Culture, Food

Valentine’s Day, your way

Valentine’s Day (or V-Day, as it is becoming known) can be a nightmare; I get it. I do. Having been single for more years than I’ve been in a relationship, I know what it’s like to sit at home, alone, while the TV programming is saturated with vomit-inducing films as you imagine happy cooing couples spoon feed each other mouthfuls of meltingly gooey chocolate pudding.

But, then, on the other side, I’ve been sat at a restaurant dining table, opposite my partner, as we parry shy and heartfelt expressions of like or love, with a fresh bunch of flowers in a vase at home, a box of chocolates on a side table and a brand new set of lingerie digging into my ribcage and muffin top.

And then there’ve been times when, if allowed to, I’d happily ignore the day altogether; not due to my relationship status, but due to, well, not really caring at all.

Horse for courses, my friends. So here is how to do Valentine’s Day your way.

Romantic. For those in the first flush of love.

Film – The Notebook, Dirty Dancing, or anything with Meg Ryan in

Food – Coquille St Jacques, followed by venison haunch with fondant potatoes and that gooey chocolate pudding I mentioned above

Drink – Start with a Peach Bellini, move on to a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and finish up with a full-bodied Merlot

Outfit – For women, an elegant dress (think blush pink lace) with simple gold jewellery and black court shoes; for men, trousers with a shirt and silk tie, and brogues

Activity – A moonlit stroll (wrap up warm!), back massages and saying ‘yes’ if he gets down on one knee

Sexy. For those seeking a bit of spice.

Film – Might I be suggesting the obvious with the new release, Fifty Shades of Grey? For those that don’t fancy sharing the cinema with other (sweaty) couples, try 9½ Weeks or that one where Sharon Stone uncrosses her legs

Food – Oysters, a rare fillet steak with fries, and strawberries with chocolate sauce that can serve a multiple of purposes

Drink – Prosecco, Pinot Noir and a vodka shot for courage

Outfit – For women, a spritz of your muskiest perfume and a new set of lingerie (avoid red lace, unless it’s burgundy); for men, aftershave and a new pair of boxers

Activity – Do I need to spell it out? Perhaps, now is the time to try something new… role playing, dress up, toys

Girly. For those chilling with girlfriends.

Film – Sex And The City, Romy And Michelle’s High School Reunion or anything with Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn

Food – Be a cliché: ice cream, chocolate, pizza, Nutella from the jar. Enjoy

Drink – Cosmopolitans and oreo milkshakes

Outfit – PJs and no bras (bliss)

Activity – Paint your nails and use a face mask or dress up to the nines, hit the town and enjoy a night out with all your favourite girl pals

Rebellious. For those wishing it was any other day.

Film – Salt, The Avengers, or any film with a strong female protagonist who leaves her male counterparts eating her dust

Food – Chilli and garlic prawns, spaghetti bolognaise, and Stinking Bishop with cheese biscuits

Drink – Beer or fizzy pop

Outfit – Yesterday’s clothes

Activity – Shaving your legs, squeezing those blackheads, taking the bins out

Carefree. For those who really don’t care.

Simple: as you were!

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Betsy Loves, Culture, Food, Travel

Berlin days – poor but sexy

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And so on to our final day in Berlin. Remember when I talked about queueing to get tickets to climb the Reichstag’s dome? Well, this was the result! I’m so pleased we made the effort because although part of the glass panels were frosted over (it really was bloody freezing!) the views were great and the structure itself was interesting.
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So this is the inside, and at the base of the cone is a glass ceiling that shows the main debating chamber underneath. Pretty cool.IMG_9621

I love how smooth the curves lookIMG_9622

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Please excuse the red lipstick around rather than on my lips! Apparently I was being cack-handed with my application.IMG_9631

You can see the glass ceiling hereIMG_9633

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Basically I just thought this was a cool car. And I definitely cropped the picture so you don’t see another Caffe Einstein behind! So much for being a unique restaurant find…IMG_9638

Checkpoint Charlie in all its ‘glory’. I hadn’t realised how fake it was until Francesca, our guide from the first day, disparaged it thoroughly. Apparently, when the actual checkpoint became defunct, the locals didn’t want to be reminded of it, so it was destroyed, but then the tourists started coming but there was nothing for them to look at. And this happened time and time again. So eventually, some enterprising sausage set up a ‘new’ checkpoint, complete with concrete filled sandbags, actors in uniform and red velvet ropes…

You can get your passport stamped to East Germany here, but, if you do, you could get it revoked as technically your passports are the property of your country and there’s no such thing as East Germany anymore. You might as well plonk a Hello Kitty sticker in there for good measure.IMG_9639

This isn’t Charlie. Just an FYI. IMG_9643

I thought this was great graffiti, and so different from the scrawls on the Wall yesterday; later, we were told that commissioned graffiti (which I presume this is) is sort of considered to be a sellout/damaging the genre, but I still think it’s beautiful. IMG_9644

And I loved this too, which was painted on the opposite wall.

