Buckow, the little German Switzerland

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It is amazing the fascination of Switzerland. There are so many places and corners compared to the country of cantons that it is very hard sometimes to make the difference between the copy and the original. As someone that spent some impressive amount of time in the real Switzerland, I am very cautious with the comparisons. A bit of curiosity, a bit of boredom and my limited options of travel this summer brought me to Buckow, just another destination less than 2 hours away from Berlin, situated in the so-called Märkische Schweiz. From Müncheberg train station, we embarked on a vintage train from the 1980s ride that for 3 Euro ticket (one way, two-way costs 5 Euro) will bring us to Buckow. The train is working only from May to October.DSC01321

The ride lasts for around 10 minutes, and I can even go on the top cockpit to follow the railway road through green forest and camping places or houses with tiled rooftops. In the forest might be many protected birds, as the entire area is considered a natural park, covering around 205 sqkm.

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Those curious to discover more about the train history can visit the small museum situated in the station. DSC01328

From the one and only train station in town, we just followed the Berliner street, following only our travel intuition – as there were no arrows to direct the travelers through various destinations in the city.

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The streets are empty, but I already got used with this first impression after visiting many other places around Berlin. It seems that during the summer either everyone is hiding  behind the stone houses or they just left the area during this unusually hot season.DSC01334From the concrete of the town we are heading smoothly through the forest. The air is much fresh and the temperature get balanced so I wish I can spend here the rest of my trip this time.DSC01336Some people not only wished they spend more time here, but are just having a great time for more than a couple of hours. Some early morning campers – some of them accompanied by their small children – are just getting out of their tents and having a breakfast with a view over the lake and the historical city. DSC01338And it seems that people are doing more than camping. Some may come here to study and meditate in the middle of a collection of stones from all over the North of Europe.DSC01344The famous literary couple Bertold Brecht-Helene Weigel chose this quiet place to spend some creative summer time. Their house is open now as a memorial museum.DSC01350

But you do not have to be excessively creative to decide living or spending a lot of time in Buckow. Many of the big houses have a view and even special access to the lake. Such a lake made me feel for a while to the many enjoyable boat rides around the lakes of Zurich or Geneve. Some of the big houses do have wooden decorations and paintings in the upper part, another reminder of the picturesque Switzerland.DSC01353Our efforts to get into a boat that is supposed to start a tour around the lake in less than 40 minutes failed. Especially after the captain of one of the boats kept making very uninspired jokes in presence of ladies. The time spent waiting for the boat to leave was enough to give us a view over the Schermützelsee. Wish we are one of those lucky owners of a personal boat to just go in the middle of the lake without depending on other doubtful options…DSC01360A good food can lift the spirits and from the balcony of the restaurant of Strand Hotel we keep observing the movement from the lake while tasting some seasonal local mushrooms – Pfefferlinge – meal accompanied by boiled potatoes adorned with fresh parsley and cooked with onions. A very simple meal without excessive oil.DSC01361The soup made from the same Pfefferlinge is creamy and salty.The brown bread with various seeds is a good taste companion. DSC01362When the weather is so hot, except the boat trip in the middle of the lake, sunbathing and swimming is an option not only for the locals but also from groups of youngsters arriving by car from Berlin. DSC01369

I may be tempted to hurry up to go back to Berlin, but I feel there is something else that can be seen here. For instance, the big castle park Bukow, with its special rehabilitation clinic park. Besides Nordic walking and simple hiking – on the Kaloerienpromenade – , it is also possible to try walking bare feet through the water. I take the last challenge, but my swollen feet were not exactly ready to cope with the many little stones.

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A walk through the streets of the historical center was a more enjoyable experience. Many of the houses are available for summer renting which might be a good idea, as the area looks quiet, without too many temptations. There are some small exhibition spaces such as Közwolf bei Brecht presenting local German works, and even a Korean restaurant and a movie theater, enough things to do for offering a right balance between the secluded time for rest and a minimal social face.DSC01396

Not an artist and not on vacation, I prefer to take my regular test around the lake, looking envious from my wooden bench at the kids jumping bravely in the warm water.

