Tuesday 2 December 2014

Berlin Mini Break

Over the years, I’ve heard so many wonderful and amazing things about Germany’s food, people, countryside and cities, it left me wondering why I had never taken a dip in Germany's culture vulture pool. So in early November, my friend Caroline and I decided that we should take a trip and went about booking a long weekend in Germany’s capital, Berlin.

We booked our flights and hotel through Expedia.com and even though we booked last minute, we each only had to pay £148; a real bargain I think.

(It helps that we were travelling out of season and at awful times in the morning!)

Us around 6:30am on the plane...eurgh

We flew into Berlin Schönefeld airport which is around a 50 minute train journey away from Berlin, which may sound like a pain in the backside, but the train station is only a few minutes walk from the airport and the journey went so quickly it didn't seem too bad. We did inquire about taking a taxi from the airport to the city but we were told it would be around 40 euro there, so instead, we opted to take the train into Berlin’s main train station, Berlin Hauptbahnhof, which cost us a grand total of 3 euro each. Ludicrous!

We stayed at the Mercure Hotel in Berlin City center; a large hotel, with similar style and quality of a Premier Inn. It’s local to some of the main tourist attractions and is only around ten minute walk from the main train station, Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Our hotel was modern, clean and welcoming and I genuinely couldn’t fault anything about it. Our room was cleaned each day, with fresh towels provided daily, the staff were informative and friendly and overall, I would highly recommend this hotel. It was inexpensive, easy to find, had wonderful staff members and was clean and comfortable to stay in, what more could you ask for?

There were several places I wanted to tick of my to-do list whilst exploring the streets of Berlin and thankfully, I got to do them all.

One was to visit the Reichstag building.

One was to visit the Brandenburg Gate.

And the last one was to visit the Jewish War memorial.


Luckily for me, all of these places were within a five minute walking distance of each other, so you would have thought I would have had zero else to do during the rest of my three day holiday, but you’d be wrong.

(I know the photos go from day to night, but we had a meal in between visiting the Brandenburg Gate and the War Memorial)

Berlin reminded me a lot of London, specifically, a Shoreditch on steroids (in a good way!). There are countless themed bars and restaurants, markets and shops, all glazed with a bohemian and eclectic style. We walked for miles (19 miles in one day to be precise :O) exploring the sights, sounds and smells of Berlin (oh yes, the smells!). We soon realized Berlin was a 24/7, ever awake, sort of city, with great food and great nightlife. We encountered the obligatory German food market, several themed restaurants and bars (such as a beach bar where they had a foot deep of sand all over the floor, which incidentally, is still in my shoes 3 weeks later), elaborate and themed clothes shops and wonderfully old aged underground pubs; there was a lot to take in!

Berlin seemed to be a very young, 'hip' kinda city, so imagine the type of people and beauties you get in London and you'll know what to expect when visiting. 

My Berlin tips:

Make a plan: I know this seems like a horrifically obvious thing to do, but honestly, make a plan of what you want to do and see. Berlin is a large city and like us, you could walk around aimlessly for hours in the wrong direction if you don't get a real idea of where you want/need to go.

Make the most of the underground system: There is literally an underground train station on every corner and travelling on it is very cheap, so make the most of your vacation and hit up that U-Bahn! (They have an above ground train system called the S-Bahn as well, don't you know!).

Validation for the nation! Now, I don't know if all mainland European countries do this just to confuse the heck out of us poor old brits (Italy does it as well), but after buying a train or bus ticket, you must ensure you 'validate' it before stepping onto either public transport. Don't ask me why they do this, I thought that if you've bought a bus or train ticket, the ticket would be proof enough that you've paid your fare and are able to ride the public transport of love...but no.

So remember to validate your tickets before going on public transport in Berlin, otherwise you may incur a penalty charge or just get thrown off the train/bus, which no one wants.

(Side note, on some buses, you will need to validate your ticket as you get on the bus, so if you see no validation machine, do not panic!)

Sprechen sie deutsch? If you’re anything like me and know zero German, I would strongly advise that you dust off  your old GCSE German phrase book and have a little go at it; you’ll thank me for it when you're there. I didn't encounter many English speaking people whilst I was in Berlin, so when we were lost or needed help, I became a well versed mime artist!

Invest in a travel guide: If you don't do this already when visiting a new country, why the heck not? DK Eyewitness travel guides are probably the best around and are pocket size, information overloads! Most of them 
include phrase books, maps, popular tourist destinations, a wealth of information on historical sites, hotel and restaurant suggestions and street names. Basically, all the essential information any tourist would need. You can grab them relatively cheap on Amazon too.

Weather: Berlin supposedly has similar weather to what we have in England, but I would like to disagree. Do not let these photos fool you of my friend walking around in shorts and a small leather jacket, Caroline was not prepared in anyway for how cold it was and trust me, it was arctic! If you're going in the Autumn/Winter months, be prepared! The weatherman is lying, it's absolutely freezing over there!  

I hope you enjoyed my little Berlin Blog, below are a few more instances of photographic evidence that I walked around a cold German capital for a few days!

