Crazy days: Cologne Carnival

Cologne cathedral during carnival

Carnival should not be missed. It is spectacular and tons of fun to see. It is a time when Germans become carefree and there is a festive spirit in the air. Carnival is celebrated in Austria, Netherlands and Switzerland too. In Germany, the carnival starts on the 11 of November at 11:11am. Celebrations are suspended during Christmas time and then begin again in January. But the main event of Cologne Carnival is Rosenmontag, which takes places two days before Ash Wednesday. During the Rosenmontag procession, you might spot the Dreigestirn the Prince, the Peasant and the Maiden. People pay handsomely to fill the role of Prince, Peasant and Maiden they dress up in the roles. I was surprised to hear that people pay to play these roles, from my Professor at the time. There are also different floats and marching bands at the festival. Roses are handed out and candy is thrown out to the crowd. People laugh, run and jump in order to catch the sweet treats. Cologne Carnival has a long and rich history which I did not know about.

Mocking Shia LaBeouf

According to my online research Cologne carnival has existed for 2000 years. During the Roman Occupation of Cologne carnival celebrated the wine God Dionysos. People ate, drank heavily and were able to freely critique the government during the festival. Mockery remains a part of the carnival traditions. In 2017 Donald Trump was mocked this year its Theresa Mays turn with anti-Brexitfloats. Floats are created which are satirical and some people dress up as figures which are mocked. Donald Trump costumes were highly popular in 2017. This culture of mockery and satire can be traced back to the time when Cologne was occupied by Prussia and France. Carnival goers dressed up as Prussian officers to mock them. And today the tradition has lived on.

Part of the procession

Carnival has evolved from celebrating Dionysos and has become Christianised. It takes place 6 weeks before Easter before the period of Lent. Lent is a reflective time which is often observed by fasting and sacrificing specific luxuries. Carnival is a time for festival goers to have a blast before Lent. The closing times of bars and pubs in Cologne are suspended during carnival. The streets and squares become party hubs and people all dress-up in costume. It does not matter how cold it is all kinds of costumes can be seen. So if you plan on attending do dress up. You will feel like a complete outsider without a costume. And if you do not have time to plan a costume grab a colourful wig or a crazy hat. These items are sold in the carnival cities or at the Hauptbahnhof (train station) shops.

My friend’s and I dressed up

Do try to get to the Carnival early to see the parade. It is poor form to push and front rows are usually occupied by children. When you are at the Carnival why not try Cologne’s beer. It is shown in the photo below.

Kölsch bier (beer). Cologne’s beer brewed in the city.

You can find the parade route and more information on the carnival at:

www.cologne.de/events/cologne-carnival

There are stands where you can book a seat. You can also attend the alternative carnival or the women’s carnival. The site discusses more about the history and resources used to make carnival possible. It is the official site of Cologne so it also lists where to stay. And what to do and see in the city.

Advertisements

Expert suitcase packing 101

Traveling is supposed to be fun. Packing for traveling can be a challenge though. So I present to you my introduction to packing like a pro. These tips could help spend less time packing and more time traveling.

Oktoberfest, prepared with my umbrella

1. Get information

Research the local style of place you are going to. If you don’t mind standing out that’s fine to. Europeans tend to wear jeans and sneakers (takkies). It’s the standard dress code. I love wearing dresses so I rocked my dresses all over Europe.

Knowing what the locals wear can be important though. If you are going into a Cathedral know that you can be refused entry if you don’t dress appropriately. Covered shoulders and dresses below the knee are acceptable. In certain countries you need to wear a scarf if you are a women. You need to know this or else you will be charged with breaking the dress code.

I said this before weather matters. Do check out the weather report for the time you will be traveling. I use AccuWeather and still do.

2. Travel light

You don’t want to be stuck with lots of luggage. Also, low cost airlines like Ryanair will charge you if your luggage exceeds limits.

3. Pack with activities in mind

Going to the beach? Pack a swimsuit then. Sunscreen, sandals, sunglasses you get the idea. If you are going to formal events like the opera pack evening wear. If your travel budget is limited you don’t want to be buying these things.

4. These boots were made for traveling

I’m making this a separate point because it’s very important you need comfy shoes. If you don’t have good shoes invest in them. Chances are you will be walking around alot, you don’t have time for blistered feet.

