Jan 30, 2016

Salzburg, do not look so much inward

The rail bridge over Salzach river in Salzburg,
banks of which are perfect for cycling and running.

A view from Salzburg from the castle.

Located on the Western part of Austria, close to Bavaria of Germany, the picturesque Salzburg is surrounded by mountains and two low hills Kapuzinerberg and Monchsberg. It has a charming old town that is a UNESCO site. Although heavily damaged during the Second World War one can see many buildings have been renovated yet still baring dates from middle ages. As a city-state, Salzburg joined the Austro-Hungarian empire, only 200 years ago. It seems to have changed hands and was annexed by Germany during the World War. 

Views from the Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg.

Salz is the German word for salt and it not only gave its name to the city but also to the river running through it, Salzach. Austrians call salt "the white gold" as it, other minerals and water energy seem to have contributed to the wealth of the city and the region for centuries. Fairly easy to get around on foot, one can still take a mini tour which includes the Hellbrunn Palace outside the city. When you cross to the other side of Salzach you can visit the amazing cathedral (Fransizkaner Kirche) and go up to the castle which allows you to see the city as well as the surrounding region. Once up there, you can take a walk to the Modern Museum or reach it via a finucular system. 

The building where Mozart was born is yellow,
the color of Kaiser's, Salzburg.

A view from the Von Karajan's house with his stick
in the hand, Salzburg.

Salzburg was ruled for a long time by arch bishops who happened to be good diplomats avoiding war and thriving on trade and music. The city indeed is the birth place for many musicians, most famous of which are Mozart and the famous conductor Herbert Von KarajanThe birth and later houses of Mozart are clearly marked and the latter is today also a museum. A few hundred metres away from the Karajan house is an interactive sculpture of Marina Abramovic who dedicated her work to Mozart's spirit. At this site, you should sit down on the chair; close your eyes; look inwards and lose track of time, as instructed. And if you wish to enjoy cafe and cake where Mozart and Karajan did, head to Cafe Tomaselli close to the cathedral in the old market. It is the oldest Austrian cafe and it shows! Right acrosss it, is Cafe Fürst the founder of the Mozart Kugeln (famous chocolates). Another good option for café is at the Mozart Museum. The ingredients of these cakes are so excellent, they fill you without being heavy or burning your stomach. Salzburg is also famous for Restaurant Ikarus a Michelin starred restaurant but hard to book. So we had a wonderful meal at Alter Fuchs in the old city. Just enjoy your Schnitzel with Riesling! 

View from Cafe Konditorei Fürst, Salzburg.

The cake lady (Kuchendame) at Café Tomaselli
must be paid separately for the cakes.

Salzburg is a pretty two day get away destination on your way to Hallstatt in the summer or to Zell am See if you are into skiing. Despite all this wealth and music though, there is something dark here or maybe generally in Central Europe. Maybe it is the pessimism emanating from Peter Handke quotes at the Modern Art Museum or it is the weather. Or maybe it is me, having spent eight of my teen years in an Austrian high school damaged my relationship with Austria. Still, at a time when there are sixty million refugees worldwide, an unprecedented number, you have a town so inward looking, its three star hotel reception closes at 6 PM! Austria should wake up to the miserable reality the world is living in and start sharing its wealth with people who risk so much only to start a new life. Indeed, there is so much room in this 200.000 people town. And apparently jobs too, to keep receptions open day and night.                    

Stolpersteine dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust,
after Germany they are also in Austria. 

A view from Zell am See, Austria.
Quotes from Handke on glass doors: "Some couples never get together"
and "only romantics achieve anyhting".

Aug 30, 2015

Holidaying with the refugees in the Dodecanese

In the summer of 2015, Greece made it to headlines either for financial ruin or for refugees crisis. In the Dodecanese islands off the Turkish coast, you see less of the first and plenty of the second. After all, the Syrian war is not ending despite four years of devastating warfare and it is now the middle classes' turn to leave the country. As entering Europe is allowed only illegally, they therefore land in the closest Dodecanese Islands like Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Leros off the Turkish coast. Usually they loom at the harbour either waiting for ferries to take them to mainland Greece and beyond or at police stations on the side of the road while lining up for registration.

