Berlin – A history lesson

Oct 17th – 20th, 2013

After an amazing week in Poland, we arrived in Berlin towards the late evening. I dropped Anjli off at our hotel and went off to return the rental car. We were both pretty exhausted from the drive, so we turned in and had a good night’s rest to ready ourselves for the following day.

DAY 1 – Berlin walking tour and the Memorial of The Murdered Jews of Europe

We started the day with a free Walking Tour (highly recommend this) of Berlin which started at Brandenburg Tor, a huge pantheon like city gate with a statue of what the tour guide described as the worst German Citizen ever. Her name used to be Irinie, the goddess of peace. Ever since her appointment, Germany has never had peace. Eventually they changed her name to Victoria and Germany has lost every war since her renaming. Hence, the worst German citizen ever!


Here’s a picture of Anjli and I in front of Brandenburg Tor. Perhaps appropriately, the random bypasser that took the photo cut Victoria out of the photo. 😛 From there we moved on to see many other sites around Berlin. Incredible history at every corner and much of it focused on the Holocaust and atrocities committed during World War 2. We also passed by the Memorial of The Murdered Jews of Europe on our way to a parking lot. We arrived at this parking lot and our tour guide stopped. All of us looked puzzled at each other as to why we had stopped in a parking lot. The tour guide continued to explain that under that parking lot was what remains of the bunker where Adolf Hitler and his girlfriend Eva Braun spent their last days. It was in this bunker, with the Red Army and the Allied forces approaching, that they committed suicide. What was moving about this whole deal was that the tour guide never once mentioned Hitler’s name. He simply referred to him as “You know who” or “That terrible person”. Even uttering his name was considered unnecessary. A parking lot seemed suddenly appropriate for this individual.

After finishing the walking tour, we spent a few hours at the Memorial of The Murdered Jews of Europe, which was directly across the street from this parking lot.


There are over 2000 of these concrete blocks here of varying heights. When people asked the designer, Peter Eisenman of Newark, New Jersey, what are the concrete blocks supposed to represent, he replied “you tell me”. This piece is meant to be interpretive. It is to the visitor what they see. Anjli immediately thought of coffins and the sheer number of blocks across the landscape is meant to give you a scale of the number of Jews (6 million) that lost their lives. To me, the blocks looked like bar graphs and the fact that their were so many signified the scale of the loss of life. Under this landscape is a visitor center that gives additional history of the Holocaust. Especially moving was a room where a piece was dedicated to individual families, where they lived, what they did and how their lives were forever changed through the events of World War II. It also showed names of individuals, how and where they died along with personal artifacts (letters, etc.) that had been found and preserved. Seeing personal stories put a very emotional and real face to a very large and incomprehensible number (6 million). Anjli and I spent three hours here, reading, reflecting and trying not to get teary . Though a few people did walk tearfully through the exhibit. We walked to the train and back to our hotel in relative silence that night just thinking and reflecting.

Day 2 – East Side Gallery and the Berlin Wall Memorial

On day 2, we decided to check out the East Side Gallery (Wikipedia) where sections of the wall have been dedicated to graffiti art work by famous artists. Afterwards, we checked out the Memorial of the Berlin Wall.

After a light breakfast, Anjli and I walked to the East Side Gallery (Wikipedia), which was a short 10 minute walk from out hostel just east of the Mitte area of Berlin. The East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin Wall that was dedicated as an art gallery. A number of years ago, artists were invited from all over the world to paint a section of the wall. The wall which once symbolized oppression of the people of the GDR has now become a canvas for beautiful art. Here are a few pictures that Anjli and I took at the wall.

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We happened to chance upon a piece that was currently being worked on by artists. Anjli and I snapped a few photos. Check them out.

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Just from walking around Berlin, we saw so many incredible pieces of graffiti art. Here are a few more that we found in random streets around Berlin, including a beautiful piece depicting Anne Frank smiling.

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Anjli and I walked along the wall checking out other pieces before making our way to the train station to head on over to the Memorial of the Berilin Wall (Tripadvisor Page). We visited Bernauer Strasse, a subway station that was closed up at the time of the building of the wall. We read about how families, friends and even spouses were separated forever almost overnight with the closing of the border between West Berlin and East Berlin (GDR). We also read about attempts made by people to escape via tunnels, running across the so-called “Death Strip” (Space between the inner and outer walls). Here is a picture of a preserved cross-section of what the wall used to look like when it was operational


There were markers in the ground at the memorial where tunnels were dug to escape the GDR and where the wall once stood. One family even built a home made hot air balloon to escape to the West. The memorial also listed the names of over a hundred people that lost there lives trying to escape during the almost 30 years that the wall stood.

