Help me win a trip to Berlin

Ugh.

Remember when I wrote about how I was trying to win a trip to Berlin? It’s one of those annoying who-isn’t-afraid-to-bother-their-facebook-friends-more-than-the-other-person-contests.

I refuse to harass my friends that much. I’m cool with harassing them a bit, but getting on facebook once a day and asking your friends to repeatedly vote so that you can win a goddamn trip to Europe when there are still people without power in our own country is a bit pretentious.

So, the low down is, you can go here and vote up to once a day between now and December 16th. Every time you vote, you also get entered to win a trip to Berlin.

Also, they moved all my wording around. It looks not anything like that gorgeous post I wrote on what I would really do if I went to Berlin. Also, there’s no chance in hell I’d stay in that monstrosity of a hotel – I would stay in this amazing flat.

Make it Happen: Berlin

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Expedia.com is giving away a trip to Berlin for one lucky blogger. I decided to enter the competition, which had some tight restrictions. I wrote this beautiful long informative post on all the things I would dream of doing with a week in Berlin, only to discover it was about 1,000 words too long. My imaginary trip to Berlin takes far more than 200 words to describe.

Make It Happen: BERLIN (the long version)

I fell in love with Europe after visiting Munich in 2011 and now I have a strong desire to not only explore more of Europe, but Germany in particular. With only two days there, I clearly wasn’t able to give the country the time it’s history and culture deserves! Berlin in particular has much to offer for the traveler due to it’s diverse art scene, complex history and 153 different museums!  Here’s what I would do with a few days in the capital city.

STAY

  • Reserve a room in the Swissotel Berlin where your luxury room comes stocked with an espresso maker to get you up and out the door in the morning and you can rent bikes on site.
swissotel berlin

The Swissotel Berlin, photo via Expedia.co.uk

EAT

  • Taste the locavore menu of Ibero-Pacific cuisine at Pantry.
  • Housed in what seems to be an old church, Katz Orange offers changing seasonal menus and inventive twists on classic cocktails like their “Mexican Garden,” a sweet and spicy take on a margarita.
  • At Frarosa drink wine, choose from two set menus and pay a suggested donation price (or what you think the meal was worth!).

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NIGHTLIFE

  • Head to Clarchens Ballhaus where they offer nightly lessons in tango, salsa or swing and then spend the rest of the night getting showed up on the dance floor by grandmas.
  • Berlin is world renown for it’s nightlife and I wouldn’t be able to go without spending at least one night out listening to some EDM.  Panorama Bar is your best bet for international talent: it was named the “Best Club in the World” in 2011.
  • Farbfernseher is Berlin’s smallest house venue. What it lacks for in size, however, it makes up for in spirit.
  • Cookies: the club for those of you who want to party on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Only.

VISIT

  • Start your first day off with the Discover Berlin Walking Tour which will take you around to the major historical sites.  If you have the time, delve deeper with the Third Reich Walking Tour and see what is left of the “1000 year Reich.”  Later on, return on your own to the Berlin Wall via the Nordbahnhof Station, which houses a museum that details the ancient history of the underground transportation system and the stories of those who used it to escape.  Walk the 1.3km-long section of the wall known as the Eastside Gallery.

Original Berlin Walks Logo

  • The Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical triumph arch, is the capital city’s most iconic landmark as it is the only remaining gate that used to be the only way to enter the city.
  • Berlin might be best known for it’s vibrant street art and graffiti scene.   The city, which once fought the wall murals, has opened it’s arms to street artists.  Well known murals are found in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, but it’s hard to find a street without art in the city.  Learn about the artists and their tags at the online magazine Berlin Graffiti.
  • Explore 800 years of history at the interactive museum The Story of Berlin.  Exhibits include a still functioning nuclear bomb shelter.
  • The DDR Musuem lets guests explore what life was like under the socialist regime in East Berlin.
  • The Pergamom Museum is the most visited museum in Germany and holds the Pergamon Altar, so large it takes up an entire room and was originally constructed as an alter to Zeus.

 OFF THE BEATEN PATH

  • On Sunday afternoons, join the masses and check out Bearpit Karaoke at the amphitheater in Mauerpark!

The Long Road Home

When we settled up the next day it became apparent at how much more reasonable Greece is than other parts of Europe. Our entire stay at Harry’s Villas, for 10 nights, including all the food we ate and unlimited wine we drank rang up to roughly 400 euros each. That’s about $50 a day. AMAZING.

Baller Blaine Photo: Erik Moore

It may be easy to get to Kalymnos from Germany, but getting home is no breeze. We had to return scooters, all get to Pothia, and then take a ferry to Kos. Upon arrival in Kos, the rest of the crew who was flying out that afternoon had hours to kill. My flight out didn’t leave until the next morning.

