WILDTHG TRAVEL

Lovely Little Luxembourg

by , on
Dec 7, 2018

I had heard all kinds of opinions about Luxembourg – none of which were particularly negative, nor excessively positive – middle of the road statements like “it’s quite small,” or “there’s not a lot to do there.” So, I decided to see for myself.

Hosted by Visit Luxembourg, the tourism agency of Luxembourg, I was able to spend a lovely three day weekend in this beautiful country.  My observation? Well, it really is a lovely place, and in my opinion, definitely worth at least ONE visit!! If you really want to delve into the fascinating history and have time to see the surrounding areas (not just downtown Luxembourg City), it would be ideal to have at least one week in the country, or come back for multiple trips. Also, having visited in early December, I am a huge advocate for the pre-Christmas time given the spectacular Christmas markets that Luxembourg puts on, though I would also love to see it in the spring/summer months.

Let me bring you along on my little Luxembourg journey…

Christmas time in Luxembourg is a magical time

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I arrived to Luxembourg City by train from Switzerland on a Friday evening and it was just beginning to get dark. As with many European train stations, Gare Luxembourg is absolutely beautiful, and quite unique from anything else I’ve seen thus far. The city is well-connected by public transport (mostly bus in the downtown area), so a quick bus brought us to our hotel – Hotel Vauban, located directly on the Place Guillaume in the heart of downtown Luxembourg City, and the perfect location as a base for exploring the city.

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We passed at least two small Christmas markets and tons of shimmering lights just on the short drive from the station to our hotel, and to our very happy surprise, discovered that our hotel was not only situated in the midst of a very lively market, but that it was within 5 min walking distance of two of the other best markets in town!

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We dropped our things at the hotel, which was simple, cozy and clean, and bundled up for an evening at the markets. First, we visited the market right across from our hotel, in the partially-enclosed Place Guillaume, which focused on food, drinks and fun loud music, with a gorgeously-illuminated ice skating rink and beautiful Christmas lights strewn over the buildings and sparkling from the tops of trees. We ate a typically Germanic sausage dog for dinner, preceded (and followed) by Glühwein (hot/mulled wine), the staple drink of Christmas markets and European winter season, generally.

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We visited one more market before turning in for the evening, just around the corner at the Place d’Armes, which boasts a giant lighted Christmas tree and the “Lights of Luxembourg” sign. This market is significantly larger, with many stalls serving different types of food, drink (also Glühwein, of course – at this market they served it in the cute colorful boot mugs, which we of course took as souvenirs), and knickknacks of all sorts. Towards the back of the market near a carousel was a Christmas tree display featuring a variety of decorations that seem to have been done by local schoolchildren.

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All things UNESCO – a city full of history 

Our first morning and full day in Luxembourg was dedicated to exploring some of the most famous landmarks and historical areas of the city. The city’s fortifications and historical quarter were recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1994, and it is possible to see nearly all, if not all, of the included attractions in one afternoon of exploring. Visit Luxembourg has a recommended walking route to complete a tour of all the UNESCO sites; my path was a bit different as I wanted to experience the full mix of classic, contemporary and medieval architecture that the city has to offer.

Downtown Luxembourg City and Pont Adolphe

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We explored downtown a bit to see the mix of architecture, featuring various governmental-related buildings with beautiful designs and a street lined with remarkable buildings, reminiscent of the French style. Next we visited Adolphe bridge, which is lovely from all angles and has beautiful and intriguing ruins underneath it, and several walking paths.

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Notre Dame Cathedral and Casemates du Bock

Notre-Dame’s cornerstone was first laid in 1613, and after passing through various phases and different religious associations, was refurbished in neo-gothic style from 1854. The inside of the cathedral is classic and elegant, with expansive ceilings and richly colored stained glass displays. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to explore or sit inside, it is worth peeking in and open to the public (except perhaps during certain masses).

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We walked from the downtown area of Notre Dame to Casemates du Bock, which led us down various quaint cobblestone alleys and past multiple styles of architecture; walking around the city really is the best way to see it properly.

