Month: July 2018

Eden Hotel Wolff – an Authentic German Experience in Munich

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Eden Hotel Wolff, Lobby

Staying at the Eden Hotel Wolff in Munich, Germany turned out to be one of the most pleasant, authentic-yet-comfortable experiences I have ever had staying at a hotel in a foreign country.

It all started with arrival in Munich, after several exhausting hours on an airplane from the United States. Even for the most seasoned of travelers, it can be an intimidating experience arriving in a foreign country tired and not sure how to navigate your way around. After taking some time to relax, decompress, and soak in the local atmosphere at the airport, I pursued a strategy to get into town. The Germans are very efficient with transportation, so it was no surprise to find that there is a commuter train that runs direct from the airport into Central Station, downtown Munich, for a few Euros.

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Eden Hotel Wolff, exterior

Imagine my delight, when, weary, jet-lagged, and exasperated, I discovered the Eden Hotel Wolff directly across the street from Central Station! It looked like paradise with the condition I was in. Without having to exhaust myself with any more searching, or walking, I was there! My home for the next four nights.

It was clear upon entering the lobby that this was no run-of-the-mill chain place. It was unique, and had an old-world charm about it while still offering completely modern comfort. I was dazzled by crystal chandeliers, marble trim, painted ceilings, and an acutely courteous staff who were happy to patiently indulge my broken German (because I wanted to practice, not because they didn’t speak English!) When I had trouble with the European outlet converter I had brought, they even were kind enough to offer a loaner.

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My room at the Eden Hotel Wolff

Passing through stairwells and corridors adorned with fine art and fresh bouquets of flowers bursting with color (and, yes, a working elevator!) I made it “home” to my room. And it was unlike any hotel room I’ve ever stayed in before. It had wooden floors, wood panels all along the walls, wooden cabinets… it had a very earthy, rustic-yet-modern feel to it, and all that wood gave off a pleasant aroma. It was like setting up a bed and tv in a fancy sauna and turning off the heat! Meanwhile, in the bathroom I was surrounded by luxurious marble walls and intoxicatingly-scented amenities on the sink that I couldn’t wait to pamper myself with…. after SLEEP!

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Another view of the room

I slept for the rest of the day, and woke up in the evening long enough for a walk in the immediate area. I marveled at the neon lights and harmony of German-speaking voices, traffic horns, and trolley cars. I grabbed some grub at the train station steps away [many inexpensive restaurants to choose from there, including a McDonald’s curiously serving camembert cheese filled donuts and other delicious oddities (!)]. I then returned to the room to observe some soccer delivered by animated German announcers. I’m not ordinarily a soccer fan, but I’m a diehard professional sports fan, so this felt like a good way to start experiencing the culture when I still felt too worn out to do anything else but prepare for a long day the following day.

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Eden Hotel Wolff’s restaurant

In the morning I was spoiled absolutely silly to an incredible complimentary breakfast spread in the hotel’s restaurant. Every day I was treated to a dizzying selection of German specialties for breakfast, like fresh Muesli, varying types of local sausages, cold cuts, and cheeses, a mouth-watering assortment of carefully carved fresh fruit, delectable pastries, and even tantalizingly salty fresh pretzels! And so much more. I grabbed a free newspaper (which were available in multiple languages) and filled up for a day of energetic and ambitious sightseeing. This seems to be quite normal in Germany, to expect an extravagant complimentary breakfast.

The sightseeing… is for an upcoming blog because there is WAY to much to try to say here about this fascinating city of Munich or the day trips I embarked on from there. And I’m not done gushing about this unforgettable hotel experience!

Back in the evening, winded and famished from actively exploring all day, I decided to give the hotel’s restaurant a try, especially noticing they offered one of my favorite, authentic local dishes: Wienerschnitzel.

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Wienerschnitzel with Cranberry Sauce, German Potatoes, and Russ (beer with lemon soda)

The Russ (beer mixed with lemon soda) was extremely refreshing after the long hot day, and quite delicious. I wish it was more widely available outside of Germany! The Wienerschnitzel was cooked to utter perfection and fork tender. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more like royalty after this amazing feast, I noticed Kaiserschmarrn on the menu – or “Emperor’s Eggs,” a ridiculously rich indulgence of egg-heavy pancake strips sweetened with powdered sugar and dotted with exotic fruits. I hadn’t tried the likes of it since a trip to Vienna at the age of twelve, and nostalgia prevailed: I had to experience it again. I enjoyed it a lot more this time around, because I’ve developed a much greater sense of open-mindedness about foreign cuisine than I could admit to having at twelve… But this is not your everyday kind of dessert – I think I’ll let nostalgia set in again for a while before I tackle this extravaganza of richness again! It is one of the heaviest, most luscious desert dishes you could ever consume – fit for a king apparently!

