Relaxing time at the Salz Luft Grotte in Berlin

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April is generally a very stressful time for me: a lot of cleaning and specific preparations for the Pesach holidays, relatives and friends visiting, new projects and work opportunities, travels to plan and family to pamper. I feel like an octopus without enough legs to cope with the never ending to-do-list. But, let’s not complain too much: I am living in a time and a place when despite all the emergencies, I discretely take a break and enjoy a full hour of wellness. This time, at the Salt Cave in Berlin, labelled as the largest of this kind in Germany, situated less than 10 minutes away from Olivaer Platz, near the famous Ku’damm.

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Once I enter, there is a feeling of peace and quietness in the air that helps me to start relaxing, after a very hectic morning. I am invited to wear a pair of white socks or some plastic shoes – the only dress code requirement, and that for clear hygienic reasons – and I am ready to enter. In a couple of seconds I enter an orange-darkish room, with a very relaxing background music in the tempo of the water running slowly on the salty walls. Everything is made of salt here – except the chaise longues and the blankets. I instantly feel the effects on my inner balance. I breath deep as much as I can, while listening to the technical explanations about the place .

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The water on the walls is aimed to bring a certain balance in the salty air. If inhaled in moderation, the salt can be very healthy. Some medical sources also indicates that it helps to counter depressions. Otherwise, people with allergies and asthma should rather talk with their doctor before a visit. There are special hours for families with children. The space is also used for yoga, meditation, pilates or gym, the maximum number of people allowed at the same time being 15. As for me, I only can see myself resting on a chaise longue with a book on my lap, breathing deep and focusing as much as I can to get rid of all the hardship of the last weeks.

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Slowly walking on salt proves to be a rewarding experience for my feet. While waiting your tour, you can have a tea prepared outside at a samovar. Reservations in advance, at least 24 hours before, are strongly recommended, especially in order to avoid overcrowding. Regularly, special prices and discounts are offered, and specific weekend for families are part of the usual demands.

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The entire space is designed to create the good feeling of wellbeing. The massive colourful walls are made of Himalaya salt, an orange-rose combination that creates a particular ambiance, without soliciting the eyes too much. The regular temperature can reach maximum 20 Celsius, but for those used with higher temperature there are blankets ready.

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The small shop at the entrance offers various salt-made products, from usual bath salts or cooking salts, to less unusual combinations, such as bonbons or heart-shaped souvenirs. Most of them are produced in Bad Kissingen, a famous spa-locality far away in the Souther part of Germany.

Unfortunately, my time is over, but long time after living, I still have the deep salty breath deep into my lungs. When I am back home, I know that even though I still have a lot of chores to do, I am going through everything with a more serene outlook. Maybe is because it reminds me of summer holidays near salty seas?

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

For more insights about Salz Luft Grotte, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/salz-luft-grotte-olivaerplatz-berlin/

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Travel Israel: Where history meets Google

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The travel experience to Israel is not only safe and pleasantly surprising, but very affordable too, with more and more direct and less expensive connections from all over Europe and the world. Especially from Germany, many low-costs lines were introduced in the last years, and a smart early booking can give you the chance to fly to Tel Aviv and back for less than 300 Euro.

Regardless of the time of the day you are landing in Tel Aviv, there will always be something open as the city never sleeps. Clubs and bars and restaurants and shops are calling your name. The new brave architecture insinuated in the urban space around old traditional houses, palm trees are bordering walls with creative graffiti. And if you were a bit scared that you will have some communication problems, don’t worry, you are in the country where the main world languages are easily spoken.

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In the evening, there are always beach parties. Open air dancing and cocktail tasting is for everyone. Lala Land beach is one of the many places where you should be at the beginning of the night. Elegant hotels but also cozy hostels where one can meet new friends are strategically places near the beach. The prices may differ of the season, with big differences during the Jewish high holidays, especially April – Pesach – and September – Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. The sooner you make the reservation, the better. Compared to Europe, the weather is good all round the year – with high temperatures during August – so you don’t risk anything if you start your exploration of Israel in January or February, for instance.

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Tel Aviv is the place of arts and creative minds par excellence. The passionate arts scene is featured by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art or Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. At the Beit Hatfutsot – the Diaspora Museum – there is a chance to understand more about the history of Jewish communities from all over the world. Before you enter through the gates of any museum, there is the architecture of the city who tells you a story. Jewish architects that escaped Germany before and during the war, brought the Bauhaus spirit in the city and built around 4,000 houses, part of the White City, nowadays included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

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The contemporary urban culture is a different and equally fascinating layer of Tel Aviv. Answering the curiosities of tourists and locals, graffiti tours are regularly offered in English, covering the most interesting areas of the city. As many of the graffiti messages are connected with the daily life and politics of the Israeli society, a little bit of guidance is more than welcomed.

