Christmas Markets of Berlin

Weihnachtsmarkt auf dem Gendarmenmarkt in BerlinA pleasurable experience to try when living in Berlin or Europe in general are the many Christmas Markets that set up and open their stalls beginning the second or third week in November and lasting until after Christmas.   Here is a list of links beginning with six of the most popular:

  1. Alexanderplatz Christmas Market
  2. Christmas Market at Charlottenburg Palace
  3. Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt h
  4. Lucia Christmas Market at the Kulturbrauerei
  5. Winterdream at Alexa – The Big Berlin Christmas Market
  6. Winterworld on Potsdamer Platz

Most are just opening this week, so by the end of the week I hope to have some personal photos and information to post.

Glögi: Finnish Mulled Wine

glogiTo experience an international treat for the holidays this year consider trying Glögi,  or Finnish mulled wine.  This warm rich drink is enjoyed best served in a mug with orange peels, raisins and almonds with a side of ginger snap cookies.  Share with friends by the fireside, and may it bring smiles and friendly conversation to brighten your holidays.  For the recipe click here.

Prague Trivia: Learn 7 Fun Facts about Prague

Want to check your knowledge of the city of Prague?

 

See if you know the answer to these 7 trivia questions.  Click on the link at the end for the answers.

  1. What famous musician and singer never visited the city of Prague, but has a Graffiti Wall dedicated to his memory?
  2. What is the name of the famous Bridge in Prague commissioned by a notoriously superstitious king who was into astrology and numerology, and what is the significance of the date on which its corner stone was laid (July 9, 1357 at 5:31 a.m.)?
  3. What are the things crawling up the sides of the Prague TV Tower and what is strange about their features?
  4. What area in Prague was preserved from destruction by Adolf Hitler for his retirement years?
  5. What famous modern monument of architecture was named in honor of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers?
  6. What iconic Rock n Roll group paid to have electric lights added to the Prague Castle?
  7. What beverage is drank more of per capita in Prague than any other country in the world at almost half a liter daily for every man, woman and child?

 

Click here for the answers

Prague the Capital City of Bohemia (Czech Republic): A Culture Rich in Creativity


Fellow Traveler does your heart long for the sound of Mozart as you thumb through the literature of Franz Kafka while strolling through Royal Gardens among dwellings of serfdoms past?

When I think of all things Bohemian, I think of the romantic city of Prague  or Praha as spoken in the native tongue.  Prague is a cultural plethora of past and present royals, peasants, composers, musicians, writers, and artists.  Kings and legends were born there and Saints were martyred in its streets.  Prague is an entity unto itself where dragons were slain, wars raged, musical masterpieces were composed, classic literature was penned, and grand works of art painted.  Today the lanes and byways are peopled with souls seeking inspiration and kindred spirits.  If you have a yin for creative influences, diverse populations and cultures, Prague is sure to satisfy.  Visit here for more information.

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To get a feel for the city. start by taking in the Old Town Square and the wealth of museums and galleries throughout.

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Restaurants offer anything from pizza and burgers to authentic Czech food, and there are many opportunities to find just the right souvenir for your loved one back home.  Make time to enjoy the markets, vendors and street food.  You may pick up an item you really love for an awesome bargain.

Trdelnik is an interesting pastry that you may like.  Click here to learn how to pronounce it.  Click here to learn the history of and how to make it.

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Check out the street musicians and artist along the way.

My adventure to Prague began on an express train from Berlin along the Elba River in full appreciation of the breathtaking scenery leading into the Czech Republic.  From the Prague Central Station to our hotel the cab driver, in his best broken English, kindly gave an unsolicited guided tour of the city starting with the Dancing House, Wenceslaus Square (Named after Good King Wenceslaus), and Old Town Praha.

Great Hotels Throughout the City

We stayed in the Aria Hotel at the heart of Prague.  The Aria is a wonder all its own with each of its 51 rooms is decorated in honor of a different composer or musical artist.  The Chief Concierge welcomed us with a tour of the four star hotel, featuring accommodations like a music library and concierge service, a private cinema, a fitness center, a private entrance to the Vrtba Gardens , a baroque garden and historical hidden treasure where one may enjoy a romantic private dining experience upon request.

