Monday, June 26, 2017

The day I fell in love with Werder (an der Havel)

Every February, Werder (an der Havel) pops-up into the day travel agenda for its famous cherry blossom festival where local wines made of almost every kind of fruits are displayed. I went to the festival as far as 6 years ago - how fast the times go - and wanted to return this year but either the weather or my hectic agenda didn't allow it. Is there anything else to do there outside the festival? I tried to answer this question during a full one day generously spent there.
If you arrive from Berlin to Potsdam train station, there are regular buses every 30 minutes going there. The ABC ticket is available on the regional lines too, and elegant air conditioned buses provided with wlan - much better than you can get in Berlin - are leading you for around 30 minutes near blue lakes and wild corners of nature. 
Our stop is near the Panoramaweg-Obstweg, close to the usual routes for fruity wine tasting during the festival. This time, there are only bikers running up to the hills, on the otherwise quiet roads bordered by trees. The fragrances of fruits and fresh juices is in the air and I can't stop thinking about maybe visiting one or two orchards for some tastings. 
The wines made of sour cherries or peaches or strawberries or who knows what are usually displayed in the front of the houses. There is almost lunch time, so most people are busy enjoying their meals under the unusual hot sun. 
As for me, I can finally visit the Fruchterlebnis - which means Fruit experience - Garten Petzow which is made of a restaurant, a shop, a garden and warmhouse and other facilities, with a special focus on sea buckthorn - or Sanddorn, in German - a fruit I am not familiar at all. But during my time there I have plenty of occasions to get accustumed with, as almost everything served there use the small light orange pearl-like fruits as the main ingredient. 
The Vitamin C rich natural juice is very refreshing, but the soup, made of smoked salmon and again some sea buckthorn and parsley, matched with white bread, is not necessarily a fantastic experience, but goes well as a short snack. The service is fast and friendly and in the sea of orange chairs and table wares and orange walls or napkins, you can easily forget any eventual inconveniences. Note to self: try the 'wine' - still, as a daughter of a wine maker, it takes me some time to get used with the idea of wine not made of grapes - the next time.
As we are walking up the streets around, we stumble upon some crow-stepped towers, an architecture staple on the street.
A couple of meters away, a wedding is about to begin at the Petzow castle, a family owned residence until 1945, a mixture between an Italian fortress and an Tudor English manor house. In the last decades, it was used as school or other institutional destinations, nowadays in process of being rebuilt as a residential quarter.
After a couple of more walking, we are back into the old city center of Werder, of which I don't remember too much, as during the Cherry blossom the whole area is packed with kiosks and merries-go-rounds. The colourful fassades on Unter den Linden narrow street are elegant and remind me a bit of the neighbouring Potsdam. 
The street is bordered on one side by green trees whose shade is protecting half of the passage, and on the other by small restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy a quiet cup in the afternoon. 
As we are walking, the views are getting better and better, with a huge windmill surrounded by green trees profiled against the sky, near the blue lake waters where a colourful boat is waddling in the middle. 
The hot weather is keeping us a good company, therefore finding a proper icecream is a priority. At Cafe Jacob, an elegant family friendly located on Torstraße, I am delighted to try for the first time a delicious vanilla icecream soaked in pumpkinseeds oil. An unusual yet perfect taste combination that I wish I can find somewhere else too...
Well hydrated and enchanted by the icecream, I have even more energies for exploring more up and downs the streets of the old 700-year old town.
And my efforts are rewarded with a diversity of styles, from Art Nouveau architecture to classical old German timbered houses. Most shops are closed for now, and the owners are sitting a bit more in the front of the stores, sometimes with a glass of (real) red wine and a book. 
The water is the calming element, always present always hiding. Sometimes, it feels that Werder is a small island - and actually it has a small island connected by a bridge to the rest of the town - far away from the busy world to which is separated only by one boat trip away.
There is a sense of familiar and friendliness floating over the old cobblestone streets. People trust each other and greet each other even if they meet for the first and last time. In the front of the houses, homemade jams and marmalade are displayed on tables with only a jar where to leave the money in exchange of your purchase. It's even better than online shopping. 
Could I dare to ask if this lovely house is on sale? Maybe, after all my city adventures, we are make for each other...
But there is a time to leave and I feel like a traitor. For sure I wanted to stay more and even find more foodie places to delight my senses with, or more hiking paths to fulfill my love for nature. I don't like to make promises, but I wish I can mak
e it back here earlier than 6 years. And, who knows, by then the blue little house might be available...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Travel writing is not for the faint of heart

