Berlin, the city of veganism, gayness and lefties

Hello lovely people!

It’s been a while since I posted anything, because I’ve hardly even been in my area, let alone my own house! Sorry not sorry though, because I’ve been having far too much (expensive) fun and now you will get far too many (overindulgent) posts.

So, let’s kick it all off with a throwback to the start of July. I spent a week travelling through Berlin, Prague and Budapest using pretty much every type of public transport possible with 7 other friends – staying in hostels, seeing the sights and drinking (a bit too much of) the beer. There’s going to be a post for each city because I am very extra like that, and in the interests of chronology we’re venturing to Berlin, Germany first.

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How It Went Down

After an uneventful train ride to Manchester and an overpriced airport pint, myself and my friend Ffion arrived in Schönefeld airport mid-Tuesday afternoon. We met the rest of our group who had arrived earlier that day from Warsaw and London before checking into home for 2 nights; Generator Prenzlauer Berg. We spent 2 further days in Berlin before taking a train to Prague on Thursday evening. All good in the hood.

The Hostel

At €27 per night, Generator was our priciest hostel, and whilst it’s difficult to compare value for money between Western and Eastern Europe, this was by far my least favourite hostel.

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I stole this photo from Google because I’m too shit at blogging to remember to take accomodation pics

We were greeted by a pretty grumpy receptionist, although to be fair I can sympathise as someone who works in customer service and also has to deal with the hell that is the general public. We had one room of three and one of four, and whilst they were small, they were pretty functional (even a mirror!), so no real issues there. The real problem was the school trip.

Yup. Come on holiday only to feel like you’re back at school again.

Thanks to my almost constantly awful luck we had been allocated the very room that the teachers had decided to sit in front of all night. Combine their chats with the screaming kids at 6am and it’s safe to say not much sleep was occurring in Berlin. This is my main gripe with hostels like Generator & Meininger; they’re just too big-business. I’ve stayed in some Generators with better atmospheres, but for me they always miss the home-grown atmosphere of the independents. I like those that are off the beaten track and communal, not chosen by teachers for their overzealous branding.

That said, the showers were alright and the public transport links were ridiculously close so I shouldn’t complain. It was okay, we were comfortable, I just wouldn’t rush back.

Wait… What Actually Happened?

Well, England were playing in the World Cup on night one, so that was basically required viewing. This resulted in us ending up in a locals-focused German smoking bar full of opposition fans, in which my friend Natalia got yelled at to leave because she didn’t want to drink. Carlsbergs all round then, mostly drunk by me, some thrown over me by Callum (I’m definitely not still bitter about that). On the plus side England won, so we quite rapidly paid the bill and got the hell out of there.

A big highlight for me was Museum Island. There’s an option to buy a ticket for all the museums on the island, but we decided against paying as it was quite expensive, and that would cut into the beer money. Instead we spent a good while just wandering around the area. Some of the buildings there are absolutely stunning, whether that be the museums themselves or the famed Berliner Dom cathedral. We even decided to walk from the island to see the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag, which in hindsight wasn’t our best decision on one of the hottest days of the trip, but I live to tell the sweaty tale.

 

 

Out of all of the museums we chose the DDR museum, because I fucking love Cold War era history. It was definitely worthwhile! The place was completely packed with information taking you right from the rise of Hitler to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I particularly loved their mockup of a typical East Berlin apartment during the German Democratic Republic, as well as the interactive exhibits throughout the museum.

 

 

You can’t go to Berlin without seeing the iconic symbols that map out 20th century German history, so we made sure to head to Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Checkpoint Charlie is very tourist-heavy now, with even a lovely ironic McDonald’s alongside it to cater to all this capitalism. Crossing the road however you’ll find information boards everywhere; plenty more fuel for my Cold War fix.

I love the East Side Gallery so much. It’s the ultimate fuck you. The Berlin Wall was the biggest symbol of division and oppression in the world for 28 years, so to see it transformed into an area of artistic freedom and diversity is just beautiful. To me it represents every value I hold of fighting for a better world for everyone, regardless of anything that may try to divide us.

 

 

We also visited the Olympia Stadion which I’m reliably informed is one of the last standing buildings that Hitler commissioned. I had no prior knowledge of this, but it proved yet again to me how much I love a good monument with a bit of past behind it. Also, quick fix for my architecture obsession, so I was very happy.

