Saturday, December 9, 2017

8 Books to Inspire a Meaningful Journey in 2018

The last 12 months were a relatively relaxed time in terms of travel, with a lot of neighbourhoods revisited in Berlin, and a couple of travel dreams made true in Germany - visiting Stuttgart and Baden Baden, among others - and a part of France where I am always happy to be back  - Alsace. It involved a lot of slow travel, trips with friends and journeys off the beaten path, aiming at finding interesting histories and cultural charm where do you expect less. While on the road or at home, building up my brand and business, one of my main challenges was how to create meaningful travel stories beyond the to-do touristic trail - which are not necessarily despicable, but especially when your bucket list includes many not so famous destinations, a different focus is needed, at least from the writing point of view.
My inspiration for a quality change in planning and writing my next posts was offered by a couple of books that I discovered in the last months, and I am happy to recommend to my readers as well:
Shortly after meeting via an online dating site, Clara and Jeff embarked on a travel and existential adventure whose main ingredient was to not carry on any luggage. Minimalist travel gives you a certain freedom - of movement at least - but it also has some physical limitations. For Clara, who is telling the story of No Baggage. A minimalist tale of love and wandering, this existential experiment involves also a journey through her hidden self and her own fears and liabilities. And first and foremost, it creates a completely different connection with people encountered on the road and their stories.
Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth is a lesson into learning a country through its taste tales. Written with the passion for detail of the journalist and the curiosity of the foodie, it opens Japan to the world in a way which goes beyond the usual stereotypes and excitements in the front of the first time sushi plate.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and for the Romanian-born Mihaela Noroc, it is a matter of using the gift of sight to see beyond the daily assigned social roles and masks. In The Atlas of Beauty she is searching for the untold stories beyond 500 women encountered all over the world. 
I never tried couchsurfing, but during my childhood travels we used to overnight often by families which creates different kind of bonds and relationships with the places we were exploring, including by being part - although for a limited amount of time - from the life of complete strangers opening their house, kitchen and hearts to us. Stephan Orth did something a bit adventurous as he couchsurfed in Iran, a country with people with good hearts, but unfortunately ruled by closed minded religious oligarchs. The adventures of Couchsurfing in Iran - that I've read in the original German language, with an English version available since the beginning of 2018 - gives a different view into the everyday life of the Iranians, especially young people which hopefully will get old in a completely different kind of country, which they fully deserve. 
When Kim embarked on a journey around the world with her husband, she was given by a close friend a yellow envelope with money to be given to those projects and individuals that are able to make a change in their communities. The Yellow Envelope upgrades travel to a different level: while visiting more or less known places they are searching to connect with people creating value in their home places.  
After an adventure in love sailing around the world, Torre is getting out of love, while reconsidering travel as a non-stop, always empowering activity. There is also life without travel, enjoying the comfort of home and of the journey around your own room. It is a matter of assuming a very personal choice and of finding yourself, the way you are not the way blogs and media outlets are trying to present the perfect life. In fact, only your choices are perfect in their weaknesses, including when it comes to travel or staying at home.
Edmund White writes densely, passionately and with a French literary accent rarely encountered in the English-speaking literature. As an expat in France, he is experiencing a hot idyll with the upper layers of cultural gossip, with the lavish parties, group solidarities and hot one-night adventures. There are sketches of adventures of any kind which need time to maturate and be shared generously, because it is oh, so Paris....
I instantly fell in love with Wales from the first moment of my visit and longing every day for coming back again one day, to see more and discover its secrets and daily life. Neil Ansell experienced five years in the Welsh Hills, living in the wilderness and building a parallel world far away from the 'civilized' communities. It is an experience of returning to nature and recreating a world without the everyday life commodities and at least for five years, it sounds like a doable experiment, as long as you are in the middle of the wild Welsh landscape. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My Best 5 Burger Destinations in Berlin

With winter and cold weather just around the corner, it is about time to start exploring the varied food scenery of Berlin. A friend of mine which had lived here for a long time and got used faster with the unfriendly winters and rainy summers told me that one of the reasons there are so many pubs and restaurants and bars in this city is the unfriendliness of the seasons. I am not so sure about it, but I can hardly finish my journey through so many food styles and alternatives, and it is a good thing as it is part of my ever growing love for this city.
Since this summer, I started a long research - with more than one tasting for each place - looking for the best burgers joints in the city, and right now I am happy to introduce you to my best 5 places for a veggie - non-meaty treat.

