Author Archives: Jacinta Lodge

About Jacinta Lodge

Jacinta Lodge is an Australian expat located in Berlin, Germany. She is a freelance writer, freelance scientist, freelance embroiderer and freelance tourist, and thinks that life probably couldn’t get much better. When not kicking back in the world’s coolest city, she jaunts around Europe in a thirty year old VW bus in the company of a sarcasm-challenged German and a mongrel dog. As well as blogging here, she is a blogger on Berlin for PlanetEye.

The new breed of backpacker: The flashpacker

If you’ve been wandering the world for a while now you’ll have started to notice the changing trend of backpackers. These days the unshowered, subsistence-level travellers are hard to find and hostels have become home to backpackers in quality clothing and bristling with electronics. These are the new generation of backpackers: the Flashpackers.

geek charme by Giorgio Montersino
geek charme by Giorgio Montersino

With the changes in technology and their dramatic reduction in price, it isn’t surprising. Most people don’t go down to the shops without their phone and mp3 player – so why should larger trips be any different? Laptops are affordable and getting smaller and lighter while the original-style hostels, with sagging beds and peeling wallpaper have evolved into slick, serviced accomodation complete with wifi.

There seems to be a bit of confusion over what really defines a flashpacker. Are they just the traditional backpackers a bit more geared up? Or are they backpackers with a bigger budget, staying in hostels but able to afford restaurant dinners? Personally I consider them a bit of both and it definately describes me these days.

I travel with phone, laptop, iPod, a small point-and-shoot camera and a larger digital SLR. And, of course, all the charging devices. I twitter, blog, flickr and youtube my travels and enjoy doing it. I love having the gadgets with me -although I sometimes don’t love the weight of my backpack- and I love the way I experience my journeys with them. Far from removing me from the experience, I get more into it. More focused on the view in front of me and how I can capture it, more involved in the events and people so that I can describe them well enough in blog posts later.

So what about you? Are you a flashpacker, and if so what’s in your flashpack?

alone by Giorgio Montersino
alone by Giorgio Montersino

Cloud computing – a traveller’s best friend

Recently I suffered from a massive technological meltdown, right before I was leaving home on a three month trip. Due to one thing or another (primarily budget and the inability to decide if I should make the leap to Mac) I wound up departing without a laptop, something which would have caused me unending headaches if I hadn’t already made the change to cloud computing.

Fixed by Don Fulano
Fixed by Don Fulano

If you haven’t yet heard of this latest web phenomena here’s a very simplified run down: rather than working on your computer, you work on the internet, with your files hosted elsewhere and accessible over any internet connection from any connected computer.

My “cloud” of choice is the megalithic Google which offers Word-like documents, Excel-like spreadsheets and Powerpoint-like slideshows. You may share documents, collaborate with people simultaneously on them and even publicly publish them. It’s nice stuff to use – especially if you’re like me and more likely to open the browser than a word document. One less hurdle to overcome in turning off Desktop Tower Defense and knuckling down to work.

But the biggest benefit for me in the last few weeks has been the accessibility. From bookshops in Milan to hostels in Tokyo to a friend’s blackberry in Melbourne, I have been able to find documents, check contracts and get work done even though my own computer is on the other side of the world and in multiple pieces.

Cloud computing
Cloud Computing by selena marie
There are of course security issues to consider in how you use cloud computing. Think twice before putting really sensitive data into the system. We don’t yet know how secure and private these systems will prove to be and we may find ourselves data mined (in the best case) or completely electronically compromised (in the worst). Also consider backing up your data locally as well. Installing Google Gears on your computer will allow local copies to be kept and continually updated with the latest versions, as well as letting you continue working on your documents offline.

Cloud computing has worked out wonderfully for me so far. I don’t have to worry about which USB stick or external hard drive has the latest versions, nor do I get stuck at those annoying hotel/hostel/internet cafes which don’t allow you to insert external drives into their computers. I don’t have to worry if I have my data on me (or in which pocket I last had it) and if my laptop goes on the fritz while I’m stuck in Lucerne, I can work on uninterrupted on any internet connection available.

The Castles of Potsdam

When most visitors want to see castles in Germany they do a cruise of the Rhein, where turreted towers are perched on every other hill top overlooking the river thoroughfare. All too often, the summer castles of the Prussian kings in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, are overlooked.

