Robbed of Time in Berlin

On August 15th, it was announced that my company was going bankrupt.

After getting over the initial shock of it all, I think what I was most upset about was losing my time in Berlin. I felt robbed. If I had known my time was limited, I would have done more, saw more, ate more, enjoyed more. I think this will be the lesson I will take with me from this experience. Don’t wait till everything is exactly how you want it to be before doing the things you want to do.

So once the reality of the situation had sunk in, I knew I had to start doing those things in Berlin I had been waiting to do. I made it a challenge to do something new almost every day. It could be a small challenge like trying a new drink or restaurant, exploring a new area of Berlin, or checking out some of the touristy sites.

Cats – On August 16th, I joined a colleague for a previously planned night at the theatre. We discussed the company situation over pizza and wine at my place and then walked to the nearby Admiralspalast on Friedrichstrasse to enjoy the Broadway show Cats.

Cats at Admiralspalast

Sammlung Boros – Art collection housed in a WWII bunker. This had been on my list for quite some time as it is right around the corner from my flat but tours book up really far in advance. I emailed them on Saturday, August 19th to see if they had any cancellations upcoming in the next 6 weeks. They emailed me back and said they had a cancellation for that evening at 6:30pm and I eagerly responded yes.

Boros Collection – Berlin Bunker

Long Night at Museums – The problem with accepting the Sammlung Boros cancellation spot was that it conflicted with my plans to attend the annual ‘Lange Nacht Der Museen’ event starting at 6:00pm. I decided to go anyways immediately after my tour and arrived around 8:00pm, grabbed my ticket, and chowed down on some Brazilian Tapiocas’s and beer while planning out my strategy for my museum filled night. I found a tour of the Altes Museum at 9:00pm, Deutsches Historisches Museum tour at 10:00pm and lastly a tour at the Anne Frank Museum at 11:00pm (which I had to sprint to in order to make the tour).

Deutsches Historisches Museum

Anne Frank Mural

On Sunday August 20th, I went for my morning run but this time I ran along the river stopping at Röststätte afterwards for a coffee. On my walk home, I walked past the Sophienkirche and stopped at the Jewish Cemetery.

Röststätte post-run coffee

Jewish Cemetary

That afternoon I grabbed another coffee and made my way to Siegessäule, or Victory Column, in the middle of Tiergarten. I bought my ticket, toured the tiny museum and walked the spiraling staircase to the top to get some pretty fantastic views of Berlin. I realized I was near Café Am Neun See, a biergarten in the park, so I finished off my day with a weissbier.

View from Victory Column

Victory Column

Prost from Cafe Am Neun See

The next week, I tried the famous Club Mate beverage I had seen so many Berliner’s wandering the streets and S-bahn with. Club Mate is a caffeinated carbonated mate extract beverage made in Germany since 1924 which is the overworked and hungover’s beverage of choice. It had a slightly odd taste which took some getting used to but all in all not bad. I also managed to go for a cocktail at the Westin (which was made with an Austrian liqour called Sporer), enjoyed the museum and views from Panorama Punkt, and had a lovely Italian dinner in Hackescher Markt of veal and in season mushrooms, pfifferlinge.

Popular Club Mate beverage

Panorama Punkt

During this time, I had also been trying to convince my Mom to travel standby from Calgary to Berlin for a visit given my imminent departure. We found some options that looked good and booked her on the Calgary to Frankfurt flight on Wednesday, August 23rd. I was really keeping my fingers crossed that all worked out and that she would make the flight!

