These are from a brief stop we made in Goa on our way home to New Zealand in 2015. Vic studied yoga while I wandered around with a camera. I can’t get over India, there’s something about it that sucks me in. The intensity, the warmth, and, I guess, the struggle.
It’s been 2 years since we left Germany now and I’m amazed we only spent 9 months there. We’ve been in the states twice as long now and yet our time in Berlin had a far greater impact on us both. My impression of Germany was that of a country doing things right, of people who give a shit, and who expect each other to behave like adults and — more importantly — do.
The city is the closest thing you can get to a metropolitan utopia, too: plentiful green space, uniform density, intensely accessible, affordable, and beautiful all the while. It was easily the best city I have ever lived in, but it can be a hard place too. Ultimately we left, but not without a lot of good memories.
We lived in Bergmankiez in an apartment that was dark and viewless but nevertheless gorgeous in it’s own way. This was to be the first (and probably the last) time I ever lived on a cobbled street.
After the Second World War, the Soviets built three memorials in Berlin to inter & commemorate their countrymen who died in Berlin. The city was heavy with this sort of history.
Teufelsberg is the only hill of any substance in Berlin, and it was made from the rubble of the Second World War. On top of it there sits an abandoned spy station the Americans used to listen in on Soviet communications. We were told there were guided tours of the facility, but everything was locked down when we visited.
Autumn in Berlin is like no other. Slowly the city’s vegetation turns ochre, growing brighter and brighter until the city is ablaze in shades of gold.
There was a business-side to our brief time there. I did a stint with a startup that underwent incubation with Techstars, an American operation that was expanding into Europe. We spent three months working out of the old GDR government building (in a room formerly used for spying on civilians) and concluded with a big song and dance in front of a theater full of investors.
The company didn’t go anywhere in the end, but it was a great experience.
We arrived in Berlin in the dead of winter, lived through a glorious summer, and left on the day of the year’s first snowfall. A poetic end to a whirlwind adventure.
At the end of 2015 Vic & I decided to leave Germany. We wanted to see a bit more of the country before we left so we made a short trip down to Munich. A good friend of ours, Tania, came along too.
We spent about as much time on the bus as we did on the ground; it was a days journey both ways. We were warned this would be grim but in the end it was great. Gas stations in Germany sell booze so there was no shortage of wine and we had a spectacular view of autumn over the countryside.
We only spent two days in Munich so I’m loathe to say anything too bad about it — but compared to Berlin it seemed like a serious, sterile place. Its saving grace was its proximity to the Bavarian Alps. We took a train out to Neuschwanstein, the famed Disney castle, and on the way out got a glimpse of Germany’s postcard countryside: farming villages, rolling green fields, and big brown cows.
The castle itself was something of a fake. It was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 1800s to look like something much older. He ran out of money halfway through so much of the interior was left unfinished.
Back in the city, there’s a spot where a large canal passes under a narrow bridge. This forms a fierce wave that’s big enough to surf, and many surfers try their luck on it. The water flows through at such a pace that the bails are fantastic but no-one ever seems to get hurt. Munich is about 300 miles from the nearest ocean so I can imagine it’s a welcome fix for the locals.
We had a good time but I came away with a greater appreciation for Berlin. Maybe we had done well to spend most of our time there.
About 2 years ago, Vic & I made a trip to Portugal with her parents, David & Honor. The memories have begun to rust a little but they’re no less sweet. We took a car from Porto down through Lisbon and finished in the Algarve, with a brief stint out in the countryside of Aljezur.
I broke my foot on the first day (nothing exciting, just a lapse in coordination met with unforgiving sidewalk) and this slowed things down a bit. Annoying, but maybe all for the better in a country as mellow as this. In spite of the crutches, I saw a lot — thanks in no small part to the patience of Vic & her family.
Portugal’s a beautiful place. Arabic influence reigns supreme and its collision with European culture is visible everywhere. The cities are a wash of crumbling stone and pastel, and the coastline is as wild and rugged as ours is back home.
We made a trip out to Sintra, a playground of castles and estates just outside of Lisbon, and it was staggering in both age and beauty. It was an odd feeling to stand in castles built centuries before New Zealand was even discovered.
My injury had one small fortune in that it absolved me of all the bag-carrying duties a son-in-law might expect on holiday. Vic’s folks put me in charge of navigation instead, but this quickly proved to be a bad move. We made many circles on our way out of Porto, and things did not improve much from there.
Down south in the Algarve we were joined by Peter & Liz, Vic’s Uncle & Aunt from the UK, and a fastidious survey of local bars and restaurants was made. The Algarve is a handsome location but it felt a lot like a British retirement village. Restaurants served bangers & mash and we found more English fare in the supermarkets there than we’d ever seen in Germany. Vic & I made sure to fill our suitcases with Marmite for the trip back to Berlin.
Vic & I went to Belfast last year to visit her great aunt and uncle, Vera & Jack. It’s been a while since we made the trip but I remember it being a cold place filled with warm people.
Her aunt and uncle took us all over town: up the coast to the Giant’s causeway and down to the shipyards where the Titanic was built. They knew everything about the community. As we drove through the countryside they’d tell us who owned what land and how they came by it.
Jack’s a tough old farmer, the type with hands of iron and a heart of gold. You could tell he was a hard man, but a real joker too. Up at the Causeway we met a young parking warden with a thick accent and Jack asked him where he was from. “Newcastle” said the warden. “A Geordie!” Jack cried “Ah well, god’ll forgive you for that.”
Vera had less to say, but she’d cut right to the point. She sized us up on arrival and told me it was about time Vic & I settled down. The pair lived on a block of land outside Belfast they called the “funny farm”. Over the years Jack had collected thousands of relics: everything from old tractors to telephone boxes. He had a story to tell about each one, and all kinds of school groups & historical societies would come to listen.
Of particular note was a book of records: The Accident Log for the Belfast Shipyards, years 1951 to 1952. Inside were grim tales of injury, dismemberment, and death. One line recorded a boy of just 14 falling to his death in a dry dock. It was a humbling view into how tough life used to be.
We went for Guinness, as is required of you when you visit Ireland, and came across another peculiarity: Whiskey memorabilia. The number of dead brands is unbelievable. Old ceramic bottles and advertising mirrors are their bones, and they’re scattered through every pub in the land. While Bushmills and a few others live on, the American prohibition put most of them out of business.
I loved Ireland. It reminded me of home. The coast was wild and rugged, the people were friendly whether I could understand them or not, and Jack & Vera’s generosity made for a truly memorable visit.