Carrie's Adventures

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Berlin, Germany

Wow, what can you say for a city as well known as Berlin? I had heard from many people how incredible the city was, yet without being there, the first thought I had when thinking of Berlin was WWII and the devastation that was imparted upon many with Hitler and his regime.

So I did manage to get most of the day off to take this 12hr excursion ~ thank you Akis! It was amazing in that I felt like I finally had a day off after 3 months. We got up early and took the 2.5hr bus ride into town. The tour was seeming a bit dodgy at first when the tour guide asked us what we wanted to see and he would then take us to it, but in the end, he turned out to be amazing and we definitely saw some great places. To say Berlin has incredible history is a bit of an understatement. I felt after being there, I would need to stay a week to see everything of interest. Anyways, here are some of my moments from the tour…

We came into the city and stopped at the Olympic Stadium. This was quite exciting for the ‘football’ fans in the crowd. Apparently Berlin will be hosting a final game. Interesting fact, the stadium is actually built into the ground ~ about 12 stories. So unlike other stadiums where you need to climb up to your nose bleed seats, you actually need to descend into the depths for the good seats. Just behind the stadium is an open area which Hitler had used to gather people for marching drills. Apparently this space held around 500,000 people… The area is no longer used and in my wildest dreams couldn’t imagine half a million people there.

From there we headed into town and the Brandenburg Gates. The area used to stand in ‘No Mans Land’ between East and West Berlin. People would stand on the Western side and look across to the east. There is a statue of a person yelling (unfortunately I didn’t get a photo) towards the east. This was placed there by the citizens of the west as a symbol to those living in the east that there would always be communication from the west to the east, even if it meant yelling across the gate. The Gate itself is now next to a main road and is a pedestrian area. Looking at some of the old photographs it is hard to imagine that only 15 years ago how isolated this area was.

Brandenburg Gate Posted by Hello

Right next to the gate is the Reichstag ~ the German Parliament. Quite the incredible building and you will note that there is a glass dome on the top of the building. You are able to climb up the spiral stair case inside the globe. Rumour has it from another excursion goer that this dome allows light into the whole building in the form of a cone, with the point of the cone being in the House. Unfortunately you aren’t able to see just how much light this architectural wonder lets in, but the concept of bringing light to the whole building is pretty cool. Definitely somewhere to stop next time.

The Reichstag ~ not bad from a moving bus... Posted by Hello

During the war, Switzerland was the neutral body. Adjacent to the Reichstag is their Embassy. When the city came under heavy military fire, the Swiss came out saying ‘We don’t care what you do to the Germans, nor do we care what you do to the buildings, but leave us alone.’ Miraculously enough, the area all around the embassy was bombed, but not once was there ever damage inflicted upon their embassy. Quite remarkable given the devastation that can be seen in the photos of the surrounding buildings.

Swiss Embassy Posted by Hello

Since the removal of the wall, the city is attempting to become and function as a single unit. Previously there were 2 of everything ~ train stations, opera houses, government buildings. With the new unified city they are attempting to create a single building to service the entire city. That said there will be permanent reminders of the city divided. In the place where the wall stood, there now lays cobblestone. The wall itself was only about 8 inches thick, but you are able to see all over the city where the wall ran and can imagine the divide it created. There are still some portions of the wall which are standing ~ international artists have painted murals and it is amazing to see that none of these have been defaced with graffiti. It was quite moving to see and realize that this structure contained a culture, an ideology in attempts to prevent it from spreading ~ yet despite the efforts, we as people could not be contained. I am sure if I dig further there is further meaning to this all, but that I will need to ponder.

A portion of the Berlin Wall ~ and my favourite mural Posted by Hello

Another reminder of the differences comes in the architecture. The buildings of East Berlin are pretty much block unit apartment buildings painted ‘Industrial White’. At first it reminded me of lower income areas in major cities, but as you looked closer, you realized that the building looks the same, however the condition of the building and surrounding areas was far superior to that in low income areas. Everything was very clean and well maintained. So despite the sense that you are in a less prominent area of the city, I am not sure that this is really a true statement.

Despite the cookie cutter homes, there are some beautiful views to be had in East Berlin. Notably, the tower which is for the TV stations ~ apparently 365 ft (at least I think it was feet) ~ one for each day of the year. There are also a number of bridges in the city. Berlin apparently has more bridges than Venice. Interesting trivia fact.

East Berlin Posted by Hello

After our tour we were let loose on the city for 3hrs. Unfortunately it was just enough time to get started into something, but not do it really well. The Jewish Museum would have been amazing to see. One of the Jewish security guards from the ship who came on the tour went and took his parents. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for them to come. Again, this will need to be something for the return trip.

