In transit 2 – The joys of Berlin’s public transportation system

After five days in Berlin, I felt like a public transportation ninja, mistress of all trains, trams, and buses, conqueress of the Bahns. I didn’t need to follow my blue dot on Google Maps. I’m clever and experienced. I’m practically a Berliner!

Or not.

I went to Berlin to take an abdominal massage course and I can personally attest to the mental relaxation that this massage gives you. I had transported myself across the city for the past three days using various forms of transportation and felt like I had a handle on all of them. I could not have been more wrong, but I blame the mental relaxation of the massage course. On the plus side, I was so relaxed, I didn’t get upset or nervous.

I chatted with a new friend after class and was closer to the tram than the subway, so I decided I would go home by tram and bus today. It was a little rainy and already dark, but since I took the subway in the morning, I’d just add some tram-bus variety to spice things up a bit.

The tram came and I got off two stops later and realized that it was the subway that dropped me off in Alexanderplatz in two stops not the tram. Oh, well. I hopped on the next tram a few minutes later and went on to Alexanderplatz.

I looked around and didn’t see my bus stop. Hmm. Now it’s starting to rain. Well, since I’ve already made one mistake, maybe I’ll pull out my phone and look at Google Maps for a second. Ok. Walk two minutes. Here it is. Next M48 is in 13 minutes according to the real-time updated digital screen at the stop. Whatever. I’m in the bus shelter with all these other Berliners and I’ll read this article on my phone, just like them.

Several Bus 100s come by, quite a few 200s, one or two airport buses, a couple of M85s. What the heck! I check the digital screen. The M48s keep getting pushed down the list. I check my watch. It’s been a half an hour!! (To be fair it was an interesting article.) Fine. Now it’s not raining and I know that the subway station is nearby. I’ve already wasted 30 minutes on a bus that wasn’t coming.

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I get to the subway station and I think to myself, “I’ve been here before. I need the train on the left track.” It’s packed so I miss the first one. I get on the next one and take a seat and continue reading my article. A few minutes later it occurs to me that I should check the names of the stations as they go by. I turn my head and, just as the doors are closing, I see the name of the subway stop for my school.

I am an idiot.

I get off at the next stop, cross the platform to the train going the opposite direction, and commit to riding this train all the way to my stop. I confirm by checking the stops as we go along that I am finally going the right direction. I feel silly as we pass Alexanderplatz.

Then I realize that I haven’t checked my travel plan for getting to the restaurant where I’m meeting a friend for dinner. Ah, it’s a two-line subway trip. I see that the transfer station is an M-O-umlaut station. I look up and I see that we are at an M-O-umlaut station and I get off thinking that I could transfer here to get to the line that takes me closer to where I’m staying.

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Of course, it’s not this station. As if there is only one M-O-umlaut station in all of Berlin. Not only that, if my brain had actually been functional, I would have known that this transfer wouldn’t work, otherwise, I would have taken this route to the school in the first place. Why walk 10 minutes to another subway station in the freezing cold if this one would be more convenient?

I am an idiot, but I’m just about to start hysterically laughing because this trip home has now reached the level of the circus of the absurd, starring me. (In an alternate version of this story, this would be masterful spy craft. No one would be able to follow this circuitous route!)

I get on the next train and totally commit myself to staying on it till my stop and also to not missing it. I arrive and walk home.

Now I only have a half an hour to drop off my stuff and get ready to go out for another half-hour trip on the subway. I’ve learned my lesson now: Google Maps, carefully assure myself that my blue dot is following the path, and do not wander.

I go to my subway station. Good. The train is coming in four minutes. And right then an announcement: the train is delayed. Internal hysterical laughter. Of course the train is late!

Google Maps gives me an alternate route. Out to the street again and the M85 is on the way. I will not wait for the inconsistent and betraying M48! I make it to the subway and I’m on the way with no more problems.

On the way home after dinner, some young drunk people get on the train and serenade the crowd with The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” followed by A Flock of Seagull’s “And I Ran.” And that seemed like the perfect end to my transit adventures.


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Thank you for reading my blog and

joining me on this writing journey!

In transit

Actually, I’ve already arrived in Berlin. Last night, I stayed at a fun, party hostel with loud dance music – think “Despacito,” “What Is Love (Baby Don’t Hurt Me),” German drinking songs, and house/hip hop – and enjoyed my complimentary “martini.”

Now I’m in my more stable accommodation that will be my actual “mobile office” and home base while I take a massage course.

