Day 5 to 8, Berlin: Well This IS Going Too Fast

Early mornings and late meetings swallowed up the rest of the congress.  Sitting through clinical presentations followed by networking with business contacts left not a whole lot of time for sight seeing or blog posts, so here we are.  But I have some amazing things to tell you about.

Day 5, will forevermore be known as the day I had the best dinner of my life.  It was a work meeting/dinner so I really couldn’t take a ton of photos.  We met at a restaurant close to the convention centre that looked somewhat unassuming.  Piccolo Mondo was the name, another curiously super Italian eatery in Berlin.  We’ll get to that later.  This ended up being Italian diner number three, but oh so much more.  I think we started with the standard bread and oil, and some great wine. The menu was set with limited choices and I honestly don’t remember what I ordered for a starter, but then came the pasta.

The waiter rolled over a table with a giant cheese on it that had been holllowed out.  He scrapped a good amount of the fresh Parmesan from the sides and bottom into a generous heap, and then added a ladle full of flaming brandy.  Dinner theatre if there ever was.  After the fire went out he added freshly cooked hot noodles directly to the cheese wheel/bowl of deliciousness and tossed them until all of the yummy goodness was coating every strand.  Portions were plated and topped with fresh truffle that he shaved in front of us.  However good you think that tasted, it was better.

Seriously, whoever thought of this is a genius!
Now that’s what I’m talking about!
After the pasta they mercifully let our stomachs rest a bit and then brought out the main course.  I had chosen a beef cooked in a Barolo wine, because I’d never had Barolo before.  It’s from Northern Italy and needs to be aged 38 months, at least 18 of which must be in wood casks.  I’ve never seen a bottle of Barolo in my price range (cheap), so I jumped at the chance.  Oh man, was it good, really, really good. Delicious tiramisu for dessert. I wish I had taken pictures, but this dinner definitely will stay in my memory.

Wednesday was up and back at it for the last full day of presentations, and Wednesday evening was a networking event.  As an introvert I was feeling a little claustrophic in the middle of so many people all of the time so I stole a few minutes to myself in the plenary session room.  Me and a few thousand chairs.

Alone at last.

Between meetings and networking, my group had time for a wee bit of sightseeing near our hotel.  The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church is part of Berlin’s skyline and notable for it’s broken steeple.  I didn’t grasp the full history but this was a church that baptized Jews during the war in order to try and save them from being sent to camps.  Sadly, it didn’t save them, but this is part of their history on display in the bombed but restored section of the old church.  There were some preserved mosaics and a beautiful tiled angel in the floor.  An orthodox cross and one made of nails are on display, the cross of nails being a gift from Coventry along with the Coventry Liturgy of Reconciliation which, if I read correctly, is read across the world on Friday’s at noon, Coventry time.

You can see damage from the work, but the work is still beautiful
Too beautiful for a floor really.
Cross of nails
The Coventry Liturgy
History of the nail cross and liturgy
Inside the new sanctuary which is constructed from cement and blue stained glass is a giant golden sculpture of Jesus that survived the bombings.  I took a few minutes to sit in this sanctuary and just……rested in a profoundly peaceful presence.  Had I been alone I would have stayed for a good while.


Thursday was the wrap up and closing session.  How did it go by so fast?  I was thankful for everything I attended and sad to have missed some other things.  But it was over and it was time for a little bit of team bonding and sightseeing, starting with the East Side Gallery, a long section of the Berlin Wall that has been painted by a number of different artists.    

The Berlin Wall was part of my psyche growing up along with the Cold War.  It was just always there, until it wasn’t, and seeing it come down was kind of surreal at the time.  Now that I’m a little older and have a bigger perspective of the world around me and our place in history, I cannot for the life of me understand how in 2017 anyone anywhere thinks that we need walls to keep some human beings in or out as the case may be.  Education, healthcare, jobs and full bellies will go a lot farther toward creating a stable world than walls ever will.  But on this overcast Thursday afternoon I got to time travel for a little bit and walk along this bizarre part of my worldview growing up.  The strip we walked along was quite long and painted over by several different artists.  What struck me most though, was that it was just tall enough to keep people from going over but low enough to almost tease a person about what was on the other side.  It was nothing short of a cruel thing to do to people.  At a break in the wall I measured the actual thickness, it was the width of my hand.  That’s a lot of history wrapped up in a hand width of concrete.

A lot of history in a thin wedge of concrete.

