for the ones of us living in the Northern Hemisphere,´tis the time of year to snuggle up with a warm cozy blanket on the couch, your favorite steaming hot tea in a cup and a good read. Or…
…a good story being narrated from me to you, over oceans and deserts, mountains and forests, and through time and space! Sometimes it´s nice to rest our eyes and just listen for a while…
That´s why I´ve come up with some podcasts/ audiostories for you. For now, they will basically be audio-versions of my posts, so please find the links to the last two Baden-Baden-post-podcasts below.
There is also a podcast on “A monkey kind of day in Gibraltar” , an adventurous day spent between canons and free-ranging naughty monkeys on a giant rock. I will publish new podcasts on a weekly basis from now on, and continue to publish new travel-posts bimonthly.
Also, for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere/ any countries where it´s warm now: Please substitute blanket, couch and tea with bathers, grass-or sandpatch and watermelon-juice, and feel free to listen to the podcasts while jogging at the beach, Baywatch-style. Or while enjoying a leisurely picnic. Or while chilling out in a cafe.
No matter where you are, though – I wish you a fabulous, cozy and relaxing weekend with many positive impressions! Another exciting travel story will be out in the following week:) Thanks for your readership and loyalty, I really appreciate every single one of you and your time very much!
Back to you, dear reader and hopefully-soon-listener: Do you enjoy listening to audio books or podcasts? Do you have any favorite ones to recommend or share with us? Do you have any suggestions or input for my future podcasts?As always, I´d love to hear from you!
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Aaaah….the warm, gentle waters caress your skin and embrace you in their all-accepting ways. You basically feel like a quietly content yet massive baby in a heated cozy blanket. You step in further, and with the healing thermal waters enveloping your body almost completely now, you notice all your relentless thoughts and questions slowly melting away. You are fully immersing yourself in this roman bath experience, and you are pretty thankful indeed that you opted for the Caracalla spa instead of the Friedrichsbad spa after all. You are just not ready for full frontal nudity from all those other spa-guests, for f* sake! And you might never be! You probably won´t.
Sanus per Aquam: The healing power of pretty darn hot thermal waters
Romans are rather awesome, though, you think to yourself. Not entirely awesome, obviously, because Gladiator-fights and stuff. And killing animals for spectator-fun – not cool! But good on the old Romans for remembering the old adage “Sanus per Aquam“, healthy through water, when they stumbled upon the curative Baden-Baden thermal waters 2000 years ago and continued to build the first thermal baths in town.
Daily, more than a whopping 800.000 liters of these waters at up to 68 degree celcius heat (154 degrees Fahrenheit) bubble upwards from twelve springs at a depth of about 2000 meters under the earth. On its adventurous journey to the earth´s surface, the water gets keen on making some housemates and so takes in minerals such as natrium, chloride, fluoride, lithium, and others. This is were the outstanding healing powers of the thermal waters originate.
Feeling dizzy? Looking rather pale? Achy joints at times? Off into the waters you go. The ones in the spa, not the 68 degree ones, that is. Otherwise, the ultimate relax factor might evaporate rather quickly…
The Caracalla Therme, a spa with a beautifully modern yet sophisticated feel, offers visitors a vast arrange of liquid-pleasure-pools, including but not limited to a rock grotto with hot and cold water, a sensual aromatic steam bath, and a salt water inhalation room. But what am I telling you, you know exactly what I´m talking about, seeing that you are the narrator of this story! Let´s get back to your experience.
Swimming through a small exit in the outer wall of the indoor spa area, a 38 degree heated marble outdoor pool is awaiting you. It boasts a magnificent whirlpool at its center, in which a few people are leisurely enjoying their bathing experience. Getting a bit coy, you take a deep breath, dive under, and are suddenly submerged in calming quit and comforting stillness. The rejuvenating power of the tranquility under the surface never ceases to amaze you somehow.
Seeing that you can´t hold your breath much longer, you reluctantly emerge from your Zen-like state only to realize that rain has begun to fall. Cooling raindrops are quickly moistening your skin, building a sensual contrast with the heated waters enveloping your body. You spot a peaceful corner of the pool underneath some lush plants and trees, swim over, and just let yourself float for a while. What a perfect moment to reminisce about your extraordinary day in Baden Baden, really!
Baden-Baden´s Black Forest: A vibrant fairytale in the making
The morning seems pretty far away now, but yeah, of course you remember, how couldn´t you: that morning excursion to the mighty Black Forest was like something straight out of a fairytale!
There were splendid waterfalls to be marveled at, forbidden paths to be explored, soft moss to be felt, and, of course, thousands upon thousands of the mightiest trees you ever laid your eyes upon to be admired.
And that air! What could you even begin to say about it…Every breath you had taken before in less-than-pristine-environments had made you long for these silkiest of all breaths with every part of your being… for these innocent, pure, invigorating inhalations. Sweet nectar of the Gods, soothing balm for your lungs, the trees´ humble gift of vitality and life-force lifting you up and filling you with a new-found zest and passion for life!
In ancient times, people knew how to honor the power of the Black Forest: they worshiped the Celtic goddess Abnoba there, and named the Black Forest after her – Abnoba mons.
One of the most vibrantly alive places you could have imagined, the Black Forest was truly brimming with life: Cheeky birds merrily chirping away; the sounds of melodiously burbling streams; the wind gently rustling through the leaves of majestic Scots pines, silver firs, and English oaks.
The Schwarzwald (Black Forest in German), with its myriad of dark colored pine trees that give it its name, is undoubtedly one of Germany´s premier oases of peace and life-affirming magic. By the way, have you ever read the brother Grimm´s fairytales when you were little? Well, according to legend, it´s indeed Germany´s largest national park, the grand forested mountain range in the state of Baden-Würtemberg, our beloved Black Forest, that inspired these writers when they wrote Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and the likes.
