25th anniversary of Fall of Berlin Wall

East Side Gallery, Belin

East Side Gallery, Belin

He might have said he was a Berliner but the days have gone since anyone in the German capital could tell you where they were when John F Kennedy was assassinated. Rather, everyone will tell you where they were on November 9, 1989. The night the Wall came down.

Twenty five years have passed since the “Die Berliner Mauer” opened and every year the city and country have seen staggering growth in tourism numbers. There has been something new to do or see each time I have visited the German capital over that quarter of a century as it recreates itself after 28 years of division.

I was, however, a little concerned a visit tailored round the fall of the wall would be the well-known sites that every first time visitor puts at the top of their list of what to do and see. Yet I was extremely surprised by both how little of the divided city’s story I had not seen and the new attractions – if that is the right word – created for the 25th anniversary year.

A calendar of special events is in place such as a “new temporary Berlin Wall” that will be made with thousands of illuminated white balloons floating above a 7.5-mile stretch of the former dividing line. Called “25 Years Fall of the Berlin Wall”, the display will run through the city center. On a clear day, it could be seen from space. But whenever you visit the city in 2014 or beyond there are new commemorative sites, museums, exhibitions and even ways of getting around them.

A surviving watchtower at the Berlin Wall Memorial

A surviving watchtower at the Berlin Wall Memorial

As well as telling you where they were on the night of November 9, you are bound to hear the account of the chaotic events that followed the East German government approval a new travel law, giving citizens a permanent right to travel, as the domino of events across the Eastern bloc reached Berlin. At a press conference, Günter Schabowski, East German Central Committee Member, was asked when the new law would come into effect. Schabowski is said to have shrugged, checked his notes and ad libbed, “From now”. The border guards had not been informed but as a wave of humanity made their way to that most famous of barriers, the border crossing in Berlin opened and that party began.

Unification of the country didn’t come until 1990, and is celebrated as the Day of German National Unity on October 3. The celebrations throughout the German capital focus on the East-West division of Germany and Berlin, the Cold War, and the peaceful revolution that led to reunification. But it is a celebration tinged with the sadness of the memory of the 170 people killed in attempts to escape over the wall.

Much of the wall has gone and lots of tourists look a little confused trying to work out where it was. However, if they look down they will see two rows of cobblestones that mark where it wound its way around the city and plaques in significant places recording “Berliner Mauer 1961-1989”.

The imposing Brandenburg Gate

The imposing Brandenburg Gate

The most famous tourist attraction is the Wall Museum, better known as the Checkpoint Charlie Museum at the reconstructed Checkpoint Charlie with the story of the construction of the wall and escapes from East Germany to the West. Here you gain a sense of the desperation as well as inventiveness of those trying to escape. But perhaps the most poignant is the Berlin Wall Memorial, on Bernauer Strasse, containing the last section of the Berlin Wall that still stands and provides a sense of its foreboding presence. It incorporates one of the largest sections of the Wall, and surviving buildings that had their windows bricked-up to stop escape attempts. Reproductions of some of the most famous images of the Wall are now painted. These include the East Germany soldier jumping the first simple barriers, the barbed wire fence that was rolled out on August 13, 1961. The first death came only weeks later. The best place to see the varied, political, amusing and also sad murals on remaining section of the Wall are at the East Side Gallery, decorated by 118 artists from 21 countries.

It is worth remembering, however, that for generations of East Germans the eastern side of the city was their home. This is remembered in the GDR Museum while a small museum at the Kulturbrauerei opened in November 2013, focussing on the people’s everyday life.

 

The Memorial Church that stands testament to the horrors of war

The Memorial Church that stands testament to the horrors of war

Even if you have been to Berlin before there are new experiences for the commemorations. Near Checkpoint Charlie is a Panorama of the Berlin Wall by the artists Adegar Asisi while nearby is the “Black Box Cold War” exploring its impact on Germany and Europe and a Cold War Museum is planned to open in 2015.