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Before taking the bus till the train station, a short visit at the colourful pottery shop bring more impressions about this visit. Maybe the comparison with Switzerland does not make too much sense, but at least it makes me feel I am very very far away of the busy city life. For now, I feel less guilty for my limited travel agenda and it is enough.

For more insights from Buckow, check  the dedicated Pinterest board: https://de.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/buckow-germany/

Bikes, castles and the longing for the sea at Senftenberg

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The first time when I wanted to visit Senftenberg was following some short notice read in a newspaper regarding the castle there. As I feel that I neglected this noble side of travel, felt compelled to have this trip in mind for the next one day trip. But time passed and more than 10 days after this first acknowledgement only I was on the road with my Berlin Brandenburg Ticket in my pocket. After too many stops, I arrived at the train station, enoying the sunny Sunday.

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Right from the train station, arrows are heading the tourists to the historical area. As usual, I like to go off the beaten path and thus after I made a short turn from Bahnhofstrasse I ended up in the front of the Theater Neue Bühne, a local cultural institution sharing the building with a local high school, a Bauhaus style construction originally erected in the 1930s. Besides hosting the most important cultural events in the city, it also has a cadrillon (Glockenspiel) donated by the local Greek-German businessman Sokrate Giapapas.DSC00374As a reminder that Senftenberg used to be part of the former communist Germany, recently painted and renovated Plattenbau are surrounding the area.  DSC00376

I return on the main road, heading back to the historical area. Metal billboards presenting in medaillons old images from the city are creating a bridge between the modern present and the industrial past. DSC00381The locals are right now busy in the main square in the front of the historical city hall with an open air celebrations that involves, naturally, beer, a lot of music on the stages organized around and many shopping, including of local products. DSC00388But I do have my own travel agenda and this time I am decided to follow up the plan which has as top priority the visit at the castle. The first encounter is with the art gallery – Gallerie am Schloß – which is closed this time. DSC00392In order to arrive to the castle, I go through some long dark paths bordered by stone arches. Outside, one explore the fortification systems and the Bastion built in the second half of the 18th century. Wonder where a princess can hide here…DSC00398

Back to the light, right in the front of the entrance, there is not a white horse waiting, but an original bike model between two citizens. No prince today,  it seems.DSC00407

Let’s enjoy life then. The castle is hosting a temporary exhibition presenting various models of bikes from the beginning of their history till the communist Germany and beyond. Even not passionate about technique, you still can enjoy the cultural histories told by the bicycles. DSC00406The prototypes, some of them very interesting, especially if we think about the different models produced separately for men and women, are scattered among pieces of local history, many presenting local colourful costumes and interios of the interesting Sorb minority still living in the area. After the war, having a bike was the equivalent of having a horse in the time of the princes and princesses, hence the saying: If you have a bicycle, you are king. (Hast du ein Fahrrad, bist du ein König).DSC00408In a way, this two voices dialogue of various historical times makes sense. Senftenberg was part of the industrial area near Cottbus, providing energy for various industry. A mini-mine, another local activity, can be visited at the museum too. Nowadays, there is not too much of this past left, following the fall of communism and the resettling of the economic priorities. DSC00418The castle, displaying a simple and strict elegance that I encountered in many such residences in the North and Central part of Germany, also hosts an art collection of artists originally from the area.  DSC00422Outside, the gardens are more inviting and the preferred transit areas for the many biking routes across the city and the region.  DSC00430I am heading closer to the sea this time, with a short stop at the Tierpark, which was recommended as a local travel attraction. It can also be visited by bike, otherwise, it has a couple of funny residents, many of them welcoming their guests out of their little residences. If you are patient enough, you can even cross paths with some hurried peacock going fast who knows where.DSC00443With more than half of my to-do-list for the day covered, I am finally free to enjoy the quiet view of the lakes and the shaking boats.  DSC00446The best standpoint is the busy Pier Eins terrace, where I find a nice place near the water and get ready for at least two hours of doing nothing, except having a meal and probably an icecream too. My zen mood is troubled though by a waitress who just refused to take my two orders: a pasta, plus a special home made icecream. ‘Pasta is enough’, she kept saying and I feel like a disgusting hungry animal. After unsuccessful negotiation and the promise that I will pay here everything, she only bring me the pasta at the end, which are not as a huge portion as I might excepted: not too much oil, well boiled, with some interesting spices and the refreshing leaves of ruccola. I order also some fruity icecream after all, from another waitress, which does not have a spectacular taste, but keps me around the shore for the next half an hour.DSC00449For the siesta, I keep my eyes on the boats and walk around the shores. Besides bikes, also Segways can be rented and I promise to myself that one day I will be back in a good shape trying various healthy transportations during my trips too – not only cars, trains and airplanes. DSC00455There is so much nature around in Senftenberg, that I forget sometimes that some ugly former communist buildings are just around the corner.  DSC00460But not everyone is ready to take an aggressive distance to the communist (recent) past. Back in the historical area, the celebrations continue but people are more busy to check the good deals. Among the offers, former books and other popular objects from the time of the DDR, presented on a table decorated with the flag of the former communist Germany. DSC00465

