Tag Archives: Latvia

Forest Chump (Part One)

Every New Year’s, for as long as I can remember, has been pretty much the same. Different faces, different cities, sure, but the usual partying til the wee hours and then feeling like shite for the next three days. This year, however, I came up with the rather loony idea that if I start 2016 off in a slightly different way, maybe it will be a different sort of year…

This was when I decided to do something a bit Latvian odd, and booked myself a room in a hotel in the middle of a forest in Northern Germany.

As an afterthought, I sent my German friend, Simone, a message:

Me: What are the chances of me being eaten by wolves in a forest in Northern Germany?

(No reply)

Me: Or bears?

Simone: Zero to miniscule.

Me: Oh, OK, good. Just thought I’d check…

And so, armed with my deep knowledge of wildlife, forests, survival skills and all things “nature”, I boarded a bus for Lübeck. I figured I’d be seeing enough trees when I got there so I slept for most of the four-hour journey.

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Welcome to Lübeck!

I was ravenous by the time the bus pulled into the station, so I took a couple of half-hearted photos but was really on the hunt for food. After wolfing (haha) down a sandwich and a cup of tea, I was feeling more human and ready to check out the delights Lübeck has to offer.

As with most German cities, it’s ridiculously pretty and well-maintained. If only all of its residents could get with the programme…

Well, it IS closer to the Baltics...
Well, it IS closer to the Baltics…

The promised blue skies didn’t materialise and it was bloody cold but I wandered around taking in the sights anyway. I was rewarded with what every woman is looking for – a horny little devil…

I'm horny, horny, horny, horny...
I’m horny, horny, horny, horny…

And this one wasn’t all mouth and no trousers either. No, he had a great back story. It seems that when the first stones of St. Mary’s Church were being laid, the devil thought that it was going to be a wine bar, so he enthusiastically joined in with the building project. (Can’t say I blame him.)

But one day, the devil realised what the building was actually going to be and flew into a rage. (Can’t say I blame him there, either.) He picked up a huge boulder and was about to smash the place to pieces when one daring local told him to leave it alone; they’d build him a wine bar across the street instead. The devil was very happy with this so he dropped the boulder and has been sitting there happily ever since. I don’t know if he ever made it to the wine bar…

As I was half-frozen at this stage, I decided a far quicker way to see the sights would be to go up to the viewing tower at St. Peter’s Church and kill all the birds with one stone. (In a figurative sense. I love wildlife.)

Niederegger
The best marzipan in the world

Thankfully, with all of the other tourists crammed into Niederegger Marzipan Café, I made it to the top in no time. It was COLD.

My new look. I call it "The Trump".
My new look. I call it “The Trump”.

For some reason, being truly frozen for a short time instead of gradually frozen over a longer period of time made sense to me. The views were pretty spectacular as well.

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After a quick glass of wine at a cute little bar, I got on what I hoped was the right bus. It was already dark when I got off at what I hoped was the right stop.

Yep, looks about right.
Yep, looks about right.

I tripped over a twig 2.5 seconds after getting off the bus and thought, “YES!! This the rustic, outdoorsy, solitary existence I was looking for!” Then, thankfully, I found the hotel because it was a little scary out there, all alone in the dark…

Adorable, no?
Adorable, no?

The hotel has been in the Grotkopp (yes, that is their real name) family’s hands for generations, and Mrs Grotkopp greeted me like I was her long-lost grand-daughter. There was hand-holding and chuckling, chatting about the weather and my Trump “do”, and I wondered what I’d done to deserve such royal treatment. Then I remembered. She’s German. They’re nice.

It was quite possibly the quickest check-in I’ve ever experienced. I was given my key card, told where to go, and that was it. My room was cosy and well-equipped, had working wifi, typical German beds and no poo shelf. Perfect.

Still funny :)
Still funny 

After spending a few minutes scrolling through the usual dreck everyone posts on Facebook around New Year’s, I decided I’d earned a nap. In trying to find the switch on the bedside lamp, I accidentally touched the base of it. Like magic, it came on.

Me: Ooh.

So I touched it again. It got brighter.

Me: Ooooh.

So I touched it again. It got brighter still.

Me: OoohOooh…

Clearly I should not be left on my own for extended periods of time.
Clearly I should not be left on my own for extended periods of time.

After a very satisfying snooze, it was time to go hunting and foraging for food. But luckily, this is Germany and therefore civilised, so there was an inviting little Italian place down the road.