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Abu Dhabi Again

During the beginning of August in Berlin, I kept busy with a few different meetup events including Thirsty Thursdays with Girls Gone International, Yoga morning flow in Tiergarten Park, and my regular Sunday 5 km run through Tiergarten. I attended the International Beer Festival which is the World’s Longest Beer Garden stretching a distance of 2.2 km along Karl-Marx-Allee between Strausberger Platz and Frankfurter Tor. We grabbed a pint of Bavarian brew and some Knoblauchbrot and fought the crowds streaming along the street. During this time, I also picked up my new blue card visa for Germany and extended my Berlin flat for another 6 months. With only 9 days in Berlin, I was heading back to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, August 9th. Unfortunately my work trip did not coincide with Dan’s work schedule so he wasn’t there to greet me at the airport this time as he was offshore. On Thursday, I attended my work event and then joined my old colleagues at Y bar on Yas Island for drinks and dinner. Dan arrived home late that evening and we met back at Etihad Towers when he got in from the port.

Berlin International Beer Festival

Friday morning Dan had to be at the port by 7:00 am but he was back by 10:00 so we made Andrew Cooper’s Alkalise juice with lemon, parsley, spinach, celery and apple and some coffees before heading down to the pool to enjoy some sun. Dan was heading back offshore that evening so we enjoyed an early dinner at Nolu’s Cafe in Al Bandar before he headed back to port and I had a relaxing night in watching my favourite Abu Dhabi movie channel.

Juiceman Alkalise concoction

Saturday morning I was off to meet our friends for a few rounds of bowling at the 40 lane Khalifa International Bowling Centre at Zayed Sports City. It worked out well with 3 guys (Spence, Laurie, & Rene) and 3 girls (Amanda, Nadia, and me). Spence took the win the first game and Nadia impressed us all to take the win and most improved for the 2nd round. We then all went for lunch at the Noodle Bowl located above the bowling alley which has some wicked Chinese food for rock bottom prices. That afternoon I hit up Tips and Toes at Marina Mall to get the nails did and then met up with Rene and Nadia for Happy Hour at Ray’s Bar that evening.

Spence getting another strike

Dan got back on Sunday morning and we spent the day relaxing – first by the pool, then for a short neighbourhood stroll, and then for massages at Talise Spa. That night, we watched a beautiful sunset over the Palaces and then Dan cooked me up one of my all time favorite scallop dishes-Bill Granger’s Grilled Scallops with Curried Noodles. After dinner, I had a quick rest before heading up to the airport for my 02:00 am red eye flight back to Berlin. A short trip but I would be back to sort out my exit clearance formalities in only a couple weeks time!

Short stroll around Etihad Towers

Scallops and champagne

Sunset over the Palaces

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Anniversary in Oman

Initially, I had planned a romantic anniversary weekend in Venice but, unfortunately, Dan told me he just couldn’t take any time off during this busy work period…there may have even been a Skype argument over this very topic. However, I decided if he couldn’t come to Europe then I would, of course, go to Abu Dhabi to celebrate our 8th anniversary together.

With this new plan in mind, I reminded Dan on multiple occasions that the traditional anniversary gift for year no. 8 is bronze or, alternatively, pottery. Day of, I received a call from my office reception that I had some ‘blumen’ waiting for me. A beautiful bouquet of flowers for my desk. I flew the next evening arriving in the early morning hours on July 27th. Dan had baked some ‘many seed bread’ and prepared some fresh beet juice for breaky. We popped over to Marina Mall, had some leftover gumbo for lunch, and grabbed the required ingredients for our community cookbook salad that evening. We had invited over some friends for dinner and a Cards Against Humanity game night. We even shared our aged Wedding Wine with our honoured guests.

Anniversary flowers sent to office

Dinner and games night

The next morning, we were off to officially celebrate our 8th year of wedded bliss. I had been wanting to stay at the Six Senses Zighy Bay Resort the moment I heard about it but it is one of those places you stay at only on special occasions. Thinking that our time may be limited, this was likely one of our last chances, and we also got a good summer rate. So, we set out on the highway around 10:00 am to make the 3.5 hour drive to the northern Musandam Peninsula in the Sultanate of Oman. We arrived just after lunch time and got checked in to our pool villa and enjoyed a cup of coffee along with an anniversary cake the hotel had arranged in our room. We enjoyed the afternoon relaxing by the pool and walking along the beach. To be honest, the weather was as hot as you would expect for summer in the Middle East but I was truly enjoying every minute.

