Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 6: Berlin and Dresden

I arrived in Berlin 10:22am, Monday the 8th of August. I was tired after getting two night trains from Amsterdam after the European Juggling Convention (EJC) with an interrail ticket – and as soon as I stepped off the train in Berlin Hauptbahnhopf I realised I’d left my hat on the train!

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It’s a hat that belonged to my dad, of the cowboy style, which he gave to me after I pointed out how many of these he had. It made for a great sun-hat. I was only a few stops away from the hat’s final destination, Berlin Ostbahnhopf, so I followed it and found their lost and found. I explained as best I could in German that I’d left my hat on the train, filled out their lost and found form (knowing exactly what train, what time, which carriage, which SEAT even it was located above) hoping I would somehow be reunited with it.
SPOILERS: I was not reunited with it.

I returned to Berlin Hauptbahnhopf, and had breakfast there

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I also  made some reservations to begin the journey to Zagreb, Croatia, the following night. I originally thought I’d see some friends in Berlin but of course most of them were still travelling after the EJC!

So I wandered around Alexanderplatz, got talking to an Italian person who had just arrived in Berlin looking for work. They pointed me in the direction of some Wi-Fi and we parted ways, and I went in search of a hostel for the night.

I found The Circus Hostel – which is fine but I wouldn’t recommend if you’re looking for anything circussy other than the name.

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Though they did have a David Hasselhof shrine!

While the day should’ve been a day of juggling – it was just a day of laundry, buying yet another towel (the second of this trip so far – spoilers, this one also gets left behind), nice pasta – though I did eventually meet a friend for a drink.

We went to a hipster-esque bar nearby, Haus am See – like the Peter Fox song!

After which I went and slept in a bed for the first time in two weeks.

Got up the next day and packed, had disgusting scrambled eggs from a place called Godot, on my way the tram.

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Also it turned out I was in Berlin at the wrong time!

Got on the M12 (Berliner Allee/Weißenesee-Am Kupfergraben) to Friederichstraße. The ticket machine on the tram only took exact change, and I thought I’d be alright until  got to Friederichstraße but at the very first stop six ticket checkers got on! Tried to explain the ticket problem and one of the ticket checkers hurriedly tried to give me change for a €1 coin and ended up giving me 90c, and my €1 coin back.

Got the S-Bahn from Friederichstraße to the Hauptbahnhopf, and went to go buy a train ticket for Berlin to Dresden. I made a mistake in doing so. My interrail ticket allowed me five days of travel out of 15 days, which I had already planned out. Thinking Berlin to Dresden wouldn’t be so expensive I decided to buy this ticket. What I should have done was used a journey for this ticket and bought one of the later tickets, for example, Zagreb to Beograd. The train extremely buys though.

Arrived in Dresden at 3pm, and just wandered the city for a while.

I went to visit what was advertised as the Japanese Palace – but was not actually converted into an exhibition of dinosaurs. The people working there seemed as confused as I was.

The courtyard was the only part that would suggest what had been before.

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I took my time wandering back i the direction of the station.

There was a science exhibition going amongst the beautiful buildings.

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After buying food for the journey, doing some juggling on the platform I boarded my second night train for Wien. I didn’t have my passport taken as expected but instead had my interrail ticket taken. I was then shown to a six bed compartment I was sharing with two Danish people. They were very friendly and we chatted for a bit before going to sleep.

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 5: Night trains to Berlin and the start of interrailing.

The morning of Sunday, the 7th of August, was a sad affair. The nine days of the European Juggling Convention (EJC) were over for another year. Camp Ireland, including some of us who’d been here two weeks, many at least twelve days, had to pack up our tents and head on. Most people weren’t leaving until at least the next day, one person was staying on for the take down, and many of us were to continue travelling before going back the way we’d come.

I woke up a lot between 6am and 10am and finally made the decision to get up and start packing. There were decisions to be made about what to keep, what to leave, who should take what home now, who could use that half bottle of shampoo best and who would make the most use of leftover food.

The ticket machine in Almere Poort only takes coins or card – no notes. When I arrived at it I was, of course, met by a huge throng of people. Eventually it transpired that  the ticket machine was no longer accepting coins – then no longer accepting cards. With some people in a rush to get to the airport and main train stations, people began climbing the gates – after taking pictures of the machine’s angry, uncooperative screen.

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I made it to Amsterdam Centraal early thinking I’d soon be on a train to Berlin. I was told I would have to wait until 8.28pm, take a train to Karlsruhe (south west of Germany) wait an hour and then go to Berlin. So I ended up sat in the station a long time. After bidding godbye to everyone back in camp Ireland I was t spend another few hours with me companion and a friend of ours who had a few hours to kill before heading to the airport.