But Really Are You Eating Tho?

Berlin’s food is INSANE. Like, wow.

My biggest favourites were Vöner and Pizza Peppino. Voner is an all-vegan kebab place, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more content to eat a kebab whilst sober. Located in the vegetarian/vegan heavy neighbourhood of Ostkreuz, my vegan kebab was cheap, filling and served by very friendly staff. If you’re in Berlin you’d be mad to miss it. Pizza Peppino was a bit more of a random choice, as I can’t for the life of me remember what we were doing by Oranienburger Tor that lunchtime. That said, it was another cheap choice, and made sure everyone was full-enough to be satisfied by our train picnic dinner.

Special shoutout to Prater Garten for being the cutest beer garden I’ve ever drunk in – it’s not the cheapest but has such a cool atmosphere!

Other special shoutout to REWE supermarket for providing me with my supply of ricecakes and knockoff hazelnut spread for the week’s breakfasts; you the real MVP.

 

 

THAT WAS BERLIN, I’m going to leave it there before I fall asleep at my keyboard.

I wouldn’t think twice about returning. Berlin has a very modern feel to it, with efficient public transport, quirky neighbourhoods and it’s openness to veganism and us LGBTQ+ folks. However, it’s still steeped in history and geopolitics and I love it for that too. Basically, it satisfies my edginess, gayness, vegetarian tendencies, nerdiness and political interests all at the same time. I was one very happy Megan by the time I got on that train to Prague, if a little sad to leave such an amazing city behind.

Stay tuned for the more chaotic stories that are Prague and Budapest 😉

 

-Megan, listening to the Love Simon soundtrack like an actual piece of gay trash

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A beginners guide to Interrailing, every 18-year-old’s post sixth form dream

Hello lovely people!

Last summer I took to the rails and headed out to Europe for my first Interrail trip. Myself and three of my friends had just finished our A-Levels, and fresh with our new-found freedom we smashed 12 cities across 9 countries in 14 days, hearing 6 languages and dealing with 3 currencies (definitely didn’t just include the stats because I think they’re impressive).

It was quite the adventure, but I’m not here to talk about the specifics of the trip. Instead I’m going to share all of my tips and tricks, as there are definitely things I did right and things I’ll be doing differently on my next Interrail style trip to Berlin, Prague and Budapest this summer.

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Yes, you can Interrail in the countryside too! (Schaan Vaduz, Liechenstein)

Before your adventure

Planning this kind of trip is a lot more complicated than a few flights and hostels.

First of all, you’re going to need a route. I’d reccomend Interrail Planner for doing this, as it allows you to visually map out where you’re going to go, complete with distances. You are going to have to make sacrifices. Sometimes a city is just that little bit too far out of the way, or it doesn’t make for an easy route. It’s also worth considering how long you want to spend in each city at this point. We spent either a day or two in each, which for most cities (save Paris, I always need more time in Paris) I found worked out just fine!

Next stop; flights, trains and accommodation. For flights, as always, I’d reccomend Skyscanner. If you can, search for flights from a few different UK airports near you, as there will always be one that trumps the other on price. Once arriving in Europe, you’re going to need a place to stay. We used a mixture of hostels and airbnbs to keep costs low. I want to do a full post on how much I love hostels, but I’ll give you 3 main tips for now; choose places with kitchens, don’t worry too much about location (most cities have excellent public transport), and don’t expect much from a free breakfast. Next stop; trains (they’re a bit of a nightmare). Some will need further reservations not covered by your Interrail pass, especially in Western Europe and on night trains. When booking trains I’d reccomend making travel plans that allow you as much city time as possible, whether this be by making use of night trains or early morning trips.

Also, get travel insurance and an EHIC. You never know.

 

 

How to pack, for those who have had their Mum do it their entire lives

If you think you’re taking a suitcase, you’re sorely mistaken. Invest in a hiking backpack (think dofe in year 10 style), and use a smaller day bag for sightseeing. Preferably one that doesn’t have to be held together with string by the end of the trip like mine did last year.

I’m not going to tell you exactly what to pack, because quite frankly there are hundreds of lists online. But there are some random things that you will 100% need but will 100% forget. You will need: an extension lead for trains with only 1 plug, a headphone splitter to share comedy podcasts, playing cards so you don’t have to buy some in broken French, a First Aid kit for when blisters strike, photocopies of your passport and ID, and a fanny pack, because they’re oddly versatile.