I know, I'm being immature, but ha! Free Willy!


Come again? How am I pronouncing that bottom one?


Tuesday 11 November 2014

Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium Review

If you want to know anything about me, you should know that the two biggest loves in my life are animals (mainly cats) and food. So since this wondrous cat haven opened in the beginning of the year, I have been aching to pay a visit to Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium.

For my birthday in July, my work colleagues treated me to two free passes to Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium which included free entry, a pot of tea each and scones. Suffice to say, I was one chuffed crazy cat lady.

During last week, my friend Khadija suggested that we should visit this cat lady dream land together as we are both of the crazy cat lady variety. It would be the perfect opportunity to catch up with some tea & scones whilst swooning over the kitties . Purrfection

Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium is located around a ten minute walk from Shoreditch train station and has a £5 entry fee. All drinks and cakes, along with your entry fee are paid at the end of you 90 minute allocated time slot. We booked online a week in advance but you can go in on the day and ask if there are any free spots available. But be warned, the weekends get booked up quickly, so booking in advance seemed to be the best option.

There are three stages to the cat emporium:
  1. The entrance/takeaway service/entry to the holding pen
  2. The holding pen
  3. The sit down café (and most importantly, the cats!)
The takeaway area was quite a small area but normal sized for a takeaway service. It's decorated with small cat themed ornaments everywhere along with vintage and ornate furniture. There is also small display case of all their baked goods which suffice to say, all looked absolutely scrumptious. 

This area seemed to get quite packed quite quickly as many passersby would come in and inquire if there were any free slots available for the day. However this room was also the main waiting area for people who had already made reservations in the cat cafe; it did become somewhat packed!

10 minutes later than our original booking time we were shepherded into Stage 2 of the Cat Emporium, the holding pen!

In Stage 2, you are informed on all the rules you must follow whilst in the café such as, do not feed the cats, do not disturb them while their eating/sleeping, do not use your flash on your camera when taking photo and of course, do not pick them up.

All the instructions were pretty standard/common sense typa’ rules when dealing with animals but I completely understand and respect why they have to say it.

They also informed us we could sit wherever we liked within the cafe however, we were informed a larger party was coming in at around half 1 and were sitting upstairs but a few of us could still sit up there.

After our debriefing, the doors opened to Stage 3, the sit down café and most importantly, the cats! My friend and I tried to look around for a seat downstairs but all were taken apart from one cream, leather sofa that looked quite battered and dirty so off we popped back upstairs to find a seat up stairs where it was thankfully completely empty.

The upstairs is light, airy, shabby chic room, which hosts many toys, beds, hammocks for the kitties, along with plenty of shelves for the cats to run over or lounge on. The downstairs is area a larger room which is quite dark compared to the upstairs, it reminded me of an old woman’s sitting room but it did have a certain charm about it and it too had lots of cubby holes and shelves for the kitties to play around on.

Once we were seated, we were served pretty much straight away by a really lovely waitress. I informed her that I had vouchers to use, which seemed to baffle her and every other staff member I spoke to that day. Aside from the voucher confusion, we ordered our tea and scones with ease and whilst we waited we admired the kitties snoozing around us.

Now, I have two cats at home and my friend, Khadija, has four, so suffice to say we're well rounded on cats and their habits. If you’re not, I’ll let you into a little secret:

Cats sleep a lot.

They don’t do much. They like to sleep, snooze, chill and then out of nowhere, they will have a completely psychotic five minutes where they chase their tail, bound after invisible objects and think that scaring the living bejaysus out of you is bloody hilarious. 

What can I say? They’re glorious creatures.

So I wasn't there to pet every one of them or even play with them; I just liked being in a place where it was normal for dozens of cats to be lounging around as I drank my tea and scoffed my scones.

However, not everyone was as laid back as my friend and I. From the get go, people were walking up to cats, waking them up, petting them whilst they tried to eat, trying to pick them up and cornering them as they hid in cubby holes.

There were grown women crawling about on their hands and knees trying to get to the cats, all the while screeching giddily to their hearts content.

The odd thing was, no one said anything, no staff member, heck, neither did I, as I was a bit perplexed.

Thankfully our tea and scones arrived pretty quickly, which helped distract us from the weirdness occurring around us. We tucked into our treats and they were lovely! The tea (I ordered loose leaf earl gray) was amazing and I was thoroughly impressed! My only criticism would be that the tea pot was a bit small! A bigger tea pot wouldn’t go a miss, if you please Miss Lady Dinah!

However, as we chowed down into the scrumminess of the scones, a staff member came up to us and said we’d have to move downstairs as the bigger party was coming in now and we weren’t allowed to sit there anymore.

Gee, thanks.

So with our half eaten scones and pots of tea, off we plodded downstairs, where all the high pitched squawks and squeals seemed to be coming from.

Little did I know that downstairs there were 3 or 4 little kittens running about the place and being introduced to the other cats. Now, I love kittens as much as the next mad cat lady but I would never separate it from its mother, try and grab one, run after it (unless it knew me or it was in danger) or corner it under a table…all of which happened whilst at Lady Dinah’s.

