Often, people are quite affronted by being asked to speak English in Western Europe. Massive generalisation, I’m aware, but that’s my experience. It’s understandable. They’ve got their own language. I’m an outsider. While I understand why people might feel put out by being forced to use English, I don’t have much option when moving through Europe, other than to learn a few words here and there. I have been a little slack with German, I have to admit, but I am only here for 5 days….

It’s caused problems, for instance, dramas at the counter in Aachen station, asking for my ticket to Berlin to be reissued because the connecting train had arrived an hour late and caused me to miss the train . After repeatedly explaining my situation, and having her say over and over again that the train I was booked on had already left, with me responding that I knew and needed my ticket changed, she finally relented. Instinctively, I felt that she seemed to understand what I was asking for, preferring to draw it out, eye rolls thrown in for additional performance value. So eventually I had a ticket, onward to Dusseldorf and eventually Berlin.

That connecting train had mechanical issues so we’d had to switch trains. That was out of my hands. But i did manage to extend the delay after we’d stepped off the broken train, because my power adaptor i’d been using for the laptop decided not to come out of the socket. Racing around trying to find someone who worked on the train to ask for assistance, aware that it could leave any moment and that I was holding up the transfer to a new train, eventually I just jumped back on board and ripped the whole socket out from the seat and cut the wires to get the adaptor….too bad Thalys Rail and your cheap equipment!

As the train sped through the thin veneer of forest scattered along the borders to the train line, I was reminded of how few natural spots I’ve been able to be immersed in over the past few months. The bike will certainly change this, especially with the camping gear I now have, micro gear that should keep me warm until I get further south in this rapidly frosting continent. I really need to sit in a forest, walk through something old that isn’t human made, and soon.

It’s been tricky making time to write blogs, with finishing off Brisbane work, planning for upcoming meets and travels, Island Vibe Board business and research meets in the UK have kept me pretty, pretty, pretty busy lately. Not to mention getting the bike together, buying tools and accessories, getting into regular maintenance and having some repairs and a few mods made. Oh, and relaxing, checking gigs and galleries, people watching, taking random train rides to unknown destinations, etc….

Neukolln, southern Berlin, is where my coats currently hang. It’s getting colder by the day here and I’m totally not prepared, a brown boy from sunny Brisbane, rugged up like it’s the dead of winter, much to the amusement of some Berliners, no doubt. Full thermals, two tshirts, jeans, thick socks, scarf, gloves, beanie and i’m still feelin it but it’s definitely bearable….more that i’m keen to start making my way southwards, towards the warmer climes of Biarritz and Barcelona.

I haven’t seen too much of Berlin so far, to tell you the truth… I do like to get to know the area i’m staying in first, so it’s been long walks, trialing local places to eat and hang out and finding the nearest courts. The bio [organic] cafe i’m sitting in is a great lil place, worth the 40 minute walk each morn to find and hang out in, reminding me of a couple of the warmer, friendlier places I’ve worked in the past, the fresh bread, deli cheeses and boxes of vegetables lending to the grounded vibe in this place. And there’s solid free wireless also, a definite bonus.

There’s lots to check out tho….K17, Cafe Zapata, Bar 25, White Trash Fast Food Club, Bauhaus Archiv, Kunsthaus Tacheles, Brandenburg gate and the Berlin Wall Museum are all on the cards this week, as well as checking out Krush on Thursday night with Tim, who’s staying with me for a few days. Apparently there’s a great streetball scene in a few indoor courts [yeh, i know, seems strange huh] happening around town, so they are certainly on the radar as well.

The area i’m staying in is fabulous. Kienitzer Strabe, I recommend it. Quiet, suburban, yet busy and bustling, with lots of great cafes, eats and galleries. Autumn hangs over the streets, the browning leaves blanketing the cobblestones, groups of people playing cards inside small shops late at night, drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes, just visible through steamed windows. It really is very beautiful, despite the cold. I’ve had some luck, again, with accommodation too….i’d booked a two bedroom flat for a night with the same people because the studio flat wasn’t available for my first night here.. When I arrived, the Indian woman who runs the place told me I’d have to stay in the large flat as the smaller needed repairs. So, Tim and I are going to share the pad and its two heated bedrooms, kitchen, bathtub and balcony, all for the low, low price of 15 euros per night each….good for the budget.

I have learnt that if I don’t have many words of the language where I’m staying, I need to use the ones I know first….starting with English when trying to stop someone for directions, for instance, just don’t work. People can then just make out that they don’t understand English. So, “excuse me” or the street name being looked for, work much better.

En route to Berlin included a 2 day stopover in Brussels. I can’t pretend to know the city or its people but my time there was fun. Great food, cute lil cafes and bars, and as has been the case throughout Europe, at the risk of trivializing this history and sounding even the least bit travel jaded, amazing buildings and small cobblestone streets. And of course, there was the obligatory researching and tracking down of basketball courts….unfortunately, no street ball scene that I could find, but a sweet lil court with kooky hoops and some kids mucking around who were keen to trade shots and talk some broken English, punctuated by their own natterings in French.

Now, out to the Berlin that’s further than an hour’s walk from my pad….

Send me warmth people!

Be well