Hotel Review: Hotel Vital Tel Aviv

IMG_20150107_121156

I arrived in the small loby of the boutique business hotel Vital on a very rainy winter day of January. In Jerusalem the roads were blocked because of the snow – one, two centimeters are enough to raise the emergency level to unbelievable levels, exactly like the 30 plus Celsius temperatures in Germany, while in Tel Aviv, the Deliiah storm was putting trees on the ground. From the Central Bus Station, I just walked for 40 minutes and reached the hotel, part of a bigger mall and in the close vicinity of important medical centers. As it was too early for the check in and I may have been look prety pittiful after the long walking in the rain, I was invited to take a seat and relax at the 12th floor business lounge. Fresh pastry and juices, as well as coffee and free Internet were available and took my time to recharge but also have a look over the beautiful city.

Newspapers are also available and for the first time in a long time I had the chance to touch a print edition of Jerusalem Post. The hotel guests are also offered in the morning complimentary copies of the NY Times with Haaretz inside, in an elegant black and white badge…(Let’s keep the politics outside the gates of this blog,ok?)

As I would be explained later during my complimentary tour of the facilities, there are more opportunities to relax offered during the stay to this boutique business hotel: the 200 sqm fitness center can be used for free. Tours and airport transfers are also offered which make the stay even more enjoyable, especially if you are for the first time in the bubbling Tel Aviv and for a short stay and you want to parcimoniously use your time.

IMG_20150107_130741

The room offer is very diverse, and it answers practically every specific needs of the diverse tourists and visitors: single junior, executive room, executive room with kitchinette, club, family room, deluxe, superior suite deluxe, executive suite. The rooms are provided with basic facilities, among which a very fast wifi, electronic mini bar, TV, desk and work place, telephone and voice mail, safe, bath robes and sleepers. Laundry services during the weekdays are availble. In order to give the guests time to relax and enjoy their time, the payment is done upon checkout. Special facilities for people with disabilities are also available.

The diversity of Vital Hotel offer explains the diversity of guests: from diplomats to people coming for medical treatments or families with children.

IMG_20150107_130815

The rooms are simply decorated, with modern furniture and warm colours. It gives you the feeling of being at home, with all those small facilities and basic comfort that you need,especially if you expect to stay on the road for a long time. The design as such, too much IKEA-infused, did not impress me too much but the rooms are spacious and not over charged.

I enjoyed this homely feeling especially at the end of my day out, exploring the area around the Weizmann street where the hotel is situated. First, it is the mall nearby, with its many offers and coffee shops and small restaurants, all tempting you to stay more with their sales season. A couple of minute of wallking away, there is the famous Kikar Hamedina, with the most expensive houses and many fancy boutique shops. If you want more shopping, Azrieli shopping mall is also close. For culture lovers, Tel Aviv Opera House, Habima Theater – where extraodinary dance performances are regularly taking place, an advantage to taste arts without knowing the language – or Tel Aviv Museum are aso within reach. But most importantly for the business visitors, the hotel is in the vicinity of the Israel Trade Fairs and Convention Center or the Diamond Exchange. And if you love the sea, 5 minute away by car and around 30 by foot, you can relax at the beach, admiring the view while eventually sipping a glass of red wine.

IMG_20150108_070425

In the morning, the energizing breakfast, with a lot of good dairy products, including the very delicious cottage cheese which always tastes the best in Israel, and freshly made pastry put you back on the good track. Looking out of the window of the 12th floor, the view of the bold city that never sleeps gives you a lot of motivation and inspiration. The pleasant background music helps you to return to normal life, one step at a time.

vital 1

Before leaving, a last email checking and booking printing for the next leg of my trips. Everything works fast and I can do my things within minutes and spend the rest of the time till checkout touring once again the neighbourhood. Although I never heard about this hotel before spending here one night, given the big demand of accommodations in Tel Aviv and Israel in general, I am sure I will hear once again about it soon.

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary stay and tour of the hotel, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Waldorf Astoria, the newest luxury jewel of Jerusalem

DSCN0461

Weddings in Israel are usually extraordinary events, with a high concentration of joy and warm with welcoming families, gorgeous outfits and lavish food. The choice of the location is usually a long process as everyone wants to offer the best one. And what can be hotter than Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, the chosen one even by Conde Nast as the best hotel in the Middle East?

DSCN0464

Long time residents of Jerusalem still cannot believe that this place, on Agron street, is finally more than an empty building about to fall. Initially Palace Hotel – the first ever luxury hotel in the Middle East – in the 1930s, property of the infamous Haj Amir el Husseini, it was purchased by the government in 1948 and turned into a building for offices. After being abandonned, the building was bought in 2003 by Reichmann family who invested $150 millionn in the refurbishing process. In March 2014, it was launched as the luxury hotel Waldorf Astoria, operated by Hilton Hotels and IPC Jerusalem. It is considered the longest restoration project in Israel’s history, but the results seem to be worth the waiting.DSCN0505

The architectural works were coordinated by Yehuda Feigin, who added to the original Waldorf Astoria standards a lot of Moorish, Arab or Roman influences. The fragility of the white marble is fixed with strength by the metal structures of the stairs, wrapped in the natural light entering from the huge windows.

DSCN0510

Etheral fragile glass presence, work of a team of glass artists that brought their materials from Czech factories coordinated by the local glass artist Jeremy Langford are bringing a touch of peace and serenity to the massive interiors.

DSCN0528

As in the case of many hotels of Jerusalem I had the priviledge to visit lately, the rooms are designed according to the highest modern standards – every guest is handled a tablet for checking emails, for instance – while keeping a classical ambiance.  Internet is available through both the public network and the special wifi offered complimentary in the rooms.

