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A Dream Garden in Falkenfels/ Bavaria

A dream garden in Falkenfels/Bavaria

Falkenfels is a small village in the Bayerischer Wald, half way between Regensburg and Straubing. Small it may be, but the village can presume of a castle, two churches and no less than five chapels.

My visit last week however was to discover  a dream garden, created by Marion Ernst and her husband who have found their vocation when they decided to leave city life in Munich behind and move to the country. What started as tremendous work to restore an old farm house and turning a neglected pasture around it into a fabulous garden, has developed into a business where Marion is creating measure made gardens to others who heard about hers.

Once I had negotiated the winding country roads from Straubing, I saw the bell tower of a small baroque church peeking out of a riot of plants, colors and flowers right next to it. I heard a cheerful welcome at the sound of my taxi and knew, I had arrived at gartentraeume St. Johann. http://www.gartentraeume-me.de/mein_garten.html

Over coffee and home baked black current tart, enjoyed on a bench and table at the back of the house, Marion tells me the story.

There are actually two dwellings on the property. One, which is now the main building, was originally the house of the custodian of the church nearby. Another, much smaller house was used by the older generation to live in, sort of a granny flat. When Marion  and Ernst finally found their dream place in the country, both dwellings were derelict and the surrounding land nothing but a weed infested pasture.

13 years of work (and plenty of money) went into the creation of a garden paradise in a most unexpected location. Once the house was fit to live in, Marion turned her attention to creating a garden which suited the house and at the same time made use of the natural vegetation of the surrounding Bayerischer Wald. Fir trees, pine trees, grasses, lilies, wild roses, wild flowers, hydrangea, berries and bushes are the main components of the various sections of the garden. Nothing fancy, nothing too constructed was the basic idea.

Decorative elements like a pond and several statues alternate with a small apple orchard, kitchen garden and meadow, interspersed with many place to sit and read or rest because according to Marion, a garden isn’t just a pretty place to look at from your living room window but a space to actually live in, at all seasons.

What I most admired is that Marion is self taught. A print engineer by trade and an enthusiastic choir singer, she learned by trial and error although, after she created her garden design business, she attended a course in garden design.

Once her garden was planted, her singing teacher persuade her to arrange for a matinee and concert in her house and garden. Everybody came and was so impressed that many wanted a garden just like hers.

Marion’s fame and reputation grows, her garden has been featured in magazines and on local TV. Clients have to be patient though because her priority is to know them well, their tastes and characters, the outlay of their house and she treats every assignment as if it were her own garden.

The place was once a Celtic cult site and she is convinced that the energy persists. I could well believe her, enjoying two days of peace, calm and utter beauty in the middle of the Bayerischer Wald.

MOXY – Munich airports funkiest hotel

MOXY – Munich Airport’s funkiest hotel

Sometimes, you get really pleasant surprises. Last week I needed a hotel for just one night as close as possible to Munich Airport.

More or less by chance I happened upon the MOXY. Close it is, at €48 per night for a single room it was well within budget, it seemed quite modern, so, what could go wrong?

In fact…nothing. Very much the opposite. Funky is the word for this modern hotel with the color scheme purple. A shuttle bus (from arrivals, bus stop 6) takes you there in about 10 minutes.

Check in and reception is not your usual desk, it’s part of the bar. Helpfully a sign in from says Check in, so you know you are in the right place.

None of the staff in sight can be much over 30, I think. I love young people , not old stuffy concierges who often think they are more distinguished than the guests.

At that price, I expected a rather small room, but to my surprise it was big. Comfortable queen size bed, desk, massive TV, arm chair and a stool to put your suitcase so you don’t need to open it on the floor. No mini bar though.

Even better the bathroom. More ample than expected and, best of all, big shelves to line up your toiletries. Even 5star hotels often have not enough room for that so you have to scrabble about in your bag to find your eyelines. Not so in the Moxy.

The bar serves coffee, tea and drinks, otherwise you help yourself from the shelves alongside and pay at the bar. They make one hot meal per day in the evening, otherwise you can have sandwiches but the choice is small and I didn’t find them tasty and quite dry.

