Monday, September 29, 2014

Ten Days of Travel: Florence

On a 'fine' Wednesday morning K and I took a fast train from Rome to Florence. It rained a lot during the journey and on our way to find our little airbnb-booked guest house. Cute it was. And raining the morning was. And sleepy we were. And nothing to do till 11am to go for the renaissance tour by the Florence Free tours. (So you can imagine how early we woke up).

The renaissance tour introduced us to some of the beauty of Florence with the sculptures and paintings of the great renaissance artists including of course, our favourite Michaelangelo. The tour started at Piazza San Marta Novella and walked through to the Florence cathedral, and the church of Santa Croce. The Florence cathedral is a different kind of beauty, a renaissance church in all its glory. It had a dome that is at odds with the rest of the structure because the calculations were slightly off and the dome had to be constructed differently with an octagonal base.

The guide also pointed out Florence as the fashion capital with Ferragamo museum and the new Gucci museum. Right next to our stay was a massive leather market. Now that I'm writing about it I wonder why I didn't shop!

I wanted to visit Florence because it was the city that Leonardo Da Vinci spent his interesting life in and the Medici's were the first bankers to rule. And I not so long ago read Dan Brown's Inferno (now now, Dan Brown may not be right or amazing but he did describe Florence beautifully). So I was delighted to walk on the cobblestones of Florence listening to the stories of the wonderful art that flourished. We grabbed some food in a little local shop and had some lemoncello before coming back for another tour by the Florence free tours, the Medici tour. 

The Medici tour was more fun simply because the Medici's were insane. The place where the Medici's are buried has a big hole in the middle because they wanted to bring the body of Jesus from Jerusalem to their tomb so that they all can be buried next to the Son of God, the audacity of it is hilarious. But the Medicis did rule successfully for many years were patrons of art and science which flourished. The guide took us along the Vassari corridor, except from the outside (if you want to go inside you would need to go into the Uffizi and should have booked a guided tour of the corridor). The corridor is another example of the eccentricities, built so that the Medici family can walk between their palaces and attend church without ever having to be seen by outsiders so as to protect themselves from potential assassins. The tour ended at the end of the corridor at Pitti Palace which has the famous Boboli gardens. We didn't go in though.

We spent the evening and night, until we got tired at the Piazza della Signoria, the biggest example of the endorsement of art by the Medicis. It is a piazza where some sculptures, really amazing masterpieces, were generally displayed for the public. Michaelangelo's David was here until it was taken inside the Gallerie Accademia to protect it and was replaced with a replica. The piazza also hosts the originals of the Rape of the Sabine, a master piece in its depiction, the Hercules and Cacus, and the Perseus with Medusa's head. 

The next morning we went to the Gallerie to see David. The replica does not do justice. Honestly, no picture does justice to the original sculpture. Michaelangelo's master piece captures such determination in his eyes, in his taut body, in the veins of his hands and tightened muscles. This is David, not the shepherd victorious over Goliath, but the classical hero ready and waiting to strike Goliath at the right moment. Looking at the sculpture makes you want to have that sense of purpose in life. See what are art did there? 
I have some pictures here but as a said, it's impossible to capture the perfection.

See the veins?:

This was originally placed in the piazza I mentioned, right in front of the Medici offices, Palazzo Vecchio. It was said that Michaelangelo had intended to place David looking at the goliaths of Medicis, challenging them as a common man.

Time was running out for us in Florence and we had many more things to do but we could only pick a few. For the next we picked the Galileo museum. It actually turned out to be the museum of science, time, astronomy, cartography, navigation, etc. It starts off when earth was at the centre of our universe and moves through history all the way to electricity and electric machinery. This is an astronomy model of time, sun, moon, earth, heavenly bodies and zodiacs.

We also got to see Galileo's telescopes, the ones with which he proved that the sun is after all in the centre (though now we know it's an inconspicuous little star in the universe). And for some random reason they also displayed some mummified body parts of his, like fingers or something.