DSCN0527

Every one of the 226 rooms is an island of rest and peace. It suits both single and family travellers, with different price and standard categories. A slice of the lavish luxury from outside is brought in every room, either it is the chandellier or the delicate orchid flowers or the huge mirrors. The bathroom toileteries are signed by Salvatore Ferragamo.

DSCN0523

The atrium is the backbone of the hotel, aimed to bring the varied world of Jerusalem within the high walls brought together by the massive arches. Most of the artwork is local, as it is the inspiration. Couples dating for the first time are whispering their introductions near a cup of coffee or fresh juice, their emotions getting lost in the high ceiling. Who know how many of them will come back soon at the tiny reception asking for an appointment for renting a wedding location?

DSCN0524

The small octogonal marble atrium is organised around the special Waldorf Astoria clock. The flowers and the honey and brown colours of the upholstery are matching the reflexes of the watch. There may be many shadows in life, but we just need to see the good side of things…The clock, a Waldorf Astoria trademark, has 4 faces, with numbers written in Arabic, Hebrew, Roman and European style.

DSCN0518

Back visiting some of the rooms, I am notice so many small details, like this delicate glass lamp trunk that brings so much emotions in the corner.

DSCN0515

Following the local tradition, guests are welcomed with full heart and a generous bottlle of local wine. It may help to relax when preparing for a business meeting, for sure.

DSCN0514

Tired after walking the busy city, one can rest in the corner and watch the streets from under the fine and elegant curtain. Everything is set to be special in this hotel, with the smallest of the rooms being of 37 sqm, when the average is of 30 sqm.

DSCN0509

The more parts of the hotel I am discovering the more I feel like in a small city. Every once in a while you can rest and enjoy your time, surrounded by the games of light.

DSCN0504

At the beginning of January, the hotel is not very busy, but I am told to wait and see the time of the Jewish holidays of Pesach or Rosh Hashana when it is hard to find an available room.

DSCN0503

Sometimes, I feel like I am the guest in a huge castle, whose gigantic dimensions are made more human through the warm of art.

DSCN0499

One of the staples of the hotel are the glass chandelier, glittering like little diamonds, put together after days of work. The ballroom can host around 900 people, the right amount of guest to have to a wedding, isn’t it?

DSCN0493

On the way to any of the 12 meeting rooms, the warm colours of art can make you smile. It is also about emotions here, but the positive ones.

DSCN0489

When the natural light is missing, the combination of the chandeliers reflected in the mirrors and enlightened by the reflexes of carpets and walls create an universe where you expect wonders.

DSCN0486

About expectations and wonders is talking also the lobby art installation in the lobby, by Jeremy Langford, a metaphor of peace and hope.

DSCN0478

Either I stay on the old or the new side of the hotel lobby I start to feel at home. This city cannot exist outside history and the architectural solution implemented here brings together all the layers of history and influences that are part of the big story: Roman or Greek arches, Byzantine mosaique, massive marble columns, Oriental carpets, European glass, tailored furniture with exquisite upholstery or Turkish crafts.

DSCN0473

Even the nature from the hills around Jerusalem is brought, wild presences framed by the orderly lines.

DSCN0459

It is past the middle of the day and it is about time to stop the exploration and have a taste of the fine dining.

DSCN0534

The cheese raspberry cake accompanied by icecream not only looks good but it is also delicious, with a balanced mixture of fruity aromas.

DSCN0531

One of the most unforgettable impressions is left by the geometricall chocolate lava cake, also accompanied by icecream, but served warm. While going one more bite ahead, I cannot but think about how many changes these walls had seen and how there is always a hope for good. This, but especially the chocolate cake, qualifies me for a permant returning visitor status in this oasis of luxury.

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary tour of the hotel, but the opinions are, as usulal, my own. 

5 Places to Run Far Away from Winter

Winter is really playing hard against my meteorological patience. The German winter one, famous for its negative temperatures – -13C a couple of early  mornings ago – and persistence – once upon a time, I lived to see snow in the happy month of April no less. True is that the summer was very hot this year and the cold season started really only from January. But anyway,  for someone like me, winter is synonimous with bad mood, ugly clothing and limited freedom travel. It also means more than one book finished the day, many coffees and a lot of blogging.

This time of the year I am usually out of Germany till February, in much warmer places, from where I nonchalantly post sunny images on my social media channels. There are many warm places waiting for me and promise to visit soon – anyone said Bahamas? or Cuba? or Zanzibar? -, but as for now, I made a short list of my favourites that I already had the chance to visit in the last years.

  1. Lisbon, Portugal

portugal

Lisbon, and Portugal in general, is one of my pleasant European travel memories. I loved to discover the people, the great food – the wine and the morning pastry are unforgettable – and so many cities that can be visited for one day trips, such as Sintra or Porto. I stayed in the fancy area of Cascais, around 25 minutes by train to the centre of the capital city and I was very happy with my choice, especially after I discovered a very special museum of musical instruments. I went there in one December and I had only one windy and rainy day in almost three weeks of stay.

2. Barcelona, Spain

It is a very touristic and crowded place, especially if you plan to celebrate the New Year’s Eve, but for a change one can try to pay a visit to the South of France for this specific day and night and come back at the beginning of January for the rest of the journey. The Gaudi architecture is interesting enough to keep you busy for long days and there are a lot of food choices for every taste and budget.

