WILDTHG TRAVEL

Day Trip to Mount Rigi from Zürich – The Perfect Natural Escape

by , on
Oct 17, 2018

Feeling cooped up with city life, or simply craving some crisp mountain air? Mount Rigi is the perfect getaway that you can do in one day (or even just a morning/afternoon), and without any special planning or gear. Trains from Zürich HB leave every hour straight to Arth Goldau station, from where the Rigi train departs. Ride the tiny blue train for about 40 minutes uphill at a snail pace, taking in some truly gorgeous views on the way up.

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Idyllic houses overlooking picturesque valleys

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Swiss life is the good life

I decided on a whim to visit Mount Rigi one afternoon and took the 2:09PM train from Züruch HB, so I arrived at the end station (Rigi Kulm) just before 4PM. This gave me a few hours to walk around the small peak grassy area and take in the stunning panoramic views of the hills and lakes below, and alpine peaks in the background, before sunset around 6:30PM (in October).

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You can even choose your desired difficulty – “the steep” path or “the comfy path” of the route to the top (it’s really quite a short walk) 

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There always seems to be someone parasailing in Switzerland!!

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The views that greet you as soon as you reach the top of Rigi Kulm are breathtaking – this is just one angle!

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The perfect place to ponder the meaning of life

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note that Swiss sheep also wear bells – definitely adds to the ambiance up here

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View over magical valleys

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I could sit up here all day

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Can you imagine living here?!

At the top of Rigi Kulm there is a full restaurant that is part of a hotel and it seems to serve proper hot meals all day (it was closed by the time we went but again, it was close to 6PM) – but you can still buy sandwiches, chips, drinks and snacks. We sat on the outdoor patio built like a jetty to jut out over the hill with a beautiful view of the mountains and facing the setting sun.

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After having a snack, we made our way down past the wooden lounge chairs to the edge of the fence to witness the stunning golden glow of a magical sunset.

 

I took this opportunity to test out a few different DSLR settings, but because I struggle with technology, I think some of my iPhone pics might have turned out better – I’ll let you be the judge of that.

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Talk about location goals

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No photo could ever possibly capture the beauty of these colors

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The last rays of the setting sun were hot magenta pink – and magical clouds formed to the right and were illuminated bright pink then deep purple after the sun went down

The views from up here – and the sunset – are things I could never ever get sick of and it makes me think twice about city life. This is a perfect place to getaway from the hustle and bustle for a bit, even just for a few hours. Take your mind off things, breathe some fresh mountain air and let your soul drink in the beauty of this amazing planet. If you want to make it a longer trip, even for several days, there are several hotels in the area and plenty of daytime activities to keep you and your family busy!

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Golden hour at Mount Rigi

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A sky on fire 

There are several trains down for those of you that wish to catch the sunset (highly recommended if you’re already there during the afternoon!!!) I took the 7:00PM train, which sadly no longer connects directly to Arth Goldau, so the way back to Zürich HB involves two middle of nowhere bus connections and then a train, but as with all trips in Switzerland – my recommendation is to simply trust the SBB app to plan your trip, and make sure you have decent phone battery on the way down!

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Last glimpse of the molten-lava sun as it dipped beneath the skyline

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PSA: You can buy flaming beer that’s bigger than your head at this restaurant in Switzerland

by , on
Oct 10, 2018

Simply out of the goodness of my own heart (and because you need to know this, obviously), I wish to hereby make it known that you can actually buy flaming yes, flaming beer in Zürich.

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Not only is the beer on FIRE, it’s also larger than the average human head (care to drown away your sorrows, anyone…? quite literally).

You can order “Bier Flambé” (supposedly formerly called “Eidgenoss”) at Zeughauskeller, a restaurant in downtown Zürich that is a converted armory from long ago. The interior of the restaurant is reminiscent of Hofbrauhaus München, with long wooden picnic bench tables and a very lively buzz amongst the crowd, which still hadn’t died down whatsoever by 10PM on Monday night! The building’s eclectic decor is rounded out by some ancient-looking suits of armor and medieval weapons that complete the aesthetic.

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Zeughauskeller entrance (there are two) 

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The menu explains a bit of history so you can learn while you wait… or drink!

 

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Pro tip: book online in advance to avoid insane queues:

The restaurant has made its way onto tourists’ must-see bucket list, so book a reservation on the restaurant’s website directly to avoid queuing forever and possibly not getting a spot for dinner. Someone waiting in line behind us mentioned that their hotel had called for them and was informed that making reservations is impossible – this is not in fact that case as I successfully made one online (it is in German, mind you) and after telling the host my name, was soon shown to a table.

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Now, down to the important stuff (THE FLAMING BEER!)

Once you have ordered the Bier Flambé, it will be obvious when they bring it to you on the serving cart simply by the sheer size of the glasses (goblets?). You may want to have your (video)camera at the ready, because the preparation is quick but memorable. You will likely catch the attention of nearby diners surprised by the show, as we were because it didn’t seem many people knew about this option and most everyone around us seemed to have ordered the house beer special, which while I am sure is delicious, is far less exciting (and alcoholic).

IMG_1677Step 1: Pour in some sort of cognac/brandy (several shots worth, mind you – the picture doesn’t represent the real size of these fishbowls)

Step 2: FIRE. Light the alcohol on fire and your waiter/waitress will swirl the bright blue flames around for a few seconds before it’s beer time – this moment makes for fun photos and surprised onlookers!

Step 3: Douse the flames with a big bottle of house beer

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Now, these babies are all yours to enjoy / try to swim your way to the bottom of by the time you’re also finished with a huge meal of (likely, sausage and potatoes – because why else would you go to Zeughauskeller in the first place).

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The food at Zeughauskeller is traditional Swiss German fare and very delicious! I recommend trying a dish that at least includes sausage, as they are famous for the many varieties served here, as well as their house potato salad.

