Lüneburg Day 2

It does all start with breakfast. A breakfast makes or breaks a hotel stay for me, and as long as I made the effort to save for this trip, I’d like my favourite meal of the day to justify it. And did it ever!

I came downstairs to see a small, but well-stocked breakfast space – always a winning point for me, with sensible food placement and convenient containers. Various hams, cheese, fruit, bread, scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms, bowls filled with vegetable salads, smoked salmon and other fish, home-made jam and two types of peanut butter to choose from – I was in breakfast paradise. The walls of the restaurant are also decorated with older illustrations of Lüneburg, always a nice touch when you see something local. I was so full that I had to pass on sampling any local dishes at lunchtime. Waste not.

I started my sightseeing with a visit to the local Water Tower, which you can see from a lot of points in the town. It’s open every day and a non-discounted ticket is still very cheap, 4,50 euros. A great tip if you are undecided about visiting museums during a shorter trip. A lift takes you up to the 6th floor, where you climp a few more flights of stairs on your way to the observation platform with its stunning view of the well-preserved red-tiled roofs and old brick houses of Lüneburg. You might be asked not to visit the second floor, where weddings sometimes take place. Going back down, I’d recommend checking out the exhibitions on site, such as the many facts on water supply history, in Lüneburg and beyond (did you know that boiling water for hygienic reasons became common ONLY in the second half of the 19th century?), and also the Japanese artefacts on display, honoring the partnership between Lüneburg and Naruto.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Lüneburg’s pretty streets, stepping in to shops and enjoying the easy distances between everything. If this place is already so picturesque, seeing it in other seasons will definitely be exciting too.

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Exploring Lüneburg: Day 1

Lüneburg is a gem of a town in Northern Germany and perfect for a weekend getaway. It’s small, easily accessible, quaint, extremely historical and simply pretty.

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Day 1 was arrival and settling in day, so there are no detailed notes on sights and snacks as of yet, but there will be. I caught the quicker train among the regular ones leaving from Hamburg every hour, and before I knew it I was exiting Lüneburg station, small but busy, and almost automatically walking towards the town center. Memories from day trips in previous years come back and I’m excited to spend more time here. You can’t get lost in Lüneburg, which is comforting to remember even when I do my trademark loop while looking for my hotel.

Zum Roten Tore is comfortable and cosy. The immediate change of pace from big city to small town is made more obvious by the fact that I get a traditional room key with a heavy key ring and that when you people-watch you get an occasional relaxed hello.  I came prepared from Hamburg, which means I took an umbrella with me, but I’m touched to discover a large white one in my room.

It’s already early evening, so after a snack I walk around, familiarizing myself with the streets and landmarks I’d like to explore later. It’s January and not raining, one cool shop follows the other and I can’t get enough of the gingerbreadness Lüneburg first impressed me with all those years ago. Not a tall building in sight and people are actually walking slower. The weekend is upon us, shoppers take leisurely advantage of winter sale season and increasing numbers of laughing teenagers gather in groups on Am Sande, the main square. It looks like various pub crawls are about to start and I move away to walk along the surrounding streets made up of brick houses with sometimes slanted windows and walls.

One of Germany’s most famous soap operas, Rote Rosen, is filmed here, and the broshure I just read tells me I might run in to some of the actors if I’m lucky. I just checked out some clips on YouTube to polish up and find myself being drawn in…

 

How to Do Düsseldorf in One Weekend

Düsseldorf routinely pops up in various lists and rankings of European cities to visit, and with good reason. It’s convenient to reach both from Europe and elsewhere, not so large that you feel overwhelmed at choosing what to see and do during a weekend getaway, but by no means lacking in cultural delights and delicious food experiences. Read on!

