Despite being many hundreds of kilometres from the nearest ocean, Munich has a reputation as a surfing hotspot. Local surfers are a popular photo motif, a hit with visitors to the city, and are mentioned in almost every tourist guide on Munich.
Dust off that tiara or suit of armor you have hiding in your closet and admit (only to your travel agent) that you’ve been dying to indulge your inner noble. Here are nine castle hotels in Europe where you can spend the night. (And if you want to spend more than night, try renting out one of these palaces). Continue reading
Summer is by far the best season to visit Berlin. The city’s residents take full advantage of the decent weather to hit the streets, rivers and lakes and partake in endless events across the city.
Since the fall of its world-famous Wall, Berlin has busied itself with becoming one of the most stimulating creative and cultural centres in Europe. These days it’s a city of many faces, known equally as a hedonistic hub (parties here can go on for days rather than hours), a magnet for history buffs (the city was at the heart of much of the turbulent 20th century) and, increasingly, as a destination for families thanks to a wealth of green spaces that includes the sprawling Tiergarten, the Sunday flea market at Mauerpark and the Volkspark Friedrichshain.
There are lots of outdoor playgrounds and plenty of attractions to keep the little ones occupied. And despite the cheap (but rising) rents and bohemian reputation (the city’s unofficial motto remains “Poor But Sexy”), there’s also a lot on offer for well-heeled and business travellers, from ritzy hotels and classy boutiques to Michelin-starred dining spots. A grand European all-rounder? And then some…
When to go?
Tales of Berlin’s notoriously long and harsh winters send shivers up the spines of visitors before they’ve even arrived – but don’t worry, they’re not that much worse than those in Britain. Still, the preferred time to visit is in the warmer months (April-September), when you can explore the city’s waterways and parks, as well as the numerous lakes and sights that lie within striking distance of the centre.
There are plenty of cultural events happening all year round. To paraphrase comedian Billy Connolly: there’s no such thing as a bad time to visit Berlin, just bring the right clothing…
EasyJet (0905 821 8905, www.easyjet.com) flies direct to Berlin from Gatwick, Luton, Bristol and Liverpool. British Airways (0844 493 0787, www.ba.com), BMI (0844 8484 888, www.flybmi.com) and Lufthansa (0871 945 9747,www.lufthansa.com) fly from Heathrow. Ryanair (0871 246 0000,www.ryanair.com) flies from Stansted, East Midlands and Edinburgh.
At the moment Berlin has two main airports, Berlin-Tegel and Berlin-Schönefeld (00 49 18 05 00 01 86, www.berlin-airport.de). The former is slightly closer to the centre but it’s easy to get into town from both. It’s worth mentioning that Tegel is scheduled to close some time in 2011, with Schönefeld being expanded into Berlin’s main airport (and renamed Berlin Brandenburg International Airport)
From Tegel, buses X9 and 109 run about every 10-15 minutes to Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten; fare €4 (about £3.40) one way. The Jetexpressbus TXL goes to Friedrichstrasse and Unter den Linden (€3 one way). The S-Bahn and U-Bahn both run into the centre too; tickets to the centre cost €2.30 (zones A and B – validate your ticket in the stamping machine before you board). Tickets are then valid for two hours on buses and trains. Taxis cost €20-€24 for a ride to central Berlin, depending on where exactly you’re going.
From Schönefeld, bus 171 runs from the airport to Rudow, where you can transfer to the U-Bahn to get to Berlin (€3 one way). The Schnellbus SXF 1 runs between Südkreuz and Schönefeld (€6 one way). S-Bahn lines S49 and S9 take about 45 minutes to get to the centre, or there’s the AirportExpress (15-30 minutes) that goes to Hauptbahnhof, Zoologischer Garten, Friedrichstrasse, Alexanderplatz and Ostbahnhof every half an hour. Tickets cost €2.80 (zones A, B and C). Validate the ticket in the stamping machine before you board. Once stamped, tickets are again valid for two hours on buses and trains. A taxi from Schönefeld will cost you €30-€40 to the centre of town, depending on where exactly you’re going.
Taking the train to Berlin is pretty easy. Jump on the Eurostar (08432 186 186,www.eurostar.com) from London to Brussels or Paris, then a Thalys or ICE (08718 80 80 66, www.bahn.de) or an overnight City Night Line sleeper train to Berlin. Keep an eye out for the new 200mph rail link planned for 2011 by Deutsche Bahn, which will make the trip even easier and faster.
