Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Gift of Travel

by Rosario Charie Albar

According to Patricia Schultz, there are 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Well, I've tried to see as many as I can in 2005 and came home with many beautiful memories of the man made wonders of Egypt, the natural splendor of Yosemite National Park, the lazy days at the Wannsee Lake in Berlin, the gastronomic pilgrimage in Prague and best of all, the warmth and hospitality of old and new friends I met along the way.

Travel is a gift that keeps on giving. A fellow traveler once told me that she is always happy. She is happy during the trip discovering new places and meeting people. When she returns home, she is happy with travel memories and the photographs remind her again and again of the good times she had. This happiness is sustained when she starts planning for her next trip. And then it's time again to embark on another journey. And the cycle continues.

Last night I spoke with a close friend who loves to travel and whom I met on my way to Europe. We live about 30 minutes apart but this year we only saw each other once, at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Imagine, I barely see her here at home because we work and have difficult schedules. But we met by chance halfway across the world. We both realize that we were born with winged feet and we are happiest when we tread and explore unfamiliar territory.

My friend and I talked about our travel plans for 2006. Not surprisingly she's already made reservations at her favorite hotel in Paris after which she'll visit with friends in Brittany. And I shared with her my many travel plans which I hope to fulfill in 2006.

My biggest travel nightmare is deciding where to go next. Just think, there are at least 1000 Places to See plus a few more from my own personal list. The good news is, with these many places to visit, happy days are here to stay.

Wishing you peace, laughter and the gift of travel in 2006.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

The Asian Art Museum Presents 18th Century Kyoto Painters

by Rosario Charie Albar

What is intriguing about the Kyoto painting exhibition, Traditions Unbound: Groundbreaking Painters of Eighteenth-Century Kyoto currently at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, is that it brings together oeuvres by both pupil and teacher. This allows the viewer to observe the similarities in their works and to trace the student’s development as an artist as he makes a mark for himself.

There is a poetic thread that ties the works of Yosa Buson and his pupil, Ike Taiga. Buson, a poet, found his inspiration in haiku and Chinese poems. This is true of his scroll paintings, Landscapes of the Four Seasons. Taiga’s paintings are warm and lyrical like his Boys under a Willow Tree and Views of Mt. Fuji.

The door panels of Taro Field, 1752-1811 by Matsumura Gekkei (known as Goshun) are a take-off from the work of his teacher, Maruyama Okyo, entitled Chickens and Banana Trees. In both paintings, the austere background keeps the focus on the subject.

The artworks of Nagasawa Rosetsu, a pupil of Okyo, stand out among the painted screens, scrolls, and sliding door panels by eight artists who lived in or were active in Kyoto during the 18th century. In particular, his hanging scroll of Mount Penglai, 1754-1799, may not have the epic size of Okyo’s Cranes and Waves, 1788 but it speaks volumes. Rosetsu, considered one of three “eccentrics” in this group, presents a landscape with many symbolisms. In the foreground of the painting is a sandy beach where a group of turtles, representing longevity, are making their way to the island (which symbolizes immortality) where the peaks of Mt. Penglai rise to the sky. Three immortals ride on the backs of flying cranes that dot the heavens in the background. Rosetsu used white seashell pigments to give the sand a luminous and palpable quality.

What is remarkable about Flowers, Birds, Insects and Animals is that it was successfully completed by three artists working cohesively to produce one body of work. Rosetsu collaborated with a monk named Do Doi (who painted the bamboo trees) and Minegawa Kien who was responsible for the calligraphy. It is said that Rosetsu asked the monk for sake for every motif he painted.

The paintings of three other Kyoto artists, Soga Shohaku, Ito Jakuchu and Watanabe Shiko complete the collection. Shohaku and Jakuchu are the other “eccentrics” in the group. Shohaku’s Race at Uji River is charged with motion while Jakuchu’s One Hundred Puppies is a strange rendition of man’s best friend.

Traditions Unbound brings to the fore, paintings by artists who boldly departed from the established style of the period. Thanks to the support of 18th century Kyoto’s new merchant class, these artists were able to explore new styles and techniques and produce original and exceptional paintings.

The exhibition of 61 artworks is in two parts. The first group of artworks is on view from December 3, 2005 through January 8, 2006. The second group will be on view from January 11 through Feb. 26. The galleries will be closed January 10 for the installation of the second group of paintings.

