Saturday, August 30, 2014

Berlin; Around the Reichstag building

Hi guys! During my stay in Berlin I went for many walks (mostly with my classmates) and on one of the days we paid a visit to the Reichstag building, or the German parliament. Unlike most parliaments I have visited, this one is actually located in an architecturally and historically rich neighborhood. If you take a look at it on Google Maps, you'll see what I mean.

First off, to get there, we met at the Brandenburg Tor (Tor means door in German), one of the most known landmarks of Germany. The gate is at the east end of the Straße des 17. Juni and gives direct access to Pariser Platz, where are located the US, French, Canadian, and UK embassies.




Located a bit north west of the gate is the parliament of Germany. This building is obviously rich with history but the fun part is mostly the fact that it is open to the public for a visit of the glass dome. But first, you can't get in without making a reservation (so you have to get there at the time that is given to you), they search you and scan your personal belongings (just like in airports) and ask for a piece of ID. I obviously brought my Canadian passport because no one hates Canadians. No one. Joke, maybe some people do.



On the main entrance you can read "To the German people". Yes, despite what some people might think, Germany had (and still has) very people-oriented governments.


When you get in you are automatically directed to a huge elevator packed with other tourists that brings you directly to the glass dome floor.


You are given an audio guide and to make it work properly you have to start at the bottom right of the ramp and walk at a fairly slow pace. The audio guide automatically detects where you are on the ramp and tells you the story of the parliament, and will tell you to stop and look for something (a building, a park, a monument) and tell you its story. The tour is available in French, English and German.


Once you have completed the tour, you end up outside of the dome on the roof of the building. Even if you have been explained everything your eyes could see (if you're shortsighted please bring your glasses) you are free to walk around and keep looking. I unfortunately did not bring the right lens for that and I do not like the way my pictures have turned, but here are some I snapped of the building itself and some details.



Now, if you have taken a look at the parliament on Google Maps, you'll see it's located right in a huge green space. Known as the Großer Tiergarten (great animal garden) it's a 210 acres park that used to be a hunting park. Now the wildlife lives in peace and apparently you can see boars from times to times (I actually saw a fox). Right in the middle of the park is the Siegessaüle (Victory Column) built to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian war. It used to be right across the Riechstag building but it was moved to its current location.



Located right in the middle of a roundabout, you can see the Brandenburg Tor on the east end of the boulevard.


We took a walk in the park but honestly, even with a good sense of orientation, you can easily get lost in there.


At the south east of the park is the new Sony Center, a very modern entertainment and commercial center that, honestly, took my breath away with its architectural style and design. Partly covered, you have the feeling of being outside while being sort of inside.


See how the tiles of the ground make it look like a pedestrian plaza?


Technically, you are still outside because you're just covered by this very stylish roof. I swear my brain is still confused from the way I felt but it was a good kind of confusion.




As we headed "outside" we saw this cute Lego giraffe. A lot of parents were taking pictures of their children with it.


If you go back towards the Branderburg Tor, you can easily find the Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe) also known as the Holocaust-Mahnmal (Holocaust Memorial). People walk or sit among the stelae on a very uneven and wavy surface.



Unfortunately this is not considered as a public place and people are actually not allowed the walk around or on the stelae. In my opinion, the way the memorial was made attracts people and make them want to interact with it. Unless very clear indications were put up all around the memorial, perhaps people would know it is not an actual public place.



An entrance on Cora-Berliner-Straße gives access to the museum located underground. It tells the story of the holocaust, displays letters written by people before their disappearance, tells the stories of families that tried to flee their misery, and so on and so forth. You do the tour on your own for free, but you can also get an audio guide for an extra 5€ or 10€. You can also make a donation as you leave.

And so that's it for today guys! I hope you enjoyed knowing what there is to see or do in the neighborhood of the German parliament. Until next time!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lyon; Phnom Pich

Hi guys! I haven't blogged in a few days so I thought I could share with you my experience at a restaurant located in Lyon's Chinatown. One evening I really wanted to eat Asian but didn't want to have bo bun and pho again. So the boyfriend and I went to Phnom Pich because of reviews I have read but also because whenever I walked by it the Khmer letters would call out to me. Unfortunately for me I did not grow up eating much Cambodian food (mostly Vietnamese). I only had traditional Cambodian food when we had family gatherings and my grandmother would cook. Most of the time she didn't though because she was kind of lazy.

Finding a restaurant that serves exclusively Cambodian food is very hard. First off, it's a cuisine that has been influenced for a few generations now by Laotian, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. I would say if you have had Laotian dishes before, it's very similar. Second, not many people know about Cambodian food and would be ready to dig into totally different flavors. So to make sure the restaurant is still up and running and that whoever sits down finds something that suits their taste buds they have to incorporate some classics that are, obviously, not Cambodian, such as General Tao chicken, pad thai, even sometimes pho. But I don't think I'd eat pho in a restaurant that isn't specialized in pho. So this was the case with this place (and with any other Cambodian restaurant I have tried). But anyways. Time for pictures and food!


