Harz – for life, and for a weekend too!

Last month I decided for a very spontaneous weekend getaway with my boyfriend. It was very close to our unofficial anniversary and his birthday anyway so I thought about planning a short & sweet trip for us. Since I’m definitely the more wanderlust-craving spirit in our constellation, I simply thought about the location we’d both enjoy and told him in advance of one week or so not to book anything for that weekend.

With a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket in hand we met at Alexanderplatz and after 2,5 hours and changing trains twice (he really couldn’t tell where is our final destination and hence the suprise was even better) we arrived in Wernigerode. It’s a lovely town on a former Eastern German border of the Harz mountains region,just below the highest mountain: Brocken, and a house of a renowned technical university.

While Berlin is NOT Germany in most of ways, the heart of Germany (and Harz region is located in the middle of the country) definitely is. We could finally practice our German almost everywhere, as English was scarcely in use.

Wernigerode offers a glimpse into a typical Prussian-style architecture, has a cute old market square with tiny owl-shaped bells ringing a melody every hour, a magnificent Schloss (German castle) and a lot of green spaces.

One can spot some peculiarities like teeth in a garden and enjoy a delicious local cuisine. Thanks to my colleague’s recommendation we had a chance to try ZeitWerk – creative & purist menu awarded by a Michelin star in 2018. Forget about the heaviness of the German dishes and try the seasonal dishes – most of them being vegetarian or if needed, offering vegetarian option menu, not always common for the star restaurants.

We also had great fun traveling on a steam train from the early 1900s all the way up to the Brocken top. It stops in various locations where one can either hike around the rocky formations or enjoy a number of Biergarten spots. The only hassle with it is the all-time present steam which is actually bringing us back in time, where industrial pollution was a part of the landscape. Now, we can observe how heavily polluted the local forest and the area around the station is. Maybe some eco-version of the same will come up soon.

So within a 2,5 hours reach from Berlin, we ended up in a very different landscape, culture and although short, we could taste the little getaway outside of Berlin. This year I aim to visit more German cities, but also parks, mountains and wildlife.

 

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Birds of Berlin

Spring/summer feeling in Berlin has been very special this year. After a very cold winter, it’s been mostly sunny and balmy since April and the perceived quality of life brought smile to even the most gloomy Berliners. Even though I could not make the most of it this year’s outdoor activities such as dancing in the open airs, biking to the lakes, as I was injured for a few weeks, I decided not to FOMO about it.

Trying to find a bright side of this situation, staying at home or in the nearby parks, it helped me appreciate the nature in the city. The sheer abundance of bird songs sparked my curiosity in search of who stays behind their beautiful voices.

Unfortunately (or fortunately to the birds themselves), they hide very well deep in the trees and bushes that has also grown wildly during the past weeks, turning Berlin into a green city jungle. I was lucky enough to portrait some of the (un)usual neighbours in the city though. You can have a look at some better or worse attempts of capturing their presence below.

The biggest and the most colourful pigeon in town, love it or hate it: a ringdove (die Ringeltaube):

The true hunter-gatherer of the city, always hungry sparrow (der Spatz):

Monogamous mandarin ducks (die Mandarinente):

Heroic heron in the park (der Reiher):

A sullen swan in Strausberg (der Schwan):

Inspired by Birdhain, I even tried to welcome the birdy neighbours in those little huts. It proved that it only attracted ringdoves, which couldn’t obviously get in to this club due to their size, and frustrated enough, destroyed them. Or at least this is the version of the story I made up for the sake of this blog post. Didn’t caught any of them red handed.

My passion for birds emerged in my childhood when I tried to pursue a scientific dream of becoming an ornitologist. Funnily enough, when I started sharing my quirky passion with friends, it proved that I am not alone. One of my best friends, Krajonek, has even started a literary blog (you can only witness the wittiness of it in Polish only though) a while ago. Not only he writes amazing stories and research on the bird population in Greater Poland, but is a talented photographer too.

