2008 London & Berlin
1 Night in London, 4 nights in Berlin
These reports are based heavily on blogs I wrote live on one of my message boards while I was away.
4 yrs ago, I planned a fabulous little European trip to celebrate my birthday... Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Berlin. When I was in Vienna, I made a few visits to see my favorite musical, "Elisabeth" at the Theatre an der Wien. One of those was on my birthday; I called home that day on my way to the show, and talked to my dad (and my mom).... I was telling him how excited I was about seeing it. At the time, no one had any idea that this would be the last time I would ever talk to my father.

When I got home, my mom and 2 of her friends were at my apartment waiting for me. My father had died suddenly of a heart attack the previous day- he went into Rite Aid, said he wasn't feeling well, and that was basically it. :( Hello, shock + jet lag (+ coming down with a bad cold)! I'd been in Berlin the day he died; I was there to see "Les Mis" at the Theatre Des Westens.

So I kinda didn't want to ever go to Berlin again.

Meanwhile, I've always slightly regretted that I couldn't work out my schedule to see the Dutch actress Pia Douwes when she revived her lead role in "Elisabeth" in Essen (2001) and Stuttgart(2006). Well, I found out she was reprising the role at the Theatre Des Westens in Berlin along with her original co-star, Uwe Kröger. (who was in the "Les Mis" production I saw 4 yrs ago, though he was absent for the performance I saw) I somehow figured it was destiny or something... and I ended up headed to Berlin (via London).

I didn't really envision this trip as having quite the same pure happy/fun/exciting tone as my vacation last yr; I'm hoping it will be symbolic of healing and moving on. The show "Elisabeth" itself has a lot of meaning for me in and of itself... in addition to being a totally voidy and enjoyable, exciting show. (btw Katarina Witt has skated to the best known song, both in the original German and in a sometimes cringe-worthy English translation...)

I'd been to Berlin several times before, but aside from my first trip, I didn't do much sightseeing. So there are quite a few things I wanted to check out during my days there, particularly the WWII/Jewish sites. On the way over, I stopped in London for a day, and was just planning to hang out, do some shopping, and see a show. A friend asked me to drink some German beer for him, so maybe I will try to do that, too... ;)
I'd been very nervous and stressed in the days before my travels as my departure drew nearer. It was pouring when I was driving to the airport, but in spite of that, I stopped feeling nervous. I felt a sense of calm as I told myself "this [travel] is what I do" I decided because of the rain that I would splurge and park onsite at the airport terminal instead of the parking lot. This made me happy.

Got to the airport and the onsite parking was full. Yikes! As was the economy lot. Double yikes! On the plus side it wasn't raining. On the minus... Uh, where the hell do I park? One of the guys waving cars away from the airport parking lots mentioned something about "291 West" so I followed those signs. Curiously, I was not stressed or panicked. I was in travel mode, so this was just another adventure. ;) Not knowing where I was to go, I pretty much turned into the first place where I saw an airport parking sign. It was a tiny lot at a Quality Inn and a little bit sketchy looking, but I didn't have a ton of time to mess around. At least there were some other people in the same boat so I wasn't the only one.

By the time I got back to the airport, the check in line was enormous. But fortunately, I met a couple really cool young women- one had just graduated college and was off to an internship in London, and the other was her friend. In addition for having a great deal of enthusiasm for travel and a desire to go to offbeat places, both women had purple luggage. (as do I, of course!) Instant bonding. :) It was actually quite pleasant passing the time chatting with them.

As for the airplane ride... I didn't think any jury would convict me for slapping a kid who was babbling loudly and kicking or pushing my seat for almost the entire ride, but I didn't want to chance it. (I had ear plugs and still heard the freaking kid... grrrrr) I aimed my best Barbara Fusar Poli death glares at the mother (who didn't seem to speak English), and I could tell she felt bad. The kid would stop... but then eventually go back and do it some more. I wuzrobbed of a peaceful airplane ride!
My plane arrived in London around 6am on Wednesday. We had to take a bus from the airplane to the terminal, and then passport control was a long line, but soon I took the tube off to my hotel.

Getting off the tube, I may have been responsible for completely shutting down an escalator. ;) I tried to get on the escalator on the right side (though my left hand was my better free hand) and my luggage didn't quite make it... and I tried to keep hold of it, which entailed bending over the railing somehow, with thoughts of "holy hell, WTF am I going to do?" when suddenly the escalator shut down. Some people were climbing it like stairs, and eventually it was roped off. Since I didn't get hurt, I am LOL at the whole thing. (I learned to get on the escalator on the left, holding on to the rail with my left hand and my luggage with the right hand, and then scoot over to the right)

Got to my hotel (Renaissance Chancery Court London) and they told me that I'd reserved a king and they only have rooms with 2 beds available right now- would that be ok? Hell yes!!! I didn't count for sure on getting a room this early and I am thrilled to death to have one. And it's a huge, lovely room. Thank you, Marriott Rewards points! Internet is rather expensive here, but the room is free so it's all good.