My obligations of travel writer are bringing me to a different part of the city, where I can go only by walking around 20 minutes. No sea or nice sky at sight, only gas stations and some dusty buildings till I am in the garden city from the Brieske area.DSC00467It is a settlement built at the beginning of the 20th century for the workers involved in various industrial sectors in the area. Protected buildings from the end of the 1980s, the complex is considered an example of industrial architecture. DSC00471The quarter was provided, besides the buildings for the new industrial class, with a church, a shop, a school and kindergarden for children and big street whose cobblestones are kept in the original shape. DSC00475Nowadays a quiet residential area that was looking almost empty that Sunday afternoon, it has a strange architecture though, with very small windows attached to big walls and conic roofs that may look with the military metallic hats from the time of the Prussians.  DSC00483

There are regular guided tours introducing the area to the visitors, as well as a small museum that was closed at the late afternoon time of my visit. The anxious feeling of living in a big house with small windows can be balanced by the view of big yards connecting various buildings, a guarantee that some social life was in sight for the busy residents of the area.DSC00490

I keep developing my sociological consideration on the solitary way back to the center and after, on the way back to the central station waiting for my train back to Berlin. Maybe I did not find here a spectacular castle, worthy of a Disney movie, but at least I did enjoy the quietness of the waters and the sunny day and realized how much I am missing the sea. Plus, some party gang of international students dancing in the train. Life can offer funny things sometimes…

For more insights, photography and recommendations, check the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/senftenberg/

Crossing the Channel. Another travel dream come true!

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I am not too much into travel buckets – my one and truly only such list has one big objective written down with several colours: See the World! – but crossing the Channel Tunnel – if possible to Pas-de-Calais – was always a secret dream of mine. Thus, when I decided to come back from London by car, I knew that this will finally happen. We left London in the afternoon spending a lot of time on the crowded streets. After around one hour and a half of safe driving, we spotted the first signs announcing the proximity with the channel.DSC09358

My dear France was only 35 minutes away from me and went very excited about the coming experience. But first, we went through the passport checking on both sides, that went very fast and without any bureaucratic problems.DSC09363In-between controls, a little stop at the shopping area, a clean area offering a lot of small souvenires shops and some basic fast food courts. DSC09366

Once the legal procedure finished, we were ready to go. I was very curious about the channel but even now, a couple of weeks after went through the experience, cannot explain clearly why. The most important fascination has to do probably with the fact that it is the largest undersea tunnel in the world, with around 38 km. long going under the sea. DSC09368The first plans for such a project were discussed as far as 1802, following the designs of the mining French engineer Albert Matthew Faner. At the time, it was aimed to serve the transportation with carriage, but till 1830, the idea of the construction of rail networks was already in sight. In 1867, on the occassion of the Exposition Universelle de Paris, Queen Victoria and Napoleon III agreed over the necessity of the channel, but the dream come true only at the end of 1990. DSC09371

