Bookish recommendations of the month

It is quite a long time since the last bookish recommendation, but this time of the year is always very busy with planning, work, holiday cooking and cleaning. Wish it is only a polite excuse for not writing as much as I want…(but don’t worry, I did use my time wisely and there will be a lot of interesting posts coming up).

I rediscovered my passion for short stories recently and I have on my reading list quite a couple of new released books. As travel is always my top priority, I started my reading month with Paris Franz’s Treading Lightly. Travels from Shanghai to Kiev. A historian by background, she introduces a lot of details and information – I didn’t know, for instance, that James Joyce taught English at a Berlitz school, for instance – as part of the stories about her journeys from Latin America to Shanghai, Fiji or Brighton. However, I felt very often that there is too much information and the historical excursus is detrimental to the literary qualities of the writing.

I visited Thailand two years ago, but a return is just a question of time. Preparing the comeback, I had a look at a very serious and interesting book in German about this mysterious country, especially the culture and its history, written by one of the best local experts, Volker Grabowsky. Especially the part dedicated to minorities is fascinating and rarely approaches in modern accounts about the country, including travel writings.

On my priority list for this year I included the improvement of my photo skills. With the help of this very technical and beautifully illustrated book by Hans-Peter Schaub I have a better understanding of the technicalities of photography, as well as of the various technical requirements of different cameras and outdoor contexts. One can learn how to photograph animals, plants or landscape, with or without stative, but also about what’s the right moment of the day to take the best photo of a butterfly, for instance.

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Tilman Birr works as a guide in Berlin and not necessarily doing the job he loves – I really wonder if it is any tour guide who had written a book where he/she is really happy with the task of explaining a city to tourists, as I always thought that it’s at least a cool job to do. After a while, he collected enough material to write a book about this, outlining various differences between Germany’s regions, including when it comes to beer habits, but also with grotesque jokes, introducing historical personages of sinister memory. Bad jokes, I meant. 

Wild, by Cheryl Straw, was waiting for me on the Kindle for a long time and what a delightful reading it is. After a couple of life tragedies and failures, a woman decides ‘to walk alone in the wilderness for eleven hundred miles’, for three months, exploring the Pacific Crest Trail. ‘I’d set out to hike the trail so that I could reflect upon my life, to think about everything that had broken me and make myself whole again’. Without being an experienced hiker, she finds her strength and peace of mind through the hardships of the trail. The journey is more than a tourist exploration or a search of herself though, but a complex experience demanding all her senses and putting on trail her courage and perseverance (‘I knew that if allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed’, and a couple of pages later, the continuation of the thought: ‘Fear begets fear. Power begets power’.). She is not afraid and not foreigner to solitude and loneliness, her permanent companion: ‘Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I rally was’. The beautiful story of hardship and fight is told with passion and force, one more reason to love the book.

Ended up the reading marathon for now, with a beautiful collection of short stories, by Frances Thompson. Travel itself is the best opportunity to tell stories, but don’t expect this book to be a collection of travel stories. The characters and the stories are built around trips and beautiful landscapes. Travel is an impressive source of knowledge and the short stories are occasioned by encounters on the road, observation of nature or desire to go out from the usual daily routine. In most cases, the ending is completely unexpected leaving the reader either surprised or curious to built up by him or herself the rest of the story. The art of the author to create the tensions and lead in a completely unexpected direction is admirable and once the reader is caught into the net of the story telling, it’s hard to accept that the stories are over. Part of the intricate network of impressions, memories and sensations, you are left with food for thought and an insatiable desire to travel the world, because what else is life but a challenging journey? (Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary copy by the author, but the opinions are, as usual, my own)

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Time for new books and with so many free days ahead, I promise to be back soon with fresh new recommendations!

Happy reading everyone!

5 Places to Spend Pesach this year

Pesach or Passover is one of the most important Jewish festivals, celebrating the freedom from more than 200 yeas of slavery in Egypt. Attended by both observant and non-observant Jews, it is a family celebration, when the story of the liberation from slavery (Haggadah) is told around special foods for long hours. This year, it starts on the evening of 14 April and lasts till the 21st in the diaspora and 22 in Israel. 

