Looking back: my trips in 2018

2018 was a year full of changes for me – and they did live up to the expectations! Last year, I finished my PhD (reason enough for it to get the best-year-ever award), moved in to a new beautiful apartment with my boyfriend, started working in the job I really wanted, and at the end even gave a TEDx talk! Hello, adult life! Looking back, it sounds like a perfect plot – but oh, did it have its up’s and down’s…

I’ve been so busy I haven’t posted here since last August (shame on me). But now I’m back, and I’d like to keep the tradition of summarizing the trips I did in the previous year (for the 4th time now!).

Previous posts on the same series:
My trips in 2017
My trips in 2016
My trips in 2015


In 2018, I didn’t manage to travel every month, which is usually my goal: you’ll notice February, May and November were left out. But the trips I had were very special and bring really nice memories. It was a year when my parents came to visit (my mom for the first time) and when I went back to the cities where I lived during my Master’s – precisely the same year I finished my PhD and closed the academic life cycle. Had it been a movie, it would have received the title “Back to the origins”. 😀

JANUARY: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) / Usedom (Germany)

I usually spend New Year’s in my hometown, Rio. This time, I had the company of a good friend of mine from the Master’s and PhD programs. And after getting back to the winter of Berlin, I had a day trip to Usedom, an island by the Baltic Sea, in northeastern Germany.

MARCH: Nennendorf / Western Germany

March took me once more to the Baltic Sea (Germans will take any opportunity to go to the coast, even in wintertime), on a nice and cozy weekend trip when a big group of friends rented a whole house just for us, in a village called Nennendorf.

And on the first long weekend of the year (Easter), a good friend and I headed to western Germany to visit Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Koblenz and Aachen. The highlight was Drachenburg Castle, whose main viewpoint was temporarily closed, but still we managed to sneak in to take beautiful photos like this one:

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Drachenburg Castle in Königswinter

APRIL: Greece

My birthday was turned into a long weekend together with Labor Day, when I visited sunny and warm Greece for the first time – being based in Athens and also doing day trips to Nafplio (a tip from a Greek friend of mine) and a whole-day boat tour to some of the nearby islands: Hydra, Poros and Aegina.

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Athens, Greece
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Nafplio, Greece

JUNE: Lisbon + Algarve (Portugal)

Having family and roots in Portugal, I always go back there. This time, I visited a dear, long-time friend from Rio who was living in Oeiras, very close to Lisbon, and some of my relatives, and then headed south to enjoy the beaches in Algarve (my second time there). All that in the midst of the World Cup. What an amazing, heart-filling week it was!

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Praia do Camilo, Lagos, Algarve

JULY: Göttingen (Germany)

A couple of dear friends of mine were celebrating their PhD graduation in Göttingen (where I did my Master’s and lived for almost 2 years) and I couldn’t miss it. A weekend of seeing old friends again, partying and going back to watching World Cup games in the same places where I had 4 years before.

AUGUST: Rackwitz (Germany) / Bordeaux (France)

A very sweet, countryside wedding of a couple of friends took us to a village called Rachwitz, near Leipzig, on a summer weekend.

Later the same month, I went back to Bordeaux, where I lived and studied for one semester during my Master’s, for the annual meeting of my Master’s program. As always, it was a week surrounded by dear colleagues (old and new), celebrations, sharing ideas and even a visit to Château de Montaigne with the mandatory wine tasting.

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Château de Montaigne, France

SEPTEMBER: Northern Portugal

My parents and godparents (who are very close to me) came to visit in Berlin – it was my mom’s first time in Germany! So naturally, my parents and I went to visit our family in northern Portugal, where I have been quite a few times. They gave us the full tour: Porto, Coimbra, Viseu, Aveiro… Portugal is one of those countries where it’s always great to be back.

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East Side Gallery, Berlin
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Costa Nova, Aveiro, Portugal

OCTOBER: Hamburg (Germany)

Six girls coming from three different cities in Germany managed to meet in Hamburg for a Bachelorette party weekend – which was a surprise for the bride-to-be, including the program we had planned: trampoline hall, paintball, brunch and of course, some nice cocktails.