Check that your shoes are waterproof to if you intend to travel in winter. You might need waterproof shoes if you decide to hike to and have to cross streams etc. Don’t be like me I had soaking wet feet during my day trip to Paris. I didn’t know that my boots weren’t waterproof. Pack walking shoes that have been broken into brand new shoes might end up hurting your feet. Comfort is important since for most people traveling includes alot of walking.

Shoes do take up alot of space when packing though. So don’t pack too many pairs. About 3 pairs should be enough. Sneakers (takkies), sandals and formal shoes. Sandals can be worn as bedroom slippers if need be. For women flat ballet pumps are great. They can be used when dressing more formally or when you want a causal look. Use the space inside of your shoes to store soaks or any other smaller items.

5. Roll up

Roll up your clothes it saves space. If you do this there will be less creases to.

6. Find out policy

Know the baggage policy of the airline you are traveling with. The same applies with trains and buses .

7. Versatility

Pack clothes that are versatile. There are items for women which are designed to be a skirt , a dress, a scarf etc. I had a hand bag which could be made smaller or bigger depending on my outfit. You don’t have to buy versatile items though if you don’t want to. Pack scarfs, wraps and muted colours which can be mixed and matched with accessories. So black or blue jeans, t-shirts, a white shirt. For women a little black dress. These basic items can be dressed up with accessories. There’s also YouTube tutorials showing how to make one wrap into different kinds of clothing items. Plus if you are going on a beach trip why not take a sarong with instead of a beach towel. Towels tend to take up lots of space and aren’t versatile.

Pisa, my wrap become a scarf. I also used it to cover my legs later to enter Milan’s Cathedral.

8. Laundry

You might be able to wash your clothes. Do pack in laundry detergent (washing powder) and a sink stopper. If it’s too much of a hassle you could buy these items upon arrival though. You might have to wash your clothes in a sink if laundry service are too expensive.

9. Avoid the crease

Pack fabrics which aren’t prone to creasing like wool and nylon. Alternatively you can pack on a travel steamer. Personally that too much effort for me.

10. Start early

Start packing early rushing leaves room for you to forget things.

11. Sort fabrics

Pack your softer fabrics at the bottom of your case. Jeans and other harder fabric items should be packed on top. This will help prevent creasing to.

12. Hand luggage

You can have a standard size backpack as your hand luggage. This bag can later be used whilst traveling in your destination. I don’t really love back packs though. They make me feel too touristy. I opted for a medium sling bag instead. And smaller backpacks, I’m short so wearing bug backpacks make me feel smaller. In your hand luggage pack an extra outfit if possible. In case your luggage goes missing. Packing all your key valuables in your hand luggage is also a good idea. Documents, jewellery and electronic devices should be packed in your hand luggage.

Backpack used for my trip to Aachen, Germany

13. Toilette

Use hard bar soap and shampoo if possible. If you don’t want to make sure your liquid items have no air bubbles. You don’t want your luggage full of leaked shampoo.

Carry wet wipes, dry shampoo, dental gum and deodorant in your hand luggage If you are traveling far distances freshing up in a tiny bathroom might be all you have time for. I had to travel dirty at times since my tour bus only stopped and gas (petrol) stations. I only had ten minutes at some stops to brush my teeth and freshen up. Wet wipes and dry shampoo saved me from being a smelly traveler.

I used travel sized toiletries to. Like I said I went on day trips and weekend away trips to. Lugging a hug bottle of shampoo around would have just been annoying.

14. Layers

Pack clothes that you can layer. T-shirts that can be worn under your shirt. Shawls for ladies. A cardigan things that aren’t bulky but which can still provide warmth. I had a go to long grey woollen cardigan. I wore it at night could tie it around my waist or on to my bag. I used it as a blanket during train and bus travel or as a pillow seat when sitting on hard chair.

Layering up in Leipzig, it was cold

15. List

Make a list of things you intend to pack. Tick items off as you go along. This will prevent you from forgetting anything.

16. Organise

Alot of people suggest that you use travel cubes. I feel like they are overated. Use ziplock bags to separate items which could spill.

