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My Favourite Things About Hannover

It has to be said, when one is planning a holiday to Germany, much less thinking of MOVING to Germany, Hannover really isn’t the first city to come to mind as a very exciting or attractive option.  In fact, it probably wouldn’t even make it into your top 10 list of possible German cities to visit, ever!  I first moved here 4 years ago and, to be honest, I often ask myself how I could have ended up in such a place as this.  Hannover is a typical regional German city; it’s pretty low-key and quiet, with not MUCH going on, and for most of the year we wake up to that characteristically dark, grey, northern German sky.  Hannover was also completely decimated during the allied bombing of World War II, so a lot of the city is made up of ugly, new infrastructure.  All in all, life can get kind of miserable here.

However, Hannover has been a city that I have made my home for the last 4 years, and this has forced me to seek out the great sides of the city that ARE there – they do exist!  Even when I am fed up of life here, there are things and aspects of this city that I really do appreciate, even more so when I visit other cities which lack them.  I have also found some special corners of Hannover that I know I am going to miss when I move away, so I thought, while I am still here, that I would write about them on my blog.  Perhaps this will be a post that I can look back on if I ever feel homesick for this place (doubtful).  And if, for whatever reason, you may find yourself with some time to spend in this city, maybe you can take me up on some of these suggestions!

The first thing that I particularly like about Hannover is how convenient it is to get around the city.  The main hub of the city is pretty small which means that I can pretty much get around everywhere fairly quickly by foot – for someone like me who doesn’t drive, this is wonderful.  It’s also a very bike-friendly city, with proper bike paths on basically every street. The street tram and bus transport system works really well too, if you do need to get to a more remote area, and the lines will even take you way out-of-town to neighbouring villages.  Local transport is also very cheap; a day ticket for zone 1 is only about €5.50 and for all 3 zones it still costs under €10.  Just knowing that transport is there for me if I need it is very freeing and I am thankful to have been able to make use of it.

 

Something that I have noticed about Hannover which I think makes it a really unique place, especially in comparison to other German cities, is that the culture and lifestyle of the people here is very normal and pretty low-stress.  Wealth is not at all displayed in this city; there are very few expensive or designer shops, there is no ‘super-rich area’, no pretentiousness and no feeling of disparity between the different classes of people.   It really doesn’t matter which neighbourhood you say you live in, in Hannover, and I appreciate that people across the whole city have a general feeling of community – everyone is just going about their normal day-to-day business, and that makes it an easy place to live.

The amount of green space that this city holds is wonderful.  There is a huge forest called the Eilenriede, or Alder Moor, right in the centre of the city, directly behind the Musik Hochschule actually, and Hannover is full of other smaller parks, trees and nice greenery.  The river that flows through Hannover, the Leine, also has lovely green parks running alongside it, which makes for some nice walks and is also a great place to drink a beer or cook up a barbeque on a warm summer evening.  One of my favourite spots to go for walks, especially as it is around the corner from where I live, is up around the Deister Berg.  You walk up a small hill and instantly feel like you are in the countryside.  The best time of year up there is in the spring, when the bluebells come out and are just gorgeous.

Bluebells up on Deister Berg

An autumnal walk around the Deister

 

I couldn’t write about Hannover without mentioning beer – beer culture here is just as strong as it is anywhere in Germany.  There are two particular features of how the Hannoverians treat beer that I especially enjoy.  The first conveniently leads on from my previous point about the city’s green spaces and nice walks, and that is the wonderful beer gardens that Hannover boasts.  I know they exist elsewhere too, but I do love to spend evenings with friends at the beer gardens here; the atmosphere is always so friendly and jovial and it’s always a fun time!  My favourite beer gardens in Hannover are situated in the middle of nice walks around the city, which is why these two things go together no nicely!  There’s the one on top of Deister Berg, located in an old water tower called Lindener Turm, there’s one at Waterloo Platz, which is huge and great for watching big football matches, and there’s a smaller and more hippie one called Biergarten Gretchen which is very nice too!  The second way I like to enjoy beer in Hannover is by something called KioskKultur.  Hannover has the largest number of kiosks (like a newsagent or corner store) of any German city, and a very strong part of life here is to get together with friends, grab a beer from a kiosk and enjoy it outside together while wandering around or sitting somewhere in public.  On any normal Friday evening, or Feierabend as we call it, this is what you will see most people doing – the vibes are definitely very chilled and it’s a really nice way to unwind at the end of the week.

The beer garden at Lindener Turm, one fall Sunday

Delicious pumpkin cake also served at the turm!

 

Germany is so steeped in history, and although, as I mentioned earlier, Hannover was mostly destroyed during the Second World War, there are small souvenirs of history dotted around the city which are really interesting to see.  If you head into the Neues Rathaus, the new town hall – also quite a fine and impressive looking building with nice views from the top, you can look at the four miniature models of Hannover that have been set up.  There is one to represent what the city looked like during the Middle Ages, one at the outbreak of the war, another just after the war, and one showing what the city looks like now.  It’s remarkable to see all the different stages of development and destruction that Hannover has gone through.  Across from the Rathaus are the remains of an old bombed out church called the Aegidienkirche, originally built in the 1300s.  These remains have been left by the city as a war memorial and every day, four times per day, the restored bells ring out over the city.  There is also a ‘peace bell’ located in the bell tower – a gift to Hannover from its sister city of Hiroshima, Japan.  Every year, on 6th August, both cities ring their bells together as a tribute to their sad histories.  Another interesting sight to see in Hannover is the Maschsee, although it too has a dark story.  During the years of the Third Reich, Hitler ordered for this lake to be built out of slave labour by the persecuted Jews.  Today you can still see where the old Nazi monument stood, although the city parliament has done it’s best to deface it and now even holds food and music festivals around this lake!

