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Polaroid Of The Week: A Winter Sunrise In Germany

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany winter 2017

This week has been all about spending time with my family and about getting in shape – because I got a pretty last-minute opportunity to run a half marathon in Israel later this month! I’ve briefly mentioned my upcoming trip in my December Life Lately round-up, and I was already super excited for my return to Israel, but this race will make it even better. The marathon route goes along the Dead Sea – one of my favorite places in Israel – so I didn’t have to think long, even though I am admittedly not in the best shape I’ve ever been.

I didn’t run a single time during my week in Berlin, and couldn’t motivate myself to go for a run when I visited my brother for a couple of days afterwards, but now that I am back at my sister’s house I’ve taken my her dog Odie on a daily 5k (even though he’d gladly do a daily 10k) and have run two 10ks. Having Odie is my biggest motivation to run every day – I have to admit that the freezing temperatures are a huge turn-off for me but I am fighting through my reluctance to head out in the snow. The toughest run so far was a sunrise run in 13 F (-10 C) – even though the run through the quiet, snowy fields was beautiful, I’ve never run in cold weather like this – I think the coldest run so far had been 26 F (-3 C). It’s quite ironic that I am training for a desert race in freezing cold winter weather, but what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, right? 🙂

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The Top 5 Places for a Weekend Escape from London

cornwall beach england

In spite of London winning the hearts of many, its busy daily routine can get to you. As a Londoner or as a traveler, there is much more to England than London alone. But, where do you start if you’re looking for your London escape? In and around London, within the radius of an average one-hour commute, there are many places to visit on the weekend that can give leave you rejuvenated.England SunsetHere are the top 5 picks to plan your next escape from London:

1.     Oxford

Oxford has as much to offer to visitors as it has to its students. Standing tall as one of England oldest universities, there is a lot to take away from this weekend getaway. You can check out the museums, the old stone architecture of the building, which is indeed very beautiful, and visit libraries such as Bodleian. Trains for Oxford leave regularly and take about an hour from London Paddington Station. There are also plenty of shops and food stalls to explore at The Covered Market on the High Street, the oldest in all of Britain.Cambridge England

2.     Dover

Dover is one of Britain’s busiest ports and was the traditional front door to England upon entrance from continental Europe. It offers a lot to do to visitors, such as the beautiful White Chalk cliffs to spend time and clear your mind. Since Dover was a fort city, you can explore interesting military heritage and visit the beautiful Dover Castle. The best way to experience the cliffs – stay at one of the nearby campgrounds. St Margarets Bay Holiday Park is the closest to the cliffs, but there are several others along the coast. That way you get the chance to see this spectacular part of Britain’s coastline during all times of day, including sunrise, golden hour and sunset, when they are bathed in a truly stunning light. And speaking of camping – if you’re looking to step up your camping gear game this year, why not try something different in the camping bed market. Britain’s got so many beautiful campsites – why not use the long Holiday weekends for more countryside getaways?White Cliffs Of Dover

3.     Bath

If you are a fan of ancient buildings and architecture, especially of the Roman era, Bath is one place you absolutely must experience. The site is home to the most magnificent ruins left in England thousands of years ago, offering plenty of learning opportunities about ancient Roman Britain. Trains from Paddington take about and hour and a half to transport you to the classic Georgian Architecture era sites.Bath England

4.     East Grinstead

If castles and roman architecture aren’t your thing, and you want to find some peace and quiet in one of the smaller towns around London instead, consider escaping to East Grinstead in West Sussex, which is 58 minutes away from London. With only 25,000 inhabitants, it is bound to be the perfect peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of London. For more small town escapes, check out this list of 20 places around London you can consider moving to.Canterbury

5.     Canterbury

Canterbury flaunts the beauty of churches with its thousand year old cathedrals. It is also the spiritual base of the Church of England, and the city offers not just divine freedom, but many other things to calm your mind such as restaurants, art museums and galleries to explore.Canterbury England

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Australia By Campervan: Five Handy Tips

New Mexico Road Trip

Australia is a paradise for camping fans – no matter if you’re doing it the old-fashioned way by pitching a tent every night or the more common way with a camper van, there’s no better way to explore Australia than by hitting the road and pitching your tent or parking your campervan in one of the National Parks, camping gives you a much greater freedom when traveling around this vast continent. There are so many incredible places in Australia, you could easily spend a year driving around the country taking in its natural beauty and vibrant cities, checking bucket list places like the Great Ocean Road, Sydney, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Australia off your bucket list. The more time you have, the better, but even a few short weeks will allow you to hit up the best camping spots in Australia.Couple holidaying in Purnululu, outback AustraliaTo guarantee your camping trip goes smooth, we compiled the top five things to know before you go on a camping trip in Australia:

1 Find the right vehicle

This is especially important for those looking to buy or rent a campervan, and even more so if you are planning an extended trip and will be traveling with your vehicle for a while. Most travelers opt for a used vehicle and then sell it again at the end of their trip. If you decide to buy a vehicle, I highly recommend this detailed guide on buying a campervan in Australia by Anna of Global Gallivanting. It has all the information you need on how to find a campervan, what to consider when buying one, everything you need to know about paperwork, registration and insurance, how to sell it afterwards, and much more.The Barn at The PinnaclesOnce you’ve bought the vehicle, give yourself a few days to familiarize yourself with the vehicle before setting off on your road trip. Make sure that the car is in great shape, that things like oil and windshield cleaner water are filled up. Purchase a couple of extra bottles each in case you run out in the Outback, where gas station charge more for these items than shops in big cities.

2 Have appropriate equipment and food provisions

Depending on the nature of your trip (camper van vs car & tent) it is absolutely essential to plan your trip in detail – what kind of equipment do you need? How much food do you need to travel with? If you’re visiting remote areas such as the Outback it is necessary to pack enough food to last you for a few days, and it is best to purchase all the essential items (things like spices, tea, instant coffee, oatmeal, pasta, etc) you’ll want for your trip before you hit the road.20120917_18_HondaAs for camping equipment, make a list of everything you need and go on a shopping spree. If you don’t want to buy new gear, check out websites like Gumtree for used gear. Depending on if you are traveling with a tent or campervan your needs for equipment will vary, but there are a few things you’ll need either way, for example a first aid kit, bug & fly repellent, sleeping bags (or sheets), lights (solar lights are great), dishes and cookware. To save money when buying your essential equipment, head to Dollar Sense, a popular Australian discount store.

If you’re traveling with a car and a tent, do a test run and set up your tent before leaving on your trip. Even better: testing it before you buy it – go inside, lay down, see how big it really is and if it’s comfortable for you and your travel companion(s) – remember that you’ll have to spend the next few weeks or even months in it.Stockton, Australia

3 Map out your daily drives

I know that it is tempting to simply head out and hit the road, but since much of Australia is sparsely populated and distances are greater than most people anticipate, it is important to map out your route before starting your trip. Mark things like supermarkets, gas stations and camp grounds on your map – you might drive by one and then realize hours later that you should have stopped there. Not being prepared can result in some frustrating situations. Make also sure to add some extra time to GoogleMaps’ (or whatever route planner you’re using) estimated duration of the trip. It’ll definitely take you longer, since you’ll be stopping along the way for photo ops and maybe even short hikes. Plan your daily drives realistically – don’t try to fit in too much, or you’ll tire out quickly.

I’d suggest investing in a travel guide, such as Lonely Planet (which has suggested itineraries and detailed maps) or The Ultimate Australia Travel Guide By A Traveler For A Traveler: The Best Travel Tips; Where To Go, What To See And Much More or at least a good map of Australia, like National Geographic’s Australia Adventure Map. That way you can visualize your trip better and you’ll get a ton of practical information as well as details about the National Parks you’re visiting and sights you are passing.More ParadiseAlso download some useful travel apps, such as Wikicamps, the largest and most up-to-date database of campgrounds, caravan parks, backpacker hostels, day use area and points of interest. The Free Wi-fi finder app is also useful for campers to help you plan your next stops and to avoid paying for wi-fi.

4 Set a realistic budget

Traveling in Australia isn’t cheap, but there are plenty of ways to save money. Investing in a Lonely Planet will help you find out about all the costs you’ll have on your trip, from national park admission to campsites to sights. Being able to calculate your daily costs is key to make sure you don’t run out of money before the end of your trip. Traveling by camper van around Australia is actually the cheapest way to see the country!

Research ways to save money during your trip – shopping at discount grocery Aldi is a good start, for example, or using apps, as I’ve already said in #3. There are also some apps that help you save money, like The Happiest Hour app to find drink, food and cocktail specials in your current location or Fuel Map Australia, a crowd-sourced fuel station & fuel price finder, to find cheap gas.Outback selfie (Oodnadatta Track, South Australia)

5 Be flexible with your itinerary

Once you hit the road, you’ll quickly notice that it’s not easy to stick to your original itinerary. You’ll want to spend an additional day in some of the national parks, you’ll want to take a rest day, some of your activities might get rained out. It is nearly impossible to stick to your plan – but don’t stress out over it, let the road lead the way for you. And if you meet other travelers who suggest places to visit that are not on your itinerary – if they sound good to you, you should visit them. Personal recommendations are often the best ones, especially those from locals.Kata Juta Panorama

Photo credit: All images used under Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Purnululu by Roderick Eime; (2) Campervan in The Pinnacles by Tony Spencer; (3) Camping in Australia by David Clarke; (4) Stockton, Australia by anonphotography.com; (5) Australia by Curtis Foreman; Outback by krheesy; (6) Kata Juta by Georgie Sharp.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Happy New Year from Berlin

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany berlin TV Tower

Happy New Year from Berlin!

