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Antalya – an exciting winter destination

Antalya on the Mediterranean right in the center of what is often referred to as the Turkish Rivierais an exciting winter destination too.
I’m on a series of recommending destinations to you where the climate is warmer, even in the deepest winter months. Average is about 15C, but it might rain some in November, December and January. But never below zero and no snow.
The city on the Mediterranean is worth a visit not only because of the sights and atmosphere but also because of the many and diverse attractions which can be found nearby. More about those later.
In summer, the place is jumping with tourists because of the pristine and long beaches and resorts in and near Antalya. The most famous are Konyaalti Beach, Lara Beach and Portakal Beach.

Konyaalti Beach
Konyaalti Beach

In winter, things change dramatically. Antalya is populated by the locals and long term residents, who wander along at leisure in the small streets of Kaleici, the old part of town. They love to hang out in the many cafes, where heaters, cushions and blankets are available should you feel a bit chilly.

Cafe in Kaleici
Cafe in Kaleici
Cafe owners and guests
Cafe owners and guests

And they are a sociable people, who will talk to any stranger in their midst and you get to hear amazing stories.
The beaches are empty but lovely to walk along and shopping is also a pleasure because neither the modern malls nor the small shops are crowded and prices are sometimes lower than during the mad tourist season of summer. Then make you way to the harbur for another nice sight.

Antalya Marina
Antalya Marina

Antalya itself does not have that many historical buildings, except the Hadrian Arch Clock Tower and the landmark of the city, the 13th century Yivli Mosque. Ride along in the tramway which curiously comes from Nuremberg/Germany for the best (and cheapest) city sightseeing tour.

Clocktower
Clocktower
Hadrian Gate
Hadrian Gate

My personal favorite, given my great love for history and antiquity in particular, is the outstanding Archaeology Museum, one of the best in Turkey. Not only are the exhibits breath taking, it’s also the way they are displayed. In rooms painted dark red or green, the white statues seem to come to life, even if they are missing a head.

artemis

There is even a kids’ room for the little ones to understand history.

Kids' room
Kids’ room

For further details, look at my story Alone with the Gods In Antalya.
And now we come to the attractions which will keep you busy and entertained outside Antalya.

 

Head 80km SW to Cirali and Olympos and experience the phenomenon of chimera, an entire mountain side where eternal flames come out of the rock day and night.

flame2

My waiter/driver preparing for koefte
My waiter/driver preparing for koefte

The scientific explanation is natural gas, but the legend of Bellerophon killing the monster Chimera and escaping on his horse Pegasus is much more enticing.
You’ll also find colorful tree houses and a delightful rural environment, so much quieter in winter than in summer.

tree3

treehouses

A work of art along the way
A work of art along the way

Head in the other direction and enjoy the park and waterfalls of Duden.

 

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glass
I have visited Antalya in summer and in winter but I much prefer the winter months, going even further afield to Kas, where the real St. Nikolas comes from or the great amphitheatre of Perge.
I always stay at theDogan Hotel in Kaleici. It’s perfectly located to walking round Antalya and their friendly stuff will do anything to help you.

I love to explore using a private car and driver and on the last occasion this happened to be one of the waiters who was happy to earn a few extra bucks and in gratitude brought along his wife and a huge basket of food which was consumed heating the koefte over the flames of the chimera.
How much more immersed in local culture can you get?

Myra – where St. Nicholas really comes from

The 6th of December is a special day or rather night for kids in Germany. They spit shine their best pair of shoes and put them out during the night. Because that’s when St. Nicholas with his big sack passes bye and rewards the good ones with small gifts and sweets which he leaves in their shoes.
The bad ones get chunks of coal or even a birch rod. Naturally they wake up all excited to see what’s in store for them.
Santa or St. Nicholas? Legend and truth
The figures of Santa Claus or Santa and St. Nicholas somewhat blur, but where ever you look at this time of the year, you find stories about the ‘real’ Santa and his home in the small town of Rovaniemi in Lapland far up in the north of Finland. Santa is big, big business in Rovaniemi and people from all over the world flog there at Christmas to visit the Ho-Ho man in his long white beard and red coat, girded by a black belt over a well upholstered stomach. Not only kids, but adults alike are fascinated by the myth, legend , glitter and fairy tale accoutrements which surround Santa, his elves and reindeer.
What they might not realize is, that there is a very real person, the saint by the name of Nicholas who can lay claim to being the original Santa.