Park Sanssouci houses numerous castles, grottos, temples and extensive parklands and all are within an easy train ride from central Berlin. The most famous is Berlin’s own miniature Versailles, the rococco-style Schloss Sanssouci which is built on a hill lined with terraces of vines. The view from below is beautiful. On the other side of the castle, where the road is, you can see across to the Ruinenberg, a hill with artificial Roman ruins. Because, in the time of Frederick the Great (1748), fake decayed buildings were cool.

Potsdam Sanssouci Palace by Wolfgang Staudt

Potsdam Sanssouci Palace by Wolfgang Staudt

The other big castle in the parklands is the Neue Palais (New Palace) which was built 1763-1769. This pink baroque edifice houses an amazing theatre and a grotto room smothered in seashells and shiny stones. Opposite the main castle are two matching buildings which housed the business side of royalty. Dinners cooked over there in the kitchens were rushed to the King’s halls through underground passageways.

The Orangerieschloss (Orangery Palace) is an Italian renaissance-style palace finished by Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The same king managed to bring fountains to play in the park. Orangeries are buildings created for keeping citrus fruits alive in the cold winters, and are generally large, long buildings lined with shuttered windows that face south. In keeping with the name, the Orangerieschloss has one.
Many other buildings are spread throughout the grounds. An egyptian obelisk marks one of the exits to the park, while the Neptune grotto, having undergone many differnt restorations in centuries past, now lacks the golden Venus that was there pre WWII.

Getting to Potsdam from central Berlin is easy with the S1 or S7 S-bahn lines, although you will have to buy a ticket covering zones A,B and C. Get bus 695 from the Potsdam central train station and it will drop you at Schloss Sanssouci. From here you can start discovering the beauty of the park.

Tips for What to Do in Germany

We’ve lots of travel tips for what to do in Germany.

Stalin World

It’s a memorial park with a difference. GrÅ«to Parkas, located near Druskininkai in the south west corner of Lithuania, hit the media when it opened it’s display of decommissioned Soviet-era statues and garnering the sound-bite nickname Stalin World. It even won the 2001 IgNobel Prize for Peace.

In the re-establishment of Lithuanian Independence following the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc in 1989, symbols of Soviet rule were systematically removed. Statues were torn down and left to rot in junk yards around the country. However in 1998 a canned mushroom tycoon gathered these together and established Grūto Parkas as part historical, part art and part tourist attraction.

It is an almost disturbingly pleasant atmosphere in the park. Pleasant pathways wind through the forested area, speakers pipe tinny propaganda music and green clearings scattered throughout are now home to the representations of some arguably horrible people. A museum houses documents and films which cover the history and brutality of the era and the suffering of the Lithuanian people while outside Lenin stands, arm raised, on the banks of a pretty river.

GrÅ«to Parkas is worth a visit if you are in the area. It’s five kilometres outside Druskininkai and you can get there by bus as it lies on the Vilnius-Druskininkai route which runs several times a day. Ask the bus driver and he will let you off, but it is still a kilometre walk down a small road to get to the park itself. Entry is 15 Lita (around 4.50€) and an audio guide will cost an extra 40 Lita (11.50€).

Paris greeters

What better way to get to know a city than to be shown around by someone who genuinely loves living there? That’s the idea behind the Paris Greeters.

Paris - Quai de Seine by Panoramas
Paris – Quai de Seine by Panoramas

Paris greeters are volunteers who adore their city and love showing it off to visitors. They’ll offer you walking tours of their favourite sights or areas, showing off the architecture or the history. Greeters will take groups of up to six people (including children) on a relaxed, friendly and above all personal journey through the streets of Paris. This is a new face for the city renowned for it’s distaste for foreign tourists.

Booking a greeter is easy through their webpage. Simply fill out a form at least two weeks before you are due to arrive and the organisers will attempt to match you with a guide.  While on the tour you will be responsible for paying your greeters and your own public transport costs.

The greeters themselves do not accept payment or tips, however the organisation behind it does and will happily take donations to keep the concept running. It is a wonderful chance to see the French capital through the eyes of a local while not forking out for a tour with a large group doing the usual tourist traps with a blasé guide.

More Paris Tips

Paris is in Europe a la Carte’s top ten European cities to visit. Read our “Best of Paris Tips” to help you plan your visit to this lovely city.