3. Israel

tel aviv

Outside Europe, and only four hours of flight away from Berlin with regular cheap flights every day, Israel offers everything: history, art, religion, beaches, great food, unique shopping, high-end hotels. Bonus: the warm weather. Last December, I enjoyed a couple of days at the beach or sipped my glass of red wine with a great sea view. Once in a while, there is a little snow coming up for a couple of days or minutes, but although everyone is welcoming the event with panic and fear, there is nothing to be afraid of. And if you really miss the snow so much, there may be even some ski options in the Mount Hermon area.

4. New Orleans, USA

How much I love this place! The jazz clubs hopping on Bourbon street, the feeling of getting lost in the middle of the houses with stylish iron balconies and the summer feeling all round the year. The food is special in comparison with the most part of America, with a lot of spices and wise dosis of French influences. What everyone visiting the city should do: book a riverboat tour on the one and only Mississippi.

5. Thailand

thailand

My first winter escape at the end of my first year in Germany was in Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok in the last days of December and the first hours I went through a thermic shock. In Berlin there were some minus degrees and in this city I was hardly able to breath because of the heat wave. Outside the busy Bangkok with its street food and night markets there are many things to see in the Northern region, from temples where one can book a bike tour to hiking, to fancy hotels with swimming pools and silk factories. The North has also cuisine based on fruits and vegetables. The prices are almost symbolical and you will hardly be alone during this time of the year, with many English speaking expats and tourists roaming around. The islands are usually high end destinations with gorgeous hotels and villas to rent, but if you are rather the secluded type, you better do an exhaustive research about where to find your peaceful paradise.

I told to myself more than once that I have one day to learn to ski, encouraged but the saying that you are never old enough to start practising this sport. My friends still hope that one day will finally buy the proper clothes for this weather and use this winter time for some unique trips instead of repeatedly complaying for months about the hard life under the Central European cold – you see, even my conversations are limited because of this weather! I also remember one beautiful winter I spent in Oslo, the first time since childhood when I enjoyed the snow and crispy weather. However, if you will ask me to chose between a sunny destination and one covered by snow, my answer will definitely favor the choice no. 1. After all, one can learn to ski at any age, isn’t it?

 

Pregnant on the road, some lessons learned

The last summer and the last year in general was not one of my best in terms of travel. Maybe it was the worst in the last 10 years. However, there was a very serious reason to spend more time at home, reading or writing, for instance, than on the road: the baby D. was on his way and I had to follow a strict travel diet. But the things were not as bad in terms of travel as it may sound. I did spend almost every weekend outside Berlin and I extensively updated my knowledge about the city, despite the high heat and swollen feet. I did went by airplane twice, at the very beginning of the pregnancy, and spent almost 24 hours from London to Berlin by car. I did not bike, because I usually do not do it in ‘normal’ times, but spent at least two hours every day hiking or walking.

Now, with baby D. almost four months old and ready for his first big travel adventure, I am ready to share some tips for any woman traveller about to add a new member to the travel team.

  • Before you decide any travel plan, consult with your physician. Based on your age, type of pregnancy and specific situation, the doctor can recommend what are the best ways to cope with your wanderlust. After all, your health and the wellbeing of the baby matter the most.
  • Especially in the last months of pregnancy, avoid long trips. Try to keep your curiosity satisfied by exploring the local museums and your neighbourhoud.
  • If your situation allows, try to walk at least one slow hour the day. Avoid extreme hiking though and chose instead slow walks on flat terrain.
  • Always wear verz comfortable shoes. I hated my feet in the last two months of pregnancy: swollen and slow. However, I put in the closed any fancy high heells or uncomfortable shoes and intensively used a pair of sport shoes that were ugly but easy to wear.
  • Avoid carrying big bags. During one day and a bit trip to London, I had a small backpack, with some essentials.
  • Make as many stops as possible. No need to hurry up, take your time and look around. For me, the nine months of pregnancy were a blessed time when I savored every single second, slowly and focused on the present moment.
  • Drink a lot of liquids, especially if you travel during the hot summer days.
  • Include as many foodie stops as you need. Usually, I started my trips with a short stop for a little piece of cake and a cappuccino and continued with a generous lunch. And maybe an icecream a couple of hours later.

This was my happy and generally uneventful experience. Any thoughs and tips to share by other young mothers travelers around?

2015 in review, and some travel resolutions

 

Compared with the previous years, 2015 was a very poor one in terms of travel! No new country added on the list, few spectacular places visited and only 2 destinations outside Germany, both places that I know very well, covered: London and Israel. My blogging had ups and downs, with a long writing break between end of August and end of October.

However, many interesting things happened into my not so travelling life: I extensively went almost every week-ends in small green paradises around Berlin, discovering oasis of quietness and some great food too. I got my first full time job in Germany after many years of freelancing and unsuccessfully applying for various positions. And the most important of all my achievements sofar, baby boy D., born three months ago, my best excuse ever to slow down a bit more and rather focus on taking care of the new life. Last but not least, I added Instagram at my online brandig portfolio – #Ilanaontheroad – which I enjoy to experiment a lot with, especially during the time when waiting to be released from hospital.

But little by little, everything is back on the track and it is about time for a basic wishes’ planning. As for now, I still have some travel stories to tell from the last year and this will keep the blog busy till the new adventure is ready. I have a couple of travel and writing books that I need to read, preparing to finally start writing my own serious writing projects.  Technically speaking, my blog needs a serious relift and I will have to find the easiest and best technical way to make it look a little bit better.

Baby boy D. is also ready to travel, with his first long trip already done to Potsdam. We are ready to start discoverig the world together,  one little wonder at once. After so many years spent travelling across Europe, I know that it is about time to pay more attention to travel stories from outside my comfort zone. But as I have on my agenda the need to dramatically improve my Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, most probably I will have to include at least three classical European destinations too.

