Saturday, 22 July 2017

Some Thoughts on Travelling

There's a scratch-off map of Europe hanging in my bathroom, where I've used a coin to carefully rub away the places I've been. I am reminded of how little I get to travel around this continent of mine.

If I see my glass as half-empty: I've never set foot on the Iberian peninsula and I long to wander around a city where signs are written exclusively in Cyrillic script. I keep meaning to visit Iceland (so far I've only managed stressful stopovers at Reykjavik airport). I used to consider that my own little kooky, Björky goal, but the place has in fact burst in popularity among tourists over the past decade.

As a Brit living in a foreign but very international city, it's weird to constantly meet North Americans and Antipodeans who talk about how close and cheap everything is; how that's the main draw of moving to Europe, you can go to a different country every weekend. It's almost as if they expect Europeans to have emerged from the womb with a passport (or ID card) already clutched in fist.



On the one hand, they make a fair point. Distances are ridiculously large in those colonised societies, simply because the metropolises of today were generally built within the past 200 years (which is "new" in European terms). They are pretty much car cultures. Take it from someone who lived in rural Canada for half a year and was endlessly frustrated at: a) how far my lack of a driving licence got me (not very); b) how expensive buses and trains were to get to other places.

At the same time, despite owning that scratch-off map, I'm not a fan of the type of travel that's for the sake of crossing cities or countries off your list. Thankfully, there's no end of online articles out there about how travel is not an end goal in itself, about how travel doesn't inherently make you interesting or well-rounded, or how travelling absolutely is a privilege. This post sums up most of my feelings on it. This one a few more.

This classist, self-serving mentality needs to die.

Travel. Yes, it's funny how it's become social currency. People place a lot of importance on it, yet say the word over and over really quickly and it'll lose its meaning. Traveltraveltravel. In the crudest sense of the word, I just travelled by foot across the street to the pharmacy to replenish my supply of sanitary pads and toilet roll.

I explored more of Europe as a student while on my ERASMUS year (fuck Brexit forever) than I have as an actual adult with a full-time job. While travelling isn't exactly a priority when you're struggling to put food on the table - which is basically the fearful undercurrent to my frugality - it seems to me that time is a huge preventative issue, more than people like to acknowledge.
You see, if I'm going to go away, I do not want to cram a whole trip into a tiny weekend. The destination in question probably deserves far more of my attention than a couple of perfunctory photos of monuments and a comforting meal in the sole vegetarian café. Unless there is a specific something in or near the city that piques your interest and creates real anticipation, what's the point?
Not to mention that, as someone who is sensitive and thrives on routine, travelling in this way is also really exhausting. It always takes me at least a week or two to recuperate from it.

As a teenager and during uni, whenever I daydreamed about my future life on the continent, I imagined criss-crossing Germany via Switzerland to France by train - using all my languages within a week - then the following month, maybe ending up in some vague destination in Eastern Europe just because it had happened to be a ridiculously affordable flight.
Needless to say, this was a different, more naive time. Not only are we experiencing a political shift that means our freedom of movement may look completely different a few years from now, but sleeper train routes are being cancelled and regular trains are... just plain expensive.
I'm also trying to watch my carbon footprint. You can only take so many flights with Ryanair, EasyJet, et al before you think, "Okay, is this worth the stress if it's not completely necessary?".

I've just booked my first solo trip this year: a long weekend in a Polish city that I guess I will blog about later. I took only one day off work for it, because I want to save my remaining days for going to see my family at Christmas and, hopefully, doing one more longer trip in the autumn.
I'm going there by overnight bus - which, after a 15-hour journey to Lithuania a couple of years ago, I'd sworn never to do again.

But hey. I'm on a budget.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Wonderful World of German Street Names

I was inspired to write this post when on my lunch break, I heard two English-speaking tourists looking at a map exclaim, 'Max-Beer-Straße! LOL! I've got to get a photo next to that sign!'
When you've been speaking German and living in that language for quite a while, you tend to become a bit stiff-necked and immune to the things that foreigners often find funny. For example, even though I had to look up who Max Beer actually was, I knew right away that this street was named after a person and not copious amounts of alcohol. I know that the drink is spelt Bier in German. I know that Beer is a form of the German word for "berry". So it never really occurred to me.