Photo: Erik Moore

None of us had taken showers in a few days because there had been no hot water. We were all tired from the revelry the night before and Greg, now that climbing was no longer on his agenda, was feeling pretty beat up from his scooter accident and lingering bruising. While I was sad to see my friends go, I did not envy their road home which included a 10 hour layover in Paris. Short enough to be really awful and hardly long enough to be worthwhile.

I left them in search of the hotel I’d arranged to stay at in another town on the island of Kos, dreaming of a nap and a warm shower. I had been a bit nervous about accommodation on Kos as every time I tried to arrange them the internet sites said that rooms were unavailable. It wasn’t that they were sold out – it was that there was NO ONE there. I was the ONLY guest in my hotel that night and apparently the whole week so despite the fact that it had been cloudy for days, I was able to take not one but two hot showers.

I found an internet cafe and spent a few euros interneting my heart out and then wandered around the streets for awhile before finally settling down to dinner at a restaurant on the main tourist strip. The owner of my hotel came by at one point and spoke with my waiter: they are apparently close friends. Funny how even though the town I was in seemed so much larger than any of those in Kos, the community was still small.

Kos is a Euro party town and it was apparent, even with empty streets. The town is littered with four times as many restaurants as any of the towns in Kalymnos and there were a ton of discos and bars. The owner of my hotel, Kostas, told me that during the summer the streets are packed with tourists. I had a really nice long conversation with him that evening about Greece’s economic woes, the difference between the Greek people and Americans, and travel. Kostas was very interested in my trip to Cuba that we took a few years back and was also excited to close up his hotel for the winter and head to Thailand, where he would be helping out a friend.

His hotel, the Origin Hotel and Apartments, offered rooms similar to that in our villa at Harry’s: nondescript plain furnishings, a small kitchenette, and a tiny bathroom. Nothing fancy, but welcome and economically priced. I paid 20 euros to stay the evening.

The next morning I flew out of Kos to start the long way home, which was far more difficult than traveling to Germany. 4 planes, 35 hours and 5 different airports. Not my idea of a good time. But worth the adventure that we had.

Photo: Greg Brooks

If you would like to see all of Erik’s photos from Kalymnos, you may do so here. If you would like to see all of Greg’s photos from Kalymnos, you may do so here.

Toasts with Friends

It was our last full day in Kalymnos and of course, it was cold, wet and cloudy. We had coffee in our lovely garden and Erik, Blaine, Ellen and I decided to head to Pothia to break up the day.

Photo: Erik Moore

Erik specifically wanted to visit the monestary of St. Savvas, the patron saint of the island of Kalymnos, which is perched on a hill above the main port town. St. Savvas lived the last twenty years of his life as a priest on Kalymnos. He is one of the most recognized saints and miracle workers in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece and there is a long history of monasticism. The island is littered with small churches or monasteries, some of them dating back to the Byzantine era. They are all white washed, with blue trim, and you find them in strange places, such as the one we saw far out into the fields near the Sikati cave. Apparently most of the small churches we came across are apparently still fully-functioning spiritual retreats for Orthodox monks and nuns.

Photo: Erik Moore

Photo: Erik Moore

We also spent a long time learning about the history of sponge harvesting from a shop owner. All of the world’s natural sponges are harvested by Kalymnians in either the Aegean Sea or just outside of Florida. There are also sponges in the Mediterranean near Italy but they aren’t available for harvesting after a horrible disease destroyed most of the sponge population there in the mid-80s. Since ancient times, the life, culture and economy of Kalymnos has relied on their ability to collect sponges and it is one of the main occupations on the island. Because of this relationship, sponges are referred to on the island as Kalymnian “gold.”

Photo: Erik Moore

That afternoon, we sat around on the patio drinking wine and playing domino games. It would shockingly be the first and only day I would be able to get drunk in Greece! The wine was so mellow there. Apparently the secret is to literally drink it ALL afternoon.

Photo: Erik Moore

While we lushed, Erik ran around taking photos of the family. The following are a few of my favorites.

Dimitri and Yanni Photo: Erik Moore

Evie and Yanni

We were sad to arrive on our last meal in Evie’s kitchen. The food we were served there by her will forever be ingrained in my memory as filling, loving and comfortable. The recipes, handed down through generations, made our trip extremely special. We were also pleased to have some travel companions, also staying at Harry’s Paradise, join us for dinner, during which we feasted on some of the most delectable cod I’ve ever eaten, chickpea fritters, and chicken. My only wish for every vacation I take is that the last evening be filled with delicious food, wonderful friends drunk on wine, and glorious laughter.

