The journey begins with cheap sandwiches! Well, actually, an expensive plane ride then cheap sandwiches. Well... not really expensive...

Sarah's mom had some extra frequent flyer miles lying around that were never going to be used. She figured that would be a good way to get Sarah over to London to read her paper at the "Symphony Orchestra as Cultural Phenomenon" conference at the University of London.

(She also figured that Sarah would need a bodyguard... So I grew a menacing-looking beard and packed my bags!)

So here we are! In front of Westminster Cathedral with cheap sandwiches and a menacing beard!

But first...

We also figured that "since we were in the neighborhood," it would probably be a good idea to visit Anicia over in Berlin!

What a town! We're probably going to move there sometime next week. When we arrived, this bar had a huge crowd spilling out into the street, sitting on lawn chairs and watching the World Cup.

(Her ex-roomate's name is Volker. Thus, I was requisitioned to take a photograph for posterity. I don't know what it means and neither does Google.)

I've been trying and trying to figure out what these signs are supposed to be communicating. The best I can come up with is:

"Drive carefully when snakes are chasing you, lest you knock over the large sugar cube precariously balanced atop a red-headed hammer."

The night we got there, we met a bunch of Anicia's friends next to the canal for grilled sausages and beer (which is cheap, delicious, and drinkable anywhere you want). We soon found out that that's all anyone does in Berlin in the summer! (Likely because it's depressingly dark and viciously cold all winter.) The next day, we embarked on an epic canal trek and enjoyed the city's many splendors, including this slide.

It looked a lot more fun than it actually was.

(Note Sarah's and Anicia's feet in the upper left corner.)

Alien light fixtures near where the Landwehrkanal meets up with the Spree.

Also nearby: the famed Badeschiff! In Berlin, they have a pool floating on a barge in the middle of the river. Anicia had been talking it up for years, but I still wasn't prepared for it's glorious awesomeness. I didn't get a good picture of it while we were there (didn't want people to think I was a crude American taking pictures of topless sunbathers), but check it out: click !

Looking back towards the Oberbaumbruckeand with the Fernsehturm in the background, you can see a chunk of the pool sticking out behind the boat. The Oberbaumbrucke (the bridge) is Anicia's favorite photo op, but she prefers it when the train is going across.

The whole area around the Badeschiff was pretty nifty. Lots of brick buildings, bikes, graffiti cussing in English, bars, and what appeared to be art studios. We charged right through most of it, but I stopped for a picture of these two trafos and their matching bikes.

Unnecessary apostrophe.

Beethoven? (or Reethever?)

We didn't do it (no time! no time!), but all along the river we saw people floating around on mini party barges. From what we could gather, each vessel was built from a large, rigid, inflatable tube with a little motor on one side, a big umbrella on the top, a grill in the middle, and mounted somewhere out of site, a radio blasting euro-pop with a broken volume knob stuck on "ridiculous."

Here's one engaged in a hostile takeover of a ghostship.

Neat looking apartment buildings and a graffiti-covered wall. (Graffiti? In Berlin?!)

That's right. Graffiti.

This paticular gulag was found right under the An den Treptowers bridge. Actually, this shot reminds me of something not to far from home: dig !

After the pool, somebody mentioned sausages and both Sarah and Anicia got a crazed look in their eyes. (Not pictured.)

Anicia thought she knew a place right on the river, but all they had was crap that wasn't sausages. Fortcho, there was sausage stand not too far off the beaten path. We got a meat-tube and big beer each and split an order of fries.

Verdict: Delish-o. (You can see the reflection of our lunchtime view in A-dawg's specs.)

And what would a triplog (plog?) be without some self-indulgent pictures of leaves?

Anicia, apparently excited about our coming to visit, prepared a VERY DETAILED ITINERARY FOR S & A's [that's us!] BERLIN VISIT. (I don't know why she had to shout like that.)

Points of interest: proper use of parenthe-brackets, Big Lebowski reference, the number of times she wrote "beer" (I count eight... and that's not including generic references to booze/bars!), the small barbeque icon, and the German days-of-the-week vocab lesson.

After lunch, our journey took us past the Spreepark, an old abandoned amusement park. It's all pretty rundown and overgrown now, but it looked like it used to be pretty cool.

We couldn't really get too close because of the tall fence. But we did see a big-ass Ferris wheel and a field with dead/decaying dinosaurs.

I took a bunch of pictures...

...for which Anicia and Sarah (and a couple of other blondies) had no patience.

This was one of the coolest things we saw in Berlin: the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park. A huge plaza with hammers and sickles etched into large, abstract structures thrusting upwards from the earth itself!

Having stocked up on fresh beers, Anicia thought it would be in everyone's best interest to consume them in the radiance of this magnificent site.

