Hotel Review: Ibis Budget Hotel Regensburg

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Once in a while, I decide that I don’t have too much time to spend in a hotel, and go instead more for covering my destination. With my intensive travels for my project ’100 Places to See in Germany’, I am decided to try and test as many alternatives as possible, especially in terms of accommodation. For my trip to Regensburg, for instance, I booked Ibis Budget Hotel Regensburg, described as being around ’10 minutes away from center’. Besides the price, the location, preferably close to the center is what I am looking for, as for my short stay in town I need to stay somewhere close to the center in order to make everything easier.

However, after arriving in town relatively late I discovered that the hotel is in fact ’10 minutes away’ only if you drive from highway, probably my fault for not checking in detail the location. Although the hotel is nice and the personnel is welcoming, walking on your own through an area with parked tracks, especially in the evening, is not the kind of adventure you might be interested in. In addition, the buses connecting this area – the industrial area of the city – to the rest of the town, are coming once the hour in weekend, and every 30 minutes during the week. In the hotel lobby, there are information about the bus program, as well as various leaflets about events taking place in town so your life can be easy although feeling at the end of the world.

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The investment in the lobby or the halls leaving to the rooms was minimal. The entrance in the rooms, as well as in the hotel after a certain hour is done with a code you receive upon arrival, that does not need keys to be processed. The double room has superposed beds, quite comfy, with pieces of furniture matching the colour on the walls. Everything is clean, and there is separate toilet from the little shower cabin. The Internet is provided for free and was working relatively well. There is no closet, but only a couple of hangers.

The breakfast is not included in the price of the room.

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Ibis hotels are ecologically friendly, and small smart looking devices are placed near the bed for controlling the energy consume in the rooms. In comparison with other hotels I’ve stayed in Germany, the room has air condition, which is quite an achievement in my opinion.

With the final World Cup match coming to an end, I’ve learned that I should appreciate being located that far away – around one hour, especially due to the bus schedule – from the central area. Everything was quiet, and the cocktails of enthusiasm for celebrating Germany’s victory in soccer ended up as soon as it started. As the next day I leaved the hotel early in the morning, I kept at least the memory of a quiet sleep that prepared me for the long tour of the city.

For more insights from the hotel, check the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/ibis-budget-hotel-regensburg/

Cocktail o’clock at sky.bar Berlin

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Berlin has so many temptations, maybe too many. Finding the best of them could be a matter of luck, inspiration or good research. With only a few free days left to spend in Berlin before the long travel vacations, I want to be left only with the best memories of this short summer. Plus, being on the road most of the time, left me only with few chances to see my old friends in the city. Thus, any good tips are more than welcomed for spending the time at its best. As a guest of the sky.bar, at the last floor of andel’s hotel Berlin, I give a big chance to a cocktail o’clock evening.

The colourful design andel’s hotel is easy to notice, from the S-Bahn station Landsberger Allee. Although situated in an area without any big tourist temptations, the hotel can be easily reached by Ring S-Bahn and in less than one hour you can be to any famous landmarks of the city.

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The list of cocktails is long, and the combination of ingredients is highly elaborated. Either the mixture may sound too extravagant or too unique to be true, the temptation is always there. Besides the classical recipes, many of the cocktails do have fresh fruits or veggies and spices added to top brands alcoholic drinks. My friend is a bit faster than me when it comes to choices and much more brave to try Picante cocktail, combining: dark rum, strawberry liqueur, raspberry liqueur, limes, fresh strawberries and raspberries, balsamic glaze, pepper, lime juice and cane sugar syrup. The fresh fruits are bringing tonic flavours to the rum, while the pepper is adding some strong notes, balanced only by the cane sugar syrup.

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Little by little, people are arriving, although the evening is still young. The usual ritual is to find a good spot, to order the cocktail and while waiting, to make a tour of the glass windows for taking pictures of the iconic locations of Berlin that can be seen. The chairs and tables are situated in close vicinity, which create a little problem sometimes, especially if you dare for more privacy. However, there are enough good spots where you can spend a good time, with a good view, without being bothered or bothering the others. The design follows the main lines of the overall design of the hotel, made up of different colourful splashes, placed in the most unexpected corner, that bring a certain youngish accent to the space.