Key Facts

One of the top ten most populous cities in Germany and the capital of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The famous Rhine river runs through the city also famous for its carnival celebrations in early spring, which pairs suitably with the fact that several established Altbier brands (such as Füchschen, Uerige and Schlüssel) typical to Düsseldorf and the region around it proudly distinguish the city further. Düsseldorf is also home to a large Japanese community. Last but not least, football fans the world over will definitely have something to say about Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Get There

By train – Deutsche Bahn offers many options and it’s a pleasant ride, especially for us northerners any time we venture further down from the peak of the country (pun points for me, as lovely Hamburg is as flat (plattes Land) a city as can be). There’s some nice green scenery to admire on the way and even several hours pass quickly. Düsseldorf Cental Station is busy, but well-planned, and the Presse + Buch shop is definitely worth a visit if you’re also departing by train. One thing to keep in mind during the summer in particular is that you will most likely encounter numerous groups of tipsy or near-intoxicated young men arriving for stag dos/ bachelor party weekends. Most of them are friendly and happy, but still best viewed from a distance.

By plane – Düsseldorf international Airport is a popular transportation hub and very nice to walk around. Airlines flying to and from include Lufthansa, Air Berlin and Eurowings. It’s well-connected to the city center, as well as the Düsseldorf Central Station, and the journey by S-Bahn train doesn’t take long.

Stay

Düsseldorf is an internationally popular city with a busy event program year round, as well as a thriving business center. There is no shortage of hotels to choose from based on budget and preferences. Another option is, of course, Airbnb, which was my experience this time and which I thoroughly enjoyed. One example of a good area to stay in, especially if you want to walk a lot to points of interest, is the Friedrichstadt district. Tip: check the trade fair calendar before planning your trip. Messe Düsseldorf is one of the largest exhibition venues in Germany, and accommodation may predictably get snapped up fast around and during events.

Walk

To Düsseldorf’s Rheinturm TV tower and explore the surrounding park, watching fellow weekenders doing yoga on the lawn.

To the arresting and Instagram-worthy Neuer Zollhof in the Düsseldorf harbor, with buildings designed by Frank O. Gehry.

To the green, sprawling and lovely Volksgarten park, and run between these clocks in an installation by Klaus Rinke. Alice in Wonderland/ White Rabbit vibes? Yeah, me too. On a weekend morning it’s an oasis of tranquility with many beautiful trees, bridges, shaded corners…and birds of all kinds! Generally a regular sight all over Düsseldorf. Step carefully.

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Visit

Of the many museums Düsseldorf has to offer, I visited the NRW Forum, well-known for its exhibitions of modern art. A particular point of excitement which is still relevant as I type this was a virtual reality exhibition with several stations titled Unreal, which had me finding my footing again after an immersive half hour in my massive headset. On the way out I walked through the Myth Tour de France exhibition, which was unexpectedly graphic and made me aware of my naive ignorance around the event. The exhibition was, of course, timed around this year’s start of the Tour de France in Düsseldorf at the end of June- beginning of July.

Eat

Time to sit down for a bite! Walking back from the harbor in the general direction of the city center around noon, in good weather you can take your pic of lovely places with tables set outside overlooking the river, and thankfully reasonably priced menus. Again, in the summertime the aforementioned groups of dudes celebrating their groom buddy are omnipresent, so take care to sit at a distance in order to be able to chat and relax amid the beer-fueled table pounding in the background.

I happened on a street lined with Japanese shops and restaurants by accident and it immediately made me nostalgic for Tokyo. In the evening my weary, but happy feet carried me to Hyuga in Klosterstraße, where I indulged in some delicious sushi.

You might hear from some that Düsseldorf is considered stuck-up. Don’t believe it and see for yourself.

Oslo Reloaded, Day 2, Opera

The Oslo Opera House was definitely a major higlight during last year’s trip for me. What would it be like, we wondered, to see a performance there? One year later we find ourselves with tickets to see a ballet based on Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, one of Norway’s most famous playrights, but more on that later.

There is never a bad time to visit the Oslo Opera House, really. The building seems to transform along with the time of day and the changing light. Each view of and from it is exciting and unique. With the traditional notion of walls, gravity and height on the mind, it is somewhat surreal to find yourself not only going in, but walking on the Opera House before you even realize it. The change of levels is so gradual, even gentle, that the view of the Oslo Fjord from the rooftop catches you by surprise.

