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┬áof 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 ­čśë 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 ┬áat 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!

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┬áPortugal 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 Pozna┼ä – 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┬áArctic┬áobsession all the way to Greenland. I decided to see Taiwan while in Hong-Kong. And in the meantime…well, the time will tell!

Poznaj Poznań!

“Poznaj” means “meet” in Polish language. Pozna┼ä is my home city in Poland and the idea of writing this post┬ácame due to┬ánumberless 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. ┬áI will try to focus and see Pozna┼ä as a tourist, which I lately┬áturn 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 Pozna┼ä: 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┬áBerlin-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 ┼Üwiebodzin.

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. Pozna┼ä’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.┬áPozna┼ä 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.

Pozna┼ä is also an incredibly green city –┬áparks like Citadel (with exceptional WWII exhibition and Magdalena Abakanowicz sculptures), So┼éacz 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┬ábeaches opening, apart from the well-known KontenerART, there are Brzeg Wschodni┬áand The City Beach “Na Szel─ůgu”.

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 Ostr├│w Tumski near (nowadays) very hip ┼Ür├│dka neighbourhood is a must.┬áPozna┼ä boasts itself with a picturesque Old Town Square┬áand 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┬áinteresting spots┬áto other neighbourhoods as well, so if you have a chance, wander around Je┼╝yce (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┬áPolish 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┬áweather 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. ╬Ü╬▒╬╗╬̤â¤Ç╬ş¤ü╬▒!

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┬áseaside towns┬áor even more popular summer festivals, like Pl├Âtzlich 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┬áunproportionally 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.

 

 

Sunday is gloomy in Eisenh├╝ttenstadt

This atypical Sunday getaway was a topic of recurring talks with a friend of mine. We both stumbled upon the topic of going to Eisenh├╝ttenstadt partly by accident, partly knowing it from the GDR era, and we both developed unhealthy fascination about this decaying place.

It is probably one of the saddest places in the world. Even in the springtime sun, it looked hazy, depressing and we were one of the very few wandering souls around the town. Other were some people eating ice-cream coloured blue (true story, not a literary fiction at all).

The history of Eisenh├╝ttenstadt is closely linked with the rise of central planning during the GDR, and this is when the crazily concrete urban planning took place, as a socialist model city. Here is a documentary about this Steel Town:

Between 1989-2015 the population dropped by almost 40% and it felt like a place with not a single body (let alone soul). The centre of Eisenh├╝ttenstadt is like the living museum of GDR era itself, and the industrial park offers some breathtaking views of the factory decay.

 

It took us 90 minutes to get there by train via Frankfurt (Oder), which is much more picturesque in the classical meaning of it, however, if you look closely, you will spot children playing around the Soviet-times monument as well as a few abandoned buildings from the same epoque.

I would recommend this Ausfl├╝ge┬áto… no one? Unless you like abandoned places, contemplating over the history and urban architecture. I actually do. There are more ghost towns like this in the former GDR area, and it only makes me wonder, will these places reinvent themselves? As I am a sucker for the living museums of industrial revolution,┬áI think humanity can learn from places like Eisenh├╝ttenstadt for the cathartic purposes, and hopefully: the better future.

Dislaimer: after having published this entry I got a lot of criticism from people who live in and love Eisenh├╝ttenstadt. I didn’t mean to offend you, or your town, not discredit it. I only wrote an opinion on central planning and absurds of history that made a big impact on the development on this city. Big part of my writing is ironical and not-to-be-taken too seriously, as I write about my impressions only. I went to Eisenh├╝ttenstadt as I am fascinated by history, brutalist architecture and industrial landscapes, however, I would argue you can call this town ‘beautiful’ by classical standards. I respect and embrace the people who can see the beauty through the abandoned, concrete and industrial landscapes. Once again: I do, and I will come back to Eisenh├╝ttenstadt with more visitors, for sure.

Beyond 79┬░ latitude: Pyramiden

Pyramiden or Piramida (đčđŞĐÇđ░đ╝đŞđ┤đ░ in Russian) was one of the most beautiful abandoned places I’ve visited while exploring the Arctic Island of Svalbard. To get there you need to sail for a few hours from Longyearbyen, the administrative capital and the most populous town on Spitzbergen, the biggest island of the Svalbard archipelago.

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Sailing up to 79th latitude offers spectacular views, such as Arctic skyline, fiords and mountain ranges.

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Neighbouring with Pyramiden is the┬áNordenski├Âld glacier, and its majesty can be seen from┬áall over the town.

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Back in a day, Pyramiden was a soviet mining settlement which was inhabited by roughly 2000 people. After 1997, when the bancrupcy of the coal company led to evacuating the entire population, it became a ghost town. For many years no foot was set there, and currently there are only a few people living in Pyramiden, taking care of the remnant buildings in the town.

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There is no mobile, nor Internet connection, but yes, indeed, there are polar bears in the settlement. I have not met any, but heard from the guide that there was one approaching, so he had to walk vigilant with his riffle loaded.

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Pyramiden is very green in the Arctic summer. Even the grass greener on the Pyramiden side! Wait: grass in Arctic? Well, not naturally. In the past, Soviets tried to bring as much normality to this Artctic town, as possible. Importing food and grocery was very expensive, so they brought fertile soil from Crimea region and tried to grow veggies at the 79° latitude. As we can see years after, the experiment was not entirely absurd.

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And Lenin is still there, watching the magnificent glacier and brutalist architecture. Once hosting workers’ families and offering all sort of facilities: gym, school and kindergarten, now Pyramiden’s blocks are home to countless Arctic birds.

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Sasha, the legendary guide and one of the few long-term inhabitants of Pyramiden. And tulips, which may still remember some wild parties on the International Women’s Day…

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If you are visiting Pyramiden with Sasha or Pavel (the other guide who joined the town this year), you will be able to enter to cantine or culture house where the facilities and art was left untouched since the last inhabitants left.

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You can even play football, contemplate in the library…

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…or play balalajka and read through some important posters from the 70s & 80s.

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There is also a small museum presenting emblematic animal life of Svalbard. Unfortunately, many animals were torn apart by a polar bear who sneaked into the museum once in search of food, or companions.

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I wish I could stay longer in this magic place. After a few hours, I had to return to Longyearbyen with the MS Polargirl ship. On the way back I passed along the glacier, observing seagulls, fulmars and Pyramiden in the sunshine. Cause in early August sun never sets on Svalbard.

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