Travelogue edition 2016: 13 countries in 12 months

What a year it was. In many ways, it came with negative happenings and sad surprises. Life seems very unpredictable and one has to find way to cope with the current crises. On the other hand, personally it was one of the best year I’ve had: professionally, and personally. My major highlights stay around the experiences I’ve lived, not only in Berlin, but also travelling. In order to get my head around these reflections, I would like to dedicate my last post of 2016 to shortcountdown of the countries I’ve visited and their depictions. I did not included countries like Hungary, Finland and France which have been my stopover locations.

  1. Portugal – I actually started 2016 on Lisbon’s Praca do Comercio with my family and friends, newly arrived from Cabo Verde. We were all very hopeful of what the year will bring and cheering with the crowd below amazing fireworks. I managed to come back to Portugal once again in September: revisiting beautiful city of Porto and having fun at Lisb:On Festival: Jardim Sonoro. I bet I’ll be back in 2017, possibly discovering more of the magical Azores archipelago.
  2. Poland – It almost doesn’t feel like a proper travel, but I always get excited either coming home, or visiting friends and family in different cities. I spent here my 30th birthday, even if suffering from a disease I brought from the previous journey, I had a blast in the freezing January temperatures. One thing I want to make sure is to come back as often as I can to cycle in the picturesque lakesides, Baltic Sea coastline and visit my nearest and dearest, especially in these turbulent times.
  3. Spain – My second home. I escaped to Barcelona already in February to visit my friend’s awesome flat-warming party. Only to encourage him to apply for a job in Berlin and seeing him leaving his precious hometown behind in 3 months of time (and the flat anyway). Coming back to Barcelona is almost like coming to Poznań – here are my dearest friends who are always there for me and things don’t change even as time passes by. Apart from that I escaped to Mallorca (like a proper German!) around summer – and it was blissful too, revisiting one of my favourite archipelago even if for 48 hours weekend. To top it up, I’ll spend my Christmas in Andalucia, ole!
  4. Greece – To be honest, I have a big backlog when it comes to Greece and during Easter time, I decided to visit Thessaloniki. What a heavenly tresure!
  5. Latvia – Speaking of Baltic countries, I’ve visited both Estonia and Lithuania earlier, and never been to Latvia before. So it was pretty much spontaneous to pack myself for an early spring break to visit friends in Riga and hike around the gorgeous Sigulga and Jurmala.
  6. Malta – This Mediterranean smallest country is perfect for a week-long getaway to search for the sun, historic treasures, hiking and island-hopping.
  7. Croatia – I was invited for a conference in Dubrovnik, and this sounded like a perfect opportunity to explore at least the Southern part of this island-abundant country. I’ve got to know the North of the country already in the 90s, and it was amazing to see how it developed during the last 20 years. The historic sites in Split and Dubrovnik are breath-taking, but so is the nature and its islands like Bol with the ‘Golden Triangle’ beach.
  8. Bosnia and Herzegovina – I only visited some part of the Herzegovina: around the multicultural city of Mostar, destroyed heavily during the civil war and currently being the symbol of fragile peace and unification. The landscapes in this country and its unique culture amazed me so much that I promised to return to its central and northern part soon.
  9. Montenegro – South of Croatia, there is a small country of Montenegro, known for its beach resorts and stunning hiking sites. I’ve only had a chance to discover the bay of Kotor and it was simply precious.
  10. Romania – Invited for a very special wedding, I had a chance to explore the city of Oradea, near the neighbouring Hungary. Enough saying that the wedding was a blast, I got to know the local cuisine, customs alongside with celebrating my friend’s happiness with a very international crowd.
  11. Japan – The ‘long’ trip of 2016. I have no words to describe how enriching these 15 days were. Travelling all the way from Tokyo to Kyushu (and beyond, to spectacular islands like Gunkanjima), I balanced my time among big cities, hiking and sanctuary places. It will probably take me some time to describe all I’ve seen, but sit tight, at some point I will publish more about this amazing trip.
  12. The Netherlands – In November I spoke at the European Women in Technology in Amsterdam and visited this lovely city when free. Even if it was short, it’s always good to remind oneself how sweet the Dutch capital is.
  13. Hong-Kong – so this will be a final destination in 2016: I will celebrate the ending and the beginning of 2017 with my Brazilian friends in this incredible place!