Old Nazi monument at the Maschsee

View of the Rathaus over the Maschsee

 

Speaking of festivals, there are so many going on in Hannover, all year round.  The best one though, and the one that I truly will be missing, is the Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market.  Of all the Christmas markets that I have been to all around Germany and Austria, Hannover’s is honestly the best one!  There are so many different sections to it, each with their own special delicacy; the cosy pine forest, the Scandinavian log fire-roasted salmon, the medieval street performers, the blacksmiths, the amazing sausages and spicy mustard, the mead, the little market stalls selling handmade decorations and textiles… And the Glühwein!!! Glühwein with rum, Glühwein with amaretto, Glühwein with brandy.  Oh, it is so delicious and so perfect for a cold winter night!

‘The Pyramid’ – The notorious meeting spot for Glühwein at Hannover’s Weihnachtsmarkt

 

Lastly, I thought I would just mention a few other things I like to do in my spare time in Hannover, and the places I like to go.  In Hannover’s most famous attraction, the Herrenhausen Palace, is a building called the Orangerie – a large room totally decked out with insanely beautiful (and original!) murals all over the walls.  Perhaps I am biased because I have seen only fabulous concerts here, including one by Isabelle Faust that I won’t ever forget, but it is such an amazing space to see a performance in, so I definitely recommend checking out what’s on there.

The beautiful interior of the Orangerie

We don’t get very many movies in their original languages here in Hannover, and most English films are unfortunately dubbed.  However, every now and then there are a couple of really cool cinemas that do show original movies and they are really fun to see.  The Astor is a bigger cinema, with lots of screens and the full popcorn-movie experience, although it’s not the cinema that the kids choose to go to which makes it a much more pleasant experience!  If you pay a few more €’s, you can also be served wine and beer at your comfortable reclining seat!  Another tiny independent cinema is called the Hochhaus Lichtspiele – they show only independent or foreign films in their original version, about once per month.  There is only one screen here and it’s a very casual atmosphere, with scattered comfy seating and simple cushions on the floor, if that’s what floats your boat.

The Altstadt flea market, which takes place every Saturday along the Leine, come rain or shine, is something in Hannover that is not to be missed.  It is Germany’s oldest flea market and it’s huge!  You can find lots of treasures here; from unique LP’s to bits of handcrafted furniture, jewellery and old china wares.  It’s also where I got my Zassenhaus coffee mill for 20 Euros!

Some scenes from the Altstadt Flea Market

 

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Neuschwanstein Castle: How To Do It and Everything You Need To Know

Schloss Neuschwanstein is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and interesting castles I have ever visited – and I have lived in Europe all my life, I’ve been to a lot of castles.  Built surprisingly NOT that long ago in the second half of the 19th century by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the castle is located deep in the heart of the Bavarian region of Germany, about two hours outside of Munich, towering above the small village of Hohenschwangau.  The castle itself was originally intended to be a quiet and remote refuge, just far enough away from Munich, where Ludwig II, who was somewhat of a recluse, wanted to live out his last days in peace and privacy.  As a personal homage to Wagner, the king adorned the interior rooms of the castle with stunning frescos that depict all of Wagner’s operas and, combined with strategically placed balconies that give truly awe-inspiring views, this is a REAL fairytale castle to behold.

 

 

For a long time now, I have been wanting and planning to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein, and I finally got the chance to last week.  After my visit, I came away with many thoughts about the whole experience, which I thought might be worth writing up in a blog post here, in case any readers may also be interested in visiting this castle.  I will say that a visit to this castle is definitely worthwhile and you SHOULD go.  However, there are some extremely useful things to know beforehand, some that I did and others that I wish I did, so I hope you find this post helpful.  * I will not discuss the castle itself or its history in this post, other than what I outlined in the introductory paragraph – this post will only cover how to visit the castle and what to expect when you get there.

The first thing to know about visiting Neuschwanstein, before you decide to go and start planning your trip, is that it is totally over-run with tourists.  I don’t say this to put you off going – I still maintain that a visit to this castle is worthwhile – but you have to keep in mind that the crowds and tour buses and selfie-sticks and cheap souvenirs are RIFE.  They try to get as many people through the interior room tour of the castle as quickly as possible, which means there really is no time to stop and admire the beauty of it all, except for a second, before being herded off into the next room (but more about the interior tour later).  So, if you are OK with dealing with tourists and crowds and crowds of people, then great, but if you know you cannot get on board with that, then I would suggest doing something else.

How to get there

The train

If you are travelling to Neuschwanstein independently by train from Munich, don’t worry, it’s not a complicated trip.  You will need to take a train from Munich Main Station (München Hauptbahnhof) to Füssen – it takes about two hours and Füssen is the last stop on the line so you can’t miss it.  By the way, the train journey becomes very scenic as you approach the mountains, so try to get a window seat!  Once you arrive in Füssen, you take a bus no. 78 to Neuschwanstein Castle – it will say this on the front of the bus and there will be hundreds of people taking the same bus (usually they actually provide a few buses leaving at the same time) so just follow the crowd if you aren’t sure!  The bus drops you off just at the bottom of the mountain on which the castle sits, and there will be signs to the ticket centre.

Buying the travel tickets

Very important: don’t fall into the trap of buying the VERY expensive full price train ticket from Munich to Schloss Neuschwanstein, which can cost over €100!!  If you are travelling alone or in a group of up to 5 people, get the Bavarian region ticket, or Bayern Ticket, available from any ticket machine.  This ticket allows you to travel anywhere within the region of Bavaria on any regional RE/RB train (so NOT an ICE train, which you don’t need for Neuschwanstein anyway), as well as on any local transport services, and it is MUCH cheaper.

For 1 person: €23

For 2 people: €31

For 3 people: €37

For 4 people: €43

For 5 people: €49

This ticket will get you all the way to the castle and back, and then to wherever you are staying in Munich city!  One thing to remember about the Bayern Ticket, is that it cannot be used before 9am – for getting to Neuschwanstein this means the first train you can take from Munich is at 09:52, arriving at the castle at about 12:20.

