After a month and half of amazing travel with my friends across Europe I decided to tack on another couple weeks travelling with my boyfriend. We decided we wanted to explore a new city for a week and then zen out in the country for a bit. In the end we settled on Berlin and then Northern France/Brittany region! Below is the full travel diary for Berlin and details on our trip to Brittany can be found here and here.
Day One (Also known as Lauren vs transit)
So journey to Berlin got off on a very, very rough start. My flight left the airport at 8:45am so I had booked a ticket on a shuttle bus that was supposed to leave the train station at 6:10 am to get to the airport for 6:55am, leaving me with tons of time to check in, get through security and grab breakfast. I woke up nice and early, got to the train station super early at 5:50am and waited and waited and waited. The shuttle bus literally just didn’t show up. I walked around the entire area the email said it would stop at, I waited from 5:50am to 6:20am in case it was late and still absoluetly nothing. Starting to get a little freaked out I went over to the train taxi cab to just grab a taxi to the airport and apparently there are rules that the taxis that are at the train station can only take passengers within the city and not the airport so no one would take me. I finally flagged down a different looking taxi but he was ending his shift and refused to take me, and also refused to call someone else to pick me up. So I am getting very freaked out right now because how else do you get to an airport if your shuttle doesn’t show up and no taxi in supposedly the entire city of Budapest will take you to the god damn airport?!?!
Thankfully I had also debated taking public transit to the airport ( but decided against it because the shuttle seemed easier #wrong) so I still had the instructions. Now it is pretty much 6:40 and I should almost be at the airport. I run to the subway, have to use my credit card to buy tickets because I don’t have enough florints and catch the metro to another station where a bus takes you to the airport. Also just a shoutout to Budapest transit employees, the nicest people to me that day, as I got off the subway and was frantically looking for the bus one of the employees walked me to the stop to make sure I would find it and gave me a bunch of maps to look at while I very impatiently waited.
I have never in my life every thought I would miss a flight but while I was on the bus the thought definitely kept crossing my mind. Thankfully the bus was not at all delayed and got me to the airport with just under 40 minutes to check in, get through security and get to my gate. I literally ran off the bus, was the very last person at check in, ran from check in, was blessed by a short security line ( I was pulled over for a second scan but I think they saw the despair in my face as it was the fastest second scan of my life). Also my boarding pass on my phone decided just not to scan at check in or security or boarding. but again between being slightly sick and thinking I would miss my flight I think I just looked really sad and desperate so everyone was super nice and entered it really quickly. Anyways, long story short I made it on my flight. God bless Budapest transit and airport employees and screw Budapest shuttle and taxi drivers. Can I also just say I am very proud of myself because even though I was very freaked out I never lost my cool and didn’t shed a single tear this entire ordeal.
Unfortunately my ordeal of a day did not end here. After being super excited to land in Berlin I grabbed my bag and routed Google transit from the airport to our hotel. Only once I was out of wifi and on the train did I realize there are two hotels with the same name and I had routed mine to the wrong one in a very different part of the city. So I got off at what looked like a big station and had to manually find the closest subway to my hotel and how to get there from the random train station I was now at. God bless the extensiveness of the Berlin subway/train system but when you are tired and haven’t eaten all day trying to decipher one route through 15 different lines isn’t exactly easy. But finally a found a way that would take me there and got on a subway to another subway and FINALLY made it to my hotel.
On a side note today was the best test ever of my backpack as I wore it on my back for at least 3 hours today running from trains to subways and trekking up streets and it was still surprisingly comfy at the end of the day. So a total win for MEC!
After laying down and dying for a bit on the bed ( YAY for hotel beds after 40 days of Airbnb) my boyfriend arrived from his flight and we set off for food ( still haven’t had a meal today and its like 2:30pm).
We ended up at Chipps for a very late brunch and the food was amazing. If you want a typical brunch feast this is the place to go. Afterwards we walked to museum island and then along the Spree. Along the water we found a really cool market selling all sorts of vintage knick knacks, I particularly loved this tiny books! We purchased our three day museum passes so we could visit a bunch over the next few days and just headed back to our hotel.
I napped because I was dead still after the chaos of this morning but I did finally drag myself out of bed to check out a cool place for beer and food my boyfriend had found. BRLO Brewery is a big brewery underneath some rail tracks by Sconeberger Wiese. It was a super cool repurposing of what used to clearly be underutilized space but is now an awesome brewery, restaurant and huge patio. The patio is self serve with a bar and a place to order food. Their beer was awesome ( you can find it in other bars and in grocery stores all over Berlin) and the food was great too! The food was like quirky comfort food, like mac and cheese with fried onions or a chicken sandwich full of pickled vegetables.