At the end of the gallery we met up with our guide for a craft beer tour.  Cliff of the Berlin Craft Beer Experience was both a pro at his job, but also an excellent companion and I felt more like I was spending an evening with an interesting new friend than being on a paid tour.  Cliff took us to three different locales where we had craft beer and snacks, including what he said was the best currywurst in Berlin, and educated us on beer and beer making.  Best three and half hour mini course of my life.  Our last stop was a Mexican restaurant where the owner made beer from agave and it was really good.  A fun evening and a phenomenal way to transition the work part of my trip into the tourist portion.

I’m going to stay here awhile
Our first stop with samples and a brewing lesson.
Home of the best currywurst we’ve been told.
It actually is really good currywurst.
Agave beer, who knew. And it’s delicious.
Mexican food in Berlin
Well I’ve got too days left to tell you about, Friday’s visit to Potsdam and Saturday’s quest to see everything else before flying home.  Stay tuned, I’ve got a a few surprises to share and one more very clever restaurant.

Day 4, Still More Meetings and a Walk in the Tiergarten 

Yesterday was a long busy day.   I hit an all time high on my Fitbit and still managed to saturate my brain with what I learned from the sessions.

The hands down funniest part of the day was when the scientific director from one company caught us taking photos of ourselves with the posters from a competing company because some of us do research for them instead. Awkward and honest at the same time.  When We finally made it to their poster we were able to get more photos and have a great chat with members of that team too, so all is well.  

The big drama for the day was a session that was presented for a new hemophilia product that a competing company had filed an injunction against the day before to stop it.  Unlike love and politics these events are far more civilized when there is drama and the only way you would know there was behind the scenes tension was a refusal to take questions at the end of the talk. Bam!


So, after a full day and a full brain it was time to explore.  The tall tower in the background is what the East Germans used to use to block out radio transmissions from the west when the wall was up.  The white crosses are meant to mark where people were killed trying to cross east to west.

It ended up raining so after a quick walk by the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate I headed back to the hotel and have dinner.


These are all from the Tiergarten.  How beautiful is this oasis in the middle of the city?  It smelled like I was in the middle of a forest and not the middle of a dynamic city.  The light shining through the canopy of trees, streams and just so much green.  I walked a litter slower to enjoy it for as long as possible.


I passed the elephant gate at the zoo on my way back, and stopped for more Italian food.  Home made gnocchi with mushrooms and bacon in a white wine sauce.  Yes please. It’s a working dinner tonight as well with more Italian food.  I’m going to have to try harder to get some more German food moving forward.

Day 3, Flora, Fauna, and a Little Bit of Hemophilia

Gluten Morgen!  Yesterday was a full day and today promises to full and long as well.  The meeting is now in full swing, but yesterday morning’s schedule of speakers wasn’t quite applicable to our group so we went for a little walk instead.


The streets were really quiet, surprisingly nothing is open on Sundays and we had the sidewalks to ourselves. Lots of green space, mature trees, and flower beds along the route.  We even found smurf houses in some bushes!  I’ve never seen mushrooms growing like these and never in a city.  I may have missed church this week, but not really.  Gloriously coloured hydrangeas and these giant pink flowers.


And then we found the Biergarten.  Hello!  Seriously, how cool is that?


We came across a sign indicating that our neighbourhood is where a number of Jews tried to hide to escape the Nazis in WWII.  Looking down into the cobblestone we found plaques listing the names of people who lived in the buildings nearby, their birthday, date of deportation, where they ended up, and their fate.     

Really there are no words. 


Finally, the afternoon and evening were filled with sessions and the opening ceremonies.  I spent one session learning about anticoagulant reversal and another on hemophilia assays and patient management.  You probably stopped being jealous right there.

The end of the day was the official opening ceremony which is always a little bit fancy.  Spotlights and acrobats bookended speeches about the history of medicine, the congress, and some awards.  Reception afterwards and back to the hotel.

Today’s agenda:  lots and lots of sessions to attend, drink coffee.

Day 2 – Congress, German Food, and I Need a Nap 

Saturday was both great, and exhausting.  Jet lag had me up and raring to go at an ungodly hour, but I used it to collect my thoughts, take an early morning walk, and have a nice slow breakfast that incorporated a whole lot of coffee.  


