I’m a mega-fan of unearthing all that is quirky about a city, whether that be finding amazing graffiti or cool artistic neighbourhoods, or participating in some unique local culture! With this in mind, Berlin was absolutely ideal. I definitely understand why everyone is so psyched by this city.
Hopefully you’ve already had a chance to have a read of my story about Berlin’s Liquidrom where I had a wild time (if not, check it out here if you want a laugh!).
I also got the chance to write about some of the other fun stuff I explored in the city on that same trip for travelista.club. It’s hard to compress a brilliant week into a few words, so I’ve focussed on these favourites of mine, in particular Teufelsberg – a man made hill covering rubble from the second world war – and its hidden away, abandoned US listening station placed on top, which has now been converted into an eery sanctuary of graffiti art and installations. I was wowed, to say the least.
I was lucky to catch Wandelism’s brilliant art exhibition too, which was only around for a week, given the venue was to be demolished. It was just a further illustration of graffiti art’s ephemeral nature. In the streets, you never know when what you’re seeing will suddenly change (whether due to actual vandalism, or new commissions by other graffiti artists).
I hope so! Discover a little of what makes Berlin so special here.
Scotland isn’t just about kilts and bagpipes. On the Isle of Skye, fairy folklore is afoot. You just need to visit the Fairy Glen of Uig or the Fairy Pools to see what I mean, provided you can actually see through the rain and fog!
I loved the craggy cliffs and dipping, diving hills so much, that I wrote about my experiences there for travelista.club, with tips and tricks galore for all of you avid explorers out there. We did a fair bit of hiking there, but don’t be deterred if hiking is not your thing, because believe me, I am no professional hiker, and the walks are easy.
I might not have had the chance to visit Skye if it weren’t for my befriending two kind, American girls in my hostel, Dakota and Hayley. While nearing the end of my days in Edinburgh, I found myself suddenly without any plan of what would follow. Luckily, the girls let me gatecrash their otherwise well thought out holiday to the Isle of Skye. With scenery to rival that of my beloved New Zealand, this magical little island off the west coast of Scotland made me marvel at how bizarrely beautiful our world can look, all while contemplating how awesome it is to encounter open minded people while travelling, and get to share adventures with those who might otherwise be complete strangers!
Read all about it in my article published for Travelista Club, here.
Picture this — a large, warm, salt-water floating pool, in a building designed to look like a futuristic circus tent. I put my head underwater and I am enveloped by relaxing music. Lying so just my ears are under, I listen to the music, trying to let my mind slip away, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am Eleven from Stranger Things right now… minus the superpowers, growing up in a lab, being torn away from my mother, shaven head, visiting the Upside Down, dealing with Demagorgons stuff, but other than all that, LITERALLY Eleven, guys.
The whole combination is mesmerising: the warmth, the music, the floating, and the architecture. My immersion in the Musical Pool in Berlin’s Liquidrom, on the west side of Potsdamer Platz, is just the beginning of my weird and wonderful two-hour experience.
The Musical Pool
At 19,50€, It’s not too expensive to get in, and you’ll save money by taking your own towels and swimwear. Funnily enough, I hadn’t prepared for swimming on an April trip to Germany (sarcasm, by the way) so I ended up buying a cheap bikini from Primark. The entry fee covers two hours of access to the Liquidrom’s basic facilities: the pools, shallow enough to be enjoyed by swimmers and non-swimmers alike, the steam baths, and last but definitely not least: the nude saunas.
In the Hot Seat
At this point you have to strip everything off. I’ll admit I was apprehensive at first. If like me, you’ve grown up in countries where public nudity is an offence, where even in changing rooms people might blush or chuckle to themselves if someone goes completely starkers, you’ll understand my brief flash (pun definitely intended) of panic when other people entered the 80 degree sauna and it hit me that I was naked as the day I was born, as was that guy, and that girl and that other lady and…
The thing is though, Berliners are very open minded, and they don’t care about what you look like or the fact you’ve got no clothes on. This is all part of what they call “the urban bathing culture” and they’re just there for some of that sweet heat, mate. It’s pretty awesome really, so it didn’t take long for me to relax and enjoy the warmth and sweet floral smell of the wood.
Once I’d proven to myself that I could handle 80 degrees, I challenged myself by venturing into the 90 degree sauna. I intended to stay for just a moment, purely to see if I could make it without melting. You see, I don’t do well in extreme heat. I’m the first to start sweating in dance classes, the first to turn off the heating or open a window.
Well, now was the time to get over that, so I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the rustle of other people entering the sauna and settling in. My reverie was abruptly broken when one of the spa attendants walked in and rattled off in German (and in case you were wondering, no, he was not naked, he had a towel wrapped around his waist). Everyone else, being German, knew what he was talking about and murmured in agreement. One smart alec made a comment and was immediately shushed by the attendant, which filled me with mild trepidation because I knew there was no way I could ask someone to translate and explain what the hell was going on and, worse, I couldn’t ask to open a window or turn off the heating.