Black-Forest-style Culture and Food: Of Spätzle and Lederhosen
On the way back to town – you remember as as you lie in the pool and observe that the rain has stopped and a cool yet pleasant breeze is slowly picking up – you passed some picture-perfect farmhouses with their sweeping half-hipped roofs. Looking at those houses somehow made you think of Black Forest Cake, and your grumbling stomach concurred that it was time to take a break and taste some of those local delicacies you had heard so much about. Luckily, you found just the right and rustic place for it!
Shortly after entering the traditional and exquisitely designed restaurant, you were greeted by a middle-aged, friendly looking waiter, dressed in the customary Lederhosen of the region. “Could you recommend something, please?” you asked him rather shyly in your best shot at hochdeutsch (the “proper” type of German that´s taught in schools).
The slightly chubby waiter gave you his biggest smile and commenced to shout some recommendations in a pretty weird accent with rather melodious sounding bits of German at you. You didn´t understand a word this man was telling you! It had to be your secret fascination with his “typical German look”, the one you otherwise just got to see at the Oktoberfests of the world, that had kept all your attention focused. You did like the look of what ended up on your plate, though, after the waiter returned to your table bringing foodie-gifts…
After religiously savoring every bite of your culture-on-the-plate, you did feel tempted to try some delicious Apfelstrudel for desert. The waiter in his Lederhosen, formerly used as traditional attire of the working peasant-community, could probably have sold you anything with his enthusiastic demeanor, combined with your definite lack of understanding. But, you weighed up, you also did promise yourself a walk through Baden-Baden´s famous rosegardens, and time was merrily ticking away. Looking at the cuckoo-clock, another typical Swabian invention, you had a change of heart- the spa visit it was!
“Good choice, good choice”, you mumble to yourself, while slowly swimming to the nearest ladder and climbing out of the pool. “Baden Baden, you are a treasure chest of fantastic things to experience. Danke, Baden-Baden, wir sehen uns wieder (thanks, Baden-Baden, we´ll meet again)” Not Friedrichsbad, though. That will never happen.
Back to you, dear reader:What was the most impressive/ beautiful/ majestic forest you have visited so far? What did you love most about it? And did you ever try any German food? Hopefully you were lucky, and didn´t taste Labskaus! Will explain in a later post 😉 Thanks for reading, and as always, would love to hear from you 🙂
Grateful shout out: Thanks to David for his lovely comment on my former post on Baden Baden that inspired the title for this post. Check out his truly wonderful mindfulness blog smilecalm for increased peace of mind and vibes of loving-kindness.
Was that Queen Victoria of England just having a casual giggle while meandering along the gently flowing Oos-river? That can´t be right…or can it? You rub your eyes incredulously. Maybe that coffee wasn´t such a good idea after all if it makes one of the most influential women in history suddenly appear out of thin air. What´s more: If you peer really hard into the distance, you can spot Dostoyewsky´s silhouette just at the end of the street, heading into the majestic Casino. What the hell? You try to shake it off – what are these shenanigans, you ask yourself quietly and slightly nerve-wracked, just to turn to your left and find Tolstoy writing away on a napkin, right at the round elegant table next to yours. The great Tolstoy! Maybe you could quickly ask him a thing or two about War and Peace, or Anna Karenina? There´s gotta be some secrets to his magic writing sauce! How else could he come up with such meaningful phrases like
“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
“Entschuldigen Sie bitte?” (Excuse me please?) You slowly register a gentle voice with a quietly determined undertone. “Mmh?” you reply, only gradually coming back to yourself. You must have dozed off, that must be it, you tell yourself decidedly while glancing wide-eyed at the elegantly dressed waitress. “Entschuldigen Sie, aber wir schließen jetzt!” (Excuse me, but we are closing now!) , she explains slightly apologetic. “Ok, ok, kein Problem” (No problem) is all you can muster to say, while picking up your coat and purse and leaving a few coins Trinkgeld, tipps, on the black-and-white patterned table. “Bye Tolstoy”, you whisper ever so quietly and step out onto the imposing alleys of everyone´s favorite 19th-century German spa town. Well, maybe not everyone´s, but sophisticated Baden-Baden had its fair share of admirers among the rich and famous of the nineteenth century.
A spa-town like no other: Healing baths, cultural haven
Having been settled by the Romans, Baden-Baden had to brave a lot of obstacles throughout its history- yeah, the school of hard knocks named life, you know what I mean. People go through it, cities go through it, countries go through it. And animals. Maybe even ants? Anyway, there´s a time for everything, so at the end of the 18th century, it was finally Baden-Baden´s time to shine, and what a shine it was, ladies and gentlemen! Baden Baden was truly the stuff stories were made of back then. Elegant, rejuvenating, luxurious stories, that is!
The spa-town in south-western Germany, located only 10 kilometers from the border with la belle France, was and still is famed for its mild climate, its pristine air, and its high acclaimed thermal springs. Baden Baden, a name which translates to bathing bathing (no surprises there) takes great pride in its illustrious list of visitors. Want some gossip? Good old out-of-this-world novelist, essayist, journalist and philosopher Dostoyewsky wrote his masterpiece The Gambler here…while gambling his money away at the town´s notorious casino. Maybe he was just doing some research? A writer/journalist gotta know what he´s writing about, after all! Other famous visitors who chose to vacation in bathing bathing include German composer Johannes Brahms or French composer Hector Berlioz.
