48 Hours in Karlovy Vary

??????????I wanted to visit Karlovy Vary for a very long time, but not obviously for very logical reasons. Blame it a lot of Central European literature, including Czech, indiscriminately and voraciously consumed during my childhood, or the regrets of never being able to attend the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, the famous movie fans gathering in Central Europe.  As the last year was one of my best in a while in terms of travel, I marked another priority (out of many hundreds) on my travel bucket list.

??????????I arrived there in the middle of the autumn, at the beginning of November, exactly at the end of the spa season. But the city was far from being dead, as I noticed while walking slowly from the bus station where I arrived from Prague to Dvorak Hotel, that generously hosted me during my stay.  I not only got to know the local generosity, with people helping me to get the right directions to my accommodation, but also a very glamourous night life, with luxury shops open till late, and ladies in fancy dresses checking the last offers or maybe a must have Faberge egg or a massive gold pacifier, who knows? Only the steam of the famous hot springs created an ambiance of mystery and suspense.??????????Ignoring the late arrival and the whole day of travel by bus from Berlin to Prague and then to Karlovy Vary, I decided to have a short tour of the central area. Hungry, I ended up in a German-Czech local and guest house, Egerländer Hof with many historical references on the walls of what used to be the Sudeten area and dusty stuffed animals. I ordered some Czech dumplings with eggs and mashed potatoes, whose oily and too salty composition gave me some nasty stomach pains the day after. Maybe the antidote would have been the famous Becherova, a local Anis liqueur made here from 200 years, but was not that brave to try it.

??????????The next morning, a beautiful autumn palette that seemed hastly painted overnight on the hills around invited me to go out of my bed as soon as possible and start the discovery.??????????If ones arrives in Karlovy Vary dreaming about a very active night and day life, he or she may be disappointed. The life goes slow, except the exciting times of the film festival, with slow walks  and shopping sprees, before or after some treatment sessions. The local theatre, offering shows not only in Czech, but also in the omnipresent Russian, spoken everywhere by everyone, brings more cultural events in town. Some local jazz festivals held here are opening the doors to everyone in love with the universal language of music.

??????????The mild light and colours of the autumn are calling me though for some hiking adventure, a call I am ready to answer, as soon as I am able to see the main points of interest in the city.

?????????? Most part of the people coming here are for a more serious reason than I: the unique qualities of the thermal waters. Used for treating problems of the digestive system, diabeters, weight excess, post-oncological diseases treatment and metabolical diseases among others, the mineral waters do have the same composition, but their health effects differ up to their different temperature and carbone dioxide content. The spectacular strength of the giant spring (Vridlo) makes the beautiful architecture around to look like doll houses.

??????????As the springs are spread all over the city, decorated pavillions were made in order to allow people to get to the mineral waters whatever the weather conditions.

??????????One of the most famous such construction are the Mill Colonades, hosting 13 major springs, built as a neo-Renaissance Temple, by the same architect who designed the National Theatre in Prague. During the high-season, special open air concerts are creating an ambiance that makes the sick visitors forget for a while the reasons they are here.

??????????When I am not too busy to find out about the special mineral waters, I am amazed by the architecture, that combines all the possible Central European styles, with fine golden lines matching green decorations, or with Portuguese tiles bordering big windows of building covered by castle-like rooftops. ??????????The visitors are busy sipping their mineral waters from the special bottles especially created by the legendary Ludwig Moser, the famous porcelain producer. The pipes were added later. Nowadays, the Moser factory can still be visited, and many of the locals in Karlovy Vary used to work or are still working there. The special patterns of his glass work, oftenly combining porcelain with crystal, are another trademark of Karlovy Vary that can be found on the exquisite lunch tables of many world personalities, including European royal families, including the new Spanish king.

??????????The autumn is the queen of Karlovy Vary now, and the leaves from the parks are displaying passionate nuances of red and burning yellows.

??????????Only the too much serious building of Hotel Thermal, hosting for over 49 years the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival brings you back to a less spectacular reality. Held in the first week of July, it gathers famous movie personalities, among which John Malkovitch, Robert de Niro, Woody Harelson, Sharon Stone, Leonardo di Capri, Gerard Depardieu, Franco Nero or Fanny Ardant. Many of the famous guests do have their own star on the Hall of Fame in the front of the luxurious Grandhotel Pupp, where the VIP guests coming to town are usually hosted.

