As 2014 comes to a close it is time to look back over the year and to highlight some of my favorite photography. In 2014 I traveled less far-afield than during previous years but simultaneously spent more time familiarizing myself with the intimacies and breadth of texture present within Denmark. The image above is of the the Sand Buried Lighthouse, Rubjerg Knude, in North Jutland, Denmark. I’ve started this post with it because it embodies the spirit of this post; the re-discovery and excavation of memorable photos that might otherwise get lost beneath the persistent march of the sands of time. With this post I’ll be dusting away the sand and re-visiting highlights from a gorgeous year. I hope you enjoy the photos.…
One of my favorite things about Berlin is Museum Island. It embodies the type of cultural dedication to art and history that I wish all cities, cultures and nations shared and emulated. For those unfamiliar with it, it is essentially an island in the heart of Berlin which has a number of Berlin’s finest museums situated on it. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each has its own architecture, collections and focus.
This photo comes from the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) and is of one of my favorite marble statues. Not just favorite from the collection, but favorite among all of the various marbles I’ve seen around the world. There’s just a beauty and elegance to her that I find enchanting. The piece is titled the Seated Victoria, Throwing a Wreath and dates back to the early 1830s. The sculpture was carved by Christian Daniel Rauch.
If you make it to Berlin, definitely set aside a day or two to explore the island completely. There’s a lot to see and it is well worth the time!
Berlin is famous for a plethora of reasons. Of those one of the most well known is its character. It is a wild city of contrasts both within the city limits and when explored alongside greater Germany as a whole. In August I had the chance to re-visit one of Europe’s most famous cities. Instead of detailing the experience in words I’ve decided to mix it up a bit and to explore it through art and color. The photos in this post were taken at the various museums on Museum Island, at the Berlin Wall and Hackescher Markt Station.
These are only a limited slice of all Berlin has to offer. What are your own personal favorite parts of Berlin? Have anything I absolutely must visit next time I return to Berlin?
This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.
This week’s travel question is from Lindsay who asks,
Q. “Alex, why visit Denmark over England, France, Germany? Make your case.”
A. – That’s a difficult one! Over the last 10 months I’ve fallen in love thoroughly with Copenhagen, and the parts of Denmark I’ve seen. However, it’s a relatively small country and geographically fairly uniform. You won’t find the awe inspiring fjords, clifftop castles, or the soaring spires of the alps. What you will find are beautiful cities awash in vibrant colors which are populated by wonderful, friendly, happy and sincere people. As most of my time spent here in Denmark has been in the late fall/winter I’ve stayed on the island of Zealand where the capital city, Copenhagen is located. It will not be until later this spring that I have the opportunity to head to the mainland (Jutland) and the country’s many smaller islands to explore Denmark more completely.
The Danes have a rich history and heritage. Their flag is the oldest flag in the world. They were the launching point for the Viking explorers, raiders and conquerors that explored the globe and left a lasting mark everywhere they visited. More recently they have invested heavily in alternative technologies, education and culture. All of these elements come together to create a landscape that is distinctly Danish. Danish artists, architects, musicians, and intellectuals have been incredibly influential on the international stage for hundreds of years – an incredible accomplishment given Denmark’s small population and challenging geography. Each of these factors shapes and crafts the Danish experience and what you will find when you visit the country.
That said, I would not necessarily call Denmark an exclusive destination country. It is possible to visit England, France or Germany as the sole destination for a 2+ week trip and leave feeling like you still missed a lot. With Denmark I think you would find it to be a wonderful, rich, experience but one which might lack the diversity and fast-paced stimulation that you typically want out of a 2-3 week trip. I believe a good illustration of why this is the case is Copenhagen. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve fallen in love with the city. It is beautiful, it is charming, it feels cozy, and it has a lot to offer. However, it’s what I would call a 4 day or 8 week city. The primary tourist attractions in Copenhagen – Nyhavn, the Opera House, Tivoli, the Little Mermaid, Christiania, etc. – can be seen fairly easily over the course of 2-3 days. A week or a week and a half would be far too long for a casual visit. However, for those who have several weeks to spend and who want to immerse themselves in Copenhagen, the city has a lot to offer. Copenhagen has an amazing music scene, wonderful festivals, an incredible outdoor, park and BBQ lifestyle in the summer, charming coffee shops and a wealth of small stores and quirky side streets that draw you in and leave you hankering for more. In summer it is a wonderful cafe city with its ancient cobblestone streets, a young, gorgeous population, vibrantly painted multi-colored buildings, bikes everywhere, and a wealth of outdoor cafes. The city’s numerous canals and lakes also give it an Amsterdam-like feel, but in a uniquely Danish fashion.
