(You’re not) alone in Kyoto

The title of this post is true, even in the times of post-truth, since during my stay in Japan I felt it was the most flooded place with tourists. Even so, I managed to get away and spend some quality time with me, myself and I. How did I manage to do it, surrounded by the crowds of tourists dressed as geishas and selfie-sticks?

Well, weather was somewhat on my side, since the thyphoon hit me just as I was walking through the Fushimi Inari temple at dusk. Geishas and selfie-sticksters were not prepared for the sudden weather change and they escaped quickly, leaving me in peace and shelter of this magic temple. The thyphoon heading from Okinawa Islands to mainland Japan was not as strong anymore, the gusts of wind and rain were just fine for me to do the sightseeing, thinking that this sort of winds are nothing special in Berlin. However, as a disclaimer &promoting staying safe during travels I would not recommend ignoring thyphoons!

The next day I had a chance to revisit Fushimi Inari in the radiant sun, and enjoy the 4-km walk underneath the countless Torii, hoping that the Fox (messenger for luck in business and wealth) will listen to my thoughts.

While staying in Tokyo it may take you years to notice a real geisha, in Kyoto is the question of minutes. Not only it’s a city hosting the most traditional education for this special profession, it’s naturally more conservative than Tokyo or Osaka. I even got to know an Italian professor educating the foreigners about the art of wearing kimonos.

However, there are parts of Kyoto trying to overcome the stereotype of being the old capital and traditional design only. The tower of Kyoto is a good example – hated by some, I managed to capture its controversial beauty from various perspectives.

Kyoto is fascinating for its small town-like neighbourhoods like Hanazono, Gion or Higashiyama which makes you forget you’re in almost 3-million city. I especially enjoyed the walks by the river.

One walk that can’t be missed while in Kyoto is the Philosopher’s Path by the Daimonjiyama mountain’s creek. I was lucky enough to meet an elderly man with a corgi dog, probably both a pair of renowned philosophers!

 

Thanks to my friend’s brother Kay, Kyoto’s local and Cabo Verde music’s expert, I was introduced to a bunch of Italian expats living in the city and to the local food and sake. What a treat it was, and I had a lovely evening in the mixed sounds of Japanese/English/Italian and Portuguese surrounding me! The next day I couldn’t help myself and visited the Nishiki Market.

Kyoto is a city of sacred temples, zen contemplation and letting the nature speak for itself. I found the less-crowded places like Ryoan-Ji very special (and quiet that your thoughts are louder than the frogs in the pond). The iconic Golden Pavillon (aka Kinkaku-Ji) is probably one of the most picturesque places I’ve seen in my life, regardless of the crowds.

Last but not least, during my 3-day stay, I took a walk through the Bamboo Forest, reflecting on how small I am comparing to these beautiful trees and the time it took them to grow. I often wondered how Kyoto looked hundreds years ago, and I can only imagine wonderful pictures in my head.

During writing this post I was listening to the LPs released in Berlin in early 2000s, which were somewhat related to this wonderful city: Kyoto Jazz Massive – Spirit of the Sun and Jazzanova – Hanazono.

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Taipei 101 and more

During my latest trip to Hong Kong and Macau, I decided to spend a couple of days in Taiwan, since I have heard great things about it from my fellow friends travellers.

It was only 90 minutes flight away from Macau, so I could not resist the temptation, but I did not set too ambitious goals about the sightseeing. I focused mostly on its capital: Taipei, and the North of the island. Here I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences of staying for 3 nights in this exciting capital.

What was strikingly different to other places I’ve visited before in East Asia: Japan, Hong Kong and Macau is that it was still sort of ‘undiscovered’ and not touristic. Maybe it was a matter of the season, but I could probably list less than a handful of foreigners I met or bumped into during my visit.
On a flip side, it was very easy to get around and communicate with people: most of them spoke quite good English, and I was also very fortunate to meet Chelsea – a friend of a friend who used to live in Spain and offered to take me around her favourite restaurants and bars. I enjoyed this experience a lot!
However, even if you don’t know anyone in Taipei, the city has a very friendly and safe vibe. I felt very encouraged just to wander around the night street markets and old town, checking out delicious, fresh and vegan-friendly cuisine with 1000 varieties of tofu. I even risked trying the famous ‘stinky tofu’ which actually tastes really great (the comparison with the stinky cheese is very relevant here).
Taipei offers a lot of room of relaxation, including public hot springs in the Beitou district and green parks. For the first time I also enjoyed staying in the shrines, simply because they were not flooded by tourists (unlike in most parts of Japan) and offering a very spiritual experience.

The only hazard I spotted were the scooters: or people using them, not really respecting the order of the lights or other driving rules.

Taipei bridges amazingly authentic old town experience with stunning skyline of buildings like Taipei 101 or neon streets of Ximending. Apart from that the monumental sites like Chaing Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Grand Hotel or National Palace Museum are really breath-taking. I was pretty impressed by the street art and hipster backstreets with tattoo and designer clothing stores.

For more romantic souls (like me 😉 there is one more place you can’t miss: Tamsui. Not only for its ‘Love Bridge’ but more importantly: for its sunset, beach and a long walk in the park, followed by a ride on a speed boat. My journey to Tamsui ended up, no, not by any romantic encounter, but  at a concert of the Brazilian music and spotting some corgi dogs playing in a park. Well, call it a serendipity for me!

In one word: Taipei = 101 of lots of <3. With special thanks to Chelsea, my wonderful host!