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Transportation in the city is easy: either by bus or by foot. Taxis can help you too, and the very often the prices can be negotiated. Exchange offices or banks are open 6 days of week – Saturday is the official day of rest.

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Saturday is the day of rest – Shabbat – and most part of the shops are closed, as well as public transportation. In Tel Aviv, however, one can always find something open or some parties going on – strongly recommended the rooftop parties in the White Cities, many of them arranged as gorgeous gardens, from where you can have a view of the city night life. Resting one day the week is not a bad idea either, and on Saturday evening, one can notice how everything goes back to normality. A must-see is the spontaneous dancing show at Gordon Beach. Many similar street dancing are taking place near the clubs as well.

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From the center of Tel Aviv, one can walk for a while reaching the artist quarter of Neve Tzedek. Small streets, bordering colourful and individual houses, hosting small galeries or pop-up stores, but also good restaurants and bakeries, especially French and Hungarian, bringing back home flavours and childhood long-forgotten tastes.

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Another tasty and interesting part of Tel Aviv is Jaffa, with its small houses with flower gardens and delicious Oriental restaurants.

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The best place to find something special to buy or eat or admire is on Dizengoff Street, where you can find exquisite design shops, the big mall at no. 50 and restaurants for all kind of tastes and budgets. As for me, I also love to walk on Eli’ezer ben Yehuda street, checking the latest French bakeries or the newest frozen yoghurt parlour. And there is something else that no one should miss while in Israel: the big checking list of breakfast, traditionally including boiled eggs, tomato salad, labneh, hummus, olive oil, pita bread, fresh fruits and the unforgettable strong coffee – preferably with cardamom. Curious for more shopping malls: check Azrieli, a couple of bus stations away from ben Yehuda.

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On Dizengoff and ben Yehuda I always discover the most interesting and creative art galleries, featuring modern local and European artists.

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Tel Aviv is also a friendly city to travel with children. Besides the beach and the many gourmet temptations especially offered for children by many restaurants, there are plenty of parks, playgrounds and the interesting safari that I recently discovered.

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Israel is a small country and you can easily move within a couple of hours from a part to another. By car or by taxi, or using the shared cars, but also by train or bus, many of the main cities can be seen in one day. One of the most spectacular areas is around the old fortification of Masada, where the natural landscape is hiding centuries of history of the land.

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The easiest way to arrive is via Jerusalem, by bus. The buses have air condition but once you are out, you should be careful as during the high season of August, the heat can be unbearable. From the top, one can see the Dead Sea and the small green oasis, the kibbutz, many of them offering affordable accommodation to the tourists.

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Elegant resorts appeared in the last decades, with high-class spa and luxury services. Most are using the Ahava products, based on healthy mud and other natural ingredients.

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From the highest altitudes, one can embrace the mysterious landscape. A country that used to be covered by sand and stones is turned into a rich agricultural area, using the best of its natural resources and beauty.

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Every year, Masada is hosting a majestic opera festival, with many representations starting early in the morning, the best time to watch the sunrise.

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Travelling across the country reveals the diversity and the pace of a country aimed to succeed. In Rishon LeZion, high scrapers were built fast to accommodate the waves of people coming back home. The vertical landscape is ironically punctured by colourful playgrounds. In Ra’anana, the Friendship Park was designed to accommodate visitors with special needs.

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One of the cities that took me a lot to come along with is Haifa, the working-city where people are always busy. Here is where the logo of Google can be easily seen on the way to the beach and where Intel established its first center outside USA in 1974. Since then, the American company opened another 4 centers in the country and is planning a $6 billion investment in a chip plant. Rambam hospital, one of the best health centers in the area, is treating patients from all over the world.

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As local people are so busy working, the beaches are perfect for those looking for more quietness and privacy. There are not too many beach parties although enough beach bars open till late in the night. Wifi facilities will help you to keep connected with the busy world anyway. Dado Beach, for instance, is considered as one of the best for families with children, while Carmel is more often the meeting place of students and young people in general.

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The local zoo was initially launched as an educational school center, but nowadays is has a lot of attractions for children. It is situated close to Carmel Center, one of the two areas – besides the German colony – where to find the best pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. I sipped some good cocktails once at Barbarossa and definitely loved the Japanika sushi treats, including the design and ambiance.