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Between two of us, we ordered and shared the special of the month, which included one type of sausage and potato salad, and the “Zeughauskeller Wurstspiess,” #222 on the above menu, which serves a variety of sausages (of the house) on a kebab stick alongside a few pieces of bell pepper and of course, potato salad. The heavy food actually proves quite helpful in soaking up what turns out to be a surprising amount of beer (and straight alcohol at the bottom of your glass).

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I’ve met my match. 

This place (like many in Switzerland generally) is not cheap – you can get a feel for the prices above, and this special beer costs nearly 16 CHF… but, I would argue that it is both worth it and the equivalent of having several normal, cheaper beers anyway.

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Visit Zeughauskeller for the experience and don’t miss the BIER FLAMBÉ – you won’t regret it (though your body might) – these memories last a lifetime.

Gelmersee: the Lake Louise of Switzerland

by , on
Oct 9, 2018

Any chance you’ve recently drooled over pictures of Canada’s Banff National Park? For very good reason; the stunning turquoise of the glacial lakes, like Lake Louise, is enough to make me want to go right now. Well, I can interestingly say that I’ve found the lake’s European TWIN, in Switzerland! Let me convince you of the likeness with a couple (ok, a TON) of photos.

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Mid-morning at Gelmersee in October 

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IMG_1531.JPGGelmersee is a hydroelectric reservoir held by a dam that was constructed in 1932. The “lake” can be reached by taking the Gelmerbahn, a ride of duration 8-10 minutes with a maximum inclination of 106%! According to a map posted at the lake’s entrance, it can also be reached by foot via a hiking trail (in red, below). One can also continue hiking further upwards to reach the Gelmerhütte, a lookout point above the lake.

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Crisp autumn morning with touches of early snow

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The lake radiates a vibrant turquoise when the sunlight hits the water

Gelmersee is an excellent place for a quiet hike and to enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of the glacial water. There is a hiking trail around the entire lake, which takes about two full hours to complete with some stops. If you plan to take 3489283 photos like I did or want extra time to sit and enjoy the views every once and a while, maybe have a picnic halfway on one of the large flat rocks that are perfect for sitting and relaxing, it would be best to allow several hours up at the lake. It is important to plan your visit ahead because there is limited space on the Gelmerbahn and tickets sell out, especially in summer and during nice weather. Read more here about how to plan your trip and riding the Gelmerbahn. 

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Starting the hike around Gelmersee – The trail is quite rocky in places and narrow in others (at one point, there is a rope to hang on to for extra balance and security), so it is recommended to bring sturdy walking/hiking shoes with good soles and be relatively sure-footed if you plan to do the whole hike. It is relatively flat, so not very strenuous.

For me, this little piece of the world is a slice of heaven on earth, and I could honestly happily stay here for hours and hours and hours, hiking around the lake again and again, staring into the turquoise water and pondering my existence… alas, I had only booked 2.5 hours at the top before our return trip on the Gelmerbahn, so we had to really make every minute count – which we did!!

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Is this place even real?! 

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Attempting – and failing – to do a nice little yoga pose (it seemed fitting)

Needless to say, Gelmersee has earned a permanent spot on my life’s repeat bucket list, if that’s even a thing (you know, those absolute favorite places you simply must visit, perhaps at least once a year or every few months even?!) The dream is to visit this place in summer – even though I doubt anyone dares to swim in the ice cold glacial waters, I could totally get involved with sunbathing and reading on a rock all day, minus a few layers.

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Tips for visiting Gelmersee: 

  • Plan your visit ahead, book tickets on the Gelmerbahn
  • Allow as much time as you need, depending on how much hiking, photos and picnicking you want to do
  • Bring camera, sturdy walking/hiking shoes, layers/rain gear just in case

Why Zürich is totally underrated

by , on
Oct 8, 2018

When I visited Zürich two years ago from my base in Germany, I can’t say I was all that impressed with the city. Perhaps it was the rainy, cold gloom that had descended across all of Europe at that time, or the fact that when we went bar and restaurant hunting in the rather quiet and old neighborhood we were staying in, we were greeted with a lot of “closed” signs.

Fast forward two years, when I am calling Zürich home for a few months… and I really only have good things to say about this city! I have been here for a few weeks now and this place is nothing short of lovely. Here are are few things that I have enjoyed most about Zürich, and reasons it should have a spot on your Eurotrip list.

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Swiss people are friendly. 

Whether you are stopping to ask directions or purchase a Laugenbrötchen from a local bakery, you will find that in general, Swiss people are cute, friendly and overall cuddly – interacting with them is pleasant and you may just want to adopt some of them as your temporary grandparents. As with many European cities, I would say the English level is generally strong, but if you know a few words of German (Hochdeutsch is fine!), they will love you for trying.

It is very Instagrammable.

AKA, the modern way of saying it is simply a gorgeous city with lots of very aesthetically pleasing spots. Photographers love it, but even if you aren’t part of the Instagram game and don’t care to be, there are numerous spots around the city to enjoy a cup of coffee, glass of wine or good book with an absolutely stunning view.

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Altstadt walking into downtown, Zürich

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Amazing view of Zürich from Grossmünster Church tower 

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Sunrise on Bahnhofstrasse, downtown

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Early morning architecture strolls

There is a lot of nature.

The fact that downtown Zürich wraps around Lake Zürich automatically gives this city a very unique outdoorsy and water-based vibe. I love being around water and for those of you that miss beaches, oceans, rivers and lakes terribly when living in/visiting cities, Lake Zürich provides the perfect remedy. Swiss people have a strong reputation for loving the outdoors, which is evident by just how packed the waterfront is every evening, really rain or shine – but especially during the long sunny summer days and golden autumn evenings. Nature in Zürich isn’t only limited to the lakeside – there are many green parks throughout the city where you can go for a jog, do some yoga, or again park yourself on a bench with your journal or a good book.