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So this is Curry 36. Why were we here? Because we’d read in several places that it sold the best currywurst in Berlin. Well, we couldn’t miss that so we trekked pretty far out of our way (it would’ve been easier if parts of the U-Bahn weren’t shut!), and prepared to queue. It’s so popular that people have to wait for ages, but, luckily, the best kebab in Berlin is right next door so it’s become a bit of a ‘thing’ to grab a beer, and get either your currywurst or kebab and then chomp on that and chill with your mates while you wait in the queue to get one of the other!IMG_9645

Well, when we got there, there wasn’t a queue for Curry 36, but there was a HUGE queue for the kebab and we hadn’t left much time, so it was just the currywurst for us. I can’t say I noticed a great difference from the one Mr T had the day before – slightly curried hotdog sausage, coated in curry powder and curry sauce. It was still tasty though.IMG_9647 
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Mr T tries to recreate the iconic Ampelmann

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So, for the last part of our day, we decided (in light of the excellent tour we’d hopped on on Friday) to do another tour with the same company; this time, the alternative Berlin tour. What does this tour encompass, you ask? Well, basically we were told this was the tour you do to get under Berlin’s skin. Other tours are great for history and culture and so on, but this one, this is the one that makes you want to stay for years…IMG_9653

Our first stop was to show us the way East Berlin looked just after the Wall came down. This little alleyway runs along the back of Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt. What is that? Well, I don’t know exactly as we didn’t go in, but Otto Weidt (and I’m paraphrasing the guide here) did for blind people what Schindler did for Jewish people.

In essence, blind people were considered a drain on Nazis society, so they risked euthanasia, but Otto employed them in this factory, thus proving their usefulness. So, all in all, he was a pretty straight up guy, and that’s why this building is Listed, which means the alleyway behind also has to be preserved. Got that?

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I found it really impressive, and a bit of a time capsule. Yes, there was the ubiquitous graffiti, somehow, here, it fit right in, and here’s why: before the Wall came down, East Germany didn’t have the money to repair all the damage from the War so for years, they remained bombed out shells.

Then the Wall came down, and suddenly there were all these vacant buildings ripe for the taking and they appealed to all the artists, hippies, musicians and so on. A huge squatting community sprung up, and an artist group lived in this alleyway. So, in a sense, the artists took ownership of the alley, hence the graffiti fitting in.IMG_9657

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El Bocho is a famous graffiti artist, and the CCTV camera is topical in Berlin right now: in the UK, we are caught on camera hundreds of times a day, but it’s not like that in Germany, at least, not yet. Recently more cameras were put up in the capital, and people have been protesting about that. And the speech bubble? A decade ago, the mayor – Klaus Wowereit – claimed that ‘Berlin was poor, but sexy’. It went down a storm with the Berliners.

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Then we headed to Raw Tempel – basically the site of loads of huge railway warehouses left vacant after the unification of Germany. So who took over? Gigantic nightclubs, and artist communes, and squats, and markets, and skate parks, and you name it!IMG_9666

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As we left Raw Tempel, we walked over this bridge, which had been a main divide between East and West; today it marks that power struggle with a constant game of ‘rock paper scissors’ played out between two illuminated hands.IMG_9672

For our final evening, I dragged Mr T back Fassbender and Rausch and their chocolate restaurant. Of course!IMG_9673

And yes, it tasted even better than it looked!

And that’s all folks. Hope you’ve enjoyed a little insight into Berlin; we did!

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Betsy Loves, Culture, Food, Travel

Berlin days – fine art to street art

IMG_9495I loved all the graffiti around the city. I have no idea what this means so Mr T laughed at me for taking the photo but pffft, whatever!
IMG_9497There are loads of museums in Berlin (about 190 apparently!) but we were on holiday so we didn’t want to spend ALL our time in them. The one that I really wanted to visit was the Neues Museum, which had an amazing Egyptian Museum with the famous sculpture of Nefertiti. We got to the museum early and decided on a little photoshoot in the columns…
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IMG_9502 Attempt no. 2IMG_9547 Success!IMG_9553 When we got into the museum, we decided we needed some refreshment first so we headed to the cafe. Mr T went for a gigantic slab of German cheesecake, which, coupled with his white hot chocolate caused him to look a little green around the gills. I, on the other hand, a sugar connoisseur, mastered my (regular) hot chocolate and cherry cake with ease and aplomb. IMG_9557We don’t actually have many picture from the Museum, and the main thing I wanted to see – Nefertiti – you can’t take pictures of anyway, but let me assure you, if you’re interested in that type of thing, it was really beautiful; and it’s an unusual sculpture in that, yes, she is beautiful, but she also has wrinkles around her eyes and strained tendons in her neck; this is an ageing and possibly stressed woman, and it’s fascinating to see that reflected beautifully in art. 