Inspired by Napoleon III and Queen Victoria: Strolling around spa-town
You can almost sense their silhouettes gliding majestically over the pavement and through the spacious alleys of Baden Baden, passing by the many imposing mansions and villas as well as the serene and lush park-landscapes. Napoleon the III must surely have had a drink or two of pure spring water from the Friedrichsquelle at the Trinkhalle (pump house) Kurhaus spa complex in his days. His ghost might be surprised to find a tourist office in the commanding building nowadays. Queen Victoria and her entourage most certainly loved paying some visits to the world-class- rose gardens dotted around town – Baden Baden is dubbed the Rose capital of Germany, after all!
Following in Royalty´s footsteps, it won´t take you long to realize that this place really has a certain “je-ne-sais-quoi“, as the French say: a very particular something. It might be due to the laid-back pace of life, or it might be thanks to the superb quality of air that thousands of lime-trees, oaks, tulip trees, and chestnut-trees gift their visitors with. (Trees rock!) Or it might just be the mix of the alluring regal architecture, the luxurious and extra-spacious alleys, and the exquisite cuisine, that makes foodie´s mouths water…Spätzle, anyone? It´s probably all of the above and then some. And no matter whether you prefer to spend your time admiring cutting-edge contemporary art at the museum Frieder Burda or strolling along the peaceful Oos-river, there are some highlights that no visitor should miss!
And next time…
It would be my absolute pleasure to let you in on some more delights of the cultural and spa capital Baden Baden in my next post, where I´ll take you along on a visit to Friedrichsbad with its warm, bubbly, healing waters. Oh, and on a little getaway to the fairytale-like Black forest. Oh, and we might be indulging in the scents of hundreds of roses together. And, of course, tasting some fantastic, tastebud-infatuating regional cuisine. Are you up for that? I know I am!
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever heard of Baden-Baden before? Or have you maybe been to a spa-town or some hot springs which you particularly enjoyed? As always, I would love to hear from you! Enjoy your week, wherever you may be, and thanks for reading:)
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Have you ever watched the movie “Anna and the King” with Jodie Foster? Bangkok takes center stage in this charming film based on a true story, which tells the glorious tale of a very brave English woman in the 19th hundreds, Anna Leonowen, who takes the role of English teacher to Thai king Mongkut´s kids. In many aspects based on a true story, the movie is lovely, entertaining, and exotic – and you´ll get an idea of the real location´s magnetism when heading to Bangkok´s imposing and unbelievably majestic neighborhood Ko Ratanakosin, the former royal quarter. Some of Thailand´s oldest and holiest sights can be found here.
My first stop is the Bangkok National Museum (Th Na Phra That), truly a cultural heavyweight, and one of South East Asia´s biggest museums to date. In-between colorful masks, royal thrones and other alluring artefacts, I am getting a pretty good insight into the former Siamese kingdom´s history and culture, including intriguing insights into the history of the ancient royal cities of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya. When you think Bangkok National Museum, think glitz and glamour with a side dish of chaos, or at least that´s how it felt to me when I had the privilege to visit.
Stepping out of this culturally inspiring place, I am embraced by Bangkok´s hot, humid air and its usual soundscape consisting of a melange of persistent honking sounds and other unidentifiable noises. I gather my strength, greatly helped by a quick and delicious Pad Thai, a stir-fried rice noodle delight and a staple-dish of the world-famous Thai street food, and onward to the mighty Grand Palace I go!
I´ve barely got time to cover my shoulders and check that I´m wearing appropriate, respectful attire, aka long trousers/ a long skirt, when I hear the familiar sound of Spanish in its quickest pace and with its characteristic Andalusian accent. A warm, homely feeling floods my being- this is, after all, an accent I have come to know and love since I was a little kid eating delicious gambas, prawns, while sitting on my grandma´s lap! I locate the source of the roaring laughter that follows the Andalusian chatter, and decide to approach the group of kind-looking guys who are standing close by. The next hours are spent exploring the dazzling Grand palace with my new amigos. The palace is a spectacular sight to behold indeed and served as the home of the Thai king, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government for 150 years. It´s still considered the spiritual heart of the kingdom of Thailand!
The next day, it´s Wat Phra Kaew calling me. Also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and officially named Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram, it´s regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. Bangkok´s old regal splendor is truly transporting me to a different world, a world in which peaceful vibes, equanimity and benevolent smiles from golden Buddha-statue-faces reign and in which a deep silence seems to unveil itself behind Bangkok´s unceasing noise background. An other-worldy seeming place in which the eternal stillness beyond the thoughts seems to call out to busy temple-visitors, ever so gently reminding them to come home to themselves, to go beyond the visible and to the invisible place of existence, to inner peace, acceptance and yes-to-all-that-is. Was I maybe a Thai monk in a past life? Maybe. I definitely love being in their presence and feel very much at home in their temples.
Be it as it may, monks dressed in orange-colored robes are definitely a big part of Bangkok´s and Thailand´s ethereal charm – monks that I am careful not to get too close too when travelling on the same ferry on the overflooding Chao Phraya river! Why? Well, my friend, the reason is that women are not allowed to touch a monk, not even by accident on an over-crowded water taxi! If you so much as brush against a monk, the Buddhist doctrine dictates that the monks return to the temple and perform rituals to cleanse themselves of your touch. Hello, people, women are truly not that bad! Maybe it´s time to revise a few of those old patriarchal mindsets? But I am getting off-topic.