Berlin is more than the city of the wall and now the capital of the reunited Germany. That city includes nearly 450 galleries and 180 museums and collections, three opera houses, restaurants and bars catering for all tastes and even combine food and art, such as the Zagreus Projekt, a unique restaurant that combines food and art; the owner commissions new wall art every two months that depicts the food being served.

Berlin Wall Memorial

Berlin Wall Memorial

Construction is seemingly continuous in a city that is becoming the most exciting modern city in Europe. The glories of the architectural past along and near Under den Linden such as the Brandenburg Gate and neoclassical Gendarmenmarkt square, rub shoulders with post-war grand projects, such as the 1,200 ft. Fernsehturm TV tower in Alexanderplatz, and post-unification projects such as the new glass dome on top of the Reichstag and rather ugly Sony Centre at Potsdammer Platz.

A fabulously fun way of getting round Berlin is on an E-Trike, a three-wheeled electric bike that can zoon around at up to 30 kph taking advantage of the excellent cycle path network and also taking to the open road when safe. But such is the east of using public transport and just walking around you can easily get to know the city in a few days. The Berlin Welcome Card pass also includes discounts to cultural sites.

Getting around on e-trike in the Gendarmenmarkt

Getting around on e-trike in the Gendarmenmarkt

The city still has two halves although no longer divided by that wall. You will find yourself moving between the former West and East. The West has the shops, bright lights, clubs and bars especially on and surrounding the Kurfürstendamm, famous for the bombed Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church, the broken tooth, which has been maintained to commemorate peace and reconciliation. This is the city that the East Berliners longed for and remains the easiest area of the city to choose as your base. The former East has the architectural and historic gems around the Brandenburg Gate and Under den Linden, and lots of new glitzy buildings and Postdammer Platz that contrast with the Soviet style boulevards and strict but rather elegant rows of identical buildings.

 

Mike Smith travelled to Berlin as a guest of the German National Tourist Office. http://www.germany.travel. He stayed at the Maritim Hotel Berlin on Stauffenbergstrasse. Tel: +49 (0) 30 20650. http:/www.maritim.com/com/en/hotels/germany/hotel-berlin. He travelled with EasyJet from London Gatwick and Berlin is served by airlines from most UK regional airports.

 

 

Discovering our coast on a Celtic Cruise

What better way can there be to discover the Irish and Scottish coast than by sea with your hotel doing the travelling, particularly when you are asleep?

 

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

So we headed for Dover to join board the Fred. Olsen ship Braemar for a packed and varied cruise taking in such varied destinations as the cities of Dublin and Belfast and the rugged beauty of Scotland’s Western Isles and the Orkneys.

It is hard to imagine an easier holiday. All you have to do is turn up at the embarkation port, hand over your luggage and settle into your cabin before, like me, heading straight to the first opportunity to start eating!

The other advantage of cruising from a UK port is not only having no flights to contend with, no worries about airport security controls, passport control queues when arrive at your destination – and luggage to lug from one hotel to another.

Fred Olsen's Braemar

Fred Olsen’s Braemar

Add to that optional shore excursions timed to make sure you never have to miss a meal on the ship making this also one of the most incredibly good value ways to holiday. Our cruise also included different types of live entertainment every night (comedians, singers, the ever-popular cruise shows) along with day time concerts, talks and activities.

True these cruises attract a more mature clientele, such as retired couples, but our cruise also included a number of younger family groups along with single travellers, appreciative of the easy going atmosphere on the ship and chances to meet people.

The first full day and night at sea gave everyone the chance to get to know the ship, relax into their holiday, indulge in the first of many lunches, delicious dinners not to mention all too tempting afternoon tea sandwiches and cakes just in case there was any chance of hunger occurring. We managed to resist temptation the late night suppers and even so headed for the gym to try to burn off some of those calories. Every evening dinner is at small allocated tables with meals split into two sittings. Similarly, there are two performances of the evening shows and for those with stamina there is dancing into the night and even the chance to have a flutter at gaming tables. Rather we took to our cosy cabin to read the schedule of activities for the next day and read up for the tour’s we had chosen.