Anyway, back to my incredible pose above. I’m not sure it needs any explaining, but I’d like to draw attention to my posture. Cracking. IMG_9558Ok, so we’d heard about currywurst. Apparently currywurst and Berlin go hand in hand. For the uninitiated it’s essentially a curried hot dog liberally dusted in curry powder and then slathered in curry sauce (which is actually a sort of BBQ sauce and isn’t that spicy at all). It’s definitely not fancy food or sophisticated, and I’m not sure it’s lust-worthy but it certainly filled a nice spot on a cold January morning.

As you can see from below, it was Mr T who first ventured to taste this delicacy.
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Another time when I don’t have a picture for you, sorry, but in between stuffing our faces with currywurst and burger, we went to the Palace of Tears. Right next to the Friedrichstrasse train station, it’s a very unassuming modern(ish) looking building and we almost missed it if it hadn’t been for the group of school kids hanging around outside.

Basically, this was the main crossing between East and West Berlin as it was the train station between the two, and as farewells were so dramatic and people tried desperately to get across, they created this building as another ‘remove’ from the actual train station while a small corridor connected them to the station only if they’d passed through customs successfully.

Today it’s a small museum and very interesting. One of the best exhibits was a film reel which showed the same events covered by both the East and West media and they were so different; startlingly different. Another fascinating part was an interview with a former customs officer explaining how they were taught to examine travellers – there were about 15 different parts of the ear to check, and then the eyebrow and so on…IMG_9571Another Collins recommendation now. This time for the best burger in Berlin at Burgermeister. When she told me about the place, I mistakenly thought it was a proper restaurant we were going to so I was a bit confused when we got off the U-Bahn (the Berlin equivalent of the Tube which is cheap and efficient so thumbs up!) and saw this.

At first I thought it was just a takeaway version of the ‘real’ restaurant, but we soon realised it was at the right address so we sort of inched closer and closer while we tried to get our bearings.

IMG_9562After erroneously trying to enter the kitchen, we found our way into the little glass enclosure bit. As you can see, it’s completely covered in stickers, and while it’s not the cosiest place, it’s enough to protect you from the elements so we placed our orders and had a drink while we waited.

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IMG_9566Doesn’t this look like the best burger in Berlin? Yes? It was. It really was. It was so juicy and flavoursome. Ommm nom. To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed with the cheese fries that we got to go alongside, but hey, I still helped eat them all!

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IMG_9570 I reckon it’ll be heaving in the evenings and especially in summer. And if you think it looks like a public toilet, that’s because it was, but I’d still go back. And it was cheap too. Hallelujah!IMG_9573This is the East Side Gallery. Don’t confuse it with a traditional gallery: it’s all outside so wrap up warm! I have conflicting feelings about it to be honest. Mr T was really looking forward to it (can’t you tell in this picture?…) but was a little disappointed. Basically, when the Wall came down, people were literally tearing it down and suddenly people realised maybe they should preserve some history so they kept this 1.5km stretch and commissioned artists from all over the world to paint it, but only on the East side, not the West (the West had been liberal before, while if you’d even approached the East side you could have been arrested).

All in all, that’s a pretty cool idea, and some really iconic images were created. So all of that happened back in the early 90s. And then luckily for us, about five years or so, the same artists were commissioned to repaint their work to keep it fresh, but, as you might be able to see in this picture (and certainly in the others) the whole Wall is covered in non-commissioned graffiti, and mostly, it’s naff, crap and detracts from the art.IMG_9574Some people argue that the unauthorised graffiti is freedom of expression, which is important considering the strict controls that had been in place, but personally, I felt that it spoiled some great art (call me a prude). 

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IMG_9580I think the girl is unauthorised, and the signatures clearly are, but while the former looks ok, I hate the latter. Ugh!

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IMG_9584So this is one of the most famous painted parts of the Wall. And fortunately people seem to have left it mostly alone, but even then, some idiots (and yes, I do mean idiots) have scrawled love hearts over it. To me, it’s vandalism. As we were walking along the Wall, a taxi drew up and a young guy jumped out with two others, and while the taxi driver sat there laughing, the first guy was photographed by his mates scribbling all over that section. 

As Mr T said, I can understand wanting to leave your mark, and Berlin is, after all, considered a graffiti mecca, but for me, it’s still a no-no.

Graffiti aside, I love this photo of us! Inadvertently we even got the glasses right!IMG_9586

IMG_9588Mr T was very proud of this set up…

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IMG_9592This was the western back of the Wall, and with all this ‘free’ space to scrawl your name, I thought the ‘official’ side should have been protected more. But enough of my ranting!