Back to Thailand, its approximately 460.000 monks, and its fantastic temples! While carefully monitoring my distance to the monks on the ferry, I take a look at my phone and realize that it´s almost too late to pay a visit to Wat Po, Bangkok´s oldest temple! What can a culturally interested woman with a thirst for peaceful vibes do? She can certainly hurry up and go for a nice, sweaty run! My determination is rewarded – I manage to snap some quick pictures in front of the 44 meters (!!) long, reclining golden Buddha. Cheese and cheers to Thai selfies! I know, selfies are not cool anymore. But it was a 44 meters (!!) long reclining buddha! What can I say…
Inspired by the statue´s utterly relaxed demeanour, I decide to take it easy and hop onto a colourful Tuk-Tuk, whose driver convinces me to pay a visit to glittery Chinatown and its phenomenal eateries. Boy, that driver surely missed his true calling as a daredevil-race-car driver! I can barely hold on to my seat while I try to answer his slightly irritated question as to why I am out on town on my own. At long last we manage to arrive in mostly one piece, and I almost get a little dizzy while taking it all in: Chinatown´s neon-coloured-explosion of lights, its unceasing hustle and bustle, myriad food stalls and inviting restaurants…
Surrounded by crowds of Thais and tourists, I stroll through the busy streets and stop by a humble stall to taste a delicious, freshly pressed pomegranate-juice on the side of the road. No trip to South-Eastern-Asia is complete without at least a string of street-food-experiences, my friend! The taste of the sweet pomegranate-drink is so good that I zone out and almost get hit by a car. Lesson learned: You better remain alert when out and about in Bangkok town! I sooth myself from this shock by joining some locals at one of the much-sought after tables lining, well, basically the middle of the road, and indulging in some more typically Thai culinary delights. Laa kawn Bangkok – I´ll be back!
What about you, dear reader, have you ever been to a Buddhist temple? What were your impressions?
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Wild. Young. Inspiring. Pulsating. Passionately alive. Pure adrenaline. That´s Bangkok.
Incredibly loud. Pretty freaking dirty. Full of smog. Grey. Cruel. Slaying. That´s Bangkok. Which type of Bangkok do you choose?
I was unsure which one was gonna be my personal pick when I first arrived in Thailand´s capital a while back. Just starting out on my Asian adventure had its challenges – I had barely time to marvel at Bangkok´s huge Suvarnabhumi airport with its impressive colorful statues, when a rather harsh realization hit me: The famous Thai kindness does not necessarily extend to some slick taxi drivers! If a driver refuses to use a meter, as it was the case in my experience, just hop out and into a cab with a driver willing to use the meter! Anything else is not gonna help you keep those pennies, ahem excuse me, Bahts, together for a stunning Thai meal, or a donation to beings in need, or a crazy Muay Thay– event-attendance.
Once you have avoided the pitfalls of unruly Taxi drivers, the seductive Thai juggernaut is finally awaiting you: a buzzing place of countless shopping malls and of intoxicatingly beautiful temples. A place where a myriad of new trends in fashion and music are being birthed and tradition and modern times melt into a tantalizing, sense-overwhelming pot of inspiration. Sawadee Bangkok, hello Bangkok, here we come!
If you are on the lookout for an affordable accommodation, look no further than Soi Kasern San 1 in the famous area “Siam Square”. You´ll find Wendy´s guest house here – a clean, comfy yet humble place smack in the middle of the city, where the staff charms visitors with their very warm and lovely demeanour. They definitely made me feel like family when I stayed over!
Thai tales, take one: Of Wai-greetings and wild dragonfruit
The Wendy guesthouse staff let me in on the traditional Thai “Wai”- greeting, where both hands are held in a prayer posture in front of one´s face and a slight bow with the upper body is made to demonstrate appreciation. For my fellow Yogi-lovers out there, you might feel reminded of the Indian Namaste – this is no weird coincidence at all, as both go back to the Indian Anjali Mudra! The Wai-greeting is usually accompanied by a, at least by European standards, very high pitched “Sawadee” greeting (meaning “How are you”, or “hello”) or, alternatively, a “Kop-Khun Ka” enunciation (meaning “Thank you”).
Once you turn the corner from Wendy House you are right on the main street, where countless mobile food stalls offer delicious tropical fruit such as stunningly pink dragonfruit or deliciously wobbly lychee-fruit. Buyer beware: Dragonfruit is absolutely fingerlicking good and addictive! While being bombarded by the notorious honking of the never-ending stream of cars and Tuk-Tuks and the sellers praising their produce, you are also likely to spot some bright orange- green signs advertising the 7-Eleven convenience stores. Here, you can purchase snacks, drinks and other lifesaving small essentials 24/7.
Thai tales, take two: Of fabulous lady boys and racing tuk-tuks
I remember feeling peckish and getting myself a lovingly prepared dragonfruit (of course), as well as a sandwich at 7/11, kindly warmed up for me by a beautiful lady with a very deep voice. Wandering on through Bangkoks bustling streets, it soon became clear to me that this wouldn´t be the only lady boy I would get to see in Thailands 8,2 million metropolis. One of the exciting facets that Bangkok has to offer is its vibrant Transgender, Gay and Lesbian community.
The huge amount of lady boys, meaning of women who, biologically speaking, used to be, or still are, men, are simply an integral and oh-so-delightfully-lively part of Bangkok´s city scape! They belong as much to the city as the oodles and oodles of cars and tuk-tuks that envelop the city every afternoon in a cloud of dense, slightly smelly smog. Or the elevated rapid transit train, also known as Skytrain. Or the overpowering grey of thousands upon thousands of buildings and skyscapers. Or the many petite and fashion-conscious Thai women. The ladies and the lady boys add dashes of gorgeous color to a partly pretty grey Bangkok and just make it into what it is and what it´s loved for: a cosmopolitan, mind-blowingly exciting and aspiring mega city.
Thai tales, take three: Sniffing up some inspiration at BACC
After my stop at 7 Eleven , it was time to head to the thought-provoking BACC, the Bangkok Art+Culture Centre (corner of Th Phaya Thai and TH Phra Ram1), a contemporary arts hub located just around the corner from my guesthouse. I was greeted by two around four meter-tall men in uniforms: two giant puppets, dressed in sort of diving wet suits, displaying the numbers “1914” and “1939”, respectively, on their chests. This kinda modern memorial to WWI and WWII was just one of many outstanding features that caught my attention – even the facade of the arts center itself was quite a treat, an architectonic feast for the eyes reminiscent of the Guggenheim-museum in New York.