Icon of St. Nicholas
Icon of St. Nicholas

.Born in the 4th century, Nicholas of Myra was Greek and a bishop in Myra in Lycia which today is the town of Demre in Antalya province on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

The son of wealthy Greek parents who died of an epidemic when he was very young , Nicholas was brought up by his uncle, himself a bishop. He was a very conservative Christian and made his mark at the council of Nicea. What made him the revered saint he is to this day, were his good works and his reputation for secret gift giving. Because of that he became the model for Santa Claus and his feast day is the 6th of December.
The most well known story surrounding Saint Nicholas and his secret gift giving is the tale of a very poor man who had three daughters but no money for their dowry. This meant that they could not marry and would have been forced into prostitution, Nicholas heard of the man’s plight and , too modest to make a direct gift, secretly dropped three purses with gold coins at the man’s hovel. Some say, he dropped the purses through the chimney, another version is that the daughters had washed their stockings and hung them up to day over night, only to find a purse with gold coins in them the next day.
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of an astonishing variety of people and professions, i.e. sailors, merchants, thieves (!!!), archers, pawnbrokers and, of course, children.
Myra/Demre
Myra, also know as Demre is an ancient town in the province of Antalya in the south of Turkey. Severla civilizations, from Greeks and Romans to Byzantines and Ottomans have left their traces which make the place a history lovers dream.
In antiquity, a vast temple and sanctuary to the Goddess Artemis stood here, but earthquakes and the quest of Nicholas to erase all traces of paganism are the reason that not a single columns of the temple is left.
The Roman Theatre fared much better and can be admired today. What makes this site of ancient history even more spectacular are the Lydian tombs carved out of the rock which tower over the theatre. Today their color is that of rock, but originally they were painted bright red, yellow and blue. Just imagine what a sight it must have been, an entire mountainside a riot of color.

Tombs in Demre
Tombs in Demre

Then of course, there is the Basilica of St. Nicholas with his tomb although his remains have been transferred to Rome. As a Byzantine building, the mosaics of the floor and walls are remarkable.
At this time of year. Santa and Nicholas are present everywhere, but, luckily, beautiful Myra is there year around to be enjoyed and admired by any traveler who makes his way to this part of Turkey.

Find out more about St.Nicholas and Santa Claus.

Gingerbread Museums – a very special Christmas treat

 

 

Do you like gingerbread? Do you like to travel? Then why not combine the two by visiting these three fabulous museums in equally attractive locations in Europe?

Gingerbread evokes images of the Brother Grimm and their fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. The wicked witch lived in a gingerbread house deep in the wood, enticing kids to visit her with the sweet treat and with very evil intentions on her part.

You however, don’t run any dangers looking at the incredible works of art displayed in the museums. Houses, illuminated from the inside, some with moving parts no less, whole landscapes and much more. All decorated with ample icing, the rococo of bakery. It’s only your waistline which might be in peril if you buy and eat too many of the goodies on offer in the respective museum shops.

However, the location have so much more to offer than just the museum, that you might be able to walk off the surplus calories.

Here they are:

Gingerbread museum Goldapfel in Einsiedeln/Switzerland

The Goldapfel museum is a family run museums and shop. Not only does it display gingerbread houses but also explains the history of gingerbread production in Switzerland. You can see old forms, a shop from times gone by and actively take part in making thr edible art works. A paradise for kids and adults alike. https://www.museums.ch/org/en/Lebkuchenmuseum-Goldapfel

The romantic town of Einsiedeln is located approx. 7km from the southern end of Lake Zurich in the Alp river valley. It’s famous for its 10th century Benedictine Abbey and as a ski resort with a lot of activities during the Christmas season, including a Christmas market. And then, there is the elgant city of Zurich itself which invites to a spot of serious Christmas shopping.