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My first cocktail choice is the green goblin: Hendrick’s gin, lychee liqueur, lychee, cucumber, lime juice, cane sugar syrup. It is refreshing, although not very cold, with a lot of sweet accents, brought in by the cane syrup and developed in an unique taste by the lychee.

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The sky.bar also has a long food menu, mostly sandwiches and finger food. Roasted salty nuts and a bowl of fresh fruits were part of the very fast and bilingual – German/English – service.

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Time goes fast especially when you want the least, and we are ready for the next orders. My friend is set for the gingerly Six Feet Under: pepper vodka, ginger beer, radishes, basil, lime juice. Although two alcohols in a cup can be a bit risky, the predominance of ginger beer reduces the strength of pepper vodka. The veggies and the lime juice are contributing to the freshness and a sparkling note. Very good choice for the summer time.

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I am trying a Strawberry-Basil Margarita: tequila, strawberry liqueur, strawberry purée, fresh strawberries, basil, lime juice and cane sugar syrup. It may look as a very elaborated fresh fruits salad, but it’s very serious, thanks to the tequila drops. Adding basil contributed to the bouquet of strong flavours, while the strawberries brought a lot of natural sugar reducing the strength of tequila.

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When we are about to leave, it is late in Berlin, but people are still trying their luck to discover a different city. At least, the iconic TV tower is easiest to recognize. As for me, I hope to be brave enough to try to see how does the city looks covered by snow. I’m grateful though that there is so much time till then, although the idea of trying a new different cocktail soon is even more appealing.

For more insights about the cocktails, the bar and andel’s hotel, have a look at my dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/andels-berlin/

Disclaimer: I was the guest of sky.bar for a cocktail’s evening, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

Regent Hotel: the unexpected oasis of luxury

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I never have enough time to explore Gendarmenmarkt, except when I have to go to a concert or I am looking for a quiet place near Brandenburg Gate. Or, after the long tours of shopping visits at Galeries Lafayette. This time, I am happy to be the insider of Regent Hotel, a five star hotel with a well established 10-year tradition among the luxury brands in Berlin.

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At the first sight, the modernist simple facade doesn’t say anything about what is hidden behind the doors. People are coming and going around, busy or simply ready to find out where their new tourist destination is. Once I enter, all the rush and colourfulness of Berlin is left outside. A little palace of elegance and quietness, with huge beautiful flowers and marble walls.

??????????Regent Hotel was described by Condé Nast Traveller ‘one of the best places to stay in the world’, but it comes with a culinary delice: the two-star Michelin restaurant Fischers Fritz. Under the gourmet coordination of chef Christian Lohse, it also offers daily business lunch menu, but can also set up private dining, for a room up to 15 persons. The ambiance is very private, and no wonder that big world stars are often guests of this place. Like Bruce Willis, for instance, who paid at least one visit here during his stay in Berlin.

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The hotel is also the proud owner of a lobster press, one of the five in the world (out of which one is part of the collection of Christofle Museum). The lobster is introduce inside, in the dedicated compartments and press swiftly till the flesh is coming up. As usual, good gourmet results involves always a lot of technique.

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The hotel has 195 rooms, decorated in the elegant simplicity of Biedermeier style. The variation of colours is pastel, the rooms being painted in lime or the very powerful salmon rosé, my favourite. The space is well portioned, the massive classical furniture being placed in order to give a lot of space and freedom to the guests.

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The beauty is made of small details. The lobby of each store has wallpapers with motives inspired by nature that are matched with Art Nouveau lamps.

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Given the special home-made ambiance, no surprise that the hotel is offering extensive packages for children. The little ones are offered gifts such as cuddle toys, colouring books or chocolate candies. A nanny service is available for the families looking to have some private time during their stay at Regent. During this time, the children can be kept busy too, among others, with classes where they learn the good manners. The Executive suites do have adjacent rooms for children, provided with special amenities, such as child tailored DVDs. The guests who make their reservation up to 30 days in advance, may receive a complimentary upgrade.