For our first full day in Berlin we started off with another walking tour, again with Sandeman’s. We started at the Bradenburg gate and went through the history of Berlin with stops at the Holocaust Memorial, remaining Third Reich buildings, the Berlin Wall and Gendarmarkt. This was my favourite tour of the entire trip, our guide was amazing! She was a history student from England who visited friends in Berlin and loved it so much she moved here three months later. This tour did an amazing job in going through the quite extensive history of the city and really engaging the group to think about the horrors that happened here.
“Where they burn books they will ultimately burn humans”
After our amazing but long tour we were quite hungry so we set off to the Microsoft Cafe for lunch. Our guide suggested it as a good close place to grab lunch ( and its funny because Michael is working for Microsoft). This ended up being a great suggestion as it was very reasonable lunch in a cool space with wifi on a very busy/touristy street.
After lunch we walked back to the Brandenburg gate to take more photos and then up into the Tiergarten. In the gardens we found the Mozart/Hayden/Bach statue and a really cool art installation of rocks representing the world’s continents.
From the other side of the park we made our way to the Topography of Terror. The Topography of Terror is situated on the old SS Headquarters and tells the story of the terror created by the SS before and during the war. This is obviously not a very uplifting museum but a very important one. It provides a great history of the persecution of the Jewish people, as well as the disabled, Roma, homosexuals and communists. The museum is completely free and definitely worth a stop.
After the museum we headed back to our Airbnb before heading out again for dinner. Our guide had suggested Kreuzberg as a cool area to see and we had heard great things about this Korean fried chicken place in the area so we headed over to Angry Chicken. This food was amazing- obviously kinda a random thing to eat in Berlin but so good and representative of how cool and cosmopolitan Berlin is now.
This morning we headed back to museum island and started the first day of our three day museum pass. We started off at the Pergamon, getting there just after it opened. This still was not early enough and we did wait in a deceptively long line to get in ( but I hear most people wait 2 hours so our 45 minutes wait was nothing in comparison). The entirety of museum island is under construction as there is a big plan to connect the museums to create one cohesive experience so some of the museum is under construction and not open. But thankfully the Gate of Ishtar (from Babylon) was open. This was potentially the coolest, most jaw dropping room I have ever experienced in an museum. Its crazy, the gate is huge and so so vivid blue. We walked through the rest of the museum which was, mostly Egyptian and Babylonians artifacts ( on a side note it is kinda sad how every country in the world, besides Egypt, seems to have a huge stock of Egyptian artifacts).
After the museum we reenergized ourselves with coffee at the Barn in Mitte, a cool hipster coffee shop with really cool espresso ( kinda orangery/flowery tasting). We saw the big synagogue in Mitte and then grabbed a quick lunch to eat in the park. On the way back we stopped at Paul Morhan to sample their famous soft serve ice cream which was delicious ( but probably way too big and overpriced).
We headed to the Neues museum for the afternoon to see their exhibits. The Neues Museum is mostly pre-historic artifacts with a great overview of prehistoric and early historic times. You have to go here to see the Golden Hat, one of the coolest pieces in the whole museum. The golden hat is a late bronze age artifact that was supposedly worn by priests of the sun cult at the time that also have astronomical functions. It is a giant mystery the exact purposes of the hat and it is one of only four in the world.
Afterwards we hopped over the Spree and grabbed a lawn chair and some radlers at the Strandbar Mitte to enjoy the rest of the afternoon in the sun. We lounged here, watching the world go by for quite some time.
One thing I really wanted to do in Berlin was rent bikes as everyone in the city seems to get around on bikes and there are amazing bike lanes everywhere. We decided to go up to Eberswalder Strasse to rent bikes and then do a big lap of the city, with stops at the East Side Gallery. We grabbed our bikes at Lila Bikes, the rentals here were way cheaper than ones close to city centre so its definitely worth the extra few metro stops. The bikes were pretty decent, a little rattling but felt very safe and we managed fine on them all day. Mine even came with a basket which was perfect!
Below is the route we took ( we ended up taking a couple detours and getting a bit lost so it ended being a bit of a longer bike ride but here is the intended route.
