The traditional or the kinky? Christmas Markets in Hamburg, Germany

Ah, Christmas markets. Lovely decorations everywhere, nostalgic music playing in the background – and a valid excuse to walk around snacking and drinking punch in the middle of the day. If there’s a country that knows how to do Christmas markets properly, it’s Germany. Lucky as I am, I already went to (some of) the ones in Hamburg last weekend and early this week. And believe me – there’s a market for every taste. There’s one for those who love fun fairs, plenty for those who like to keep it more traditional and there’s even a steamy one for the kinky crowd!

Winter Dom is an annual fun fair (there’s actually a Spring Dom and a Summer Dom too) – and the biggest one in Northern Germany. My partner and I, kind of found it by coincidence while on our way to the “Santa Pauli” market – and I’m glad we did. We had just eaten a large meal so riding roller coasters and other fast rides was not very tempting, nor did we want to buy anything to snack on (yet), but the Winter Dom is definitely the place to be for the thrill-seekers who love roller coasters (yes, one of them has multiple loops). You can also go ice skating or visit a haunted house or ride the ferris wheel. All I wanted was to take in all the sights and stroll along, hand in hand with my significant other. I couldn’t stop smiling. The nostalgia, the Christmas magic – I needed this.

Dates: 04.11.16 – 04.12.16

Where: Heiligengeistfeld, St. Pauli (U3 subway to St. Pauli or Feldstrasse

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Santa Pauli – we wish you a kinky Christmas? Welcome to the sexiest Christmas market in Germany, located on the Reeperbahn – the city’s red light district. This one’s is for those who want to buy a special gift for their special someone and keep it their special little secret. Or maybe you don’t want to be secretive about it. I’m not gonna judge. Would you like a striptease? Enter Santa Pauli’s strip tent. If you want to avoid all of that but still want to hang out at the market, then don’t worry. There are plenty of regular Christmas shops and places to grab a drink or something to eat there too.

Dates: 17.11.16 – 23.12.16

Where: Spielbudenplatz (U3 subway to St. Pauli)

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On almost every corner between St Pauli and Rathaus, there’s a small Christmas market where you can buy yourself a snack or a hot beverage. I went with apple and cinnamon punch and chocolate covered marshmallow cookies (photo below).

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Historic Christmas market on Rathausmarkt opened on Monday – and of course we were there to check it out! This market was my favorite one in Hamburg. The perfect place to go shopping for traditional Christmas ornaments and decorations and a great place to spend time with your friends, family or your partner. Have a drink or five, enjoy a nice warm meal or a sweet treat and enjoy the celebration of this wonderful holiday. Thank you Hamburg, thank you for this joyful experience!

Dates: 21.11.16 – 23.12.16

Where: Rathausmarkt (U3 subway to Rathaus)

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Winter Beer Day – Celebrating beer in Hamburg, Germany

One of the first things that come to mind when I think of Germany is beer. Without a doubt. Thanks to Oktoberfest, we all have this image of Germans being a festive crowd who will drink you under the table any day. Which they probably would, given the challenge.

But the German beer culture is so much more than that. And I was soon to discover exactly how sophisticated the industry is, and how passionate the craftsmen are about their products. As a blogger who already happened to be in the right part of Germany that weekend, I was invited to the Winter Beer Day – an annual event that takes place in Hamburg, more specifically: Altes Mädchen, Lagerstrasse 28B, 20357 Hamburg.                The event is hosted by Altes Mädchen and Craft Beer Day – and you don’t have to wait until December next year for the next upcoming event, because there’s also a Summer Beer Day!

As I entered the event – ready to celebrate German beers – I was given a beer glass and the opportunity to wander around and speak to any representative from any brewery and taste whatever I wanted to taste and ask whatever questions I wanted to ask about the different beers – and about the breweries they came from.

First one up was a Golden Pale Ale from Berlin based SuperFreunde – definitely a beer for those who enjoy a bitter aftertaste (40 international bitterness units). “What is the mildest or most subtle one you have?” I asked one of the brewers. He laughed and said “None of our beers are really mild. This one’s the mildest”. The beer I tasted was perhaps a bit too masculine for little me, but I’m happy I got to try it as the beer was of high quality and definitely something I’d recommend to people who love Pale Ales!

