Spreewald Kayaking

Having lived for four years so close to this wonderful UNESCO biosphere reserve, the Spreewald, we have come to adapt to some of the traditions of the lower Lusatian people, one of which is the yearly kayaking tour, where it is to be expected to paddle away for hours on end. This year’s excursion was extra special, as we have gathered the family to go out and challenge our upper bodies and, not to mention, our patience in this very exhausting but totally fun activity.

The Spreewald

Lit. Spree Forest – located about 100km outside of Berlin (south-east), it consists of countless small channels that makes kayaking so popular in this area.

Renting your boat

The are plenty of boat rentals in the town of Burg (Spreewald) and its neighbouring villages to choose from. It might be smart, though, to get a reservation especially if you’re in a group and you’d each like a boat of your own. Otherwise, it’s also possible to get one that can accommodate more people, from two up to five. Our rental place of choice was Spreewaldhafen Waldschlößchen. Online booking was easy and the boats were in good shape. We were a group of seven people (including one child), and we got three boats – two duos, one trio. Each boat came with a map of your possible routes with an estimated travel time. The boat handlers were also very helpful in giving tips where it’s best to eat and on how to  plan your tour.

Kayaks (day-rates): 1 trio 30,-€; 2 duos 25,-€ each

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If you even only slightly love nature and are able to stay composed when the occasional spider or dragonfly or whatever jumps on you, then you would definitely survive this place. I mean, it’s not like you can have much of an escape plan anyway if you’re stuck on a boat in the middle of the forest, right? Jumping out will only cause you much more trouble because these waters are not made for swimming – they’re muddy!

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Of course, you get to have a break. There are a few restaurants you may go to for big hearty meals, or even just a cold glass of beer. Pohlenz Schänke has been our go-to place for years. Quick tip: manage your time –  from 14:30 to 18:00, they are serving pancakes! Around here, they are called Hefeplins, a traditional Sorbian dish. They are much like your regular pancakes but they’re made with yeast, so they are thick and chewy and give you just the energy you need for a few more hours of kayaking. We got there a little too early so, instead, we ordered big plates of lunch and searched for another place along the way that serves these pancakes as well.

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Another tip: More like a warning; given the place’s history, these people have been living a pretty simple life and they do not want to see food go to waste! So finish your plate to keep the peace. Trust me, we’ve learned the hard way. 🙂

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I’m sure this is something we will still be doing in the coming years, even after leaving our humble town. It’s a fun activity with friends and family that will leave your muscles aching for days but it’s nonetheless a very relaxing getaway from the busy city. 🙂

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A few more tips for your trip:

  • Zip-lock those gadgets – or pretty much anything you wouldn’t want to get wet! Water splashing on you is simply inevitable.
  • Bring a light jacket – you’ll probably choose a perfectly sunny day for your trip, sure, but it still might get chilly out there, considering you’re on water, in the middle of a forest.
  • Anti-mosquito lotion – for obvious reasons
  • Wear something light, especially for your bottom – sitting in tight jeans might not be very comfortable after a few hours…
  • Your puppy is your best friend? Bring them! – You’re allowed to bring dogs onto your boat, just make sure they are not too scared of water and/or of other dogs that might come their way! You wouldn’t want them to rock the boat so much to the point that it flips!

Zadar, Croatia

The memory still makes me all warm and fuzzy. I had no clue what to expect from Croatia until I came up with the idea to go to Zadar. I knew instantly it was going to be our most exciting trip yet and now, just a few days after coming back from our 4-day trip, I can say it’s easily one of my favourite places on earth and we’ll surely be back pretty soon to explore more of the country.

What you should know about Zadar first hand is that it’s an up-and-coming major tourist spot in Europe. In fact, it was elected as this year’s best destination in Europe. Right now it’s still not over-crowded but it is pretty obvious that it is being developed for the large wave of tourism coming. Nevertheless, there is enough to see for a few days’ stay. I actually found it pretty incredible to not have seen a huge shopping mall right in the middle of town and also, no Starbucks! This is good, because then you get to explore more of what you can’t find back home. 🙂

May 5, 2016

We got up early only to find out our flight is delayed by about three hours so we took this time to go to the Irish pub in Berlin SXF airport (I know, it was only 9AM but there’s not much else to do in the tiny airport) and redeemed our 5,- € voucher c/o Ryanair. Good thing we didn’t really have anything planned for the day so we waited patiently and just let the hours pass. Upon arriving in Zadar, we were already stunned by the picturesque view of the mountains in the vicinity of the airport, then of the sea as we reached the city. We arrived at our Airbnb at around 3PM so we just bought some supplies before we hit the old town to walk around and watch the sunset by the Sea Organ.