As usual, I am very cautious with making plans, but I am trying at least to make some wishes and only hope that it’s all for good!

Till the next post, keep in touch with many good travel news! And a phantastic travel year to all my readers!

Salty Middle Ages impressions in Lüneburg

DSC00888

My stepfather was only once in Germany and then he only visited Lüneburg. Back home, he was extremely impressed by the little picturesque houses, maintained in a good shape for centuries. As the city was left untouched by the WWII bombings, the city seemed to have its special histories to share. Taking the chance of some special Deutsche Bahn train offer this summer – less than 40 EUR two ways from Berlin for a weekend ride – I embarked on my trip direction North Germany.

DSC00890

Unlucky me, during my entire trip to Lüneburg I had as train company a huge group of soccer fans who were heading further to Hamburg. I am tolerant enough to accept people’s love for football, but everything stops shorter when it comes to the never ending bottles of beer consumed during a 3-hour trip many poured on the floor. Upon arrival in the city, I preferred to err for a couple of good minutes, enjoying some silence and fresh air, around the waters of Ilsenau. The view of the historical houses changed my mood. A nice lady engaged a conversation with me, explaining me the downfalls of living in such a house: sometimes it can be too cold and usually the doors and windows cannot be changed.

DSC00898

The watermill is another historical destination, built in 1407, where people can also rent a place to stay for a couple of days.DSC00900

The water seems to have played an important role in the development of this city. Nowadays, this role have been converted into cultural value. The water tower – the Wasserturm – for instance,  gathers various exhibition spaces and also offers hosting for special events, such as weddings.

DSC00904

From the 56-meter high 6th floor, one can have an overview of the entire city. Maybe there are not too many new buildings erected in this city that from above looks surprisingly green, but there are some work underway to give the city a new architectural face.DSC00909

On the way back from the top of the tower, a little stop to admire an exhibition about Japan, following the twinning between Lüneburg and Naruto city.

DSC00912

I am walking under the huge trees of Clamart Park, with a monument for the victims of the French German wars. The massive green seems to bring more friendliness in an area dominated by dark brutalist style architecture.

DSC00920

Sooner, I am entering a joyous area, at the intersection between Ritter and Rote Straße, full of tourists and small attractive shops. Many are selling sweets containing local salt or bonbons shaped as the historical buildings.

DSC00921

The reality size buildings are more tempting and interesting, although not on the plate. Different colours of stones were carefully built together creating pyramid-roofed houses that may look but are not always the same.

DSC00924

It may look like a museum, but real people are living here and always used to. Everything is so well maintained and renovated that it seems that the houses were finished only a couple of months ago.

DSC00926

I am a bit curious to know how the space of the houses is organised, but as no one invited me yet for an overview, I take a break and a Kopenhagener at the historical Hesse Bäckerei and try to read fast the spirit of the place. DSC00930

The more I get closer to the Am Markt, the more tourists I meet. Locals on bike are finding hard their way in the middle of the crowds.

DSC00944

But I am lucky enough to find some small streets, where the luxuriant vegetation brings a sweet touch to the cold serious red bricked buildings.

DSC00946

These small streets are hiding cute little coffee and tea places, where it is easy to find your peace of mind. Like the Oldest Tea a destination for the local hipsters.DSC00954Or the Chocolate Manufaktur from Berge 26, offering various local homemade cocoa based delights. Or the Kafferosterei Ratsch, a sweet presence in town since 1919.DSC00961

Some buildings display colourful decorations at the entrance, tempting the visitor to pay a longer visit in the stores. DSC00964When the special architecture does not help, some shops may chose to just took some of their products out of the street, like in the case of Wohnzutaten, introducing many vintage interior design pieces of decoration.DSC00973

The Teddy bears from Freken Dina, selling products trademarked by Danish interior design artists seem to ask me to bring them home, all of them. The same temptation at Korinna Weber jewelry shop.DSC00988The more I walk the more details to spot. Some of the coloured timbered houses remind me of the architecture in Celle or in some localities in the Harz mountains.DSC00994

All the historical houses are labelled as ‘trade’ houses but obviously some were more successful than the others in their business endeavours. As it always happens.

DSC00996

But nowadays you do not have to be successful to take a seat with a great view over the river at one of the restaurants. If you are lucky enough to find a free place, which was not my case.

DSC00999

Waiting for some luck, I spend my time at the Alte Krau, an old mill from the 19th century whose functioning is explained in detail part of a guided introduction.DSC01008History is always interesting for me, but there are even more things to admire around. For instance, a wine collection at the Einzartig Hotel, the art from Atelier 19 or the Persian dishes from Soraya restaurant. Lünerbug Bombon Manufaktur invites adults and children to taste some colourful sweets, some of them prepared in the front of them.DSC01024

I pass wooden bridges bordered by buildings with even more local products or hotels, like the Bergström, apparently one of the few top hotel destinations in the city.

DSC01023

Or with some art galleries, like the Gallerie Bertram displaying beautiful book illustrations, made on the spot by the artist herself.

DSC01031

The smell of the fresh bread ready from the ovens of the Backstube bring more flavour to my wandering.

DSC01042The same as the colourful fresh peasants products from the flea market in the front of the city hall take me to the rush and whispers of bargaining.DSC01044

There is so much commotion and things to care about on the ground that I was almost about to ignore the impressive City Hall building.

DSC01047

Guided tours of the city hall are possible at specific hours during the day, when the authorities are not happy to celebrate weddings or other happy moments. Meanwhile, what not go on a city tour in the carriage?