You can get pretty much anywhere in the city 24 hours a day thanks to Berlin’s excellent transport system, an interconnected network of underground rail (U-Bahn), suburban rail (S-Bahn) buses, trams, and ferries. There are maps everywhere and travel centres (Reisezentrum) within most train stations (if you get stuck, try 0800 150 7090 or visit www.bahn.de or www.bvg.de).
Combined tickets for the main tariff zones (A, B and C) are available from the machines at the stations. Ticket prices range from €2.30 for a single ticket (einzelfahrschein, one journey, valid for two hours) to €5.80 for a day ticket (tageskarte, valid all day until 3am). A short-trip ticket (kurzstrecke) for up to three stops can be bought for €1.40. Children under six don’t need a ticket. If you’re travelling in a small group, check out the small group ticket (kleingruppenkarte) – it’s for five people and costs €15.
Berlin is a bit of a cyclist’s dream in that it’s largely flat with lots of dedicated cycle paths and plenty of green areas and rivers to glide along. If the weather is good, it’s one of the nicest ways of seeing the city. Fahrradstation (Dorotheenstrasse 30; 00 49 30 20 45 45 00, www.fahrradstation.de) rents out bikes from €15 a day/€35 the weekend; Pedalpower (Grossbeerenstrasse 53, Kreuzberg; 00 49 30 55 15 32 70,www.pedalpower.de) rents them from €9 a day.
DB Call-A-Bikes system (www.callabike-interaktiv.de) costs €0.8 per minute or around €15 for 24 hours, plus a €5 registration fee. Telephone 07000 522 5522 when you’ve found one of their bikes (they’re all over the city) to register and unlock it – then just lock and call again when you’re done.
Having your own transport is only really worthwhile if you’re planning on getting out of the city and into the surrounding countryside – and even then the trains and buses will get you most places easily and quickly. If you need to hire one, however, there are car-hire desks aplenty at the airport and dotted throughout the city, such as Avis (00 49 30 60 91 57 10, www.avis.com), Budget (00 49 30 60 91 57 10, www.budget.com) and Europcar (00 49 30 63 49 160, www.Europcar.com).
Check out the city’s slew of kindercafes, such as Mitte’s Onkel Albert (00 49 30 44 04 56 10, www.onkelalbert.de) or Friedrichschain’s funky Knilchbar (00 49 30 29 36 79 89, www.knilchbar.de), which have great coffee for the parents and play areas and snacks for the rugrats.
VisitBerlin.de’s Welcome Cards gives 48 or 72 hours of unlimited travel around Zones A and B, plus discounts of 25 to 100 per cent on sightseeing tours, boat trips and bicycle tours as well as countless sights and cultural events. A 48-hour card costs €16.90, the 72-hour version €22.90. More offers on the website:www.visitberlin.de
Know before you go
British Embassy: (00 49 30 20 45 70, www.ukingermany.fco.gov.uk/de), Wilhelmstrasse 70, Berlin. Open Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm; 2pm-5.30pm.
Police (Polizei): Dial 110.
Ambulance (Rettungswagen): Dial 112.
International medical emergency service: Dial 00 49 30 31 00 32 22.
Tourist office and information: There are several official tourist offices (run by visitberlin.de) around the city, the main ones being at Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz and the main train station (Hauptbahnhof).
Telephone code: From outside Germany, dial 00 49 30; from inside Germany, 030 – then the number.
Time difference: +1 hour.
Flight time: London to Berlin is around 90 minutes.
Local laws and etiquette
Service in Berlin is generally OK, but when it’s bad it makes nonchalant Parisians look positively proactive. You’ll likely fall victim to the occasional delay, arrogant waiter/waitress or even a withering glare, but don’t take it personally. It’s just the Berlin way.
Berliners, like all Germans, take their rules seriously, especially things like jaywalking and recycling. Littering the streets or crossing at a red light is likely to provoke stern looks or even public admonishment.
On the plus side, Berliners are generally very tolerant and “anything goes” – an attitude that perhaps manifests most in the city’s nightlife scene, where establishments don’t tend to close until late or when the last guest leaves, and where even in the wee hours there’s a discernible lack of tension in the air.
In some bars and clubs, a fee (“fund”) is added to your bottle or glass (anything from 20 eurocents to €1), which is reimbursed when you return it to the bar. Sometimes you will also be given a token, which you again return at the end to claim your “fund”.
