How to spend two full hours in Prague

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My 3-week long trip to Central and Eastern Europe started with a pleasant surprise: I was offered the chance to spend 2 full hours in Prague. After ten years of unjustified absence from the city, I was able to visit the city twice within the last 6 months. As during my February trip I made almost the full list of to-dos in the city, I had the freedom of gazing to the buildings or just walk in under the sunny sky of this summer. With sure and (very) fast steps, we headed directly to the old town area.

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I will never have enough time to fully understand and admire the spectacular architecture and art displayed on the streets of the city. From the massive realist statues that seem to fight hard to get a life of their own out of the stone carvings to the delicate Art Nouveau details, my eyes were challenged to keep a permanent focus.

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Many of those details I’ve seen more than once during my trips in the city, but you can never have enough of too much beauty, I suppose.

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My wandering to the city had at least one clear direction: to spend a bit more time at the Municipal House, right near the Powder Gate. The massive construction that was inaugurated in 1912 after 7 years of work is situated on the former location of the palace of the King of Bohemia who lived there in the second half of the 14th century. The historical details might be not obvious for the first-time visitor, but the beautiful embroideries of the building and the elaborated glass paintings and decorations are unforgettable.

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Every inch of wall and surface was carefully adorned with elaborated glass walls painted mostly in the Art Nouveau style. Nowadays, the municipal house is a distinguished concert hall – Smetana Hall bearing the name of a famous local composer, but it was used for various purposes in the last century. Here, for instance, was signed the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence in 1918.

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The hall – that can be visited with guided tours – continues with a big coffee, Coffee Kavarna, where I dreamed to have my morning coffee for a long time. Before the coffee arrived, I spent a lot of time admiring the golden outlines of the interior decorations, delicately insinuated alongside the massive white marble.

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The lightning installation reflected in the massive mirrors are creating an even greater impression of a huge space. If you have a lot of imagination, you might feel invited to a secret ball at a castle.

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The entrance reminded me of old pieces of exquisite jewellery. Too much decorations are always a dangerous taste decision, but a creator should always assume the risk of going beyond the limits of accepted standards.

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Overloaded by colours and golden rays, I finally had my coffee paid with the local currency carefully saved from the last trip. Given the ambiance, the prices of a breakfast are much higher than the usual cheap offers around, and the coffee was not the best in the city, but I was too happy for finally spending time here for excessive kvetching.

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With some more time left, we took fast the road under the Powder Gate trying to see at least Charles Bridge in the summer. The only discomfort of the last trip was the late winter cold, which limited significantly our freedom of movement. Now, people were all over the places, many of them wearing delicate cotton umbrellas to get protected against the hot sun. Cleaning cars were spreading water on the streets aiming to bring more freshness.

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The streets were full not only with tourists, but with many more street artists, either presenting their works on sale, or sketching within minutes portraits of the visitors interested to leave with a special personalized memory from Prague.

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The colours of the painters were joined by the exuberant outbursts of sounds uttered by the street bands. Artists were almost everywhere and most of their music was very pleasant to the busy ears.

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Shortly after 12 o’clock, making your way through the streets was not an easy task. Especially if you hurry up as we did. Most shops in the old town were open and the offers of restaurants were becoming even more tempting. Languages from all over the world were heard on the streets, creating a good feeling for the indefatigable traveller in me: world can be so small sometimes!

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In the front of the Prague Astronomical Clock we went through another new experience: waiting together with a significant mass of people the last three minutes before 13 o’clock. Some were there with a purpose, some – like us – were simply by accident trying to get into the exciting mood of all the people gathered there. When the time had come, it was hard to stay untouched by the wave of excitement of people listening to the first gongs.

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We finally made it to the Charles Bridge as well, although for very short couple of minutes only, and at least with two new memories about Prague, we headed back to the bus station, waiting for the return in another dear city of mine: Budapest. To be continued.

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

 

Liechtenstein, Europe’s best hidden secret

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When I started planning our adventure in the South of Germany, I tried to figure out what are the possibilities for extended trips outside the border, mostly around Switzerland, a country I neglected in the last years. While my fingers were moving in different directions on the map, I decided that instead of small bits of Switzerland, I should finally pay a visit to Liechtenstein. All approved, I needed to figure out how to reach this small country hidden inside Switzerland in the most convenient way. The best is to take the train till Sarcans and from there, a regular bus that in around 30 minutes arrives in Vaduz. The journey goes alongside spectacular high mountains with small villages cramped on the aisles, an invitation to humility and curiosity to walk by foot every inch of forest or mountain.

The castle that dominates the city from the high of its 120-meter, that can be partly visited only special guided tours was the first apparition upon arrival and kept appearing regularly from the corners of the buildings or streets of Vaduz.

