Friday, September 13, 2019

Family Fun at Koserow Adventure Park

What you do when on your way back from Ückeritz, you have around two hours to kill until your connection to Berlin? You go a couple of stations away to Koserow Erlebnis Dorf. The fun is just about to begin!

It is build following the same concept of Elstal Strawberry Village near Berlin that I've visited twice and it offers a combination between old village-bound traditions and modern fun, with a strong strawberry scent - and taste too! The entrance is free, and you pay only for the different experiences. The prices are relatively low - starting from 2 Euro, but as there are many temptations around, expect to pay at least 20 EUR.

First, you go through a huge covered market hall, with walls plastered in shelves with teacups and teapots of different sizes and colours. One of my favorite views in Elstal.

On the ground, you are surrounded with various products made of strawberry, and marmalade is, indeed, one of the tastiest ones. The prices are moderate but it's hard to resist the temptation of purchasing more than - at least - three items. After all, the winter is coming and you need to feed the little bears a lot of tasty marmalade!

Outdoors, the yard is decorated with - not surprisingly - strawberry-related themes, but it goes beyond it: you have small water parks for the little ones and slides from the top of a wooden tower for the courageous big ones. Meanwhile, the parents can overview the activities while sipping some strawberry syrup or eating some strawberry cake...You got it!

Personally, we were happy to meet some funny musicians that we know already from Elstal.

A round tour with the tractor was also a much appreciated choice. The same for the pony tour that we enjoyed way too much to take a picture anyway.

The small indoors spaces where you can order various sweets and savory fast meals creates a warm mountain cottage ambiance. It's such a good feeling that you hardly want to leave.

But especially for city-children, such places are more than an opportunity to learn basic knowledge and skills about village life. How the milk is made, for instance, or how to make bread or how life looks like in the traditional countryside.

Adults - especially those who did not grow up in the German lands - learn something here too. Like, how big can a Rumtopf - rum pot for the English-speaking readers, where mixed fruit and alcohol are spending some time together before being served around the winter holidays' time - be. 

Erdbeerebratwust anyone? (Which in plain English translation means strawberry sausage, yep)

Or just some touch of strawberry mustard - Erdbeer Senf - as for now?

Fortunatelly for the average visitors as we are, there are also some 'normal' choices and we are back in the market hall for some good strawberry supplies, while watching how some bonbons are made - a fascinating experience for both adults and children - or for some chocolate tasting too.

Koserow Adventure Park was a great choice and we had two hours well spent. As such 'Erlebnis Park' are in many places in Germany, we are looking forward to trying at least a couple of them more in the next months. It's genuine simple fun and why refuse such an opportunity!?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

How to Get the Best of a Surprise Trip to Ückeritz

What could you do when you wake up very early in the morning heading to the beautiful Hamburg you have dreamed about all the week and you suddenly discover that your train have been cancelled?  Solving crisis is my favorite professional assignment and in less than 10 minutes and a couple of fast Google searches, a new destination was found: Ückeritz, in Usedom. Cheap ticket, train coming in 30 minutes, close enough to Berlin to make it into a one-day trip. So what if instead of an adventurous day in Hamburg I will spend the next hours at the Ostsee? And how could I forget that I haven't seen the see this summer?
Problem solved.

The train was full of bikers, the landscape quiet with white-and-black cow spots everywhere. It is close to Anklam and Greifswald, so I am not completely into foreign lands. We are out of the train, which almost tempted me to take it for another of stations more until Poland,, need to stay focused. 

Around the train station there is nothing interesting to look around, except some beer gardens which are not tempting me too much as I dream of having lunch with a view over the sea. Driven by those hungry thoughts, I am walking and walking and walking for a couple of good minutes, on the concrete bordered by trees and following the line of families carrying besides children, colourful inflatable toys - pink flamingos are there too, of course, or bikers fully dressed in the lycra suits. 
When I was really becoming impatient - being patient doesn't count among my character features - I walk for another 5 minutes, follow another arrow and I can see the sand and the sea and the staple  beach chairs - Strandkörbe, as they are locally called.