So, to answer your question – I would suggest Denmark, but I would suggest it as part of a larger visit. Round trip flights to Copenhagen from Berlin, Germany can often be found for less than $70 USD. Flights from England and France are often only slightly more expensive making it hard to justify not including Copenhagen in an itinerary.
Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response? Let me know!
September 11th 2007 I caught a plane to Europe with a one way ticket and and the butterflies of uncertainty fluttering away in my chest. What followed was a three month trip that started in Scotland and wound its way down through Europe to Crete before looping back up to fly home from Athens on December 12th of that year. At the time I shot on a Canon Powershot G6. I was recently looking back through some of my old photos and decided to touch up the color on a few of the shots and re-post them. Here are 17 that made the cut. Enjoy!
Number 1 – Glencoe Valley, Scotland
Number 2 – Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
Number 3 – Unknown Scottish Waterfall, Scotland
Number 4 – Big Ben, London England
Number 5 – Neuschwanstein, Fussen Germany
Number 6 – Woods Near Neuschwanstein, Fussen Germany
Number 7 – Swan Lake near Neuschwanstein, Fussen Germany
Number 8 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Number 9 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Number 10 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Number 11 – Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Number 12 – Roman Cathedral, Rome Italy
Number 13 – San Marino Castle, San Marino
Number 14 – San Marino Castle, San Marino
Number 15 – Ponte Vecchio, Florence Italy
Number 16 – Cinque Terra, Vernazza Italy
Number 17 – Cinque Terra, Manarola Italy
Always fun going back through old photos and posts and remembering past adventures and magical places! I hope you enjoyed the shots!
As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been reading my Scandinavia trip posts, it was one heck of an adventure. One filled with great food, amazing natural scenery, beautiful cities, fantastic cultures, and wonderful people. I’d like to dedicate this post as a thank you and as a wonderful illustration of the value and power of social media as a way for coordinating meet-ups and maintaining international friendships.
While I met a lot of great people during my trip and will be keeping in touch with many of them, there are four in particular I owe a huge thank you to. They opened their homes, treated me to meals, introduced me to their culture, shared their friends and set aside large chunks of time to show me around their cities. The time spent with each was special and something I hope to reciprocate in the future.
Hildur and Sten – I’ve known Hildur for a number of years and met her initially while she was at Arizona State University getting her undergraduate degree. As school wrapped up and we graduated she headed back to Norway and settled in Oslo. Which worked out great, as Oslo was my gateway to Scandinavia and first real taste of Norwegian culture. Upon my arrival Hildur introduced me to her boyfriend Sten – an awesome guy who volunteered to give me the premier local’s walking tour of Oslo. Make sure to check out my blog posts from Oslo for an idea of what we covered during my visit. From Viking museums to Palatial parks we hit them all.
The two really made my time in Oslo special. They introduced me to a number of amazing local foods, taught me several park games, introduced me to a bunch of great people, and really shared a much better understanding of the city with me. They also hosted me in their guest room for the duration of my stay. Thank you!
Kevan – I met Kevan just under a year ago during my Central America trip. At the time he and another friend where in Mexico to celebrate the New Years. I rolled in to the hostel fresh off the bus from Guatemala, grabbed a beer and got to know everyone as the New Years festivities wound up. When Kevan noticed I was heading to Denmark/Copenhagen on Facebook he volunteered to show me around and set aside a day and a couple of evenings to introduce me to the town via a great walking tour, his group of friends and a fantastic tour of Copenhagen’s local watering holes.
A gracious and generous host, I really enjoyed the insights Kevan had to offer both into the history of the city, the local culture, and the general history of Denmark as a whole. It’s an amazing place populated by an incredible people and somewhere I’m eager to re-visit and explore in great depth. Believe it or not, I even learned a bit more about English as a result of our conversations. Thank you!
Philipp – Another friend from my Central America trip, I originally met Philipp in Playa del Carmen. We met at the hostel during my first visit when four of us teamed up to rent a car and then set out to snorkel Dos Ojos, visit Tulum and look for turtles in Akumal. With just over a day to properly explore Hamburg, Philipp stepped up and took me on a fantastic tour of the city. The walk was a real kick – from underground tunnels to old Nazi fortresses and golden sand beaches we covered a ton of ground and history. I was also introduced to a regional Germany drink I’d never had before and had the opportunity to dive into local German fare.