This holiday requires a lot of special preparations, especially for observant Jews, as for the duration of the holiday any traces of leaven (chometz) should be avoided. As Jews were leaving Egypt in a hurry, there was no time to fully prepare the bread and the restriction against consuming leaven for one week is aimed to remind of those times. On a symbolical level, eating only the crisp biscuit (matzah) instead of the puffy bread is aimed to be an exercise of humility, eliminating arrogance out of the soul. The dietary restrictions differ from a group to another, with the Jews of Oriental origin (Sephardim) having less food interdictions, being allowed to eat, for instance, rice and various types of beans, which might make their menu more rich and interesting. The Moroccan Jews organize at the end of the Pesach the Mimouna, a very joyous celebration with a delicious menu, as well as music and dance. 

Besides the intensive cleaning – wondering why I did not write too often in the last days? – and the need of a long-term planing of the menu, there are also many opportunities to celebrate this week long holiday with family, old and new friends. If you want to offer yourself something special and enjoy a different ambiance, there are much more possibilities nowadays as it used to be a decade ago, due to the constant development of kosher accommodation industry, with many hotels and restaurants ready to answer even the most stringent guests. 

The keyword for a successful Pesach holiday time is planning. The sooner you make a reservation, the better, especially if you plan to travel to Israel. From Europe, be ready to pay for a the two-way ticket more 1,000 Euro if you spontaneously decide to fly this week, and it seems that the prices are raising from an hour to another. As for the full Pesach package – including hotel, food and other activities (including special program for children) there is hard to find anything available right now in the big locations, but writing as soon as possible to the local synagogue or rabbi will help for fast guidance. 

However, if not yet sure where to spend Pesach, here are five suggestions that if not this year, maybe the next year can help you to better plan your holiday time. For more suggestions of restaurants all over the world, here is a comprehensive travel list

1. Israel

What other best place can be better for a full Pesach feeling? Religious or not, you are at the right place. During the holiday, you can see the whole diversity of the country, with people from all over the world easily communicating to each other spontaneously and, why not, inviting you for a party or just for a great glass of wine. From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, from Haifa to Eilat, elegant resorts and museums are ready to welcome guests.

On the occasion of ITB Fair in Berlin, I had the occasion to speak with several companies that introduced me to the interesting and not yet fully explored offer from Eilat, that diversified significantly, especially in the last years, particularly for the observant travellers during Pesach time.

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A lot of special activities are available for different age categories, many of them completely for free during the holidays. My best recommendations are: The Design Museum in Holon, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Haifa Zoo or the Tikotin Museum in Haifa, with an impressive collection of Asian art, or the underground exploration of the City of David in Jerusalem. Otherwise, a walk to the beach in Tel Aviv twice the day is the best free detox you can offer yourself. Image

 

2. New York City

Time for a change? New York City is the right place to forget the too much sober Europe, both in term of diversity and concentration of Pesach activities. Many synagogues and Jewish centers are full time open with special program during the holidays, especially in Brooklyn. Finding reservations for hotel is not easy right now, but don’t worry, very often you can get a lot of help locally, so try to get in touch as soon as possible with people from the area. During the chol hamoed (weekdays between the first and last days of the festival when limited activities are allowed) it’s so much to do in the city: from museums to private exhibition spaces, architecture and walks to the Zoo or parks. Otherwise, don’t forget to pay a discovery visit to Williamsburg that changed a lot in the last years and Flatbush too. Or take your kids to Coney Island for a walk.

Otherwise, there are other places in America where to spend an unforgettable kosher l’Pesach holidays among which: Los Angeles, Florida, Miami, Philadelphia and Boston. Would not say no to ‘New Orleans’ either.

On the other side of the border, think seriously about Québec and Montréal.

3. Antwerp

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I instantly fell in love with Antwerp during my last year trip and would love to be back as soon as possible to test more kosher restaurants. The city has a special charm and many old Jewish communities found here refuge after the war. Hence, the diversity of Jewish learning and activities offered here during the holiday. Careful travellers made the reservation for a full holiday in a kosher all inclusive hotel months in advance and not too many places are left. But otherwise, it’s easy to find a reservation in an average hotel and eventually get your kosher breakfast.