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The sixth smallest countries in the world, Liechtenstein is a sovereign state since the beginning of the 19th century, being ruled as a principality by a family of Austrian origin. Nowadays a constitutional hereditary monarchy, it was visited by many cultural and political European personalities, among which Goethe, who stayed for a little while in a house situated in the center of Vaduz.

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The city displays a good taste combination between the overwhelming natural landscape and urban elegance, with flowers spread between dynamic statues that seem to occupy in the best way the vertical space between various constructions.

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The central streets were busy with tourists from the early hours of the morning till late in the afternoon, many of them curious to discover every corner of the city. With so many monumental art situated in many unexpected places, it was hard to be disappointed.

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My first cultural stop was at the Post Museum, learning not only about the interesting postmarks produced here but also about how the first telegraph lines started to connect Liechtenstein with the rest of Europe and the world, starting from the end of the 19th century.

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From there, I made a long stop at the Museum of Modern Art who is interesting not only for its collection, but also as an individual work of architecture in itself, but also for its L-shaped building.

??????????More than anywhere else, I am trying as much as possible to limit the time spent indoors for long minutes of admiration of the exquisite landscape. With its mountains and the green pastures, Swiss-style bigger chalets and cows, plus the extended areas with vineyards, it seems that Liechtenstein won the best of all neighbouring worlds – Switzerland and Austria.

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In full compliance with the environment, the architecture is integrating an abundance of natural elements, that bring harmony to corners that might look aggressively sober at the first sight.

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The irregular geometry of the buildings applies as well to the governmental institutions. Near the Parliament and government buildings, a small park with pebbles and little trees can bring peace of mind after a busy day deciding the destiny of the Principality.

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With some more available time and the Adventure Pass in my pocket, I made a tour of the Liechtenstein history and culture at the dedicated museum, in addition to a contemporary exhibition of textile works and a temporary exhibition about gladiators, exploring the daily life and the evolution of the shows usually displayed in Colosseum.

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The museum also offers on sale samples of the local production of wine, a distinctive category of products Made in Liechtenstein.

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I learned more about the vineyards later in the day, while taking the mini-train tour that leads the visitors in the main attraction points of Vaduz. Compared to other similar tours I took this summer, it also offers the opportunity for a small stop, in the best spots for photo opportunities. My favourite was near the Red House, where the eyes did not have enough dreaming about the time when the wine is almost ready. The Adventure pass generously offered by the Liechtenstein Tourism Office allows some free degustation of two wines from the winery of the Prince Liechtenstein. The famous local bottles of Pinot noir and Chardonay should probably wait till my next visit.

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The mini-tour during which the moments of explanations are intercalated with long pauses of local folk music – that sounded like a pop version of the Swiss yodlers – goes all round Vaduz, up on the top of the cobblestone old roads, many of them built probably late in the time of the Romans. In the middle of so many monumental art works and stone houses, Vaduz, a former farmer village in the old times, also has a stadium of 6,000 places where the national soccer team is playing regularly. For those interested in practising sports, Liechtenstein offers many indoor and outdoor swimming pools, minigolf, an adventure park as well as possibilities to practise winter sports many of them presented in the dedicated Museum.

??????????Back to the busy central area, we had a stop at Engel Restaurant, offering a variety of cuisines, from the regional Swiss and Austrian dishes to more exotic Thai and Chinese. Although my choice of Pad Thai Rak was extremely bad, the coffee was strong enough to smitten my protests. Although the national currency is the Swiss Franc, the payments can be made in Euro and Dollars, a very good smart way to avoid complicating too much the life of country hoping tourists that may get confused about which money they should use on step ahead.

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Exquisite shops are relatively few compared with the usual display in Switzerland, but with interesting design products, both for clothes and jewellery. Liechtenstein, made up of families owith diplomatic and military background, is regularly attracting intellectual audiences from all over Europe for its classical and jazz concerts held in Vaduz and other places regularly. As I spotted an announcement for a concert of Chick Corea I just had another regret for leaving this country.

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I said ‘good bye’ to Liechtenstein with a heavy heart, but at least now I promise to include it in all my coming plans to visit  Switzerland. Liechtenstein is Europe’s best hidden secrets and I’m glad that I had the chance to be part of its discovery too.

For more insights from Vaduz and Liechtenstein, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/vaduz-liechtenstein/

Liechtenstein Tourism Office offered me an Adventure Pass to discover the country, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

A little taste of Switzerland: Kreuzlingen

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One of the many things I love about Europe is the easiness to cross the borders. You walk slowly one afternoon and one step ahead you are in a new country without even noticing the change of landscape. A bit later you might hear the sound of a different language, but there is no official barrier that warn you, or even worse, stop you, from moving freely. Shortly upon arrival in Konstanz, we saw close to the entrance in the old city a sign mentioning the exit to a different country, but we were too tired to try another new travel experience after more than 10 hours of driving from Berlin. A bit later in the week, we took a slow walk and we passed on the other side of the border as easy as possible. Gone are the days when a precious visa for Switzerland was obtained after long lines in the front of embassies and lots of documents proving how reliable you are to come back in your far away country. I should appreciate more the present times! With the train from Konstanz, the station Kreuzlingen is only 3 minutes away. In addition, a regular bus is connecting the two countries all round the day.