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Location: 200 Larkin Street (between Fulton and McAllister Streets), San Francisco, California

Museum hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm with extended evening hours every Thursday until 9:00 pm. The museum is closed Mondays, major holidays (New Years Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas), and during certain large scale Civic Center Events (please call for details).

For more information: www.asianart.org

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ho, Ho, Ho

by Rosario Charie Albar

There are only a few shopping days left before Christmas. And as many of us brave the crowds, scramble for parking spaces at shopping malls across the country and bite the steep sticker price of gifts we'll give to friends and family, let us not forget the reason for the season. Let us reach out to those who are in need during this period of giving just as the Three Wise Men brought generous gifts to a child born in a humble stable on the first Christmas day.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you and me.

Merry Christmas, Maligayang Pasko, Maalipayon nga Pascua, Feliz Navidad, Meli Kalikimaka, Prettige Kerstdagen, Joyeux Noël, Buon Natale, Frohe Weihnachten!

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Friday, December 02, 2005

A Friend at the Next Destination


by Rosario Charie Albar

During the many years I've traveled solo, I've rarely felt alone or lonely. As a Filipina traipsing around the globe, I can easily make friends with a ngiti, smile and a simple kumusta, how are you. The much touted word, diaspora, is the reason why no matter where my travels take me, there is often a friend at the next destination.

About two months ago I was in Prague at the Church of Our Lady Victorious. This is the home of the Infant Jesus of Prague which is in a temperature-controlled glass case. During mass I noticed two kababayans seated behind me. I turned around and extended my hand to them in the traditional “Peace be with you” greeting. I lingered a little bit after mass to examine a painting of the Madonna and Child on a side altar. I was surprised and pleased to see that the Madonna was dressed in a saya and nipa huts were at her feet.

Crossing the street in search of a restaurant, I saw the two Filipinos I had noticed earlier in church and approached them. I said Kumusta? and they smiled widely and asked me where I was from. When I responded that I came from the Bay Area, one of them told me that he had been a one time resident of the South Bay. And thus begun an unexpected friendship which gave me entry to many wonderful experiences in Prague. For one thing, my new friends informed me of the Filipino choir that assisted at the 11 a.m. Sunday mass at the same church. So I made it a point to be there on Sunday to listen to them sing. With only 32 Filipinos in Prague, most of them were in attendance and a visiting Filipino priest was officiating at mass. During his sermon, he talked about the Madonna and Child painting which he said was a gift to the church by a Filipino delegation who visited in December 2004. It has since rested on the left side altar as you come in through the main door.

While traveling in Egypt last spring, I met and made friends with three Filipinos who were in my tour group. What are the odds that out of 22 tour members, 4 of these would be Filipinos? So I had good company and lots of laughter at the dinner table, help bargaining at the souk, and dance instructors during disco nights as we cruised the Nile River. The Filipinos were a doctor and his gracious wife from Arizona and their vivacious friend from Los Angeles. It seemed like we had known each other all along. At least the other tour members thought so.

Last year while on a short visit in Milan I met some Filipinos in the metro. It was crowded but I finally found a seat next to two Pinays, one of whom immediately engaged me in earnest conversation. She then invited me to attend a prayer meeting that week and gave me some material to read. Unfortunately I was leaving for home the following day. I'm sure I missed a great opportunity to meet Filipinos living in Milan.

My cousin and I had just arrived in Rome one morning and were basking in the novelty of being in the eternal city. We were sitting outdoors at a restaurant in front of the Opera House. Pretty soon we noticed several Filipinos entering the building next door. We thought at first they were attending a party. But as more Filipinos came and went, greeting us in passing, we decided to investigate. It turned out there were two Filipino banks in that building and our hardworking kababayans were sending their remittances to the Philippines, on a Sunday, their day off from work.

In the U.S. I am lucky to have a network of friends and relatives from coast to coast. Once I attended a funeral in Atlanta which was a true celebration of life. After the funeral, cousins and friends got together for lunch and the conversation flowed. When we brought out the mamon and ensaymadas, there were exclamations of delight! Many commented on how much they missed our native desserts and this started another round of kuwentuhan that lasted well into the night.

On an Alaskan cruise I was fortunate to have been surrounded by young Filipino workers who went out of their way to make my vacation a truly memorable one. The Filipino chefs prepared sinigang and fried fish for me and three Filipina nurses from New York. At dinner the Filipino sommelier made sure my favorite drink was waiting for me, gratis. The Filipino crew was friendly and eager to tell me their stories and show pictures of their families, always with a wistful eye.