Photo: Erik Moore

Fat Naked Man Beach

It was our 2nd to last day on the island and I needed to go for another long run. This one actually felt a little bit easier the first half than the previous one. That being said, I was devastated when I ran by the small market at the 4 mile mark where I usually purchased water on the way back. I knew that I couldn’t turn around at the halfway point and find water anywhere else. I was faced with a decision: continue to run farther into the town of Massouri or cut my run much shorter. Since I was feeling pretty good so far, I decided to just keep going and in the end not only did I run 14.5 miles, but it was no where near as tough as the week before.

After choking down some protein recovery drink (Hammer – it’s the best!) mixed with electrolytes (Xood – they’re the best!), I joined Suzee, Greg and Bentley over at our standby, the Artistico Cafe. I was feeling a bit nauseous and didn’t particularly feel like eating but some left over pizza, a bit of salad and some coffee kicked me back into normal mode.

The four of us had decided that we wanted to visit another island. While the rest of the crew stayed behind to climb, we took the ferry to Talendos in search of a gorgeous beach. After tromping around quite a bit we ended up on a nude beach and by nude beach I mean beach with 8 fat naked white guys and then, a little ways farther down, other people with swimsuits on. The best part is that you can only see fat naked-man butt from the top of the cliff, discouraging you from going below, but then once you get down, you realize, oooh, no, they just decided to plop themselves down at the bottom of the stairs because they are too lazy to walk farther.

Photo: Greg Brooks

When I do a really long run my hunger pains come instantaneously and with force so about mid-afternoon I suddenly had to eat and had to eat now. I left my three travel companions at the beach and headed into town for food. The man running the restaurant where I chose to eat wasn’t as fluent in English as most Greeks and we had a few “whose on first” moments that included me trying to find out where the bathroom was and him bringing me baked chicken when I ordered lamb kebobs: awesomely confusing moment.

That night at Artistico, Irene and George’s son had gone out harvesting sea urchin and he explained how they were harvested, opened a few up and allowed us to taste them. I wouldn’t go seeking out urchin in the future, but it was a memorable experience.

Photo: Greg Brooks

Vathi!

Our 7th day in Greece was the first day of full sunshine that we’d seen in awhile and we were all SO thankful. We planned a big trip for the day: to Vathi, a port town near Pothia.

The road to Vathi is one of the newest additions to the island; it’s corners were much less fear-inducing than those on the rest of the roads and it’s pavement was super smooth. It included a long descent into the agricultural farmland of the island: orchards filled with citrus fruit, olive groves and a visible lack of goats.

Vathi’s name comes from the Greek word meaning “deep or depth” or “deep harbor,” which is exactly what we found when we arrived: a picturesque harbor filled with small fishing boats and a long deep channel out to sea.

Photo: Greg Brooks

We really wanted to go to Vathi to take advantage of the deep water soloing. It was one of the reasons that Kalymnos was even on our radar. While we had intended to charter a boat to get to the cliffs, it turns out that most of the restaurants in the square will simply take you to the cliffs on boats for free, provided that you eat lunch at their restaurant when you return. We were, to borrow Michelle’s word, dubious to say the least. Despite the fact that people had been overwhelmingly generous in a trustworthy way our entire trip, the American in all of us still said, “but wait, what’s the catch?”

The catch was that the boat doesn’t stay. The captain literally left us on the side of a cliff and pointed to a cluster of rocks in the corner of the small cove and said with a very thick Greek accent, “tiny beach.”

Photo: Erik Moore

So, here we were, on the side of a cliff, with a tiny beach for two, in the sunshine and beautiful water, left to jump and climb to our heart’s contents. I’m not sure if you know this but I LOVE jumping off things.

Photo: Erik Moore

The boys climbed in the cave here and there, but apparently the deep water soloing is lackluster in Greece compared to the amazing crags that have been discovered on Lake Travis. Ellen snorkeled and taught me about sea urchins. Erik took photos. I jumped off the cliff a whole bunch. Greg and Suzee hung out on the tiny beach. Erik commented that he “really wanted to go to the beach but it was already too crowded.”

Photo: Greg Brooks

Our captain returned, as promised, exactly two hours later and we headed back to Vathi to eat lunch at the restaurant as promised. Ellen, Suzee and I also picked up some really amazing scarves. Side note: I was told to take scarves to Europe to blend in and now I, who at first said, “pffffft, me, in scarves! I scoff at that!” am now obsessed.

That evening, our hosts Dimitri and Evie had secured for us a leg of goat that was roasted similar to a pot roast along with pearl onions and potatoes. It was one of the last things on our Greece Bucket List to check off.

