the hotel for a couple of hours in the spa where I sat in the rooftop Jacuzzi in the middle of a snow flurry.  It was a surreal and very memorable experience.  Eventually dragged myself out to have a massage from the hotel masseur, a very late dinner in Vapiano and then a night at Woof.

The snow didn’t loiter the next day in Berlin although a number of the Brits in the hotel were annoyed as their Sunday flights home had been cancelled as the UK had its usual panic.  The week before when there was a brief snowfall in the morning, I made the joke of “look, there’s five snowflakes, better cancel public transport in its entirety”.  Clearly someone didn’t get the humorous nature of my comment.  I was half worried but also half praying that the snow would cancel my flight so I’d stay on in Berlin at BA’s expense.

I had to admit being somewhat lost on Sunday for want of something to do.  I’d accomplished everything I’d wanted to do with the sole exception of Monday’s activities.  Something I hadn’t done was to pop over to Potsdamerplatz so went over to see what they had going.  Totally forgot about their Bretzel market stand with all sorts of savory items for sale but in the end plumped for a Knusperwurst; basically Currywurst in a crispy batter as a bowl.  Totally fattening, unhealthy and delicious.  On a whim, I went to the Museum of Espionage just down the road, part of which rehashed the Stasi Museum but there was more from the BDR side of events.  I didn’t participate in the laser web room: the memory of my Crystal Maze experience was too raw still…

Thought I’d try the Schnitzel restaurant around the corner from the hotel for dinner.  An obvious tourist trap but I didn’t care.  Glad I did – had one of the best waiters ever who conversed with me in my broken, incorrect German and the food…the food was exquisite.  First of all, I didn’t expect a piece of Schnitzel the size of a hatbox and secondly, the local brew served was a great accompaniment.  I read my book, watching the snow cover the streets outside.  By the time I was done, I had to go straight to bed, bloated and barely able to stay conscious.

Monday was my last full day and the plan was the Boiler, the Xmas market for those last minute gifts and Zsa Zsa Burger.  As always, the Boiler was a treat and I managed four hours before I had enough.  Rather than going back to the hotel, I went east to Alex yet again because I was toying with the idea of buying a SNES-mini from Mediamarkt.  Although virtually impossible to get a hold of (now) in the UK, they had a stack of them – albeit pricier.  It took twenty minutes of prevaricating before I decided not to buy.  I just couldn’t justify it.

Zsa Zsa once again, was a real treat.  I had the Kentucky Burger (Bourbon marinated burger topped with roasted bellpeppers and Swiss Raclette cheese) and three rather loaded cocktails, rounded off by a piece of cheesecake.  On the off-chance I’d have fallen into the river Spree, I’d have sank like a boulder.  Managed a final drink in Woof before passing out.

Tuesday morning – checked feverishly BA’s flight schedule – only two cancelled flights that day and neither of which were mine.  I was at something of a loss for things to do and on a whim, spent an hour in the spa before I had to leave.  Somehow, I still had about €150 on me and I made myself a half-promise that if I came across an opportunity to buy that damn SNES-mini, I would.  The nearest Mediamarkt was a distance away and I _could_ have gone into Karstadt but saw the bus across the road to the airport so decided on that instead.  KaDaWe didn’t have anything.

Had a really nice toasted advocado bagel for lunch which I lingered over before heading over to the check-in counter where I anticipated stupidly long queues of people packed onto the flight owing to cancellations.  I was right.  The queues were stupidly long.  This is when the worst part of the trip happened; y’see, it was chaos at the airport, or rather at the BA check in desk.  Obviously frazzled people weren’t thinking straight at all and were behaving like klutzes.  My flight and the next flight to London City were not that far apart and passengers for both were being admitted at more or less the same time so the waiting area was chaotic.  Then when it came time to call us for the plane, they called business class & oneworld members – but for those of us in cattle class were we called?  Were we hell!  And because the lounge was full of LCY passengers too, there was no mass exodus to serve as an example, just dribs of people disappearing but with a critical mass remaining.  Of course I’d checked in so there’d have been an announcement by passenger name but I just thought it was pretty shoddy of BA to have stiffed us over like this.  And there wasn’t any of the usual friendly greetings/farewells.  The only thing I could do was leave them snotty feedback on their inevitable post-flight questionnaire.