The next thing in our agenda was the museum of Leonardo da Vinci which is not really a museum since it doesn't curate old paintings or anything and we were running out of time and there's one in Venice, so we gave it a miss. Instead we went to Piazza del Michaelangelo. It's a piazza on top a hill from where you can get glorious views of the city like this one:

The piazza is named after Michaelangelo because his disciples decided to pay tribute to him by making his replicas and displaying them there. So there was yet another David. We also went there because a gelato festival was happening that weekend. The gelato was invented in Florence when one of the women of the Medici family was married to the prince of France and a sorbet was invented for the wedding as dessert. So this festival is apparently big but it was actually very small. We tasted some: a cheesecake gelato, of course a 'David' gelato, a strongly tumeric flavoured gelato, and a slightly regular type of gelato.

And then we hurried back down to the bnb, picked up our bags and went on our way to the train. We got on the wrong train and kept searching for our seats until we realised it was the wrong train. Got on the right one just in time.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ten Days of Travel: Vatican

On Wednesday, we spent most of the day at the Vatican. Not really. You can go to the Vatican museum (including the Sistine Chapel) and Saint Peter's Basilica without issue even though they are within the Vatican border. But we can't go beyond that without permission.
The museum is really vast and it's recommended to take a guided tour. The only one that was available was at 8.30 in the morning. We took it anyway, assuming we can also do the basilica before lunch. As it turns out, the basilica is closed on Wednesday mornings. The Pope gives audience and gives sermon at 11 am and it doesn't have a scheduled end time. So we ended up spending a good 4.5 hours in the museum. The guide said Wednesday mornings were the best time to visit the museum because of less crowds with the basilica closed, but we didn't understand that until after an hour after the tour ended.

The guided tour lasted for about two hours. The guide showed us some amazing sculptures of people and gods from the 1st and 2nd centuries. We saw elaborately decorated bath tubs, and a collection of tapestries and paintings. Most of these possessions have either been curated or been gifted to the pope, Pope Julius II, who had the likes of Raphael and Michaelangelo as friends. Interestingly, in this Vatican museum that was curated by the Popes, there were a large amount of pagan references in sculptures and other objects. There was even a vast room modelled on the pantheon! 

The guide then took us to the Raphael rooms which were four rooms with massive paintings by Raphael depicting various ideas in renaissance style. There were two painting facing each other one showing the virtues of religion and one the scholarly virtues. The painting of the scholarly virtues is interesting. Raphael painted Aristotle with Leonardo da Vinci's head, Plato with a famous architect's head, a self portrait as an enthusiastic teacher with kids, and Michaelangelo's gloomy faced head on a writer. Here is it:

The guide finally left us outside the Sistine chapel having described all the eccentricities captured by Michaelangelo. Sistine Chapel is considered as Michaelangelo's masterpiece. He painted marvellously the entire ceiling in his early 30s, including the birth of Adam that I have not been able to photograph due to restrictions on photography (which I followed) but have lifted off wikipedia:

Since he painted the genesis, after Adam, Eve was created as well. However, Michaelangelo is bad with women figures. She looks weird, no wonder it's not famous. Here it is in any case:

He also painted the altar wall with the judgement day at the age of 61. Turns out Michaelangelo had a sense of humour. He painted an annoying clergy as a man in hell getting is private parts bitten by a snake, possibly biblical? More interestingly he painted Jesus at the centre as a strong classical hero! I didn't realise it was Jesus at all, not the lanky man with a beard. And he painted everyone nude (and for all these reasons the clergy man was pretty upset) but Michaelangelo being who he was, no one questioned him. Funnily, as soon as he died, the Pope got another painter in, to lightly paint clothes over these people.