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There are tons of swans in Lake Zürich at all times – if you want to see them up close, it is easy to get a big gathering if you throw them bits of bread from the shore! 

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Boats docked at golden hour

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Evening walks along the waterfront are one of my favorite parts about living in Zürich

It is an easy walking city.

 

Even though the city is relatively well-connected by public transport including trams and buses, walking throughout the city and from place to place (even if you have somewhere to be) is both convenient and pleasant. I have simply walked from my home to the Central Station several times, even though it takes 30-45 minutes, simply because it is such a nice walk! Pedestrians always have the right away on crosswalks and drivers are cognizant and courteous to let you cross. When the weather is nice, tons of people have the same idea, and you see more people walking or on bikes than on public transport.

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The food is delicious. 

While Swiss food is excellent (hello?!, land of CHOCOLATE AND CHEESE!!!), there are so many options if you’re not into more traditional German-esque fare (think sausage, spätzle, bread, cheese, etc.). Zürich offers quite a range of international cuisines and there are many hip restaurants downtown and slightly on the outskirts that seem to be open on weekends (even Sundays) and late into the evening. Even casual restaurants serve mouth-watering food; aka, you don’t have to worry about going hungry in this city, and you will likely love what you eat – it comes at a price though, so be prepared to spend a little more than you likely would at home. Plus, there are COOP, Migros and Denner stores all over the place that sell lovely fresh fruits, veggies, fresh bread and healthy pre-made meals (salads, etc.), fresh bakeries everywhere, and most importantly, LINDT is the mainstream chocolate option… it only gets BETTER from there *drool*. Don’t plan to go on a diet when you visit Zürich.

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Fresh salad, Mamarita pizza & wine at STRIPPED PIZZA

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If you are a Joe & The Juice lover (like me), you’ll be happy to find several locations downtown Zürich! 

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Gruyere is life, but there are so many more options… a beautiful breakfast assortment of cheeses from the Alps

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There is a lot to do.

If you get tired of long walks by the lakeside (or if the weather prevents these), there are plenty of other activities to keep you entertained during your time in Zürich. In my case, such activities revolve heavily around EATING, but there are many cultural and social things to keep you busy as well! Here are some favorite must-do’s:

  • Opera House/Theater – There are usually several shows going on throughout the season and if you are a culture-buff, you may enjoy catching one during your time in Zürich! See showtimes and book tickets here.
  • Take a boat ride on the Limmat – this website explains dates and times when you can take a cruise along the river and admire the buildings of the Altstadt, then continue onto the lake.
  • Relax your tired muscles in a thermal spa – Thermalbad & Spa Zürich (which was converted to a spa from an old brewery!) offers lovely hot baths and terrific views of the city; what else could we want?!
  • Go upwards for a bird’s eye view of Zürich – The most famous lookout spot for the best view of Zürich is the Felsenegg Peak, which can be reached by an equally aesthetic cable car ride. For great views of this beautiful city that don’t require as much of a trip or time commitment, you can simply climb to the top of Grossmünster Church (Karlsturm) (for 5 CHF per adult, 2 CHF for youth/children). The windows inside are also incredible (they are designed by German artist Sigmar Polke, who sliced semi-precious stones and put them together to form stunning stained glass-looking patterns) – unfortunately, photos are NOT allowed (and there is usually someone standing by to sternly remind unaware tourists of this rule), but the church sells postcards with beautiful professional photos of the windows for those interested. 
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    Views of Zürich from balconies atop Grossmünster Church

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    A fine sunny day in Zürich from Grossmünster tower

Have you been to Zürich? Let me know some of the reasons you enjoyed this city in the comments below!

How to ride the steepest funicular in all of Europe – Gelmerbahn

by , on
Oct 7, 2018

Set deep in the beautiful green canton of Bern, Switzerland, a little red train car chugs its way up and down a treacherously steep track – adventurous hikers can have the ride (and views!) of a lifetime on the one and only Gelmer Funicular (Gelmerbahn).

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The funicular was originally built in the 1920s to haul heavy materials and equipment up to the top of the mountain for the construction of the Gelmersee reservoir and dam. Now, the car shuttles 24 people each time, approximately 30 times per day, with the first ride up at 9:00AM and the last one down around 4:00PM (see the official schedule and book tickets here). The Gelmerbahn only runs in summer/autumn months, usually late May-late October.

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Alpine rail track

The ride takes 8-10 minutes one way (so the videos you have seen on Instagram making the ride look like an insanely fast rollercoaster are on hyper-speed!), and you have plenty of time to enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley and mountains. There is only a drop-down bar (think Ferris wheel style) to keep passengers safe, but the car neither jolts, tilts, nor goes fast enough to worry about safety.

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Once you reach the top, it is an absolute must to hike around the gorgeous turquoise lake (Gelmersee). This must be the Swiss-Banff equivalent; I swear, I have never seen water of such a stunning color. The hike around the lake takes approximately 2 hours, though if you are in the habit of pausing frequently or taking 23720 pictures (like me), you may want to allow yourself significant extra time, as this is not a place that you want to feel rushed. IMG_1293.JPG

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Some important facts and tips for your Gelmerbahn trip:

  • Book ahead of time; as there are only 24 seats available, each ride time fills quickly (arrive 15 min before ride time to exchange online tickets in office)
  • Plan as well as you can for how much time you would like to have at the top, hiking around the lake, etc. because you must stick to your pre-purchased ticket times; no exchanges
  • Bring layers, snacks, sturdy footwear, cameras
  • Hike around the entire lake takes 2+ hours; allow extra time for photos and picnic (I recommend going up for at least 4 hours if this is your type of thing and you love nature walks/being around beautiful lakes, and the weather is supposed to be decent)
  • Mornings=fewer tourists

How to get there:

By foot: if you are staying at the closely Handeck Hotel/Naturresort, you will only need to walk 5-10 min, either down the road, or over the hanging bridge (much more fun option) to get to the lower terminal of Gelmerbahn.