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“The Chug Club”: very nice cocktail bar in Hamburg, Germany

DECEMBER: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

As usual, I headed to Rio for the final days of the year – and this was my boyfriend’s first time there! New Year’s was spent in white clothes, with a couple of dear friends who also came for the occasion, feet in the waters of Copacabana beach and heads up to the fireworks.

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New Year’s Eve at Copacabana Beach, Rio

Because 2018 had so many important milestones for me, it’s going to be hard to beat this year… But… give it your best shot, 2019! Hope everyone has some amazing trips this year!

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6 years later… still in Europe!

Today it’s been 6 years since I moved to Europe, and 3 since I started a platform to share my thoughts on living abroad: this blog.

Six whole years. That’s 2 football world cups that I’ve experienced here. Or, in academic terms, that’s the full duration of a Master’s plus a PhD (so, trust me, a very long time).

My fellow colleagues from graduate school, with whom I’ve been sharing this European journey since day one, and I are finishing our doctorates this year. So, for us, this 6th Euroversary is the end of an era, the closing of a cycle.

I try to close my eyes and picture my 6-year-younger self arriving here. I remember being beyond excited, extremely grateful and surprisingly fearless. But did I think, back then, that I would still be living here after all this time? Or, better said, that I would still want to?

I did have an open-minded, “let’s-see-what-happens” attitude, but with a slight tendency of guessing that I would want to go back to my home country eventually, after my studies.

But my Master’s and PhD have gone by, and I’m still here. Fortunately, by choice. Even my most adventurous side from the past could not have predicted that my intentions at the present point in time would be so clear. I have defined that Berlin is the place I want to be at the moment.

I’ve had the opportunity to live in and visit different cities in Europe during the past 6 years, and I’ve found a home in Germany – specifically, its capital. It’s no news that Berlin is an exciting, affordable, everything-but-boring city that spoils the prospect of living anywhere else. And it has indeed won me over.

Does this mean that life here is nothing but blue skies and butterflies? No way. Do I sometimes feel like cursing a few Germans in Portuguese? Absolutely. But every location in the world has its disadvantages, so what matters in the end is that the pros outweigh the cons. And I can’t think of any reason to leave Berlin or of any other city where I would be happier living in.

At least for now. The saying “never say never” is just as valid today as it was 6 years ago. When I was growing up in Brazil, I had no idea I would one day build a whole new world (~Aladdin feelings~) for myself in Germany. So it’s pointless to pretend I have a clue about what the future will bring.

All I know is that, 6 years later, I’m still here – more grateful and pleased than ever.


Reflective posts of the same series:

2017 – 5 years in Europe

2016 – 4 years in Europe

2015 – 3 years in Europe

7 things you need to know when moving to Germany

moving

These tips are for those who are moving, or just have moved, to Germany. Turns out most of them are about German bureaucracy and avoiding fines. But what can I say, they’re the things you need to know most urgently – even before finding where the closest Biergarten is. So let’s start getting used to the German dos and don’ts:

1. You have to register your address at the citizen’s office

Once you have your fixed address in your new German home, you have to get an appointment (Termin) at a citizen’s office (Bürgeramt) of the city where you’ve started to live to make the registration (Anmeldung) of your address. Take your passport and your rental contract with you. This way, the German government knows where you and all the other citizens live. The registration is free of charge, and failure or delay to do it might get you fined. Officially, it should be done in your first couple of weeks in Germany.

If you move to a new address, you have to re-register (Ummeldung) and if you move out of Germany, you have to unregister (Abmeldung).

Just type in on Google: Anmeldung + name of the German city where you now live, and you will find the official website to get the appointment and further information.