I was exhausted since I barely got any sleep on the plane, so I took a little nap then headed out... took pix of the alcove leading to the hotel lobby entrance and the hotel facade. Very nice place, and the people working here are very friendly- not at all snobby even though I was dressed in sweats. ;)

First stop: Covent Garden. Bought some soap at Lush, some nice fragrancey things at B Never To Busy, and window shopped at all the fun bright colored things at Octopus. (if I hadn't just found the earring I'd recently thought I'd lost, I could have bought a replacement pair there) Enjoyed browsing all 3 of those shops, plus some others.

On the way wandering to Leicester Square, I was tempted by a candy store. When I walked in, it seemed like they had stuff from around the world- I saw lots of US things as well as Japanese Green Tea Kit Kats (which I'd tried in Japan), among others. I ended up buying a diet berries and cream dr pepper (can't find these around me anymore! and i knew i'd totally need some caffeine) and some Cookie Dough Kit Kats- which may be from Australia, judging from the packaging.

I needed some lunch and was tempted to eat somewhere outside b/c it's a lovely day, but I ended up at the Wagamama at Leicester Sq since I really enjoyed eating there last trip and figured I'd probably only have 1 sit down meal today. I had something with noodles, and tofu, and shrimp, and peanuts on top. Yum. :)

Off to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to pick up my ticket to tonite's performance of "Marguerite" which is a new musical with musical by Michel Legrand and lyrics by the people who did les mis.

Walked around some more- passed by Piccadilly Circus. Found a really nifty shopping area that I didn't know existed and forced myself not to buy anything b/c the exchange rate sucks so bad... but I enjoyed walking through shops such as MAC cosmetics, Shu Uemura, and Urban Outfitters. Went to Dress Circle, the London theatre store, and picked up a CD I'd been wanting. (London cast of the musical "Parade")

Back at the hotel now to shower and change. It says something that nowadays I don't necessarily think a 7 hr plane ride is all that long, so I hadn't felt a desperate need to shower right away. (much better to wait and be very clean for the show tonight)

I feel so at home and comfortable in London. I just enjoyed walking around at a leisurely pace in the nice weather; it would have been nice to have hit a park but I really don't have the time for that this trip.
Just got back from walking from the Royal Haymarket Theatre.

I got the idea that the people sitting next to me were not enjoying the show "Marguerite" when I happened to look in that direction and saw a message scribbled on a tablet PC about escaping at 1/2 time. Fortunately, they indeed left at intermission... because at the end of act 1 they were laughing at serious moments.

As for me... well, I thought there were definite flaws- it was quite melodramatic (as in over the top, with moments that seem sudden because there is not much development leading up to them) and some of the lyrics were cringeworthy. But ultimately, I thought it was a beautiful and haunting work.

"Marguerite" is based on the novel "The Lady of the Camelias" which was also the basis for the opera "La Traviata". This adaptation sets the story in WWII Paris- Marguerite is the mistress of a powerful Nazi who falls for a young French piano player. The WWII theme fit into my itinerary nicely, and it is definitely a period that is of great interest to me.

Without giving too much away, I have to say that the ending was so powerful that I don't even think I was able to mentally process it until the cast came out for their bows. The music is gorgeous, and there are a lot of times where songs interweave into each other... the effect is very fluid, leaving few moments for clapping. Visually, it is also quite a stunning show- not necessarily so much for the sets and costumes (though these were great) but for the images created by the director. The cast, led by Ruthie Henshall, were brilliant.

One of the things that really bugged me was the accents. I can buy that all the French people had English accents since that was the majority of the cast. However, it bugged me that the Nazis also had English accents. I think a contrast would have been more powerful, although obviously that is not a major thing.

I don't know how successful the show will be (as I said, there are some flaws that need to be overlooked... you need to feel the show rather than think it), but I'm very happy I had a chance to see it.

In all, a great day- shopping, theatre, and enjoying a nice sunny day; what more can a girl ask for?
I usually book the earliest morning flights possible, but I'm glad I booked a 1pm flight to Berlin; I figured (correctly) that it wouldn't be the best idea to get up ridiculously early my first night in Europe. Had lots of troubles falling asleep last night... I think it was partly b/c I was hungry. After crawling out of bed and eating a bagel in the dark (well, computer monitor was on...), I was finally able to sleep.