And even when the winter comes, Berlin is not empty – there are thousands of birds from the Northern Europe awaiting the springtime here, not only at the city murals. Additionally, there’s a plenty of literature on birds for long winter evenings I can honestly recommend, including Noah Strycker’s ‘The Thing with Feathers’, Bernd Heinrich’s ‘The Mind of the Crow’ or chapters from Peter Wohlleben’s ‘Spiritual Life of Animals’.

There is one more project I wanted to mention, as I recently backed it up on Kickstarter and could see it growing from scratch: a global sound installation called Birdhouse, check this out!

Balkan Hot Step

It took me a very long time to put together my impressions from various travels around Balkans. The diversity, and the amount of beautiful pictures I took was simply overwhelming and I couldn’t really decide should I be crafting a single blog entry or multiple ones.

Truth is, it’s been over a year ago since my last visit to Croatian Zadar, Nin, Plitvice Lakes and Ugljan island and I am officially ashamed of procrastinating publishing these gems.

To start off with, visiting Zadar in April 2017 was a great idea, since the springtime in Berlin didn’t really kick in, and the amount of sun, friendliness and music coming from the famous Sea Organs were literally a bliss to me, after a few intense weeks and healing after some operations I had to take last year.

I decided to take a day trip to Plitvice National Park, where the spring was only blossoming, as it is located further up in the mountains. It was still not so crowded, so I could enjoy myself visiting at my own pace, not worrying about the massive groups stepping on my shoes.

I can imagine though that Croatia, being one of the most popular tourist locations, attracts thousands of visitors to their national parks during the high season. To avoid getting too much crowds, there is a daily limit of entrance, which seems a valid thing to do to protect this stunning nature.

Some other sites around Zadar’s area I’ve visited include the picturesque town of Nin and nearby island Ugljan, where you can explore various hiking trails and peace of mind. I didn’t manage to visit the islands of Kornati where thousands of bird species are nesting, due to the lack of ferry service around the lower season.

Looking back to 2016, I spent over a week in between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, as I was invited to speak at a conference in Dubrovnik.

I was amazed by a daily trip to Mostar in Herzegovina region, where the cultures truly melt, and years after the war, the city is shining. Driving through the country, the signs of the painful times remained, making me wonder how come such terror could have happened in this beautiful land.

Dubrovnik itself is a special city. Located in a land strip between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, is typically more expensive than the rest of Croatia, but is a gem nevertheless. Old town, villas, riveras and wonderful neighbourhoods are spread around the hills and various bays.

I also took an opportunity to visit the Kotor Bay in Montenegro, which stole my heart, especially taking a boat trip to a monastery located in the middle of the bay, and exploring the sleepy and not so crowded town of Kotor.

Even though Montenegro is not a part of EU, due to an economic post-war treaty, it is possible to pay in Euro currency.

Taking time to drive around these three countries was a great experience, as I wanted to learn much as I could about various cultures, religions, conflicts and its resolutions alongside the history.

Last but not least, I explored the area of Split, where my flight was originating from and I had a great time both in the city and on the surrounding islands of Hvar and Bol.

Split is a lively port connecting Croatia and Italy, and Dalmatian history is very well preserved there. Besides the old town rich in historic monuments, there’s a lot of city beaches and relaxing spots.

It is very easy to travel from Split for a day trip and hike around the magical islands, like Hvar and Bol, with its turquoise waters and golden sands, some of them rated as a top sites according to the beachtesters.

Since Croatia has over thousands of islands to visit, I don’t think this is the last time I’ll be exploring that place and can’t wait to be back in the warmth of these regions. I still would love to visit the inland part and countries of Serbia and Macedonia, but sooner or later I know I will, especially knowing I have some great friends coming from these places. Hvala!

Italianissima

I don’t think there is such a thing like the Italian overdose, but if there is, I am close to trespassing the limit. I am the lucky one who managed to visit Italy twice this month and following the addiction metaphor, I want more of it!

I’ve been to Italy many times and it’s been always a great and intense: with an exception of working out the frustration in the touristic sites (Venice is such a dead place experience). Having said that, I loved wandering around Roma’s diverse neighbourhoods (and not caring about the infamous public transport), meeting the locals in Sardegna (and trying the best sea urchins in my life) or hiking around the beautiful Lago di Como.