The inside of the building makes art lovers´metaphorical tail wag with the finest in modern Thai art. Alongside extravagant pieces created by aspiring new artists, there are also creative cafes and an arts library to be visited, artistically decorated craft shops to be inspected, and even a pantomime school to be marveled at. The icing on the cake? When I left the building, I just happened to come across a giant Thai rock-concert!
I decided to mingle for a while with the many relaxed and stylishly dressed Thai youngsters that had gathered in front of the stage and I enjoyed getting carried away by the unusual and melodious Thai language and musical sounds. In general, the Thai music-industry ventures far out of the mainstream, especially Indie-bands are setting the trends in Thai music-land. Keen on a taste of that yourself? Head to Brick bar (265 Khao San Road, downstairs at rear of Buddy Lodge complex), where fun house bands take to the stage every night, playing a lively mix of ska, bouncy pop covers and Thai-indie!
That´s all for today, my friends! Stay tuned for the next posts, in which we will discover why a visit to the fishmarket at 6 AM is the best way to end an incredible night out in Hamburg, and how it feels to hang out with a giant reclining Buddha that´s a humble 46 metres long in Bangkok!
Back to you, dear readers: Have you ever been to Bangkok, or Thailand for that matter? What surprised you most about its culture?
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Oh Hamburg meine Perle – Oh Hamburg my pearl Du wunderschöne Stadt – you utterly beautiful city Du bist mein zu Haus – you are my home Du bist mein Leben – you are my life Bist die Stadt auf die ich kann – you are the city that gets me Auf die ich kann – that gets me
Oh yes, Hamburg, you are loved by many. Despite your often grumpy skies, your famously reserved way of being and your sometimes impossible attitude (housing market, I am looking at you!) you are a power to be reckoned with, a glorious, wild yet sophisticated city that deserves to be seen, celebrated and cherished.
German singer Lotto King Karl, born and bread in Hamburg, is just one of your many admirers, as can be witnessed above by taking in the chorus of his iconic anthem to the Northern port-city with the telling name “Hamburg meine Perle – Hamburg my pearl”.
Germany´s second-biggest city is a place of countless canals, of willows along waterways and of oftentimes chilly, yet cosmopolitan people, a city with an intriguing and long history full of deep dramas and untold tales of bravery, and a city that draws visitors with its abundance of beautiful lush parks, world-class museums, spectacular musicals and, of course, its exorbitant, wild and raunchy nightlife.
Hamburg also happens to be the city I was born in on an early spring morning sometime in the decade of questionable fashion choices, and the city I´ve lived in the longest from the seven cities I´ve lived in up till now. All in all, it´s definitely a place I can quietly whisper a lot of stories into your ear about: funny ones, sad ones, exciting ones, and forbidden ones. But hey, we gotta start somewhere, right? So let me tell you about my favorite places to meander in, dream about and have deep belly-laughs with when in Hamburg-town!
First, I´ll treat you to an entree of delightful things to experience while visiting the so-called “Tor zur Welt” (door to the world) today – and to a fabulous main course and mouthwatering desert in a few weeks. Sounds good? Then “los gehts” (let´s do this)!
The entree – die Vorspeise: Watery relaxation à laHamburg
Hamburg´s essence is deeply connected with its two rivers: the Elbe river, the main waterway that connects the city to the North sea, and the Alster lakes, central spots for Hamburg beings to walk around, bike around or sail, row and paddle on.
What better way then to start dipping your toes into Hamburg´s true watery essence than to explore everything that these two mischivious water ladies have to offer? Let´s focus on the mighty Elbe river for now.
Shenenigans on and around the Elbe river
Without further ado, let me introduce you to a piece of the Elbe lady´s story – because what else defines a powerful woman like her better than her equally as powerful story! Put simply, it´s thanks to the Elbe´s mighty ways that Hamburg is the economic powerhouse it is today.
Located at about 100 km from the North Sea, the Elbe has been Hamburg´s gateway to the world since the days of the Hanseatic League, a clever commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe formed in the late 1100´s (yep, that´s how old hunky Hamburg is!) So yeah, Hamburg decided early on that it wanted to be a multicultural and worldly hub, back when that was not even a thing for most places. As would be expected, such a trendsetter has a lot of cool things to offer – such as
Cruising the Elbe river for next-to-nothing
Take an HVV- ferry from the Landungsbrücken Piers at the harbor and you´ll get to mingle with locals on this regular public transport mode of transportation. For the price of peanuts, HVV- ferries take visitors to the industrial port as well as the picturesque Elbe river beaches and the famous musical theatres on the south bank – keen on the Lion King musical, anyone?
Mingle with locals at urban beach hangouts
Pack a picnic, get off at Elbe beach if the weather allows and make a leisurely day of it. While you´re at it, make sure to check out the trendy urban beach club “Strandperle” close to the Övelgönne ferry stop! When living in Hamburg. I used to absolutely love hanging out at the other beach clubs close to the port, such as Hamburg City Beach Club, fancy Lago Bay, Hamburg del Mar, and the more laid-back StrandPauli. Have a “Rhabarberschorle” (rhubarb lemonade) or an “Astra” (Hamburg beer) while you are there and indulge in some good old people-and river-watching.
Venture underground at the Old Elbe Tunnel
If you are a fan of out-of-the-ordinary experiences, you´ll love exploring the old Elbe tunnel. Constructed in 1911, it prides itself in being the first river tunnel on the whole European continent and a true standout of civil engineering. Hop underground for a quick and cool photo session or explore the tunnel on foot or by bicycle.
