Saturday, November 17, 2018

Autumn Day Out in Hamburg

Since moving to Germany, Hamburg was at least once the year on my travel radar. Therefore, after every trip, I keep adding this Hansa city on my next travel agenda, because I can't simply live without being there as often as possible. For me, it has the flair and charm and so many temptations that call me back over and over again. Also, only 3 hours away from Berlin, with the IRE - 29,90 EUR two ways - it makes it an easy and affordable destination for those days when I really want to get out of my hood. 

Due to a stupid mistake/misunderstading, as we took the wrong train - instead of the IRE (the regional train) the IC (inter-city) we had to stop twice, once in the empty statio of Wittenberge, and took another train suited for our train ticket level (unless we wanted to pay at least 75 Euro one way), we arrived a bit later as expected. However, the advantage of the traveller was to ride through the autumn countryside landscape of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, with its large fields with quiet cows having their breakfast. As my friend was visiting Hamburg for the first time, we made a first stop to the colourful St. Georg, with its multi-kulti restaurants and massive street art.

Autumn is having his last breath those days and we went for a walk in Alt Alster, where the rotten greens and yellow got a wake up call from the colourful yachts crossing the water.

At this time of the morning, it was the most quiet area, with only a couple of families and dog walkers hurrying around.

The gold leaves beds on the pavement were moving slowly in the pace of the mild wind, announcing the usual Hamburg rain later in the day.

After the hustle and bustle of the last weeks and especially hours when we were thinking at least once to change our travel plans and maybe to visit Schwerin instead, which is also a beautiful autumn travel choice, the quiet nature corners around Alt Alster brought back the peace of mind.

As my friend was curious to discover more of Hamburg, we break our Zen meditation, going back to the concrete world. The 5-star Hotel Atlantic Kempinski, since 1909 a luxury destination in the city, is welcoming us to the everyday Hamburg realities. So bad we don't have time for more than a picture this time. 

We don't have time for Hamburger Kunsthalle either, but at least we stop, again for an improptu of the interesting modern architecture in the area.

We may be in a hurry, but not insensitive enough to notice how autumn shades are outlining completely differently the architecture, by giving a completely different autumn feeling to the surrounding.

The boat restaurants offering typical Hamburg fish dishes are still full of people having a meal with a view of the peaceful seafront.

When the rain makes its entrance, we are rather exploring various indoor locations, discovering Art Nouveau ceilings in passages I've been dozen of times before without noticing anything. 

The shopping avenues are crowded, despite the weather, and when not jealous of the luxury options people have here, compared to my proletarian Berlin, I keep looking up searching for architectural details.

The typical brown-reddish architecture disposed geometrically perfect in a square, allowing the natural light right in the middle of it to reflect the perfect shapes of the opposite walls.

Symmetry is not always boring, and playing with shapes and sizes might create interesting architectural works. This building is an example and it is one of my favorites in Hamburg so far.

Rain and so much walking requires for some serious fuel. We stop for a vegetarian burger at BetterBurgerCompany where you can also charge your phone - in exchange of some coins - followed by a tasty coffee and cake stop at Espresso House. I couldn't leave Hamburg without having a bit of the famous puff pastry star Franzbrötchen. A local speciality inspired by the French croissant, it has a sweet, cinnamon-induced taste, but it is also available in variants which include cream or marzipan. 

Do we need to do anything else than just strolling the wet cobblestone-streets and enjoy the moment, no hurry, no rush to check a long list? At least not this time, but I know some serious travel writing assignments will call me back to reveal some best hidden gems in this Hanseatic City.