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In the area of Casemates du Bock

A bit of history about the Casemates from Visit Luxembourg: In 963, Count Siegfried built a fortified castle on the Bock promontory, which was soon to become the cradle of the city. In the course of the centuries, on the western side, mighty ring walls were added, which, however, did not foil the Burgundians in their attempt to conquer the city in 1443. The best builder-engineers of the new masters (the Burgundians, the Spaniards, the French, the Austrians and the German Confederation) eventually turned the city into one of the most powerful emplacements in the world, the “Gibraltar of the North”. Its defences were bolstered by three fortified rings with 24 forts, 16 other strong defensive works and a unique 23 km long network of casemates: these could not only shelter thousands of soldiers and their horses, but also housed workshops, kitchens, bakeries, slaughter-houses etc. In 1867, after the declaration of neutrality,the military withdrew from the fortress and during the following 16 years 90% of the defences were demolished. In 1875, the superstructure of the Bock, a tremendous construction, was razed. However, it proved to be impossible to blow up the casemates, without also demolishing part of the city, so the entrances and the key connecting galleries were sealed. In spite of this, 17 kilometres of tunnels remain, often on different levels and tremendous stairways penetrate up to 40 metres inside the rock face.

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As per the tourism website, the Casemates are open for visitation from February through November, so I had just missed the window to go inside, though even from the outside, these ancient walls and fortifications are truly fascinating to see, especially when one imagines just how old it all is, and the history behind its making.

A city of history and art

From Casemates du Bock, there is a walking route to the hill, atop which sits MUDAM, the modern art museum of Luxembourg (Musée d’art moderne Grand-Duc Jean). The strikingly modern museum sits on the site of the historical Fort Thüngen in Dräi Eechelen Park, and was inaugurated in 2006. Most of the original fortress (Thüngen) was demolished after the 1867 Treaty of London, which demanded the demolition of Luxembourg City’s numerous fortifications. The three towers and the foundations of the rest of the fort were all that remained. During the 1990s, the site was reconstructed in its entirety, in parallel with the development of the site for the construction of MUDAM. After being fully restored, the building was reopened in 2012 as Musée Dräi Eechelen.

Outside of MUDAM can currently be seen an exhibit titled “Wind Caravan” by Japanese artist Susumu Shingu, whose art is dependent upon wind to exist. His elegant sculptures are animated by the slightest breath and thereby reveal the intangible but omnipresent nature of air. Outside the museum are a set of 21 such sculptures, and inside, his “Water Tree” and various other works driven by the harmonious interactions of wind, water and light in his dedicated exhibit room.

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from Susumu Shingu’s “Spaceship” exhibit

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carvings on a rubber tire

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another work in Shingu’s “Spaceship” exhibit; the sculpture moves perpetually thanks to the falling water from above

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Very near to MUDAM is the Philharmonie, an architectural marvel in itself and really beautiful to see at twilight or after dark, when it is illuminated against the night sky. We stopped by on our way to the bus stop, which took us back to our friendly neighborhood of Christmas markets for the evening.

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Our last day in Luxembourg was dedicated to exploring the historical area around Casemates du Bock a bit more thoroughly, and From our hotel, we took the back way through the small alleys down towards the Grund. The Grund is technically a neighborhood of Luxembourg City, and has a very relaxed, historical (cobblestoned streets dating from the 10th century, walls from the 14th) and village-like feel to it; perfect for a quiet Sunday stroll. The path winds downhill along a very scenic route, passing by colorful and quaint houses with lovely views out over the river, Neumünster Abbey (a UNESCO building), and the river, bridges and the Casemates du Bock further in the background – the places we had explored from a new angle!

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views strolling through the Grund

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Near to the Grund is Luxembourg’s National Museum of History and Art, which typically hosts an eclectic variety of classical and historical artwork and artifacts, alongside a selection of contemporary art. This is a good museum for those that are interested in history and other cultures. At the time of my visit, the headline exhibit was about ancient Chinese civilization, a fascinating journey from the beginning of the oldest civilization in the world, through to modern times. There were also some amazing exhibits including paintings and even an exhibit dedicated to the evolution of the national currency of Luxembourg.

