Berlin: history, culture, and cool (and snow)

For a city that was—according to our walking tour guide—a small fishing village until the late 19th century, Berlin has been witness to a huge number of significant historical events. Yet at the same time it has the feel of a fresh, modern city, actually trying to downplay its role in the past and emphasise the future, rather than marketing itself as a city-sized historical theme park. This is refreshing.

The museums, built during its Prussian Imperial hey-day and recently updated, are excellent and contain superlative artefacts such as an exquisite and refined bust of Queen Nefertiti of Egypt; the Pergamon Altar; 1 and the Ishtar Gate, the ceremonial entrance to the ancient city of Babylon.

Modern Berlin’s low cost of living is also attracting a thriving modern art and party scene. It was a cold weekend when we visited, despite being the beginning of April, and we enjoyed several hip but friendly cafés and restaurants serving delicious unusual food and excellent coffee (the most important factor in how much I like any city!). The zoo also proved an entertaining diversion when our brains needed a break from the history and partying.

  1. The display was clearly intended to rival the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum. I later heard that the altar had originally been built to demonstrate the city of Pergamon’s ability to compete with Athens. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.[]

Val Thorens

Fresh snow every day made for an awesome ski holiday, albeit we are now completely spoiled for future trips! The constant snow fall did mean poor visibility every day except the last, but the snow was so soft there was plenty to ski anyway.

The last day did gift us with photogenic blue skies and bright sunshine, which was just the icing on the cake as we explored off-piste areas with untracked waist-deep powder.

Val Thorens, at 2300m, is the highest ski resort in Europe. Part of the Three Valleys ski area, it also had a good party atmosphere—this was definitely a fun holiday. Low visibility and high winds meant we did not make it over to Meribel and the rest of the Three Valleys, but with snow this awesome we did not feel we missed out on anything!

Photographs of Tokyo

Capturing the essence of a city in a photograph can be very difficult, and Tokyo is no exception. Buildings which look beautiful or inspiring in the flesh often refuse to fit comfortably into a single frame, and consequently come across as flat and humdrum. Similarly, energetic and bustling urban scenes become mundane and lifeless when frozen onto film (memory card?). So I do not think it comes as much of a surprise that my photographic highlights of Tokyo are dominated by the city’s beautiful gardens, and a few scenes where the atmosphere has been re-created using the darkroom. One of my favourite examples of this is not included in the gallery below but can be found in my Instagram feed.

Day 5 of the Olympic Tennis

Photographs from day five of the Olympic tennis tournament at the All England Club in Wimbledon. We saw Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko on the practice courts in the morning. Then Roger Federer v Denis Istomin, Azarenka v Petrova, and Sabine Lisicki against Maria Sharapova from some great seats on the Number 1 court.

Kangaroo Valley and the Blue Mountains

After Christmas we travelled from the NSW coast to the Blue Mountains via Kangaroo Valley and the Southern Highlands. Having previously visited NSW during a drought Kangaroo Valley was surprisingly lush and verdant, so much so that during one woodland walk only the bright and multi-coloured birds gave any clue that this was not Britain!

While the Southern Highlands were pleasantly off the main international tourist route, the spectacular vistas in the Blue Mountains fully justified its reputation.