My friend kindly introduced to one of my favorite German cities was definitely charmed by it and wants to come back. Me too, at least twice in the next months, and I am happily looking forward to it. Bis bald, Hamburg!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

How to Explore the World Differently

Berlin, the city of all impossible dreams
As an avid traveller since my early childhood, I’ve tried all the possible means of transportation: from biking through the Japan countryside to exploring Germany or Central Europe by train (I still have vivid memories of my adventurous decisions to commute at least twice by night train from Budapest to Prague or Vienna). Exploring Thailand by bus a couple of years ago brought me close to sights that you rarely can see if you go by train or private jet. With the help of our guide we went to temples hidden in the heart of the mountains, heavily guarded
For each and every country, there are special transportation means you can use for a better coverage of those secret gems that you rarely have the chance to come close by if you are just a busy, always in a big hurry tourist.
Since moving to Berlin ten years ago - and counting - my travel experiences diversified, but also my knowledge about the ways in which travel should be also an activity done in full acknowledgment of the environmental priorities. If you plan to see the world, travel by airplane cannot be avoided, but at least you can try as much as you can to combine activities with a lesser impact to the environment, such as renting a bike for a city tour, or planning a walking tour of a city. Using public transportation can not only show you some off the beaten track parts of a country or a specific city, but also allows you to get in touch with the real people living there, which may leave important human memories and maybe friendships too. Very often, for me, visiting a specific place means trying to understand the culture and mentalities and this cannot be achieved naturally by covering exclusively the destinations featured by the tourist guides (nothing against them but they are largely limited if you are looking to also understand and not only to visit a place).

Better planning-more money for your next adventure

In fact, there are so many additional considerations and research that should be done the moment you decide to be more than a tourist. However, a good careful planning will help you not only to add your contribution to saving the planet and inspire others to do the same, but also to have a better financial planning and therefore to save more for your next adventure on the road.
Exploring nature in Spreewald, Germany
For each countries, specific requirements should be taken into considerations. For example, for big countries like Australia, you need to be very realistic when it comes to the travel objectives. A huge country, with enormous distances - which may take days - between cities and a lot of desert in-between, with a relatively high standard of living therefore with expensive prices for services, Australia can be challenging, especially for the first time visitor. And it has to do not only with the budget, which should be quite generous, if you want to cover your basic needs. But it has to do also with the right evaluation of the time needed to cover specific destinations. Especially if you are, like me, a traveller curious to see a bit more than the big cities and dive into the quiet life of the everyday Australian life, you might want to explore the country by car. If you travel as a family, it is a good opportunity to travel at your own pace, and also save money as a travel by airplane could be pretty expensive.
Once you have your plans for your Australian trip ready, you can start searching what are the best and affordable opportunities for an unforgettable road trip across this enormous country. By checking sites like KAYAK, you can easily find the best solution which suits your needs and your budget too. When both parents do have driver license, it is even easier, as you can switch your places at the wheel and keep rolling as much as you can and you want. A stop on the side to admire the sunset or just to embrace the silence of the desert, might be as an unforgettable experience as the standard - Instagrammable - picture in the front of the Sydney Opera House.

Be Grateful

Every time when I travel I start and end my journey by being grateful: for having the chance to travel so much; for having the freedom of movement; for the advantage of the EU passport to freely explore the history and culture of the world; for the chance of living in a country where working hard leads to being rewarded financially according to my skills and efforts; for the chance of knowing so many languages giving me the chance to communicate with people directly; for being healthy; for growing up an unfearful and autonomous adult; for having met so many inspiring people during my travels; for living those complex times when distances don’t matter when you have a clear aim.
Sharing my experiences about travel is part of my daily practice of gratitude, trying to inspire others to do the same while keeping in mind what an amazing thing is to be alive those days.

Disclaimer: The post contains affiliate links which does not affect the reading experience but may help this blog keep sharing more travel stories and adventures

Sunday, October 7, 2018

24 Hours in Binz/Rügen

Regardless how much time I spent hiking in the mountains or walking through thick green forests, my summers are not complete without a couple of trips to the sea. Unable to swim and not feeling guilty for it, I love spending time at the beach, looking at the sea while soaking in the summer sun. Given the moderate summers in Germany - I insist that 35 Celsius temperatures ARE moderate, as my real summers are burning hot for weeks with 40+ - I don't have to worry too much about being early at the beach for a couple of hours before the heat is hitting. Instead, I can spend hours reading and watching the sea and people. 
This summer was unusually long and sunny, with higher temperatures than usual, an invitation to explore more of the German islands - that I become aware not too many people outside the country are aware they exist. From a long wish list of places I wanted to go, the lucky winner of the season was Binz, on the island of Rügen, where we've spent one full day in August. 