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Visiting the rooms leaves you with a special feeling of quietness and strength. It is not difficult to make yourself at home and enter that unique ambiance you are longing for when you are on the road. Especially when you travel a lot, the need to be in the middle of familiar spaces is always there, despite all the glamours of the travel life.

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The rooms are provided with everything needed for creating an elegant privacy. Wifi is free of charge, the housekeeping service is done twice the day at least. The concierge service is available all round the day. At the spa, luxury massage and beauty treatments are available. Berlin tour guides, in German, English and French are available. The premier suites do have a small kitchinette space where the dinner can be prepared by the concierge. The concierge is available to help and plan various plans of the stay of the guests, such as car renting, booking flights etc.

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Another unique feature of Regent Hotel, is the possibility to have your own jogging concierge. Head concierge Stephanm Mehlhorn, an experienced sportsman himself, is ready to show the guests the most beautiful routes for jogging across the city (besides the well known Tierpark). Special jogging maps are offered, with directions and various recommendations tailored to the jogging needs of the customer.

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Sometimes we are reminded that the well-being and luxury are not for ever and while we are thankful for the moment, we need to consider the fate of those who have nothing. Regent Hotel is involved as well in charities, last year being awarded the Franz von Mendelssohn Medal for charitable commitment.

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The presidential suite is often hosting high-class VIPs, from the world of sports – like the VIPs of FC Bayern – politicians or movie stars. The small French style balcony was used by Tom Cruise’s daughter Suri for learning her first independent steps. In order to offer her special protection, a plexiglass shield was set up around the metal fence. With such a beautiful view, you might be inspired to walk by yourself to see all those place by youself! Cruise stayed here during the filming for his movie Valkyrie, that was partly shot at the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam.

??????????Inside the hotel, a conference room can host up to 180 people. Press conferences are often organized there, as it happened this February, for the two Pussy Riots members Nadejda Tolokonnikowa and Maria Aljochina, during their first trip abroad as free persons. I am sure that the walls of the hotel saw many other personalities and their choices, but what happens in Regent Hotel, stays in Regent Hotel. 
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It is time to relax, and the simple afternoon tea is the happy ending of my short stay at Regent. Served in Meissen porcelain, it is prepared under the close supervision of the Tea Master Gold, Roland Pröh. Nearby, there is the terrace, which this year has a lavender summer theme.

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It is not easy to say ‘good bye’, and I can feel what the long-term guests may be going through when they have to part ways with this beautiful island of luxury. However, modern technology helps to keep in touch, and a special app, downloadable for free, helps the customers to keep in touch with the newest highlights. One of the newest offers is the special package made in cooperation with Rolls Royce and KPM Manufaktur, offering a high class experience with luxury cars and perfect porcelain.

Stay elegant, Regent Berlin, hope to see you soon!

For more insights from Regent Hotel, visit the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/regent-hotel-berlin/

Disclaimer: I was the guest of Regent Hotel for an overview of the rooms and an afternoon tea, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

Sunday in Göttingen

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With only a couple of hours free to discover Göttingen, I felt a bit of pressure, and possible disappointment, that I will not be able to see too much of the sightseeing. But as usual in such situations, I was able to find a relative compromise to myself: what about just following the unbeaten path, trying to taste rather the surprise of unexpected stories. Shortly after my arrival by bus at the Zoo Institute, I arrived near a conical building, bordered with the signs of the zodiac. It is a monument in the memory of the mathematicians that successively discovered the asteroid Ceres, in the 19th century: Piazzi, Gauss and von Zack. Welcome to Göttingen, a city famous for his scientists and the tradition of university life!

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Starting from the vicinity of the central station and till the old city, slices of green, with benches, trees and enough space for jogging and biking called me for some meditation before being exposed to new scientific information. Given my poor achievements in high school, I would better stay around in the woods. The parks crossed urban areas, like Augustrasse, Gartenstrasse, Berlinerstrasse. The shops, some of them open on Sunday, displaying Asian foods or Anatolian carpets or restaurants covering flavours of the world, from Vietnam to Italy, were the reminder that I am not yet in any of the natural parks I visited the weeks before.