After they left I went and sat at my own platform, 10b, and immediately had someone ask me “Did you enjoy the EJC?”. So there I sat an hour with a German juggler, who’d apparently spotted me simply because I looked a bit odd (I didn’t have any juggling equipment tied to my bag).

The journey to Berlin was long. It was my first time interrailing and for this journey I hadn’t thought to book anything beyond a seat. As well I did because it turned out to be quite busy and there was plenty of people sat on the ground for hours. I slept on and off, made an exciting journey through many carriages to buy water (somewhat Snowpiercer-esque).

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My alarm woke me at 3:30am. I gathered my stuff and got off in Karlsruhe just after 4am.

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I would’ve been more excited to be somewhere that had held the second largest EJC were I not wrecked and confused as to why I’d had to come this far south and not simply gone as far as Duisberg or Dusseldorf.

Got on the 5am ICE 1092. Was sat in a six person carriage that appeared to have only one other reservation – so slept on and off .

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I arrived in Berlin at 10.22am, Monday the 8th of August.

 

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 4: Amsterdam

Thursday of the EJC, the 4th of August, myself and my companion travelled in to Amsterdam briefly.

We woke up about 10am and took the train, having to change once because of maintenance, from Almere Poort to Amsterdam Centraal. There was quite a few other jugglers travelling in at the same time so a large group of us arrived searching for breakfast.

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It was my partner’s first time there so we just did usual touristy stuff – though we didn’t have time to travel along the canal sadly.

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We wandered in between shops and took photos of buildings – and also found a great comic book shop and beautiful looking restaurant!

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We were due back for a juggler meeting and not wanting to be late we made our way back to the train station after just a few hours.

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Coincidentally, the same week that the EJC was on in Almere, EuroPride was taking place in Amsterdam. We didn’t get to see much of it other than a decorated piano that had been placed in the central station.

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Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 3: Utrecht

On the Tuesday of the EJC, 2nd of August, I took the train to Utrecht to meet a penpal of mine, of about a year, whom I’d never met.

We found each other, after only a mild struggle one would expect to be avoided in the age of smart phones, Utrecht Centreaal station. We proceeded to have a lovely day together wandering misty Utrecht taking pictures, visiting cool buildings and game shops, satrting with lunch in Loof (Leaf)

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We visited St Martin’s cathedral – which would boast the highest church tower in the Netherlands, the Dom Tower, if it were attached to the cathedral itself but unfortunately the unfinished nave collapsed and the tower is free standing.

Inside the cathedral was a very old map of Utrecht.

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And some lovely art depicting Night and Day.

We also found our way into the garden.

We continued wandering around Utrecht in the mist (I wore flip-flops and shorts, believing they were the smartest choice with the least material to get wet as I hadn’t much proper rain-gear).

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This image we found on the bridge crossing a canal. Waving at whomever drove the boat along the canal illicited a wave in return.

Turns out Utrecht is a big student town and has a lot of games and comic-book shops. I managed to pick up some of the Star Realms expansions, and a copy of The Game (great for travelling!) with instructions in Dutch (but it’s quite simple).

We entered a number of museum gift shops (they always have the best, most original souvenirs) including a music museum.

We walked back around to a café that had some interesting looking cakes (which turned out to be mousse in disguise) and chatted before parting.

 

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 2: The EJC

After a week of setting up the site, Saturday rolled around and it was time to open the gates to juggler paradise.

My own Saturday was spent doing shopping runs for the core and registration teams, traffic control (waving and juggling at cars and vans that looked juggler-esque on the side of the highway) and also the lights in the bar tent that evening!

It was my first time using an analogue desk, or a desk that was partially in Dutch. Before that was the first of the Special stages – ‘Liaison Carbone’ by Les Objets Volantes, which was a great start to the week. Most nights of the EJC there’s the Open stage, where people have arrived on site and volunteered an act (though they’re often the height of their discipline), and the Special Stages which are usually large scale shows and national collaborations. Last event of the day, most days, was the Renegade – an open mic event for jugglers to get up and do anything they like – ANY thing.

During the course of the week over 4,500 people entered the EJC site in Almere Poort. To give you an idea of that, some picture from the Gandinis’ show ‘SmashedXL’ which was on Sunday in Almere Centraal (“XL” beacuse it had 20 people in it instead of the original eight – and much porcelain did get smashed).