Taking the tube during rush hr from a busy stop is an experience. Fortunately, a terminal 5 tube came soon after I got to the station, and I was assertive enough to make damn sure I got on it. (probably only 1/3-1/4 of trains go to Terminal 5... half don't go to Heathrow, and half the Heathrow ones go to Terminal 4)

I got to the airport early b/c I wanted to be sure to have time to check out the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. Check in and security were so quick that I really had a lot of time to check it out. Seriously, check in was a snap using self sertvice terminals, followed by handing off my luggage at a counter. Security barely had any line- and I appreciated that the let you keep your shoes on and keep laptops in their case.

I'd regretted that I hadn't been able to eat at a "Pret A Manger" in London. But have no fear, terminal 5 had me covered! :) I got a smoked salmon sandwich and, out of curiosity, a Mandarin and Lychee juice. The juice was... interesting. A little sharp for my taste.

Had I not had time to eat at Wagamama, they also had one at terminal 5. Regretted not buying European exclusive MAC lipsticks? No problem- duty free had a well stocked MAC counter. (yes, I bought 2) Been looking all over and wondering if Cadbury still makes Cadbury cream egg filled chocolates? Heathrow 5 will again be your friend. Different type of chocolate bar than I saw 2 yrs ago, so we'll see how it tastes. I generally subscribe to the "Convert change to chocolates" programme. (i.e. use any spare change to buy chocolate bars at the airport) LOL

Terminal 5 generally felt bright and airy; it's ashame there were so many technical glitches when it opened because it really deserves better.

Had screaming babies on the flight to Berlin, but fortunately it was a very short flight. Baggage claim at the Berlin airport is practically right at the gate, which is kinda neat. (had to go through Passport control first of course) Got money out of the ATM with no problem- that may not seem noteworthy, but 4 years ago I felt like I was wandering all over Berlin before I found an ATM that would take my card. (I believe that I was doing this wandering at the time my father died, so I felt that it was a good omen to have no ATM issues this yr..)

I took a taxi to my hotel b/c I didn't feel like dealing with all my luggage on a bus. Taxi driver asked me which of 2 routes I'd prefer to take. Uh, I have no idea... He eventually decided.

I totally LOVE my hotel room.(Hotel Goethe87 Das Wohngedicht) I chose this hotel partly b/c it's very close to the Theatre Des Westens where "Elisabeth" is playing. (can't be more than 1/2 mile) And I also thought it had character, and liked that it had a mini kitchen. The clincher is that prices are quite moderate (compared to other Berlin hotels) I have a little balcony, a cooking area (with plates and silverware), huge walk in closet, shower supposedly rocks... and all very airy and tasteful. Also, there is a quote over my bed "Wenn der Mensch sich selbst bleibt, bleibt ihm viel"; it's by Goethe (since the hotel has a Goethe theme) and babelfish tells me it means something like "If a man remains himself, much remains for him"

I tried to turn on my laptop to do a brief email check... but it was being wonky, and it would flash a blue screen of death and try to reboot itself. It would be death in my soul if I didn't have a functional laptop to upload images, and sync my ipod... not to mention go online. Tried fiddling around, and started it fine in Safe Mode... eventually turned off the wireless and that somehow seemed to do the trick. Guess the wireless card was what was causing it to be wonky.

After dealing with my unfortunate laptop issues, I headed out. I smiled as I walked past Theatre des Westens and then I found a supermarket. I'm terrible some times about eating- if I can have food in my room, it should be better. I bought bread, nutella, smoked salmon, cream cheese, apple juice, Fanta zero orange, meat tortelloni and bolognese sauce. And chocolate.

By the time I got back to the hotel, I didn't have too much time before the show so I hopped into the shower. What's really neat about the shower is that in addition to the hand held unit and the overhead unit (latter not shown in picture) there are 4 other spouts that you can turn on with another control. So, lots of water. Nice.... just like the reviews say.

Then I spread some nutella on bread and went off to the theatre! (obviously, I ate the nutella + bread)
Excuse the lack of tiffedness... but I met Pia Douwes! (and I am wearing the famous blue dress, that I seem to find myself wearing in many travel photos from 1993 onwards)

Those of you who know me know that I am generally not into the autograph/picture thing... with skaters or with actors. But hell, seeing Pia Douwes reprise her title role in "Elisabeth" was the catalyst in motivating me to travel all the way from America, and I thought maybe she'd appreciate having someone come from that far to see her in it.