What will 2017 bring? I can only reveal that I will keep visiting the places that are or used to be my home (Poland, Portugal and Spain), I will discover more of the Nordics (Faroe Islands) and follow my Arctic obsession all the way to Greenland. I decided to see Taiwan while in Hong-Kong. And in the meantime…well, the time will tell!

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Auseklis of Latvia 

Auseklis in Latvian means ‘The morning star’ and symbolizes protection from dark and evil. As somewhat my long weekend getaway coincided with the season change in Latvia: from long winter to springtime awakening, I feel that this could be a could symbols for the changes that were going on not only in nature, but also in my life.

For some reason, even while I visited both Lithuania and Estonia years ago, Latvia was always a pending country in Europe to see. What accelerated my visit were a few spare days in April I could use up for holidays and having two of my friends living there and posting beautiful Instagram pictures of Riga, Baltic coast and Sigulda, even in the gloomy wintertime.

I stayed in the hipster part of Riga (where else I could end up, ha ha) nearby Miera Street, full of original cafes, craft beer bars, theatres and streetart. And Laima – the chocolate factory, which tested really good!

I obviously checked the must-see boxes in the beautiful Riga’s Old Town learning about Latvia’s rich yet turbulent history, including visiting the Jewish Ghetto. I was equally enchanted by the Art Nouveau district, and post-industrial parts of the city, as much as the parks.

I didn’t go out at night beyond the Miera Street – my friends warned me that most likely for clubbing in Riga, I’d need to dress up in high heels. Berlin all-black-everything-I-don’t-give-a-damn style still didn’t get in here.

Instead, I chose an early morning escape to Sigulda, Krimulda and Turaida. 1 hour train ride from Riga you can find yourself in the beautiful Gauja National Park which is a paradise for hiking. Local tourist information offers a lot of advice regarding the most interesting paths. I opted for the 25 km one which was ambitious but extremely pleasant, including visiting the castle in Turaida, Park of Walking Sticks in Sigulda (?!), Sculpture Park of Krisjan Baron (Latvian natural art representative), as well as some bird-watching reserve. And since it was a very early springtime one could witness the sheer awakening of all the species!

On the third day I visited Jurmala, a seaside resort town and hosting of one of the most beautiful beaches. All in all, I was extremely happy to have discovered Latvia, and I would like to thank my friends for the extensive list of tips prior to visiting it.

And today I’m even more happy since one of them is re-visiting me in Berlin!

 

Sound Sculpture in Szczecin

Last month for me was exceptionally full of events in Berlin during the work week, and shorter or longer getaways during the weekends. Similarly like last year around springtime, I felt tempted to explore not only Berlin and Brandenburg, but also the coastline.

Triggered by the concert of one of my favourite Polish electronic music producers in the newly built Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin, together with my friend, we decided to spend a weekend in Szczecin, the biggest Polish city situated next to the North-Eastern frontier.

Typically people would go there on the way to some other locations: like for instance Polish seaside towns or even more popular summer festivals, like Plötzlich am Meer. The train ride to Szczecin would take us less than 2 hours and cost… less than 6 EUR, if you manage to find your ‘Berlin-Brandenburg-Ticket’ group, which is almost a ritual part of this route. Otherwise, if you don’t feel like socializing, you can stick to a special fare, individual ticket for 10 EUR.

Szczecin itself has its specific charm. On one hand, it’s probably one of the most spacious cities in terms of territory: situated by the bay, river and countless lakes, it is indeed huge. Given its difficult, war, post-war and heavily industrialised history, it also seems derelict or unproportionally uncrowded comparing to its size. This has a lot to do with the migrations to other bigger cities or neighbouring Germany. So obviously there are places one shouldn’t visit after the sun goes down.

However, there are some sparkles of creativity in reconstructing the city, and bringing more cultural events. The area surrounding the castle and the promenade is full of interesting street art and the city tries to attract different people by hosting cultural events such as Kontrapunkt, or at least inviting unusual artists like Skalpel for the electronic music showcases in the extraordinary set up in the Philharmonic, which is worth visiting itself.