IMG_9595So, this is us standing on East and West Berlin, which was cool, but the reason there’s a gap in the Wall right here? O2 built a huge arena to the right of Mr T, and to the left of me there’s the River Spree, and the O2 wanted its big name stars to be able to dock their boats on the river and get straight to the arena without there being a big pesky wall in the way. So they asked the German government to move part of it, and THEY DID!!! Insane. 

IMG_9598This is the TV tower in Alexanderplatz. It’s quite tall, and was built by the East Berliners as close to the Wall as they could to prove to the West how superior their engineering and architectural skills were. A few years later they had to secretly smuggle in some Swedish engineers to fix the subsidence…Awkward.

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We knew we wanted to revisit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews as we’d only had time to see the monument above ground and not the museum beneath the day before. I’m still glad that we did, but I’m not posting (nor did I take) any photos as it was brutal, as, arguably it should have been.

As Mr T said, it was a memorial to the ‘murdered Jews’ so there weren’t too many happy endings. At one point, I had to take myself off into a corner and have a little cry and compose myself. Part of me felt ashamed to be visibly upset; who am I to cry when I’ve lived such a privileged life, but there was no way I couldn’t be affected, and I wasn’t the only one. So yes, it was tough, but yes, I’m glad we went and I do recommend it.

After we’d finished in there, we hopped over to the Reichstag.IMG_9603The Reichstag, or the government building. Very heavily damaged in the War, Hitler never stepped foot in it when he was in power – the Nazis had set fire to it (allegedly) and blamed the Communists. You can’t see it very well in this but there’s a huge glass dome behind called the Bundestag, and if you book in advance you can climb it. Fortunately for us, they also reserve some tickets for unorganised folks if you queue for half an hour or so in the ticket office over the road.

IMG_9604I was desperate to see the Gate at night as I thought it would be really impressive and I wasn’t wrong!

IMG_9610A very casual Mr T pose.

IMG_9612From avantgarde fancy food the night before to some very traditional German fare at Lutter & Wegner. Known for making the best schnitzel in Berlin, it’s all white tablecloths, fine crockery and dark panelled interior, and like Tausend, not cheap, but also like Tausend, worth it.

We had sparkling strawberry cocktails to start, and then shared the legendary schnitzel (which came with a warm potato salad) and slow roasted duck with red cabbage and some delicious dumpling thingies. Ugh, they were both so good. And afterwards, apple strudel with vanilla sauce. Holy hell, that was amazing too!

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IMG_9614We didn’t want to go back to Bar Newton just because we knew it was there and we’d liked it the night before, so searching through the guidebook again, we found Windhorst, and geez was I glad I did. A jazz bar, they were playing records that night, and while Mr T had a beer (very good he assured me but boring as far as I was concerned), I had the most amazing mandarin cocktail. Seriously, it was one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had; exquisite! I was gutted when we tried to go back the next night and it was shut.

IMG_9616One of our better photos together!

Tomorrow I’ll be bringing you more graffiti and more food.

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Betsy Loves, Culture, Food, Travel

Berlin days – underground bunkers to underground bars

IMG_9404First stop – Caffe Einstein. I’d read about this in my guidebook (I always do my research like a good little geek…), so we were pleased to find it on the way to walking down to the Brandenburg Gate for the start of our tour. I tucked into a gorgeous creamy hot chocolate, and we shared some classic German beetroot soup which had some yummy horseradish dumplings. We were feeling really smug at not only locating the cafe and eating German food; when we realised it’s actually a chain of cafes the next day, we continued to pretend we’d experienced some authentic cuisine and left it at that.

IMG_9405The Germans love Einstein. And why the devil not?

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IMG_9406This was actually pretty tasty; I promise.

IMG_9407Brandenburg Gate! It was really impressive, and we were so lucky with the weather. It might look a bit grey (I blame my crappy iPhone photos) but it was actually quite bright and the previous few weeks had been drizzly and horrid. So hurray for bright greyness!!! Like a lot of Berlin, the Gate was badly damaged in the war, but you can’t tell unless you properly look. To the left is the American embassy, and to the right the French, which had lots of candles and flowers laid in front for Charlie Hebdo. And just along from the American embassy is Hotel Adlon. The name might not mean anything to you (me neither!), but apparently it’s where Michael Jackson dangled Blanket out of the window. Remember? I guess I sort of recognised the windows (not really) so I haven’t bored you with a photo.

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IMG_9412Gate Selfie!

IMG_9414Gate Selfie #2. In the background you can sort of see the Tiergarten, which is the biggest park, and a sort of tent thing to the right of that which was the start of Berlin Fashion Week. Which we missed. Gah!