Getting up to the castle

Once you have acquired your tickets for entrance to the castle from the ticket centre, you may hike up the hill to the castle, which takes 35-40 minutes, take a horse-drawn cart, €7 to get up the hill and €3.50 to go down, or take the shuttle bus, also for a small fee.  Note: if you decide to take the horse cart or the bus up to the castle, you will be dropped off a little way down from the castle, so there will still be a bit of walking to do.  If you are travelling with someone who is disabled, they may find this difficult.

When you arrive up at the castle, there will be many viewpoints and benches to sit and have a snack on, as well as maps and touristy souvenir shops.  You will have a tour time designated to you on your ticket and you can enter the castle at that time.  Upon entering the castle, your bag will be checked by a very friendly and jolly security team and if you are wearing a backpack, you will be asked to wear it front ways, so just be prepared for that.

What to do at the castle

Castle tickets

I would highly recommend booking your tickets to enter the castle online in advance, as the queue to buy them then and there went on for miles!  I know the website can be a bit confusing, but basically how it works is: you reserve the number of tickets that you want online, stating whether you also want to include the tour of the interior rooms, and provide your credit card info online in advance (you won’t be charged at this point).  If you choose to do the interior tour, you must select a time for the tour that is 90 minutes after you arrive at the castle, so that you have ample time to look around and get up to the castle entrance.  Therefore, at this point, you have to figure out your arrival times/train times.  We took the 09:52 train mentioned above, and had booked our tour for 14:50, and this gave us loads of time to have lunch, take it all in, take some pictures etc.  So I would recommend following a schedule like that.

When you arrive at the ticket centre, you may join the (much smaller and quicker) line for pre-reserved tickets – make sure you have your confirmation email of your reserved tickets to show the ticket person.  Then you are free to do as you like until your tour time!

If you have opted out of the tour, there is still plenty to do; you can hike up to the castle and around it to the Marienbrücke, you can rent a paddle boat and go out onto the gorgeous lake, have a picnic, stop at a Gasthaus…

 

 

The interior tour

OK – I’ll say it again, I really do think that seeing inside of the castle is worth it.  It is unlike anything I have seen; the murals and paintings depicting different Wagner operas are stunning, each room is different and decorated in a unique style and the views from the windows and balconies are absolutely amazing … it’s definitely a special place.

BUT.  What they really mean by ‘tour’, is that you will be in a group of about 100 people, and every person will be given their own audio guide (mine failed to work for the first few minutes).  The ‘tour guide’ will activate all the audio guides at the same time, to which we will all listen in silence.  Each audio clip for each room lasts about 3 minutes, before we are quickly herded into the next.  In most cases, as I was at the back of the tour, I didn’t even manage to squeeze into the room that the audio guide was telling me about at that moment, so the audio guide really became irrelevant to me.  The tour behind ours even began to overtake me, so there really is NO time to linger and look more closely at the artwork, which is SUCH a shame.

So, there it is.  If you are claustrophobic, or can’t stand that kind of treatment, this isn’t for you.  I feel somewhat conflicted because I hated it, but am still glad I got to see those brilliant paintings, which I will remember.  Also, good to know is that there are lots of windy narrow staircases, so if you have vertigo this might not be for you.

 

 

Marienbrücke

Leading off from the entrance to the castle, you have the option to walk over to the Marienbrücke – about a 20-minute hike that takes you to a bridge which gives you the best views over the castle.  Again, I did it, and I’m glad because I got some good photos, but you could barely move on the bridge at all because of the number of people who were on it.  We were all pretty much pressed right up against each other – not a nice experience and actually a little scary as you could definitely feel the dangerously thin-looking wooden planks under you wobble under the weight of all the people!

Practical info

What to eat

There are several options for what to do about food on your visit to Neuschwanstein.  First, you have the village of Füssen, where you arrived at by train.  There are several Gasthauses there.  I can’t say this for sure, but it looked to me like the closer you got to the castle itself, the more touristy and not very good the Gasthauses/cafes seemed to be! When you alight from the 78 bus near the ticket centre for the castle, you have more options for these kinds of cafes. They are all extremely typical Bavarian in style and food that they offer, and looked pretty expensive.  As you make your way up to the castle, you will have more of these options, as well as the chance to buy ice-creams and snacks from the little shops around the entrance to the castle.

What I honestly suggest is to bring your own picnic.  The nature of the place is what is most beautiful, and if you are lucky enough to go on a day with great weather, why not make the most of it!  There are lots of nice spots to set up in, which is what we did, and it felt wonderful to enjoy some food outside in that environment.

 

 

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A Few More Berlin Gems For A Lazy Day

It’s fair to say that I’ve written about Berlin at great length here on my blog.  It is truly a fascinating city, with SO much going on and so many different kinds of life being lived there – if you are curious to read more about my thoughts on the city and why I love it, please check out my post ‘5 Things I Love About Berlin’.  If you are heading to Berlin and are in need of some specific recommendations, I also wrote a trilogy of blog posts featuring my favourite ‘Restaurants’, ‘Drinks’, and ‘Attractions’ in the city, so feel free to explore those too!

The thing about Berlin is, every single time you go there, you uncover some new amazing place that you didn’t know about before!  The city is constantly evolving, new eateries, exhibitions and shops are springing up all the time and the city is so progressive, which is something that I love so much about it.  I recently had a free day to spend in Berlin, and I decided NOT to return to any of my old favourite haunts (where I would normally go), but instead chose to explore only new places that I hadn’t yet been to.  I found some real gems that you may not yet know about, as well as a couple of more well-trodden corners that you probably do, so I thought I would collect them all here in one post, for the next time you (or I!) might need some fresh suggestions for ways to spend a lazy free day in Berlin.