4. London

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I haven’t been in London for a while, and I am missing the city dearly. Right now, I can imagine the rush from Northern London, with people hurrying up to finish last preparations of the menus and welcoming friends and relatives from abroad. Besides Paris (which right now is unfortunately an unsafe place for Jews) London has the exquisite selection of gourmet kosher restaurants in Europe and nice welcoming small hotels, many of them situated closed to synagogues. London and Golders Green in general is child-friendly too and one can consider a lot of interesting activities among which, visiting the Aquarium, Kew Gardens, or many of the museums. It is never enough time to fully explore this beautiful city.

Another great option for spending an unforgettable seder in the UK is Manchester, where the famous Gateshead yeshiva is located. From there, driving to the beautiful Lake District is a great family.

5. Nepal

The biggest sederPesach meal – in the world, with more than 1,000 attendees (even 2,000 in some years) is held in Kathmandu. I am adventurous enough to dream that one day, will do it. And ‘if you will it, it is no dream’, isn’t it? Most participants are Israeli backpackers spending time in India so expect a very lively ambiance. 

If still in the rush and not enough time and money for a far away travel, other recommendations for your Pesach are: Milan, the Swiss mountains, Strasbourg. If planning to visit Central and Eastern Europe, the Jewish communities from Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow from Poland are getting ready for the hag – the holiday, as it does King Solomon restaurant in the middle of the Jewish quarter in Prague. For Germany, most Jewish travellers are going especially to Berlin and Munich.  

A Happy and Kosher Holiday Everyone!/Hag kosher v’sameah!

Leipzig, the Book City

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I always wanted to visit the Leipzig Book Fair, even before I wanted to visit the similar fair in Frankfurt, inspired by stories of my friends from the publishing industry that recommended this event as one of the most important for signing new contracts and getting in touch with the latest trends of the huge German book market. I visited Leipzig several times in the last months, and I enjoyed the special vibe of the city so, why not a new travel experience? This time, it was early spring and my to-do-list besides the fair was relatively short, allowing me enough time to walk the streets, especially Nikolaistrasse, with the many hidden gems of architecture and Art Deco decorations. Compared with my other visits, the city was more full of tourists than usual, many asking about directions or trying to get some more sights of the city before the beginning of the fair.

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It seems that in the spring, the city is prettier than ever, with a lot of coffees opened early in the morning, inviting for one more cup before leaving. If not, hanging out in the sun, isn’t such a bad idea either.

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My first destination on the list: the Museum of Contemporary Arts, with its huge spaces and long journey in the world of arts, specifically German and Leipzig/Saxony based. There were many post-war violent and depressive paintings, but also a pop-art exhibition and nature paintings by Claude Monet, Camille Corot or Theodore Rousseau. A TV team from the North of Germany was busy taking interviews. For the weekend, the museum was ready to host too several events connected to the Book Fair.

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Out on the streets, the life was getting easy, and shortly before noon, it was a big challenge finding a good sunny place outside.

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The weather was encouraging me to walk more, and thus I arrived to the new City Hall building. Inaugurated in 1905, it looks as a little Saxonian castle, its mysterious shape being probably the reason why it was featured in Hitchock’s The Turn Curtain.

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With flowers in full bloom, and so much green around, I walk for half an hour in the parks on both sides of Friedrich Ebert and Simsonplatz. And I was not alone, as many children and students, are enjoying the silent walks too.

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Leipzig was also called ‘Heldenstadt’/’The city of heroes’, for its strong contribution to definitively shaking the DDR communist regime in 1989. Almost completely destroyed after the war and thereafter redesigned according to the demands of communist architecture, it succeeded to keep a certain unitary style, that after the fall of communism, integrated modern architecture.

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The building of the 600-year old University is such an architectural example. Since its creation, in 1409, it received different influences and extended permanently to accommodate the increasing number of students and academic specialities. It is a space of historical remembrance and learning, but also of joyous student discussions and readings. It is anything that doesn’t refer to books this days? Hardly anything!

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Before arriving to the Fair, I spotted from the tram the Jewish cemeteries and decided to stop and have a look. The Jewish presence in Leipzig, famous for its trade, was recorded since the 12 th century, but was officially allowed only mid-19th century. In 1935, there were 11,564 Jews living in Leipzig, but at the end of the war only 15 were left. Nowadays, the Jewish community is having a new revival, with a Lauder educational system for children, limited kosher supervision and a mikveh (ritual bath for women) since 2006.