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As usual, I was the last to leave, so the Italian owner came over for a chat at the end of the night. He didn’t speak a word of English but we still managed to have a fine old chinwag about the breakdown of society and how nobody had the staying power to really make a relationship work these days. Incidentally, he was on wife number three, a Ukrainian, with three kids in total, one from each wife. People never cease to amuse me…

And what better way to start the New Year than on a cliff-hanger. Stay tuned for part two – there will be trees, oh yes, there will be trees. BUT spoiler alert: I lived.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

 

A blast from the past

Last week, a little bit of Latvia came to Berlin in the form of Yummy Jānis, my Latvian ex-boyfriend.

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Aww, those were the days…

He told me that he’d be flying into Schönefeld Airport at 13.55 on Friday and I told him he was on his own as I wouldn’t have time to get there after my German lesson. I helpfully sent him a map of the Berlin transport system and left him with dire warnings on which ticket to buy and to make sure to VALIDATE it.

After my lesson and much merriment, I dashed home to drop off my bag and straight back out again to meet Yummy at his hostel. He was staying in the ghetto area of Neukölln, so he should have felt right at home, albeit with a few more Turkish people than he’s probably used to in Latvia. His hostel was right beside the train station so I had no problems finding it.

Me: Are you nearly here?

Yummy: I’m still in the queue at the ticket machine.

30 minutes later…

Me: Any progress?

Yummy: I’ve got a ticket.

Me: Sigh.

This is why nobody flies into bloody Schönefeld if they can help it.

I wandered off to pick up a few bits and pieces and kill some time. Heading back towards the hostel, I noticed Yummy standing directly underneath a massive sign pointing to his hostel.

Me: Oh good, so you’re all checked in.

Yummy: No, I couldn’t find the hostel.

Me: …

I led him to the hostel and waited in the lobby as he took 30 minutes to drop his bag off and put a sheet on the bed. It was around two and a half hours since he’d landed and almost dark by then. I dragged him on to a train and off we went.

Me: Did you validate your ticket? 

Yummy: I think so. 

Me: Let me see it… No, you didn’t. 

So we got off the train again, validated the ticket and back on another train.

Me: (waving my hands around a bit) The world-famous Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag… Right, do you want to go to a Christmas market and drink Glühwein?

Luckily, he gave the correct answer.

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Can you smell the Glühwein and sausage?
Gendarmenmarkt is probably one of the most popular Christmas markets in Berlin, with certainly one of the most beautiful backdrops. We got some Glühwein, Yummy had a sausage and we wandered around savouring the sights and smells.

Me: Huh, it’s not even that crowded. Lucky. 

Yummy: (pale and sweating) My god, it’s so crowded. I’m kind of freaking out. 

Me: Yeah, I guess when you’re used to being one of like five people in your country, this probably is crowded. 

Hordes of Latvians. ARGH.

So we left again.

Yummy: OK, I’m kind of calm again now. Can we go eat? 

Me: But you just had a sausage. That would keep me going all night. 

Yummy: I’m a grown man. 

Me: Sure. 

I took him to a semi-deserted restaurant on Oranienburger Straße, where I had hoped I could show him the hookers doing their thing, but it must have been too cold for them. Yummy presented me with a couple of Latvian “treats” to make up for it.

Yay. Black Balsams. My favourite...
Yay. Black Balsams. My favourite…

 

With Yummy fed, watered and feeling more like himself again, it was off to my favourite watering hole in Friedrichshain. There, we joined my neighbours (not the naked ones) from when I lived with Hildeberta and Hildegard. And, would you believe it, the Latvian chick Yummy had sat beside on the plane was in the very same bar. She was over visiting her boyfriend who now lives in Germany. They both seemed normal enough (for Latvians, anyway), so they sat with us and a raucous evening of Irish-German-Latvian hilarity ensued.

With Yummy off to visit his cousin in Hamburg the next day, I was left to my own devices. As luck would have it, the Lankwitz one-day-only, 5-hour extravaganza of a Christmas market was taking place on the church grounds.

Possibly the smallest, shortest Christmas market in Berlin.
Possibly the smallest, shortest Christmas market in Berlin.

 

As everyone knows, the best way to get over an excess of Glühwein is to have more Glühwein so I headed straight for the longest queue which, I felt, had to be where the Glühwein was at. I strolled around for a bit and when I started losing the feeling in my feet, adjourned to the one bar in Lankwitz I hadn’t tried yet.