And she was totally sweet- I know she speaks good English so I wasn't shy about speaking in English. Me: "I'd love to take a picture with you, but I don't know how to ask anyone to take one..." Her: *babbles something incomprehensible to me in German* and of course someone volunteered because, hello, when Pia Douwes talks, stagedoor people listen. ;) I also got an autograph... after talking to her for a minute, she decided she needed to add "All my love" above her name, which she'd already signed; she couldn't believe I saw her in "Chicago" in NY b/c she was only in it for 6 weeks. (that made me LOL because she had no problem believing I saw her in Scheveningen, Netherlands... and NYC is like around the corner from me)

Didn't bother waiting for the other actors- partly b/c I was totally hungry, partly because, as I said, doing the whole fangirly thing with Pia was the exception not the rule.

As for the show itself... my seat turned out to be freaking front row center. (i was in row 2, but the actual front row was taken away in the center) So exciting to see it again, especially from so close. Pia said she recognized me from the audience- since she took her bows *right smack in front of me*, that's not surprising.

Tonight the alternate male lead was on (which I knew from having checked any related websites I've been able to find so I'll get to see 2 takes on the part. Pia didn't mention being out Fri or Sat so hopefully I will see her all 3 times, cause she is totally amazing. I love the show, and Pia is truly the best in the title role.

Totally totally worth it!Picture having a chance to see your favorite retired skater skate their most famous routine and totally nail it... that's sorta what this feels like.

Was very hungry when I got back to the hotel- yay for tortelloni with bolognese sauce!

Will probably sleep in tomorrow since I think I need the rest; Then I'll figure out what I will do- it depends on what time I get up and how long it takes me to get moving. ;) But I've already lived out my dream, and had other really great experiences in such a short time- so anything else is just icing on the cake.
I decided to sleep in a little today. After I finally got myself going, I walked around a little on Kurfustendamm and then took a U-Bahn to try to go to the Jewish museum; I ended up taking the U-Bahn from Wittenberg Platz station, which is right near the famous KaDeWe department store. I was struck by the simple sign at the station remembering the concentration camps.

Memo to anyone traveling in Berlin: be sure to keep coins around as I am not sure I saw any place in U-Bahn stations where there was an actual person you could pay (and get change). And US credit cards don't work in the machines.

So I'm walking and walking, trying to follow the signs I was seeing on the streets for the Jewish Museum... only to ultimately come across a sign pointing back to where I'd been. Grr. Apparently the only sign telling you to turn left is on the left side of the street, and I'd been on the right. I don't give up, and eventually I found it. Lots of security there- you have to pass through metal detectors and have your bags X-rayed to get in; also there seemed to be someone standing guard in front.

The museum is made up of an old building (shown in the previous photo) and a new building; the latter houses most of the permanent exhibits. I'm not a museum person at all, but I found the architecture of the new building very interesting, and the exhibits well presented. And how can you not admire architecture that was designed to be voidy? ;)

(note: I took pix of some of the signs because they can do a better job of explaining things than I can)

The first thing you do is to go through an underground passage from the entrance at the old building into the new building. This passage is where the museum commemorates the Holocaust. There are exhibits lining the walls, but I am only going to discuss the 3 specific remembrance areas. I'm not sure if the photos quite do them justice, as I don't think you can replace the experience of actually being there.

The first is Holocaust Tower. (note that the sign calls it a "voided void") A guard lets you in, and then closes the door (there may be other people in already; the point is they try to control it so it doesn't get overcrowded). It's an angular, tall space with a light coming down from outside- although you can hear outdoor noises, it is actually very quiet and tranquil. I have uploaded one photo with people in it, to try to get a sense of the size... and one without that is a little more dramatic looking.

Next is the Garden of Exile- a view from the periphery and one from walking between the columns.

The final space is the Memory Void. What made this space even more interesting was the clanging noise made when people walk on the loose metal pieces on the floor which are in the shape of faces.

I walked through the exhibits on the 2nd and first floor that detailed the history of Jews in Berlin, but even though they were very well done, I felt they were a bit of a letdown after being moved by the Holocaust areas. (remember I am not a museum person) I kinda rushed through the last part because I was getting hungry... They were out of hot dogs at the cafe, and I felt wuzrobbed until the lady said she'd have some in 10 minutes. Yay for food!

I decided to take the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz, partly because my guidebook mentioned a mall there and partly because I was curious to see how it had changed from the massive construction zone I remember when I stayed in a hotel in that area in 2000. Wow, I was impressed at how built up it now is! There is an area remembering the Berlin Wall, as well as many modern buildings like the Sony Center.

