Sunday, 19 October 2014

TRAVEL - Top 10 Tips for Berlin

The largest section of the wall still standing

I love Berlin. It really is a brilliant city. Laura and I spent a couple of days there as part of our inter-railing honeymoon in 2008 and last week spent a further three days there researching sustainability in Berlin for our respective  businesses. Here are some tips:

Getting Around (From Schonefeld)

Public transport is efficient and cheap in Berlin, the prices in particular put London to shame. It is well worth downloading the public transport app onto your phone (MX data is good) and get familiar with it. 

U-Bahn Train
Budget airlines like Easyjet fly into Schonefeld which is to the south east of the city. From exiting arrivals door, turn immediately right within the terminal and buy your public transport ticket. We bought the Berlin Card which also gets you discounts in museums and attractions. 3 days for approximately 25 Euros. The quickest way into the centre of Berlin is then to turn left out of the terminal building and then turn right down the path (under the roof) to the train station. The RB19 train (10 past each hour) takes to directly to Potsdamer Platz in the heart of Berlin which is where you can get a U-train (underground) or a S-train to your destination. MAKE SURE YOU VALIDATE YOUR TICKET by stamping it in the red box. You only need to do this once.    

1. Brandenburg Gate

The most iconic building of Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate and it became a symbol of freedom with it's role in the breakdown of the wall in 1989. Brandenburger Tor is the train stop on both S-line and U-line. During the division of Berlin, the gate was only accessible by East Germans as this picture below shows.

2. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Just down the road from the Brandenburg Gate on the west side is the Holocaust Memorial. This memorial contains 2711 slabs of concrete of varying heights which can be explored on foot. It opened in 2005. 

3. The Reichstag

Another short walk from the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag, an impressive building that was reconstructed by Norman Foster after German reunification in 1990. A highlight is the glass dome that sits on top of the building.


4. Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie was the best known border crossing between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. It is situated on the main road of Friedrichstrasse and the nearest station is Kochstrasse (U6). 

5. Trabi Safari

Just a short walk from Checkpoint Charlie is my favourite activity in Berlin - driving a Trabi around East Berlin on the Trabi Safari! The Trabant was the car manufactured in East Germany which was made of duraplast, a tough plastic, and not cardboard which was the joke at the time. The hour drive around old East Berlin has you follow a lead car who delivers commentary via radio as you drive. I loved it. (Discount with Berlin Card)

6. The East Side Gallery

Described as an international memorial for freedom the gallery is in fact a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall that has 105 paintings by artists from around the world. We took the U2 to Schlesisches Tor, crossed the river and walked down. There is no charge to see the gallery.

7. Ritter Chocolate

A small walk from Franz√∂sische U station is chacolatier Ritter. this place is brilliant. Firstly for under 4 Euro you can create your own chocolate bar with a choice of milk or dark chocolate and three special ingredients of your choice (e.g. gummy bears, a range of nuts, smarties etc). Secondly it has an amazing shop with a great range of chocolate bars and gifts. We spent a lot of money there. (Discount in cafe with Berlin Card)

See Laura's blog on chocolate creation at Ritter here:

Used by permission from Laura Cook Photography

8. The Currywurst Museum

Berlin is famous for its' currywurst snack - basically a sausage and curry sauce accompanied by bread or chips. It's cultural significance means it has its' own museum which is colourful and alternative. At the end of the tour you can sample some currywurst - delicious!

9. The Olympic Stadium 

One of my favourite stadiums in the world is the Berlin Olympic Stadium which was used for the 1936 Olympics, an event that brought Hitler and the Nazism to an international audience and where Jesse Owens performed heroics on the track to win 4 gold medals. The stadium has also hosted the Champions League Final, World Cup Final and World Athletics Championships. Usain Bolt set both his 100m and 200m world records at this stadium. U Olympia-Stadion can be found on U2 and you can receive discount for entry with your Berlin Card.