We started off our bike ride by heading through Volkpark Friedrichshain and then into Friedrichshain for our first food stop. We grabbed coffee at Silo Coffee another cool, hipster coffee shop I had heard about. It was pretty good as well but I think I like The Barn in Mitte better. It did look like they had great( but expensive) brunch food though. We grabbed our lunch at Shakespeare and Sons which was the cutest place ever!! We both wanted to move in. Its a bagel and book shop, and its a proper Jewish bagel shop so you know the bagels are great! The book selection was mostly English with some amazing finds from quirky art books to the most impressive cook book collection to your standard collection of popular fiction and non-fiction. We got a bagel with goats cheese, avocado and tomato on a rosemary bagel- it was incredible sandwich!! Definitely will come back here if I am in Berlin again.
We hopped back on our bikes to head to the East Side Gallery and walked along looking at all the art. The gallery is surprisingly long and has way more art than I expected! Its down by the water and a great way to spend time outside in Berlin. The gallery is busy but not too crowded ( except at the famous kissing painting, where there is a line to take a photo).
Next we hopped on our bikes and headed to the other side of Berlin to see the Spy Museum. Both my boyfriend and I are obsessed with all things spy related so we obviously had to see this museum. Its quite small and not full of a ton of artifacts but if you have the museum pass it is definitely worth the stop. The educational content of the museum is amazing as it goes through the history of spying, the role of spying in both world wars and the cold war and then covers a lot of the major spy cases/scandals. Also if you have kids ( or are a kid at heart) there is a laser obstacle course room where you can see if you can make it through a room of lasers without setting any alarms off. It looked so so fun but there was a huge school group ahead of us so the line was super long. But we stayed and watched some kids do the course and were quite impressed.
After a full day of exploring we grabbed some food and then hopped back on the bikes to drop them off at Lila’s. Close by is the Prater Biergarten where we stopped in for a drink. This beer garden is huge! Its a super nice outdoor space with multiple bars and a food stand. The Berlin beer garden is I think one for the smartest ideas ever. The place was full of families enjoying the day together after work: there is room for kids to run around and play, the parents can catch up with each other and friends over drinks while watching said kids and there is easy access to food when they get hungry. Its a genius way to make sure everyone can enjoy the beautiful weather and spend time together. There were truly people of all ages and all backgrounds in here, a lot of the older patrons brought chess boards or cards with them to play while they drank, which you can do here unlike North America because no one is rushing you out of your table.
For food we heard that the currywurst at Konnpoke’ Imbiss was quite good so we stepped out to try some. The idea of currywurst was definitely weird to me but its actually pretty good. It is literally just sausage, ketchup and curry powder. Not my favourite thing but not my least favourite.
We ended up going back to Prater for another drink and more food because we loved the atmosphere there so much!
Today was another day of museuming as it looked it would rain on and off all day. We started our day at Jewish Museum. The museum was recently redesigned by architect Daniel Libeskind, and the architecture alone is worth a visit. It is a very interestingly designed building ( with many people hating the design) but it is meant to make you think about the gravity of the Holocaust not only on the Jewish people but Berlin, Germany, and humanity as a whole. It starts off in the basement with the three “axes”: the axis of the holocaust, the axis of exile and the axis of continuity. The axis of holocaust leads through holocaust ends in the “Void” or the Holocaust Tower which is a tall room with just a sliver of light coming through, creating a feeling of isolation or anxiety.
This first section was something that was especially powerful for us as my boyfriend’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor who managed to escape with her family from Poland into Russia and then traveled by herself to Israel to make it to Canada. So every story you read about young kids and their families is even more touching because we know it could have been her.
After taking the axis of continuity, the museum switches and goes through the history of Judaism in Germany. As someone who is not Jewish I found that the museum did a great job providing a lot of information about Judaism. Also I am a total child and loved all the interactive exhibits they had.
Afterwards we headed down the street to the Berliner Galerie which is a modern art gallery. They had a great photography exhibit on the first floor and then a decent collection of modern art on the second floor. Again not a huge museum but definitely a cool place to stop with the museum pass.
We headed to our next stop, the German History Museum, but were way too hungry to think about exploring so we stopped at the museum bistro. We weren’t expecting much but this was actually a great meal in a very central area! The museum itself was pretty big, so we just focused on the pre World War history learning about reformation and German unification. This museum is definitely very heavy on the educational side of things and did quite a good job covering not just German but European history. Definitely a great place to take kids for a quick bootcamp in history.