The courtyard in our hotel has a holly bush, which I’ve never seen before, and a chunk of the Berlin Wall on display.  It strikes me that my part of the world, there’s been too much talk about building walls but here is instead a reminder that we are better without walls.  I’m planning to get to the site of the wall at some point this week.  Also the newspapers seem to be telling me the G20 is going well.


The congress itself started up, just us and 20000 other people.  That’s not a typo.  It was supremely hard to  stay focused in a dark room with lone speakers in monotone voices, but it was worth it to see some interesting presentation and imagery.  Also I learned that there is an Arctic University of Norway, and I kind of wished I could go there. 


Dinner and a walk last night.  Our neighbourhood is in a pretty fancy area  and there are endless shops.  

Last night the  meal was authentic German fare.  If I had a German grandma, she’d cook like this.  So good!  If you know me well, you know that I like cabbage and this was the best cabbage I have ever had.  I’m doing it wrong.  Roulade was tender and potato dumplings were a new experience that I’m not certain Id go through the work to make.  We also managed to try some German lager with raspberry syrup and after dinner brandy.  I went for the quince.

More walking and window shopping, then bed.

Today’s goals: more seminars, buy some antifrizz serum for my wild hair, stay awake.

Day One, Hotel California, And The International Language of Pasta

Berlin baby!  After and incredibly long day we arrived somewhat wilted but none the worse for wear. No luggage lost, only minor misadventure, and really too tired to do much more than have dinner and get some sleep.

It’s a real place!

We really are staying at the Hotel California, and that song has been on loop in my head since we first learned we would be staying there for the congress.  I can however confirm that there is no picture of the Eaglesin the lobby, but lots of people on the street takes photos of the sign.  Kudos for clever marketing!  One of our group is determined to find something wonderfully branded to bring home.


Working dinner number one!  With four of our five already arrived, (our fifth travelled early and took the train from Prague) we met another from our workplace and shared an amazing Italian meal at a restaurant called Nuevo Mario.  The staff was Italian and spoke it as their first language so it felt a little surreal.  The group ended up sharing some great wine (which doesn’t get expensed so big thanks to the person who bought the wine) and pasta so good that I could have eaten the meal all over again.  Fresh tagliatelle with salmon, so good.

The group meandered back to the hotel and split a chocolate fondu from the Haagen Dazs shop IN OUR HOTEL.  No wonder the band never left.  

We went to bed at a decent time but It’s going to be a loooong day.  Thanks to travel and time zones I’ve been up and wide awake since just before 5:00.  We’ve got a business meeting first thing and a full day of seminars to attend so I know I’m going to regret the early rise sooner than later.

Today’s goals in no particular order: register for congress, learn how to take public transit, stay awake through presentations, drink coffee, make peace with my hair because I wasn’t expecting 90% humidity and I’ve frizzed up like Richard Simmons.  

Catch you soon with Day 2’s adventures.

 

I Didn’t Want To Go Home Anyway

This morning I woke up to a sunny day with lots of potential and the promise of sleeping in my own bed tonight.  This evening I’m hoping that my airline is able to send us a working plane some time this evening that will at least get me back to Canada tonight and home tomorrow before bad weather snows us in.

I had the BEST morning.  I checked out of my hotel, left my bag with the bellhop and asked for a breakfast referral.  Where does my bellhop eat breakfast?  Daisy Duke’s.  Across the street and a block over, the place was packed and we had to stand outside to wait for a table.  

As it worked out, the seats at the counter cleared all at one and I ended up sitting with a really neat couple from New Jersey.  They were in town for an art gallery show/fund raiser for the SPCA and as the conversation picked up we covered everything from dogs to wine to Niagara On The Lake, to both US and Canadian politics, the social determinants of health, and heart transplants.  Solid people who graciously paid for my breakfast when the waitress assumed we were all together and put our food on one bill.  

Before I get into the food, at this point I have to say that this has been my best visit to the US ever.  At the course and outside of it, I happened to meet some great people and have some genuine conversations.  I’m leaving with both a sense of gratitude for a great visit and a profound sense empathy for the real anxiety and concern the thise I met have right now about the pending changes.  My original intention was to avoid all things Trump while I was here, and I endeavered to be gracious and navigate my conversation to neutral territory but it kept coming back around.  These are really difficult times for some people and I felt genuinely bad about their almost palpable feelings.  I had no words or platitudes, just a nod and a listening ear.  

