Saturday, 27 December 2008

Winterwalk


We decided today to walk up to Checkpoint Charlie - the old American border checkpoint left over as a monument to remind Berliners and tourists alike that the free market is the way to go. To further remind any sentimental Communists who won that war, what you enter past the checkpoint and people fondling chunks of the Berlin wall is the formerly East Berlin borough of Mitte, a huge shopping district packed with people spending their Christmas cash.



We made it as far as Alexanderplatz and the t.v. tower seen just about anywhere in the city. I personally like the way it looks overlooking the Spree over in Friedrichshain, the neighbourhood we're moving into next week, but here's a shot of it next to the Berliner Dom and a ferris wheel - 1 of 2 within walking distance.



It was a pretty nice day, so cold my face froze, but relatively sunny for a while so I took some pictures along the canal. Walking down this same path a couple years ago is how I first fell in love with this city. Apparently, I'm not the only to feel this way, as it was jam-packed.




I also miss my morning walks along Lake Ontario and the two swans that hang out near the shore. So the dozens of them in the canal helped with that.



We also passed this on our walk. Possibly some sort of water pumping thing - deduced by the fact that it lay a few metres from the canal. It looks weird, but I'm sure that since it was built by Germans, it serves an oh so practical purpose and will last forever.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Holidaze


This is how we’re spending our first couple weeks in Berlin. From Dec. 15 - 26 we rented this nice little loft in the area of Berlin known as Kreuzberg. We’re laying low, but we emerge in the last few hours of daylight (2-4pm) to find food and buy a mobile phone that we can’t figure out how to use until we repossess our German-English Dictionary - I realize how sad that last part is.

I’ve just finished Tree of Smoke by Daniel Johnson which gave me a few nightmares (not difficult, nightmares and anxiety dreams comprise 80+% of my unconscious life) and wasn’t brilliant, but pretty darn good. It won the National Book Award last year, but - and I’ve gotten this off my chest to Aidan so I won’t bother you with my full review - I think it only did so because it filled a void/shoved down the already overflowing gullet in North America's obsession with war, and only superficially at that, but enough to win.

Next up, I’m reading Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education a recommendation from years ago and when I finally found it at The Strand, the clerk told me that it was waaay better than Madame Bovary. Having read neither, I took his word for it. I’ll let you know.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

German Christmas


Like most of Europe, Germans celebrate on December 24. Our friends Sasha & Marie invited us over for dinner and asked us to bring desert. I didn't really want to bring soggy baklava - specialty of the neighbourhood - over, so I decided to bake a flourless chocolate cake! It turned out ugly as sin, but actually quite delicious.

Today we saw our first glimpse at sunlight in maybe a month so we bundled up and walked over to the Judisches Museum to check out their Chanukka-Markt where we were promised to find quirky crafts and yummy latkes. Neither were found, but we ate what they had before we set out on the long walk home. We also got to get up close to another ego-inspired piece of architecture-gone-wrong by Daniel Libeskind. He's the guy who designed the R.O.M., forgetting that it gets cold in Toronto. In his defence, we didn't walk through the museum's interior - but you could have a look see on the website. Also, the outside garden is pretty neat. This is more a criticism of the exterior and just my general dislike of architectural 'stars'.






Aidan's wearing a hat I made for him and is too small for his head, but it was cold as we ate our latkes so he wore it, like the trooper he is. Speaking of things I've made gone wrong... I made these mittens on the road and didn't decrease properly - there was no pattern involved, so they ended up looking like lobster claws. However, they do get the job done.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Another Iberian Road Side Attraction

I'll just say it: this was a rough tour. As we rode into week 6 and edged up to our 30th or so show, we were definitely showing signs of wear. In an attempt to avoid horrifyingly long bus rides, we decided to rent a car in Porto and drive the rest of way ourselves.

Things started well enough as we rode from Port to Bragan├ža. We took a night walk with our host Solange (I probably just slaughtered her name, apologies) up to the town's castle. Unlike most European cities, people still live within the old walls. Here's a visual transcript:



Sadly things didn't stay all neato and photogenic.

Spain is a beautiful country and is best experienced very, very slowly. Everyone's on the same clock and if you're in hurry, running on touring time, you'll end up running against the grain and having a near breakdown in Madrid's city centre.

Once we left Bragan├ža we drove the wrong direction in the mountains just north of the city for nearly 2 hours. I don't think I'll go into great detail about each date and show. I will say that we met some amazingly sweet people along the way - including Nacho in Aviles, the women of Utopia in Sevilla, Edu in Madrid, Artur in Bilbao, and the super nice couple that walked us to our venue in Bilbao.

Here's what we saw as we criss-crossed Spain almost 3 times.

Lots of this:

and this,

sometimes this,

or this,

in warm Sevilla this,

but mostly this,

and this,

Basque Country


Since flipping through Mark Kurlansky's book a few years ago, I've wanted to see the Basque region of Spain. Also, the separatist movement is active and sometimes known to be violent, so there's an element of naive excitement in being here.


They have their own language and even their own font! It's seen on most Basque-owned establishments and government signs.

Geographically, we're pretty close to France and it seems this proximity has generously seeped into the culture. The pace is a little quicker here than other parts of Spain, the architecture is a little more baroque, and class lines seem to be drawn a little thicker than parts to the south.



Once again, we were short on time and had none to spend wandering in Bilbao. We drove past the Guggenheim in the pouring rain and I glimpsed just long enough to decide that it's Mr. Gehry's best work and I apologize for slagging his good name in an earlier post. It's just as strange in person as photo's would suggest, but between craggy mountains and a river and ornate buildings from the 1930s mixed with much older structures, it kind of fits perfectly.

Both Bilbao and San Sabastian are really beautiful art deco-heavy cities and the food was good! Fresh seafood tapas! Up to this point our diet was seriously lacking.

After playing our final in San Sabastian last night, waking up felt so good that it warranted a walk on the beach before driving back to return the car in Porto. It was blustery, but thoughts of tomorrow trip to Berlin and the little loft that awaits us kept me warm.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Lovely Lisboa


There's a huge Portuguese community in Toronto - I lived smack-dab in the centre of it for a while - but, absorbed next to nothing of the culture. I knew we were in for a change when we left the U.K., but as the plane approached the coast and Porto's airport we saw different world. (I later felt a little guilty when someone told us the story of how a touring American band referred to their location as South America, but after being in cold, cold England, it really does look like we're possibly arriving in Argentina) Porto, in particular.

Lisbon, though exotic, is a very European city. It's also a drop dead beautiful - in any light. Time stopped sometime in the 1950s here, but it somehow persists at being a modern city with a pretty darn rich art scene.



We played and stayed in the really nice ZdB complex that was partially outdoors. It was chilly evening, but everything just looked like it belonged in warm climate and that was enough to comfort me at this point in our wintry tour.





We woke up early so we could take a nice long walk through the city. I also went a little snap-happy...

-click to enlarge


And one for mom...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Porto on the edge of the World

It's a bit hazy in my memory, but here's evidence that we were here and saw roses blooming in December: