Roam to Reykjavik - Duty free (part 6)
There is a reason people speak of Berlin as though it may not actually exist.
It is truly a hypnotic, chaotic, nurturing urban organism.
We arrived. As instructed we quoted the license plate number and gave the key to the information desk attendant. She didn't know, or care, that we were 2 hours late. After a 15 minute lecture about the chaos we could expect from the reckless youths of Berlin over new years, our hilariously-disgruntled but lovely driver plonked us in Kreuzkölln. The comforting aroma of Balsamic roasted cherry tomatoes greeted us first, then appeared our friend Marty who we had invited to utilise the 3rd bed in the AirBNB we booked. I've known Marty since high school, he was kind of like a little brother to our whole group of mates. The time gap didn't stop him from making an effort, whipping up a feast, buying some nice wine and putting it all out for our arrival. Because he is Marty, and that is what Marty does... Legend.
Alexis' birthday is on new years eve... "Easy to celebrate" you may think... Not if you want to make her feel like she is the only reason for celebration. I booked a table in September before I'd even booked a flight to Europe. I don't really do christmas, easter and I strictly boycott Valentines day, but birthdays... Birthdays are my thing.
The birthday present consisted of shopping for a dress and shoes of her choice and flowers to carry around all day. This was followed by live music, games and 5 course dinner at Katz Orange. Alexis and I passionately nauseate at the thought of shopping, shopping malls and excessive consumption of 'stuff'. With clenched teeth we shopped. Marty patiently followed us around, translated and it turned out he had a keen eye for fashion. When she first drew back the change room curtain I was honestly speechless. I let out a response along the lines of "Eeeffgg aaaah yeh mmmm.... YEP!", I was absolutely stunned.
The whole dinner experience at Katz Orange deserves praise. Simply impeccable, accessible and mind-meltingly delicious. When in Berlin, just go there. It wrapped up around midnight with a champagne toast to fireworks in the restaurant courtyard. We were stuffed, chuffed and befuddled by how nicely the evening had turned out. We wandered out in to the night smiling and laughing as someone let off another firework about every 20 seconds.
The city mimicked a post apocalyptic movie set. Sulfur smoke filled every inch of air space. A constant chorus of bright, multicoloured explosions bouncing off the shallow sky above. Even in the darkest corners of the city (at 2am) families of 3 and 4 generations quietly giggled and lit fireworks with passing strangers. Berlin does New Years right.
From Berlin we stopped for a street-art-filled two days in Hamburg, Germany. Paying a visit to Marty at his apartment there and spent a very jolly night cooking, chatting and drinking wine in his cozy little kitchen.
A bus and a vehicular ferry later we arrived in Copenhagen for a two night stay. The whole place is expensive, tidy and dull. I paid US$7.50 for a very average coffee and we spent 2 hours walking to find an underwhelming sculptural mermaid tribute to Hans Christian Anderson. I'm not sure what is making the Danes score so high on the UN's happiness index, but it's certainly not driven by creative culture or value for money. Amidst all of the good-clean-fun in Copenhagen there is Freetown Christiania. Christiania is a hippie convent-come-suburb right in the heart of the trendy Christianshavn neighbourhood of Copenhagen known for selling weed to tourists and housing lost wanderers from all over the world. It is self-declared as autonomous from the Danish system, boosting power from nearby buildings and receiving no public services such as rubbish collection in return. The 850ish residents stick to a strict charter of laws that basically say - NO hard drugs, NO photos and NO dickhead behaviour. My best description of it is a cross between a slum and Coachella. Long story short, we ate a few brownies and somehow made it back to the hostel. We have discussed the situation since and I can only attribute Alexis' brief and audible 'moments of clarity'. We remember it started snowing on the walk home, we stopped to draw our names and... enormous willies in a regal courtyard in the snow. Before we managed to get back to the hostel room and giggle ourselves to tears. The force was strong in those space cakes - consume with half the recommended dosage if you visit.
Continuing on our journey we made our way to Stockholm by rail. I can say Stockholm was probably the most off-putting city of all. I'd heard great things from friends who lived there, stories of a culturally rich city with great food options and high standard of nightlife. The hype was never in any way justified. We were generously offered a place to crash with some friends, Ted and Sofia, who we had worked with and befriended in Sydney. They helped us navigate to some of the more 'local' and less 'mainstream' attractions and were great tour guides. But despite their help, Stockholm sucked. Sorry Sweden, your city was dull, your people glared at us for daring to disobey the traffic lights and your nightlife made youth-group at a right-wing church look like Woodstock. Stockholm left a lot to be desired beyond the generous and cozy hospitality of Ted and Sofia. They definitely saved us from a soul crushingly expensive few days of dull city survival. Thanks guys.
Sweden had a lot to offer outside Stockholm as we found out on the overnight sleeper train to Åre (badly pronounced as oorrl-hey). A ski resort town about 11 hours North of Stockholm. We booked some tickets and arrived right in the gap between the two weeks of national 'sport holiday' which left the place almost deserted with all amenities and ski runs fully groomed and operating... PERFECT! Powdery snow bliss.
To the airport and on a plane, it was time to fly to Iceland and start the next chapter. I had roamed 16,606km away from home, through 8 countries and 12 time zones.
The view from the door of our AirBNB cabin in Åre. It was actually insane... The owner also owned and operated a cafe on the top of a mountain in a hand built Teepee. He stocked the cozy little unit with a jar of Vegemite knowing we were Australian.