Tag Archives: coffee

Settling in/moving on

You know you’ve been away for a long time when you begin to feel nostalgic for earlier days of a trip that is not yet over. Throughout these past few weeks there have been moments when I’ve caught myself looking back over the past six months, missing and reminiscing. The cosy stone villa high up in the Umbrian hills, with its view out over endless olive groves and and villages below. Morning coffee on my brother’s London rooftop, the white terrace houses of Finsbury Park that reminded me so much of home. Staying up late through the endless twilight of Scandinavian summer; settling in to bed early with a pot of sweet Ceylon tea and a book in my cottage in the Sri Lankan hill country.

In these moments, I think a part of me wished I was back in Europe. But then I came to Chiang Mai.

I’ve been here almost two weeks – longer than I’ve spent in any single place since I left Melbourne over six months ago. And, were it not for work starting on Thursday, I think it’s the kind of place I could get stuck.

Today passed like most days. I woke up late, and had a scratch breakfast in my guesthouse room- rye bread, hunted down in a supermarket outside town, and tiny, sweet bananas, bought in a giant bunch from a roadside stall for less than 50c. I caught up on some emails and IFSA work in the bustling common area downstairs, then headed out for a morning coffee at Bird’s Nest Cafe – freshly ground and spiced with cloves, cinnamon and star anise.

I stumbled across this beautiful little cafe on one of my afternoon wanders, and it has become a favourite. On Saturday morning I treated myself to one of their epic vegetarian breakfasts, and passed the rest of the day curled up with a book, chatting to fellow travellers who passed through. Today I took my coffee upstairs to the mezzanine of low wooden tables, cushions on the ground, and a sole hammock, which I took over for the next few hours, finishing Breath by Tim Winton, which I had picked up second hand only yesterday afternoon.

Alexis, an American girl I met in my hostel in Granada, had just arrived in Chiang Mai to begin work as an English teacher. She came and met me for lunch and we swapped travel stories, marvelling at how two people can meet and make a connection while travelling, then, due to the wonders of Facebook, cross paths again months later on the other side of the world.

If it seems like my time in Chiang Mai has revolved around food, that’s not far from the truth. Of all the many countries I’ve travelled through, Thailand has the best food of any by far (particularly for vegetarians), and of everywhere I’ve been in Thailand, Chiang Mai tops the lot. From $1 plates of pad thai or fiery papaya salad, served on plastic plates and eaten while perched on plastic stools by a tiny street stall, to feasts of curries, brown rice, or tofu salads from one of the many organic vegetarian cafes.

To balance all that food, I’ve been relishing in the ability to walk here – being able to wander the relatively quiet streets without fear of being mown down by a bus or tuk tuk hurtling past. I’ve been doing yoga – hatha flow, with a wonderful French instructor called Pierre, in the peaceful Namo Studio in the north east of the Old Town. And, apart from a night or two out with fellow backpackers, I’ve been having early nights, trying to get into a regular sleep pattern in preparation for work on Thursday.

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I started this post yesterday – Thursday is now tomorrow, my time in Chiang Mai is quickly coming to an end. Tomorrow I drive up to Chiang Rai province with my boss, to take over the last few days of a project. So today is a rush of tying up loose ends, familiarising myself with student names and project details, hunting down a stationary shop for discussion materials, and sorting out my visa run flights. Ticking off my to do list!

Still, when I can do half of this while curled up with a coffee on a cushion in a little cafe, it’s not too bad.

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Berlin with my bro

The first time I visited Berlin was for New Years 2008. I met my friend Nat from Australia, and we couch surfed with a local guy in his cosy flat in Freiderichshain. Despite it being minus seven degrees and snowing, I fell in love with the city. Going back the next summer just cemented this feeling, that it was one of the few places I’ve travelled to that I could imagine myself living in.

Maybe because parts of it reminded me of Melbourne – the leafy green streets, the  cafe strips in gentrified Prenzlauerberg, the young (yes, increasingly hipster) vibe mixed with the multiculturalism of Kreuzberg and the expanse of Freiderichshain. Then there is the amazing and diverse food, the cheap beer, the art and parties and everything else it has to offer.

My brother has been living in London for 18 months, but hadn’t yet made it to Berlin – and I knew he would love it as much as I do. So, for his birthday and Christmas present, I bought him return tickets so we could spend four days there together.

Like me, James is a pretty laid back traveller, and was happy to follow my lead. That lead led us to stay in a beautiful backpackers in Kreuzberg, complete with huge common room and (sometimes) sunny rooftop terrace. We spent our first night enjoying the amazingly cheap food Berlin has to offer (haloumi and pesto wraps for 3 euro anyone?), exploring the seemingly endless expanse of Kreuzberg and its surrounding neighbourhoods by foot, and sitting in street side bars sipping local beer and watching all the colourful characters pass by.

During my first visit to Berlin Nat and I took a ‘free’ (ie. tip only) walking tour, which covered all the ‘must see’ tourist sites. Still, that was five years ago for me, and James was keen to do some sight seeing, so on Tuesday afternoon we headed into the centre to join a three hour Sandemans tour.

We joined a massive group at Brandenburg Tor, then split off into a smaller group with a young English/Spanish guide. As is often the case (and benefit) of having a tip only system, he was excellent – energetic, full of knowledge and (his)stories about the city, and combined more serious facts with humour and fun.

From Pariser Platz we walked onwards to one of the points that had stuck in my head from the last tour – the monument to murdered Jews. Unlike most memorials that tend to consist of plaques and names, this (apparently quite controversial) memorial is an experience, completely devoid of information. As the ground slopes downwards, the concrete pillars rise higher and higher, bit by bit blocking out the sunlight and sounds until you are completely immersed.

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After some time exploring, we regrouped to discuss our impressions. Our guide gave his interpretation – to him, it signified the way in which Jews were incrementally stripped of their rights, to marry non Jews, to have health insurance, to be full citizens in German society.

My brother later told me that it reminded him, in a similar sense, of what he had recently been reading in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (how’s that for some light summer reading?), where the crimes against Jews were justified by the slow process of dehumanisation, deeming them as immoral, dirty, less than human. To me this is the sign of an effective commemoration, something that invokes thought and emotion rather than just bombarding you with a list of names.

The next hour took us past other war and East German sites, from the former location of Hitler’s bunker to socialist propaganda in the form of painted murals on the wall of what is now the Ministry of Finance.

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And amidst all of these historical markers, the modern commentary and reminders that we do not live in a world free from war.

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Unfortunately James began to feel unwell halfway through the tour, so we called it a day and headed back to the hostel where James crashed out for the next 16 hours and I spent a lazy evening drinking beers on the rooftop with fellow travellers.

The next day, after our mission out to the children’s hospital (see my Abandoned Berlin post), we made the most of having bikes for the day and spent a sunny afternoon exploring Prenzlauerberg, checking out the East Side Gallery, and riding along the river.

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These two Berlin posts seem to imply that our four day stay was largely about sight seeing, history, monuments, culture – the serious stuff. Yes, there was that, but our time in Berlin really centred around something quite different – food.

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In part due to my tight budget, and in part due to the fact that I’ve mostly been staying with friends, I’ve hardly eaten out at all during this trip. But in Berlin, it seems a waste not to. Everywhere you go there is an abundance of diverse and CHEAP food, from Turkish and Arabic, to Vietnamese and Thai, and everything in between. On our last night we went to Markethall 9, where James ate his way through the street food stalls and I cried in a combination of happiness and chilli induced fever over a 4 euro green papaya salad.

The fact that we also found real coffee was just the icing on our Berlin-foodie-cake.

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