Thursday, April 21, 2005

On Sushi and Döner

Rubber Ducks

What does the elaborate Japanese sushi and the simple German version of kebab – ein döner – have in common?

You should always stop and observe the shop carefully before entering. There’s safety in numbers – sushi bars or döner shops with few guests are best avoided.

I took my time when I had decided on having ein döner and carefully observed both establishments in the passageway at Bahnhof Friedrichsstrasse.

One did some business, the other one did very brisk business. Their prices where the same so I went with the busy shop and was not disappointed – home mad bread, lot’s of meat shaved of the revolving spit and assorted salads with a nice light garlic dressing.

Perhaps the best meal I had during my entire stay – when adjusted for price. The competition for food in and around the rail station is fierce so I got lunch for 2.50 euros.

I could have been even more systematic, I could have researched my döner online.

So I used the same kind of common sense when I found myself wanting sushi for dinner. I walked an area around Ku’Damm from Savigny Platz to Olivaer Platz and passed several empty sushi bars that looked ok but scared me by their very emptiness.

I was also a bit surprised to see how many places offered “happy hour” on their sushi – half price on everything. That in my mind didn’t bode well either. But it isn’t only the sushi bars and it may be the result of tourists having moved all their interest from this area to the area around Friedrichsstrasse in Mitte.

In Schlüterstrasse I found Sake Sushi Bar – there was people already eating at a counter, the two cooks where busy preparing take out orders and about half of the few tables had reservation signs on the. That could of course just be a trick, but turned out to be true.

So I settled down at the counter and was pleased with how fresh the fish looked and how happy the people already eating was.

This place too had “happy hour” and I got my menu of four nigiri, four maki and four inside-out rolls at half price.

It was very nice and fresh sushi – not innovating or super special – but just what I needed after a long day walking around.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Out of the darkness into the sun

Concert Hall

As I walked out of Trader Vic’s and into the evening sun on Gendarmenmarkt an obvious choice was right in front of me: The Newton Bar right across from Lutter & Wegner. Two Berlin classics.

I settled down in a comfortable chair on the sidewalk in front of Newton with a nice view of the German Cathedral. A waiter materialized immediately and took my order for a Martini Cocktail of the gin kind.

It was promptly served and by the time I had finished it the waiter materialized again just they way good cocktail waiters do. I settled my bill and walked across to Lutter & Wegner.

Once again I got excellent service. It being a very busy place close to Friedrichstrasses shopping area and close to the Concert Hall I was seated at a small two person table in a long row of two person tables. During my meal the tables on either side of me changed clientele twice, that’s how busy a place it is.

Germany have very lax smoking rules and I was just grateful that for some reason no one smoked around me.

I had a Wiener schnitzel with a warm potato salad, which is a very traditional European dish that can be everything from truly wonderful to truly awful. This was truly wonderful. The thin piece of breaded veal was fried to perfection and the slightly vinegary potato salad cut right through the tradition of the dish.

For dessert I had three nice cheeses.

A lovely meal and nice to discovered that I was visible again.

Single female traveler

Concert Hall

Ok, this is something I know I’ll be writing about often in this blog: How restaurants, bars and hotels treat the single female traveler and sometimes even two women traveling together.

Last night I was once again reminded that to some establishments I’m:

a) Invisible
b) Unwanted
c) Both of the above

I had a craving for Peking Duck – it’s often something you have to order ahead of time in Chinese Restaurants but I knew it was on Trader Vic’s menu and there’s a Trader Vic’s in the Berlin Hilton right on Gendarmenmarkt.

I got there at 5.45 pm – 15 minutes after their Happy Hour started but 45 minutes before they started serving dinner.

It took me a while to convince the man who greeted me that I was not really there for the happy hour but wanted to eat – yes eat from the menu in the restaurant.

But I settled down for a cocktail – was only shown their happy hour drinks list, and chose a Mai Tai since it’s there signature drink.

It was ok, lot’s and lot’s of ice and not a lot of drink but at 5.50 euro including stuff to eat from a buffet it was ok.

But it ran out awfully quick. And that’s when I realized that I must have worn my invisibility cloak.

No amount of fiddling in my chair, sucking loud empty ice through my straw or downright trying to catch someone’s eyes helped.

All available waiters where preparing a section of the cocktail lounge for a party of approximately 20 people. They where doing a fine job and I envied the lucky 20 – they got the attention, the decorations and the service the rest of us was denied.

Finally a waiter approached and I asked for the full drinks list not wanting anymore happy hour specials. She was not pleased, meant she had to walk across the room to get it, but eventually it was handed to me.

I certainly got ample of time to read it, had it been written in Mandarin Chinese I would have had time to teach myself the language and make my choice.