On Day 3, we visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (Wikipedia), the first of the many concentration camps installed by the Nazis. I will not write about it here because it’s frankly too emotionally draining to recall the cold October day we spent there walking the grounds, reading, learning and reflecting about the lives lost there. I will say that no trip to Berlin is complete without visiting here.

That wrapped up our trip to Berlin. We spent time exploring Hackesher Market and the many alleys, bars, restaurants and street graffiti. We had an amazing time in Berlin. Definitely a highlight of our trip so far. Our time in Berlin was up and Copenhagen was calling our name.




Living in the shadow of an 800 year old church, dining at a 400 year old restaurant! Who do we think we are!?

October 11th – 16th, 2013

Those were the highlights of our trip to Poland! Many friends asked us why we traveled to Poland instead of other countries in Europe. Our dear friend Zbig, who is our neighbor in Seattle, has been inviting us to his home in Warsaw for a couple of years now. We had to begin the international chapter of our trip with him!

Zbig, Nika and family are some of the most intellectual, generous folks that Raj and I know and the most gracious hosts! We spent our time with them in Warsaw and a little town by the name Bukwald near Olsztyn in the Varmia region. In Bukwald, we spent most of our time hanging out by the lake, eating like we hadn’t seen food in a week and drinking yummy wines! We also went mushroom hunting and explored the woods around the lake. Zbig had been urging us to visit in the summer so we could swim in the lake – we’ll have to go back in the next couple of years! However, fall had its own appeal with beautiful colored leaves, mushrooms aplenty and an excuse to hang out and chat by the fireplace.

We spent just one day in Warsaw but only now, as I write this post, I realize how much Zbig made us do in that one day :). We started off with a nice walk in the Royal Lazienki museum (wikipedia) where Polish royalty lived over the centuries. We got to tour the bath house (note – not a bath ’room’ but a bath ‘house’!), a painting room where every wall was adorned with multiple paintings from floor to ceiling, and admire the skillfully carved marble structures across the many rooms in the mansion.

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We then took off to a fairly new museum dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising towards the end of World War II, in which the brave Polish people of Warsaw led an uprising against the Nazi occupation. The Polish failed miserably since they had no support from any of the Allies – most of the city was destroyed and 180,000 civilians including doctors, lawyers, intellectuals and philosophers lost their lives. Many were sent to concentration camps. There still exists a debate today on whether the Warsaw Uprsing was a good idea given the probability of success and the extensive tragedy. Fascinating, albeit sad, piece of history!

On hearing these stories, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the India-Pakistan war. One of the major differences, of course, is that Poland and Germany have excellent relationships today. On pondering and brainstorming about why that is, I came to the conclusion that it’s because the Germans apologized profusely aghast at the damage caused by their own kin, and the Polish forgave and moved on to build a strong economy.

From the museum, we headed over to old town. It’s pretty amazing how the buildings and forts have been restored to their glory before the destruction in World War II. This is something I really appreciated about Poland – the people’s pride in their country and their effort to restore the city. Zbig took us to the oldest restaurant in Warsaw, just 400 years old! (Note my sarcasm? That’s older than the United States of America!) While the main floor of the building was restored to resemble what it looked like before the destruction, an original narrow circular stairwell took you down to the basement which had more tables, bathrooms and wine cellars. The authentic Polish meal at this exclusive restaurant was an experience we won’t forget for a long time! Thank you Zbig!


We spent our last three days in Poland in the northern city of Gdansk, by the Baltic Sea. World War II started because of a dispute over the control of this port town – the place where the first shots were fired is now a memorial. The Solidarity movement, that brought democracy to communist Poland, also began here. Now, a beautiful, lazy old town with churches galore, cobblestone streets, window shopping for amber jewelry, and a bunch of people watching, Gdansk was just what we needed to get over jetlag and the hustle of traveling (refer to the previous blog post ;)).

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Watching people walk around in Poland was like sitting on the side of a runway – people seemed to be dressed in some of their best clothes, most women in skinny pants, ankle boots and fitted leather jackets. Raj and I were probably the most under dressed tourists, not to mention seemingly the only non-white ones. The lack of diversity really stood out to me! We saw just one other brown man and one Asian woman over the course of three days.