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Are we real backpackers yet? (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Dollar dollar bills (or Euros? Francs? Zloty?)

My main point here is DON’T TAKE CASH YOU IDIOT. If you lose your wallet (which I did in Prague…. who’s an idiot?), have it stolen or get in a fire somehow (???), boom, all your money is gone. Instead, I’d reccomend using a Caxton card. It works like a prepaid debit card which you load before or even during your trip, without any of the nasty international fees often charged by UK banks. It covers a lot of different currencies, and even for those it doesn’t, you are still able to withdraw money from the card in whatever country you’re in (found that out the hard way in Liechenstein). Alternatively, I’ve just switched my current account to Monzo because they allow international transactions without fees, but you don’t need to be so drastic.

As for a budget, I found that 25EUR per day on average was about right, plus the cost of hostels on top. Some cities like Paris topped this budget, but others like Prague went way below. Everyone’s happy.

 

 

Getting from A to B

You’d be stupid not to use public transport, especially as it is generally much cheaper and more efficient in Europe than in the UK. Upon arriving in a city I’d advise checking out what tickets are available to you for your stay, as sometimes there are deals for students, or those staying 24h/48h/72h. This is easier said than done when you don’t speak the language, which is probably why we got better deals in France and Belgium. That said, guessing and looking confused when the train man speaks at you in Czech works well too.

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We love the S-Bahn (Munich, Germany)

Keeping yourself entertained

You’re going to see and do a lot more if you sit down and have a quick google in advance. We each took a few cities and did some research, even if for Thomas this consisted of asking a random German lady on the train what she’d reccomend we do in Munich. Personally, I’d reccomend checking out travel bloggers and instagrammers, as well as just generally googling “things to do in x city”. Don’t make a rigid plan though, as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stick to it and don’t want to spend the whole trip rushing around. Most of the time we took a few minutes the night before to work out what was vaguely close to other locations and came up with a rough idea of what we were doing. Make sure to take a student card if you have one, as many museums and galleries are much cheaper or even free!

 

 

Final tips

These are all of the random things that I couldn’t fit into any other boxes, but that I think deserve a mention.

STAY ORGANISED. To maximise your time and reduce stress, make sure you know exactly where you’re going, when you’re going, how you’re going and where you’re staying. A simple shared google doc or spreadsheet should do the trick.

For getting around I’d reccomend City Mapper if the city you’re in supports it, or failing that, Google Maps. Each app gives you a detailed travel plan including any public transport, which means you’ll be wasting much less time than you would staring aimlessly at Subway maps all day.

Document your trip however you can! You will thank yourself for your memories a year or twenty down the line. From our 2017 trip we have a vlog, the photos we shared in our group chat each day and a set of disposable camera photos each. For my 2018 trip I’m going to be doing the exact same, along with writing a diary each day.

Food wise, you want to keep costs low (more beer money right?). Breakfast for us consisted of rice cakes, chocolate spread and fruit on most days. Lunch options were either eating in a cafe if it was cheap, or heading to a supermarket and going picnic style with a baguette, cold meats and cheese. Dinner can either be something that’s quick and easy to cook in a big pot in a hostel kitchen (think spag bol and stir fry), or eating out depending on your budget.

 

 

So, now you have all the wisdom you need to go out and “find yourself” on a train in the Alps. For all I joke, my 2017 trip was easily a life highlight, and something I love looking back on all the time. If you get the chance to Interrail, take it. I can’t wait to be returning to the train-hostel lifestyle next week, and introducing my uni friends to it. LIVE THE ADVENTURE KIDDOS.

 

-Megan, listening to my release radar on Spotify because I’m so up-to-date and hip.

 

 

 

Durham is just a budget Edinburgh, so why not visit the better one?

Hello lovely people!

I’ve always wanted to become a travel blogger. Mainly for the pretentiousness, feigned image of being cultured and fitting into millennial ideals for once in my life. In reality, I’m just any other skint student wandering around with a backpack, trying to see as much as possible on as little money as possible. Still, doesn’t mean I’m not going to write about it.