17. Extra bag

Take a canvas or duffel bag with. If you intend on buying souvenirs. You can check in the bag afterwards if you need to, on your way back home. Ideally you should leave room in your luggage for souvenirs but, this isn’t always possible.

18. Rainproof

After packing your clothes, you can pack a folded black bag on top of your things. This will stop your clothes from getting wet if you end up arriving in the rain.

19. Wet swimwear

Don’t forget to grab plastic bags or a shower cap. You can put your wet swimwear in it. Plastic bags are also good to store dirty clothes in

20. Donate

I studied in Germany for a year. I traveled around alot to. This meant lots of shopping trips. I donated clothes I didn’t want to take back home with me. I also gave some things to friends or friends of friends. I read that some travelers throw away their clothes, this is just wasteful. Rather donate it, a simple online search can help you find places where you can donate clothes.

May your packing be a breeze. Please let me know what your packing tips are. I’d love to know and I add to this list, whilst crediting you of course. Happy travels 😊

30 solo travel tips

When travelling alone you need to have a travel plan. Yes you could wing it the way I did when I visited Amsterdam. I wrote about that in a previous post. But these tips could allow you to avoid the creepy experience I had.

First time in Paris. I took a student bus tour.

1.Be techy

Be prepared. This means charging your phone. Packing in a good power bank. Purchase one with high wattage depending on what you plan on charging.

2.Weather matters

Check the weather report a few times for your travel destination. You don’t want to waste your momento budget on buying a poor quality umbrella for example.

Prepared for a rainy Paris

3.Get direction

Use Google maps but, also find out where the tourism office is of the place you are visiting. There’s often free maps available at these offices. If you do get lost stand inside a coffee shop and get your bearings. Or ask a female staff member for directions.

4.Budget properly

You don’t want to run out of cash . So do budget. Find out about the exchange rate. Don’t carry all your cash in one bag spread it out on your person and leave some in your hotel room safe for example, just in case.

5.Research

Find out more about the place you are going to. The customs, style of dress and accomodation. You can dress like a local to not stand out to potential criminals. Also find out how safe the accomodation is, and the area it’s in by looking at TripAdvisor comments. Other sites like Oyster and Hotelz can also help you out. I wouldn’t couch surf alone or use Airbnb but, if you choose this kind of accommodation book a place with tons of good reviews.

Plan tours, most big cities have free walking tours. There’s also the ever popular red bus tour. Going on a tour will allow you to get your bearings in terms of direction. You will also be part of a tour group. It’s a great place to meet other travellers.

6.Be aware of scams

Basically you need to follow your gut instinct. In Italy there’s men who tie bracelets on to unsuspecting tourists which can’t be untied easily for money. Once the bracelet can’t come off they charge for it. There’s gambling games in Budapest where you get pick pocketed whilst the game is on. You can Google search travel scams. Ask trusted locals however, your common sense is your best guide.

Hallstatt Austria, booked another tour and went alone

7.Check in

Someone needs to know when you plan on returning back home. Where you are returning and your trip itinerary. Also, have check in times so that someone knows where you are. This person can report what’s happening to the authorities. In case something does happen.

8.Drinking tips

If you are travelling alone don’t get intoxicated to the point where you are vulnerable. This is a fairly obvious tip. Since your judgement will be impaired and you could get lost in your new surroundings. Eat before drinking, snack and drink water in between drinks. And never leave your drink unattended. Watch the bar staff pouring your drink. Drink spiking happens all over. Have fun but be careful.

9.Don’t be flashy

Keep your valuables protected and don’t show off with them.

10.Travel light

Having tons of luggage will make it difficult for you to walk. It makes you look like a target to criminals. So pack light. You can always wash your clothes find out if the accomodation you are staying at allows that. Plus you will want space to bring back things. Buy clothes during your trip if you can. I went on alot of day trips or weekend trips and I will share more information on how to pack light.

,
Hallstatt Austria made a friend on the bus to there. She took this pic

11.Be proactive

Ask questions, ask the staff at the place you are staying if the places you intend to visit are safe. If you are lost ask the staff at shops or restaurants for directions. Some other travel guides suggest that you make friends with the staff where at the hotel, hostel or B&B where you are living. I personally feel like you should be friendly but, be careful about being over friendly with staff. After all these people know where you live.

