Pages

Monday, 10 December 2018

Into Europe

I've spent the last two weeks in Milan, Italy. I treated myself to first class trains there and back, which is a much pleasanter way to travel than flying in a cramped smelly aircraft from grotty airport terminals with aggressive and abusive airport staff to contend with. I broke my journeys in Paris, which I haven't been to for many years. The Alps, clad in winter's first snows, were impressive to ride through.

Just a few images from my trip:

Milan Cathedral, one of the world's largest and most impressive places of worship

Beautiful shops everywhere. I had to be careful not to stare at the frocks too much. Nor should you. So here's some fish instead.

1928 tram stock, built so well that they still form the backbone of the Milan tram fleet after 90 years on the road. Polished wooden seats, leather grab straps, glass lampshades and wooden doors. Based on the classic San Francisco street car design, they are impressively swift and a delight to ride in.

Dog roses are in bloom everywhere in December

Harvested paddy field in Piedmont, Italy

Only in Paris do you get to see your partner shower while you are in bed!



The one bad thing is that I am staying with a family member, they don't know about my trans side and, given my family's bigotry, it is best that they remain ignorant. So no girly clothes. Well, apart from my shoes and socks which are women's because my feet are so small that men's sizes that small don't exist. So I am always connected to my femme life in that way. My stay with family is temporary until I find a more permanent abode.

I am back in England for a few days before I return to Italy for Christmas.

Sue x

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Heading off

My plans to move abroad were interrupted last month because I badly damaged the plantaris muscle in my right leg. Thanks to the care of a special trans friend of mine and her family I was able to rest up for two weeks at her house and get gradually better. I am so grateful to her.

This week I moved to the North of England and have been improving my walking, including quite a few trips to the shops. I was especially pleased with the pretty lingerie from Marks & Spencer. I thought I deserved a treat.

Now that I am off crutches I will be heading to the Mediterranean tomorrow. A gentle train trip stopping off in Paris. I hope to get there in one piece this time!

Sue x

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

TDOR

TDOR: Transgender Day of Remembrance, that day in the year dedicated specifically to remembering all those transgender people who are killed or who kill themselves. Usually listed as highest number of violent deaths connected with any social group.

I wish such commemorations were unnecessary. I wish that it was possible for people to be accepted. But I do despair. And so I blog, I am visible in public, I talk to people. Just so they know that we exist and are not freaks or perverts or a danger.

Just stop killing us, OK?

Sue x

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The best laid plans...

In my last post I explained that I was planning to travel abroad this week.

Except I haven't because, whilst in the middle of removals, I had an accident. It's not clear if I was actually hit by a speeding bike or just avoided it but damaged myself in the process. Either way, I ended up in A&E and am now on crutches because I have a damaged plantaris muscle. My leg was swollen like a halloween pumpkin.

The last few days moving out of my home whilst on crutches were very difficult to say the least.

However, I have made some wonderful friends in this trans community of ours over the years and one has take me in to her home for as long as it takes me to recover and literally get back on my feet. I'm not mentioning her name as she's quite modest about what she's done for me even though it means so much to me.

Doctors say it may take a month to be back to normal.

The worst is that I am proud of my legs but can only wear horrid loose trousers!

Sue x

Sunday, 28 October 2018

A new life abroad

I have implemented a giant change in my life: I am aiming to settle abroad in the long-term.

I have sold my house and this week I am moving out.

I will have an address in Britain for a while as it's difficult to vanish all in one go and I need a base for return trips. That will be in the North of England, which means I should be able to spend more time with my many trans friends there, especially those near Manchester.

But chiefly I am moving to the Mediterranean. Next week I will head to Italy by train via Paris.

Yes, I have already made initial enquiries with trans groups in Italy, France, Spain (and even Austria). The final destination is not settled yet.

Why? Well, mainly health, politics and a number of difficulties here that have made life much harder. Subjects for a more detailed post another day.