As usual, the trip back from the airport to home was the inevitable homicidal rage-inducing event.  I felt compelled to yell at several people behaving in a brain-dead fashion.  I rarely do this in normal circumstances but when I’ve a suitcase in tow, give me a wide berth.  Got home, dumped off bag, headed out for the finale of the Griffin quiz where we won the season prize of afternoon tea at Mr Foggs gin emporium for six.  Very nice.


Murder at Ku’damm


I’d written a blog entry for today – was at the editing phase but following yesterday’s news, I thought I’d shelve it for the time being.

According to the Beeb, the death count for the Berlin Market murder is at twelve. I was there, one week ago. I visited that market three times in my time off because I reckoned it my favourite. I soaked up the ambiance, ate and drank there, engaged in conversation in my halting German with people, bought souvenirs, admired the arts and craftwork. And now, some quark-for-brains coward with nothing more than hate in his black heart, has so callously acted, ploughing a juggernaut into the middle of the market just because. 

(Not quite the market just up the road a bit) 

No justification, no warning, just pre-meditated murder, the most heinous of all crimes.
There’s no rehabilitation for someone like that. I hope that when he’s tried and convicted, the German government dumps him in a pit somewhere and leaves him to rot.

More from Mitte


End of the working week today (assuming this is finished/published on Friday and not three weeks hence or whatever). Yesterday, I was feeling somewhat drained folks, a combination of post-holiday fatigue and Wednesday’s office lunch which began at 12.30, moved to the pub around 3pm and where we remained for eight hours. It wasn’t a pretty sight when I came home. The food was very good (hats off in particular to the sweet pumpkin dish), the company pleasant, the crackers appalling and the twenty or so games of Spyfall very welcome.

Picking up from the last blog entry, the rest of the Berlin trip was pretty quiet, pretty chilled. I was able to wander around the city mostly unaffected by ankle problems and as reported, my shoes and I have reached a state of détente. I think that all in all, I visited a dozen Xmas markets, most of which were the usual tat but the ones at Alexanderplatz and outside the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church had more arts and crafts and handmade goods than the others. I bought a couple of odds and sods (pictures maybe in the next blog entry), drank some Glüwein, ate some bratwurst and dodged the pickpockets – there was one who wasn’t being discreet but after a fierce scowl, she skulked off.

General shopping: not much. Only bought a single pullover in a sale which is a massive change from the usual haul. Sweets & chocolate – naturally although that’ll mostly be given away. Except the Ritter Sport and the Riesen Pieces. I also bought myself a Lego kit of Berlin from the Architecture range. You build your own mini Reichstag, Fernsehenturn, Mauer, Victory Monument, DB Tower and Brandenberg Tor. Spent an hour last night putting it together, very enjoyable. Was tempted by a couple of the board games which had English rules included but ultimately wimped out. And at the Video Game Museum (I had three hours to kill between leaving the hotel and heading to the airport), I bought a Monkey Island towel and a Gameboy cookie cutter. Geek-chic at its finest.

What was old and what was new about this trip? I finally made it to the Communication Museum which was a nice way to spend the Sunday morning – well, it was either that or get drowned in the rain. Worth a trip, especially with a mere €4 entry fee. I also went to a new bunch of eateries – Café Em about ten minutes from the hotel, a Vietmanese café just up the road from the Hotel, few other places that don’t necessarily stick out in my head but were nonetheless all good fare. Of course a lot of time was spent gawping at Xmas markets. Probably spent more time around Kreuzberg and Mitte this time compared with other areas of Berlin. 

Think I need to head out to Spandau and/or Potsdam next time, definitely want to have a day trip to either Leipzig, Dresden or Warsaw. And I’m going to visit the Stasi Museum for sure as well as another museum on the Island.

37 years old – it passed me by fairly unremarkably. Upgraded phone, new board game (Spyfall), upgraded broadband to fibre optic, hummus bros lunch, skipped the quiz and went to bed after an hour of random GTA mayhem. Not much more to report. 

The Berlin/Brussels four day extravaganza (he said sarcastically) was last week. Flew out to Berlin from Heathrow on Germanwings rather than the usual BA because that was the cheapest flight (thank-you stupid work policies). I think I might have been the only Brit on the plane. Owing to a massive delay at baggage reclaim, didn’t get to the hotel until just before 8 so quickly unpacked and headed straight back out to Zsa Zsa for a Latvian Burger, Erdinger Kristall, Käsekuchen and cocktails. Es war sehr geschmecks. 