(But let's be real, I'll always love a good Fahrt.)

One weird thing for non-native speakers getting to know their way around a German city is the standard written form of street names and its apparent irregularity. If you are observant and/or an extreme pedant, though, you will eventually see there is method to the madness. All grammatical, obviously. Here are some examples in Berlin that I have picked up on.

1. If it's named after a person (their first name and surname), it will all be hyphenated:
  • Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz
  • Karl-Marx-Allee
  • May-Ayim-Ufer

2. If it's named after a person (their first name or surname) or a thing, it will be merged into one word. This forms most probably the majority of street names in Berlin:
  • Alexanderplatz ("Alexander Square")
  • Hobrechtstraße ("Hobrecht Street")
  • Brunnenstraße ("Fountain Street")
  • Sonnenallee ("Sun Avenue")

3. If it's named after a place as a noun, there'll be an -er at the end - regardless of gender of the next word. And it'll be split into two words. This is an easy one, as it's just the same as saying "Ich bin ein Berliner", "Ich bin Schweizer", etc.
  • Kottbusser Tor ("Kottbus" is an antiquated spelling of Cottbus, a city in Brandenburg)
  • Dubliner Straße
  • Große Hamburger Straße (note that groß refers to the street - die Straße - not a person from Hamburg, which would be der Hamburger)
  • Alte Schönhauser Straße

4. And if it's named after a place or person, but in the adjectival form, I'm afraid you'll have to decline the adjective according to the gender of the noun.
  • Hallesches Tor (Hallesch refers to the city of Halle. It's das Tor, so you'd say am Halleschen Tor for "at Hallesches Tor")
  • Hackescher Markt (Hackesch refers to the Prussian Graf von Hacke. It's der Markt, so you'd say "um den Hackeschen Markt" for "around Hackescher Markt")
  • Französische Straße ("French Street". It's die Straße, so "an der Französischen Straße" would mean "on Französische Straße")

5. Sometimes you'll even get a nice little genitive in there, if it's named after a date, group or entity:
  • Straße des 17. Juni
  • Allee der Kosmonauten
  • Platz der Vereinigten Nationen

6. Most weird-looking are streets that are named after a place that ends in an a (how are you meant to pronounce that? I dunno really, I just elongate the last syllable so it sounds like I am saying two words and not one):
  • Rigaer Straße
  • Elsterwerdaer Platz

7. And then in Neukölln, we get a definitive example of how pedantic German really is. So, there's a whole bunch of streets that are named after rivers in other parts of Germany:
  • Weserstraße
  • Donaustraße
  • Oderstraße
  • Fuldastraße
But... Fulda is not just a river, but also a city. And if the street was named after the city of the same name, it would be called Fuldaer Straße. Not Fuldastraße. Y'know, just so that if you're German, you can immediately be absolutely sure what exactly the street is named after.

I just find it amazing that even a newcomer to a city could immediately know these sorts of things - historical facts, even - just by virtue of the grammar. I also feel like I have divested myself of a whole lot of confusion by writing all this down.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Ab aufs Land: Coconat Workation Retreat

Last weekend, my writing group and I went on our first retreat - to the hamlet of Klein Glien, near Bad Belzig, one hour outside Berlin.
Shamefully, despite being in Berlin for nearly three years, this was the first time that I had explored Brandenburg (the state that surrounds the city). More specifically, we stayed at Coconat Workation Retreat, which had its official opening at the end of April.

It's set within a building that has changed hands many times over the years, but was most recently a hotel and restaurant. The grounds also have barns and are surrounded by fields and woods. The complex is one of just a few buildings around, with a few small neighbouring houses before the road trails off into the countryside.