My first Polaroid of 2017 is coming to you from Germany’s capital where I escaped to after spending the Holidays with my family. While I came to Berlin mainly to get some work done and catch up with friends, I managed to fit in quite a few fun activities – like visiting several of the city’s amazing Christmas markets, which I hadn’t done in over ten years. I have to admit that it felt a bit awkward at first in light of the recent terror attack, but I decided to adapt the ‘We won’t let terrorists ruin this joyful time of year for us’ attitude that the Berliners showed, who kept flocking to the Christmas markets.

Other than Christmas markets, I went on a bar crawl in Kreuzberg and took a friend who passed through town to the observation deck of the Park Inn hotel for a panoramic view of Berlin, climbed the 285 steps of the spiral staircase to the top of the Victory Column and revisited the East Side Gallery, the longest still standing piece of the Berlin Wall which has been painted with murals by international artists. Note to self: Leave open air viewing platforms for summer visits to Berlin – the biting cold winter air up on top of both structures was brutal.

And of course I did all week long what I do best in Berlin: eat my way around town. I went to some of my favorite restaurants (Azzam for Lebanese, Anna Blume for cake, The Barn for coffee, Hamy Cafe for Vietnamese food) and tried some places I’d been wanting to eat at for a while, like the excellent Alsancak Simit Sarayi for a Turkish breakfast, Vagabund Brauerei for craft beer and Zweistrom to try their Makali (a Lebanese sandwich with fried carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, pickles & tahini sauce).

While I am still not a fan of the freezing temperatures in Berlin at this time of year and the fact that it gets dark at 4pm, it felt amazing to be back in one of my favorite cities in the world, even for such a short time, and ring in the New Year here. Bring it on, 2017!

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Five Awesome Things To Do In Melbourne Experiences This Summer

melbourne

Not only is Melbourne regularly voted one of the most livable cities in the world, but it is also famous for its edgy vibe, for its exquisite coffee scene, its sophisticated dining, and prime location in Port Philipp Bay. Add to that the fact that there are plenty of cheap hotels in Melbourne and a few days in Melbourne can easily be the highlight of your trip to Australia! If you are visiting Melbourne this summer, make sure to look beyond the typical sights, and take in some its hidden gems. To help you get started, we picked five memorable Melbourne experience for you to include into your Melbourne itinerary:

Melbourne City Australia

Venture into the drain tunnels

Did you know Melbourne had a subterranean city? There are over 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) of storm drain tunnels, constructed by ANZAC (the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and discovered by chance by some civilian dwellers in 1986 who now call themselves ‘Cave Clan’ and hold regular meetings in the underground tunnels.

These drain tunnels are the perfect playground for urban adventurers – just be aware that not all of them are safe. If you’d like to peek inside one of the many drain tunnels, check out this article by Atlas Obscura which has a great overview over the main tunnels that can be visited. This is a fascinating side of Melbourne not many visitors get to see!

Train Tunnel at Brighton

Explore the hidden laneways

I am sure most of you have heard of Hosier Lane, Melbourne’s famous graffiti alleyway, covered in street art, but did you know there’s an entire network of hidden laneways (also known as arcade ways)? Hosier Lane is a must for anyone who loves street art, but make sure to also check out a couple of the less colorful alleyways.

A must for coffee lovers is Degraves Street (located across the road from Flinders Street Station) which is home to some of Melbourne’s best coffee shops, and cocktail lovers need to add Croft Alley to their places to visit in Melbourne, because it is here where you find The Croft Institute, a semi-hidden bar that is housed in a school science lab-themed space in Chinatown and offers some of the most innovative cocktails in the city.

Foodies will love Hardware Lane with its amazing eateries and bars in a remarkable setting (beneath the facades of 1900s warehouses) and hard rock fans must visit AC/DC Lane, which is where they filmed their classic 1976 music video ‘It’s a long way to the top (If you wanna rock’n’roll), and where you now find the famous live music venue Cherry.

No matter which laneways you decide to check out, they are all unique in their own way and boast urban art, al fresco dining and independent shops. Here’s a superb self-guided walking tour through the laneways which you can print out or save on your smartphone: Melbourne Arcadeways Walk

Melbourne laneway

Go on a self-guided coffee walk

Another fabulous self-guided walking tour is a Melbourne coffee walk. That way, you don’t only get to stroll around the city, but you also get a taste of what Melbourne knows how to make best: coffee. No matter if you’re a coffee-holic or simply enjoy a good cup of coffee every now and again, you have to stop by one of the city’s world famous coffee shops – Melbournians take pride in their sophisticated coffee culture and Melbourne baristas regularly win prizes at the big coffee making and latte art competitions around the globe. There are literally hundreds of good coffee shops in Melbourne, but some truly stand out.manila tobys estate flat white philippinesTo combine a nice walk with outstanding coffee, mark the following coffee shops on GoogleMaps and go on a self-guided coffee walk:

  • Heartattack and Vine
  • Market Lane
  • Brother Baba Buda
  • Patricia
  • Little Bean Blue
  • Ponyfish Island
  • Chez Dre

melbourne-coffee-walkThis walk takes around two hours – plan in around 3.5 hours for the entire walk including coffee stops, and maybe a little longer if you want to linger for a while at Ponyfish Island (they do not only have coffee but also great drinks).