The Winter Atrium at the Aria Hotel serves high tea every afternoon for guests to wind down to live music after a long day of site seeing.  The Coda Restaurant with an award winning chef, provides fine dining in, as well as on the rooftop terrace for intimate dining under the stars with a panoramic view of the old city.  For a cosy ending of a perfect day guest may enjoy the Fireplace lounge.  It was such welcoming and comfortable accommodations I almost didn’t want to leave the hotel, but the streets of Prague were calling to my adventurous side.

If you are a shutterbug you are in for a real treat on the streets of Prague.

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Just a short walk from the hotel is the Charles Bridge  leading into Old Town Prague.  The Charles is usually a bustle with tourist walking to and fro, so it is usually best for photographers to set out early in the morning for the best light and for time to get just the right angle without someone in the way or pushing you from all sides.

Both sides of the bridge feature statues  of historical personages throughout the history of Prague, the oldest of which is St. John of Nepomuk  who was thrown from the bridge and drowned in the Vitava River for refusing to divulge the Queen’s confessional to King Wenceslaus (Not the Good One).  His martyrdom began the Seal of the Confessional and he was canonized as the Saint against defamation of character, protector from floods and drownings.  It is considered good luck to rub the brass relief at the base of his statue as shown below.

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Continuing your journey to the west side of the Charles Bridge into Old Town Prague you will be able to visit sites like the Powder Tower, The Astronomical Clock, Kinsky Palace, The Franz Kafka museum, The Bertramka Villa and museum where Mozart composed the famous Don Giovanni opera, and other sightseeing attractions.

 Get a Royal View

On east side of the Charles Bridge in the lesser city you can take a short hike up the hill to visit Prague Castle.  Within its walls are the many adventures waiting to be explored.  To name a few:

Prague Royal Gardens

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St. Vitus Cathedral 

Golden Lane

Franz Kafka actually lived on Golden Lane and wrote many of his literary works there.  This small Medieval period village has been historically preserved to show the everyday way of life of the serfs and vassals who lived within the castle gates during that era.

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St. George Basilica — Yes, the one who slew the dragon.

I’ve only brushed the surface of what there is to discover in Prague.  You may learn more by visiting prague.net .

For U.S. expats in Prague the U.S. embassy  is only 50 meters from the Aria Hotel.  The embassy is currently under renovation, but still in operation.  For insight on what expats are doing in Prague consider downloading the Meetups app on your smart phone to join an Expats meetup group, or go online to Internations.org to join the expat association for Prague.   To learn more about Bohemia and the Czech Republic visit here.

Finally I’ve included a link to the following video of Old Town Square for your viewing enjoyment.

Amsterdam: The City of Freedom

Amsterdam is a city where you are likely to see and experience things you’ve never imagined.

 

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Our waitress at the popular Grasshopper Restaurant (no longer Coffee Shop) describes it as The City of Freedom.  Freedom to come and go, do and be as you please, with no oppression.  I asked her how she came to live there from her home country (she was actually from Brazil), and she said that she’d followed her heart.  First with a man, then because she fell in love with the city.  I can’t say that I was totally in my comfort zone or feeling totally free on my visit; however, others younger or less inhibited than me might feel right at home. Although, I can say, it was an experience I will never forget, and parts of it were fun and entertaining.

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Besides the popular Red Light District that you hear about so much, with open and legal access to prostitution and drugs, were lovely historic homes and architecture, beautiful canals, numerous houseboats, and cyclists galore.

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Bikes in Amsterdam

My first impression of walking down the street in Amsterdam was that my immediate safety may be in peril from all of the bicycles and motorcycles along the way from the Central Train Station to our lodging just across the street.   In fact, 40% of all vehicle traffic in Amsterdam is bike traffic.  Just after we arrived we stopped at a convenience store to buy drinking water, and while paying the shop owner we heard the shriek of tires on pavement just outside the front of the shop.  On further investigation we saw that a biker had ran a red light and been hit by a car.  The shop owner told us this happens about once or twice a day at that corner; so safety tip, watch out for bikes.

Amsterdam is where I first experienced a number of new favorites:

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Bitterballen, now my favorite Dutch Appetizer. Here is a link to find some of the best places to eat it in Amsterdam.

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Cheese shops are numerous in the city of Amsterdam.  Here is a link to some of the finest shops in Amsterdam.

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Canal Cruises and houseboats wherever you look.  Here are some great locations to book houseboat rental or cruise.

