Turku and a wonderful week off in Amsterdam + Berlin

Posted by jswt | Posted in Finland - Turku, Germany - Berlin, Netherlands - Amsterdam | Posted on 30-03-2013

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I’ve been neglectful in keeping this updated, but it’s been an interesting and busy few weeks: One week in Turku, Finland and then a week off on holidays where we bounced around Amsterdam and Berlin.

Turku is a small city in Finland, and isn’t somewhere I’d recommend going out of your way for, but it holds a special place in my heart: it was the first city I visited when we started touring Europe about 4 years ago. It was interesting to return, and see the city through better travelled eyes, and realize how much I’ve learned from my travels, how much I’ve taken away from the best and worst parts of the cultures I’ve visited, and just how unfazed I am by knowing my small and insignificant place in the world. I also realized that I’ve become somewhat jaded, and that where once I found a lot of excitement and joy in each city, seeing the world has become the norm and I’m not digging as deep or feeling the thrill of somewhere new so much anymore. Of course, this gets thrown aside by somewhere amazing, but now that I’ve seen a large chunk of Europe and we’ve started retracing our steps, I’m taking the travel for granted and I need to remember that as much as I long for home and the community there, I’m leading a blessed life and getting an experience that I could never have dreamed of. I’m sure I’ll miss this travel one day, but the grass is always greener, right?

Anyways, if you ever find yourself in Turku, don’t miss Cafe Art – likely the best coffee I’ve ever had, and they roast their own beans on site and take it very seriously. Otherwise… not much to see in Turku, and when the week ended we rolled back towards Helsinki for the start of Chris’ week off…

We’d decided to head to Amsterdam for a few days, as Chris had never been to the city for more than a night, and when I was last there in 99 with my buddy HR, neither of use could remember if we were there for 3 or 4 nights. We got a really nice room in the Hilton right by the central train station, which was a perfect hopping point for going on excursions. The 4 days we spent there were sunny and blue skies, and made for perfect wandering around and really hit home that Amsterdam is an amazing blend of the best of all other European cities: the canals (Venice), the cozy design (Denmark), the old architecture (every old town), the bold new architecture (Oslo, Spain, etc). When I’d come years ago, I found the Dutch to be aggressively gruff, but now that I’ve travelled more, I really appreciate the forthright good nature of the people – there’s an honestly in the culture that was mirrored in everyone we met and spoke with.

We had a list of things we knew we should do while we were there, but ended up just wandering and choosing our own adventure where we felt no regrets about not waiting in line for hours to see the Anne Frank house (it’ll be there next time). The final Queensday celebration is coming up next month, which’ll then be Kingsday, and a lot of the museums and cultural installations were closed for upgrades and reopenings for the celebrations. Some fantastic meals were had, the standout being the rib joint full of locals that was rumbunctious and way too yummy, and I finally discovered my appreciation of beers in the little ancient brown wood pubs that lined the canals.

There are probably more bikes here than in Copenhagen, and renting a bike and throwing yourself into the pulse and flow of the city is an unbelievably wonderful way to see it. Of course, there’s the coffeeshops and red-light district that get the main focus of the attention, but really when you realize that they’re not much more than a city being honest about itself (every city has pot and prostitues, so why not create a healthy, honest, harm reducing environment for such things) they’re an interesting attraction, but so minimal in the scope of what this city has to offer. It’s somewhat stereotypical, but I’m going to have to say that if you’ve only got a few days to spend in a European city, make it Amsterdam.

On Thursday, we rented a car for what should have been a 6hr drive to Berlin, but due to easter traffic, snowstorms and some accidents, we didn’t get in until 11hr later. A friend of ours had a spare apartment in Berlin that he wasn’t using, so it was late that night when we arrived, but we had a great little place in Prinzlauers Berg to call home. We were meeting up with my friend B and his girlfriend F who’d popped over from the UK for a weekend away and a some proper hangout. Friday morning we met up with them for breakfast and then went and did a walking tour of the city, which we’d done before but is such a good way to wrap your head around the city that we were happy to do with again with B&F. Uncharacteristically, Chris decided to buy into the tour upsell of a pub crawl that evening, which as much as I scoffed ended up being ridiculously fun and even less civilized that expected. Saturday morning was a slow go, but Chris had some meetings, so after breakfast I went with B&F into town and wandered museums and the city before heading back to our neighbourhood for some chilled out dinner and lounging at pubs and tapas bars and just catching up with B and getting to know F – a wonderful low key and delightful evening. Sunday, it was time to go – Chris had an earlier flight than me, so I sent him with our luggage and just wandered around for the afternoon discovering an amazing market/record swap/bar/second hand clothing store/robot puppeteer playground, and meandering around the Berlin Wall information sites learning more about that strange period of time and trying to map it to the world and time i know. I ran into B&F that day, and we escaped temporary blizzards with nice cups of tea and conversation before I said goodbye and hopped my flight…

Berlin is, again, one of my favourite cities. The amount of history and challenge the city has overcome within it’s citizen’s lifetimes has given it a spirt unlike any other city I’ve visited. It’s this fantastic blend of a feeling of achievement perched on the realization that everything can be destroyed by forces beyond your control that’s left a vibe that isn’t found anywhere else. Wandering the different neighbourhoods lends itself to adventure. It’s cheap, it’s one of the best cities in the world to party, and even though this was my third visit, there’s a limitless amount of things to do and I’d love to go back there anytime.

It was a wonderful week off, and we realized, our first “holiday” in a year — in fact, almost to the date of our honeymoon last March… Time flies…

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