I'm in Germany. I'm back in western Europe. It's cold and damp and grey and multicultural and drunk and sarcastic and cynical. I love it.
I left Istanbul after only scratching the surface and promised myself to return one day and dig deeper. I was on an overnight bus to Sofia in Bulgaria and we spent an hour on the border as our bus got x-rayed and all our bags were searched by Turkish customs official. I don't know why they were searching everything when we were leaving the country. I think they were just bored on the night shift and wanted to use some new gadgets. The bus was almost empty and i copied what some other people were doing and slept by stretching my body across four seats. My head at one side of the bus, my feet at the other with my legs suspended, crossing the aisle.
I arrived in Sofia at 5.30 in the morning and got on a tram to take me to a hostel. There was nowhere to buy a ticket and nobody checked if i had one. Free transport. I only stayed in Sofia for one night but had a decent time seeing the old neglected buildings next to the new European money and the cobbled, compact, dinky sized city centre still seemed to be partly trapped in a communist time warp, dragging itself towards the rest of the West.
The bus from Sofia to Budapest took all day. The drive out of the city centre revealed damp dank apartment blocks and gypsy squatter camps covered in mud and dirt. Rural Bulgaria didn't look much better as grey dark fields and dead grass greeted the road to the border with Serbia. I now have a Serbia stamp in my passport but i only got out of the bus and actually walked on the country twice and that was to have a piss and buy a Bounty. Serbia looked happy and Mediterranean compared to hardened Bulgaria with white and cream farmhouses and green fields and mountains. We crossed the Serbia-Hungary border at nightfall and arrived in the capital late at night.
I did my usual "walk, get lost, get drunk" routine which i seem to have done with alarming regularity on this trip and Budapest is a great place for those things as the city is packed full of streets that go nowhere, streets that go somewhere, old gothic buildings and plenty of bars. Like Sofia, it also has a great old communist era clanking grumbling tram system where nobody ever checks that you have a ticket and half the ticket machines are broken anyway. I love old knackered trams. I think every city would benefit from a clunking Russian built tram grinding around town full of fare dodgers and drunks. And drunk people love Budapest. I thought it may have been compulsory for people to have drink in their hand as every other person seemed to be drinking, buying or carrying some kind of alcohol. Other signs that i was firmly back in Europe were the large amount of homeless people, buskers playing violins and graffiti.
I saw lots of Budapest including some great markets and the modern art gallery but the cold damp weather meant that i spent my last day there in a bar with and couple from New Zealand watching football and rugby. Then i got the 14 hour overnight bus that passed through Slovakia and pulled into Prague in the early morning. We ploughed through thick fog and crossed the Czech-German border at sunrise which revealed a landscape of green rolling hills, farms and massive wind turbines. After brief stops in Dresden and Leipzig the journey eventually ended in the capital yesterday lunchtime.
I've only been here for one day but i already love Berlin. I have never experienced a city that has so much personality and immediacy. Graffiti is on every building. That's not an exaggeration. Every building has a signature of some kind. Half the population seem to ride bicycles. It oozes attitude. This is where the country's leader is a woman and the Mayor is a gay man. This a place that has the highest per capita cocaine and ecstasy users in Europe. This is where the past collides with the future. This is where you would not be surprised if a revolution was around the corner. This is where anything can start and nothing seems to stop. This is more a social experiment than a city. This is Berlin.
But nothing lasts forever so i'll be leaving on Friday for Denmark but i don't know what i'll be doing between now and then. But this is Berlin. You're not really supposed to know what you're doing between now and then.