??????????They heavy impression of the film festival venue is easily dissipated by the mild colours of the architecture and the diversity of the options to spend the easy life in Karlovy Vary. When the weather allows, a short tour by carriage can be a pleasant option.

??????????For a short break before planning the next stage of my trip, I am back to the Giant spring area, at Cafe Reserva, where I sip a  coffee made with mineral waters – all I can say is that it is a really good strong coffee as I am used with – with some Oblaste, thin rice waffers that are available  in town in different flavours.

??????????Although buses are available in the city, as well as cabs, I am doing my best to enjoy as much as I can the rays of autumn lights. I pass fast near the tempting shops from Lazenska street, not without a short stop looking at the special Mikimoto pearls, or the Hasi Shopping Center, a building where Freud stayed long time ago, and I go up on one of the many streets around, in an area with many villas and  hotels with discrete entrances and huge parking spaces.

??????????I don’t need to think twice before heading on an alley with stairs and foliages, till the top of a small hill from where I can see the crowded buildings of Karlovy Vary.

??????????The hiking is short and relatively easy, but comfy shoes are required. Some people do Nordic walkings – there are many such routes in many places around the city – some, like me, just enjoy the pleasant beginning of the afternoon.

??????????Behind the wild stones covered by leaves, the discrete human intervention makes you feel safe.??????????The beauty of nature is simple and inspiring, and before I am heading back, I enjoy the quietness and the original colours.??????????The combinations between nature and hard human work probably fascinated many European intellectuals and crowned heads that tried to found a remedy to their maladies from the spring waters here. Goethe, who ran here several times for meeting a much much more younger lady, Freud, Marx, Franz Joszef and Sissy who loved so much the oblates it seemds, or Peter the Great for whose highness a special door was modified in order to allow him to go in or the Turkish reformer Atatürk were some of the famous visitors. ?????????? Nowadays, the visitors only looking for wellness, are tempted with a long list  of spa services, that includes a variety of treatments, based on wine, beer, hemp or using various techniques aimed to regenerate and rejuvenate the body and mind (more about the best spa options in town in my next post).

??????????My first full day in Karlovy Vary ends with a full tour of the main historical and touristic sights of the city offered by a very talented guide booked by my hotel. As usual, getting in touch with local people brings valuable information, and most hotels are able to offer such knowledge, mostly in Russian and German, but also English.

The next day, early in the morning, I am ready for more hiking. I follow the street near the Carlsbad Plaza, surprised to discover also a Thai and Chinese restaurants, after spotting mostly local Czech or German-inspired cuisine, or some classical Italian restaurants. From Goethova street, I arrive at the 60-year old Karlovy Vary Art Gallery where together with some school children I have a look at an art exhibition by a local artist. From the Park Hotel, I start doing more hiking on the top, and the banks every couple of hundreds of meter guarantee that I should not worry for getting exhausted any time soon.

??????????Soon, it is about time to say ‘good bye’ to Karlovy Vary for now, not before saying a last hello to the huge statue of the Soldier Svejk, a typical Czech character, a busy tourist spot for selfies most part of the time.

??????????The beautiful pastels of the live exhibition that Karlovy Vary offered me in the last 48 hours was worth the long years of waiting. There are places you might fell in love with before visiting them and following your feelings can prove to be a perfectly inspired decision.

Fore more visual insights from Karlovy Vary, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/karlovy-vary-czech-republic/

Happy ending of the writer’s block (or whatever you want to call it)

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Quite a long time without writing…

When you willingly decided to have a life organised around written words, every writing adventure shapes the days of your life. Your so-called free time is in fact dedicated to gathering impressions and images of the new articles and the busy active time is made up of polishing over and over again your words. Sometimes, you might even dream about your next topic. And this is not always the easiest task in the world.

The last 12 months were for me very busy, especially in terms of travel and writing, with a lot of new projects in the making and professional challenges, all connected to the same big professional loves: travel and writing. But having a blog means much more: networking, marketing, a lot of PR and many social activities that helps you give a face to your punctilious work.

There is something I always tried to avoid in my intensive writing life: getting overwhelmed by the writing tasks and ending up not enjoying the very simple act of staying in the front of the white page. Turning myself into a writing robot, an efficient one but not a very happy one though.