We were lucky to find an apartment on the famous St. Mary’s street named after the spectacular St. Mary’s church, supposedly the largest brick building church in the world that can accommodate 25000 people! Its construction began in the 12th century and was completed in the 15th century! The street allowed just pedestrians and was lined with shops that sold amber jewelry – what a tease! We stayed on the 3rd floor of the building in the picture.

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We climbed the 400+ steps of the St. Mary’s church to get to the roof of the 78m tower for some pretty awesome views of the city and surrounding area! Raj was huffing and puffing on his way up 😛

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We were also lucky to catch an organ performance at the beautiful Oliwa (pronounced Oli-fa) cathedral. The gigantic organ was built right over the tall entrance over the church so that you had to look behind you to view it if you were facing the altar. Interestingly enough, you couldn’t view the nuns who were playing the organ almost like they were no name artists and the only reason there was any music was to focus on your prayers. The acoustics in this church were fantastic.

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We really wanted to visit Krakow in the south and pay our respects at the Auschwitz concentration camp memorial, but it would have involved a lot of driving. We’ll definitely visit that area the next time we are in Poland!

Nazdrovia! (Cheers in Polish)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles…and Ferries and Buses (Honolulu to Warsaw)

October 8th – 10th, 2013

Have you ever realized after doing something that you’re a complete idiot? I mean just downright stupid and you hate yourself for doing it but feel that because you’ve displayed such lack of intelligence that you probably deserve the suffering that you’re experiencing? I felt like a monumental idiot after planning our commute from Honolulu to Warsaw. While Anjli won’t confirm my feelings, I know in her heart, she concurs 😉 Let me explain.

Our commute from Honolulu to Warsaw included 4 flights, averaging 6 hours each, an 8 hour bus ride, a 2 hour ferry ride and finally an 8 hour drive in a rental car. Not to mention a night’s stay in the Polish version of the hotel from Jack Nicholson’s The Shining.

We left Oahu on a flight headed for LAX on the night of Oct 8th, arriving in LAX on the morning of the 9th (my birthday). We spent much of my birthday on the flight from LAX to JFK and the Delta lounge at JFK Terminal 4. Took a luxurious shower at the lounge, followed by Vueve Cliquot and gelato! #balleronabudget

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Our next leg was from JFK – LHR, The plane was completely empty and Anjli and I grabbed a middle row each and slept most of the way to LHR. How in the world was the leg between the two busiest airports in the world so empty is something we didn’t understand but didn’t complain about either! The sweet flight attendant brought us some chocolate cake for my birthday! 🙂

While the stop over at LHR was fairly long, there was a lot going on! We had to make sure Anjli could check-in for the flight to CPH without much hassle. She’s still a FOB, you see 🙂 What I mean is she has the Indian passport and needed a UK visa to easily go to landside to check-in for our flight which was on a different itinerary. Long story short – we checked into the new terminal only to discover that the lounge we had access to was at the previous terminal. Worst airport ever!

In all the hustle bustle, I booked us on a bus to Berlin from Copenhagen for the wrong date! There was some weird rental car rules in the area about which city you could rent a car from which dictated which borders you could cross, so we planned to rent a car from Berlin to drive into Poland. So there we were, 7 hours later, walking through a dark alley in downtown Copenhagen at 6am trying to find the bus leaving on that morning, hoping we could convince the bus driver to let us on the bus. We were fortunate and 2 seats opened up. Here’s Anjli giving the thumbs up celebrating after the bus started moving.


The bus drove for 3 hours from Copenhagen to a town on the south coast of Denmark called Gedser, from where we hopped a ferry to Rostock, Germany. Running on fumes of sleep, Anjli and I Indulged in the breakfast buffet on the ferry. The food was delicious and we even pocketed a couple of sandwiches for our drive to Warsaw.


Anjli promptly proceeded to pass out after the meal.


After two hours on the ferry, we arrived in Rostock, Germany, a small port town on the north coast of Germany.

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Just a beautiful European city.

Surprisingly, we did not have to go through immigration as Germany and Denmark are both a part of the Schengen area. We hopped back on the bus and went straight to Berlin.

After 3 hours of hassling with the different car companies at the Berlin airport, we finally had a car and were on our way to Warsaw. After we crossed the border in to Poland and had driven about 300 KM, I really started to feel the jetlag, Anjli forced me to pull in to a truck stop and we checked in to a shady looking hotel that had all the lights turned off and was just down right creepy. While walking to our room, I seriously thought Jack Nicholson would be waiting for us with an axe around every corner.