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View from the other end of Eden Hotel Wolff’s restaurant

I enjoyed the beautiful wood paneled walls and ceilings, chandeliers, and statuettes and artwork on the walls of the restaurant almost as much as the dinner. This dinner was a wonderful extension of my day of sightseeing in Germany, a very authentic experience from the atmosphere to the cuisine.

Eden Hotel Wolff provided a very authentic German experience that made my stay in Munich all that much more meaningful and enjoyable. And what an amazing bonus it was that I was steps away from Central Station and the double decker buses, and minutes away from the spectacular hub of German architecture and culture that is Marienplatz. Being a travel blogger, I like to try a lot of different hotels. But when I return to Munich, I doubt I will be able to resist another stay at Eden Hotel Wolff!

I filmed a video tour – see it for yourself here!:

 

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Coming up next, more from Germany including Munich, Rothenburg, Bavarian Castles, Hamburg, Berlin, and a Baltic Sea cruise out of Copenhagen, Denmark!

 

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Solo Cruising: a Contradictory Experience

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Studio Cabin on Norwegian Breakaway

Having completed my first solo cruise, I gained some insight on the experience I wanted to share for those of you who may be considering it. I sailed on the Norwegian Breakaway on a Baltic Sea cruise (follow-up blog posts to come!), and tried out one of the “studio” cabins available for booking only to solo cruisers. Norwegian is making an effort to cater to solo travelers, and it shows. The cabin itself was the first sign that I was in for a contradictory cruising experience. On the one hand, the cabin was very small and cramped compared to other Norwegian cruise ship cabins I’ve stayed in, and only interior studio cabins are available. On the other hand, the cabin and hallways were spruced up to give the impression that the studio cabin cruisers were being spoiled with special treatment. It almost felt like a posh, elite nightclub navigating the halls. The hallway to my cabin was behind a locked door (think: velvet rope!) which required a studio room key to pass. Once in the hallway, I was greeted to trendy neon lights. The leather accents in the cabin were a very nice touch, and the room felt luxurious, albeit small.

To further delight studio guests, a studio lounge was available on board, accessible only through the locked door aforementioned. Within were a TV monitor, ample seating, a bar, and (best of all) a coffee station with a machine serving premium coffees (think cappuccino, latte, mocha, etc.) for free. Given the fact that the coffee shop on Norwegian ships charge for specialty coffees, which are also NOT included in their unlimited beverage package, and the fact that I’m quite the coffee addict, this was a huge boon. It was a decent alternative to cafe specialty coffee, and light worlds better than the default complimentary coffee served on board, which I am convinced is intentionally bad to nudge you to pay for premium!

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Norwegian Breakaway at port in Talinn, Estonia

Along with the studio cabin and studio lounge, you also have access to a solo travelers “concierge” who plans meet ups for any solo travelers who are interested. This includes getting into shows, arranging to dine with others in the group in the main dining rooms, and social gatherings in the studio lounge and elsewhere. I felt this feature was highly overrated – but I can see the benefit for certain people. Between the fact that I’m an introvert and the fact that I tend to keep myself extremely busy on cruise ships (leaving the ship at every port, thermal suite passes, lots of shows and concerts, deck time, etc.) the meet ups were not really conducive to my preferred shipboard “lifestyle.” However, I can definitely imagine an extroverted person who likes to relax and socialize more would enjoy this tremendously. One downside that I think would be a negative to anyone, if it is common, was that the ratio of women to men was very lopsided, at least on my particular sailing, at the initial meeting to get acquainted. One man showed up, and the rest were women. I would have felt more comfortable in a more balanced group (the man seemed to be quite thrilled with the discrepancy, though!)

The solo cruising experience is contradictory in other ways. On the one hand, it feels very comfortable to be alone on the cruise because there are so many distractions from your “alone-ness.” Going to shows and concerts, going on excursions, and doing things around the ship it is very easy to keep busy and not even notice you’re alone. And some things can be very much enjoyed alone – like the peacefulness and rejuvenation of lounging out on a quiet deck reflecting on your travel experiences or just resting. Cruise ship passengers, I have found, also seem to be some of the friendliest people around, so if you want interaction it’s not hard to find. At the bars, in the lounges, on deck, and on the excursions people are usually eager to chat it up with fellow passengers, if you are so inclined.