For a shorter coffee walk, start at Brother Baba Buda instead of Heartattack and Vine – that one is just over 3 miles (5km), around 70 minutes walking time.

Enjoy a movie on a rooftop

Melbourne’s rooftop cinema is hugely popular with the locals, but not many tourists make their way up on the rooftop of Curtin House (252 Swanston Street, between Lonsdale and Little Bourke Streets) to enjoy the screening of a classic, such as Stand By Me or Casablanca, an art house or a recent blockbuster in a stunning location in the middle of the city. The setting is fabulous – deckchairs to lounge in, Melbourne’s skyline as a picturesque backdrop, and cocktails and fast food enjoy at the rooftop bar. This is a movie experience you won’t forget anytime soon – you can check out their program here.Melbourne Skyline.If you are traveling around Victoria by car, you might want to check out Melbourne’s first rooftop drive-in cinema, which just opened. It fits 65 vehicles and sits atop the atop the Harbour Town precinct (90 Waterfront Way, Docklands) and offers fantastic panorama views over Melbourne’s skyline. It is one of a very small number of drive-in cinemas in Australia, making it an especially unique experience.

See Melbourne from above

And last but not least: get a bird’s eye view of Melbourne. The tallest building in the city is the 88-floor tall Eureka Tower, which is home to the highest observation deck, Eureka Skydeck 88, the highest public vantage point in the entire Southern Hemisphere, by the way! If you’re brave enough, you can step out on ‘The Edge’, a switchable glass cube which slides out from the building, with you inside.DSC00769Another fantastic place to see Melbourne from above is the observation deck of the Rialto Towers. These adjoined skyscrapers are Melbourne’s second highest buildings, with the higher one standing 830 feet (253 meters) tall. The top floor is occupied by the fine dining restaurant Vue De Monde – a gorgeous setting for a dinner to celebrate a special occasion.

Photo credit: All images used via Flickr’s Creative Commons License. (1) Melbourne by Lenny K photography; (2) Train Tunnel by Drew Douglas, (3) Laneways by eLjeProks; (4) Melbourne Skyline by Daniel Sallai;  Eureka Tower by Jan Mark Holzer
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Polaroid Of The Week: The Insane Christmas Lights In Dyker Heights, Brooklyn

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa new york city brooklyn dyker heights christmas lightsI couldn’t go home to Germany for Christmas without stopping in New York en route to Europe! I hadn’t been in my adopted home in months, was eager to catch up with friends, and, most importantly: enjoy the Holiday Season in New York, because everybody knows that Christmas in the Big Apple is magical. Last year, when I spent the entire month of December in New York, I had so many plans for my 1st NYC Holiday Season: go ice skating, visit the Christmas markets around the city, see the Christmas window displays on 5th Avenue, marvel at the legendary Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and see the famous Dyker Heights Christmas lights. Well, somehow I didn’t manage to fit in everything on my list last year – I never went ice skating and I never made it down to Dyker Heights in the south of Brooklyn, which isn’t the easiest place to get to.

Even though I had less time than last year during my brief visit this month I was determined to make up for it, and not only did I go ice skating in Bryant Park (which was fabulous!), but I also went all the way to Dyker Heights to take in the elaborate Christmas lights there. I am not sure how it started, but there are a few blocks in a residential neighborhood there whose residents go completely bonkers with their Christmas light decorations. Now it has become so famous that bus loads of people arrive there every day (really, you can take a Dyker Heights Christmas lights bus tour!) to see this spectacle for themselves – apparently, more than 100,000 (!) people make their way to Dyker Heights every December! The lights been featured on the news, and every year, all sorts of publications run stories about these Christmas light displays.

