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/

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/

On the road with FlixBus-MeinFernbus

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In the last months, my travels within Germany were very limited, and especially lately I mostly used trains or car. However, once in a while, I remember that still did not test all the bus opportunities that are, by far, the cheapest options to travel across Germany. Especially now, during the few hot days of the summer, most buses to have functional air condition system, an offer that is not always included in the very expensive price packages of the train services.

The buses developed tremendously in the last years, with complex networks and unbeatable prices. The dynamic of the market also included several new business deals that I was not too much aware lately. One of them was the marriage between Mein Fernbus and Flixbus, rebranded since the beginning of this year under the motto: Flixbus-Der Fernbus von Flixbus.

The result: besides the prices that remain cheap and very cheap (Hamburg Berlin keeps being 8 EURO one way) the transportation network covered developed dramatically, with a permanent expansion outside the borders. Noticeable, the routes: Hamburg-Prag, Köln-Brussels, Nürnberg-Amsterdam. Den Haag and my beloved Antwerp are also part of the new itineraries, as well as France, Sweden, Denmark and Italy – including Venice and Verona.  Right now, just thinking about the many good prices associated with numerous destinations I only feel sorry for my very limited travel possibilities in the coming months…According to the official data provided by the company, the happy meeting between MeinFernbus and Flixbus created a coverage of 300 cities and 10,000 connections.

As for the practical travel conditions as such, many of the amenities noticed during my latest trips with MeinFernbus are still there: the drivers are polite and talkative, the level of cleanliness is decent – everything depends on the awareness of the passangers after all – decently clean – at the limit – toilet. The delays are announced in time and the journey went smooth. As in the case of the previous MeinFernbus trips, the WLAN connection is intermittend and this can create problems if you plan to accomplish too much while on the road.

The conclusion: the green company – the choice of colour is not accidental, as denotes the environmental concerns and policies – still remains on the top choices of transportation for my trips. Let’s only hope that the good times of non-stop travel will be back soon!

Disclaimer: I was offered a free two-way ticket for my trip to Bad Oeynhausen by FlixBus-Fernbus, but the opinions are, as usual, my own. 

Spa life in Bad Oeynhausen

DSC09841I always surprise my experienced German friends with questions about destinations they never heard about. My first encounter with Bad Oeynhausen took place the last year when I intensively visited Bielefeld and I spotted some directions to this relatively unknown place to the Berliners or Southerners residents. Due to time restrictions, I was not able to make it then, but kept this destination in mind for further planning. Almost one year later, I was there, at the end of a too long delayed ride that included some police controls in Hannover and crowded roads. Dizzy upon arrival, the first 30 minutes did not impress me at all: many weight-related advertising, too much pollution from the trucks and a shopping center in the middle of a neglected area. It was one of those moments that may happen once in 10 trips when I am going in the wrong direction. Luckily, I am turning in the right direction and soon my camera is getting busy capturing travel postcards. There are even comfy chaise-longues if I may feel tired, but I resist the temptation this time.

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After too many unfavorable first impressions, I feel travelling through Wonderland, except there is no Alice to run after the funny rabbit. DSC09847Close to the Ost Korso area, the architecture of the houses is changing and I am admiring the prodigies of the beginning of 20th century design works. DSC09848

In some places, one can notice the superposition of various styles and influences, in a very harmonious way. From a street number to another, my impression about this place is changing dramatically.  DSC09849

Although it seems that Bad Oeynhausen does not seem too have too many big cultural attractions such as museums and exhibitions, walking the central area can offer pleasant views. As a visitor for a couple of hours, I just feel good to visit this place. DSC09854When I arrived in the Kurort area, the huge Spa Park covering various facilities in the middle of a Lenne designed garden, I almost forgot my first impressions about this locality.  DSC09855The classical or more elaborated Renaissance style buildings are hosting rehabitionation centers and even a Bali Spa, offering various high-end services to the residents, including a weekly spa day only for women. As I am walking the alleys, I can see some of the patients doing their program of exercises outdoors. On a bench, a couple of youngsters are playing guitar and singing. DSC09858The imposing silhouette of the Kur Palast is dominating the entire area and although out of time, I cannot resist the temptation to step in for a while.  DSC09863

For now, the building with red velvet curtains and colourful stained glass windows is hosting a Variete Theatre, GOP offering entertainment to the locals as well as too people coming here for treatment.

