Magdeburg’s come back

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Magdeburg was one of the first cities I visited when I moved to Berlin seven years ago and at the time, I did the usual tourist checking: the Hundertwasser complex, the central old city with the city hall and the famous golden horseman, Technical and Natural Science and History museums. This time, I was back for another one-day trip, but without any travel focus, just for some work assignment. This how I discovered a different face of the city, off the beaten path.

20150819_111324(0)After the reunification of Germany, Magdeburg was often quoted as an example of failure to bring the East at the same successful level with the West. The keywords often associated in the local media with this city were: unemployment – two digits till 2006, communist ugly Plattenbauten, neonazis and despair. Thanks to the smart subvention policy and the EU various fuding, the wisely used money was spent for infrastructure and education and from the Cinderella of the East, upgradet its status in 2012 as ‘Germany’s most dynamic city’.

20150819_112422Compared to Dresden and Leipzig, that are considered one of the most attractive destinations for both tourism and investments, where the prices for rents are slightly increasing, Magdeburg remains a good deal among the real estate investors. Especially the area near Neustädter See, close to the highway from Berlin, with many new apartments recently offered to rent. The precarious economic situation pushed many people to leave Magdeburg but in the last years, people from other part of the country and from abroad are moving here. Compared to many countries in the world, people in Germany prefer to rent instead of buying properties, with many people who never owned a real estate. Prices for rents are controlled by the state and in this particular part of Magdeburg, you easily find 2-room apartments for around 400 Euro. As for now.20150819_124204

The communist standard buildings were dramatically repainted and refurbished, and added impressive concierge services with cleaning services and other facilities included. But there are is another advantage that may bring people in this part of the city: the green area in one of the greenest cities from this part of Germany. The water sports facilities created around the lake, the new parks and restaurants as well as the advantages for families with children are also added to the list. Since 1993, the city also has its own university, the youngest in Germany, which brings in this area a lot of international students. Huge former industrial spaces were converted into business hubs for startups and engineering workshops.

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From the top of one of the highest Plattenbauten around, the buildings introduced to the real estate market as samples of the ‘1970s flair’ – I have enough communist memories to remember how flairless they used to be, boring buildings for grey people – are painted in happy colours, every block a buildings assigned a different colour. A young face to a city with history.

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The 1,200-year old city created by Charlemagne is changing his face and is getting back on its path to the future. Nothing stays the same and in a way, I am grateful that I had the chance to see this city besides the usual travel-touristic stereotypes.

5 Places to Run Far Away from Winter

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

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

  1. Lisbon, Portugal

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

2. Barcelona, Spain

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

3. Israel

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

4. New Orleans, USA

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

5. Thailand

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

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

 

Pregnant on the road, some lessons learned

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

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

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

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

Green summer day in Briesetal

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This summer, my travel plans and dreams were strictly limited for a good reason. Which does not mean that I was easily convince to spend quiet weekends at home. Rather the opposite: I just use the opportunity to discover interesting things to do around Berlin. And I was rewarded with a lot of worth to share discoveries. Briesetal, for instance, is just 40 minutes away from Berlin. You take the train till Fronau and from there a couple of stations more a local bus till the city hall. From there, you just need to follow some of the arrows and start walking. DSC01204

We just started the travel day by following the yellow circle sign, leading us from small forests to small lakes with empty boats and white water lilies. Short arched bridges were guiding our steps till the next polite concrete paved path in the middle of the quiet trees. We met many other short time travellers, but we just passed by without not even looking to each other.

DSC01213For a little treat on a hot day, we made a stop at the Boddensee restaurant, a small wooden hotel surrounded by water. Waiters in uniforms welcomed us with a menu whose prices were worth at least a half shining of a Michelin star. Disappointed by the scarcity of our demands, they brought us the cold cokes and smiled when we left.DSC01218

But not for food experiences we were in Briesetal, but for more walking and deep breathing. Just took another 0.6 km tour around the lake Monchsee.DSC01225

There is a little bit more in Briesetal to see. For instance,some spectacular street art decorating the walls of a youth center.

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Or the interesting architecture of the main street, combining old high wooden balconies with modern cubic architecture.

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The shopping opportunities are minimal: the usual food supermarkets and some small local clothes or gardening businesses.DSC01237Without consumerist temptations, I keep documeting the green oasis, tooking just another concrete paved way. You don’t even need special shoes or previous special hiking training. DSC01252The next and last stop was in a small birch forest inspirely located on the Birkenwaldstrasse (birken means birch). The locals cleaning their cars or fixing their yard noticed us with a shy smile, enough to fell us less intruders.DSC01264

The forest continues through a short walk through a newly harvested wheat field. A large area with plain golden roots. On the sides, bushes of wild plants, aparently inspiring enough some street art artist.

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The rest of the trip we slowly walked the streets near Hohen Neundorf. Nothing especially to notice except the big houses with curious eyes not used apparently with expats talking a bit too loudly for this time of the afternoon. The discovery of a gladiola field, at Blumenfelde (flowers’ field) interrupted the monotony. You just need to leave some money in a box and make your own bouquet. I did never appreciate this type of flowers and chose to leave the flowers for someone really in need for some special decorations. In the middle of the overwhelming green, the richness of the colours reminded me how easy is to be happy with your lot, your travel lot,of course.

For more images from Briesetal, check the dedicated Pinterest board

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

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.

Your best hotels for an unforgettable stay in Karlovy Vary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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