Just getting here was an adventure…

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The airport in Tel Aviv was ridiculously crowded. Four budget airlines with all their weekend flights leaving at approximately the same time.  It was madness.

But we’ve reached a new age in travel seating – charging stations!

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My flight seemed to be running on time and we got in the air.  About 15 minutes into the flight, “Is there a doctor on the plane?” Yes, there was a medical emergency, and yes, there was a doctor on the plane.

Next announcement, “We are returning to Tel Aviv for an emergency landing.” And we turned around.  The landing was smooth but felt extremely heavy.  After all, we landed with a full tank of fuel.

Thankfully, the person with the medical emergency walked off the plane under his own power.

Next announcement, “Please stay in your seats.  We will take off after we get our landing gear checked.”

Then: “For security reasons, we have to remove the luggage of the person who got off the plane.”

Eventually we got back in the air, only about 2 hours later than scheduled.

But then those calm, understanding people who had allowed for a medical emergency and who mostly stayed in their seats on the plane faced a single passport official dealing with all the non-EU passports. At one point they tried to crowd the booth nearly causing a security incident because they just couldn’t understand why we were standing in this dang line for so long. (But seriously, she examined each person’s passport like she thought she should run them all through INTERPOL.)

Once I passed that endurance test, my bag was practically waiting for me on the carousel, the bus pulled up to take me into the city, and R2D2 showed up to let me know everything was going to be okay.

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Why You Should Travel Solo (At Least Once)

“Shoot. I forgot to put ‘travel solo’ on my list.”  That was my thought when I woke up the morning after I posted last week’s blog entry, How to Travel Well. But then I thought it might deserve its own post.

This will not be about the Eat-Pray-Love journey of self-discovery that solo travel will allow to blossom in the heart of your true, authentic self.  Who has time for all that navel-gazing self-absorption?  There’s a world out there waiting to be explored!

Also, I’m not advocating throwing caution to the wind and trusting your sacred aura and charged crystals to protect you in every situation.  Take a self-defense class and be aware of your surroundings.

But definitely, at least once in your life, travel solo.

I’ve experienced group trips and traveling as a couple and the truth is that I like traveling solo best.

Get out of your comfort zone

Traveling solo pushes you to talk to strangers, try out some foreign phrases, and try new foods.  Your comfortable rut is no longer your anchor.  Every moment of every day when you are on the road is a new experience.

I don’t greet people in my everyday life by bowing with my hands together in front of my heart and saying “Sawadee-ka!”  But in Thailand I do!

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A temple in Thailand

Step out of the familiar

This is linked to getting out of your comfort zone.  When you travel as a couple or with a group, you surround yourself with the familiar and you travel around the world in a bubble.  Shared thoughts and opinions with your partner or friends will not give you a new perspective. You might just as well watch something on TV and discuss it.  But as a solo traveler, talking to strangers and being exposed to different points of view, you may just come across something you never thought of and see the world in a new and unexpected way.

People tend to be proud of where they are from and they love talking to you about it.  I learned a lot about the revolution in Romania in 1989 and how proud the people of Timisoara were of being the center of such a dramatic change in the history of their country.

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The opera house in Timisoara (r), the heart of the revolution

Celebrate self-reliance

In the dark days of my divorce, my soon-to-be ex-husband said to me, “Who do you think you are divorcing me? You’ll never get along without me.”  My reaction? I raised my left eyebrow and with icicles in my voice, I said, “Really.”

In the early days of traveling solo, every “tourism win” was just more evidence piling up proving that indeed I can get along perfectly fine without him.  I rarely think of his mean phrase these days. I just celebrate my own independence, competence, and ability to rely on myself in any and every situation.

Savor freedom

You wake up in the morning as the mistress of your destiny.  You can march forward to follow your plan for the day. Or you can change it 12 times in the first hour, or change the plan in the middle, or throw out the plan.  And all the while the only opinion that matters is yours.

On my first day in Paris, I was enjoying the view over the city from the top of Sacre Coeur and suddenly I remembered that I wanted to take the free walking tour. I whipped out my phone and checked the internet site for the tours to find out when the next one was.  Oof, 45 minutes.

I ran down the winding stairs and raced down the hill to find a subway station – Google maps!  And then I bought my week-long subway pass – research done earlier so I knew what to buy – and immediately ran into some inspectors checking tickets. Voila! Week-long pass!  Hopped on the train that arrived just then and made my tour with minutes to spare!  For the win!