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Kreuzlingen has a population of around 20,000 people and is the second largest city of the canton Thurgau, in the South-Eastern part of the country. It used to share the same history with the city of Konstanz for a long time, but nowadays, it developed its own German-speaking Swiss identity, as it proved the many local flags hanging out on the balconies and windows of the houses in the old quarter.

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The streets were almost empty, with the exception of some Italian restaurants without too many customers and some outlet stores. With flowers on the streets and a certain quietness that it is specific to many Swiss localities, there is a certain feeling of peace that conquers the first time visitor. Aiming to break a bit what can easily be misunderstood as monotony, the local authorities commissioned young artists various street art projects that can be found in the most unexpected places around the city.

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Before the street art was in fashion, there were the many parks and garden that were took care about by the local authorities. In 1932, the main park was arranged by Fritz Haggenmacher, whose works of gardening were famous especially in Winterthur area. Some of the sculptures were considered offensive by the local mentalities at the time, but resisted the test of time and nowadays are beautifully adorning the public spaces.

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One of the main signs that will show you are in fact in a different country is the architecture, proudly samples of Swiss work: wooden cottages transplanted from the top of the mountains in the middle of the city.

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Hardly meeting too many people, except some lost tourists from Germany like us, we made our way close to the lake, where it looks more animated.

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The promenade was inspiring not only to some eating experiences on the boat, but also to meditation near the lake, using one of the generous pastel coloured seats created there.

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The most animated part was the park though, with people of all ages having their dinner on the grass, children and adults playing together and an impressive number of acrobats choosing to do their exercises in the open air. Lucky me who watched them for minutes, as discretely as possible, trying to catch up at least the understanding of their special art. I did not go that far away to do such practises at home though.

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In a corner of the park, there is a small tower from the top of whom you can have an overall panorama over the lake, with its German and Swiss parts coming together smoothly. I took a short video to remember these beautiful moments. Up on the ground, people kept being busy swimming, playing tennis or chilling out in the sun.

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The lake looked more busy in its Swiss part, with small boats colouring the blue surface. In that moment I had a bit of nostalgia for the beautiful Zurich lake where I used to spend carefree hours, reading on a boat. Time for a return, probably!

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Viewed from Kreuzlingen, Konstanz looked impressively busy and with much more offers for tourists. For the local Swiss people, this city matters as well for its good and affordable prices, many of them preferring to do their basic supplies every week from the German side of the border. Similarly, those living close to the French border, are rather shopping from France, and instead of speaking about ‘Swiss invasion’, as I often heard I would rather appreciate the smart financial planning combined with the luck of living in a world free of borders.

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Near the lake, there were many more temptations for children and their parents: an open air theater, a minigolf and many playgrounds. Together with some joggers and bikers, we went closer to Bodensee Arena, where the local soccer team FC Kreuzlingen is representing the Swiss football since 1905.

If not my journalistic eye ready to spot the most curious details, we would have not notice that we are back to Germany, a red spider-like metal sculpture symbolically outlining the passage. Kreuzlingen might not be a top destination in Switzerland, but it makes you curious to see more and more from this interesting country. Thus, I promise to be back soon!

For more insights from Kreuzlingen, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/kreuzlingen-switzerland/

Island Mainau: the Paradise of Flowers

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Konstanz was a beautiful place to stay, but the travel bug rarely keeps me at the same place for too long. After touring the city more than once and intensively looking for more and more delicious treats, I was still left with enough time for trying something new. Like visiting one of the islands around the city. Once I’d found out about the live garden from Island Mainau, I took the first bus from the train station and in less than 30 minutes I was there. One can chose to enter the island either by foot, passing the bridge with a view over the lake, either by the special bus. Finally lucky with the weather in Germany, we decided for walking, although given so many natural temptations, it will be a bit difficult to stop your children for getting the real taste of the life in the nature.

??????????Up in the sky, an UFO-esque Zeppelin was watching discretely our steps. The hot weather did not discourage tourists from all over the world and ages to join the crowds heading to the island. The entrance ticket, both for the park and the island is 28 Euro/person, but special family prices and discounts are also available. Children under 12 enjoy free entrance.

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The joyful colours of the island charmed us from the very beginning of our excursion. Where the nature was silent or simply discrete, the human hands created matched clothes for the trees, trying to be as spontaneous and diverse in terms of the choice and combination of colours.