Carry high the banner of the party and national character of Soviet art! Give your talent and craftsmanship to the service of the people, to the job of Communism, create works of art worthy of our great Motherland!

На здоровье!

And then Anicia climbed all over it.

Meeting up with Alice, we headed over to Viktoriapark for (you guessed it) more beers!

In this picture, we see Anicia and her filthy feet casually grasping a half full bottle, squinting, and preparing to spit while talking on the phone and boring the living hell out of Alice (who had been previously excited about her latch-top beer and, though it's difficult to see here, is wearing a lovely sailor-themed ensemble) and Sarah (who is glancing  forlornly at her mango-oil-rash-ravaged arm) as Andre (and his regal beard and cocked eyebrow) busies himself with his camera and an unnamed hipster attempts to woo his girlfriend with retro sunglasses and an acoustic guitar.

A map of our epic hike!

(You can click the little blue markers to identify the landmarks. Make a game out of it!)

The little "walk" guys in Berlin are much cuter than their cousins in other cities. Their hats makes them look like the referees at an Aussie rules football game.

The next morning, we had a lovely German breakfast at Bateau Ivre. Yogurt, nuts, fruit, meats, cheeses, breads, and spreads. Nothin' too fancy, but all ridiculously delicious!

This whole system seems exceedingly complicated. And the fact that you're not allowed to ride a step-through frame with a child seat on the back doesn't seem fair at all.

The Neue Wache and some fat tourists.

The Holocaust Memorial (Denkmal fur die ermordeten Juden Europas) near the Brandenburg Gate was also pretty rad. It consists of hundreds of concrete obelisks arranged in rows over several rolling hills and ditches.

Some of the blocks are very tall, others about ankle high. And most of them are very slightly tilted.

You can go down inside the place (no jumping on the tops!) and walk around too. Looking down the rows, you can see people walking on perpendicular paths at various distances, but only for a second.

The whole thing is pretty surreal. (Surreal in a Scooby-Doo chase scene sort of way.)

And then, to cut the heat... ice cream! I got mango and chocolate. (Because those flavors are delicious together and because I could scare Sarah with the mango.)

And then! Out of nowhere!! A momentous occasion!!!

For the first time in my life, I got bit of food stuck in my moustache!

I also realized that my chin scratching was a lot more intriguing.

Back at Anicia's apartment, I noticed that the Fu Manchu gargoyles in the foyer were barfing garlands, flowers, and decorative fruits. Festive!

On our last day, we went to the Berlin Tempelhof airport, which had recently been re-opened as a public park. It's pretty neat... The place is huge and you can run around on the tarmac pretending you're an airplane (as Alice kindly demonstrated).

Things we saw:

A dude who'd been in a bad bike wreck, a guy standing on his head whose legs looked like an ostrich, a hippie drum circle, bikers & rollerbladers galore...

...tall shadows...

...a crazy sky-dive-practice zip-line facility...

...and giant dominoes on steroids.

The allies used the airport as an "air bridge" into Berlin to bring supplies during the war. Legend has it that a plane landed there every minute for an entire year bringing supplies to the city.

The airport had a gigantically ominous Nazi-built hanger too. (Once, according to Wikipedia, one of the 20 largest buildings in the world!) It would have been creepy as hell, even without the swastikas, were it not for the wildflowers cheering the place up!

Sunset at Berlin Tempelhof.

And the control tower with token barbed-wire fencing.

The next morning, it was an early start. We had to brave the weirdo Berlin subway/bus system and hop on our EasyJet back to London. This plane didn't have a whole lot of groovy upholstry like the buses in New Zealand.

Flying into Gatwick Airport, we ran into a bit of an airtraffic jam and had to circle the airport a couple times. It was after they'd made the announcement for the final descent, so all the flight attendants were already seated and buckled. I figured that it was a good opportunity to whip out my camera for some out-the-window shire shots without the risk of being accused of terrorism.

The Senate House. (Cue Batman theme.)

Actually, it was very nice on the inside.

Sarah totally nailed her paper, by the way. (She's awesome!)

Aside from Sarah's paper and the closing roundtable discussion, I didn't attend very much of the conference. I was busy trying to find accommodations for the weekend!

More on that at the end...

The British have absolutely no idea how surfing works.

After Sarah's conference, we had a whole day to kill in London. Our good friend Ed (a ravenous Anglophile) used to live in there, so I sent him a last-minute email asking what he'd do with one day to go hog wild.

Edmond, being the right good chap that he is, shared his "The Knowledge" of London with an epic list of must-dos.

The one that grabbed our attention most was the walk along the Regents Canal starting in Little Venice and ending up in Camden Market. It took a bit of finding to find it. (We eventually realized that every bus stop has a re-centered map of its area stuck on it.) Once we did though... Awesome! There's a damn canal in London! Complete with canal boats!