I did however manage to get to see Checkpoint Charlie. The only place inside the city where people could cross from East to West or vice versa. There were 2 other checkpoints ~ alpha and bravo ~ which ran east to west and north to south outside of the city. Just beside Checkpoint Charlie you find a number of crosses on both sides of the street. Each cross represents someone who had perished in attempts to flee from East Berlin to the west. On some of the crosses there are photos, but on each cross is their name and age. Reading the ages (most were late teens, early 20s) you realize the sacrifices and risks people will go to in order to obtain what a number of us take for granted, in search of what they hope will be a better life.

The Crosses beside Checkpoint Charlie Posted by Hello

With the final glimpse of the inner city, the tour bus headed out of town ~ gridlock on a Tuesday afternoon made you realize that the day to day operations of the city are just like any other. Prior to heading home, we stopped at the Beer Gardens to take in a pint. While there it started to rain and thunder. It has been a while since I heard a good storm and was pleased to hear the sounds. The waitresses ~ if you can call women who will not deliver beer in the rain waitresses ~ were quite displeased with our decision to remain outside and drink under the large umbrellas. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Carrie and yet another beer! Does it ever stop?!? Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Tallinn, Estonia

A very cute little town ~ what I saw of it on the way to lunch. Unfortunately the cruise had been a bit rough on my friend Pam and the first thing required was food. So after exchanging money we wandered the streets looking for a place that a) didn’t have crew and b) didn’t have passengers. As we wandered the streets we managed to find a cute Brewhouse ~ imagine that, two Canadian gals finding a place to get beer…

ahhhh the Brewhouse… Posted by Hello

So after arriving we seat ourselves down and tackle the next challenge, which is determining which beer to order. There are only 3 on the menu which seems a bit limited for a Brewhouse, but we go with it. Pam is able to smile a bit more once the waiter arrives with her stein.

Pam and her beer Posted by Hello

We managed to order our lunch and it was quite good. We were also entertained by other patrons as they proceeded to walk out of the establishment and fail to notice that there is a step. Pam who had arrived in a bit of a foul mood was almost in tears and felt that the gods who had led us to beer and provided entertainment were truly taking care of her. During our haste to make it back to the ship, we did not manage to see much else of the town, but I am sure to get off this week and visit ~ as I have heard there is many other scenic spots to see.

The Square Posted by Hello

The streets of Tallinn Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

St. Petersburg, Russia...

There were two new stops this time ~ the first was St. Petersburg. I didn't manage to make it to the market for the CD and DVD buying frenzy, but I did go out with a group of folks to a night club. Being this far north at this time of year, the sky doesn't go completely dark. After the sun sets at about 11:30 the sky becomes a hazy colour of grey and stays that way, making you believe the night is but young, just like you.

After leaving the ship, heading to the club, we realized that Sunday night probably isn't the biggest party night. We were surprised to see that there were people out and the attire could only be described as eclectic ~ knitted sweaters, jeans, floral dresses, club gear, full 3 piece suit. You name it, it was likely worn there. After arriving we sat listened to music. Some of us danced. Some of us tried to pick up chicks (no not me...). Some of us just observed what was going on while we drank our $12 drinks (that was me...).

Akis and his Russian beauty Posted by Hello

When the clock struck 3:37, we decided it was time to go home, we did after all have to work the next day. As we stopped at the Golden Arches for something to settle our tummies, we hailed the cab to take us home. Only problem, the cabbie has no idea where he can find that great big ship we call home. After 10 minutes on the cell phone speaking to someone about directions, we get into the cab and he assures us that it will be $6/person to get back home. The 4 of us settle into the cab and watch as the lights in the homes have started to come on and people are getting ready for another day, another week. The sky is still light and as he drives like a madman on the deserted streets we wonder if we are going to make it alive. We arrive at the port entrance only to be told by the guards, that we are not able to enter. As the cabbie wants to leave us there, we insist that he take us to the ship, he speaks to his comrads and determines that the entrance we want is 'over that way'. Feeling confident in the direction we are going (not), we start providing him with other locations that are close to the entrance to the port ~ the most notorious being the Seaman's club. Unfortunately there was something lost in the interpretation between the Greek and the Russian as he thought we wanted to be let out at the Seaman's club ~ if you recall this is a strip club/brothel ~ and not somewhere I really needed to be at 4:30am on a Monday morning... We managed to convince him that the boys were not looking for extra-curricular activities, and we drove a few minutes longer and found the entrance to the port. He let us out to pass through customs, only to find that he was not going to be joining us on the other side. What? We need to walk? My friends managed to snag a cab and I am quite grateful they did. I probably would have been stubborn and walked, but after sitting in the cab for the 5 minute ride, I realize now that it would have been quite the trek in the heels.