Unluckily for me, it’s a Hertha BSC bar and a football match against Bayern Munich was in full swing. It was standing room only so I did my best to look interested and supportive, despite wearing the rather eye-catching red of the Bayern team. Not to worry. With Bayern comfortably hammering Hertha, the place cleared out a bit and I was able to perch on a stool at the bar.

The man next to me immediately started talking to me and, in no time at all, I was being introduced to everyone and having my wine bought for me. Maybe Hertha fans weren’t so bad after all. Nobody really spoke any English and, as well as practising my German, I also had at least three old blokes offering to cook me dinner.

Gunther: You should pay attention. All of the men will be after you because you are the only relatively young, semi-attractive woman in the bar. 

Looking around, I realised I was now the only woman in the bar. Couldn’t he just have left it at “young and attractive”? But no, that just wouldn’t be German, would it?

 

Huge thanks to Yummy for coming to visit – I hope you had a fun night!

 

 

I’m in a book!

Or, at least, I’m going to be.

It all started one evening when I was working hard arsing around on Facebook, and Veronica from The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife popped up for a chat. We engaged in some very important discussions about life, love and the universe – or maybe I talked about my cup of tea – and then she told me about an idea that she and Pete, of Black Sheep fame, had come up with.

The idea was dangerously simple: invite funny expat bloggers from all over Europe to contribute to a comedy anthology, publish it on Amazon in time for Christmas and donate the proceeds to charity. They’d had the idea around nine months ago, but hadn’t really got around to doing anything about it.

While Irish Linda was lazily formulating the thought, “Ah sure, it’s grand. Eight months is no time at all, at all…”, German Linda efficiently stomped her and went into military mode. Within a day, we’d compiled a list of the bloggers we wanted to take part, emailed them to ask if they wanted to contribute, I appointed myself editor, and asked a friend to design the cover. Veronica would take on marketing the book and formatting it for Amazon. (Thankfully, as I am clueless about that stuff.)

“Uprooted and Undiluted” was born. I also gained the lovely title of “Linda the Whip”. (Thanks for that, Pete.)

My inner German does not look like this.
My inner German does not look like this.

Luckily, everyone else was just as taken with the idea as I was and, in no time at all, the blog posts started rolling in. We decided to divide it into topics, rather than simply by blogger, so we’d cover things like daily life, sexy time, man flu, battling red tape, and problems with learning the local language. I compiled all of the posts into one monster document and got down to it. Needless to say, it was a lot more work than I had initially thought; I finished editing it yesterday and my right hand now resembles a claw. The ‘N’ has also worn off my keyboard although that could be more a side effect of typing “NEIN” all the time.

My N-less love...
My N-less love…

We have bloggers covering Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, England, Croatia, Sweden, France and, of course, I’ll be contributing my hilarious antics from both Latvia and Germany. You can find the full list of writers on my new page and, I have to say, they really are a funny bunch – editing the book was incredibly difficult as I just couldn’t stop laughing.

As I mentioned, the proceeds of the book will go to charity. Now you’d think it would be pretty easy to give money away, right? NEIN (sorry, N). We contacted a couple of major international charities to ask if we could use their logo and donate the money to them. The amount of hoop-jumping and bureaucracy they wanted us to go through would make even a German’s head spin. One actually wanted us to sign a contract guaranteeing a minimum annual donation… Um, what? Can’t we just give you the money?

In the end, Veronica came to the rescue by emailing an old friend who’d set up a charity called Hands Together that builds schools in Nepal. They were absolutely thrilled to be part of the project and we are delighted to be donating the money to such a worthy cause. They’ve offered to help us market the book in any way they can, and the Chairperson, none other than the Absolutely Fabulous Joanna Lumley, is even going to write a foreword for us.

Joanna does her best impression of a Latvian woman. (Image taken from The Times Magazine.)
Joanna does her best impression of a Latvian woman. (Image taken from The Times Magazine.)

With the editing done, the cover a day or two from completion, and the charity on board, it’s all starting to feel very real. I have no problem admitting that I am stupidly excited about it all. I think the book is fantastic and I hope that everyone immediately rushes out and buys a copy. Or, rather, sits comfortably in their armchair and clicks a couple of times. (Technology, eh?)

You’d better be quick though, before Mammy O’Grady buys them all.