12.Don’t over share

Don’t tell people you meet where you are staying. You can give them a nickname or even a fake name if you feel you need to. You don’t owe anyone your phone number, Facebook details or any other details.If you’re feeling uncomfortable you don’t have to say you are travelling alone. Your husband or boyfriend could be meeting up with you. For women sadly, this is sometimes necessary.

13.Put a ring on it

This sounded very strange to me but, my US friend Julie told me about this. She completed a internship with me in Cape Town,and told me that interns from her university who go to certain countries are advised to wear a wedding ring. The US state department advises women traveling to the Middle East to wear a wedding ring. The ring might prevent unwanted attention.

14.Back up

Your travel documents are important. Keep them safe. Send copies to trusted friends and family. Have the copies certified and scan them. Send your documents to yourself to. Inbox them to your email and upload them onto Google drive.

15.Travel cushion

Book a taxi from the airport or train station upon arrival if you know you are getting to your destination at night. Walking alone at night in a new place that you don’t know might make you feel nervous. That nervous energy can attract chancers. Have a fund for when you need to take a taxi sometimes walking alone might be unsafe.

16.Keep it on lock

Find out if there’s a safe in your room. If not take a bicycle lock with and your own locks to keep your things safe. Always leave the TV on and the don not disturb sign on your door. If you can get a slash proof bag for key valuables.

17.Be insured

Consider getting travel insurance. Plus travel medical insurance. If you lose all your belongings travel insurance will save you.

18.Medical tips

Also find out where the pharmacy is and the closest hospital at your destination. Carry your prescriptions with you find out if you can from the embassy of your destination in your country. Ladies do carry emergency contraception if aren’t using any form of birth control. You might need it and depending on where you travel to it could be difficult to find contraception. Pack a travel sized first aid kit to and some pain pills.

19.Learn the lingo

Learn a few phrases or key words in the local language. At least know how to say help, stop, no. In case of an emergency this might be important.

20.Ward off

Carry pepper spray, a whistle or any other device which you can use to deter attackers.

21.Cab/taxi safety

Before getting into a taxi or cab take a photo of the license plate. Then send this to a trusted friend or family member. Whilst in the cab you can track where you are going to by using Google maps. Make a real or fake call to someone and say you are on your way. This way the driver will think that you aren’t alone.

22.Don’t get distracted

If you are using earphones don’t have both ears covered. You need to hear what’s happening around you.

23.Alarm bells

Carry a portable door and window alarm. You could also simply get a door stopper. This will add to your peace of mind.

24.Bag it

Carry you bag all over. To the bathroom on buses or trains. Don’t leave your bag unattended at restaurants. Also when doing something distracting like booking a tour,or show make sure to put your bag on the counter or press it up against the counter with your body. You can even hold it between your legs.

25.Hard copy

Have a hard copy of your travel itenary, and important numbers. Write down the address of where you are living and keep it safe. You can show this to taxi drivers if need be. Not all drivers speech English so you might need to point to the address.

26.Register

Let your country’s official travel office know that you are travelling. You can register most of the time online. Find out where the embassy of your country is to. You might need to contact them in an emergency.

27.Talk

Talk to people, follow your instincts. Talk to other travelers. Sit at the bar at restaurants,bars and clubs. Go to the same local coffee shop daily and speak to the staff. Smile and be approachable. If people talk to you they will notice when you go missing. If something does happen.

Met these ladies along the way

28.Befriend a local

You can do this by asking a friendly looking person for directions. You could ask them what their favourite restaurant is and start conversation. Join up for events such as surfing lessons or cooking lessons. You can also use online resources Tinder or Meetup. For women there’s sites like sheswanderful as well. There’s more sites like this so just do a bit of research.

29.Follow your instincts

Say no if you feel something is fishy. You can be assertive without being rude. If you need to be rude so.Don’t accept a drink or ride if you feel uncomfortable. Your safety comes first.

30. Cover

You might need a cover story. The wedding ring might not be enough. If you feel strange start talking using we alot. Say something like my friends and I love this place, we are planning on returning again some day. Having a preplanned story could help you in a dangerous situation.

I really hope this helps solo travelers. Please feel free to let me know what advice you can give to solo travelers. I plan on traveling solo again some day so your tips would be highly appreciated.