Day 1 of the trip was pretty much confined to…classroom type training. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who balked at the thought of a diplomatic dinner but the moral of the story is to be careful what you wish for folks as I received emails demanding briefing on work-type stuff. I was utterly knackered by the end of the first day because I only slept fitfully the night before so it was a very weary Joe who was in Euro Kebap on Frankfurterallee eating Currywurst and working on three drafts of a document. After three hours of toil, I had to throw in the towel and beg for assistance from colleagues as my brain wasn’t making the necessary connections (it worked – one replied almost immediately saying exactly what I wanted and needed her to say). 

Day 2 began ridiculously early owing to an early morning tour of the Reichstag. Was up at 6.30 (5.30 UK time), fed, watered, out and then Parisier Platz for our meeting point. Did the tour (didn’t get to go to the roof because of ice – apparently), then to the Chancellery, lunch (Caras, naturally), more meetings and then a dash over to Tegel for dinner and my connecting flight to Brussels. I did manage to throw a load of Schokolade into my suitcase from the shop (Ritter Sport and the usual large bag of Riesen pieces)Owing to delayed planes, my stay at Tegel was much longer than envisaged and I didn’t stumble into the hotel until just before midnight. And the meeting lasted about forty minutes rather than the full hour (even more galling). Still, at least I managed a more leisurely lunch rather than the more hurried approach that had been de rigeur the last few days.

Went into work the next day utterly zombiefied. If I’d have known, I’d have taken the day off but again, there was just too much going on. I have never felt that drained of energy and it was only four days of travelling. Hardly running marathons or toiling in a mediaeval field. Friday wasn’t much better though by the time Saturday came around for our steakhouse & chocolate making trip, I had enough reserves to make it through the day.

So, London Steakhouse in Chelsea, not bad. Portion control was ok though the others disagreed. It was also quite difficult restraining myself into…correcting general restaurant behaviours. I know, I’m such a snob but when you hear people saying “can I get/grab” – it does kinda rankle. I feel a little bit of a hypocrite, given my general stance on formality but if you’re in a more upmarket venue, there is a certain etiquette to these situations. Then again, we were definitely not the worst table – a middle aged couple next to us had a domestic in the middle of dinner which was highly amusing to all involved. 

I made a classic blunder of not booking a lane at Hollywood Bowl so we couldn’t bowl a couple of frames after lunch so we went to the pub and then another pub closer to the chocolate making venue near Haggeston. There was a suggestion of going to Draughts until I pointed out the £5 fee for what would be little more than an hour’s worth of gaming. Chocolate making – was pretty much the same as the one we did with work about ten years ago (and I cannot believe it was ten years!) with the usual lecture at the start, some sampling and then some making. The chocolate cocktail (voddie, chocolate liqueur, ganache & drizzled dark) was pretty nice as it happens and I think I might make some next time I have people over. Then it was time to go home, by which point I was wiped out and begging for bed. 

And this week – one game of Risk Legacy, 7 Wonders, Room 25, bought several packs of 7-Up from Tesco as they’re selling it ridiculously cheap, found out we won the Griffin season prize (London Steakhouse AGAIN!! And powerboating on the Thames), work craziness and having a couple of serious rows on the phone with people.

That’s yer lot for now. Not much else to report – another sorta self-indulgent post but it’s the first in almost three weeks so excuse the minor display of egoism.

Stupid Leap Year

It’s not right you know – just because this planet has a wobbily orbit around the sun, we have to suffer for its imperfections by adding a calendar day every four years to balance everything out.  Most of you don’t mind but for the 0.03% of us born between 0:00 and 23:59 on 1st March, the effects are more marked as we are forced to prolong birthdays by a whole twenty-four hours.  And what’s worse is that this leap year is on a Monday so I was paid the wrong side of the weekend.

*harrumph* (said in a growly, Odo-type voice).