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Regardless of the high ability of human hands, nothing compares with the spectacular free work of the nature. The good weather from the South of Germany where the island is located allows a seasonal change of the flowers. For our time slot, predominant were the field natural flowers, with a lot of interesting roses and some exotic flowers brought from abroad. Many of the flowers were used in the old times for medicinal purposes, as the art of homoeopathy, a German creation, developed in this part of the country too.

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Huge works of wooden art are inserted into the landscape, inspiring for meditation and long summer readings, preferably somewhere on the shore with a view over the lake.

??????????While the parents are ,lost in their dreams or thinking about philosophy, the children can enjoy watching the ride of a miniature train running fast near a Lilliputian Alpin landscape. Enjoyable by adults too.

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Nearby, at the mini-farm, one can experience the real animal life, by feeding or by playing with the little ones. I had the initiative to get some food for the goats, but apparently did not inspire too much respect, as one of the ladies jumped on two feet on me and screamed a bit louder for my city ears. Maybe one day will spent some serious life at a farm and will have some real experiences to write about.

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The collection of flowers is so beautiful, that although wanted to carefully notice the exotic Latin names I gave up the scientific approach and focused instead of the first hand experience of the smells and colours.

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When it feels too hot, all you have to do is to get closer to the lake and feel the breeze. The little boats did take a discretion distance from the shore, thus the privacy is not a matter of concern.

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The human hands were present only when needed and taking into account the highest environmental concerns. Nowadays, the island can be considered as an example of good practices in this domain, and an exhibition dedicated to various green policies applied was aimed to increase the public awareness.

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The island belongs to Lennart Bernadotte Foundation, which is in charge with the permanent arrangement of the gardens.

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On the island, there are around 30,000 rose bushes and almost 20,000 dahlias. While the visitors were walking carefree on the alleys, the gardeners were dedicated to keep the maintenance of the garden.

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Although will be curious to pay a visit here on another season of the year, I bet that the full summer is one of the best moment to visit, with so many colourful flowers in mature bloom, under the blue sky and the long sunny days.

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There is nothing stylish in arranging the alleys, as the flowers grew up in a natural environment, looking wild in the eyes of the outsider, but probably following a certain mathematical distribution of beauty. Some of the flowers and plants bear curious names, such as Black Hockrose, Shuffle the deck or Bourbon hybride Cypress, each name being able to tell its own mystery story.

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We went up on the stairs leading to the little hills, almost mesmerized by the combination of deep distances, green grass with patches of colours leading straight into the lake.  Hard to resist the temptation of recording a short video of the ambiance.

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Contrary to an understandable misconception, the passion flower is very blue – without any single trace of red.

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The manicured alleys displayed so many beautiful roses that I was about to dream that I am in a kind of Alice in Wonderland setting up. However, the reality of the varieties of roses was so diverse that it was no need to paint them in various colours.

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From the top of the terrace, the coming and going of people seemed to never end, but it is enough place for everyone.

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The greenhouse was even more crowded, with people admiring the spectacular trees, or just resting outside in the hot air for a coffee or some delicious treats.

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Inside the castle, I visited an exhibition dedicated to – what else but- roses, by Josh Westrich,  after looking at various products made on the island on sale as souvenirs.

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The Castle used to belong to the Teutonic Order, but the secularization ended up this ownership. Bought by Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, in the 18th century, it went through several stylistic transformations, in the Baroque style typical for this part of Germany.

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The Duke brought to the island various exotic fruits and trees, many of them still there, especially the various sorts of citruses.

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Equally spectacular is also the bamboo forest brought from the North of China. An interesting fact is that the bamboo grows up fantastically fast, with a rate of 20-25 cm. the day.

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Another interesting element of the local collection: sequels of petrified wood from Arizona, my first time close encounter with this natural curiosity.

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Overwhelmed by so many new things in only a matter of hours – our stay on the island lasted around 5 hours, but I bet you can easily spend one full day there – we made a tasty stop at the open restaurant Schwedenschenke for a Palmencocktail: a cold mixture of banana, lemon, orange juice, coconut syrup. Very sweet, but with many vitamins and fresh flavours for keeping us energized for the rest of the trip. The restaurant serves the famous Swedish Kottbullar, and many other fish-based meals, but we were too much in a hurry for a longer foodie experience.

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After looking on one of the big maps hanging up on the alleys, we realized that we missed some highlights so returned to the park exploring the area near the 16th century Swedish tower.

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Around the tower, the old vineyard part of the local wine trail were brought to life in the late 1990s, keeping alive a tradition of more than 6 centuries that started with the Teutonic Knights. the vineyard is nowadays part of the restoration and maintenance plan of the original layout of the park, as designed by the Grand Duke of Baden from 1853 on.