Now back to Daisy Duke’s, I had coffee and the spicy sausage omelette, honestly I’m looking forward to a salad and fresh fruit after three days of gumbo, jumbalaya, and shrimp, but I wanted to squeeze every last drop out of the Cajun experience.  So good with hash browns and a fresh biscuit.


After breakfast I headed down to the river and walked the path along the banks.  Fresh air and sunshine on a chilly day was awesome.


I ended up back at the French Market by Jackson Square and took in all of the artist displays and more live music.  This city is so unique.


I took some time to tour the church, check out a few shops and headed to the airport early because Im excited to see my family.

Guess what?

My plane has been delayed as of this moment, 6 times.  Mechanical issues then crew issues but it’s coming not it’s not coming and everyone has a different time estimate.  At this point my money is on being eventually cancelled and staying over but who knows?  

That’s travel for you.

Friday Night In The French Quarter

My course wrapped up today in time for me to see some more of the French Quarter before sunset.  

I wanted to see the Mississipi before leaving and more or less headed that way first, detouring through Jackson square.  There’s a whole lot of charm to be found in this area.


I didn’t want to rely on trip advisor again like I talked about yesterday to figure out where to eat, so I used my second favourite way to find a good restaurant when I travel.  I struck up a conversation with the sales person at the shop I was in and flat out asked where they would go for dinner.  My goal is always to try local food that the locals actually eat, and while the question asked that way usually throws people off, I typically get good advice.

Tonight, the clerk asked me what kind of food I wanted and after confirming that I wanted Cajun she didn’t even hesitate.  “Go out the door, turn left, walk 31/2 blocks and go to Coop’s.  It looks like a dive, the staff are rude, the food is amazing.”  Bingo! I found my place.

Did it look like a dive?  Oh yeah.  I was completely thrilled when the host/bouncer carded me to get in.  The place was packed and by the time I left there was a lineup to get in.  Good classic rock playing in the background and let’s be honest, dive suited it perfectly.  

Was the food good?  Oh yeah.  I ordered the taste plate which came with gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, shrimp, and Cajun fried chicken.  A seasonal brew from a Louisiana brewery was a nice addition.  Fast, good food, lower price, and the staff weren’t rude after all.  


After dinner I headed back towards Bourbon street because you can’t go to New Orleans and not visit.  Bourbon street is unlike anywhere else. The whole place is a little crazy, and your choices are pretty much these:

  1. Eat, drink, and be merry.
  2. Make just about every bad decision you could possibly make.
  3. Both

Colourful, loud, busy, festive.  I did come across these awesome musicians:

​​
So good.  Royal street also had some great street musicians, and I found that to be a slightly more sedate walk.

I also kept my eye out for a few more Christmas photos to share:


So there you have it friends, unless I find some bonus adventure tomorrow, which is possible, NOLA is a wrap!  A whole lot to see and do in a short time.

Crab, Coffee, and Luna Fete

This girl is tired!  Today was a different kind of fun.

My course ran all day and I won’t lie, it was awesome.  I really enjoy my work and it’s always exciting for me when I learn some new skills to apply to my job.  I can’t lie, today was all about budgets and cost analysis, but it was exciting to me.

Right after we were done though I changed and headed out to explore while I still had some daylight.  Today was hilarious for me because the hot topic around the table was the weather and how surprisingly cold it is today.  I would just smile and nod and listen.  I went out tonight in a sweater, the people on the street were in winter jackets or even walking around wrapped in blankets.  

I meandered around the French Quarter for a while, listening to the street musicians and popping into the odd shop, most of them selling touristy things. New Orleans has this unique flair that I can’t quite articulate.  The buildings are old, some definitely having seen better days, but they also just seem to fit.  It’s got a party vibe, but also a classy side.  I’m not certain how the two manage to coexist so closely.

Dinner was almost an overwhelming experience for me.  I was tempted to go back and eat at my hotel.  If you know me, you know that I love to research and plan.  Spontaneous is hard. Fun but hard.  When travelling I rely heavily on my TripAdvisor app or referral to make sure that I’m investing my time and resources towards the best possible experience.  I also, as a general rule, like to eat where the locals would eat and not at a fancy inflated for tourists froufrou sort of place.  Real food, real people.  

I walked for a long time just absorbing the atmosphere, but when I started getting hungry I started looking for a nice place.  The problem?  Too many, oh so many restaurants and all of them rated well. I kept second guessing myself, and a few times aborted my plans last minute because the patrons were dressed waaay better than I, or  in one case the well rated restaurant was mostly empty  and that was a bit of a flag.