I have lived in London virtually all my life and so it does feel odd leaving all that behind. But I feel the time has come and I am looking ahead now.


Sue x

Saturday, 13 October 2018

An evening with Jo and Gina

Gina and Jo, who've popped up before in this blog, have come to London this weekend for some sightseeing. I met them at their hotel on Friday night and we enjoyed time together.

A few years ago Gina and I went to Belgo Centraal, the Belgian restaurant in the Seven Dials / Covent Garden area, and she wanted to go again. The food is not bad, the beer is excellent and the service fast. We were always addressed as "ladies" and that always goes down well with me. There weren't so many waiters dressed as Trappist monks this time, though. The one down side to this place is the acoustic so the noise level is high.






Personally I like the Kwak beer served in a glass that needs a wooden stand.



Continuing our beer themed evening, I took the girls to two old pubs, the Nell of Old Drury opposite the Theatre Royal and the Lyceum Tavern where the wooden booths are very cosy.




I hope the girls enjoy the rest of their weekend. Meeting up with them was a good start to mine.

Sue x


Sunday, 7 October 2018

Autumn things

I confess I find this time of year trying: the first tendrils of chill creep up my legs, the colours fade, work gets busy after the calm quiet of summer, and the year slowly dies and darkens. I know some people love this time of russet leaves, woodsmoke and squirrels gathering nuts, but the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness doesn't suit me so well. The romance of autumn seems to me more of a Keatsean myth than modern high-speed polluted reality. So I keep my mind occupied if I can with fun things.

These last few weeks I've enjoyed several events. Foremost is the annual Great River Race here on the Thames where over 300 rowed or paddled boats of all sorts race 20 miles along the river from Greenwich to Ham (or vice versa depending on the tide). It's a fun thing but also important in keeping alive the traditions of watermen on this river and around North European waters. Boats from all over the British Isles, as well as from Holland, Iceland, Germany and other places take part. In addition to local familiar Thames skiffs and wherries there is a vast array of other boats - jolly boats, longboats, lifeboats, luggers, gigs, cutters, shallops, whalers, sloops, dragon boats, war canoes! ...  The rule is you must carry a passenger all the way. A small selection from this year's race...


Thames skiff rowed by sailors and mermaids. I like it!

The only barge this year.

Despite being commanded by Vikings this was the worst rowing I have ever seen! More like the rolling of a drunken spider than a water craft. Leif Erikson would have waved his axe in disgust!

Smart but hard work

I was also given a free ticket to Kew Gardens, which I haven't been to for some years. Kew Gardens is an important place for me as the very first trip I made as a woman out of my own front door was there. It was a beautiful day. Again, just a selection...

The landmark pagoda, now fully restored and open
The maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba). Kew's one was planted in 1762. I particularly like this tree as the species has male and female trees but this one was grown from a male onto which a female was later grafted. Gender reassignment by a tree surgeon!

The beautiful waterlily house
A new and very complicated feature called the Hive, an art installation which is supposed to give you notions of life in a beehive. I won't go into the complex explanation of how it works.

Cactuses and other plants from arid regions in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. I love these.

The famous old palm house and its pond

I am reading a lot, including trans or gender lit: Ursula Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness", about a planet where the inhabitants are each male and female, and Roz White's "New Horizons", the third in her Sisterhood series about modern trans women (see my post about trans literature a month ago).

I also make sure I go out for coffee every morning as I like to get out in the fresh air and enjoy the break, as well as some of the coffee shops themselves. When your cappuccino looks as good as this, it soothes you at once! Or when there's a fluffy pussy cat in the shop!

Perfect cappuccino in what is arguably London's best coffee shop, Vergnano 1882 on the Charing Cross Road

The deliciously bohemian Scooter Cafe in Lower Marsh by Waterloo Station. It used to be a scooter repair shop and has a Vespa in the window, Italian cinema posters (and music) and good coffee, pastries and (later) cocktails. And a cat.