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One of the most beautiful place to visit is the Butterflies house, when you can walk with colourful butterflies around you. Since visiting a butterflies farm in the North of Thailand a couple of years ago I did not have such an experience of fragility and beauty at one blink of wings away.

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The butterflies were very friendly, getting closer to the humans, and even resting on the fingers, despite the noise and the high excitement of the visitors.  But what makes the butterflies happier and friendlier are some little pieces of banana or apple on a plate. This is how most of them get closer to humans and allowed to be photographed and even touched.

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In the little pound, the turtles were less dynamic and not easy to move out of their comfort zone at any sweet price.

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On the map and the arrows guiding the visitors to the most interesting spots, the peacocks appeared often, and more than once we were in one of those areas. After not being able to spot any trace of the colourful birds, except some huge scale flower-made ones, we asked one of the gardeners where we can find them. Unfortunately, the answer was the last ones were eaten by the foxes living on the island.

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With only one less accomplishment, and some beautiful hours spent in the paradise of flowers, we paid a last visit to the local shop, selling products made on the island, such as typical sorts of bread, liqueurs and many wines from the local production.

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Konstanz was calling us back, for more travel adventures, this time in Liechtenstein and Switzerland, but the perfumes and images of the island of flowers are still powerful enough to call me back. One day, I promise.

For more insights and images from Island Mainau, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/island-mainau/

Foodie Konstanz

??????????My too short time spent in Konstanz was split between a lot of sightseeing, intensive country hopping and long walks near the shore, but equally some surprising foodie discoveries. Shortly upon arrival, after a 10-hour bus journey from Berlin, we arrived in the historical area, not only curios to know our host city, but also desperately looking for some ‘normal’ food other than sandwiches and bretzels. We decided to stop at Antico Borgo, opposite the famous cathedral where the Konstanz Council started 600 years ago. With the musical company of the street musicians and while observing the slow motion of people taking their evening walk, I ordered some homemade gnocchi with salty gorgonzola sauce (gnocchi a baccio) and a fresh lemonade that fed the thirst. The sauce was a bit salty, but the silky gnocchi were well made and the portion big enough to silence the hunger. Although we preferred to eat outside, there were enough place indoors too, and the place was nicely decorated, with white chairs and big bottles of wine gazing to the visitors from the walls.

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Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for me, and especially when I travel, without a good start I worry for the successful outcome of the rest of the journey. Lucky me that I discovered in the central area, close to the train station, Panno a hip eatery preparing on the spot various sandwiches and serving a very strong coffee. My favourite sandwich was matching the watery spirit of the town: salmon with watercress, horseradish in a tasty sesame bread. I tried once again the lemonade and as in the previous case, I was not disappointed.

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The place is usually crowded, with long lines of people, tourists or locals, waiting for their morning treats. The interior is decorated in a modern way, with long massive wood inviting tables and colourful flowers brought to bring more sweetness to the serious note of the environment.

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After a long journey in the island of flowers, we returned in the city very hungry, but interested in eating something special. On a small street we discovered Radieschen, on the market since the beginning of the 1980s. Eating outside is strongly recommended as the interior doesn’t look very tempting, with worn out furniture and not too attention paid for the interior design. The service was a bit slow, especially given our hunger, but the results were satisfactory. We started with a salad, with olives, radishes (the name of the restaurant), (too many) peppers, followed by an atypical borek, with cheese and apricots filling and coconut crust. 
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The borek dough was smooth, but the big portion needed to be cut with a special knife fit to reach both ends. The combination between Gouda, apricots and coconut was unusual, and sometimes the salt of the cheese was predominant, as the apricots lost their freshness during cooking. The water helped to bring the taste balance back. Overall, it was an interesting choice of dinner.

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Long before we arrived in Konstanz, I made the wish to stop-by at Hotel Halm, one of luxury destinations in town. It was open in 1874, 9 years after the opening of the train station, whom it faces. The predominant style combining classicism and neo-Renaissance turned recently into a more Oriental direction, as it proves the Moorish Hall where we stop for a sweet treat in the evening. The huge hall invites to reflection and meditation, encouraged by the exquisite musical background and the elegant care of the service. in a special ambiance of 1001 Nights.

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In such an overwhelming ambiance of elegance, I felt a bit intimidated, not sure what I want to order from the leather covered menu, but finally made up my mind and decided for a matched exotic combination: almond pancakes with honey soaked in orange water and lemon icecream. Till the treats arrived on a plate matching the wall decorations, I was pleasantly impressed about a very small detail: the water was brought exactly at the room temperature. The coffee was elegant, as strong as I expected. The sweetness of the pancakes was successfully challenged by the combination of fruits at the room temperature a choice that kept them fresh: kiwi, cherries, apricots and oranges and refreshed by the neutral taste of the icecream. It seemed that every single bit was made to experience an explosion of sweet smells and exotic tastes.