Hell Fortnight is not quite half way through and I want to chuck in the towel – what do I mean by that?  Well, it has been a while since I last cracked open the laptop so I’ll rewind a little:

So ages ago, I agreed to do a meeting in Swansea for colleagues in DVLA, giving a presentation on my least favourite but most topical subject, Cross Border Enforcement.  I figured it’d be a nice, simple affair, overnight in a decent hotel, catch up with people and done.  But then after I agreed, I re-read the date that I’d need to travel as 28th February.  The same 28th February that I’d earmarked for birthday shenanigans (see last blog entry for further whining/gluttony for punishment).  Not so bad in the grand scheme of things I guess – there’d be other opportunities.  Then up comes Nottingham for a workshop which I’m kind of in the lead on (folly of taking on responsibility folks, be warned!).  Although that was a one day thing, I foolishly elected to try and do the family thing that trip.

It was…heartbreaking.  I won’t say why, I need to protect the identities of those involved but sufficed to say, it was the lowest I’ve felt for quite some time.  At least I can report that the Park Plaza in Nottingham (thank-you booking.com)  is a very nice place to stay with great rooms and great breakfasts.

As part of my ongoing learning and development, I’ve been allowed to apply for (and was subsequently accepted on) a 2 day training course in Berlin on 7/8 March to learn how to work with Germany – what makes ’em tick politically, how to negotiate, understanding the differing points of view etc.  Get in – not quite March 1st as I’d have liked but a very close second.  Until after I accepted and I saw who my fellow course attendees were.  Tubster is one of them (two days with that voice alone might drive me to random or deliberate acts of self harm) and there are a couple of other people who make me gag (minds out the gutter people).  So that definitely took the sheen/lustre off of things.

But with Mr Beer’s birthday plans on 5th March which we’d negotiated and I’d committed to, going out early wasn’t feasible, not without an earful.  So I wanted to take a couple of days out for myself after the training event.  Uh – no.  Y’see, despite my best squirming and buck passing, I now have to go to frigging Brussels the evening of 8th March for A ONE HOUR MEETING WHICH IS UTTERLY POINTLESS TO ATTEND.  Naturally after I begrudgingly booked the tickets, I thought of a thousand ways to get out of it (from simply refusing and taking my chances with repercussions to an elaborate scheme worthy of Baldrick).  Point is – no fun for me, two days with gargoyles, one day competely wasting my time and I’m fully expecting the migrants to storm the channel tunnel that day or something equally homicide-inducing.

#firstworldproblems?  Probably but damn it, I’m too old for this ess-aitch-wun-tee.  As Mary Archer might have said.  Or not.

So yeah.  Rage.

In other news, I downloaded Star Trek Timelines to my iPad t’other day.  Good game, much better than Star Trek Trexels as it feels a much better experience, a little truer to the original show.  And with the voice of John de Lancie as Q to boot!  Premise: random temporal anomaly pops up, shatters dimensions and time so that all Trek characters can come together in a series of missions.  Some want to re-write history, others want to solve the mystery behind what has happened.  Suffice to say, there’s a series of missions to solve, some real time, some “put your group on a quest and see what happens later”.  And of course, there’s the opportunity to buy your way to victory faster by putchasing in-game currency for quicker access to the better items and characters.  A wonderfully diverting game which only has one flaw – the need for an interweb connection to play it.  Cannot be played off line.

Whilst in Nottingham, I found a copy of Zombi (aka Zombi U, one of the Wii U launch titles) for the Xbone.  Played it once (my character died after two hours) so far.  Doesn’t seem that bad although the story seems a little contrived.  The gameplay is ok although as a Londoner, I wish they were a bit more accurate with how things have been depicted.  I personally would have loved to stumble past my flat (if GTA can model a city…) fighting the hordes of the undead.  Also purchased in Nottingham was – A NEW DENIM SHIRT THAT FITS.  Yeah, it had to be an XXL sized shirt, of course which is a blow to morale but it fits properly and that’s all that matters.  And they said they could patch my (increasingly threadbare) old shirt if I took it in which I might just do.  It seems a bit facile to get excited but I am a relic of the 80s remember, it was cool to have anything denim back then.

I also restarted the single player campaign on GTA, just to follow a different path (where there were game choices, I want to see how the other options pan out).  I found a download code for some in-game money in the box which I hadn’t claimed – supposedly 500K for the single player and 500K for the online game but I haven’t been credited for the single player.  Might whine at Rockstar and say WTF guys?

Board game news – Bought 7 Wonders + Leaders Expansion (very popular), Shadows Over Camelot The Card Game & another Munchkin mini-expansion.  I’m calling them all birthday treats and quietly ignoring the cost.