Next St. Petersburg I am hoping to get out in the daylight ~ not that it is going to look any different, but the activity of the market is something I would like to see. Besides, how better to spend you afternoon than trying to guess what the DVD is based on the photo on the DVD cover. Oh good times, good times...

Return visits

One of the things I enjoy most is the fact that we return to the same port more than once. The first week you are on a new run, everything is new and you are hastily sorting out how long it will take you to get somewhere, what currency they use and ultimately what is worth seeing. When you only go somewhere once, you feel this pressure to see the culture, experience the atmosphere in the few hours you have off the ship.

These past 2 weeks saw us return to Warnemunde. It is still quaint, still cute, but this time, I took in the German sausage and the beer.

Beers in the afternoon ~ could anything be better? Posted by Hello

The only problem with spending the afternoon with the pints was the lack of facilities. It was 50 cents to open the door to the most disgusting smelling bathroom I have ever smelt/seen. I think I would have been better off crossing the railroad tracks and squatting there. Oh well I guess this is where you learn!

Our next trip to Warnemunde/Rostock there will be a tour heading to Berlin. I have managed to convince my boss that it would be a good cultural experience for me to go ~ so providing all is well and nothing catastrophic breaks, I will fore go the beer and get my butt on a bus and head to Berlin!

Evenings out...

While I had worked in Hospitality before, in particular at a resort in Jasper, I have found that my experience there in combining work and life pales in comparison to what I have experienced here on the ship. I am not sure if it is because we are in confined quarters ~ you can't actually get away from anyone once we are at sea ~ or if I have a different understanding of people than what I had 8 years ago. Either way, it has been an interesting experience trying to separate what is 'work' time and what is 'fun' time.

Fun often comes in the form of an evening event. This seems to be when most people a) have finished work and b) need to relax a bit. There are some nights on the ship which are deemed formal nights. This is when everyone gets dressed up in their Sunday best and parades around the ship. Now my understanding is that I am to wear my uniform, however it is far more fun to dress up...

Carrie with her date on formal night! Posted by Hello

The choice of locations on the ship can at times be limiting. The general starting spot is the Martini lounge. They have quite the selection and I must admit I think I have sampled most of them over the course of the past few months ~ the 'Flirtini' however is coming out on top as one of the favourites. From there we will then either head to the guest disco or to one of the staff bars. The guest disco has come up with a new concept. Along with Cirque du Soleil, who provides the entertainers, the disco has different themes depending on the night. One theme is white night ~ this is where everyone comes dressed in white and 'characters' roam the bar and will interact with the guests. It is an unusual concept and the characters themselves are also a bit different ~ but hey, if you never tried something different life would be pretty damn boring...

One of the characters from Cirque Posted by Hello

Anyone need a light?!? Posted by Hello

Wonder if this classifies as a Bed Bug... Posted by Hello

This week we have an 80's party along with the 70's Pimp and Ho night ~ I'm sure the photos from that one will be a blast.

You’ve got Mail / Male

You know when you open the mailbox, fish through all of the flyers and realize that there are some envelopes in there, there is this silent prayer that goes up to the heavens that not all of these are windowed envelopes. I think one of the best things about getting mail on the ship, is it is always ‘good’ mail. I was very spoiled last Dover when 3 packages arrived along with my Seaman’s book! You know what that means, I can now go out in St. Petersburg!!

This cruise also brought in a new male ~ my new boss. Still of Greek decent, he is someone who has been an assistant for a number of contracts and this is his first go at being the guy in charge. It has actually been really good in that he views what we are doing as a partnership more than boss/assistant which is an environment in which I tend to thrive much more. He also has a greater work/life balance and has said if I need to get off the ship to just go. Since he has said that, I have been to fewer ports, but don’t feel the need to run from the ship for my sanity. Strange how when you are presented with what you have been striving for, your fascination with it can diminish and you move on. That isn’t to say that I don’t want to go out and see things ~ I just don’t have the same pressing urgency to make sure that I am able to see things.

The other thing I had not considered when I started this blog was who all would be reading this. The intention of this was to provide myself and others an easy way to see where I am at and I can stop getting the emails asking for photos ~ (but you know I love them anyway…) It wasn’t until I received a post from someone I didn’t know that I realized I have put myself out there for anyone to see. I guess I will need to keep some of those details to myself now… :)