Now, I may be considered over dramatic but I hate seeing animals looking scared or panicked and these kittens were.

Around four women got on their hands and knees and cornered one kitten under a large dining room table, taking photos of it and trying to pet it. During the commotion I just looked on (horrified) as the kitten was falling over itself to get away. It luckily darted between a woman’s legs and ran and hid under the table my friend and I were sitting on. Meanwhile, the women then came over to my table and tried to paw at the kitten as he sat in between my legs.

That was really it for me; after 50 minutes my friend and I couldn’t take anymore and we decided to leave. We went back upstairs to the exit and walked past the table we had been moved from earlier, which was still empty. Brilliant.

Leaving early mustn’t be the done thing here as the staff seemed to be baffled as to why we were leaving so early; they kept apologizing and asking if everything was ok but we didn’t say a thing.

Aside from the cats and the scones, there was one more positive at Lady Dinah’s and that was the staff in the cat café. Even though they were crap at keeping the humans under control, they clearly loved the cats and were really sweet and cute towards them. 

Even though the staff did nothing about the cat/human escapades downstairs, all of them (bar the woman who moved us) seemed friendly, accommodating and normal cat lovers.

I’m glad I visited the cat café and I’m happy I had the experience (even though it was an odd one) but I can safely say I’ll never visit there ever again. Weirdly enough, I would recommend it, I would suggest every cat lover to go there.
I would also like to make a few suggestions to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium as well:

  • Please invest in new furniture! - Every seat I sat on either rocked (and not the good kind of rocking \m/ ) or was rickety.
  • Address the seating plan situation – Why not just allocate seating to guests before they enter so guests don’t have to be moved half way through their stay? 
  • The Takeaway area - When people are waiting to enter the cat café, why not just ask them to make a queue along the wall? It just became chaos in that small place.
  • Be stricter - Enforce those rules you tell us about in the holding pen area, don’t let the guests bug or annoy the cats, it’s a sad sight to see.
  • Have you any free slot for today? – Why not put a sign outside informing people that there either are spaces left for the day or not? I’m sure that would stop your baristas from being disturbed with the same questions all the time.

Anyway, I don't think this a really terrible review, just a brutally honest one. The food, staff and cats were all wonderful, it was just a shame about some of the clientele they have.

Have you been to the cat café? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below.


Wednesday 5 November 2014

Lady Gaga at The O2

Two weeks ago I couldn't believe my luck when O2 Music declared me as their Lady Gaga ticket winner. I cannot emphasize how much of a Gaga fan I am and to win the holy grail of tickets!

Rewind to February this year when my sister text me one morning saying her friend was buying Lady Gaga tickets for them and did I want one? Sadly, I was at work, snowed under with god knows what and I was unable to read my texts so you can guess what happened next, I didn't reply in time so the lil beeyatch didn’t get me a ticket!

Well. I was heartbroken. By the time I was able to get online to try and purchase one myself, they had all sold out and I  was not prepared to go on Viagogo just to pay £500 for a seat in the heavens, nuh-uh. So I accepted my fate, moved on with the pain and continued with the hollowness inside me for the rest of the year (drama queen much?)

Skip forward to just before the fateful day of Lady Gaga goodness, my bastard sister (love you really) kept mentioning how excited she was for Lady Gaga and how wonderful it would be…

But thankfully, the wonderful and magical people at O2 Music came to the rescue and picked me as their competition winner after I submitted my Lady Gaga inspired makeup (mine was inspired by the skeleton from the ‘Born this Way’ video. You can see my interpretation here).

Little did I know, these tickets weren’t just beautiful Lady Gaga tickets, they were golden Lady Gaga tickets to the VIP section…

My mam is also a huge Lady Gaga fan so I decided to bring her along. Like I always do. Because I’m a top notch daughter.

I didn’t want to go mental with my makeup as, well, I didn’t. But I did want to do something different for such a momentous occasion. So this was my eye makeup: I used some beautiful lashes from Eyelure, which I got at Boots, these were No.121 from their definition range, my eye shadow was a purple gradient, which matched with my purple, vampy lips.

We arrived a bit late due to me faffing around getting ready but my mam and I still had plenty of time to snack on the free food & guzzle some free drinks before the show started. The food was all American/Mexican themed, so I had some beef sliders and a Caesar salad, whilst my mam snacked on all the vegetarian options like stuffed potato skins, wraps and tacos; all of which was lovely.

Then, the show began.

I loved every moment of it. Gaga played nearly all of her newish album ‘Art-pop’ but also played all of her hits too. Her costumes were glorious and fluorescent and she was pitch-perfect. Say what you want about her and her fashion sense, but my word, that girl has a set of pipes on her.

Here are a few extra snaps from the evening, including my sister and her friend Carla who were going as well.

All in all, it was a wonderful night and I’m so glad I got to bring my mam to see ol’ Lady Gaga.
© kirsty london. All rights reserved.