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This was at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews. It’s a stone’s throw from the Gate, and by this point, we’d hopped on to our free walking tour which was led by a great German girl called Francesca. At first, her English was so good that Mr T was put out because he thought we had an English guide, but she soon ‘came out’ as a local girl. Anyway, she led us through the Gate, littering the walk to the Memorial with plenty of interesting tidbits.

The Memorial was only opened a few years ago, and it’s been pretty controversial. Why? Because it’s very modern for a start. Six million jews were murdered and there are only 2000 and something concrete blocks, but you couldn’t possibly have a real amount; in fact, you couldn’t even fit all the names on the blocks (we only know about four million of them anyway). We were told it was ok to sit on the blocks, but not ok to walk or stand on them (we saw people doing both) as well as lying down to pose. I was not a fan of that.

I think it’s a really beautiful memorial if I’m honest. There are lots of theories about the way it looks, but no conclusive one. Francesca explained a few: no single block is the same as another so they represent everyone; a whole tour group can disappear in the blocks in a matter of seconds so it shows how easy it is to extinguish many of us; it’s not easy to walk side by side so we all walk alone. Whatever you think, it’s interesting. Below the Memorial is a museum but we didn’t have time so we earmarked it for the next day.IMG_9428
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IMG_9440This is Hitler’s Bunker. Sort of. It’s actually my feet (getting tired already!) standing on the spot above his bunker, except the bunker was destroyed by the government and now there’s a car park. I absolutely understood the reasoning for destroying the bunker (as the site of Hitler’s suicide, they didn’t want to create a rallying point for Neo-Nazis) but, at the same time, I also wish it still existed as it would have been fascinating.

Don’t judge me, but when Francesca confirmed that Hitler had definitely died there it surprised me. I still had in my head that there was a chance that his remains hadn’t been conclusively identified, and then I love a good conspiracy theory even if it does involve Nazis living in South America. I said don’t judge! Anyway, apparently it is conclusive. So there. She mentioned the movie Downfall as a great insight into his last days, so Mr T and I added it to our list of movies to watch when we got back.IMG_9441

These are some of the flats overlooking the bunker, and are apparently very Eastern European! The next spot on our tour was a very big, very grey, very severe looking building that was classic Nazis architecture. Very few Nazis buildings were left after the war; either they were destroyed during or after, but the Stazi were big fans of the whole Nazis aesthetic so they kept this one. Again, no photo as it wasn’t really very spectacular, or, more to the point, it was rather grim but if you really want to see it, check out Valkyrie!

I was curious that there weren’t any swastikas around (again, please don’t judge my ignorance) but there’s a severe penalty for showing the sign anywhere in Germany, and another case where they don’t want to encourage fanatics. 
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And now, The Topography of Terror (another fun name, I know), which is a museum about the Nazis and the SS, built over the former site of their main interrogation building. It also has a big strip of the Berlin Wall running alongside it. It was quite exciting to see this in situ, and I was torn between thinking it was smaller than I thought (I had something Gaza Strip-esque in my mind) and also being a lot taller when you stand right next to it and look up.

Again, Francesca hit us up with some facts – the initial wall went up overnight – literally. So one day you could live in East Berlin and visit your parents in the West, and the next day, you couldn’t. People were left stranded, and in some cases, had to make one of the toughest decisions of their lives. There wasn’t one single wall, but several inner and one outer, and in between the East and West there was the ‘death strip’. Not an official name, but at places there were strips of sand raked every evening so that all the footprints could be checked for escape attempts, and it was all booby trapped with some really disgusting things. It was sickening to hear about really, and I had had no idea.
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I think I preferred this stretch of the wall – plain and mostly unadulterated – to the painted sections of the East Side Gallery (which you’ll see later). I understand wanting to take ownership of the wall, hence the art work, but it wasn’t a pretty construction (physically or politically) and sometimes it pays to be reminded of that. IMG_9459
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This is the Ampelmann. I didn’t know about his popularity before our trip. I’m still not entirely sure what it’s all about, but there were shops everywhere selling the little green and red men!IMG_9461
Mr T was absolutely thrilled to tuck into his first slice of apfel kuchen (apple cake). Everywhere we went you could see great slabs of it, and it was always amazing.IMG_9462
Where the Wall was taken down, these stepping stones were put in place. You’d think they’d make a somewhat nice walk, but the entirety of the Berlin Wall covers several hundred kilometres so maybe not!IMG_9470
This was a really remarkable memorial set in the square, outside the main university, where the Nazis book burnings took place. Thousands of books were burned, and this white room with empty shelves would hold exactly the number of burned books. It was very impressive to look at, and chilled me as I remembered a quote along the lines of, ‘once people start burning books, people themselves will follow shortly’. I was just telling Mr T about this when Francesca pointed out the plaque below, which was a little to the side, which is that quote. That definitely gave me a chill. IMG_9471
I’ll give you all a second to change the pace – the tour has finished, and Mr T and I decided to get some drinks from one of the bars nearby that the guidebook had mentioned. We were headed for Bar Newton in particular, so named for the giant photos taken by Helmut Newton displayed inside; the same Helmut Newton who is known for his nudes…IMG_9475
Trust me, that is Mr T’s awkward face!IMG_9479

