Looking back: my trips in 2015

I know January is almost over, but I hope it’s not too late to look back on 2015. Last year was hectic at work for me, but still I managed to travel on bank holidays and vacation days. Actually, I realized that in 2015 I was able to travel in every single month of the year (which should become a goal for all the following years!).

So here is a summary of my trips in 2015. Hopefully it can inspire some ideas!

JANUARY: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
As usual, my year starts in my hometown, Rio.

riosunrise
Sun rise in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

FEBRUARY: Frankfurt an der Oder (Germany)
A short day trip on Valentine’s Day from Berlin to a German city that shares border with Poland. We went there just for the fun of crossing to Poland on foot over a bridge and have lunch in a different country. Because… why not?

MARCH: Dresden (Germany)
Nice weekend trip to meet dear friends and get to know Dresden. Super close to Berlin.

APRIL: Prague (Czech Republic)
First time in Prague, during Easter holidays. Just a short and cheap bus ride away from Berlin.

prague
View to Prague Old Town

MAY: Lübeck (Germany) + Warsaw & Krakow (Poland) + Göttingen (Germany)
I spent one of the long weekends of May (4 days) discovering Warsaw and Krakow, in Poland. Besides exploring the cities, my friend and I visited the Wieliczka salt mine and Auschwitz. I also went to Lübeck for a day and went back to Göttingen, a German city where I lived for almost 2 years, for a conference and to visit friends.

krakow
Main square in Krakow

JUNE: Salzburg (Austria) + Berchtesgaden (Germany) + Munich (Germany)
Three different locations, but on the same trip. We stayed in the beautiful Austrian city of Salzburg and went on day trips to Germany (to the Berchtesgaden National Park and Munich). The highlight was definitely the stunning Ostsee lake.

obersee
Ostsee, Berchtesgaden

JULY: Amsterdam (Netherlands)
This was a business trip (though I also had leisure time). It was my third time in Amsterdam, but the first one during the summer.

AUGUST: Romantic Road (Bavaria, Germany) + Innsbruck (Austria)
I had been wanting to go see the small medieval towns of the German Romantic Road for a long time – and in August an opportunity came up. I wrote a detailed post about this route here.
And since we were staying overnight in Munich and had a car, why not drive only 2 hours to visit Innsbruck for a day? It sure was worth it – what a gorgeous city!

SEPTEMBER: Viseu/Coimbra/Aveiro/Porto (Portugal)
My dad came from Brazil to visit me for a few weeks, so we went to Portugal to see our family from there, and went through mostly northern cities of the country. It was my fourth time in Portugal – amazing as usual.

portugalumbrellas
Street in Águeda, Portugal

OCTOBER: Bonn, Linz & Phantasialand (Germany) + Göttingen (Germany)
My dad and I visited relatives who live in Bonn, and they also showed us Linz am Rhein. And since we are both crazy about amusement parks, we spent a day riding roller-coasters and watching shows at Phantasialand. And I also took him to see my former home, Göttingen.

NOVEMBER: Quedlinburg (Germany)
Day trip to a medieval German town around the Harz mountains that is in the UNESCO world heritage list. As it was untouched by the war, it has constructions from the 10th century, including Germany’s oldest half-timbered house.

quedlinburg
Quedlinburg, Germany

DECEMBER: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
And the year finishes again with Christmas holidays in Rio… Feels almost like a cycle that is completed.

riodoisirmaos
View from Dois Irmãos mountain, Rio de Janeiro

Now looking forward to the trips that 2016 will bring… : )

(Let me know in the comments below if you would like me to write a post about a specific destination mentioned here!)

Advertisements

Tips: what and where to eat in Berlin

Berlin is a city that has a lot of good things to offer, and one of them is food! It is perfectly possible to find good and affordable places to eat around here. And note that I said places and not restaurants. That’s because street food has a very strong presence in the German capital.

Here are some tips of where to find food that is Berliner style: tasty, multi-cultural, inexpensive and far from posh.

