An Instagram Day Trip from Berlin: Szczecin, Poland

We were so close to Poland… it was right across the border! I couldn’t resist the urge to try to get in. My first thought was Warsaw or Krakow, the two big Polish hubs most people are familiar with. But taking a train into these cities needed advanced booking in the summer, so we weren’t about to take our chances as we were on a tight schedule. Luckily, there was one train that would take us into Poland, just not exactly the town we were expecting. Early in the morning, we boarded a packed German train heading towards our final destination; Szczecin. Little did we know how entertaining this whole experience was going to be.

First Impressions:

You’ll get a good sense of the cultural difference between the Germans and the Polish just by hopping on one of the trains heading to Szczecin (pronounced “Schechin” by the way). The trains are packed with kids running around and parents trying to keep everyone together. There is a harsher, but almost warmer community aspect to the people of eastern Europe, and Poland kinda falls in the center.

We were under the assumption this train was going to take us all the way to the train station in Szczecin, but we knew we were going to have to stop at the border and probably have our passports checked…. ya, no. The train did stop at the border, but to our surprise, everyone, I’m talking 150+ people with kids, rushed out of the train car, ran full tilt towards this small train parked in front of us blowing its horn and we had no idea what was going on. So when you don’t know what to do, and everyone is running…. best to just follow the crowd! It was a good thing we did because we jumped onto the train car right as it was pulling away. About 30 min later on this small little polish train, we arrived in Szczecin.

The train station is small, but it has a few little bakeries where you can pick up some snacks! The best part of this whole little day excursion was being greeted by two smiling faces handing out free beers to anyone who walked by. They weren’t trying to sell you anything, not trying to promote, just handing out free ice cold Heineken’s. And that folks, is when we fell in love with Poland! We found out later that it wasn’t their regular Heineken. It was their non-alcoholic beer and it sure tricked us! We thought it was alcoholic beer the whole time which is a great sign! Heineken did well.

The best way to explore this town is by meandering with a loose goal in mind. Below are a few spots in the city that I found really pretty and might give you an idea of where you want to set off. I will say, half the fun is finding your own little gems, so wander as long and as far as Szczecin will take you.

The Harbor Front

We started by following the river upstream. The town is fairly small, so we were able to walk most of it. In the summer you’ll notice that Europe is busy with festivals and this remains true while in Poland.

When we visited Szczecin there was a fair along the river bank, and there were stalls along the streets offering delectable polish treats! If you’re interested in some cool photography shots, you’ll notice the industrial look of some parts of the river bank.

Walking the streets

If you head further inland, there are a myriad of authentic polish streets with old architecture, orthodox churches and graffiti all on one block.

This city has quaint little parks where you can just take a break from walking, but there are trams if your feet get tired. Although we personally didn’t take the trams, to learn more you should check out this blog from TraveLux. They have a great explanation on how to use the Szczecin tram system.

Szczecin Old Town

While you’re walking upriver from the train station, you’ve got to check out Old Town! The architecture of the buildings with all the bright colors are spectacular, and a great area for shopping and food. This isn’t the largest old town I’ve seen in Europe — it’s actually quite small — but it’s perfect for Instagram pics! While you’re in this neck of the woods, you should definitely check out the Szczecin history museum. Even if you’re not a big museum buff, going inside will give you some appreciation of the city. Understanding more about the location, the culture and the history gives travelers more insight and increased admiration for the area they’re visiting. Taking pictures is awesome, but not having context to those pictures can make the whole experience very shallow (trust me, I’m guilty of this)!

Walk by the Passport Office

Once you’ve visited Old Town and you’re still tracking the river northward, you’ll come to The National Museum in Szczecin and the Passport Office. These two buildings are stunning, and there are two great ways to take pictures of these places. Two places I, unfortunately, realized after the fact! But in my defense, these locations were also covered with fair equipment). The first step is to make it down onto the lawns in front of these buildings, and the other is to actually cross the river via the Labuda Bridge. On the other side of the river, there are beaches and a marina. Here you can take some great landscape shots. If you’re lucky there will be an event going on and they’ll have the old ships docked at the harbor!

Karłowicz Philharmonic Szczecin

This is another awesome spot to take pictures. In fact, it seems like this place was designed perfectly for an Instagram gallery. The modern architecture and the plain white background make for great shots. But I will tell you, it’s a little difficult to get just the right angle. You have to be on the other side of the street to truly capture the size of it. We only had a few hours so I never went inside, but the Karłowicz Philharmonic Szczecin is actually an Orchestra house.