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The entire area of the Kurort Complex is surrounded by many hotels for different budgets and tastes. There is even a small design shop and a cafe within the park, offering a relaxing view over the carefully manicured gardens. DSC09884

With only less than 3 hours left, I am randomly checking streets and directions, always surprised by the serious architectural lines of the buildings that look as everything is ready for an official opening.DSC09891At Karlchen’s Backstube, I can admire the local variety of local breads, but also some interesting pastries that maybe one day will be curious to discover how to prepare myself. DSC09897

For this trip, I resume my foodie experience at the offers of Eiscafe Piccoli, a gluten free icecream parlour in the central area. I sit outside, where I can observe the local people – at this time of the day predominantly retired persons – and taste the delicious treats. The icecream arrived very fast and combined fruity flavours of strawberries, a serious chocolate touch and pistacchio. Let’s hope that my entire sweet season of the summer will taste like that! The nearby Cafe Ellinghaus is even more tempting, but discovered too late, with marzipan truffles and freshly made cakes. DSC09902

I prefer to spend more time in the parks for now, walking the Sielpark. Around this area, every Saturday there is an open market selling various fresh products to the locals.DSC09907

As every spa and thermal locality – not only in Germany – Bad Oeynhausen is also associated a legend. In this case, the story says that the pig farmer Colin Sültenmeyer discovered a strange crust on the back of his animals. Proved as salt, it contributed to the further discovery of the salt resources and further on, to the well being of the community. A statuary complex, situated in the shopping area of Klosterstrasse telling this story is one of the most popular meeting point in town.DSC09909

From Klosterstrasse you can find a lot of shopping deals, from classical handmade hats to various hobby shops, libraries and modern clothing. A typical British phone boot shares the love from Wear Valley District Council, a proof of the friendly relations between the two city councils.

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When it is about time to go, I am just happy that despite the unpleasant first impression, I did find so many things to do, see and taste. Maybe there will be a next time and will be brave enough to rent a bike from the train station and discover even more surprinsing sides of Bad Oeynhausen.

For more impressions from Bad Oeynhausen, check the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/bad-oeynhausen/

Trip facilitated by Flixbus.de

Vineyards and Baroque in Würzburg

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I left Berlin for my first encounter with the Franconian region with a lot of side notes about the architecture, history and arts, but apparently I had missed the main point: the abundance of vineyards that can be seen on the hills from all the main streets. As a serious and I assume also experienced wine lover, my attention for the history and arts went obviously distracted for a long time. As I will later find out, the climate and the soil makes this part of Germany one of the oldest and largest wine producer in the country. However, the climate was not very kind with me this October Sunday, but the wind and some cold rain showers did not discourage me to keep discovering this mysterious city.

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Those not interested in the local wines, or simply with a durst for the German branded beer production are welcomed in old breweries  serving late breakfast and generous beer pints. There were enough courageous tourists enjoying their meal outdoors. As for the local people, it is a Sunday and this part of Germany is known for its religiosity and except the tourist spots, there are not too many shops or other daily attractions open.

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Due to its religious profile, Würzburg also had several cloisters that eventually in the recent centuries were turned into public hospitals. One of them is the rococo Julius Hospital, whose gardens and flamboyant architecture are part of the local attractions of the city.

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A serious part of my visit will be spent exploring the gardens labyrinth of the Residence Castle, part of the UNESCO heritage sites and one of the most beautiful ones in Germany. It reminded me of the beautiful Schönbrunn gardens, but the scale of manicured gardens bordering alleys that suddenly turn in completely unexpected directions or leading to unexpected corners of landscape is much bold.