10. Schoneberger Sudgelande Nature Park

If you catch the S25 or S2 train to Priesterweg you will find a wonderful nature park which was once railway sidings. After they were decommissioned in 1952 the area was left for nature to take over which in 50 years has created a "diverse, species-rich natural oasis developed in the heart of a major city, with rich dry grassland, jungle-like woodland and herbaceous vegetation" (

To prevent graffiti on the wildlife, young people have been given this stretch of wall to illustrate

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Travelling Scotland: The (Skye) Highland Games

Imagine school sports day for adults. Then imagine world class athletes mixing with the kid who forgot his kit. Then imagine that for every second you are watching, there is the sound of at least one bagpipe. That my friends is The Highland Games. And they are utterly brilliant.

The Highland Games take place in many towns in the Highland and Islands of Scotland. We attended the Skye Highland Games which were held on Portree. 

The morning is taken up with locals only competing against each other including the 2, 4 and 8 lap race for men and women (the circular lap is approximately 150m), the long jump and hop, step and leap (into a sand pit) and high jump (with no mat so 'old' style scissor jump is de rigour) and throwing events like the heavy and light stone and throwing a weight backwards over a height. 

What was brilliant about this was that some of the competitors looked nothing like sportsman, one young lad competed in jeans, Timberland shoes and a sweatshirt.

Meanwhile, there were local dancing and piping competitions taking place simultaneously, helping to ensure not one moment would pass without the sound of bagpipes. We were also entertained by the excellent Isle of Skye Pipe Band throughout the day.

The afternoon was an 'open' competition and this is where we saw some of the professional athletes. But, for some events it was open to all so we enjoyed some tourists competing too... also in their normal clothes.

The most popular competition in the games is 'tossing the caber' where competitors have to throw an enormous log in front of themselves which needs to land on it's tip before tipping over and hopefully landing straight in front of them, at 12 o'clock. 

used with permission from lauracookphotography
used with permission from lauracookphotography
used with permission from lauracookphotography

So, just to re-iterate. 

Imagine school sports day for adults. Then imagine world class athletes mixing with the kid who forgot his kit. Then imagine that for every second you are watching, there is the sound of at least one bagpipe. That my friends is The Highland Games. And they are utterly brilliant.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Travelling Scotland: The Isle of Mull

I wasn't sure what to expect from Mull. I knew there was the beautiful town of Tobermory in the north (which a British children's TV fictionalised as Ballermory) and the Island of Iona (the symbolic centre of Scottish Christianity) to the south west but I wasn't expecting the magnificent beauty of the coastal roads and mountains.

We got the Oban - Criagnure ferry crossing and decided to drive clockwise around the top circuit of the island to get to our accommodation just south of Tobermory, Arle Lodge an excellent b&b (continental) which offers the opportunity of self-catering and a large communal space for all guests. 

Calgary Beach is a beautiful white sand beach towards in the north of Mull


The View from Arle Lodge

 Glengorm Castle

We enjoyed a stroll around the grounds of Glengorm Castle which is NW of Tobermory. 

The Standing Stones are thought to be 4000 years old

The Route to Fionnphort

We decided to take the west coastal route to Fionnphort which again, was quite stunning. 


We stayed overnight in Fionnphort for our trip to Iona which lies approximately 1 km away. A regular ferry shuttles between Fionnphort and Iona all day. Iona is a small island which is easy to walk around. The highlight for many visitors is visiting the Abbey which "is the most elaborate and best-preserved ecclesiastical building surviving from the Middle Ages in the Western Isles of Scotland" (Wikipedia). In front of the abbey is the 9th Century St. Martins Cross which is one of the best preserved Celtic crosses in the whole of the UK.

Remains of the Nunnery

Our final journey on Mull before we headed for Fort William on the mainland took us to the Fishnish ferry terminal via Duart Castle (which was used in the film Entrapment). This is another very popular tourist destination on Mull, we didn't go in though, we prefer to look at them from afar.