A great guide, he really went out of his way to show me around the city and share some of the more obscure elements of the city’s history with me. While I knew some of Hamburg’s history, I had no idea just how interesting a city it was, or how major a commercial player on the national scene. The tour was great, the food good and the company exceptional. Thank you!
While still possible, most of these connections would have been nearly impossible to maintain without modern technology and infrastructure. Without tools like facebook, IM and e-mail I probably would have all lost touch shortly after meeting. Instead, we’ve been able to maintain our friendships and connect when opportunity permits. That’s an incredible thing, and one I really value and relish.
Each of the four I mentioned in this post showed fantastic hospitality and kindness. They set a wonderful example and serve as a constant reminder for me, of how important it is to strive to pay-it-forward. To host, and help travelers and friends when the opportunity presents itself. It’s a wonderful reminder that the little things are sometimes some of the most powerful.
So, on a closing note – thank you all once again! I can’t wait to see when and where our paths cross next.
My hostel in Hamburg was a massive sprawling multi-story building that was clean and bustling with travelers. The rooms were a nice mixture of built in bunks and free standing beds. Unfortunately, the place was poorly equipped for the heat wave, which made sleep difficult and served as a solid motivator to get out and explore the city. Eager to explore, I set a time and place to connect with my friend Philipp whom I’d met during my previous trip in December of 2009. Philipp and I had gotten to know each other through the Hostel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico then struck out with two others in a rented car to explore Tulum, Dos Ojos and Akumal. As luck had it, he was an expert on Hamburg and volunteered to show me around. We met up in the hostel and I gave him a quick tour before we set out to see the city. Our first stop? The subway station! I always get a kick out of large subway stations. There’s something fun about entire tiny cities located underground, complete with fruit vendors, magazine shops, and even clothing stores. The station in Hamburg didn’t disappoint.
Our first stop dumped us out near the main river. After a quick 10 minute walk through a light rain we passed the old trading docks, the Landungsbrücken, complete with beautiful old carved buildings showcasing statuary highlighting various global destinations and their native cultures. As we wound around the buildings Philipp led me to an odd secondary building.
While old it looked fairly unremarkable. As we entered the oddly domed building, I paused to stare at the sign out front. As it turned out, the structure was actually a massive elevator building which dates back to 1911 and has 4 independently operated elevators. The Elb Tunnel is just under 100 years old and has allowed vehicular and pedestrian transit underneath the Elbe River far longer than I would have imagined. Each of the elevators is large enough for one small-medium sized car, which would drive in, and then be lowered hundreds of feet into the bottom of the chamber. Once there, the wooden doors open allowing the car access to one of two one-directional tunnels, just wide enough for a car’s wheels. Astonishingly the tunnel is still in active use. The nearly 1,400 foot long tunnel stretches underneath the river at a depth of around 80 feet.
As pedestrians we made our way down a long series of wrought iron stairs which wrapped around the inside edge of the circular building. In many ways it felt as though we were descending into a well. Especially given the river’s close proximity, just a few hundred feet away. As we wound down the stairs, the temperature dropped away. Where it had been fairly warm at the top, I was easily able to see my breath by the time we reached the bottom.
Once at the bottom I paused, still amazed by the narrow car elevators, the age of the entire undertaking, and the complexity of the process. From there Philipp and I made our way across through one of the tunnels, before catching the elevator back up to the surface on the south side of the Elb. Despite a light rain, we popped out, made our way to the river bank and took in an excellent view of Hamburg’s old city before making our way back to the north bank.
As we wound inland towards the city’s old town, the light misting quickly turned into a heavy rain. Luckily, we were both starving and dove into a small kebab shop right as the rain hit. Munching away contentedly on our chicken kebabs with ice cold cokes in our hands we relaxed and waited out the 15 minute rainstorm. From there, it was onward once again. This time back down along the river toward an area that had recently been re-claimed and re-developed. The architecture in the re-purposed wharf area was chic. Very modern buildings, many of which were obviously profoundly expensive and boasted what I can only assume to be the architectural designs of famous architects lined the path. As we walked Philipp explained the area’s recent real estate woes as well as the general development plan for the district. This included insights into their plan to build a brand new theater/opera house which had been fairly controversial. As he finished his explanation, we came upon a small building which had been designed to give people an idea of what was being built, including a miniature version of the opera house which you could stick your head up/into.