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The work of the man is either manifested through the various styles of statues or the care to turn the nature into a piece of art. At the same time though, the force of the wild nature is strong enough to serve as the main inspiration for the cultured. This is how I can explain the extraordinary power of this place, that you feel in every corner.

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The art of creating illusions is so powerful that I’m feeling in a wonderland where I’m afraid of being lost, the place created so strong emotions that I can hardly remember the right exit password.

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A visit to the castle, built between 1720-1744 and used as a former bishops residence, revealed a more domesticated reality. The beauty of Tiepolo’s frescoes completes the landscape of the intricate influences that contributed to the conception of this castle, from the Viennaise style, to the French castle flavours and the emotional Northern Italy.

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The architecture of the streets and houses is less spectacular, with many embellishing decorations and various historical mentions of the previous history, before being destroyed during WWII.

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More about the local history, especially during its time as a Bishop residence is revealed at the 10-year old Museum am Dom.

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The old city hall, as many other similar constructions in Germany, especially in the Southern part, did not disappoint, with its imposing high and whose architecture seems to be inspired by the predominant religious constructions in the city.

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The modern world changed the functions of many buildings and just another former hospital was turned into an art gallery.

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Another hill of vineyards encouraged me to try hiking till the top of the Marienberg fortress, following tight cobblestone stairs and narrow alleys bordered by a houses built in all the historical styles, starting with the 18th century until the current busy times.

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The hiking till the top of the Fortress is pleasant, with many green trees announcing maybe a beautiful foliage season in a couple of weeks, but the vineyards are well hidden so I cannot have a good view of them. I am thinking about how beautiful everything might smell in the early spring, when the vineyards’ flowers are in full bloom.

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Initially, the fortress was built in the 13th century and witnessed many fights typical for those historical times. Now, it is a great place for the late afternoon dog walking or for jogging, but it can also explain a lot about the history and traditional architecture in this part of Germany.

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Back in town, I’m again on the bridge – it might remind of Charles Bridge in Prague, isn’t it – where tourists take pictures or are invited to do some wine tasting in one of the many small wine shops and bars nearby. It’s getting cold, but wine, drunk in the right amounts, can always bring some pleasant warm into the heart.

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Würzburg is also an university city and proud to be the home town of Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. More I walk the streets, more I might think about the coexistence between various spiritual layers of the city and especially how the modern world can spring in the middle of traditional mindsets. The boiling Baroque of the castle can be an answer, and its traces can be seen in some small architectural details as well.

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The market square is empty, but it’s a good standpoint to notice various styles of the buildings. An Australian band is playing loud some Irish-music and most of the people are running there, maybe happy, as I was too when heard the sound of the music first, to see that there is still something going on in the city.

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Moving forth from the concert, my eyes were pleased to discover the Rococo exuberance of the 18th century Falkenhaus, a former bourgeois residence. All the small rebel details of the facade are balanced by the geometry and even by the windows and the special painted colour. It’s like a beautiful cake specially decorated to make you think about the pleasant surprises in life. Not always easy to get into this mood.

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From there, the streets around are very busy with the coming and going of shopping lovers, as here is concentrated the shopping district of Würzburg. Traditional tailoring, glass stores and shoe reparation shops also survived the top-notch demands for modern supplies.

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I did not find too much street art in Würzburg – and the more you go South of Germany, the less spectacular street art there is – but the local history and traditional art imagination did not neglected the care for making the city beautiful, or at least creating some artifacts that makes your living better.

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Not in the central areas, but on some streets around some exuberant Baroque putti are apparently busy catching butterflies.

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The parks and green spots can offer some quietness and the comfort of the almost perfect silence.

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When I am about to leave, I see again the abundance of vineyards and I wish I had much more time for some serious investigation into the quality of the local wines. A feeling that can also be translated into the simple and very much used on this blog sentence: ‘See you soon !’