If you are on a guided tour, you can go out of the Sistine chapel taking the door to the right and going into the premises of Saint Peter's Basilica. But since it was not open, we took the door to the left and went back into the museum. We went to the picture gallery that the guide recommended. There are so many amazing renaissance painters that we never heard of and this picture gallery was an adobe to that. After that we had some more time left and we decided to go in search of the Van Gogh paintings which are nearer to the Sistine chapel and we made our way back towards it.
As we began walking we realised we merged into a crowd and became a part of a massive sea of humans, all moving through the museum in a single direction to the Sistine chapel. It didn't matter that some of these people were taking a guided tour because there was no time or space to stop, admire, listen to your guide or ponder. You simply could not go against the current. And then we realised why we were lucky this morning.
After some tired nudging and pushing, we saw a small side alley into an Egyptian section and we slipped in for since fresh air. What a beautiful section it was, putting the British Museum to shame.

But we soon found out it took us all the way back to the main entrance so we retraced our steps instead and joined the section of the sea where we broke off and made it to the Sistine chapel once more (forget the Van Gogh, no time or energy). This time we took the door to the right entering the basilica's area by the back door and cutting through the long queues at the main door.
Saint Peter's Basilica is massive.

In every corner is a masterpiece. In one such corner, cordoned off and glassed up (I have no idea why) was Pieta by Michaelangelo.

In the middle is a papal dias where the Pope had sat an hour ago giving his sermon. Behind St longivis is small door taking you into the crypts below where the popes were buried and one princess and some Roman remains. Pope Julius II is buried here. On our exit we found we were where we started, at the back door. Next to it was a queue, a long one, to go up the dome but we were positively tired by then. So we exited from the main entrance and walked all the way up to the front of the piazza to have a look at the grandeur of the basilica. I have a picture here but unfortunately the chairs put up for the papal audience spoil the view.

And we went back to Rome on foot.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ten days of Travel: Rome

If I were to describe in one word the city of Rome, magnificent would be it. To mean large massive structures that can't possibly be human at all. And that is what Rome was, magnificent. On Monday we only had half a day to us. We went on a walking tour by the new tours. The guide was funny and knowledgeable. And it was good intro. The famous Colosseum aside, the shear size and span of not only the Roman structures like Piazza Venezia, but even the pagan temples like the Pantheon tells you the amount of glorification that Rome needed (and got). Pantheon also has Raphael's tomb.

The guide took us to see an optican illusion to explain to us the evolution of art. Saint Ignazio has one of the best optical illusions I think, This ceiling looks much higher than the actual flat ceiling on which the painting was painted on. And the pic below,well, it's not a dome:

Trevi fountain was unfortunately under renovation (when open apparently it collects 3000 Euros in coins every month); for future travelers, it will be closed for the next couple of years. Disappointingly, so was the fountain in front of the Spanish steps (which were built by the French). Our guide also took us to water fountain that had been in use since the last 2000 years and serves you drinking water. We all drank from it. Surprisingly Rome has a lot of these water fountains across the city giving out water continuously with no tap. You just carry an empty bottle with you. And these fountains have bases but some of them don't. The water just flows on to the pavement and into the drain. Where do they get so much water from?

The next day we first went to Santa Maria di Vittorio for a quick look at Michaelangelo's Moses which was made for Pope Julius II for his tomb but the pope was buried in St Peter's Basillica. 

After that we had booked a tour of the Colosseum. A guided tour (if you book in advance) also gives you access to the 3rd level of the Colosseum from where the view is amazing and you can click pictures like this:

The guided tour also takes you to the basement floor below the arena where the slaves and the gladiators walked and worked in the darkness. There is also an ancient underground stream floating under it which you can occasionally see. Apparently it flowed under another church too (we shall come to that). There were 28 pullied elevators in place to bring in the gladiators or animals through trapdoors into the arena to compete. The arena itself was removable in the early years of the Colosseum before the basement level was made, so that once removed the bowl was filled with water to the have naval fights, ie put two gladiators on a boat and make them fight. And all gladiators don't fight until death because people invest in you. Remove the inhuman part of it and you get the current football leagues. Isn't that so? (Or IPL). Here is a picture of the basement:

Next to the Colosseum were the ruins of the Roman Forum and some pagan temples. By the time we were done with the Colosseum we were pretty tired and it was hot with little shade (30 degrees) so we didn't spend much time there. The ticket is actually valid for two days and gives you one entry each to the Colosseum and the Roman forum. We should have taken that advice and come the next day. But after we got fueled up with some food and some shade we were up and running.