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For the farewell dinner, I chose Mato Restaurant, offering mostly minimalist dishes. The couscous with caramelized pecan nuts, a slice of goat cheese and various salad leaves slightly salted and with discrete traces of oil was a good cocktail of moderation. Maybe the couscous, with some small pieces of carrot inside, had a bit too much moisture and the tomato was overcooked,but the overall impression was of a promising idea.

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The service was a bit slow, but the coffee was tasty and energizing. On a side note, it seems that Konstanz is a place where people love to have and know how to prepare some serious good coffees, exactly my kind of humans not easy to find in the old Europe. The pop-art kind of interior decoration was interesting inside, but the furniture for the outdoors was a simple garden type, with colourful cushion to make your stay a bit more comfortable.

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I do have a secret plan to taste as many types of crème brulée as possible and couldn’t waste my time not including this delicious meal on my foodie tasting in Konstanz. This one was with lemongrass and a combination of fresh fruits: raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and Johannisbeeren (the kind of fruits that I will never come along with, given its sourness). The fruits were not cold enough, but tried to taste each of them with a little bit of crème. Most of them matched (except the Johannisbeeren) the cream, inspiring for more foodie ideas for my own culinary experiments.

Konstanz seems so far away right now, but after looking once again to the pictures and trying to remember the tastes, smells and texture of the food, I felt compelled to book a new trip in the new future. I bet there are many more foodie temptations hiding somewhere on the old streets.

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

Konstanz, the Southern Wonderland

??????????From the objective distance of the almost one month that separates me from my first encounter with Konstanz, I keep my initial revelation that this part of Germany is a real wonderland. Once entering the territory of Baden Wurttemberg, the sun kept its presence for longer than a couple of hours and the fields of corn and sunflower are sending a message of abundance and well being. A happy life that can be celebrated with the wine produced by the many vineyards on the hills around Bodensee. As in any serious wonder story, the entrance to this special world is made through a special transportation, in this case a ferry carrying cars and buses from Meersburg to Konstanz and back. When the weather is good, the journey is the first revelation of the wonderful world you are about to step in.

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The following revelation takes place when you start to get in touch with the (old) city: beautiful painted buildings, that used to belong to rich local merchants.

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In the old city, it’s hard to find an area without a special decoration or embelishment that reminds either of the history of the city or various local stories not always known to the superficial short-term visitor.

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The Rosgarten Museum is the main source of information for the more or less recent history of Konstanz. Most explanations are available in German, offering an extensive overview of the architecture, economy, religious history and culture.

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The old city houses either bear names associated with various businesses or the names of the owners themselves. When not, the massive presences are clearly showing the high social status enjoyed by the owners. Another interesting feature of the local architecture is that the various religious reforms changed dramatically the initial destination of the buildings, as many of them were turned from monasteries to living spaces or even restaurants or pubs.

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Although relatively predictable, the old city with its cobbled stones and houses co-existing so close near each other is the place where I spent most part of my time. Here you can find all the fashion shops, many of them displaying local products and restaurants serving various tasty foods (A dedicated foodie post coming up very soon!) Outside the city, a couple of stations away from the central area, there is the industrial area where most of the factories and working places are focused, but there is not too much to see there, except some cheap hotels and hostels where you can stay at a more convenient prices than if located in the central area. Compared to the rest of Germany, the prices are relatively higher, but also the services are much better.

??????????All round the day, but especially late in the evening, the street musicians are carrying out their instruments and move from a part to another creating a special lively ambiance.

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The shore around Bodensee offers quietness and long lanes for biking, jogging or hand-in-hand family walking. The boats are quietly waiting their owners, many of them living on the other side of the border, in Switzerland. From Konstanz to Switzerland, to Kreuzlingen, one can simply walk and one step away he or she is in another country. During the week-end, the Swiss neighbours are promptly ready for their German date – ‘you should come to see the invasion then’, as one bold citizen of Konstanz confessed – either for the cheap shopping or various other opportunities.

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Especially this year, Konstanz has one more reason to attract not only its Swiss neighbours, but people from all over the world: the celebration of 600 years since the beginning of the Council of Konstanz, that in 1418 put an end to a schism that threatened the Catholic Church. The Czech reformer Jan Hus was kindly invited to take part to the sessions in order to explain his position, but ended up being incarcerated and burned to stake here. At the Cathedral where the Council was held regular tours are organized, in addition to some late evening theatre plays and other happenings aimed to outline the cultural and religious heritage of the city.

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The vicinity to Switzerland played in the advantage of Konstanz, that was protected by the intensive bombings during the WWII and thus, it preserved greatly its old heritage, especially the Medieval architecture.