The Sikati Cave

You wake up. Slug a bunch of percolator coffee and stuff some Greek yogurt and abs fitness cereal in your face. It’s slathered in the most amazing honey you’ve ever had. You all get on scooters and begin a terrifying ride over a mountain pass littered with goats, one random street sweeper and various scree, rocks and miscellany that could seriously impale itself into your skin if your scooter crashed.

When you arrive, you walk 50 minutes through some goat gates, across some hills and dales and there, in the distance, you see it. The Sikati Cave. And there, just below it, a private beach. Well, private to you and the goats that followed you here.

Photo: Erik Moore

The Sikati cave is located on the northeast rim of the island and although climbers call it Sikati, the locals call it Alatsia. It’s less cave and more gigantic hole in the ground: it has no roof, is as tall as 70 meteres on some sides and 60 meters across. To get there, you descend down a fixed line into the depths of the cave.

Photo: Erik Moore

The walls, when you descend down the fixed line, is filled with tufas and stalactites.

Photo: Erik Moore

The boys started warming up while us ladies sat back and enjoyed the view and explored dead goat bodies. There were a few goats lingering inside the cave, up high on some of the walls above the climbs. I was concerned for their safety, of course. We found two dead and decomposing goats down below.

Photo: Greg Brooks

I finally determined by the proliferation of goat shit on the ground and the lack of dead goats that the goats do frequently come into the cave and are clearly able to get themselves out. Whew.

Photo: Erik Moore

The climbing in the cave was incredible. The boys all took turns on one particularly wild and inspiring 25m route, a 7b+ (5.12c) called Morgan. It was nothing but overhanging power moves all the way to the top.

Climber: Eric Bentley Photo: Erik Moore

Climber: Greg Brooks Photo: Erik Moore

Bentley climbed first and watching him made my heart race a bit. The climbers we had seen on the route before him had a tough time and honestly, watching someone climb on something so long, so enduring and requiring such strength made me very nervous. He managed to send the climb though and we were all really excited for him.

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It was less and less nerve-wracking with each boy that went and they all did a great job. Before too long though, Suzee, Ellen and I were itching for our private beach afternoon so we bailed. I wasn’t kidding when I said we had to share.

Photo: Erik Moore

The water was warm, shallow and amazing. The goats, after first checking to see if we had anything to eat, meandered off. It was one of the more memorable places I’ve been.

After a long much more arduous hike back out to the road, we were on our way back to the villa. After warm showers for the first time in a few days, a few of us went over to the Artistico Cafe for happy hour.

Photo: Greg Brooks

That night we feasted at Harry’s like kings again: zuchinni croquettes, meatloaf with hardboiled eggs hidden in the middle, steamed spinach and a really amazing curry chicken. It wouldn’t be a birthday (Greg’s this time!) without Ouzo shots, though I skipped out this time, and some Greek yogurt for desert. Greek Yogurt: it’s not just for breakfast.

Rain Rain Rain

Our fifth full day in Kalymnos we woke up to strong rainstorms for the third time. We sat inside at Harry’s and spoke with the family over a long leisurely breakfast. We sat on our porches and read some more. Erik, Blaine and Ellen holed up in their villa and watched movies on Erik’s ipad. Greg, Suzee, Bentley and I headed over to the Artistico Cafe to try to break out of our cabin fever with a change of scenery, a delicious lunch and a game of spades.

Photo: Erik Moore

Photo: Greg Brroks

Photo: Greg Brooks

By mid afternoon, the sun was finally peeking out, the rest of our crew had emerged from their rooms, and we had been drinking for quite some time. We decided to head into Massouri to break up our day and do some emailing and general interneting at our wifi go-to spot, the Ambiance Cafe. It also gave me a chance to pick up souvenirs for home: really hysterical pompom topped wool house slippers for Buddy, the little girl I babysit for, and myself and some leather Greek sandals for my mom and I.

Photo: Erik Moore

After souvenir shopping, I joined the rest of the group at the cafe and we spent a few hours passing around Suzee’s computer and Erik’s Ipad, drinking beer and watching the sunset.

Photo: Erik Moore

Our hosts, Evie and Dimitri, had been included in a small local guidebook filled with stories of Kalymnos legends. One of the other stories had been of the Aegean Tavern, a restaurant in Massouri that is famous for their dumplings, a fried desert similar to a beignet but smaller and topped with honey. We were eager to try them. Apparently a lot of other folks had similar ideas as we were refused a table since we didn’t have a reservation. When another large party sat down to eat but changed their minds and immediately left, I took the initiative to haggle for their spot and our wishes were granted.