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I am so glad that I was able to visit Luxembourg myself and experience some of its fascinating culture and history. I honestly expected to come to yet another postage stamp-sized nation with a sort of Liechtensteinien vibe – small but cute, pretty but really not much that you cannot see and do in one day. I was pleasantly surprised at the vastness of Luxembourg’s national history, its present mix of cultures, beautiful architecture and absolute mastery of the Christmas spirit… I would absolutely return for another visit, especially to see more of the surrounding countryside and villages outside of Luxembourg City.

Travel tips:

Getting around: The Luxembourg Card, like the one I had provided by Visit Luxembourg, a travel pass which allows travel by all forms of public transport within Luxembourg and entrance into most tourist attractions and museums, is an excellent thing to have for your visit. They are available for 1, 2 or 3 days for individuals or family passes. More info and prices here.

Money: most places around the city accept credit card for typical purchases, but if you want to make smaller purchases or especially, if you visit during Christmas Market season, you’ll want to have some cash – there are plenty of ATMs around the city and Luxembourg’s currency is the Euro, so if you’re already traveling around Europe, you’re in luck!

What to see and do:

  • Grand Ducal Palace
  • Place Guillaume II
  • Place d’Armes
  • Pont Adolphe
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Casemates du Bock
  • The Grund
  • Chemin de la Corniche (pedestrian street around the Grund)
  • Neumünster Abbey
  • Casino Luxembourg (forum for contemporary art)
  • MUDAM
  • Fort Thüngen / Dräi Eechelen Museum
  • Philharmonie
  • National Museum of History and Art

get more ideas for your trip from Visit Luxembourg!

 

Liechtenstein is tiny, and randomly really cool

by , on
Nov 28, 2018

I’m currently based in Zürich and had a few days’ off of work for the All Saints’ Day long holiday. I had never been to Liechtenstein (is that a thing?) and so figured why not! I didn’t really know that much about this tiny landlocked nation before visiting – I knew there was a Prince and had heard about it being a friendly billionaire tax-haven. After spending a few days in this country, sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, I can attest to it being absolutely lovely, and very worth a visit.

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downtown Vaduz, Liechtenstein

To get to the capital city, Vaduz, I took a train from Zürich HB to Sargans, right on the Swiss border and then a bus to Vaduz, Post (quite central). The commute was stunning and I could hardly stop filming out the window – leaving Switzerland, the train passed Walensee with its beautiful turquoise color and quaint sailboats bobbing in the wind, and then once I switched to the bus, the scenery switched to magnificent snowcapped alps. The entire trip only took about 1.5 hours , which was very reachable and even more convenient than several trips I’ve taken within Switzerland!

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Views from the train en route to Vaduz

As it turns out, Vaduz is basically all things pleasant about cute European cities – quaint, pleasantly walkable, nice restaurants, (very) artsy, clean, organized, and photogenic. Not having known what to expect before going, I was pleasantly surprised and certainly happy that I went ahead and made the trip.

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Not knowing exactly where the most poppin part of town was when I made an extremely last minute booking, I ended up in a hotel just across the town border in Triesen (only about 20 min walk from downtown Vaduz). The Meierhof Hotel was super comfy, snuggly and the perfect little nest for a few days of exploring Vaduz.

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View from our room at Hotel Maierhof (technically in Triesen)

I only spent one night in Liechtenstein and for two partial days of exploring, feel that I saw Vaduz fairly thoroughly. I started with a delicious Italian lunch at Amarone, then headed to see Schloss Vaduz (Vaduz Castle), the current permanent residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein and family.

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Pasta, raviolis and locally-brewed beer at amarone in downtown Vaduz

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view from a lookout point on the walking path up to Vaduz Castle from downtown (if you look closely, you can spot Red House on the right hand side of the photo!!)