Public transport in Berlin operates on an honesty system. There are no barriers at train, tram or bus stops, though underground inspectors will fine you up to €40 on the spot if they catch you without a ticket. Make sure your ticket is also validated (stamped) before boarding a train (there are usually validation machines next to the ticket vendor).
Service is usually included in bills, but it’s customary to round up snacks and drinks to the nearest euro or leave a slightly larger tip for meals and larger bills.
GT: As a runner, what was your incentive to start in the sport?
I found out at an early age that I was a natural runner. I started running in PE and at home when I was 6-years-old, knowing that I had a talent. I didn’t train or compete then, I just made sure that I was the first one to finish in any race or class activity, including the arm hang and running the mile. I always had a very competitive instinct; it may have come from my family upbringing being the middle child out of 5, but it was just in me.
Once I turned nine, I began playing competitive sports (softball, basketball, etc.). I knew I had a running talent and I was always the fastest one on the team. By the time I played middle school sports, my coaches, friends, classmates and I knew that I was ready to shine in track & field. I got my first letter from a college (re my running) when I was 15.
GT: What experience stands out as the most memorable for you?
It’s too hard to choose one! Here are a few:
When I was 13, I did summer track for the first time. I entered three long distance events and a relay at an area track meet not thinking I would go on and qualify in every event. I went on to win three events at AAU Nationals plus 2nd in a relay. It was the start of my competitive running career.
Winning the Texas State 5-A (largest division) Cross Country meet (team and individual title) as a 15-year-old a few months later was very impressionable. I was on a high so much that I cried that same school year when I lost my first long distance race in the spring- in track & field…it was a shock because I hadn’t lost yet and that was a big wake-up call!
Another very memorable experience was attending a training camp at the Olympic Training Center 3 times in high school (1 time at the OTC in San Diego!) and then competing at the Annual High School Footlocker Cross Country Nationals in San Diego two times (at Balboa Park), competing against the best 32 girls in the country! My husband competed there as well the same time as me; we were high school sweet hearts.
In college, my most memorable experience was when my team was 2nd at the NCAA Cross Country Nationals and winning the Distance Medley Relay at the Penn Relays. More than a decade later, this past fall, I was invited back to my university to be inducted into the Arkansas Razorback Hall of Honor along with nine other men and women.
GT: What other activities do you like to do and when?
I love to travel. I love to be outdoors (at the beach, at the park, going for a walk, etc.), so I try to get out any chance that I can with my three children (ages 10 months, 2 years and 4 years). I run a few times a week and do yoga once a week with other team members from our company, Ludus Tours.
To read more from Jessica, how she stays active with her busy family, and read other awesome interviews with pros, members and tips on living an active lifestyle,click here!
Read the full article about Oktoberfest Tours in Munich:
If you think Oktoberfest tours are about drinking beer, you’re absolutely right. According to Frommer’s, festival guests in Munich drink about 6 million liters of local brew. The event also features traditional activities such as a flea circus, as well as residents dressed in Bavarian costumes. In addition to the scene on the Oktoberfest grounds, many tours introduce you to other cultural and historic parts of Munich.
If your time is limited, take a short Oktoberfest tour with a Ferris wheel ride thrown in. Radius Tours offers a two-hour outing, plus five hours at a reserved table in an Oktoberfest tent. The two hours include a guided tour around the festival grounds and a ride on the Ferris wheel — best undertaken before you start drinking. Afterward, at the table, you’re treated to a meal of roast chicken and your first two liters of beer.
Culture and More
If you like some culture along with your beer, consider the four-day Oktoberfest trip by Ludus Tours. When you arrive, you can choose an orientation walk around the Oktoberfest area or around Marienplatz, Munich’s historic central square. Dinner is a traditional Bavarian meal. The next day, the tour heads to Neuschwanstein Castle built by King Ludwig II in 1886. The trip also includes time for shopping, a bike tour to see the sights of Munich and a reserved spot in an Oktoberfest tent to enjoy a meal and, of course, beer.
Parades are integral to Oktoberfest, and you get a close-up look at them on a tour by Harriman Travel Books. The four-day trip includes the opening day parade that dates from the late 19th century. Called the Festival of Innkeepers, the event features horse-drawn wagons carrying kegs of beer to the Oktoberfest grounds. You also get special seating to view the Costume and Riflemen’s Parade that features more than 6,000 participants. The tour includes a reservation at an Oktoberfest table for dinner and drinking.
