From Vineyards to Canals to Checkpoint Charlie

I returned yesterday from a two week vacation to the southwest of France, Amsterdam, and Berlin. It was a combination that I chose for personal reasons. I arranged through WWOOF France to work on a vineyard in the Lot-et-Garonne region, to learn more about wine, French (and in particular Gascogne) culture, and improve my French. It was an experience I will take with me for the rest of my life and hope to build on. 

Pichon vineyard in St. Leon, France, where I worked

Pichon vineyard in St. Leon, France, where I worked

A week later I visited a friend from my Washington, D.C. days who now lives in Amsterdam and has an amazingly vast knowledge of the city. I can't imagine ever being able to keep all of the canals straight, but he does. The city is beautiful, well-organized, a bicyclist's paradise -- all in all a delightful feat of engineering and imagination. 

A houseboat along one of the canals in Amsterdam seen during our motor boat ride

A houseboat along one of the canals in Amsterdam seen during our motor boat ride

And finally, I ended in Berlin, where I've wanted to visit for years, having heard often it's one of the coolest cities there is. I actually spent two weeks staying with a family in the East of the city through an exchange program organized for my high school German class -- my first time in Europe -- and was also curious what I would remember. The combination of that sentimental value, my family's history in Germany (my grandma's German Jewish family emigrated in 1937 to escape the Third Reich), Berlin's unconventionality for a European capital, and a truly novel vibe and mix of people affected me in a way I didn't expect. I'll write more on all in future posts.

Sunset at Berlin's Viktoriapark in Kreuzberg neighborhood

Sunset at Berlin's Viktoriapark in Kreuzberg neighborhood