Hora on the top of Patmos island, Greece.

Travelmind is a family enterprise: my sister is posing in Hora.

Hora has many nice shops overlooking Patmos island.
One of the furthest islands off the Turkish coast, Patmos did not change much since I saw it ten years ago. Given the distance, it is not receiving refugees but many pilgrims that arrive by huge cruise lines on a daily basis. Indeed, Patmos' Hora is called the Jerusalem of the Aegean. It has been declared a UNESCO site as well as a "holy island" by the Greek Parliament for its religious significance. If you want a little peace and quiet in Hora, you should pick a day where a cruise won't be coming. After a tour at the top with excellent views, have dinner at Jimmy's with the best view of Skala and beyond. If it is a cruise day, just skip dinner in Hora and head down to Skala. Dinner either at Pandelis or Tsipouradikos by the sea are excellent options.

View from Jimmy's in Hora, Patmos.
A view of Skala from Jimmy's Balcony in Hora at Patmos island.

The best sunset in Patmos is on the road to Kampos.
At Tsipouradikos, the tables are set by the sea.
Patmos is a small island and transportation is easy with taxis but renting a car is also an option. We stayed to the north of Skala in Kampos. Although the Kampos beach can be crowded, it does not have that many buildings as other popular hotel areas like Grikos or Skala. Its village square up the road is very nice. Across the church, Aroma is a nice place to enjoy island food like goat and lamb, deliciously cooked. Other beautiful beaches include Agrio Livadi; Livadi Kalgiron (a must if you like the atmosphere of a fishermen's refuge); Lampi (another must) and Livadi Gerano.

At Kampos beach, enjoy Taverna Agnadi.

A farmer in Kampos, Patmos island.

Kampos beach, Patmos island.

Lampi beach on Patmos island.
While Patmos is relatively far from Turkey, Leros is much closer. It is also much bigger than Patmos and there is a lot to see. As we got off the ferry in Lakki, the refugees were hiding from the sun in the shadow of empty buildings and a park. It is indeed a sorry feeling to pass them by and head to your hotel. We stayed in Aya Marina at La Maison des Couleurs, a beautiful mansion with few rooms. When staying there, swimming in Panteli beach is an option but it can get crowded in its narrow strip. If you walk down to Aya Marina, dinner options at Taverna Bratsera or Mylos are highly recommended. In fact, the whole Aya Marina Bay is quite nice with cafes. Walking by the refugees filling the patio of the police station there in full evening do is an embaressment, at the same time, it is an opportunity to see their situation and face the consequences and delusions of European political decision making. An example is a restaurant owner's accussatory tone who said that they were coming to Leros from "us" ignoring the fact that "we" already had two millions of them in Turkey.

Vromolithos beach in Leros island.

Breakfast table at La Maison des Couleurs at Leros.
View from Mylos Restaurant towards Aya Marina, Leros island.

The famous wind mill at Mylos, Leros island.

In our short stay, we loved the Vromolithos beach. It was like Bodrum in the 1980s which gave us a sad feeling. In fact, walking by the beautiful summer houses in Leros, most of which are either for sale or empty and crumbling, one also sees opportunity in the economic crisis: it is possible to run away from the calamities across the border to here, not only for the refugees but also for us. Unlike them, I would rather stay, rent a place in a totally serene world, with pristine waters and an unspoilt coast. In fact, we are so lucky to have Greece to have in our immediate reach. All you have to do is to go to Bodrum and take the ferry.

The Lime Bar at Merikia, perfect spot to end the day.

The French playing petanque in Merikia Leros
right in front of the War Museum.