Space and peace are the main impressions emanating from the Operahuset, as well as a sense of welcoming. It snowed in the morning. I look down at my pointed black ankle boots and my friend’s smart black pumps, and suggest we take the steps stretching out in front of us. There’s an expanse of of the building leading upwards, basically just a walkway, but that’s for another day and in other shoes.

People are walking everywhere, some are sitting down and reading or just gazing out over the city. Blues, whites, marble and glass ripple, blend together and reflect each other in the rays of the slowly setting sun. I am enchanted.

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To me, Henrik Ibsen was previously known for his plays A Doll’s House and Peer Gynt. My friend had read Ghosts before the trip and summarized it for me. Subsequently, we were both asking the same question: how can this complicated material with many-layered family drama and tragedy stretching over two generations be translated to modern ballet dancing? While admiring the spacious interior of the Operahuset’s foyer, which is just as intriguing as the outside, we got a program. In the introduction director Marit Moum Aune immediately answers that taking Ibsen’s text as a basis for a dance performance is indeed a complicated feat (“terrible idea”), but as those involved were, we too are now intrigued.

We take our seats in the auditorium we viewed a year ago from above during our tour of the Operahuset and in a few minutes lights go out as the ballet begins. The set is at first glance minimalistic, but reflective of the dark shadows in the character’s pasts, both literally and metaphorically. As the mother soon to be surprised by the return or her grown-up son dances across the stage, we are pulled deeper and deeper in to this eerily calm and increasingly tense atmosphere. A screen shows a family of three slowly making their way forward, as if in a dream, the Fjord behind them and the unurried noise of waves coming in time with their steps. Is it a dream? Someone’s memory? Or indeed, ghosts? We don’t quite know, and the possibility of interpretation, the freedom of it is exhilirating. Fast-paced dance sequences involving the whole dance ensemble on stage seamlessly interchange with the slower ones, as agonies, past and present all collide, so that it becomes occasionally difficult to undersand who is who, but at the end you are left breathless, just like the rest of the audience. The immersion is so complete, it takes a while to come back to the real world.

 

 

Oslo Reloaded, Day 2, Ekebergparken Sculpture Park

I add the various smoked salmon to the eggs and bacon (mais oui) on my plate, and then my eyes fall on the waffle iron standing on the counter opposite. You can make your own waffles here? And put Nutella on them? Or raspberry jam? Oh, wait, you’re supposed to spray the inside of the waffle iron with this can, which as it turns out, is not whipped cream? Act casual, just act casual.

The breakfast buffet at the Scandic Grensen hotel has won me over. Or maybe that already happened when I saw the salmon. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Good food is not to be taken for granted, and neither is good breakfast! I’m feeling ridiculously happy that we will get to come here one more time before leaving, and I know without a doubt that I will stuff my face.

“There are two types of people: those who want to know when is breakfast in the hotel, and those who want to know until when is breakfast in the hotel.”

We board a tram at Oslo S and venture out a little outside of the city, but not too much, and get out to a view of the slightly hilly Ekebergparken sculpture park. The air is fresh and invigorating and I’m itching for a panoramic view of Oslo, which I get soon enough. It’s exciting to recognize familiar areas from above.

A few minutes later I get a shot of the Oslo Fjord, then I just stare for a while. It’s very peaceful up here and I like the understated beauty of bare trees waiting for spring. Nature will take its course and everything will soon wake up.

Ekebergparken is also a national heritage site, and scattered throughout the park are indeed sculptures, each arresting and thought-provoking in its own way. Ever so often a work of art will catch your eye and pull you out of your reverie brought on by trees, moss-covered stones and thoughts of Norwegian trolls. It’s an interesting state of perpetual contrast. Another sculpture by Sean Henry, Woman (Being Looked At), stands in the passageway of the Folketeatret, where we saw Ylvis last year. The exhibit in Ekebergparken, Walking Woman, inspires our purposeful stride. Concave Face by Hilde Maehlum captivates me with its unusual beauty.