Every cup of coffee has its price
'Your days are nothing else but drinking coffees and travel', he said, happily convinced that this verdict resumes perfectly a life worth less than a cheap coffee cup at the fast-food kiosk. Many people may think that travel writing is a relatively easy way of living, in a scenario where money are growing up on trees or, alternatively, like in Collodi's Pinocchio, are multiplying deep down the earth, like the seeds during the night.
I was recently reminded a quote from Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl that 'our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude'. Ignorant remarks can make us angry, especially when you know the reality, but the best attitude can be to try explaining in an effort that maybe those with enough brain will be able to better see the reality of travel writing.
The naked truth is that unfortunately, none of those fantasies are not describing the realities of a life of writing, and of a life of travel writing in general. There may be glitz and there may be glamour, but most of the time, there is hard work and when most people are usually sipping their morning coffees in Monte Carlo or Paris, the travel writer, although probably counting his or her blessing of sharing beautiful sceneries or luxurious living, should be also count the curses of having no more than maybe a second for mindfully living the dream.
Because, dear readers, let's be honest: being a travel writer means so much work. You wake up early in the morning to catch the best train for being in time for taking the best photos under the best light - if you are living in the North of Europe, you might know what a challenge is to have the right photos from September until April when the light is so spare; you need to run up and down, with a full schedule to cover as many sights as possible; stop to take notes and meet local travel industry representatives or people that can offer you local insights. If you want to reach a bigger audience, you will be even busier updating status on your Facebook page, or creating boards on Pinterest, or sharing your blog posts on various Google groups or sharing your stories on Instagram. You should always learn new skills to cope with the fast changing landscape of social media, acquiring better photographic or video skills, taking extra classes about travel writing or even getting a bit into coding and other website-related knowledge, because it is always good to be the own manager of your page. Or even learning more than one new language because it will help you to better understand the host country you are covering. Out of the blogs on the web nowadays, an impressive number of them is written in English, but in more than a few cases, the writers are using this language as a second or third choice (like this one here writing for you). Therefore, the competition with the native writers is dramatically narrow, as it is the need to always polish your words, through constant writing and editing and reading of the best travel writing books (which are never free of charge).
Some might say that you can live and eat for free, but does they know what does it mean to work for that: by the time you are ready taking photos of your food, the good looking plate is already cold. Those that ever wrote a guide of a place or of a country, they know very well what a marathon is in sight every time when you have so little time and so many sightseeings to cover. Very often, there are risks and challenges that the readers browsing your pictures on the website have no idea. And it better stays this way. As for the money, with so many free apps on the market, it is almost dellusional to dream that your guides will bring you more than some change for cheap coffee. 
Talking money, writing jobs in general will not make you a millionaire and many travel writers/bloggers do usually juggle with more than one hat to reach the month's end. Finding a place for travel into your monthly priorities, which can also include serious family obligations is not always easy, especially when you have a responsibility which goes beyond your own life.
But at the end of the busy day, when you are alone in the front of the computer catching up your latest travel story, you realize that it is worth any effort and hussle. For many of us, it is an assumed choice which means more than the selfish pursuit of wanderlust - nothing illegal with that, anyway. Travel writing, and writing in general is a blessing and a curse: you live to share and inspire people, to show that regardless the ups and downs in life, the challenges and the failures, you can find a sparkle of beauty everywhere. Even in a small cup of coffee...
Talking about coffee, maybe it is about time to write that post about my best places for an iced coffee in Berlin. A bon entendeur, salut!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Discovering Perleberg