DSC01050

City hall administrative buildings are hosted in historical houses. Seeing these cute little red bricked presences it might be a really pleasant event to go to work every day. The Council Library is a former Franciscan Convent, where you can have a curious look if you really want.

DSC01066

But history can wait. As for now I want to check the foodie offer, hoping that there will be more than middle ages flavours available. My expectations are answered and it seems that I have to make a difficult choice. From a Thai restaurant – Buddha Thai – whose advantage is of being too far away from the main street, to some English high end options, including high tea, like Chandler’s Caffee, there is enough to calm my hunger. As I want to keep an eye on the street while enjoying the jazz rhythms of a street musician, I am set for the less sophisticated Cafe Central, where I order a quinoa veggie burger and French fries. Exactly what you can expect from such an order, and one more time, I am not convinced to include quinoa on my foodie preferences.

DSC01093With renewed energies, I keep exploring the interesting streets, the usual mixture of modern shops and small caffes hosted in building with a romantic, historical charm. As for now, I am checking Schröderstrasse, Grapengiesserstr. and Brumesterstr. More discoveries follow, such this quiet painting atelier on Auf der Altstadtstr. DSC01110

Another part of the Lüneburg history is revealed at the Salt Museum, a former mine where different stages of the salt mining, a historical tradition here. It outlines the European routes of salt, and introduce the history of this very simple, yet precious, product for our life and successful kitchen.

 

DSC01113

Some of the former tools used in the extraction process are exhibited outside. The mine, part of a tradition who intensified in the 16th century, following the introduction of the salt as part of different ingredients, from kitchen culture to medication, was closed in the 1980s, for economic reasons. In the old days, it used to produce around 10 tones per day.

DSC01116In a building nearby, old interiors from the 1960s on were reconstructed as recent history testimonies. For someone who did not leave here during these times, such reconstructions are very helping in understanding the mentalities.DSC01129

Slowly slowly I am back again near the central area, and chose to stop once more time to have a look over the city at the Brasil Coffee with an ice coffee as company. Well, I better call it just cold coffee, but was strong and not too sweet and the whipped cream brought some tenderness to the strong coffee element.DSC01145

It is late in the day and the vendors of vegetables from the front of the city hall are far away. A good opportunity to admire the art of the square and the architecture of the building. DSC01147

That was it for the day! A lot of interesting places and histories, everything in one place. With so many events hosted here, from classical concerts to music festivals having on the agenda Roisin Murphy, Calexico or Patti Smith, I may be tempted to come back one day, to discover other faces of the city.

For more insights from Lüneburg, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: https://de.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/l%C3%BCneburg/

Remedies against the rain in Potsdam

DSC01509

Berlin and especially Brandenburg that I extensively explored in the last weeks offered me a gorgeous unexpected summer, but little by little, everything will become memories and eventually travel blog posts. The cold raining season is in full bloom and need to switch not only the wardrobe and shoes, but also the bags, big enough to welcome an umbrella. Regardless of how much I love to discover other places in Brandenburg, I have a big weakness for Potsdam that makes me want to come back every couple of weeks. This time I want to see a face I never explored it, which includes the cultural headquarters. I went out of the SBahn at Babelsberg station and from there, took the tram for a couple of stations till the port.

DSC01512As in many places in Berlin, this is a favourite area for bikers of all ages, unstoppable by the rain and any other bad weather signs. Following the arrows I am heading direction Schieffbauergasse and the artistic encounters on the way indicates that I am going in the right direction.  DSC01513In just a couple of minutes, I am in the middle of the cultural district of Potsdam, offering from concerts to dance shows and alternative theatre, plus some pubs and green eateries.DSC01515Everything is hosted in the Art Yard (Kunsthof) that because of the rain and the late afternoon hour it is relatively empty.DSC01516

The last visitors are busy to finish reading the information about the very interesting FLUXUS movement which has a dedicated museum in Potsdam. Encouraging happenings and spontaneity and oriented against the commercial art, the movement developped in the 1960s and had many similarities with the Dadaist and Suprarealist art streams.DSC01525

One of the buildings that I wanted to see and photograph for a long time is Hans Otto Theater, whose bold reddish silhouette I admired at different moments of the day during various boat trips I took in the last years. This time, I see it under a grey sky and from close it may look not only interesting, but also a bit threatening. Not it seems for the couples founding refuge from rain under the pagoda-like roofs. DSC01538

Armed with a pink umbrella I bought in Jerusalem, I ignore the insistent drops of rain and keep walking more around the lakes, trying to be careful not to stumble upon the very fast squirrels that started the harvest time for the winter. Welcome, autumn! DSC01539

Shortly, I am in another new place for me, at the New Garden, which I explored only partially a couple of years back when I was writing a travel guide about Potsdam. This time I stop in the part guarded by the so-called Gothic Library, a cold stone construction which also hosts couples refugiated against the rain. Potsdam seems to be a city of love, which I completely agree…DSC01542

Wish I can have time to have a short meditation with a view over the lake, but this time the view from the top of the stairs is enough to inspire me.  DSC01552

On way back to the central area, the architecture of some houses surprises me, a mixture of Dutch and reddish typical Brandenburg stones with blue windows frames. A couple of streets away, some new white apartment buildings, with high ceilings and small balconies, a sign that Potsdam is not only a place for students, teachers for oversea and history lovers, but also is turning into a posh place to live. DSC01553

The rain is about to calm down and I take my chance to get a bit lost on the long alleys of the 18th century New Garden, which is showing me another different side. The geometrically planned alleys reminding of the my favourite Brandenburg architect Schinkel are part since 1990 of the UNESCO World Heritage. DSC01558If you are looking for meeting artists and arts lovers in Potsdam, Cafe Matschke is one recommended places. The best is to go there during the summer and enjoy the artistic ambiance of the garden, but inside is also cosy and inspiring. DSC01560This time, I do not have time to stop to the 19th century Russian colony of Alexandrowka, but I still have pleasant memories about the pastry nuts filled with cream that reminded me so much of sweet childhood treats. DSC01562

I keep walking decided to both look for a place to stop before going back to Berlin, but also curious what new discoveries will have during this short Postdam trip. Hopefully there are so many things to discover that I don’t feel disappointed of too much walking.