If you’re between 18 and 35 and you enjoy camping, Contiki Vacations has an Oktoberfest tour just for you. The seven-day trip, limited to people in that age group, features camping at the Contiki Tent Village near the Oktoberfest grounds. The tour includes hot breakfasts — you’re on your own for activities. Contiki suggests visiting Marienplatz, the Hirschgarten with its 8,000-seat beer garden and Olympic Park, where the 1972 Summer Olympics took place.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The U.N.’s World Trade Organization says 1 billion people will cross international borders as tourists this year for the first time.
The WTO’s regional director for the Americas, Carlos Vogeler, predicted Wednesday that the milestone will be reached in the fall.
That figure would be about 4 percent higher than last year’s total. Back in 1950, the figure was 25 million. The UN counts only people who stay at least one night. It does not include cruise ship passengers.
“It is quite iconic when you realize 1 billion people crossed borders,” Vogeler said at a Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association conference in Puerto Rico. “It shows from a sociological point of view how things have changed. If you go back 20-30 years, many people would die without traveling more than 100 miles from home.”
The WTO plans a celebration, and may even try to designate someone as the billionth tourist, when the number is hit.
The organization also projects that there will be 1.4 billion in 2020 and 1.8 billion in 2030.
The top three destination countries now are France, the US and China.
United Airlines and American Airlines have joined Delta Air Lines in attempting to hike some airfares by $10 to $20.
The latest attempt to raise fares is the sixth this year, though only three have been successful, according to online flight comparison site FareCompare.com. Fares typically rise when one carrier raises prices and other airlines follow. If competitors do not follow, the initiator of the increase usually drops back its prices.
Delta on Tuesday raised domestic fares by $10 to $20 roundtrip for last-minute trips, those within seven days of departure. Such fares are usually bought by business travelers, not leisure fliers. United and American followed on Wednesday afternoon.
Raising fares is one way airlines have attempted to cope with rising jet-fuel prices.
Domestic air fares have increased about 5 percent this year and are up about 10 to 12 percent from a year ago.
Popular support for the European Union is wavering amid its unrelenting economic crisis, German President Joachim Gauck warned in Brussels. He called for “more Europe,” not less, in times of crisis. Continue reading
What doesn’t change about Europe is that it’s always changing. While Europe’s economy may be undergoing turbulence in 2012, positive changes are also in the air – making this year a good time to touch down in these essential European destinations.
In France, Paris’ progressive mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, is launching an electric-car-share program called Autolib, which is designed to function much like the city’s successful Velib’ bike-share program. Meanwhile, public transit in Paris is becoming more automated. Staffed ticket windows in Metro stations are gradually being phased out in favor of ticket machines, so don’t expect live transactions at some smaller stations. Since most U.S. credit cards won’t work in these machines, be sure to carry coins or small bills of 20 euros or less.
At the Orsay Museum – the mecca of Impressionism – a $28 million, multiyear remodel wrapped up in October, when the top-floor Impressionist and Post-Impressionist rooms reopened in a larger space. The Louvre’s pre-Classical Greek section reopens in late 2012, and the museum’s exciting new Islamic art wing debuts this summer. But Paris’ Picasso Museum remains closed for renovation, probably until summer 2013.
Beginning in May, there will be a new way to make a pilgrimage to one of France’s most popular sights – the evocative island abbey of Mont St. Michel. Visitors will park in remote lots and ride free shuttles to a pedestrian walkway connected to the island. It’s part of a multiyear project to replace the island’s old causeway with a sleek, modern bridge, allowing water to freely circulate around the island once more.
At the nearby D-Day beaches in Normandy, the terrific Utah Beach Landing Museum (near Sainte Marie du Mont) is now open. Built in the sand dunes around the remains of a German bunker, with floors both above and below sea level, the museum’s finale is a large, glassed-in room overlooking Utah Beach.
From the summer Olympics to the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, several major events will make the British Isles a popular destination in 2012. From July 27 to Aug. 12, London will host the Olympic Games. Leading up to the Games, visitors can see the Olympic Stadium and other major landmarks from the View Tube, a covered shelter with a lookout tower and cafe that sits at the Olympic Park’s southern perimeter.