The politics of solo travel

Screenshot_20180221-115956-01-01.jpeg
Me in Venice 2016. I travelled alone and made friends along the way.

So last night on the 20th of February 2018, I attended a dialogue which dealt with gender challenges. The Institute of Justice and Reconciliation hosted the talks which focused on women but, did not exclude the LGBTQIA community. I heard powerful comments from women who have experienced gender discrimination and are fighting to end gender inequality. It’s no secret that my beautiful homeland South Africa is marred by high levels of gender violence. Some political commentators have even called what’s happening a silent gender civil war.

Here’s the thing though although I’m not taking away from what is happening in my country, gender injustice is clearly a worldwide phenomenon. Last night the #Me too and #End Rape Culture online movements were discussed. The tweets and facebook posts have shown how global gender violence is. From Cape Town to Cologne it’s all over. In fact, Germany only recently changed its rape laws. Before the sexual assaults of 2015 on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany the law was simply unjust. It stated that the victim had to physically fight off his/her perpetrator during a sexual assault. Saying NO wasn’t seen as enough. I was in Germany in 2015. Luckily I didn’t spend New Year’s Eve in Cologne. I went to the Netherlands for Christmas break and stayed for New Year’s Eve. Reading the headlines sadden and angered me. It could have been me, even in a country which is developed the same problems albeit on a different level exists. And sadly the law in Germany is still lacking as it doesn’t cover people who have been drugged and sexually assaulted.

This gender violence ties in with travelling. Solo travel by women has been politicized. Media outlets report on violence against solo women travellers in a different way than when reporting incidents involving men solo travellers. Solo women travellers are often criticized by others. Friends and family tend to be worried and warn against travelling alone. Strangers are outright rude about it. I know this from experience. In February 2015 two Argentian backpackers went missing. Maria Coni and Marina Menegazzo were sexually assaulted and murdered whilst travelling in Ecuador. They had run out of money during their trip and contacted a friend who contacted another friend who offered them accommodation. After their bodies were found in black bags, the girls were blamed for travelling solo. In response to the victim blaming questions, Paraguayan student Guadalupe Acosta wrote a Facebook post from the perspective of Maria and Marina.

Part of it is listed below:

“And only when dead I realised that no, that for the rest of the world I was not like a man. That dying was my fault, and it will always be. While if the headline would have said ‘two young male travellers were killed’ people would be expressing their condolences and with their false and hypocritical double standard speech would demand higher penalty for murderers.

But being a woman, it is minimised. It becomes less severe because of course, I asked for it …

I ask you, on behalf of myself and every other woman ever hushed, silenced; I ask you on behalf on behalf of every woman whose life was crushed, to raise your voice. We will fight, I’ll be with you in spirit, and I promise that one day we’ll be so many that there won’t be enough bags in the world to shut up us all.”

I read the articles, saw the comments and I saw tweets posted by solo women travellers in response to the victim blamers. Solo women travellers started posting photos of themselves travelling alone. Tweets with the twitter handle: spread it means I travel alone in Spanish. The hashtag existed before however, became spread like wildfire after the murders. Solo female travellers posted tweets on mass in solidarity with Maria and Marina. There’s a few below:

#viajosola tweet with an empowering message
#viajosola tweet explaining why travelling solo matters

Women should be able to travel freely without fear. But, victim blaming is also a global phenomenon. Last week Amelia Blake a 22-year-old British tourist travelling through Australia was found dead. According to the Independent, a neighbour was quoted as saying: “I feel sorry for the girl. My first reaction was ‘she’s 22? A bit young to be on her own’.” The commentator might be unaware of it but, here’s another case of victim blaming. At 22 Amelia was an adult. She was living with her boyfriend and his body was also found in the flat they shared together.