1. Burger Art, Steglitz, Albrechtstrasse 131

This is the place to be not only for burgers lovers but for art lovers too. How could you chose between Hokusai (octopus and salmon), Dali (beef, Irish Cheddar, mayo, eggs and bacon, among others) or Frieda Kahlo (beef, goat cheese, avocado cream, onion, dried tomatoes and cucumber). For the Vegetarian-conscious customers, there is the choice between Kandinsky (with a strong addition of Gorgonzola cheese) and Mihri (my choice this time). Accompanied by some crispy sweet potatoes, my burger was a happy meeting between many different and complementary tastes: eggplant, tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto and zucchini. 
Situated right on the other side of the spectacular Steglitz city hall and the shopping avenue, Art Burger doesn't have too much space indoors, but you can easily take away your treat or adventure outside when it is not raining. The preparation lasts around 15 minutes and a full menu - with a drink - costs around 10 EUR.

2. Loui's Burger, Zossenerstrasse 25 

A couple of minutes of walking from Gneisenaustraße U-Bahn and very close to Markheineke Markthalle, Loui's Burger offers a wide range of burgers, prepared on the spot, and served in an underground space with long wooden tables with some limited number of tables outside. Their vegetarian burger didn't impress me to tears, but the salmon hand-made one was amazing, with the right sauces and many veggies to die for. During the week, there is a special business lunch offer of 6.50, which includes drink, potatoes and a burger, that is totally worthy. A plus for the bread which is always fresh and delicious.

3. Kreuzburger, Linienstraße 74

Kreuzburger in Rosenthaler Platz is everything about burgers. Classical, well done, fast served at a convenient price. If you are visiting this hip area, you can take a break and enjoy one of them. My veggie burger was made of cheese, with cauliflower and salad. My bread was a bit dried, not as fresh as I expected, but the portion of sweet potatoes was big enough to make me forget about this failure. The full menu - with a drink added - can be purchased with less than 10 EUR.

4. Homemade TS Burger, Carl-Schurz Straße 61, Spandau

For all the wrong reasons, Spandau is usually off the beaten travel path, and even locals are rarely going there, although there are so many interesting things to see and explore (coming post featuring this past of Berlin in the making). During my often visits there - among other things, they have a very rich library with top notch books - I discovered a lonely burger joint, where your meals are prepared in the front of you - which might have the disadvantage of smoky oil smell all over your clothes after -, with a friendly and family friendly service - they even have a special box with pencils and colouring sheets for the little ones. The vegetarian offer of Homemade TS Burger includes only veggies, mozarella and haloumi cheese. There are also vegetarian wraps.
My choice was a creamy Mozarella burger with potatoes and a Coke, a delicious and cheesy fast way to finish your lunch.

5. Burgers Berlin, Pestalozzistr. 25 

Charlotteburg-Wilmersdorf area do have a lot of burger joints which might be interesting, but none of them convinced me completely. The problem when you don't eat meat at the restaurant, is that you are often left with some bland, unattractive veggie options, especially available when it comes to burgers. Burger de Ville, for instance, on Ku'damm 22, do have some great menu, but the veggie one was completely unimpressive and when I went there, on a Sunday, a couple of months ago, the place was looking a bit unkept too. My latest discovery is Burgers Berlin, a relatively newly open plance, which has a nice American ambiance, with blues playing in the background and a fast, friendly service. My vegetarian burger was a pleasant surprise too, with a well balanced combination of Italian mozarella, pickled cucumber, onion and a generous portion of ruccola.

If you are visiting Berlin soon and looking for some inspiration about what to do, check this list of 75 Best Things to do in the city.

Monday, November 20, 2017

What is Futurium?