Brits will be partying before the Games even start. This year marks the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, commemorating 60 years of Elizabeth II’s reign. Museums will host special exhibits, and various events and pageantry will take place the first week of June.
As always, restoration work continues to keep visitors to London on their toes. At the Tate Britain, much of the museum’s permanent collection will be stored away in 2012, though you can still see a few key paintings and the J.M.W. Turner collection. After a two-year renovation, Kensington Palace is reopening this spring with a new permanent exhibit, “Victoria Revealed,” which showcases the life and times of Britain’s longest-ruling monarch.
In Greenwich, the Cutty Sark is reopening in spring after a five-year restoration. The new display space allows visitors to walk above and below the suspended ship. At Stonehenge, construction of a long-awaited visitors’ center, designed to blend in with the landscape, may begin in April. Since the highway next to the stones will be closed, visitors will park farther away and ride a shuttle to the site.
Across the Irish Sea, several sights will commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Titanic’s maiden – and only – voyage. In the modest port town of Cobh, the ship’s final anchorage (and the last chance to get off), the Queenstown Story will include beefed-up coverage of the Titanic. In Belfast, a $150 million visitors’ center opened in March on the site where the ship was built. The high-tech attraction holds the world’s best collection of relics from the ship’s short but opulent existence.
In Italy some long-closed doors are opening again. Historic sights, newly scrubbed and restored, are coming out from behind scaffolding. A few more monuments are still under wraps, but getting closer to completion. Italy is revealing itself anew (or molting).
In Rome, the Colosseum is being cleaned from top to bottom and given permanent lighting. For the first time, tours are being offered to previously restricted areas – underground passageways and the third-floor parapet. This behind-the-scenes tour is available only by booking a 90-minute tour at least a day in advance with Pierrici, a private company ( www.pierreci.it).
At Rome’s Palatine Hill, you can now tour the House of Livia, the home of the wife of Emperor Augustus. Guided visits, which are included with admission, take 20 people in every half-hour to tour the site and its newly restored frescoes. As surviving Roman wall paintings are rare (these date back to the first century B.C.), it’s worth the trouble.
At St. Peter’s Basilica, you won’t have to descend into the crypt to find the tomb of the late, beloved Pope John Paul II. After he was beatified last May (bringing him a step closer to sainthood), his remains were moved to the Chapel of San Sebastian on the main floor on the basilica (midway between Michelangelo’s Pieta and the main altar).
In Venice, as renovations continue at the Accademia – showcasing the city’s top collection of Venetian paintings – some major canvases are out of view and some rooms are closed entirely. There’s still scaffolding around the base of the Campanile, the dramatic bell tower on St. Mark’s Square, but a three-year restoration of the lovely little Bridge of Sighs – popular with romantics who kiss as they glide under it on a gondola – is now complete.
In Florence, the restoration of the original panels of Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise” is wrapping up. The famous panels are being reinserted in their door frames and should be back on display for a formal inauguration June 24, the feast day of Florence’s patron saint, John the Baptist.
Sadly, the biggest change in Italy for 2012 is the result of a natural disaster. When I was in the magical towns of the Cinque Terre in May 2011, I never could have imagined that, just a few months later, the streets I walked on would be under more than 6 feet of mud and rocks, devastated by a horrific flash flood.
Of the five towns of the Cinque Terre, the two most popular for tourists – Vernazza and Monterosso – were hit hard. After a winter of renovation, Monterosso is getting back to normal. Vernazza will welcome visitors this spring, but many businesses there will take longer to rebuild. You’ll find up-to-date details – and ways you can help – at www.ricksteves.com/news/cinque-terre/cinque-terre-disaster.htm.
Next door in Spain, several museums in Toledo have reopened after years of renovation. The new Spanish Army Museum, installed within the Alcazar fortress, displays endless rooms of military collections of armor, uniforms, cannons, guns, paintings and models. The Santa Cruz Museum, finally completely open, displays a world-class collection of El Greco paintings, along with an eclectic mix of medieval and Renaissance art.
In Sevilla, the once nondescript square called Plaza de la Encarnacion (at the north end of downtown) has been boldly redeveloped: A gigantic undulating canopy of five waffle-patterned, mushroom-shaped, 100-foot-tall structures (called “Metropol Parasol” by its German architect) now provides shade for the formerly sunbaked square.
Even with these changes, the essence of Europe endures – a heady mix of modern and traditional that is ready to intoxicate curious travelers in 2012 and beyond.