In London, I had double helpings of breakfast, thanks to the generosity of a Filipina waitress. In Brussels, the Filipino room cleaner gave me a bag of Belgian chocolates, enough for many sweet dreams. In Holland, I met some Filipinos at a café who invited me and a friend to their home. In Bangkok, my mother and I were serenaded by Filipino musicians working at one of the hotels.

Attending Sunday mass in a foreign city is one of the best ways to meet kababayans. In Singapore, Paris, and Oslo, I found I could attend mass specifically scheduled for the Filipino community. In Singapore, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on Queen Street has a service for Filipinos on the 4th Sunday of the month at 11:30 a.m. In Paris, there is a late afternoon Sunday mass at Saint Germain l’Auxerrois at 2 Place du Louvre.

I love to travel and look forward to meeting new friends on the road. As a Filipina traveler, I have the advantage of growing up in a culture that easily extends a warm welcome to strangers. All I have to do to be on the receiving end is smile and say "Kumusta?".

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

"Love of Art Enriches Life"

by Rosario Charie Albar
Flaming June by Sir Frederic Leighton
Photo courtesy of the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico

Picture this. I'm on a small island surrounded by exquisite beaches. But I'm not baking in the sun, I'm in the cool interior of a "museo de arte", gazing admiringly at a bodegon. Where am I?

If you answered Puerto Rico, you have already discovered its best kept secrets - its fine arts museums. Here in Santurce, a short bus ride from Old San Juan, is the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR). It is the home of masterworks by Puerto Rican artists whose legacy spans nearly 500 years. Open since July 2000, the MAPR has amassed a collection of paintings, sculptures, folk art, ceramics, photography and graphic arts, all chronologically exhibited in a classical revival building.

José Campeche is one of Puerto Rico's principal painters from the 18th century. His religious canvas, Virgen de la Soledad de la Victoria (1782-89), is a fine example of rococo as are his portraits. The bodegones (still life paintings) of Francisco Oller y Cestero offer the viewer a "visual taste" of the island such as his Yellow Bananas and Avocados with Utensils (1890-1891). In the painting, Plaza San Jose, Manuel Hernandez Acevedo renders the square and 18th century church of San Jose in bold, linear strokes but keeps the essence of the neighborhood alive.

No Crying in the Barbershop is Pepon Osorio's multi-media installation. It is at once intriguing and nostalgic. Osorio realizes his definition of the barbershop as a "space for men where they can exhibit vanity and explore male chauvinism" through the placement of key materials in the gallery, each one suggestive of male proclivity. Three barbershop chairs upholstered in red velvet with corresponding mirrors anchor the rear of the room. A pool table hugs center space. Framed pictures of sports personalities and auto parts adorn the walls as hot Latin music plays in the background. A large rose with the inscription "Perdoname Madre" (Forgive me, Mother) is painted on one wall. To complete the display, a life-sized statue of Saint Lazarus greets visitors entering the room. Osorio may be a master of visual presentations but there's more to this work than meets the eye.

The museum's five-acre garden is a refuge in the center of a bustling city. A walk along its meandering trails is an education on the flora of the island. The soothing sound of waterfalls beckon you to sit and ponder the harmonious juxtaposition of strategically placed sculptures by local artists such as Angel Botello's Dos Hermanas (Two Sisters) and Jaime Suarez' De Los Muros Derruidos (Wall Ruins) against a lush backdrop.

What's unique about Puerto Rican art is that while Puerto Rican artists may have been exposed to external influences, their works remain intrinsically rooted in the local culture.

At the entrance to the Museo de Arte de Ponce (MAP) is this welcoming message: "This museum is for all Puerto Ricans. Love of art enriches life. All material things pass. Only beauty, the eternal creation of the spirit prevails". These are the words of Luis A. Ferré, former Governor of Puerto Rico and founder of the museum with his wife, Lorencita. Located on the Caribbean side of the island in Ponce, it is one of the best art museums in Latin America.