Close from Stralsund and Rostock, both places with their own access to the sea, Rügen can be reached the best by car, especially as you can cross the spectacular suspended highway. From Berlin, by train, you have direct connection via the ICE, that lasts around 5 hours.

As we arrived pretty early in the morning, we join the big groups of people taking over the streets. It is the full holiday season and we hardly meet any foreigners. Therefore, we can have a full taste of local life, not adjusted to the needs of external tourists. August is 'Hauptsaison', the busiest time of the year, with many families but also couples spending their holidays here. Usedom is obviously more on demand for families as it has more quiet areas and children attractions, but at the first sight, Binz looked also tempting - although a bit pricey for this period of time. The price of a room during the 'saison' - from June until late September - starts from 75 EUR., with 45 EURO the room for the rest of the year.

We stroll alongside the beach and we can only wonder how long and rich in opportunities it is. There are 70 access gateways to the beach, each with a special profile: there is a family area, and an area where dogs are allowed, where people can enjoy the sun as they come to the world or many other options. 

Considered as Germany's first bathing resort, Binz is since 1885 a favorite destination on the island of Rügen - which is assigned descriptions as 'Nizza of the East' or the new Ibiza. Both appellations need some throughout checking, but as for now I prefer just to feel and observe my surroundings. 
The palatial Kurhaus building inaugurated in 1908 invites to a special offer of cake and coffee for less than 10 EUR - which for the prices of this establishment is a good offer indeed, to be tasted in the sound of piano played outdoors. This offer is available for 3.90 EUR in many small and less sparkling places all over Binz.

The busiest place to be is on Hauptstraße, with its many stores, outdoor restaurants and fish'n chips establishments (unfortunatelly I had a weak hand with my choice and I was deeply unhappy with my order at Happy Happen). In the weekend, you can hardly find some breathable space, with dogs of all sizes, buggies and big people all over the place. At least, the Whisky Bar does not look too crowded for now...

Rügen is considered an outstanding example of typical 'Baden architecture', with its 3-4 storey white buildings with fine iron wroughts balconies sustained by thin columns. Taking our eyes from the masses of people, we look up and put our cameras on work caughing different variations of the style.

Some of them do have a palatial majesty, and although most villas for rent are hosted in such buildings, there are also normal people living there. 

From a big row of souvenirs shops, on a side street we find a glass workshop, where you can not only admire different glass-made works, but you can also try the glass blowing techniques yourself. 

A couple of meters away, there is a full area dedicated to homemade fashion and interior items. The Kunstmeile on Margaretenstraße is colourful and bubbling with ideas put into practice mostly by local artists and designers.

A little bit before noon, we are finally ready for our time of rest and relaxation on the white sandy beaches. Near the pier, we easily find a spot where we can admire the Ostsee in its quiet beauty. There are no waves and the waters are perfectly clean and although it is plenty of people, including with children, everything is soothing calm and relaxing.
Renting a strand chair for the day costs 12 EUR. After 13 o'clock you can rent one for 9 EUR.

From afar, the green bushes covering the coast offer a special display of natural wild beauty. Particularly this part of the Rügen island was the inspiration for Caspar David Friedrich, the painter of early Romantic, born in Greifswald.

Swimming is not too dangerous, and although you cannot surf, at least you can keep being active while on the road.

Our way of being active is through walking. With so many beautiful details of the architecture that I want to better understand, I made a lot of steps this day, randomly exploring side streets around Haupstraße. It is not that difficult, and you do not need some special maps and directions with minimal chances of getting lost.

Sometimes you can encounter interesting buildings, that look very forward to the future oriented, most probably a location for cultural events or just from where you can watch the sea during the stormy days.