Oscar Boycott – didn’t really work, five seconds of net-rage and then the world gets on with the rest of its existence.  There are better ways of working within the system to change it, not to pout and flounce-delete.  But what the hell, who am I to tell these actors how to and how not to behave?  I’m sure they’ve got savvy behind their decision-making, after all, none of them have ever been associated with projects that were right-stinkers…

A month away

I know, it’s been quite a while since my last entry but I’ve lacked the motivation to update this blog since March.  I was preparing an entry, just to publicly rag on Dr Do(o)m and the size of the hickey on his neck which like the Grand Canyon, can be clearly seen from outer space.  However, there wasn’t much else to comment on so kinda nixed that draft.


Tuesday was my second day back in the office today after three weeks off: two weeks general grace and a third week in Berlin yet again (my third trip in six months, hard to believe).  Not quite a severe case of holidayitis today but it’s not pretty inside my head where I’m fuming at all the stupid decisions taken without my input over the past few weeks.  Once again, I’m disappointed by the fact that the place hasn’t burned to the ground either.  I’ve come to a series of unflattering conclusions about the recent state of events in the office which I can’t really write about owing to libel law here in the UK. I guess I should have scheduled my holiday so that Berlin was at the start of my trip rather than at the end as I suspect I’m quasi-“homesick”.


At the start of my leave, I was paid back for some expense claims incurred whilst in Brussels in March and I decided to treat myself to a few new board games: my own copy of Talisman + two expansion packs, Ticket to Ride 60th Anniversary and Walk the Plank (note to self – update profile on BoardGameGeek).  They’ve been road tested at least once and I think Talisman has sparked the most interest in future sessions.  I wish that I could have tracked down a Reaper Expansion set but it’s not critical and there’s always the usual tax-dodging sites to browse when all else fails.  We had a couple of sessions in Draughts over the leave period whereby I tried Sheriff of Nottingham (not great), Trivia Tower (too easy), one of the Dominion expansion packs (the pink set) and the two-player Dracula game (was OK).  Two Risk Legacy sessions also with the two active groups going – won one game in both sessions.


Video games: have been playing a great deal of Pre-Civilization Marble Age having bought it on a whim off of Steam.  It’s been a surprisingly addictive game with the random elements cropping up ensuring that no two games are ever the same.  Somewhat mastered it on Easy (I can get top score or near top score every time) and doing well on the normal difficulty level but hard is…well…hard.  Thought I’d try the earlier game on the iPad and am enjoying that one too although think I prefer the mechanics of the second game.  As it’s pretty cheap, I’d heartily recommend it if you fancy something you can get through in an hour or two but presents enough of a challenge that you have to think, balance resources and hope your decisions work out for the best.


On the Xbox, tried again with the Simpsons game (about half way through), bought Ticket to Ride (before I bought the actual board game) and have played many successful games on that, finished Star Trek Legacy on Captain difficulty (bloody Nebula Class ships keep exploding on me), set new records on Pac-Man Championship edition (now ranked 1400 on the main game), played endless games of Talisman on the iPad (unlocked my first gold runestone) particularly in Berlin, Flow, Dead Island, NES Remix and a single game of Beyond Earth.  Yup, I have no life.  But it keeps my brain busy which is the main thing.


How was Berlin?  Good weather for the most part except the Saturday when it drizzled around six.  There were a couple of days where the jacket could be ditched – walking up Frankfurterallee from Alex to the hotel on the Sunday stood out as a very nice experience; blue skies, sun hitting the street, everything going at a slow, steady pace.  Only got appallingly drunk once, that was on the day when I really shouldn’t have.  It was entirely the fault of the local brandy.  The rest of the time was “merry” drunk.  


As alluded to earlier, played many games of Talisman and also burned through a dozen books on my iPad – nothing new I hasten to add, all stuff I’ve read before.  Managed three books on my first day alone – one at the airport, one on the plane and one at intermittent points throughout the afternoon.  My favourite reading spot has to be the Balzac Café on Potsdamerplatz facing the square.  I don’t know why but once rooted in that spot, it’s difficult to leave it.  And they do a good coffee there too.  What did I do that was new?  Some new eateries, the Mauermuseum, wandered down different and new streets but this wasn’t a trip of exploration, more familiarisation.  Also found the board game café which happened to be ten minutes walk from the hotel but has some really weird opening times.