I was having a little trouble finding the mall... but I did find someplace to stop for a snack!

Still not having any luck finding the shopping center, so I followed the signs to the Holocaust Memorial. Very interesting to walk through, as the pillars get higher and the path gets lower.

After more searching than I care to admit, I finally found the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden which seemed to have some kind of circus exhibit going on. There are a few German CD's I've been looking for and my guidebook mentioned a HMV but I guess it had closed. Still, it wasn't a waste of time as I fell in love with a pair of earrings. (the main part is more purple than I think it came out in the photo) I love buying earrings from places I travel- I never really specifically search for them; I just end up finding ones that catch my eye.

I was buying my U-Bahn ticket to return to my hotel, when some English speaking tourists were having trouble using the machine so I helped them. I felt so proud of myself for being so knowledgeable... until a little later when I realized I ended up taking the U-Bahn in the wrong direction. LOL (it took me 3-4 stops to come to this realization. Ooops)

Got back to my hotel around 5:20 for some rest and food before the show. There are a lot of cute little cafes around this neighborhood; too bad I haven't had time to visit any yet. (I'm also trying to save some $ by eating in my kitchen...)

I am thrilled to present a much better photo of me with Pia Douwes from tonight! :) I feel like I look a ton better; Pia is always tiffed of course. I am wearing a cute dress I bought in NYC on my birthday. (another reason I wanted a photo tonite is because I wanted a photo of myself in the dress...)

Tonight, I stood back and tried to let everyone else get their photos and autographs first. There seemed to be a lot more people waiting after the show than on Thurs; Pia is one of those performers who really wants to make sure that everyone who is waiting gets what they want. I don't know if I'd ever have that kind of patience, and I really respect performers who do. It was sorta fun just watching her interact with everyone- probably would have been more fun if I'd understood what everyone was saying. She seemed very down to earth... and yet at the same time, she had quite a presence.

Pia remembered me from yesterday, and started talking to me in English right away. I told her I didn't really like the photo I'd taken yesterday... and before I could even ask, she was totally into taking another one so I could have one that would make me happy. (she did the asking for someone to take it thing again, had them take it twice, and then had me check the camera to be sure it was ok this time) She thanked me for coming all this way; I tried to tell her how special it was to see her in the show here... but I really couldn't find the words. Maybe tomorrow I will bring her a flower or something... I just really want to find a way to thank her for helping me discover that love and joy and music can conquer bad memories and pain.

As much as I liked some of the other cast members (and the guy playing the character Lucheni is pretty damn good looking... although he does not quite beat the guy I dubbed "Hot Lucheni" when I saw the show in Vienna, LOL), the whole journey I've made is really all because of Pia; if she had not done this production, I would probably not be here. So once again, I didn't wait for any of the other actors; I think I was the only one who left after Pia. (somehow I knew lead actor Uwe Kroeger would be such a diva that he'd take longer to get changed than she did I already have the perfect photo with him, anyway, from when I was traveling with friends who wanted to wait for him)

It's funny, because a few weeks ago, I was rather upset about something... and all I thought of is that I wanted to see Pia Douwes singing "Ich Gehor Nur Mir" live. And now I'm here... and each time I hear her sing it is beyond amazing. This is truly one of my favorite songs, and one I hope to someday skate to. The English translation of the song is "I Belong To Me" and the theme is about how no one can break her because she knows who she is and no one will change that. Or something like that. ;)

I took a photo of the Theatre Des Westens earlier in the day. I said earlier that I'd been looking for a few CD's; I hadn't realized yesterday that the theatre is selling one of them (Pia Douwes' solo CD) so I picked that one up when I saw the show tonight.
This morning I had an epiphany: it's impossible to do both the tourist thing and the theatre thing at the same time and do justice to both, at least when seeing shows for several nights in a row. I need to have energy late in the day to do theatre (and to stay awake...) plus I'm not going to want to go to sleep right when I come home to the hotel. When I do lots of touristy things, I like to get up early and use a lot of energy early in the day and then relax at night. So there's a bit of a conflict...

Since I came here to see "Elisabeth" and since I really wanted to at least experience one performance where I wasn't feeling tired/hungry... I decided to try to take it easy today. I mainly walked up and down the Kurfustendamm and did some shopping (though I didn't really buy anything much) I got back to the hotel in time to cook a nice big portion of pasta, take an hr nap, shower... and still not feel rushed to get to the theatre. The strategy worked out well for me. :)

I did manage a few photos along the way.

