Home: found.

Berlin T-shirts

As the train leaves Berlin behind, I am struck by the fact that I’m leaving home.

It’s been less than two months since I came in to check if there was any chance left for Germany in me. London was calling at a distance. I felt at home nowhere and everywhere, glomad-style. All that changed in a few days, as I experienced Berlin from a more local perspective.

East Side Gallery - Wall painting
Photos of the East Side Gallery wall paintings from 3 years ago suddenly became more valuable, as these have been vandalized with signatures probably from tourists (surely from idiots)

I knew that I couldn’t judge Berlin until I found myself there without a return ticket. Last year, living in Taiwan, I learned that real travel isn’t about sightseeing, but about losing yourself in another culture. Enough to take it in. It takes time to know the local rhythms. Weekend escapes aren’t travel, they’re really just sightseeing. Yet places are very similar everywhere… more so than cultures. Places may look quite different at first, but they can feel the same. Not much changes from a beach in Portugal to a beach in Taiwan. Yet everything changes when you slowly walk the streets of cities from such distant countries.

The difference is culture.

You could expect, then, that truly knowing Berlin would take a few months. But I’d seen the sights before, and all I was missing was how it felt like when I became a part of it. That was made easy by having friends here. I thought that was the reason for feeling at home almost on arrival, or maybe the fact that I remember lots of spots from my past two visits. Yet, as the dust settles, I recall the times I’ve been back in Lisbon or in Dublin or in London. Even Lisbon rarely felt like home, though it was always a place to cherish.

Berlin T-shirts

It’s not hard to understand though – how quickly Berlin felt like home. I usually get bored easily, or I would… if I didn’t constantly switch things around. In Berlin you’ve never seen all of everything. I’m also probably a bit quirky (considering that a renowned personality test places mine in a group that only 1% of people share). Still I’m surely under average in Berlin standards for weirdness. Berlin attracts people who don’t fit in other places and are not afraid to be who they want to be. Whenever I see something over-the-top, I’m reminded of why quirkiness can thrive in the city: its culture is open minded.

It feels good to know you can be yourself, without necessarily being the strangest character in town. I guess that’s what it should feel like to be home.

Feel Like Boarding the Concorde?

Concorde & Tupolev TU-144 at Sinheim Auto & Technik Museum

I’ve been to a few automobile and airplane exhibitions. Pearl Harbor, Taoyuan airport (Taiwan), Museo dell’Automobile (Turin)… fascinating collections. I thought I couldn’t be surprised by another one. Turns out the Germans really do it better.

In the southwestern german state of Baden-Württemberg lies Sinsheim’s Auto & Technik Museum, the largest privately owned museum in Europe. It features cars, motorcycles, airplanes, trains, tanks – you name it.

Concorde & Tupolev TU-144 at Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum
photo by flickr user mroach

The outstanding thing about the Sinsheim collection, besides feeling more like a fun park than a museum, is that it features two supersonic airplanes – which you can board! Both the french Concorde and the soviet Tupolev Tu-144 are accessible through spiraling stairs, and you can walk your way up, through their narrow corridors into their intimidating cockpits, past the tiniest toilet rooms ever.

I didn’t have a camera with me that day, but it didn’t really matter. All those shots on Flickr still can’t make it justice. Boarding these classic supersonic airplanes is an actual experience. I loved their Caddilacs too. If you’re ever around Baden-Württemberg, don’t miss it.

Europe: De-Railed

I could talk about the economic crisis but… today, I’m going to tell the story of a trip that never happened 🙂

When I was a kid, my family hadn’t bought a car yet, and we would take the train twice a year to visit the extended family for Christmas and Easter. This is how trains and train stations came to feel like home to me, with their particular rhythm, noise and smell. Recently, in contrast, my experience with flying has been dreadful. So I searched for trains that would allow me to live anywhere in Europe (and visit my family often) without taking any flight.

After a few research and booking ventures, I found that traveling efficiently across three or more European countries is almost impossible. Here is what I found…


International train webpages have annoying redirections:

  • For the Lisbon-Madrid night train, cp.pt redirects to renfe.com.
  • For the Madrid-Paris night train (called Elipsos), elipsos.com redirects to raileurope-world.com;
  • then raileurope-world.com redirects to tgv-europe.com for the very same train!

International train bookings have annoying discrepancies:

  • elipsos.com says the return trip between Madrid and Paris would be 122 euros; yet tgv-europe.com (to which I am doubly redirected) provides the same trip for 150 euro!
  • renfe.com books the same trip but provides no choice of upper/lower berth (bed) nor a window/aisle option.
  • tgv-europe.com provides these options but they don’t actually work…

What happens when I try to book a Paris-Madrid train online?

I select dates, times and seat preferences…then an error message tells me to select a berth preference, though I already chose one. The online booking form is crooked… A website with hundreds of euros per transaction has a critical buying block! As online marketers and business owners would say, tgv-europe.com has a fatal conversion mistake.

I wrote a quick line through their contact form…


…and I got this reply:


Now doesn’t that make me a happy client? 🙂

Many travelers nowadays are unhappy with air travel, but they don’t really have a choice. Even Deutsche Bahn, while providing a decent booking system, is making international train rides impossible with their price discrimination — charging ridiculously high prices unless you have a contract for their discount cards.

It’s a classic example of going safe instead of going big: railways could snatch long-distance travelers but they choose to target reliable but cheap local customers. It gets worse if you’re an adult. In that case, chances are that travel is important to you: many times you travel because you really have to. Say, because your clients or family need you. Sorry mate but you will have to stick to the flyin’ sausages.

The Majestic Taipei 101 Tower

The Taipei 101 tower in downtown Taipei city was the world’s tallest inhabited building at the time it opened in 2004. I had the chance to visit the area a few times, first to walk about, then for the Xmas experience, and finally to check out the heights and sights up there from the 73rd floor, where the Google office is located.

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There is a huge, luxury shopping mall inside the tower and many lifts that feel like smooth, silent airplanes going up. It’s quite a thrill, nicely crowning the already exciting walk around Xinyi’s modern neighborhood. Absolutely the number 1 urban experience in Taipei!