112. Schwäbisch Hall

June 27th, 2015

The next day we went to Schwäbisch Hall located at river Kocher which is famous in Germany for its same-named building and loan associaton. The historic town, nestled into the hillside of the Kocher valley, dates way back to Middle Ages and is well worth a visit.

The town centre is a lovely mix of medieval fort-styled elements, half-timbered, gothic and baroque buildings – a consequence of the last big fire in the early 18th century that destroyed most of the original build.

I’ve always loved medieval old towns but Schwäbisch Hall seemed special to me as a lot of the half-timbered houses here are rather huge and many had round doors for the main entrance which I find extremely charming!

Enthroned right in the centre is the St. Michael Church with a huge staircase leading up to it. The latter was closed for a theatre performance rehearsal when we passed by. The annual theatre festival happening on those stairs is apparently well-known but… not to me ;P
Right opposite of the church the baroque town hall with a cute “crowned” tower can be seen.

Apart from the gorgeous buildings I also enjoyed the narrow alleyways that offered shadow and a bit of cool as it was quite hot that day and walking outside in the sun got tiring quickly. Since it was still June there weren’t many tourists around but I imagine Schwäbisch Hall to get really crowded during the tourist season.
Another treat were the very steep stairwells that can be found between the houses every now and then. It makes sense since the alleys are on different levels and can hardly be connected otherwise but somehow it was unexpected to see them as such stairwells aren’t found in Germany often.

We walked through the old town for about two hours, then crossed the river and walked back to our starting point for a refreshment and break at the riverside. Before we left the old town, we briefly visited the Würth art exhibition hall which is entrance free and shows different changing exhibitions. The exhibition we looked at showed old pompous silver, gold and ivory decorative items like goblets and caskets. I was not interested in the other exhibition but it’s quite cool to have an exhibition hall that’s accessible for everyone!

From there we made our way up to the Comburg, a former monastery that had been built at a castle site and – apart from the huge St. Nikolaus church in the middle – looks pretty much like a medieval castle complex. Nowadays it houses an academy, so only parts of the site are accessible but you can walk around the whole complex on the battlement parapet and get a good view of the surrounding valley. Fun fact: The complex actively houses jackdaws and you can spot some mid-flight in my photographs below!

We finished our trip exhausted and hungry, but happy, in the late afternoon. It was nice day with lots to see and fans of medieval architecture and half-timbered buildings should definitely make a trip to Schwäbisch Hall!
Compared to places like Rothenburg o. d. Tauber or Dinkelsbühl (which are documented on this very blog), its overall look is less homogeneous – most likely because parts have been rebuilt in different styles after destruction – but the town’s much bigger and resident financial and industrial businesses make it more lively which distinguishes Schwäbisch Hall from other historic towns that seem to live off tourism.

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111. Lauffen am Neckar

June 23rd, 2015

As we got a taste of summer in early June and the temperatures crept up to 30°C, Mark Oli decided to show me a small old town named Lauffen am Neckar that I had admittedly never heard of before. The town is made up of two parts which are divided by the river Neckar with the “lower” part being slightly newer and a more historic part up on a hill.
We started with a stop at a little park at the river where we got a beautiful view of the Regiswindis Church and got to see plenty of young swans, ducks, herons and fish. Across the river we could see the former castle of Lauffen which nowadays houses the town hall and where we’d go later.

We climbed up to the church and strolled through this part of town. I was particularly impressed with how old half-timbered buildings and even historic ruins had been integrated in “modern town life” with new buildings built around them or even built on top of them. This way historic artisanry can be preserved and still put to use.

Afterwards we crossed the Neckar bridge and went up to the old town which gives off a completely different vibe with more half-timbered buildings, cobblestone and parts of the old town wall and two intact town gates. I really enjoy narrow and quirky architecture with awry roofs and gables! …Although I would not want to live in a house with crooked walls and floors ;D

Since not many people were out and about, it was easy to enjoy the little old town. We ended our trip with a stop at the old castle right opposite of the Regiswindis Church. This one too has been integrated as newer buildings have been built around the castle keep and now house the town hall. Smart!

It was only a short trip, yet worthwhile as Lauffen am Neckar‘s a really cute old town with beautiful sceneries.