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A Danish microbrewery was the next one that caught my attention. The brewery Fanø Bryghus is located on Fanø island which is part of the Wadden Sea National Parks, a UNESCO heritage site. My inner nomad is itching to embark on a road trip through Denmark, and will without a doubt visit Fanø when that time comes. “Can I try your Christmas beer?” I asked the owner – in Norwegian. He replied in Danish and poured me some Julebryg, which had a hint of coffee and cinnamon flavor and had been brewed for four weeks – with vanilla beans in the barrel! I loved it and asked to try another one. He offered me one called “Beer Geek Slumber Party” which was a Belgian style strong beer (11%). It didn’t taste strong at all, and I’m certain that one pint of that would be enough to get me wasted without even realizing it. “We also have a beer that’s brewed with oysters”, he said. I didn’t try it, as I’m allergic to shellfish. My partner did, and his words were “it’s kind of good, but it’s strange”. Now I’m definitely curious about visiting Fanø to see how this strange oyster beer is made”!

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I took a short break from drinking alcohol and had a taste of root beer from local brewers HobbyBrau before moving on to something quite unusual from Pirate Brew Berlin. These guys collaborate with local producers, and with their motto being “brewing it social” you’ll most certainly find elements of unique ingredients in all their different beers. I tried their chili flavored one, made with chili from a local producer. Interesting idea, interesting taste!

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Moving on to Ratsherrn – the brewery I initially got in touch with, as I wanted to visit the brewery and write a post about it. And here I was, tasting their beer at an amazing beer tasting event instead. I wanted to try the Pumpkin beer, which is made with the same ingredients used to make pumpkin pie. For someone who loves everything pumpkin, this one was definitely a big thumbs up. Their winter ale called Lumberjack was quite nice as well.

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All these impressions had made me somewhat tipsy. No, that’s an understatement. I was starting to feel lightly drunk and I needed a break. And a burger. And sweet potato fries with a whole lot of mayo on the side. The food truck offered all of that – and it was exactly what I needed in order to be able to continue this enjoyable quest of tasting beers without having to deal with any consequences.

Wildwuchs Brauwerk – another brewery from Hamburg, offered me a beer called Alt Kanzler Rauch Bier, which translates to “Old chancellor smoked beer”. This is a humorous way to honor Helmut Schmidt and his chain smoking-habit.

Hopper Brau – also from Hamburg, offered me a beer called “Weizheit” (which was a wheat IPA brewed in a cognac barrel for four weeks) before moving on to the dark side, to “Dunkle Macht” meaning Dark Force. With a name and a label like that, how can you go wrong?

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Love for metal and vikings brought me to Wacken Brauerei – whose motto is “Beer of the Gods”. I asked them what their bestseller is and they told me they don’t have a bestseller yet, as they only just started in July. I wish them all the best of luck for the future and I’m glad I got to taste their smoked porter called Surtr and their Nordic strong ale Walküren Schluck.

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Obviously the breweries I didn’t get around to taste beer from, deserve an honorable mention too! I’ll check out their beer on a later date – whether it’s at an event like this one, a visit to the brewery or maybe I’ll even find their products in a bar or a beer shop somewhere? Check out Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei , Fräulein Brauer , Welde Braumanufaktur , Stone Brewing , Ugly Duck Brewing Co. , Elav Brewery Italy , Blockbräu , Bierfabrik Berlin , Circle 8 Brewery , Hops & Barley .

Before leaving the Winter Beer Day, I wanted to go to the events’ first workshop (out of five). Claus Winther from Fanø Bryghus (the Danish one) told the story of his brewery, talked about the challenges of running a microbrewery in Denmark and answered questions from the public. And obviously we all got to taste some beer as well!

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I left Winter Beer Day feeling educated, satisfied and slightly drunk. I’ve taken notes and added some favorites to my list and will look out for them next time I go beer shopping. And I’ll make sure to schedule in a visit to Summer Beer Day next year. Will you be there too?