I enjoyed this visit greatly, given that I was pointed many recommendations by my friends originating from Szczecin and the concert exceeded my expectations.

If you like history, scratching beyond the surface, and discovering the beauty in the atypically interesting architecture, yet you’re bold enough – visiting Szczecin sounds good in combining it with one of its cultural events.

 

 

Hundstage – where to escape from heat in the heart of Berlin?

I learned this German expression after watching a controversial movie by Ulrich Seidl back in a day. ‘Dog days’ stand for unbearably hot summer days where the ‘dog’ star, Sirius, coincides with sunrise. I suspected the heat wave to hit only once (first weekend of July), but it seems it hit again and will stay with us for the next 10 days or so :). So let me share my 3 fave swimming pools & city beaches to escape from the heat.

Disclaimer: they can get crazily crowded during weekends (other 4 million people can really have the same idea!), or when extremely hot temperatures hit. If you decide to go there, better go first thing in the morning.

1. Badeschiff – a floating pool on the Spree river in between Treptower Park and Oberbaumbrücke within the Berlin Arena area. Entry as for 2015: 5 EUR, offers a nice bar, burger place and massages on the deck. Not so much healthy food options though. Swimming pool with a sunbathing decks, offering great views over the Spree is just worth the price of it all, even queuing to get into kaltes, klares Wasser.

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2. Haubentaucher – named after a lovely bird, this swimming pool is a surprise within the urban jungle of Urban Spree. It offers much more healthy cuisine, and the pool itself is pretty spacious. The only missing part is the smell of water, but it’s equally refreshing. Entry as for 2015: 3-4 EUR.

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3. Rampe – hidden in the bushes near Michaelbrücke, was a nice revellation to me on Sunday when temperature rose to 38 degrees and I was hopeless where to hide. I heard nice music and sneeked in, no entry fee was needed. Swimming pool was not as spectacular, but located in the nice shades of trees, and the beach had a typical seaside sand. There are various open air parties organized there on a regular basis, as I learned later, so depending on the line up, the entry fee can go up to 10 EUR.

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Of course, if you are more determined, you can escape to the Baltic Sea coast, both on the German and Polish side. Or to catch a train and discover the beauty Beyond Berliner Ring.

Ausflüge pt.2: Suddenly in Mrzeżyno

Two weeks ago, quite spontaneously, I decided to visit Polish coast within the train reach and I landed in Miedzyzdroje on the Wolin Island. This post have totally surpassed my expectations and here we are, two weeks later, with a bunch of my friends living in Berlin, asking for the Baltic Sea destinations worth recommending both on the German and Polish side.

So this time I decided to check out the seaside town from my childhood memories: Mrzeżyno, where my parents use to have a tiny cottage and since then, regularly visited. In short: 90s music, arcade games on rainy days, fish and chips and friends I played football and watched FIFA World Cup 1994 with. Like in the Roots Manuva’s ‘Dreamy Days’: this used to be fun and lots of laughter. Surprisingly, some things have not changed at all, while the time has passed.

The port where Rega river enters the Baltic Sea (or: the other way round, when the sea is as rough as today) is now completely refurbished and offers great sights during the sunset. For those who like more active tourism, it’s also great for renting kayaks and discovering West Pomerania’s treasures (including a medieval towns such as Trzebiatów).
The port also offers now yacht marina, and fresh fish for the hungry ones. I still remember when Mrzeżyno was a very isolated town in between two military bases, and quite undeveloped infrastructure in the 90s. These times are long gone, hence there are crowds of Polish families. Don’t go there in the high season if you search for remoteness!However, there is a very interesting techno festival proposal coming up in August: Plötlzlich am Meer (Eng. Suddenly by the Sea, PL: Nagle nad Morzem) – yet another edition of the Polish-German Electronic Music festival on the beach of Rogowo, one of my all-time faves. It’s probably best to book the trip in advance and rent a car, but if one’s well-determined, this place can be reached by the combination of train + bus, plane + bus, whatever + hitch-hiking, etc.

And then, suddenly, by the sea, interesting things may happen!