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Here I am, at the Leipzig Book Fair. A mass of people, many of them children brought with their class for the day, even from Berlin, is heading to the glass and steel huge building of the Exhibition space.

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As for me, I need to wait a couple of minutes more till I enter, as I should get my media accreditation, in a building a bit far away from the main exhibition hall. The registration process is going awesomely fast and I’m done in a couple of minutes. On the way to the press center, I admire the creative architecture, where nature is elegantly integrated into the seriousness of the building.

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Surprisingly, I enter the colourful Manga world first. Manga culture is very popular in Germany, and due to the high demand for such products, the organizers of the Leipziger Buchmesse decided to create a special section for the entire duration of the fair. I am part of a historical event, it seems, participating to the first Manga Convention. I can’t have enough looking at the colourful costumes and wigs, but also watching the artists drawing live or taking part to discussions about fashion and manga lifestyle.

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On the other side of the fair, there is the world of books waiting. There is hardly any area of book publishing not covered. From school handbooks to children books – what can be lovelier than watching little children listening to book readings?  - novels and audio-books, everything is there. Compared to Frankfurt, the editions house are keen to sell books, many at extremely affordable prices. Lectures are organized everywhere, and there is not easy to find a free place, even minutes before the beginning of the discussion. And this is only the first time, as more and more bookish discussions are waited in the next days. Besides the publishing industry as such, the fair also includes sections dedicated to illustrators and design school from all over Germany where many book designers study. There is even an old printing press who is put into motion for the curious ones who grew up with the digital printing press. From the early age of the printing history, Leipzig was one of the most important centers.

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The book fairs are also offering opportunities for country branding. This year, Switzerland was guest of honour, presenting to the German public a unitary message integrating language, culture and nature as part of the identity. Finland, guest of honour at Frankfurt, launched his Finnland.Cool satellite program covering the entire German space, introducing a variety of events: book presentations, comics from Finland, lectures, dance, theatre, fashion and design.

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Hours later, it’s time to say ‘good-bye’. I bought a couple of books and had some interesting chats, but more importantly, I had a better picture of the German book market and its huge potential. A serious reason to read more, as the best opportunity to improve my German language skills. Looking at the monumental rose in the front of the main entrance, made by Iza Genzken, I conclude that maybe everything is ephemeral, but at least the learning we have from books is what make us really rich (besides travels). The way back I travel together with thousand of other visitors, on packed trams, that even though scheduled every 10 minutes, still cannot face the huge number of people.

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For the evening, the bookish mood is moving to the city. The bookstores are preparing for the late discussions, the streets are resonating in all the possible languages of the earth and the restaurants are full. Trying to take the full advantage of the spring, I take a place outside and wait for my Indian Finger Foods on Nikolaistrasse, a small boutique restaurant. I waited a little bit more than I expected, but the spicy samosas and the delicious fish pakora are mouth watering. Too tired to go anywhere before driving back to Berlin, I enjoy my time people watching. It is a different Leipzig I see around and I am happy that I finally made it to the Buchmesse. Because of time constraints, I don’t have enough time to know a city, but in this case, I had seen many of its different faces. Maybe the next year will visit Leipzig again. I am sure I will see a different face.

 

For more insights about Leipzig and my previous trips, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest bord: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/leipzig/

Flaneur in Munich

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I’ve been several times to Munich, for different reasons. This time, I am back in Bavaria for attending the Internet World Fair, but also for checking the latest galleries and interesting places. After seven hours of driving from the capital city, the main negative comparison used by the Bavarians for outlining their special identity, I make my way to the city, via Karlsplatz, trying to find my hotel Der Blauer Bock, where I am offered a complimentary one-night accommodation. Image

The weather is gorgeous and I am happy to be back in Marienplatz, one of the most important meeting point in town and the no.1 attraction of tourists from all over the world.Image

I am also happy to see again the new synagogue, ‘Ohel Jacob’ (‘Tent of Jacob’), an interesting construction inaugurated in 2006.Image

After a short check of my hotel, I am ready to spend the rest of the day exploring Munich. I start with Schrannenhalle, on the other side of the street, where I can find almost everything I dream about in terms of quality cheese, wines, spices and fresh fruits.Image