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Konstanz is also proud of being the place of birth of the famous count Zeppelin, the revolutionary aircraft manufacturer whose memory is outlined by a monument on the shore.

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The most spectacular presence in town is the 18-meter statue of Imperia, dominating the shore. A project of the artist Peter Lenk, it was erected in 1993on the private property of a rail company and thus, was safe from the calls of being put down as it might offend the public opinion. Lady Imperia, a well educated courtesan, inspired by the character of a short story of Balzac placed in the city, is holding two men on her hands: Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund who were re conciliated after the Konstanz Council, both represented naked except the signs of power on their heads. The message of the huge statue that turns around is not very pleasant for the high clergy, but otherwise, the grotesque presence turned into one of the main attractions in the city. Its location is situated near the many boat tours around Bodensee, that last around 1-3 hours, running till late in the evening during the summer.

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One of my favourite architectural presences are the painted houses, many of them built around the first half of the 19th century.

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The history painted on their walls either explain episodes related to the religious past of Konstanz, either various other historical sagas. Even though one might not have all the hints of the story, with a bit of imagination, one can easily reconstruct the narrative finding out more messages and understanding. We are in Wonderland, remember?

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Given this special imaginary geography of the place, even the town hall is situated in a special ambiance, with big roots hanging on the walls and a backyard garden with statues and benches where shy bureaucrats are having a chat during the cigarette break.

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I easily fell in love with this place, for what it is and what I wasn’t able to discover during my too short stay. This is one of the many reasons I started my ‘100 Places to See in Germany‘ Project: getting out of my Berlin comfort zone and discovering hidden gems as far away as possible.

For more insights and pictures from Konstanz, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/konstanz/

Golf, Jazz and History in Regensburg

??????????More than 500 km. away from Berlin, the former Roman city of Ratisbon, Regensburg, is just another travel country. Not only people are more welcoming and smiling more often then in most of the place I’ve been before, but there is a certain Italian predominant joyous spirit surprising the first time visitor. My travel day of choice was one of the happiest in the German recent calendar: the final game of the World Cup and early in the afternoon, the streets around the 19th century train station were full of people running fast to be near a TV set when the game started. Add to this the colourful people getting emotional on the streets hours in advance, just because the event was too important to spend the day indoors waiting to have the colourful ambiance of my first hours into the city. One of the gathering point was near the white colonnades of the temple situated in the garden near the Maximilianstreet.

??????????The side streets were quiet though and searching for some silent areas, I stumbled upon the remnants of an old Roman wall. It is only a small part of what used to be once the Castra Regina, built by Marc Aurelius in order to counter the invasion of the German tribes in the Northern part of the Danube.

??????????After checking-in to my far away accommodation at Ibis, I hurried back in town for more discoveries. One of the most pleasant was the diversity of patrician houses, many of them carefully rebuilt. The different architectural styles are part of the different layers of history of the city whose dramatic development started between 12-13th century as part of the increasing role of the Danube in the trade networks in this part of the world.

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The so-called ‘inner city’ offers an interesting and courageous display of various styles, with its simple maze of streets and small shops and art galleries. The common feature is the interest to moderately display a status of well-being.

??????????The tradesmen travelling back and forth brought the Mediterranean inspiration in architecture but also delicious spices and precious metals. Many wealthy merchants remodelled the serious Bavarian world up to their travel memories. The results are eclectic and pleasantly impressive to the eye of the first-time visitor, but I must recognize that more than once I realized how much I need to read more about the more or less recent history of the city. Lucky me to discover at Domplatz the Dom Buchhandlung, where books in various languages about the city are sold.

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The Danube, whose sparkling presence I noticed at the very beginning of my entrance into the city, is the main character of the city. It separated it yet it brings together the specific differences. Watching the sunset while people were getting more and more impatient about who will be the winner of the World Cup was an unique experience: it is like being asked to forget all the worries and problems while getting focused on the beautiful eternal nature. 
??????????Close to the famous stone bridge, part of the UNESCO World Heritage, there is the small 900-year old Sausage Kitchen that used to serve the workers that built the bridge. People were working intensively inside, with a high demand of mustard and sauerkraut for the soccer lovers. Daily, it delivers around 6,000 sausages the day to the hungry customers. Close from it was situated the Fish market, where people used to sold their fresh fish on the stone benches nowadays used to rest. Another benchmark in the area is the Keppler House, where the famous scientists used to live.

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The nature near Danube banks created a little paradise with small islands and quiet corners, but also with bars or biergarden for those interested in more social interaction.

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The stone bridge connects the inner city with the historical Stadtamhof, both part of the UNESCO World Heritage. During ages, Stadtamhof developed a very special Bavarian identity, reflected in the relatively common architecture of the houses and the small streets that remind of the Middle Ages. Its construction lasted 11 years, between 1136 and 1147, and was supported financially by the merchants of Regensburg. As in the many cases of bridges or buildings whose construction lasted too long, various legends appeared in order to explain the delay. In this case, it was said that the devil himself contributed to the construction, that was finished long before that of the cathedral’s.