So, I sat (yes, naked) and just decided to go along with it. The attendant poured a range of infusions on the hot coals, then began brandishing a towel (not the one around his waist) above his head, sending waves of delectable, hot, scented vapour in my direction. I tried to immerse myself in the experience once more, but I was finding it hard not to laugh. I felt I was watching some offbeat Magic Mike strip tease, this muscly, shirtless dude whipping the towel round like a ceiling fan… but since everyone else was so serious, (probably because the heat was making them silently combust) I hurriedly closed my eyes again and tried to ‘let go’ instead of focusing on how bizarre this all was. Then just as I was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed by the heat, Magic Mike opened the door to the sauna, announced something in German and everyone stood up to leave. Thank God, I thought, we’re done. To my dismay, however, everyone left their towels behind. My Berliner exposure was far from over.
We went outside and the man handed each of us a huge handful of granulated salt. I think the sauna had steamed my brain like pork dumplings at Sunday afternoon yum cha, because I stood there for a second and just stared at him dumbly with the salt in my hand, wondering what on earth I was supposed to do with it.
It was then that I noticed a board on an easel by the door to the sauna : 9pm, Salzpeeling session — Salt peeling, that is, exfoliation. It all (mostly) made sense now.
I assumed we were meant to rub the salt into our skin so I set to doing that, trying to avoid eye contact with the butt-naked crowd standing around me, and especially avoiding eye contact with the couples getting a little too into the whole salt-rubbing activity together (get a room, guys).
However, because my German comprehension hadn’t magically improved (not that the brain steaming had done me any favours) I still had no idea what we were meant to do once we’d rubbed in the salt. Magic Mike yelled something and people trooped into the the shower. And so, my skin newly soft thanks to the surprise exfoliation, I followed suit and desalted. I’ll give them this, the whole salt and steam combo works wonders for your skin — not only was I as naked as a baby, but now as soft as one too!
It was then back to the sauna, with the heat really amped up. After sitting there for God knows how much longer (one guy even ditched before the end, not being able to handle it) finally, it was over. I hadn’t melted, hadn’t developed a heat rash, hadn’t asked to open a window. I’d survived, my skin had never felt softer and my brain would probably be perfect served with some stir-fried bok choy and sesame squid tomorrow at lunch.
After coming down from the high of knowing I hadn’t died, and feeling the cool air again, I realised I actually felt incredibly dizzy. I put my bikini back on and went to lie in the jacuzzi outside for a little while. I welcomed the breeze (the people who were still naked were welcoming the breeze a lot more than I was. Apart from the musical pool, you can be nude in the other baths in the Liquidrom.) Then, given that I only had about half an hour left in the Liquidrom, I moved on to another bath. I beat a hasty retreat, however, as in it were two couples having a great time straddling each other.
Incidentally, many Liquidrom reviews moan about the PDA from couples. You have to just focus on your own relaxation and ignore them if possible – you’ve paid just as much as they have to enter, so don’t let it spoil your visit! As with all reviews, you’ve got to take what you read with a grain of salt (please tell me you got that pun).
And so I found myself back where I’d started: the Musical Pool. Once again, I closed my eyes, lay on my back, and let the water take my weight. There was quite a range of music being played this time: classical, electronic, some with lyrics and some without. It was spell-binding, so much so that when I opened my eyes again, I realised I’d floated to the other side of the pool into a throng of couples enjoying themselves pretty thoroughly.
I took this as my cue to leave, my time being up anyway. All in all, it was a successfully freeing experience: simultaneously hilarious, disconcerting, and relaxing. And if, while in Germany’s capital you find yourself in need of visiting the Upside Down and killing a Demagorgon with your mind, well, you’ve no excuse to not go to the Liquidrom.
If travelling to a destination that is not constantly bombarded by tourists, relaxing in naturally heated thermal baths, and feasting on fresh, succulent octopus sounds like your kind of thing, then boy, do I have the perfect city for you to visit.
Ourense is located in the region of north-western Spain called Galicia. Galicia is home to volcanoes, beaches, amazing seafood, and the final destination of the Camino de Santiago, Santiago de Compostela. Like most Spanish cities, those found in the Galician region have historical town centres. These have plenty of charm to keep you captivated as you explore and lose yourself wandering down cobblestoned streets. I was lucky enough to spend the first day of my trip to Northern Spain, in Ourense. Although it’s not commonly visited by travellers, I’m so glad it was recommended to me by a friend who was born and grew up there, and swears by its amazing octopus. We got to attend the octopus fair, usually only frequented by locals, so you know it’s the real deal.
We stopped in Ourense for the day before continuing on to Santiago, given the cities’ close proximity to one another, but you could stay the night there too, as there were plenty of bars and restaurants we didn’t have the chance to try!