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Anatomy of an Angel by Damien Hirst leads to a monologue from me on the representation of angels in Supernatural (“Cas!”). Then I quickly forget my thread as a troop of children on ponies locked by adults in the front, middle and back passes us, with the kid in the middle astride a particularly fat pony. Its belly is almost level with its hooves and I’m delighted. A sign nearby points in the direction of a riding school on the territory, and sure enough, in a few minutes we discover it. The place is filled with happy family activity, sheep are bleating and there’s a small cabin labeled Kaniners, which attracts my attention because bunnies are Kaninchen auf Deutsch.

Art comes in all shapes and forms. After identifying that the disembodied voice half-hissing in a British accent, “Shed the body…shed the body…redemption” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets vibes, anyone?) was actually coming from the base of a lamppost, we decided it was time to head down to the Barcode district. Getting there on foot from Ekebergparken is entirely possible, just follow the tram tracks and then keep walking towards those fascinating buildings (mind the construction site on the way). We make sure not to look towards the opera house so as to keep the element of surprise alive for the evening’s activities.

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Oslo Reloaded, Day 1

I must admit, gazing out at the Oslo Fjord, with bright sunshine illuminating the fabulous waterfront views from the Aker Brygge neighborhood, is not a bad way to start a Friday morning.

It’s just gone 9 AM and we’ve been up for 6 hours. As a result, the pleasant anticipation of a full day ahead is even stronger than usual, while I nibble on my cinnamon roll from Narvesen to tide me over until our afternoon check-in at the hotel where we’ve just left our bags. They had a locker room downstairs involving some card scanning and (at first) complicated twists, plus memorizing of locker numbers. This proved to be a theme during the whole trip. Oh, the cinnamon roll was accompanied by my beverage of choice – hot chocolate, all for the sweet price of 25 NOK (roughly 3 euros). Especially during a weekend getaway, Narvesen or Seven-Eleven is an easy solution for snacks – both shop chains are to be found almost everywhere in the city and are friendly to your budget.

Just as last year, the brilliant sunshine makes for some active instagramming and we don’t want to go inside anywhere.

Walking around Oslo is easy – checking out all the previous trip’s discoveries in and around Aker Brygge with the breeze from the Oslo Fjord blowing in your face sweeps away any remaining drowsiness and we enthusiastically fan out through the streets around us. There’s the National Theater and the Royal Palace – no frost on the ground this year. Our feet seem to know where to go before we think about it. One lady asks us if it’s allowed to take a picture of the guards by the palace, and we feel like locals. We get our 24-hour Oslo Passes from the Oslo Visitor Centre at the Oslo S central station. After last year’s searching for it, everything goes quickly and the button that opens the door is still the same.

Next we find ourselves in the National Gallery, for what is a visit to Oslo without art, and what is art in Oslo without a bit of, you guessed it, Edvard Munch. Plans of the museum layout are available and each room is conveniently numbered at its beginning – I love me a system. So no FOMO and you see everything. The scope of the collection surprises me, from antique busts and heads to Russian icons, to impressionism, and of course plenty of Norwegian art. I dutifully stop in front of the version of Munch’s Scream on display here. In fact, there is a whole room filled only with Munch’s works. After a while I drift to the next artists and forget myself as I stop in front of View of Dresden by Moonlight by Johan Christian Dahl, one of Norway’s most famous landscape painters. The enchanting panorama, emanating both serenity and mystery, fills my vision. For a few minutes the memory of where I am recedes as I stare at this earlier view of a city in the country I now call home. Harald Sohlberg is another new discovery, and at the end of our visit I succesfully locate a postcard with Street in Røros and its eye-catching play of lines and colors in the museum shop. Always check out a museum shop in Oslo – you will most likely be pleasantly surprised.

It’s Friday night and we’re going out with the rest of them – DDR is performing in the Oslo Spectrum arena and it’s huge. I can’t stop looking behind me at the rows and rows ascending. They fill quickly, as does the standing area. We make our way right to the barrier in front of the stage and security hands out earplugs. DDR is a Norwegian comedy band performing local songs in exaggerrated German, as well as some actual German hits. I laugh myself hoarse to Nena’s 99 Luftballons and am taken back to an 80s dance night during a dedicated rendition of Falco’s Amadeus.