That night was Irish night in the Renegade. It was an honour as we were the only country not currently hosting, or set to host, an EJC that got a renegade night. And we killed it. Our host told the story about how a German juggler said to them:
“The best and worst thing to ever come from Ireland was a renegade” and they weren’t sure whether to thank them or not.

During the week we saw many shows. We also got to saw and met many famous jugglers – a bonus of having an interest in a niche activity; you can just talk to some of the people who are the best in the world at it.

Aside from the shows, games, competitions, juggling halls, swimming, parade, sight-seeing, there was also some serious business to attend to – the European Juggling Association’s (EJA) Annual General Meeting (AGM).

At the EJA’s AGM covers some different things including nomination and election of new country representatives/contacts (two-year terms) and most excitingly, the vote on the location of an EJC.

Some details: The vote used to be cast two years in advance of an EJC. For example, in Ireland in 2014, the vote for 2016 was cast. But in Italy in 2015, there was a clash where two teams, Azores of Portugal and Lublin of Poland, both wanted 2017. Team Lublin won, and Team Azores was given a preliminary decision of 2018, but a five-month period for any clashes to occur was allowed (in case any team had been planning on coming forward in 2016 for 2018). And this is why the EJC vote is currently cast three years in advance. The EJA is also seperate from EJC in that the convention isn’t organised by the association. The EJA provides the approved teams (voted for by jugglers during the AGM) with an interest-free loan and all the past experience and knowledge of EJCs, in the hope that the EJCs will continue growing and getting better.

The week continued like this and the days and shows all blurred into one. Eventually Sunday the 7th of August rolled ’round and it was time for us to sadly pack up our tents and leave.

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 1: The journey to, and set up of, the EJC

My travels to the European Juggling Convention (EJC)began Friday the 22nd of July. I packed checked all my packed bags and travelled from Galway to Dublin with my companion to sleep for a few hours before getting up at 3.45am to go get the bus to the airport.

I got the 4.35am AirCoach from Cabinteely to Dublin Airport, T1. Coincidentally, my radio co-host and oldest friend was flying out the same day, and almost same time, from T1 – but to Japan.

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We only realised the timing about a week before so it was very amusing to navigate the airport together before our 7-ish a.m. flights.

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I arrived in Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, Netherlands, around 10.30am local time (GMT+1). At this time the  direct train was still available to Almere Poort, where the European Juggling Convention (EJC) site was, though I was a week early. I’d applied to assist site set-up but thought I was three days to early even for that.

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But I hopped off the train, and almost immediately had someone new come up to me, smiling, asking “You’re here for the EJC? Come on in!”. I later found out it was Tom, one of the five members of the EJC 2016 core team.

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I was introduced to the ten or so people currently on-site, given some water and coffee and asked if I’d like to start working now or later. So I started laying power cables immediately. One of my co-volunteers joked about how this was how he spent his vacation time; manual labour. And it was a great time!

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The weather was warm and the site was dusty from the lack of rain. None of the big tops were yet up. Everyone currently on-site, the core-team and five or six volunteers, ate together for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That evening set the tone for most for most of that week’s evenings; We sat around, people discussed their juggling clubs and circuses, people juggled and played instruments.

Everyday for the pre-EJC week more people would arrive until there was about eighty of us. The first few days were my favourite, when you knew everyone and worked the hardest, all day every day. Some days we took breaks if it got too hot during the day to work, and visited the lake nearby.

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During the week there was every kind of job to do, building fences, planning tent sites, painting signs, repairing the workshop sheet, building trusses, signage, laminating, registration packages….

And also hanging lamps!

And raising trusses and looking at new boards.

Then Saturday the 30th came to open up!

Edinburgh, Scotland, 20th-23rd of May

I took my first trip with people in about six years to visit Edinburgh, Scotland, for an extended weekend. Booking the flights about six weeks in advance they cost about €30 with Ryanair, and we got six-person room (for six of us) in a rather nice, very central hostel called Budget Backpackers for £52 per person, for three nights.

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The only problem was we couldn’t check in ’til 1pm, and we had naturally arrived at 7am to make the most of the day. But we were able to drop off our bags and wander freely. We visited the National Gallery which was free, but took donations.

We were quite surprised to find some very famous paintings in it! We also spotted our first bit of Gaidhlig !

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After this we spent an hour being tired, eating ice-cream and coffee in McDonalds. As the time approached 1pm we decided to each chip in and buy a heap of lunch stuff (bread, cheese, hummus, fruit, water – £3.50 each) and made our way back to the hostel.