The Boatmen of Zadar

The easiest way from our apartment to the old town is via boat. Luckily, there are the boatmen of Zadar that have been rowing their small boats for about 800 years now. This old tradition was passed on for generations and it’s why it is still around to this very day. It begins at this small lighthouse and he takes you to the other side, just a few steps away from the Sea Organ. They usually work until 9PM during this time of the year, and even until midnight during the summers. It was our perfect route to get home after sunset. However, if your place is not anywhere near the other side of town, I suggest to take the boat ride anyway for there is an amazing pancake bar you can go to, as well as some other good restaurants and wine bars. Another way to get to the old town is via the footbridge which lights up really nicely at night and it leads to the main gates of the town.

Boat ride (one-way): 4kn per person or a little more than 0,50 €
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Zadarski barkajoli
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The ice cream is optional.

Sea Organ

If you’ve even heard of Zadar in the first place, then it’s probably because of the Sea Organ. I mean, that’s how I learned about it. From here, you will see the most beautiful sunset, kissing the water and the mountains while listening to the soft hum of the Sea Organ and the crashing of the waves against it.

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People-watching

May 6, 2016

The main reason why we knew we had to rent a car is to go out of town and explore some more. And what is so conveniently located just a two-hour drive outside of Zadar is the largest and most amazing national park in all of Croatia, the Plitvice Lakes. It has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage register back in 1979 and it has been visited by many since then. It’s definitely a must-go for everyone who is able to walk a few miles but, I swear, it’s all worth it. All the pictures and videos I took did not do much justice to the whole scenery and one should just see it for themselves. We stayed for 5 hours including our lunch break. Most of the tour is just walking but you may also want to take the boat (included in entrance ticket) to get a nice view of the lakes and to get to the waterfalls easier. The climate in this part of Croatia is much different than in Zadar so my tip is to dress accordingly and expect some rain. Before we got there, my weather app told me there was going to be a thunderstorm that day but, fortunately, we did not see a drop of rain but the temperature was about 10°C lower than in Zadar at the time (about 13°C).

Entrance fee at Plitvice Lakes National Park (per person; adult/student): 110kn/80kn or ca. 15,- €/11,- €
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Unfortunately, this bridge was not accessible on the day we were there because it was flooded.
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There are a couple more waterfalls you will find in this park.

May 7, 2016

We had the whole morning to just walk around town to get some breakfast, souvenirs, and to send out some postcards before we headed for our half day sailing tour, which we had booked in advance. We were the only ones who booked the tour that afternoon (in a boat that can accommodate up to 8 people plus 1 skipper) but our skipper had a few apprentices over so we weren’t alone. He taught us some basics of sailing and took us to Preko, a small village in the island of Uglija, where he gave us an hour to explore or soak our feet in the water or just enjoy the view with some cocktails from the bar nearby. He then took us to Olive Island Marina where he showed us an old boat they bought to restore. It was gorgeous! The tour usually includes a snorkelling session but it was still too cold for that. Soon enough, our 5 hours were over and he took us to the marina that was right around the corner from our apartment so we wouldn’t have to walk too far. After that, we luckily still got the last slot for an hour-long Thai massage at probably the only place in all of Zadar that offers it (or at least it’s the only one we’ve found). We haven’t had a massage in a while and it just felt like we needed one badly.

Half-day sailing excursion (per person): 260kn or ca. 35,- €

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May 8, 2016

This was our last day to do anything because we were to fly back super early the next day. We spent it quietly by just shopping for the rest of the souvenirs we wanted to get, getting gelato, drinking cider by the sea organ at sunset, having another round of pancakes, and just breathing it all in. There’s just so much to love about Croatia and I really wonder why it’s not as popular as the first-few-that-come-into-your-mind-when-you-think-about-Europe. I already miss this place a lot.

Souvenirs

Like any tourist spot, Zadar is filled with many souvenir shops. There is also a small marketplace in front of the church of St. Donatus, where more souvenir items are sold. What one might notice quite easily are the small bags filled with dried lavender (they’re hard to miss because of the smell). They are a product of the island of Hvar. I bought a few of these for my mum and aunts. We also bought this ship-wheel clock for a little project I have for our new home.