Salty Middle Ages impressions in Lüneburg

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

 

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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/

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When the animal world disappoints you…

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My arrival to Große Schönebeck station, with the OEG train that continued my trip from Karow, near Pankow area of Berlin, for another 30 minutes, did not announce anything but just another trip agenda. My aim was to visit the Schorfheide Natural Park, which on the maps and travel recommendations was indicated as 3.4 km. away from this station.

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Before arriving to the real animals park, I take a tour of the hunting castle of the Hohenzollern – just another one of them, with an interesting garden of statues and coaches, an attractions for the kids of all ages.

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Following different arrows and not always very clear signs, I optimistically start my journey to Schorfheide, near gardens and small houses with agriculture tools in their yards.

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Less wild horses are treating me with curiosity but they leave me alone with my camera within seconds.

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Some locals also treat me with curiosity, as it seems that pregnant women with a camera and a notebook walking in the village is not a very common view.

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Maybe I am just the victim of the misunderstanding of an arrogant city girl. After working hard harvesting, local people just want to rest and treat the intruder with a distant politeness, just offering them the information they want with a minimal use of words.

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Compared with my usual timing, this time the 3 and something kilometers look never ending. Hundreds of meters away from the park I stop at the Esel (Donkey) coffee, exactly when the rain starts and the outside chairs are collected. An icecream might be enough as an energizer for the rest of the trip.

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According to my homeworks, this natural park, part of the wider Biosphere Schorfheide Chorin, has many animal breeds threatened by extinction. Built in 1996, it shows to the visitor the lynx, European elks, wild horses, red deer and wild boars among others. It seems my long hours of walking will be compensate with some great encounters…

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Before entering the borders of the park, an adventure park made me feel a bit frustrated that at least for now I cannot put on trial my trees climbing abilities.

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After a very short stop at the local restaurant for an overpriced poor cup of cappuccino, I am ready to meet the special animals, that for sure are waiting for me somewhere hidden in the bushes of this huge park. For now, I am greeted by some crazy playful goats.

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And by some gracious elegant horses too…

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The dirty curly Mangalitsa are too busy to say hello, having a great time in their natural muddy environment.

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The herd of cows are not enjoying the intruders either. The German-English explanations are mentioning that this is one of the oldest domestic breed of cattle.

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Still I am waiting for that big meeting with some unique creature. The big alleys of the natural park are bathed in the light and warm of the summer sun, making my ride more enjoyable. My sport shoes are making this long trip easy. Every couple of minutes I am crossing paths with families or groups of German travelers looking to photograph interesting animals, just like me, or exhausted after so many searches, just need a nice place for a picnic.

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Far away in the middle of the fields, the Wisent (European bison) is having late lunch. Extincted in the German areal since the 16th century, it weights around 1,200 kg, being considered the heaviest land mammal in Europe.

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For the rest of the trip, my luck just went away. The solitary wild boars keep staying in their kiosks, the European wolf is nowhere to be seen. Instead, I have another long encounter with horses, this time the Konik breed, a very primitive East European breed, considered very resistant to cold and generally undemanding.

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The European otter made a lot of problems. First, I had to wait for a couple of minutes to spot it, till a very curious sound alerted me and another photographer lady nearby. It sounded like a gross animal laugh. It went into water instantly and appear only too late for my camera to catch it. Finally, although a bit unpolite, I had to take a picture of the otter in the middle of the animal act of devouring the fish, before running again very fast.And that was almost all for this visit. No European elk and no Lynx available to say hello to me, although I stayed for more than 20 minutes at the vantage point hoping desperately that I will spot anything.

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On the way to the exit, the racoon initially hidden in his kiosk, made an afternoon tour, just in time for me to take a last picture of him.

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Very tired and disappointed by my journalistic achievements, paid my last respects to Groß Schönebeck. Let’s say that this trip was a successful proof of physical resilience. I just hope one day will have the chance to return and meet more special animals.