Apparently, the residents who are participating in the Christmas light craze aim to make people feel the spirit of Christmas and have been doing so since the 1980s. Over the past few years though, since international media began reporting on this ‘phenomenon’, the lights have become crazier and crazier. As I was slowly walking up and down the streets that have the most intricate decorations, I couldn’t believe the extent of this annual tradition – the extravaganza was beyond my expectations and even though I think they are a little over-the-top, the Dyker Heights Christmas lights put a smile on my face and I know I’ll be back to see them again – hopefully next year.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

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Bogotá, Colombia: A Pleasant Surprise

bogota-cathedral3

I’ll admit it: Bogotá was the place I was the least excited to visit in Colombia. I even almost skipped it because I had read so many horror stories of muggings and I hadn’t found any articles in which people were raving about the city. It seemed like most people were rushing through Bogotá, hitting up the most important museums and moved on to the next place.Colombia BogotaThere were only two reasons that made me want to go to Bogotá: I had heard that it was the city with the best street art scene in all of Colombia and it happens to be home to El Theatron, the largest gay club in all of South America. I had to check it out, even though that meant leaving my hotel after dark, a thought I found somewhat daunting before I even arrived in Colombia’s capital.Bogota ColombiaOnce I got to Bogotá, however, my fear vanished almost immediately. The day of my arrival I was already meeting friends in Plaza del Chovorro De Quevedo in La Candelaria, Bogotá’s oldest neighborhood, which I had heard wasn’t very safe at night. Apparently this plaza is where the city was founded in 1538, and the surrounding neighborhood with its still intact and well-preserved Spanish-colonial buildings quickly became my favorite neighborhood in town. It was a drastic difference from the shiny office towers in the Chapinero neighborhood, where I was initially staying. In La Candelaria, I found myself surrounded by small, one-story, colorful Spanish-colonial houses, there were still some cobble-stone streets, and there were several colonial churches. I could barely put my camera down on my strolls through the neighborhood!Bogota La Candelaria neighborhoodWhat I found upon arriving in the plaza on that very first night was anything but scary – the square was filled with young people drinking beers and chicha (more on that later) that they had purchased in the nearby shops. The atmosphere was lively and joyful, and when I took a cab back to my hotel around 3am, I still didn’t feel unsafe.la candelaria bogota street art8The next morning, I started to explore the city, and I noticed two things right away: the altitude and the thick layer of grey clouds that would hover over the city on most days – blue skies were a rarity. The altitude – Bogotá sits at 8,675 feet, 2,644m caused me to huff and puff my way up and down Candelaria’s steep streets, and I never got used to it during my two weeks in the city. Combined with cooler temperatures I could see why Bogotá didn’t fare well with most travelers – especially when you were coming from sea level, tropical temperatures and perfect weather, like I did, coming from the Caribbean coast.bogota cathedral4I have to admit that I wasn’t too fussed about the parts of the city that were outside of La Candelaria, but I found this neighborhood so charming that I decided to move there from my hotel in Chapinero, despite the fact that I was told it wasn’t very safe.la candelaria bogotaI much preferred the Spanish colonial houses in La Candelaria to the high rises of Chapinero and Los Rosales, and La Candelaria was also where the majority of Bogota’ amazing street art was. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I love street art, and just walking through these colorful streets, which resembled an ever-changing, mural-boasting outdoor gallery, made me happy. There were also several good coffee shops and restaurants (including a couple of vegetarian ones) right in this area, which is all this nomad needs to be perfectly content.BogotaDuring my time in Bogotá, I joined two free walking tours. The first one was a tour for which I had found a flyer in the hostel I was staying at and which made not only La Candelaria much more approachable to me, but also gave me plenty of insights on Colombian life, food, coffee and the complicated history of Colombia. It is run by Beyond Colombia, and I’d especially recommend it for those who only have a couple of days in Bogotá.bogota la candelariaWe started with a stop at a Colombian coffee place, sampling some exquisite Colombian coffee and learning about Coffee culture in Colombia, where for a long time, like in many coffee regions, the best beans used to be exported, before Colombians developed a finer taste for coffee themselves, resulting in small independent coffee shops opening and thriving. Later on we stopped at a chichería, a bar where chicha is served, a fermented corn drink that was a ceremonial drink with the indigenous people as well as the Spaniards when they started colonizing Colombia. The drink ended up being prohibited in 1948, believed to be the cause of a violent uproar, but made a comeback in the 90s – still not as popular as beer or other liquor, but students love it because it is cheap. We bought a bottle to share between our group, and while I didn’t love it, I think it’s worth trying while in Bogotá. For that, head to La Portal de Chorro near the foot of the alley with all the graffiti: Callejón del Embudo (between Calles 13 & 14).Bogota La Candelaria neighborhood ColombiaBeyond tales of chicha and Colombian coffee we wandered through the streets of La Candelaria and stopped at the main sights of the city, such as Plaza De Bolivar with Bogota’s