I actually did 1 touristy thing which was to see The Story of Berlin which traced the history of the city. I generally find it interesting to learn the history about cities I am visiting, and I thought the museum did a good job of making things interesting. However, it didn't seem like all the displays were in exact chronological order which made things a little confusing to me at times. Also, I wasn't able to take advantage of the underground bunker tour that is included because they only had English language tours once every 2 hrs.

Picture of the beautiful day when crossing the Kurfustendamm. And an overhead view taken from the 5th floor of a store.

People enjoying a nice day outside the Europa Center... and one of the "Flow of time" clock inside. (yes, that's a clock... it was about 2:20 when I was there)

While walking back to my hotel, I took a daytime photo of the Theatre des Westens stage door... since I spent quite a bit of time there, I wanted to remember it.


I think today's performance of "Elisabeth" was my favorite of the 3... partly b/c I was the most awake and least hungry. ;) Also, I knew it was my last time seeing this cast and so I wanted to savor every moment of the performance. I think overall this cast is the strongest cast I've seen- or at least there wasn't anyone I glaringly disliked in the cast. (but I definitely preferred Uwe Kroeger in the lead male role over the alternate whom I saw Thurs.)

When I first heard about the casting, I'd wondered if Pia could still carry off the scenes in the early part of the show where the character is 15 or 16. But she still looks younger than the actress I'd seen in Vienna in 2004... which is funny, because according to Wikipedia that actress was at the time 7 yrs *younger* than Pia is now. ;) Obviously, Pia doesn't look 15- but she probably didn't quite look 15 when she originated the part in 1992, and at least I wasn't sitting there thinking she looked ridiculous for trying. (and I was seated within the first 5 rows all 3 nights, so I would definitely notice if she looked too old) I don't think she looked any older than when I saw her perform the role in March 2000. And I think she does an incredible job of showing how the character grows and matures.

I brought my souvenir brochure back to the theatre; This elicited a comment from the usher taking tickets. I wish I could understand what the comment was, but I saw her pointing so I figured it was something about that. At many German theatres such as this one, they have a print out of the day's full cast that they insert into the brochure. This includes all understudies or swings and it's quite nice to have as a souvenir, especially since it includes the performance date and time. However, I didn't want to buy another brochure (at 12.50 euro) so I asked for a print out and showed them that I already had a brochure, and so they eventually gave me one.

So I waited after the show... because that's what I've been doing And I didn't want to come back to the hotel just yet. I met 2 Americans at the stage door and was sorta excited to not be the only American there. LOL

Lead actor Uwe Kröger actually came out before Pia today; I took a couple photos of him, though they didn't come out so great. Here he is standing and signing autographs.

Eventually Pia came out- tiffed as always (in a dress today)- and saw me right away; when the other 2 Americans were talking to her about taking a photo she was all "So many Americans!" LOL

Tonight, I finally got some words out to tell her why it was so special for me to be there- I told her last time I'd been in Berlin, my father had died and so I'd had bad memories associated with the city, and she was all "and now you can replace them with happy memories" (she actually grasped my arm when I mentioned my dad- very sweet) Told her that the first show I'd seen in NY after my dad died was when she was in "Chicago". Babbled on a bit more about hoping to see her in a show again sometime, that I'd definitely come if she ever does anything in America again, etc... it was interesting that there were still a lot of people waiting for pix and autographs, but everyone was standing back... so it was really quite a nice moment.

It was really amazing meeting Pia Douwes, especially when I realize that she is hugely famous in Europe and she had so many people waiting for her besides me. Most people just gave her things to sign or asked for pictures without saying much; I didn't want to take up too much of her time, but I did want to share with her how very special it was for me to be there at the show. I certainly can't speak for her, but it seemed like she genuinely appreciated it.

All in all, it was a satisfying way to end this chapter.
In the middle of the night, I woke up from a dream in which I saw my father even though my mom said he wasn't there... the dream itself was freaky enough for me to want to get out of bed and spend some time online, but I think it was an interesting sign....

Felt like a bum sleeping late again... but it turned out that I got a lot done, anyway.

Had a few issues with not quite reading my train map correctly but I nonetheless ended up where I wanted to be. I bought a day ticket so I could hop on and off trains at my leisure. First, I checked out the new Hauptbahnhof main train station because I knew they had a CD store that would be open- turns out they didn't have the CD I wanted so I'll have to order it online anyway. But it was a nice diversion.

Then I was off to the Botanischer Garten, which was recommended by Stefanie. There was a little language issue when I wanted to pay and didn't understand what the guy was asking me (I was handing him more than enough money) ... but eventually it got squared away.