Braemar's elegant restaurant

Braemar’s elegant restaurant

The cruise similarly ended with a full day at sea as we headed from our last port of call, Invergordon on the Moray Firth, back to Dover dreading the bathroom scales and having to return to carrying our own suitcase and start cooking our meals again having been shockingly pampered.

Temple Bar, Dublin

Temple Bar, Dublin

Nothing can compare to arriving at coastal cities than by ship and it is, of course, the only way to experience smaller ports and harbours. I have visited Dublin, for example, many times but never sailed into the city up the Liffey, docking at the end of the tram line making it wonderfully easy to get around the sights. An overnight stay meant we could also have an early dinner and head to Temple Bar and join the throngs of revellers enjoying the craic and then a stroll back across the famous Halfpenny Bridge and onto the tram back to the ship with another day in the city ahead of us.

Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College, Dublin

Belfast was a briefer stay but long enough for what proved an amazingly popular coach tour to the Giants Causeway. Again, being a Belfast boy, I opted to visit the fabulous Titanic Belfast Museum on an organised excursion that also included a whistle-stop coach tour of the city. Like Dublin, you can easily just do your own thing as you are docked so close to the heart of the city, but chatting to fellow travellers the ease of such organised activities appealed to many.

Titanic Belfast

Titanic Belfast

At other destinations you would probably be hard pressed to really get around without paying for one of the tours. At Kirkwall in the Orkneys you can spend the day visiting St Magnus Cathedral and wandering around the small town but an organised tour is the only realistic way of getting to places such as the fascinating Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae and exquisite stone circles particularly the atmospheric Ring of Brodgar, the historic Scapa Flow and the majestic landscapes. Similarly, at Invergordon which is the stopping of point for Inverness and Loch Ness, that legendary stretch of water that combines natural beauty with Nessie tackiness.

OVERLOOKING ULLAPOOL AND LOCH BROOM, FROM The Braes of Ullapool in the Highlands of Scotland

The Braes of Ullapool in the Highlands of Scotland

But there is no doubt for many cruise aficionados it is life on the ship that is as important as those destinations, whether that is the opportunity to dress up for one of the formal nights such as the Captain’s cocktail party and black tie dinner, or those activities from bingo and bridge, deck games to pampering yourself in the health and beauty salon. Everyone’s favourite seemed to be the night the ship’s crew performed songs and dances from their own parts of the world followed by sing-alongs favourites.

For me, however, it is the smaller, unexpected memories that make cruising special whether that was the young pipers who played us out to sea from Invergordon or the shrieks of glee from our waitress during afternoon tea in the Observatory Lounge when she spotted a school of dolphins leaping in front of our ship as we sailed the Irish Sea.

 

Mike Smith’s 9-night ‘Celtic Experience’ cruise was on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ ship Braemar. A similar cruise in 2014 will be on-board Black Watch; this 11-night ‘Highlands, Islands & Ireland’ cruise will depart from Dover on 16th June 2014. Ports of call will include: St Peter Port (Guernsey), Tobermory, Stornoway, Kirkwall, Killybegs, Belfast and Dublin, returning to Dover on 27th June 2014.

John McGuiness coming out of Ramsey in the Isle of Man TT Race

John McGuiness coming out of Ramsey in the Isle of Man TT Race

 

Balmoral at Sea

Balmoral at Sea

Current prices for this cruise start from £1,099 per person, based on an inside twin-bedded cabin, subject to availability, and include all food and entertainment on board, and port taxes.

For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the website at www.fredolsencruises.com. Book online, call Reservations on 0800 0355 150 (Monday – Friday, 8am – 8pm; Saturday, 9am – 5pm; Sunday, 10am – 4pm), or see an ABTA travel agent.