MAP has an enviable collection of European and American art from the 14th to the 20th century which includes paintings by Peter Paul Rubens (Head of Oldest of Three Kings), Lucas Cranach the Elder (Judith with the Head of Holofernes), El Greco (St. Francis in Meditation), and Francisco Goya (Portrait of Martin Zapater), to name a few. Puerto Rican artists are well represented including Ponce's own, Miguel Pou. His Carriages of Ponce Plaza (1926) evokes the Ponce of yesteryears. My personal favorite is Adolphe Bougeureau's Far From Home (1868), a portrait of two young girls, both seemingly alone and looking vulnerable.

But the focal point of the entire collection is, without a doubt, Lord Frederic Leighton's Flaming June (1895). This once forgotten canvas sat in a London art shop until someone took notice of its frame and bought it, leaving the painting behind. MAP acquired Flaming June in 1963 and today, this beautiful portrait of a sleeping young woman in a diaphanous orange gown, is the museum's main draw. Leighton's vibrant palette creates tension in an otherwise calm setting and successfully pulls off his idea.

MAP has over 3000 works of art in its collection. Additionally, it presents rotating exhibits that fit in with the museum's goal to promote the appreciation of art by making it accessible to the local populace.

Luis and Lorencita Ferré have bequeathed the finest of all gifts, a gift that transcends the mundane and makes the spirit soar.

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Museum Information: The Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico is located at 299 De Diego Avenue in Santurce. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. , Wednesdays until 8 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Their phone number is 787/977-6277. The Museo de Arte de Ponce is located at 2325 Las Américas Avenue. It is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You may contact them at 787/848-0505.

There are city orientation tours to Ponce from San Juan which include a docent led visit to the museum. Contact Rico SunTours at 787/722-2080. Alternatively, you can rent a car and drive to Ponce which is approximately an hour and a half from San Juan.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Prague - Czech it out!


by Rosario Charie Albar

In the land of Mozart and Dvorak, jazz boats cruise the Vltava River. As a jazz fan, this is music to my ears. My new friend, Noubikko, a transplant from California, was shocked when I asked him to point me to a jazz club. “What? No Mozart concert for you?”, he teased me mockingly. Instead, we found ourselves in a five-story disco club where young people gyrated to the beat of heavy metal and hard rock. This is Prague. It is old, it is new. It minuets and it rocks.

On my first day in town, Noubikko showed me how to make my wish come true. Standing on Charles Bridge, he told me to place my hand on top of a gold cross embossed on the stone railing and my right foot over a tiny gold dot just below it. Then pointing his finger across the river, he motioned me to look as far as my eyes could see before making a wish. I hesitated, checking carefully to ensure my gaze extended to the most distant reaches of the Vltava to make this exercise a success. Several years ago, Noubikko had done the same thing. And his wish was granted. Today he is happily ensconced in Prague where he wants to be.

I can understand why Noubikko, a fashion designer, is drawn to Prague. Prague is like a well-dressed woman in its baroque and art nouveau finery. Sometimes a neo gothic window or balcony pops out of a 17th or 18th century building. Surprises like this and striking façades, often stop a visitor in his tracks.

The intimate size of the city invites the intrepid to explore it. Getting lost along narrow, cobblestone streets becomes a welcome distraction when stumbling upon a local market where fruits of the season are sold next to postcards and trinkets, or finding sculpture of an oversized, upturned female body on busy Na Příkopĕ, or uncovering the grim past in the concrete memorial of shoes worn by men buried alive during the Communist regime, or discovering Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the movement of the glass entrance to the aptly named, Dancing House. Sooner or later the path leads to the river.

There’s something to be said about how a chance meeting with a local resident can transform a travel experience. Noubikko, who I met at the Church of Our Lady Victorious, led me on a gastronomic pilgrimage in a city whose reputation for haute cuisine has been closely guarded for too long. At Arzenal Siam I San, we savored memorable tom ka gai and pad thai in Zen inspired surroundings, drank wine from colorful, handcrafted crystal and browsed in their own art gallery. We sat for hours in Ambiente Brasileiro, as we slowly moved from the salad bar to the main entrées starting with half a dozen different types of red meat including beef from New Zealand and Uruguay, sausages from Brazil and veal from some exotic location. Then came chicken, pork, lamb, four kinds of fishes, shrimps, all brought to our table in a skewer by smiling, handsome waiters who sliced the meats as thin or as thick as we wished. We couldn’t get enough plantains. We ordered more. On another evening we relished freshly made pasta, served al dente, at Kogo’s outdoor patio. We toasted our good fortune.