Bites To Eat

First off and most importantly: food.  Always a very difficult decision when in Berlin, because there is SO MUCH good food on pretty much every street.  I do have a couple of new recommendations for you though, and they are both incredible and must-gos.

For breakfast/brunch, I decided to try Commonground (a sister cafe to Silo, which I have also mentioned on my blog before and also an AMAZING brunch spot).  Commonground is a big open plan cafe – I happened to visit on a hot summers day, and they had all the front windows and doors wide open which was heavenly.  The food is ridiculously great; I had poached eggs on their unique Sironi bread, smashed avocado and salsa verde, and LOTS of bacon (by the way, there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options!).  The coffee is also spot on.  I would say Commonground is perfect if you have a group of people, the staff are all SO friendly and the vibes are just great!

The Commonground breakfast!

Brunch at Commonground pretty much kept me going all day, until about 9pm, which is when I decided to grab some dinner at Cocolo Ramen.  I chose this place because I fancied some ramen and all the reviews online claimed that this was the BEST ramen in Berlin, so my expectations were pretty high.  Things to know about Cocolo Ramen before you go there: they take no reservations, and it is a tiny and extremely popular restaurant, so you have to be prepared to queue out the door for anywhere up to an hour (at popular times).  I would suggest going later, maybe around 10 or 11pm, and not to go in big groups – as I was by myself I actually got seated ahead of a lot of people which was a plus.  I have to say though, the ramen is totally worth it – it is delicious.  The kitchen is right out front, and if you can manage to bag a seat at the bar, you can watch them cooking which is fun.  The menu is pretty small – you can basically choose from about 4 or 5 different ramens (and a few other things on the menu), ranging in price up to about  €10 – and their turnover is fast, so don’t take too long over your food!  But the atmosphere is fabulous and this place is a real little gem!

I got the pork broth – delicious!

Coffee

If you are like me, then coffee is an absolute priority, and just spending an hour in a cute coffee shop is the perfect plan for a sunny afternoon!  Berlin offers some really fantastic and locally owned independent coffee jaunts – they are all over the city so please never, ever, feel like you have to rely on Starbucks for your pick-me-up!  This time, I tried a new coffee place, Ben Rahim.  It is absolutely tiny, and totally hidden away – if you didn’t know about it, I don’t think you would ever find it!  You sort of have to find your way through an alley and then a courtyard and then another alley and then you might spot it.  If the weather is good they put little tables and benches outside, and as it is so tucked away, it feels very peaceful and lovely to enjoy your coffee outside. (But there is also some seating indoors for the cold days too.)  Ben Rahim specialises in Arabian coffee and tea, and you can definitely also get your own preferred style of coffee there too.  As it was such a hot day when I visited, I decided to try their iced latte, and I thought how they made it was genius; they make the espresso shots in ice cubes and freeze them, and then add them to milk when one is ordered.  As you drink it the ice-cube melts and the coffee gets stronger as it slowly dissolves into the milk, which I just loved.  It was a beautiful coffee and I would love to go back there and try their other blends too.

My iced-latte at Ben Rahim

Independent and Vintage Shopping

Of course, Berlin has a large (and slightly tedious) shopping district.  But if you are more into cute little boutiques and vintage shops then I have a few suggestions for you!  For clothes, I would definitely recommend checking out Paul’s Boutique.  It is a little hole-in-the-wall style shop, full of second-hand and vintage clothes for men and women.  They have lots of cool brands and vintage style garments, including a selection of Doc. Martens and Levis.  Even if you don’t find something you like, or you aren’t particularly looking for anything, it is really fun to just look around and see what you can find.  If you are looking for a larger selection of second-hand and vintage clothes, check out Humana – there are actually a few of these stores around the city, and they tend to be pretty big.  Humana offers a wide variety of clothes and ‘stuff’, for men and women, at a range of different prices, from €2 to €200, so again, it’s just fun to see what you can find.  I have had a lot of luck there was things like concert clothes, jeans, shirts… it’s a cool store!

If you are a bookworm looking for some great deals on second-hand books in Berlin, definitely head to St. Georges English Bookshop.  There is a huge selection of all kinds of books here, from floor to ceiling (literally), mainly in English but also in a few other languages too.  From novels to cookbooks, books on Hitler and the war, religion, kids books… it is definitely a little nook to get lost in for a while!  They also sell some new books at regular prices too, and if you are looking for something in particular and are going to be in Berlin for a while, they will happily order it for you.

Attractions

If you fancy spending an afternoon at a museum or an evening at a concert in Berlin, I’ve got you covered.  Berlin is FULL of artistic events going on all the time; every single day there are literally 1000s to choose from.  I wrote a blog post recently on my experience visiting the ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie (read it here!), and if you happen to be in Berlin until the 16th September 2018, definitely get yourself to that!  If not though, or if painting isn’t really up your street but you are interested in other mediums of art, Museum Island is a great place to start in Berlin.  It is a little island in the middle of the city, where all the big museums are located.  If you really want to throw yourself into art and culture you can purchase a day ticket which will allow you entry into all the museums in one day!  Otherwise, I can tell you that the Pergamon Museum (also mentioned previously on my blog!) which houses the Gates of Ishtar, amongst several other amazing things, is seriously awe-inspiring, incredible, mind-boggling and you HAVE to see it.  I mean, you get to actually see a whole Greek temple inside the museum.  It is awesome.

Alte Nationalgalerie, Museum Island, Berlin

If you are seeking a good concert to go to that is maybe a little removed from the mainstream concerts of the Philharmonie hall (which are nevertheless fantastic), check out the newest addition to Berlin’s concert hall scene, the Pierre Boulez Saal.  This hall, nicknamed the Oval Office of concert halls, is the result of a project initiated by Daniel Barenboim.  It is a smaller, more intimate chamber hall which is dedicated to hosting exciting and innovative concerts and music projects in Berlin, which don’t stay strictly true to old-fashioned style classical music concerts.  Keep an eye out for a blog post coming soon on the breath-taking concert that I was lucky enough to witness there when I visited (and which was the sole reason for this day that I got to spend in Berlin!).