Travelling back business class was totally worth the £30 upgrade.  The lounge was a pleasurable experience but I eschewed the liquor in favour of soft drinks in a rare bout of sensibility. Managed to stuff a few things back in my bag when I wasn’t being watched.  Food on the plane was OK but I wish I’d had the foresight to order a vegetarian meal.  But perhaps most favourable of all was being able to have a very generous baggage allowance in which I could bring back 15 beers for my mini-keller.  And everything else I bought hastily at the airport!


Not much more to say than that.  It was a very pleasurable but very personal trip.  Me, my thoughts and my iPad.  Was good to catch up with Dr F, with everyone I met at Woof and with some South London locals who I recognised whilst out and about.


Berlin IV

Twelve days into 2015 and I’m finally getting around to composing another entry in Imperial Centre. To be fair though, I’ve spent almost as much time out of the country as I have in the country so far this year. Unlike previous trips, I haven’t kept a travelogue. It’s the fault of Starbucks. The free Apple download after Xmas was the board game Talisman which I’ve been playing religiously and really getting a hang of.

So, after the 1st, things pretty much settled back down to normal and in record time. There was no post-December hangover for anyone and people were getting in contact to fill January’s calendar. I guess there were more than a few people who put “be a better friend” on their resolution list. Not that I’m complaining mind, it’s always nice to feel included. And wanted. All weekends are now full for January.

I continued to pillage Tescos of its post Xmas stuff buying cheese, confectionary and a couple of cheap drinks gift packs and the like. I even made my first ever quesadillas with some leftover tortilla wraps and some of the cheese bought and they turned out really, really well. Will totally be making those again. Sainsbury’s had some nice cake bargains and I had a whole luxury Yule Log to myself. Over six days, I hasten to add. Looking forward to getting back to non-glut eating. The one thing I didn’t see this year was those Hula Hoop star thingies which was a slight disappointment. Not yet tested out the Raclette Grill as yet, that’s tonight’s fun task.

Berlin then: stuck to the plan for the most part, beginning with the usual breakfast at Giraffe, wander through T5 and being first at the gate. Flight was late out but early on arrival and had an empty seat next to me which was pretty good. Newer plane too with a vague smell of fresh leather and seats that work. Old witch in front kept moving seat forward and backwards though. I’d have said something but didn’t fancy getting zapped by an air marshal. Got into town, checked in and went out for my first foray into the city which ended up being the usual walk from Alex to Brandenburg Tor. Caught the anti-Pegida rally outside the Reichstag which I watched for a while before hunger drove me to seek out some food.

Tuesday – went to Museum Island, specifically the New Museum as I wanted to see the famous bust of Nefertiti and whatever Egyptian treasures the museum had in store. Although BVG promises some vague discounts for Museum Island, there’s no indication on the entry booth of what they are…useless people. So wandered around for three hours, gawping at the exhibits but by the time I made it to the lower ground having seen my 300th cooking pot, felt compelled to leave. It was kinda late so I shelved my plan to visit the Communications Museum (only later finding out Tuesday is the late night opening day) and instead sourced a late lunch. That evening, I decided to change plans and went to Zsa Zsa (that was going to be Wednesday’s activity) before going out further. Drank far too many cocktails, spend two hours getting back to the hotel and felt absolutely lousy the next morning. Didn’t get up until 11.30 after four false starts and was somewhat queasy all the way to Merhingdamm.

Part 2 later.

Modest Meals, Modest Reflections

Peter Preston’s 51st State – average book but with one line that has always stuck in my head and thats’ the one that’s the title of the post.  When reporting on the eve of a US Presidential Election, the press ask what the Vice-President and his wife have for dinner.  The response is “Beans on Toast” as it’s a time for modest meals and modest reflections.  I’m not certain why that particular phrase remains active in my thoughts but it’s somewhat poigniant.  But today, 31st December 2014, yeah I’m kinda in that genuflecting mood.  And like last year, capsule review of the year gone by.

Travelling, that’s been this year to a tee.  Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, Belfast.  Between 2002 & 2008 I didn’t leave the country once and now I’ve departed this island…so many times for both work and pleasure.  Yeah, I’m a latecomer to this travel malarkey but I’m glad it’s taken although no roughing it in hostels – five years at boarding school has throughly purged any longing for dormitory accommodation.  And of course, I’m off to Berlin on Monday…

New start in Vauxhall, ten months in and the memories of living in Stratford and Camden are relegated to a box labelled “dim and distant”.  Cannot imagine not being here but as thoughts slowly turn towards home ownership…yeah, will have to up sticks in all likelihood (though Elephant & Castle is a distinct possibility).  The flat was a great find, well worth the extra expenditure.