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Leaving the parks, I arrived at Johanistrasse, the perfect square to observe the local world while sipping your coffee. Half-timbered houses hosting posh restaurants or shops told stories about the good relationship between the rich past of the city and its present.

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The delicate Gaenseliesel (Goose Girl) in the front of the historical city hall, is the favourite background for graduation photographies of the fresh doctors from the local universities. No one was celebrating around this time. However, the young spirit always present in an university city is changing completely the general mood of a historical city. The streets were echoing various languages, especially English, talked not by tourists but by short or medium-term residents of the city studying many of the academic specialities.

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The dynamics of the city area given also by the spectacular statues appearing in the most unexpected places. Even though the artistic message is not always very clear, any encounter with them put your mind at work and it’s at least half way the effect expected of art on the daily human existence.

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The colours of the old city are inviting for more and more walks. My favourite architectural discoveries were on Kurze Geismar, Bruystrasse, Rote Strasse and Wendenstrasse. Don’t forget to keep always an eye to the small interior yards where special cultural events may take place. As I visited a couple of hours after a night-long of events and various cultural events, most places were quiet. However, there were many gourmet restaurants and summer gardens that might require another visit in the city as soon as possible.  Most of the houses were built in the 16th-17th century.

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As in the case of Heidelberg, another university city I visited the last year, the visitor should pay attention to the mentions of the famous visitors that lived or simply spent some time sharing the knowledge accumulated in the high-ed establishments. Among them, Benjamin Franklin, philosopher Heinrich Ritter, Maurice Halbwachs whose writings about memory and history were fundamental in developing my own PhD work.

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Although my time in the city is limited, I cannot resist the temptation of having a brunch at the newly opened bistro Löwenstein, for a good salad, with many spices and nuts and a delicious shakshuka, prepared according to the highest standards of the recipe. The bistro is serving vegetarian meals, of Middle Eastern inspiration and even though the place in itself is rather simple, the meals and the friendly customer service may call you back.

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For me, it is time to go on the road again, for more rapid discoveries. As I go further in the central part of the city, most of the buildings were erected in the 19th century, the predominant style being Art Nouveau. The style goes very well with the creative spirit hosted by the universities as well.

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At the end of the Theaterstrasse, a mini open air exhibition in the park, in the front of the building of the Deutsche Theater. The good weather encouraged many of the locals to give up any inhibitions and take some sun baths, eventually with a book to keep an elevated company.

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On the same street, I observed another itinerant scientific project ‘Planetenweg’ taking place in different points in Göttingen , aimed to outline various astronomic discoveries, many of them made by scientists that studied in the city.

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The German Theater is one of the most serious cultural institutions in town, presenting a varied programme, featuring classical theatre, but also music festivals or short plays. Keeping up with the specific of the city, it also includes Bertol Brecht’s play, The Life of Galileo.

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After an unsuccessful try to visit the Stadtmuseum/City museum, I succeeded to visit the last 30 minutes of the Art Collection hosted by the Art Academy. It includes a collection of various reproductions studied regularly by the students, but also a temporary exhibition open till March next year, about English Mannerism, gathering also interesting information about the way in which the English style entered the German lands, especially through the connection of the house of Hannover.

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The Botanical Gardens, with its special collection of cacti, was one of the best moments of the trip, because it allowed me to keep enjoying the beautiful sunny day while learning something new about the city. The entrance is free, and there is also an open air garden.

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Back in the old city, I had a look at the old city hall, that can be visited in more details. The main hall has a wall painted representation of all the German states. The city hall was initially built in the 13th century, but fundamentally repaired several times, the most dramatic taking place in 1981.

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As I still have some time left, I am exploring Goethe Allee, with its elegant Gebhards Hotel, a Romantic destination in the city since the second half of the 19th century, but also with Michaelihaus, where Gauss and Benjamin Franklin, among others, conducted various experiments later considered significant contributions to the advancing of aerodynamic knowledge.