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The city also has a very active, even though not obvious, art life, that you first notice while walking the streets, trying to read the hidden messages of the street art and installations. I discovered here the most important collection of Japanese art at the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, close to the beautiful Louis Promenade. For children, and not only, there is an interesting Museum of Science.  For more art, the Ein Hod artists village can offer different surprises, but also the possibility to talk directly with artists about their work.

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One of the most famous landmarks of the city are the Baha’i Garden, in a city where various religions co-exist – and there is also a Carmelite Monastery and several churches and mosques. Haifa also has one of the smallest subway network in the world – Istanbul being the other one – with its colourful 6-station of Carmelit funicular railway, re-opened in 1992. Another unique transportation in the city is the cable car which connects the beach promenade with Mt. Carmel.

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The naval life left a certain trace on the character of people. Sailors are reliable people, but not very talkative. Either they like you or not, they will tell you openly. A couple of trips after my first visit to the city, I am more used with it. And from a trip to another, I gathered new reasons to come back.

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Jerusalem is a different kind of encounter. Walking the thousands of years of cobbled old streets brings the visitor back in time. And even if you are completely ignorant about any history, you might want to know more at the end of your journey.

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Before going to the library, try to discover more only by tasting the food, the tempting and delicious pitas or various breads offered in different shapes. A new wave of gourmet restaurants were opened in the last years, one of the best by far being Mantra, Hachatzer or Rooftop. The wines are the natural company of the good foods: in the last years, an impressive number of boutique vineyards were created, many offering regularly wine tasting events.

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The streets of the old city are a oasis of quiet, especially if you decide to walk around my favourite time of the day to start a journey: early in the morning. Shortly before 10 o’clock the old streets are back to life, waken up by the noise of the vendors opening their shops or the men rushing to study in many of the synagogues situated in the neighbourhood.

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Many rush to the Western Wall, where people from simple Jews to world presidents left a small note asking for a wish.

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The area went through various transformations in the last years. The former ruin of the 18th century Hurva synagogue (hurva means ruin in Hebrew) was turned into a new building. There are regular guided tours offered that will lead you to the top of the building from where one can have a panoramic view of Jerusalem and its vicinity.

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For many Western visitors, the cats are the unexpected cute encounters. They are everywhere, on the beach, in the yard of the synagogues or at the entry in elegant malls. When they don’t run after mice or beg for a little piece of food, they rest in the most unexpected places.

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Mahane Yehuda is where you can smell and taste the Middle East. The spices are in the air, and I rarely need long hours to find out what I am looking for. As usual, I end up with lots of perfumed bags that will put at hard trial my culinary skills and imagination.

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I am not more literate when it comes to the fruits either, but the colours are tempting enough to convince me they are worth a little bit of extra tasting.

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The weight of history may be enough for not doing anything else besides the Old Quarter. Parks and the biblical Zoo are good destinations for family with children. Otherwise, there are some places that I always want to see again: the interesting Italian synagogue, introducing the special world of Italian Jewry, the Museum of Islamic Art, the Israel Museum with an impressive archaeological collection, including the famous Dead Sea scrolls, and Yad Vashem Museum, the living memorial of the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Another interesting attraction, relatively newly introduced on the to-do-list in the city is the tram which goes fast from a part to the other of the city, a good opportunity to have a better view of various areas and to observe or get in touch with the local people. As in the case of Tel Aviv, Segway tours are also available for small or bigger group of tourists, with or without a guide included.

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Those that don’t have claustrophobic problems and are ready to walk barefoot through water can try to make a tour of the City of David. I did it, despite coping in the first minutes of the tour with a deep emergency to run back to light, and was delighted with the high quality of the English explanations and the overall setting.

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The tour – that lasts an average of 3 hours – leads the visitor through underground tunnels, exploring the place of birth of the ancient city of Jerusalem. When you are finally out of the darkness, one learns to better appreciate the light. Back in the real life, there is the busy life from Mamilla Mall with the very talented street artists singing something beautiful. Everywhere, there is something to do and many reasons to return. Even though it’s only for a small piece of cake that you only tasted at home. And home is where your heart is.

For more pictures from Israel, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/israel/

Berlin by boat tour

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I recently celebrated five years of life in Berlin. Such an event should be celebrated in a very special way, I said to myself months ago, trying to figure out what’s the best present I can offer to myself (staying at the same place for such a long time deserves a present, I suppose). As a trip outside the city was out of the question, I tried to see what was left from the usual Berlin activities that I not checked yet. The result: a boat tour and a balloon journey over the city. As in the case of the second choice, I might need to overcome first my fear of highs, the first option sounded quite naturally. With a ticket for two bought via Groupon, I showed up at one of the meeting points across Spree, near Friedrichstrasse for (another) one hour of Berlin.