Head there on weekends, when the tunnel is closed to traffic, and do consider exploring up-and-coming neighborhood Wilhelmsburg on the other side of the tunnel.
View trendy Wilhelmsburg from a former bunker
In Wilhelmsburg, you´ll be able to enjoy a young, urban vibe, picturesque river nature and cozy pubs and restaurants. Hop on bus line 13, which bears the intriguing name “Wilde 13“(the wild 13) and allows you to check out all the major sights of Hamburg´s largest hood. For a little something different, visit the “Energiebunker“, a former WWII bunker that now serves as a power plant, dispatching renewable enery en masse. Here, you can enjoy the stunning view over Wilhelmsburg that the bunker´s cafe, located at 30 metres height, has to offer.
Hamburg being the cosmopolitan home to over 1.8 million people it is has so much to offer that it would probably take me hundreds of articles to cover them…but I hope this serves you as a delicious little entree to the endless meal-options that the port-city has to offer! Now it´s your turn: Have you ever been to Hamburg, or to other places in Germany? What did you like best about it, and what surprised you most?
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Saint-Remy- de-Provence… some words need to be savored, softly spoken out loud and pronounced gently to explore their special brand of magic. Let the syllables tenderly roll from your tongue, and you might start to get a feel for the allures of this vibrant little town that has been enticing artists, world-citizens, and bon-vivants for centuries.
Saint-Remy: A Provencale town like no other
Located at the foot of the Alpilles National Park mountain range, Saint Remy offers the kind of soul-healing glory that only 300 days of sunshine per year can convey. It seduces its visitors’ palates with dozens of restaurants offering exquisite cuisine based on local products, and surprises them with quirky art offerings and quaint art galleries located throughout the narrow streets of the historic center. St Remy is truly the poster child for that unfathomable, typical Provencal je-ne-sais-quoi country town-charm.
Throughout the centuries, famous faces have been drawn to St. Remy like sexy bees to live-giving honey, and notable stars like Nobel prize winner Albert Schweitzer, who was interned here in 1918, have graced the French country town par excellence with their presence. Marie Gasquet, Provencale novelist and queen of the Felibrige, a literary and cultural association created to defend and promote the Provencal/ Occitane language and literature, was born here. Also, ethereal princess Caroline de Monaco chose St. Remy as a refuge for herself and her children after the tragic passing of her second husband Stefano Casiraghi.
The charms of the Provencal countryside even managed to entrap some talented musicians lately – pretty hardcore fellows if you ask me, who would almost certainly never cross your mind when thinking of this laid-back location. Any guesses? Alright, alright, I´ll spill the beans: Only this year, world-renowned Heavy-Metal-Band Rammstein picked St. Remy as their studio-location to record their latest album here. They might be cuddlier than their tough exterior leads on, after all!
A treat for art-lovers: Follow in Van-Goghs´footsteps
St. Remy´s magnetism does not only work its magic on expressive heavy-metal-men, though. Simply make up your own mind while strolling along the picturesque boulevards under the shade of the ancient plane trees, feeling the mistral-wind blowing against the side of your face and the warmth of the sun on your skin. By the way (pun intended), have you spotted any Van-Gogh-route-stops yet?
These stops are hard to miss, really! At several places in and around town, the signposts make reference to places that super-famous ear-cutter and inspired artist Vincent Van Gogh frequented while in town. The Dutch expressionist spent a year at the psychiatric hospital of St.Paul-de-Mausole in 1889. He created many of his most acclaimed works there, and he also found inspiration among the town´s beautiful olive gardens and cypresses, in the rugged Alpilles mountains and smack in the middle of the village.
A treat for lovers of the otherwordly: Pass by Nostradamus´birthhouse
Another hot spot, in this case for history lovers and astrology-aficionados, has to be Nostradamus´(Dec 14th, 1503- July 2nd, 1566) birthplace. I have to confess: I got really, really excited about this one! The house really doesn´t look like much, but knowing that those walls housed legendary seer, doctor and astrologer Michel de Nostredame was enough for me to feel kinda awe-struck. While the walls didn´t give away too many secrets, my imagination wandered off to construe how the life of this extraordinary being must have looked and felt like.
Like many doctors in medieval times, Nostradamus was a trained astrologer who incorporated astrology into the healing arts in order to aid in diagnosis, prognosis and even treatment. He worked mostly with the plague-stricken and published yearly almanacs – our friend Wikipedia clarifies that this is an annual calendar containing important dates and statistical information such as astronomical data and tide tables.
The latter propelled his rise to fame during his lifetime, and his much-referred to prophecies only furthered his popularity. He managed to become a household-name for more than 450 years! Michel definitely outdid his 17 (!!!) siblings there! Curious abut what the big deal regarding his supposed psychic powers is? Take a peek here and be prepared to be dazzled.
A treat for everyone: French restaurants to revere
If you feel peckish after that much history, you´ll be spoilt for choice when in Saint-Remy-de-Provence! For a delicious French meal-experience, head to “Toute Epoque”, a typical French restaurant which offers fixed menus in the evenings. Alternatively, enjoy yummy buckwheat or dessert crepes and refreshing house cider at the charming little restaurant “La Celtie”. Or just let yourself be drawn into one of the many other lovely eateries in this quintessential French town.
What about you, dear reader? Have you ever been to Southern France? And if not, do you feel drawn to visit a particular place, town or area there? As always, I would love to hear from you!
Handy information part:
Where is this town? Saint Remy de Provence is located about 20 km south of Avignon and just north of the gorgeous Alpilles mountain range. It´s easily accessible by the TGV (France´s high-speed-train), with the train station 20 km away from town. The closest airports are situated in papal-palace-place Avignon, noisy yet noble Nimes and messy, marvelous Marseille.