At the end of December and the beginning of January I spent a gorgeous time in my favourite place in the big world: the sunny bubbling Israel. (Lots of travel stories coming up in the next days and weeks, I promise…) When you are more than a traveller and a tourist, the feelings are different and the mood changes. You are not longer an expat, a foreigner, but you feel at home, and your life finally does not need a translation.

These are intensive experiences, worth trying them once in a while, but when you are back to your other normality, you need time to select and process all the information, feelings and decisions. Putting them down on paper does not help that much so the best is to just take a little break, read a book, focus on other writings and wait quietly when ready enough for the next travel and writing adventure.

This moment has finally come now, after more than a month of quietness and the blog is back to the real travel and writing life. For the next weeks, it will be mostly focus on the last year travels, while I am getting ready to plan the next legs of my European journeys and much more diversified content.

The writer’s block is finally over, the blog is back!

Happy travels everyone and keep in touch with good travel news!

Ilana

Hotel Review: Hotel Dvorak, Karlovy Vary

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I arrived at the famous Karlovy Vary/Karlsbad spa city at the end of the season, at the beginning of November, but the life in the city was nothing but quiet. Tourists from all over the world, but especially from Russia and its former Soviet Republics were everywhere, checking the late evening offers from the expensive shops. Thus, is was not a big challenge to find my way to the Dvorak Hotel, who kindly accepted to host me during my stay here. Walking is the longest way to reach the hotel, besides the direct bus connection and the taxi, but it offers me the first encounter with the city lights, and also to experience of getting the right help for reaching my destination. English and German are easily spoken, so no risk of getting lost in translation. Half an hour after arrival – 20 minutes of walk and fast 10 minutes of checking, I am ready to go to my room, crossing a classical hall with red doors and modern photography snapshots.

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The same classical Art Nouveau style is waiting me in my room. Big bad with red-wine bed covers bordered with gold, minimalistic furniture, just enough place to rest and take your time before heading to the spa. Named after the famous local composer Antonin Dvorak and part of the Vienna International Hotels, it has 126 rooms, out of each 15 apartments, 60 standard rooms, 48 type comfort as well as 3 accessible rooms, with available services round the year. The hotel is family and generally children friendly, proof being the many kids running around the breakfast hall early in the morning. Pets are also accepted, in exchange of some extra charges.

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A welcoming note on the big TV screen, near the desk where I will keep working for a couple of hours every day, enjoying the efficient wifi services, brought me back to the practical reality. While I do my hard work, I can get updates of news from around the world, either from BBC or from CNN. Everything is quiet and early in the morning, a sunny view of the center of Karlovy Vary and the yellowish autumn hills around are an invitation to be as fast as possible for enjoying the short days outside. The many leaflets and guides I received on my desk help me to make my stay easier, but with so many choices, it’s a bit difficult to keep being organized. Every room is also provided with a direct dial telephone.

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Coffee and tea are available to fill my time but I am too excited to finally be in Karlovy Vary for spending too much time in the room. Maybe I would have like more coffee for my long writing hours, but for now, it is just enough. My room is also provided with a minibar, with drinks and beverages, including the fanous local Becherova but also peanuts and different snacks.

??????????Only the elegant bath tube can offer me an alternative to the long walks around the hotel. My room is also provided with separate bathroom, and different practical amenities, among which a functioning hair dryer.

??????????The ambiance in the room is elegant enough to make my stay pleasant, although I travel alone this time. The small Art Nouveau details are exactly what I need to relax before going out in town. A small notebook and a pen will keep me punctilious company and will help me to record my discoveries, while enjoying the lights and shadows of my stylish Art Nouveau lamp.

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A big package with shower and bath products made of wine, a local speciality, are the complimentary offer of the hotel. The other branded products offered are also based on natural products and confirm the reputation of spa hotel of Dvorak. Home shoes and white clear bathrobe are ready just in case I am planning to visit the spa any time soon.

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The morning breakfast is a pleasant surprise and gives enough energy for being able to keep walking for long hours. It takes place in a big hall with classical paintings on the wall and another sample of Art Nouveau decorations. Besides the classical French pastry and cheeses, plus the tasty coffee, kindly brought at the table by the careful team, there are a lot of regional specialities, aiming to accommodate probably the culinary tastes of the guests: red beet juice, herring, porridges. The selection of breads is also great and I hardly say good bye to all the delicious temptations, but the travel work is calling me loudly.