magnificent cathedral and the Palace Of Justice, and we ended the tour with a game of Tejo, a game that is played in bars all over Colombia. The goal is to cause a noisy explosion by throwing a metal puck at little paper triangles filled with gun powder. I found this tour incredibly insightful – the sights we passed felt more like extras, the real star of the tour were the stories our guide told us, ranging from Colombian politics to Pablo Escobar to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ poetry.Bogota Justice PalaceIf you have time, definitely check out the Museo De Oro, the Gold Museum, and if you are into art, the Fernando Botero Museum which is small but has some great pieces of Colombia’s most famous artist but also some pieces of his own collection, which contains a Picasso, Monet and a Dali and other famous artists. In total there are over 200 paintings and sculptures in a beautiful colonial building.la candelaria bogota courtyardA couple of days later I joined another tour – the excellent free street art walk. This tour gave me so much background information on the artists, whose murals I’d been admiring on my daily strolls around La Candelaria, the political messages in the pieces, and the most important artists – it was such a great tour that it ended up being one of my favorite 13 experiences in Colombia.Bogota Street Art La CandelariaSince 2011 laws against graffiti have been much more relaxed which is why the density of street art and murals is so high here now.Street Art BogotaDuring the tour I was introduced to the female Colombian street artist Bastardilla, whose massive murals cover several walls in Bogotá, like this one:bogota street artAnother Colombian artist named Guache, who aims to remember Colombia’s past and whose colorful work usually features indigenous themes, was another great artist to learn about:bogota street artbogota street art colombiaOf course there was also more street art by Stinkfish, of whom I’d already admired street art in Cartagena:Stinkfish BogotaAnd our group of street art fanatics also learned about Toxicómano, a punk band turned street art crew, who are known to create pieces with strong political messages depicting topics like capitalism, inequality, poverty and corruption.bogota street artI was excited to learn that there was another well-known female artist in Colombia, Lik Mi, and I would see her art around town on a daily basis after our tour guide pointed out the kinky, kamasutra inspired stickers.bogota street artAnd then there was Crisp, an Australian street artist who is currently based in Bogotá, and whose incredible stencil pieces I kept running into after taking the tour.
bogota street art crispIf you are interested in learning more about the artists behind Bogota’s many graffiti and murals – do yourself a favor and take this tour. It is free, tip-based, and leaves twice a day. I loved knowing the stories behind the various murals and who had painted them.Street Art La CandelariaWhen I wasn’t taking tours, I spent my days exploring museums, eating my way around the city’s veggie restaurants, worked in coffee shops, and expanded my palate by trying local specialties such as hot chocolate which is served with cheese here (and in some other regions of Colombia), or Changua, a breakfast soup with milk and eggs, or the ubiquitous arepas (thick corn cakes) topped with butter from one of the many street vendors.Bogota Colombia1Another highlight was Monserrate Mountain, the famous mountain that looms over La Candelaria, 10,407 ft (3,172 meters) tall, with the white 17th century church that sits on its top, always visible from the city beneath. I had looked forward to hike up the mountain, which is a popular pilgrims’ walk, but at the time of my visit the trail was still closed off after a serial killer had murdered several women along the way. After hearing this, I felt much more comfortable taking the cable car (COP14,000 /US$4,70 return) up the steep mountainside, who needs a workout anyway 😉
Bogota MonserrateWe had waited to visit the mountain until we had a sunny day with clear skies to enjoy the views over the city, which finally revealed how big Bogotá really is – it is home to nearly 8 million people after all! In my little bubble in La Candelaria Bogotá seemed almost like a small town, and only the long cab rides to go out in other parts of the city indicated how enormous it actually was.bogota from monserrateOn my last weekend in town, I ended up in the Chapinero neighborhood again, where I had started my Bogotá adventure. And that was for a very good reason: Here you find a number of bohemian bars and gay clubs, most importantly El Theatron, which isn’t only the largest night club in the country but on the entire South American continent. The former theater accommodates around 8,000 party goers every Friday and Saturday night, who spread out over 5 floors and 13 different rooms, including a salsa bar, an R’n’B club a girls’ room and a boys’ room, and even an outdoor terrace. I couldn’t believe how massive this club was. The other thing I found unbelievable? That we only paid COP40,000 (which was around US$13.50 during the time of my visit), and not only did that got us admission, but it also got us free drinks until 2am!Theatron BogotaWhen I left Bogotá, I was happy I had taken the time to explore the city in more detail instead of rushing through, and don’t think it deserves the bad reputation it has. Of course I am saying this from the perspective of someone who hasn’t experienced a mugging or was drugged here, but if you’ve read my thoughts on if it is safe to travel in Colombia you might remember that other people weren’t quite as lucky and were robbed. If you visit Bogotá – which you should – I recommend staying alert at all times, and to be safe, not to carry all your valuables around with you when you explore the city. Even on the tours I took I made sure only to take my phone and my camera out of my bag when I was using them.bogota street art

