After a congenial and comfortable train ride from Amsterdam to Berlin, we weren’t exactly tired. And so, shortly after we dumped our bags in our hotel room, all four of us were eager to walk around and explore our new destination.
At first sight, I found Berlin hard to read. So much was happening around me visually. Heritage structures abounded, but the skyline was dominated by the slender and modern TV tower, the 4th tallest structure in Europe. Cranes dotted the horizon as well and I could sense the energy of a city that seemed to be in a constant state of re-invention.
Despite the broad research I had done, I hadn’t dwelt on what it would be like to walk the streets of Berlin and I loved the feeling of taking in a new place, the tingling sense of curiosity, the eagerness to discover. Rahul and the kids seemed to share this feeling as well and we found ourselves walking around the Nikolaiviertel (St Nicholas Quarter) that was adjacent to our hotel.
Aside: We stayed at the Novotel and Aadyaa called it the No-Hotel for two whole days to our utter amusement. A decent place to stay, not luxurious but well located.
Interestingly, this is the oldest residential area in Berlin dating back to medieval times. We circled Nikolaikirche, the oldest church in the city, which was to become a familiar landmark over the next few days. We walked past the ornate Ephraim Palace and the red Rathuis (Townhall). We admired the River Spree and paid our respects to St. George slaying the dragon.
Everywhere, I saw the infill new buildings that had been fitted into the fabric of the older city and it took me some time to shake off the visual symmetry of the Dutch landscape and accommodate the more kitschy urbanscape of Berlin. Somewhere in between our wanderings this first evening, we sat down to a hearty German meal of bratwurst and potato salad, beer and schintzel. A good beginning to a packed 4 days ahead in one of the most interesting cities in the world!
I’ve had several encounters with St. Bavo Kerk, a beautiful late Gothic cathedral located right in the centre of Haarlem in The Netherlands. Like many churches in Europe, St Bavo was built on the site of an older church that existed from the 12th century, however it was only in the 15th century that it was altered and expanded into a large cathedral. St Bavo started off a Catholic church but bore witness to the wave of Protestantism, finally becoming a Protestant cathedral in 1578.
Magnificent in size, with an impressive wooden ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows, St Bavo is designed (like all Gothic churches) to awe the visitor. Its Pièce de résistance, however, is its pipe organ, for a long time the largest in the world and once even played on by Mozart in 1766, when he was all of ten years old!
I remember walking to St Bavo way back in 1999, accompanied by my younger mama (maternal uncle) to hear an organ concert. Having recently finished by Bachelors in Architecture, I recall I spent most of my time staring at the church interiors and also at times dozing off (put it down to a limited understanding of Western music and a full stomach!).
This visit though, the rich sound of the organ struck me as soon as I set foot inside the cathedral and I found I could appreciate much better the texture of the sound, the acoustics of the absolutely stunning space and the atmosphere of divinity that the combination of space and sound created.
For the children, who had never been to a cathedral before, it was hard to decide where to look: the paved floors that marked the graves of important people, the paintings on the walls, the ceiling so so high, the shining organ, the hushed demeanour of those who sat in the pews hearing the music and seemingly engrossed in prayer, the statue of Mother Mary with her benevolent expression…..
After having spent a couple of hours out there in the Grote Markt thinking the cathedral was closed, I was just happy to be inside. For, call me old-fashioned or slightly crazy, it seems incomplete to visit Haarlem and not come here once!
We sat on the Turkish Airlines flight this morning, the same one we took exactly a year ago on our way to Barcelona. I remember sort-of celebrating our anniversary at Istanbul airport while we waited to board the onward flight. I also remember staring out the window when the plane landed, longing to get off at Istanbul. The birds eye view of the city taunted me, its intricate maze of streets, its domes and spires, its Europen style ordered layouts, its vast water bodies.
So when Rahul and me planned, for the umpteenth time, a getaway for just the two of us this summer, Bangkok and Pattaya and even the European cities just didn’t cut the ice. Both of us sort of zeroed in on Istanbul as our first choice, did the needful to get visas and bookings etc. Today, as I sit here having just checked into the hotel, hearing the sounds of the old city around me, I feel like we completed a journey begun a year ago on our tenth anniversary. This evening, we shall go out to celebrate our 11th, in a city full of smiling, laughing people, proud of their culture and immensely hospitable.
We’ve already experienced that here. When you ask a doorman for directions, and he takes you inside, gets someone to type in your destination on Google maps and give you a printout, even though he knows you are taking your business elsewhere, that’s true hospitality. Another elderly gentleman distributing pamphlets to advertise his street side eatery actually stood out and stopped traffic to help us cross a tricky intersection. A bunch of young men on the tram kept everyone entertained with their presumably witty conversation; even without understanding, it was hard not to laugh along. People stood up to offer their seats to women, elderly and kids without the slightest hesitation; fathers out with their children are as common a sight as mums and kids; women in headscarves and women in business suits converse animatedly- I see many, many signs of a tolerant, progressive and socially adjusted civilization. Hope to discover more as we explore the city…..
On our way from Bangalore to Madikeri in Coorg, we took a stop at Shrirangapatnam. Adjacent to Mysore, this has been an urban centre and a place of pilgrimage for centuries. What we see today, however, is the fort of Tipu Sultan who is infamous for having defeated the mighty British and keeping them at bay for many years till he succumbed finally in 1799.
We drove around the circumference of the fort today, choosing to alight only to see Colonel Bailey’s dungeons. Why the dungeons? Because when I visited the fort at the age of ten, I thought this was the most fascinating aspect of the fort. The ASI hadn’t quite created its current manicured look, it looked like a dungeon with whitewash slapped on it. I imagined starving creatures, tortured souls, hungry and in tattered clothes. Today we saw an arched space in sparkling white. It took some imagination to see this space as a subterranean dingy chamber where prisoners had literally stood in the waters of the river with their heads barely above the water! The view of the Cauvery, of course, was a delight from the roof of the dungeon. For the kids, especially Aadyaa, drinking coconut water after exiting was the best bit! And a smart move that kept us in top shape till we got to Madikeri a couple of hours later!