Most delays were due to various financial problems and some political misunderstandings too. As for now, the channel traversation is part of the daily routine and can be done by train and car in just 30 minutes. DSC09372The process of crossing as such does not justify at all my enthusiasm and curiosity. It may be another example of attraction – my personal one – for scientific achievements that I don’t necessarily understand in their technical details and that fascinates me especially for their inhuman perfection.DSC09375The cars are entering the train platform, some of them with colourful wagons that contrast with the dirty look from inside. There are special schedules for the trains, but we were lucky to be in time and there were some space left for us. The interior is in fact a big parking place and it reminded me of the recent water crossing to Konstanz, the last summer. Except that you don’t see anything. Indoors, everything is that quiet that you might think that you actually are not moving at all. The speed is probably so high that you end up by not feeling it at all.DSC09376

After a while, the waiting is getting bored, but you are allowed to go out of your car and go on the other side of the silver doors and visit the restaurant or the restrooms. Of course I wanted to do it too – mostly disappointed that nothing special is happening during the much awaited travel experience – but after a couple of minutes I was still passing by another cars and decided that I better give up and come back to my car.DSC09378

It was an inspired choice as the traversation was done fast, in around 30 minutes. The pleasant view of Pas-de-Calais and its vineyard hills were welcoming us and I forgot all the disappointments. The worse part was to come: my decision to go back to Berlin from London by car, only because of the Channel, was worth 25 hours of driving across Europe, mostly during the night. But following the motto: Better now than ever, it was just another travel experience that you should go through it if you are really interested about what is done and going on in this world we are living.

Foodie Brașov

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With so many activities and walking and hiking, plus the fresh air that always encouraged my appetite, Brasov called my name with a lot of foodie temptations. From classical Romanian restaurants with Transylvanian specific menus – it means a lot of red chilli pepper – to Chinese and German inspired cuisine, this city has a lot of interesting offers for the curious food lovers. Depends what you are in the mood for. One day, for instance, I wanted some gourmet chocolate and paid a visit to the newly opened Chocolat,  branded smartly as a ’boutique-restaurant’. My Ispahan – fresh raspberry mousse, macaron, raspberry again, dulce de leche and a beautiful rose petal on the top brought a fountain of sweetness and fine sugar into my palate. Perfumed, crunchy elegant, with the surprising cold leche in the middle was unforgettable and one of the top foodie experience of the summer. Chocolat, the subsidiary of a similar but richer in offer restaurant in Bucharest, also  has vegan chocolate and a delicious black coffee – to be tasted with a teaspoon of brown sugar.

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Some other day, I wanted to have my first Singaporean noodles, at the restaurant on Appollonia Hirscher Street no. 2. The street is close to the central Piata Sfatului, the main tourist area, where are situated restaurants and bars, many of them offered at a good price with moderately English speaking waiters. The service was hectic and very slow and not necessarily friendly, although I was speaking the language, but at the end, I was brought my rice noodles with veggies, ginger, lemon grass. Too watery and unexpected sweet and not necessarily with a special taste, but a good combination after all.

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Still hungry, I ordered some fish and chips, with tartar sauce and zucchini chips, that, again, were not like the original tasty fish and chips, maybe too oily and the veggies too roasted to keep their original taste, but my hunger calmed down after a while.

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I was luckier with the cocktail too, the honeymoon fresh combination of orange juice, apple, lime and maple syrup. I didn’t feel too much apple, but it was a good choice for the late summer hot evening.

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I could not resist to not have a coffee too, a creme brulée made of double espresso, caramel and milk. Brought hot was a contrast with the previous non-alcoholic cocktail, but brought me at the normal body temperature. Very sweet but still strong enough.