Have a nice autumn, girls

Sue x

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Why I won't ask my doctor to refer me to the gender clinic

I haven't posted for a while as I've been waiting on the people who claim to want to buy my house to get on with doing so. The English system of house buying and selling is soul-destroying. It's a lot easier in other countries.

The other thing that is destroying my soul is the deranged and toxic yet incompetent government that we have in Britain now. I rarely make political points here but for over 300 years the UK constitution worked well, despite being unwritten, and it is now failing. Governments of all colours are usually a background annoyance or irritant that citizens mainly just grumble about. This one is different. We are facing a dictatorship, the first since the 17th Century, with removal of human rights and other freedoms. The prospects for minority groups is frightening. Immigrants and even their descendants will obviously face the worst of it - European citizens even if they have lived and contributed for decades, Jamaicans who came in the 1940s, people of non-local colour and religion. And in the wake of that you can be sure of the persecution of others, the LGBTQI Etc community being almost invariably targeted in these instances. Although the current prime minister seems to be trans friendly at present I fail to see that lasting especially if, as has been the intention for 2 years, Britain leaves the European Union with its protections for citizens' rights. There are other government intentions, such as leaving the UN's Council of Europe so that there will be no answering to international scrutiny on human rights abuses, and so we can send a few more 'undesirables' to Trump's America for torture. This in a country that was instrumental in bringing down the dictators of the past and establishing modern notions of rights across the world.

When the Germans invaded Holland in 1940, they found it easy to round up Dutch Jewish citizens. The Dutch, you see, kept excellent records of their citizens and the Nazis simply went through town hall filing systems to find the persons they wanted.

The National Health Service (NHS) here deals with trans people in one way only. Although slightly more relaxed recently, basically you have to transition, preferably surgically, to receive assistance, hormonal, psychological or other. That's basically it.

As mentioned a few times, I don't feel surgical transition is suitable for me and therefore I feel let down by the health system that I pay into that isn't really interested in assisting me in any other way. I have had to discuss my being transgender with doctors over the years, especially when I was being treated for eczema since I had to explain that that illness prevented my wearing makeup and that was destroying my wellbeing as a trans person. They took that very seriously and I am grateful for their attitude. I have been seeing a doctor again recently for something else and although she was well-informed about transgender issues and happy to refer me to the gender clinic, I had to complain that NHS assistance available here is limited and actually unhelpful to many trans people.

I have always asked, though, that my medical record not be marked with any transgender indicators. Why? Well, if I cannot be offered any suitable help, I don't want my record marked unnecessarily with details of my being trans that makes it easier for Nazis to round me up, like the Dutch Jews. Sounds paranoid? Perhaps, but it's always been a niggle in my mind given my family's experience of dictators in the past and the way that extremist regimes like to behave. Previously I thought the chances of a nasty dictatorship in this country was so slight that maybe I oughtn't to be so paranoid. Now I am feeling that my caution has been well placed.

This is a very brief expose of complex and controversial issues, but it explains my disgust at the poor acceptance and help trans people have had from the state. I don't perceive the situation getting better despite recent government consideration on how to improve matters. A different prime minister - and that is certainly on the cards - and trans people may be persecuted instead, probably with impunity.

These are bad times. Live authentically, but be careful of evil people as their wickedness never rests.


Sue x

Sunday, 2 September 2018

More transgender literature

A lot of people write biographies about transition, their own or their partner's or parent's, and there are a lot of books that are very serious and supposedly academic about trans subjects, but there isn't so much fiction about transgender life.

Back in 2014 ( http://suerichmond.blogspot.com/2014/11/roz-white-transgender-writer.html ) I wrote about Roz White whose series of novels and novellas about "The Sisterhood" continues to grow and, to judge by online reviews, continues to be popular. Roz observes trans life from the point of view of five trans women who range across the spectrum and their struggles and triumphs and outlooks are very real and natural. A couple of years ago a national book club chose "The Sisterhood" as its book for reading and Roz was guest of honour at their annual meeting. So many readers in that club previously knew little of trans life and are now not only better informed but very supportive. A triumph for the genre of trans fiction and a positive boost for the trans community.