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11o. A little Bonn hanami

April 20th, 2015

Although not everyone might know, the historic city centre of Bonn is famous for its cherry blossoms in spring – a sight that even makes several Things to see in a lifetime lists.
Of course Japan reigns on as the supreme queen of cherry blossom landscapes, but I think Bonn’s Altstadt isn’t doing too bad… it’s the combination of several joining avenues lined with tall cherry trees, historic facades and cobblestone roads that make it unique and worth a visit.

I was smart enough to visit on a sunny Friday afternoon, knowing that the streets would be flooded with people and tourists over the weekend. It was quite crowded nonetheless and the fact that cars kept coming through disturbed the blossom viewing every so slightly.

I returned in the evening, hoping to snap a few nighttime shots but I wasn’t lucky. Unfortunately the street lamps are much lower than the treetops which makes it necessary to use a different light source. Unexpectedly it was once again amazingly crowded and a lot of photography savvy people had actually brought spotlights (some with batteries, others powered via their cars) to light the blossoms while taking pictures. Damn you smart asses… ;P

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1o9. Vamos a la playa!

December 26th, 2014

Although we had been to the beach before, our last days were designated beach days! The weather was in our favour as it didn’t rain and the Mediterranean Sea greeted us in hot sunshine.
Barcelona has several beaches and the further away you get from the city centre (= northwards) the less crowded and supposedly better the beaches are. But since we had come after the main tourist season had already ended and it didn’t look too crowded at all, we were okay with staying at the famous, central Barceloneta beach which was definitely the fastest to reach for us too.

We easily found a spot in the fine, soft sand and the temperature was really good, not too hot, yet hot enough. A lot of locals were at the beach too and it seemed as if some were students who liked to soak up some sun while reading their textbooks. That’s pretty cool and something I never thought about: Having a beach right at the city centre would allow you to just drop by after school or work or during a break – instead of lazing at a park like we’d do in Germany. Awesome!

With my already dark complexion I easily tanned and probably tanned the most of us three, haha! ;D
It was fun and I’d go there again but daaamn, the toilets at Barceloneta beach are atrocious and so are the people using them. They were hands down the most run-down and dirty thing I’ve seen in Barcelona altogether.

After our awesome “holiday relaxation” sessions at the beach we’d just go home to change and then head out for food and drinks. On one of those occassions we went to a rather fancy Spanish fusion cuisine restaurant that served everything in tiny portions looking like pieces of arts! Some dishes were addictingly delicious, others I personally didn’t like so much but the guys absolutely loved it. Always a hit or miss with fusion cuisine, I guess. I think that was also the night when we all got a little too drunk…

On our last night, however, we squeezed in a final walk and revisited some places we’d already been to, in the dark. We started at Plaça de Catalunya, walked La Rambla all the way to its end which is actually at the Columbus Monument (yes, right where our sightseeing started at the beginning of the trip!) and took the metro to Plaça d’Espanya one final time. Yes, we had been to the top of Arenas before and we’d also been at Plaça d’Espanya at night before but the nightly view down from Arenas is surely something one shouldn’t miss!

Especially the lighting at Palau Nacional and the avenue leading up to it as well as the fountains and Magic Fountain are stunningly beautiful and I’m glad we went up there one last time to get a view on Barcelona which is really such a gorgeous city!

The next day started early as it was time to say goodbye. My friends flew to Rome for the rest of their holiday trip and I had to go to Girona to catch my flight back home. Shortly before I had to leave it started to rain heavily – so heavy, in fact, that it flooded some of the metro tracks. So not only did I get soaked once I stepped outside, I also couldn’t take the metro and had to catch a taxi… ah well, at least I got to see some more of the city that way.

And that’s how this wonderful trip came to an end. I definitely want to visit Barcelona again!

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1o8. Doing touristy things & Ticket info

December 19th, 2014

Time to see THE landmark of Barcelona: Sagrada Familia also known as the eternal construction site. Although construction began as early as 1882 this cathedral is still far, far from finished. This one-of-a-kind structure was designed by no one less than architecture-defying oddball Gaudí who’s responsible for some of Barcelona’s most famous sights and with his avant-gardism and mind-blowing concepts reminds me of Austrian architect extraordinaire Hundertwasser. Pictures of Sagrada Familia had always mesmerized me and I was eager to see it in person.