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Leinekanal is a quiet spot, especially for many of the barefoot students. With many icecream parlors and restaurants around, the alternatives abound.

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The last stop was at the monument from the Synagogue Square. Built in 1973, it is situated on the place where the local synagogue once stayed before being destroyed in 1938. The monument, that doesn’t look very much cared of, has the name of the victims murdered in WWII.

On the way back to Berlin, while trying to fill in a useful way the long 4 hours of bus ride, I modestly congratulated myself for discovering a new city that calls me back soon.

For more insights from Göttingen have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/g%C3%B6ttingen/

Visiting Wildpark Frankfurt (Oder)

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After the beautiful hike in Thale I decided  to spend even more time outdoors, and that next travel destination would be in a place with more nature and eventually, with much more little animals. As on my bucket list for this year I also included the visit to some natural parks in Germany, I decided to start with the one closest to Berlin: Wildpark Frankfurt (Oder). It is situated only one hour away from Berlin, and the trains are going there regularly. I went down at Rosengarten train station and kept walking for another 30 minutes. The neighbourhood is very quiet, more beautiful than the other part of the city I visited a couple of years back.

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There are flowers everywhere. Big billboards announced the past Rose’s Festival held a couple of days ago. The closer I am to the Wildpark, the more beautiful the scenery. Wheat crops with delicate patches of poppy and blue flowers invite me to stay more and have a full experience of the life at the countryside.

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Next experience: life in the middle of the nature. The experience of walking in the middle of so many beautiful animals, most of them free in the park, is unique. My first encounter out of many others is with the deer, who after instantly hearing the presence of the intruder, are gathering into small groups, facing me with their back.

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The park is a relatively new presence on the map of natural reservations in Germany. Previously a training camp of the Soviet Army stationed in the area, it was changed into the current shape little by little from 1994 to 2000. It covers 16 ha., with more than 300 animals from around 30 species.

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The funniest encounter by far was with the very active prairie dogs. Spread on an open field, they go out of their holes to communicate with their neighbours through short screams. Although the majority of them are running crazy to hide in their holes when they feel my presence, one is more courageous and come closer, allowing me to make him the hero of a short movie.

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From behind the trees, I am observing a family of lamas doing their daily walk. In a big wooden cake, the hamsters are having breakfast and I am allowed to touch and play with some of them. Some of them were brought here after their owners, small children sometimes, were no more able to take care of them. Everyone is friendly around, and the animal caregivers are ready to share with me their knowledge about the little residents of the park.

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There are also some very funny goats, bleating on different tonalities when someone is approaching. They jump or run together from a place to another, probably expecting some substantial dinner that unfortunately seems to have been postponed for now.

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After many hours of wandering through the natural park, sometimes in the company of children brought here with their school or kindergarden for some open air activities, I decided to continue my natural experiences, with more hiking. I cross path with people of all ages, some of them doing Nordic walking, some of them simply spending outdoors a beautiful summer day. A small path invites to bar foot walking, and if not so many insects around, I would love to give a try to this walking alternative too.

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The area is marked and there were different walking alternatives, of an average of 2-3 km. It’s quite easy, but one has to be careful with the cars crossing often the paths.

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I am walking for more than one hour, enjoying the singing of the birds and the fresh air of the forest.

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At a crossing point, I receive a message congratulating me for entering Poland. Although in the main part of the city, there is possible to cross a bridge to Poland, I don’t see any clear sign this time, but with the volatile borders of Schengen, you never know which country you are exactly, and this is good.

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With more golden wheat crops and a beautiful sky, there is nothing  left to worry about. Summer is such a precious encounter in this part of the world and I am decided to make the best of it in the coming months.

If you have a look to more insights from Wildpark Frankfurt (Oder), have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/wildpark-frankfurtoder/

Hiking in Thale

Graffiti at the train station

All the colourful cities with interesting architecture and so much history I discovered in the Harz Mountains in the last year of travel did not take away my deep longing for real hiking adventures. As someone that spent most of her childhood hiking frantically for months, I missed the mountains too much to accept a new failure. With a well researched notebook and serious time spent resting the day before, we arrived in Thale, our last new destination in this part of Germany for now. The weather was far from perfect, but the fresh high air of the mountains encouraged me to keep straight to the plan, whatever the temperature.