The boat was looking modest, with a bit worn-out plastic chairs and not too many passengers. Warm blankets were offered to the courageous ready to cope on the deck with the unpredictable April weather. Beers, coffees and cookies were also available to buy.Image

Spree is getting very busy that time of the year, with more and more boats – some very elegant, some water taxis – showing the city to the tourists. Our followed a relatively classic route: Friedrichstrasse-Museuminsel-Berliner Dom-Nikolaiviertel-Reichstag-Regierungsviertel-Central Station-Kanzleramt-Haus der Kulturen der Welt and Tiergarden.

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On the many bridges under which we pass slowly, other tourists or local people chilling out are taking photos, waving their hand to us or simply resting a bit doing nothing, thinking about nothing. In such a busy city, permanently reinventing itself, is not easy to rest properly, isn’t it?

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The guide explains us in Germany the history of the places we are seeing, with a lot of good information about the past and the near future. A new quarter to be inaugurated here, another area getting ready by the end of the next year there..

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Although the more or less new symbols of the city remain unchanged and unchallenged, there is the spring beauty which makes everything looking better. Every time I make serious plans to leave the city, I remember the beauty of the flowers in spring and this memory only is enough to convince me to stay one more month. And the story goes on.

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Time goes fast and we are already in Nikolaiviertel, an area which turned the historical traces into an original mixture of local borough culture.

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Familiar sights are soon popping up into our view: we are about to enter the governmental area – Regierungsviertel. The architecture is very inspiring not only for students in urban planning, but also for fashion reviews or urban catwalk shows. At the shadows of the huge buildings, fashion models are getting the last make-up touch before another photo session.

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When the capital city moved from Bonn to Berlin, the city planners and politicians too had to cope with a lot of administrative and stylistic issues. The current formula took almost a decade to be accomplished, and there are many plans under work for further improvement. The results were quite spectacular and I most say that most of the new governmental buildings are looking better and much youngish than many of the traditional centers of power from the rest of Europe.

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Near the Central Station, a new administrative and business area is scheduled to be finished till the beginning of the next year. Glass and steel is the new name of the architectural game here.

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We follow a change of perspective once we enter the green lunge of Berlin: Tiergarden.

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From a view to another, we are trying to figure out how the area used to look 25 years ago or even more. We agree that it’s quite a good improvement and enjoy living in the present. After the war, most of the area here was used for planting vegetables, especially potatoes, most of the arrangements and constructions being done exclusively in the last two decades.

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Deprived by sun most part of the year, Berlin developed an alternative ‘beach culture’: once the first rays of light are announced by the weather apps, people are going out near Spree particularly, to watch the boats, have a beer and spend us much time as possible outdoors. Some bars even brought in sand and colourful umbrellas. We will probably join them one of the next Sundays too, if sun kindly allows us to do it.

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But before we elaborate our plans for the next Sundays, we are announced that the tour is ready. My first city boat tour was pleasant and maybe I will start a new tradition of water tours in other cities too. Sooner or later, I will probably get better used with the perspective of a cruise. Till then, Berlin is quite crazy to keep me busy for a little while.

Visiting Lübbenau and the Spreewald area

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I was told on several occasions about the beautiful landscape of Spreewald, but till I arrived at Lübbenau, one hour away by train from Berlin, I did not fully believe it. Call it the good habit of the journalist. That we should have congratulate ourselves for a perfect choice for a summer day away from the city, we had realize as sooner  aswe spotted out of the window the Spree shining in the sun.

But there is a somehow unfair natural law according to which good things happen to those who wait. None of the beautiful nature was around the streets near the train station when we arrived, but we were optimistic enough that  we will really be in the middle of that nature soon. Till then, we first encountered a kind of ranch with a big yard where were gathered different domesticated animals.

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Respecting the traditions and language of the local Sorb minority, the names of the streets and other important information are bilingual. Despite the too much tourist information, we were able to continue our way easily though. The big monument of the Soviet soldier reminded us that the area used to be during the Cold War part of the DDR.

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Our meditations about recent history, if any, were cut shortly by the view of the alley leading to a thick forest. The quietness and simple beauty left us in silence for a good amount of time. We slowly walked the alleys, breathing deep the fresh air. Except the fast forward moving bikes, many of them belonging to visitors like us, nothing troubled the majestic ambiance.