Practical information

Where to stay

I loved Masaya Hostel in La Candelaria. I had stayed at their sister property in Santa Marta which I loved so much that I extended my stay to nearly a week there and knew I had to check out their Bogotá hostel as well. It is a little pricier than other hostels (double rooms start at COP90,000 / US$30; 4-bed  dorms are COP40,000 / US$13.50) but I was happy to pay more for the top-notch facilities and the great location).bogota candelaria

Get around

Bogota has a pretty good public transportation system but the buses can be complicated to figure out. Taxis are cheap, best called via the EasyTaxi app. In rush hour taxis are in high demand – then, the higher the tip you offer via the app, the faster you’ll get a cab. Uber also operates in Bogotá and is about 25% more expensive than a regular taxi. Apparently it is not recommended to just hail a cab in Bogotá, but I only learned about the Easy Taxi App a couple of days before I left town and hailed cabs the entire time I was there without any problems (one driver even ran after me when my iPhone fell out of my pocket and was left on the backseat).Colombia Bogota Street Art

Have you been to Bogotá? What did you think of Colombia’s capital? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Seven Day Trips From Brisbane For Beach Lovers

el nido sunset7

Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, is often called Australia’s most underrated city. With a fantastic art scene, more coffee shops and restaurants you could possibly try, vibrant nightlife and plenty of outdoorsy activities on and along the river (cycling, kayaking, running, swimming…). Brisbane deserves a few days of exploration, if not even longer. And not just the city itself is worth spending some time in, but also the area around Brisbane. There are beaches and isles, wildlife, national parks for hiking, mountains to climb and the fabulous Granite Belt Wine region. My recommendation would be basing yourself in the city, rent serviced apartments in Brisbane for example, and use it as a jump-off point to explore Southern Queensland and nearby Northern New South Wales.

There is a plethora of things to do around Brisbane, from stunning sights such as the Glow Worm Caves at Tamborine Mountain or the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary which is a must-visit for animal lovers, pristine beaches and small country towns. Thanks to its perfect location between the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, there are plenty of awesome places for beach and water fanatics just a short drive away. We have compiled the seven best day trips from Brisbane for beach lovers:

1 Coochiemudlo Island

Coochiemudlo Island is the perfect place to spend a relaxing day – a short ferry ride from Victoria Point, it brings you to a completely different world in only ten minutes! There’s not much to do on the island itself, but that’s the draw of it – it is a place to get away from it all. Pack sunscreen, a picnic and a book and enjoy the tranquil beaches of this tiny island. The return ticket for the ferry is only AU$8.

no mud at coochiemudlo

2 Gold Coast

The Gold Coast is known for its beautiful beaches and especially popular with surfers. Burleigh Heads is known to have one of the best beaches on the Gold Coast, and Mermaid Beach has several trendy cafes that are worth a visit. It only takes about an hour to get there from Brisbane, and you have plenty of beaches to choose from. If you want to get a view over the entire Gold Coast and its gorgeous beaches, head to the Q1 Tower in Surfers Paradise, the highest building in all of Queensland. The views from the Observation Deck (AU$22) are stunning!

The Gold Coast, Australia

3 Sandgate

Sandgate is a 19th century seaside village that feels like not much has changed here over the past two hundred years, and that’s exactly what makes it so charming. It’s easy to get to from Brisbane, connected to the city via the Queensland Rail City network. There are plenty of cute little cafés along the seafront promenade which invite to while away an afternoon.

Shorncliffe Jetty

4 North Stradbroke Island

North Stradbroke Island is one of the most popular   destination for Brisbanites and rightly so – home to the world’s second largest sand island (the largest one is in Fraser Island further up the coast) it has five fantastic beaches and is only a short 20-minute ferry ride from Brisbane.

North Stradbroke Island

5 Moreton Island

Speaking of sand islands – Moreton Island is another incredibly beautiful sand island (the 3rd largest in the world) and is an easy ferry ride from Pinkenba. Only 75 minutes from Brisbane, and you’ll feel like you’ve landed in a tropical paradise with picture-perfect beaches and tall sand dunes. You can feed wild dolphins here and dive among ship wrecks, and if you want to see more of the island, rent a quad to or kayak through the island’s lagoons.

tingalooma wrecks, sunset

6 Bribie Island

Bribie Island north of Brisbane belongs to the sand islands that line the coast near Brisbane (Moreton Island and North Stradbroke Island are the other two). It is connected to a mainland by a bridge, making it super easy to get there by car (it takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes). Most of the island is uninhabited national park, and In addition to relaxing on the beach, you can go on a fishing trip, or tour the National Park to spot some of Australia’s amazing wildlife such as kangaroos, kookaburras and goannas.

sunset bribie island (19)

7 Sunshine Coast

A visit to the Sunshine Coast is something you can’t miss if you’re in Brisbane in the summer. Noosa is a favorite with most visitors, and a dip in the crystal clear waters of Sunshine Beach is a must. Noosa is also home to some great restaurants and cafes, but if you’re looking for a more tranquil getaway, head straight to Noosa National Park. The 37-mile stretch of beaches can feel overwhelming for a day trip because there’s so much to see and do – check out Fodor’s Sunshine Coast Travel Guide to plan your day trip in detail.