So we sat down in a rather small place (if you have been to La Jonque d'Or before it's about the third of it) and a young man greeted us and handed us two copies of the menu. We decided to order some beer for the heck of it. Unfortunately they didn't have any Angkor beer left so we went for the Cambodia. It's basically what I call a summer beer, light and watery. It was okay, considering the fact that Asians are not exactly experts in brewing beer.

As an entrée we ordered a Cambodian salad (for which I do not remember the name). It was kind of the same as plea sach ko (marinated beef salad) but it's a marinated duck salad. The principles are also the same for larb (Laotian beef salad) but the seasonings are different.


This one was served with sliced carrots and cucumbers. The marinade consisted of mint, onions, dried shallots, lime, chili peppers, fish sauce, and lemongrass. It was very delicious on its own and perfect for two persons.

Unfortunately for me they didn't have chha mi (Cambodian fried noodles) on the menu so I went for a Phnom Penh soup. The boyfriend decided to order the Special Phnom Penh soup.


Phnom Penh soup is very similar to pho : savory clear broth with meat and rice noodles. Just like pho, there isn't just one recipe and the meat you put in there depends on your tastes. At this place, the Phnom Penh soup includes shrimp, squid, Vietnamese ham (cha lua), another kind of ham, and cooked beef.


The Special Phnom Penh soup has the same meats plus blood sausage. Maybe there was something else but I did not write down what it was. This is seriously something I need to work on.

Phnom Penh soup requires the use of shrimp and squid for the broth, why is why it is clear and has this delicious seafood flavor. It was quite a hearty meal (that we drenched in sriracha because we're masochists) and I found the flavors complimented well each other and were well balanced. Unfortunately I cannot say whether it is suitable for 100% Cambodian taste buds or not but it was suitable for my difficult Asian-ish taste buds.

The ambiance was overall very calm until a group of more than ten people came in. You can tell it's a family business not only by the looks of the place but because the family was eating at the table closest to the kitchen and the mama was doing all the cooking. And yes, there are pictures of the family baby all over the place.

So should you give Phnom Pich a try? I think if you would like to avoid the big places but still have something good and simple you should go. The prices are reasonable and the staff is lovely. I have to admit I wish there were more actual Cambodian items on the menu but it's already hard enough to find a place that actually serves Cambodian food.

Until next time!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Berlin; Railways and the Wall

During my stay in Berlin I really enjoyed using both the U-Bahn and S-Bahn. The S-Bahn is basically an urban express railway system within (but not limited to) the city of Berlin. What fascinated me was how this infrastructure was well incorporated to the surrounding environment and didn't seem to create barriers within the city. Because it is a problem I have dealt with in France and still do in Montreal, I thought I should share this experience with you guys.


However this post will not concern only the integration of railways within the city but also my little visit to the famous Wall of Berlin and, while we're there, a few graffiti artworks I had the chance to snap a picture of.

Most S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations are accessible through well designed and well maintained buildings, like the Zoologischer Garten station, or the Alexanderplatz station.


Just like the project Im Viadukt in Zürich, the spaces beneath the railways are actually used and occupied by commercial activities such as restaurants, stores, etc. We then don't see the railways as barriers and getting around them becomes an actual pleasurable activity rather than an annoying walk.



Having commercial activities on both sides of the railways helps connecting neighborhoods together because they conceal the separation of a part of the city from another.


Sometimes the railways are concealed under nice pedestrian passageways, like this one near Checkpoint Charlie. Since it goes over a bridge, adding store beneath will only cause infrastructure problems and hide the view on the river.



The S-Bahn system is far from being a light rail system like the trams. It's actually an important infrastructure that takes a lot of space in the city.


As you can see, not only is it mostly elevated, it also goes through quiet residential areas.


And because I'm a fervent urban art enthusiast, I couldn't help it but notice that what would have been a blind facade was decorated and would make the sight more pleasurable and less gloomy. Though it seems like official work done for or by an insurance company, I believe that well done street arts should not be seen as an act of vandalism but as a way to liven up a neighborhood and add more life to what we call blind facades.


Not exactly street art, but the way the balconies were painted sort of reminded me of Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse. Even if the choice of colors wasn't exactly the best (it's the same pastel colors you'd choose for a baby's bedroom) that building certainly looked more lively than the one on its right.





And while we're on the topic of street art, I have to show you a few pictures of the Berliner Mauer. While one side mostly has actual spray paint art and tags, the other side features artworks made by artists from all around the world.




Without showing the whole wall, here are some pictures of inspiring or interesting pieces of art. The part that saddened me about this initiative is that, obviously, it makes people want to tag over, therefore the artists are sometimes asked to come back in order to salvage what they can.





This one has changed a lot over time because of the tags, but it has been featured on many postcards and in art books.









This one is a personal favorite because it invites people to directly interact with it.


Unfortunately it's also covered in too many tags.


Who the heck is this Marc Neo SG?


And so I'm going to finish off this post with a favorite for many, the famous Brotherhood Kiss between Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev, also known as Mein Gott hilf mir, diese tödliche Liebe zu überleben or My God, help me survive this deadly love.


Until next time!

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