Shakespeare had a point

The question remains though how do we stop this culture of victim blaming? In all of this their remains hope. The hashtag movements have opened the spaces for dialogue. Talks are being held by NGO’s such as IJR questioning what can be done to counter patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Women are using social media to let their voices be heard. It’s only the start though. For me, the way to change this is to involve young boys and men in workshops which discuss gender, consent and what toxic masculinity is on a global level. Moreover, women need to keep on travelling alone to end the idea that solo women travels are irresponsible. I continued to travel alone in 2015 and 2016. I travelled alone to Germany, Italy, Austria, Netherlands, Belguim and France. It was such a rich experience in so many ways. I personally can’t wait for the world to become safer before I travel. But, I can continue to travel and change people’s mindsets. I can also do my research and continue to take steps to be safe whilst travelling alone. I will continue to write articles about travelling alone to promote solo travel. I will continue to hold constructive debates with people who believe women can’t travel alone. And I will keep on writing about topics like this in my academic and social writing. Because I will hed the call from Guadalupe Acostas’, I will continue to raise my voice.

Read more at:

http://www.ijr.org.za/

https://www.marieclaire.co.za/hot-topics/new-study-on-violence-against-women-south-africa

http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/Report%2003-00-09/Report%2003-00-092016.pdf

http://www.dw.com/en/no-means-no-germany-broadens-definition-of-rape-under-new-law/a-19385748

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36726095

https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/viajosola-women-defend-solo-travel-ecuador-murders/index.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/amelia-blake-backpacker-dead-murder-suicide-investigation-brazil-gurung-newtown-sydney-australia-a8167651.html

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/may/17/man-who-attacked-backpackers-in-south-australia-jailed-for-at-least-17-years

Essen gets the green light: Gruga Park and Green city award

Creepy installation in Gruga Park
Illuminated trees

Every year the Gruga Park in Essen, Germany lights up. Amongst the beautiful fauna, and flora landscape light exhibits shine brightly casting a magical glow on the botanical garden. It’s that time of the year again, and I thought I’d share my experiences of the light display. The light displays are a work of art. They are colourful some of them are art pieces other parts of the display are lit up buildings and trees in the park. The display skillfully blends nature with technology and the end product is gorgeous. I really loved the atmosphere given that the park itself is dark. Only the displays are lit up, making the other spectators look like shadows walking around in the near dark.

Man made of light and a man walking in the shadows

The display is held usually during Essens’ winter months, and I almost didn’t go because it was really cold. I went on the 19 of February 2016. I’m South African from Cape Town, and minus 7 is cold for me. But, I was so in thrall of the lights that I barely noticed the cold. Plus, I wore a thick jacket, hat, gloves and warm woollen tights with my long-sleeved dress. If you aren’t from a cold climate wear layers and definitely wear a hat. Most of your body heat leaves from your head, so keep it covered. You will be walking around to the park is 700,000 square metres big. Although the whole park does not include light displays. My friends and I followed the crowd without a specific map and got to see all the exhibits.

Birds in the trees

The display runs from 2 February 2018 till 11 March 2018. The lights are switched on at dusk when it gets dark. From Monday to Thursday including Sunday the display can be viewed until 9pm. The display stays on longer for Fridays and Saturdays until 10pm. This display only lasts for 5 weeks. To enter the park you have to purchase a ticket. It’s 5 euros for adults with no student discount, unfortunately. For children aged 6-14, it’s 2 euros and kids younger than 6 who are accompanied by an adult enter free. Do note though it costs 6 euros to enter the park on Saturdays, this is because additional special events take place. Different acts perform making the park even more exciting. This includes a storytelling session, a vertical cloth performance, singing by the Essen Choir, Illuart which plays with luminous balls and even a didgeridoo player. The displays change every year and this year there are scenes from fairy tales which can be viewed at 8 illuminated houses. Essen also happens to be a green city. A place that tree lovers should go see.

The now clean Baldeneysee Lake in Essen

In 1986 the last coal refinery of Essen closed down. Essen is part of the Rhur region which has a long history of industrialization specifically of coal production. It started off as a rural region, then a coal producer, a Third Reich weapons producer, and an economically booming city. However, economic development took a dip after the mines started closing down. Essen is remarkable though since it again rebranded itself and is now a green city. How was this giant leap from industrial coal producer to green city taken? Well, I believe a lot of dedicated people worked together to make the city green. Trees are being planted. There are many open green gardens now in the city. Officials are setting an example and using bicycles. A 100km bike lane is being built, to limit pollution from carbon emissions. The route is also being created so that cyclist can avoid congested streets. The Baldeneysee a lake in Essen, is now open to swimmers. It was closed in the 1960’s due to pollution but, the water quality has now improved. The Krupp steel factory now hosts a man-made lake and the Zeche Zollverin a former coal mine is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Zeche Zollverin houses a museum but, also is hosts an ice rink during winter, music events and other fun events.

