First Impressions of Berlin
It has been a long day of travel, but I am finally in Berlin, settled into my AirBnB.
I woke up super early this morning to catch a 4:20 am flight from Burgas Airport to Sofia. Vili, the hotel owner, was nice enough to drive me to the airport so my parents won’t have to. I was originally supposed to take a mid-afternoon flight to Sofia and connect to Berlin at 5 pm, but a schedule change left me with only 10 minutes to catch my connection. The only other option on Bulgarian Air was that 4:20 am flight out of Burgas, so that’s what I took. I could launch into a whole side story about how, after the schedule change, I couldn’t get a hold of Bulgarian Air over the phone to discuss what to do with my 10-minute connection problem in Sofia, and how my parents had to call a friend who had a friend who worked at Bulgarian Air, who then had to call a another person at the call center to call me back to fix all this. But I won’t. Or is it too late for that? 🙂
At any rate, the flight to Sofia was only 35 minutes. I didn’t check-in my luggage, and I took a taxi once in Sofia, so I was home and in my bed trying to get some more shut-eye by 6 am. I slept for a good few hours, woke up, wrote the previous blog post, then hung out with my brother a bit. I was tempted to catch another taxi back to the airport, but I wanted to check the new metro line that went there (and it would have been 10 times cheaper, about 1 USD) so I did that. The walk to the metro station was less than 10 minutes, but it did involve dragging a suitcase on uneven streets in a relatively hot day. 🙂 The ride itself took less than 30 minutes, so I was at the airport with plenty of time till my flight. I bought a newspaper and a coffee at the little airport market (rather than at the coffee shop itself – much cheaper), and I headed to my gate.
My flight was a quick 1 hr 45 minutes, and I was at Berlin’s Tegel airport a little after 6 pm local time (I gained an hour due to the time difference). Berlin has been trying to finish its new airport for years but it’s still not done (it’s currrently slated for late 2017/early 2018), and let me tell you – Tegel screams 1985 (I would even say 1975, but I wasn’t born then, so I guess I can’t be sure). From the signs to the layout to its size, you could tell this was an older airport. Since I’ve been flying in and out of Frankfurt before now, the difference was striking to me. I can’t even believe this is the fourth busiest airport in Germany. But it explains why Lufthansa uses Frankfurt as its hub – I always wondered why the capital and the most populous city in the country wouldn’t be the hub. Now I know.
I walked over to Terminal A (I landed in terminal C), and found the Berlin tourist information center right in front of gate A1, like my Rick Steves guidebook said. I had gotten a Berlin Welcome Card online and I needed to come here to exchange my receipt for the actual welcome card (it’s a 4-day transport pass plus a discount card to a bunch of museums), and I also got my museum pass here (gives me free entry to all museums on Museum Island, not included in the Welcome Card) and I made my free time-entry reservations for the two museums on the island I wanted to visit – Neues and Pergamon, which will save me waiting in line. My next stop was the tech shop, where I got my local SIM card, and off I went to catch my public transport to my AirBnB. When I got my local SIM, I got an AirBnB message from my host that the neighbor who’s supposed to let me into the place I am staying (host is out of town till tomorrow) might need to step out right at the time I was supposed to get there, so I was kind of in a rush to catch her before she left.
Having lived in LA for so long, I keep thinking getting from A to B in Europe would take longer than it does. Even Berlin with its 3.5 million people in what is considered a spread-out layout for a European city, is pretty compact.I took two buses and a short walk to my AirBnB, and it all took less than 30 minutes. I did catch the neighbor before she left. The apartment is adorable, and there is kitty named Carl who was thrilled to see me. He’s currently curled up next to me as I type.
I took a quick shower and went back out to grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants I saw around the corner as I got off my bus stop. One of them turned out to be Syrian (refugees enriching the food scene?) but all the outdoor seating was taken, so I sat next door at a Chinese place, which was also busy. I didn’t feel bad about eating Chinese as I had read that the restaurant scene in Berlin is quite diverse and Berliners often seek out foreign cuisine. Also, I was tired and hungry. 🙂 I enjoyed a plate of beef over sweet potato with rice and a beer while I people-watched. I saw lots of people on bicycles as well as people walking on the street drinking a bottle of beer and/or smoking a cigarette. At one point, I heard sirens and music up ahead, and eventually I saw a police escort leading a large group of people (at least 100) on roller blades. It was like a mini roller-blade version of CicLAvia in LA – an event that closes a street or neighborhood on a Sunday to cars so that people on foot and on bikes can enjoy it car-free.
As a night cap, I took a stroll around my block after dinner, just to check out the ‘hood. It was quaint and quiet and clean and quintessentially European.
The verdict: I like Berlin already. A lot.