The Facebook page can be found here – ‪#‎uprootedandundiluted‬. I think. I still don’t really understand what hashtags do…

This post was updated October 15. The editorial team is re-visiting its connection with the aforementioned charity as the book might be too ‘undiluted’ for their taste… More to follow in a later post.

Welcome to my hood

I am officially declaring my first week and a half of living on my own a roaring success. But, I suspect that since posting these pictures…

…some of you might think that I have taken to tree-hugging, stuff-picking, or whatever else it is people who live near forests do. Not so, dear reader. If there was ever a chance of that, I think it probably would have happened in Latvia, and the closest I came to tree-hugging there was being driven out of the country by stick-wielding local lunatics. (Slight exaggeration, but close enough.)

Far from feeling isolated from my beloved Berlin, I am feeling very much at home here. During the day, I get to scoff at tourists who spend 20 minutes standing in front of a map of the train system, and a further 20 minutes trying to figure out which ticket to buy; in the evenings, I get to come home to my tranquil little haven. It’s the perfect balance. In fact, living here feels a bit like living in a holiday camp, which I can’t recommend highly enough.

Despite being small, the town has absolutely everything I need for daily living – an efficient transport system, supermarkets, banks, a post office, shops, WOOLWORTH, bakeries, cafés, restaurants, bars, late-night shops (for midnight/Sunday wine runs) and even a little cinema. Oh, and there’s also a church for people who like that sort of thing.

The bells, the bells...
The bells, the bells…

In my back garden, there’s a table tennis table which I’ve never seen anyone using, but am planning to take full advantage of at the first possible opportunity.

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Just down the road in one direction, there’s mini-golf and archery, and in the other direction, there’s a swimming pool, tennis courts and an ice rink. In fact, all I need is some bad karaoke, bingo and ballroom dancing and I’d be living in Butlin’s. (For non-UK/Irish readers, Butlin’s is a famous holiday camp in the UK – think “Dirty Dancing”, but without the dirty bits.)

Something the world hoped it would never see again...
Something the world hoped it would never see again…

Dotted all around the town are pretty little allotments where the Mermans, “merry Germans” in case you’d forgotten, grow stuff, grill sausages, drink beer, bask in the sunshine, paddle in inflatable swimming pools and get naked a lot. This last one is, as yet, unconfirmed, but this is Germany so…

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Naturally, I’ve also been to check out my new local bar. I first went last Sunday as a little treat for managing to lug my worldly possessions – solo – from one end of the city to the other. I was mildly perturbed to find that I was in the minority given that I didn’t have white hair, a walker or a wheelchair. Still, the punters were friendly, in a toothless, elderly sort of way.

Not one to give up so easily, I decided to return on a Saturday night to see what kind of crowd it brought in on a more “happening” night of the week. I had no sooner settled in with a nice glass of wine when the waiter came over.

Eggert: Those gentlemen over there would like to buy you a drink.

Feeling a bit like I was in a movie, I looked over to see three men of various ages/sizes grinning back at me.

Me: Um. 

Me: Ummmm.

Me: OK, I’ll have a white wi… no, sod that, I’ll have a whiskey. Irish. No ice. No water. Danke. 

When it came, I raised my glass to the gentlemen, thanked them in German and offered a pleasantry or two. This was greeted with looks of disappointment. Huh? Surely my German wasn’t that bad – it wasn’t like I was saying anything overly complicated. What was their problem?

As it turned out, their problem was that they didn’t have a word of German between them. They were Croatian builders who’d been in Germany for around ten days. Two out of three spoke passable English though, so in the end, we managed to have what was probably the most uproarious night that particular bar had ever seen.

It used to be so peaceful…

With my flat kitted out, my internet provider coming on Wednesday and my new bar of choice selected, there is really only one thing left to do. Yup, it’s back to the dreaded Bürgeramt to re-re-re-re-re-register my address. I guess if they try to make me wait for hours on end again, I can just start screaming, “Nobody puts O’Grady in a corner!” and see where that gets me.

Non, je ne regrette rien

Or whatever that is in German.

After the last few drama-filled weeks, you’d be forgiven for wondering if I’m regretting my decision to move to Berlin. If so, you’d be nuts. A little drama never killed anybody. It’s perfectly possible that psychotic Swedes did, but, fortunately for me and my blood pressure, I’m out of that situation now.

Bye bye bunnies. Take care Bjorn doesn't boil you.
Bye bye bunnies. Take care Bjorn doesn’t boil you.