Coconat was founded with the knowledge that in order to be productive - a loaded word these days - you need to be human. When you're in a creative sector, especially one where days are overwhelmingly spent in solitude, community is important. For that reason, everyone here is left to their own devices but still has the opportunity to get to know fellow guests a bit. The owners are also really friendly and hospitable, curious to know everyone's story. As well as the work rooms, there is a "pub" where you can have a drink, a "library" with a fireplace and some little nooks to sit in outside.



As for our group of five, there was no real agenda; we were all in general agreement that we needed this time out from Berlin and its distractions so we could get on with our writing projects, both private and professional. I really appreciated the peace and quiet. I felt more focused than ever.
I was able to confront my main problem with productivity: the fact that I have a zillion writing projects going on. There's my novel, then there are numerous personal essays, then there are reports I would like to write that are more time-sensitive... it's a lot. Then if you want these to go up anywhere, you need to pitch, which is an art in itself. It can be really hard not to internalise the idea that getting anything published is a miracle. It's easy to fall into that spiral - to think that your achievements to date were just a fluke.

In summary, I used the time to confront my demons (drafts), edit my novel (I recently finally settled on protagonist development that I feel good sticking with), research music magazines and going for walks.




Sometimes it felt charmingly like a school trip, with our group's shared bedroom - though no bunk beds! - and bathroom. There were set mealtimes, with breakfast from 8:30-10am, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 7pm. The hosts make exclusively vegetarian meals, using meat only upon special request. Saturday night dinner was a Syrian special from local volunteers: a chicken and rice dish for the meat-eaters and for me, a spicy rice salad with lots of hummus and bread. (Being one of the only two vegans staying there, I got hummus priority!)

To get there, we took the regional train to Bad Belzig, then a bus was arranged to pick us up from the station. On the way back, we accidentally took the wrong bus, but it was fine and we caught our train back to Berlin.


All in all, 24 hours weren't enough to really get stuck into one project, but then none of us had done something like this before so it was good to see what it was like first. I'd definitely like to come back over a bank holiday weekend! I tend to pick up inspiration for my writing in the city, but then I need the type of peace you get in the countryside to implement my ideas to the full.
That's not to mention time to see places of interest around Coconat which I didn't get around to this time. Hagelberg is the disputed highest elevation in the state of Brandenburg (erm, at 201m) and there is also the abandoned village of Groß Glien.

NB: I wasn't sponsored to write this; I just wanted to talk about my lovely weekend!

Friday, 5 May 2017

The past few months

Schön aber schwierig.

On the whole, I love living in Germany and the feeling of building up a life here can be really gratifying. Living abroad in itself, however, is very difficult in ways you might not anticipate - even when you have a good support network.

It's not just about the Brexit tension, which started making audible gurgles a year ago and has only been getting worse as we navigate this absurd reality. (Ah, this time last year, we were all babes in the woods. I cheerfully took a selfie of myself sending off my postal vote; my friends and I acknowledged the possibility of a Leave win but were generally pretty relaxed.)
There's also the guilty feeling that I have no right to complain. "Lucky" is a word I hear frequently - and it is one that ignores hard work. People I know from my native country have visited Berlin before, have read articles that hype it up. Some of them seem to think my daily life is a tasty falafel wrap in one hand, an affordable beer in the other, with interesting sights to behold around every corner.