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The small lobby near the dinner hall, with its green leather decorations, keeps inviting me for more laziness, but I’m decided to keep my schedule for the time being. In the evening, I am enjoying some fresh drinks in the lobby bar. As there was no concert there, I just have some quiet time, eventually reading something, but usually the hotel guests can also enjoy some live music concerts, besides their cocktails. The smooth background music is very inviting, and the cakes are also delicious. There is only one problem: too many active smokers around.

When needed, the hotel can also book a dedicated guide, in English, German or Russian. My experience with the guide provided was excellent, after almost two hours of walking, being introduced to a lot of well kept secrets of the city.

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But most part of the tourists are actually here to enjoy the diversity of spa treatments offered. From relaxation and aqua aerobics, to the very complex F.X. Mayr Treatment, everything is ready to make the guests feel better. With so many extensive packages around, there is a bit hard to make the offer interesting, but at Dvorak things are quite easy, it seems. For instance, they are the only ones in town offering the F.X.Mayr Treatment, removing toxic substances from the body. The program of choice also includes: oxygen therapy, various treatments for the locomotive system, treatment of rachialgia or relaxation therapy, aimed to help the workaholics to get rid of the pressure accumulated after long hours of work and too much deadlines’ stress. There is an indoor pool, sauna, steam bath and a fitness studio too, and the complex treatment is made under the close supervision of the hotel’s physician assisted by a team of therapists.

My stay in Karlovy Vary ended too soon, and unfortunately, the check-out is as faster as the check-in. Now, that I finally my dream of visiting Karlovy Vary was made true, it’s time to plan a new return to this classical spa resort, most probably for enjoying a longer spa season the next year.

Disclaimer: I was offered two nights at Hotel Dvorak, but the opinions are, as usual, my own. 

For more images from Hotel Dvorak, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/hotel-dvorak-karlovy-vary/

Small tips for a great city. What not to miss in Prague

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Every year it seems to have a favourite city where I am back more than once. Once upon a time was Budapest, or London or Tel Aviv. The winner of the 2014 trips was the lovely Prague, which I had the occasion to visit at least four times this year, after more than 2 trips on previous occasions in the last years. This last time, as it was a spontaneous trip, I tried to spot those things that should be on the bucket list of the traveller to Prague, and mostly can be done without too much money or special efforts.

During my first trip to Prague, the spectacular Dancing House – nicknamed Fred and Ginger, after the famous dancing partners Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – caught my eyes. Designed by Frank Gehry in collaboration with the local architect Vladi Millenic, it goes against the classical standards of local architectural beauty, but it definitely has its special charm. If you see it once, it’s hard to forget it!

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The lovers of classical architecture and especially of Art Nouveau, will have a lot of opportunities to nurture their eyes with beautiful apparitions. All you need is to learn how to use your eyes. After the first hour of walking around the old city, it will easily become a habit to speedily browse with the sight every building looking for some special unexpected corner.

??????????There is not only the Charles bridge. Although the most famous, it is only one of the 10 bridges over Vltava river. Many of them can be crossed by foot.

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Prague and the Czech Republic are famous for their exquisite glass art. Around the capital city, there are a couple of glass factories that can be visited, but otherwise, the best works of glass art can be admired in the small shops, some of them also offering live workshops introducing the visitor to the secrets of this traditional craft. Booking in advance is not necessary.

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If you start your journey early in the morning, it’s hard to avoid the open markets, selling besides souvenirs, among which various drawings, also fresh fruits and vegetables. My newest discovery was the Havlova Market.

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Some of the local samples of architecture are more than simple habitats, but decorated as unique works of art.

??????????Prague is a traditional city for jazz lovers. One of the famous one is Reduta, but there are many others inviting places for those passionate about this music style.

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The newly reopened Prague Technical Museum offers an extensive introduction to the Czech industrial history, with its samples of cars, airplanes, balloons and bikes. An interesting journey also for the non-practical humans, like this writer.

??????????If not necessarily in the mood to spend one or two or three late nights in a club with live music, it’s easy to have your own musical auditions. Some of the bands can be really good so they fully deserve some $$.