We initially went down a branch canal that deadended at a hospital.

It started getting warm out, so Sarah greased up with a little sunscreen. Apparently she thought my bag was looking a little red too.

Ed: "As a bonus, the canal walk takes you within about 10 minutes of Abbey Road Studios, so if you have a deep desire to be one of the idiot tourist who blocks traffic while they have their picture taken on the cross-walk, a short detour will get you there..."

I kinda did want to be one of those idiot tourists... :(

As we walked along the canal, we envied the people grilling on the long boats, cooed at passing ducklings, and checked out the local flora.

The rasp[black?]berries weren't ripe yet. Tough break, London! We made some killer jam out of ours!

The canal went right past Regent's Park, so we figured a quick jaunt was in order.

We sat for a while and tried to make sense of cricket. (Which is more ridiculous? Cricket or baseball?)

Some weather started moving in (our first bad weather of the trip!), but that didn't stop some rogue boys from nearly soaking us as we tried to cut through the middle of their litre-bottle water fight.

We moved on and found some tasty samosas at a large Bangladeshi pop music festival before getting back down to some serious canal walking.

And then, out of nowhere... A Banksy!

A vandalized Bansky!

Three layers of artistic delinquency!

1. Banksy's fishing boy.

2. Team Robbo's brilliant wit.

3. Anti-Robbo vandalism.

I don't know what the fuss is all about, really. But I suspect that certain graffiti artists are a bit perturbed that Banksy's rolling in the dough.

(The birds seem unconcerned.)

(Little waving bear in the window.)

We had read about Camden Market on the wall of the hostel we stayed at our first night and asked Ed if it was worth checking out. He said it was and he was right.

It's really just a glorified mall, but they built it in a huge complex of old stables with narrow, winding paths and shanty-town roofs.

We got some Chinese food from some Chinese girls who kept thrusting fried chicken at us and calling us "dah-ling" (like they were Tallulah Bankhead or something). We sat and ate and watched the punks/goths strutting/skulking around. (Why is it, I wondered aloud, that punks, with their rejection of mass culture, always hang out at malls and other hubs of capitalist consumption?)

Ed: "Also if you go, make sure to check out Cyberdog. (You can't miss it: look for the 30-foot high robots.) It's basically an underground department store supplying everything you need to go to a Jetsons-themed rave. (Also, the subbasements is a quasi-futuristic porn shop.)"

It took us a while to find Cyberdog, but we made it eventually. Sure enough! Plenty of Judy Jetson skirts! (The selection of adult novelty gifts was a little disappointing though. Mostly just pasties and furry handcuffs. And can you believe they stocked but a single butt plug model?!)

The dog pictured above is a dog, but it is not a cyberdog.

Next stop: The Victoria and Albert Museum in The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea!

Well... not quite. It was closed. 

No matter! Andre, ever resourceful and worldly traveler that he is quickly came up with an alternative plan. And away they went to find the Battersea Power Station.

Walking along the wall that lined the far side of the river, we passed through the gates of dawn into a small viewing area. Sarah reclined on a nearby bench and thought about making an atom heart while I took photos. The picture above shows the dark side of the building shortly before it became entirely obscured by clouds. Selected from about a series of thirty exposures, the was the one that made the final cut. I couldn't help wishing some of my old friends were here to enjoy this old relic with me.

Suddenly a ringing! The division bell of a nearby stomach roused me from my momentary lapse of reason. Sarah was hungry and wished to dine on the flesh of animals. "Enough meddling," I thought and off we went in search of a saucerful of ummagumma.

We passed a big construction area on our way back to the Tube. I thought that the text on their signs needed a little doctoring to match the image!

(Rollover for the original!)

Chelsea bricks. Two different colors.

Sordid advertisments (pronounced: "ad-VER-tis-ments") in a phone booth near Tottenham Court station. Why, I wonder, wouldn't people just call from their own phones? I guess because the number show up on your bill...

We had been planning on staying in hostels and hotels, but then we figured "Fuck that! Let's couchsurf!" So while Sarah was attending the conference, I snuck out to make arrangements for a place to stay.

Usually couchsurfing hosts like to have a bit of advance notice. But I figured I'd just send out a bunch of requests and explain our situation. Only one of the requests got a reply.

Taylan and Eylem said they'd be happy to host us for a night. It was kind of a chore getting to their place out in East London. (The Tube stations were under construction and the first bus we got on went the wrong way, taking us all the way back into London before we realized our mistake.) We were nervous too, both of us being a little shy about meeting new people in foreign lands.

But when we got there, we were greeted by the kindest, most generous hosts you could imagine. They gave us food, a bed (for two nights!), great conversation, Turkish dance music, the works. They even let us borrow their subway passes for the day!

This is exactly the kind of traveling we like to do.
(Take that, Big Ben!)