More importantly, I met amazing Italian people on my way in almost all the locations I’ve lived in: be it Poland, Portugal, Barcelona or Berlin. I hate to generalize but all of them were from a different part of their country and I loved the diverse aspect of it. Apart from that, for a reason of being loyal to dressing in mostly Italian brands,  my friends call me Italianissima. Funnily enough, I never felt attracted to an idea of living in Italy or learning the language. My best friend Olga is a witness of some of my most embarrassing attempts of speaking Spanish with an Italian accent and failing it. Big time.

These two city breaks: in Naples and in Milan this month gave me such a great energy and creativity boost. The spontaneity, certain level of chaos and celebration of life and art of living with all the senses (for a reason one call it dolce vita) makes Italy so different than in other places. For a reason the Renaissance, Baroque and Quartieri della Moda were invented.

Visiting Naples was a perfect balance between the urban and landscape, and the highlight of the stay was the spontaneous visit in the Teatro San Carlo, the oldest and the most picturesque opera in the world for the acoustic concert of Al di Meola and his band. On the other hand, Milan is the non-traditional, creative burst I always enjoy, regardless of the temperatures one can expect in June.

So what’s the connection with Berlin? Of course, the cheap flight connections, though I think it’s the level of craziness and creativity. And a lots of Italians influencing the scene that make the German capital especially vibrant or sensual. And edible. And black-colour-clothes-loving.

I came back with a sound resolution of making more weekend breaks in Italy, not only to charge myself with the sun, day and night.

Update: I revisited Italy once more that year, on Sicily, and quite recently, in April 2018 in Sardegna. Seeing the diversity of these islands and the country in general, I’m looking forward to come back for more.

Sicily included a trip to Catania, Taormina, Palermo and Isola delle Femmine.

Sardegna was more of a long weekend getaway and included Costa Smeralda: Olbia, Pittulongu, and Golfo Aranci. I’ve visited the North of Sardegna in 2013 and am still in love with Alghero, Stintino and the surroundings. Hope to be back soon!

Frühlingsgefühle

The winter’s been long, and hectic; to be completely fair, I don’t know when the springtime started off this year. In a good way the restless times were filled with amazing happenings. I’ve travelled to both very distant and nearby places, I’ve been enjoying my work like never before, I’ve gradually gained more recognition externally and I’ve engaged in interesting initiatives in Berlin community for women in electronic music and tech. I also feel that I’ve never loved the city more than I do now. Although on the surface my relationship with the city rather seem like the ‘it’s complicated’ status.

Not everything’s been awesome lately. I’ve been through some health issues and it showed me the physical limits (not yet memento mori but at least giving some headspace for thinking about myself). While I’m still recovering, I’ve made the most important decision of not exceeding these limits anytime soon. I almost burned out on the job, networks and friendships, but I was lucky enough to spot the symptoms early enough and seek out for support.

I replaced the impossible agenda (even though my life is still pretty much fully planned until July 2017) with blank spots for actually being spontaneous, a space for the sheer laughter and going with the flow, like I used to in my post-Poznań and pre-Berlin life. Even that Germany is not a country for spontaneous people and not making plans leads straightforward to solitude, I prioritise it over forcing myself through 17th event on the 7th day of the week.

I still plan carefully my travels and dream about the upcoming destinations, but will plan to spend the summer in the city, sitting by the river bank, enjoying the long days and warm nights with whatever floats my boat.

Only last week beautiful things happened because of that: on Monday I booked a helicopter trip for 20 EUR for my upcoming holidays on Faroe Islands, on Tuesday I took a long walk with a friend in the sun, on Wednesday I decided to skip the meet up in Factory just to cycle and eat out with my bestie, on Thursday I enjoyed the sunset at Alt-Stralau while wearing a Brazilian bikini, on Friday I left work at 6 pm with saying that my weekend will be ‘low key’. Only to receive a call from a good old friend of mine who happened to be in Berlin. Yesterday I spent time with friends and strangers who became friends, and today I’m indulging myself in the sounds and solitude.