Gruga Park exhibit which shows Essens’ coal mining past
A running and bike trail in Essen

In 2017 Essen was awarded the Green Capital award from the European Commission. The award is presented to cities in Europe which have made changes to combat pollution. Cities which are overcoming environmental challenges have to apply to the European Commission for the award. Clearly, Essen has taken greening seriously. The city needed a new positive identity and did so through greening. This is a great module for other cities. And those interested in environmental politics can definitely use Essen as a module on how cities can transform.

CONTACT

Gruga Park at:

www.grugapark.de/english

Virchowstrasse 167a 45147 Essen tel: +49 201 888 3106 e-mail: info@grugapark.essen.de

Essen’s Tourism Office at : https://www.essen.de/aktuell/PortalAktuell_E.en.jsp

Tourist Information Office
Im Handelshof
Am Hauptbahnhof 2
D- 45127 Essen

Telephone: +49 201 19433 or +49 201 88 72333
Fax: +49 201 8872044
E-Mail: touristikzentrale@essen.de

Opening times:
Monday to Friday: 9 am – 5 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 1 pm

Essen is worth exploring and I will be featuring more posts on Essen. Happy travelling and I hope you enjoyed reading my post. Please provide me with any feedback you may have. I’m still new at this and appreciate your comments.

Fantastic Florence

Florence library

I have always loved the sound and smell of the rain falling. Traveling in the rain isn’t my idea of fun, so when I got to Florence in the pouring rain I was disappointed. I only had one day to explore the city, and I was stuck in the tour bus waiting for the rain to die down. Umbrella in hand I got off the bus and meet up with the tour guide. There was no sun but she wore sunglasses a coat, and carried a umbrella. She told us that she’s hoping for sun so she chose to wear sunglasses because Italians stay positive. I immediately liked her attitude and it rubbed off onto me. As we all started walking she showed us Florence’s magnificent library. I’m a bookworm just seeing the outside made me feel better.

The Basilica Di Santa Croce

What’s more is that the architecture especially the churches look like masterpieces to me. The Basilica Di Santa Croce is simultaneously grandiose and gorgeous church. My tour guide explained that it was built in the Gothic style, and has a marble façade. The Jewish architecture Niccolo Matas designed the façade. He added The star of David into the design. The church is also called the Temple of Italian Glories since it’s the burial place of famous Italians; Michelangelo, Galileo and Rossini to name a few are buried in the church. Inside you can also find a monument of Florence Nightingale who was born in Florence.

Piazza del Dumo

There’s many churches in Florence. In the heart of the city you can find the Piazza del Dumo. The square hosts the awe inspiring Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral. The baptistery and bell tower complete the square. From the bell tower you can get a 360 degree view of Florence and soak up it’s beauty.

Florence is also a fashionable place. It’s home to a variety of shops catering to every budget. There’s outside stalls selling bags and scarves. You can also find leather sandals premade or made for you by the shoemakers of Florence. Shoemakers have outside stalls but they also operate in stores. I bought a dress on sale for about 20 euros and a pair of sandals, without breaking my budget. Do note that stalls located close to tourist destinations are often more expensive. So browse around before buying. And do note that real leather has a unique smell, it feels softer and if you lightly scratch it with the tip of your nail the mark should disappear when rubbing it.

Ponte vecchio
The sun came out for a bit

In 1345 the Ponte Vecchio was built. This colourful bridge used to be home to butchery stores. Today it’s lined with jewellery and goldsmith shops. It can get very busy. Given that it’s a picture perfect spot and from the bridge you can take a photo with the Arno river in the background. I was lucky that the sun came out as I was walking on the bridge.

All the walking will make you hungry so try out the Bistecca alla Fiorenta translated to Beefsteak Florentine style. It is a popular dish. This T-bone steak is thickly cut and grilled over a wooden or charcoal fire. Given that the steak is thick and very big it’s normally shared by two people. Keep in mind that Italian restaurants and bars charge Coperto. Coperto is a admission charge and it can range from 1 to 5 euros per person. A family of 4 could end up dishing out 20 euros on Coperto. Some places charge both Coperto and a service charge. Restaurants close to tourist spots and main streets usually charge Coperto so maybe grab a bite at a side street restaurant and skip the Coperto. This way you will have more money to buy gelato.