 

Rust in time: Rhur industrial heritage trail

 

Winding gear reflected in the engine room windows at Zollern Colliery,  Dortmund

Winding gear reflected in the engine room windows at Zollern Colliery, Dortmund

WHO would have thought a rusting closed down steelworks, coal mine or gasometer in Germany’s Ruhr would be on the tourist trail as we increasingly value industrial architecture?

The former heavy industry powerhouse has preserved some of the best examples of it economic heritage and saved them from the bulldozer to be replaced by retail parks.

The Ruhr region has been transformed from slag heaps and smoke-belching ugliness to a green, leisure-based landscape that include the vibrant cities and towns of Bochum, Dortmund, Duisburg and Essen.

Light installation by Jonathan Park at Duisburg Nord Landscape Park

Light installation by Jonathan Park at Duisburg Nord Landscape Park

True, this is not a region to come and look for pretty villages and old civic buildings. Rather, it is an area to be visited to discover what can be done in a physical landscape that was forged in a pre-digital age but is developing in a post heavy industrial era. Anyone with an eye for the power, grandeur and, yes, beauty of such architecture would be hard-pressed to find a more rewarding destination.

Old industrial workings as light installations

Old industrial workings as light installations

In 2010 the Ruhr received a major stimulus when efforts to revitalise the region after half a century of decline was recognised by being named European City of Culture – the first time the accolade has been given to a region rather than one city.

Now silent coking works conveyor belt rollers

Now silent coking works conveyor belt rollers

The area is full of surprised. Where else would you find people in wetsuits waddling across a car park towards a vast gasometer, a gas storage unit 170 metres tall and the second highest in the world, that has been turned into a dive centre? Another, at Oberhausen, has beenn adapted for  an unique art space, housing vast works such as a huge walk-in balloon, created by the artist Christo, famous for wrapping buildings like Berlin’s Reichstag.

That unexpected diving centre is on the 200 hectare North Duisburg Landscape Park (Duisburg-Nord Landschaftspark) and is just one of a range of vast structures in this decommissioned iron smelting works given alternative uses, including climbing walls on the now redundant industrial sized buildings. By day you can see birds, rare newts and other endangered wildlife, finding new habitats among the rusting ironmongery. Once darkness falls you can walk around and climb over the former blast furnaces that are illuminated with a permanent light-show by Jonathan Park. You can even enjoy dinner at a restaurant in another converted industrial building, the Hauptschalthaus.

The UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein Coal Mine at Essen

The UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein Coal Mine at Essen

While some structures have new lives, other industrial giants have been kept in a form of stasis, such as the vast Hansa coking plant at Dortmund, now a historical monument. You can now walk up along the now silent beltway that carried millions of tonnes of anthracite from nearby collieries to be turned into coke and coking gas for the steel plants and other industries.

History is also brought to life at the UNESCO World Heritage Zollverein Coal Mine, at Essen, once the world’s largest colliery. Its washery building alone houses the Ruhr Museum more than 6,000 exhibits creating a memory and display window of the Ruhr Metropolis, tracing the development of the coal industry, the history of the Ruhr, including its importance in Germany’s industrial and military ambitions.

Gothic architecture for a Ruhr colliery

Gothic architecture for a Ruhr colliery

Other buildings, such as the Jahrhunderthalle in Bochum, have been turned into a vast venue for concerts and exhibitions. Under the main building tunnels are being rediscovered where industrial activity continued while bombs rained down on this crucial element in Germany’s World War Two military machine.

The Ruhr when heavy industry dominated

The Ruhr when heavy industry dominated

Arriving at the Zeche Zollern at Dortmund and only the two winding gear towers let you know this is a coal mine as the rest of the ornate architecture would have you believe you are at a castle or an Ivy League university campus. Enter the main buildings of this “mansion of labour” and you are in neo-gothic halls with ornate stained glass, carvings, wooden vaulted ceilings, where, not surprisingly, you are more likely to come across a wedding party than a coal miner. Behind this glorious symmetrical collection of buildings is Germany’s most famous industrial monument, a massive engine house, designed by Bruno Mehring, boasting a beautiful Art Nouveau entrance.