I see there are one or two other trans novels available online (e.g. "If I Was Your Girl" by Meredith Russo) and short stories (e.g. "A Safe Girl to Love" by Casey Plett). I might order one or two and see if they are good reading.

But the book that caught my attention recently was "Julian is a Mermaid", a children's book by Jessica Love.


Plot spoiler: Julian sees people going off to the mermaid parade all dressed up in beautiful costumes and wants to be a mermaid too. He improvises a beautiful costume but then worries about what his grandmother might think. He needn't have worried as she helps him out with accessories and they go to the parade. It's not directly transgender but more a celebration of expressing one's individuality and has had very positive reviews online. The illustrations look beautiful too.

I'm hoping that even more writing about trans matters will move away from the purely personal experience of writers and into expressing trans lives in more creative ways that will appeal to the general public better.

Sue x


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The seven-year blog




It’s seven years to the day since I started this blog, my aim having always been to express my thoughts on being transgender, and also to encourage other trans people to be visible by posting my adventures and the reception I have met with in public.

It’s been seven years of great highs but some miserable lows too, with delight and success countered by trouble and stalls. Being trans is, let’s face it, quite a challenge that, for virtually all of us, is a substantial addition to the ups and downs of everyday life.

With so many threats to trans people being able to lead authentic lives in the last year or two – threats from politicians, radical feminists, religious bullies, to name a few – it’s essential for the trans community to make it known that we exist, that we are genuine, and that we are likeable, worthwhile and regular members of society. Visibility – online, in media and in the real world – seems to me to be an important promoter of acceptance.

Well, that’s enough philosophy! In past years I’ve analysed Blogger’s stats to get an idea of what sort of posts are the most enjoyed and readable. But this time I’m not going to link to the most popular posts. You can select your own favourite from the archive list to the right. It is clear that people who read my blog most enjoy the occasions when lots of TGirls are out on the town. Importantly, though, there is also a lot of interest in gender surgery issues and, to an extent, my own struggle with ill-health that has badly affected my trans life and visibility.

Thank you to my 44 subscribers, including Jonathan Tait who subscribed this year. I’ve added "Male Femme", Jonathan's blog, to the blogroll. It's well worth reading.

Thanks also to all who have made comments. Lynn Jones and Mandy Sherman deserve special mention both for their comments and excellent blogs. Thanks also to TCentral and Feedspot for their promotion of trans blogging.

Thanks for reading. Tune in again.

Sue x

Sunday, 12 August 2018

A day out with Emma

I mentioned in my last post that I hoped to get out fully femme on Saturday, and that is indeed what happened.

Emma Walkey and her wife Jackie have featured in this blog many times as Emma's one of the first trans friends I made. We agreed to meet up in London just to catch up and enjoy some food together.

Train selfie

We met at the Cambridge pub, which I often suggest as it's about as central as you can get. Whilst Jackie went to nearby Berwick Street to look at the fabulous (if expensive) fabrics in the dressmaking shops there, Emma and I sat down to lunch at Melanie Italian restaurant, another of our favourite venues.

Melanie is on the edge of Soho, a district that was infamous 40 years ago for sleazy peep shows and sex shops. Not much remains of that era, which is for the best, but we thought we'd have a laugh by posing outside one shop as if we were streetwalkers. Well, you have to pay for your lunch somehow! Convincing? OK, probably not! We are of that era but haven't worn so well!



After lunch we strolled through Covent Garden to the terrace of Somerset House where you can sit and look over the Thames. We thought of taking a river boat but the temperature was dropping and we decided that sitting in a bar was preferable. We went to Champagne Charlies in the arches under Charing Cross station which I haven't been to for years but was very pleasant for relaxing with a bottle of wine.

So a relaxed day in good company and being treated as women, which to any trans person is the joy that makes it all worthwhile.