Click here for the lowest prices on Paris hotels

Aquileia: Roman ruins away from the hordes

One could say there’s a lot to see in Italy, but that would be an understatement. There are enough ruins and Romans, art and archaeology to send you into historical overload. Many travellers think that they have to hit the major metropoles to witness the grandeur of fallen empires, but that isn’t the case.

Aquileia is a small town dominated by its Roman history. Located in the far north-east of Italy, halfway between Venice and the Slovenian border, Aquileia was founded in 180BC as a garrison town, but quickly became a city of major importance in trade.

These days it is tiny enough to be easily overlooked on any map and it’s biggest attraction is the Basilica with a magnificent fourth century Roman mosaic floor.

The floor was found only recently. Over centuries of use and modernisations, the floor had been covered and it wasn’t until restoration work last century that the forgotten mosaic was rediscovered. Thanks to it’s centuries of protective covering, the mosaic is as vibrant and intact as it had been all those years ago. Newly constructed glass walkways allow you to wander above it and wonder.

Mosaic floor of the Aquileia Basilica by Roman Hillig
Mosaic floor of the Aquileia Basilica

Within the Basilica are also a number of apses and crypts worth checking out. The Critpa degli Affresci contains twelfth century murals including a somewhat graphic decapitation and a number of bone reliquaries, with skulls and hip bones decked, with questionable fashion sense, in sequins and lace. The Cripta degli Scavi (crypt of excavations) is where archaeological digs are uncovering layers of remains of buildings, from original parts of the Basilica down to the layers of original Roman buildings with their mosaics and canalization and the whole area pierced through by the foundations of the bell tower.

Cripta degli Affreschi by orsorama
Cripta degli Affreschi by orsorama

Aquileia contains many other ruins. A forum, the harbour, an amphitheatre and a necropolis are scattered through the little town. While only about fifty kilometres from Venice, Aquileia doesn’t suffer the hordes of camera toting tourists the large cities do yet contains enough history to keep you occupied for a pleasant day’s history hunting.

Getting up the Gumption

I hope you’ll excuse me, but I’d like to delve slightly away from the practicalities of travel for this post and onto a bit more of the philosophy. Or perhaps the psychology of it.

Right now I’m slowly getting organised for a trip to Japan. This is my first real journey to Asia, a surprising and somewhat embarrassing admission for an Australian to make. In my decade in Europe I’ve tended to save the really large money and vacation time for visiting home, meaning that Asia has currently been left behind in my explorations. In working out what I’m going to be doing and where I’m going to go I’ve come to a disappointing conclusion: I’m not as fearless as I used to be.

i think she knows by Unfurled
i think she knows by Unfurled

Amanda commented on a previous post that Europe is easy, and to a large extent she is right. You can get by with English almost anywhere and the cultures aren’t that different, no matter how much the locals insist they don’t quite “get” their national neighbours. With Asia facing me I’m falling back to the feelings I had before I left Australia for the first time. Uncertain. Slightly overwhelmed. And a little scared.

Back then I was a fresh Uni graduate, eager and excited to backpack around the world, but even in my youthful daring I had moments of anxiety. One of those hit when I was talking to a friend.

“But what if I get robbed in Amsterdam?” I had asked, waving my hands in a slightly panicky, but in hindsight mostly foppish, manner. “What if I lose all my money, my passport, my tickets? What will I do?”

This friend looked at me calmly and said, simply,

“You’ll cope.”

That was the best advice I have ever received. Those two words have gotten me through a lot in life, from serious problems to life’s little catastrophes. There’s really nothing to stop me dealing with whatever situation I wind up in – nothing except myself. So whenever I start to get worried about standing on the train platform of a provincial town in a country where I can’t even begin to grasp the signs let alone communicate with people, I just remind myself:

“You know what? I’ll cope.”

Dont Panic Badge by JL2003
Don’t Panic Badge by JL2003

Eventful: getting the low-down on what’s happening where you’re going

At the risk of becoming the geeky web girl of the blog, I wanted to point you towards another great free online tool: Eventful. I found this when getting to know TripIt, the travel organising site, and I have fallen in love. Eventful is simple, quick and gives you the information on current events that your two-year-old guidebook can’t.

Without signing up you can use the page by putting your location into the drop down window under the Eventful logo in the top left corner. Don’t put it in the search box on the right side. The search box searches for events, performers, venues or users but not destinations.  Signing up gives you some more options.

