Half of week 44 and week 45 (3–12 November 2023)
Oops, had this one 50% written and then dropped in, lost in trip planning. So here's a weeknote for two weeks ago, last week's is coming shortly.
Spent a weekend and a week in Berlin, our last visit before the big trip. We had a dense week, mostly spending time with friends, often while eating, climbing, walking or caffeinating.
- stayed with J and C in Pberg (Helmholz/Kollwitzkiez). A super nice neighborhood that somehow doesn't feel like "our" Berlin. We kept being pulled back to Neukölln throughout the week
- went climbing with bouldering friends: the ritual Wednesdays and Fridays at 7am at BK, followed by breakfast at La Maison, with M, J, C, M, P, J, M, etc. ; Sunday at Basement with a subset of the same group ; Monday at Garten with the Maxes
- butter fix at new-wave bakeries: La Maison, Gorilla, Albatross. French pastries are so much better in Berlin than in France (okay, rural France)
- ate a lot of Middle Eastern and Asian food (can't find these in Ardèche): ramen at Kuma with J, C, L and G ; hand-pulled noodles at Wen Cheng with J, C and M ; bibimbap at chanchanchan ; dim sum at Aroma ; char siu at ShuShu ; manakish at Al Faisal ; fatteh at Akroum ; Konafeh at Malek ; etc.
- walked down Sonnenallee in Neukölln (Middle Eastern food street). C wrote about it
- walked down Kantstraße in Charlottenburg (East Asian food street, mostly Chinese). This is the one thing we did that was really new to us, we'd been to Kantstraße multiple times (for food) but never with this lens. Inspired by this article: Does Berlin have a Chinatown? No – it has something better: this is Kantstrasse
- pizza at Gazzo where we ate once a week when we lived in Reuterkiez
- drinks at La Vineria where we went once a week when we lived in Harzerkiez, and got to know D the owner
- specialty coffee fix: Geschwister Nothaft, Bonanza, Populus, Zacharias (new!), Cafelix, Companion
- bought hot sauce at Crazy Bastard and baklava on Kottbusser Damm, to bring to friends in Belgium
- bought four second-hand fleece jackets at Humana (Frankfurter Tor), for layering during the big trip
- second-hand English bookstores: Saint George's in Pberg, Curious Fox in Xberg, brought home 6 books
- retraced our Berlin years by walking from Andreasstraße 20 (first flat) and Mengerzeile 13 (last flat), via the three flats in between
Took the new night train between Berlin and Brussels via Amsterdam. I had high expectations because the operator is a new startup that's all like "we're putting sleeper trains back on the map!" and all. Turns out the train was an old repurposed Polish sleeper train, with cramped cabins and berths no longer than 180 cm. I didn't sleep well and was very underwhelmed.
C and I had been to Brussels twice in the last few years. Once on the way to London by train (only stayed overnight) and once on a holiday to Belgium featuring cycling, lambic beers and soccer (it was during the Euro 2022). So we knew the city a bit already.
- stayed with L at the edge of the Châtelain neighborhood, part of Ixelles. Previously we'd stayed at Airbnbs closer to the center of Ixelles (between Flagey and Matongé) and also in Saint-Gilles (convenient when taking the train). We'd already been in Châtelain (for food mostly, but I also remember walking around looking for Art Nouveau façades after we read about it online), so the streets looked familiar
- food we had in Châtelain: verdō with L (fancy vegan restaurant), Bintje (burger place, recently opened when we visited back in 2021, now very popular. L says they are a burger joint focusing on fries, whereas nearby Rambo is a burger joint focusing on the meat. We'd also been to Rambo in 2021, I remember liking it but smash burgers always frustrate me a bit because they're so small), Knees to Chin (small Asian fusion street food chain, mostly summer rolls, but also the best tom kha I've had since Thailand. Name comes from the Asian squat position1)
- we didn't have time to get a cinnamon roll at Have A Roll, that L recommended. Next time
- it's interesting that a lot of restaurants in Brussels are small chains. For example Have A Roll has three ventures in Belgium, Knees to Chin has six. I remember having the same thought when we went to London last time. This isn't as common in Berlin—something cultural, or are there some regulations that make ventures attractive?
- new-wave bakeries: Brussels has nothing to envy Berlin. We queued for pastries at KHOBZ, watched the baker behind the glass wall at Mains, had a cardamom bun with our coffee at Kanel.
- good coffee: Kanel and Jackie in Châtelain, Tuck Shop while waiting for our train near the station
- for bouldering we took the tram to the other side of town to À BLOC. Great gym great bar
- overall it rained throughout our stay (typical Brussels says L) so we didn't get to enjoy walking around or places like the Bois de la Cambre as much as last time
- day trip to Ghent! We're meeting P and staying the night at his place. L and M had never been to Ghent, C and I visited for a day in 2021
- Saw P for the first time since leaving London in 2016!! Hasn't changed a bit
- P has only been back in town for a few months but still gave us a well-practiced city tour that he gives to all his visitors. I had one of these for Geneva back in the days
- C found a pretty wooden tangram puzzle in a huge antique store
- tried cuberdons, a Ghent specialty confection. Not my fav
- has a waffle (when in Belgium), flawlessly ordered in Flemish (almost)
- made a list of favorite words in Flemish
- C joined us for the evening from Brussels, also hadn't seen her since 2016, also hasn't changed a bit
- 5pm, flavored jenever shots at 't Dreupelkot, a longstanding bar that became something of a local attraction. Shots are poured so full that it's customary to take a first sip from the glass on the bar counter. The chili shot is properly spicy
- next bar is het Spijker, a cosy candlelit table upstairs. Beers and sharing plates of tasteless cheese, favored up with mustard and... celery salt?? (apparently another Belgian specialty)
- played drieman (for old time's sake, used to play it in London with P and L), a drinking game from the Bruges area where P is from, similar to what Wikipedia describes as Three Man but more complex. The complexity is also that each roll has its rhyme that everyone chants in Flemish, don't chant and you drink. We all chanted but were still pretty drunk by 8pm, pre-dinner
chips french friesfries outside, sauce andalouse
- played Coup back at P's (also a London favorite) over more drinks
- late dinner at Belgian restaurant Mémé Gusta, had the typical Flemish specialty stoofvlees (beef stew with beer and a HUGE side of fries) and croquettes and vol-au-vent, think I haven't been this full in... ever, painful to standup or breathe hard
- P wanted to party, we tried, soon went home to sleep
- the next morning we ran for the train back to Brussels, ran for the tram, ran for the bus, and made it to C's for brunch, pancakes shakshuka and mimosas
- four of us on electric scooters riding back to L's
I wanted to go to the cinema in Berlin but we didn't make it: next time! We did see a movie one evening at J and C's:
I'd packed a book (a big heavy one2) for the trip and haven't opened it. But I immediately read one of the books I found at Saint George's in Berlin:
actually that's probably the problem. Trips are already a mental load, so books for traveling should feel light and approachable ↩