After dinner, we walked past darkened streets to sit at cafés. They invented the “Kavárna (café) society” in Prague. And how! At Café Café, I indulged on a strawberry frappé. In the Grand Hotel Europa Kavárna Café, we felt like extras in the movie, Mission Impossible. The buzzword at HOT is “Where Asia meets Europe”. We admired the sizzling red and white décor and sat outdoors till closing, drinking Mattoni while people watching. At Kent Universe (KU) we were surrounded by beautiful, young ingénues from the fashion and film industry. When it started to sprinkle, we dove into a barge docked by the side of the river to while away the hours and watched the rain cleanse the time blackened statues of saints and martyrs on Charles Bridge. Alas, the cobwebs stayed.

Noubikko shared this old adage with me that sums up Prague. It goes, “You’ll never rest until you return to Prague!”.

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Getting there: Delta and United Airlines together with their code share partners fly to Ruzyne Airport from major U.S. cities

Getting around: Prague is a walking city. But for trips outside the center, there is a three-line metro system that is easy to follow as well as trams that crisscross the city. A 20 koruna ticket is good for 75 minutes from validation and may be used in three fare zones. Check Prague Municipal Transport at http://www.dp-praha.cz/en/index.htm for more information.

Sleeps: The Hotel Meteor Plaza is off Námĕsti Republiky (Republic Square) and metro station, Republiky on Hybernska 6. It is across from the Municipal House and a short walk to Old Town Square. It is also a stone’s throw from what’s being dubbed as the biggest mall in Europe which is scheduled to open in 2007. Buffet breakfast is included. Their web address is http://www.hotel-meteor.cz/. Phone: 420-224-192130. For apartment stays at reasonable rates, check out the West Group Company site http://www.westgroupcompany.com/. There are photos of these centrally located apartment hotels which are reasonably priced. They also offer a luxury apartment by the Vltava River with a view of the castle. They can also arrange to pick-up guests from the airport for a fee. Phone: 420 732 350 574.

Eats: Arzenal Siam I San – Valentinska 11/56 Old Town, Phone: 224-814-099
Ambiente Brasileiro, Slovanský Dům, Na Příkopĕ 22, Old Town, Phone: 221-451-200
Kogo – Slovanský Dům, Na Příkopĕ 22, Old Town, Phone: 221-451-260 and on Havelská Street (in front of a farmers’ market)
Kamenny Most – Smetanovo Nabr. 195-196, Old Town, below Charles Bridge and on the river

Cafés: HOT, Václavské namesti 45, New Town (HOT serves lunch and dinner and has a 4-star rating according to Square Meal, the Prague Restaurant Guide); Café Café, Rytirska 10, Old Town; Kent Universe (K.U.) Rytirska 13, Old Town; Grand Hotel Europa Kavárna Café, Václavské námĕsti 25, New Town.

Sightseeing Tours: Premiant City Tours (phone: 420-606-600-123) or Martin Tour Prague (phone: 420-224-212-473) have kiosks all over the city and offer a choice ofhalf-day and full-day city tours, river cruises and out-of-town excursions. Your hotel concierge can also make these arrangements for you.

Photos by Rosario Charie Albar.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Berlin - A Tale of Two Sisters

by Rosario Charie Albar

Barely two hours after landing at Tegel airport, I’m whisked by friends to a private club on the Wannsee Lake. I call it “Sonia’s Villa”. My friend, Sonia who recently turned 80 years of age, had worked 33 years at a government bank. As a former employee, she has access to the well-manicured grounds of this beautiful resort.

Under the shade of a large plane tree, we lie on beach chairs overlooking the calm, cerulean waters of the Wannsee. Sailboats flutter in the slight breeze and the soft rustle of leaves is balm to my jarred senses. But I can’t seem to unwind. My travel weary body is as stiff as a camel buried under Sahara sands. I’m on vacation but my subconscious is still at work.

The next few days include visits to the villa in late afternoon. I’m feeling more relaxed and enjoying the routine of drinking tea and eating sweets while watching the sun slide down the horizon, transforming the lake from shades of blue to shimmering grey. It is an idyllic time.