By now it was 6.45 pm – meaning if someone had remembered my interest in dinner they would have seated me by now and I would be well on my way to having the Peking Duck I craved. But phantom party of 20 was still sucking up all energy in the room like a black hole.

So I gave up, left 7 euros at the table and walked out. Ever the polite German the host told me thanks for visiting and come back soon when I left. I think not.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Berlin again


I have stayed at the Kempinski Bristol in Fasanenstrasse once before.
The rooms are on the small side but very comfortable and laied out almost like a yacht – clever use of space and everything in it’s place. The whole place has a lot of 50’s charm.

I didn’t get a chance to try the pool the last time I stayed here.
I had an evening dip after a completely unmemorable evening meal at a chain steakhouse.

The pool is the cutes little egg shaped thing. I was the only one in the water and could swim laps down the middle – very short laps – but was fun and relaxing.

As per usual in a five star property there are good toiletries in the bathroom, plush robes and slippers to wear around the room and to and from the pool, and of course oceans of soft white towels.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Tell it on the mountains


I’ve never seen the Alps. Well I have now. I spend Easter in Interlaken in Switzerland.

I stayed at the magnificent “Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel” – I had a small balcony and a view of the Jungfrau Massif.

The hotel made it to the top 5 of my all time favorite hotels. A wonderful Victorian structure – beautifully kept, nice staff, good restaurants and an amazing spa.

For the first time in my life I had a spa treatment – a body wrap – and it was an hour in heaven. Yes it’s up close and personal, but it’s also very soothing and refreshing.

It was not enough for me to look at the Alps, I had to go up there. From Interlaken there’s a trainride to Jungfraujoch at 3571 m.

It’s a surprisingly expensive trip, but it takes all day and takes you through stunning scenery and if you like trains then the different trains you ride will be a true experience.

My whole trip had a very old world charm to it. And it’s not really surprising – Interlaken was the first place that Thomas Cook took the first British tourists outside of the British Isles.

It does feel a bit like walking in the footsteps of Byron, Longfellow, Brahms and Wagner to visit Interlaken.

Berliner luft

In the beginning of March I went to Berlin for the weekend. It was a spur of the moment trip. I flew EasyJet to Berlin Schönefeld – not sure I’m ever going to do that again. Compared to Tegel Airport getting to and from the city center to Schönefeld is a drag. It’s also a very tiny airport not really in any capacity to handle the passengers going through – not enough chairs to go around is just not coo.

I had gotten a very good deal on Hotel Sylter Hof , it's close to Kurfurstendam and all the sights in the western part of the city. It’s a very 70's hotel, but clean and well kept. I got upgraded to a suite and actually had more square meters than I do in my apartment.

Only really annoying thing about the place: The bar is right in the lobby in it get’s very smoky when you come in a night.

When I go to places I’ve visited often – and Berlin is one of those places being the closest capitol to Copenhagen – I usually go to old haunts and places I’ve been before. But I do try to see new things, and I usually get there by tram.

I love trams.

Florida Remembered

In late august 2004 I went to Florida for a four week vacation. It was my first solo vacation in many years and I had worried a bit how that would feel.

I shouldn’t have worried, I had a very lovely month. With the added excitement of not one but two hurricanes.

I had hoped to do a bit of driving around, maybe down to Key West or from the Atlantic Coast to the Gulf Coast. But thanks to the hurricanes that didn’t happen.

Instead I spend the whole four weeks in Miami Beach.

Ever since I saw the movie “Random Hearts
with Kristin Scott Thomas and Harrison Ford, I had wanted to try The Tides Hotel right on Ocean Drive in South Beach.

That’s where my trip started. I liked the hotel, but it was not as spectacular as I had expected. A very upscale business hotel, with very nice staff but nothing extra special.

Then I stayed for more that two weeks in a bit of a gem: Circa 39 Hotel. It’s not right smack on South Beach, but it’s very good value for money. I was there when the hurricane Frances threatened Miami, and they were very helpful with finding me a safe hotel to be evacuated to.

My last four days was spend at that wonderful Miami Beach legend: Eden Roc I count it up there with the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

I ate many a fine meal while in Florida, but the one place that has stayed with me and I don’t have to consult my notebook about is: Smith and Wollensky.

It’s in a wonderful location with great views of the waterway into Miami Harbour. I visited three times in all and got a table outside on all three occasions.

I’ve certainly had more complex food other places. But they do know their beef and more than anything they have no problems treating a lone female diner like all their other guests. That is rare – even in the US.

Getting around

I've wanted a place to keep track of my trips. I keep a small notebook on the important stuff, but accessing it online seems a smarter deal.

I may publish some retrospective stuff - or I may start out with my planned trip for Berlin next week.