But you aren’t at the Moxy for gourmet food. There is a gym, plenty of seating , but you have to be connected to their wifi which is free but only good for 24hours and tends to go on and off.

I love the décor! Purple neon lights, photographs, scultptures and other art to enjoy.

All in all, if I need a hotel at Munich Airport again in future, I know where to go.


Castles in the sand in Jordan

My trip to Jordan was only for four days and already a few years ago, but it’s definitely on my agenda for a return visit. I didn’t have a chance to send the night in Wadi Rum, but, thanks to my driver, I got to see sights I wouldn’t otherwise have known about. In particular…castles. Due to the limited time, I didn’t even see them all.

Jordan is one of the countries that absolutely cry out for another visit, or, if you can only go once, you can easily spend two weeks. It’s so incredibly full of a variety of sights and things to do, from visiting such breathtaking world famous sites like Petra, to exploring Amman, to floating in the Dead Sea,  to  water sports and diving in Aqaba, to camping in the wilderness of Wadi Rum to… do I have to say more?

This time around I didn’t even get to see the Desert Castles which really aren’t castles at all but a conglomerate of scattered pavilions, baths and  caravanserais  to be found all over the black basalt desert east of Amman. These isolated buildings were once part of a cultural and trade center of the Umayyads (661 – 750 AD) Muslim Arabs who transformed the fringes of the desert into well watered settlements and are widely regarded as representatives of early Islamic art. A visit there is a full day trip, but my trusted Hani wanted me to have a look at at least two castles in the sand which were on our way.

One was Ajlun castle which stands atop Jabal , approx. 30 minutes drive from Jaresh. It’s an Islamic fortress which was built in 1184 to defend against the crusaders and is surrounded by a deep fosse. The castle has seen history and battles and suffered from two major earthquakes in 1837 and 1927 but has undergone restoration which continues.

Aljun castle

A closer view

The ‘split’ tower

Climbing around and up the corner tower affords splendid views of the valley below. I just loved the interior, where you can visit a small museum which interesting exhibits, like the huge rock canon balls. The castle is just such an unexpected sight when it suddenly looms up on its hill after your round a bend on the road from Jaresh.

They crossed our road.

Imagine being hit by one of them!!!

The next castle Hani took me to was Shoback castle on the way to the Dead Sea on my third day in Jordan. Shoback castle, built in 1115 is a crusader castle and remarkable because of its round towers which show the  influence of Armenian architecture. This is truly a castle in the sand as it rises high above the desert highway and is as unexpected a sight as Ajlun castle.

Another impressive castle

No travel in Jordan without a coffee break

My driver Hani

So, despite the limited time, I got my taste of Jordanian castles in the sand, but next time, I won’t miss the desert castles.

As a starting point for any trip around Jordan, a good hotel in Amman is a must.

A touch of Venice, a touch of Paris: Eskisehir/Turkey

Although I have lived and traveled in Turkey for some years now, I have to admit that I am not entirely free of prejudices. The word ‘Anatolia’ did certainly not evoke images of utter culture and sophistication but rather of mountain villages, ancient stone houses and the lack of modern amenities. I have to thank a fellow passenger on my flight from Munich to Istanbul to correct that stupid cliché by telling me about the city of Eskisehir.

Had I known more, it should not have come as such a surprise though. For starters, Eskisehir, located more or less half way between Istanbul and Ankara, has a reputation which dates back to the times of the Orient Express. The rich, famous and elegant travelers of the beginning of the past century, made their way from London and Paris by way of the Orient Express to Istanbul. Then they changed from Sirkeci Gare, took the ferry across the Bosporus to the equally beautiful train station of Haydarpasa on the Asian side and continued their journey on the fabulous Bagdad railway. The next important stop was Eskisehir where they often spent the night. The elegance and culture they brought with them, rubbed off on the city.

As usual, I went by long distance coach from where I live on the Aegean Sea and arrived in the early morning, just as the sun was coming up. A few miles out, a huge, blue roofed castle caught my eyes, the sun reflecting off the tiles. It was clearly new and part of an amusement park which, on the spot, I decided to check out later, but Cinderella’s castle by the road set a fairy tale atmosphere before I had even reached my final destination.