Ausflüge pt. 1: Wolin Island

Most recently, I have spontaneously decided to leave the city for a weekend getaway (Ausflug in German) to visit the West Pomerania coast in Poland. First of all, most of my Berlin-based friends seemed to be away, secondly – after the heat wave in Berlin at the beginning of July, I decided I should be prepared the next time the weather is matching the sandy beach better than the concrete surroundings. Even if the quality of the sand in the fancy outdoor swimming pool places in Berlin is really good! I have shared my tips on the best summer-in-the-city locations, but when the temperature rises up to 38 degrees Celsius, there’s really not that much you can enjoy doing while staying in the city. So sorry, Berlin.

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For the weekend get-away I picked a resort town Międzyzdroje (Misdroy in German), well-connected with rail and bus connections, and possible to reach within 3 hours only from Berlin. It is a perfect location both for those who simply enjoy the summery vibe of the beach resort (with all the quirky attractions, fish-and-chips menus and strolling on the pier watching the romantic sunsets, among many others) and for those who enjoy the active plan better (there’s plenty of trails on the Wolin National Park). To get there you can either rent a car or use (please, consider the environment!) a very good Deutsche Bahn and PKP (Polish Rails) connection via Szczecin (Stettin in German). If they are not on strike (DB strike rate is pretty elevated in 2015, just saying)! You can take the advantage of the stop-over and see some attractions of the city, while you’re awaiting for the connection.

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To me the Ausflüge do wonders – changing the setting, weather, and this time – coming back to places which were invariably connected with the holidays in my childhood. I probably miss the sea the most while living in Berlin, but now I’m happy to find out that either choosing to go to Rügen or to Pomerania in Poland is not a big deal in terms of time and money investment. Obviously, these places seem to be much more crowded in July and August, and this can be annoying, but at the same time, you won’t be disappointed by the variety of restaurants, sightseeing option and, if you are lucky, good weather. So… I’ll be back to the Polish coast almost within one week again! Keep you posted.

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Beyond the Berliner Ring Part One: Rügen

Living in Berlin can devour all of your free time easily without making you notice how quickly it all flies. That how I could easily define my first three months of 2015. Especially that a lot of places still seem so new to me, or at least I still haven’t got time to become tired of them. But there were moments my soul just cried to get the hell out of the city, or at least out of its glass-and-concrete core. So I thought Easter break would be a great occasion to visit Ostsee (German name for the Baltic Sea), and in particular: Rügen Island.

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Long before I’ve got to know this location due to the story of infamous Prora, a monstrous building from the Nazi-era which was planned to become seaside resort for the 3rd Reich workers. It was supposed to gather more than 250 thousands of people for the collective holidays programme, one of the pilars of the KdF policy. The building was never completely finished and for me it currently stands mostly as the monument of how ill-minded politics can lead to unfortunate architectonic actions. More information (in German) can be found in this documentary. Apparently, nowadays there are plans to refurbish the building into some holiday apartaments and a residence for the elderly. For those who rather feel like experiencing this place’s decay altogether with excellent dark kind of music, Her Damit Festival in May could be an interesting option though.

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But Rügen is much more than Prora’s Monster. Actually, it is the Northernmost tip of Germany (Arcona Weather Station), famous for white-sand beaches, dating back 19th-century towns (Putbus!) and resorts (like Binz, where I decided to stay). Apart from that one can find lakes and picturesque bays within the island, hanseatic architecture and just breathtaking, hard to describe in words cliffs (those of the Jasmund National Park!). As a person who spent a great deal of her childhood on the Baltic Sea coast in Poland, where my family had always a very strong affiction to travel, it gave me a nice, familiar feeling.

The food, the look of the resorts, and finally, the specific smell of the salty and cold sea are probably the things that can’t be found on the other coasts. Even if I didn’t dare to take a plunge into the 5-degree-cold water and the aluminium-cooked herring is not comparable to the Mediterranean or Atlantic seafood, I enjoyed greatly this long weekend, reconnecting with the familiar memories in a brand new place, on the other side of the border. Given it’s not that far away from Berlin, some 3-hours-drive by bus or by the Deutsche Bahn, I am seriously considering another short weekend getaway with my bike to discover further this magic island. And the sea, which always teaches me (thank you for this phrase, Pablo Neruda!).

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