For more insights, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/wurzburg/

An uneventful discovery of Gera

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One of the many advantages of working hard to finish my project 100 Places to See in Germany is that I can discover German regions quietly, city by city. This summer, besides my love for Harz, I went more and more interested by Thuringia. Erfurt and Weimar are my two favourite cities and the discoveries I made there gave me inspiration for finding another destinations. What about Gera? A city that I did not know too much about can be a reason enough to spend one full Sunday there. The entrance by bus into the city did not impress me too much, with too many ugly communist looking buildings, but the neo-Renaissance style of the main train station challenged that first impression. And the mood kept changing, once arrived in the front of the imposing theatre, with the small local lion mascot in the front.  Built at the beginning of the 20th century, it has a capacity of over 600 places, which means that there are at least that many people interested to attend artist performances.

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More refreshed by the cultural news I just got, I moved forward to the Orangerie, surrounded by a French garden, with an impressive art collection, that due to various constructions cannot be visited till the beginning of the next year. Anyway, the weather was good enough for more trips outdoors. Nearby, the Hofwiesenpark, with long alleys bordered by chestnut trees and flowers of all colours.

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An art installation aiming to expose the representation of myths brought an intellectual note to the otherwise joyous and carefree ambiance.

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As I would find out more later on during my solitary explorations, Gera is a city of beautiful villas, a testimony of the rich industrial past of the city. At Villa Jahn, situated in the middle of a large garden, the sober architecture grew up near the long green alleys and luxuriant bushes of flowers.

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I could not resist to take the forest road and spend even more time walking in the middle of the forest, crossing paths sometimes with speedy bikes and ladies walking their big dogs.

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As usual, adding a pinch of culture to the nature is a welcomed encounter, and for the next hour, I decided to give more attention to the arts. First, a short stop at the Hof- und Kammergut, a 18th century building turned into an art space, gathering different art styles.

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I continued with the Otto Dix Museum, a city brand, where besides the reconstruction of old rooms from the time of the artist’s first years of life, there were also some rooms dedicated to the works of the artists that learned, among others, with Oskar Kokoschka.

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In the neighbourhood, a mixture of different architectural styles reminded the long history of the city and the relative wealth of its brave citizens.

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But another unbeaten forest path tempted me and I was in the right mood for more walking.

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My destination was Osterstein Castle, but as I was explained by a very well informed lady working at the art gallery in the yard, only one part of the wall belongs to what once used to be the castle. The rest was destroyed during the WWII bombings, and as usual in such cases, there are various variants of the reasons why the castle was targeted: either some high-ranking officials were hiding here, either by accident or simply because the Allies just detonated the bombs here as they were not allowed to bring the ammunition back home. As for now, I just listened to the various variants and kept my opinions for myself.

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Back to the central area of the city, I got out of the war stories mood, by simply looking around at the surprising art on the streets.

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More arts and nature continued in the area near the Puppentheater.

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My passion for architecture was rewarded while walking the streets near the central area: Leipzigerstrasse, Laasenerstrasse, Lessingstrasse. As it was a Sunday, almost everything was closed, but I may guess correctly that on a normal working day there will be many shopping opportunities for all kind of budgets too.

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The central square, with the classical Pharmacy in the corner – the Stadtapotheke – added a new and different perspective over the city. It was almost empty at this time of the week, the perfect moment for some Segway training introduction, before starting the tour in the city.

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Most coffees and restaurants around, including the tempting Pegasus Literary Coffeehouse, were closed or about to be open, so finding a good place to eat was not an easy task. However, a little tour around the square, guarded by the old city hall tower was an opportunity to get connected to the architectural geography of the place.

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When I finally set up for the lunch menu, it was the Markt restaurant, inside the city hall. The service was relatively slow, but the limette non-alcoholic cocktail kept me a fresh company till the rest of the order arrived. The fresh dough of the egg handmade tagliatelle matched the grilled salmon and the fresh vegetables. The creme brulée was a kind of deep disappointment though, too much sugar and artificial flavours for my expectations.

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Well feed, I continued to look for more Gera’s secrets. Behind the city hall, I arrived at the former corn market, once the Jewish street.