In the immediate neighborhoud, another foodie temptation: Viktualienmarkt, with fresh products and another fine selection of French cheese, wines and chocolate. The sunny weather sent the reunion call to the beer lovers that took their places on the long benches in the front of a fresh cold big glass of beer. Vendors from all over the world are ready to tell their stories to anyone interested to heard about how, for instance, they arrived in Munich from Kosovo.Image

As for me, I am curious to explore for the next hour the Toys museum/Spielzeugmuseum, in the tower close to Marienplatz, presenting different toys and games from different generations of children.Image

Back to Marienplatz, I make a short tour of the iconic city hall. Guided tour are periodically organized, but this time, I only want to walk by. Close to one of the entrances, I stop for a while to a 17th century old bookstore, Lentner. Image

From there on, I slowly walk, with elegant shops on both sides of the street and chic people. One of my persistent memories about Munich is about a lot of music coming up from every corner. Last time, Odeon Square was set up for an open air opera show. This time, there were only noisy teenagers hanging around after school.Image

Bavaria is also associated with the car industry, and big BMW and Mercedes Benz shops are showing off the industrial local power. Not ready to buy a German car, I rather prefer to walk along the English garden, that reminds me a bit of Tuilleries. The benches are full of people enjoying the spring, chatting about life, relationships, happy news or simply knitting or solving a complicated Sudoku problem. The fresh wind can definitely help towards a solution.Image

The trompe d’oeil of Munich Residence, used as headquarters by dukes, electors and kings of Bavaria between 1508-1918 is about to close the exhibition spaces. As it’s getting darker and a bit colder, I focus to visit more galleries and design shops: Ralph Taut combines modern and vintage interior design style; the Kunst Salon Frank-Schenk about to celebrate 100 years, presenting among others, a beautiful Renoir; the colourful cashmere shawls from Surjit and Singh; the modern Gallery Turnius, displaying besides a huge Donald Duck, also works by Gerhard Richter and Roy Lichtenstein; or the fancy clothes by Fietze K. Image

Ready to taste the exquisite menu waiting for me at my hotel, I limit my gourmet explorations to only some tasting at Maelu: a couple of beautiful and equally tasty macarons (rose, passion fruit, chocolate and mango, cinnamon) and a cappuccino made of coffee Vergnano, a first class coffee produced in Europe since 1882. Image

The new day starts with a long stay at the World Internet Messe, where I arrive with a blue-and-white subway. This colour combination is representative for Bavaria, especially for Munich. It goes fast, with special trains scheduled especially on the occasion of the fair.Image

The exhibition area is situated in an ambiance redesigned in modern style, with spectacular art works raising up from the middle of the water. Swans and wild ducks were adding more motion to the modernist landscape. Image

Once the business part of my day is over, I am happy to be back in town, for more discoveries, of very diverse kind: the Antiquity shops around the city hall area, the Persepolis carpet gallery, classical prints from Gallery Gronert, the wood works by Christoph Leuner at Kunst-Handwerk. Last but not least, some gorgeous pairs of shoes made of chocolate, at Samma-Samma. Image

Slowly but firmly, I am back again in Viktualienmarkt, for more views of local products or just walking without a clear aim. Image

Trying to follow my plan of discovering new galleries, I’ve found Filser Graef Gallery, with interesting young designers works and Gallery Hegemann, at the time running an exhibition of wood and pop art.Image

When I look around, there is an overwhelming presence of traditional costumes, many of them currently used as part of the daily outfits of many middle-class citizens of Munich. There is a certain fascination with old times that I should think more about.Image

I’ve been to Thai restaurant Yum 2 Stay during my last trip, and I don’t see any reason why I should not have another delicious Pad Thai here again. The service is awesomely fast, the food good and I enjoy my meal outdoors, surrounded by young people talking about e-commerce and marketing and human resources. Not bad to bee in Munich!Image

Time to pack and say ‘good bye’ to Bavaria for now. But South of Germany should appear more often on my travel agenda in the next month. 