When you can hike with a view over the sea, you can consider yourself a lucky traveller. On Rügen you can explore the natural environment with a long walk through the Granitz National Park. Otherwise, Granitz with its castle can be reached by mini-bus and different offers of 1-2 hours tours are available from Rügen. 

With a limited amount of time on our sleeves, we rather focus on the architectural sightseeing. The high-end villas around Ulrich Müther Platz are displaying different levels of comfort. Most of them are open to rent and a couple of blocks away we can even spot some nice gardens with outdoor pools. Maybe this is the main reason of the comparison between Rügen and Ibiza?

Somehow, we are aware that one full day of intensive exploration is not enough to catch the spirit of the place. Our impressions are superficial but it is just the beginning of a process of understanding Rügen and its complex histories. 

As for now, we are enjoying the last rays of the sunshine, before boarding our train back to Berlin. Besides checking another island on my list of German places to see, I set up a bigger list of the serious reasons why I have to return here in the first place. Hopefully, it is just a first episode of just another long travel story.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Slow Sweet Life in Petershagen/Eggersdorf

This long beautiful summer that ended up suddenly into cold late autumn brought me in many beautiful, relatively unknown places in Germany. Curious to discover this country off the beaten path, I answered the challenge and spent interesting times exploring places, meeting people and trying to understand geographies and architecture. After Strausberg and Erkner, Petershagen Nord - to not be confused with the place with the same name from Nordrhein-Westfalen - was our next Sunday trip destination. Easy to reach from Berlin with the ABC ticket with the S5 from the Zoo S-Bahn station, it takes almost one hour to arrive.

When you travel to any place in Germany on Sunday and you find something open, all you can do is to have a stop, grab a cake and a coffee and enjoy the capitalistic priviledge. Near the train station, Café Noebe winked on us, offering not only a humongous strawberry bread coconut pudding, but also a slice of local life, with many people living here enjoying the sunny afternoon while taking a sip or a bit at their tables covered in plastic tableclothes.

Well fuelled, we try to stay in good shape while walking for around an hour alongside the Atlantsberger Chausée, passing rows and rows of one storey stone houses surrounded by gardens. Many are also the headquarters of small business, many in the field of house maintenance and reparations, but also hosting unusual still useful projects, such as the workshop for porcelain reparations. 
Everything around us is small size, with side streets and meows leading to narrow streets populated with small houses.

As we are fast getting tired, a new refreshment is necessary. Eiscafé Eisjunge, apparently one of the respectable institution, if only to think about the long rows in the front of the counter. The icecream sortiment is beating any serious offer in the city, with ingredients as unusual as cucumber or sweet potatoes. 

However, we have some family-oriented activities in mind: a visit at the small petting zoo - Kinderbauerhof - full with children either partying hard for the birthday of their friends or just hanging around in the grass with their parents. It is a really pleasant ambiance, and besides the chance of interacting with the animals, the children can also spend their energies in the playground. 

Although we didn't find a serious, tempting restaurant to inclue on our foodie list - spotted some Mediterranean and Greek options though - at least we've visited another small Sunday bar/coffee place where people living here usually meet: Angerscheune, open this day until 17.00 o'clock where also small local cultural events are hosted.  

Although anything special, spectacular, bubbling took place during our Sunday trip to Petershagen/Eggersdorf, leaving it was like saying too fast 'good bye' to a world where time stopped. The gracious horses taking a break outdoors were a reminder that we have to come back this autumn to admire the show of colors at the Bötzsee, and eventually use this time to be grateful to have so many options to spend a free meaningful disconnected from the busy city life.  

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Berlin Off the Beaten Path: Why Visit Erkner?