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By car: there is a parking lot out in the grass/meadow just down the road from the Gelmerbahn (follow signs)

By public transport: 5 min walk from nearby bus station Handegg, Gelmerbahn

Croatia is more than just Yacht Week

by , on
Sep 14, 2018

My second time to the beautiful land of Croatia did not disappoint – my last visit was in 2014 – four years ago! Not a whole lot has changed; locals are still browner than ever, spending their days sprawled on rocky beaches, swimming in crystal clear waters and munching on crispy calamari – in fact, I would bet that if I compared my photos of this trip to those of the last one, the very same fishing boats will be parked in the main harbor! (Perhaps I should give that a try.) 

 

The main purpose behind my 2014 visit to Croatia was ULTRA music festival, occurring in Europe for the second time – it is hosted at the Stadion Poljud in Split every summer, usually in July. It was one hell of a party, and continued onto Hvar island several days later. Hvar is an equally stunning destination, complete with beaches, lovely ocean walks, delicious sea-to-table cuisine and the one and only Hula Hula Hvar beach bar – lots of great memories there.

This time, I was able to revisit Split on a bit of a last minute, spontaneous trip, and it was wonderful as expected! A few of my very favorite highlights revolve around my favorite things in life: sunshine and FOOD. So here they are! 

In Croatia, Life’s a Beach

I stayed at the Radisson Blu Resort for this visit in Split, which is perched on a hill; my room had a stunning view overlooking the ocean and a beach. You can’t imagine how much I wish this were my view waking up every. single. morninggg.

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Morning view from Radisson Blu Resort Split

After an epic breakfast buffet each morning, I would pack my bag with some sunscreen and a book and head off for some much needed vitamin SEA. The first day, I spent most of the morning and afternoon doing it “like the locals do,” lounging on the pebbly beach just a short walk from the hotel.

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Small beach – mostly locals – a short walk from the Radisson Blue Resort

The Croatian coastline (also of Split itself) is lined by multiple little inlets, bays and harbors and around each corner can be found a whole new little secret paradise – just on the walk from Radisson to the main harbor (where the Aci Marina and the major ferry terminals are), there are at least SIX separate inlets – some of which are small, private and calm and others, like Bacvice Beach, that are significantly more wild and touristy. IMG_4117

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Many beaches offer the option to rent lounge chairs and/or umbrellas, or just lay your own towel down anywhere!

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Small harbor on the walk from Radisson to downtown

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View of downtown Split from up the train tracks

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Aci Marina – downtown Split

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I loved walking this path every day, as close to the ocean as possible – from the hotel to the main harbor, it took about 30 minutes easy walking. The first evening, we walked into town for dinner. The main harbor at dusk is a truly beautiful sight – the boats swaying gently and fisherman and tour groups wrap up their workday and the sun reflecting off the sparkling water, throwing a golden glow over the beautiful old buildings.

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Walking into the main harbor, shortly before sunset

My second full day in Split was a bit more adventurous; I took the same ocean path all the way into the main harbor, soaked everything in and took an obnoxious amount of photos… and then continued on in the same direction beyond Aci Marina and past where the big yachts are docked, right alongside the path – (interesting story, one very friendly Uber driver told us that Split is a beloved getaway for several extremely wealthy Sheikhs and many celebrities like Beyoncé, who usually arrive via yacht, why not). I swear you could get totally lost aboard some of these things – they are legitimately the size of several houses, and I was surprised not to see a bowling alley and golf course on top; they have just about everything else!

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A “small” yacht docked in Split

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The destination of my daytime adventure was a favorite spot amongst locals and tourists alike: a swimming hole/cliff jumping spot called Uvala Ježinac (Jezinac Bay). This is a place that my friends and I walked to every single day that we spent in Split in 2014 – it was the ultimate ULTRA pregame: take a cold Karlovacko, some sunscreen and hit the beach for a glorious sunshine-filled morning before heading out to party. This time, it was just as good, even sans EDM-filled nights.

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Arriving at my favorite swimming “hole” – believe it or not, in this exact spot (over the blue graffiti), local boys and brave tourists jump from the wall on the right hand side of the photo, clear the path and railing, and into the water on the other side! (Don’t try this at home)

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Artwork by the ocean

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A slice of paradise in Croatia

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As happy as a clam in the Croatian sun – I spread my towel right down on these large rocks out in the middle of the water – my own personal mermaid rock! bikini from: Khassani Swimwear

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Eat All The Things

Now on to the really important topic – food and where to find it in Split. The first evening in Split, we ate at a lovely, eclectic little restaurant unassumingly tucked away into a literal hole in the wall, called Artičok. With funky, hipster decor and unexpected jazz music that strangely didn’t clash with the ambiance but in fact added to it, this place is an excellent spot for a date night or nice-casual dinner in downtown. The local wine (we tried one from the island of Brac) is a must – in all restaurants really.

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Exploring the beautiful downtown of Splitska

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Jet-lagged, but pretty excited to try the unique seafood & cheese appetizer at Articok – and some delicious local red blend!

My next top of list recommendation for restaurants while in Split is Bokeria – again, all of my favorite things – snazzy vibes, classy yet funky atmosphere and decor, unique and delicious menu – check check check! We tried the lamb, it was delicious, and this meat and cheese appetizer platter (with cantaloupe accents, fresh jam spread made from local figs and olives) was to die for.