??????????The city used to have around 5 towers, out of them only one was relatively well maintained till nowadays. On the other side of the old wall, some industrial constructions convinced me that I better go back near the main square.

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There, I was very curious to have a look at the city from the top of the city hall tower, and after quite a difficult stairs climbing – blame the good food, maybe – I succeeded to reach the top of it. As usual, it is interesting to have a wide perspective of the different architectural and historical layers of the city, and Gera is no exception to the general rule of urban development in the former communist Germany: some chore historical area was maintained, while anonymous block-houses expanded in the outskirts.

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I was curious to learn out more about the city, and the Stadtmuseum was one of the places where such knowledge can be obtained, but unfortunately, I arrived there shortly before closing time, so the historical introduction was not possible. Instead, I did find more hidden statues near the green bushes.

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Visiting a city without noticing its street art is almost impossible, but this time, the encounter was not planned at all, as I simply stumbled upon some creative corners created by local street artists at the ground level of the UCI Kino.

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The typical motives and mosaiques from the communist era from the walls of the apartments on Heinrichstrasse reminded again of the weight of the recent history into the present and future of the city, at least at the level of the visible architecture. The time I spent in Gera, just helped me to understand much better the city, while discovering a new interesting German destination.

For more insights from Gera, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/gera/

Konstanz, the Southern Wonderland

??????????From the objective distance of the almost one month that separates me from my first encounter with Konstanz, I keep my initial revelation that this part of Germany is a real wonderland. Once entering the territory of Baden Wurttemberg, the sun kept its presence for longer than a couple of hours and the fields of corn and sunflower are sending a message of abundance and well being. A happy life that can be celebrated with the wine produced by the many vineyards on the hills around Bodensee. As in any serious wonder story, the entrance to this special world is made through a special transportation, in this case a ferry carrying cars and buses from Meersburg to Konstanz and back. When the weather is good, the journey is the first revelation of the wonderful world you are about to step in.

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The following revelation takes place when you start to get in touch with the (old) city: beautiful painted buildings, that used to belong to rich local merchants.

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In the old city, it’s hard to find an area without a special decoration or embelishment that reminds either of the history of the city or various local stories not always known to the superficial short-term visitor.

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The Rosgarten Museum is the main source of information for the more or less recent history of Konstanz. Most explanations are available in German, offering an extensive overview of the architecture, economy, religious history and culture.

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The old city houses either bear names associated with various businesses or the names of the owners themselves. When not, the massive presences are clearly showing the high social status enjoyed by the owners. Another interesting feature of the local architecture is that the various religious reforms changed dramatically the initial destination of the buildings, as many of them were turned from monasteries to living spaces or even restaurants or pubs.

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Although relatively predictable, the old city with its cobbled stones and houses co-existing so close near each other is the place where I spent most part of my time. Here you can find all the fashion shops, many of them displaying local products and restaurants serving various tasty foods (A dedicated foodie post coming up very soon!) Outside the city, a couple of stations away from the central area, there is the industrial area where most of the factories and working places are focused, but there is not too much to see there, except some cheap hotels and hostels where you can stay at a more convenient prices than if located in the central area. Compared to the rest of Germany, the prices are relatively higher, but also the services are much better.

??????????All round the day, but especially late in the evening, the street musicians are carrying out their instruments and move from a part to another creating a special lively ambiance.

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The shore around Bodensee offers quietness and long lanes for biking, jogging or hand-in-hand family walking. The boats are quietly waiting their owners, many of them living on the other side of the border, in Switzerland. From Konstanz to Switzerland, to Kreuzlingen, one can simply walk and one step away he or she is in another country. During the week-end, the Swiss neighbours are promptly ready for their German date – ‘you should come to see the invasion then’, as one bold citizen of Konstanz confessed – either for the cheap shopping or various other opportunities.

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Especially this year, Konstanz has one more reason to attract not only its Swiss neighbours, but people from all over the world: the celebration of 600 years since the beginning of the Council of Konstanz, that in 1418 put an end to a schism that threatened the Catholic Church. The Czech reformer Jan Hus was kindly invited to take part to the sessions in order to explain his position, but ended up being incarcerated and burned to stake here. At the Cathedral where the Council was held regular tours are organized, in addition to some late evening theatre plays and other happenings aimed to outline the cultural and religious heritage of the city.