For more visual insights about Munich, have a look at my dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/munich/

Hotel and Restaurant Review: Der Blauer Bock, Munich

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I don’t visit the South of Germany very often, but every time I do I try to make a short visit to Munich too. This time, I am going only to Munich, on the occasion of Internet World Fair and I am more than pleased to discover new things in the city. The adventure starts with my stay at the Blauer Bock, that celebrates this year 200 years of tradition in the hosting industry, that offered me a complimentary stay. The glorious past of the 400-year old building are discretely reminded to the visitor, through the documents hanging on the walls of the lobby leading to my room.

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The premium double room I was offered has a view on the Munich foodie paradise, Viktualenmark that I will visit late in the afternoon. The hotel is centrally situated, very close to the new synagogue and around 15 minutes by foot from the historical city hall. The room is simply decorated, in white-beige colours. Although the furniture doesn’t include a big desk where I can set my own working space, the beige leather chairs are comfy enough for doing a little bit of work before doing my program in the city. 

The room is provided with a safe and a closet and a relatively big lobby where bigger luggage can be stored.  

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A bottle of Adelholzener mineral water, produced in the Bavarian Alps, and a small ‘kugel’ cake is waiting for me. The room doesn’t have mini bar but various beverages can be purchased from the reception desk. The wifi is free and 2 iPads can be rented for free. The restroom is small, provided with various facilities. You can also buy your own shaving or sewing set at the reception.

Black-and-white paintings of iconic corners of Munich inspire the visitor to start the journey through the city as soon as possible.

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The centrality of the location doesn’t bring the usual noise associated with high traffic and after a long day of travel, I can easily sleep a bit later in the morning, at an hour when usually most of the active inhabitants are ready to head for their offices. But I don’t hear anything. 

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At the time of my visit, part of the hotel was going through another restoration process that might be ready in the next weeks. The hundred years of history are not always easy to accommodate to the high-standards of hotellerie of the 21st century, but creativity can always bring something new and interesting. The elevators are by far one of the most modernist part of the building, with neon lights changing regularly.

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In the evening, I am inviting to taste the gourmet menu, prepared by the famous local chef Hans-Jörg Bachmeier, who also authored many cooking books. The seasonal menu is changed almost every two weeks and very often the chef himself chose the ingredients from the markets nearby. The restaurant is very different from the rest of the hotel, as it has a different style and a very intimate ambiance.

The service goes very fast, in English and German. The restaurant has regular customers not only among the hotel residents, but also those working nearby that prefer to have a healthy and special meal during the lunch break. We are in Munich, where people are more careful about style and high-end taste, especially in food.

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Till my first meal is brought, I am tempted with some local fresh breads with butter, a very delicious and crispy introduction to the rest of the foodie evening. 

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Without acknowledging, I am ready to begin real gourmet adventure, that starts with goat’s cheese with various sort of fresh red beets and lemon foam. It is served cold and achieved a mysterious alchemy, when all the individual tastes are melted together to create an unexpected tasty surprise. I wish I can eat only this for the rest of my lunches!

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But it seems that moderation is the keyword of the menu: you should taste enough for both your hunger and gourmet needs, but no more. After a short break, a delicious turbot consommé with veggies is brought. It is hot, maybe a bit too salty for my taste, but good enough to make me curious about what will be next. 

 

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For the main course, I opted for a dorade with sauce bouillabaisse. Every bit is as seasoned as it should be, nothing more nothing less. From time to time, I take a break to scribble my impressions, enjoying the view: modern paintings on the walls, nice and pleasant colours of the furniture and chairs comfy enough to spend some good hours here.

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Crème brulée was not on my menu for a long time, but it seems that since this January, I am trying to catch up and I am tasting as many recipes as possible. Mine was a relatively unusual combination for me: with apple sorbet that balances the sweetness of the cream. My initial scepticism was battled by the exquisite results I experience. At the end of the menu, I have the good feeling of not feeling hungry any more but not necessarily ‘full’ either. This is how one should feel after a really good eating.

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A good night after a lot of walking and work the day before, enjoying the comfy mattresses of my room continued with a special breakfast. Probably one of the best in a long time, as it serves a carefully selected menu: many veggies and fresh fruits, a selection of cheeses, breads and pastries and coffees. The veggies are regional products bought directly from the markets nearby, as in the case of the restaurant menu.

While reading the latest news from the local newspapers offered I am ready for my fully schedule. 

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At the hotel reception, there are a lot of branded souvenirs that can be bought, but also some of the cooking books authored by the chef Hans Jörg Bachmeier.