The blend of German in our Oslo trip is working out very well, but it hits its peak as what we’ve been waiting for all evening finally happens. We loose our minds and I my limb coordination as no other than Ylvis takes the stage. “Alles gut?!” Bård Ylvisåker bellows. Alles is more than gut as Ylvis, both dressed in military attire, launch in to a highly energetic, brand new performance of a German version of The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).

Post ear-plug cheering is still ringing in my ears as I hit the hay.

 

Disneyland Paris as an Adult, Day 1

“Everytime I come back, it’s like becoming a kid again,” a French colleague of mine said to me dreamily when I shared my weekend plans. “I think I never really stopped,” I replied.

I thought about this some more in the RER train en route to Disneyland Paris, making my fluent in perfect French sibling laugh with my literal English pronounciation of the Noisy-Champs station we passed. It translates as nutty fields, by the way. I don’t know which I enjoy more. But hey, to quote Daria, it’s a nutty, nutty world, and maybe with Walt and Mickey’s help I could escape it for a while.

I want to remember her as well, I realize. The child who discovered herself, not just the adult. I want to carry the things she found out then inside myself, because they still make me who I am. And she is me, just independent, bill-paying, more knowledgable about polite sarcasm and prone to sentimentality.

Somehow I felt this trip would round up all these thoughts anew, since Disney animation was such a big part of my childhood and continued to be so later on in life, coloured by a special sense of memory and appreciation for discovering the stories from an adult point of view.

Trekking along to our hotel independently at first with the aid of Google Maps proved fruitless, as despite Google’s encompassing power, the Maps failed to recognize the high rows of trees blocking our progress as impenetrable. But we were already essentially in Disneyland, with Disney thinking and Disney music inflitrating our brains, so off to the bus shuttle we went, which just didn’t arrive for a while – one of the easiest things to do if you want to make someone who’s lived in Germany for years twitchy.

Once we reached Hotel Cheyenne it was truly like stepping back in time.

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Except we were larger and the security check in the lobby was a painful reminder of current events. What I notice is also how I automatically switch to accommodating this necessary procedure in my daily routine for the moment, while simultaneously thinking it’s just sad.

Hotel Cheyenne is one of the affordable accommodation options at Disneyland Paris. Family-friendly and spacious, many buildings with apt names like Billy the Kid or Calamity Jane spread beyond the main one with the lobby, lining a broad street built like a typical scene from a town in an American Western. Not only do they look the same as I remember from the one time I stayed here as a child, but so does the interior of our room. It’s almost bizarre to see the exact same table lamp with a cowboy boot for a holder, or the horse-patterned stripe of wallpaper just below the ceiling. A short attempt to climb the ladder to the top bunk proves that this is a) painful and not advisable in socks; b) silly as the bunks are too small for us now anyway. There’s also a weight limit I’m pretty sure I exceed nowadays.

If you can walk from your hotel to the park, do! The surrounding area is green and wide in the summertime, otherwise bus shuttles from the hotels actually are frequent. As for booking the travel package and all that practical stuff, two words: in advance!

One more predictable security check and we were strolling towards the gorgeous, prominent and posh Disneyland Hotel. I was still having trouble believing where I was, so I settled for the dreamy state of acceptance.

Little girls dressed like Belle and Snow White skipped past me along Main Street. Bachelorette party (or hen do) groups from England popped up every few minutes in a flurry of sequinned Minnie Mouse ears and young sisters holding hands dashed in to shops overflowing with Elsa and Anna dresses, some emerging as two Elsas or two Annas. Yes, Frozen was being marketed very heavily indeed, despite being released all the way back in 2013.

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Lunching and snacks immediately and predictably wander in to the fast food area, especially if your weekend budget revolves around the € and not the €€€. Service is efficient and quick, though, and visitor traffic moves fast enough so that seating opportunities don’t require major waiting time. The Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlour beckons from accross Casey’s Corner, bringing back memories of reading The Langhorne Sisters by James Fox, but the hot dog and fries I had don’t leave room for more.