2. Health insurance is mandatory

Meaning: even if it’s expensive, there’s no way around it. You will need to present your health insurance number to be able to sign a job contract, for example. The good news is that by law the employer pays half of the cost. There are two types of health insurance in Germany: public and private. And there are several companies which offer different deals at different prices. The vast majority of Germans have a public insurance which covers everything. Some foreigners prefer having a private insurance if they are not staying for a long period of time, as these can sometimes be cheaper. Search online, talk to people and compare the different options to make the best choice for you. You can find more details about health insurance in Germany here.

3. Having a German bank account is not officially mandatory, but in practice it is

You will need a German bank account to pay for your rent and health insurance, to receive your salary or any kind of payments, to get a German phone plan or internet for your home. So even if there is no law saying that everyone who lives in Germany needs to have a German bank account, chances are you won’t be able to manage without one.

4. You must stamp your ticket when using the public transport

This sounds obvious to most people who are used to European culture, but it might be confusing for people coming to Germany from further away. Contrary to other countries in Europe, the public transport in German cities usually doesn’t have turnstiles where you clearly have to insert your ticket to be able to enter. It’s all based on trust. You should always carry a valid, stamped ticket when riding the subway, trains, trams or buses in Germany. Ticket controllers might appear anytime (undercover, wearing no special uniforms) and ask you to present your ticket. If it’s not stamped and valid, you will get a fine (currently €60 in Berlin).

5.  Downloading pirate music and media will get you fined

Whatever you do, DO NOT download songs, movies or TV shows from the internet. That includes torrent: never use torrent in Germany. Better to even delete any torrent programs you might have on your computer. They know how to find you (remember the Anmeldung?) even through your computer ID, and people, usually foreigners, get fined quite frequently for this reason. I’ve heard real-life examples of foreigners who didn’t know about this rule and received an over €800 fine. So better not risk it. The solution: online streaming won’t get you into trouble, or actually paying for the media you are getting (through Netflix, Apple store, Spotify, etc).

6. There is a tax for TV and radio

Every German home pays a tax for the use of TV and radio (Rundfunkbeitrag) – even if you don’t own any TV or radio. It’s a fixed rate of €17.50 per month – per household, not per person. This money goes to support the public broadcasting channels in Germany. After registering your address (see #1), you’ll get a letter asking you to pay the compulsory monthly fee.

To me as a foreigner, this rule doesn’t make much sense, as TV and radio channels still run commercials – which in theory exist to support the channels financially. But all expats agree that there is no way around it, and even if you try to ignore the tax, the system will win in the end and you will just have to pay an even higher amount.

7. You can get some tax money back

Let’s end this list with some good news: if you’re staying in Germany for a while, you might be eligible to get tax refund (Steuererklärung) once a year. If your income comes from a scholarship, it’s tax-free, so you will probably not be entitled to receive it. But if you’re working under a job contract, you can apply for it. You can either search online and figure out all the documents you need for it by yourself (although that might be tricky for non-Germans), or hire a consultant (Steuerberater) who will advise you what to do to get the highest amount possible.

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I hope these tips will clarify some doubts and make your new life in Germany a little bit easier. After the initial settling-in phase, everything becomes lighter. Willkommen! 🙂

Looking back: my trips in 2017

2017 has been wonderful for me, both professionally and personally. And it was a year of many, maaany trips. Thinking about it, I’ve been to 13 countries only this year (yes, THIRTEEN!!), including 3 times in Italy and 4 countries for the first time: Uruguay, Argentina, Scotland and Ireland. It was more countries than months. Still, it was by far the most productive year of my PhD.

In 2015, I traveled every month of the year and in 2016, almost (only 1 month got away). This year was different: the vast majority of my trips was concentrated in the first semester, when most of the long weekends and spring/summer take place, but there were one or two trips per month. It was so much coming and going between January and August that I must confess that even I got a bit tired. 😀

JANUARY: Rio de Janeiro / Uruguay + Argentina

As always, I spent New Year’s in my beautiful city, Rio de Janeiro.
And, finding it absurd to have visited so many European countries but only Brazil in South America (and still, not even the whole country), I finally decided to change that. I traveled with my dad through Montevideo, Punta del Este and Colonia del Sacramento (in Uruguay) and, after crossing from one country to the other by ferry, Buenos Aires (in Argentina).

