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!

 

Treasures of Thessaloniki

It’s June and the spirit of summer is definitely out there, everywhere, while some of you might be planning some shorter or longer excursions. Well, that’s not my case at all, since I’ve just started a new job and my mindset is almost fully focused on it. Since I will stay in Berlin for most of the summertime, I will only share my travel ideas or past experiences looking at my writing backlog and most importantly: sharing my pictures from the last couple of months.

This is why I would like to re-inaugurate a subsection of the Berlinering blog – within ‘Beyond Berliner Ring‘. I love travelling and Berliners do too, no matter how much they love their city. Convenient location within maximum 3 hours of flight from all the tips of the European continent, with 2 airports (and another infamous one being a special case of Berliner ‘Sagrada Familia’ construction type opening erm… soon) and similarly convenient trains, bus, motorways or even bikelanes (will be soon testing out the one connecting Polish border and the one leading to Copenhagen at some point, too!).

So put Thessaloniki first, as it was my Easter 2016 destination, which turned out to be discovering fantastic food, chic neighbourhoods and breathing the history at every corner.

I planned it equally active, so knowing that the city is great for long walks and hiking around its hills. I wasn’t disappointed and was pretty lucky with weather (since it can be still pretty rainy and cold around end of March/beginning of April).

The flights conveniently covered the period of all the Easter days, and in the city with so many interesting Orthodox Churches it was definitely interesting to see how is it celebrated, even for not particularly religious person like I am.

Generally pleasant weather accompanied me during the daily sightseeing – from the magnificent promenade to the Ano Poli and Ag. Pavlos hills, but I was also surprised how vibrant the city was night and day.

Located nearby the port, the best neighbourhood to taste local food is Ladadika, where I was going out to try delicious and original dishes for pretty affordable prices everyday.

Last but not least, the city didn’t feel too touristy (at least not at this point of the year), there were a lot of families and locals hanging around. The only one thing I regret is not having done the excursions to Chalkidiki and Meteora sanctuary which are still on my list and should definitely be for those visiting Thessaloniki. Καλησπέρα!

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.

 

 

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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