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While walking in a completely new area during my last trip, I was surprised by the ugly yet interesting insertion of the highway in the middle of the small buildings from the Vinogrady neighbourhood.

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My first encounter with Prague took place at the Art Nouveau decorated Central Station, as I was coming by train via Budapest. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the Hlavni Nadrazi – the busiest railway in the Czech Republic – went through massive renovations in the last years.

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Although Prague is still an affordable city for tourists, little by little it is developing its luxury side too. Proof: the recent Jimmy Choo boutique opened, where else, but on Parizska – Paris – street.

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If not in the mood for some luxury shopping, a good coffee, near the window, from where you can observe the daily coming and going of the street is a good solution. This time, I tried O’Papa, a quiet bistro with a lot of healthy food options too.

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Last but not least: don’t forget to try some good traditional Czech beers. Near the Florench bus station, you can find the smallest microbrewery in the world, Pivovarsky Klub. Don’t forget to order some traditional Czech food too!

For more pictures from Prague and links to previous posts, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board

Dresden, a bridge between the old and new city

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I’ve been to Dresden several times in the last years, but never had enough time to spend a full day exploring the city. This autumn, I decided that I should hurry up to find some sunny day for spending more time outdoors and for some quality time in the city. Apparently, I had enough luck to took the pictures of the places that were either covered by snow or by the dark during my last visit in February. But I also had a couple of surprises. For instance, the building of what I first thought it must be a mosque. Once I come closer and made my way to the building, I found out that, in fact, there is the building of a local cigarettes factory, Yenidze, hosted in a building whose architecture was aimed to remind Turkey, the main provider of tobacco at the time. Built between 1907-1909, nowadays it only hosts various local offices. It also has a restaurant with a stained glass dome and almost 600 windows framed in various styles.

??????????From the unusual presence of the former cigarette company, I kept walking the Ostallee, passing near the Pressehaus and the headquarters of the Morgenpost, straight away till I arrived at one of the most important destinations of my trip for the day: the rococo-style of Zwinger. The name refers in German to the enclosed ground near the castle, filled with water right now reflecting the beautiful geometry of the place. The only danger is to come closer and want to jump into the water to reach faster through the castle’s gates.

??????????I followed the usual way and decided to spend more than one hour going up and down to the stairs of the smoked stone building. Every corner was revealing new spectacular geometry and windows to a delicate world: the Porcelain permanent exhibition, that reminded me that I’m only less than one hour away from the Meissen porcelain factory; the Old Master’s Gallery  with its Tintoretto, Cranach and Tizian, Vermeer and Rembrands, or The Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments.

??????????Before entering the exhibition rooms, I am doing my best to do not look too much at the tempting gardens. After my cultural hunger is calmed, I am back on the terraces, trying to figure out the secret meanings of the garden’s geography. I’m glad to enjoy the pleasant presence of the carefully manicured green lanes that were completely out of sight covered by snow the last winter.

??????????From the large perspectives of the gardens, the sight is forced to focus on small interior yards, with fountains hosted within the stone limits of symmetrical shapes, guarded by exuberant statues that look like ready to go out of their corners in any moment.

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Such a passionate outburst of passion, hard to believe that can be encountered in a place surrounded by stones keeps inspiring artists that moved their workshop here.

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Leaving the Zwinger with a heavy heart, only the huge statues of scary fighters helped me to forget my sadness thinking that I have no idea when will be able to spend my day admiring such a green view.

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In the Market area, it was the time for the Autumn Market, that was open till the beginning of October. It seems that the winter markets are that successful that people do need some intermediate seasonal entertainment to keep the festive mood.

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With almost half of the to-do-list done, I reward myself with a vegetarian meal at Capetown’s Restaurant, my first full South-African menu. Finding a vegetarian selection out of a long list including crocodile, zebra, ostrich and kangaroo was not easy. My Zulu potatoes with pesto were simple with good concentration of oil and pepper. The veggie burger with cheddar cheese, and an onion and tomato salad were not the biggest culinary achievement though, as the tastes simply did not match or maybe because they were not warm enough to melt together successfully. The chilli honey sauce re-established the balance and almost saved the meal.

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With fresh forces, I am heading in the different, not yet explored part of the city, where the old communist kind of apartments are predominant. The local authorities were smart enough to repaint them in a very colourful combination of colours that gave them a more modern look. The ones in Strasburgerplatz kept my eyes entertained while waiting for the tram.

