Weekend Wanderings: Berry Picking in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug

Now that autumn is on the horizon, we're rounding out towards the end of berry season. This may surprise you but last week, I spent an evening '

urban foraging

' with a pal here in Amsterdam and picked nearly a kilo of fresh blackberries! Most of them have now been devoured, plopped on top of ice cream or Greek yogurt, whipped into smoothies or frozen for later use. I'm thinking of making

these muffins

with the extra blackberries, so many delicious possibilities!

We headed to the nearby province of Utrecht for a Saturday adventure. The trip began with a visit to Huis Doorn, the estate of the German Keizer Willem II where he lived and eventually died, in exile, after WWI. We were especially curious to check out the historic property after our recent visit to

Berlin

.

After a (very long, very detailed) tour of the estate, my brain was begining to melt from two hours of listening to Dutch. We both needed some fresh air headed to the 

Utrechtse Heuvelrug

, a ridge of hills and forests spanning 6,000 hectors...and just happens to have a lot of blackberries too!

We wandered up and down the hills (yes, actual hills!) in and out of oak and pine trees with out anyone else in sight. I love the quiet serenity of being in the woods, its a nice break from dodging tourists on my bike in Amsterdam's buzzing city center (ha!). My soul needs to be near a city, isolation is not for me, but maybe my spirit would be keen on country life if my sweet chicken

Tallulah

could join me here in Holland! September has only just arrived and thankfully, the change in season (and much cooler weather) hasn't banished green leaves quite yet.

Drizzly weather enhanced the forest's rustic smell.

Don't you love the smell of rain? It's soothing, fresh and earthy.

Blackberries are my favorite berries of all and such a tasty snack. It's a lot more fun to pick them for free versus shelling out cash for over prices berries at the grocery store! Continuing with our recent berry picking trend, we plucked a lot of 

bramen a

long the way! My Dutchman was really getting into the flow of seeking out big, juicy berries, despite the prickly brambles. Eventually, we sought out a perfect sunny spot that seemed virtually untouched by other foragers and made away with almost another kilo of fresh, yummy berries. 

While living in the Chicago area as a little kid we had a sizable raspberry and blackberry bramble in the back yard and I remember picking and munching berries all summer. The thing is, I enjoy eating the fruits of my labor while picking so, I usually end up with very purple fingers, a full belly and a half empty fruit basket.

Oops

. All in a delicious days work!

Do you also enjoy picking your own fruit? Last autumn, a few of us went

apple picking

too!

If you have any suggestions for nice spots for urban foraging or 

zelf plukken

here in please share them! 

Around Berlin: Abandoned Ice Factory in Kreuzberg

Berlin is a "beautiful" city in it's own unique way. If you're a history nerd, there's no denying Berlin's role in shaping the last century and subsequently, it's absolutely fascinating. History is literally on every single corner. I like any place where wacky and weird is celebrated and Berlin's alternative vibe seems less untouched that it's comparative counterparts like Amsterdam and Paris.

During our long-weekend in Berlin, I wanted to wander the Kreuzberg area which is known as the ultimate alternative spot of the already very alternative city. Think funky cafes, abandoned urban architecture and counterculture squats and so on. But since we did this trip 'spontaneously' the day got away from us and we ended up drinking margaritas all night instead of continuing our urban exploring. No complaints there!

First things first, we checked out the East Side Gallery and then, we stopped for a drink at Yaam, a laid back, beach inspired bar along the Spree River and just next to the outdoor gallery.

East Side Gallery

Our first stop during our wander through Kreuzberg was a graffiti covered, abandoned factory which we spotted from the metro upon our arrival to this side of town. We wandered along the river Spree, through a patch of woods which was covered in rubbish and rats and stunk of urine, giving us some insight for what was ahead. What exactly was that you ask? Well, a squatters 'village' of tents and teepees and a sign declaring the one and only community rule: "No public masturbation." Good to know. 

Needless to say, we made out way past the not so friendly, tattooed campers/squatters quite quickly as they clearly weren't welcoming or interested in giving us some background info on the building. In fact, I felt really awkward wandering through what was basically someone's 'living room' like a wide eyed tourist. Technically this was public property but we definitely didn't fit in, good thing curiosity got the best of us. 