After a very long of museuming we were quite tired and decided to stay close to home for dinner. Winegalerie und cafe NO! was a wine bar in our area that had amazing reviews so we went there for some German style chacuterie and wine.
For our last day in Berlin we had to visit yet another popular coffee shop so we stopped by West Berlin for breakfast. West Berlin is really cool cafe with lots of space for working that caters to freelance/creative types. They have a super cool selection of arty books covering travel, architecture and design ( again mostly in English!) and really cool coffee!
We headed over to the Reichstag to over more around the government buildings. The governmental district was designed by Norman Foster and is full of really cool architecture. Outside the Reichstag there are free books that go through the design and functionality of every building which are super handy. Also if you book ahead you can go up the Reichstag dome for free but unfortunately it was being renovated while we were there so we just admired from the outside.
Then we walked back to the Holocaust Memorial to go into the museum part. This is another free museum in Berlin that is 100% a must see as it is so important we never forget. This quote on the entrance to the museum I think perfectly summed everything up for me “ Because it has happened before means it can happen again”. I think the existence of these memorials and museums are so important so we can learn about these tragic events and make sure no one forgets them.
My boyfriend had found this donair place that came very very highly recommended as food you have to try in Berlin so we subway out to Mustafa’s. The place is literally just a food truck above a metro stop but has quite the line around lunch. We waited in line ( with our radlers cause you can do that in Berlin) and got out amazing smelling pitas. These were 100% worth the hype, it was amazing ( I have never had donair before in my life) and an awesomely cheap lunch. Unfortunately one of the sauces most of had some sesame in it because after eating half the donair my boyfriend started to feel an allergic reaction coming on so we headed home to take some meds and rest.
After feeling better we headed out to the famous KaDeWe department store to explore the gourmet food section where was supposed to be great berliners (donuts) but alas it was a lie and we could not find them anywhere. But this department store is crazy impressive and cool to see anyways, especially the food hall which has stalls selling every sort of thing ( except donuts). For dinner we headed over to the Schleusenkrug Biergarten which is in the park and full of people coming off their bikes. It again is a beautiful space with multiple bars, a quick food cart and then a more “dinner” food kiosk as well where you can get schnitzel and other meals.
The Day we decided to train from Berlin to Rennes
We planned our trip and booked our Airbnb’s before booking transportation as we figured getting from Berlin to Paris must be a super popular route and would be easy to figure out. Alas when we went to book transportation between Berlin and the Brittany region of France we were surprised with crazy expensive flights between Berlin and Paris and even more crazy expensive between Berlin and anywhere else in France. So instead of shelling out we decided to train it. Our plan was to take a train to another train to another train to get to Paris and then hop on a bus to Rennes where we would spend the night before grabbing our rental car the next day and driving to St. Malo.
Our day started very early, like very very early, as our first train was out of Berlin at 5:35am. We hopped on the metro to another stop where we were supposed to grab the tram to the train station. After getting lost we were told by an attendant that the tram actually wasn’t running today ( WHYYYYY) so we had to catch a bus instead. At this point we are running very late and could potentially miss our train, putting all the careful planning of transfer to waste, so we run and thankfully catch the first bus and then run and make our train with actually a few minutes to spare. The stretch of travelling to and from my Berlin has really not been my best in terms of transportation.
All the transfer between trains were flawless because German trains so run exactly on time. I have never seen such accuracy with transportation in my life! The day was crazy long so I did finally cave and bought my first Starbucks in Europe but I have zero regrets. The next bit of trouble came when we arrived at the Paris train station expected there to be wifi to grab an uber and there was no wifi so we did it the old fashion way and hailed a cab. Now came the confusing part of finding our bus stop. The cab driver dropped us off at the main bus station at Bercy but because we were with Flixibus there buses were held in a different underground garage which was not at all well advertised. We run around the Bercy park attempting to figure out why the map they sent us said we were in the right place but there were no buses until we finally bumped into a Flixi employee who in informed us it was literally underneath us. So yay another moment of getting sweaty and stressed about missing our bus. The bus ride was definitely the worst part, it was quite long and the wifi had a time limit so we eventually got kicked us on all of devices. We arrived in Rennes around 6:40 and then made it to our Airbnb around 7pm, thus concluding our crazy 14 hour travel saga.
On the plus side our Airbnb in Rennes was right in the centre of Old Town and down the street from a great creperie so we had amazing crepes and Breton cider to welcome us to Brittany.