 

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Meat & Cheese appetizer platter and local Croatian wine at Bokeria

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The last day of our visit to Split was a Friday, and luckily we were able to squeeze in one last ocean swim and a lovely lunch (and gelato!) before departing. The last lunch that we had was along the main harbor walkway, where there are many open-air restaurants lining the entire oceanside stretch. We chose The Olive Tree Vintage Caffe. Complete with real olive trees in planters and whimsical decor, this open air cafe is a bit of an experience in itself. I love finding unique, eclectic and out of the ordinary places to eat when I travel; something that connects me with the local cuisine and culture, but also brings some personality and creativity.

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This hummus like spread with bread came as an appetite starter before everything else – compliments of the Olive Tree

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Again with the meat, cheese and olives app – couldn’t get enough of this! (Apparently these olives were also local to the area)

I feel the same as I did following my 2014 visit to Split: Croatia is a lovely place and high up on my list of places I would happily revisit time and again. There is certainly something to be said for living in a place that has a ridiculous amount of sunny days per year (something like 320+!!!) and a stunning natural landscape. In case you have any trouble identifying locals from tourists, just look for the extremely tan, fit and beautiful people who clearly live on permanent island time – Croatians all seem to have this very chill, easy going vibe about them, which I love. It is a lifestyle I could get used to!

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There is still so much to be seen in the beautiful country of Croatia, and even in the surroundings of Split – this is my Croatia bucket list for future visits:

  • Krka Waterfalls
  • Plitvice National Park & Lakes
  • Dubrovnik
  • Boat back to Hvar and other nearby islands, like Brac
  • YACHT WEEK!!!

See you next time, Croatia!

The Hills are Alive – Enchanted Moments in Salzburg, Austria

by , on
Dec 26, 2016

Alexander von Humboldt is quoted as once saying: “I consider the areas of Salzburg, Naples and Constantinople the most beautiful on earth.” After my first visit to Salzburg on a crisp, but clear and sunny October weekend, I must say I agree with his statement (at least as far as Salzburg is concerned).

 

Salzburg is an enchanting place indeed, combining classic architecture, history, music, culture and style. Edges of a refined urban city meet the gentle touch of ruggedly beautiful terrain, striking a unique balance between urban and natural space.

 

Granted, I decided to take this trip to Salzburg about one hour before leaving, so planning did not exactly happen. This resulted in my choice to stay rather far from the Old City (historic center, where everything is happening and where most everything is that is worth seeing) … but it was hardly a negative, as it only forced me to get a little extra exercise- in fact, it turned out that my hotel was right at the base of Kapuzinerberg, a small mountain, which, if you’re up for a short hike, provides an excellent view of the city! One must not necessarily be outdoors, nor athletically-inclined to do this hike, but to my nature-deprived self, it was an amazing way to start the day and weekend, get some fresh air, and see the beautiful Austrian terrain in all its glory. Towards the top of Kapuzinerberg, there is a small church as well as restaurant, should you wish to stay longer.

Walking down the other side of Kapuzinerberg brought me close to Mozart’s house, which has since been converted into a full museum. Being on this side of the river, I took the opportunity to stroll around this area, passing the Mozarteum (Mozart-inspired academy of music) as well as up through Mirabellgarten to Schloss Mirabell. It is in these very gardens that you can find the steps from the “Do-Re-Mi” scene in The Sound of Music!

  

In order to properly acquaint myself with Salzburg, I figured I would try to see it from as many different angles as possible, and so decided to take a river boat tour; the tour began with a cruise up the Salzach, passing many of Salzburg’s beautiful buildings and views. It then continued with a short bus-ride to Hellbrunn Palace, which itself a destination. Built in the 1600s by Marcus Sittikus, Hellbrunn Palace stretches over a vast expanse of land and combines beautiful nature with the art and imaginings of a man with a truly eccentric sense of style, and of humor. Hellbrunn translates closely to “clear water”- the name aptly comes from the fact that within the designated ground of Hellbrunn are at least 7 freshwater spring sources. Water itself plays a hugely important role at the palace, especially in the Wasserspiele, or Trick Fountains. One of the Archbishop’s apparent favorite pastimes involved not only designing and constructing various works of entertainment and decoration that harnessed the power of gravity and water (a remarkable feat of physics for his time,) he also enjoyed playing tricks upon unsuspecting guests during their visits to his grounds. This you really must experience for yourself, though I’ll just say it involves a LOT of hidden water jets- hidden in plain sight as a matter of fact, and right where you’ll be walking. A word to the wise, move quickly, or perhaps aim for a visit during the summertime.

After completing my exploration of Hellbrunn, inside and out, and learning a bit more about the history of Archbiship Sittikus and Salzburg, I made my way back into the heart of the Altstadt (Old City). My evening took me in and out of cute little shops, down cobblestoned streets, past Mozart’s birthplace, and all around this charming area. The Old City really is the place to be, playing host to all manner of restaurants and cafés, shops, and of course, sights. Here you will find some of Salzburg’s most iconic structures: Mozartplatz (Mozart Statue in outdoor plaza), Residenzplatz (another impressive statue) and open square), the Salzburg Museum, Dom zu Salzburg (domed Cathedral as well as museum) and Stiftskirche Sankt Peter (St. Peter’s Church).

   

I would highly recommend seeing a musical performance while in Salzburg, as you are in fact in the city of music!! Various concerts of classics by Mozart and much more are regularly put on in various locations throughout the city- many of these can be found in conjunction with a river cruise, dinner, or a combination thereof. I chose to attend a piano concert of Mozart music, performed in the “Roman Hall” of St. Peter’s Church. Even if classical music isn’t your thing, there is still nothing quite like the feeling of experiencing the music of Mozart in his city.