On my way back from Frankfurt/Oder, on the way by train to the Central Station we passed a colourful small harbour packed with colourful small boats. I had a short look at the name of the station - Erkner - which at the time didn't tell me anything. After giving the landscape a couple of more careful seconds from my time, I instantly included on the list of the 'places to visit' for a short getaway near Berlin: I spotted a lot of green areas, and the water and some interesting buildings too.
Back home, I've spent some time doing intensive research at the end of which I got even more reasons to visit this place soon: a spa place until the end of WWII, a literary destination for those interested in mapping the German Nobel prize winners as here Gerhard Hauptmann spent a couple of years, and also a little nature paradise.
You can easily arrive there using the ABC S-Bahn ticket from Zoo, with Erkner the final destination.

Although less than one hour away from Berlin, there is a certain countryside quiet mood which predominates, with couples strolling the main street and family with kids heading in groups to some nature walks. The cityhall, the former summer residence of the Gotha-born worldwide piano maker Carl Bechstein, smoothly integrates into the modest urban landscape. The park on the back of the cityhall, with a view over the Dämentzsee and Flockensee make it as a relaxing way to spend your Sunday afternoon.

More interesting for me is the geometrical games shaped by the blocks of houses bordering the narrow main street.

A mechanical flower clock keep it up with the time and the times, a bizarre combination between humble nature and human advanced technology.

Newly painted Art Nouveau fassades give to the streets some touch of elegane and noblety. As a spa place, for its fresh air and high concentration of natural areas, Erkner was a holidays and relaxation spot. The architecture typical for spa centers can be still spotted once in a while if you have an eye for it.

One of Erkner's famous residents is the 1912 Nobel prize winner Gerhard Hauptmann. He spent here only 4 years - between 1885 and 1889 - but was a reason enough to make him the VIP of the place. Alternatively, Erkner was also named Gerhard Hauptmann City, and a museum featuring his works and life is hosted in the elegant Villa Lassen. 

On Fürstenwaldestrasse, colourful murals featuring the life and nature of Erkner are a different way to introduce this city to Germany and the world.

It may be a small place, but it has its own quiet lifestyle and local traditions.

And its residents, more or less famous, might just call it a day when they can jump in their boats and make a tour around the lakes.

Before we are trying to see if possible to go on a boat tour, a healthy - or at least foodie - stop is required. At the Bürgerli you can meet on a Sunday with your friends, neighbours and every other visitors in Erkner like us. It is buzzing with life - and literally with bees - and the crepes covered in strawberyy jam and ice disappear from the plate in the blink of an eye.

Arriving by boat to your office? Why not? In Erkner you can just step out your home and ride your bike - why not - as far as Berlin.

Not in the best physical shape after returning from Buckow, I am using this opportunity of some more action. The 1900-meter long Wanderweg zum Botterschen Gräben, a settlement created in the second half of the 18th century is the perfect spot.

Easy to walk around, especially in comfy shoes, you may meet once in a while some locals walking their dogs or also, like you, looking for some nature battery boost. Bikes and solid baby prams are also welcomed.

Embracing the silence, I am happy with the moment and the blessing of moving my feet on the way to the unknown paths.

Hidden behind big green trees, a small countrymen house is hosting a local museum, featuring the story of Erkner, its traditions and personalities. At the Heimat Museum I discovered another local literary personality which spent some time here, the poet Helga M. Novak.

If you visit Erkner with children, besides the nature walking, there are also a couple of small parks where the little ones can use their energy climbing and jumping around. A former attraction, a petting farm - Bauernhof - was recently closed, although local directions still include it among the things to see here.
Hopefully, we have even more walking paths and lakes to discover. Near the former spa park, there are some easy paths to follows, or the Hohenbindener Weg, leading to am Karutzsee.  All quiet and neat, if not for a lady approaching every new coming people to tell them how everything is so dirty nowadays, compared to decades ago - in the GDR times, as Erkner was on the red side of the wall, as a monument to Soviet soldiers near the Hartmann Museum reminds.
As the trip is over, I am happy that I've decided to spent a lovely summer afternoon in a place rarely mentioned on the Berlin's To Do List. Not sure when will return, but at least we put on the map a simple green gem of this city that never ceases to amaze me. I bet I'm not the only one!

Can you spot the horses?