Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Berlin diary - Parting thoughts and travel tips

On the 6th day of my trip, I did nothing but pack, ate breakfast and flew home.  During flight, I thought about things that worked and didn't work, and general observations from this trip.  For one, I overpacked yet again - but this time on books, not on clothes.  I intended to read 2 thick books on the history and culture of Germany in addition to a non-fiction book I brought with me. But really! Who would want to read books when you could live history, plus create your own, outside the hotel doorsteps?!

What else? Let's see:

  1. Skip the workout clothes. I packed workout clothes but didn't get to use them as I was either at the conference or was too exhausted after exploring the city on foot. 
  2. It was smart to bring my own adapter and converter.  European countries use 220 volts, so you need to use voltage converters for appliances and gadgets from the US that generally use 110 volts.  In addition, they use sockets that only have the circular prongs, so you'll need an adapter.  While I was told that the hotel may provide these, I didn't take my chances. That was a good thing because the hotel was fully booked with conference participants, and they ran out of these supplies!
  3. No show TV shows. All shows, except for CNN and BBC, were in German. Even American series were dubbed with German! It's a good thing I don't like watching television anyway, so I just read my book.  But if you're one who likes to watch the telly, make sure to bring your own DVDs.
  4. It's expensive to surf... the net, that is. The hotel only had free internet at the lobby. In your room, you have to pay 24 Euros per day to connect, regardless of whether you're a conference participant or not. 
  5. The tube rocks. If you're familiar with the DC metro, or the NY subway, you'll be able to navigate the S-Bahn and U-Bahn no problem. The Berlin railway system may be bigger, but it works exactly in the same way where you just need to know the end of the lines to determine which direction you should be heading. 
  6. Money talks, credit cards not so much.  It's amazing how spoiled we are here in the US.  In Berlin, the cabs don't take credit cards. Even some moderate-sized establishments and restaurants don't take credit cards! And be aware that in small stores tucked away from tourists, they either don't have receipts or don't know what you mean by "receipts"
  7. Airport comments:  Tegel in Berlin is tiny and very manageable. Frankfurt airport is chaotic.  The signs are not clear, and there are constructions at different points, so you're not sure where you should go.  The gate for my flight didn't show up on the screen until about 1 h before boarding cause there wasn't enough room to post the information.  In the meantime, I was left to loiter around amidst confused people. My gate changed 3 times; they announced the gate change first in deutsch, then in english.  That means that while everyone have left to run to the new gate, I was still waiting for the information! Thankfully quite the opposite, the airport in Brussels, Belgium is big and organized.  The signs and arrows appear in bright yellow.  The security is tight, but it moved quickly. Still, you probably need more than 1 hr to navigate this airport and security, simply due to its size. So... bottom line: I'm happy I didn't have just an hour of layover and that I checked my bag. It certainly made for a more efficient transfer.
  8. "Thank you" will bring you a long way. I tried to arm myself with a couple of German phrases before I left, but believe me, once your conversation partner start rattling off in Deutsch, you're left pretty much slack-jawed and unable to respond. So all I could utter was Dankeschön (pronounced Dunk-uh sheon) for the most part. I think that the effort was very much appreciated, judging from the smiles I got. It never hurts to be polite.
And that's a wrap.  After tapping my heels together, I am finally home and hugging my giggly toddler. As fun as this adventure was, truly, there's no place like home, Toto.


  1. Been loving the the updates, Jen - thanks!

    I recall an early trip to Australia where I brought along a half dozen paper back books. What the heck was I thinking?

    For quite some time, I brought a single book to read that was on the topic of the area I was visiting (Reading about Pompeii while visiting, was just too cool).

    Now, I just fill up my cell phone with eBooks before I go and leave it at that. Still, I try to find *something* related to the area I'm visiting.

    The only book I carry these days is a guidebook. Preferably a Frommer's. Those books have saved my butt too many times to count.

  2. Yup! I'd say the Maui Revealed and Kauai Revealed books were very useful when Eric and I went to Hawaii. They had great suggestions for hiking trails, and searching for the best banana bread shacks that the book recommended was so much fun! :)