What you can do when one Friday morning you realise that you finish everything on your to-do-list and there is no hassle for moving mountains in the next two days? You reward yourself with a little trip to a destination you haven't heard about before. For instance, the 778-year old Perleberg, the capital of Prignitz, in the North-Western part of Brandenburg. 
The trip from Berlin lasted around 3 hours passing by rapseed yellow fields and huge white cranes of the windmills with stops in places I visited at least once before, such as Rheinsberg or Kremmen. But upon arrival, the train station looked a bit abandoned. With the next train to Berlin a couple of hours away, I decided to try my chance though and move forward towards the city center. 
Views of old architecture and houses telling stories from another times dissipated my worries about a failed day trip.
My first stop was at Goethe Platz, were a monument for the Deutsche Einheit - German Unity - was erected, a reminder that this area used to be part of the former communist Germany. 
On the way to the old city center, intensive works were aimed at rebuilding the historical buildings. Given that this part is usually the most sought by tourists, I can only hope that the works will finish in due time and the visitors will be able to taste the local architecture. However, the good human spirit remains and I was surprised to be greeted every couple of meters by more or less hurried people.
The local architecture has also some surprises to offer, such as the elegant building of the Volksbank decorated in Art Nouveau style.
The quietness of the place is a good reward if you want to escape the busy city life. Crossing the little bridge Am Wandrahmen over Stepenitz river offer picturesque corners of paradise hidden near generous patches of green. 
The seven hundreds old history of Perleberg is everywhere. A local history museum is hidden under the thick red-bricked walls that since 1200 surrounded the city, out of which there are only 350 meters left. Stepping on the narrow streets is like a time travel experience, as you wait for some historical character to cross your path. 
The more or less old buildings are appearing at the corners of streets, displaying the creativity of architects across centuries. 
Once on Kirchplatz, more and more such discrete historical insertions are catching my hungry-for-architecture eyes. Half-timbered houses are happily neighbouring Art Nouveau buildings painted in sweet pastel colours.
The more is to come on Großmarkt, the main city square where you can find all the important buildings, dominated by the city hall. The main attraction of the city, the statue of Roland, the knight with a drawn sword, an usual appearance near many city halls in this patt of Germany, was at the time under renovation therefore I couldn't catch him on the camera. But I was promised by the representatives of the local Tourism Information office that by end of June he may be back into the landscape. The statues of Roland are typical for Eastern and Northern part of Germany and symbolized since the 13th century the town priviledges conferred to a city.
The red-brick buildings in this parts of Germany are predominantly used by the institutional buildings, such as city hall or other important offices. 
The local postal office is another interesting architectural sightseeing, but for those familiar with serious British history, it has to do with a mysterious story. This place was were the British diplomatic envoy Benjamin Bathures was last seen on 25 November 1809, after mysteriously vanishing. Over the last two centuries various variants of the disappearance was offered, including the science-fiction one, but according to the latest investigations, it seems he was just murdered and no traces left.
As the summer sun is getting hotter, a trip along the Stepnitz river is the best refreshment, and either you are by foot or by bike, walking Lotte Lehman Promenade, named for a famous German soprano born here, is favoring the good mood.
An Parchimerstrasse, the former Judenhof, the best maintained such a center in Germany, a testimony of the Jewish life in this area at the end of the Middle Ages, is nowadays a cultural center, hosting exhibitions and conferences. 
The area around can offer some hilarious surprises, the creative sparkle of local artists aiming to soften the seriousness of the buildings.
Perleberg is generous with museums lovers too, such as the Wallgebäude, a historical building at the beginning of Puschkinstraße, hosting various galleries and exhibitions. Altstadt museum is a testimony of the rich historical past. For those more interested in the recent history, there is the DDR Museum, displaying the former communist times. As in many other places in Eastern Germany, Perleberg is also a proud owner of a Oldtimermuseum, a meeting point for lovers of vintage cars in the area.
After so much wandering, it is about time for some lunch, and L'italiano ristorante&pizzeria offers a pleasant family-friendly ambiance with fast service and some warm Italian hospitality. My lasagna broccoli was fine, the kind of meal which gives you the incentive to continue the day with a happy tummy.
There is more and more to explore, the camera in hand, ready for taking a snap. From highschool buildings to newly renovated historical residential areas, Perleberg seems to be a very pleasant travel surprise.
The narrow endings of the old buildings look like a perfect match for the blue sky of this time of the year.
There is also room for a bit of luxury, at the local Hotel Deutscher Kaiser which looks so inviting that for more than a second I am considering to book for one night to feel a bit pampered, running the daily family chores.
The temptation of discovering more of Perleberg during the few time left here is stronger, so I am going back on forth the Fußgangerzone, the main shopping and showing off area in town.
The diversity of styles and the colours of the buildings keeps charming me, as I rarely encounter so many different shapes and styles in one single town box.
Sometimes, I feel like I am back to Celle, with its colourful buildings.
There is time to take pictures and walk the cobblestone streets and it is time to come back. As we are ready for the ride back to Berlin, I know that my travel intuition was right again. My choice for the day-trip was excellent and I will be back for sure one day to add the picture of the Roland and check more interesting corners for my travel memories.

If you are looking for more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Revealing the hidden beauty of Gotha