Our first full day in Amsterdam was devoted to a cruise on the canals.  Instead of going with one of the larger commercial cruise lines we decided to go small with Boat Amsterdam, a one hour cruise including all you can drink and a personal guide to the city for 15€.  It is an open air vessel so blankets were provided for warmth against the chill Autumn air.  Our tour guide was a young lady from Seattle Washington, go figure.  She transferred her citizenship to Amsterdam over a series of visits throughout her young life and finally decided it is where she needs to live and work.  She seemed very well adjusted to life in The Netherlands, and was fairly knowledgeable about the city and historic sights.

 

On this cruise we saw the home of Anne Frank next door to Westerkirk, the church whose bells she describes hearing from her hiding place in the book “Anne Frank’s Diary”.

We also saw the home of the mayor of the city, many beautiful buildings, and were told the history of our own hotel.

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The Victoria Hotel built in the 1970’s surrounds a smaller house whose owner refused to sell out.  The family is still in residence to this day.

We only spent a night and a day in Amsterdam before moving on to another leg of our journey, but it was eye opening and entertaining.  There is much more to see and do there than time permitted, and I hope to go back again for a longer stay.

To create your own itinerary for a day or longer in Amsterdam you can visit the following website http://www.visitacity.com/en/amsterdam/itineraries/amsterdam-in-one-day–easy-going-day-1 .  Happy travels!

Bitterballen: A Dutch Masterpiece

Okay, okay! Food doesn’t necessarily conform to the genre of a Dutch Master, but this tasty treat is definitely a work of art all on its own. Bitterballen is a type of meatball or kroket with a piping hot gooey center, and one of the best appetizers to be found in The Netherlands. Here is a link including a short history lesson of this well-known Dutch treat along with the recipe to try it out and form your own opinion. Bitterballen is served on canal cruises, in restaurants and bars throughout The Netherlands along with these other 10 Dutch Foods You Should Try Once. I can’t vouch for them all, but they are pretty popular. Gouda Cheese is especially prevalent in The Netherlands, there you will find many shops which offer cheese tasting opportunities to find what suits you best before you buy. All in all, Bitterballen was the winner for me. I hope you enjoy it too!

Hoppengarten: Brandenburg Day 2016

Germany is known for its many street markets and festivals throughout the year.  Next month I will begin my exploration of the Christmas Markets.  I can hardly wait for them to begin on November 30th, but in the summer and fall several beer festivals and of course Oktoberfest celebrations take place starting in August through October.  German Unity Day is a national holiday observed on October 3rd which celebrates the Reunification of East and West Germany dating back to October 1990 after the Berlin Wall came down.  It is common to hear the sound of celebrations and fireworks all around the city especially near the Brandenburg Gate during that time of year.

hoppengarten-band Today I am featuring one of my favorite festivals so far, the Hoppengarten, Germany Brandenburg Day Festival 2016  which takes place on or around September 3rd and 4th.  If you enjoy watching horse races, perusing stalls in search of authentic craftsmanship, trying out local food, and listening to great music, this is a fine place to indulge.

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Hoppengarten is about a 45 minute train ride east of Berlin’s City Center.  Upon arrival at the station you hear the sounds of classic Rock-n-Roll and Pop Tunes, accompanied by the delicious aroma of currywurst, sausages, schnitzel, baking pretzels, and fresh bread.  Anthony Bordain I am not, but smoked horse meat and jerky are also available for the adventurous eater.

 

 

Once you have your fill of browsing among the local vendors you can sit in the shade at the beer garden next to the Windmill for a quick refreshment before moving on to the concert area which is in the middle of the Rennbahn Hoppengarten racetrack.

 

The Rennbahn Hoppengarten is a 148 year old racetrack larger than Churchill Downs in both size and pageantry.  With a 207 Hectares land area, it is the largest and best land-based racetrack and training center in Germany.  The racing patrons put on their finest attire for a day at the races with women wearing Gucci and Prada and sporting the popular Fascinator hats.   Men dress in the styles of Tom Ford and others to compliment whatever the ladies are wearing.  Of course, the typical festival patron is not required to adhere to this dress code, so casual dress is common and acceptable.  Races take place throughout the day until concert time with local singing artist and musicians performing on the middle green during racing intervals.

The main concert featured artist such as Rock n Roll entertainer Mongo Jerry who covered many classic hits (German and American) and got the crowd out of their seats dancing to familiar tunes.  Another noteworthy artist was Frida Gold, an up and coming German Pop Singer.  Last, but not least was Tim Bendzko.  Tim is a Hoppengarten local resident, and also a huge Pop star in Germany.  The crowd went wild as he sang his greatest hits.  Even though I didn’t understand the words very well because I don’t speak fluent German, I had a great time dancing along with my German and Latvian friends.