Last Friday I took a day trip up to Edinburgh (I know, this travel blogging thing isn’t exactly starting with a bang, but just go with it). This was mostly to stop my friends’ incessant complaining about having never visited throughout the year, but also because on my last visit all I did was go clubbing and be hungover (thanks Hive). So we booked our train tickets, got up painfully early, and set out on our adventure.

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Travel

This section is largely self-explanatory. Due to my lack of car space, and everyone else’s lack of cars, we took the train up to Edinburgh. We chose to do an early start and a late finish, because the train tickets were cheaper we wanted to make the most of our day.

Buying bus tickets in Edinburgh is a bit pointless really, given that most of the main sights are at most a 20 minute walk from the main station. Didn’t do, wouldn’t reccomend.

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Natalia really likes cows, and I’ve never been exactly sure why

To See & Do

As a broke student, I always aim to make my travels as cheap as absolutely possible (tips and tricks guide coming soon), and Edinburgh was no exception.

Old Town

Walking around Old Town felt almost like I hadn’t left Durham with the prevalence of cobbled streets and hills. Nonetheless I’d totally reccomend setting aside a few hours during your day to just wander around this area, because you really will stumble upon some absolute gems, from cute independent shops to cathedrals and cafes. Avoid shopping or spending too much time on the Royal Mile though; this tourist hotspot is expensive and always busy. Instead, hit up side streets or the Grassmarket – you’re bound to save money.

Edinburgh Castle

Welcome to tourist-land kids. It’s nice to look at sure, even nicer to slav squat in front of, but do you really have £20 spare to visit it? The answer is no.

Scottish National Gallery

It wasn’t the first time I’ve visited this particular gallery, and it won’t be the last. I am a self-proclaimed idiot when it comes to art, but I can appreciate a pretty painting of a landscape when I see one. I’d also reccomend going to this gallery with friends with as stupid a sense of humour as you, so you can spend the entire time making jokes about the exhibits. To top it all off, it’s completely free! Thanks Nicola Sturgeon.

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Edgy emo kid looks at art for the first time

Holyrood Palace & Scottish Parliament

If your legs are getting tired by this point, these two are right next to each other – neat! We again decided not to venture inside either of these buildings because we’re poor, but it’s definitely a nice area to check out cool parts of history (I’m such a nerd). Added bonuses include the nearby Unknown Pleasures record shop (still not over how amazing this place was) and the fact that you’re surrounded by hills in this area whilst still being within Scotland’s capital city.

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Scottish Parliament, the only place to still use Gaelic

Food & Drink

I like food a lot. I also like coffee and beer. Hence this section.

Hula Juice Bar, West Bow

I’m obsessed with this place. It was our first stop of the day to refuel on caffeine, but I’m desperate to go back and try out their largely vegetarian and vegan menu. Not only was their coffee blend perfect, but the place had a really cool aesthetic (am I a millennial now?).

Deep Fried Mars Bar*

Can you really go to Scotland with your foreign friends without showing them deep fried mars bars? Answer: no. As always they’re a heart attack in a snack and not to be eaten on the daily, but super sweet and annoyingly tasty. *Best eaten with haggis for good measure.

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I love having heart disease

Toro Loco, Grassmarket

We collectively decided that by taking packed lunches with us (ultimate student travelling right there) we’d saved enough money on food and chose to eat in a restaurant for dinner. Toro Loco was the perfect choice; Mexican street food indoors (thanks to a typical Scottish rainy summer we didn’t fancy eating outside). I had some amazing bean quesadillas, with chips & guac for the table, totalling less than £6. A no-brainer really if you want good food at a good price.

Biddy Mulligans, Grassmarket

As it was raining, we were simply forced to spend the last part of our evening in the pub. What can you do? There was no better way to finish off the day than a pint of Tennents (when in Rome…), a little live music, pals and the football on in the background (I’m trying to learn to like it for world cup purposes).

 

So, my return to my Scottish heritage was, by all accounts, a lot of fun. Edinburgh is a beautiful mix of traditional and modern; the city’s industrialisation not hampered by it’s classic roots. I’m sure we’ll be back for more deep fried mars bars and whiskey before too long.

-Megan, pretending to watch the world cup as my flatmates pack up for home around me.

 

(Most of the photos in this post were taken by my absolute babe of a college wife Oana. Check out more of her photography here)