Photo: Erik Moore

Unfortunately, we were all underwhelmed by not only our meal but the dumplings in particular. They were cold and spongy – not at all how we imagined them. My main course was a disappointment: my grilled tuna, which I was able to hand select from a tray of fresh fish, was horribly overcooked. The highlight of the dinner was our appetizer of “little fried fish.”

Photo: Erik Moore

On top of our mild vacation calamities of rain and a bummer of a dinner, Greg and Suzee had the misfortune of a mild scooter crash on their way into town that night and Greg was extremely uncomfortable during most of dinner. It would become a daily ritual for us to force him to pull down his pants and show us his really amazingly bright hematoma.

Ass: Greg Brooks Photo: Erik Moore

Kalymnos Beach Days

The next day, our fourth full day in Kalymnos, we were all hoping to have a grand day filled with sun and surf. Instead, we had another day of clouds, rain and goats. That being said, Ellen, Suzee and I were more than happy to sleep in late while the boys all went climbing and lounge about drinking coffee and eating omelets and yogurt.

I decided to take a short run (4.5 mi) to wake my legs up after my long run a few days before and then ate a fantastic lunch at our little corner restaurant. My meal, the Captain Kostas Salad, was essentially a Greek Salad that was diced a bit finer (similar to a pico de gallo) and topped with prawns and octopus. Yum!

Since it was cold, overcast and rainy, instead of our planned beach day, Ellen, Suzee and I holed up on the porch in a row reading in blankets for hours.

Photo: Erik Moore

That evening it was Erik’s birthday, so we ended up having dinner at Harry’s and as it was a celebration (aka “when in Rome…”) we started our meal with ouzo. Ouzo is an anise-flavored aperitif that is widely consumed in Greece and Cyprus. It is very prominent in Greek culture. You sip it either straight in a glass the size of a shot or diluted with water in a glass the size of a pint. Either way it tastes like licorice meets alcohol and I did not care for it.

What I did love was our dinner. Because they did not expect a lot of guests that night, the menu was full of smaller appetizer sized portions. Dimitri suggested that instead of ordering, he would just bring us a little of this and that to eat family style. It was the first night that we did not order off the menu and it became the standard for how we would order dinner the rest of the trip. Our experience that evening was so fun and surprise filled that it became the most rewarding way not only for us to eat, but for Evie to cook. Our menu that evening consisted of feta cheese wrapped in phyllo dough and fried, Greek salad, drunken meatballs, the “drunk men’s snack,” steamed spinach, and aubergine croquettes with bacon (breaded and fried eggplant). It is still one of my most memorable meals from the trip.

After two days of birthdays, we still had one more left to celebrate but sadly, the birthday decorations wouldn’t last that long.

Photo: Erik Moore

The Grande Grotta

The Grande Grotta is one of the largest, most prominent and beautiful climbing areas in Kalymnos.

But of course, I needed coffee so I didn’t go there right away. Ellen, Suzee and I walked into Massouri and had coffee and breakfast from a wonderful little cafe that baked tiny sandwich pockets filled with delightful things like cheese and ham. We drank loads of coffee and watched men fish while the boys climbed.

Photo: Erik Moore

The climbs there were amazing: 40 meter long over hanging awesomeness. Sadly, I tried to follow one climb and made it about two feet before I realized that my body was so fatigued from the run the day before that it was absolutely futile to even attempt. Instead, I watched and it was worth the view. Mostly for the goats.

Photo: Erik Moore

But also for the climbing.

Photo: Erik Moore

The boys were buzzing with happiness over the routes they were able to get on. I followed Suzee, Greg and Bentley down to Massouri for more coffee and a beer while Blaine, Ellen and Erik stayed behind to climb. We were sitting at our favorite Massouri cafe, Ambience, run by a woman from Miami, for a relatively short time before it started to pour again. At the first break of the storm, we all decided to book it back to our village where more cold showers awaited us to avoid scootering in the rain. Most of us had already learned a valuable lesson three days in: do not bring only swimsuits on your Greek Island Vacation. Fleeces, more pants, and rain jackets would have been nice. In fact, Erik, Blaine and Ellen would get caught in such a downpour that the scooter engines would fail on their way home. I’m really happy I came back early!

You may think I’m exaggerating but this is the day in our vacation when we started doing a lot of this:

Photo: Greg Brooks

It’s also the day that we all started sitting around spending a lot of time doing nothing so we ended up hearing a lot of memorable quotes during stories, like the one where Bentley explained what he “learned from two lesbians on the internet.”

We didn’t quite have cabin fever yet but it would come.

Photo: Greg Brooks