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The evening ended at midnight with a fantastic combination of fireworks and laser light show. You may be wondering about the entry fee to such a delightful and fun-filled day.  I am pleased to report that the entry to the festival and concert are both free to the public, so take only enough money for food, refreshments, and the treasures you find at the vendor kiosks.

If you choose to visit Hoppengarten’s Brandenburg Day Celebration in the future, be sure to bring a light jacket since the nights tend to get a little chilly this time of year, and bring a blanket or lawn chair if you would like to be near the stage since seating is limited to the grandstand area.

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Large viewing screens are set up on either side of the stage for watching the musicians on video opposed to being up close and personal.  Binoculars are also an option if you have a pair.  If you get a chance to attend Brandenburg Day 2017 in Hoppengarten, I hope you will enjoy your time there as much as I did.

Berlin Tours You Don’t Want to Miss

Bus Tours

The Hop-on Hop-off Bus is a self-guided audio tour bus designed for tourist with a short amount of time to see a large portion of the city.  Locals can also benefit from this tour since it is actually an overview of popular attractions in the city you may want to spend more time on in the future.  You can buy a 1 or 2 day pass.   During that time you may get on and off the bus at stops along the route for as long as you like.   There are 18 stops on the tour including popular places for site-seeing and shopping.  Audio guides are offered in 13 different languages, and the cost of adult tickets are 20€ for 1 day and 24€ for 2 days.  If you are into museums be sure to check out Museum Island on this tour.

River Tours

If you have a couple of hours to take a boat ride along the Spree River, try out a River Tour.  The Spree River meanders around the heart of Berlin highlighting many features along the route for site-seers and shutter bugs alike.  Berlin has a man-made canal system built between 1845 and 1850 to control drainage in the city.  The word “Berlin” actually mean “swamp” according to the tour guide on The Fortune Pleasure Boat Bridge Cruise.  Berlin has more bridges than Venice, and this particular tour takes you past 32 of them.   Tours vary in prices depending on whether a full meal is offered on the cruise or if they serve A La Carte.  Each tour can take from 1 hour to 3 hours, and are offered daily and in the evenings during the summer.  Check the link for winter hours and reservations.

Other Tours

Other types of Berlin tours which I haven’t been on, but wish to, include:

If you like to do things on your own some places offer self-guided walking tours that you can download to your smart phone.  Two of them are:

  • Detour
  • Ullmon:  CityMap2Go

 

Bavaria: A Nature Lover’s Dream

Modes of Travel
The beauty of living in Europe is the convenient access to multiple countries and cultures within a short flight or leisurely train ride.  I recommend going by train, even though it takes longer, because you can see more of the countryside along the way.  You may also rent a car, but be prepared.  Although, it is a thrill to ride 140 mph (226 Km/h) on the autobahn with no speed limit in some areas, it would be helpful to familiarize yourself with German traffic signage.  Signs can be overwhelming when trying to manage a vehicle in this kind of traffic.  Traffic jams are also common when traveling by car.
Places to Visit
Modes of travel are plentiful in Europe, so for now let’s focus on destinations to visit.  This week it is Bavaria, the southernmost region of Germany, bordering the Austrian Alps.  Bavaria is rich in German history and culture.  The people are friendly, the food is superb, and the beer is cold and plentiful.

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In particular, the city of Oberaudorf is an outdoorsman’s paradise offering areas for hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, and snow skiing.

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One of the first structures you see upon entering Oberaudorf from the north on A9 (the autobahn) is Kloster Reisach.  A monastic order of the brotherhood of Discalced Carmelites.  It is host to an annual beer festival in the Spring, and is well-worth a visit any time of the year to see the 18th century architecture.  It is an active church only open at certain times, so schedule a public tour to learn about the order and see the Baroque Period artwork and design.

Where to Stay
Our stay in Oberaudorf was made even more memorable by our new friends at Gasthof Keindl, a hidden jewel in the Bavarian foothills, and a family owned and operated hotel.

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Gasthof Keindl has many fine guest accommodations nicely assimilated into the Bavarian culture taking nothing away from the local ambience.  Accommodations include 38 beautiful guest rooms, a wellness center for easing away the stress and pains of a long journey, a guest pavilion for seminars and business meetings, a butcher shop which provides the freshest meat entrees in the area, a great restaurant with the finest chef, and, of course a beer garden where many locals come as regular guests.