Italian architecture in Lakki, Leros island.
As with many of the Dodecanese Islands, Leros has an interesting history. Italy's occupation of the Islands left its mark not only in terms of Italian identity cards (see picture) but there is Italian architecture to be seen around especially in Lakki. In Merikia, close to Lakki, there is an interesting  museum from the Second World War that we could only see from the outside due to being open only half a day. Ironically for the European venture though, the French were playing petanque in its very vicinity.

May 9, 2015

Pressed between history and culture, Germany is underrated

Hofkirche at Dresden on the left.

Dresden Opera building, Semper Oper.

Kunstakademie at Dresden right next to Elbe river.
"The country that does not protect foreigners goes fast under".

It's Pegida up, Pegida down these days in German politics. Given its tragic history and the ongoing trial of the NSU members who managed to kill ten foreigners without being detected for so long, the German edgyness about the subject is understandable. The birth place of Pegida, Dresden, was therefore a must see. Located by the Elbe river ("Florence of the Elbe") and heavily bombed months before the end of the Second World War, how to explain the fact that Dresden started this anti Islam movement with only 2% of its population being Muslim? When one looks at the rebuilding and hope going on in the city and the elegance, manifested by the opera building of the city and the Zwinger Palace, it is incomprehensible. However, when considering that even its landmark Frauenkirche remained in ruins for decades, one is inclined to think that it maybe be an obsession with conservation and purity.

A view from Zwinger Palace, Versailles a la Dresden.
Photo: Esra Turam.

Photo: Esra Turam.

The Semper Oper in Dresden.
The black stones are the remainders from the original
bombed Fraunkirche in Dresden with
Martin Luther statute in front.

Leaving Dresden with these questions, we visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. I was heartened by the fact that it was the 1st of May (Labor Day holiday) and despite that, the place was packed with so many Germans who came to visit with their families. In a room that contained a plan of the camp, our guide explained what building stood where, who lived in villas (the SS) and who died in what condition. Facts about the camp so spoke themselves, the guide did not have to make any conclusions after explaining anything. We were all left thinking how we might have survived in a climate of fear or what we would have done to save our children from politics of destruction or what ideals were worth to die or fight for. 

The entrance of Buchenwald
concentration camp.

The Nazis had an inscription at the entrance of each camp.
At Buchenwald it was: "Everyone to himself".

The barbed wire at Buchenwald once had
380 voltage to prevent people from escaping.

Prisoners of War were brought into this room thinking
they were undergoing medical examination.
Instead, they were shot dead.

We were at times devastated by the cruelty and the deep thinking that went into making people suffer. Similarly, tricks were used to create consent and compliance. For instance, prisoners of war were deceived with the appearance of a medical examination room. When they thought they were being measured, they were shot dead. At the entrance door of the camp, it read: "jedem das seine" (to each his own). A line that in religious thinking was supposed to be positive was turned upside down because every person in the camp was just a number. They were not to be called by their names. In a way, the slogan manifested to their loneliness and god forgottenness. In sum, what is left from the American bombing of Buchenwald is still enough to shake you especially with the crematorium and the ovens inside it. Apparently, once they have arrived in the area, the American army took the people living close to Buchenwald in order to confront them with what was happening there. 
Goethe and Schiller in Weimar.

A blast from the past: the Trabant of DDR.

Having drawn our lessons about political suppression, we then headed to Weimar, located next to the concentration camp. It is probably an irony of history that it was the Weimar constitution that got Germany into all of this to begin with. Walking in the structural birth place of the Nazi disaster, on the other hand, felt very poetic. Amid a flea market and Schiller's poems written in unexpected corners, we saw a statute of Schiller and Göethe and ended up at Frauentor, a very nice cafe and restaurant on Schillerstrasse across Göethehaus. Once we sat down, we realized one more time how pure the people in Eastern Germany really remained. Almost everybody was blonde. Maybe this is what makes them to fear the unknown? But why when your history is full of  things you can be proud of? 

Bach's statute in front of Thomas Kirche in Leipzig
where he composed and belonged.

