Thursday, September 26, 2019

How to Spend a Lovely Day in the Colourful Stade

As a regular visitor to Hamburg, I am always looking for the local recommendations for one-day trips. After I've been to Lüneburg a couple of years ago - and really enjoyed it - this time I finally have the chance to make the one-hour trip with S-Bahn to the colourful city of Stade.

It is a lovely sunny Indian summer day, and like in Hamburg, everyone is out enjoying, everyone's its own way. And abilities. Paddling is one of it, but if you are into romantic tours, you can even have your own gondola for a water tour. I am skipping those experiences for this time though.

I've been told a lot by my friends about the classical red-bricked buildings and Hanseatic style of Stade, but during my first minutes here I am having a look at the street art instead, done on a so-called 'legal wall' - the only urban space where the street artists are allowed to display their art skills. It looks moderately fine.  

The day is busy not only on the waters, but also outdoors. It's a city festival taking place and some of the old buildings are obstructed by colourful panels offering entertainment for children.

With so many events taking place, the central area of Pferdemarkt is crowded with stalls offering various local treats and entertainment. However, the side streets like Poststraße are so quiet that you can hear your steps on the cobblestone. The predominant colour of the buildings is red, and the bricks were aimed to diminish the risk of fire that consumed parts of the city more than once. 

The late Renaissance entry of the City Hall on Hökerstraße is a representative construction for Stade. It was built in the second half of the 17th century, on the ruins of the previous 13th century building, and rather looks like a local middle class palace than an administrative building.

As it is weekend, I cannot visit the interior, with its wooden staircases and the stained glass windows. Maybe a next time.

Meanwhile, I have plenty of time to stroll the narrow streets with the shops and small restaurants hosted at the ground level of half-timbered houses. There are plenty of local products and vintage stores and some small art galleries too. At Stader FachMarkt on Große Schmiedestraße I chat shortly with the owners about the selection of local products: among others, apple curry, cider and honey. Apple is a staple in the area of Alte Land, surrounding Stade, which are the main ingredients not only of various types of local cakes and jams, but also of brandies or even soups. On my to-eat list for a next visit. 

But before I am finding a place to eat - get ready with cash, as I tried at least seven places and cards were always forbidden fruits - I am enjoying a bit more the sun blessings. Finding a free place on Fishmarkt is mission impossible so I prefer to keep exploring more side streets.

And I am hardly disappointed, as I have always a weakness for colourful doors.

On the other side of the old city, the clean geometry of the modern buildings guarded by elegant boats is reflected into the water.

Although I am a big lover of everything modern architecture, this time I am more into discovering the old spirit of this Hanseatic little town, with its tradesmen houses.

And some hidden symbols displayed at the entrances, whose meaning I am too much in a hurry to decipher. Looks like a good beginning of a novel in Dan Brown' style.

Personally, I am more keen to decipher the beautiful combination of seasonal vegetables in my lasagna I am treating myself at Cafe im Goebenhaus, considered among Germany's best eateries. My order, a choice from a handwritten menu, is taken fast, and brought even faster, the meal is well balanced and genuinely tasty and the lemonade is one of the best I've had in Germany - which means still far from my standards. 

But Stade has more than nice foodie places and colourful doors. There is also a museum to see, Schwedenspeiche, a former warehouse used by the Swedish Army during the 30 years war in the 17th century. Swedish nostalgics can also have a Swedish meal at the Saltkran, a pretty eatery in the old city area.

Still, with the warm season at the very deadly end, I prefer to stay as much as possible outdoors, enjoying the views of just another pair of colourful doors...

...or some beautiful Baroque-style light orange building.

When the intensive noise of the bells announces me it is a quarter train is leaving the station, I feel that I would love to spend more time here. I wanted so long to meet Stade and was happy for the encounter. From now on, I know where I can go when I am spending just another long weekend in my lovely Hamburg.

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.