dinsdag, januari 03, 2006

Week 14-18: Berlin, Stuggart (Germany) to Amsterdam (Holland) to Newcastle (England)

Before my memory hazes out on me, it is time to recount the past month’s adventures. I left my friend Cornel’s house in the small town of Horst, Holland, after working for three weeks and having enough money to again continue my journey, this time, riddled with countless transportation mishaps. The train from Venlo to Berlin apparently wasn’t going to show, so I was redirected to Dusseldorf. From Dusseldorf, I found a 4 hour train ride to Berlin. I bought a Nutella and banana crepe and headed off to the train. The train arrived 6 minutes early, and I boarded for a four hour trip to Berlin. At 4 pm, when my train was due to arrive in Berlin, I went to grab my bags and head off, but curiously I was in a small town that wasn’t at all what I had imagined Berlin to look like. I anxiously questioned the non-English speaking passengers about my whereabouts, and finally discovered from the train conductor that my arrival in Berlin would not be for another 4 hours. Arghhhh! Hungry, tired, and bordering on depressed by now, I realized my mistake: I had bordered the slow train, which takes 8 hours and stops in every town with a station, instead of the high-speed direct train. So, I thought troubled thoughts and struggled to cover my eyes and sleep in my seat until another 4 hours passed, eventually landing me in the center of Berlin, where my friend Jurgen was waiting for me. I stayed with Jurgen in his apartment for several days, visiting an architectural photo exhibit at an old, defunct train station, eating good organic vegetarian food and checking out all the hip shops around his East Berlin community. Shops like American Apparel, Carhartt, Paul Frank, Adidas, Converse, Doc Martin’s, and anti-corporate/anti-consumerism clothing shops (is that an oxymoron?), as well as a cool Army surplus store. Jurgen left to set up the Pushead art show in Stuggart and I stayed and worked in his apartment for a week and spent some time exploring the city with my Berlin friend (& tour guide) Kris, whom I had met momentarily in Biarritz several months before. We walked to a punk art squat, experienced the Weinersmarkt (Christmas Market), participated in a Gluewein (hot spiced wine) party and roamed the streets of East and West Berlin, as well as stopping in at the John Lennon photo gallery in the Berlin library. I spent a lot of time just wandering around by myself and enjoying Berlin which has been one of the most fascinating and exciting cities I have ever been to. I am determined to return and digest more of this historical city which has turned quite progressive with it’s magnetic appeal for alternative lifestyles and Bio (Organic) grocery stores. One night Jurgen had a company Christmas party at his super high-tech video editing job, and all of the media hipsters from all over East Berlin and beyond showed up to enjoy: being a hipster, listening to live acoustic guitar folk rock, DJ dance floor action, and an open bar that finally ran dry of hard liquor at the time I was leaving in the wee hours of the morning. My time of eating healthy food, and cheap beer (30 cents for a 22 oz beer) finally came to an end, and I went to hook up with my rideshare to Stuggart where I would meet up with Jurgen and Daniel (Fauxami.de) for their Nike sponsored Pushead show in their Skateboard Museum in Stuggart.