Take a look at my article that was recently published by travelista.club to learn more about this city’s charms, and spending the day living there like a local. Feel free to click here and check it out now.
I kept a journal of sorts while on exchange. Looking back on the experience a year and a half later, I’m glad I have things like that – random entries and even conversations with friends on Whatsapp and Facebook to look back on when I’m feeling nostalgic, which is often.
The Lead Up
Before going to Salamanca, I had no idea what to expect. The thing is, people who go on exchange talk about their experiences all the time, but no matter what they say, you never really know how things will pan out for you. Personally, I spent time wondering about all the stereotypes of the country and how I could possibly fit into them. I mean, I sort of liked ham, siestas could be great if I was sleep deprived, and bulls were cute (actually bullfights were one aspect of Spanish culture that I never took to, even eight and a half months after living and travelling there), but I couldn’t picture myself actually living in Spain, rather than being just another of your average ignorant tourists.
My exchange was my first time truly having to fend for myself, and I think the prospect of that was what excited me the most. Every challenge seemed surmountable, every struggle an adventure.
Apart from getting to go on exchange in the first place, amid my cluelessness about Spanish bureaucracy and how to obtain a visa (let’s not even go there! It suffices to say it was an ordeal), the hardest thing, unexpectedly, was finding a flat. Everyone raved about how easy a task this was in Salamanca so I wasn’t particularly stressed. But as the date for my departure from New Zealand loomed closer, I started having some tingling anxiety about the prospect of being homeless in a country where I didn’t speak the language (well, not like a native in any case).
I sorted out my hostel for two nights and, fuelled only by optimism, I set to sending messages to flat owners and potential flatmates about seeing their apartments in my first days of arriving in the city.
The trouble was that after my first eleven-hour flight to Hong Kong, I was met with a fleet of messages from said potential flatmates saying they’d already leased the rooms to others. If anything, I at least remained more or less calm and hopeful. I was sitting in Hong Kong airport with no way of really changing my situation other than to use the free airport wifi to keep looking, messaging, trying.
My second, thirteen-hour flight from Hong Kong to Madrid was my first chance since leaving NZ to properly practice my Spanish as I ended up seated next to a Spanish couple who were super majo (incidentally, they were the ones who taught me the expressions “majo/a” and “es un coñazo”, which have both turned out to be pretty useful while living in Spain, for very distinct reasons — google translate might be useful here if you don’t speak Spanish *wink*).
And of course, I eventually ended up in Madrid, moved through the motions, met a friendly but very imposing middle-aged man from Tenerife who invited me to his house in las Islas Canarias (I politely declined) but who actually genuinely seemed nice and accompanied me to the metro station in an effort to help me figure out how to get to the Estación Sur de Madrid in order to catch a bus to Salamanca. I ended up taking a taxi because I hadn’t slept at all during the flights and could see myself somehow ending up in France by mistake, but I was still so grateful that he’d seen me clearly struggling to make sense of things in my jet-lagged, sleepy state, and had gone out of his way to offer help.
Developments One Month Down
Something I noticed while being in Salamanca during that first month, and continue to see while travelling is that people LOVE New Zealand. Majority didn’t know where it is, who lives there, or anything about it at all really, but what they know is that they love it. I think it’s just the aspect of being an island located so far away, that makes it automatically possess this exotic charm. I’m not complaining at all though! I met so many amazing people from all over the world on my exchange, and they, as well as the city of Salamanca, welcomed me with open arms. If there were any pearl of wisdom I could offer, if you’re thinking of moving overseas or going on exchange, it would be to take every opportunity you can to make friends and meet people. Find out what social groups are operating on campus or in your new hometown, source relevant clubs and organisations to your interests. Upon arriving in Salamanca, I walked deliriously from the bus station to the hostel and what should have been a twenty minute walk, according to Google Maps, turned into an hour long trawl through the beautifully cobbled streets. I was so tired I walked right past the cathedral without even really noticing. Despite all this, I still went to a welcome party organised by Erasmus (an organisation that allows European students to study abroad and receive a scholarship while doing so – lucky for some!!) and the people I met at this party ended up being some of my closest friends while living in Salamanca, and I still keep in contact with them.
My jetlagged self ended up settling a little bit when it came to flatting – I unknowingly employed the services of an agent to find the flat and stupidly agreed to pay this guy 80 euros commission – a ridiculous amount of money, but hey, I’ll blame it on the jetlag, my desperation to not be homeless, and also my naivety back then, I guess! I should have looked for more flats or reflected a bit more before paying, but I’ve at least learned from my mistake (here’s hoping, anyway). At the time, I wrote in my diary that a skill I was hoping to acquire while on exchange was the art of finding the happy medium between complete spontaneity/rashness and over-consideration. I’m not sure I can say I’ve completely managed to master that even now, but one month into my exchange, I know I was feeling pretty content with how things turned out – our flat building was flawed, like any other, but it was home, and when it was filled with people was when I liked it best!