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From the train station, we walked around the Kurpark with wooden benches with monsters on its ends or various strange creatures. A reminder that we are in an area famous for its legends about witches flying on brooms or dancing naked on the top of the mountains.

Exploring Thale

There are two separate mountain platforms in Thale that can be reached via two different routes. Although it is possible to go hiking two ways as the routes are moderately difficult, even for those without special mountain preparation, in both cases, we preferred to use a gondola for the ascent and do the hiking on the way back. The gondola leading to Rosstrappe took around 10 minutes to arrive leaving us the chance to discover the nature down under. It went smoothly and uneventful (for someone who developed recently a horrible fear of heights, was almost perfect). Here is a short recording of the experience, the first for me in almost 10 years.

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Once arrived on the top, we walked a bit, but there were not too many attractions to keep us for longer and not too many people either. After having a look over the city and the mountains in the neighbourhood, we were ready for the descent.

??????????As the HEX train, our direct connection to the Harz during the weekend, left Berlin early in the morning, I did not have too much time for a proper breakfast. At Rosstrappe Hotel, I offered myself a sweet brunch: a heavy creamed poppy cake with strawberry sauce and almond decorations, plus a coffee that was not extremely tasty.

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This long stop, the longest of the entire trip, was good enough not only for refuelling the eventually low level energies, but also for gathering more local information about  the best ways to return in Thale for exploring the other side of the mountain that according to all the maps and guides we gathered on the way was by far more eventful. What looked as a long journey, a bit dangerous, turned to be a very smooth descent of less than one hour. Wearing good sport shoes is a must and a lot of attention for not climbing in the mud after the frequent rains.

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After seeing so many fallen trees I would not dare to adventure around during the storms or heavy rains. The route is well marked so getting lost is almost impossible. The way back took around one hour of very relaxed walking.

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If not so many raspberries, probably we were able to reach Thale faster, but the childhood memories of perfect lunches offered by nature kept me close to the bushes. Hopefully, no hungry bears to compete with for fruits.

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Watch your steps, not only because you should walk carefully in the mountains, but because some little creatures might be using the same path too. Like this black-and-yellow salamander, who was kind enough to allow us film her at length for this YouTube video. We already met one of her kind at Goslar, close to the mining place. A dangerous presence in the Harz mountains are ticks, but wearing long sleeves and pants can diminish the risks.

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Trying not to worry too much about accidents or other calamities, we continued the way back in town, admiring the spectacular corners of nature.

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We descended near a river, running fast near the big blocks of stone. For the children, besides the hiking experience, Thale offers a lot of fun experience for children: adventure climbing park, a mini-golf and huge playground, many of them decorated with characters of the local folklore.

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As for us, considering ourselves grown ups enough to skip those temptations, we took the first gondola – this time a full covered one, and looking more modern than the one from the picture – going direction Hexentanzplatz – Witches’ dancing place, in an approximate translation.

??????????The view over here is more spectacular than on the other side of the mountains, and there are even more people visiting the place. Hiking is a bit more challenging, but still feasible and with minimal risks if you did not train the whole month.

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The wild natural beauty around imposes deep silence and this was the predominant note near the many observation points.

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The fauna of the Harz mountains is very rich and many of the animals are running free in the woods – especially the lynx. However, I rather prefer to avoid such encounters and admire the animal diversity gathered in the Tierpark. This bear, for instance, looks less threatening and even friendlier. The park is huge, with many observation points from where to keep an eye to the movement of the animals that you cannot do it during real life encounters – as in the case of the wolf, for instance. The birds are well represented too, with beautiful examples of marsh terrier, long-eared owl, golden eagle or common buzzard pheasant.