I showed up in the center of Berlin at 9 in the morning, after having to walk half way because the subway was closed because some vagrant had thrown a shopping cart, or perhaps themselves, on the tracks). I arrived 15 minutes early, but my ride never showed up in the next hour. I tried the next ride, and the one after, but both were full. So instead of paying 30 euros for a 6-8 hour car drive, I had to spend 4 times that much for the train.
I arrived in Stuggart in the evening, and Daniel came and picked me up (on his skateboard) and we headed to his work, the Mos Eisley bar (coolest name ever for a bar), where I dragged in my suitcase and sat and read On The Road and had some free beers and food until night, when I went and crashed out on the floor. The following day I went to my friend Niko’s house where I would stay the following night, just about 15 minutes walk from the town center. That night was similar to the following, going to a few bars with my German friends, heading off to a club, and then a late night falafel and walking home in the snow back to Niko’s house (it NEVER snows in Stuggart). I woke up and Niko picked me up and we went back to Mos Eisley and had a good breakfast and coffee(s). Later that day we hit up this underground super tight mini ramp with an extension. Daniel was ripping it up as usual, and the session was short but fun. We skated, I took some pics, and then it was finally time for the much anticipated Pushead show. I cruised down to the Filmhaus and chilled out for several hours, meeting German skaters from all over and taking in the skate art, and watching some old school skate videos (and the Concussion video that was on a loop most of the night). It was 3 AM and my train didn’t leave for Amsterdam for another 3 hours, so I went and kicked it at a club with my friends, and returned to the Art Musuem at 5am, picked up my backpack and camera bag, and headed off to the train station. I gave my friend a hug goodbye as my train pulled up, and my fancy art cap fell off down by the tracks. I reached for it, but only knocked it down further. Whistles of the conductor were blowing, I stuck my foot down by the steel gnawing wheels that were hungry to devour my entire leg, the train would leave any minute, the conductor was running towards me, I finally dragged the cap up the cement with my foot, grabbed it, and jumped on the train with the conductor yelling at me in German. “Whatever”, I said to him and the doors closed in his angry face. I was off to Holland.

I had yet to buy a ticket, and the ticket office wasn’t going to be open until 6am (my train left at 5:51), so when the conductor came for my ticket, he told me it was 110 euros to another German city, where I had to transfer to another train to Amsterdam. The entire ticket was only supposed to be 114 euros, so I contested this fee heavily. I refused to pay. He threatened me, another conductor came and said they were calling the police, I said I would pay, I suppose, but I demanded to know what city I was to get off. They wouldn’t tell me until I paid, I said “I want you to fucking tell me where I get off before I pay”, the second conductor said “ooohhh, you keep your voice DOWN, you are going to jail!” I paid the bastards and they walked away and didn’t tell me where I was supposed to transfer to Amsterdam. I thought I’d get some sleep on the train, but I probably only slept for 20 minutes and when I woke up, I realized the train was now 20 minutes late in arrival. I had missed my connecting train and had to get out in some city in Germany and wait 2 hours until my train for Amsterdam was to arrive. I asked random people if I was in Germany to their complete confusion. I didn’t know where I was. I hadn’t slept, I had been up all night arguing with the conductors, almost had my leg chopped off fishing out my stupid cap, but as it turned out everything was cool and I got on the next train, right on time, and headed off to Amsterdam where I was to meet my friend Reed from Santa Cruz.


I arrived zombie style in Amsterdam around 1 pm (only a few hours later than I had originally planned). I walked straight into downtown, apparently missing my hostel, The Flying Pig (theflyingpig.nl). I was completely exhausted, carrying my new army backpack on my back (I tossed my suitcase after the zipper had broken and my friend Niko gave me a backpack he had found in an attic and never used), and carrying my camera/computer bag in my hand, which was like a 40 pound dumbbell. I had to stop and ask for directions. I had passed the hostel by about 1 kilometer. I returned back to where I had started and found the hostel down some dark, curvy, little alley, checked in, and crashed out for a few hours. I woke up and found my friend Reed who had undergone several similar incidences getting from Portugal, to London, to Amsterdam and also had not slept. So, when darkness suddenly arrived, the two Santa Cruz zombies took to the streets, hit up the first coffee shop, and bought some Blueberry and Northern Lights, which settled us down into Amsterdam mode. We were back on the streets, getting offered every drug known to man, just cruising around and checking out the fabled tales that you all have heard about Amsterdam. We nipped down a very narrow alley way, super shady, and stumbled upon one of the “highlights” of the red-light district, the hookers. It’s quite crazy, and a little sad (like when you go and see the cute doggies in their cages and they just want you to buy them), but there are these scantily clad ladies in their little booths, that lead back to what I would guess would be a bed and a sink. They beckon you like sirens to the sailors, sometimes banging on the glass almost pleading for you to come in and service them, trying to smash your ship on their rocks. Well, that was a part of Amsterdam I chose not to sample, but the experience of walking down those alleys and seeing what I saw, was one I will never forget.