Short forays into the center of Berlin for sightseeing and shopping are pleasantly interrupted with long rests at cafés for kuchen (cake) and cold drinks. Temperatures are soaring and I can only manage a slow crawl from museum to monument. Klara (Sonia’s younger sister) and I, take the elevator to the glass dome of the Reichstag, Germany’s parliamentary building. What a contrast it is to the neoclassical structure on which it sits! British architect, Sir Norman Foster, designed spiraling ramps which go up one way and down the other without meeting. There is a 360-degree view of Berlin and from this vantage point, Berliner Dom, is clearly visible in what used to be East Berlin. This Protestant church was damaged during World War II and restored in the ′80s. It’s a long way up to the dome of the cathedral. Without elevators, I huff and puff my way to the top where angels watch over unified Berlin.

From my lofty perch above the city, I see urban sprawl in all directions. How Berlin has grown since the fall of the wall in 1989! The once somnolent “island” in the midst of Communist-occupied countries, has been replaced by a bustling metropolis. The sight of cranes echoes the urgent need for rapid development.

I take refuge in the Berggruen Museum with its circular galleries and a healthy collection of Picassos, Matisses and Klees. Just across the street from here is Charlottenburg Palace, the former residence of Frederick the Great and now a museum. It wasn’t long ago when Germany was ruled by a Kaiser. Then WWII reared its ugly head leaving rubble behind. The aftermath of the war saw Berlin divided into 4 sectors, each under a foreign power.

I’m staying in Zehlendorf, the former American sector. It is amazingly forested and tranquil. Although it’s close enough to the center of the city, it is sheltered from the strenuous pace of Berlin today.

Sonia recounts the horrors of war as we eat our breakfast. In this same building, on the fifth floor, they lived in constant fear of being hit by bombs. They shared their bare and tiny apartment with its shattered windows and the little food they had with people who were left homeless by the bombings. These people would gratefully sleep on the floor in a crowded heap. Sonia’s mother opened her home to anyone who needed help.

Klara and Sonia are as generous and warm as their mother was. They’ve welcomed me to their homes several times. Klara, now 78, and her son, Rahman, are enthusiastic and indefatigable guides. Klara walks with crutches and suffers from incessant pains, particularly in her shoulders, as a result of radiation treatments for breast cancer. While recuperating in the hospital, she found time to make me a rug. It is a 3’5” by 5’ wool rug in rich red, white and blue colors, so thick yet supple to the touch. She also showed me the ropes of traversing the city by bus, train and metro. Now I can confidently travel around Berlin and its suburbs.

On my last day Klara insisted on taking me to the airport. I worry about her but she assured me it’s an easy bus ride back to town. It’s just like her to say so. I’m touched by her affection. As I give her a buss on each soft, pink cheek in the European manner of greeting, we both shed tears. We had a great time together during my stay in Berlin. I wave and blow kisses to her from behind glass windows. I notice she has not left until I’m well inside and ready to board my flight. I refuse to say auf weidersehen. I know we’ll get together again soon.

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Getting there: Delta Airlines flies nonstop to Berlin from New York’s JFK airport. Song has connecting flights from major U.S. cities to JFK.

Getting around: Berlin has a great combination of metros (Ubahn), buses, and suburban trains (Sbahn) making it easy to get around. For more information visit http://www.bvg.de/e_index.html for transportation options, maps and fares. The Sbahn web address is http://www.s-bahn-berlin.de/. Bus 100 passes by many of Berlin’s historic sites and museums.

Eats: La Foresta Incantata on Wiesenschlag 4 in Zehlendorf serves Italian cuisine and a mean Bellini (the famous drink served in bars in Rome and Venice). Outdoor seating is available. Mövenpick Mezz at the Europa Center in central Berlin is part of a European chain of restaurants and hotels. They serve a variety of dishes and salads in comfortable surroundings with views of the bell tower of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the octagonal church with colored-glass windows next to it and street entertainment in the square. The Turm Restaurant and Café on Schlosstrasse 17 is in the Steglitz area, right across from the metro station, U9. Take the elevator to the restaurant which rises above rooftops in this futuristically designed tower. They have a prix fixe menu that includes soup and salad, main entrée, and dessert for 18 euros. The incredible array of desserts served at the end of the meal is the jewel in the crown. What a deal! Or if you prefer, you may order à la carte.

Shopping: The Ku’damm (Kurfürstendamm) is a long shopping street in the center of the city. KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) is the queen of all department stores. The Europa Center is a mall with stores, restaurants, and cafés. At Wertheim, stop for lunch or afternoon tea in their 5th floor restaurant. Don’t forget to get your tax refund form from the salesperson and have it signed so you can claim your refund at the airport.

Photos by Charie