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There is a lot of place left for adventures too. For children of all ages, the bob stroller is a nice 10-minute entertainment, running fast, very fast, around the woods. If you are smart enough, you can buy a combined ticket for gondola – two-ways – and the bob for less than 10 EUR. As in the case of many places in Germany, be sure that you carry some cash with you. Despite the beautiful views, Hexentanzplatz can be crowded during the Sunday afternoons, especially as there is also located a Theatre playing different Broadway-inspired programs. We left the area in the sounds of ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’, that kept us company for a long time during the descent. After a short stop at the Homburg tower nearby, from where we admired once again the beautiful scenery.

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After the one hour descent, we are back in the civilized world. The rest of the time, we are walking the streets of the city, observing the different architecture of the city – a combination of half-timbered houses with coloured paintings on wood near Art Nouveau decorations. The best examples we encountered on Jägerstraße and Heimburgerstrasse, where we also crossed path with many peaceful cats enjoying the accidental apparitions of the sun.

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Thale, as the entire Harz area, was often visited by writers who placed some of their stories or poetry with mystical and magical topics in those mountains. Goethe, Heine, Herder, Fontane or Klopstock are only few of the famous German writers whose writings were inspired by the landscape. Adapting the old stories to the modern times, a MytherWeg was created representing various stories from the Germanic mythology. Close to the townhall, for instance, we discovered Draupnir rings, Odin’s ring having the capacity to multiply itself.

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There is also a smooth balance to the heavy myths: the delicious icecream sorts offered by Café Gelato, situated near the train station. The pineapple and parsley scoop was normally excellent, despite the exotic note of the ingredients. Thus, at the end of this trip I did not only went back in the mountains, getting ready for even more hiking experiences in Central and Eastern Europe soon, but also learned something new, this time, about icecream flavours.

Always curious about new destinations, I am almost sure that will be back to Thale, probably in less than 12 months.

For more insights from Thale, check the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/thale/

Erfurt, an exercise of admiration

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After the culturated Weimar and the very intellectually Jena, Erfurt was naturally the next destination in Thuringia and I wanted to visit this city at least 2 times in the last 4 months. But my travel experiences of the last year taught me that I better wait and go when I am ready for the meeting. And what a meeting it was: with beautiful architecture, a pleasant ambiance and many stories. The first one shortly upon arrival, about Willy Brandt – maybe my favourite German chancellor if you ask me -  who visited the communist Erfurt in March 1970 – the first such German-German meeting after the creation of the Iron Curtain, opening the ways for the reunification a couple of decades ago. He appeared at the window – Willy Brandt ans Fenster! – of the building situated opposite the central station and the event is remembered since. The square – named after Willy Brandt – is right now a plaza with many restaurants and coffees, where to spend your free time in the summer.

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Once starting the exploration of Bahnhofstrasse and Anger boulevard, my camera hardly had any free time. Buildings creatively mixing Art deco, baroque, Art nouveau influences introduced me to the eclectic universe of Erfurt.

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Although part of the GDR, the old city was not terribly affected by the typical grey urbanism plans. The new constructions are modern and playing rather with the volumes than with the facades, but with the exception of some outskirts areas, nothing destroyed the historical elegance of the city.

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One of my favourite places is Anger, because of the interesting architecture, but also because it offers anything you want to do as a short-term visitor in town: shopping avenue, restaurants – Vietnamese, German as well as Catalan cuisine are well represented – coffees, small bookstores and street musicians.

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On the same Anger, there is the Bartholomew Tower, built in the 12th century, whose carillon can be heard daily between 12 and 18 o’clock. This part of the city is well covered by the mini-guided tours for tourists, mostly in German.

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As everywhere in Thuringia, famous people like Schiller and Goethe visited and even lived in Erfurt too.

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At the ground level of the beautiful buildings, one will often discover bakeries, such as Bretschneider, selling various sortiments of local pastry. From the central area of the old city, I arrived at the unexpected Art Nouveau apparition of the Presse Club, on Karl Marx Square.

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The city wall, built in the 12th century, can still be seen in various parts of the old city, intercalated between modern buildings or squares. One of the longest part is near the Bruehen Gardens, a green area with old trees, benches and playground whose silence was broken only by the phone conversations of the corporate men taking a talkative lunch break in the park.