Sue x

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Summer outdoors

There's been a small amount of rain now but this extraordinarily sunny summer continues. It's been quiet workwise and I have been taking time out to explore. I now doubt I will ever be able to simply put on makeup and go out manifesting my female appearance whenever I want to, as I used to do when I started this blog, because of the risk of skin irritation, but I make do with more androgynous clothing now. It's not ideal, not what I want, but it keeps me connected to my femininity even if people take me as a guy. I hate this limbo I'm in at the moment but something is better than nothing between occasional fully-feminine outings.

I like staying at home in London over the summer. Many people are away and it's mainly just me and the tourists around the place. Except that I go off the beaten track.

Just a few places in Greater London visited recently include Putney, Kingston and Maida Vale.

Wonderful mackerel sky over Putney Lower Common
The Clattern Bridge over the Hogsmill River in Kingston-upon-Thames. This side of the bridge dates from 1175, making it by far the oldest bridge in Greater London and one of the oldest in Britain. Note the heron by the right-hand arch. The heron population seems to have vastly increased in the Thames Valley in recent years and this is due to cleaner water supporting more fish, including eels.
The Saxon Coronation Stone now outside the town hall in Kingston. Many of the Saxon kings of Wessex, including Alfred the Great, parked their royal bottoms on this block when being crowned. Why such a significant historic artifact is simply left out in the rain with little signage or ceremony I will never know.
The Regents Canal near Little Venice covered with algae that have been thriving in this hot summer

I have a few more outings planned. And I hope to have a full femme day this Saturday.

Sue x


Sunday, 29 July 2018

Heatwave!

It's been the strangest year for weather. First there was a long winter with unusual amounts of snow. Spring was late but beautiful and led to the longest, dryest summer I have ever known. Apart from the most spectacular lightening storm I have ever witnessed in Britain, which broke in late May, finally, this morning, we have some rain after more than two months without a drop. This is England, I would remind you!

I love hot weather and have a nice tan this year, but it has been oppressive, too, as in London any heat is always sticky. muggy and polluted. I have been trying to clear my loft, a task that has been very hard in the sometimes 35 C (95 F) heat up there - the sun has literally shone on that roof for two months (with breaks only at nighttime). Any exertion up there makes my mascara run!

As mentioned in the last few posts about going out, I can't use the water-based foundation in this heat as it all slides off. The oil-based foundation sticks but causes inflammation for a couple of days so it's not been easy to go to Pride or out to dinner in Chinatown. At home I am wearing only loose tops and floaty skirts - anything else is too hot.

I beat the heat by going to Chester and North Wales for a few days last week. It was greyer and slightly drizzly, which is typical of the area, and for once this was welcome.

Chester city centre
Conway Castle
Let's see what the rest of the summer is like. I hope it will still be nice, though not so relentlessly boiling.

Sue x

Friday, 20 July 2018

An evening in Chinatown

It's been a tiring couple of weeks so when Stephanie Monroe asked if I'd like to meet up again, I was happy to accept.

I did need a bit of a break from things and so I left home early in the afternoon and treated myself to a bit of retail therapy. Not only is it nice browsing in the shops but doing so as one ought to be, i.e. female, is the most relaxing and satisfying thing I know. Life seems to have fewer troubles when your transgender nature is allowed to guide your day.

Steph and I met in an old haunt, the Cambridge pub. And whilst chatting about mutual friends who should walk in but two of them, Pippa Bunce and Rachel Bull who have appeared in these pages many times, though not for ages. It was complete coincidence but a nice one.

They had their clubbing agenda and we had our need for food so we continued with our plan for dinner by heading to Chinatown where just about every business is a Chinese restaurant. We picked the New Loon Fung and enjoyed our meal there.





There has been a rare heatwave in London that has gone on for two months and my Mac makeup that doesn't affect my eczema can't be worn very easily because perspiration makes it run so I had to revert to my old oil-based foundation and that has left my face sore even though I use my eczema salve as a base coat and take antihistamine, too. This situation is very distressing. So it helped that it was so nice to catch up with a good friend. Thanks, Steph.