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Montevideo, Uruguay

FEBRUARY: Switzerland

My second time in Geneva and third in Switzerland, this time to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend, who even took me to eat lots of cheese and to visit CERN’s particle collision detector. I also visited Montreux, Vevey and Lausanne, which comprise French Switzerland, or Swiss Riviera. A gorgeous scenery with snow-covered mountain tops.

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French Switzerland

APRIL: Scotland / Ireland

Easter holiday exploring Scotland for the first time with a friend from the Master’s and a childhood friend from Rio who met us there. We visited Edinburgh and Glasgow and went on day trips to Loch Ness, the Highlands, Stirling, Loch Lomond and a whiskey distillery.

And I visited my 27th country, Ireland, on my 27th birthday, over the long weekend of Labor Day. I stayed with a friend from the Master’s who was an amazing hostess. I visited Dublin and went on trips to the Cliffs of Moher and Howth and the Galway Bay. Despite Scotland and Ireland’s  reputation of being quite rainy, those were beautiful and sunny spring days!

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Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

MAY: Alicante (Spain) / Turin + Cinque Terre + Pisa (Italy)

No time to catch a breath: the next day I arrived from Dublin I flew to Alicante for a conference for Neuroscience PhD students. The resort where it took place, by the beach, the presence of friends, and the hot and sunny weather made it seem as if it was purely a leisure trip.

At the end of May, I went to Italy with my best friend. He wanted to visit Turin (a Juventus fan!) and I, Cinque Terre: the 5 villages by the sea, with beautiful colorful houses on cliffs. So we did both! And even Pisa too, since it was so close by. Such stunning sights!! Amongst my trips in 2017, this one gets the award of best destination.

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Manarola (Cinque Terre), Italy

JUNE: Paris / Amsterdam

My third time in Paris, visiting a friend from Rio de Janeiro over the weekend, in the heat of summer (and how warm indeed!). We visited what was missing for both of us two to see around there: the Palace of Versailles.

I also spent a week in Amsterdam, where I was kindly hosted by a friend from the Master’s, to attend a fantastic BioBusiness course.

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Palace of Versailles

JULY: Göttingen (Germany) / Leuven (Belgium)

I went back to the German city where I lived during my Master’s, Göttingen, for a week of work, surrounded by friends. And later I headed to Leuven (my second time) for the wedding of a dear friend. What a special and wonderful weekend!

AUGUST: Kenilworth (England)

Another weekend to celebrate the wedding of another dear friend, this time in Kenilworth, England. There was a lot of love, a lot of sun, blue skies and caipirinha. It was truly amazing!

OCTOBER: Venice (Italy)

A super romantic trip with my boyfriend (our first trip together, and our first time in Venice!). I wrote a post about what to see over there beyond the main island: Burano, Murano, Torcello and Sant’Erasmo.

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Venice, Italy

DECEMBER: Rome / Rio de Janeiro

Heading from Berlin to Rio with a friend who was on the same flight, we had a 7-hour layover in Rome. Although it wasn’t our first time there, we went to the city center and walked around the streets covered in Christmas lights. It seems that Italy didn’t want to let go of me this year.

And 2017 ends where it began: in Rio de Janeiro. 🙂

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I can barely wait for 2018 and the trips that will come! Happy New Year everybody!!!


My trips in 2016

My trips in 2015

Answering the question “How do you manage to travel so much?”

The islands in the Venice lagoon: Murano, Burano, Torcello

Venice is a beautiful destination that attracts thousands of tourists every day. Before visiting it for the first time, I was aware of the risk of it being overrated, but personally found it to meet the expectations. Maybe a key decision was to follow the tip of visiting it during autumn, when the weather is still nice but the crowds are a lot smaller.

The main island of Venice is rather small and can be well explored in 1-2 days. It’s only 4 km long and 1 km wide. So if you have an extra day there, you can go island-hopping in the large Venetian lagoon.