Dan cooling down in our pool villa

We grabbed a bottle of wine from our in-room wine fridge and had a few glasses before heading out for dinner at the Summer House where we enjoyed the seafood grill and sea bass. After dinner, we grabbed a cocktail from Zighy Bar for happy hour and then exchanged our gifts. Interestingly enough, Dan went bronze, and I pottery. Dan had ordered a lovely set of bronze sculptures titled ‘Caress with Arm’ by Yenny Cocq Sculpture. I, on the other hand, went pottery and gave Dan a nice serving platter from Konigliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (KPM), a handcrafted porcelain manufacturer from Berlin, established by Frederick the Great, who have been in business for over 250 years.

Bec enjoying a glass before dinner

Caress with arm sculpture

The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast and some more pool and beach time before our late check out at 2:30 pm. We then made the drive back to Abu Dhabi along a different route Dan knew from some of his desert drives. That evening, we enjoyed some take out from our favourite sushi joint, Sushi Central, and we even served it on Dan’s new porcelain platter. The next morning, Dan dropped me off at the airport for my flight back to Berlin. One of our best anniversary’s yet!

Beach time

View of Zighy Bay

Sushi on anniversary porcelain platter

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July in Abu Dhabi

With summer at its peak here in Abu Dhabi, one must be willing to brave the heat and humidity to venture out of the apartment.  Most weeknights were pretty quiet aside from the odd round of golf with Laurie and Spence but I managed to keep fairly busy on the weekends.  I made a few different bread recipes and a big gumbo and brought it into work for my American colleagues who were heading back to the US after their tenure in the UAE.

Dan’s gumbo

On Friday, July 7th I set out for an afternoon Oryx drive in Sweihan.  On the way out, the Jeep recorded an amazing 50°C on the thermometer.  “What am I doing heading into the desert?” I thought.  The drive was good and I met some of the many new Oryx members that broke away from Abu Dhabi 4×4 and joined Oryx 4×4.  Their addition to the club has ensured there are always plenty of weekend drives to choose from.  Oryx 4×4 is thriving.  As hot as it was, a rare summer rain storm hit us as we exited the dunes.

Hot enough for ya?

Lined up and ready to go

On Friday, July 14th I joined a Junior Oryx drive and enjoyed helping the newbies.  We had just about all of the elements one could expect on a Junior drive…a flat tire, a pop-out, and some hair-raising stucks.  The best one was while our marshal was helping another driver, his Jeep began to roll away down a dune.  “Pieter, Pieter, your Jeep, look behind you!!!” I yelled over the radio.  Pieter took off in a flash and jumped into his Jeep in the nick of time before it took off down the dune on its own.  Crisis averted.

Taking care of a stuck

Can you guess what I did on Friday, July 21st?  That’s right, the dunes rang and I answered.  Raoul led us to a new spot near Sweihan I hadn’t been to before for a Senior level drive.  It was hot and the Nissan Xterras were overheating as we pushed the vehicles to their limits.  Towards the end of our drive, Raoul side-crested a high dune at low speed and had his downside, left, rear wheel pop-out on him and that was enough to tip him on his side.  Similar to what I did with Vern in the side-by-side back in 2013.  He was OK and we got the vehicle righted with the use of a winch.

Raoul trying to figure out what went wrong

Abu Ameer and his winch to the rescue

Saturday afternoon I met Nadia, Amanda, Laurie, and Spence at Dai Pai Dong, a dim sum restaurant on Maryah Island.  We were there for brunch which is traditionally held on Fridays in the UAE.  The dim sum was excellent and the Prosecco wasn’t too shabby either!

