Monday, July 31, 2017

Prague & My first travel video

I've been thinking about challenging myself to make some travel videos for a long time, but never actually got around to doing it. Taking photos is so easy and safe (especially after finding out what a pain learning video editing can be!), but I've done that for years now and decided I needed to try out something new. So this time in Prague, I took maybe 3 iPhone pictures alltogether and spent the rest of the time filming instead. Having close to zero experience with filming or talking in front of a camera, I actually planned for this to be just a practice video. But heck, I worked so damn hard to sort this stuff out, so I'll share it anyway. Don't be too harsh on me, even though I'd love to hear what I could fix or do better next time!



In case if you missed it, HERE is my post about our first trip to Prague earlier this year. We ended up staying in a completely different area this time - Prague 7, just north across the river from the old town. It seemed like kind of a ghetto at first, but is actually a pretty cool alternative neighborhood and a perfect prace to get some breathing space in the evenings after having spent the day in the old town with about a million selfie stick tourists. We also found a really cool breakfast spot there - Phill's Corner. Super chill and cool, and above all, a total opposite from the old town's tourist traps. Another cool cafe to check out is Jedna, which is in the National Gallery building. It's such a cool functionalist building and it's amazing how they've managed to turn such a large and cold-looking space into something so cool and cosy.

Another good tip from this time is to get to the castle as early as possible. We got there around 9 and barely had to wait in the security line, whereas hordes of tourists were brought in by buses behind us. It was kind of scary actually... Since we were trying to make it to the castle as quickly as possible, we ended up having breakfast at the cafe inside the fortress. It's probably a no-brainer, but that was not the best experience. Bad service (the waitress went full Hermione and literally snapped at me like "it's a baguette, not a sandwich"), below average food for the price and aggressive tip-culture (10% was just added to the bill automatically and the waitress was very annoyed when I asked about it). The castle itself was cool, but absolutely packed and we could only move along the paths with the masses. Thus, if you're short on time, I'd say skip the inside of the castle, but check out the square in front of it, and most importantly the breathtaking view over the city from there.

So yea, I think between the two posts, photos and videos, I have spent quite a lot of energy on Prague here. I think next time, I'll try to go to Brno instead - I love student towns, and second biggest cities are often the best places to actually see a country. :)

PS. Can someone explain, where the best beer gardens by the river are in Prague?! Everyone keeps talking about them, but I didn't find anything very inviting-looking. Except for the one up in the Letna park, that one is a must.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

On books and living abroad

As I mentioned in my post about my Estonia trip, I read "Minu California" by Ede Schank Tamkivi during the trip. Now I have "Minu Tšehhi" next to my pillow. This Minu-series is an Estonian collection of books about different countries, written by Estonian expats (or foreigners living as expats in Estonia, to be 100% correct), and they're some of the most famous books in the country. Before those two mentioned, I've previously read the ones about the US, Narva, Alaska, Moldova, Estonia, London, Albania and Germany. Probably more, I just can't remember anymore.

Every time I read those, I think about my own life that somehow turned from an innocent study abroad in a full on expat experience in Germany before I could say Steueridentifikationsnummer. I always wonder if I'd be able to tell about my experience like that and where I'd even start. A lot of these books are based on blogs and diaries that help you remember how you felt the first time you realized how ridiculous GEZ is or learned that a Fax machine really belongs to an office environment in the most developed country in Europe in 2017. In some ways I've become so German in such a short period of time (when I returned home from my two semesters in Germany my friends told me that I look like an exchange student because of my backpack...) and that makes me wonder if I should put more effort in recording events here.

So yea, we'll see how this attempt goes. At least I always post about my trips and I have quite a few coming up this year still, so there will be pictures for sure. In any case, back to books, I lately added this Goodreads widget to my blog (on the right, probably not visible on the mobile view) so add me there! Before moving to Berlin I had this romantic mental image of big city life where I'd be commuting to work every day and reading tons of books on the subway. Well in reality I'm squeezed between all the other office rats only for a few stops on the most popular S-Bahn line going through the city centre. Nevertheless I'm trying to find more time and motivation to read lately - I also got a Kindle from Santa (:P) last year, which has been super handy on this mission since it fits into my smallest bag even and my friends are always late, haha. Not to mention the horrible mobile data prices in Germany that force you to find some offline alternatives to pass waiting time.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Estonia - Haapsalu, Saaremaa and being a tourist at home

Hey! I'm back in Berlin to unpack, repack and sleep for a night before heading to Northern Bavaria tomorrow. Well actually this post will probably be published with a delay since there was a huge misunderstanding with our internet connection. So by the time you read this, I'll probably be back again already.