Sneak peek of an upcoming post, telling you all about this unique and stunning concert that I saw at the Pierre Boulez Saal

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10 Tips For Self-Care When Travelling

The season of travel is truly upon us!  Summer vacations, festivals, camps, conferences, weddings and a multitude of other summer activities and events mean that many of us will be away from home for a large portion of these upcoming weeks and months.  As I write this, I am sitting in a cafe in Salzburg, and, like all summers that I have spent here previously, I am again struck by the THRONGS of tourists bringing the streets of this city to life.

While travelling, visiting new places and exploring different cultures is SO exciting and a real privilege to be able to do, it can also be quite a stressful activity.  I have often heard people remark on the fact that, although they enjoyed their holiday on the whole, it didn’t turn out to be the incredible and fantastic adventure that they envisioned it would be, and I have come to believe that there is reason behind the saying ‘the best part about going away is coming home again’.  I think even the most seasoned travellers among us would agree that being away from home can be really difficult; we are displaced from all of our normal routines and suddenly without access to the regular home ‘comforts’ that we have implemented into our daily lives that we perhaps never realised were quite so important in making ourselves feel good.

The truth is that self-care really is important; it is what makes our bodies and minds tick, and what makes us be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.  And it shouldn’t have to stop when we leave our homes and go somewhere else – in fact, these might be the times when we need it most!  I have compiled my own list of self-care essentials for when I travel in the hopes that they might help some of you out too.  These are things that I know I need in my life so that I can function best, and therefore get the most out of every day, which is what we all want when we travel anyway! I have divided my list into different levels of necessity, starting with the absolute non-negotiables – the most vital self-care requirements to staying in top shape – working my way down to the more ‘luxury’ conditions – things that I don’t strictly need every day when travelling and that don’t really matter if I can’t get access to them, but that would just be nice.

Absolutely Necessary

  1. Sleep.  No question.  A decent night’s sleep is the most fundamental requisite to staying in good shape, when travelling or at home!  It doesn’t have to be a fancy hotel to do the job well either.  I’ve found that making sure my body is at a comfortable temperature and earplugs if I am sharing a room go a long way, and it doesn’t hurt to have some Nyquil in my bag either.  Whatever works for you to get a good sleep, do that.  And prioritise it!  I’ve definitely learned the hard way (admittedly, especially as I’ve gotten older) that my body just can’t keep up with staying out and socialising all night and then working at 100% the following day.  I’ve trained myself to ditch the FOMO and put my sleep at number 1, which means that I will maybe stay out for 1 drink before hitting the sack at 10 or 11pm, and not feel pressured into ordering another pitcher of beer (which inevitably turns into an all-nighter), and this has helped me out so much when travelling!
  2. Regular routines.  Obviously, nothing is really regular when we travel – every circumstance is temporary and different.  But I have found that the more that I can keep any kind of regularity in my bodily functions, the better I feel.  This means sleeping and waking at around the same kinds of times each day, eating at regular intervals so I don’t get overcome with hunger and hangry and (sorry to be TMI) making sure I have access to a washroom at about the same times each day too.  Especially if you are like me, and your body tends to have it’s own very clear clock and schedule, this last one is really important!
  3.  Coffee.  Well, for me it’s coffee, but for you it could be anything else; tea, a banana, a certain brand of orange juice, a bottle of wine…  I’m talking about that one thing that you know you need.  Don’t avoid thinking about it, if you know you need that one thing every day to make you feel the best – make a plan for how you are going to get it!  For me, I bring my Aeropress and a little bag of coffee with me everywhere – I just can’t rely on there always being a decent cup of coffee wherever I am, and I’ve suffered with instant crap enough to know that I need something better.   Maybe you can bring your own tea bags with you and a travel kettle, if that’s what you need.  Maybe you want to pack extra supplies of granola bars or nuts, if you know you are a picky eater and you want to make sure there will be something for you to eat.  Whatever it is, think about it in advance and make sure you can have it!
  4.  My water bottle.  It’s an easy one but it is definitely a permanent travel companion of mine.  I hopped on the reusable water bottle trend a few years ago, and haven’t really left home without one since.  Travelling is thirsty work, and there is really no need to continually buy bottles of water, nor to contribute to that needless waste of plastic.  I love having my own water bottle in my bag, and I find that I fill it up two or three times a day when I travel, which just shows how necessary it is to me.  I highly recommend getting your own, and here’s to staying hydrated! Just FYI, I use one by the American brand Nalgene, and I like it because it’s BPA free and it holds 1000 ml of water which is plenty but also doesn’t make it too heavy to carry.  Also, it’s a pretty colour.