  • 1) Döner kebab
    doenerkebab

How can one not recommend a döner to someone who comes to Germany? Of Turkish origin, it’s one of the most popular fast foods in the country. It’s delicious, cheap and is worth for a whole meal. The döner kebab is usually served as a sandwich, in a crunchy, triangular Turkish bread. The meat is roasted in a rotating spit with the shape of an inverted cone, and the crispy meat is then sliced vertically, like a barbecue. The classic version has lamb meat, but some places also offer the chicken option. The döner also has a lot of salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onions, red cabbage) and sauce (herbs, garlic or spicy). The vegetarian alternative to döner is the falafel which, instead of meat, has the tasty deep-fried balls of chickpea with spices. It is also nice for the Berliner carnivores that wish to vary a bit from the döner. Another variation is the dürum – instead of a sandwich, it’s like a wrap: it comes in a thinner type of bread in the shape of a cylinder (and is usually even bigger than the döner).

Usual price: between 3.00 and 3.50 euros (above this, it’s overpriced)

Where: in one of the thousands of kebab kiosks throughout the city. One of Berlin’s favorite is Mustafa’s, which offers not the classic döner, but one with chicken, cooked vegetables and feta cheese. Because it’s so famous, the lines are always long, even in the middle of the night. (Subway station: U Mehringdamm)

  • 2) Santa Maria

    santamaria
    Chilaquiles in Santa Maria

If you’re a fan of Mexican food, you have to go to Santa Maria. There they have real, authentic Mexican food, not Tex-Mex. Every time my friends from Mexico visit Berlin, they insist that we go eat there. Santa Maria is a small and cozy restaurant, with very reasonable prices: around 7 to 12 euros per meal (well-served). They also have Taco Tuesdays: tacos and tequila for 1 euro each. But be aware that it’s better to arrive with a bit of spare time – they don’t make reservations. Recommendation from my Mexican friend Sharlen: get the ‘chilaquiles’ with green sauce (for those who enjoy spicy food) or the ‘tacos de carnita’ (if you’re weaker, like me).

Where: 2 locations, the original one on Oranienstr. 170 (subway station U Kottbusser Tor) and a new branch on Krossenerstr. 18 (U Warschauer Str.)
http://santaberlin.com/
→ A good thing about Germany: restaurants usually show their menu (with prices!) on their websites.

Another option for good Mexican good is the Taqueria Ta’Cabrón (U Schlesisches Tor).

  • 3) Thai Park

The “Thai Park” is an example of the peculiar multiculturalism that defines Berlin. It is a public park (official name: Preußenpark) where dozens of Thai people at small stalls sell the most diverse typical homemade dishes from their country. Fried dumplings, fried bananas, fried shrimp… Fried everything! They also sell a delicious dish of sticky rice with coconut sauce and mango slices. You will find even insects to eat at the Thai Park. Unfortunately, this culinary wonder only takes place during the warm months of the year. Highly recommended to those who are in Berlin in the summer! You can find it any day of the week, but on Saturdays there are more stalls. A tip: the 5-dumpling dish with different fillings of your choice for 5 euros.

Where: Preußenpark (subway station: U Fehrbelliner Platz)

thaipark05 thaipark01
thaipark04
thaipark03
thaipark02

  • 4) Al Andalos

Al Andalos is a Lebanese restaurant, the kind that only locals know about. Small and unpretentious, I only found out it existed because a friend took me there. The menu behind the counter, in German and Arabic, offers sandwiches and very well-served dishes, typical desserts, and vegetarian or meat options. The food is not only tasty and authentic, but also quite cheap, with sandwiches for 1.50 euros and dishes for 5 or 6 euros. A tip: for two people, order the Al Andalos dish, which comes with a bit of everything (falafel, halloumi, kafta, Lebanese rice, salad, etc.) for 11 euros. This amazing place with friendly staff is open until very late in the night. Although the food is Lebanese, the background music is usually salsa or flamenco. Hard not to love.

Where: Sonnenallee 40 (between subway stations U Hermannplatz and U Rathaus Neukölln)

alandalos.jpg
Al Andalos in Neukölln
  • 5) Burgermeister

Another example of the “it-had-to-be-in-Berlin”: Burgermeister is a street burger place located beneath the tracks of a subway station, where the public toilets of the station used to be! Recently, a “restaurant version” branch opened near the original one. The name is a wordplay: Bürgermeister (with umlaut) means “mayor” in German, but in this case they are referring to the “master” (meister) of burgers.