Wartime bombing destroyed much of the Ruhr and while you will find smaller villages and pre war architecture, it is the modern buildings that now catch the eye, such as the Kuppersmuhle Musuem in Duisburg, with a fine collection of German modern art, while you are always near lively evening café, bar and restaurant nightlife. Bochum iseems to be particularly popular for its bars and restaurants.

Heavy machinary now in situ museum pieces

Heavy machinary now in situ museum pieces

From the coal and steel workers to today’s tourists, beer has always been a large part of the region’s culture (along with football). The heritage bug has struck here too. In Dortmund, for example, even the old brewery building, which has the city’s symbol, a giant illuminated U, on its top, has been saved from demolition and transformed into an arts complex.

Go at the right time of the year and you can always do as the generations of industrial workers did in their free time and the local population still does and grab a currywurst or other type of German grilled sausage and then head for a sunny beer garden.

 

For more information of the region, festival and cultural events, accommodation and travel possibilities contact the German National Tourism Board. www.germany.travel/en/index.html

Mike Smith travelled to Dusiburg via Frankfurt airport with Lufthansa and Deutsche Bahn. Lufthansa flies to Frankfurt from a range of UK airports including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, and connecting with the Deutsche Bahn rail network. www.lufthansa.com  and www.bahn.de

 

 

 

Shining role of Leipzig in fall of East Germany

Leipzig's Festival of Lights

Leipzig’s Festival of Lights

The shadow of the Wall was lifted from Berlin 25th years ago yet the spark of freedom that finally took flame across the German Democratic Republic in 1989 started in Leipzig, just 70 miles away.

It was away from the glare of Western media and politicians in Leipzig that a peaceful protest on October 9, 1989 after prayers for peace in the city’s St Nicholas Church and three other cities across the city that around 70,000 people gathered and waited to see if the armed forces would open fire on them.

This was the culmination of weekly Monday protest meetings proclaiming “We are the people” and neither side probably knew what would be the outcome. With candles in their hands they stood up to the authorities who had threatened to fire on the crowd.

Nicholas Church and Memorial

Nicholas Church and Memorial

The armed forces had started the engines of their personnel carriers to confront the crowd and fire on their own people if necessary. Frantic calls to the Central Committee of the governing Socialist Unity Party in Berlin asking what to do about the peaceful, vast protests offered no instructions, the engines of the personnel carriers were turned off and within weeks East Germany had crumbled. This momentous night was just two days after the Central Committee has celebrated 40 years of the GDR.

Each year the city celebrates a Festival of Lights on October 9, featuring light installations, art exhibits, concerts, and live performances, to mark the Peaceful Revolution. This special year a light installation by the artist Tilo Schulz will honour the role Leipzig’s citizens played in 1989 with audio, video and light installations starting a weekend of commemorations.

But all year round the story of the former communist state, the role of the dreaded Stasi Secret Police and the everyday lives of the people who spent quarter of a century living in the East German state, can be experienced.

Spy Bridge betwen Berlin and Leipzig

Spy Bridge betwen Berlin and Leipzig

Outside the Nicholas Church is a column that has been erected as a monument to the prayers for peace, copying the classical motifs of the interior of the church. What they were struggling against is brought to life at the Stasi Museum in the Runden Ecke, the former headquarters of the East German secret police, features a permanent exhibition on ‘STASI – Power and Banality.” It has some 40,000 items from statues of Lenin and Trotsky, medals, uniforms, to grim prison cells, listening equipment, posters and other forms of state propaganda.