Boats (or vaporettos) are really the main type of public transport in Venice – just like buses or subway trains in any other city. There are 24-, 48- and 72-hour tickets valid for unlimited boats trips, which are usually worth the money (plus, there’s a big discount on the 72-hour ticket for people under 29 years of age!). For more information, check here under “public transport”.

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Burano

This was my favorite island in the lagoon, after Venice. The bright colorful houses along the canals heading towards the lagoon compose an extremely photogenic scenery. The island is known for its lace, which is sold in shops on the small streets. It’s a 30-minute ride from Murano and 40-minute from Venice.

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Torcello

Honestly, this island is better known for its history than for its attractions. It’s quite small and there is not much to see. There are a couple of churches you must pay to visit and a small museum. We decided to check it out since it’s so close to Burano – so if you’re feeling “why not?”, then do it. But know that – at least compared to the other islands in the Venice lagoon – it’s not so charming.

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Murano

While Burano and Torcello are near each other and further away from Venice’s main island, Murano is quite close by (about a 10-minute ride). And just like Burano is known for its lace, Murano is famous for its glass products, hand-made on the island. You can watch artists in action making the small glass figures inside shops.

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Sant’Erasmo

The calm and peaceful island of Sant’Erasmo is not a tourist must-see – BUT it’s a great option to stay overnight while visiting Venice. We found the cute Hotel Il Lato Azzurro to have excellent reviews on Booking.com and a ridiculously better price than hotels on the main island of Venice. I was a bit worried that it might be too far (location is a priority for me when booking accommodation), but the 25-minute boat ride from Venice didn’t feel very long (plus, we had a ticket for unlimited trips). The charming hotel compensates for the distance with balcony rooms overlooking the lake, nice breakfast, friendly staff and free bikes for guests to borrow whenever they want. Note: I was not sponsored by the hotel in any way to recommend it. 🙂

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Other islands

We also walked through Mazzorbo, a residential island attached to Burano – very quiet and not exactly a place that can’t be skipped.

San Michele is a small cemetery island located between Venice and Murano.

We did not visit Lido, on the southeast side of the lagoon, but it’s also an island where some tourists head to when visiting Venice.


So there is clearly more to Venice than just its main island. But one thing is a constant: water transportation, being it by gondola or vaporettos. You can’t (and shouldn’t) miss it.

The odd feeling of having two homes

Sometimes it’s as if I live in two parallel universes. The two worlds are extremely real, complex, mine, but very different.

One keeps my family, my oldest friends, my past, my memories, my base. The other one is my present, my daily life, my routine, my novelties, my most recent friends (not that recent anymore), my ‘right now’.

I have an address, a bank account and a phone number in each of my worlds. Material things that give us the impression that we’re anchored in a certain place.

When the two worlds happen to mix (not so often in my case), my brain short circuits. It’s as if characters from two separate clusters of a movie suddenly meet. It’s like watching the Jetsons in the Flintstones’ setting. What is my dad doing here in the Berlin subway? How come my childhood friend, who belongs to the ‘over there’ world, is on my same visual field as my friend from the Master’s, who belongs to the ‘over here’ world? It feels a bit like that movie, ‘Inception’.

Usually I’m the one who moves between the two worlds, but even then it’s confusing. When I go to Brazil, am I going home, or to my parents’ home? And when it’s time to leave, am I leaving home, or going home? I feel like the answer is: both.

For every departure, there is an arrival. It depends on the point of view.

When my flight or train arrives in Germany, back from a trip, I automatically get that feeling of ‘I’ve arrived home’. And when I’m traveling in another country where the language is not German, but I suddenly hear a group of tourists speaking German on the street, that sounds familiar… To me, it sounds like home. Weird, right?

I’ve lived in Brazil until I was 22 and now it’s been 5 years since I came to live in Europe. Considering as an adult someone who is over 18 years of age, I get to the surprising conclusion that I’ve already spent most of my adult life in Germany, and not in Brazil.