From there it was back towards the heart of the city, which took us along the remaining portions of the old warehouse district, the Speicherstadt. A fascinating area, it embodied the industrial revolution and looked like it was straight out of the 1800s with large brick warehouse buildings lining the canals and sporting a variety of windows and dock entrances. The whole area seemed movie-like, both in its uniform feel and interesting character.
As we wound along the canal we eventually cut in towards one of the major cathedrals. As it turned out the largest Cathedral nearby was St. Peter’s Cathedral. As we explored the inside, we noted signs mentioning that the spire was available for a visit. Eager for a commanding view of Hamburg’s old city we opted to pay the 1 Euro fee. Where we expected a fairly limited ascent through a winding stone stairway to the building’s roof, we were pleasantly surprised to find a brief landing which dumped us at the foot of a massive set of MC Escher-esque stairs. Excited to attain our view and reach the top we set upon the stairs, legs pumping furiously.
Only, to our surprise, every time we thought we were close to the top, the winding stairway ended and a new set began. This continued through several sets as the tower walls narrowed around us. The heat also started to increase noticeably. Apparently, a large, hollow copper structure without ventilation accrues significant heat, even when it’s fairly cool outside.
As we reached the last set of stairs they changed from traditional zig-zagging stairways to a large circular staircase that gradually narrowed as it climbed dizzily towards the top. Eventually, we reached the top of the stairs which dead-ended in a tiny trap door and small room which was barely large enough for the two of us. The tiny room put us somewhere near the very top of the spire, which I believe is around 430 feet tall.
The room had a series of small porthole windows, which offered a spectacular view of the city. As we looked out back towards the river we could see the Warehouse and Wharf district and the old harbor. From the other side we could see the city’s gorgeous, palatial looking City Hall. The view from one of the other portals offered a wonderful view of a large lake which sits immediately next to the old city and is connected by a large canal. Sweating, and nearly ready to faint from the heat, we rested briefly before balancing unsteadily on mushy legs and winding back down towards the base. The view and ascent had been a fun little adventure and was well worth our entrance price.
The town hall, or Hamburg Rathaus is a beautiful building which is both massive in size, noteworthy for the attention to detail, and excellent in its symmetry. It opens up on a large plaza, which is bordered on one side by a picturesque canal that connects to the Binnenalster or inner city Alster lake.
As we paused in the city square for pictures, I quickly noticed an amazing number of swans in the distance. Curious we made our way over to the canal, where I was shocked to see young children sitting (and feeding) a group of swans.
I must confess I maintain a rather low opinion of swans. In truth, while I find them beautiful, I also view them as unfriendly, mean-spirited, large, dangerous and in all likelihood, far better eating than company. Some of you may recall, that I’d already been chased off once while in Norway by three rather unfriendly swans. The swan I had encountered in Copenhagen had glared a bit, but largely ignored me, and so it was with some surprise that I greeted the tame friendliness of Hamburg’s swan army.
Veritable pets, the gaggle of …..does swans work in this case…were a pleasure to watch as they struggled for food, interacted with locals, and generally made a show of things. Before long, feet rested, Philipp opted to continue our exploration with a loop around Binnenalster before heading back to the harbor where he suggested we head to the beach. That’s right! I said beach. More than a bit intrigued we caught a ferry up the river, which wound along with the city on one side, and the region’s world class/massive dock-works along the other. The rocks were an incredible mass of cranes, vast cargo ships, dry docks and stacked containers.
The ferry deposited us at a small dock next to a small ship museum which had a variety of traditional sailing ships docked. We paused for a few quick photos before winding down and making our way around a corner, where sure enough, there was a long sand beach with a goodly number of people relaxing along it. Several swimming. As we settled in, I tossed my shirt aside and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Beautiful German women lounged on blankets all around us, as we begrudgingly watched an extremely drunk guy make an absolute wank of himself. Drunk beyond reason and only passingly being watched by his friends, he spent his time throwing sands at his friends, tackling them in the water, or lounging spread-eagle in a pair of wet boxers which did little to cover his manhood.