You can book your chair with wlan, if necessary. The beach is full of people  - more or less dressed, but this is the cultural code, especially in the East and I am trying to get used with it, dogs and toys. The very white sand, typical to Ückeritz according to various reviews, is ligthning the mood and the landscae.

There are no big waves and the waters look clean, there are small white shells that I collect to gift them back home but will be crushed in my Mary Popping bag. 

After a round of beach walking - barefoot in the sand and when it is getting too hot, in the sea - it is time to get my lunch with a view. I have to go upstairs on a cliff, at Strandcafe Utkiek. Pricey, with plastic white tables and waiters from another epoch - even the dress code reminds me of other historical era. The fish soup is a mix too salty and nothing else. I don't finish it in the end.

Which leaves enough place to devour the plate with zander filet, adorned with boiled potatoes and some veggies. It is overall ok, which doesn't say anything about some outstanding taste. As for the sea view, I can hardly see it on the other side of some plexiglass surrounding the precinct.

Curiously, I am trying to see what can be done and seen outside the beach area. There are some wild forest patches, some stalls selling fish sandwiches - typical for the area - some fruit stalls and souvenirs too. 

The sea and its quietness is a far better option and this is where I want to spend the rest of the day - until I have to come back to the train station that's it.

Walking around the shores, barefoot in the sea is enough. I don't know to swim and not so keen to learn it, but happy enough to be at the beach - although I've seen much better beaches in my life. Living the moment is what I need for now. Who knows how much will it take until will see a sea again? (Hmmm, bigger waves and a more active sea is also something I am missing. Yeah, blame the impatient human nature I have).

The cotton candy clouds are a beautiful view, adding a welcomed dramatic touch to the still landscape.

DJ music, cocktails and some chaise longues and a much younger audience are calling for more action at Havanna (sic) Beach stall. Customer service-wise it takes a bit longer though to get a glass of something or a bite of local food, so I am rather going back to the promenade to refill. 

The typical sweet seems to be the quark bällchen - curd filled balls - but I've tasted various variants of it in other places in Germany as well. So, in my atypical carefree way, I order at the Ückeritzer Quark Bällchen some pancake and waffle with icecream. Street food style, fast service and not a bad taste. Today is not about excellence and high-standards, but about spontaneity and accepting life's normality.

This is how I actually spent my spontaneous day in Ückeritz. Observing the people, taking pictures, getting soaked into the last strong rays of the summer sun, a simplicity I cannot always afford. Was not what I expected for today, but was better than nothing. Call it the crumbs of my travel life, sometimes.

As I am still intensively looking for Germany's best beach, I actually enjoyed Ückeritz' simplicity. I even got some short walk through the woods, you see?

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Discovering New Faces of Dresden

Let's talk cities you travel often to. After going in one place more than five times or more, and visiting some of its well known tourist and food destinations, you will get almost convinced that you know almost everything about the place. You can make your way back to your hotel on your own, using public transportation counts, isn't it? The problem though is not that you are becoming familiar with a place, but that self-sufficiency is killing all chances of discovering something new. Therefore, you are missing the full picture. And this goes easily with the place you are living too.
Take, for instance, in my case, Dresden. I've been there so many times - over ten years - that when I planned my latest vacation of hiking in the Sächsische Schweiz and mustard tasting in Bautzen my intention was only to spend some time around, see a museum or two and come back early in the evening to Berlin. 
However, when I was approached on the street by one of the many operators trying to see hop-on, hop-off tours and had a look at the leaflet, I realized that I was not familiar with more than half of the places that were about to be seen. Are those places in Dresden? How could I miss them? And my spontaneous change of plans occurred: we will do such a tour - which takes around 2 hours, but you can stop and see/visit the places and wait for the next bus - which comes in time every 30 minutes - which can take a bit longer - as long as a day. For the first time since going to Portugal, I did it and I have no regrets, although many might say that I am guilty of being a tourist. After the journey, not only I got a completely new perspective on Dresden, but I can't wait to be back to see some of the places I was shown during this tour.