Anyway, I wanted to share about my trip to Estonia this past week. Even though I missed the opportunity to see the German parliament voting to legalize gay marriage (yay for love!) live in Berlin, I was beyond excited to go home for the first time since Christmas. This time there were also a lot of firsts and new things for me, so I figured I'd list some.

  • I flew Nordica for the first time! It's the successor of Estonian Air aka. the airline founded after the previous Estonian national airline declared bankruptcy in 2015. Even though Matt has flown them once from Munich, their prices have been way too high in comparison to not only the Baltic budget airline AirBaltic but sadly even to SAS (which remains my favorite airline!). Even though I've heard some concerning stories about cancelled flights and whatnot, my personal experience with them was pretty good this time. Now all they need to do is open a Tallinn-Zurich connection, and we're set. 
  • I visited Haapsalu for the first time after at least a decade (you know you're getting old if you can say things like that). The town is seriously super cute, especially the cafes/restaurants/souvenir shops area and of course the seaside. We stayed in the Fra Mare Thalasso SPA hotel which is by far the best price-quality SPA I know in Estonia, probably due to Haapsalu being a little bit off the beaten path. But as I said, totally worth the trip! I'd definately recommend it over Laulasmaa SPA, which is a little closer to Tallinn, but has a more children-oriented swimming area (unless that's what you're looking for, of course!) and fewer other eating options and sights around. By the way, I also got my first ever full 40 minute massage, which was such a weird experience... also super painful on my shoulders, lol. 
  • I tried a bunch of Estonian craft beers, which seems to be totally "in" these days. I'm not really a beer expert, but I liked the Jaanihanso Hopped Medium Cider (nice and dry, not super sweet cider) and Pöide Schlager (a new sort from Saaremaa's Pöide) more than the ginger beer from Pihtla (apparently Estonia's oldest microbrewery, also on Saaremaa) or a local beer called Hapsal that I tried in Haapsalu. It's also interesting that Latvia's Valmiermuiža seems to have some sort of a second coming on the Estonian market. Since it was one of my Dad's favourite beers, I remember going out of my way trying to find it for him in Estonia back in the day, whereas now you can even get it on tap from multiple restauants on Saaremaa. And just as I'd said something along the lines "well they still don't have the Frišs here", I found that too, in the Retro restauant in Kuressaare. 
  • I went to a concert in an experimental event space called Triigi Filharmoonia on the north shore of Saaremaa. The weather was absolutely horrible (going from Germany to Estonia, my allergies smoothly transitioned into a cold), so we passed on the chance to check out something cool on the way up, which would have been fun otherwise. The stage is also built in a way that you should be able to watch the sunset behind the performer(s) through the glass wall. Or in our case, a very stormy grey sea, which was also mystic in a way. 
  • I read "Minu California" by Ede Schank Tamkivi. It's not necessarily a new edition in the infamous Estonian travel/expact book series, but I figured would read it as a little prep for our upcoming US trip. I enjoyed her intelligent and positive way of writing, which is why the book made it among my favorite Minu-books now. Definately recommend! 

It felt ironic to maneuver my suitcase through the youth singing festival masses on the Freedom Square and even past the "singing festival fire" being carried at the front of the procession on my last morning in Tallinn. The by far the most patriotic festival carries a different motto each time and this year it was Mina jään/Here I'll stay. But there I was, on my way back to my home away from home. I won't stay yet but I'll come back one day, I promise!



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Potsdam

A couple weeks ago, I decided to cross an item off my Berlin must-see list and took a solo day-trip to Potsdam - another city with a ton of history from Prussian monarchs to GDR times. So sadly, it's not only the enormous garden around the Sanssouci palace, that catches your eye, but also the Soviet blocks scattered around town. But as it happens, the coolest part is always the unexpected, in Potsdam's case the Dutch quarter and it's rows of red little houses built for Dutch craftsmen in the 18th century. Perfect for a sucker for tiny little cafes like me. 