For sure, Berlin does have some very attractive aspects. But when you have been living here a while you notice that these tend to be superseded by:
  • what grey, oppressive weather for half the year can do to your mental, emotional and even physical well-being.
  • the piles of paperwork for every little thing. The reflexive fear you gradually develop that somewhere, there is something you haven't seen to, some bill you are unaware of that you need to pay.
  • the gratuitous local rudeness that can have you leaving a government office in tears. Alright, that only happened to me once. Some people make the excuse that Germans have a different concept of politeness, but I'm not stupid; I can tell when someone is being direct, when it's Berliner Schnauze (grumpiness with humorous undertones) and when they are just a jerk.
  • how everything being closed on Sundays makes you feel like the weekend isn't really yours. Yes, I know Germany is not the only European country that's like this. But in the UK and Canada I would take Saturdays for chilling out and starting the weekend slowly, then do my shopping, errands, homework and chores on a Sunday. Here, it feels like you get 0.5 of a Saturday because you have to spend at least half of your day doing the annoying stuff. Then Sunday, obviously, is just pre-Monday. It just... doesn't need to be like this anymore. Even devout Christians don't give that much of a shit about resting on Sundays, I'm sure.
  • how no matter how well you master the language and "act like a German", in the end it's a façade. It's a survival tool. Some people will respect you for it and be interested in your story, whereas others will perceive you as fully integrated and therefore treat you as having no excuse not to do what you are expected to do. It means having to be switched every minute of the day.

That's to name a few frustrations.

I go through phases where I can pretty much gloss over these things and know that I have it pretty good. Then it will all come crashing down at once and everything feels absolutely impossible.
Since the beginning of the year, I have experienced an ongoing stream of the latter. Since the beginning of the year, I have been in a constant state of Anstrengung.
At times, I wonder if I am extremely naive in my intention to live here forever. I don't even mean in terms of whatever the UK and EU authorities decide in the next couple of years; rather, I wonder how much I am going to let Berlin wear me down. On my first enchanted visit, in 2008, I sensed it was a place unlike any other. Now that I've lived here for nearly three years, I know for sure that it's a place unlike any other - in a negative sense, too.

But thanks to Brexit, I also do feel quite stuck here - stuck in uncertainty (I wrote an article about that last year). If I wanted to return to the UK, I couldn't; if I ever wanted to try out another country, I couldn't. Why? Because I feel the need to bank up the years in Germany - i.e. a single EU state - in case I end up having to apply for some kind of official permit that will allow me to lawfully reside in the EU.

So am I the problem, is it Berlin or is it even Germany? We'll see. For now, I'm trying my best to take each day at a time, focus on the positive and keep my head up. Alles neu macht der Mai, so they say - even if it is still gloomy outside.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Paris au printemps

The last time I had been to France was five years ago, when I visited my friend Sarah, who was studying in Besançon. The last time I had been to Paris was 12 years ago, on a day trip from Picardy on a family camping holiday.
If you know a little about my educational background - half of my BA was in French - this fact may surprise you. But having had a horrible time on the French half of my year abroad (Belgium), a fantastic one on the German one (Austria), then finding something resembling happiness in Berlin, I was not in a hurry to revisit the European francophonie. I just didn't feel welcome there and there wasn't really anything that excited me about it. At least the time I've spent discovering Quebec is making sure that over a decade of French lessons and tens of thousands of pounds of debt doesn't go to waste...
As for Paris, aside from the period of my late teens where I got into New Wave cinema, unsure whether I wanted to be or be with Anna Karina and Jean Seberg, I had always perceived the city as a bit overhyped... and maybe even cheesy. I probably wouldn't have chosen to go of my own accord, which is why I was glad when one of my friends from uni suggested our little gang have a reunion there.

So on a personal level, there was quite a lot resting on this trip.


I spent the first one-and-a-bit days on my own, adrift in Paris. I wanted to defy its notorious priciness; sometimes in big cities, it feels like you have to pay for the privilege of breathing its polluted air. When I stumbled across a falafel shop and got a hefty pitta plus a not-insubstantial side of wedges for €6.50, keeping me full for the whole afternoon, I felt like I had cheated the system.


I had bought a pack of 10 metro tickets for €15. In another attempt to cut costs, I stubbornly managed to go almost a whole day without using a single one of them, walking down Rue Faubourg St Denis until I could no longer ignore the pain in my feet. I guess I had it in my head that unless it was more than two stops away, using one was a waste - which is sort of true, especially since distances between metro stations in Paris are extremely short (I remember at one point I could see the previous station through the tunnel while I stood on the platform...)