Dan and Nadia at Dai Pai Dong

Brunch group shot

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July in Berlin

After Dan returned to Abu Dhabi on Canada Day, I spent the next three and a half weeks in Berlin. The weather during July was not really the European summer I was hoping for with lots of rain and clouds, however, the sun did manage to peek out on a few days. I kept busy going for runs in Tiergarten, attending German classes and also joining a few different meet-up groups. On Saturday July 8th, I joined a hiking meet-up and we spent the day walking from Joachimsthal to Gross Schonebeck. We met on the train platform at 10:00 am and finished around 5:00 pm. We had planned to enjoy some post-hiking grub but the only restaurant in the small little town was closed. So instead, we grabbed some beers and snacks from the Lidl grocery store and sat outside on the pavement enjoying our much deserved break before catching the 7:00 pm train back to Berlin. That Sunday afternoon, I joined a biergarten meet-up group. They were meeting at Stone Brewing in the south of Berlin. It turned out to be a lovely afternoon and we enjoyed sitting out in the beautiful beer gardens enjoying the sun.

Hiking in Brandenburg

Wild mushrooms

Stone Brewing

The following week I joined another meet-up group at Emil’s biergarten. I also met a friend for dinner that Friday night and we did a bit of bar hopping in the area of Prenzlauer Berg. On Sunday evening, a colleague and I volunteered at the air berlin booth at the LGBT festival in Motzstrasse. On the 18th, I joined another company event which was a 6 km run at the Olympiastadion.  It was pretty amazing to be running through this historical venue built for the 1936 Summer Olympics. We enjoyed a beer and a bratwurst post race – I am pretty sure that was a first for me!

Bar hopping in Prenzlauer Berg

B2Run 6km at Olympiastadion

That Friday, I went to the Open Air Gendarmenmarkt festival to the “Eine romantische nacht” performance. The concert was great but I did envy the crowds outside the gates who brought their own lawn chairs, beverages and dinner snacks to enjoy the music from afar. On Saturday, I did a bit of shopping on Friedrichstrasse and, that evening, met a couple of friends at the Botanical Nights event at the Botanical Gardens. It was really cool with lots of different events going on throughout the gardens. I guess the big highlights were the light show at 10:30 pm and then the fire and water show at 11:30 pm. It was a nice few weeks spent in Berlin but after the luke warm summer weather I was ready to get back to Abu Dhabi to enjoy some heat.

Open Air Gendarmenmarkt

Light show

Botanical Nights

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Prague

Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, had been on mine and Rebecca’s hit list for quite some time.  So on Monday, June 26th, we set out for the City of a Hundred Spires.  We caught the S-bahn over to the Berlin Central Bus Station, jumped on our 10:00 am flixbus with coffees and picnic lunch, and headed south out of the city.  The four and a half hour journey passed through Dresden on the Elbe River before climbing into the Ore Mountains that have formed a natural border between Saxony and Bohemia for 800 years.  We arrived at the Praha Florenc Bus Station and caught the metro across the river to Malostranská.  We underestimated the distance (or more so the elevation gain) to our hotel which was located on Nerudova Street just below Prague Castle.  It was quite a hike with our carry-ons in tow!

After getting settled, we walked back down the hill and found a pub named Lokál U Bílé Kuželky that Bec had pre-scouted.  We enjoyed a fried cheese dish on a picnic bench with a woman from Peru traveling on her own.  With some food in our bellies, we crossed the iconic Charles Bridge to Old Town.  Following Bec’s advice, we found U Kunštátů, a cool beer spot in a 14th century palace.  We had a pint of Czech craft brew and checked out the medieval basement.  From there, we walked up to the main square, Staroměstské Náměstí, or Old Town Square.  We saw the famous 600 year old Prague Astronomical Clock and then chilled out and people-watched.  For dinner, we zeroed in on the original Lokál Dlouhááá.  Bec chose the traditional goulash and I went for the beef tartare with fried bread.