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I haven’t visited a zoo for a long time, and it seems that the welcome at the one in Dresden was a subliminal message that I should keep my contact with the animal world: tram stations with bamboo sticks and a background noise of birds. Once inside, I preferred to observe the Mandrill Monkeys at Afrika Haus. They were not bothered by the curious eyes of the visitors and kept playing or check their fur.

??????????Australia is well represented, especially by the happy kangaroos jumping one near the other around the yard. More time was spent photographing the snow leopard, the North American porcupine or the Humbold penguins. The Zoo also has a very colourful collection of season’s flowers, among which the beautiful autumn dahlia.

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From the Zoo, I headed to a completely new area for me: the Neustadt, the new part of the city, that was turned into a huge workshop of street art, local handworks, ethnic restaurants and a lot of meeting points for the young people of the new Dresden.

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Lloyd’s coffee, with its yellow leather couches, purple wallpapers and fresh flowers on the table, it’s also offering afternoon tea for the Brits-in-the-making locals. Too busy to wait for around 40 minutes till the tea would be ready, I chose an Ayurveda herbs and ginger tea: deep herbal perfumes added to the wake-up call of the ginger.

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All over the streets, but especially on Bohmischestrasse, there is a lot of street art – different styles and messages, from the world of the video games to the abstract paintings. The English bookstore on Rothenburgerstrasse – Beyond the Pond – also sells various products Made in the USA. So bad that not enough time to check properly the jongleria shop, on the same street, or the fashion atelier Sumeria.

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The highest concentration of creativity is in the Artists’ Court – Kunsthofpassage: from various ateliers of local artists to shops selling handmade jewellery or clothes. So much concentration of creativity left colourful and ingenious footprints on the walls, yards and almost every corner of the buildings.

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After diminishing my thirst for art and interesting things in general in the creative ambiance of the Neustadt, I’m back in the historical area where creativity, although from a different area, keep surprising the visitor with unclear artistic messages.

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The early autumn dark reminds me that it’s time to leave again Dresden. But this time, I was finally able to carefully document its old and new faces, two equally interesting sides of a city able to balance both its future and past. If you ask me, I dream to go back and properly explore the life of Neustadt. Maybe a next time.

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

Vineyards and Baroque in Würzburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ritz-Carlton Berlin: the luxury oasis from Potsdamer Platz

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Without reading a couple of books and watching maybe some more movies, it’s hard to imagine how Potsdamer Platz in Berlin used to look nothing far but 30 years ago: a depressive no-man’s land, just another picture of the Cold War. After the reunification of Berlin, it grew up as one of the most modernist areas of the city, with sky scrapers – something not that common in Berlin and in Germany in general. Behind the remains of the Berlin Wall and some futuristic architecture, there is hiding another hidden secret of the city: The Ritz-Carlton, one of the two hotels from the chain. Only ten years older, it equals in elegance and beauty the first ever Ritz founded in Germany, the one from Wolfsburg, that I visited a couple of months ago.

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My journey at The Ritz-Carlton started with a delicious afternoon tea, improving my knowledge about green teas while enjoying delicious bites of perfect pastry and cakes.

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My passionate guide through the world of teas for the day, Hernan Caballero, has another great talent: drawing and following the tradition of The Ritz-Carlton, his talents were encouraged and introduced to the visitors of the famous bar. His maps listing the geography of various drinks in the countries around the world are proudly showed on the tables. And he is not the only one here whose individual talents are recognized, as the hotel also used recently the greeting cards designed by one of the apprentices.

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It’s not time for the champagne brunch at Brasserie Debrosses, but paying a visit around is an interesting experience, at least from the architectural point of view. It reunites the old French brasserie style  – the floor is originally brought from an old 1874 French Brasserie with the same name – and the old former communist Germany influences in the furniture. The food served is French though. During the summer, the outside terrasse is an invitation to stop but not for too long, as there are so many shopping and cultural temptations around – almost most of the interesting top attractions of the city, from the Brandenburg Gate to the Tierpark are within minutes of walk from the hotel.