Check out Steph's beautiful photosets on Flickr: Stephanie Monroe-Tutton on Flickr

Sue x

Saturday, 7 July 2018

London Pride 2018

Given that I had to cancel Sparkle, the national transgender celebration, I thought I might at least get to London Pride, and event I always miss as it always clashes with Sparkle.

The day was very hot for England (over 30C / 86F), but there was a breeze blowing. I met my friends Richard and Sarah (my foreign holiday companions) for lunch at our favourite haunt, Melanie Italian restaurant. After which we sauntered through Soho taking in the vibrant atmosphere and watched some of the parade in Regent Street.

With Sarah in Soho

Pride in Soho

The Admiral Duncan pub in Old Compton Street was nail-bombed by an anti-gay lunatic in 1999. Now it thrives with so much local and family support.

The parade was amazing, involved 30,000 participants and took an incredible 5 hours to pass by any given spot. It's impossible to list all the groups, organisations, companies, etc. that paraded past.

Parade in Regent Street
Parade in Piccadilly Circus

We had a refreshing pot of tea in a nice cafe in Kingly Court before heading out into the giant street party again.






What an amazing atmosphere: fun, positive, supportive and excited. It is the sort of event London does well. I'm glad I went.

Sue x

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Not at Sparkle after all

I've had to cancel my plans to go to Sparkle this year, which is a shame. It's simply because I have a buyer for my home and they want to move quickly so I need all the weekends I can get. It does mean that I save about £500 - yes, it's a very expensive weekend away, what with hotels, trains, meals out and entertainment.

It does mean that I may be able to go to London Pride instead. Something I have never been to because it always clashes with Sparkle weekend.

Click the links to read about my previous Sparkle weekends. There first two, before I had trouble with my skin, are the most fun.

Sparkle 2012

Sparkle 2013

Sparkle 2015

Sparkle 2017

I did go in 2010 and 2011 as well but that was before I started this blog. I hope all the trans people and their families going there this year have fun and feel supported by this community of ours.

Sue x

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Old boys who were really girls all along

Under the new data protection laws (GDPR), I've asked my old school to stop sending me its literature about reunions, appeals for money and other such stuff. The school was rotten and I don't want these reminders of a bad time any more.

Those who want to know some of the nasty details of life at school can read these two previous posts:

Historic Child Abuse - a new hope?

Historic Child Abuse Update

I did wonder if there were any other trans girls at my school. I can't have been the only one, I thought. Ironically, the newsletter I got earlier this month that mentioned GDPR also mentioned an 'old boy' who has transitioned and now lives a full female life. So there's my answer. Of course there must have been another! I just never new if there was anyone with the guts to say so.

There's also a footnote saying how the school is much more alert to LGBT issues and provides suitable help. As it's still a school just for boys, and I am unconvinced about its attempts to reform its culture, I have some doubts that trans girls will really get much help. Maybe I'm too cynical after my experiences there, but I would hope that those struggling with their gender might be able to go to a mixed local school instead. After all, why is splitting the sexes / genders up deemed to improve their education in any case?

I'll be emailing my new-found fellow old girl just to say hi. Who knows, something good might come from the whole experience.

Sue x


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

My first time abroad as my true self

I was determined that 2018 would see my first outing in a foreign country and I felt that Berlin, with its relaxed, cosmopolitan way of life, was an ideal place for it. I can't live full-time female for the health reasons I have often mentioned but I am increasingly getting vital female time so some of the trip was for me to be myself.

I visit friends in Germany virtually every year. Last year's trip was described here:

Germany 2017


This year I travelled with my lifelong friend Richard who was a perfect chaperone (and photographer).