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Late in the afternoon, I am going to a full tour of the location, learning more about the history and the design concept. The 3-star hotel has 69 rooms of different categories, all of them non-smoking. Most of the rooms suit the requirements of families, and during the summer special family prices are offered. Some of the rooms even allow the children to have their own room. In most cases, pets are also allowed. The summer and the month of October are the usually the busiest one, with most visitors coming from Germany, Austria or Switzerland, but also the US.

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The hotel has 5 rooms with shared shower and restrooms, offered at 57 EUR/night, including breakfast. All rooms have old keys, keeping the flavour of the old inn days. 

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The dimensions of the room vary from 25 to 85 sqm. There are two main design colour choices: the white-beige light and the cherry. The last one is by far, one of my favourite, with the rooms keeping a certain home ambiance. 

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The cherry rooms also have a little gidéon that can be easily used as a working office, and a big closet that can accommodate longer stays.

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The name of the hotel can be translated in English as ‘The blue buck’. In the old times not everyone was able to read, a certain symbol associated with a inn was enough to single out the destination in the local memory of the inhabitants. The image of the ‘blue bock’ still can be found in some rooms and at the entrance reminds the old history. Small details from the old building are still kept and creates a historical branding of the location. 

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Munich is a very busy city and is not easy to find a good parking place, especially if you are visiting. The hotel offers 17 parking places to the guests. For those ‘eco’ oriented, bikes are available for 9 Eur/day. 

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Another historical detail of the location: the old parquet in the lobby, well preserved.

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At the reception, most of the furniture and decorations are from the old times. This table, for instance, has the white-and-blue specific colours of Bavaria.

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For the late busy evenings, there is also the bar, with a fine selection of wines and cocktails. 

As I am ready to leave for returning to Berlin, I am happy to be offered a new and interesting side of Munich, and some local history and a good meal contributed significantly to this new experience. Maybe it is about time to visit more often this part of Germany.

 

Disclaimer: I was offered a Premium Double room and a gourmet menu on complimentary basis at the hotel, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

For more insights about Der Blauer Bock Hotel and Restaurant, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/hotel-and-restaurant-blauer-bock-munich/

At SteinTherme Bad Belzig

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After years of suffering because of the winter, this January I was brave enough to spend a full day of travel in Bad Belzig. In just a couple of hours I saw almost everything, from the old houses to the art hidden in the woods, but also the Steintherme/Stone Spa, a place of wellness and health, one of the newest in Brandenburg. One month after, I was back, this time for an exclusive tour of the thermal baths. Now, I was fully enjoying the walk from the central station, in the middle of the nature ready for the spring.

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As I was told later in the day, the area around the thermal baths is the usual meeting point for breaks before and after treatment or for a little bit of relaxation. The therm doesn’t have a hotel on its own – this might be a plan for the future – but those interested to a longer stay are guided to various accommodation facilities available in Bad Belzig. The local parking capacity has around 200 places, and there are projects to build soon special facilities for caravans. 

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The regular visitors of Steintherme are from Germany, especially the area around Berlin, Brandenburg and Sachsen-Anhalt. Close to both Berlin and Leipzig, it also attracts tourists from Poland or Czech Republic. The big interest from the part of the German public is due to various local legal regulations, according to which it is possible to get a special thermal treatment every 3 year, with 50% paid by the health insurance. As usual, all those details of the local health system don’t stop surprising me. Image

Few more steps and I am once again around the big wooden igloo that covers around 5,000 sqm. This time, I am too early and no one dared yet to swim outside. But the waters are always hot enough to encourage a special thermal adventure, as I already noticed during my first visit not too many bothered to swim in a snowy landscape. Shortly after 10 o’clock, more and more people, of all ages were arriving, quietly waiting in line to get in. Before the official opening, there are limited programs for baby swimming. The usual program from Sunday to Thursday is from 10am to 10pm, and from Friday to Saturday, from 10am to 11pm. Regularly, there are special offers the last Friday of the month, or on other occasions. Without special discounts the prices look very cheap anyway. Image