The next few days were more of the same, late nights in the hostel playing pool, renting bikes and doing loops of Amsterdam trying to find a certain not so exhilarating park (it is really really easy to lose your way in Amsterdam), taking some photos of nick nacks and paddy wacks, and having numerous “rest breaks” in one of hundreds of little “coffee shops” around Amsterdam. One night we hooked up with this crazy Polock who was staying at the Pig, and we all tried some Thai ‘Shrooms. Trippy man, especially with a group of people you just met and know nothing about their emotional and mental temperment, while doing another pedestrian tour of the dark alleys of Amsterdam. So, we experienced Amsterdam as much as we could, but we still felt like we weren’t being good lil’ tourists because we had just as much fun hanging out in the hostel bar, laying on the cushions smoking splifs (notice I did not and never did write ‘bifters’), and playing pool as we had going out and getting freaked out on the streets of Amsterdam. Trolling around Amsterdam reminded me of this quote from Janis Joplin about Jim Morrison, “We walked around the streets of Amsterdam and were offered all kinds of drugs: uppers, downs, LSD, mushrooms, and we would all take one and put the rest in our pockets for later, but not Jim, he just took everything he was given, right then and there.” Crazy psychodelic nutcase, no wonder I’ve already outlived him by 4 years. So it was time to leave Amsterdam, and get on my ferry. I drank coffee, smoked spliffs and worked on my photo website in the Hostel until 2 hours before my Ferry was to leave and then headed down to the central station with my crazy Polish friend Marek; he was carrying my camera bag while I had the big pack on. When we arrived, no one knew where the ferry was leaving from, or some had no idea about a ferry in Amsterdam whatsoever. I was told 10 different things, and was doing laps around the station, when I started to realize the ferry wasn’t even leaving from Amsterdam, it was leaving from Ijumuiden, which was about 1 or 2 hours away from the Amsterdam Central station. Panic struck, I was stressing hard, with my heavy bags, and I got on a train to Harlem, and then was supposed to take the bus (no two buses) to Ijumuiden. I was required to be there an hour before departure, but there was only 45 minutes before my Ferry actually set sail, or whatever Ferries do. I gave up. I headed back to Amsterdam and back to the Flying Pig, with my curly tail between my legs, checked in with a 5 euro discount for being a sad sappy sucker and just hung out in the hostel all night, too late, and crashed out around 5 and woke up with some dude kicking me out of bed because check-out time had passed. I left for the ferry 5 hours before it was to depart, deciding not to take any chances with another botched North Sea crossing. I took the hi-speed Flying Ferry to Ijumuiden, arrived 3 hours before departure, and when the time was right, boarded the Ferry and checked into my cabin. The ferry was quite cool, complete with 5 restaurants, a disco, show girls (The Scandanavian Queens), and you can go out on the “sun deck” at night and watch the frigid ocean pass you by. The dinner was 27 euros, so I obviously skipped it, as that was my “Change of ticket” fee I had to pay, which was me being lucky, as I really should have had to buy a whole other ticket. I ate my bread rolls and cheese and bought a 4 euro bottle of crappy Spanish wine, and just hung out and watched the ferry world go buy. I watched the Scandanavian Queens show, poured out the last of my wine, and went to my quarters. I woke up to some Dutch monotonous semi-soothing voice on the loudspeaker, surfaced to the sundeck and England was in the distance, I had made it (almost). I spent all my money going from train to train to ferry and paying for hostels, and food, and whatever else I don’t know, but I found myself out of money again. The bus to Newcastle was 3 pounds, but I only had 1. Luckily, a kind British lady offered me the other two as my feeble attempts to persuade the bus driver to let me on with my ferry stub and one pound failed. I arrived in Newcastle, and then had to figure out how to get to Sunderland, without any money. I saw a sign to the metro, and a sign for a 20 pound fine if you didn’t pay. I had no choice, but to risk it. I barged the metro to Park Lane, where I was supposed to take a taxi. At Park Lane I decided to walk the final two miles, arriving at my Gran’s house sweaty and tired, but I had made it!