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Hiking in the Sudetes

On the border between Poland and the Czech Republic is a mountain range called the Sudetes. Honestly, I knew little of the area as I spontaneously joined some friends on a hiking trip there. We obviously picked the rainiest weekend to go, so the initial plan and an attempt quickly cancelled due to heavy rain (which made for some misty photos, though) to hike on Sunday was replaced with a nap and an evening stroll by the Mumlavsky/Mumlava (???) river and its beautiful waterfall where I just couldn't contain my excitement about skipping rocks in the water and ended up falling in, dipping my camera in the river and continuing the walk with soaked shoes and pants... :P

On Monday, the weather was somewhat better and we took a ski lift (by far the most exciting part of the trip!) up from a little town called Szklarska Poreba and hiked a tour of 15-20 kilometres. The cool part was that the Karkonosze National Park up there is literally on the Polish-Czech border. We didn't even notice walking by the little stone border markes until halfway through the hike. One of those was on top of a giant rock, which I absolutely HAD to climb, but seemed to be unable to without help. As a couple of other hikers had helped me up and down, I asked one of them where they're from and she answered: "Austria. But don't worry, I was a little scared too." :D





Saturday, June 3, 2017

Siegen, Germany

As some of you might know, I'm currently doing an internship program at the German Parliament called Internationales Parlaments-Stipendium. As much as it's an awesome program, it is also keeping me crazy busy at all times, which is probably why this page has seen no action pretty much since the start of it. Nevertheless, I've finally found some time and pictures to start the mission of recording this 5-month experience of this blog, starting with my Wahlkreisreise.

Namely, a few weeks ago, I had the chance to visit my boss' electoral district. As the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has largely remained an unexplored part of Germany for me, it was a good coincidence that this trip took me to Siegen. Proper to NRW, Siegen is also big on industry, but still has a beautiful little old town area, where I took these pictures. I had no idea that the architecture in that region is so much different from what I'm used to in the south! I also loved the kind of a nordic vibe that the grey-white buildings had.










Saturday, March 11, 2017

Prague, Czech Republic

There are always these places that seem so close that I could visit them every other weekend, but in reality I somehow end up going everywhere else but there. When I lived in Estonia, it was Vilnius (I still need to go there!). In Konstanz, it's Strasbourg, Milan and Prague. Countless times I started planning a trip to the Czech capital, but it never worked out. Until now! Celebrating Matt's brother's first time in Europe, we decided to try to show him as much as possible and what better way to do it than a roadtrip - Konstanz, München, Prague and Berlin! It was such a fun time, the best possible way to move (oh yea, I live in Berlin now!) and all in all a good route to see very different cities.

Since I've been waiting for this trip forever, I had the time to develop tons of expectations on Prague. Sadly, the last weeks in Konstanz were so busy, that I hardly had the time to do the research, which I usually do very (very!) throughly. But since it was the first time in Prague for all of us, it was perfectly fine to check out all the famous sights from Charles Bridge to Prague Castle to John Lennon wall and so on. What shocked me was how touristy the historic centre was - tacky souvenir shops, overpriced restaurants and umbrella-waving tour guides everywhere. And that was in February... Thus, even though Prague is stereotypically the cheaper destination in Central Europe, this takes quite a bit of work to actually find. Now add a completely different language and constant calculations with the local currency to the pot and you get the idea of how confused we were. But we made it work and I definately plan on going back to the beautiful city some time when I can enjoy the delicious beer outside in the middle of these beautiful views (and selfie sticks). 

Tips from our experience with Prague:
1. If you go by car, exchange money ahead of time so that you can buy the highway sticker on the border without having to choose between the horrible price in Euros or the worst exchange rate offered in the country. 
2. Speaking of currency exchange, the best rate we got was from the Sparkasse (only relevant for people coming from Germany, I suppose) ATMs using the rate offered by our home bank. Kind of risky since you won't know the rate when you pull out cash, but worked out for us.
3. DO YOUR RESEARCH. It's easy to get lost and hangry in the middle of everyone trying to sell you something when you don't know what you're doing. Next time I'll try to make a list of places to eat, so that we can just head straight to a known place instead of looking for a restaurant with empty stomachs. 
4. Public transport is awesome. It takes you anywhere, saves your energy for the evening beers instead of walking all day and has reasonable pricing (we used day passes). As a bonus, you can ride these crazy long escalators to the subway. 
5. Enjoy the free views. We paid to get into the "Eiffel tower" viewing platform, but I found the views from the Castle equally as nice. In the evening, get some drinks and head up to the Metronome for the view and some more authentic environment with tons of young people. 
6. Eat those sweet roll things. I read that they aren't even Czech. I don't care what they are, they were awesome. 

Oops, I didn't plan on writing so much in this post. Here's some photo material. Since I honestly plan on going back sooner rather than later, all recommendations for Prague are welcome! Maybe I'll even manage to read some Kafka before the next trip.