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Another interesting presence is the local theatre, situated in the middle of a running water installation, that brings versatility to the glass and steel serious presence of the construction.

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From there, I climbed the small stone stars, reaching the Martin Bastion, part of the bigger construction of Petersberg. The Citadel is considered only extensively preserved baroque fortress in Central Europe.

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The view from the top introduced the diversity and many histories of the cities. The citadel itself is telling one of the many stories. Built on the site of a former monastery, standing upon a maze of passageways, it was more recently used as a political prison in 1933. The former intelligence services of the communist Germany, STASI, were situated nearby. An exhibition of military history can be visited, explaining the intricate relations between military and religious power in this part of Germany. A restaurant hosted in a glass building – Glasshutte – allows the visitors to have a lunch or only a coffee with a view over the city.

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Is was hard to leave the smell of freshly cut grass but the time was running and I still had so many things to see and learn about in Erfurt. I arrive at Andreasstrasse, and further on, at the Domplatz, with even more details of the various histories of the city, well reflected by the different architectural style of the city. The city is part of the famous Via Regia, connecting the East and West of Europe for more than 2,000 years and 4,500 km. A symbol of the united Europe, with all its differences and historical memories.

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A landmark of the local museums is the Noah’s Arch, exhibited at the Museum of Natural Sciences, a local reconstruction of the Biblical story. Besides, the museum also has an interesting collection of local stones as well as some insights into the fauna and flora of the region. Surprising, for the visitor used probably to encounter only stuffed animals in such a place, some small and very active mice are also part of the permanent exhibition.

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At least for the most part of my trip, the sun was shining, and I hardly resisted the temptation to take a seat and spend some time in the Domplatz or maybe at the Fishmarkt. I was feeling in the middle of a small Dutch or Belgian city, probably because of some French influences in the constructions, typical for this part of Germany.

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For now, I offered myself a scoop of vegan icecream, from Zucker und Zimt – Sugar and Cinnamon – a very tasty and good choice for the summer time.

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For centuries, Erfurt also had a Jewish life, nowadays mostly history. The first communities established around the 12th century, but were often wiped out because of pogroms. After the war, only 15 Jews returned from the concentration camps. Late after the end of the war, a synagogue was built here, the first in the GDR at the time. Nowadays, there is a small museum – within the former small synagogue nowadays a conference center that was in use only for a limited amount of time, between 1840 and 1884 – as well as at the old 12th century synagogue, considered the oldest standing Jewish religious building in Europe. There can be visited the Erfurt treasure, an exhibition of various coins and pieces of jewelry, probably from the time of the Black Death. The treasure was discovered by accident in the walls of a medieval neighbourhood in 1984.

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There are some unexpected corners of Erfurt, such this Venetian-like view near the Gera river.

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On the small streets around Krämer bridge there are plenty of small shops, selling form traditional clothing to pottery, icecream and spices.

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There is also the famous Krämer bridge, part of the Via Regia, originally built in the 12th century. The half-timbered houses as well as the bridge itself, often consumed by fire during the centuries, were intensively protected during the communist times and now are the favourite area for organizing various local festivals and shows.

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The city has a rich variety of organic and vegetarian restaurants, and I chose to have a delicious vegan pasta lunch at Cognito. The sunflower seeds and the fresh tomato sauce – although a bit salty – were more than welcomed after such an intensive journey. The restaurant offers also some books to read to the lonely visitors, and spend my dinner reading about Beuys opinions on advertising.

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Before the hour of intensive rain, I had continued my discovery of the old and new streets of Erfurt, including some street art close to Waagegasse.

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When the rain went too far, I used a couple of free minutes visiting the small mustard museum. It is mostly a shopping point for products produced by the famous local company Born, with some insights about the history and the evolution of the tastes and products (such as the exotic figs mustard).

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Although I said  ‘good bye’ to Erfurt on a rainy hour – that did not stop me though to see some special buildings near the Central Station, hidden on Schmidtstedterstrasse – I know that I should come back soon. Some more intensive travel in Thuringia is also on the menu.

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