Moving to Europe was a big landmark in my life, a true turning point, for the reasons listed here. It was when the portal to a whole new dimension was opened. And now the sixth year of this era has begun.

I feel at home in Rio and in Berlin. I’m a proud inhabitant of two worlds, in a multidimensional life. I have homes in two cities, each one a world of its own.

Berlin travel itinerary

Most of Berlin’s main tourist attractions are located in the central region, Mitte. Here, I put together an itinerary to see all of them in an efficient order and on foot. It’s doable to visit all the tourist spots in Mitte in 1 day, but it can be tiring. Depending on your pace, this itinerary can simply be paused and resumed the following day. Let’s begin:

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Attractions in the city center (Mitte):

Start at Alexanderplatz (1), with the TV Tower (Fernsehturm) and the world clock. There are many stores around – including the bargain ones, Primark, Decathlon and TK Maxx – and the Alexa shopping mall near by.

Walk by the Rotes Rathaus (2) until you reach Unter den Linden – the long central avenue.

Keep on Unter den Linden: right after the river on the right is the Cathedral (Berliner Dom) (3) and the Museum Island (5 museums, one next to the other).

Continue on Unter den Linden; see the ‘Neue Wache’ memorial, walk by the main building of the Humboldt Universität (4) and keep on the avenue until reaching the Brandenburg Gate (5), one of the main landmarks of Berlin.

Walking through the gate: there is a long avenue ahead with the Victory Column at the end and a large park, Tiergarten, around.

Proceed to the right towards the German Parliament building (Bundestag or Reichstag) (6). You can visit the terrace of the parliament and have an audio-guide completely for free. But you have to book a time slot in advance through this website (‘Visit to the dome’). The building and the view are beautiful. Highly recommended!

Going back towards the Brandenburg Gate and walking straight ahead, you will find the Holocaust Memorial (7), a labyrinth of concrete that looks like a cemetery, with a very striking effect. Walk through it showing respect. There is also a free exhibition underground.

Walking towards the same direction as before, you will arrive at Potsdamer Platz, with the Sony Center (8), a giant and modern dome with restaurants and a cinema inside. Close by is the Mall of Berlin shopping center.

Go on to the Topography of Terror (9), another memorial about nazism, and then to Checkpoint Charlie (10) – a spot that symbolizes one of the former checkpoints between East and West Berlin while it was divided by the wall. But be aware that the checkpoint is not located on the exact spot where it used to be and today is only a tourist attraction.

Finish the route at Gendarmenmarkt (11), a lovely square right in the center of Berlin.


Outside the city center:

The East Side Gallery – the part that is left of the Berlin Wall, covered in colorful graffiti, is a must-see. Get off at the S-Ostbahnhof station and walk by the wall until its end, arriving at the Oberbaumbrücke bridge. It’s also worth it to explore at night the cool / alternative / hipster districts of Berlin, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, which are connected by this bridge.

Other tips:

In Berlin on a Sunday with good weather? Don’t miss Mauerpark! And check out the memorial about the wall, on the same street.

Staying 3 or more days in Berlin? Consider going a bit outside the city to visit the Sanssouci Palace and its gardens, in Potsdam (about 1 hour southwest of Berlin), and/or the museum of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, in Oranienburg (about 1 hour north).

Want to go shopping? Besides the shopping malls in the city center already mentioned (Alexa and Mall of Berlin), a great option are the Tauentzienstraße and Kurfürstendamm (also known as Kudamm) streets, in the district of Charlottenburg. There, one can also visit the main zoo of Berlin and the Gedächtniskirche: the ruins of a church that was bombed during WWII and whose main tower is broken in half until today.

Going to be in Berlin during spring or summer? Here is a list of the coolest things to do around here in the best time of the year!

Want tips on what and where to eat in Berlin? Check out this post.

Interested in staying longer? Here’s an insider’s view on what it is like to live in Berlin.


I hope you will love Berlin as much as I do! 🙂

weloveberlin