A joint initiative of the German Federal Government, prestigious research institutions and business representatives, the spectacularly designed Futurium situated in the heart of the governmental area with its equally outstanding buildings is aimed to offer a platform about the future. Its official opening is expected at the beginning of 2019 but in the last months there were organised a couple of open house events allowing the great public to visit the precinct. 
Futurium is aimed to be a global inter-disciplinary platform where arts, research, public interest and business are coming together to discuss and understand the life developments of tomorrow. 
The building, bordered by the Reichstag and the Hauptbahnhof, both symbols of the present and the future of the new bold Germany, covers 3,200 sqm. of exhibition space spread over 3 massive floors. The main hall opens with a full view of the Reichstag and other institutional buildings part of the German government.
At the time of my visit at the open house this summer, there were many interesting art installations displayed, with a focus on creating synergies between creativity and innovative technical ideas. This installation for instance, made by the Moscow-born Berlin based artist Misha Shenbrot is called Denkraum (Meditation space) and its aimed at offering an environment for evaluation of the present needs and wishes, opportunities and needs.
For both big and small people, a meeting with a talking robot is the epitome of a journey to the future, and this little white guy is there to answer a couple of questions. Children of all ages will be an important target public of Futurium too, as potential future decisions makers and not only.
Another interesting art project displayed during my visit was Continuum, including among others harpsichordist Elina Albach, a meditation about the place of old music into the new musical trends.
It was interesting to notice the role of music and arts, in general, into the Futurium portfolio, as an universal way to communicate within different generations, ethnical and linguistic backgrounds.
The architecture of the space belongs to Richter&Musikowski, a young team of architects with an impressive portfolio of future-oriented modern architecture. The conception is build around the idea of openness and accessibility, with the transparent walls reflecting the sky and the outside environment. One of the most spectacular so far is the 'skywalk' on the top of the building, offering the best angle over both the Reichstag and the governmental area and the Charité hospital complex. 
But there is also something more than the interesting architecture: the entire building relies entirely on renewable energies. Walking on the roof reveals also a multitude of photovoltaic and energy collector installations
I never been an avid science-fiction reader and I always need some time to set up in the future-mood, but at Futurium I had the feeling that the future is all around, but it will not be created and imposed by others, eventually from the top of a colourful UFO plate, but it belongs to each and every one of us to shape it. Because human minds can create - and destroy - everything with a purpose, including an orchestra of robots playing all by themselves - and requesting a break once in a while too. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Colourful Visit to Bad Wilsnack

It takes less than ten minutes to reach Bad Wilsnack, on the way back to Berlin from Wittenberge, with my comfy ODEG ride. The entire trip was covered by a Brandenburg day ticket that costed less than 17 EURO, therefore I decided that it is worth to spend some time around this area and discover a new place.
Bad Wilsnack is welcoming me with one of the most colourful train stations I've ever seen in Germany, besides the surprising train station of Uelzen. The scenes grandly displayed on the walls are sharing various episodes from the local history. At a great extent, the history of Bad Wilsnack is tightly connected with that of Wittenberge. Before Wittenberge was included on the Hamburg train connection, Wilsnack - which became 'bad' only at the beginning of the 20th century - had more population and was far more famous. The electrification and industralization changed dramatically the situation. 
Nowadays, people are visiting this place mostly for the thermal baths, but I decided to make a difference and search for other interesting places instead.
After ten minutes of slow walking from the train station, I am generously rewarded with the view of beautiful timbered houses, with some of the residents welcoming me with a smile and a 'Guten Tag', while they enjoy the sunny Sunday afternoon with their doors and windows largely open to enter one of the few warm days left from the 2017 season.
The doors are equally impressive with so many small colourful details.
Most of the central area is made of those houses, which I am always happy to spot, either in Celle or in the Harz mountains. No one told me anything similar about Bad Wilsnack and I am happy to have discovered another colourful destination so close to Berlin.
After so much walking (count on it also the long walk around Wittenberge, the first part of the day), it is time for a little foodie break, at one of the few places open for business this time of the week: Cafe Quitzow, for an Apfelstrudel adorned with a huge icecream scoop. Maybe it was not the best I had, but at least I had the chance to rest, exchange some words with the locals and get enough sugar energy for the rest of the rest of the trip.
Which involved a lot of door watching as there is nothing like too many beautiful colourful doors.
My last leg of the trip involved a short visit to the famous therme, which after everything I've seen in the town before, was completely unappealing. Which means that one day I will have to come back to check in more carefully because I bet there are some interesting travel and leisure recommendations waiting for me too.

