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Last updated : Nov 2009
A dessert of Berliners
Rating : (4.9) (120 Votes)

Pros : Ultra-hip, uber-thin, trend-setting Beautiful People in fashionably-tied scarves and skin-tight jeans.
Cons: None

Berlin, Germany
June 16th, 2004

High on jet-fuel-strength Turkish coffee and probably legally intoxicated from the sugar overdose of 2 pounds of Turkish delight, we devised a whirlwind travel plan for the two weeks left before meeting my younger sister in Barcelona. Libby, who is tall, gorgeous, and brilliant (and, sorry, single guys, she´s practically married to Alan who is also tall, gorgeous, and brilliant), is finishing her University of Michigan Spanish degree in, of all places, SPAIN! Since we are on the phone almost every day at home, this year has been extremely damaging to our quota of sister-to-sister talking time (equally so with my older sister, who stubbornly refuses to visit us on our travels, using her two kids and full time school schedule as EXTREMELY WEAK EXCUSES! in my opinion); I am looking forward to spending a solid week talking to her about all the things I can´t talk to Phil about, namely Phil, and shopping. After one more day in Istanbul, we took the train to Pammukale (I highly recommend the train; Lonely Planet´s tepid description is undeserving, and it´s cheaper than the bus), saw the calcium pools (which look like they are made of water-sculpted ice, but, like the rest of Turkey in June, are really bloody hot; sigh), and caught the bus to Marmaris. Now that is a resort-y town. If you have a deep, unfulfilled craving to shop in a store wholly devoted to Gucci beachwear, this is the place for you. Amongst the mass of high-rise luxury hotels, we found an amazing place, the Maltepe Hotel, with an attached bathroom, a huge balcony complete with clothes drying line (!!!), a kitchen for self-catering, and A FRIDGE IN THE ROOM! all for less than the cost of a dorm bed at the Lonely Planet-recommended Interyouth hostel. The proprietor quizzed us seriously before showing us the room to make sure we didn´t harbor a secret desire to go to the other hostel; he has a slight issue with the unfair number of backpackers who go there instead of to his place. Once his short anti-Interyouth tirade was over, he was a very gracious host, and it was the best hotel we´ve had, maybe on the whole trip.

We stayed a few days in Marmaris, cooking elaborate, enormous meals for cheap; in fact, since we aren´t beach-people, our days pretty much centered around planning, shopping, and preparing our meals. I´m enormous. Unfortunately, though, we had to leave this gastronomical splendor to head towards Spain, and ended up doing this by the least direct route possible: Rhodos (Greece) to Athens (Greece), then up to Berlin before heading back south to Barcelona. This was actually cheaper than to go directly to Barcelona. I will never understand the intricacies of flight logic.

The ferry to Rhodes is ridiculously expensive for an hour-long ride, but since I wasn´t quite ready to swim it, we booked the tickets. At the dock in Rhodes we were met by a guesthouse owner who showed us to his place, the Nassos Hostel. The dorms weren´t exactly spacious or aesthetically pleasing, or even especially grime-free, but it was cheap and had a kitchen we could use. There was also a life-traveller Swede with the memory of an idiot savant and a tolerance to ouzo that gained the respect of even from the dedicated Greek drinkers; he provided a great deal of local color as well as the names of all chess champions since the beginning of world-wide competition. We spent a few days exploring the moat and narrow streets of walled old city, walked around the deliriously expensive tourist shops, and counted about 25 katrillion cruise shippers who docked to spend feverishly before re-boarding and eating themselves into food comas. I overheard one woman say, "Hey Darrell, who owns this island anyway?" This gave me a smug little feeling of traveller superiority; at least by dragging my dirty road-weary self across borders (flights being normally out of our meagre budget), I´ve always known what country I was in. That petulant thought helped to ease the sharp feelings of jealousy as I watched them head back to their funk-free bathrooms and laden buffet tables.

