I suppose now is as good a time as any to post pics from December’s trip to Belize.

These are from Ambergris Caye for the most part. Ambergris is one of the islands off the the country’s east coast. We stayed in the tourist town of San Pedro, which may or may not be the town Madonna is talking about in “La Isla Bonita”.

It was nice, but a bit busy and pricey. Then again, it was Christmastime so I guess it’s to be expected.

Cayo Coco Cuba- Book in parts, save 100 bucks

I’m going to go out of order now, as I accidentally packed my Germany notebook so I can’t really write about Belize as accurately as I’d like to. Instead I’ll share a few experiences from a brief Reading Week trip to Cayo Coco, Cuba.

I went with 5 other girls to relax and soak up the sun mid-term. Of course, we were on a budget so we booked the best deal (for a 4-star) we could find, which ended up being the Pestana Cayo Coco beach resort.

Flights to Cayo Coco were exclusively offered by package tour companies using chartered flights, but we noticed the price of a complete package (flight + resort) was more expensive than the combined cost of booking the flight separately from the resort reservation- an extra $100 per person to be exact.

The only catch to booking separately was that the bus rides between the airport and the resort were not included. We booked separately anyway and decided that splitting two cabs wouldn’t be the end of the world if we didn’t manage to weasel our way on to the tour bus.

When we arrived in Cayo Coco, we (and about 45 other sun-thirsty Canadians) were greeted by a couple representatives from the tour company through which we’d booked our flight. It took next to no effort to get on the bus. They did check our printed confirmations, and commented that we had only shown the flight-related printouts, but they figured we’d just forgotten to print the second page.

From that point on, we were essentially part of their group- we consulted their day-trip representative, we booked activities through them, and we rode their bus on the way back to the airport, no problem.

I’m not usually one for historical museums (I prefer art galleries) but the DDR Museum in Berlin was pretty fantastic.

Located on the East Side of Museum Island, right near the Radisson Blue, the museum gives an interactive look at life in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik/ German Democratic Republic (East Germany). I’m pretty sure the interactive layout is meant to attract families with young children, but it worked it’s magic on me just the same.

We paid 4 euro to get in (reduced fair since we’re students), and spent about an hour and a half inside. Unlike many larger museums, this one had a set route for visitors to follow. The displays were organized by theme (life, work, fashion/clothing, media, etc.) and consisted of artifacts and models from the era.

The vibe I got from the exhibit is difficult to describe. It’s not that East German life lacked personality or culture, but that the individuality was missing. Of course, I was born after the fall of the wall, so I can’t contrast my experiences in the West against what I saw at the museum- my memory only goes as far back as the early 2000s, and even then it’s kind of shoddy.

http://www.ddr-museum.de/en

Pay what you want wine and dine

On May Day, we decided to have dinner at Weinerei. We’d read about it, a place where you could have all-you-can-drink wine for 2 euro, and decided it was a top priority. You can imagine our disappointment, then, when we arrived at Veteranenstraße 14 and found that it was closed for the holiday.

We were about to turn away when we noticed a sign on the door, directing us to “Perlin,” a sister restaurant of the same concept located just around the corner, at Griebenowstraße 5. We decided to see if it was open, since we’d already come so far.

Good thing we walked the extra couple of blocks, because Perlin was indeed open, and we ended up having quite an experience! The place was small (“intimate” some might say), and practically empty when we arrived at 8 pm. The server gave us each an empty glass for 2 euro, and invited to help ourselves to the wine. There were 5 reds and 5 whites/rosés open on a nearby counter, and she offered to open any bottle on display that we might want to try. We were to drink, eat, and enjoy ourselves, then pay what we felt the experience was worth.

Once we’d poured our first glass, an Austrian white, the server came over and recited a 3-item menu that consisted of salad, soup, and steak. We ended up sharing a steak and salad, which was preceded by a bread and olive appetizer. All were good- not mind blowing, but tasty considering it could be free.

The other wine we drank that night was a bubbly rosé called Ferosa. I remember it being delicious, but of course I can’t remember exactly how it tasted…typical. Sitting and sipping the wine, we took in our surroundings. Perlin was excruciatingly hip. The furniture was mismatched, upholstered (mostly with red velvet) and home style. The lighting was, of course, dim, and the fixtures were colourful.The walls were lined with provocative paintings, and there was a projection screen set up, which was playing a football game on mute  at the time. There was a turntable set up in the corner, and the server had put on some French album.

I only took one photo because I didn’t want to be a turd.

image

About half way through our meal, a guy who knew the server and owner(?) came in. The three of them proceeded to have a conversation that was interesting enough to end our conversation in favour of eavesdropping. The guy who’d entered was young and American. He worked for a not-for-profit organization and was an avid traveller. I automatically judged him for having brought up such interesting topics within five minutes of sitting down, but that probably wasn’t fair of me. The man who I assumed was the owner had apparently escaped the GDR three months before the Berlin Wall came down. He spoke about the night he jumped the wall.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was picturing them as characters in a novel. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had to read the Wall Jumper in a German culture course the year before. Who knows. At one point the American started talking about Toronto. He spoke well the city, which I got him some Brownie points in the end.

Before we knew it, it was 11 o’clock. We decided to pay up and head out. I didn’t record how much we ended up paying but it was probably in the neighbourhood of 15-20 euro each. I’m sure the same food and wine would have been pricier at another restaurant, but we were travelling students. Plus we had no idea where to even begin to figure out the value of the wine.  Connoisseurs can’t even tell half the time with bottles they’ve never tried.

Good thing the server was still deep in conversation with the owner and the American. We quietly made our payment in the silver bowl sitting up on the wine counter, and slipped out with a quick thanks.

http://weinerei.com

Vintage/Second-Hand Berlin

We spent one day in Berlin hitting up a few thrift stores. First we visited the Humana flagship store in Alexanderplatz- just a block from our hostel (ONE80 Hostel). Humana is a Goodwill-esque chain that uses the slogan “First Class, Second Hand.” The location we visited was BIG, and had a much more diverse selection than anything I’d ever seen at any Value Village, but I guess that’s to be expected when comparing innately hip Berlin to good ol’ Canaderp.

hand.de/mode/shops.html

Anyway, from there we trekked around to a couple concept stores. They were named Colours and Garage, and were both owned by a company called Kleidermarkt.  Their vibe was similar to that of  Black Market at Queen and John in Toronto, but they were much, much larger. The inventory at the Kliedermarkt stores was more targeted than at Humana, so it was easier to browse. Of course this meant it was a bit more costly (the clothes were in the 10-20 euro range). One fun thing they offered was a section where the merchandise was priced by weight. It didn’t change the prices much, but was kind of a fun novelty experience.

http://kleidermarkt.de