But for 30 Euro, we got a clean bed and breakfast in the morning.  We drove the remaining 230 KM to Warsaw to meet our friend Zbig and were greeted by his cats Kobuz, Lenka and Dominic. Here’s a picture of Anjli and Kobuz


Moral of the story, keep your travel schedule as simple as possible. sometimes it’s worth the extra few hundred dollars to reduce total travel time. Still, I feel like we had some interesting adventures along the way. Anjli may disagree though.

Til next time.



O beautiful Oahu!

October 3rd – 8th, 2013

We’re in Hawaii! Man, do we love this place! Raj and I often fantasize about what it would be like to live on one of the Hawaiian islands, what we would do for a living, whether we would have beach bodies 😉 and how we’d deal with the tourists!

I’ve been eating a bunch of tuna poke (so much that my tummy hurts) and Raj has been drinking local beer like a fish – he claims that he won’t get good beer while we’re in Asia!

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We are staying in a vacation rental condo with a view of the ocean in Waikiki. This luxury is not going to last long though since we’re going to have to keep a close watch on our spending when we head to Europe in a couple of days. One of our goals during this time off is to try and get as much luxury as possible without breaking the bank – I call this being a #balleronabudget 🙂

We haven’t explored the island a whole lot yet, but from first impressions I think I preferred the laid-back culture and the green lushness of Maui. Oahu (specifically Honolulu) has a lot of concrete and wayyyy too many tourists who seem to be here to shop at high-end retail stores. We are headed to North Shore tomorrow so let’s see if my impression changes. We’ve done a bunch of touristy things already:

– soaked in the sun on the beach at Hanauma Bay. Beautiful crater that got filled in by the ocean. Absolutely visit here if you’re going to be in Oahu. Here are some photos from bing: My photos don’t do this place any justice.


– Pali lookout. Crazy how the side of a volcano caved in into the ocean! A bunch of scenes from The Lost were filmed here.

– Hiked a trail off of the Pali lookout. We were trying to find the Likeke falls but went up the wrong trail. Fail! The only win was plucking out guavas from the guava trees that seemed to be growing like weed in the forest! Raj was pretty happy with the guavas!


– Hiked to the top of the Diamond Head Crater. Walked hella fast part of the way to beat a poor, fat kid who was unaware that he was on a race to the top with me 😉

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Our return tickets in March are also through Honolulu and we’re planning to spend some time in Hawaii before heading back to Seattle. Although I think we’ll head to Kauai instead of hanging out in Oahu. So, for family and friends, who can’t visit us in Asia, think about visiting us in Kauai in March (20th onwards)!


One week down!

Wow! It’s been a week and a day since we’ve been on the road now! We left Seattle on Saturday, the 28th of September, visited friends and family who we hadn’t seen in a long time and are now on the beautiful Hawaii island of Oahu. It’s a little surreal (well, more than a little) to think that we don’t have to go back to work on Monday or the Monday after that or the Monday after that or after that 😉 You get the idea. Honestly, I’m a little worried about getting a little bored of not working but of course, Raj thinks that six months of travel may not be enough 🙂

The first two days were spent visiting with a couple of our best friends Priya and Amesh, their beautiful daughter Arianna and puppy Gatsby! Wow did we drink a lot of wine with these guys! And hung out yapping away just like the old times 🙂 It’s so wonderful to see your friends build a beautiful life for themselves.


Next, we visited with Raj’s cousins Ashu and Shanna and our little niece Gia. Here is a pic of Ms. Helmet head 🙂 Good to see you guys!


And finally to round off our trip on the continental US, we visited my high school bestie Mala and her husband, Subal! Mala and I hadn’t seen each other since 2006! Let’s never let it get that long again, Mala. You guys are incredible hosts.

Next post on Oahu coming up!


And so it begins

Hey Guys,

This is the first post. Anjli and I are taking off for six months across Europe and Asia. We’ll keep this blog updated to keep our friends and family in the loop about where we are and what new experiences we’re accumulating.

The past couple weeks we’ve been packing up our stuff and looking to rent our apartment. If you know anyone that’s looking for a place in Belltown (Furnished or Unfurnished), send them our way. Here’s a link to both postings on Craigslist.



That’s it for now kiddies. Click follow on the top left of the page and you’ll get an email when we add a new blog post.


-Anjli and Rajat