I went to the famous English bookshop on the south bank of the Seine, Shakespeare & Company. I'm sure it can be a magical experience, but it felt a bit obnoxious just because of all the school groups in there (whatever, I'm grumpy). I stayed in there for an absolute maximum of 10 minutes.
I sat in the Jardins du Luxembourg for a while. It was quite sunny out. I liked how there were chairs all around the fountain and nobody seemed to be stealing them. I visited a bookshop I liked more - the Librairie du Québec - and was hard-pressed to choose just two books to buy.

A little unsure what to do next, I took the metro to Jussieu and liked the area a lot. I drank a homemade lemonade in a nice café called Nuance. I visited the Arènes de Lutèce, which is one of the few elements of the Roman history of Paris that you can still see.



I walked a little way up towards the Latin Quarter, then back down again. I sat in the Jardin des Plantes for a bit, took a picture of the Grand Mosque around the corner, then went back to my hostel and had a rest. I went out again in the evening with the intention of buying some fruit, but got distracted by a bar/record shop called Walrus. I drank a hibiscus tea there while reading Magic, Revue Pop Moderne, a cool French music magazine that happened to have a feature on the Montreal indie scene.

The next day, my first port of call was getting some good coffee. I went to Café Coutume in the 7th arrondissement - the first remotely hip coffee shop I had seen so far. It was chemistry-themed. It seemed to have a lot of English-speaking visitors, drawn in by its offer of brunch.



I then walked back across the Seine to the Grand Palais, where a rare books fair was taking place. In the end, I felt a bit annoyed for paying the €10 entry, because it was just full of old books I couldn't afford or take with me anyway - the whole thing wasn't really what I had gauged from the website. Or maybe I just didn't want to spend very long there because it was so hot and my shoes were pinching my feet more than ever. I guess I'm glad I got to go inside the Grand Palais?

Then it was off to Hank Pizza - a vegan pizza place! Yay! This salad and slice of pizza cost €8. I went for a pineapple and ricotta one, but it was so hard to choose between them all.



I went to meet Nikita next; she was at a hairdressers' with her head in a basin, which was a very funny way to see each other for the first time in a couple of years (she'd been passing through Berlin with a friend and we got lunch). Sarah was due to arrive soon at Gare du Nord. After a mad dash to get onto the bus from there to Jaurès station, we checked into the hotel. It was Ibis Budget - pretty good if not for the transparent shower door, paper-thin toilet door and hard mattresses! We sat on the bed eating tortilla chips and salsa, chatting and laughing. It was the first time I had managed to see Sarah since graduation and it was pretty nice.
We still wanted to get some proper food, though. The plan was to go to Belleville. It was a spring evening, we were young, gorgeous and strolling down a Parisian avenue, everything was wonderful. As we descended into the station, we witnessed a fight between two men. We tried not to gawp as we slotted our titres de transport into the barriers and they popped open.
At the bottom of the stairs, ticket controllers were stopping people. It was Friday night, after all. I reached into my pocket and gave the man mine. He scanned it and said bluntly, 'This is from the bus, not the metro'. I could barely speak as I realised what had happened: I'd put one clean ticket in my pocket ready for the barrier, oblivious to the fact I hadn't thrown away my used one, which was in the same pocket. So then why had the barrier accepted it? I still had to reckon with a €35 fine. Petulantly, I paid it, then started crying in front of my friends.

Drawing a line under that day, on Saturday the rest of the group had arrived in Paris. We walked along the Bassin de la Villette, a canal, and Nikita led us to Le Pavillon des Canaux, which she described as a dolls' house café. I hadn't been expecting much, but wow! It was super cute. Google will be better for photos, but there was an Alice in Wonderland-esque kitchen, a dreamy bedroom and so on. The other significant aspect was that this was the only place I encountered in the whole of Paris where I could get soya milk with my coffee...

Me in the "kitchen" at the Pavillon

Afterwards, we walked up to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and had a picnic with lovely views on a perfect spring day.