On the other hand, there are times when traveling alone on a cruise can be very awkward. For instance… dinner time. Being seated at a table alone can be challenging to feel comfortable with. Even as an introvert, I found myself going for a more casual dining venue than the fancier dining atmosphere in the main dining rooms. It felt more natural and less forced. I can’t help but think about the Steve Martin movie where he walks into a restaurant, tells the hostess he’s dining alone, and suddenly a huge spotlight shines on him and the whole room turns around to stare! Of course the ultimate in avoiding this problem is either to order room service, go to the buffet where things are REALLY casual, or bring a buffet plate back to the cabin. Or, avoid the whole conundrum by participating in the solo traveler meet ups. I was more comfortable doing my own thing on my own time.

If you’re debating whether to go on a solo cruise, I advise go for it! The pros highly outweigh the cons, and frankly it’s the funnest way to “spend time with yourself” that I can think of! While I enjoy sharing the experience with someone special more than I do going it alone, I would definitely not hesitate to book a solo cruise again, and I was impressed with the way Norwegian provided for and pampered solo passengers.

You can view my tour of the Norwegian Breakaway, including solo cabin and solo travelers’ lounge here!:

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Graffiti Critique: Staining Europe’s Beautiful Landscape

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“Good” graffiti on the Berlin Wall

There is “good” graffiti and “bad” graffiti. But most of it is bad, and the problem is rampant in Europe these days! I thought the U.S. had a graffitti problem… until I returned to Europe after a long hiatus – and found it virtually unrecognizable. In the U.S., you see graffitti mostly on abandoned and condemned buildings on the outskirts, in decaying neighborhoods, and around subway and bus terminals in some, not all, cities. Across Europe, it seems, these hoodlums are happy to leave their mark anywhere and everywhere – including around historic sights, tourist neighborhoods, and the formerly pristine countryside.

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“Bad” graffiti across the river from the tourist-mobbed Berlin Wall

As an Art History major in college, most graffiti really offends my sense of aesthetic sensibility. I can’t believe there’s actually a raging debate about whether it’s o.k. because “it’s freedom of expression!” and “it’s art!” If you buy a building and spray paint it until your heart’s content, or you paint where it is allowed, that qualifies as self-expression and may even qualify you as an artist. But when you deface property that is not your own and without permission, you are a criminal, not an artist. And, frankly, even if it were art, that still wouldn’t give you the right to alter another’s property without permission! Yet there are a number of articles on the internet suggesting this is actually a debatable topic.

Another “argument” given by some is that the practice of grafitti is ancient, and that there is ancient grafitti which is considered art to us today. As a student of Art History, I agree that due to its historic value and cultural insight, ancient “graffiti” certainly is art. But we do not live in Ancient Rome today, and we were not there, as much as we may have studied and know about Ancient history. Their culture was different – and their laws. Just because something was acceptable then does not automatically make it acceptable now. That goes for grafitti, slavery, a lower status for women, and butchering animals in the arena. I’m fascinated by Ancient Rome, but Roman society has its place in Ancient history. Would these same people who argue grafitti is ok now because it was ok then say the same of these other activities? Their argument is deeply flawed.

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“Bad” graffiti steps away from Kronborg Castle deep in Copenhagen’s tourist district

I wonder why the graffitti isn’t removed and I ponder whether, perhaps, the problem is so rampant that building and other property owners have just given up. I wonder how many times they removed the offending marks just to have them turn up again?

I believe there IS a place for graffitti, and I believe it can be art. There are locations where the spray painting has been allowed – in confined areas where it is not imposing on another’s personal property, or on a person’s appropriate use of property (such as when grafitti “artists” paint over train windows obstructing the view of customers who paid 4.50 Euros for reserved window seats…!) The Berlin Wall is an ideal (and rare) example of the positive impact graffiti can have on a structure.

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Graffiti as art on the Berlin Wall

In the U.S., unless a building is abandoned, in many cases an owner will expeditiously remove unwelcome graffiti. It sends a message that this behavior is not tolerated. In Europe, I fear that by not responding, the opposite message is being sent, potentially making the problem even more rampant. Europe is already buried under the weight of the blanket of graffiti everywhere you look.

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Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial’s gray blocks – covered in anti-graffiti coating

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin shows that on some large-scale projects, efforts are being taken to deter the graffiti scourge. The memorial is covered in anti-graffiti coating, and the gray color resists shadowing. I hope other civil engineering projects in Europe will follow suit with this defense against the graffiti that threatens the integrity of our treasured monuments.

I understand that property owners may be concerned the graffiti will just come back, and are hesitant to spend the money for removal for that reason. That is why the government needs to step in and make penalties far more severe for the defacement of private property. Perhaps then owners would be more inclined to respond, and “taggers” would be less inclined to repeat their bad behavior.

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How do you feel about the graffiti covering the landscape of Europe? Comment below!

