Pull away

We'd decided on arrival in Berlin that today we'd visit the zoo, betting on the odds that a Friday morning wouldn't be as busy as a Saturday. It was hard to tell if we were correct in our estimation, for there were plenty of parents and kids about. We didn't struggle to get to any of the enclosures, but I imagine in nice summer weather a weekend day would have been pretty frustrating.

This was the zoo I had wanted to go to, before Sam suggested the one in Prague. Thankfully, after the disquieting unhappiness of some of the animals at that place, I was pleased to see that the exhibits here were of a far better standard. They were large, open, green and clean. The lions had a paddock to roam in, as did all the African mammals. There were minimal fences, and instead the use of natural deterrents like deep pits or streams kept the animals from straying off their lot.

It was connected to a great aquarium and terrarium that had a whole variety of sea creatures, including some Australian fish amongst sharks, jellyfish, turtles and more. One of the highlights were some small torch fish that, in a light-free enclosure, flashed their bioluminescent patches. An array of jellyfish were hypnotic in their circular drift. Upstairs, the terrarium held poisonous frogs hiding in steamy chambers, chameleons tensely staring down tortoises for lettuce, and spiders in perspex contains built into a wooden log seat. The ant section was particularly marvellous, with a network of overhead tubes allowing the colony to roam from their nest into the butterfly enclosure to retrieve leaves and bring them back in our clear view.

The whole facility was rather remarkable, with a walk-through crocodile enclosure that had been a fixture of the zoo since the early 1900s, and despite a direct hit from the allies in WWII, when rebuilt remained a key exhibit. The whole thing is basically a suburb in the midst of the city, too, spanning a river and easily making you forget that you are surrounded by office buildings. Sam and I had split up for some of it, and there were moments when you genuinely felt like you'd stumbled upon actual wildlife in scrubland. It was nice objectively and even better given Prague.

Our hostel is located in a hip area with lots of little indie caf?s and restaurants. The strip just around the corner that we had dined at the past two nights is a gem (and holds the caf? that tonight Sam was keen to go to a fourth time in 48 hours), but this evening we explored further afield. Well, as it turned out, it was just one underground stop away, but a pleasant walk nonetheless. After a pricey but nice meal, Sam had made his aforementioned plea to go back to his favourite, but I wanted to wander the street. Further down we discovered an amazing bar space in that young urban vogue style (mismatched furniture and plates, electronic music, high quality food). Our Belgian waffles with banana and a strong but not sweet chocolate sauce were lovely.

Sam had to make a phone call, so we agreed to meet back at the hostel. I walked the street past funky bars until I found something I couldn't resist - a real, German beer garden. I strolled in, admiring the little hut offering traditional food and large sea of benches beneath strings of lanterns dangling from the trees. At the bar I bought a nice hefeweissbiere and pulled up a pew, listening to the chatter of the friends, colleagues and families out enjoying a warm Friday night in summer. These are the kind of moments and places you only discover with spontaneous exploration. For all that we preplan, the things that stick with me most so far are the ones I stumble over on my own with gut instinct and luck.