We went to this church that our guide at the Colosseum recommended, St Clemente. It looks like a normal church; it's an old church from some 1100AD. But under that church excavations revealed a 4th century church with frescos and plaques and some idols. It was nice to see how they excavated the structure with church standing above it. There are some stories that before it was made a church it could have been a rich Roman's house. Now as though that's not enough, further excavations revealed yet another pagan place of worship or a Mithreum, from the 1st century, below it!! You can actually go all the way down there and hear and see that little underground steam persisting through it, the same one from under the Colosseum. You know how they say some places on earth are just holy. This is probably one of those. So I tasted the waters and sprinkled some on my head, just like I would in any Hindu temple's waters.

The next day we spent most of it in Vatican as compiled in my next post. After we returned from Vatican we had to do some thing worth our Roma Pass and we had only few hours left. So we went to the second optical illusion in Rome, Berromini perspective. It's a pathway with columns and a sculpture at the end. Except, it is shorter than the image would let us believe because Berromini made the columns that are farther away from us shorter than they should be to give us the effect that it's farther away.

That's done with Rome now, tired and hungry. We know we could have gone on and on with Rome for months. But that's all the time we had. The next morning we took a train to Florence.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ten Days of Travel: the weekend

Edinburgh I've been to three times before and here's to the fourth. The first time I went as a student and to see it for myself for I didn't know if I would come back to London. I did. So the second time, after 2 years, I took my parents there to show it to them. The third time after 1.5 years, I took my sister and brother in law there. And now 9 months later, I took Ivo there. By the count of the reducing gaps between by trips, I think I'll be going again within 6 months!

After our beautiful train journey on Friday morning along the eastcoast we say down for a coffee and walked around for a bit and sat down for again some lunch before we joined the Sandeman free tour. We had an incredibly funny American guide. She knew her stuff and did it well. Loved her little anecdotes. The tour which I had done before was more of the some. A bit about the history of Edinburgh the geographic formation, the people and garde loo, the interesting architecture of the castle and the school, the funny and sad story of the stone of destiny, the cemetery and Bobby, the writers from Edinburgh, Voldemort's tombstone and the McKinsey poltergeist.

Soon after that we met up with K who had just finished his last day at work. We settled down at the apartment and left for one of the many ghost tours of Edinburgh. Our guide Louise took us around much of the centre of the city telling us about various stories of ghosts and sightings and took us along many dark closes (in Edinburgh close is a small alleyway that will lead you into a courtyard). Some of the guests gave some sound effects and some even nervous laughter. The weather added to the effect by raining all the time and we under our black umbrellas in black or grey overcoats, looked gloomy. The tour ultimately led us into the vaults below the South Bridge. Some of these were supposedly the most haunted rooms (in the world? UK?) and many researchers had come there to study it. In any case, it was fun, more fun than scary.
Ivo had a friend from Nicaragua who she wanted to catch up with and she was going to a house party of a friend and invited us all so we all would pretty much gate-crash somebody else's party. But we went anyway and we had a lot of fun, met a lot of interesting people.

The next morning we headed out to the Edinburgh castle. Again I had been there before but neither Ivo nor K had been and they were pretty excited. It is impressive of course, built and rebuilt and redone over many years. The base of the castle was from some time in the 1100s. We saw the many rooms, the prisoner's of war museum, the crown jewels and most importantly the stone of destiny that we heard so much about in the two tours.

We caught up with Ivo's Fulbright friend from Germany for lunch when Ivo finally tried haggis. It's a meat dish specific to Scotland. I had the quintessential British dish, chicken tikka. It was a nice restaurant named after the name who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, William Deacon Brodie. After this nice meal we had a little climb to digest the good food. We climbed up the Calton Hill overlooking Arthur's seat, to see a pantheon and understand why Edinburgh is called the Athens of the north. It's beautiful and peaceful up there, and barely 10 mins away from the center of the city. Edinburgh is deceptively small.