 

Once I had taken care of the whirlwind adventure exploring on my first day, I had an entire Sunday to explore more thoroughly, at my leisure. If you’ve spent much time in Europe, you will sympathize when I say be careful making too many plans on Sundays generally, because there is a European spectrum of Sunday activity (or lack thereof), from slightly-less-busy, to “I hope you went to the grocery store because we might not eat today,” depending on the area of the city you are in. Salzburg isn’t that bad, but all shops, except for the occasional chocolate or souvenir shop, were closed. Take the opportunity to avoid the usual throngs of tourists and enjoy a more peaceful stroll through the center, and perhaps sit in a service at the great dome cathedral.

My last adventure before bidding farewell (for now) to Salzburg was to take the railcar up to the Festung Hohensalzburg (high fortress). Once atop the mountain, I was greeted with an amazing panoramic view of the city, land and surrounding mountains (I had the wonderful luck of visiting on a clear day, and seeing as far as the snow-capped alps!) There are several museums and exhibits throughout the rooms of the fortress, and even a restaurant, with open seating and arguably unbeatable views as far as restaurants go.

   

Full of crisp, clear Austrian air, interesting tidbits of history and (as always) plenty of chocolate, I bid adieu, adieu to Salzburg, a truly lovely place to which I hope to return very soon.

36 HOURS IN ANTWERP – 10 Things you Must see if you Only Have the Weekend

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Dec 25, 2016

So you’re headed to Antwerp! Only have one weekend? Not to fear – even though Antwerp is such a gorgeous, amazing place and there is so much to do, you can certainly get to know this lovely city in a few days… here are a few fun ideas:

 

TO VISIT

Cathedral of our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal Antwerpen)

A Roman Catholic Cathedral built in Gothic style, this structure’s final stage of construction was completed in 1521, though it nevertheless remains considered “incomplete.” Beautiful from all angles and at all times of day, it is not only extremely photogenic, but offers a convenient central reference point to any confused tourists wandering too far astray. For a small fee, visitors may enter the cathedral and see works by notable painters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Otto Van Veen, Jacob de Backer and Marten de Vos.

 

Grote Markt (Great Market Square)

Situated at the heart of the old city quarter, Grote Markt must inevitably be any visitor’s priority (or perhaps even base) on their visit to Antwerp. Home to various shows, exhibits and demonstrations throughout the year, and even a Christmas Market and ice rink in December, Grote Markt is one of the most popular convening spots for locals and tourists alike (indeed one of the most heavily-peopled areas of the city, though still a must-see.)

 

Stadhuis van Antwerpen (Antwerp City Hall)

Standing on the western side of Grote Markt, the building incorporates both Flemish and Italian influences in its striking design. Erected between 1561 and 1565, it is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Curious about all of the flags? I was too – I discovered that in fact, throughout most of the year, 87 flags decorate the hall’s façade. The central flags on the bottom row represent Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium, Europe and the United Nations. The other flags represent countries that are member of the European Union and nations that have a consulate in Antwerp.

 

Brabo Statue

After taking photos of the market square and admiring Brabo, I wondered what the significance of his location/posture actually is; the statue in fact represents a mythical Roman solider, Silvius Brabo, who is said to have killed a giant- as the story goes, the giant always asked money from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt, and cut off the hands of those who would not pay. Because of this, Brabo also cut off the hand of the giant and threw it into the river (hence the design of the statue, if you look closely!)

 

Sint Andrieskirk

St. Andrew’s Church is one to walk through, for its gorgeous large stained glass windows, depicting (as per usual) various biblical scenes… and not to be missed on your visit is a rather uniquely-clad Virgin Mary, complete with sequins, feathers (yes, feathers) – and I will let you decide for yourself about baby Jesus.

 

MAS (Museum aan de Stroom)

  

This artsy structure, composed of wiggly glass and lego-like red brick, is nestled amongst bits of land near the port, north of Schipperskwartier (area). Enjoy permanent exhibits covering topics like the importance of shipping to Antwerp’s relationship with the world, food in the city, and even an examination of life and death across several different cultures. Once you are done perusing these, enjoy a panoramic view of the city and sea from the open-air viewing deck on the 10th floor! Just across the small bridge from MAS is a glumly-industrial shipping area, turned up and coming by the presence of various hipster culinary establishments, from burger joints to espresso cafés to “The Shack,” exclusively serving designer bagels and coffee. This makes even a hung-over museum day a happy one.

 

Rubenshuis 

     

Take a stroll through Ruben’s House if you have about one hour to spare, or perhaps if the weather is not to die for, as you will spend most of your time indoors. The former home of artist Peter Paul Rubens, Rubenshuis is now a museum, still housing many works by Rubens and his contemporaries, as well as his personal collections.

 

Vlaeykensgang

A hidden (tiny) alleyway along Oude Koornmarkt, which has all manner of restaurants and bars for any occasion, food type and time of day. Escape briefly from the friendly chaos of this major street for some quiet reprieve along Vlaeykensgang while enjoying adorable flower boxes of red geraniums in whitewashed windows, or perhaps even choosing a more intimate dinner location at one of the restaurants towards the end of the path.

 

Meir Street

    

A baby version of London’s Oxford Street in Antwerp! If you walk straight into the city center from the central train station, you will walk onto this street, which is one of, if not the major shopping street of Antwerp, complemented by sophisticated cafés and eateries, and walled on both sides by tall buildings- look up, the architecture (and angels!) is beautiful.

 

Bourla Schowburg (Bourla Theater)

The theater, completed in 1834, seats 900 people. The building is designed in a neoclassical style on the site of the former Tapissierspand tapestry market, within short walking distance of several boutique shops and restaurants.

 

TO STAY

My Choice:

Antwerp City Hostel is perfect for budget travel or a quick weekend getaway for last-minute planners. Situated directly on Grote Markt, guests have immediate access to the Cathedral and market, and all restaurants, cafés, and bars surrounding this central area. One night from 30 euros.