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For less than one hour, we made a short tour of the town, with red bricked houses stuck between white modern buildings where one can enter following cobblestoned streets. People are living simply, many probably using the products of their gardens. The consumption area was reduced to the bare minimum: pharmacy, bakery, bookstore, food, some clothing shops.

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We can’t wait to be back in the nature. Spreewald is not only part of the UNESCO biosphere reserve, but also one of Germany’s major gardens. The famous pickles made in the region are one of the most sought and famous products in the North of the country. The area has no less than 18,000 species of flora and fauna most of them in full blown during the spring and summer.

Visitors are coming in the ‘Woodland’ – the raw translation of ‘Spreewald’ – to relax. For us, it was enough just to stay on one of the bridges and look. The rest of the people would most likely enjoy an hours long tour by canoe, an usual transportation for the locals – that can be rented from one of the localities part of the small delta. Especially during the summer, the river is getting busy as the commotion from the streets of Berlin in a working afternoon is moving to Spree. Except that the risk of an accident or of getting angry on your traffic partner is almost impossible. With so much beauty around, you calm down immediately.

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Besides the famous big jars of pickles, an iconic product for the former East Germans, the traditional arts of the Sorbs are another trademark of the area. Coloured glass globes with motives inspired by nature are a special souvenir that you can take back home from the trip.

As for us, the best souvenir was the good mood and refreshed energies that lasted at least for a very busy week ahead. In less than two weeks, we were back exploring another corner of Spreewald. Why not taking the chance of living in a big capital city surrounded by so much beautiful nature?

More pictures from our trip to Lübbenau can be found here: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/spreewald/

Sunday at Diedersdorf Castle

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Summer is just around the corner, but spring in Berlin and Brandenburg is by far one of the most beautiful season. After long months of darkness and rain, the beautiful nature is waking up suddenly and shows itself in its full colourful beauty. Hard to resist the temptation of staying outdoors as much as possible, I take any opportunity for more discoveries. Enchanted by the promise of another full day of sun, we took the S-Bahn till Blankenfelde with a simple and clear direction: Diedersdorf Castle.

Close to the station, on Mozartweg a mini-bus was waiting. In exchange of 2 Euro one way, we were brought fast to the destination, although I would have rather prefer to walk as many other groups of visitors till the gates. Maybe on the way back… Image

On the way, we noticed the quiet streets, that are getting more and more busy close to the gate to the castle. Most visitors seem to arrive by car, bikes or motorbikes. Although it is Sunday, many shops are open, offering only with souvenirs or sweet roasted almonds to buy as a snack to keep you company during a tour around the castle; there are also books, home design items and designed clothes.

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After a short look at the elegant lobby of the 200-year hotel, we go next  discovering the big yard, with shops, restaurants and other locations used for theatre or other cultural activities.  The castle was built in the mid-18th century and changed several times. The hotel has 8 big suites and a fitness place and it often chosen for elegant weddings or company parties, but also for fairs, one of them being fully dedicated to wedding planning.

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The darked old buildings were maintained in the middle of newest additions , but assigned new (often commercial) functions. People are coming and going, visiting the shops to buy or only to have a look.

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In a small room, bride bouquets and other lavish arrangements are prepared. From simple designs to complicated orders, nothing seems to be impossible for the skilled hands of the artisans working here.

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An important area of the main yard is dedicated to the children: a big indoor where birthday parties can be organized, a couple of big playground, with paid entrance, and also some tempting carts, that can be used starting with 3 Euro for 30 minutes. Alongside, the adults can play boules.

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While the children are playing, their parents can enjoy a grill, but the season for such activities was not fully open yet. For the wine lovers, the cellar is hiding exquisite names, like Chateau Etang des Colombes, Rheinegau Riesling or Cotes du Rhone, for over 25 Euro the bottle.

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Meanwhile, we continue our tour of the main locations. A former cowshed was changed into a big hall mostly used for weddings where around 300 guests – 130 if seated – can be hosted. In order to keep the original feeling of the place, some old elements of the original space were kept. If you are non-conformist enough, why not celebrating the entrance into a new life in such an ambiance?

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The lazy Sunday brunch can be taken in a former blacksmith. The bakery nearby is offering various sorts of bread and cookies that can be easily tasted outside for long hours. The famous asparagus is already introduced on the menu of the restaurant –  former horse shed – alongside with healthy potatoes dishes or a bowl of pear compote.

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But not the food brought me here this time, but the perspective of spending a lot of time hiking quietly. We follow one of the hiking routes getting closer to more wild nature.