Especially in the summer, Dresden is very busy. Tourists and locals are gathering in the weekend on Prager street for after-shopping coffee and chats or just for some people looking. This part of the central area displays a completely different architecture - post-war, modern, with a touch of socialism - than the classical center, with its blackened stones buildings.

Some even display massive DDR-style murals, aimed at the time to strengthen the community feeling of the newly post-war republic. This development is part of the city new features, with communist style blocks of buildings facing baroque castles.
Just a couple of meters away, the newly Das lebendige Haus displays a holistic concept of office spaces, a bit of shopping and a food court with a view over the Zwinger. It's weekend o'clock and cocktails time, but unfortunatelly the best places on the balcony are already taken. 

It was a long time since I've seen last the Zwinger, one of Germany's most famous baroque palaces. It's geometrically shaped garden is always a pleasure for me, and its overwhelming details are inviting the mind to make new connections and discover histories. Since my last visit, Instagram boomed and so did social media in general, therefore, late in the afternoon, it is almost impossible to find a spot for a photo without interferring with selfies, fashion shootings and other activities.

During this trip, I had the chance to observe more than ever the similarities between Dresden and the Italian cities. I miss Italy so much, but Dresden can sooth my longing, at least for a while. As Italian architects and experts contributed to the modern planning of the city, Theaterplatz - among many other places - reproduces a slice of Italian cities. No wonder that this German city used to be called 'Florence of the Elbe'.

Dresden is a city for culture lovers, from the famous Opera that on Saturday evening was surrounded by so many people about enter the performance to its many independent theaters, it offers diverse activities for culture lovers. Staatschauspiele, for instance, close to the Zwinger is even more than that. In the communist times, it served as an important stage for the voices of change and nowadays it offers a very modern repertoire, often with a clear social engagement line.

Dresden is also a city of high-tech. Gläserne Manufaktur is one of those places where the present meets the future. Volkswagen's local headquarters it was opened as a production site, focused on sustainable transportation. However, here are not only assambled 72 e-Golfs the day, but also tours and live experiments displaying the future of transportation are offered. With around 100,000 visitors the year, it displays the same interesting mixture between bold architecture - as at the Wolfsburg headquarters - and a high consideration for the environment, as the area is surrounded by a generous green area.

But now I am a bit back to the past, discovering the elegant Lingner Castle, built in the second half of the 19th century for the Prussian family of von Stockhausen. The manor is enormous and crossing it is an experience in itself. It has almost everything you need for a full-day experience, beautiful views, interesting histories, art collections and also a great food spot.

For those visiting only short term, it is worth to go to the terrasses and have a look over the Elbe. The river has not only beautiful views, but invites the dedicated cyclists to a relaxed tour which reveals nature and culture at the same time.

Far away, one can spot on the top of Wachwitzer Elbhöhen, the Dresden TV Tower, whose design was insired by a sparkling wine glass. Cheers! But let's move forward.

My next stop is in a place which is hard to describe, as it is so out of place in a way. It rather looks like a Spanish or Portuguese bodega. But it is just a delicious milk shop. Probably the most beautiful in the world, and it is already recognized officially so by the Guinness Book of Records. Pfunds Molkerei survived wars - escaped unharmed by the heavy WWII bombings - and was took out of service by the communists.

Surrounded by its colours and the Neorenaissance ambiance, with big groups of people coming and going, I am having a short cheese tasting treat, accompanied by a glass of milk. Which milk is fresh, heavy and as genuinely delicious as the milk we were provided by the milkman in my childhood.

The more I see and heard about Dresden history and urban development, the longer the list of the places I am planning to see next. Castles, fancy areas, museums, natural spots. I can see a lot of more Dresden trips in the future.

But as for now, I am back in the central area, enjoying the mixed ambiance of new and old, and we are unable to find a free carriage for a new city tour, in a company of nobles animals this time. 

Before we leave, we make a short stop in the front of the new City Hall. It is Sunday and we cannot go up to the 68-meter high tower to have another view over the city, so we admire everything from afar. On the top, Hercules, the patron of the city represented by the sculptor Richard Guhr is overviewing the city. His right arm raised over Dresden raised some issues after the war, due to the histories associated with it, but in the end he maintained his posture. Probably he is checking if it's raining, some say. Or maybe his hand is warning the residents of that part of the city to finally pay their taxes, some others assume.