It was a beautiful day, and I brought my ipod with me so I could listen to music as I wandered around. I put on the Pia Douwes solo CD, "Dezemberlieder", that I'd just bought, and thought it suited the mood perfectly... it's sorta classical, just her singing a song cycle with a piano player. Really mellow, and nice. After I got back, I read the liner notes and saw that the composer intended the songs to be "the inner journey of a brokenhearted woman in New York, in the present day, wandering the snowy paths of Central Park... as she, somehow, recovers from her life trauma and learns to move on and survive." If you take out the part about snow, it is eerily perfect...

I took tons of photos- rather than listing each one, I'm being lazy and adding a link to the directory where I've uploaded my favorites. ;)

After a leisurely time lingering at the Bontanical Gardens (and partaking of a chocolate brownie ice cream bar), I took the S-Bahn back into the city, and was reminded how in Europe, dogs come everywhere.

Next stop: Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm Tower.

I was a little nervous about going up the tower because I can sometimes have issues with heights, but it was actually very nice and not scary at all. A few photos of the view...
The lobby of the tower had information on other towers in the world, as well as a bear sculpture.

After enjoying some time looking at the views, I walked around the surrounding Alexanderplatz, which is part of the former East Germany. One of the sights there is the Weltzeituhr (world clock).

Next I took the S-Bahn one stop over to Hackescher Markt, because it had some sights of Jewish interest. I somehow wandered upon the Neue Synagogue without really trying to, so I went inside. Like the Jewish museum, there is a ton of security- bag screenings, metal detectors etc. Unfortunately, you can't take pictures inside. The synagogue was reconstructed after the war, but they managed to find enough relics from the original building to put on display. I also climbed up to the Dom- nothing much up there, but it was a nice view. And good exercise. ;)

Nearby is Grosse Hamburgerstrasse which was once an important street for Jewish life in Berlin. There is a sculpture that my guidebook says "shows a group of fatigued women standing in abject resignation to their fate" Additionally, there is Missing House which was destroyed by a bomb. It's hard to see in the photo, but the walls of where the house would be contain plaques with the names of residents of the building where each person lived, and so it is now a memorial to them.

Also nearby is the Hackesche Höfe which is a series of connected courtyards. Lots of cute shops in the area... which of course were not open because it is a Sunday. :( But it was still nice to enjoy walking through the quaint courtyards.

While taking the S-Bahn back to my hotel, I decided to get off 1 stop early so I could at least get a taste of walking through the Tiergarten. I didn't see nearly enough of the park, but it was nice to see something- since it was a beautiful day, there were a lot of people outside enjoying the weather. So it was a pleasant diversion.

BTW weather here has been perfect- the last 2 days were warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt and jeans... but not so hot that I was sweating. Although it was quite warm in the Theatre des Westens- thank goodness I had sleeveless dresses on. (usually I am cold in theatres)

I ended up buying a Raspberry flavored beer at Banhof Zoo and felt really silly carrying it the 1/2 mile or so back to my hotel. (they don't generally give you bags here- I had to pay for one when I bought my groceries the other day)

Passed the Theatre Des Westens for one last time, and took photos of a couple of the Elisabeth posters hanging outside.

Took a photo at dusk of the view from my hotel/apt. I was always looking at that direction while eating or on the computer, so I wanted to remember it

And... I guess that's about it. Starting to pack now... I'm sad to go home, but I'm also kinda exhausted as well as satisfied with how everything went. I didn't quite get to see everything I wanted to in Berlin, but I managed to see most of the sites that were most important to me.
After checking out on Monday (which was actually the first time the hotel asked for my credit card!), I decided to take a bus to the airport since I had plenty of time. Good call, since I was absolutely the only one on the bus. ;)

Bought some souvenirs for the nieces at the airport... would definitely have been cheaper to buy stuff in Berlin but oh well. Airport was a little confusing b/c they didn't have central check in desks for each airline; rather, you check in at a desk by the gate you are going to be leaving from. Which of course means that if you are flying British Air and the previous flight is another airline, you can't check in until that one is done. On the positive side, security is a breeze since that, too, is done by the gate.

Before we boarded, I had something called a pretzel croissant which was très yummy. :)

When my plane was finally ready for boarding, I learned that the whole boarding by rows thing is merely a suggestion. ;) I usually wait for my row, but I wasn't in the mood, and they let me on the plane with no problem.

Flight was ~20 mins late, but still had plenty of time to connect from terminal 5 to terminal 4. Terminal 4 definitely looked dated and dark compared to terminal 5.