Berlin was hot - high 20s / low 30s centigrade (80s fahrenheit) - and this didn't help my makeup regime. My Mac makeup is water-based and can slide off if I perspire. So I had to revert to oil-based makeup which my skin can react against. I did have my medication in case of flare-ups and it was necessary to use it, sadly. Despite that hiccup, I had a wonderful time.


Day 1: Arrival

We took a late flight and arrived a Berlin Tegel in the evening. A good little airport with a small but well laid-out terminal, unlike the vastness of London's Heathrow Terminal 5, Britain's biggest building. I like the sculpture outside that is a reminder of Otto Lilienthal, the birdman who attempted unpowered flight in the late nineteenth century and to whom the airport is dedicated (Wikipedia: Otto Lilienthal)




We had dinner at a decent Italian restaurant, Fellini, in in the Schoeneberg district and sat outside in the warm evening. My grilled vegetable starter and tagliatelle pasta main were both very good. (Their website is only in German - well, they are just local. Trattoria Fellini)


Day 2: A woman's guide to Berlin

The day dawned hot and fine and I knew that my makeup would have to be heavy-duty to survive a hot day of sightseeing.

We travelled to the city centre by S-Bahn, the elevated.

Sitting on a hot S-Bahn train

Every city has an iconic monument and Berlin's is the Brandenburg Gate. So photos are compulsory.





Pariser Platz and Platz des 18 Marz are pedestrianised spaces on either side of the monument that are attractive places to stroll or cycle in. A grimmer reminder of Germany's past, though, is the nearby Holocaust Memorial, which has been placed over the site of Hitler's Bunker. Consisting of hundreds of almost but not quite aligned blocks, it's a curious but effective testament to the wilful confusion and disorientation of people by the Nazi regime. Berlin is honest about its past and, in many ways, that makes its future more hopeful.



Next we had a stroll down Berlin's elegant main boulevard, Unter den Linden. We enjoyed coffee and cake in a cafe midway down the street. You then get to the finest buildings of Berlin, rebuilt after World War II almost exactly as they were in Frederick the Great's time. Here's a more recent building, the Fernsehturm (TV tower), build in the Soviet era, with a bit of the Berliner Dom on the left, a sort of chapel royal for the Hohenzollern dynasty that ruled these parts until World War I.




I had a sit-down by the Neptune Fountain in the centre of town.



And then we went up the Fernsehturm to enjoy a commanding view of the whole of Berlin.


We had lunch at the Momotaro Tavern in Alexanderplatz just underneath the Fernsehturm, a brilliant and cheap new Vietnamese-run Asian fusion restaurant with stir-fry dishes and burgers. The shiitake and chickpea burger was stunning, and just 6 euros! And the iced jasmine tea is really refreshing. Here's their site: Momotaro

These are mainly photos of me, I'll admit, but this was my Big Day and that all-important first: my first time abroad as Sue. Other photos of Berlin are below.

That evening our friends drove us out into Brandenburg, the region that surrounds Berlin, for the annual asparagus festival. It was suggested I did not go as my female self because of the somewhat 'redneck' nature of the place, which is very rural. So despite having to end my Sue day early, we still had a very good meal in Beelitz. The asparagus, grown under cover so it turns fat and ghostly white, is a speciality of the area and makes a good soup and accompaniment.


Day 3: Baboons and Bunkers

Saturday was very hot and, in order to give my face a rest, I hadn't planned to go out as Sue. We had been recommended the cafe overlooking the zoo in the new Bikini Mall. Sure enough, you get a view of various apes and especially the baboons whilst you have refreshment, without having to buy a zoo ticket. Berlin Zoo, by the way, is one of the world's best.

We went to a new museum, the Berlin Story Museum, which has a good short history of the city and is housed in an old bunker near the former Anhalter Bahnhof, a mainline station that was destroyed in the war. It was a curious yet appropriate setting.

Berlin Story Bunker

That evening we went to a very good Greek restaurant in Schoeneberg called Kos and sat out on the pavement. My pork medallions with plums were unusual but delicious.