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In the yard of the recently renovated synagogue from Poarta Schei no. 27, there was open a kosher restaurant, a perfect choice for an outdoor meal during the summer. It’s a small friendly place, with nice young people and a lot of traditional foods cooked according to the kosher style (those careful about the highest level of glatt – strictest kosher standards – should request, of course, detailed information from the knowledgeable rabbinical authority). The huge lemonade, that reminded me of the lemonade I cannot have enough in Israel was brought and my day was looking much better.

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The cycle of memories continued with the tasty beef meatballs soup – the Romanian ciorba de perișoare – with a lot of veggies and the exact quality of salt to make it tasty which reminded me of childhood and home-made food.

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I continued with a well done steak with French fries, as simple and tasty as possible.

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As everywhere in Eastern Europe, expect to find a lot of street counters too, selling various traditional pastry and pretzels – covrigi – as well as Turkish-inspired foods as kebap and falafel.

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One of my favourite places by far was the farmer’s market near Star shop, not only for the delicious fruits – was finally was able to have enough cherries without thwarting my careful financial planning for the month – but also for the social interaction. Once you enter this space, expect to be called by one vendor or another to buy rather for them, at a better, sometimes negotiable price. It goes for flowers and everything else sold there.

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Shortly upon arrival, I was more than once recommended to have at least one stop at a famous local crepe store – The House of Crepes/Casa Clătitelor. I was not too delighted with the service – seriously, it’s such a pity that people look and behave so unhappy when they serve you – but some unhappy minutes put aside, I fully enjoyed my fatty crepes: banana filled, with a lot of whipped cream and caramel on the top, accompanied by a fresh lemonade. The indoor space is quite dark but outdoors it’s best also because it is situated on a central street and, together with some bunch of teenagers that were spending some hours here, I did some serious street watching. Me, of course, for the noble aim of travel writing.

Brasov was my best foodie stop during my trip to Romania and was glad that I discover some new full flavoured corners of the city. This is how the good travel memories are always kept tasty.

Timisoara, a next European Capital of Culture?

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The first time I’ve been to Timisoara more than 10 years ago, I had to cope with a massive headache and wasn’t able see too much from the city. The second time I arrived was on a long train-way from Budapest, trying to cope with just another massive headache. Plus a shocking dirty looking train station where I was helped though by a nice lady to get the best price for the next leg of the trip to Brasov. Once I had the ticket in my pocket and was out of the station, I calmed down in a cafeteria called La Noemi, serving a good cappuccino and some traditional tasty pretzel (covrigi). Around me, I had a lot of very ugly looking communist housing projects, trying to get a bit out of the grey crowd, like this pinky ground floor. What we gonna do next?

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On the way to the small hotel we stayed, were the friendliness of the people helped me to ignore some muddy streets and dirty alleys, we noticed a lot of deserted industrial spaces, another testimony of the communist past of the city. With a nuance of regret, our taxi driver, in his mid-50s complained how the local industry doesn’t exist any more, forgetting that probably he would have not been able to talk with foreigners if the communist dictator was still in power.

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Too many historical considerations for a poor head like mine, so I rather tried to focus on the colourful present of the city, with colourful graffiti joyously invading the deserted urban spaces. Things changed a little bit more than some might want to recognize, it seems.

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The contrasts are easy to notice in Romania, where poverty and luxury can co-exist easily only steps away. Close to the dirty industrial space, it is situated a huge multi-storey mall with a sophisticated multiplex home theater, a favourite meeting point of young people. Although they probably don’t have the money to buy all the expensive clothes or electronics displayed, they enjoy the ambiance, meeting at the food court for social networking. The food is not that expensive, and besides the popular Mc Donald’s and pizza and Asian foods there are also some local Balkan dishes one should definitely not miss, such as the pleskavica, made of various ground meats and potatoes.

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One good news about my headaches is that when it happens, I should definitely try to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Hoping the cold rain will make me feel better, I took on Cuza Street, passing near a nice park with even nicer graffiti. Lacking too many tourist signs, we rather follow streets intuitively, hoping that sooner or later we will arrive somehow near the central area.