DSC01565

The diversity of architectural styles and materials used is rewarding and I keep looking to the right and to the left, keen to do not miss anything important and with the camera always in action. DSC01566

I finally get closer to the central area through one of the 6 gates (Tören) of the city, Jägertor, the oldest one, built in 1733. Smaller than Brandenburg Gate a couple of minutes away and less touristic maybe but situated around streets with many local restaurants. DSC01572

The architecture of this area is predominanly following the programatic principles of Schinkel which may look too corect and less spontaneous at the first sight. But if you know how to correctly use your eyes, you may find some surprises. DSC01573

As I have a sweet tooth, I hope to find some waffles or pancakes – or both – in the Dutch quarter. Built in 1733 by Jan Bouman, it has 134 red brick buildings hosting various vintage shops and coffee places. Unfortunately for me, after two full days of a local street festival, all my potential surces of culinary delight are too tired to keep open till late afternoon. Time for a change of plans…

DSC01579

As usual, it is all for the good. For a long time I wanted to start the gourmet exploration of Potsdam and the French restaurant Jero was on the top. This time, the rain and the lack of options brought me here, and the expensive and high class bottles of wine covering the walls welcomed me into the intimate ambiance smelling of freshly cooked truffles. The SansSouci cold water was brought fast and most importantly with a smile, followed by a generous cappuccino and my sweet choice, a big cup of creme brulee, more expensive than the usual average sample you can find. Not an unforgettable taste, but nothing bad to say about it either – except that maybe for the 8 Euro you would have wait something a little bit special. However, I felt good enough to plan soon a new gourmet experience here, and maybe in other high class places in Potsdam tool.

All being said and planned, I can’t wait to be back!

Discovering a different Jerusalem

DSCN0174

The local saying goes that Tel Aviv is the city where people never sleep, while Jerusalem is the city of praying (with Haifa working for both of them) but times had changed and so did the old city. With an entrepreneur mayor and a generation of new creative people it is impossible to hold on the old division. Having the chance to live here like a local for a month gave me a different perspective on the state of things. What I’m just saying is that that there are many changes taking place and you only have to stay a bit more and live there to seize it…

DSCN0192You can start your journey from the lobby of the 1001 Night ambiance of the American Colony Hotel. Built at the beginning of the 20th century around a stone-paved courtyard, dotted with grenery and housing a central fountain, it become one of the favourite gatherings places for Western diplomats, statesmen, journalists and VIPs, among which Sir. Winston Churchill, M. Gorbatchov or Giorgio Armani. Although I am definitely the big fan of the nearby King David Hotel, I like to come here once in a while, for the green landscape and the view from the top of the tower, easily seen from many standpoints in Jerusalem.

DSCN0199

After walking a bit more you will find the Teddy Kolek park, a oasis of quietness on the edges of the old city, named after the mayor of reunited Jerusalem. The water game of the fountain brings a fresh view over old things. Everything is changing but some things still stay the same.

DSCN0209

‘Jerusalem stone is the only stone that feels pain. It has a network of nerves’, said Yehuda Amichai in his Poems of Jerusalem. A visit in the old city cannot avoid a visit to the Wall, but for every visitor, the walls and the ancient cobblestones are telling a different story.

DSCN0210Behind the old doors there are so many stories of happiness and hope and maybe bitter memories too. I remember that some years ago, I started a chit-chat with an old lady at a burger shop within the old city, to discover at the end of the meal that she witnessed most of the big events of the last 4 decades, as a permanent resident within the walls. Talking with the people in Israel is much more easy than, let’s say in Germany, and if you love story, you will have for sure your good slice of it.

DSCN0237

After so much history, one may need a break and one of the best places to do so is at the Liberty Bell Park, with its replica of the famous bell. It was designed by the Israeli-born Danish sculptor Ulrik Plesner who designed another more joyful piece, Jerry the Dragon. From there, one can decide to spend more time in the bubbling Rehavia – if you love sushi, Rehavia Sushi is highly recommended – with its young life of restaurants, bookstores and interesting concerts taking place round the week.

DSCN0247

But sometimes, you don’t have to go too far away to meet the unexpected. Behind the old courtyards of Machane Yehuda, there are many things going on some of them with a special artisty touch.

DSCN0255

Dare to go on and you will find enough street art to delight you eyes. And no, you are not by mistake in East Berlin or in the Florentin area of Tel Aviv…

DSCN0257

As I said, things changed a lot in Jerusalem in the last years and don’t be surprised to find out co-working offices for rent in the middle of the border to the tradtional quarters. The startup-up nation means more than Tel Aviv and the Google offices in Haifa.