A craft brew at U Kunstatu

Prague Astronomical Clock

Old Town Square

Dan on the Vtlava

On Tuesday, we strolled south through Malá Strana taking us to the Monument of the Victims of Communism where there was a ceremony in progress.  We watched from the sidelines not fully understanding what we saw, but it reminded me of a Canadian Remembrance Day ceremony.  I led Bec up Petřín hill and we stopped on a park bench for a snack.  I somehow got a bee in my collar and he gave me a sting.  Bec, worried about my sting given my history with such insects, set a beeline out of the park passing by a section of the Hunger Wall.  With the sting subsiding, we found our way out of the park near the Strahov Monastery.  It was still early so I led Bec over to the Loreto where we did a self guided tour of the church.  We left the church and wandered down the charming area of Nový Svět which eventually led us to the gates of Prague Castle, but, we detoured and went back to the hotel to chill for a little while.

Monument to the Victims of Communism

Dan recovering from a bee sting beside the Hunger Wall

Bec outside the gates of Prague Castle

That night, Bec had a superfun evening planned for us.  The Taste of Prague Food Tour.  We visited 5 different restaurants and 2 bars which served delicious traditional and modern Czech food, beer and wine. We started with the Pilsner Urquell and a dark lager (Kozel) which happened to be where we had already dined the previous evening. We then tried some open-faced sandwich’s at Sisters Bistro and some different meat options at Nase Maso Butchers. Our main course was the roast duck with sauerkraut and potato dumplings at Next Door. We took a short break at the Bokovka wine bar to try some local varietals. We finished at an interesting restaurant called Eska with some modern dishes including burnt potato in ash with potato espuma and fermented red wheat with mushrooms. Needless to say we were well fed by the end of the tour however we decided to enjoy an after dinner cocktail at L’fleur before calling it an evening.

On Wednesday, we walked south along the Vtlava and eventually crossed into New Town.  We had another picnic lunch in the Franciscan Gardens with the locals before popping out into Wenceslas Square.  We strolled up and down the famous strip, but it was turning out to be a pretty hot day so we decided to pop into a few shops and I picked up a new pair of jeans shorts for the summer weather.  We crossed the river to the north and hiked up to the top of Letna Park.  We enjoyed a Czech brew in the beer gardens and wrote some postcards overlooking Old Town across the river.  The skies turned angry so we packed up and headed west.  The storm caught up with us at the Metronome and we bailed down the hillside and crossed the nearby bridge.  We thankfully missed the majority of the storm and headed back to U Kunštátů.  This time, we didn’t mess around and each ordered a beer tasting with some snacks.  The storm blew off and we made our way across Charles Bridge and back to Hotel Neruda.

Bec in front of the National Theatre

Dan on Wenceslas Square

Czech beer tasting flight

View from Charles Bridge

A look up at Prague Castle

Western gate of Charles Bridge

That night, we took our concierge up on a nearby dinner spot, but they seemed to have the doors shut while entertaining a private group.  We redoubled and found the Pilsner Urquell Malostanska Beseda opposite the St. Nicolas Church in our neighborhood.  Bec ordered the Svíčková, maybe the most popular of all Czech dishes, and I ordered the rabbit, much to our waiters distaste (he has pet rabbits).  Both were delicious.

Local rabbit

Svíčková

Our night didn’t end there though as Bec led us to the Vinograf near the river’s edge and we enjoyed some Czech wine al fresco.  The sun was setting and we knew by the reflected pinks on the buildings that it was a good one.  So we paid our bill and scrambled over to Charles Bridge for an amazing sunset. Halfway home and halfway to another spot on our list, we threw caution to the wind and headed to Hemingway Bar.  We were lucky to get the last couple of seats at the upstairs bar and enjoyed some very interesting cocktails.