Gingerbread museum in Torun/Poland

Torun is a medieval city in the north of Poland on the shores of the Vistula River. The medieval center is actually a World Heritage Site with the latgest number of gothic buildings in Poland. You can admire the cathedral, a castle and the Planetarium, which is of special interest because Torun is the birthplace of Copernicus.

And then, of course there is the gingerbread museum. Even more than in Einsiedeln, you can see and take part in all the activities involved in the making of gingerbread in the traditional Polish way.  https://www.pernikova-chaloupka.cz/tema/tema.phtml?id=1524&lng=2

Gingerbread museum in Prague/Czech Republic

Prague doesn’t need any introduction. You might plan to visit not only the many fabulous sights of Prague but also the world famous Christmas Market. No better way to round off the trip by paying a visit to the gingerbread museum. http://gingerbreadmuseum.cz/en/museum/

If you plan a trip over or before Christmas why not choose a theme not everybody would think of, so you can be the insiders to three beautiful locations and their special treat.

 

Often overlooked: Germany’s romantic Spreewald

 

When I ask people what their favorite destinations in Germany are, what inevitably comes up are: Schwarzwald, Rheinland or Bavaria. When I mention the Spreewald, more often than not I just get a blank stare. So, let’s put that right and I’ll tell you all about one of my favorites, the aforementioned Spreewald.

I must admit that I’m a bit biased. I was born and grew up in Berlin and many a weekend was spent on trip to explore the Spreewald. This was before unification, so only a small part was available to us, but now, so many years later the entire beauty of this water network and nature reserve is open for anyone to enjoy.

There couldn’t be a bigger contrast than that of Berlin and the Spreewald, only about 100km SE of Germany’s capital. The state of Brandenburg in which the Spreewald is located, is flat, sandy and famous for its vast Alder, Birch and Pine forests.

.Right in the middle lies a region which is cross crossed by an irrigation system consisting of more than 200 small canals. In between, towns and quaint villages, inhabited by the descendants of the original settlers which belonged to the Slavic tribes of Serbs and Wends.

They have preserved their language, clothes and customs to this day. Best known are the elaborate Spreewaldtrachten, women’s hats and richly embroidered dresses, still worn at special occasions.

ADN-ZB/ Illus
Spreewaldbäuerin um 1948

Of course, the main attraction is drifting along the canals in peace and quiet and admiring the trees along the shores, the traditional farms and haystacks and having a break in one of the many small restaurants, enjoying typical Spreewald fare such as sausages and pickled cucumbers.

You can either join a boat tour or, much more pleasant, just hire a kayak and happily paddle along on your own.

The further you penetrate into the canals, the quieter and more romantic it gets. Just make sure you get a good map when hiring your kayak in Luebbenau or Lehde to get a good map because it’s easy to get lost.

Take a look at what’s on offer in the Spreewald during the winter. https://www.spreewald.de/en/

But it’s not only the canals and rural atmosphere which make this UNESCO declared Biosphere Reserve to attractive. Museums and castles with fabulous gardens round out the picture. The best known is Castle Branitz, the landscaped garden of which is a UNISCEO Heritage Site. Enjoy the Renaissance castle of Luebben and if you are interested in history, you will delight in the Museum village of Stary Lud in Dissen. https://www.spreewald.de/en/spreewald-holiday/sights-of-the-spreewald/castles-in-the-spreewald/

Luebbenau is the largest town in the Spreewald and a good starting point for your Spreewald tour. You will probably come from Berlin, so you can either drive or take the train. It’s only a one hour journey to discover a different world from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

 

 

 

 

Awesome Canada-once visited, never forgotten

 

From thriving cities to nature parks, rivers, lakes, islands, waterfalls to prairies and glaciers, not to forget the First Nations’s culture and impressive art works, there is so much to do and see in Canada, that you should either opt for an extended visit or, like me, plan to return again and again.