Two of our party proceeded to take a nap while myself and another went to buy towels, pharmacy stuff and postcards. We returned and sat down and had lunch, with two others, then woke up the rest of the party. We finally headed out again and wandered up the Royal Mile (which is in fact a mile and one-eighth, between Edinburg and Holyrood castles) to Edinburgh castle – where we bought more ice-cream and took many touristy pictures.

We got dinner in Mamma’s American Pizza, in the Grassmarket (a minute’s walk from our hostel); the nachos are good. Tired out, we returned the hostel and played board-games before going to bed, which would be our evening ritual.

Saturday we all got up at various times and hunted down breakfast. Myself and two others went to Auld Jock’s Café, just around the corner, where they had breakfast sandwiches they were very happy with, and I had an insurmountable amount of porridge. The tea was also very good!

We then walked to Arthur’s seat, the highest point in Edinburgh. The weather was great though very windy and dusty up top. We sat and took in the view, played some very windy frisbee (“Why don’t you just throw the frisbee over the edge and be done with it?”), until it started to threaten to rain.

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We began wandering aimlessly, and passed an Occupy Scotland camp, in favour of Scottish independence.

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We came across the Parlamaid na h-Alba (Scottish Parliament). Their sign had Gaidhlig on it, and being fluent Irish speakers we were curious and went inside.

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We were able to go around a lot of the building. They had exhibitions on the policies and politics of Scotland, and all their signs were in English, Gaidhlig, and some were in other languages, too.

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We also found someone in the gift-shop who spoke a bit of Gaidhlig and we compared it to Irish. Their restaurant was very reasonably priced so we had tea there – and shortbread which was the best shortbread I’d ever had.

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We headed back for the hostel, stopping in Tesco on the way for lunch again. Two of our party then headed out to watch a match while the rest of investigated the Chill Out room in the hostel, with board-games and books and writing postcards.

We then all met up again and went for dinner in Ong Gie Korean Restaurant (about 15 minutes from our hostel), which did Korean Barbeque. Myself and one other of our party are vegetarians so we ordered deep-fried tofu and yakisoba noodles. It was my first time having tofu and I wasn’t a fan, but the other vegetarian was. Everyone else was very happy with the food, though the said they would have eaten a lot more. We also ordered a bottle of Soju between us, which is a bit like weak vodka, and deep fried cakes and ice-cream for dessert.

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On our walk back we stopped in a fish&chip shop across from our hostel that did deep-fried Mars bars (and Snickers!) which we had to try. I personally found it gross but everyone else enjoyed them. We then returned to our room and drank a few beers while playing board-games and re-watching [and quoting] ‘Napoleon Dynamite’.

Sunday we had the leftovers from lunch yesterday for breakfast, and three of us went on a mission to find the grave of Tom Riddle. Sadly we only croissants in Tesco. We also then got caught in torrential rain (“Just like home, eh?!”). We arranged with the rest of our party to meet at Camera Obscura, which had been on the list of attractions for us.

It is a building full of visual and optical illsuions, beginning with the most famous part the Camera Obscura itself, which lets you see all of Edinburgh. It costs £14 (£12.50 for a student) and I thought it was very much worth it. They had about six levels, starting at the top with a great view of the city, binoculars and monoculars.

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The other levels had different things including holograms, fun-house mirrors, kaleidoscopes,a mirror maze, and – our favourite – The Vortex. Which is basically a gangway you walk along that has a spinning wall, which sounds ridiculous but we genuinely went through it about ten times.

We then visited the sister hostel to Budget Backpackers, Kickass Hostele, and got coffee and muffins – AND THE FIRE ALARM WENT OFF. And no one moved until we were told we had to get out. We took a short break after and went for dinner in Byron’s, along the Royal Mile. Well known for its burgers, they also had great milkshakes and nachos. We then returned to the hostel and played games.

Monday was our last day. We had to pack up our stuff and be out of the room by 10am, but could also leave our bags in the locker until 6pm – for £1 per locker (they’re quite big so we only needed two between the six of us). We went to a park near Edinburgh University where we passed most of our time playing frisbee, eating bread and drinking coffee. I headed off after a while to send my postcards (which took TEN days to arrive to people in Ireland) and by biscuits. I bumped into the rest of the party on the Royal Mile.

Our final meal was in Frankie and Benny’s on the Royal Mile, where we all got pasta. It was okay. We then left for the bus, thinking we’d have a little while free before our flight. Which ended up being a long while free because we were delayed.

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But at least we boarded and were no length before we arrived back in Dublin airport where we’d started.