(Again, website only in German: Kos)


Day 4: Berlin by boat and on foot

Sunday was a very hot day indeed, so hot that I aborted my attempt to get out in wig and makeup as it would have been very uncomfortable. We felt that taking a boat trip on the River Spree that flows through the centre of town would be a good way to keep cooler. You see all the main buildings along the way.

From 1961 to 1989 Berlin was, of course, divided by the Wall and the river was, at various points, the boundary between East and West Berlin, such as in this next photo. The building below serves as offices for the German Federal Government and its members of Parliament and has been designed in two halves, one on each bank, linked by footbridges, upper and lower, and obvious symbol of the city and the country now being now being unified.


The Reichstag building, with its rather chequered history, has been rebuilt with a glass dome to house a more transparent form of German government:


And the Chancellor's Office also has a lot of glass for the same reason:


The amount of building that has gone on in Berlin since unification is incredible. As well as all the new government buildings, ministries and embassies needed since the government moved from Bonn, there have been many new hotels, shopping malls and offices, and they are still going up. In the middle here is Berlin's new central station, with new office blocks all around it:




But it's not all modern architecture, as the Berliner Dom, the unofficial cathedral, attests.



And the Tiergarten is a nice expanse of green in the middle of town, with the Victory Column peeping up above the trees:



We also walked in the Nikolaiviertel district by the river that was rebuilt by the former East German government to celebrate the city's 750th anniversary in 1987. Old in style, the buildings are largely high-class Plattenbau, the prefabricated concrete construction that characterises so much of the former East Berlin. A lot of facing slabs are slightly wonky. To be fair, they did try to rebuild important things as well as the very limited resources would allow.

George and Dragon in Nikolaiviertel, with Berlin's rebuilt and patched up library behind

That evening we ate dinner at our hosts' flat, which was cooked by a representative of the Thermomix kitchen gadget, a versatile if expensive device. The food turned out pretty well.

Having missed out on being femme at the asparagus restaurant I wasn't going to miss out this time and I was happy to be myself again in the relative cool of the evening.

On the balcony after dinner

Day 5: Bond Girl Heaven

We had been recommended the Martin Gropius Bau gallery but when we got there the weird art exhibitions didn't really take our fancy so we sat in a cafe in Leipziger Platz to plan our next move. And right there was the new German Spy Museum, which was brilliant. Here's their website:

German Spy Museum

Naturally my Bond Girl tendencies were fully favoured with exhibits such as the handbag with hidden camera, the lipstick camera and lipstick pistol and the femme fatale camera bra.




The museum succeeds in being serious and fun at the same time. They have some outstanding exhibits - gadgets such as the above, poisoned umbrellas, spy cars, miniaturised devices, weapons and so forth - but also WW1 trench observation equipment, sections on fictional and film spies, satellites, Enigma and other cipher machines and devices, and some thought-provoking exhibits on how our online activity is all monitored, even if not officially. An excellent museum.

We also had an outstanding lunch at the Qiu Bar of the Mandala hotel near the Sony Centre: QIU bar
 
Sadly, it was now time to go home.


All in all, it was a very good trip and my first time as a woman abroad. Berlin is a great place to blend in and no-one took the least bit of notice of me, which is just how I like it. Many thanks to my lifelong friend Richard for being good company as ever and to my two German hosts who put me up and met me as Sue for the first time.



A few last pictures for fun

The city's symbol is the bear, which can be found everywhere
Bear shop
For some years, Schoefferhofer Weizenbier has been my favourite
We always check to see how the rebuilding of the old royal palace as an exhibition centre is coming along. It replaces the former East German parliament building, a plate-glass construction that was very 70s.

Berlin is like this: an iconic classical building (the Deutscher Dom) reconstructed almost as was, with quality prefab reconstruction in the square behind, and modern buildings all round. The bubbles floating across the foreground are just for fun.
Health or happiness debate.
The best places we visited

Hope you too have happy holidays this year.

Sue x




Happy Fraulein