For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board

Friday, November 3, 2017

A Visit to Wittenberge

Mid-autumn season in Germany is a perfect moment to book some trips outside the big cities, in places reachable within hours of speed train rides in the middle of landscapes displaying the most beautiful colour shades from vibrant red to gold yellows. Compared to Berlin, some places might even have a much better weather, even they are less than two hours away. 
Wittenberge was a place I've heard about when I visited Perleberg, at the beginning of the spring but my summer trips brought me in many far away places and for a while forgot about it. The name of the place returned into my autumn agenda, and I am happy to be on my way for a Sunday journey.
After a direct ride with the regional ODEG train, we arrived in Wittenberge, a place that largely benefited of the development of the railway network in Germany in the second half of the 19th century, particularly the Hamburg-Wittenberge connection. A tribute to this contribution is the train museum, a couple of steps away from the train station, which since 2012 displays the biggest collection of trains in the entire Brandenburg area. 
On the way to the city center, we walk near various small empty streets displaying a variety of architecture.
When the colours of the buildings are not enough, there are the flowers and the street decorations complimenting it creatively.
Wittenberge has also a rich Art Nouveau reservoir, displayed in the architecture decorations, but also in some of the antiquities shops.
A direct beneficiary of the development of the city was the historical Hotel Germania, which remains a local landmark, welcoming visitors in the city for over a century.
The Theatre situated in Paul-Lincke Platz - Paul Lincke, the creator of Berlin Operette spent some time learning in this city and he even created a piece called 'Grüße aus Wittenberge' - 'Best regards from Wittenberge' - is the main city cultural institution. On Sundays, around this area there is a local market taking place too.
The old and new houses are displaying a variety of shapes and colours, a pleasure for my eyes always hungry to discover something new.
As usually in the small localities, many of the places are connected to different personalities and owners whose names are carved into the old stones.
The old city offers a completely different architecture, which brings Wittenberge closer to Salzwedel and the cities around Hamburg. Half-timbered, one storey houses probably inhabited initially by the emergent middle class which settled around this Elbe town give a lot of work to my camera.
Talking about Elbe, the river connecting by water Wittemberge to  the great trade center of Hamburg and beyond, its promenade is a great place to spend part of the sunny days of autumn. With a view over the green pastures with slow cows having non-stop dinner and dog walkers, it brings a feeling of peace and quietness. The right moment to meditate to time travel experiences, emphasized by the statue created by the artist Christian Uhlig, originary from the Uckermark region. 
Meditation about travel and its perks, including through centuries continues while walking the cobbled streets bordered by colourful houses.
What I love is that often the old houses received new clothes but still remain well inserted into the landscape. The buildings themselves were used for various purposes during centuries, as in the case of the 13th century Steintor - Stone tower - visible in the back of the picture, which was a city entrance point but also a police station, but nowadays is mostly a space for exhibition of local artists.
Although not as widespread as in the case of big cities, the street art can be found here too, even though relatively discretely hidding behind a thick wall of ivy bushes.
Nowadays, what used once to be the pride of the city that caught the industrialization virus in the 19th century, are mostly part of history or are converted into a more modern use. For instance, the elements of the electricity factory that operated into the city are now mostly displayed as historical testimonies of the fast development brought by the industrial revolution in the German lands. 
Nearby, there is a brighter part of the Elbe promenade, probably one of the most beautiful natural part of the city. The good connection to Hamburg made Wittenberge a stop for the Viking Cruises over the world, therefore, the international visitors can also discover this relatively unknown piece of Germany.
Some places with an industrial were completely converted in the last decades. The old oil mill, for instance, owned by Salomon Herz since 1823 is nowadays a hotel with modern art on the exterior walls and some local entertainment local attraction, as a climbing wall.
During the time of the separation, Wittenberge was part of the communist Germany, and displays of the busy working class heroes can be seen on the iron wrought gates of the Osz Prignitz former factory.
Lately, we arrived in the area of what used to be the Singer/Veritas factory for having a look at another famous landmark: the Watchtower, which at the time of the construction - 1928/1929 - was the second largest in Europe, with its 49,40 meter height. Nowadays, you can visit it and walk the stairs until the top, with beautiful views over the Elbe and the surrounding area.
Too much industrial architecure might be overwhelming, therefore on the way back to the city center, I am spoiled with some fine art nouveau door decorations.
The latest stop of this trip is the massive city hall, neighbouring a small cemetery for the Soviet Red Army soldiers, an impressive contrast between the impressive stone construction and the small pinky square stones of the graves. 
With all his colours, histories and achievements, Wittenberge is a town of contrasts too, and as usual, I am grateful for the opportunity of grasping just another fragment of local history.

For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board