And these are our ‘we’re cool enough to hang out in a bar with giant naked ladies’ faces
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It’s art, ok?IMG_9483

A pretty epic Mai Tai.IMG_9484

This is at Fassbender and Rausch, which is a famous chocolate shop with its flagship shop on the edge of The Gendarmenmarkt (meant to be the most beautiful square in all of Berlin). We drooled over the cakes and vowed to come back later (we had bookings at another restaurant for dinner…)IMG_9485

A chocolate Berlin Wall. Obvs.IMG_9487

And this is a solid chocolate Brandenburg Gate; although Francesca did warn us it had been there for as long as she had been in Berlin (at least more than a decade!) so maybe not that tempting after all.IMG_9490

And now for our evening meal. We have the lovely Collins to thank for this. When I was asking about recommendations, she suggested Cantina at Bar Tausend. Like the organised person I was, I checked out the meal online, thought it looked good and made a reservation. The food, said the website, was a fusion of Fine Asian and Ibero-American (niche), but hey, Mr T and I both love tapas and sushi so we were in!

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We were lucky that we spotted a group of people waiting outside this iron door under the main railway bridge, otherwise we’d have been two confused puppies. The door swung open, and lo and behold, inside was Tausend. A gentleman with circular framed glasses checked us in, and we were led to our table. We were in the first sitting of the evening, and had a lovely female maitre d’ who talked us through the menu.

I have to admit, I gulped a bit at the prices but hey, we were on holiday. First of all I went for an Eden cocktail which was a thing of beauty and deliciousness – a sort of cucumber vodka, elderflower and apple concoction – and Mr T went for ‘the sweetest cocktail in the world’ (his words), but he seemed to devour it fast enough! It was quite dark inside so you’ll have to excuse the grainy pics!IMG_9491

First of all we shared the tenderest chicken skewers, and then for the mains we had black cod with garlic rice and a platter of sashimi. The food was immense. Honest to god, immense. I’ve never had black cod before, but I gather it’s a bit of a delicacy and it didn’t disappoint. And while the squid sashimi slid down in a less than pleasant way (bleurgh), the rest was very tasty! A few more cocktails, and then the creme catalan for me and some chocolate and pineapple fancy thing for Mr T and we were done. Yes, it’s not cheap, but it was a fabulous experience and I definitely recommend it.

 And so ended our first day in Berlin. Watch this space for days two and three!

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Culture, Food, Interview

Alfie Boe in the buff

Who is Alfie Boe? When I was offered an interview with him, I knew his name. I thought I knew he was a singer (I was right), but turns out he’s also an actor, an Italo-phile (that’s an Italy lover, duh!), and a bit of a flirt. Here’s what went down when I chatted to him last week.

Let’s start with the easy questions to warm you up, so do you have a favourite book?

I have to admit I don’t read very much; whenever I do try and read I feel guilty, that I should be looking at music. But I should try and get into it a bit more.

Does that apply to films as well?

I do like watching my movies, and I have a number of favourites. I like the old-fashioned 1940s films, things with Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart, so Casablanca, Out of Africa and The African Queen. They’re the best, they really capture a romantic time period that I really love.

A favourite album?

These are tough! [Groans] I love all types of music so I have favourite albums across the board. I love Led Zeppelin’s ‘Houses of the Holy’, The Rolling Stones ‘Exile on Main St’. Dean Martin, Enrico Caruso, but I can’t pinpoint one in particular.

Do you still feel Northern?

I’ll always be Northern. I’m about as Northern as you can be, I think. I’ll never lose my roots. I’ve spent time in America but people say I’ve not lost my English accent and I can’t. I can’t ever lose my identity as being a Northern English bloke.

So it’s not grim up north?

Absolutely not. Morrissey was wrong with that.

I’ve read that a businessman overheard you singing when you were working as a mechanic, and he told you to audition.

Yes, but he wasn’t the only person who was encouraging me. I had a lot of support, but this particular guy told me about the auditions.

So what song did you sing?

I sang a song called ‘You Are My Heart’s Delight’ and it’s an old song written by Franz Lehar – an old classical composer – and it’s one that my father used to play around the house all the time. So I’d hear this song constantly and because it was an opera company I had to try to sing something like that. Because my father used to play it all the time, I couldn’t help but learn it, and know the words. I did it in English, it’s actually originally in German, but I did it in English, and got on. They asked me back for a second audition and I sang some West Side Story for them then and then they offered me the job.