Where: original “kiosk” version at the U Schlesischer Tor subway station and the “fastfood restaurant” version at U Kottbusser Tor.
www.burgermeister.berlin

burgermeister
Burgermeister at U Schlesischer Tor

Other places to eat a good hamburger in Berlin:

Kreuzburger (another wordplay!): has 3 stores in Berlin (Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg) that stay open until late or make deliveries. Make sure to order the sweet potato fries!! It’s one of the things I most love in this city.
www.kreuzburger.de

The Bird: a very famous restaurant. It’s best to book a table in advance and go with some time to spare, because it usually takes a while for the burgers to be served (2 locations: subway stations S+U Schönhauser Allee and U Schönleinstr).
www.thebirdinberlin.com

kreuzburger
Kreuzburger and their divine sweet potato fries

Guten Appetit!  : )

The phases of learning a foreign language

idiomas

Thinking about it, I’ve already spent over 16 years (around 60% of my life) learning 3 foreign languages. I’ve always studied languages in parallel to my main activity (school, university, work) and – due to lack of time – never in an intensive or full-time mode. And I feel that I go through different phases in the process of learning a new language. Nothing that is an absolute truth or scientifically proven just a conclusion based on personal observation. I’ll use the German language as an example, since it’s the one I’m currently learning.

Phase 1: The initial shock

The experimental phase. You just started learning the language. Everything is new. You still don’t know what exactly to expect, and it’s too early to have a verdict. At first sight, the language seems to be a lot more complicated than you imagined.
Frequent thoughts:

  • If in the first couple of German classes I learned that “excuse me” is ENTSCHULDIGUNG, imagine what is coming next!
  • Who said that German is similar to English?!
  • I wonder if I’ll ever be able to say with confidence that I speak this language…

Phase 2: The exponential progress

The initial scare is over. You’ve grown to accept that German has 4 cases, 3 genders, inverted tens and units digits, verbs at the end of sentences and super long words. It doesn’t surprise you anymore. You’ve got the hang of it. Every class you learn something new. You really feel that you’re improving each day, which gives you motivation to keep going. You can even have simple conversations and understand what others are saying – at least the topic.
Frequent thoughts:

  • Oh look, I was able to understand this Internet joke in German! That’s amazing!
  • Sure, I don’t know everything yet and I make many mistakes, but that’s to be expected, given the level which I’m in.
  • You know, German is actually not that hard.

Phase 3: The bipolarity: pride vs. frustration

You’ve been studying that language for some years and are now at an advanced level. All the grammar has already been taught, there are not many new topics, and everything is basically just revision and exercises. It’s not every day that you feel like you’ve learned something new, which can be frustrating. You’re able to communicate, you get around quite well, talk to everyone, but you’re not 100% confident yet. You make mistakes and often miss some vocabulary. You feel like you DO know the language, but not as much as you would like to. Self-demand and other people’s expectations are high, given the elapsed time. Sometimes, you think you know a lot and feel super comfortable with the language; other times, you feel that there is so much more that you don’t know yet and that it will still take quite a lot to achieve proficiency. If someone asks you if you speak German, the answer is: YES – but not exactly fluently. Your German friends compliment you on your language skills and this makes you proud. You try to remember that positive feeling to keep motivated.
Frequent thoughts:

  • Wow, I just debated a complicated topic in German… I didn’t know I was capable of all that.
  • Why did I make that stupid grammar mistake? I should know that by now.

Phase 4: At last, the effortless proficiency

Now you feel reassured. You can have conversations with any native speaker without a problem. You know difficult and specific terms. You live the language. The construction of sentences comes naturally, without having to think before speaking or writing. If you make a mistake, you realize it immediately and correct yourself. Usually you only realize you’re in this phase after having been there for a while.


When we place these phases in the famous “learning curve”, it looks like this:
phasesincurve

As to German, I’m currently in phase 3, dreaming of phase 4. Since I unfortunately don’t have all the time in the world to dedicate to studying the language, I try to find a balance between perfectionism and resignation. I have to constantly remind myself that I should always aim at improving, but without demanding too much from myself. The key is having constant exposure to the language. Slow and steady.