DSCN0364True is that you don’t have here the sea and the beach that invites you to a pleasant life, but believe me, many locals in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem don’t hang out at the beach every single afternoon, because they have a lot of work to do. But everywhere, a glass of fresh smoothy is always welcomed and that you can find in Jerusalem too.DSCN0378

As for the cultural and night life, things changed since the opening of the Tahana Rishona as a place of events and gatherings. Established in 1892, part of the Jaffa-Jerusalem line, near the German Colony, it still keeps the old setting and part of the rails, but was turned into a meeting point for young Jerusalemites. When the station was inaugurated, it was an occasion for Eliezer ben Yehuda, the creator of modern Hebrew, to write a song of praise and create the Hebrew work for train: rakevet. Nowadays, you wonder where the food, wine, jazz and other kind of festivals can be found in the old city, there is only one answer. And especially this time of the year, it seems that the list of attractions is getting pretty busy.

DSCN0386Jerusalem does not have the fancy Dizengoff, but has enough malls – including the Mamilla which is elegant enough for someone used with the high standards of Tel Aviv built in an area that was a no man’s land back in the times when the city was divided – and small stores to fill your bags and empty your cards. If you are looking for some vintage, check the Agrippa Street flea market, with its special nostalgic items. Every time I go there I am sure will find some old time object from my aunts’ kitchens in the old country.

DSCN0411Biking as it is no tomorrow, East Berlin style, is something relatively new in Israel, but especially in Tel Aviv, is done in fancy style, with expensive electric bikes. Bike rentals are something fresh new in Jerusalem too, but biking is less adventurous.

DSCN0501

Many probably don’t know that Jerusalem hosts one of the centers for creative designers and book illustrators in the region, Bezalel Academy of Arts. The works created by the young graduates can be seen not only at the flea markets in Berlin, but also in the small design shops and pop-stores from Emek Refaim.

DSCN0512

Nachlaot is usually considered rather part of the religious areas, but without noticing, at least the faces of the buildings are changing too. With more and English speakers relocated here, it will take not too much time till you will see some new things popping up. If you want to have a respectful look at a different world, paying a short visit to Mea Shearim area – the dress code matters, but when you are invited to a sophisticated party you also try not to go on hot pants and swimming suite, isnt’t it – can be interesting. Some of the pastry shops in the Bukharian area are too tasty and cheap to be true.  DSCN0513

The fact that Jerusalem is slowly changing too, is also this huge piece of red street art, near Machane Yehuda, which  is chaging in the wind like the dress of a dancing tomato (My imagination is not always that creative, you know). A couple of streets away, from any rooftop of the builldings of King David Street, one can look eastwards and westwards and see where and how everything changed and is about to change.

DSCN0519What I hope will never change, are the recipes of these sweets pastry. They are perfect and should stay like that. For ever.

Walking around Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem

DSCN0133It is Thursday evening in Jerusalem and Machane Yehuda is bubbling with life. As usual, people are coming here to get the best deals for their long list of shopping lists they have to bring back in due time not to let their wives impatiently waiting to start the cooking of the Fridlay evening meals. DSCN0137But there is no reason to worry, there is enough for everyone and sometimes you can also get a good deal, especially when the night is close.  DSCN0253You can find here almost everythig you need for your table, from the colourful fresh vegetables to high end Israeli wines which always deserve more than a delicious try. Around the market, small shops offer to the tourists and locals various products and good deals.   DSCN0514The moment when I like the most to visit this place is early in the morning, when the batches of fresh bread are brought and when everyone is running fast and furious to arrange their products. DSCN0515Every season has its own fruits and vegetables, but some of them, such as the dried fruits, are always there and you can either buy them as a treat to kill your hunger when on the road, or to prepare it later in compots or delicious Persian rices. DSCN0516Inviting salamis prepared according to traditional art brought to Israel from Europe can be the meaty alternative or accompanying meal to the many vegetables and fruits on sale. In fact, initially, Machane Yehuda, created in 1875, was exclusively a market for fruits and vegetables, to which were also added during the years the fusion of fresh fish, baked goods, and the very recent maze of clothing shops. DSCN0517Every time I am here, I just want to stop more and more, to smell the products, look at the people and feel the place. No wonder that many tourists are coming here for long photographic sessions. the colours and the bubbling llife are always calling. DSCN0519The sweets, oh, the sweets, are hard to resist. Thus, I keep coming over and over again for more treats. As every season has its own Jewish holidays and special meals, expect to find every time something new for your foodie soul. DSCN0521As for me, I am definitely in love with the tasty Israeli strawberries. Not only big and good looking, but also tasting as strawberries. Something I am definitely missing in Europe where fruits may look very good in the picture but completely tasteless. DSCN0522There is another product that it is very special here: the halva. In 1947, the Kingdom of Halva was created but the secret of the recipe, using at least 10 secret spices, is still hunting the foodie spies. In one shop, they mill the choice of sesame seeds imported from Ethiopia with 200 years groundstones to obtain smooth tehina. In a second shop, they add sugar and flavourings to produce the halva. The tehina shop in Machane Yehuda offers dozens of flavours like green and red tehnia, and around 101 types of sweet halva. DSCN0524During the winter, pickels and olives are pleasanty exposing their shining freshness and beauty and even if you don’t like to eat or to cook, you may want to have a try. Very often, I go there and start asking about recipes and preparation processes. I learn here more than from any fancy cooking class. DSCN0527As usual, a place is made up by its people, and I always can’t wait to meet the people from Machane Yehuda. When not necessarily in the mood for talking, I just take a small coffee in many of the bars or small restaurants inside the market and look around. Sometimes without using my camera at all. What matters is to see and understand their world with my own eyes. There is always something to learn here.