New Year’s Chungking Express

I ended up 2016 with reminiscing travel locations I managed to visit in the past 12 months, and I kicked off 2017 in one of the most crazy places: Hong Kong. I’ve dreaming about going there since I watched Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, so it comes as no surprise that I stayed in a microscopic room for the first 3 nights at Chungking Mansions in Kowloon.

New Year’s Eve celebrations took place in Victoria’s Harbour – since I arrived there around 9 pm, I had no chance for a better view of the fireworks, but I was pretty impressed by the syncronised smartphone lights of people recording the show.

Afterwards, I stayed in the area of the Hong Kong Island called Causeway Bay renowned for its nightlife. And I fell in love with the skyline from the first sight. From above, from below, doesn’t matter from which perspective you look. As a comparison, I think that only the skyline of Nagasaki I visited in October last year can picture the sea, the mountains, the bay and the skyscrapers in such a harmony.

But Hong Kong is so much more than bars on the 144th floor, skylines and luxury stores: it’s a very strategic place on the map, and thus rich in its history. The influence of the British reign can be found in the presence of double-decker buses and trains, the language and the pace, and the city lives 24/7.

Although it is such a dynamic place (some saying New York City’s minute is Hong Kong’s second!), it does not lack amazing opportunities for hiking in the stunning nature sites. Victoria Peak and Dragon’s Back trails are definitely a must-do hikes with some of the most rewarding views in the world!

And Mid levels Escalator System – why would it be interesting? Apart from Kowloon, Midlevels is a part of Hong Kong featured heavily in ‘Chungking Express’. I tracked down all the places ‘starring’ the movie: the bar with Chef’s Salad is in reality a tobacco place, but the crowd on the escalators is equally crazy like in the movie. ‘Crowd management’ is actually very impressive in Hong Kong – lanes, overground pavements and escalator systems make walking around the city very convenient. Or even: possible, taking into consideration the number of residents and visitors, making one of the most crowded places in the world.

To relax and unwind (it was still crowded though, also with the cows!) I took a subway line to a green Lantau Island, where the famous Buddha sits on the top of the mountain. The journey paid off in the views, albeit the smog was quite thick on that day.

And the Star Ferry… The cheapest and the most romantic way to commute between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, offering the wind breeze and spectacular views for some 25 cents for a one-way ticket!

I know I will come back to Hong Kong at some point, but how will it look like the next time? During the time I stayed, I bumped into a ‘camping protest’ on one of the major streets of the Hong Kong Island. Movements such as the Umbrella Revolution show the democratic needs of the society.

Overwhelmed, enchanted after all that, we took a ferry to visit curious place called: Macau… And then, Taiwan!

 

Poznaj Poznań!

“Poznaj” means “meet” in Polish language. Poznań is my home city in Poland and the idea of writing this post came due to numberless queries from my international friends visiting this beautiful place to gather some of my tips in one place. Quite a challenge, as it is difficult to pick some basic facts, or personal faves I gathered during 20 years I lived there and squeeze into one post.  I will try to focus and see Poznań as a tourist, which I lately turn whenever I come back for a weekend.

Yes, it’s a perfect weekend getaway city: very vibrant, full of bars and restaurants as well as some interesting history to discover. Berlin is the closest biggest city nearby (well, Szczecin is not far away either) and it takes less than 3 hours to travel there by direct train, bus, car – or for more extreme ones: about 23 hours by bike. There are often discounts to get to Poznań: if you buy your ticket in advance (at least 3 days before your trip), you will be able to travel for 19 EUR on the Berlin-Warszawa-Express train. Ecological and fun: you will be able to see Greater Poland’s landscapes, with its pecularities such as the tallest Christ the King sculpture in the world in Świebodzin.

At a first glance, it shares some similarities with Berlin, due to the obvious proximity and the influence of over 100 years of Prussian occupation before Poland re-gaining independence in 1918. Nowadays this can be reflected the most by some monuments (like the Imperial Castle of Wilhelm II), the urbanistic planning of certain neighbourhoods and… the spoken language. Poznań’s dialect consists of many German-originated words. The closeness of Berlin has influenced also more recently the clubbing culture in the 90s and early 2000s bringing legendary Tresor club residents to regular gigs. Poznań is often referred as the most LGBT-friendly and nightlife-loving city in Poland. However, this may seem exaggerated, since Poland is unfortunately quite prone to conservative backlash.

Poznań is also an incredibly green city – parks like Citadel (with exceptional WWII exhibition and Magdalena Abakanowicz sculptures), Sołacz and lakes like Malta, Kiekrz or Strzeszynek are popular spots regardless of the season (there are also some aficionados of the winter swimming, believe me!). Lately, during summer you cannot miss city beaches opening, apart from the well-known KontenerART, there are Brzeg Wschodni and The City Beach “Na Szelągu”.

Some basic facts? It’s not as obvious tourist destination in Poland as Warsaw or Cracow, but it is where the first bishophric of Poland was established in 10th century, so for history-loving people a visit in the Ostrów Tumski near (nowadays) very hip Śródka neighbourhood is a must. Poznań boasts itself with a picturesque Old Town Square and very lively streets around the city centre. Fortunately for the development of some other parts of the city, I see the trend of decentering the location of interesting spots to other neighbourhoods as well, so if you have a chance, wander around Jeżyce (and its murals!), Grunwald, Winogrady or Wilda. There is plenty of new restaurants and bars everywhere, as well as local community initiatives.

Speaking about events, throughout the year there are various opportunities to visit Poznań and face interesting things happening, such as: Malta Festival, Dancing Poznań, Ethno Port, Short Waves, Enter Jazz Festival and Spring Break  Showcase Festival & Conference.

OK… Mission: tourist in my own city accomplished. If you wanna know more about my city and more private notes, simply let me know!

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!