Before embarking on your trip, make sure to get the correct Visum  Canada  depending on your nationality.

I’ll take you on a journey to my favorite places in Canada.

Quebec and Toronto

My first stop in Canada  was the lovely city of Quebec. You may be forgiven for thinking at first that you have landed in France instead of Canada. That’s because Quebec is the only province of the country where French is the first language and all signs are in French first, followed by English. Another reason is the distinct French flair of the narrow, winding streets in Old Quebec.  Bordered in the east by the mighty St. Lawrence stream which narrows in Quebec, huge cliffs rise up from sea level to the Quebec citadel below which the old part is located. Don’t miss a ride up or down in the funicular to admire the view and get a trinket of Inuit art in one of the many shops.

Other places to visit in Quebec city are one of the world’s most photographed hotels: Chateau Frontenac, the Aquarium de Quebec, the National Museum of Fine Art and, as a first experience for nature lovers, cross the suspension bridge over the Montmorency Falls, only 15 minutes away from downtown.

Toronto

I took the train for Quebec to Toronto which was a pleasant, scenic journey. The capital of Ontario, located on the Northern shore of Lake Ontario is the most populated city in Canada and a must see for lovers of architecture and history. Victorian Bay and Gable houses on Old Ontario alternate with the modern high-rises and developments along the waterfront. Go up to the restaurant on top of the CN Tower, visit the past in the distillery district and marvel at the somewhat weird structure of the Royal Ontario Museum. Nathan Phillips Square is the main square of Toronto, in winter graced with skating rinks. I went around with a knowledgeable  taxi driver who didn’t rest until we had found Toronto’s very own flatiron building.

Niagara Falls

Just some 130km from Toronto, you can’t miss out on the breathtaking sight of the Niagara Falls. It’s a town as well as the location of the falls, formed by the Niagara River. If instead from Toronto you come from the US side, you will have made use of the easy to use E-visums to comply with all the formalities.

You can get sprayed by a walk along the falls, visit the Skylon Observation deck or enjoy a Gorge Boat tour operated by the Canadian subsidiary of Hornblower Cruises.

From coast to coast

The first item on my bucket list for next years’ visit to Canada is the adventure of a lifetime: a cross country train ride from Toronto to Vancouver. VIA Rail Canada’s  flagship train runs for 4500kms, four nights and three days in comfortable sleepers to give you the best possible overview of Canada’s huge variety of landscapes. From prairies to the awesome peeks of the Rocky Mountains it passed through places with such enticing names as Sioux Lookout and Jasper. There is a stop over in Winnipeg including a city tour and another one in Jasper, where Canada’s largest park is located, The Jasper National Park. Of course, you can interrupt the journey and stay longer in any of the stops to explore more. Enjoy the passing scenery from your cabin or in the domed Skyline car.

Vancouver

Vancouver in British Columbia is an important sea port, shielded from the Pacific Ocean by Vancouver island.  A must seen in Vancouver, among other sites is Chinatown, the biggest Chinatown in Canada. For everybody interested in First Nation Culture, the best place to go is the Museum of Anthropology, and Inukshuk, a sculpture located at English Bay. You’ll be surprised by the lush vegetation, oleander, magnolia and other rather exotic plants and trees grow in abundance.

Depending on the time of year you visit, have a day on the beach on Vancouver island. But there is a lot more to Vancouver island than just beach on the Pacific Rim.  It’s divided by the Island Range with the highest peak being Golden Hinde. The western side of the island features and dense rainforest for you to explore and the vast Strathcoma Province Park even allows you to see a glacier, Comox Glacier. Pay attention, wildlife is ample and you might even have an encounter with a black bear.

From coast to coast, from north to south, Canada is a wonderland which will tempt you back time and again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World travels of a chic granny