I know what you mean, I remember listening to my mum’s Tina Turner album in the car for ages.

Your parents teach you things.

But not always good! I remember getting into trouble, aged six, for coming into school and singing the words to Tina’s ‘Private Dancer’. That was a tough one for my mum to explain!

Oh my word! Not so good! [Laughing] That’s absolutely great.

Do you still get stage fright?

I do. Not fright, but nerves before I do a show. It’s part of the job, and being a performer. All that nerves are are wanting to do well. It can sometimes be horrible to experience, but then also they can be exciting. Once you turn the nerves into excitement and develop them into your performance, that’s ok.

How do you feel about being known as ‘the Lancashire Michael Bublé’?

[Chuckles] Is that what they’re calling me now?

Apparently so.

Really. Well that’s a nice compliment. I’m fine with that. I didn’t expect that.

Is that what you’ll call yourself now?

Completely. I’m going to drop the name ‘Alfie Boe’. Bit of a mouthful for an album cover though.

You were in ITV’s Mr Selfridge recently; what brought about the move from musical theatre to TV?

Well, I’ll always been acting really in the shows, and it’s always been a part of my career, and when I got this opportunity, I jumped at it. It was a great chance, and something that was going to open another door for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d like to do more. Music is taking up a lot of my time at the moment, but if the opportunity arose to do some more acting on TV, I’d love it. Great fun.

You’re known for your performance of Jean Valjean in Les Mis; what did you think of Hugh Jackman’s version in the recent film?

Well, we’re very different obviously – different people and different performers – he did a good, he did a great job. With that role, it is a strong acting role, if you have the acting and the vocal ability too, then that’s great. Hugh sang it in a very different way than I did; I’m operatically trained and he’s musical theatre trained and he used the voice that he has. It is a very different performance and character that we both play but that’s the beauty of Les Miserables, many people have done the roles and brought something new to it that keeps it alive.

And now you can move on to Lancashire’s Michael Bublé?

Exactly. There you go. I’ll get my dance steps moving.

And get the hip shake?

Get the hips going; that’d be good [laughs].

What question do you wish people would stop asking you?

Oh, my word. ‘When did you decide to become a singer?’ or ‘When did you discover you had a voice?’ That’s the one I get asked a lot.

So what do you wish people would ask you?

Erm, I don’t know. ‘What am I going to have for my dinner tonight?’ Anything but that. I like exciting questions, things that make you think a bit, rather than just coming out with the same old explanation about why I became a singer. You know, ‘What would you advise?’ Well, it’s to work hard, and go for your dreams, and that sort of thing, there’s nothing exciting you can say.

What would surprise your fans to learn about you?

Probably that while I’m stood here talking to you on the phone I’m naked.

[Guffaws]

[Chuckles nervously] I’m not really. I have just got out of the shower, but I’m not naked.

Wow. And we’ve just been talking about that hip action… Alfie Boe naked. Done. I can knock that one off the list. So… on to do you feel kinship to Italy? Obviously you have your name, the tenors, your new album features Italian songs, and you’ve been cooking over there; is it a country that you really enjoy?

I love Italy, I really do. It’s a great part of the world: the food, the culture, the weather, the atmosphere. The music is something I’ve grown up listening to for a long time, since being a kid, so yeah, I do have quite a strong connection to Italy. I go over as much as I can, and I love the food. There’s so much of Italy I’ve got to discover. Some beautiful areas, I’ve been to quite a lot of different parts but there’s so much more I want to try and find.

I think you get the sense with Italy that it wasn’t really that long ago that is wasn’t a country, that it was almost counties.

Exactly. I suppose it is a little like counties in a way; in England, with the counties, there are different accents for parts of the country.

And you get the sense of pride.

You do, and that’s the same in Italy. You get your Romans, Tuscans, Venetians, Sicilians, and they’re very very different, and make a point of pointing that out.

Well, I’m going to have to stop monopolising you now, but thank you for talking to me.

My pleasure, come and see the show if you get the chance!

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Betsy Loves, Culture, Fashion, Food, Travel

London, baby

Like the wonderful mummy she is, Momma P treated me to a jaunt to London. I capitalised (see what I did there?…) and popped down a few days early and managed to fit in seeing some of my very favourite people (shout out to Ashley and Jack; Katie, Hannah, Rach and Kimmelman; Jack and Wes; and finally Pidg), as well as cramming in some shopping (silk shirts from Uniqlo, anyone?), lots of walking (more than 20 miles in 3 days. No exaggeration!), and lots of yummy food.

Once Momma P arrived 48 hours later, we geeked out and ‘did’ the new Ancient Egypt, mummy exhibition at the British Museum – fascinating, really well curated and presented – a definite thumbs up from us; followed immediately by the Wedding Dress exhibition at the V&A – also brilliantly curated with the highlight for me being Kate Moss’ incredible Galliano gown.