In the front of the building, we meet the Trümmerfrau - or the Rubble Woman - one of the many women who after the war helped clear the bombed German cities of the tons of rubble produced by the bombing.
And there are so many more Dresden histories waiting for me that I can't help but start planning a new trip, as soon as possible.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A One Day Guide of Lovely Hiking in the Sächsische Schweiz

I did my first hiking at the crude age of 5, in the Carpathian Mountains, back in the old country. Since then, the legal three months of summer vacations were most of them spent in a similar way: exploring the mountains from the area of our summer house, step-by-step, a bit longer each year. Until 14, when I started my own travel adventures, the mountains were my second home and was not only able to distinguish between edible and non-edible fruits, but also to properly set up a camping place, make the fire and have some basic self defense knowledge about fighting wild animals, like bears. 
Wherever my travel and life steps lead me, hiking - and nature walking in general - continued to play a great role into my life: Was I professionally and personally happy? I was booking a hiking. I was heartbroken - a hiking will cure my pain. Was I in love? Only a walk in the nature will give me time to cool down and take the right decision. Was I looking only for a way to pleasantly spend my weekend? The simplest way to recharge my energies is by going to the mountains. Most of the time, I preferred to do it completely on my own, regardless if it was someone waiting for me waiting at the end of the hike. Me, alone with the mountains, is the highest form of personal reconnection I offer myself and it should be done in complete silence and privacy. It was not only like this, but I got easily used with that.
Since moving to Germany ten years ago, I moderately did a couple of hiking, mostly in the Harz Mountains. I become too busy with life, heartbreaking, recovery, family and other hectic events. I was always longing for nature and that feeling of tiredness when you are on the top of the mountains, but, again, I was too busy to recollect the broken pieces of the mosaique that was my life of the last years. 
Until I got the most serious wake-up call of my life and figure out that my biggest problem was that my beautiful life was partly hijaked and if I want - literally - my voice back, I have to detox completely. Trying again that genuine connection with nature that was such a faithful companion during all my life changes was part of my plan to spare myself the pain of not fully expressing my inner thoughts and beliefs. 
Out of time, I wanted a place close from home, relatively easy - I do a kind of random physical training but not strong enough for complex hiking - but with an impressive natural landscape. After doing a bit of research, the famous Sächsische Schweiz area - Saxon Switzerland - seemed as the most recommended destination. Which coincided at a great extent to my German travel wish list, as it was one of those places every reliable travel bloger I follow in the country and abroad already visited but me. 

First and foremost, I might state it very bluntly. I deeply disapproved comparison between places. I am at odds with all those comparisons between Paris or Venice and other cities - 'Paris of the East', 'Paris of the Middle East', 'Venice of the North'. Such relationships might help travel branding but in fact it takes out the possible uniqueness out of special places that most probably would be able to survive completely based on their own special features.
I have the same feeling when it comes to Switzerland. There are several places in Germany compared to Switzerland - a country which I know, oh so well, especially the mountain area - but as for now, none really made me feel like it. The answer is not that I am such a cold person, but because those places are beautiful as they are, no comparison needed.
In the case of this part of Saxony, the comparison was made by two Swiss themselves, students at the Art Academy in Dresden, probably longing too much for their home. The reference remaines after over a century and keep being proudly repeated in touristic documents and travel logs. For this blog, I keep the name for official references only as my personal belief is that this place has its own features and unique vibe.

There are many locations from where you can start your journey through the mountains, but after in-depth documentation, I've chose to start my journey from Rathen Kurort, 45 minutes away by train from Dresden, round trip covered by a one-day 14 EUR. ticket which can be used for going to other destinations along the road, such as Bad Schandau. From the train station, we took a boat to 'spring' on the other side of the Elbe, surrounded by an early morning misty landscape.