Sunshine Coast, Australia.jpg

Photo credit: All images used under Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Coochiemudlo Island by King Tide; (2) Gold Coast by Sunland Group; (3) Sandgate by Luke Chapman; (4) North Stradbroke Island by Brieuc Saffre; (5) Moreton Island by Kasia Wallis; (6) Bribie Island by Bert Knottenbeld; (7) Sunshine Coast by Harald.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Fall Colors in Sonoma Wine Country, California

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa california sonoma wine country

One thing I loved about my trip to Sonoma Wine Country was seeing the vineyards during leaf changing season. I’d flown up from Los Angeles, the evergreen city with palm trees and summer weather even in December, and a short 90-minute flight later I found myself in fall weather again, just like in Seattle six weeks earlier. I’d never seen grapevines with changing leaves – I am not sure I even knew they were changing colors! – and loved the bright red and yellow colors in each winery I visited and every vineyard I passed in my car.

The wine tastings I did were fantastic, too – at the Korbel Winery for example, where I sampled California champagnes, or Virginia Dare Winery, recently purchased by Francis Ford Coppola. I got to tour the wineries and see the entire production line from wine making to corking and labeling the bottles which was incredible, got to sample wines that aren’t available anywhere but directly at the winery, and learned so much about wine in those few short days that I feel inclined to do some further studying now. I want to know more about the different kinds of grapes, the different kinds of wines, the differences between all of them. If you’re looking to pick up a new hobby, I highly recommend a trip to Sonoma Wine Country… I can’t imagine you’d come back without having your curiosity  in wine piqued 😉

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Four Festivals You Can’t Miss In Sydney This Summer

KFOG Kaboom Fireworks

While the northern hemisphere is bundling up and enjoying the first snow of the season, Australia and the rest of the southern hemisphere is gearing up for Christmas BBQs and beach days – summer is here! And there’s no better place to visit Sydney than during the summer months – not only can you enjoy the coast, the beaches, sidewalk cafes and al fresco dining, outdoor movies and markets, but there are also a number of extraordinary summer festivals that make a visit during the summer months even more memorable.

If you are visiting Sydney this summer, here are my top four recommendations for festivals you should try to experience – and for a more comprehensive list, check out this guide to Sydney Summer Events.

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Sydney Festival (January)

For almost the entire month, Sydney is having a massive celebration of culture, arts and entertainment, transforming the city with grand performances: free concerts, burlesque, dances and theater. For the 2017 Sydney Festival (7-29 January), there is an Australian Cirque Du Soleil, the Symphony Under The Stars, loads of art installations, a ferrython, and so much more. The best thing: many of the events during the festival are free! Check out the complete list of events for the 2017 Sydney Festival here.

Vivid

Sydney Mardi Gras

Sydney Mardi Gras is the world’s biggest Pride Celebration: hundreds of thousands of people travel to Sydney to celebrate LGBTQ culture and diversity, and visitors hail not only from Australia, but also other parts of the world. Be prepared for a colorful parade with over 100 floats and over 8,000 (!) participants, over 300,000 spectators, dancing in the streets, Bondi Beach Drag Races, the big Harbor Party and many other post-parade parties. The 2017 Mardi Gras Parade takes place on 4 March.

Sydney Mardi gras

New Year’s Eve

Sydney is among the first cities in the world to ring in the New Year, and the city makes sure to start it with a bang! The spectacular fireworks display over the Harbour Bridge is world-famous. There are a number of vantage points to watch the fireworks from, such as Robertson Park, Waverton Park or North Head, to name just a few. Of course you can also join one of the many ticketed events or a New Year’s Eve cruise, granting you incredible views right from the water, and making sure you ring in the New Year in style.

New Year's Fireworks Sydney 2012

Chinese New Year

Yes, New Year’s Eve is a big deal in Sydney, but so is the Chinese New Year a few weeks later. More than 1 million visitors enjoy the celebrations, making it one of the biggest Lunar New Year festivals outside of Asia. In 2017, the Chinese New Year Festival takes place from 27 January to 12 February, celebrating the start of the Year Of The Rooster with music and nightly entertainment, dragon boat races and performances from over 1,000 participants. Those include martial arts, traditional dance and folklore dance, and from 27 to 29 January, Sydney’s most famous landmarks will be lit in red as part of the festivities.

Chinese New Year Sydney

Photo credit: All images used under Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Sydney Festival by Distan Bach ; (2) Sydney  slr_the_quack  (3) Sydney Mardi Gras by KMJ Photography; (4) New Year’s Eve by Sacha Fernandez ; (5) Chinese New Year by Ashley Ringrose
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