Photographic Jerusalem

DSCN0002One of the non-fiction books that changed at a great extent my way to see the world was James Elkins’s How to use your eyes, pledging for a reconsideration of our sight focus. Practically, there is no ‘uninteresting’ corner and the street offers millions of opportunities to challenge the classical way of seeing. Such a perspective is especially useful when it comes to visiting places enjoying a particular fame, which might not always be in their advantage. Jerusalem, for instance, is highly reverred for its holy places and traditional lifestyle in some parts of the city. But what about its people and places? Are all the same? Is everything only black – with a bit of white? Or there are some hidden colours too?DSCN0009With these questions in mind, I started my early morning photographic tour with Ouria Tadmor, a local photographer with deep knowledge of the city, and especially of its people, part of a complimentary experience offered by LocalYoo, gathering a network of knowledgeable people all over the world. Another challenges that I was ready to cope with was my relatively limited photographic ability to go more into taking pictures of people instead of the empty streets and lifeless buildings that I usually do.

DSCN0047But what can you do for not bothering people? Or not to feel an intruder in their private street life? You just have to go on and start taking photos. Rarely people will get angry on you and they will end up ignoring you, explained Ouria. The most important is to have patience and set up a standpoint from where you can get the best views. In this case, we established our temporary photographic headquarters near the famous market Machane Yehuda, a favourite spot not only for those looking for fresh vegetables and fruits and other local foods, but also for politicians who are always making a last tour de force here before the first round of voting. We spent some good dozen of photographies at the light train station, spotting the many differet layers of the Jerusalem society.

DSCN0105Entering the market, I kept pushing the button and taking more and more photos. As in the case of writing too, it is important also to have in mind a specific topic for your photographies. Even a simple plastic bag can say a lot about a person, his or her life, choices and also future.

DSCN0119I lived in Jerusalem either as a tourist or as a local many times, but I never have enough of Machane Yehuda. Every time is special and this time it was special too because I was finally learning also how to play with lights and shadows, how to appreciate the smoke of a cigarette which may create extremely interesting contrasts and how to just go on and take pictures. Everything was more alive and started to be even much happier with my photographies.

DSCN0133Not only the people can send a lot of interesting lively messages at Machane Yehuda, but also the modest vegetables getting ready to be cooked for the Friday evening meal. DSCN0149My photographic tour finished after a couple of hours, but now I was confident enough to start putting into practice the knowledge. So, I kept wandering the streets of old Jerusalem looking for some new visual attractions. As expected, did not need to wait for more, and close to the main street, an artist lady was doing open air painting.

DSCN0150There is something Jerusalem, and Israel in general, that you cannot find in big Western cities: the openness of the people keen to get in touch with you, help you get for directions or, in this case, explain their work of art in process.  DSCN0157Jerusalem is also a city of art and artists, with one of the most important art academies, Bezalel, being hosted here. In the last years, small design shops and concept stores were created presenting interesting design and especially, my favourite ones, book illustrations. Hidden yards near Machane Yehuda are also precious hideouts of old and new art. If you are into antiquities, the flea market on Agrippa is a good source of inspiration and displays old samples of the history of Israel too. Every time I go there I discovered old objects that we also used to have at home like old weights and books. DSCN0165Hungry for more photography, I ended up for the next hour at another busy spot, the governmental area, where you can also notice a lot of differences and all the many layers of the Jerusalem society. DSCN0171There is also street art present there, under the form of some colourful bikes, that are becoming more and more popular not only in the fancy Tel Aviv – where the electric bikes are the most have, despite the impressive prices.  DSCN0246As usual, my favourite time of the day for photographic adventures and solitary city discoveries is the early morning. Another day, I am back in the center getting into the mood of busy coming and going of people and their colourful wares. DSCN0200

If I want some quietness, I have Teddy Kolek park, on the edges of the old city, named after the famous mayor of the united city of Jerusalem. DSCN0202Another source of infinite inspiration is, obviously, the Old City, which offers always noteworthy details, not only for the photographer, but also for the historian or anthropologist. This time, a massive delegation from Nigeria was visiting the Kotel – the Wall, and by the chance of life, I was there to catch the moment.  DSCN0206Inside the city walls, in the old Jewish quarter, life has also a certain trace of continuity, unbroken by the political, social or any other changes. Old books are made based on the genuine knowledge of the ages. And you can be also there, ready to turn the moment into history. DSCN0211As usual in Jerusalem, the history is the quiet guardian of the present and the hope for the future. One of the symbols of hope is the old Hurva synagogue in the old city – a former ruin changed into a beautiful house of prayer and learning. Hope is also the message sent by the many people, many of them youngsters from all over the world, that stop here for a while during their usual trips to Israel. Maybe sooner or later they will also come back for good. DSCN0215On the way back going out of the old city, the shops all along the way are hiding hundreds of histories about people. Imagine how many stories were told over the tea or coffee made in these metal pans or the emotions of the children lightning their first Hanukka candles! DSCN0236Is not that difficult to put into practice Elkins’ lessons in Jerusalem. Looking a bit higher than usual, I notified the laughing face of the former immigrant shelter of Tiferet Zion v’Yerushalaim, created in 1908 by Rabbi Shmuel Levi, who immigrated from the US. The building was used as a hostel aimed to absorb thousands of immigrants over the years. The sundial and the additional clocks on the facade of the buildings were aimed to show the sunset hours in different parts of the world, useful for calculating the Shabbat times. DSCN0532Jerusalem is also a city of music, not only through its regular open air and special concerts held in small underground bars, but also thanks to its talented street musicians. From the moment I discovered The Rabbi and the Gypsy Lady passionatelly singing I could not resist coming back over and over again. They have the amazing power to inspire you to live your life at its fullest, but with a meaning.  DSCN0233Of course there are so many other things my eyes did not see yet in Jerusalem, but my heart knows they exist. See you soon, Jerusalem!