Moderately Necessary

  1.  Physical activity.  I decided to put this in the Moderately Necessary category, because I know that lazy beach holidays are a thing and definitely have their place, and sometimes it is good to take this kind of break.  But, for me, even on this kind of vacation, making sure I have some kind of movement and activity in my day really helps me to feel so much more energised and mentally positive.  I love to explore new places by foot, as I think it’s the best way to really get to know a new environment, so walking is usually my preferred and most accessible form of activity.  If I happen to be staying in a hotel with a gym I will always try to use it (and I always pack some light work-out clothes accordingly), but if this isn’t possible, I would definitely recommend downloading and following the 7 Minute Work-Out app on your phone.  I really got into using this app when I was travelling for a couple of months straight last summer.  It offers a work out routine that you can do anywhere, and which involves no equipment, so it’s really easy and effective (definitely gives you a sweat!).  There are lots of other good apps too, including ones for stretching (although I would love any recommendations you might have for this!) and they are free, really beneficial and so easy to incorporate into your travel routines.
  2. Good food.  Again, I know there are some people who would disagree and put this one in the Absolutely Necessary list.  The reason I put it here is mostly to do with the matter of budget.  I am very open about the fact that I am pretty much always travelling on a tight budget, and in some places this can accommodate a great diet, with lots of great and cheap healthy food.  But in lots of places (unfortunately the places I tend to go most often), it just isn’t possible to get the best, most nutricious meals every day.  I would say, just do the best you can, and prioritise food as you want to.  For me, I know that I can’t afford to eat really good meals out every day, so I will make sure that I have a bag of apples to snack on, opt for buying some salady stuff for picnic lunches (which is just as cheap as buying fast food, where I am anyway) and find ways of having access to a small kitchen – either through friends or often hotels and hostels have them available for guests to use – so that I can prepare cheaper dinner options myself.  Fruit and veg are really what I try to go for as much as I can, and I will avoid quick, greasy junk food where possible.  Maybe you can choose to eat one really good and healthy meal each day, and just make do on bread and cheese for the rest of the time.  Perhaps food is higher on your priority list, so that you decide to save on other things like taxis or tram tickets.  But travelling should never be an excuse to binge on junk food just because that is what is most easily accessible to you. Putting effort in to find the best food options for you is really important.
  3.  Communication.  I know, sometimes we travel precisely to get away from everyone and everything.  And I enjoy that sense of liberation too.  But I still do find it moderately necessary to keep some amount of communication to the world going.  I need to be able to reach my boyfriend or my family, I might want to tell a friend about something exciting that I experienced that day, and just keeping up with the news these days is no small task.  A little bit of WiFi time each day for me is perfect, just to keep in touch.  Occasionally, and for very special people, I’ll even write a postcard.

Luxuriously Necessary

  1.  Downloaded podcasts.  Podcasts are a fixed and firm aspect of my everyday life at home, and I would definitely count them as a part of my regular self-care routine.  I find them interesting and entertaining, and they represent a way for me to escape my own world for a bit, to stop thinking about my own problems and just relax! (By the way, I’ve written a couple of blog posts on some of my favourite podcasts – check them out here if you need some recommendations!)  When I travel, I totally rely on having some pre-downloaded podcasts ready to go.  I listen to them while actually travelling, on planes and trains, or any time I don’t have access to WiFi (which can be often) and they also help me to get to sleep too.  I also sometimes have some downloaded TV shows or movies from Netflix on my tablet, and I know some people would opt for this, but for me, it’s podcasts all the way.
  2.  A good book.  I mean, because a good book is to travelling like hot sauce is to eggs.  They just go.  Even if you never have time to open it, just knowing that you have the option of reading a great book is like having a feeling of peaceful security in your bag.  I am on the brink of jumping on the Kindle bandwagon (a bit late to the party, I know) and would love to know your thoughts on this.  Are you a kindle person, or will nothing ever replace a real-life book for you?
  3.  My penknife.  My penknife is definitely a luxury; I do always take it with me when I travel, but I don’t always use it.  I have to say, the most useful element of the knife is the corkscrew/beer bottle opener!  But for those couple of times that I have been stuck without a knife, it has totally saved me.  Sometimes you need a knife to cut bread and cheese for a picnic.  Now and then you get some kind of technical issue with a suitcase that requires a knife to sort it out.  My knife also comes with tweezers, which I have definitely also found useful, and the screwdriver function has also meant that I have never had to buy a screwdriver – win!  It’s not hugely necessary, but it is really nice to have and when it does come in handy, I am always so thankful for it!

I would love to know what your self-care tips for travelling are!  Do you have a special pillow that you always take with you?  Is there an app on your phone that you use to make lists or travel arrangements?  Do invest in travel-sized products that help you maintain your favourite routines? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below!

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Wanderlust at Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie

What does ‘Wanderlust’ really mean?

‘Wandering’ is an expression that feels somehow very luxurious and romantic to me; it makes me think of a movement that is slow, unhurried and meaningful, of someone who takes pleasure and joy in walking at their own gentle pace, taking the time to contemplate life as they wander – I can’t help but be reminded of the hymn, ‘I wonder as I wander’!  At the same time, I feel that wandering could just be about the act in itself, the very journey that is being carried out as one wanders.  I know that when I set out for a wander, my only intention is to do just that, nothing else must be achieved during my wander except the actual wander itself and maybe that is what is so luxurious!

When we pair these feelings about wandering with a kind of lust or a desire, ‘wanderlust’ seems to embody a deeper state of mind, a psychology combined with a passion.  Perhaps wanderlust symbolises a connection with nature or a world traveller, maybe it’s about an artist looking for inspiration.  Perhaps too, at its core, wanderlust really epitomises the tumultuous journey through life.

I hadn’t really thought much about the meaning of wanderlust, or how I felt about it, until I visited the wonderful ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island in Berlin.  The exhibition aims to explore all of these different concepts surrounding wanderlust, it’s many dimensions and the allegories that represent its ideas, found in the paintings of artists such as Caspar David Friedrich and Auguste Renoir, and it is the first ever art exhibition in the world to focus on this theme!  I actually found the exhibition and the artwork that was presented so powerful and enlightening that I just can’t believe that this has never been done before!

Firstly, if you are a fan of the 19th century German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, you absolutely have to get to the exhibition.  There is an entire room dedicated to his work, which includes the infamous ‘Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog’, completed in 1818.  I had wanted to see this painting for a long time, so this was a definite pull for me, and I was pretty awestruck by it!  It is so immense in its ideas, one lone man facing the world, shrouded in a mysterious haze, not knowing what lies beneath the fog… David Friedrich was one of the first painters to present figures with their backs to the viewer, and I find this adds such a personal but dramatic element to the ideas of the painting as well; we see what the man standing in the painting sees, his view is also our view so we could almost be him.  Our attention is drawn, not to him, but to what he is looking at, and that is so interesting!