Popular Recommendations:

Aplace Antwerp (Vrijdagmarkt 1; aplace.be) has four lovely, recently renovated rooms — two suites, two apartments — on a quiet square in the city center. The friendly innkeeper, Karin, gives guests insider tips about the city (and sometimes brings by cupcakes, too). Suites from 125 euros.

The Hotel O Kathedral (Handschoenmarkt 3; hotelhotelo.com) is as central as it gets — right across the square from the cathedral. Under the hotel’s white stepped-gable roof, there are 23 minimalist rooms, some with peek-a-boo showers, as well as a downstairs bar and bookshop. Doubles from 99 euros.

 

TO EAT

Waffle Factory: You need this in your life, that is all I will say. Unless you think you can handle ice cream as well, then get it too.

Elfde Gebod: (11th commandment) – enjoy a delicious cauldron full of steamed mussels in either garlic, belgian beer or other flavors (this is a must-eat when in Belgium of course) at an outdoor patio along a cobblestone street with a view of the Cathedral- at night, everything lights up for extra charm.

The Shack: Bagels & coffee (across the river, past the MAS) – again, there are many attractive eateries and cafés out in this area, you won’t want to miss grabbing a snack before or after your trip to MAS!

Grote Markt is a good starting point for restaurants, as there are many places to eat around the main square. Oude Koornmarkt street is also a great place for restaurants, and you won’t have far to look- this street is more lively and fun.

 

Go on – enjoy this amazing city and comment below about your own adventures!!! 🙂

FRENCH FAIRYTALES – TOWNS IN FRANCE YOU MAY NOT HAVE EVEN HEARD OF… BUT NEED TO VISIT RIGHT NOW

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Dec 25, 2016

While a trip to Paris is (understandably) on everyone’s travel and/or life bucket list, there are so many places in France to be explored that are far off the beaten path. Some of these are along the border between France and Germany, resulting in an interesting pattern of signage and nomenclature, for one thing, and a bit of confusion as to what language we should be speaking, on the part of local and tourist alike.

 

STRASBOURG

        

The capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg is a must-see for all those traveling along the French-German border. Strasbourg retains an air of quaintness, while not being too small. You can explore this lovely city by foot (my preference,) by bike or even by river boat! There are many beautiful sights to see and/or photograph while exploring Strasbourg, so prepare to be inspired by its beauty. Plenty of shops are scattered throughout the city center, but the best area to explore if you only have a bit of time is La Petite France. Something you must see, but will also likely not miss, is Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg; this enormous 15th century cathedral towers above the central square, and offers an impressive view to those lucky enough to dine outside in the sunshine. A brief walk will take you to the Barrage Vauban, which is a dam built in the 17th century as a defensive work to protect the city, but now provides a perfectly-situated bridge, from which to enjoy a fantastic view of the city.

 

To stay: Mercure Hotel, La Petite France- situated in between the central train station and central Strasbourg, the hotel is convenient, easily reachable and a short walk from all the fun things J Breakfast is yummy as well, so if you wake up hungry and don’t feel like wandering yet, it is worth getting there, before (or after) your complementary welcome drink; I recommend trying the house made wine from the Alsace region.

 

To eat: Hotel Rohan – one of many lovely locales next to the cathedral, this boutique hotel fulfills most expectation of the term, with quirky décor and a similarly eclectic menu, of course combining French and German influences; one thing you will see repeatedly on most menus in the Alsace region is the Tarte Flambeé, an Alsacian/South German specialty that traditionally involves thinly-rolled dough, crème fraiche or fromage blanc and various toppings- to my confused American et. al friends, think along the lines of thin-crust pizza, or even flatbread, with 10X the deliciousness. I tried the warm goat cheese Tarte (with bacon and honey, if I remember correctly- amazing).

Jeff de Bruges- yes, it is Belgian. Yes, the chocolate is to die for. Stop by Jeff’s to create your own sample baggie from a delectable selection of gorgeously-handcrafted chocolates, or purchase a colorful, delicious souvenir for a loved one!

Le Kuhn- Playfully mixing French and German (already in its name!), this restaurant is nice for dinner, and again, conveniently close by. Here you will find the opportunity to sample from a variety of traditional Alsatian specialties, from meat, sauerkraut and potatoes, to Schnitzels, salads, and of course the beloved Tarte Flambeé.

 

COLMAR

   

I would have to say this is a place inevitably defined by an air of romance- Colmar feels small and can easily be explored by foot. While walking hand in hand with a loved one along the colorful, picturesque streets or even taking a boat ride along the river seems indeed quite popular, this is not to discourage the solo traveler! Grab an ice cream and your camera, and simply enjoy the feel of this cozy little town, which is indeed a welcome reprieve from some of the busier stops along your European travels. Tourist shops featuring trinkets from the Alsace region conceal themselves modestly amongst snack shops in bright yellow, pink and blue buildings, which I indeed unapologetically claimed as a photoshoot background- how could you not. If you only see ONE thing in Colmar, please make sure it is Rue de Poissonnerie in La Petite Venise- this is the insanely colorful and cute street, straight out of every fairytale that matters. If you can tear yourself away from this cuteness, go see Église Saint-Martin (St. Martin’s Church), a remarkable Gothic monument in the center of town. Everyone was very friendly in Colmar, but kept to themselves; many of course were tourists as well, but most coming only from as far away as Germany. I loved the vibe of Colmar, and while there is not an extensive amount of activities available, it is a perfect place to go for a few days to just relax and enjoy its effortless beauty and charm.

 

To stay: Romantik Hotel Le Maréchal – On Lauch river in the Petite Venise neighborhood of Colmar, this elegant hotel built in 1565 is only a 12 minute walk from Gare de Colmar train station. Again, perhaps this seems like a romantic snuggle haven for couples, and while it indeed does serve this purpose, it can also be an excellent getaway for the solo traveler looking to experience the antique side of Colmar. I would highly recommend the breakfast at this hotel; while it is not one of the cheapest, it serves a delightful variety of local favorites, specialties, along with coffees and champagnes to keep even the least of morning people happy.