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When the weather allows it, the weddings can be celebrated outdoors, in a quiet and green environment. Otherwise, you can spend the full day reading outside on a chaise-longue that can be rented for free.

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As we get far away from the ‘civilized’ areas, we meet my favourite animals: beautiful horses trained for slow rides. As we walk, we cross paths with happy children riding their ponies. A noble encounter between children and beautiful animals is a real lesson in life.

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And we go further on, and the perspective changes even more. More beautiful green fields with rebel areas of trees at the horizon.

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The wildlife observation standpoints warn the visitors that there might be a hidden life in the fields, but unfortunately we are not privy to any special meeting with representatives of the animal world.

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The hiking lane can be busy at times, with people of all ages some of them together with their bikes, many checking their tracking apps to see if they are on the right way. A complete tour of the area takes around 2 hours of slow walking and we are delighted to taste every single second of it.

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The majestic profiles of the riders brings a certain elegance to the wild nature around. And its prolongs the feeling of being surrounded by so much natural beauty.

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For those living a quiet urban life in the city, nature can inspire Romantic thoughts. However, for those living here, it means a lot of hard work and permanent preparations. The buzz of the machines wakes me up from the poetic reveries, bringing me back to the basis.

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As the castle is situated close to Tegel airport, no wonder that the airplanes coming and going are permanently troubling the celestial silence of the nature. Far away, we spotted high speed trains, red dots disappearing instantly in the green. But there are also perfect moment of quietness when, as in life, you should be ready to enjoy the lack of unexpected occurences.

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We are back to the castle again. The beer garden where Oktoberfest celebrations are held is getting busier, but some prefer to lay on the grass instead with or without the pick-nick baskets. Traditional bretzels and beers are tasted on the long tables and instant friendships are made easier.

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We are ready for more walking, going back to Blankenfelde by foot. From flowers to homemade marmalade, the locals are doing their best to convince the visitors to take some memories back home and support the local economy as well. The local small museum displays some information about local traditions, mostly connected to agricultural works.

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Far away from the Castle, the streets are quiet and only the fast bikes are breaking the monotony.

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One hour after, we finally arrive in the borough of Blankenfelde, the least populated area of Berlin, according to the statistics. Created in 1375 as a settlement, it was integrated into the city during the big administrative reform in 1920, and till the fall of the Wall it play the role of guardian of the Western borders of the East Berlin. Nowadays, is just another quiet neighbourhood questioning its future. An invitation to a local debate about how culture can revive the area suggests that the local people wants and expect more for their corner of Berlin.

We don’t have too many answers to such big questions now, but we think about coming back soon to check what’s new at the castle and maybe spend more time in the area as well.

For more insights from Diedersdorf Castle, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/schloss-diedersdorfdiedersdorf-castle/

Here is a short video about agricultural works at the castle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH4629LN9so

Bielefeld, on the unbeaten path

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Before visiting Bielefeld, a couple of weeks ago, all I knew about the city was that it’s 800-year old – thanks to some presentations I attended at the ITB earlier in the year- and that is home of the revolutionary baking company Dr. Oetker. With a notebook full of suggestions and my camera, I decided to discover the city on my own, on a sunny day at the beginning of spring. Early in the morning, the streets were empty, leaving me the time to look patiently for hints about the past and present.

From the central station, I chose to walk – tram, metro and buses are regularly connecting different sides of the city – having a look at the mix of architecture and colourful graffiti bringing life to the quiet sober buildings.

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The mixture between very modern architectural conceptions superposed to old structures is predominant in the case of many houses or office buildings. As many other cities in Germany, Bielefeld was seriously damaged during the WWII bombings, but easily found a new post-war identity, adding to the big ready made baking factory the university center, attracting young minds from all over the world and Germany.

From the central station, I passed by the Stadthalle, the city’s indoor arena, and took the August Bebel street till the Jahnplatz, the most important shopping spree. Shops and bars offering flavours from the Balkans, Egypt or Asia complimented the eclectic architecture.Image

Even though there are not too many tourist directions, I succeed to reach the Alternmarkt/the old square, where used to be the old city hall till the 19th century. Cruewell House, with its golden letters written on the yellowish stone, is facing the building of the theatre. The house was built in 1530 in the old Gothic style as a merchant house, being later used as a tobacco factory. As most of the central area, it was rebuilt completely after the war.

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In the old historical square, the coffees are getting ready to welcome the guests, many bold enough to set the chairs outside.

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The more I walk, the more the city reveals itself. You need patience deem to the 800 years of history. The next stop is the new city hall, neighbouring the art nouveau building of the theatre.