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Slowly, we entered Eugeniu de Savoia Street and from there on, we were in the historical area. Compared to many other big Romanian cities, like Bucharest, for instance, Timisoara was not affected by megalomanic urbanist reshape that might have been destroyed the old constructions. However, for decades, the local budgets are suffering for underfunding and the result is the decayed facades of classical buildings.

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The closer we were from the center, the bigger the problems. As Timisoara wants to apply its candidacy for the status of European Cultural City in 2020, the new mayor started a massive refurbishing of the streets. On the long term, it can be a good thing, and only considered myself very unlucky to be here at the wrong time. On the other side of the muddy holes, cute shops and youngish coffee shops were winking at me.

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Among the rest of the country, Timisoara as the capital city of the Banat Region, assumed always a leading intellectual role, the city enjoying for a long time a multicultural reality of many languages spoken and an intermingling of cultures and identities. It was said that at the beginning of the century, Serbian, Hungarian, German, Yiddish as well as French were spoken currently on the elegant streets of the city. Streets that were the first in Europe to enjoy the benefits of electric light. Even during the communism, who mostly destroyed the multicultural past, Timisoara was always considered the door to Europe, and given its vicinity with the more liberal Hungary and Serbia, many products prohibited in the rest of the country – including soaps, and shampoos and chewing gum – were more available here on the black market.

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All these horror histories are hopefully gone for ever, and the city is trying to get back its charming days. Going back in the early time it’s almost impossible, because many of the minorities and their representative intellectuals are long gone. Instead, the search for a new identity can be more interesting for the future of the new generation of people still living here.

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Timisoara is an university city, with many young people from the rest of the country and all over the world living here which can change and dramatically challenge the grey narrative of the past. The graffiti in the central historical area are one of the best I’ve seen during my whole European trip and at a certain extent could be read as the message in a bottle of a new generation of Romanians.

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Timisoara was the first Romanian city that in December 1989 decided to end up the fear-hate relationship with the communist dictatorship. People went out of the street, prompting other cities to do the same. In just a couple of weeks, the country was finally out of the nightmare and although there are different interpretations and versions of what and why things happened there, it was about time that the darkness in which Romanian citizens were kept for too long to end up.

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The Opera Square was one of the symbolic reunion points of the anti-communist demonstrators. Now, it was only the rain, us and some local people hurrying up. Very close from there, the small Tourist Information where we received a lot of insights about where to go next.

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Interesting Art Nouveau buildings, relatively well preserved, showed a different face of the city and I wished I can find an extensive book about the history of the local architecture. Maybe the next time.

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The square in the front of the Cathedral is another place where people risked their life to fight for the freedom of children to play freely near the alleys, without the need to hurry up to spend their after school time waiting in the front of the shops for a little bit more sugar or maybe some bread. Despite the rain, the restaurants around were full of people and a carefree feeling was in the air.

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The architecture can be surprising if you dare to explore more and more. There are a couple of guided tours in English that dedicated to the culture and history including of the huge Roma palaces around the city. If you ask the locals about them, they will feel a bit annoyed about the topic, but it’s one in a lifetime experience that tells something about the a relatively unknown European minority.

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The bad weather, the ugly headache, the exhaustion of the last long hours of train ride plus the perspective of an equally long trip shortened our stay in Timisoara. After a little walk on the bridge over the river Bega, we decided to slowly head back home for a healthy sleep. It was a short trip, but maybe of the city will win the competition to be an European Cultural City, I will dare to come back for getting to know the city in its newly restored glory.

For more pictures from Timisoara, check the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/timisoara-romania/

Liechtenstein, Europe’s best hidden secret

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When I started planning our adventure in the South of Germany, I tried to figure out what are the possibilities for extended trips outside the border, mostly around Switzerland, a country I neglected in the last years. While my fingers were moving in different directions on the map, I decided that instead of small bits of Switzerland, I should finally pay a visit to Liechtenstein. All approved, I needed to figure out how to reach this small country hidden inside Switzerland in the most convenient way. The best is to take the train till Sarcans and from there, a regular bus that in around 30 minutes arrives in Vaduz. The journey goes alongside spectacular high mountains with small villages cramped on the aisles, an invitation to humility and curiosity to walk by foot every inch of forest or mountain.