On the other side of the river, the rain is about to start and the small groups of tourists covered in colourful raincoats are looking rather for a place to be protected by the showers than to try to feel how it is to wake up with the mountains. The place looks neat with clean cobblestone-streets bordered by 2-3 story big houses, mostly hotels. At the Dofladen - village's shop - we stop for a generous piece of cake, hopeful that the rain, which is becoming real and aggressive, will leave soon.

After almost one hour, it really stops and we are ready to finally fill the lungs with fresh air. Maybe there will be some quiet pathways as well, which looks less likely, as it is weekend during the school vacation time therefore, hard to avoid the shoulder-to-shoulder cramped placed.

When we are looking around, it is expansive green trees that we see, and we forget the crowded city feeling.

The after-rain mist is slowly fading away, revealing the typical abrupt stones of the mountains, a typical feature for this part of Germany.

The rough appearance of the wilderness - although nature was so beautifully 'humanized' by poets and painters, it is just pure vital energy which emanates and human words and descriptions are just attempts to make this frightening force bearable - is mildered by the artificial waterfall. Although there are so many people, the ambiance remains silent. Or at least, it was, until we arrived...

At Amselsee, you can rent boats for small lake tours. It is one of those times when I really regret for not being able to swim.

At least, we are saving some time for hiking and the more we walk, the wilder the surrounding is.

Which does it mean that it makes the hike more difficult. You can easily walk through the forest and after a couple of hours I still haven't felt the burden of too much physical effort.

Far away from the restaurants area, we find natural energizers, small berries, which reminds me of the times when my only deterrent to not finish all the raspberries from the trails we were following was that if a bear will come, he will get distracted by some berries therefore, need to leave some for emergency situations.

The eyes are mesmerized by the beautiful stone structures. It gives a sense of lonesomeness but in the sense that it opens the eyes about those things that really matters and, as the stone, will stay there after all the storms.

I bet there are some parts of the mountainous area where you can climb the stones. I haven't done it in a long time either, but would love to get back in shape to do it in a foreseable future.

The landscape looks like it went through many strong storms that wildly took away trees and rearranged the huge pieces of stone. The rays of warm light coming from above are taking away the thoughts that maybe will be better not to stay too much around if eventually a new storm will start.

But the settled human presence is a sign that things cannot go that much worse. Quiet horses having their lunch are a beautiful view after the relatively long hike.

And so are the field, which are a good reminder that it is not too much left until the autumn, and with it, the long dark cold days. Carpe Diem is our motto while we are slowly taking a different way back to Rathen (one of the lessons I've always followed during my hiking years: always take a different way back - not a superstition but a smart way to see more than one side of the mountain)

We have enough time left to continue our trip with a short trip to Königstein - by a steam boat operational since the end of the 19th century. Despite its venerable age, it moves energetically alongside Elbe, welcoming with high-picked sounds other younger boats along the way. A two-way trip from Rathen to Königstein costs 19 Euro, amount that can be also paid by card.

Not bothered by the noise and the human presence in general, the sheeps are continuing their intensive diet on the other side of the river.

Although the human presence is relatively settled around, with many houses on the shores, there are also some points where the river meets the sky and the trees which make the journey memorable. 

The 'free state' of Saxony is a part of Germany with many castles, as it was made of different independent kingdoms which confirmed their presence and the limits of their power through fortified structures on the top of the mountains.

History, nature, culture, personal thoughts, there are so many things to consider during this journey which unfortunatelly comes to an end in less than one hour.

Instead of going further on to Bad Schandau, we decide to finish our trip to Königstein and enjoy a little walk in this town before heading back to Dresden. From here, you can take some small hiking trip or just enjoy its urban charm. We are going on with the second variant.

There are a couple of things to do here, just hanging around in the Musical Garden, where benches are shaped as musical instruments.

Or explore the narrow cobbled streets bordered by pastel houses.

Or get used with the specificities of the modern Saxon architecture - also painted in pastel colours.

We did all of this, plus offered a bonus for the hard hiking, with a layered cake at the very family-friendly Café im Sachsenhof. Delicious treat, indeed, and hopefully the right celebration of many more hiking trips that I want to take in the coming months and years. We all should have our little secrets to recharge our energies and eliminate daily poisonous negativity and overthinking after all.