Eventually with the heat getting to us, we decided it was time to track down a quick beer, which we quickly located back at the original dock. Philipp suggested we grab a traditional snack – a slice of pickled herringtopped with a large pickle on a slice of bread – which was absolutely delicious. It was at this point that I was also introduced to Alsterwasser or lemonade beer. It was delicious and perfect for a hot summer day. Exhausted, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hostel where I’d take a long sweaty nap, before waking up and meeting a group of Russian girls. Before long we were sharing drinks, and decided to set out to catch the last game of the World Cup/explore the city. They made great company and we had a blast wandering the streets and enjoying the celebrations and festivities. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Philipp for serving as a fantastic tour guide and sharing his city with me. I absolutely loved it and learned a ton about the city, while catching a number of things I’d have otherwise missed.
This concludes my narrative posts about my Scandinavia/Germany/Ireland trip. After a delightful night out on the town, I wound down my trip with a rail ride to Nuremberg where I arrived late and caught a plane back to the US. My time in Hamburg was the perfect grand finale for what had been a positively amazing trip. Thank you to everyone who entertained me along the way, and thank you for letting me share it with you. Stay tuned! Argentina is next!
My final day in Copenhagen was a brief one. After a fantastic night spent exploring the city’s nightlife with Kevan and a few girls from the hostel I downed a hearty breakfast, showered, read for a while and then struck out for the train station. From there it was onto a fast train bound for Hamburg, Germany. As I boarded my train I couldn’t help but let out a slight sigh. My stay in Copenhagen and Denmark as a whole had been far too brief. With a grin, I mumbled under my breath “I’ll see you soon” before boarding.
Every trip has it’s own mini disasters. In truth, that’s part of the joy of travel. As it turned out the Denmark -> Germany leg of my trip would end up being my Scandinavia trip’s mini-nightmare. Unfortunately, there was a massive heatwave hitting the region. Not the “oh boy it’s hot” type, but rather a heat wave significant enough that the national media was covering it. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the small fact that the air conditioning on the fast train I was on was out. That posed a major problem since bullet trains are largely sealed and don’t have windows that open or secondary ventilation. The solution? Transfer us to an older train about halfway through which had an odd mixture of windows (lifesavers), strange compartments, a tacky lime green paint job, and rattled along at a grandfatherly pace. Sadly the train also seemed to pre-date air-conditioning.
The ride itself was brutal. Between the delays and slower pace of the older cars the 4 hour trip quickly turned into a 6.5 hour trip. On the positive side of things, we still got through. As it turned out the authorities were forced to cancel a large number of trains due to heat stroke concerns. I’d later learn that some 30+ people feinted from the heat. For my part, I sat as close to a window as I could manage, tried to read and baked slowly. I’d guess that the temperature in the cabin was in the neighborhood of 120+ degrees Fahrenheit with a high humidity rate. Even as an Arizonan/Phoenician it was almost too much for me to bear.
After an hour or two on the rails we pulled in to the harbor. There the train was carefully loaded onto a ferry and secured for the 45 minute trip across the bay to Germany. The ferry was massive (it swallowed a train whole after all) and afforded us all an opportunity to stock up on water, grab some food, dry off, and desperately try and lower our body temperatures. I grabbed two hot dogs, a coke, and a liter and a half of water before heading up to the sun deck. There I was greeted by the smell of fresh sea air, and a view of a haze filled bay, periodically decorated by the hulking forms of large ferries, tankers and transports. With book in hand I settled in and rested for the duration of the maritime segment of the trip. Then it was back into the train cars.
The rest of the trip was rugged. I befriended the German woman traveling with her two kids who had the seats across from me. Before long I an idea struck: to improve ventilation we could tie the doors open, which we did using her son’s shoe laces. It helped a bit, and made life bearable. From there we chatted a bit. She would periodically pause, listen to the announcements, and then translate them from German into English for me. Meanwhile apologetic and somewhat concerned crew members would make their way through the car, checking to make sure everyone was ok, responding to questions and suggesting anyone feeling light headed head to the dining car for water. In typical form the Germans all took it stoically.
By the time I decided to seek out something cold I’d already burned through and sweated out most of my liter and a half of water. The salty hotdogs definitely hadn’t helped. As you might imagine, the dining car was already sold out of water and most of their sodas. The only thing they had left? Juice…but it was luke warm which was good enough for me.
The rest of the trip was dreadfully hot, soaking wet and uneventful. The good news is, I was definitely grateful when I eventually arrived in Hamburg. In the grand scheme of things, it was also probably fairly healthy. After all, don’t people pay good money for extended trips to ritzy saunas? Mine came with one hell of a view of the German countryside!