For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board

 

Your best hotels for an unforgettable stay in Karlovy Vary

Visiting Karlovy Vary was an old travel dream of mine that I was finally able to accomplish at the end of the last year. For 48 hours I had the opportunity to explore almost every corner of the city, enjoying the beautiful autumn colours and intensively hiking on the hills around. Although the high season was already over for a couple of days, the streets were full with tourists and the hotels kept working at high capacity. As a first time visitor, you may be surprised of the many hotels and trying to make your life easy, when I was not too busy hiking or visiting glamorous shops, I also made a short tours of some of the most recomended hotels in the area. My choices for now are as follows:

??????????During my stay, I was the guest of Dvorak Hotel, with its Art Nouveau design and a generous breakfast. Familiy and children friendly, it offers a variety of special spa treatments, including the unique FX.Mayr Treatment, aimed at eliminating naturally the toxines out of the body, oxygen therapy, special treatments for the locomotive system or relaxation therapy, designed to help people cope easier with the work load accumulated during the year. Here you can have a full review of the hotel rooms and its facilities.

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In addition to the healing waters, Karlovy Vary is also famous for its International Film Festival, considered one of the most appreciated in Central and Eastern Europe. Most of the screenings are hosted at the Thermal Hotel. Although from outside it may look a bit too serious and even unfriendly – since the name of its architectural style ‘brutalist architecture’ -, it offers a lot of special facilities to guests, including a vey elegant swimming pool. From the window of your room on the top you can also have a beautiful view over the city. During the festival, don’t be surprise of meeting around big movie stars such as Leonado di Caprio, Robert de Niro or Sharon Stone…

??????????Elizabeth Baths first caught my attention by its big park with large alleys, but those doing an intensive documentation before coming here they know that here you can find the largest balneologic facilities in the city, with over 60 types of treatments. A special place should be given to the aesthetic treatment the visitor receives when admiring the beautiful architecture and classical interior decorations.

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Grand Hotel Pupp is the favourite choice of luxury travelers, as well as of the many VIPs visiting Karlovy Vary (especially the big movie stars invited for the Film Festivval). Opened initially in 1700 as Saxony Hall, it went through dramatic changes under the direction of the Austrian architects Fellner and Helmer, by the requests of the Pupp family. An articulated collection of new-baroque buildings, it offers to their high end customers a royal spa and clinic, special treatments, including laser and other wellness packages. The gastronomic offer is also impressive, with a bar, gourmet restaurant and a coffee open to outside visitors as well.

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Luckily, the tourists looking for some affordable packages do have from where to chose as well. Situated close to the hills around the city, Villa Smetana offers not only a fresh air and a quiet stay, far away from the busy central areas, but also attractive massage treatments, lymphatic drainage, shockwave therapy, sauna and acupuncture.

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Those interested for a more central location, can check the 3-star Ontario Hotel, situated a couple of minutes away from the famous Mill Colonades and their healing waters. Their 12 appartments do offer a family ambiance plus special treatments such as: bath and spa (pearl, mineral, carbon dioxide), wraps (paraffin, mud, peat packs), therapy (electrotherapy, pneumo puncture, laser, gum irrigation, ultrasound) or massage (traditional, arctic fire, reflexology, underwater).

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Also close to the center is the four-star family friendly Hotel Embassy. It offers to the guests various special deals, including some golf classes, as well as a traditional Czech restaurant. Don’t forget as well about the exclusive La Prairie packages.

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Hosted in a 18th century building, Renesance Krasna Kralova Hotel is also situated just in the heart of the city. After the a first luxurious view of velvet and Oriental carpets, silk and hardwooden floors, the guests are tempted with various massages, including Thai-style, and other packages, some of them also including medical examination.

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Another sample of the local 18th century architecture is Hotel Salvator, with its restaurant and Cigar Club, and Romantic Biedermeyer furniture. The treatments are focused on balneotherapeutic and rehabilitation procedures, the bath using the thermal water channeled to the hotel directly from the neighbouring Vridlo Geyser.

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After extensive hiking, spending time in the chic lobby of Interhotel Central was a pleasure that I wanted to enjoy as much as possible. Besides the spa treatments, indoor swimming pool, sauna, solarium, fitness and balneotherapy, it also hosts regularly corporate events and is a favourite choice of business travelers. Professional snooker opportunities are also part of their offer.

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Although at some distance from the busy city, Park Hotel Richmond has a lot of privacy, fresh air as it is situated close to some interesting hiking trails and a quiet stay. Besides the usual treatments offered, it has special antistress programmes, beauty parlours, and a 200-person lounge capacity. During the sunny days, having a coffee on the terrace may be also part of your antistress therapy.