Vinograf wine tasting

Sunset over Prague

We saved Prague Castle for our last day, but it was pouring rain that morning.  We tried to wait it out in the hotel, but it just would not let up.  So we braved it and headed up the last few stairs to the top.  There were a few other brave tourists at the gates.  We visited St. Vitus Cathedral and had a quick look at the grounds before hightailing it back to the hotel.  We caught the metro to the main train station and started back to Berlin at 2:3o pm.  The train followed the Vltava River north to the Elbe where we continued alongside the river through the scenic Ore Mountains.  Once past Dresden, the train was on a straight track and finally got up to its full speed.  The huge low pressure system over northern Germany was dumping buckets of rain down on Berlin and there was flooding going on in the city.  We made the quick dash from the Friedrichstrasse station to Bec’s place but we still got absolutely soaked.  The most rain recorded in over 100 years.  Needless to say, we hunkered down that evening and rented a movie, The Butcher of Prague.

On Friday, we had some errands to run for Bec’s German visa.  Following that, we swung through the Galleria in Alexanderplatz to do some shopping.  We sidetracked through a neat little neighborhood called Nikolaiviertel that neither of us had been to.  We walked all the way west along Unter den Linden and followed the river to a beer garden Bec had noticed on a river run.  Again, the rain found us so we finished our brew and headed back to the apartment to savour a home cooked meal.

Rainy beer along the Spree

My flight back to Abu Dhabi was at 5:00 pm on Saturday, but Bec still managed to find us somewhere to celebrate Canada Day.  We went to a brewery that she had been to before named BRLO.  They had teamed up with Steamworks Brewery from Vancouver for a Canada Day celebration.  We were the first to arrive at noon and things weren’t quite in full swing.  The band was still warming up and the poutine stand hadn’t received their French fry delivery yet.  We had a couple Canadian brews sitting proudly in our Team Canada jerseys then headed for home to grab my bags for my flight to Abu Dhabi via Dusseldorf.

Happy 150 Canada from Berlin!!!

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Eid Weekend in Berlin

The end of June also marked the end of Ramadan and a 3 day public holiday in the UAE. We decided this would be a great opportunity for Dan to spend some time in Berlin. He flew in via Düsseldorf on Friday, June 23 arriving at 6:00 pm. After meeting him at the airport and getting settled we went for a cocktail at Hackendahl, which is near my place and, funnily enough, where we went for cocktails with Jami and Tarina back in 2015.

On Saturday, I took Dan for lunch in Thai Park. He felt like soup so we both went for the pork noodle selection. We enjoyed the delicious soup and then went for a relax on the grass. It soon started to rain so we grabbed a couple of dumplings to go and were on our way. Our next stop was the Berlin Botanical Gardens for the Wein Sommer event. We explored the gardens and then found the wine tasting tents, grabbed a couple of glasses, and sat at a picnic table where a few locals chatted us up. We tried a few different varietals from the Peth-Wetz vineyard before setting off to explore the rose gardens. We ended up back at the Wein Sommer fest and grabbed another glass along with a meat and cheese platter. After filling our bellies and grabbing a few bottles to take back we set out. It was still early and a nice evening so we decided to grab a night cap at Newtown Bar before making our way home.

Dan exploring the Botanical Gardens

Wein Sommer

On Sunday, we pulled a bucket challenge and went for coffee and a light breaky at the Unicorn. From there, we slowly wandered over to Mauerpark and then decided to have lunch at The Bird, a recommended burger joint nearby. It started to rain as we were finishing up lunch so we headed for home.

Mauerpark spray paint wall

The Bird burger

That evening, we went to the Art of Banksy exhibition, featuring works from the famous British street artist. After finishing at the exhibition, the clouds were looking pretty ominous so we thought we had better duck inside a nearby restaurant where we ordered the beer meter tasting. Later on, we went to watch the film and light show at 10:15 pm at the riverbank next to the Reichstag building. It was raining so we brought a towel to sit on and our umbrellas. We hit the hay after that as we had a morning bus ride to catch to Prague.

The Art of Banksy

Beer meter tasting

Film and light show

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