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Art is discretely insinuating in unexpected places, similarly with the creative pieces of architecture.

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At 11 o’clock, I am ready to visit Kunsthalle, where an exhibition about Expressionism and abstract art, featured through the works of local artists is opening. The museum is surrounded by different works of art in different styles, from a Japanese wooden house to copies of Rodin’s Thinker in the front of the main entrance. Big groups of local visitors are already at the museum, following the extensive explanations of the guided tours. The exhibition is interesting not only due to the quality of works, but also because revealing episodes of the German history of arts, such as Westphalian Expressionism or the Stuttgart Avantgarde.

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Enriched with a new aesthetic experience and with more historical details, I go slowly direction Sparrenburg Castle, not without noticing the permanently changing architectural landscape.

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The hiking till the hills is not that easy, and I admire the resilience of the joggers running to the top. The castle was build in the mid 13th century as a display of local administrative power of the Ravensberg rulers of the area. Renaissance and early Gothic adages were signs of adaptations of the military needs of the centuries. During WWII, it was used as a military camp and anti-aircraft basis

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The castle has a 300-meter system of underground that can be visited from April to October. Here is also held a medieval festival. The restaurant that is hosted near the former dungeon, offers Portuguese delicacies.

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Back in the city, I pay a short visit to the Spiegelhof, another merchant house turned into a museum of natural history. A couple of minutes away is the Bielefeld Kunstverein, where during my visit were displayed interesting installations of young artists.Image

The weather is beautiful enough to encourage me to do more walks, as I did in the Park of Human Rights.

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With so many new artistic ideas received in the last hours, I developed an additional sensitivity for beautiful corners. Bielefeld is there to impress me with colourful tiles inserted on the walls of otherwise common buildings.

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I am almost half-way through my travel schedule in Bielefeld and I indulge in a lunch break. Thumel 1504 looks young and tempting and I give it a try for a chai latte and a veggie sandwich. Maybe the service is too long, but I am trying to use my time looking at the other customers and browsing some colourful German publications. I chose the old way, as I can also rent an iPad to check the latest news and updates.

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For my next destination, I should go back to Jahn Square and take a bus till the Ravensberger Park. The area has an old Spinnerei turned into a home theatre where movies do not have German translation, but also two nice exhibition spaces part of the Huelsmann Museum that I visit. One presents an interesting exhibition about the musical culture in Berlin in the 1920s and the other has as main focus the local history and culture.

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The park itself, looks like a perfect Romantic make-up: old ruins covered by vegetation, with banks and cobblestoned alleys. The blooming spring brings a certain elegance to the old stones.

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It is about time to go again, this time in the opposite direction. After almost 20 years of waiting, I take a bus crowded with humans and different breads of dogs till the Museum of the Peasant House/Bauernhausmuseum. A kind lady describes to be the peasant’s life in Bielefeld: the local artworks till the daily routine and descriptions of the rooms of a peasant household.

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Very often the peasants were living together with the animals, especially during the winter time, and most rooms were used as deposits for food during the long cold winters.

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Enough learning for now, I am happy for some new hiking experiences, in the Teutoburg Forest. Together with me, many locals, with at least two dogs in leach. Actually in some parts it might look very busy, but I still can find intuitively some shortcuts where it’s only me and the beautiful nature, not fully awake after the winter.

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Through the forest, I enter the Tierpark, where families with children were enjoying a free entrance Sunday. The park is a mixture of domestic and local wild animals, enjoying quite a big amount of space and relatively used with curious visitors.

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Despite some accidental drops of water, the weather is on my side and I decide to walk more till the Botanical Gardens, where I arrive at the end of a guided tour. The garden is relatively small, but the flowers are in full bloom and I enjoy spending some time around old trees and young seasonal flowers.

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After long wanderings, I decide to return closer to the civilized center of Bielefeld, passing around complicated highways-roads system, displaying views of the city, a mosaic of old and new fragments of history.

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Before a new stop, a new temptation I can’t resist: Winzer’sche Garten, created around a former villa from the 19th century, destroyed during the war and turned into a local archaeological and natural park project.

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On the way back to the center, I spotted an elegant building displaying a coffee and cake menu: Villa Bozi. Curious to discover some unexpected places, I dare to enter and I order a cappuccino, brought to me in elegant Meissen porcelain cups. The Villa also offers various interior design and stylish souvenirs, and I regret to discover it shortly before the close.