Personal life – kinda slid after my month off in October.  It’s been a decent year though I do kinda go into social hibernation whenever I have extended holidays.  It’s like I don’t just take a vacation from work but almost all facets of existence.  But things are improving (Xmas notwithstanding as everyone is pretty much off) slowly and January is starting to fill up with events.  I’m getting the Risk Legacy groups (note plural) going again, will have a Griffin Games afternoon soon – yeah…

Nasty habits – eating is back under some sort of control, drinking is tough to manage.  Give me a glass and I’ll quickly down the bottle.  If it’s there, I’ll have it.  Banging down those two bottles of Retsina over dinner in Brussels earlier this month was a particular feat which I am both proud and ashamed of (prouhamed?).  That said, I was out with Xian on Monday and I capped off at four drinks (three ciders and a beer) which isn’t that bad as it’s probably the only liquor I’m going to have this week.

Love life – pathetic.  Dr Richard said I’m borderline autistic.  I understand where he’s coming from when he makes a comment like that, my behaviour doesn’t necessarily attune to what is considered convention.  But to say I don’t understand emotion is false.  Nor am I borderline psychotic – I do empathise, sometimes a great deal.  I keep it all on a short leash as that’s my modus operandi.  Also, after 35 years of hearing the same sorts of stories time and again, it’s hard to feign interest in how someone got drunk and fell over or watch as they fall into the same basic traps over and over again and then bitch the fact when two minutes scrutiny would have tipped them off.  Point is, I apply impossibly high criteria so the bed is going to remain empty for a while yet.  That’s not a bad thing per se, I’m still working things out regarding what I want.  Better to have a proper notion of that first.

Work – going downhill again but not for the usual reasons.  There’s a particular layer of management (which I’m trying to break into) in our team which for personal and some professional reasons, I just do not like.  There’s been a lot of turnover in 2014 and the newer faces are…well, just not connecting.  It’s not me either, others have reported the same.  Of course with May 2015 coming up, who can say for sure what’s going to happen?  I swore I’d stay out of office politics but I keep getting sucked back in.

Avoided being ill for the most part this year too – minor ailments aside like that foot thing (split skin, most painful) and a recurrence of athlete’s foot which I’ve had to deal with.  Other people, not quite so fortunate.  Cancer has been quite prevalant this year amongst people I know.  Treatments all round have been good though.  No new HIV diagnoses this year which is something.

Gaming – lots of new games both board and video.  Massively took advantage of Steam Sales for new games though Civ V remains a firm favourite.  Think I’ve logged 300 hours this year….

As I write this, I’m finishing off my lunch.  What was my modest meal?  Well, given the fact that I’m heading to Berlin, I’ve been trying to use up the perishables slowly but surely.  Today it was a Frankenstein meal, composed of random fridge items: some brie, beetroot salad, green olives, the remainder of my low fat houmous, half a cucumber and a bread roll.  Tonight it’ll either be left over lasagne or find a way to use up the carrot and courgette in the fridge, possibly chopped up and cooked with pesto and those sauerkraut dumplings.  I dunno, I’m feeling experimental.


67 lengths in the swimming pool yesterday – 1005 metres: new personal best. Once I made the 40th length, all of a sudden energy seemed limitless and I just carried on and on, only the aching muscles would have been the hinderance. 390 calories burned FYI – this is the 15 metre pool and not a standard 25 metre one.

Le Weekend – Friday was one of those days where once I got home, landed on the couch and didn’t move for most of the evening. Finished off Picross 5 on the 3DS though, back to Luigi’s Mansion 2. Rest of the weekend was similarly light on activity. Won a game of civ trying a brand new tactic as India with Space Race victory and trying a pure domination victory as Assyria (expanded way too far too fast; should have razed some cities rather than assimilate them).

I think that this year will be another Xmas-lite in terms of general adherence to the tradition. No cards, no gifts, couple of shindigs and that’s about it. Just cannot be bothered with it all anymore; would rather have a great birthday and you can stuff December 25th. At least there’s the food, the mulled cider and exotic coffee blends you find in the cafes. Even the shops are showing more restraint; take the supermarkets for example. Although the Xmas branded food has been available in small quantities since October, it wasn’t until yesterday that the decorations popped up and selection boxes festooned each aisle. It’s a holiday for kids, not us old farts.