I had a long list of reasons to visit Gotha, most of them the result of my political and history lectures, but with so many attractions to discover in Thüringen like Erfurt or Jena, it seems that I never had enough time for a proper journey. However, this May, things changed and after so many years I was finally here...
The area around the train station was almost empty, although it was a sunny Sunday day. As Gotha is the fifth largest city in Thüringia, there are maybe chances that I will not only visit an empty city, but also find a way to interact with the local people as well, part of my plans to work my German one conversation at a time.
On the way to the central area, crossing empty streets with only two or three cars or bikes running fast once in a while - we pass near an impressive building labeled as the Deutsches Versicherung Museum - German Insurance Museum. Given the pioneering work Germany developed since centuries in this field, it would have been interesting to have a look inside, but unfortunatelly, the museum is closed on Sundays.
However, there are so many other things to see which are free and open to everyone all round the week. For instance, the impressive Orangerie, considered one of the biggest and most beautiful in the German-speaking realm in the middle of the symetrically designed English gardens. 
One can spend hour after hour in this park area, with its vast green areas and small lakes and islands, where you can have a picnic or read a book under the summer sun. The adventurous can also visit the famous local attractions of Gothaer Kasematten, as in the case of the insurance museum, there were no tours scheduled during my stay so I was out of travel luck this day.
The colourful houses of the old city of Gotha look inviting from one of the panorama points around the area, but as for now, me and my friend, we want to see more from the famous Baroque castles which made this city famous among the castle-lovers.
On the other side of impressive doors designed in the exuberant style of the Rococo, there are more secret gates to explore.
On the other side, there is the equally famous Friedenstein - Rock of peace - castle, whose construction started during a time when this part of Germany was coping with the Thirty Years Wars. Nowadays, it has around 38 rooms open for exhibitions, among which an impressive numismatic collection which places Gotha on the same foot in this respect with famous cultural destinations like Dresden, Berlin or Munich
With so many interesting choices ahead and so little time, we decide to visit the recently reopened Ducal Museum - Herzogliches Museum - which was added to the Friedenstein Museum in the second half of the 19th century. Its latest look is the result of dramatic renovation work that ended in 2013 when the museum was re-opened to the public.
The classical balance of the facade reminds of an Antique temple, the usual architectural outfits for museums built in the 19th century. In the logic of the Enlightement, the museums were temples of science and knowledge, therefore their role to educate the masses and share the wisdom of ages through impressive collections from all over the world.
This logic is followed accordingly at the Ducal Museum, hosting a diversity of collectionsm from Egyptian mummies to Meissen porcelain and European pottery.
One of the most impressive in terms of diversity and execution is, for me, the cork-made reproduction of famous buildings. The collection was created in the 19th century, and it can easily compete with any recent creations made using sophisticated architecture programs. 
Another tour of the immense gardens are a good opportunity to discuss about progress of the human mind across centuries.
We are in Gotha for almost three hours and what we did was to discover castles and beautiful gardens, which is a noteworthy hobby, but maybe there is even more to see in the city. Time for some urban sightseeing! The famous 72-meter waterfall built at the end of the 19th century, a creative and sophisticated construction for that time allowing water to fall from the top of the hill through a system of channels in the middle of man-made gardens is a staple of the city and creates a beautiful perspective to the urban landscape.
The old cobblestone streets are inviting to a step-by-step, camera in hand discovery of Gotha.
The beautiful waterfalls are surrounded by season's flowers, beautifying the stone-made surrounding the fountains. 
At the end of the alley divided by the waterfalls which starts from the top of the hill there is the former city hall, a Baroque construction dating back in the 17th century. It doesn't equal in volume any city hall construction I've seen until now - and Germany offers a wide array of choices in this respect - as it is relatively small, but the proportions are well used to play the decorations in a very elegant way. 
The top of the buildings around are communicating in a concerting way, creating a fairy-tale impression. If you are an architecture lover, you should definitely visit this part of Gotha because the visual dialogue between buildings and different streets is unique.
The large cobblestone streets are ending up bordered by colourful buildings so close to each other that the windows seem to touch each other when open. Wild trees rooted in the stones create an unexpected effect into this geometrical labyrinth of buildings.
The doors are another element to follow and explore in the old Gotha. In the old times, the symbols and representations were aimed to clarify the social and economic status of the residents.

Between the 17th and 19th century, Gotha was a center of culture, science and arts, and the traces of those times of glory are visible not only if you visit the expansive museum collections. The eclectic style of some buildings are a proof that many of the residents were familiar with Italian fine architecture and wanted to re-create at home memories gathered during their travels. As usual, travel opens the mind and hearts for diversity and cultural encounters. 
The relatively small amount of people on the street at this time that bothered me at the beginning of the journey could be a blessing as your trip to Gotha can be fully tasted without taking care too much of finding the right people-free angle for a photograph or being unable to properly see an interesting corner because of the many groups listening to the directions of the guide. You can easily breath and travel slowly and there is no hassle to jump from a place to another. 
But even the slow traveler needs to eat and from this point of view, my choices weren't necessarily the most inspired. For lunch, I had a Vegetarian lasagna at Bellini restaurant in the center, with a beautiful view over the Baroque red city hall, which compensated the relatively lack of taste of my meal. The afternoon coffee I took at Konditorei Loesche that probably I visited too late in the day for enjoying some fresh Schiller cones which I wanted to have for the sake of some long-forgotten childhood culinary memoires. 
With the perspective of another three-hour trip back to Berlin, we have a last stop at the Orangerie on the way to the lonely train station. The gardens in full bloom are generously spreading beauty all over the place and this last memory is strong enough to always make me think about Gotha as a place where would love to return to discover even more hidden beauty! See you soon...

If you are looking for more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board