Hamburg - the city of all cities :)

Before I begin my advertisement of Germany’s second largest city, let me just briefly state this: Hamburg is the most beautiful city in the world. There, I said it. So, yey, I'm biased. But, seriously, just look at it!

Welcome to Hamburg!

Now, if you ask someone from Hamburg why it is the most beautiful city (and most people will agree that it is), you might not get a straight answer. Some might say because it is so liberal and refer to the red light district and the “Schanze” where everything seems possible. Some say it’s the beauty of the landscape, the rivers (Hamburg has three rivers with two of them flowing towards the Elbe) or the mindset of the people. But if you truly want to understand the love for the city, you have to spend most of your time in its Harbor Area. Hamburg was founded on the basis of sea trade, the harbor district and the historical “Speicherstadt” are the most important parts of Hamburg’s self-understanding as an international, independent and successful city.

Harbor Love

The wind, the smell of oil, fish and the faint taste of salt in the air – these are all symbols for freedom and for a citywide ideology that always faced towards the rest of the world. The landing bridges were once called “the gateway to the world” and this sense of freedom, of escape and of innumerable opportunities still reverberates in Hamburg’s harbor district.

the busy harbor and the relaxing Elbe Beach

But there is also a certain feeling of decadence in the streets of the city. The prestigious city hall is fitted with gold and copper, the “Alsterarkarden” are the entryway to one of the most-exclusive shopping streets in the world and the houses along the “Außenalster” harbor some of the richest people in Germany. If you feel like getting on a boat, why not take a trip around the Alster and go "Alsterschippern"? :)

Enjoy the sunset in one of the red and white Alster boats

It is this decadence compared with the Nordic down-to-earth no-nonsense attitude that makes Hamburg so special. The city was founded by craftsmen and consequently, craftsmanship is still highly valued. Royalty never played a particular role in the city’s history and even the university is one of the youngest universities in Germany.

Alster Panorama

My personal insider tip for a nice, long afternoon walk in Hamburg is the “Elbe Wanderweg”. Especially between Övelgönne and Blankenese, this trail passes old captains houses and the better part of the Elbe beach on its way along the riverbank. The transport with the ferry boats is included in every day or three-day ticket for public transports and exploring the waterways of Hamburg is always a highlight. 

Enjoy old Captain's houses along the Elbwanderweg

The city also offers many cultural experiences, of course. Between the numerous museums and the three musicals in town are also numerous smaller theaters and productions, especially along the “Red mile”, as we usually call the “Reeperbahn”. Long ago, this red light district offered entertainment for lonely sailors, but nowadays the bright lights and intriguing rumors are mostly a tourist attraction. If it rains, (and it does so much less than some people might think) numerous indoor shopping malls can be used to fend off boredom. 

...but when it rains, it pours...

One of my favorite places for breakfast is “Café Paris” right in the city center, which reminds its visitors of the simple elegance of Parisienne cafés in the 1920s. At around 7 – 12 € per breakfast variation, it is not necessarily the cheapest place to eat but well within reason for the city center. Right next to it is the "Rathausplatz" with the beautiful City Hall - my favorite building in all of Hamburg.

always my first stop: the beautiful City Hall

For a more traditional eating experience, just grab a “Fischbrötchen” at one of the numerous little booths in the harbor or visit the “Krameramtsstuben”, the oldest still standing building in Hamburg right next to St. Michaelis church to try out the local cuisine. Another crowd favorite are the numerous different ethnological restaurants in the so-called “Portuguese quarter” between the church and the harbor, where Italian, Brazilian and Spanish restaurants offer something for every taste, although my favorite Italian Restaurant is Ponti Restaurant right at the "Gänsemarkt". If you're in the mood for Steak, make sure to check out Block House - it's a chain and they also have other locations in Germany, but it was founded in Hamburg. My favorite location is the one right next to the train Station in Othmarschen - don't ask me why, I just like the layout :)

Welcome to my favorite city!


Beautiful Germany - Cologne

Ah, Cologne, such a fun little city :) If you're in the mood for some serious partying, Cologne is the right place for you. Whether you prefer the flashy Clubs along the "Ringe" or rather enjoy the small bars along the Rhine - you can easily dance the night away in Cologne! That's probably also why the city's always full of people celebrating their bachelor's and bachelorette-party any given Saturday (or Friday, for that matter... )

Cologne has a very rich, far-reaching history

But Cologne offers much more than its clubs and bars. The most iconic landmark is probably the old roman church in the city center: the "Kölner Dom". Built in 1248, the cathedral was not only the official church of the Cologne archbishop, but also became one of the most important pilgrimage churches throughout Europe. Nowadays, the two towers are iconic for Cologne's landscape, and the cathedral is a "must-see" on every tourist's itinery. There's also a beautiful christmas market around the Cathedral starting in late November every year! And Cologne main station is literally right next to the Cathedral - so make it your next stop!