And soon we were on a train back to London.
On reaching London, directly from the station we went to another house party, to celebrate Gibraltar day and the house warming of the two people from Gibraltar. It was supposed to be a theme party with everyone wearing red and white and mostly from the same university that the hosts are from. We weren't dressed for it nor from the university but at least we knew the hosts well and we had a great time.

Next morning we woke up reasonably late, had a leisurely breakfast and went to Oxford. Oxford is so pretty as always and luckily bright and sunny, unlike Edinburgh. We went to Christ college, saw the great hall that inspired Hogwarts and walked around for a bit. We ended up at a little cafe along the river in the evening before heading back to London. Oxford is a pretty little town. Ivo went for dinner with another friend while we packed for our week long trip ahead.

On Monday morning, Ivo's long trip to Europe that started in Sweden, then to Austria, Rome and then London (and Edinburgh and Oxford) had come to an end. She finally took her long long flight home to Nicaragua. 
We called her a cab to the airport and we took one ourselves to another, to fly to Rome.

Ten Days of Travel: Intro

My dear Nicaraguan friend came to visit me on a crazy Thursday. K was already in Edinburgh on work and Ivo had already visited London so we went to Edinburgh on Friday morning. We returned to London along with K on Saturday night. On Sunday, we decided to take a day trip to Oxford.

On Monday morning, Ivo flew back to Nicaragua and K and I flew to Italy. An enormous country I'm sure, and only a little of it I've seen. K had been there briefly. But we wanted to go anyway. We flew into Rome on a Monday and spent three days there. On Thursday morning we took a fast train to Florence, barely 1.5 hours. We were supposed to take half a day to go to Pisa but we skipped it because we loved Florence. And we had little time in Florence as it is. We took a late train out of Florence on Friday to Venice, again a fast train for 2 hours. What we didn't realise before planning was that we ended up in Venice on a weekend! We reached Friday night and flew out on Sunday afternoon back home.

The following posts are a series of posts to describe this travel. Original was meant as a single post but truly vast was my knowledge and experience gained on these trips that I needed another post and then another and yet another. 

Update: Now that I finished them all I have listed them down here:

By the time I finished Venice, I had already been to Barcelona and back! Another one on the way now.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A Book List Tag

A friend of mine tagged on facebook with one of those list of books tags. I really loved it and I want to remember my list and jot it down. Where better but on my blog, with links to my book reviews though only the second half. 
The list of books or series that changed/impacted me (chronological order) .
1. Claudine at St Clare's . The first novel I ever read, at the age of nine. I received this as a prize for coming second in class. I only read it because I was curious why people would read so much. And God knows I never stopped.
2. Famous Five, The Three Investigators, and the evergreen 18, Nancy Drew. My wanna-be detective phase. My friend and I would pretend we were the two investigators. We created mysteries in our imagination and solved them.
3. Brain by Robin Cook.It was a fascinating idea. Sphere beats it, but Brain was first.
4. If Tomorrow Comes by Sydney Sheldon. And I still love Tracy Whitney. And it was the first time I read a book with a feisty female lead.
5. Atlas Shrugged. It's Atlas Shrugged Day today! And of course I love Dagny Taggart. Yet another strong female character with Ayn Rand's objectivism and capitalism, which was a big influence on me.
6. The Alchemist. Bringing magic back. It was like a fairytale for all ages.
7. Train to Pakistan. It inspires me to write
8. The Calcutta Chromosome. I stumbled upon Amitav Ghosh by chance and cannot express my admiration for him.
9. An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. I can now enjoy western classical music, especially The Art of Fugue.
10. A Tale for the Time Being. It's like staring at a mirror.


Is filled with history, overflowing in every step and yet very modern, for all the older architecture was destroyed in the two wars. K had been to Berlin many a times and it is one of his favourite cities so he insisted we visit it soon. And soon we did.