A touch of Disneyworld too!

The bus terminal resembled more a small airport and I got my first impression of how clean this city is. Sweepers everywhere, removing the eternal cigarette butts as soon as they were dropped. (This is Turkey, mind, where everybody smokes). My friend and I decided to have breakfast in a lovely café in the terminal, at half the price we would have had to pay in the tourist centers of the coastal part of Turkey. Then, we made our way in an ultra  modern tramway to our hotel in the center of town.

After checking in, and not tired at all, we decided to go walk about and explore the city. Eskisehir is a university town and it shows because lots of students were around, not attending clases but rather enjoying the fine weather sitting in one of the many cafes and bistros which line one of the landmarks: a river which flows right through the middle. The river is not very wide, but crossed by many bridges with pastel colored railings, which brought about the comparison to Venice. In the summer you can take boat trips and yes, in Venetian gondolas!!!


Pretty at night too

Street art, one of many statues

Yet again, clean and even pavements, flower beds, trees and street art in the form of countless gilded statues. The Parisian flair was enhanced not only by the cafes along the river but also by the many, many book shops interspersed between them. Outside the major cities it’s difficult to buy books in another language in Turkey, but here you can find Hemingway, Steinbeck and Shakespeare in the original as well as French and German classics, not to mention the latest in Turkish.

We loaded up on books and then sat down to have a gözleme, the delicious Turkish thin pancakes, filled with sweet or savory and did as the locals: people watch. What struck me was how utterly chic the women were. Many with blonde hair, wearing the latest fashion and high heels. Even the students didn’t look scruffy, leather jackets and designer jeans prevailed. We could easily have been in a miniature Paris instead of the middle of Anatolia.

To top it all, as far as culture is concerned, Eskisehir has an opera. We only stayed for three days, but next time I’ll certainly want to see a performance. It will be very interesting to watch the Turkish take on an Italian opera. It doesn’t always have to be ancient monuments or breath taking landscapes  which make a place attractive and worth a visit. It’s equally important to get a feel for a country by visiting a city which is tourist free and reflects every day life.







Getting Tipsy in Monchique/Algarve

I’ll reveal a little secret. I bet you have heard about Albufeira, Lagos and Faro when discussing Portugal’s beautiful Algarve. But, have you ever heard of Monchique and the beauty of the mountainous area as opposed to the beaches and wild coastline? Probably not and that’s why I’m taking you there.

A good starting point is Lagos from where you can take the N125 and then the N124 north which leads you through the volcanic mountain area right to Thermal Springs of Monchique. I however had the pleasure of staying in the beautiful Golf resort of Vale D’Oliveiras in Carvoreiro, half way between Lagos and Faro.

I hired a taxi to take me to Monchique and in view of my intention of tasting the famous Medronho liqueur this was a wise decision.

The thermal springs are very popular and have beneficial  properties for sufferers of rheuma  or asthma.

Monchique is also a place to see wonderful shops selling interesting things made from cork. Not only sandals, but also quite unique handbags. Like me, I’m sure no lady can pass on the opportunity to get a really special bag.

But, back to getting tipsy. Medronho is the name of a very potent liqueur only made here. It come from the lychee like fruit of the tree of the same name, also called strawberry or arbustus tree. It grows everywhere here, often intertwined with vines. Harvest time is in the fall, when the small berries are red and rather sweet. The resulting ‘schnaps’ is an acquired taste, because not only is it a strong alcoholic beverage, it also has a distinctive, strong smell. I have to say, that I didn’t particularly like it which saved me from getting tipsy, but if you like it, it goes down smoothly with the obvious effects.

Medronho Tree

There is however a variation called Melosa. That’s Medronho ‘watered ‘down with honey and particularly thought for ladies. I liked this one far better, but a little glass was enough.

If you feel like it, you can make your way on foot the the nearby highest elevation of the Algarve and enjoy a picnic with fantastic views over the coastline and as far as Faro on a clear day.

Certainly a side trip not to be missed on any visit to Portugal’s Algarve.

World travels of a chic granny