Moving on, we headed straight into the aforementioned abandoned factory and were in awe that a building which somehow survived two world wars has been left in such disrepair. Later, we learned from a local that this was in fact an Eisfabriek (ice factory) dating back to 1914! The building was still in use well into the 1990's.

Naturally, we headed inside to explore. There were remnants of old machinery in place, absolutely saturated in graffiti, and it was fascinating peak around. Have a look for yourself...

After carefully circling in and out of the massive halls, up and down the rickety stairs (while snapping a ton of photos) we found the rooftop which was filled with a variety of hipster groups with an expected arrogance. In one corner, guys with bikini tops and animal masks were getting a party started, across from them a photo shoot was taking place, further along a few kids were having a blast propelling rocks off the roof. We settled in the fourth corner to take in a view of the river and the Berlin Tower in the distance.

Given the rooftop views, I definitely understand why someone would want to hang out here or even take over the property. It's a prime location along the river, in an alternative but up and coming area of town. I just wish they'd preserve the heritage of this old building and keep some of the city's history alive. Coming from a city like Orlando where almost nothing is more than 40 years old I can't stress enough the importance of utilizing a city's history to encompass growing in a new direction.  If you're Berlin, definitely check it out while you can, who knows when the Eisfabriek will be turned into something else with far less character. 

Still curious? Read more about the abandoned Eisfabriek here and here.

.

Road Trip from Amsterdam to Berlin

A visit to Berlin has been on my list for ages, actually ever since I first moved to Amsterdam back in 2009. Time flies and too many things kept getting in the way. Thankfully, not this time!

We booked a hostel, packed up the car and headed east towards Berlin without much of a plan. I tried my best to be spontaneous (his way) instead of following a general plan (my way). basically drove me crazy, but hey, I tried.  In the end it was a good thing I had my secret backup list of fun things to do since random spontaneity doesn't always work out ("wait, that museum is closed today?! ha!) Research and planning are parts of what I love about traveling aside from actually taking the trip, duh.

I wouldn't consider Berlin a beautiful city (Amsterdam, you'll always have my heart). It's historic and industrial and well, interesting! The industrial sometimes dingy vibe mixed with history weaving in and out of every corner, is almost eerie at times. Berlin, I like you, quite a lot. 

Here are of my favorite Berlin bits and pieces...

Brandenburger Tor

 & 

Berliner Dom

It's almost overwhelming to see old pictures of the destruction around Berlin. I couldn't help but imagine 'what happened on this corner?' or imagine living there in the golden 1920s before things got

crazy. 

SLEEP

We stayed at the 

Amstel House Hostel

, a simple, clean and fun choice not only because it's named after

the river we boat on

so frequently but because the backpacker vibe was great and after seven-hours in the car 1.50 beers for happy hour couldn't have been better. When staying at hostels (in a private room, please) you always end up meeting other interesting travelers, it's a great way to socialize and pick up a few last minute travel tips! 

VISIT

DDR Museum

- A museum about, you guessed it, life in Eastern Germany.

Mauerpark Flea Market

- As recommended by many friends, this flea market kept us entertained with knick knacks and vintage goodies (a post of its own coming up soon!)

Wandering through Kreuzberg - A fun, random day filled with graffitied squats, the uber-touristy

East Side Gallery

, a mural covered chunk of The Wall.  We finished off with an evening of remarkably cheep tequila and massive, delicious burritos (more on that, later!)

The Berlin Wall Memorial

- Check out what remains of the wall around Bernauer Straße. This is where to go if you want to see real bits of the wall (as opposed to the East Side Gallery, above, that has only modern murals) Plus, there's an interesting open air exhibition on the growing division of the neighborhood. This is there area especially know for people literally jumping out of windows to escape to the western side. It's almost unbelievable.

EAT

Can I just say it once more? Berlin is so cheep! 

It's far less expensive than Amsterdam, which was great when we were there and quite disappointing to leave. Two lattes and four or five (big) pastries costs around 8 euros which is the equivalent to just a latte and a muffin here in Amsterdam. Sad.

We found a great bakery in our quiet neighborhood where we gorged on inexpensive pastries and lattes each morning before taking the metro to sight see. 