Florence provides a feast for the eyes to just for your stomach. If you love art Florence needs to be on your bucket list. The Uffizi Gallery is where you can view works created by Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raffaello’s, Gitto and Botticelli to name a few. The well known painting of Venus in a shell is housed at the gallery to. It operates from Tuesday to Sunday between 8:15 till 18:3. From the 1st of March 2018 all Uffizi Gallery tickets get you a ticket to the National Archeological museum. The ticket will be vaild for up to 5 days. The marble statue of David sculpted by Michelangelo in 1504 is housed at the Accademia gallery. The Accademia gallery has the same operating times as the Uffizi. Both galleries are immensely popular, get there early to avoid long queues.

King Neptune
Perseus slaying Medusa

Alternatively you can admire the Piazza della Signoria it’s free of charge and there’s no lines. It’s a wonderful square filled with numerous sculptures. There’s a replica of David,and a statue of Perseus slaying Medusa amongst other marvellous sculptures. I chose to walk around the city instead of standing in long museum lines.

Not too far from the square stands the statue of Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli was both a politician and political theorist. His best known for his treatise entitled The Prince. The Prince was dedicated to the then governor of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Merdici. Machiavelli sought to gain the favour via The Prince treatise. It is a guide which teaches leaders how to govern. The text ignores morality and focuses of power, namely obtaining and maintaining power. Machiavelli wrote for example “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far better to be feared than loved” Machiavelli lived during the Renaissance and was a Renaissance man. He believed that people needed to be educated and enlightened via the arts and social sciences. The guidelines contained in the Prince were never implemented and Machiavelli never regained his political position.

Today Florence is a successful city which developed due to international banking and international cooperation. Ironically Theresa May gave her Brexit speech in Florence. Some reporters have stated that she might has chosen the city to prove that the UK will be undergoing a Renaissance. But, then again maybe she just wanted an excuse to visit Florence. Florence is fantastic worth visiting come rain or shine.

Thanks for reading and do feel free to comment. I’m very new at this and still need lots of guidance. Will be posting on a weekly basis, sometimes more. I hope you enjoyed this post.

P.S. The Florence tourist information centre is at Via Cavour 1, GPS coordinates (00 39 055 212245). It’s open from 9:00-19:00 from Monday to Saturday on Sunday’s it closes at 14:00

Bonn’s Cherry Blossom Festival

Cherry blossoms in Bonn, Altstadt

Every year around April or May cherry blossom trees bloom in Bonn, Germany. The city’s cherry blossom street is highly popular. It even made it onto the top ten list of the world’s most beautiful tree tunnels.

The world famous tree tunnel

So why are there cherry blossom trees growing in Bonn? In 1984 the trees were planted to make the city look better. Industrialisation which started in the 1980s lead to more buildings being built across the city. And cherry blossoms were used to counter the harder facade of the district.

Attending the cherry blossom festival. I’m thankful to this smiling photo bomber 😊

The Altstadt section of Bonn in Heerstraße is where you will find this fairytale street. But, do note that it’s pronounced Heerstrasse. There are street signs showing where the Altstadt is. It’s very easy to find,plus following the large crowds will guide you to it.

The festival hosts a variety of live music acts, a flea market, face painting for kids, and food stalls. I ended up buying a dress at the market for 2 euros, which is about R30. And a delicious pancake for 1euro about R15. So it’s also a good place to bargain hunt.

Stalls along the street in the background

You can follow the festival’s website to check the dates at: http://kirschbluetenfest-bonn.de

The festival dates change at times since it’s dependent upon when the flowers bloom. The site is only in German though, so use Google translate to get the information. Do be aware that the street can get crowded to. If you can get there early to skip the crowds.

Free hugs
Petals falling

It’s worth visiting, and it’s a free event. You don’t even have to buy anything if don’t want to. So why not celebrate the start of German springtime by attending. I highly recommend Bonn’s Cherry Blossom Festival, because for some reason I couldn’t stop smiling whilst walking down Heerstrasse.

Smiling