Irish Dancers by ronnie44052
Irish Dancers by ronnie44052

Events are categorised for easy searching, so if you aren’t a band buff finding the entries on gallery openings means you don’t have to scroll through the heavy metal. The database is built upon user content, partners and web searches. It isn’t exhaustive and tends to have a lot more information on the larger cities, as you’d expect.

destinations events, which then get sent out to me weekly, most useful so far. If you wish to spare your inbox, you can define preferred locations and they will appear in a short list under the location drop-down window. There is also the increasingly-more-required social media aspect to be found under the community tab.

A lot of what the website offers in terms of searching and sorting is more geared towards people staying in a single location. However the ability to quickly and easily get a list of what’s going on in a particular city -without having to work out what the local event magazine is and get a grip on the language- is fantastically useful for travelers.

Save on extended travel in Germany with a BahnCard

If you’re planning on spending a significant amount of time in Germany and traveling around a bit, it may be worthwhile getting a rail card (BahnCard). This card is valid for a year and will give you a discount of either 25%, 50% or 100% off the ticket price.

I can wait by malias

I can wait by malias

The BahnCard 25 costs 55€ for second class (110€ for first class) and starts saving you money if you spend over 200€ a year on rail travel. The BahnCard 50 is 220€ or 440€ for second or first class, respectively, while the BahnCard 100 – at 3500€ for second class – I think we can ignore as not being particularly appropriate for the casual tourist.

These cards only give you the respective discounts on the ticket price. This means that you will still have to pay the extra few euros to reserve a seat, something I heartily recommend if you are traveling major routes (eg. Berlin – Frankfurt) at peak times. By which I mean Friday nights – forget about getting on one of those trains without a seat reservation on a Friday night. It’s squished standing room only, and that for 5 hours. Not fun. Berlin to Frankfurt will normally cost you around 100€ each way, so the BahnCard 50 will start paying itself off after only two return journeys of that length.

Buying the BahnCard is a bit complicated online as the shop portion of the Deutsche Bahn website is only in German. However the Reisezentrum (Travel Center) in the larger train stations will organise one for you. One word of warning: the BahnCard will be automatically renewed after one year if you do not cancel that in writing at least six weeks before the expiry date.

If your needs aren’t that extensive, there are other discount offers on the German rail network: Happy Weekend Tickets and Länder-tickets (~27€ for five people for one day in a single German state) offer cheap group fares, while the Saving fares give 25% or 50% discounts on return fares under specific conditions.

Bayeux: tapestry and war

It’s a cute little town on the Normandy coast, but there are really only two reasons for visiting Bayeux – its proximity to the D-Day beaches and the Bayeux Tapestry.

Bayeux 15-10-2005 17h11 by Panoramas

Bayeux 15-10-2005 17h11 by Panoramas

The WWII sites are fodder for a much bigger and encompassing post, so I wanted to focus this one on that other war: the 1066 Battle of Hastings, picked out in vibrant threads on a millenium old cloth.

The tapestry is on display in the Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux which is in an old seminary in the town centre. Entry for adults is 7.70€ and includes an audio guide.

A full 70 metres long, the tapestry tells the story of Harold II and William the Conqueror. The earliest record of it is 1476, although it is commonly believed to have been commissioned by William’s brother which would put it at almost one thousand years old. It was a visual record of the Norman conquest and could be rolled out for the illiterate public of the time to see.

P3240031 by Webjan

P3240031 by Webjan

In the museum it is hanging vertically in a dim room. The audio guide will take you along it, telling the story the embroidery depicts, but at a rapid pace, completing the entire length in twenty minutes. It pays to go back along it again, taking your time and really looking at the details. Halley’s comet, exposed genitalia, decapitated Saxons. The colours of the thousand year old thread are brighter than most in my wardrobe after six months and the detail, especially of the final battle, is impressive. Pictures really do not do it justice.

Now I’m aware most people would respond with “embroideryschmoidery boooring” and, even as someone who embroiders, I felt that way before seeing it. But it is more imposing than the usual museum wall hanging, with a solemn majesty that I last felt when I saw the Book of Kells. You may not want to base an entire trip on just visiting this but if you’re visiting the Normandy coast it is well worth an hour or so of your time.