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The vicinity to Switzerland played in the advantage of Konstanz, that was protected by the intensive bombings during the WWII and thus, it preserved greatly its old heritage, especially the Medieval architecture.

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Konstanz is also proud of being the place of birth of the famous count Zeppelin, the revolutionary aircraft manufacturer whose memory is outlined by a monument on the shore.

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The most spectacular presence in town is the 18-meter statue of Imperia, dominating the shore. A project of the artist Peter Lenk, it was erected in 1993on the private property of a rail company and thus, was safe from the calls of being put down as it might offend the public opinion. Lady Imperia, a well educated courtesan, inspired by the character of a short story of Balzac placed in the city, is holding two men on her hands: Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund who were re conciliated after the Konstanz Council, both represented naked except the signs of power on their heads. The message of the huge statue that turns around is not very pleasant for the high clergy, but otherwise, the grotesque presence turned into one of the main attractions in the city. Its location is situated near the many boat tours around Bodensee, that last around 1-3 hours, running till late in the evening during the summer.

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One of my favourite architectural presences are the painted houses, many of them built around the first half of the 19th century.

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The history painted on their walls either explain episodes related to the religious past of Konstanz, either various other historical sagas. Even though one might not have all the hints of the story, with a bit of imagination, one can easily reconstruct the narrative finding out more messages and understanding. We are in Wonderland, remember?

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Given this special imaginary geography of the place, even the town hall is situated in a special ambiance, with big roots hanging on the walls and a backyard garden with statues and benches where shy bureaucrats are having a chat during the cigarette break.

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I easily fell in love with this place, for what it is and what I wasn’t able to discover during my too short stay. This is one of the many reasons I started my ‘100 Places to See in Germany‘ Project: getting out of my Berlin comfort zone and discovering hidden gems as far away as possible.

For more insights and pictures from Konstanz, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/konstanz/

To the islands, to the islands to the Tropical Islands!

The is late autumn in Germany, and even though I see the sun often, the daily chill reminds me that it will not take too long till I will see snow. Not on my wish list. More than ever, I need to dream about tropical islands. For a long time, I was told about the tropical paradise near Berlin, but only now, after years of harsh winter I am set to seriously check the location.

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From Berlin to the Tropical Islands, there is a direct train connection leaving Central Station every hour. With less than 20 EUR. and one hour later, I landed in Brand/Niederlausitz. A colourful bus free of charge is waiting in the train station to take us fast to the Islands.Image

The Islands are hosted in a former airship hangar, that went through different stages in the post-communist Germany. There is a camping area and a parking space nearby. The huge hangar is considered the world’s largest free standing building that can easily gulp the Statue of Liberty. Another world record of the Islands is the indoor tropical rainforest, considered the biggest in the world of this kind. Image

It is the middle of the week on the Islands, but once arrived you may easily forget which day it is. Dressed from head to toe, I may look bizarre or annoying for the groups of tourists walking semi-naked from the sauna to the Ayurveda treatments or the restaurants. It is very hot inside but I can’t never have enough of it.

My guides are showing me the main locations, explaining how the designers and architects wanted to make the place as lively as possible. Original doors and statues hidden behind the big green leaves were brought from India, Bali or Thailand. Everything looks colourful and genuine and I love the time traces of the doors.

So much warm make me wish I have more time to book a diamond peeling, for example. The accommodation on the island can be booked online, but for the massage, the reservations are made on the spot.

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There are around 200 rooms available to book. The majority of tourists visiting the Islands, with or without families, are from Germany, followed by Dutch, Polish, Czech, Swedish or Norwegian visitors. There are lockers for those looking only for one day stay, but also tents in the sand, for those with a limited budget or with a backpacker soul.