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vaduz castle

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You will see several of these “no drones” signs throughout Vaduz but particularly closer to the castle – out of safety and privacy for the princely family

After stalking the Prince for a while, I continued on through the old part of Vaduz to the Red House, which was built in 1338 and is famous mostly for its color but has also passed ownership various times throughout the years and centuries… as one would hope.

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The famous “Red House” of Vaduz

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View of Schloss Vaduz from Red House (across the vineyard forming the Red House’s backyard)

Walking down from the Red House through the old town (Mitteldorf area of Vaduz) was very peaceful and the perfect place to experience a gorgeous sunset, with quaint vineyards of Red House and other small abodes in the foreground and Vaduz Castle, standing in front of impressive alpine peaks as a backdrop to purple billowing clouds.

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By the time sun had set, my exploring day had just about come to an end and I made it my mission to stop only twice on the way back to the hotel – at the chocolate shop Dolce, (you need this chocolate in your life) and at the Mövenpick wine store (also has wine-tasting available!). I actually made three stops by mistake, as I ended up buying shoes on the way home (eye roll) – they are warm comfy boots, how can you go wrong?!

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Chocolates and Nusstorte from Dolce and some red wine for a lovely evening in

After a solid night’s sleep and a lovely breakkie at Hotel Meierhof, I set out for exploring day 2, but with a different agenda in mind. I headed directly for Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, the 10 year old modern and contemporary art museum that houses a thoroughly interesting collection, largely comprising of the provate collection of the Principality of Liecthtenstein. The architecture of the building itself is quite renown for its “great structural complexity and and discreet simplicity,” built by Swiss architects and contributing significantly to the overall aesthetic of this central pedestrian street of Vaduz.

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Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein (Museum of Modern Art)

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unique art lining the streets of the old town

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something tells me I won’t be able to fit these babies into my luggage…

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At the time of my visit, the featured exhibition was Yuri Albert’s Elitist Democratic Art. This exhibition is the Russian-born artist’s first comprehensive solo exhibit outside of Russia. [In this series the artist contrasts the language of art with the languages of blind or deaf people or also the terminology of sailors and stenographers in order to analyse the individual semiotic systems and the system of art as a whole, their comprehensibility and accessibility. The museum visitor is always an interlocutor in these studies of the relationship between artwork and interpretation, image and text, visibility and invisibility, original and copy. Yuri Albert’s works draw us into a dialogue with and about art, inviting us to ponder the status of art: elitist or democratic.]

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“Arbat in the morning” by Yuri Albert

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meant to be read by the blind

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meant to be read by stenographers

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“how did it occur that I made this particular artwork in this particular style?”

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Yuri Albert’s collection of pieces dedicated to “who he is not” as an artist

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“I am not Andy Warhol”

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After absorbing (or not understanding anything as likely intended this time) of the delicous modern art, I set about buying a few souveneirs with my last hours in Liechtenstein. I visited the main souvenier shop that was open, as Hoi was closed for the public holiday. For souvenir hunters, you needn’t look further than this pedestrian walk, as the Landesmuseum Liechtenstein also has a unique selection, and further up the road, Nimrod AG turns the “traditional to fashionable” with dirndls and lederhosen – Oktoberfest plans, anyone??

For the museum fanatics, there are multiple museums precisely in this area of Vaduz, including the Landesmuseum (country history), Postmuseum (post office, stamps and related history) and various others. I was super content with my dose of contemporary and modern art in the morning, and after grabbing a cold Alpenlager at my hotel, was ready to head out for a leisurely return to Zürich.

Overall – Liechtenstein is just precious. Would I prioritize coming back every year? – maybe not, but if you’re wondering whether it is “worth” visiting (on a super packed Eurotrip, for example), I would say it is! If you are in the area and it is relatively convenient and not extremely expensive to get to, I would 100% recommend this tiny and fabulous mountain nation.

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LIECHTENSTEIN IN A FLASH:

Where to stay: Hotel Maierhof

What to do: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz Castle, Walk through old town (downtown), Red House

Where to eat/drink: Local vineyards, Mövenpick Wine Outlet, Dolce, Amarone

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

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.