My quest led to a random surprise, back in the business district I came across this crowd of people standing in the park all facing this old building.  I mean a lot of people, looking at nothing, so naturally I joined the crowd because apparently I’m more of a follower than I like to admit.  There was also a countdown clock set at less than two minutes, so what did I have to lose?

Amazing, I had stumbled upon Luna Fete, a free nightly festival for the next few days which had a few booths but also this really awesome hourly show projected on the old building across the street.  Behold:


Really cool!

When I stopped to look at the other end of the park, there was a laser rainbow on display, which according to the sign, is visible for 35 miles.


After that I was more hungry than I was obsessed with finding the perfect place to eat, and saw a flashing marquis in the distance that said: Cafe.  I closed my app and went with the flow.

Oh yum!  What a find.  It was a pretty restaurant with some pretty great food.  I settled on seafood gumbo, crab cheesecake, yes you read that right, and bananas foster for dessert.  I even had some coffee with chicory to which I must confess didn’t taste a whole lot different to me.  


Full and happy, I walked back to my hotel to prep for another day of work tomorrow.

Christmas Trees, Tony Bennett, and New Orleans

So today was a full day.  A whole lot of good things happened.

The long and the short of it is that I am attending a course for work in New Orleans and I am hoping to scoop out a little bit of adventure in between two very full days of classes.  Today was my travel day.

I had a delightfully uneventful time navigating airports and customs.  No random pat downs or searches, no delays, issues, or turbulence.  I even got extra cookies and an empty seat next to me.

I did have one sad moment and it was this:


This restaurant is located at Pearson airport in Toronto and it serves Melinda’s gourmet ketchups, an assortment of them.  I ate there with a friend once, not realizing that most of the time it’s walled off by frosted glass doors and inaccessible to domestic travellers.  Since that single time when all the starts were in alignment, I have passed the place about a half dozen times and it’s always closed.  Until today.  Today it was open and taunting me because so had to go through security and couldn’t stop.   I sent this photo to my friend, he understood my pain.  The ketchup struggle is real.

I did spontaneously decide that I will be doing a side project on Christmas trees this trip.  How pretty are these guys?


Finally, when I found out I was travelling here I took a peek at the local entertainment calendar because you can’t visit NOLA without music.  Well non other than Tony Bennett was scheduled to perform.  The gentleman is 90 and probably the last great, original crooner.  I treated myself to an early Christmas gift and seized this once in a lifetime opportunity. Yes I was younger than the typical patron there tonight, but by no means was I the only non senior citizen.

I’ve got to admit, the guy is a professional, and he can sing.  He came out and sang for a solid hour and a half from an endless catalogue of song selections.  There was a surprising amount of power in his 90 year old voice.  He did slip once and repeated his schtick about loving to perform in this great city-without mentioning the actual city-word for word.  He redeemed himself though by honoring hometown favourite Louis Armstrong and then singing smile.  The show stopper was when he sang Fly Me To The Moon without his microphone.  He had enough power to project to the entire room while enunciating the words perfectly.  In tune.

The theatre was also completely worth the visit.  So beautifully restored after Hurricane Katrina, right down to twinkle lights in the ceiling that actually flicker like stars.


That’s it friends, it was a busy day and I don’t even have a dinner to report.  There was no time. Tomorrow.

 

Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce Recipe

This was an unexpected delight for dinner, at least for me, I loved it.  

Butternut squash ravioli has been the big thing it seems of late, and I wanted to capture some of that flavour without the fuss of making ravioli since I’ve done that exactly zero times in my life.  I’m always looking for delicious ways to increase the family’s vegetable intake and this did the trick nicely.

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 2-3 cups of milk
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2tsp paprika
  • 2tsp minced garlic
  • Pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil for garnish

So easy, boil to squash until it’s soft and then drain it. Put the squash back in the pot.

Pour two cups of milk into the squash, I used an immersion blender to purée the works.  Add more milk if you feel like it’s too thick.

Add the Parmesan, and spices and blend together.  Heat gently on the stove until the cheese melts.

Serve on top of pasta and garnish with the basil. We had empty plates and happy bellies around the table tonight!

You could totally play with the thickness and the spices to fit your personal tastes.  I love this because I’m completely out of canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and tomato sauce.  I needed a fresh idea.

Enjoy!