 

 

I was extremely happy to be introduced to some other incredible paintings by David Friedrich at the exhibition too. I find his work to be very quietly powerful.  It’s not pretentious, or ‘showy-offy’.  It is humble and yet it addresses huge questions concerning life, the world, humanity… There was another portrait at the exhibition which was painted of David Friedrich working in his studio.  I was interested to learn that his workspace was utterly minimal; literally just an easel and canvas.  Apparently, he hated any kind of mess in his work environment, as when he was painting he wanted only to live in that world, with no reminders of his ‘real’ life.  I love to learn these snippets of information about artists whom I admire; it gives them such a character and personality in my mind and lets me see their work with more of them in it.

 

 

I saw several other fabulous paintings, but one that really stayed with me was ‘The Wetterhorn Mountain’ by Karl Eduard Biermann, from 1830.  It is difficult to see clearly in the photo below (click on the image to enlarge it), but there are two haggard and struggling climbers which contrast so starkly with the awesome and brilliant white mountain peaks.  Nature is all-powerful in this painting, while man seems so weak, human life so short and fleeting compared to the indestructible mountains and valleys.  I love the darkness and the light, I love the personality of both nature and humanity, and I find this painting altogether very inspiring!

 

 

The exhibition has so much to offer; there are, of course, very grand paintings as well as small sketches, sculptures and even music videos, including one by the Icelandic singer, Bjork.  In total, there are over 120 pieces of work on display, all arranged into different sections which showcase different aspects of Wanderlust, from ‘The Discovery of Nature‘ to ‘Life’s Journey‘, ‘Artists Wanderings‘, ‘Landscapes‘ and more.

As I wandered around the exhibition, it struck me just how poetic it all really was!  I was wandering through a ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition, contemplating beautiful works of art presenting ideas of wanderlust, as I myself experienced wanderlust.  In a beautiful twist of meta, wanderlust became the very act of going to the exhibition!

The exhibition is open until the 16th September (2018) and if you happen to be in Berlin until then I SO encourage you to go!  It takes roughly 2.5 hours to see it all, and I recommend getting the audio guide, unless all you really want to do is wander!

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Getting Lost and Secret Records | Banff Diaries 4

The slideshow is staying! In this video, I explain my plans for executing the slideshow while I perform and… I also get a bit lost in the mountains! It’s a short and sweet one today, hope you enjoy!

Check out my last video, where I talk about the wonderful live poetry reading I went to and also give you an update on how the whole project is coming together!

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Shedding Light on Female Artists | Banff Diaries 2

In this video I talk about the questions that have been on my mind since being at the Banff Centre; about staying motivated to make music and art in a world full of monsters like Trump and, particularly, about all of the women artists that have been forgotten or were never known, simply because they were women. I am hoping, with my project, to shed some light on this issue, and to give at least one of these women a voice.

Check out my last video, where I arrived at the beautiful Banff Centre and began my artist residency here!

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Arrival and Feeling Inspired | Banff Diaries 1

 

I’ve arrived at Banff! With its staggering natural beauty and community of creatives with completely unique artistic projects, I’m feeling really inspired to get down to work. In this video diary, I take you from Germany to Calgary, up Tunnel Mountain, and around the Banff Centre campus (*complete with a tour of the breakfast buffet!).  Hope you enjoy!

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Salzburg Concert Vlog

 

Here is my video diary of my trip to Salzburg to perform 6 of Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté’s 10 Solo Violin Caprices in a concert for my classmates and teacher. I am getting to know this music better and better and this was a valuable experience, to hear their reactions to the music as well as experience for myself what it was like to perform it.

 

 

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Inspirations from India

The Gateway of India, Mumbai

I spent this Christmas (2017) in India.  It was my first time visiting this country, and it was a more intensely life-altering and challenging experience than I ever imagined it could be.  Since coming home last week, I am finding that I am re-evaluating everything and looking at my life completely differently; I am seeing with new eyes what is truly important to me, considering myself extremely lucky in areas that I previously had ignored, questioning my automatic reactions to my ‘stressful’ problems, and disregarding the attitudes of others to things that have no real value to me.  Before my trip I had lost sight of the importance and truth of what I have.  Things like my nice, warm home, fast WiFi which connects me directly to everyone I love, the freedom of doing a job that I have chosen because it is work that I love, feeling safe and the luxuries of going food shopping or having a vast choice of different restaurants to go to.  In India, I saw life without any of these privileges, people forced into jobs in toxic conditions, tiny children trying their best to pickpocket and people working so hard everyday just to make some small amount of money to live by.

But more than all of this, I met a richness of culture that I really han’t fully anticipated.  The sights and smells, the people and how they communicate, the food and the overarching beauty of the country swept me away and have very much stayed at the forefront of my thoughts and dreams this past week.  I wanted to take you through my experiences with this blog post, so I hope you find it interesting and feel encouraged to explore this country that has so much to offer one’s soul!

Smiling at some cheeky children on the beach at Marine Drive, Mumbai.  I found this city to be full of a disparity between the rich and poor; you would see run down, ramshackle buildings right next to modern and luxurious sky-scrapers.  But on this piece of beach, at sunset, we met all kinds of people, just enjoying themselves, with a real sense of community and ‘togetherness’.

Markets or Bazaars

The infamous Fashion Street – a street full of vendors all trying their hardest to direct you towards their stall by thrusting some pair of ‘Levis’ in your face.  Before we went to Fashion Street, I had read that one must absolutely haggle and bargain to the fullest but actually experiencing this type of selling was CRAZY.  We quickly learned the trick of walking away, and once we started putting this in practice we found that the so-called ‘fixed price’ of any garment suddenly dropped to a quarter of the price!