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The premium rooms are stylish, with simple yet original furniture. Some are provided with air condition, and TV. Wifi is part of the menu as well, and a small fridge with some nuts and champagne is waiting in the room. The only thing that cannot be guarantee is the perfect silence, as there are always things taking place on the islands and people are here to party a bit as well. Some restaurants are open till late, and especially in the winter season, companies are happy to book some rooms and spaces a couple of hours or days to celebrate the end of a busy year. For the New Year’s Eve, the places were almost booked late October.

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One of the favourite entertainments is flying high in the hangar’s sky with the air balloons. For more excitement, there it is possible to try the parachute jumping competition. Children have their own corner, with a face painting corner and one of the biggest water slides in Europe or a paddling pool. There it is also a mini-golf and if you are early in the morning, jogging in the rainforest can be fun. Image

After you enter the Islands, you are given a bracelet with a chip that will record your purchases that you will pay at the end of yoru stay. Besides the breakfast that can be included in the price of the room, there are various restaurants with ‘exotic’ foods, such as the tropical barbecue offered by the Jabarimba restaurant. Some basic shopping, including a mini-bookstore, can help you reach your budget for such an adventure. Otherwise, the prices are far beyond the expectations of a tropical visit.Image

Once my tour is done, I want to spend a little more time on my own exploring the rainforest. I pass one again near the blue laguna waters where everyone is sipping a cocktail or getting in the siesta mood, envy the lazy turtles and wish I am lucky enough to spot the peacocks (not this time though). I am left with the flamingoes, the newest residents of the islands. I spy on them a bit and convince myself that I should go back home otherwise I may need to stay here for longer.

Out in the windy afternoon, I am trying to brainstorm which tropical place in the world will suit the best my painful winter. But I also know that if I really crave for a full tropical feeling, I can return any time here. Many if nothing else left to go for my birthday, as on such occasions, you are offered free entry.

More pictures from the Tropical Islands can be seen on my Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/tropical-islands/

I was offered a complimentary tour of the Islands, but the opinions are, as usually, my own. 

On the road with MeinFernbus

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With the prices of trains sky rocketing from a year to another, the bus transportation is an affordable opportunity in Germany, for long or short distances, for addicted travelers and tourists or for families. Compared with the train policies, the buses don’t offer (yet) discounts to regular customers and it may take longer to go from a place to another, but when the budget is limited and the hunger for trips big, the bus is the easiest way to turn your dreams into travel reality.

In the last years, many bus companies were created in Germany, and operate at regional or country level. MeinFernbus developed an extended network created in around 3 years of service and operates routes more than once the day. Thus, if you want to return the same day, most probably you can do it with a decent timing too. The perfect solution for one-day travelers as me.

The reservations can be done and paid online (PayPal is also accepted as a payment method), and the prices are more than affordable. The average investment is of around 50 Eur. pro person, two-ways. You can eventually find a good price on Deutsche Bahn, but not on a regular basis and for sure not from a day to another. Upon arrival the bus tickets are checked on a nerdy looking electronic device and in case that you forgot to print your ticket, you still can get your place with any identification document. 

During my 3×2 trips with their buses, I loved a lot the warm welcome on board and the polite bus drivers, plus the clean chairs and restrooms. You can use freely the WLAN on board with a good speed. The only problem that may be encountered in some cases is the lack or scarcity of plugs for recharging the computer. Each time I went with a different type of bus. The one from Bayreuth that arrived via Zuerich, for instance, was a double-decker bus, with tables and enough spaces to rest your feet. 

When you buy your ticket, you leave your cell phone and thus, in case the bus is later, you will be announced by SMS at least one hour in advance about the inconvenience. I was lucky enough to be twice earlier back to Berlin than expected though.

I will open heartily recommend to anyone interested to discover Germany by bus, for the technical performances and the green policies and the facilities on board, but first and foremost for the professional customer service. You can also find English speakers to offer a basic help and assistance. 

MeinFernbus kindly supported my trips to Bremen, Heidelberg and Bayreuth, part of my project ‘100 Places to See in Germany’. The opinions are, as usual, my owns.