I'm struggling to write this post not knowing how to word it. I'm overwhelmed by the history and the struggle that the city went through time and again, and yet how it never portrays itself as victim but takes responsibility for the atrocities during WWII. Berlin is the embodiment of the consequences of war. It remembers everything. It even remembers Warsaw, the city that was completely destroyed by war.

Cold War

The first thing we did when we landed in Berlin was to head to the East Side Gallery. The Berlin Wall, my readers would recollect from history, was put up in 1961 to keep East Germans from escaping out of the communist reign into the little part of West Germany that was under the collaborated reign of the Allies, the capitalist countries of France, Britain and the US. The wall had strengthen from a barbed fence to a system of razor wire fence, followed by a death strip with snipers and then a high wall rounded off at the top to deny any grip to the escapee. When the wall came down in 1989, small segments were left standing. The largest of them was in the east, about a mile long. In 1990, artists were invited to paint murals upon one side of this wall to celebrate the reunification of Germany. But vandals destroyed these murals with tagging, and a project to clean and repaint was undertaken in 2009, but the vandals were at it again. Having visited the gallery in 2010, K was in love with it. How disappointed he was to see the state it was in now! However some non profit groups are cleaning up some of the popular murals. Here are a couple of them:

Another segment of the wall still standing along with the death strip and the razor fence is in the north. Here is the Berlin Wall Memorial remembering the 137 people that have died trying to escape, though a few died by mistake. And there is a third segment of the wall not far from Checkpoint Charlie but it is not that interesting. However, segments of the wall have be placed at strategic locations in the city, even in the most modern areas like outside a shopping mall. Surprisingly, these segments of the wall are filled with chewing gum and anything else people want to stick along with their chewing gum like metal coca cola bottle caps, wrappers, anything.

Checkpoint Charlie is nothing but a tourist spot today. It was one of the checkpoints between East and West Berlin and between the Soviet and American control of the city which became the ground zero of the Cold War. Today there is a poster of an American soldier looking into the erstwhile East Berlin and on the other side of the same poster is a Russian soldier looking into the erstwhile West Berlin.

(My dear reader, at this point I must mention that I'm currently sitting on a train to Bournemouth and next to me is a man reading a book called Alone in Berlin. So I stopped blogging to read the guardian review of the book. It seems extraordinary now after my visit to Berlin only 5 days ago. I must read it.)

At the north station near the way memorial is a remembrance of the ghost stations of Berlin. The underground metro of the city was existing even before the city was divided and it ran during the time it was divided as well. Some of the West Berlin metro lines ran through East Germany (and paid a lot for this privilege) but they could not stop at these stations. These stations were shutdown to the public, sealed off with cement. Some of them had soldiers stationed to ensure that civilians did not use this as a way to escape to West Berlin. When soldiers themselves were found escaping, the surveillance rooms that they were supposed to be in for the duty were locked from the outside to prevent them from running away. A few people managed to run away, many of them rail workers. Some of these fascinating stories of escape were captured at the north station.

In a continent where thoughout history, countries broke up time and again, it's inspiring to have a story like the reunification of Germany.

World War II

The Holocaust Memorial or the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe who fell victim to the Nazis is built right in the middle of the city. It's a large area of an uneven surface with massive slabs of grey cement of varying heights in rows and columns. I think there are over 2700 of those slabs. Under this memorial is a small information centre. There they preserved excerpts of letters or diary entries of Jews who have been persecuted under the Nazi regime. Their words have captured not just details but emotions making it so real that a visit to this memorial leaves you with goosebumps.

The number of people and the extent to which the Jews have been persecuted is overwhelming. There are other memorials built for other groups of people who have systematically been targeted for being unGerman like the Sinti and the Roma who memorial hosts a black pool of water reflecting the dark days.