To find the Van-Gogh-route stops, simply stroll along town or go prepared by checking out the according website here.
Nostradamous birthplace is located on Rue Hoche 6, Saint Remy de Provence, Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France. As far as I know, you can´t head inside – still fun to marvel at the famous seer´s provenance!
For mouthwatering French cuisine, try the Toute Epoque restaurant, located on 21 Place de la Republique, 13210 Saint-Remy-de-Provence, or cozy La Celtie at 9 rue du 8 Mai 1945, 13210 Saint-Remy-de-Provence.
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Ah, la Belle France… few countries in this world conjure up such enticing and seductive imagery, I dare say. No matter if Disney´s hunchback of Notre Dame let you in on the hidden charms of Paris, or Edith Piaf´s passionate song “La vie en rose” (Life through rose-colored glasses) gave you a heart-felt insight into the French´s famous savoir-vivre –no one seems to be able to resist the charms of this country.
In France, even a visit to a regular supermarket-chain can turn into a gourmet-meal-experience, and I am talking packaged crepes and salads! Yes, the French surely know how to wine, dine and feast on first-class food, there´s no doubt about that.
Southern France: A magic bag of beauty
One of France´s most alluring regions which offers culinary delights a plenty, jaw-dropping natural scenery and artistic pilgrimage places en masse is undoubtedly Provence. Situated in Southeastern France and bordering Italy as well as the Mediterranean, seductive Provence has it all! Exhibit A: The stunning mountain ranges of the Southern Alps, a place in which my companion and me got lost for hours in the middle of the night by following the wrong GPS – indications, but that´s a whole different story! Exhibit B: The one-of-a-kind natural beauty of the Camargue, with its wild gorgeous horses, cheeky pink flamingos and abundant birdlife. Exhibit C: The glitz and glamour of the French Riviera aka beautiful bodies tanning on fantastic beaches, exquisite restaurants and nightclubs waiting for affluent visitors, and so much more. As well as of course, Provence´s picturesque olive groves, pine forests and its world-famous lavender fields.
Picture this: the sky is dressed in its most mesmerizing, popping blue, elegant cypresses line the path in front of you, butterflies swirl over fields of flowers and the enticing, elevating scent of pine trees engulfs your being. That´s exactly how Provence greeted me, and how the images of its beauty chose to stay with me ever since.
French discoveries: Come with me on a mystery hunt
During the five days that I got to spend in this magical corner of our beautiful planet, there were some highlights that stood out. Would you mind coming on an adventure with me and discovering some experiences that could absolutely sweeten your Provence experience to the max? Let´s do it. But wait…why don´t we approach this in a slightly different way?
I´ll give you some scavenger-style-hunt-tips alluding to some outstanding Provence things-to-do, and you can, if you´re up for it, do a little research or guessing-game and find out what those attractions might be. I´ll post them here within the next two weeks with some cool details. Alright? Vamos, on y va, let´s go!
First, head to an area close to enchanting Les-Beaux-de-Provence, where you´ll be inspired by an unusual mixture of nature and arts. Think full immersion into these two fields plus pack a jacket to not freeze your tush of.
Next, follow in the footsteps of one of the world´s most famous painters – and no, he´s not French! I hope you are all ears on this one…
And finally, travel back in time and say hello to the birthplace of a prettyyy well-known seer…he´s been in plenty of movies and stuff, you know.
Of course, you´ll also load up on some delish French cuisine, while you´re at it! No worries, I got you covered on this one!
Any ideas yet on what the former clues could mean? Feel free to leave your notions in the comment section, mes amis!
Photography: All rights reserved @A gypsy at heart.
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Imagine yourself around 2000 years back. You are dressed in a traditional Roman tunic and when looking down, you realize you are wearing the type of sandals you vaguely remember from the movie “Gladiator”. Therefore, you are quick to tell yourself that you could very well be in Rome, the epitome of power, wealth and glory in those long-lost days. Clearly, you arent, though – the chill on your skin indicates that you gotta be in a quite different location, a location which bears the rare honor of being named after the Roman emperor and which could definitely use some warmer temperatures, dammit!
2000 years back, you would have found yourself in Augusta Treverorum, a city which nowadays is better known as Trier and lays claim to be the oldest city in good old Germany. Augusta Treverorum might have been more of a hotspot for budding Roman signorinos and stylish Roman signorinas in their sexy tunics. But fear not, Trier is still a place more than worthy of your time and attention! Points in favor? No worries, let me take you along to my top 3 experience-Trier spots, places I was fortunate enough to experience on a whirlwind road trip from Germany to Spain a while ago:
Travel back in time – visit the Porta Nigra
Don´t you just love those very special places that conjure up images and feelings of long-lost tales of hope, promise, challenge, and endeavor? Places that almost effortlessly transport you out of yourself and right into a totally different world. Well, to me, the Porta Nigra in Trier is definitely one of those magical hotspots! Built in grey sandstone just before the year 2000, it is formally known as the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps.
Informally, it simply rocks to explore the several stories- high building and its distinct vibe – who knows, maybe that´s the presence of the ghost of greek monk Simeon, who lived as a hermit in the Porta Nigra after 1028 (up to his death in 1035) and very rarely descended from his contemplation-spot. Or it might just be the ancient sandstones whispering tales into your ear about those long-lost days when the northern entry gate to the Roman city got turned into a church…
Recharge and reboot – experience calm at Trier cathedral
For lovers of calm, Christianity and churches, head to Trier Cathedral, the oldest bishop’s church in Germany, built smack in the middle of Trier’s city center. Take a tour and check out the remains of the first Early Christian assembly room north of the Alps from the late 3rd century. Alternatively, explore more pieces of ancient Rome in Trier by visiting the Roman central section with the original walls rising up to a height of 26 meters. Art worshippers will be delighted by the variety of artwork and architecture from more than 1650 years that can be found within the impressive building.