Leaving the beautifully decorated shop window displays on Main Street behind us, we proceed towards Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Blush pink and blue-capped, just as I remember, it’s animation come to life without being overdone and the elegant landscaping around it reminds of the various aspects of hard work connected to putting Disneyland Paris together.

A major point of excitement was exploring the castle inside, where I promptly went Disney crazy with my camera among all the carefully reproduced scenes from the eponymous animated classic.

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And then off to the Dragon Lair we went. The wailing I heard inside confirmed what my Disneyland Paris app said – some of the scenes could frighten younger guests. While I wasn’t one, I still clutched my sibling’s hand simply because it was so dark in there.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant was the first ride stop on that day and the slight nerves I had about going up and down (I know, pathetic, it’s a carousel that kids go on) dissipated as soon as I took in the view seated atop our little soaring elephant.

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I’ll just have to suck it up and watch Dumbo to the end, because when I was little the scene with him and his mother in separate cages broke me and I couldn’t continue.

My logically thinking sibling successfully took us through Alice’s labyrinth, leaving me only slightly dizzy, but not late.

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A quick dash in the Mad Hatter’s Teacups (no, we didn’t want to turn the wheel in the middle of our cup to make it spin when the WHOLE PLATFORM of the ride was already doing so) made us laugh. And then, like any self-respecting Disneyland visitors, we set off for the Princess Pavillion, me singing along loudly to various instrumental Disney soundtracks wafting from hidden speakers around us.

While waiting in line I busied myself with my camera once more, particularly enjoying the glowing Disney artefacts displayed behind glass panes and accompanied by a short snippet from the relevant story in French and English.

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“Is there anyone else here without kids?” My sibling whispered. “I don’t know,” I replied, “But look, it’s from The Little Mermaid, it’s the shell, the shell!” I succeeded in getting the lady in front of us to turn around and give me a look, though I didn’t care. The shell! Yes, the Princess Pavillion is essentially for kids, but once we were there, I wanted to see it through. Snow White was lovely, by the way, and she said she liked my earrings. She also compared us to Elsa and Anna, so a good day’s work for us, I say.

The boat ride through Storybook land followed all this princess excitement – a ride I thoroughly enjoyed, with all the recognizable details in the careful miniature reproductions of some of Disney’s most iconic animated features.

To shake things up and with more memories running through our minds, we lined up to go on Pirates of the Carribean just as it started to rain. Savvy! Deeper and deeper we ventured until we reached our boat. Even my limited French was enough to understand the dad seated in front of us saying excitedly to his kids, “Descente!” and I screamed my head off even if it was a short drop, because I’m a scaredy cat. Points out of ten to this ride in terms of atmosphere, though, and I could understand the British teenagers dashing past us to line up again. “We’ve already been three times!” Due to the movie(s) having already come out since I last visited as a child, scenes of looting pirates laughing were all the more impressive and for a few minutes you forget where you are.

One more stop was on our list and as we rounded a corner, the Phantom Manor suddenly came in to view.

During my last visit I was successfully scared in to not going inside, and I said I would come back. Convincingly draped cobwebs adorned the lamps above our heads and the darkness in the antechamber we entered was immediately intimidating. My feverish visual scan of the premises strengthened the hope that this house didn’t include hidden roller coasters, as did the presence of small children around us. I don’t want to include spoilers, of course, but I will say that the wait of many years was worth it and the interiors are fantastic. Surely fun stop at Halloween.

Sated with impressions and walking as we already were, there was one more special point of the evening left to attend to – Disney Dreams, the evening show. Darkness was starting to settle as we approached Sleeping Beauty’s Castle later. People were lining Main Street as we grabbed some hot chocolate and found a good spot.

Music began to play and the castle became an illuminated mesmerizing stage for a medley of Disney animation and music. With the rest of the crowd I sang my heart out to Elsa’s Let It Go amid one of the most beautiful fireworks I have ever seen.

A truly enchanting end to a special day, not without “adult” thoughts (How much does it cost to put on such a display? How eco-friendly are those flames? Is all the merchandise produced under the same unfair employment conditions we read about so much?)

But I do still remember her, the girl I was thinking about on the train ride here.