Bach's graveyard inside Thomas Church in Leipzig.

German bakery at its best in Kandler, Leipzig.
Leipzig is the place of so many German things. Bach and Wagner lived and composed here as well as the Schumann couple and Mendelssohn. Today, at Thomas Kirche, one can visit Bach's grave and listen to an orgue concert during mass. Leipzig was also the birth place of German Reformation. At the same time, in 1989 churches turned out to be the place of refuge against the communist rule. Maybe this is why they are weary of non-Christians? In fact, a grandiose feeling surrounds the city with its buildings and huge train station, attesting to its once central location. The restaurant Auerbachskeller from 16th century that Göethe frequented still offers amazing food which really makes one think that why the German food, cakes and bread are so underrated.

Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, the place where
resistance to communist rule started in 1989, is 850 years old.

Spinnerei in Plagwitz, Leipzig.

Stolpersteine on the ground in Leipzig commemorate the Holocaust
survivors just like in other parts of the country.

In addition, Leipzig has an up and coming artsy neighborhood like Plagwitz with places like the Spinnerei, the cotton spinning mill turned into cultural center or restaurants such as Chinabrenner. Given all this heritage, it must have been such a destitute feeling for Germans until 1989 that all their cultural riches were left on the wrong side of the border. Those in the East, on the other hand, must have been left to take pride with cultural treasures that did not feed them. Maybe this explains their reluctance to embrace foreign "things". A desire to hold on to what they have for the future may be uncertain. A pity, when in their humble civility Germans have found so much courage to make good for the past.

Mar 8, 2015

In defense of Switzerland

Room with a view in Arosa, Switzerland.

Sunny side of Grindelwald, Switzerland.

No visit to Switzerland is complete without
a cheese intoxication  aka fondue.

Switzerland gets so much blame for its banking secrecy and complacency in money laundering (according to die Zeit, lately through its art scene, health tourism and boarding schools, see here), its other beauties do not get enough credit. If one of those is the chocolate and the Swiss watches, another one is definitely the Alpine mountains and the various ski resorts scattered in and around them. Whether its Gstaad, Samedan, Arosa or Grindelwald, the scenery is picturesque, the runways are well kept and marked with signs of wind and avalanche warnings and the valleys are connected to each other through all sorts of gondolos, ski lifts and chair lifts. In fact, the skiing facilities and the mountain resorts are so well designed and thought about, they constitute an industry. At the same time, for all the talk about tourism killing the mountains, there is barely any building that violates the natural setting of a mountain town. Despite the not so easily affordable prices, it is a destination to go for peace of mind and good service.

Everything in the Swiss mountains is geared to
accommodating life with snow, Arosa, Switzerland.

Hotel Bernina at Samedan, Engadine region, Switzerland.

Laderach in Grindelwald offers irresistable goodies after skiing.

Notice the helmet holding hooks at the luncheon hut
in Berner Oberland.
Ski lift at Ischgl mountain, Berner Oberland, Switzerland.

In fact, your average Swiss has an amazing know how of mountain conditions whether it is the direction of the wind or the altitude or risks of avalanche. By the way they are skiing, you may even think that they are not only cool but even passionate, until ofcourse you realize that most of them are like other staid and reserved Euros (sorry). Nevertheless, one has to respect the nature and the Swiss do. The rules in skiing is a little bit like sailing, never play games with the sea (remember Schumacher and do not go off piste), always observe, exercise caution and double check. In case, you are not into skiing or the weather is too cloudy for skiing, there are also other options at the Swiss alps. You can go to a spa; marvel the architecture and the Helvetian culture of the Engadine region or even visit the Nietzche Museum in Sils; indulge in shopping in the stores of Gstaad. In other words, as always, the Swiss always have something to offer that they can then turn into money. Grüezi!

Samedan in the Engadine region has very pretty old houses
that kept its unqiue architecture.

Samedan in the Engadine region has beautiful architecture.