If you can drive from Berlin to Leipzig try to cross at the Glienicke Bridge that marked the border between East and West, where spies were exchanged at the height of the Cold War. A simple white line marks the division between ideologies, military blocs and families.

The people of Leipzig are proud of their pivotal role in ending the Cold War and eager to share it. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. In 2015, the city will celebrate the thousandth year since “Leipzig” was first mentioned, and the world is invited. The church that played such an important role on the fall of the East also links the visitor to the further distant past of Leipzig. It was where Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was originally performed and Martin Luther once preached from the pulpit.

Old Town Hall, Leipzig

Old Town Hall, Leipzig

Even in the Communist days the city hosted international book fairs and is possibly this chance to mingle with people from the West that made Leipzig a leading force in the process of change.

The Madler arcade, Leipzig

The Madler arcade, Leipzig

The city center is only one-half square kilometer in size so Leipzig can be enjoyed by strolling around, taking in historic buildings, stopping for coffees or something stronger in cafes and bars that all have their own story to tell. One stop on the walking tour should be the Coffee Baum café and coffee museum, founded in 1619, and recently reopened after extensive restoration. You are never very far away from music and it was here that Robert Schumann sipped that exotic drink with his musical mates.

St Thomas choristers outside St Thomas Church,

St Thomas choristers outside St Thomas Church,

The musical richness of the city can be followed on a five-kilometer Music Trail linking 23 significant sites of the musical history of Leipzig. It was home to Johann Sebastian Bach, Richard Wagner was born and where Felix Mendelssohn founded the first German conservatory. The recently reopened Mendelssohn House museum, where the composer worked and died, includes his piano and provides a sense of the man and his times. Even if classical music is not really for you it is fun to try your hand at conducting with the Effektorium, a podium where you wave the baton and a virtual orchestra responds.

 

Leipzig's Gewandhaus concert hall

Leipzig’s Gewandhaus concert hall

The city’s celebrates Orchestra of the Gewandhaus was founded in 1743. The concert hall itself is the third built on the site, the last being destroyed in a fire-bombing raid in World War 2. I attended a concert to mark the 150th anniversary of the birthday of Richard Strauss. The construction of the new concert hall was a massive project by the East German regime that was completed in 1981. Sadly a neighbouring church that survived the war was demolished by the East German regime. Now it is remembered in the architecture of the city’s university.

Another great experience is the Yadager Asisi 360 degree Panometer (a panorama in an old gasometer) created to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig during the Napoleonic Wars. Try spotting Napoleon leaving the battle field.

If food rather than music is your love don’t miss the historic Auerbachs Keller restaurant which has great 19th century murals depicting scenes from Goethe’s Faust. Check out the replica barrel that reminds of this moral tale; Faust rode from the cellar in a barrel as he sold his soul to Mephistopheles.

Statue of J. S. Bach outside St Thomas church, Leipzig

Statue of J. S. Bach outside St Thomas church, Leipzig

From the Steigenberger Grandhotel you can stroll in just a few minutes to the main historic square which has on one side the magnificent 15th century city hall. Walk through its arcades and you come across the cute Baroque stock market and a statue to Goethe.

Speaking of money, you may be pleasantly surprised at the cost of your stay in Leipzig. It may be in the Eurozone but eating, drinking and hotels are sensibly priced compared with cities in the west of Europe.

 

Mike Smith travelled to Leipzig as a guest of the German National Tourist Office. http://www.germany.travel.  He travelled to Leipzig via Berlin with EasyJet from London Gatwick. The city is served by airlines from most UK regional and national airports. There are Ryanair direct flights from London Stansted. In Leipzig he stayed at the Steigenberger Grandhotel on Salzgasschen. Tel: +49 (0) 341 350 5810. http:/en.steigenberger.com/Leipzig/Steinberger-Grandhotel-Handelshof. For more information on Leipzig Tourism: http://www.ltm-leipzig.de

 

Paying respects at the First World War sites now the politicians have gone

Now the 100 year anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War has passed and the politicians and dignitaries have been and gone, now is the time to visit the rows of uniform gravestones, vivid museums and monuments to remember the horrific slaughter.