Coming up the rest of the month: very little as it happens. Looks like there’s a final Brussels trip squeezed in before Xmas next Tuesday, the office lunch on the 18th and a couple of potential diary dates, a few lunches with friends happening. Even work looks to be winding down for the most part now that I managed to kill off the last mammoth task before the break. Maybe this will be a nice, easy coast to the 31st. Last month of 2014, cannot say that this year has dragged at all. Year of Travelling, definitely. Am I officially in my “late thirties” as of next year? Despite absolutely everything that’s going on, I suspect that this year is going to go a lot better than 2015; general election year. Regardless of who wins, I suspect bad news for me. All sorts of rumours are flying around – just remember the 190th Rule of Acquisition.

Three weeks until leave starts, five weeks until Berlin! Suppose I should make a vague plan of action which costs little but provides entertainment a-plenty. Or a-sufficient. And then…I need to pick a new European city to try and visit though I wouldn’t mind trying a different continent, perhaps that trip to Canadia [sic] or the US. Got time to think about it all.

So Olly Muirs wants to be taken seriously? Looking at the cover of today’s Daily Mirror…think that’s an exercise in futility.

Finished…the okra.

I dislike staff/employee surveys. They focus way too much on the quantitative data rather than the qualitative which allows managers to gloss over the results without actual interrogation of the data. Oh there are subsequent follow-up groups but they never ask the difficult questions, preferring the quick win to the endurance marathon. As a result, same negative feedback endures year on year leading to an increasing and enduring sense of dissatisfaction. And it shows.

And second random rant – adverts that play cover versions of well-known songs, particularly when they screw with the melodies making them almost a Capella or skip to another genre altogether. Latest advert (no idea what the product is, all I know is that Cindy Lauper’s (original version of) True Colors has been mangled. Whichever agency is responsible for this garbage ought to be eviscerated for their lousy idea.

Yep, it’s a Tuesday all right.

Finally finished Wolfenstein: New Order at the weekend but immediately started the game again to see the campaign through with Private Wyatt rather than Fergus. I don’t know if it’s bitter experience but the game seems so much easier this time around – I’m wondering if the game is slightly imbalanced depending on who you choose. Towards the end it got frustrating when it was Supersoldier after Supersoldier but the end of game boss was appallingly easy (and I was playing on the standard level). I like the obvious sequel hook though, here’s hoping there’ll be another release in a couple of years’ time.

Otherwise the weekend was a tame affair. Found out why it’s bad to take a hot bath on a cold day – right foot still hurts from where the skin cracked. Finally won a game of Civ V as Indonesia which means that (again) I have won at least one game as all Civ’s. I had to rig the map to be Large Islands just to ensure I could take full advantage of the bonuses but yeah, not a bad little Civ. Culture victory – thanks to a lousy start on a literal desert island, I got the desert faith pantheon bonus, landed myself Stonehenge and was lucky enough to found a religion and enhance it before anyone else so got Mosques and Pagodas + Piety in full which meant I was churning out 250 Faith per turn. My problem at the end of the game (as only Liberty and Exploration were completed) was what to spend all that Faith on. Had over 10,000 points stockpiled by the end of the game (Reformation bonus was +2 tourism to all religious buildings).

Five weeks until Berlin again. Not that I’m counting down the days, honest. Bank balance hasn’t made for pleasant reading but then again, it never does after the rent has been taken out of the account but before Dom pays me back. Couple more days, then it’ll look better. Still, even with a couple of lump sum payments in the offing over the next couple of months, it is concerning. Then again, looking after the pennies isn’t really being done these days. Quite easy to buy lunch at work, have a coffee shop coffee and realise that you don’t get much change from a tenner. As always, I blame the baby boomers.

I saw in the latest edition of Retro Gamer, they’re flogging/advertising the C64 Bible with an A-Z of the old characters on the front. Very tempted, even though it’s a _book_ rather than something electronic. Still want to see the Star Wars novels published by Bantam available electronically – IN ENGLISH. On iBooks.

I like okra. But I never buy it for myself, only ever seem to have it in restaurants. Nuff said.