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(this was a complimentary visit, but all opinions remain my own)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris Outskirts: Oise (thrill rides and castles)

Paris is beautiful. No doubt about it. Beautiful parks, amazing Haussmanian architecture, famous monuments, delicious food, fashionable people. But do you know any thing at all about the banlieues (suburbs) and the districts close to Paris?

Paris. We’ve all seen the thousands of photos shared on social media. We all know what the Eiffel tower looks like. And the Louvre too. And most of us Francophiles have heard the song “Champs-Élysées” and have either been – or want to go – shopping on this famous boulevard. “Now I feel like a real Parisian,” I heard one tourist say out loud as she let her friend hold her fancy shoppingbag from Ladurée – containing overpriced macarons- while she was trying on a beret from a souvenir stand. She was probably the kind of tourist who came to Paris determined to visit the same sites, do the same things, and share almost identical photos with others who had been there and done that before her. Or maybe she wasn’t like that at all. Maybe she just didn’t know any better. Maybe she even wanted to befriend locals and get to know the REAL Paris. Maybe even….the towns and villages close to Paris? Certain Parisians would probably burst out laughing and tell you you’re wasting your time exploring the suburbs, when everything you need is right there, in the centre of Paris. Others would encourage you to see absolutely everything and maybe even offer to come with you. Me, I am a curious soul, interested in seeing every corner of France – and not just the ones mentioned in glossy magazines. 

Before I moved to Paris, I was completely unaware of all the amazing places located only a stone’s throw away from the big city. Parks as beautiful as the ones in Paris, enchanting castles, charming little villages, lovely cafes and restaurants. It’s enough to make you wanna book a flight to Paris – without even visiting Paris.

I will write about each department individually, as this post would seem never-ending, otherwise. You see, the outskirts of Paris have quite a lot to offer!

First, I’ll take you a bit further than just a stone’s throw away, but still not too far to qualify for a spot in this series:

Oise

Parc Asterix

Oise (named after the river Oise) is a department 84 km north of Paris. The biggest tourist attraction of the department is also one of the most visited annually by locals; Parc Asterix – a theme park based on the stories of Asterix (a series of French comics). The park has a large variety of roller coasters as well as many other attractions and shows.

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Beauvais

If you’re flying to Paris with Ryan Air, you’ll be arriving in Beauvais, which serves as the capital of the Oise department. I have never been to Beauvais myself, but I’d love to visit the city’s spectacular gothic cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais)  and photograph the facade of the Museum of the Oise Department, which is a museum in the former bishop’s palace and is classified as a historical monument. And why not visit one of the expositions at the museum while you’re there?

Senlis

Medieval town Senlis is another destination you should add to your list. Visit the impressive, Gothic cathedral – a national monument of France. The ruins of the Royal Castle is also worth seeing. The actual castle dates back from the 1200’s. Once you’ve visited the cathedral and the castle ruins, sit down and relax with a glass of red or white in one of the local restaurants.

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Château de Pierrefonds

Another must-see is the Château de Pierrefonds, a beautiful medieval castle built between the late 1300’s-early 1400’s. I visited the castle last year, and coincidentally  got there in time for the local medieval festival. I bought myself some souvenirs and farmers produce from the festival market and enjoyed a tasty crêpe to-go!

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Château de Chantilly

Last but not least, Château de Chantilly, a historical castle located in the town of Chantilly. The chateau houses the Musée Condé, which is one of the finest art galleries in France and is open to the public.The park is a French formal garden, which is the same style of garden as the ones of Versailles. While visiting the beautiful garden, we saw happy newlyweds posing for photos, using the gorgeous nature as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. The estate overlooks the Chantilly Racecourse (Hippodrome de Chantilly) , and the Great Stables. Make sure you check out the equestrian shows and demonstrations while you’re there. It’s great fun to watch!