Sadly it was much smaller than I had expected. It’s also almost impossible to see the whole thing as surrounding buildings have been built extremely close to the cathedral… For me, who’s spoiled by the imposing and intimidating view of the majestic Cologne Cathedral, Sagrada Familia – in the making – was a bit of a bummer. It’s still impressive and the details at the back side are amazing – I don’t know what I expected? We didn’t feel rich enough to buy tickets to see the inside and it was overcrowded with tourists anyway. Will I live long enough to see the construction come to an end? I’d definitely want to see the finished cathedral…

From there we wanted to walk to the posh Passeig de Gràcia avenue where some other works of Gaudí are located but I stupidly led us into the wrong direction… oops.
Among all the Armani, Burberry, Chanel and Longchamps stores we eventually found Casa Milà which to our horror was covered for restauration… seriously!? I guess we could have paid to see the inside but we weren’t feeling it. Maybe another time.
Grumpy and hungry (at least me, I was starving!) we went to look for Casa Batlló which we first couldn’t find… and which is next to Casa Amatller which is not by Gaudí but also nice. Literally everything was overflowing with tourists…

Slightly exhausted and definitely hungry we decided to continue spending all our money on food instead of sights ;D and went back to our district for a short break and change of clothes. Once again we ended up at Plaça d’Osca and this time went for a restaurant named Teta de Monja which had some… interesting decorations (there was a painting of a nun showing her boobs, after all) and offered rather Italian cuisine. We put an end to our Spanish food streak and ordered pizza! It was amazing and afterwards I got to stuff my face with the most awesome stuffed Jalapeños ever!
Too full to be true we asked for some schnaps to soothe our tummies and tried different liquors. But I wanted something very Spanish and very good and so the lovely waitress treated us to a round of Orujo del Hierbas which I instantly fell in love with! Everyone should try it! If possible at that very restaurant ;D

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TRANSPORT TICKETS

A thing I want to talk about are public transport tickets as I’ve spent quite some time ahead of the trip reading about various offers and carefully deciding what would be best for us.

For estimation: A single journey ticket on the metro or bus run by TMB costs 2.15€ no matter how far.

Barcelona Card: Travel guides and the internet always recommend the » Barcelona Card which does not only offer unlimited transportation but also free/discounted entry to various places. The maximum duration you can get are 5 days for a whopping 58.00€. If you are someone who wants to visit all the sights and museums of Barcelona without walking a lot, this might be something for you – but considering how a one-way ticket costs 2.15€ you’d have to take more than 27 trips to save money… A lot of things in Barcelona are also in walking distance, so for me, who’s a relaxed city tourist and also likes to walk around, this card is a total waste of money.
As for the free entrances and discounts: Most of them are art galleries and museums. Please check the list carefully if you really want to visit a lot of those places. For popular places like Sagrada Familia where entrance is at least 14.80€ you only get 1.00€ off… so take that into consideration. You’ll probably end up paying a lot for entrances anyway.

Barcelona pass: A less popular ticket I came across is the » Hola BCN! pass which you can get for 2, 3, 4 or 5 days for maximum 30.50€. This pass is offered directly by the public transport company TMB and allows you unlimited travel in the metropolitan area by metro, bus, tram and regional rail. You don’t get any discounts and all that jazz but would only have to take 15 trips during a 5-day stay to make it pay off. The pass can be bought at various stations although I believe some vending machines also sell them.

T-10: Another very simple integrated ticket is the » T-10 ticket which let’s you make exactly 10 journeys (transfers are included in a journey) over an unspecified time. This ticket costs a mere 10.30€ which makes that incredible 1.03€ per journey!

For our trip we chose a combination of the Hola BCN! 5-days pass and a T-10 ticket for a total of 40.80€ as we stayed for little more than a week and knew we wouldn’t be taking public transport excessively. We ended up taking an average 4-5 trips a day but less on the last two days when we just relaxed at the beach. I still have some journeys left on my T-10…

Tip: Take a close look at the list of benefits of the Barcelona Card and consider buying a TMB Barcelona pass instead (you can almost get 2 of those for one Barcelona Card ;P)… Don’t carelessly buy into tourist traps!!!

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