Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Love for Berlin

Berlin, my birthplace and only 23 years later do I return. My expectations big, my eyes wide, my senses alert…I could not wait! I had picked the right time to go – a long weekend, packed with sunshine and good company. Impossible to go wrong.

Arriving at 22:00 with the sun still in the sky, large boulevards take us into the heart of the city. The city is open, welcoming and I am immediately drawn to the abundance of green spaces, which are helping the city breathe. The buzzing life in a multitude of restaurants invite us for a lovely first evening meal and I am instantly in love.

Four days is a great amount of time to get that first taste for the city. Impressions? Berlin is no Paris of the world – it lacks the intricate beauty and charm. Berlin is no New York or London of the world – it lacks the money, business and fast lifestyle approach. Berlin is no Amsterdam or Copenhagen of the world – it lacks the sweetness. But Berlin is interesting and filled with rich and dense history, which can be felt on all streets and corners of the city. It is multicultural, curious, beautiful, artsy, bold and creative and full of creative ideas and hidden treasures.

Some of my recommendations:

1. Try and aim to visit Berlin in the spring or summer. Sunshine and good weather makes a big difference in this city. Cafes and people sprawl out onto the sidewalks, the lakes get populated with happy crowds and the beer gardens invite you to partake in daily festivities.

2. Rent bicycles. It is such a great way to get around, see the city up close and get in a bit of sunshine and exercise. Keen for more exercise? Go for a run in the Tiergarten. It is the Central Park of Berlin. Make sure to stop and smell the roses in this park (a.k.a grab a picnic and take your time to stroll around – it is beautiful!).

3. The city has an endless amount of amazing museums. Explore the Jewish Museum, not only for the rich history, but also amazing architecture of the building. The Museumsinsel boast magnificent buildings and a long list of art and history genres to choose from.

A poster from a photographer displaying his art on the Museumsinsel. The girl in white is not me but I almost fell of my bicycle seeing this as the resemblance from the side angle is absolutely amazing. My Doppelgaenger!

Holocaust Memorial
4. If you have a Sunday in the city, the CafĂ© am Neuensee is an absolute MUST! All of Berlin goes there to see and to be seen and to take in the ‘love-life’ atmosphere with family and friends. Go with an appetite as they serve gorgeous large pizzas in addition to our beloved Bratwursts, Bretzels, Bier and all other German goodies.

A Bretzel Vendor on his Bicycle
5. Another must is the Fischerhuette am Schlachtensee. By far one of the best outdoor Beergardens in Berlin, set right next to a beautiful lake. Take your swimmers if the weather is good to you and make sure you have nothing on your agenda for that afternoon as you won’t want to leave! We biked there from the centre of town (takes about an hour along the Ku-Damm and through Dahlem) but you can also take the S-Bahn (S1 towards Wannsee - get out at Mexikoplatz and walk 10 minutes to reach the Schlachtensee).

A postcard from the Fischerhuette am Schlachtensee
6. Haven’t had enough beer yet and the night is only starting? Check out the Prater Garten for yet another very traditional German, outdoor, beer-drinking venue. Its grungy, its artsy, its hip and its cool. Don’t miss it!

Prater Garten
7. Need to get your shopping fix or simply escape from the group of men you are traveling with? Check out Potsdamer Platz for a daily antique market, the Ku-Damm (Kufuerstendamm) for absolutely everything shopping-related and the Hackischen Hoeffe for boutiques, ice cream parlours, cafes and hidden treasures. Are you a Foodie and love food from around the world? Then Level 5 of the world-famous KDW Shopping Centre at the Ku-Damm is a must-see for you. You will find the biggest cheese selection you’ve ever seen, tropical fruits from all parts of the world, sweets, chocolate, pastries…the list is endless!

This city is fun, it is cool and it has STYLE! It may have been my first time back in 23 years but I can now say with confidence that after these 4 amazing days in Berlin, I will not wait another 23 years to go back. Summer 2012 here I come!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

California Dreaming...

For anyone that has not had the chance to travel to California, you may have a sense of curiosity, anticipation, wonder for the place…

There certainly has been for me, for a long time, and so I finally took the chance to satisfy my desire to see the place and turn my California dreaming into a reality…

Brussels to San Francisco

Glamour, sunshine, comfort, arts, happiness, lifestyle, fitness - What an eclectic bunch of people that make up California. This variety appears to be quite fitting when you realise the changing Californian coastline from North to South.
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco. We were lucky enough to discover San Francisco in perfect weather condition on foot and by bicycle, which allowed me to conclude - What an absolute beauty of a city! Light blue skies and dark blue water…green rolling hills in the background, set against the bright red Golden Gate Bridge. One is surrounded by absolutely breathtaking views, which seem to be endless from all corners of the city. San Francisco is a city that may leave you with the feeling of envy as it seems to offer it all. A city so many people dream of being able to call HOME.

Grab some great Italian pizza at Beretta (Get the Eggplant Caponatina as a starter. It is simply TDF!!!), some lovely pastries at Tartine Bakery and some fresh Vietnamese food at The Slanted Door. Make sure to book ahead for a Sunday Brunch at Lime Bar. Find all your shops by Union Square, jog or stroll through the Botanical Gardens. DEFINITELY rent a bicycle and have fun!

Tartine Bakery
Big Sur. You think Californian coastline and you may think flat, wide, open beaches with a promenade and Baywatch-style lifeguard posts. This is true for the southern Cali coastline (LA Region). What one may not always expect, however, is the boasting beauty of the Big Sur coastal stretch further north. A stretch of about 170 kms of rolling hills, cliffs, deserted beaches, dense forests, wildlife…a beautiful part of the world and a must see when visiting California.

Big Sur
There are too many adorable, quaint towns where you stumble across fresh farmers markets and cute shops (see Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterrey, San Luis del Obispo, Santa Barbara…). Make sure to grab a pretzel from Carmel’s Bakery – sweet or salty – they are ueber yummy!

Los Angeles. LA is glamour pure if you want it. You can find stunning restaurants that satisfy all culinary desires (try The Chaya in Venice Beach – stunning food combinations! I wanted to try it all). Take the time to explore the beach promenade through Santa Monica, Venice Beach…Manhattan Beach. What a fun stretch of beach to jog, ride your bike or, if you are brave and spirited enough, throw on those rollerblades. An eclectic and crazy bunch of individuals populate that area by day and night – it is by far one of THE best places I have seen to date for people watching.

California Dreaming. Do dreams really do come true there? I will be able to say next time…


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