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Château de Montvillargenne

Would you and your significant other like a romantic celebration at a 4-star spa hotel? Then check out Château de Montvillargenne. My partner and I celebrated our one year anniversary at this luxurious chateau. They have an indoor swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath and they offer a variety of spa treatments – including a duo massage for couples (we tried it, we loved it!). The rooms are neat, the interior is modern and the restaurant serves fine gourmet cuisine. If you’re already in the neighborhood and if you have the budget for it – why not spoil yourself a little?

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Château d’Ermenonville

Set in a medieval chateau, this sophisticated hotel château d’Ermenonville is located in a calm environment – in the heart of the Ermenonville forest, overlooking the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park. The restaurant has a good reputation and I’d love to dine there someday soon. Just waiting for yet another special occasion.

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And you, will I see you in the department of Oise?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A weekend in Luxembourg

On a beautiful weekend in mid-May, my better half took me on a surprise trip to a destination unknown. It was my birthday that weekend, and he knew exactly what I wanted for my big day. The idea of packing my suitcase with absolutely no idea where I’m headed to, while someone else takes care of everything has actually been a fantasy of mine for a long time. Usually I find not knowing and not organizing things on my own, to be a somewhat stressful affair. And yet I love surprises. As much as I hate not knowing. What a paradox. I was told to get in the car with an open mind and a suitcase packed with whatever I would have worn had we stayed home in Paris that weekend. Traffic signs gave away a few hints along the road. We were not headed to the airport. We were not headed south, nor west. The large crossroads close to the border suggested Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg or Eastern France. I was clueless. They all seemed like good options to me!

And shortly after, there we were. Luxembourg City, the capital of the country by the same name. A small rural country, peaceful and green. The capital city is famed for its medieval old town, perched on sheer cliffs. A small country, but a country rich in history. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg contains around fifty historical castles – more than a hundred if you ask those who also consider the old manor houses as castles.

We spent the first day strolling around, exploring and photographing Luxembourg City. What really caught the eye was the Palais Grand-Ducal, a beautiful palace in the city center. We were obviously not the only ones who were fascinated by it, as it was surrounded by tourists taking pictures or smiling for the camera. There seemed to be some sort of an EU-festival happening in Luxembourg that day – as plenty of locals were waving European Union-flags, marching bands were parading the streets and women in traditional costumes were handing out flyers. Although we had no idea exactly what they were celebrating, it was fun to be there and take part of it.

We wanted to try local specialties while we were there, but we couldn’t find the very few things that were supposed to be traditional dishes from Luxembourg on any restaurant menu at all. So we went to a restaurant called Urban and had burgers instead. And we had burgers again the next day, from an equally great burger restaurant; Snooze. So, I did’t learn much about the local cuisine in Luxembourg, but they sure know how to make delicious, gourmet burgers!

The next day was spent visiting a few castles. The New Castle of Ansembourg and its spectacular garden was our first visit. It started to rain towards the end of the visit, but lucky as we were, we managed to visit the garden entirely before getting soaked. The next one on the list, was also the last one – due to the weather. The Vianden castle is set on a rocky promontory, overlooking the river Our and dominating the town of Vianden. We only saw it from afar – again, due to the weather -and went to grab a drink in a cafe downtown, while waiting for the rain to stop.

The weather didn’t clear up that day. The following day was, however, sunny and nice. What a lovely birthday present from the higher powers. What wasn’t as lovely, was the present from the police; a parking ticket due to illegal parking. Parking was free of charge during the weekend – but the weekend was over. It was Monday morning.

We left Luxembourg City to go somewhere else – for another surprise. A concert at edgy, new venue Rockhal in Esch sur Alzette (still Luxembourg). Hans Zimmer, the well-known German composer, whose works include The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception, and more. The show was fantastic. At times I was misty-eyed and had goosebumps – that’s how amazing it was. Applause to you, Hans Zimmer. I haven’t felt this emotional since I saw another famous composer, John Williams (works include music from Spielberg’s movies) in concert.

From being a small country I knew little to nothing about, to a country where I have now spent my birthday and created wonderful memories together with my partner, I now smile when I think of Luxembourg.

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New Castle of Ansembourg

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Vianden (town and castle)

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