The castle that dominates the city from the high of its 120-meter, that can be partly visited only special guided tours was the first apparition upon arrival and kept appearing regularly from the corners of the buildings or streets of Vaduz.

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The sixth smallest countries in the world, Liechtenstein is a sovereign state since the beginning of the 19th century, being ruled as a principality by a family of Austrian origin. Nowadays a constitutional hereditary monarchy, it was visited by many cultural and political European personalities, among which Goethe, who stayed for a little while in a house situated in the center of Vaduz.

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The city displays a good taste combination between the overwhelming natural landscape and urban elegance, with flowers spread between dynamic statues that seem to occupy in the best way the vertical space between various constructions.

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The central streets were busy with tourists from the early hours of the morning till late in the afternoon, many of them curious to discover every corner of the city. With so many monumental art situated in many unexpected places, it was hard to be disappointed.

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My first cultural stop was at the Post Museum, learning not only about the interesting postmarks produced here but also about how the first telegraph lines started to connect Liechtenstein with the rest of Europe and the world, starting from the end of the 19th century.

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From there, I made a long stop at the Museum of Modern Art who is interesting not only for its collection, but also as an individual work of architecture in itself, but also for its L-shaped building.

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In full compliance with the environment, the architecture is integrating an abundance of natural elements, that bring harmony to corners that might look aggressively sober at the first sight.

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The irregular geometry of the buildings applies as well to the governmental institutions. Near the Parliament and government buildings, a small park with pebbles and little trees can bring peace of mind after a busy day deciding the destiny of the Principality.

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With some more available time and the Adventure Pass in my pocket, I made a tour of the Liechtenstein history and culture at the dedicated museum, in addition to a contemporary exhibition of textile works and a temporary exhibition about gladiators, exploring the daily life and the evolution of the shows usually displayed in Colosseum.

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The museum also offers on sale samples of the local production of wine, a distinctive category of products Made in Liechtenstein.

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I learned more about the vineyards later in the day, while taking the mini-train tour that leads the visitors in the main attraction points of Vaduz. Compared to other similar tours I took this summer, it also offers the opportunity for a small stop, in the best spots for photo opportunities. My favourite was near the Red House, where the eyes did not have enough dreaming about the time when the wine is almost ready. The Adventure pass generously offered by the Liechtenstein Tourism Office allows some free degustation of two wines from the winery of the Prince Liechtenstein. The famous local bottles of Pinot noir and Chardonay should probably wait till my next visit.

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The mini-tour during which the moments of explanations are intercalated with long pauses of local folk music – that sounded like a pop version of the Swiss yodlers – goes all round Vaduz, up on the top of the cobblestone old roads, many of them built probably late in the time of the Romans. In the middle of so many monumental art works and stone houses, Vaduz, a former farmer village in the old times, also has a stadium of 6,000 places where the national soccer team is playing regularly. For those interested in practising sports, Liechtenstein offers many indoor and outdoor swimming pools, minigolf, an adventure park as well as possibilities to practise winter sports many of them presented in the dedicated Museum.

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Exquisite shops are relatively few compared with the usual display in Switzerland, but with interesting design products, both for clothes and jewellery. Liechtenstein, made up of families owith diplomatic and military background, is regularly attracting intellectual audiences from all over Europe for its classical and jazz concerts held in Vaduz and other places regularly. As I spotted an announcement for a concert of Chick Corea I just had another regret for leaving this country.

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I said ‘good bye’ to Liechtenstein with a heavy heart, but at least now I promise to include it in all my coming plans to visit  Switzerland. Liechtenstein is Europe’s best hidden secrets and I’m glad that I had the chance to be part of its discovery too.

