Sunday, 19 February 2012


12 and a half years after getting my German GCSE I finally got to it try out when I visited Berlin this week. I've been meaning to visit for a long time, especially as my younger sister was living there recently and absolutely fell in love with the city, and as people often draw comparisons between Berlin and Bristol, the city I now call home.
Finally I found the time to go, though not enough time as it turns out. We were looking forward to a break after working very hard and putting up with a freezing flat at the start of this year, so we booked ourselves into a posh hotel and packed our bags.
We turned up late on Wednesday and headed straight out for food. Bizarrely, we could find not a single place to eat, and after wandering many quiet streets we gave up and headed back to our hotel. Luckily where we were staying was clean, comfy and cosy, and some consolation.
After a good sleep we stepped onto Berlin's streets again, wandering hungrily for a little too long until we finally stopped at a cafe and filled our bellies with good food. We were surprised at how cheap our meals were. We made it to Ku'damm and sat down in another cafe, this time with a beer. After a swim in the hotel pool we headed north to take in the graffiti and hang out by the river, and ate at a wonderful sushi place where we were treated to no less than 34 pieces of sushi, and after drinks our bill still came to less than £20! We ended the night in a studenty area, drinking strong, tasty vodka based drinks and taking a taxi back to our lovely hotel.
We began the next day at the Turkish market in Kreuzburg, where we bought lots of edible treats, then sat in a Turkish cafe eating baklava, once again surprised by how cheap it is to eat in Berlin. Wandering the streets of Kreuzburg, eating and drinking beer took up the rest of the afternoon, and after a stop in the Topography of Terror museum, we were ready for another swim, sauna and spa. In the evening we visited Checkpoint Charlie, which was really expensive but really really interesting.
Berlin is a place crammed full of history, shopping and graffiti. It is culturally very diverse, despite its chequered past, and must be a wonderful place to be a student. I loved the metro, the food and the street art. Next time, I want to visit more museums, hire a bike and hang out in the sunshine. A few days is just not long enough.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Montpelier, Bristol

A particularly brutal week of cycling to work in sub-zero temperatures before 7am, to be met by moody teenagers and exam targets, was broken up nicely by a trip to my old patch, Montpelier.
Matt met me off the train at Bristol Temple Meads on Wednesday, and we headed straight towards the Thali cafe. It was a little early for dinner, so we popped across the road to the Beaufort for a drink first. It smelt strongly of wee. We ordered our drinks then sat watching Eggheads on TV as the barlady coughed loudly next to us.
Then to the lovely Thali cafe, which has changed since my last visit. They now serve meat, and have extended the restaurant beyond the cluttered front room into the back, which is now a spacious, pleasant dining room. There are four Thali cafes in Bristol, each one a different size but with a similar laid back ambience. I used to think it must be the easiest place to waitress, as most people order the same thing: a tray of pickles followed by a Northern Thali. It's delicious, and must be very cheap to make, as it consists of cheap ingredients such as rice, lentils, salad and spices. A winning formula, leaving diners full and satisfied. The menus vary slightly in each cafe, but basically consist of just a few dishes, and I imagine huge pots of lentils and rice on the go all night. They also do an eco-takeaway in the form of a tiffin, just like traditional lunchboxes in India, which can be refilled for cheaper than a usual takeaway.
I love the Thali. I also love Mela which is opposite the Thali cafe in Montpelier, a friendly takeaway which offers thali and many other dishes, at very low prices.
Nearby, most people have good things to say about Herbert's bakery, Bell's Diner (I always wonder how people feel eating an expensive meal as they look out at the bins and remains of bric-a-brac sales on the corner), Yogasara studios, Licata Italian supermarket, the Radford Mill Farm shop, Galliford Stores, and even the chippy on the corner. They all add something to the community feel, relaxed vibe, and slightly smug quality of Picton Street, Montpelier.
At first glance it may look a lot like a crowded, scruffy street strewn with rubbish, but this week Montpelier saved my sanity and carried me safely through to the half term break.