We met up with Reema, who'd just arrived on her own, and had a drink at Moncœur, which was a nice outdoor bar in Belleville. I went off on my own and ended up getting off at République, where I was desperate to drop into the nearest espresso bar. Unfortunately, I was starting to feel a little fed up of it all, but was trying to keep my spirits up. Wandering around, there were a few things going on that Saturday on the Place de la République, including a trans* and sex worker rights demo and a Sikh stand offering pay-what-you-want vegan curry.

I met up with my friends again at Saravanaa Bhavan, an all-vegetarian Indian restaurant. It was pretty good and not too expensive, either. The plan was to go out that night but I just wasn't feeling it; I think a combination of the sun beating down on my face the whole day, the emotional shock of seeing friends from long ago all at once and generally processing this bustling new city.

On Sunday, I went to Musée de l'Homme, which was good as far as museums go. For lunch, it was time to try out Hank Pizza's counterpart: Hank Burger. That was also very nice! I walked past Le Potager du Marais afterwards, another vegan place, but decided I was too full to get anything (crème brûlée, though!). I then headed to Marks & Spencer at Gare de l'Est to pick up some of the food I miss so much for the journey home.

After a stressful time in Charles de Gaulle airport, I was relived to be home in Berlin. I'm trying to work out how I feel about Paris; I think maybe it would be worth visiting again at another time of year, when it's not so hot and I can allow myself time to discover it at a slower pace. But to be honest, I don't really feel the pull and would prefer to discover other places. Aesthetically, it is a beautiful city, but not very much underneath interests me. All in all, I found being in Paris very overwhelming. I don't want to dislike it, but at the same time it's not trying very hard to win me over...

Vegan in Paris

I must admit that one huge factor that had been holding me back from returning to France and Belgium was the fact I had had a very poor time as a vegan - and even as a vegetarian - in those places. I was hopeful to see if anything had changed over the years.
Well, yes and no. There certainly isn't an oversaturation of vegan restaurants in Paris. But I had done a bit of research online, so I had an idea of where to go when hungry.
In the reviews I had read of the restaurants I ended up not visiting, almost everyone had written "book a table" or "it gets crowded". This was quite off-putting to me, as I didn't want to make the effort to go all the way to a certain place only to be unable to eat there. It seems that there is a vegan community in Paris, but since there are so few places that cater them when they want to go out to eat... well, all of them go there at the same time. I got the feeling veganism is viewed as more of a fad there.

I was determined not to spend too much on food anyway and it was fairly easy to find things in supermarkets that were "accidentally" vegan. One day, I got a reduced bulgur salad, a tub of hummus and some bread for lunch from Carrefour, which came to just under €4. I later spotted some coconut milk yoghurts there. There were quite a few Lebanese falafel places around. I saw one organic shop chain, Naturalia, though there are probably more; there, I got a pack of 10 delicious chocolate biscuits for €3. I must admit I had also brought provisions from Berlin and in the end, was really glad I did.
One of the most disappointing things about the trip was missing out on the famous French café culture, as sitting drinking coffee while reading is one of my favourite ways to pass the time. As I said, I encountered just one place that offered soya milk with coffee, so I was limited to drinking espressos, rather than spending an hour sipping a larger drink. I really wanted to find a vegan pâtisserie, but this wasn't straightforward either. On the day I woke up back in Berlin, I got a vegan croissant from Bio Company and had to appreciate the irony.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Thessaloniki, Greece

Greece has been one of my dream destinations for a very long time. It's not the islands that fascinate me (though I was always jealous of classmates' holidays to faraway places with names like Skiathos and Corfu), but the historical sites which are more concentrated on the mainland. I would daydream about climbing for hours over chalky monuments under blazing blue skies, unable to comprehend how humans could have ever erected columns that tall.

My real-life introduction to Greece was Thessaloniki (or θεσσαλονικη or Salonica). And yes, I did fall in love with the country.

Even though most of our stay was chilly, windy and grey, Thessaloniki welcomed us upon arrival with its sun - and palm trees. There were even trees bearing oranges lining the streets!