While waiting, I wanted to get one last Fanta Lemon Soda (the only non-diet soda I drink). The store wouldn't take my 5 pound note because they said it was old currency. I was all WTF? because clearly I'd gotten it as change during my trip. Guy behind me (with a gorgeous accent) ended up paying for my soda and wishing me a good trip. Sometimes people really can be nice. I then went to Travelex, at the suggestion of the clerk, and converted the note to a newer currency- which they did with no problem.

I was really craving pizza and Heathrow didn't have any. Felt totally wuzrobbed! :P

My flight was due to arrive home at around 7:30pm. Therefore, I was confused when I looked at the map display screens on my seatback screen and they gave an estimated arrival time of 11:30pm. Eventually, I realized that they were somehow programmed for Accra in Africa (I had to google it to find out that it is in Ghana) The maps showed Accra as the end point, and the 11:30pm was my arrival time in Accra's time zone. This also meant that the "miles to destination" kept increasing throughout the flight as we went further from Africa toward the US...

No annoying kids behind me this time. Yay! Spent most of the flight listening to my ipod.

Took a couple photos of the dramatic early sunset as the plane landed in the US.

When we got to the gate, a British Air rep came on the loudspeaker and said, that as we were probably told, there was a belt broken at Heathrow between terminals 1/2/3 and terminal 4 and that therefore many of us would not have baggage. Judging from the reactions I heard, I was not the only person who had most definitely not been informed of this.

When I got to the luggage carousel, I checked with a woman with a list who told me my bags were not there so I might as well go directly to make a claim. Fortunately, this left me in good stead as I was near the front of the line. (no answer as to why it affected me since I hadn't gone in terminals 1/2/3... maybe it was a central system, dunno) Gave them my address and described the 2 items- they gave me a reference # and said they would be delivered to my apt.

As I'd posted, I wasn't really too stressed or upset... much better that it happened on the way home than en route to one of my destinations. (how tragic would it have been if I hadn't had any pretty dresses to wear to see Pia Douwes?!?) I'm generally a pretty laid back traveler... except when there are eville kids sitting behind me and I want to sleep. And I figure I travel so much, it is inevitable that something would get lost eventually. At least I had my camera, ipod, computer and theatre souvenirs. I would have liked to have had my perfumes from London- but those aren't allowed in carry ons. :P

Called sketchy hotel parking lot for their van to pick me up. Them: "Have you claimed your baggage?" Me: "Err, they lost my bags..." After a bit of a wait, the van came... and I met some lovely women from Oklahoma who were staying at the attached Quality Inn who were all surprised that I traveled by myself. Car was still at the lot, and they only charged me for 6 days even though I was there 6 days plus ~6 hrs. After a stop at Walgreens to pick up some things like deodorant, I was back home and reuinted with my Belle kitty.

My trip to London and Berlin was so wonderful that even having the airline lose my luggage couldn't break my spirits.

It seems a little odd to me that so much of my experiences were related to one specific performer. I know from experience (mostly of people I know) that planning a long trip around one performer can lead to disaster since actors can get sick or go on vacations, etc; so, even though Pia Douwes was one of the reasons for my trip, I tried to manage my expectations and also be sure that I wouldn't totally feel like I'd wasted my money if she had not been in the show. I therefore feel very lucky just to have seen her in the show 3 times. It's almost beyond comprehension that I was able to meet her, and to have had such wonderful experiences in the brief time I was able to chat with her. Sometimes it's hard for me to talk to people I don't know or to express my feelings to anyone... so I feel good about the fact that I was able to connect with her and to (hopefully) convey to her the pure joy that was in my heart.

Similarly, I'm glad I was able to share the trip with the people on my skating board who read my live reports. When traveling solo, it's awesome to wake up and find several people who commented on my previous day's report.

The weather was lovely all trip- warm enough not to be cold, but not so hot that I was sweating. And no rain to speak of. I enjoyed spending a lot of time walking outside, although I was a little exhausted at times!

London is the first European city I've visited, and I'll always feel at home in the theatre district. That was a perfect place to start my trip, though I wish I'd had an additional night to spend there.

Berlin will never be my favorite city- for one thing, it is so spread out... and I generally prefer cities that are more walkable. (while London is also spread out, I can spend much, if not all, of my time around the theatre areas and get around only by foot) However, I'm very interested in WWII history and it's an important city to visit in that respect. I've usually narrowed my visits to wandering around the Kurfustendamm, so I'm glad I had a chance to explore some other areas this time.

And most of all, when I think of Berlin from now on, hopefully my first thought will not be "that's where I was when my dad died" but rather "that's where I had a fabulous time seeing Pia Douwes- along with many other talented performers- in Elisabeth and exploring a lot of sights"