I’m so much looking forward to the changes and new ways of life to discover ahead of me. I’ve lately read about the DRD4-7 gene responsible e.g. for the personality trait of novelty seeking and I already know that I’m a proud owner of it. I’m predisposed to be an eternal nomad, with little tolerance to stability and boredom, and reduced ability to focus on one thing at a time. I have the feeling there’s more people with this particular trait in Berlin than in any other city I’ve lived in the past. But in order to enjoy this fantastic place to the fullest, it is crucial to recover and manage the energy.

And I have the feeling that spring/summer days are the best to do so. I’d like to thank my friend who captured the featured image of my neighbourhood on Friday evening, for reminding me about yet one more reason to love this city.

(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.

Berlin-Tokyo-connection

It’s been already 4 months since I visited Japan, but I can’t get this place out of my mind. Eating out Japanese food, drinking matcha instead of coffee and listening to Japanese jazz & funk in Berlin can help only partially, as I miss this place so much! And I only scratched the surface. However, in a way I do think that these cities are somewhat connected in the way they bridge 24/7 craziness with awesome and orderly urban planning, let alone big errors in their history and reinventing themselves after all.

So it’s high time to publish at least some of my photos taken during my 15 days travelling around and visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Koya-San, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Nagasaki, Gunkanjima, Yokohama and Nikko. Indeed, scratching the surface but there is so much to see almost everywhere!

When I landed in Tokyo, although jet lagged and overwhelmed by 22nd century inventions (TOTO included), I already felt I will love the place. I’ve chosen a good time to visit: Indian summer felt warm, but not too humid, which can be a problem if you visit Tokyo during summer months. I decided to share my time and energy between the crazy neighbourhoods like Ikebukuro, Akihabara and Shinjuku and peaceful places like Ueno Park, Asakusa or Hamarikyu Gardens.

But usual unusual places like owl shrines, directions to ‘Sunshine’, noisy pachinko spots and cat cafes were stealing my attention continuously. Crowded Tokyo makes anything possible: J-pop merging with dark techno, commercial centres located next to sacred shinto places. And its cities for some reason stay almost sterile.

Not only safety and cleanness impress tourists, also train and subway connections make you feel very small. But not lost – it’s actually very difficult to get lost in Japan, even if you don’t know the language. Everyone is helpful, patient and information is usually available in English… to some extent. For some reason I always felt I was missing out a lot, if not being ‘lost in translation’.

Among the most remarkable things I’ve done in Tokyo I listed: visiting geysha bar with my sexologist friend Masayoshi, trying to fry our own okonomiyaki with Gosia – a friend from Poznan I only managed to meet in Tokyo after years, and visiting onsen in Tokyo Dome with Kyoto-born and Spanish-speaking Yasue followed by a feast of ‘Japanese tapas’. All of that, was shockingly (!) good!

My personal highlight would definitely be digging the vinyl crates around Shibuya and Ebisu and finding some rare gems at Jazzy Sport Music Shop, to start off. And buying XS-sized Issey Miyake clothes that fit me on a ridiculous sale.

For some people the size of Tokyo is overwhelming, but I have to admit, after finding my way throughout the city, I felt pretty comfortable commuting between the neighbourhoods. I guess it’s the proportion between the amount of concrete and the green spaces that makes Tokyo such a healthy living organism. Also, I was told that it never stays the same: due to space limitations, the buildings are rebuilt approximately within 10-20 years, so chances are, that when I visit it next, I won’t recognize some of my pictures.

Day and night differ so much though. Bars between Shibuya and Shinjuku in a weird way remind me those from Berlin, and during my stay even Tresor Festival took place in Tokyo.

It all leads me to a conclusion: the discovery is never complete but there are dots that one can connect easily. It felt impossible to write a single entry about Tokyo, and after reading a few books, I know there is no such thing like a closed chapter that can be written about this city. I feel the same about Berlin, although on a different, everyday scale. Time for my last matcha latte today!