Topography of Terror is by far the most incredibly chilling experience. It's an open indoor and outdoor museum built on the land that once hosted the headquarters of the Gestapo and SS. It's just a vast open area with nothing except large placards with information and photographs. But it tells you a story. A chilling story of how Adolf Hitler came as a saviour pulling Germany out of the Great Depression only to dissolve the parliament and establish the Gestapo, the SS and Heinrich Himmler unleashing terror across Europe. Moving amongst the placards you will begin to see how small public punishments for crimes, soon transform into inhuman punishments for just being alive. A racial survey was conducted for better healthcare which finally resulted in some races being deported to what were later to become concentration camps. It was official and accepted that patients in the mental asylum have to be put to death in a gas chamber. Later this method was used as a "permanent solution" for any races considered unGerman and the extermination of the Jews and other gypsies began in a systematic fashion. The story goes on till Hitler dies, the Gestapo falls and yet it is not the end. In the confusion of war, for officials of the Gestapo it was easy to get official documents remade with a new name and a new life and escape justice. Some members of the secret police managed to get jobs in the USA's CIA and British MI6. Rightfully named, the museum is a topography of terror. I have rewritten, removed and reduced the extent of the terror that is witnessed in this museum that makes you question humanity itself.
Outside this museum is a special exhibition for the city of Warsaw, phoenix rises. The city of Warsaw (often remarked as War-saw) has seen complete and absolute destruction. The population of the city reduced from 1,300,000 to 1,000 during the WWII. The city rose from it's ashes and now is a thriving metropolis of more than 2,500,000. Here is a video that shows the extent of damage to the city that we viewed at the exhibition.

The Stumbling Blocks project is an strongly effective idea. This guy called Gunter is going around Europe and putting up small blocks on the road in front of a house or an office where a victim of the holocaust lived or worked before being deported or murdered, some of them still alive. It is incredibly impactful because you must be walking on the road, thinking of something about your life, your thoughts to your own self when all of a sudden you stumble and you look down to see what you've stumbled upon and you are reminded of an entire life probably like yours that was uprooted.

Going on to easier matters, we also visited the Reichstag where the Bundestag meets for parliamentary sessions. Having been destroyed by fire in 1933 (under unknown circumstances which led the Nazis to suspend the parliament hence never having had the Nazis convene under its roof), the Reichstag was rebuilt (after the reunification of Germany), leaving just the outside older fa├žade and inside is an entirely modern building with a glass dome through which you can see most of the city. The glass dome also has mirrors that reflect the sunlight skilfully into the area where the Bundestag meet. You can visit it for free but must book in advance and be on the guest list for security purposes. This is how the mirrored centre of the dome looks like:

We also took an alternative Berlin tour. It shows us a part of the East side gallery and some of the social activism in Berlin that has successfully driven out all capitalist companies like Starbucks, Subway and McD by breaking windows constantly till they closed shop. Every now and then, there are protests on the street the recent one being sympathetic towards the civilians in the Gaza strip. We also got a good look at some occupied squatter houses, some wagons on the erstwhile deathstrip that are currently filled with squatters and some general information on the alternative subcultures of Berlin. We also got to see some interest street art. This below is an astronaut and during the night the lights of another building throw the shadow of a flag into the astronauts hand:

Here is more mainstream street art with a ROA creation:

Our tour guide talked to us about the subculture at length taking about dislike of captalism and Media Spree and general endorsement of organisations like YAAM and the YAAM beach, etc. He also mentioned that even though the neighbourhood is poor and looks shady, the people are nice and Berlin is one of the safest cities there is.

And thus ends my essay on what I did during my long weekend in August this year.

In spite of my tour guides endorsement for the German people, I found my phone stolen off of me on the metro train. Within 2 days I got a replacement sim card from my network provider, which also blocked my phone using the IMEI number and within 1 day of informing my insurance provider, Aviva, I received my replacement phone (which is most likely refurbished) that is the exact same model and make as my original phone (after an expense of £65). Basically within 48 hours of losing my phone, I was back on track.
Google was helpful as well. helped me get the IMEI of my phone which made claiming insurance easier and the AutoBackup of my pictures made sure I did not lose a single picture from Berlin and the minute I logged in on my replacement phone, my google account downloaded all my apps.