I tried to keep my hand steady, I really did! ... 

I personally also enjoy the city center and its main shopping streets "Hohe Straße" and "Schildergasse". If you're more interested in Old Cologne and some of those bars I was talking about, visit "Heumarkt" and maybe check out the "Gaffel-Haus" - one of the many restaurants where you can sample the original Cologne Beer "Kölsch". If you're looking for a cheap but cozy place to stay (or just to hang out and have a beer), make sure you visit the "Wohngemeinschaft", a quirky little hostel and bar that evokes the feeling of sitting in a friend's living room rather than a public drinking hole ;) Another good place to meet locals and check out the bar scene is around "Zülpicher Platz". Last time we were there, we stumbled into what appeared to be a Russian bar - but it was actually really cozy and since they offer traditional Russian drinks, we all had our share of Vodka... I guess the name should have been our first clue: "Restaurant Roter Platz" ... hmm...

Vodka anyone?

If you walk further down along the river, you'll eventually find the Chocolate Museum. Yeah, that's right, Chocolate museum! And yes, they have a chocolate fountain and give out cookies you can dip into it... *heaven* Cologne also has an international fair and exhibition center and a huge arena, the Lanxess Arena, that frequently hosts international sports events or concerts. They also have a musical dome, just on the other side of the river from the Cathedral, and it used to host "We will Rock you", but the current program has "Dirty Dancing" listed for this summer. But be aware: musicals are translated into German in Germany! :)

Enjoy the mix of history and bar-hopping Cologne has to offer!


Beautiful Germany - Heidelberg

Since I won't be traveling for a while now, I thought why not start a new mini-series and introduce the most beautiful cities in Germany to all my international readers? I will also start including actual links to some of the things I'm pointing out, so that you can easily find your way around those cities. Enjoy!

First stop: Heidelberg!

The series starts in the town where I was born: Heidelberg. A beautiful little city in southern Germany, right on the river Neckar and with a long history of academic exellence. Heidelberg University was founded it 1386 and is still one of the leading Universities in Germany, especially in life science and medicine. Heidelberg is also home to the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) as well as the European Molecular Biology Lab (EMBL) and several Max-Planck Research Institutes. It really is on the forefront of scientific research in Germany, and the university is the only German university that makes it into the top 50 World University Ranking.

But that's not the only interesting fact about this beautiful city. In 1945, the city is taken over by the US military and is subsequently declared as US and NATO headquarters. Legend has it that an American general fell in love with the city and decided to spare it and settle down in it instead, which explains why the beautiful city center is still intact even today (although it has also undergone renovations of course). For years, Heidelberg was surrounded by US baracks, but these are being closed this year as the troops move to Wiesbaden instead. Still, Heidelberg has a strong connection to its transatlantic allie and it's no surprise to find many American tourists flogging the city in the summer.

If you ever find yourself in Heidelberg, make sure to check out the town's landmark, the Heidelberg Castle. It is perhaps the most iconic landmark of this little romantic city and best viewed from the "Philosophenweg" , a small trail leading up the mountain on the opposite side of the river.

The castle outlined in the early morning fog

You can also enjoy a stroll through the city center, along the main street "Hauptstraße", and taste one of Heidelberg's specialties, like "Studentenküsse" (Student's kisses, a chocolaty treat wrapped in an iconic little box). My personal favorite among Heidelberg's many restaurants is "Villa Lounge", a young, modern restaurant with comfortable leather chairs and affordable food. The best coffee in town is brewed by Moro Caffée & Thé, a small, hole-in-the-wall place along the Hauptstraße that offers coffee in all its variations as well as pastries and other delicacies. Another iconic landmark is the "Hotel zum Ritter", a hotel that is located in a beautiful renaissance building right at the old marketplace and its impressive church. Just opposite the marketplace, in the sidestreet "Steingasse" you can find one of many breweries in Heidelberg: "Vetter's Alt Heidelberger Brauerei" where you can sit next to huge copper kettels and taste freshly-tapped beer. If you want to try out other breweries in the region, check out the map for the Kurpfälzer Bierstraße. It includes locations of all the breweries in the region.

Last but not least, continue down "Steingasse" and enjoy the view from the old Neckar-bridge up towards the castle. Every tourist should take a picture there!