 

Freeport, Bahamas Chill and Thrill!

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Adventure by ATV!

The (regrettably) last stop on our back-to-back cruise on the Pride was Freeport, Bahamas. With little to do at port other than visit a handful of overpriced shops, an adventure was in order instead! This combination thrilling ATV ride, chill-out botanical gardens visit, and brief, beer-enhanced beach break fit the bill perfectly!

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Sights and sounds to delight in

Claude Monet would have relished in the views of the gardens here. Many of the scenes I witnessed resembled the splash of the impressionist brush and would have been the perfect template for the next great Impressionist painting.

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Claude Monet would have approved

The botanical gardens provided a breathtaking array of not only plant life but wildlife. I enjoyed seeing more wildlife on this tour than most of the so-called “wildlife” tours I’ve signed up for in the past, and it was a very pleasant surprise! With my feathery friend and tour guide, I was basking in the beauty of the exotic plants, trees, and flowers as my ears delighted in the sounds of waterfalls, fountains, and singing birds.

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Getting back to your roots

Lush and lively were the botanical gardens, satisfying so many senses with the sights, sounds, and smells. It was a joy to explore, looking forward to what surprises could be found around every corner.

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The scent of these African flowers was intoxicating

I quickly realized why so many in the animal kingdom chose to call this place home. Deterred by a time limit on my tour from getting lost in the labyrinth, I contemplated how found it could feel to spend the day getting lost in there, surrounded by this natural wonderland.

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A bounty of beautiful birds

After frolicking in this fantastic natural wonder, it was time to explore the natural beauty of the Bahamas on four wheels! The ATVs were ready and waiting! I had never tried driving an ATV before, so admittedly I was apprehensive. But it was easy and I had a blast! The tour guides provided a sandbox opportunity to get used to the ATVs before we headed out onto bumpy ground, and I was completely comfortable after this tutorial.

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I went with the Army green!

We traversed bumpy dirt jungle roads on the way to the beach, my ATV navigating huge tree roots and rocks with the utmost conviction. Fending off whiplash, I reveled in the back road excitement and “backdoor” views. GoPro on my chest, I contemplated whether to edit the bouncy footage out of my video and decided that the rugged nature of the experience was paramount in conveying what the experience was like to my viewers. You can view the video below!

The beach break was the last stop, but with the beach swarmed with schoolchildren and cold, local brews beckoning at the bar, I settled on a beer break instead!

You can view my experiences of the day here!:

 

Stay tuned next for my series on Europe including the Baltic Sea cruise on Norwegian Breakaway and independent travel in Germany! Thanks for reading and hope you will join me again next time!

Princess Cays, Bahamas: a Hedonistic Retreat!

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Private Bungalows at Princess Cays

Princess Cays is irresistible, with a rainbow of boldly colorful bungalows, windswept palm trees, powdery sands, and brilliant aqua waters suitable for scuba or swim. It’s the ultimate hedonistic retreat! Princess Cays in the Bahamas is privately owned by Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruises, and you will find the stop only on these ships’ Caribbean itineraries. The private bungalows available for rent, and housing up to four people, are the perfect retreat from the crowds swarming the buffet and at the other end of the beach around the shops, party vibe, and live music.

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My playful pink paradise

With your bungalow rental, you receive four lounge chairs and a beach umbrella, lots of very satisfying snacks (allowing avoidance of the crowded buffet!) including a bounty of fresh fruit, vegetables and dip, and chips with salsa and guacamole, a cooler of sodas, a shower, and an air conditioned haven from the heat and/or rain. There’s also an electrical outlet for gaming and social media addicts (you know who you are!) Scuba gear and floats are also included if you are so inclined.

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In the shade of the palm trees life is good

Steps away from the beach, life is tough: having to decide whether to lounge around and soak in the sun on your private lounger, partake in the abundance of snacking delights in the cabana, or cool down in the crystal clear, soothing Bahamian waters. After a stroll to get the lay of the land, I did all three… three times!

If you can avoid the crowds in the area of the beach closest to the tender port, Princess Cays provides an extremely peaceful, relaxing experience. My perky pink cabana home for the day, it was paradise. It was an enviable escape, the perfect place for zen-like meditation, tranquility, and contemplation.

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More palm trees than people at this end of the beach

After not nearly enough time, it was time to return to the ship to head towards Freeport, Bahamas, completely relaxed, refreshed, and recharged in this perfectly peaceful place.

Want a tour? You can see it here:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored, and I receive no wage or salary!

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Next week: Freeport, Bahamas, followed by my trip to Europe with new, upgraded filming equipment in tow! Hope you can come along for the adventure!