When you're on the Aegean Sea but it's chilly and windy
The Byzantine-era White Tower and main promenade
Ancient Agora of Thessaloniki
I noticed deeply how very few things felt overtly capitalistic. Yes, Greece has its own franchises, as well as stores that can be found in many other European countries, but I never sensed the need to buy, buy, buy.  I saw nobody begging on the street, which is a frequent occurrence in Berlin. The various facets of political and economic turmoil that Greece has seen in recent years wasn't concealed, though. There was a lot of anti-fascist graffiti, encouragingly.

After exploring Thessaloniki for a day, we rented a car and drove to the Kassandra peninsula - the westernmost claw on the hand of Haldiki:



After driving through mostly nothing, we ended up down some random track and the view was quite lovely. It was t o t a l l y s i l e n t.




We continued down the coastal road, with the GPS freaking out a little. It was a rather uncanny experience to drive through villages that in the right season would be heaving with tourists, but hotels and holiday apartments were all boarded up. Cats were the only ones wandering the streets. Not even bars and cafés were open.

Finally, we made it to a spot on the western coast of the peninsula.



It was getting dark, but on the way back, on the eastern side, we still got some of the gorgeous blue we'd been chasing.



The second day, we drove out west - first destination, Vergina. There is a big archaeological site here, the most notable of which is the Royal Tombs of Aigai (including the burial cluster of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great). This museum, located under a burial mound, was simply incredible. It was deliberately all dark down there, with minimal lighting for a spooky atmosphere. There were original painted gravestones, jewellery, cooking pots, weapons, some of which were still in excellent condition - symbols of decadence accompanying the king to the afterlife.
Aside from the artefacts, there were steps you had to descend to the door of the tomb. Just wow: complete silence, aloneness, and behind the glass this astonishing structure made of marble, dating from fucking 336 BC. I can't explain why, but it was one of the most perfect moments of my life.

Exiting the museum, back into daylight

A couple of hours away from Vergina was another special site - Mount Olympus. It was getting dark quickly and it took a while to get untangled from the villages and onto the main road again. But sure enough, we began our ascent.

In the foothills
View over the town of Litochoro
In no time at all, it went from this...
...to this (by the way, there was no railing here, just trees)
Finally!
We didn't reach the very top - it was already freezing and dark, plus the mountain is nearly 3,000m tall - but we reached a pretty respectable height. There was a little chalet there. Driving down really scary, but overall I was really glad that we did it. I was pretty worried I was going to die but took solace in the fact the gods would be there to catch me.

As for the food in Thessaloniki? Well, it's not like there was an abundance of vegetarian restaurants, but there was one mostly-vegan place called Roots with a full menu in English. I had lentil mousse and tomatoes on rusks - a regional starter - then the curious "Mexican-style penne" as a main, which consisted of soya cream and tofu chunks with pasta. Dennis had a vegetarian gyros. A Greek girl sitting nearby nervously asked us whether we regularly ate vegan food, because she'd been dragged there by her vegan friend and she still felt she needed meat!

There was one place that was 100% vegan - Falafel House. There was no English menu and staff had limited English, but we got big falafel wraps. They weren't remarkable compared to the ones I am used to in Berlin, though.

My food highlight was at Basilico Pizza. I'd read online that it offered vegan cheese on request. And that's what I got: a huge, vegan-cheesy pizza with a perfect crust.


We also stopped by Boccone Pizza, which had the motto "Pizza is eternal". We split a pizza - one half margherita for Dennis, one half vegetables for me. It's always nice to come across places that already offer pizzas without cheese on the menu, rather than giving you a weird look when you ask for one.

In conclusion, I sustained myself on salad and chips, which are okay to avoid starvation, but they are not exactly nutritious. The short amount of time we spent in Thessaloniki, plus being out and about, didn't really justify grocery shopping - otherwise, I'm sure it wouldn't been a problem to make decent vegan dishes at the apartment we stayed in.


All in all, I can't wait to go back to Greece!