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View from the very top of Sacre Coeur

Solo traveler at home

And when the solo traveler comes home, she has cherished memories and a few tools in her pockets for her everyday life.  She no longer needs to stay in her comfort zone, she can immerse herself in the unfamiliar and take pride in her self-reliance, and she can embrace her freedom. Life at home can also be an adventure.  It just depends on your perspective.

How to Travel Well

Having just returned from Paris, I had some thoughts on traveling. I have always believed that traveling makes us global citizens and shrinks the world.  Here are five tips to travel well.

Set a couple of priorities. The rest is gravy.

For this visit to Paris, my second, I decided that my top two destinations were going to be St. Chappelle and the Rodin Museum.  Everything else that I saw and did was extra.  I made sure to schedule my days around these two things and let go of whatever else I didn’t manage.  The new kiosk appointment system for climbing the towers of Notre Dame didn’t work with my schedule, and as much as I may have wanted to visit those lovely gargoyles keeping the Hunchback company, I let it go.

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St. Chappelle in the morning.

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The Thinker at the Rodin Museum.

Have an open mind and be curious.

I saw many people who seemed to view Paris and all its sights as part of a tourist checklist.  Eiffel Tower. Check. Notre Dame. Check. Louvre, esp. Mona Lisa. Check. And on and on (there’s a lot to see in Paris!)  Moreover, they wanted to get through their list with all the comforts of home.

Instead, appreciate the shoe box-sized, creaky elevator in your quaint hotel.  Pay attention to your surroundings and find out what the cultural differences are between your home country and the country you are visiting.  Then accept them as part of your travel experience.  Embrace them if you like them.

Get some historical background of the place you are visiting.  Do something simple like take a walking tour in the center of the city and listen to your guide.  They function as bridges between you the visitor and the city they love.  Ask questions.  Nothing will endear you more to your hosts than asking about the city and its history.  If you like something, gush about it.

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I know you thought that the Moulin Rouge was just a dance show or a musical film, but actually in French it means “red windmill.”

Buy blister patches, if needed.

On my first day in Paris, I got a monster blister.  It could have ruined my whole trip unless I liked the idea of walking for hours with a limp and in pain.  In Europe, I’ve found these amazing things that specifically treat that annoying blister on the back of your heel.  Usually the patch can stay on for 2 to 3 days and your heel is like new.  They are kind-of expensive, but totally worth it if you have a painful blister.

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I have French ones and Danish ones.

Roll with it.

Sometimes things don’t work out.  It rains on your only day in the Highlands.  The statue you came to see in the museum is not on display.  The tour you show up for is only in Spanish.  These things actually happened to me.  On the Highlands tour, I met someone from China who I still keep in touch with.  I saw different versions of the missing statue and I was able to appreciate the lesser known works more because they were no longer in the shadow of the more famous one.  I walked in a lesser-known neighborhood and found an excellent Korean restaurant.

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Bulgogi (beef), side dishes, and Korean beer.  YUM!!

Sometimes your plan doesn’t work out, but if you roll with it, sometimes an even better plan appears.

Stay in the moment.

I read an article recently that suggested that if you take too many pictures and videos, you lose the experience in the present by trying to document it for the future (or for social media).

On one walking tour, we saw racing lights on the Eiffel Tower.  It happens every hour in the evenings and it’s really worth seeing!  I took a couple of pictures and a few seconds of film.  And then I put my camera away so that I could just enjoy it.  I noticed out of the corner of my eye a man spending the entire light show trying to get just the right shot.  Will he remember looking at the lovely lights of Paris with his wife or will he remember fussing with his camera and his wife’s framing suggestions?

15 seconds of racing lights.  Go see them for yourself!

A concluding thought for Yom Kippur

This is my late dad’s (z”l) favorite story about Yom Kippur.  The original is much longer, but this shortened version gives you the main idea.

Heavy.  The Yom Kippur prayers were heavy and try as he might, the rabbi simply could not lift them up to Heaven.  A young man came into the synagogue.  He only recently became aware of his Jewish heritage and knew only how to recite the aleph bet.  He didn’t know what day it was or what was going on, but with pure and focused intention he recited the only thing he knew.  Aleph. Bet. Gimel. Dalet. …

The rabbi noticed that the prayers were suddenly lighter.  They floated like feathers on the wind straight up to Heaven.  And he knew that is was because of the young man who prayed with all his heart in the only way he could.

As we travel the world and live as global citizens, we don’t have to be multilingual or the most knowledgeable, but if we approach the world with pure intention and genuine love, perhaps we can lift up everyone around us.

Gmar Hatima Tova! May you be inscribed

and sealed in the Book of Life! 

And for those of you who fast, may it be meaningful!