For more insights from Vaduz and Liechtenstein, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/vaduz-liechtenstein/

Liechtenstein Tourism Office offered me an Adventure Pass to discover the country, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

A little taste of Switzerland: Kreuzlingen

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One of the many things I love about Europe is the easiness to cross the borders. You walk slowly one afternoon and one step ahead you are in a new country without even noticing the change of landscape. A bit later you might hear the sound of a different language, but there is no official barrier that warn you, or even worse, stop you, from moving freely. Shortly upon arrival in Konstanz, we saw close to the entrance in the old city a sign mentioning the exit to a different country, but we were too tired to try another new travel experience after more than 10 hours of driving from Berlin. A bit later in the week, we took a slow walk and we passed on the other side of the border as easy as possible. Gone are the days when a precious visa for Switzerland was obtained after long lines in the front of embassies and lots of documents proving how reliable you are to come back in your far away country. I should appreciate more the present times! With the train from Konstanz, the station Kreuzlingen is only 3 minutes away. In addition, a regular bus is connecting the two countries all round the day.

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Kreuzlingen has a population of around 20,000 people and is the second largest city of the canton Thurgau, in the South-Eastern part of the country. It used to share the same history with the city of Konstanz for a long time, but nowadays, it developed its own German-speaking Swiss identity, as it proved the many local flags hanging out on the balconies and windows of the houses in the old quarter.

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The streets were almost empty, with the exception of some Italian restaurants without too many customers and some outlet stores. With flowers on the streets and a certain quietness that it is specific to many Swiss localities, there is a certain feeling of peace that conquers the first time visitor. Aiming to break a bit what can easily be misunderstood as monotony, the local authorities commissioned young artists various street art projects that can be found in the most unexpected places around the city.

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Before the street art was in fashion, there were the many parks and garden that were took care about by the local authorities. In 1932, the main park was arranged by Fritz Haggenmacher, whose works of gardening were famous especially in Winterthur area. Some of the sculptures were considered offensive by the local mentalities at the time, but resisted the test of time and nowadays are beautifully adorning the public spaces.

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One of the main signs that will show you are in fact in a different country is the architecture, proudly samples of Swiss work: wooden cottages transplanted from the top of the mountains in the middle of the city.

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Hardly meeting too many people, except some lost tourists from Germany like us, we made our way close to the lake, where it looks more animated.

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The promenade was inspiring not only to some eating experiences on the boat, but also to meditation near the lake, using one of the generous pastel coloured seats created there.

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The most animated part was the park though, with people of all ages having their dinner on the grass, children and adults playing together and an impressive number of acrobats choosing to do their exercises in the open air. Lucky me who watched them for minutes, as discretely as possible, trying to catch up at least the understanding of their special art. I did not go that far away to do such practises at home though.

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In a corner of the park, there is a small tower from the top of whom you can have an overall panorama over the lake, with its German and Swiss parts coming together smoothly. I took a short video to remember these beautiful moments. Up on the ground, people kept being busy swimming, playing tennis or chilling out in the sun.

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The lake looked more busy in its Swiss part, with small boats colouring the blue surface. In that moment I had a bit of nostalgia for the beautiful Zurich lake where I used to spend carefree hours, reading on a boat. Time for a return, probably!

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Viewed from Kreuzlingen, Konstanz looked impressively busy and with much more offers for tourists. For the local Swiss people, this city matters as well for its good and affordable prices, many of them preferring to do their basic supplies every week from the German side of the border. Similarly, those living close to the French border, are rather shopping from France, and instead of speaking about ‘Swiss invasion’, as I often heard I would rather appreciate the smart financial planning combined with the luck of living in a world free of borders.

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Near the lake, there were many more temptations for children and their parents: an open air theater, a minigolf and many playgrounds. Together with some joggers and bikers, we went closer to Bodensee Arena, where the local soccer team FC Kreuzlingen is representing the Swiss football since 1905.

If not my journalistic eye ready to spot the most curious details, we would have not notice that we are back to Germany, a red spider-like metal sculpture symbolically outlining the passage. Kreuzlingen might not be a top destination in Switzerland, but it makes you curious to see more and more from this interesting country. Thus, I promise to be back soon!

For more insights from Kreuzlingen, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/kreuzlingen-switzerland/