Humidity has never been very kind to me, but the type I experienced upon waking in Warnemünde was not as bad as I was expecting.  It was rainy, though not a drop of rain ever hit me on the entire trip (unheard of, for the Baltic region). The only precipitation we had was early in the morning, as we stood on the deck and gazed at the city.  We didn’t see much of it–a few quaint houses, a large building that looked like the firehouse at Disneyland, and the train station, where we would be heading momentarily.

We had breakfast and our morning coffee ritual at the International Cafe. Apparently it doesn’t take very long at all to develop habits. I developed a nasty addiction to coffee on this particular trip, which was promptly replaced by an addiction to tea once I returned to my sweltering habitat.  At any rate, coffee that morning was delicious, and even though I still felt sick, I didn’t feel as bad as I had the previous day.  Later on that day, that changed.

But for the moment I was at peace, enjoying the idea of seeing clouds in the sky, a foreign sight to an Arizonan.  We grabbed our tour tickets and waited in the Weelhouse Bar for our tour to begin.  The Weelhouse Bar was one of my most favorite places on the ship.  They served excellent martinis (I myself partook of a 007 Classic Martini and quite enjoyed it) and played classic Rat Pack music while patrons sat in over-sized leather chairs, looking out the windows framed by dark mahogany.

The cruise staff called our tour group number and we walked off the ship towards the train station.  My mom and I were a bit nervous because our tour was “Berlin On Your Own,” which is exactly as it sounds: going to Berlin and making your way through the city by yourself.  It was a nervous excitement, really, since from what we understood, we would be given a car to drive around the city in (this turned out to be untrue).  A couple of people overheard us talking about about this while we were walking to the train and introduced themselves as Raj and Bohovina, two East Indian physicians from Toledo.  They told us they were just as nervous because they were on the same tour, and we made a pact early on to stick together.

We hopped on the train and met our guide, Timo.  He was probably about 29 or 30, not much older than me, and very friendly. He spoke English very well and I spoke German very poorly.  When I used my limited German that day, most people appeared to appreciate the attempt, so I was glad of the one class I took.  Raj and Bohovina sat across from my mother and myself for the train ride that would last for a few hours.  It was very comfortable, and on the table between the four of us was a liter of water, several cups, and packets of tea and instant coffee for those in our car.  Bohovina and I took the opportunity to sleep while Raj and my mother talked medicine (all four of us are in the health profession, incidentally-My mom is a nurse, I’m a behavioral health tech and soon-to-be psychologist, Raj is a cardiologist, and Bohovina is a pediatrician).

When I woke up, we were just reaching the train station in Berlin.  Timo came for us and we were herded out of the train and onto a bus that would take us to the Hilton in Berlin.  Timo mentioned a few places along the way that we passed and said that the Berlin Hilton would be the rendezvous point at 4:45PM.  He made some suggestions for where we should go and turned us loose.  Our little band decided to get on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city before going to see the popular landmarks.  As it turns out, we saw many of them on the tour and got to stop for a little while at each place.  We saw the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, Unter den Linden Strasse (one of Berlin’s finest shopping venues), several pieces of the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, a kiosk dedicated entirely to the sale and consumption of wurst (You know you’re in Germany when…) and crossed between East and West numerous times, mentally chronicling the architectural differences between the two parts of the city and silently mourning the detestable nature of Communism.

We made stops to look up close at the Berlin Wall Monument and the Holocaust Memorial, and then we were taken back to where we started: the Berlin Hilton. The four of us decided to stay fairly close to the hotel, so we walked around the square for a little while before deciding to get some lunch.  We ended up at a small cafe called Quchna, where we all ate quiche (mine was green bean quiche, and it was delicious! It was all served cold, which was different from what I’m used to, and highly enjoyable).

It was around that time that I started getting very sick.  It wasn’t from the food, because it had started almost as soon as I got the food in front of me.  My vision was starting to blur and I knew that if I didn’t rest for a while, I would faint (I’ve done it many times and unfortunately have grown used to the feeling immediately preceding the syncope).  Everyone had finished their meals and I was still feeling lousy, so not wanting to hold up Raj and Bohovina (how fortuitous that I so frequently find myself surrounded by medical professionals when I’m feeling ill!), they departed from us to look around the city.  My mom and I sat at the table for a little while longer until I was feeling well enough to walk across the street to the hotel and sit in the lobby.