Needless to say, I've been eating salads a lot upon returning since my diet was about 99% pastries while in Germany and my new jeans are now a very tight squeeze. Oops!

Following an afternoon wandering around the Kruezberg area our final stop was

Santa Maria

for happy hour. What a great choice, we had so much fun! For real. Not only because there were plenty of 1euro tequila shots (and 4euro margaritas!) but also the stellar atmosphere and delicious food. 

If you plan to visit, definitely get there early, this place was packed. Friendly staff and even better food, what's better than that? I had a veggie burrito with black beans and pumpkin. Too bad we didn't make it there for Taco Tuesday cause I'd love to go back! 

If you like chocolate do yourself a favor and stop by the 

Ritter Sport

Chocoworld Shop

. It isn't far from Check Point Charlie, and a lot more fun that that dorky tourist trap. 

I brought home a big selection of flavors like strawberry-yogurt chocolate and my favorite dark chocolate mind and...cornflakes! Some might say I went a bit overboard but hey, they were a fraction of the price. You can also make your own chocolate bar but I opted not to for fear the summer heat would destroy it. 

Can you guess which ones are true to size? Ha!

As recommend by a friend and Berlin local, we wandered past the Rosa-Luxemburg Platz up to the Schönhauser Allee which is filled with (cheep!) food choices, in search of something tasty on our last evening. 

For dinner, we chose curry at a Vietnamese spot, 

Wraps and Rolls

, before heading down the street to 

White Trash Fast Food

(WTFF) for an evening of rock 'n' roll. A few tequila shots were had in the street, because hey, you can do that kind of thing in Berlin. In fact, one of the most exciting parties seemed to be taking place right outside of the liqueur store, ha!

White Trash Fast Food was a wild spot! Housed in a massive, old Chinese restaurant (complete with all authentic, wacky, old decor), this bar enlisted a rockabilly band upstairs and a DJ spinning downstairs right next to the in-house tattoo parlor. Yup, it was a feast for the senses. The (pricey) menu was full of great sounding Americana food like artichoke dip and giant burgers which would have probably been a great cure for my latest bout of homesickness but I was stuffed from that evenings mango curry.

That's all for now. Our long weekend was pretty action packed but it still seems like we hardly hit the surface. 

I'll share another post soon with some more snapshots from around the city. If you have any Berlin suggestions definitely let me know, I'd really like to go back again one day!

Visiting Nancy, France

This past summer, I toured the Alsase Lorraine region of France with my mom and two of her best friends who so graciously had us as guests on their canal boat.

During the trip, we cruised the canalsstopped in little cities along the way, and wandered the countryside.

We also spent a few days exploring Nancy by day and sipping red wine on the boat in the evenings. Here are a few snapshots plus, three things you may not have known about the city...

First, the Baroque architecture of Palais de Stanislas dates back more than 250 years. Today, this pedestrian square is a World Heritage Site.

Second, the city's famous local sweet treat, Bergamote de Nancy, are candies that taste a bit like earl grey tea (from the citrusy bergamot). A surprising discovery: these are also the bergamottes from one of my favorite films, Amelie!

Third, in the 1870s, my favorite art style, art nouveau, came alive right here in Nancy. Tres Magnifique! Unfortunately, the Musee de l'Ecole de Nancy wasn't open during our summer visit. Such a bummer! We had to settle for street views of art nouveau architecture which, was just fine with me.

Oh, and how darling is my mama? She is also a Nancy!

Weekend Wanderings: A Day in the Middle Ages

We chose a brisk, cloudy Saturday to venture out for a quick time warp. 

Our day of history led us all the way to the province of Noord-Brabant. After 3 trains and a ferry, we finally found ourselves at Loevestien Castle

In celebration of the castle's 651st year, organizers held a weekend-long medieval festival, complete with falconers, lute players and of course, a few knights on horseback. 

We wandered all around the castle grounds, caught glimpse of gorgeous owls and other birds of prey, enjoyed a few bock beers and even watched a jousting tournament! Sure, it's kind of nerdy, but I love discovering history and engaging with open-air museums and the like. 

Fun fact: Built to fortify the point where the provinces of Gelderland, Brabant and South Holland meet, this castle also happens to be where Hugo de Groot escaped from imprisonment.