Sunday, 27 November 2011

Berlin: an authentic Berlin dancehall

The best way to get over jet lag is to get into the rhythm of the arrival city.  This rule we followed very literally by going to the historical Clarchen Ballhaus the very day we arrived in Berlin.  After settling into the rental apartment, we wandered around the neighbourhood and in no time found ourselves on Auguststrasse where the dancehall was located.  This dancehall had been around since 1913 and had kept its original decor and flavour.   We arrived on a Monday and it was salsa night.  We decided to have an early dinner in the outdoor patio and stay for the dancing to keep ourselves awake after the transatlantic flight.  

The dinner was delicious and excellent value.  Most memorable was the plate of white asparagus that was in season (it was May).  You can see below the outside of the building and the patio where dinner was served.  The mirror room on the second floor of the ballhaus was left in its original condition.  This used to be a separate ballroom for the upper class in the city and it was almost magical visiting it and imagining the glitz and glamour that used to hang around in that room.  For more on its history, go to

We stayed for the salsa - long enough to get us into the "rhythm" of the city.  Lots of fun and dance partners if you're willing!

The Clarchen Ballhaus and the outdoor patio
The mirror room upstairs

The mirror room set up for a private party

An afternoon dance class in the ballhaus

We shared a communal table on the patio with a couple of fellow travellers from Brussels, who very generously treated us to a round of beer!  What a great start to our Berlin experience!


Thursday, 24 November 2011

NZ: Last stop - Christchurch (before the quake)

We arrived in Christchurch almost ready to go home, having been on the road for 4 weeks.  We were invigorated by a warm welcome from our dear New Zealand friends who made the remarkable city even more memorable.  We walked everywhere and enjoyed the classic neo-gothic architecture and serene streetscape.  What a beautiful city! It was with much sadness that we heard about the devastation from this year's earthquake.  But New Zealanders are strong and resilient - they will recover.

The bell tower from our hotel room in the historic Novotel.

Great War Memorial

Handy stroller hangers on the trolley
The Art Gallery - stunning!

Inside the Art Gallery

Arts Centre located in the former University of Canterbury buildings, sadly the Arts Centre was heavily damaged during the 2011 earthquake

This used to be the Engineering building.
Inside the Arts Centre

Gorgeous colours in the Botanic Gardens

Roses in all their glory

Christchurch Town Hall - also significantly damaged during the quake

The Town Hall Performing Arts auditorium known for its acoustics - reminded us of the Berlin Philharmonic Hall
The lovely banks of the Avon river flowing through Christchurch

Damage from the earlier quake

Our friends took us up to the top of the Cashmere HIlls for tea in this historic building The Sign of the Takahe.

Panoramic view of Christchurch and beyond

This wraps up our amazing trip to New Zealand and Australia - four memorable weeks in two remarkable countries -  doubtless people and places we would love to return to again.   Thank you all for coming along on the trip with us.

Next post - a retrospect on our 2009 Berlin trip

Sunday, 20 November 2011

NZ: the TranzAlpine - Greymouth to Christchurch

We boarded the TranzAlpine Scenic Railway at Greymouth to begin the last legs of our NZ trip.  We have now been on the road for almost 4 weeks - it was almost with a sigh of relief that we sat down in our seats on the train and wait to be transported across the South Island to our final destination, Christchurch.  You can see below some of the scenery on the way - not the most spectacular we had seen, whether on this trip or in the Canadian Rockies - but quite unique in its way.

Saying goodbye to the west coast

The TranzAlpine approaching the long tunnel

The river meandering across the Canterbury Plains

Arriving at destination Christchurch's Cathedral Square

Sunday, 13 November 2011

NZ: Helihiking on the Franz Josef Glacier

For us, it was an adventure of a lifetime - a hike on the Franz Josef glacier.   We had reviewed our options - the full day hike from the valley floor to the top was out of the question for us, we'd never make it.  The only physically viable option was the heli-hike, where we would be flown to the glacier by helicopter and taken on a two hour guided hike.  This could only happen if it didn't rain.  This hike was the biggest challenge on our entire New Zealand trip and we looked forward to it with much anxious anticipation. 
Our lucky streak continued and the day of the hike was sunny and warm (for spring), a windless cloudless day.  We still had to wait for the confirmation that the flight was on.  Then it took an hour just for everyone to get their gear, put them on and line up for the helicopter.  When we landed on the glacier, it was slippery and I was nervous I couldn't catch up with my group - most in their twenties.  But we were given crampons and it was a lot easier once we've got them on.  We had never done so much walking and climbing on snow and ice before.  You can see from the photos that the glacier surface was full of mountains and valleys, tunnels and crevices - it could get dangerous.  

The glacier from the valley floor to the top

Approaching the top on the helicopter

First glimpse of the blue ice caves

It was like we were on a jungle gym made of ice, we crawled through tunnels and we climbed up slippery chutes.

Doesn't this remind you of whipped meringue browned in the oven?

Our guide had to periodically break up the ice to create a less slippery path for us

What's going on with the other group?

We got pretty high up off the glacier floor, the way down was harder than the way up

Time to go back

We did a short hike later in the day to the foot of the glacier and looked up to where we were earlier in the day.  The experience would have been very different if we had not done the helihike.  This was all we would have seen in the valley.

Still a magnificent view - but a totally different experience.  We were so glad we did the hike!

Next Post - From Greymouth to Christchurch