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I enjoyed spending time in the Stadtamhof but the bubbling historical center called me back. The evening was close, the enthusiastic screams of the dedicated followers of Germany’s adventure in Brazil more frequent, but I continued to wonder at the extraordinary architecture. Another famous landmark is the Goliath House, built in the 13th century. The biblical story was painted in the second half of the 16th century, possibly under the influence of theology students that traveled to the city. From the Middle Ages on, Regensburg/Ratisbon played an important theological role, one of the most outstanding representative being the late pope, Benedict XVI who taught theology here between 1969 and 1977.

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As I am usually a foreigner to the world of soccer, I was lucky to discover that I visited the city at the right time for finding alternative entertainment. Between 10 and 13 July, Regensburg hosted the Bavarian Jazz Festival, featuring various bands and artists from the South of Germany. The old Kohlmarkt, the first Middle Age Market in the city, but also all the small bars hidden between the walls of the interior yards were sending joyous sounds of music. Many people decided to watch the concerts instead, many enjoying the various street food options. Here is a short recording I made of one of the many concerts I attended on this occasion.

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The recent history of the city is equally interesting, as I would discover the next day, when started my travel journey early in the morning. In the old city, the Righteous Among the Nations Oskar Schindler lived between 1945 and 1950. He was praised for his contribution to saving 1,200 Jews, but it seems that in the city of Regensburg, a whole underground of opposition to Nazism was created.

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With so many interesting stories around me, was about the skip my beloved breakfast, but fortunately, I discovered Anna, a friendly coffee hidden in an interior yard in the old city. Basically sending a lot of sorts of bread, it also has some tempting breakfast offers. Mine was a fresh croissant, with banana and mango natural jam and a cup of good cappuccino. The plate was brought with a discrete leaf of mint and some spread of cinnamon, plus a complimentary glass of water. Add to this the smiles of the ladies that served and you have the perfect picture of a very good morning. Newspapers with local and international news were also available for those looking for keeping in touch with our dynamic world through classical paper printed materials.

??????????Back in the travel mood, I spent more time checking local products. One of my favourite is the Einseifer, on the market since the late 18th century, producing home made soaps. Early in the morning, I spotted near the central train station, the baskets shop.

??????????But the most elegant by far is the experienced Hat maker from the Domplatz, making happy men and women in love with head coverings, not only from the German lands, but also from the British royal family or faithful Borsalino lovers. From the same fashion category, my attention was caught by the fashion shop of Lizaa, also available online or the mastery of Paul Leu whose workshop is situated in Stadamhof.

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In the medieval cellars of a patrician house in the inner city a dedicated golf lover collected for every 20 years objects exposed in a Golf Museum. Considered together with the Scottish Golf Museum one of the most important resource for the history and evolution of this noble sport, it presents a variety of items, from putters, balls, costumes, schedules and advertising of competitions.

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Close to the house where the emperor Napoleon lived for a short while, near the Dome, I was successfully tempted to book a short city tour. It lasted 50 minutes and for a price of 8 Euro, plus a coffee at Haus Heuport I was offered an overall introduction to the city. The guided tours are offered in English, Russian, Italian, French and German and it is strongly recommended especially if you plan to spend a limited amount of time.

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Facing the dome, I rested while tasting the Italian temptations of Haus Hauport. It has both a terrace and a very stylish interior yard where I decided to stay against the irregular rain showers. My linguini noodles with chanterelles were consistent, with cherry tomatoes and leek that balanced the too sauce which was milky, but maybe with too much flour. The chanterelle were fresh, with a flesh consistency.

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Continuing the foodie mood, I paid a short visit to the Markthalle, where famous sorts of Bavarian cheese were exposed near Scotland famous whiskeys, French wines and various sorts of fish. For those spending more time in the city, cooking classes held by local chefs can be a good opportunity to spend the stay in a different way.

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After learning so much about the city, I was nostalgic about it before even leaving it. In order to made the ‘good bye’ moment even bitter, I ran to the last priority on my to-do-list: the Thurn and Taxi castle. The descendants of the princely family are still living in part of the castle and preparations for a noble garden party were ongoing in one of the private areas. Guided visits through the castle are taking place at specific dates, but the Treasury Chamber and the Carriage Museum – outlining the  Thurn and Taxi family had a tremendous contribution to the development of postal services across Europe – are available all round the week. The memory of the beautiful jewelery and table services and the interesting histories of the European carriages left the date of return to Regensburg open for the near future.

 

For more images and insights from Regensburg, feel free to check the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/regensburg/