Menin Gate, Ypres

Menin Gate, Ypres

Across the regions of Flanders Fields (Belgium) and the Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Somme and Aisne (Northern France), museums, revitalised existing collections, new visitor centres and, in this digital age, electronic, virtual resources, is bringing us face to face with the people who experienced the war to end all wars. This is most evident at the newly renovated In Flanders Fields Museum in probably the most famous town associated with the war, Ypres, in southern Belgium.

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Antwerp: a waterside city with a capital A

ANTWERP’S official logo is a capital letter A with three little gold dashes either side. Some people tell you it has the dashes to remind you of the city’s glittering diamond heritage, others that is so you don’t confuse it with Amsterdam in the neighbouring Netherlands. I tend to go for the latter.

antwerp logo

Sparkling Antwerp

Sparkling Antwerp

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The Kiss, East Wall Gallery

Back to Berlin

Ishtar Gate, Pergamon Museum

Ishtar Gate, Pergamon Museum

Berlin is Europe’s most fascinating destination  combining history, both proud and disastrous, culture that is awesome yet accessible, excellent transport, and cool bars, cafes and restaurants. And, despite being in the Eurozone, it is surprisingly affordable.

I first went to Berlin just as the wall came down and it was very much a city of two halves, then again 10 years ago when a monstrous construction site between them. Now I go nearly every year and there is always something different especially with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall upon us. There remain absolute musts for the first time visitor, some of which you may be surprised to find in this article!

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Remembering Bremen – Maybe

Bremen Town Hall and cathedral at dusk

Bremen Town Hall and cathedral at dusk

The conversation went something like this: I’m sure I have never been to Bremen before. Yes, it has the statue of the animals on each other’s backs. No, I don’t remember anything. We did it in a couple of hours by car when we were staying in Hamburg. Well I still don’t remember anything.

The lesson of this complete memory lapse is that Bremen deserves far, far more than a quick walk round and then jump back in the car to head for the next city. The other is possibly after some rather late nights out in Hamburg, I say no more, the old memory cells clearly don’t function very well.

Either way, this visit to the lovely hanseatic city in the north of Germany was a journey of discovery for me. It has so many memorable sights that I really must have been in a daze or my partner is confusing me with someone else!

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A hot date with a dodgy geyser: Cruising to Iceland

Snow and ice topped Iceland mountains

Snow and ice topped Iceland mountains

On the first day I went swimming three times and spent 20 minutes on the running machine – well, gently ambling while watching the horizon gently tilting.  By day two, however, my pledge to the bathroom scales that I would not indulge in afternoon tea, show restraint with the wonderful dining and certainly avoid the midnight buffet had been thoroughly broken.

As the stunning coast of Iceland appeared there was nothing for it but to accept this was going to a holiday of calories as well as culture, indulgence to match the  inspiration and dining decadence to balance the dizzying discoveries.

If you haven’t guessed yet you clearly haven’t been on a Fred. Olsen cruise and certainly haven’t enjoyed one of these maritime marvels on an all-inclusive basis, which means for a ridiculously small amount (£10 a day on this particular cruise) a good selection of wines, beers, spirits, not to mention soft drinks are just a signature away.

Of course, being on a cruise ship also means if that volcano under the glacier does blow you won’t be stranded at an airport for who knows how long!

 

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Mike Smith’s Get Tripped travel blog

Leaving UK crop

Now first of all, the name, Gettripped. I would have Gettripping. But I am told Gettripped will appeal to the generation that is more into gym than gin. So Gettripped it is. But if, like me, you are more likely to be propping up the bar than lifting one, welcome!

Over the days, weeks, months and, well let’s not push it, I’ll be sharing trip tales from near and far so fasten your seat belt, it could be a bumpy ride.

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