So, why don’t I regret moving to Berlin? Well, aside from a psychotic Swede, a horny Hermann and an insane registration system, Berlin is fantastic. Most days I have to pinch myself to make myself believe that I’m actually living in one of my favourite cities in the world.

Even Queenie likes it.
Even Queenie likes it.

Here are just some of the reasons I’m happy I moved from Latvia to Germany (or Berlin, for those who insist that Berlin is Berlin, and not “real” Germany).

  • German drivers don’t act like they want to kill you.
  • German pedestrians don’t act like they want to kill you, either.
  • Germans are not as punctual as you might think. This is, in fact, rather annoying but it’s nice to know that Germans aren’t as perfect as everyone thinks they are. They do, however, treat long distance bus journeys in much the same way as they treat sun loungers in Majorca. On a recent trip to Hamburg, I arrived fifteen minutes early for the bus. I got on and thought that all of the seats were empty. Silly me. No, the Germans had probably got there at 4am, left their jackets and snacks, and gone home to bed for a few hours.
  • Even homeless people have high standards. I started teaching at one of the major banks in Berlin last Monday. The student was late (sigh), so I waited in the ATM vestibule. While I was phoning the school trying to find out where my student was, I woke up a young woman who had been sleeping behind the ATM machines. “Have you got €20 for me?” “€20??? No, I don’t.” “But you just took out money.” “Yeah, for me, not you.” I waited outside after that.
  • The fashion. Or lack thereof. I’m pretty sure you could dance down the street naked in Berlin and nobody would bat an eyelid. On one of the rare occasions I’ve seen someone wearing heels, it was a dude. Refreshing after all of the falsity in Latvia.

His 'n' hers lovely sensible German footwear
His ‘n’ hers lovely sensible German footwear

  • German people are friendly and helpful. No, it’s really true. They strike up conversations with total strangers on public transport; they help people with heavy suitcases. In fact, I think I’ve had more help from the few Germans I’ve met over the last four or five weeks than I had from the Latvians in four years. I don’t know where the cold, unsmiling German stereotype comes from, but nothing could be further from the truth.
  • German people are amazingly sociable. While I hear rumours that Germans like rummaging about in the forest for mushrooms, I haven’t seen that in person. What I have seen is every café and bar (and that’s a lot) full to the brim with shiny happy Germans holding hands talking and laughing like it’s the most normal thing in the world – which it is.

Shiny happy Germans holding hands. And dancing.
Shiny happy Germans holding hands. And dancing.

  • Germans aren’t shy about drinking on the streets. In Latvia, when you see somebody walking around with a beer in their hand, they’re usually the lowest of the low. Here, it’s the same as walking around with a bottle of water.
  • Germans work. And I mean WORK. There’s no faffing about. You will never see five or six Germans standing around looking at a hole in the ground the way you would in Latvia (or Ireland). They’re there to do a job, and they do it. In Latvia, a bar maid will grunt at you because you’ve interrupted her Youtube marathon. In Germany, a bar maid will come running from wiping down tables, sweeping floors, emptying ashtrays… they just don’t stop.
  • In Germany, if something is shit (and really, there aren’t that many things), you get the feeling that people are trying to improve it. Latvians would rather bitch and moan and, ideally, blame the Russians. (I doubt I’ll live long enough to see this change.)
  • Pretty much everything is cheaper in Berlin.
  • Food – oh wow, the food. First of all, you don’t have to pick your way through 254 mouldy onions in supermarkets to find the one good one – everything is shiny and fresh. The quality of everything is just better. And the variety – you can buy pretty much anything you want in the supermarkets, and I don’t think there’s a single cuisine that’s not taken care of in the restaurant market.
  • They have English bacon, Irish cheddar AND Heinz baked beans. Now I won’t need to bring back an extra suitcase from Ireland at Christmas. I have access to everything I need.
  • I don’t need to wipe down toilet seats everywhere I go. German women pee like women, not like dogs. However, one thing I cannot wrap my head around is the German “poo shelf”. Why anyone would want to examine their poo that closely is beyond me.

Dear god, why?
Dear god, why?

  •  I’m now living with two very hot German women – proof that not all German women are complete munters. And, more importantly, they’re über nice.

They even put sweets on my pillow - all together now, AWWWWW
They even put sweets on my pillow – all together now, AWWWWW

So, do I regret leaving Latvia? Not for a second.