Inside the igloo, there is steamy warm. At the beginning of the new day, everything looks clean and ready to welcome the guests. My overall impression of the place is that although the design might not be according to the highest luxury standards, there is a lot of space that creates comfort and privacy. As not few of the persons visiting the Steintherme are looking for special medical treatments, the program suits a variety of needs. For instance, Nordic Aqua Walks, Aqua Zumba, Aqua rides. The geothermal brine is beneficial to the blood circulation, to disfunctionalities of the muscular apparatus, nervous exhaustion and cardiovascular disorders. For the weekend, there are more therapists available for special guidance and support.Image

Besides the various spas and treatment areas, the Siberian Banja is one of the most wanted. It can also be rented privately, for groups of maximum 8 persons. Image

Otherwise, there are enough temptations for the average visitor. Around 8 spaces for saunas, a hamam – mixed – herbal baths, hot stones treatment. Nearby, spaces for shower and big lockers to safely leave your luggage for the rest of the day. Even though it looks as there will be always enough space for more people, the representatives of Steintherme recommend a reservation at least 2 weeks in advance.  

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The special massage and wellness spaces have name of precious stones. The decorations are minimal, but the colours of the walls, inspired but the assigned stone name, can make a difference. The health needs are combined with the daily aesthetic needs: a gym space, but also a manicure and cosmetics area. The cosmetic products used are produced by Dr. Spiller professional skin care items produced by a laboratory in the Bavarian Alps. The geothermal brine is also recommended for its cosmetic and dermatological effects. 

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Another strong point of the Steintherme is the sound and light room, where special lights and sounds are aimed to bring relaxation and balance after hard work or daily stress. After so much effort and intensive treatments, the guests can taste the foods made at the local restaurant, whose one of the specialities is cooking directly on hot stones. From my last visit, a small shop was opened offering bath suits and other items needed for some good hours of wellness.  Image

After spending so much time in the wellness universe, I continue my well-being mood taking a little walk in the nature. Earlier in the day, I was told that mushroom picking is another popular activity in the area and I am almost ready to bet that such campester temptations will bring me back here one day. Maybe then I will also be able to take the full advantage of the wellness experts from SteinTherme Bad Belzig. 

For more pictures from Bad Belzig, check my Pinterest dedicated board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/bad-belzig/

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

Good bye, ITB!

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Final day of the ITB Berlin 2014 today. As we had a relatively busy schedule in the morning, we arrived after 13.00. A busy time, but in one hour, some of the boots were already packed and empty. At the Deutsche Bahn, many competitions and discounts were offered. I had a stop at the machine, discretely bought a ticket to Bielefeld and joined the group. I deserve a little souvenir from the ITB, isn’t it?

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I left Berlin and Brandenburg on purpose for the last day. Most of the area was already covered anyway, part of my ’100 Places to See in Germany’, but still I missed 2-3 things that I would include in some new trips soon. 

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As this year there are 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are some branding events preparing the celebrations, outlined at the ITB as well.

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As in the last years, Poland was assigned an entire area, covering various destinations and regions. A bit hungry, we admired the century-old tradition from Fawor pastry shop, originally from Poznan.

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Dear Switzerland, I know I am a little traitor, but promise to finally come back at the end of the year! For now, just a short hello from Berlin! In the neighbourhood, Lichtenstein, a country on my European list for the next months, was offering various sorts of wines for tasting.

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Time to relax in the rhythm of the dance and music from Maldives. I’m not that hard to convince for a new trip, anyway.

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An European intermezzo, visiting the offer of tourism from Romania, rather modest, but with many private tour operators covering various regions of the country. None really convinced me to pack and go there. 

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Back to India, people were waiting in line for some Henna paintings. There were easy and fast models, not compared with the usual Henna decorations I love so much at the Moroccan or Indian weddings, but still an interesting cultural experience. 

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The last shows were about to begin in other Indian areas as well, but people were relatively tired after a lot of intensive work done this week. India is a favourite destination of tourists from all over the world. 

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I did not pay too much attention to Latin America, but returned again today for another tour, trying to see more offers and eventually think about what can I visit in the near future.

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At all the previous fairs, I visited several times the Asian area, and this year was no different. As I was too late today, most of the boots were already empty. Korea was offering a funny good bye show, of robots moving in the rhythm of music. 

With such good vibes, I am ready for new travel adventures and a lot of new destinations to write about!

Good bye, ITB Berlin and thank you for the inspiration!