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Rasa Gorbane, one of the friendly hotel staff, made us feel comfortable and welcome from the day we arrived until the day of our departure.

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We booked a master suite with a view overlooking the Kaiser Mountains, a mountain vista that had “The Sound of Music” playing in my head.  This gave me the “itch” to go hiking and start snapping photos right away.

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We arrived just in time for a visit to the beer garden before dinner where Junior Chef Josef Waller paid a personal visit to our table giving us a warm Bavarian welcome.

Where to Eat
The dining experience at Gasthof Keindl was excellent. The two entrees I tried were Wiener Schnitzel with Roasted Potatoes and Fresh Garden Salad, and the Ox Filet with Potatoes Au Gratin, Kohlrabi, and a Vegetable Medley.  The great food came in very large portions of deliciousness which called for some physical activity soon after we ate.

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We also had lunch at a location called “Auszeit” which provided a great view of the Kaisertal (or Kaiser Mountain Valley) just outside the front door.  Each entree offered there was a bouquet of flavor, but not your common Bavarian fair.  You may like it if you are not a picky eater and looking for something different.

Things to Do

Fortunately, our hotel was within ½ mile walking distance of the local pub and hangout, Rolleria.  Although it is a small establishment the employees are friendly and it is always a buzz of activity.

Hechtsee/Baden

The next day we traveled just a short distance south by car across the Austrian border. There we found free public access to scenic walks, bike trails, mountain lakes, and beautiful scenery.  We took a short hike around Lake Hechtsee which is spring fed with crystal clear water and monstrous fish.

Our trip ended on day three with a trip to the Bauernmarkt (street market) held annually right outside of our hotel.  The market offered works from local craftsmen, carvings, baskets, canned jellies and preserves, linens, books and fresh bread. Unfortunately, it rained and we didn’t get to stay long.
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My awesome husband picked up a hand crafted basket for me there which I love.

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At checkout we were graciously thanked and invited back again by Anca Cracium in reception.  She was genuinely kind and helpful throughout our visit.

If you are looking for an enjoyable authentic Bavarian cultural experience, Oberaudorf,  Gasthof Keindl, and the many outdoors activities in the surrounding area are all worth checking out on your next travel adventure.

5 Things to Do in Berlin on the Cheap

Once you get settled in to your new temporary home in Berlin as an expatriate or long-term traveler what will you do in your spare time?  If you have a family of five, going sight seeing every week can certainly be costly and a drain on your resources. Surprisingly, there are several great inexpensive or free activities around the city for families and individuals alike.

I started with number 1 because I happen to live nearby, and it was the first thing I did on my own when I came to Berlin.  You should feel free to explore these at your own leisure and convenience.  Click on the name of the sites in bold for more information.

  1. Charlottenburg Palace Garden The fee to enter the palace itself can be pricey with a family of five, but entrance to the grounds is free.  The palace garden boasts shady walking and biking paths, places to take your kids to play, toss a frisbee, walk your dog, or if you are into it, practice Haiku.  There are fantastic picnic areas, and great places to spend a sunny Saturday lying in the grass sun bathing or reading a good book.

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  2. The Tier Garten.  Another great park and free to the public.  It is near the center of the city, and has all of the things I mentioned above. This park is also accessible from the Berlin Zoo as well as from public access points.   A family could plan a day of picnicking in the park watching the cruise ships pass through the locks, or visiting the surrounding historical sites such as Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building, the Holocaust Museum, Hitler’s Bunker, Checkpoint Charlie, or the Victory Column.img_1121
  3. Brandenburg Gate.  Free tours are available for this area of the city; however, it is  good form to tip the guide.  It is open access to the public and many activities and celebrations take place here throughout the year.  This area is rich in historical background with many cafes and public vendors throughout the square.
  4. The Reichstag Building. A short walk from the Brandenburg Gate is the seat of German Parliament The Reichstag.  There’s and entrance and sometimes very long lines, but tickets may be purchased in advance online to avoid the waiting.  The view from the Dome at the top is amazing.img_1098
  5. The Victory ColumnIf you are up for a challenge, another site you won’t want to miss is The Berlin Victory Column. Challenging because there are 300 stairs from street level to the Golden Victory Angel at the top.  With an entrance fee of only 3€ it can get rather crowded, but you can snap some great photos once you reach the top.

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