Here, the fabric markets.  The colours of India definitely jumped out at me straight away when I first got there.  They are so exotic and bold, somehow reminding me of birds of paradise.  The women’s saris, or sarees, are absolutely beautiful and are largely made by hand from different fabrics that are bought here (if you are more well-off you might prefer to get your sari custom-made at a fancy shop).

In India, all kinds of animals freely wander through the city streets, and particularly through the bazaars, where they possibly have the greatest chance of nicking something to eat!  There were goats, chickens, stray dogs and cats, monkeys and, of course, the holy cow.


The Chor Bazaar, or Thieves Market.  I would say that walking through the streets of the Chor Bazaar was one of the more challenging experiences we had.  Firstly, the smells really hit you, and are constantly changing – we found each smell would last for approximately half a second! – and while some of them are welcomed, like the smell of sugar cane juice being made or masala chai tea, some also have the power to make you feel ill (you can imagine what these were).  In the Chor we also faced watching the butchering of chickens, and although this may sound ‘white’ or ‘naive’ of me to say, it was pretty shocking.  The chickens were kept in a cage, directly on top of which they were slaughtered and butchered.  The fresh meat was then placed in a bucket, and left to sit there for hours in the sweltering 33 degree heat of the day, surrounded by flies and rats.  We needed no convincing to stay vegetarian for the rest of our trip.

I would also say that something I really hadn’t expected was that Mumbai was not touristy at all – somehow I thought we would see lots of tour groups at this time of year, but we really didn’t.  In fact, we found that we absolutely stuck out a mile because of our pale skin colour, and this made us into real targets when we walked through the markets.  White people, and I understand why, are thought of as being incredibly rich and sellers really start to harass you, which is OK for a while but really does start to get to you.  I think I also found, more than Logan, that I particularly received a lot of attention, from both males and females, perhaps for what I was wearing (western-style summer clothes), perhaps for my skin colour, perhaps just for being a girl (of which we did not see many out and about, mostly men and boys worked at the markets)… I’m not sure.  But the constant staring also became waring.

A typical sight in the Chor Bazaar, and one which really struck us – heaps and heaps of scrap metal and car parts.

People

Football and, especially, cricket games are going on all the time in the green spaces of the city!

Some sweet schoolgirls, followed by beautiful women, whom I wanted to capture.  I found it very interesting how divided Mumbai was between its Muslim and Hindi populations, and this was another aspect that I hadn’t known about before being there.  It is very striking how differently the women of these two religions present themselves, and amazing how each can coexist in this city peacefully.

Elephanta Island and Caves

A ferry ride of about an hour takes you from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Island.  They pack the boats up pretty full, and it definitely feels really nice to get out of the hectic city for a bit.

Trying out some new spicy flavours of crisps on the ferry!  The seagulls have learned to follow these passenger boats and after a while everybody was feeding them crisps by hand!

Once you dock at the island, you have the option to take a cute little train up to the caves.  We walked it ourselves – it is not a difficult hike, and is formed of stairs with market stalls lining the path.  There are also a few places to eat on the way up to the caves (although we ate on the way back down) and even if they don’t look very promising, I can attest to the fact that I had a really tasty Biryani and didn’t get sick 🙂

Exploring the old 5th century caves and ancient carved rocks and temples inside.  It is absolutely stunning; each cave is different and magical, showing the Hindu God, Shiva, as well as other Hindu mythologies and ideas.  The island also feels so peaceful and has some gorgeous views too.  In total I would say the trip took about 4 to 5 hours.

There are loads of pesky monkeys on Elephanta Island and you definitely have to watch out for them – they will try to steal anything edible.  One monkey took a new unopened bottle of Pepsi directly from Logan’s hand!  And once they’ve got it, you just have to let them have it – you can’t fight them (just look at his teeth…).

Around Mumbai

The main train station in Mumbai, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus.  It really is a sight to behold, with its stunning gothic architecture, and it is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is also one of India’s busiest railway stations.

We had a lot of fun scouring through all of these narrow alleyways and side streets, trying to scout out the best spice shops!

I feel strange including a photo like this, and I really don’t want to be offensive in any way to anyone, but I wanted to be as real as I could and show the city for what it really was, as I experienced it.  For some, the street is home and so they make the best of it that they can.  Apparently, they are known as the ‘pavement dwellers’.  It was pretty heartbreaking for us to see, especially when we were walking home at night and these people, most often with young children, were either cooking their dinner on camp stoves or going to bed.

Now here is a puzzle that we really can’t figure out.  During our whole trip, not one day went by when one of us was not asked to take a selfie with someone.  Can anyone explain why this could be?!

Kanheri Caves

Visiting the Kanheri caves was probably one of my favourite things that we did in Mumbai, and we managed to hit them right at golden hour, so they just looked so gorgeous.  Like Elephanta, these caves also contain rock carvings, but these ones are Buddhist and date back to the 1st century BCE.  The caves are located in the Gandhi park, towards the north of the city, and I would say that if you are traveling with a family, this would be a fantastic activity, as there are loads of other things to do in the park too.  The caves themselves are a 7km hike from the entrance of the park, and as we got there pretty late in the day (it was a last-minute decision) we got a cheap taxi, albeit one of the most harrowing taxi rides of my life, up to the caves.  Once we were up there we had a lot of fun exploring all the secret spots and got a great view too, although that smoke haze in the picture is real, and we are still recovering from the effects of that.

By the way, the red trousers I am wearing here were a very proud and cheap purchase of mine from Fashion Street!

Some final lasting memories

Such a fun tuk tuk ride in Delhi! We were only in Delhi for a day or so, and I really didn’t take any pictures, except for this one, and what a memory it is!

Marine Drive

This last picture is my favourite.  I love it because, to me, it sums up so much of what I experienced in India; so much going on, so many busy people working away and doing different things, bright colours, animals climbing up walls, always so much to look at and see, such a high energy.

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