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But not only the adults are invited to enjoy their time in luxury: special programs for kids are offered all round the year, besides special presents given upon checking-in, like polo shirts with their name on it.  There is a chocolate festival for them and various cooking classes only for them – like waffle baking, as well as a special cocktails and afternoon tea programs. Wish there were such options when I was a child; probably I would have discover the pleasures of the afternoon tea much earlier. In addition, scavenger hunts or special tours of the hotel are also part of the regular menu for the smallest visitors. In the rooms, they will be waited by special beds and maybe some bed covers with their special cartoon characters.

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Meanwhile, the adults can enjoy the latest add to The Ritz: the Fragrances bar where special cocktails are prepared based on perfume recipes. Just think about your favourite famous perfume and soon you will taste it! As for now, there are around 15 cocktails available, based on recipes whose ingredients were tested enough to produce an unexpected pleasant surprise for the palate.

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Out of many other temptations, I would love to be back to try the Yuzu Watermelon, based on sake and lemon and watermelon syrup. Don’t worry about asking an overdraft soon. One cocktail can be as cheap as 14 Eur. And you taste it from the lounge of The Ritz-Carlton…

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The works of art, mostly created by German artists, are there to add another layer of distinguished ambiance to the other layers of educated pleasure.

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The interior design inspiration, a project made by Peter Silling, was inspired by the work of the famous Berlin architect Schinkel, whose signature is visible in most of the civil architecture of the classical Berlin. The glittering of the Swarovski chandelier and the mysterious corners of light are the modern translation of some old school classical principles.

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The lobby avoids extravagance for the elegance of style. When you arrive from the colourful joyous yet noisy outside, you might think that you arrived in your private universe of luxury. However, behind the closed doors of the many hotel offices, people are behaving in the most responsible possible ways allowed by the 21st century. The energy used is green, out of the recycled paper used in the offices,  around 5,000 school books were made and donated to a school in Wedding. Almost 65% of the vegetables used by the restaurant are produced at the field owned by the hotel in Mecklenburg Pommern. The own beehives are producing nothing less than around 300 kg. of organic honey every year. And the examples of sustainable luxury could continue…

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For a short moment, you can relax and think that you can spend here the rest of your stay in Berlin. Why not, you even have some Berlin Wall Memorabilia, some horrible grey concrete monsters laying on the polished floor. Another example that the Ritz-Carlton is not afraid to face the daily realities is the special open doors program organized a couple of months ago, when the Berlin citizens were invited to have a tour of the hotel. Maybe only few of them will ever be able to afford to every pay around 14,500 EUR/night for a stay at the luxury hotel suite, but at least they will be able once in a while to make some savings for an afternoon tea. Going out of your comfort zone is always a good challenge to take once in a while.

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Regardless of your plan, this hotel can be the best place to start new beginnings. In your life, for instance! What about an unforgettable wedding photo made on those white marble stairs? If you already married, at least you can try an extravagant selfie. If you rather like the ‘old style’, there is a photo booth in the lobby, where your photos are issued with a personalised logo of the hotel.

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For the very special guests, as the US president Barack Obama, a guest of the hotel, high-end privacy and security can be offered. As in the case of other hotels from the chains, there are different levels of privacy offered, the basic being offered at the club from the 10th floor.

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Basically, there is a hotel inside the hotel, with its own reception, lobby, meeting room, as well as other kitchen facilities.

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There, you can have your meals with an overview over Tiergarten and the modern architecture of the Western Berlin. Enough to want to finish your meal now, make your business meetings as successful as possible and just run out to know the city. What about a jogging trail through the Tiergarten, based on the advice of the specialists of the hotel?

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The Ritz-Carlton has 303 guest rooms, out of which 39 suites and a presidential suite. Add to this the banquet and meeting space, as well as the high-end facilities offered at the spa. For the highest security area, there is double access and other special facilities.

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The good taste and simple elegance are the predominant feature of the rooms. From the decorated walls, till the match between the furniture and the carpet, there is hard to find any failures.

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Suites can have 2 bedrooms, bedside control panels, in-room Internet and various luxury amenities. The customers also have access all round the day to the swimming pool and the fitness space.

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There are also heated bathroom floors and a very inviting sauna, just two stairs away. What if?

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But it’s about time to end my adventurous trip in the world of cocktail fragrances, green teas and marble ceilings. There is time for the opening call of the gentlemen’s club too. Good bye, good life! Welcome back to the real life of Berlin!

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

For more images from The Ritz-Carlton, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/the-ritz-carlton-berlin/