Moving onward: I had memories of sleeping on the floor of the ferry from Crete to Athens when my mom took me to Greece 14 years ago, so I was braced to spend the night bared to the elements on the open-air deck. Prepared for the worst, the captain´s chairs and big-screen TVs on the Rhodes to Athens ferry were an incredibly welcome surprise. Once we moved away from the chain-smoking family who had set up camp next to us, we were more comfortable than in the Nassos dorm room.

We hit Piraeus, the port to Athens, before the estimated time, and (after some geographical struggle) found the youth hostel. What a great deal! 8.60 Euro ($11.20) for a 4-bed dorm with an attached bathroom, sheets included, and a kitchen that would make the Naked Chef wet his...um...floor with envy. Spent the day walking around Athens, rebelliously avoiding any proper sightseeing just to prove we are "travellers" not that coolness curse word, "tourists". But we aren´t deeply insurrectionist, and so got a nearly-crack-of-dawn start the next morning to see the Acropolis, but not early enough to avoid either the blistering heat or the masses of bus tours. This resulted in a somewhat hasty viewing of the sights. My favorite part was the morgue-cold museum, but Phil kept getting yelled at by the guards because he would casually lean against a wall to read some sculpture´s descriptive plaque, only the wall was a 2000 year old marble pillar, and apparently not made for touching.

To add some contemporary history-in-the-making to our Athens experience, we took the metro out to the site of the 2004 Summer Olympics. I stress "2004" because I am hoping some high-ranking Greek Olympic official will read my humble travelogue and realize that they have erroneously been planning to host the 2008 Olympics. We took the limited allowed look around, and, interested in a building that right now is little more than a shell of structural supports, asked the official Olympic worker-bee what the building was going to be. His answer? "Ummmm, I don´t know yet." Hmmmm. Perhaps someone should figure that out? I am looking forward to watching the first track and field events ever to be held in a parking lot, because at least that IS finished. In contrast, Beijing, the host of the 2008 Olympics, has several event buildings completed already. Maybe Athens could swap years with China...

From Athens, we flew to Berlin for three days in the city which we discovered has been nicknamed "Homopolis". This may be under some contention from the Dutch, because we were told that Amsterdam is "the gayest city in Europe" and since this was from the very lips of an Amsterdammer, we are hard-pressed to argue Berlin´s case. They may have to duke it out themselves. Berlin is an extremely cool city: lots of alternative/punk kids intermingled amongst the ultra-hip, uber-thin, trend-setting Beautiful People in fashionably-tied scarves and skin-tight jeans. We visited the Berliner Dom, which has several enjoyable aspects: the ornate vaulted ceiling and enormous pipe organ in the main chapel, the stomach-dropping open-air walkway around the top of the roof, and the extensive and creepy collection of tombs in the basement. We also saw the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, which was bombed during WWII and left damaged as a testament to the ravages of war or something equally moral and serious; after a long day I become more of a descriptive plaque skimmer than avid reader, I´m afraid. The broken steeples are really striking, and the religious mosaic murals on the ceiling are amazingly detailed and mostly intact; in all, a really impressive place. Also, it´s free.

To complete our Berlin cultural tour, we went to Beate Uhse´s Erotic Museum; I´m sure the people working there are used to late-20-somethings snickering embarrassedly as they guiltily throw sidelong glances at the exhibits as if disapproving nuns were poised to spring from shelves of pornographic videos. In fact, the museum is an apparently exhaustive compilation of fertility dolls from various cultures, with a healthy amount of Victorian-era ripped-bodice paintings. There is an X-rated video hall and a "novelty" shop on the first floor, but the museum is meant to be all "educational" or something. Whatever. More descriptive plaques, blah blah blah.

Our last night in Berlin, we had a wine-drinking extravaganza with some other people staying in the hostel. I, apparently, had a great time. Until we got up at 6 am to catch the flight to Barcelona, when I felt less "great" than, say, the worst parts of seasickness and death by parachute failure. The last time I had more than a shared beer was my bachelorette party a year ago; my liver was, sadly, not up to the challenge of 6 (or 8? maybe, gulp, 10???) glasses of cheap German wine. Sigh. That´s a few thousand brain cells I will probably be missing acutely within the next forty years or so.