 

To eat: Walk into the city center towards St. Martin’s Church and sit down at any of the cozy brasseries and restaurants, all offering delicious Alsatian favorites; I tried the Roesti dish at a Brasserie in central Colmar- this is a delicious dish with mixed meats, cheeses, onions and other things mixed and baked together and served in a hot iron skillet. After dinner, enjoy an espresso and dessert at one of the cafés near the river as the sun sets, or on your way back for the evening.

 

EGUISHEIM

    

This place is straight out of snow-white, I swear. Cobblestone streets, colorful houses (almost every single house), flowers on flowers on flowers, birds singing, and hardly anyone to be seen, let alone annoying tourists (am I an annoying tourist?… awkward.) Eguisheim is one of many small villages dotting the region of Alsace, near to Colmar; it just happens to be one of the best, however- certainly the prettiest, and if I haven’t yet convinced you of its charm, it is also one of the most famous places for winemaking in this region. 😉 Eguisheim is easily reachable from Colmar by car/taxi (about 10 min drive), and you can visit it for the perfect day trip; I was only there for a matter of hours, and even though I would have loved to stay longer, I already felt like I got to know a bit of this village’s lovely personality.

 

Favorite Wine-Tasting Venue: Joseph-Freudenreich – A bit smaller than some of the hyped-up wineries in Eguisheim, this venue is incredibly quaint and personal. Bring out your inner connoisseur to taste from a varied menu of locally made specialties, then sit in the sunshine surrounded by flowers and sip your carefully-selected Gewürztraminer or Pinot, even take some bottles home for an almost ridiculously-reasonable price.

To eat: Pop into any place along the narrow streets, they are all terribly precious and the food will be delicious, featuring local specialties! I chose a small restaurant with private terrace and (once again) had a warm goat cheese Tarte Flambeé, though with slightly different ingredients than some others I had tried.

 

I could have easily spent at least a week or two exploring many of the villages around Colmar, though don’t worry if you are a bit strapped for time- I visited all three of these destinations within a long weekend, and did not feel rushed. I cannot wait to go back!!

How to Travel by Train in Germany (The Struggles of Deutsche Bahn)

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Dec 24, 2016

Sure, Detusche Bahn is fantastic – (read: Deutsche Bahn is fantastic when your train shows up on time, leaves the station on time, does not stop intermittently during your journey for no apparent reason, and indeed arrives at your intended destination, also relatively on time). Beyond this, WIFI functionality is a blessing, not a given (sorry business commuters) and a seat? Good luck finding vacancy on that 4pm train from Munich to Frankfurt, and even if you do, better not put in your earphones yet, for you will most likely soon hear an indignant “das ist doch mein Platz”- classic German bluntness (aka you’re in my seat- aka get out). Hey, not blaming anyone here, but hopefully shedding a small light on the occasional struggles of DB will help all you would be Germany-explorers avoid a 6-hour train trip as a permanent hallway-floor fixture, being stepped over (on) by all who pass.

 

DB has become a (fond?) joke of our time and regular commutes in Germany, indeed not to sound completely disenchanted with the system- generally, the trains are indeed quite nice, comfy, and get you around pretty much anywhere and everywhere you would need to get to in the country (and sometimes beyond); DB easily and regularly connects to train providers of other countries (think France, Belgium, Switzerland, etc.) for weekend trips-galore. DB also offers perks and privileges (we’ll ignore cost for now), such as the Bahn-100 card, which allows unlimited travel throughout the country on any DB regional train or city underground. 1st class, while (annoyingly) exclusively for 1st class ticket holders (ok, fine), provides a somewhat calmer and more spacious surrounding, and perhaps the extra leg room is even worth the splurge- we’ll leave that up to you to decide. Cross your fingers for a smooth train… otherwise we advise you to hang on to your Starbucks, and trips to the bathroom? Don’t even think about it.

 

A few of our favorite hacks for essential DB survival:

  • Bring all the chargers, for all the electronics (there are usually plugs at every seat- this is a plus, and if your phone is as hopelessly outdated as mine, your battery will also constantly be dead).
  • Reading/writing material- whether you have under your arm the FT and economist (our top picks for morning commutes!), VOGUE, Playboy, your diary, 1247-page book manuscript, or even that stack of postcards you’ve been meaning to send to grandma, such things are great ways to pass time (generally of course, but especially if you counted on definitely having either 1.WIFI, 2. Charged electronics, or both.
  • Headphones- not just because you want to keep your J-Biebs addiction secret (we forgive you), there will be babies. And high schoolers. And loudspeaker announcements… you get the idea.
  • Chocolate – ok, I guess this is a personal problem.

 

So, with that said, we genuinely hope you enjoy your adventures in Germany! We would kindly nudge you to practice logical and smart train-station navigation, beginning with arriving early (at least 10 min before your departure time if a seasoned DB-goer, or up to 30+ min if you are 1. A newbie, 2. A baby sloth 3. Hopelessly confused (also forgiven) – you will need this extra time to wait in line at the Reisebüro for guidance or 4. Simply enjoy wandering aimlessly around (at times, the amusing) establishments that are German train stations (note: avoid heroin dealers). Look to the giant board for your train departure info (sometimes platforms change last minute or there may be delays), and if still confused, we urge you to find someone in DB uniform (usually blue or red) rather than scurrying around asking any and every one on your platform, who, to be honest, are probably either 1. Tourists, who are just as confused as you 2. May not speak the language you are trying to communicate in well enough to fully assist you 3. May give you false information, even with the best of intentions – this way, you will certainly save some time and headache.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we hope you enjoyed your trip and thank you again for choosing Deutsche Bahn” – did we really have a choice?? Oh, the irony.