Timo was there in the lobby when we arrived and I plopped down on a chaise lounge.  He stood over me and asked my mom what was wrong and she told him.  I was beginning to feel a bit better and Timo could see that, so he gave me his best look of playful, almost mock concern and told me to take it easy for a while.  He went to sit down with one of the other tour guides and I told my mom to leave me in the hotel for a while and go off to see the city.  We had only a couple of hours left in Berlin, after all.  And so she went while I slowly but surely recovered there in the lobby.  By the time she returned I was feeling almost normal again (but really, am I ever normal?), so we decided to take a stroll.  Timo was pleased that I was feeling better and offered up some suggestions of places to go while we had some time left.  We went next door to a souvenir shop and spent some time there before walking down the street to the chocolate museum, one of the places Timo suggested.  There they had multiple sculptures made entirely of chocolate. They had a replica of the Titanic that was about 1 meter in length, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Reichstag, and several other popular landmarks from across the world.  It was pure, unadulterated artwork, and in a very tasty medium.

We left the chocolate museum and walked around a bit further before sitting down on a bench in the square.  Several people passed by, including a man who looked like Charles Manson and kept looking back at me like I was the Ghost of Christmas Past. We drank water and noticed that there were no pigeons or birdie excrement on the sidewalk.  There were wrens, however, that seemed to be taking over the nefarious duties of their pigeon counterparts, hunting for whatever crumbs were left by the passers-by. We watched the goings on with a sort of languid fascination.

Our bus eventually arrived and we made our way across the street to meet up with Timo and the rest of our party, including Raj and Bohovina, who clued us in on their little adventure as we made our way through the city once again.  Timo told us stories of the city as we went and pointed out further landmarks as we made our way to the train station again. Once we got off the bus we wound our way through the station to our landing platform, where the Sun was shining vivid and hot overhead.  We grew warm quickly as it was likely a bit over 80 degrees and we were in the Sun for a 20-minute wait for the train.  We amused ourselves with taking pictures and talking to Timo, Raj, and Bohovina.

The time passed quickly and our train came.  We boarded and took our same seats, as Timo had instructed us to do so as to avoid any conflict with fellow passengers.  This time, Bohovina was the only one who slept.  We were served a light dinner: BiFi sticks,a  tiny yogurt, salted peanuts, half a sandwich, and a cheesecake bar.  A young, friendly gentleman came around to offer us spirits and I had a Felsgold beer (that’s what you’re supposed to do in Germany, right?)…or rather, part of a Felsgold beer, as I didn’t finish it.

We got into a lengthy conversation with Raj, who is genuinely one of the kindest persons I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  He discussed his patients and how, if a patient can’t pay him, he simply lets it go.  He said he would never be responsible for hurting his patients in any way, including financially.  He literally cried as he told us how much he cared for his patients, and if you don’t know, doctors like that are exceedingly rare.  In simply talking with him and discovering his history and his faith in the Hindu religion, I learned a great deal.  He showed care for everyone he came into contact with.  I wish we could all learn that.

We arrived back in Warnemünde, which was still blanketed by clouds, and we made our way off the train to the platform, where I promptly fell off the train steps.  Timo helped me and laughed as we said our goodbyes.  He was one of my most favorite tour guides and I believe my mom fancied him on my behalf, which I found funny, of course. We walked back to the ship and deposited our things in the stateroom once again.

We had arrived late, far after dinner was over, so we wandered around on the deck as we embarked once again.  I went back to the room to shower and see if I could get myself feeling better, as I was still having health difficulties.  I went to the launderette to clean some clothes, wandered around the ship, drank coffee, and watched SALT while eating room service in the stateroom until my clothes were clean.  I fell asleep somewhere after midnight or one, hoping madly that the rest of the days would be far better for me, health-wise.

As it turned out (to my happiness), I did not hope in vain.

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