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It’s getting late and I have another thing to do while in Bielefeld: meeting my Swedish friend that spent here six months as a resident scholar at the University. He introduces me shortly to the local attractions and the student life, including a conference about travel in the 19th century that apparently enjoyed an extensive media coverage. We walk slowly the streets near Jahn square, especially the area made by the meeting between Karl Erkers Street, Mercator Street and Arndstreet. It is called by the locals the ‘Bermuda’s triangle’ and you can find there all the best cocktails, bars and restaurants in town. As usual, meeting people living in a city reveals many well hidden secrets to the hasty tourist.

While I am heading back to the train station dominated by some advertising of Dr. Oetker factory, I count the new things I’ve learned about the city, and I decide to take more such trips that brings me closer to a different reality. Good things happen to those who wait and get patience to walk a lot the unbeaten path.

 

For more images and impressions from Bielefeld, check my dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/bielefeld/

For more information about what is going on in the next month, have a look at this website: http://www.bielefeld800.de/

Bookish recommendations of the month

It is quite a long time since the last bookish recommendation, but this time of the year is always very busy with planning, work, holiday cooking and cleaning. Wish it is only a polite excuse for not writing as much as I want…(but don’t worry, I did use my time wisely and there will be a lot of interesting posts coming up).

I rediscovered my passion for short stories recently and I have on my reading list quite a couple of new released books. As travel is always my top priority, I started my reading month with Paris Franz’s Treading Lightly. Travels from Shanghai to Kiev. A historian by background, she introduces a lot of details and information – I didn’t know, for instance, that James Joyce taught English at a Berlitz school, for instance – as part of the stories about her journeys from Latin America to Shanghai, Fiji or Brighton. However, I felt very often that there is too much information and the historical excursus is detrimental to the literary qualities of the writing.

I visited Thailand two years ago, but a return is just a question of time. Preparing the comeback, I had a look at a very serious and interesting book in German about this mysterious country, especially the culture and its history, written by one of the best local experts, Volker Grabowsky. Especially the part dedicated to minorities is fascinating and rarely approaches in modern accounts about the country, including travel writings.

On my priority list for this year I included the improvement of my photo skills. With the help of this very technical and beautifully illustrated book by Hans-Peter Schaub I have a better understanding of the technicalities of photography, as well as of the various technical requirements of different cameras and outdoor contexts. One can learn how to photograph animals, plants or landscape, with or without stative, but also about what’s the right moment of the day to take the best photo of a butterfly, for instance.

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Tilman Birr works as a guide in Berlin and not necessarily doing the job he loves – I really wonder if it is any tour guide who had written a book where he/she is really happy with the task of explaining a city to tourists, as I always thought that it’s at least a cool job to do. After a while, he collected enough material to write a book about this, outlining various differences between Germany’s regions, including when it comes to beer habits, but also with grotesque jokes, introducing historical personages of sinister memory. Bad jokes, I meant. 

Wild, by Cheryl Straw, was waiting for me on the Kindle for a long time and what a delightful reading it is. After a couple of life tragedies and failures, a woman decides ‘to walk alone in the wilderness for eleven hundred miles’, for three months, exploring the Pacific Crest Trail. ‘I’d set out to hike the trail so that I could reflect upon my life, to think about everything that had broken me and make myself whole again’. Without being an experienced hiker, she finds her strength and peace of mind through the hardships of the trail. The journey is more than a tourist exploration or a search of herself though, but a complex experience demanding all her senses and putting on trail her courage and perseverance (‘I knew that if allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed’, and a couple of pages later, the continuation of the thought: ‘Fear begets fear. Power begets power’.). She is not afraid and not foreigner to solitude and loneliness, her permanent companion: ‘Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I rally was’. The beautiful story of hardship and fight is told with passion and force, one more reason to love the book.

Ended up the reading marathon for now, with a beautiful collection of short stories, by Frances Thompson. Travel itself is the best opportunity to tell stories, but don’t expect this book to be a collection of travel stories. The characters and the stories are built around trips and beautiful landscapes. Travel is an impressive source of knowledge and the short stories are occasioned by encounters on the road, observation of nature or desire to go out from the usual daily routine. In most cases, the ending is completely unexpected leaving the reader either surprised or curious to built up by him or herself the rest of the story. The art of the author to create the tensions and lead in a completely unexpected direction is admirable and once the reader is caught into the net of the story telling, it’s hard to accept that the stories are over. Part of the intricate network of impressions, memories and sensations, you are left with food for thought and an insatiable desire to travel the world, because what else is life but a challenging journey? (Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary copy by the author, but the opinions are, as usual, my own)

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Time for new books and with so many free days ahead, I promise to be back soon with fresh new recommendations!

Happy reading everyone!