Enjoy my hometown!
P.s.: If you want to have a *real German experience* (at least a very classical one) check out this video from a recent version of the old song Ich hab mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren enjoy ;)


Amazing Arizona - Part II

After two relaxing days in Durango, I loaded up on brezels, water and bananas and drove back to Arizona. Flagstaff to be more precise. The original plan was to stay there for two nights and check out the Grand Canyon the next day, but I had a feeling my still somewhat fragile health status would prevent me from doing that. But at least I got to enjoy some beautiful scenery on my way down there :)

Monument Valley! True story! *yay* 

I have to admit, I think I need to come back and drive around in Northern Arizona for a week or so. There are so many things I want to see! Like Monument Valley. I got the iconic shot, but then I turned around and headed back towards Flagstaff, because it was getting late and the day was long and I couldn't affort taking the long way around. So I'm just going to have to go back there :)

Somewhere close to antelope canyon 

The landscape up there is just absolutely amazing. Somewhere between weird moon-like craters and rock formations, red earth and endless desert. And it's just so freakin' beautiful everywhere! On that drive alone I think I could have taken hundrets of pictures...

The Destination of my Road Trip was Flagstaff, a town full of students and active adventurers it seems, with an adorable little town center and miles and miles of trails all around - none of which I was able to explore, unfortunately. I stayed at the Grand Canyon hostel. It's right in the middle of town, easily accessible, they have amble parking spaces and the hostel is cozy, clean and has great staff. I was happy :)

 Flagstaff really is a bit of an oddity, because its in Arizona, but there's a mountain in the background and people go skiing or snowboarding. Then they hop in their cars and drive south for an hour or two and they are in the desert! I don't know, somehow that still amazes me... It's also on the world-famous Route 66 - it actually goes straight through town.

While in Flagstaff, I made the incredibly stupid mistake of getting out of my car, opening my trunk, putting my keys down (I swear I've never done this before in my entire life!) and then closing the trunk without remembering to pick up my keys again. Remember that truck stop story? Me freaking out about having locked myself out of my stupid *fancy* new car? Yeah, same story... This time, I called the hotline (ok, the guy from the hostel called for me, because I was having a nervous breakdown) and they had to send over a locksmith to break open the trunk for me. The locksmith turned out to be navajo and we got to talking and, sure enough, he has distant German roots on one side of his family! What are the odds?! It was absolutely fascinating to talk to him about Navajo country, the traditions of his tribe, the hype tourist shops have with all the Navajo symbols all over Arizona (and what they actually mean!) and it was certainly fascinating to find out that, not only was his family from Germany; they are actually from Heidelberg, of all places! I've said it before and I'll say it again: the world is a village.... 



After my short stay in New Mexico (and a rather unpleasant intervention at the E.R.), I got back on the road and drove north to cross over to Colorado. I've found a couchsurfer in Durango who was going to take me in for two nights and since I've never been to Colorado before, I was rather excited about the detour.

I got a rental and that car had some interesting features. For example, when I stopped at a rest stop and decided I needed something from the trunk, the car automatically locked the doors and I had a mild panic attack while I was trying to figure out how to get back in... The Sheriff (who just happened to stop at the same rest stop) couldn't help me, and since my phone and my wallet were still on the passenger seat, neither could the rental company. Luckily, some workers from the rest stop said "that happens all the time" and managed to open my car door for me (and yes, they jimmied it...). All they wanted in return was a hug, which was completely fine by me.

please excuse my camera, destroying the picturesque sky....
When I finally made it to Colorado, I was thrown smack in the middle of a dinner party at my host's house. Four dogs were running around the living room and seven complete strangers invited me to try their homemade pie and play charades with them. I was tired and exhausted from the drive and my otherwise spent night before, but I couldn't say no to this likeable bunch of people, so I joined them and we played and laughed till way after mightnight. Did I mention I love couchsurfing?

Durango is close to the four corners (and yes, I wanted to go there, but everybody said it wasn't worth visiting, so I didn't take the detour) and to Mesa Verde National Park. The Park is probably more interesting when the weather is a bit warmer, but the entire region was rather beautiful. Downtown Durango is such a cute little town, I really wish I'd had more time (and more energy) to explore it!

this picture really doesn't do it justice
I was reminded of an old TV show, Everwood, which was also set in a small Colorado town. The scenery was amazing, and I can only imagine how enchanted this must look in winter.

I already like Colorado :)

Since I couldn't really walk around much, I decided to drive around instead, do some Inter-State-Hopping and visit Mesa Verde, Farmington and Aztec, where they have a small excavation site of Aztec ruins. I definitely want to come back to Colorady though, maybe finally make my dream come true and work on a ranch somwhere around here for the summer - it's definitely worth a visit!

I like the Rockies :)