Then, with two pairs of very very tired feet, we caught the train back to York. Here’s until next time!

 

The BEST pancakes with maple syrup and streaky bacon at Gail's Kitchen

The BEST pancakes with maple syrup and streaky bacon at Gail’s Kitchen

Blueberry and Elderflower Fizz

Blueberry and Elderflower Fizz

Tasted so much better than it looked - a sort of chocolate ganache on a biscuit base with hazelnuts on the side.

Tasted so much better than it looked – a sort of chocolate ganache on a biscuit base with hazelnuts on the side.

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Standard Kings X

This amazing old fashioned art supply shop just a stone's throw from the British Museum

This amazing old fashioned art supply shop just a stone’s throw from the British Museum

Aren't the pigments amazing?

Aren’t the pigments amazing?

I love a good window display

I love a good window display

The Wedding Dress exhibition, here we come!

The Wedding Dress exhibition, here we come!

But first, Disobedient Objects exhibition

But first, Disobedient Objects exhibition

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Ahahaha. A classic.

Ahahaha. A classic.

A good one for the collection

A good one for the collection

Amen

Amen

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But, of course

But, of course

Now for the dresses...

Now for the dresses…

Gwen Stefani's ombre pink dress, with a very spangly number in front

Gwen Stefani’s ombre pink dress, with a very spangly number in front

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Kate Moss' dress by Galliano

Kate Moss’ dress by Galliano

It was my favourite - can you tell.

It was my favourite – can you tell?

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I die. So much love for the sparkles.

I die. So much love for the sparkles.

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Betsy Loves, Food, Travel

Castles, cake and cream tea (and chorizo, and chocolate, and chips…)

Those of you who know your Waugh might be aware of Castle Howard. It’s been the setting for both film adaptations of Brideshead Revisited, but that aside, it’s a pretty impressive stately home. I’ve visited before with Momma P, but Danners and I decided to get some photography practice in, and with the weather playing ball, we thought we’d drive out to the country. I’m not sure how great the photos are, but the cream tea, ice cream, and sweets more than make up for them. The finale to our day was dinner at Bill’s – York’s newest restaurant. Anywhere that has chorizo, sweet potato chips and chocolate dipping sauce on its menu is going to be fine by me.

A civilised setting for lunch

A civilised setting for lunch

Decisions to be made while we wait for a table

Decisions to be made while we wait for a table

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Cream tea to share

Cream tea to share

Wedge-sized ham sandwiches

Wedge-sized ham sandwiches

We resisted the urge to hop on the tractor

We resisted the urge to hop on the tractor

One of many cenotaphs

One of many cenotaphs

Aaaaand there it is!

Aaaaand there it is!

Not bad for the back of the house

Not bad for the back of the house

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Smile!

Smile!

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The writing desk that would help me pen a bestseller...

The writing desk that would help me pen a bestseller…

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Eerie, yes?

Eerie, yes?

Every home should have a corridor of busts

Every home should have a corridor of busts

As entrance halls go, it's a corker

As entrance halls go, it’s a corker

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I thought the light looked pretty

I thought the light looked pretty

I'm sure I must be in here somewhere

I’m sure I must be in here somewhere

A sort of 'sorry you lost' scroll from the people of West Yorkshire to an unsuccessful Howard MP

A sort of ‘sorry you lost’ scroll from the people of West Yorkshire to an unsuccessful Howard MP

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That's you, Mr T

That’s you, Mr T

Sweeeeeets

Sweeeeeets

Giant strawbs. The best kind of sweet

Giant strawbs. The best kind of sweet

Cinder toffee. Om nom

Cinder toffee. Om nom

Danners realises she made an AWFUL choice with rum and raisin

Danners realises she made an AWFUL choice with rum and raisin

I should have saved some of my ice cream for this part

I should have saved some of my ice cream for this part

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What shall I photograph next?

What shall I photograph next?

The rather majestic front view

The rather majestic front view

A bit of a 'water feature'

A bit of a ‘water feature’

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Hide and seek

Hide and seek

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Entering the Rose Garden

Entering the Rose Garden

Small child not mine

Small child not mine

I promise the skies were blue!

I promise the skies were blue!

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Castle Howard's own jam. Very fancy

Castle Howard’s own jam. Very fancy

Back to York for supper at its newest restaurant - Bill's

Back to York for supper at its newest restaurant – Bill’s

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Crispy squid

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Chicken and chorizo burger. Yummy

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Sweet potato fries. My favourite!

Cinnamon doughnuts with chocolate dipping sauce, and pecan pie

Cinnamon doughnuts with chocolate dipping sauce, and pecan pie

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