Disconnect and reconnect – take a stroll along the Moselle river or the city center
Trier is an astoundingly picturesque city, to say the least: located in the beautiful Moselle wine region, not far from the border to Luxembourg, it offers an enticing melange of well-kept Roman remains, beautiful architecture and stunning surrounding scenery. If you are as much into reconnecting with mother nature as I am, head to Moselle river and listen to the soothing sounds of the water stream, soak up the soft green of the rolling hills and enjoy an invigorating walk. If you prefer the hustle and bustle of the city center, head to Trier marketplace (Marktplatz in German) and check out the many eateries, shops and gorgeous houses all around. Or, carpe diem to the max and just enjoy both, nature as well as city life!
What´s your preference, dear readers – nature or cityscapes? And why? Read you soon!
Handy information part:
So, what´s the gist regarding Porta Nigra? – It probably won´t have moved anywhere so far, so head to Porta-Nigra-Platz, 54290 Trier, and you´ll find it there 🙂 Opening times are – April – September: daily 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. October and March: daily 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. November – February: daily 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Admission is 4 Euros per adult, 2 Euros for kids.
And what about Trier cathedral? You´ll find it at Liebfrauenstraße 12, 54290 Trier! Opening times are – April – October: daily 6:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. November – March: daily 6:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m Admission is 6 Euros per adult
Photography: All rights reserved @A gypsy at heart
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Exploring Haikou, Hainan´s capital equals coming face to face with a pretty authentic Chinese city-experience. This true Chinese feel seems to be able to emerge thanks to the relatively low number of foreign tourists, thanks to intriguing temples and old town streets contrasting with massive modern shopping malls as well as the allure of exotic cuisine that can be experienced in the myriad of restaurants all around.
Wandering through the port city´s streets, you´ll discover majestic trees to lean on, red lampions to marvel at, and street vendors loudly praising their products. A very popular snack indeed is the humble potato: its sweet variant is served steaming hot on many a street corners and warms and delights at once with its delicious simplicity.
Haikou would only be the first stop of a two-week-long Southern Chinese adventure which would lead me, amongst other outstanding experiences, to (very reluctantly) trying snails in Guangzhou, (delightedly) witnessing a professor from Beijing reciting a handwritten calligraphy- poem, (excitedly) trying Bamboo-Rafting on the Li- River, and (enthusiastically) partying the night through with some Brazilian expats and party-experts in Shenzen.
Haikou was, however, my first point of encounter with quintessential China, which was quite different from the watered-down, stereotyped version of China we can see portrayed in the mainstream media. Some of the highlights of my Haikou- experience included the following:
Exploring the Temple of the Five Lords
The Temple of the Five Lords, also known as the “Temple of the Five Officials” (Haifu Rd, Qiongshan Qu, Haikou Shi, Hainan Sheng, China, 571100) is a memorial shrine to five exiled officials from the Tang and Song dynasties that you´ll find in the southeast of the city. Think gorgeous subtropical vegetation and soft green bamboo plants surrounding bright red Confucian temple structures, intriguing animal figures guarding the roof of picturesque shrines, and marvelous altars cloaked in the smell of incense.
Strolling through the Old town´s quarter
Head to Haikou´s historic neighborhood, one of Hainan´s many “qilou” districts – well-preserved areas that date back through the dynasties to the 13th century. Haikou´s old town quarter features an enticing mix of Chinese and colonial European architecture – wander down the street and you´ll be transported to a completely different world that´s rarely visited by westerners.
Breathe in the strong scent of Chinese medicine being brewed in one of the many arcade shops while marveling at the interesting architecture or watching a painter intently creating a portrait of Mao Tse-Dong. You do know Mao, right – yep, the namesake of the outstanding movie “Mao´s last dancer”. Here, in Hainan´s Zhongshan Road (Zhongshan Road, Qiongshan District, Haikou 570101) you´ll really get a taste for the unique charm of olden-day China!
Living on the wild side: Exploring Haikou´s cuisine
No post about a trip to China could be complete without mentioning its sometimes fabulous, sometimes scary cuisine! Scary why you ask? Well, that once upon a time (or what it nowadays?) monkey´s brains were/ are consumed as a delicacy in the land of the red dragon might just be a rumor.
Truth is, though, that there is a certain traditional dish that I was determined to try when in Hainan, which turned out to be… a chicken´s brain. Like, they literally served me a whole skull including the brain. Which I did not see coming. Like, at all! All the while, I witnessed a rat doing a joyful run and jump through the restaurant. Did I eat that brain? Did I make friends with the rat? No to both. And I am proud to say, I have been a non-meat-eater ever since.
On the plus side, there are some exquisite dishes to be tasted while in Haikou- try Wenchang chicken (free of brain, I think), Jiaji duck or Hele crab at Fule Chicken Restaurant Hainan or – go vegetarian (climate change is real! Just saying) and try some delicious vegetarian dishes of the Szechuan cuisine.
That´s it for now regarding my Chinese travel-tales!
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever been to China? What was your favorite experience and/or favorite dish?
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Traveler, Writer, Journalist, Translator, Language and Yoga teacher, Cultural Scientist. The author of "Speak in Spanish- Fun and motivation on your learning journey" as well as the multicultural novel "Von Fischbrötchen, Sangrianächten und Chaoswelten". Love animals, the arts, laughter, traveling through inner and outer worlds, the healing arts.
Weltenbummlerin. Reisende in inneren wie in äusseren Welten – in Gedanken, Büchern, Filmen, Meditationen, im Schreiben – sowie in fremden Ländern und Kulturen.