City Park

If you wander far enough, you’ll also find a nifty city park near the Karłowicz Philharmonic. The park is actually concrete, but again, there’s some pretty cool architecture where you might be able to pick up some unique Instagram shots. There’s also a bronze angel standing as a reminder of the riots that took place in December of 1970. There were increases in food prices by 20-40% and the people began to protest. The protests were met with aggression and 1000’s were injured, 40 or so were killed. I’ve never been a big fan of taking Instagram selfies with memorials as I find it tends to be disrespectful, but I definitely recommend capturing the ominous beauty the angel omits looking over the square, remembering the impact that food deserts and poorly managed governments can have on communities.

For being a little polish town, there are a ton of treasured locations to photograph, fun summer events to participate in and free beer the second you step foot onto Polish soil…. I mean who can complain?


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Cologne in 48 Hours

Cologne is usually on everyone’s bucket list when they plan their trip to Germany. I would say it’s one of the top 3 cities people think of when they’re planning their itinerary; Berlin, Munich, Cologne. I’ve flown through Germany many times, stopped for a few days on business and kept moving, so this time I made sure I was going to visit Cologne.

Cologne is famous for its Christmas markets, but unfortunately, I wasn’t there over Christmas. Instead, I was there over the summer (during a heat wave), so my experience of this city wasn’t all twinkling lights in the snow.

Before you visit Cologne, here are some things you should know:

First Impressions:

I arrived in the city via train… probably should have rented a car for my Germany excursion… but that’s another post. If you don’t know anything about German trains, they’re usually fantastic! I’ve never been on a bad German train (except for one leaving Berlin into Poland). But trains allow you to get into a city and not have to worry about parking a car. So as long as you’re traveling light and you found accommodations close to the train station, you should be fine.

Cologne Train Station:

The Cologne train station is actually pretty awesome, especially if you’re only in the city for a few hours or a few days. If you’re in the city for a few hours, Cologne’s train station is very convenient. There’s a Starbucks where you can go and grab some free Wi-Fi so you can situate yourself on google maps, as well as a luggage locker for all your stuff if you don’t want to carry it around the city (I wouldn’t’ recommend it, there’s a lot of walking). There are also a ton of shops inside the station where you can either grab a quick bite, purchase some additional traveling gear or even shop for a nice new outfit. You’ll also find there are great information kiosks – so if you’re interested in those Euro rail passes or other package type deals, these kiosks are the places where you’d pick them up. The train station is conveniently located right in the city center, so it’s not a terrible walk to most hotels.

Cologne in the summer:

Keep in mind that Cologne can get very hot, and a lot of European hotels don’t have air conditioning. I can’t speak to the hostels or the 5-star hotels, but your average 3-4 star might be lacking that precious cool air. Also, note that summer in big German cities tends to mean lots of bees! As much as my husband and I love sitting outside drinking a cocktail in the warm summer breeze, in Cologne this meant being swarmed. In fact, I saw a poor young woman trying to just eat her meal outside and her hijab was covered in bees! So if you can eat inside, it might be better than trying to fight off these pests.

Must Sees:

If you ask a young German (a German who isn’t from Berlin), most of them will tell you that the city you need to visit is Cologne. That’s because it seems to be the party central of Germany. If you’re into drinking, staying out late and clubbing… Cologne has a lot of options for you. If you’re more the sightseeing and cultural traveler, then the following list has great options for you to check out:

The Cologne Cathedral

There are a few main highlights to a Cologne trip, and this is definitely the most famous. Luckily, if you take the train, the cathedral is directly outside the station… you can’t miss it! You’ll see a lot of people eating outside on the cathedral’s steps, or you’ll see hoards of tourists taking selfies in front of the masterfully built church, but inside there are some pretty cool finds as well. Inside there is the Dreikönigenschrein, it’s a golden shrine that apparently holds the remains of the biblical Magi.

Walk along the water

After checking out the cathedral, we grabbed a bite to eat at the Funkhaus Cafe-Bar-Restaurant and checked into our hotel. After dropping off our bags, we started to explore the city and do some shopping. PS. if you want some cheap shopping, go to The first place we headed to was the water’s edge. If you walk along the river and up and over the Hohenzollern Bridge, you’ll see thousands upon thousands of locks with lover’s names scratched into them. I would definitely recommend getting a few city shots from this location as well.

The Ludwig Museum

After crossing back over the bridge, you may run across the Ludwig Art Museum. It’s a showcase for art after the 1900’s. We never actually went in, only took a look from the outside and into their main lobby area, but I’ve heard great things. Inside you’ll find Picasso’s and Andy Warhol’s.

Old Town

If you head further south along the river, towards the chocolate factory, you’ll stumble across Old Town. This is a gorgeous little area with tons of hidden streets and courtyards. You’ll also notice the stunning medieval looking homes colored up in pastels. If you’re looking for a great Instagram shot, head towards the back of the Great St. Martin Church, along the water’s edge and you’ll find 5 beautifully colored homes. I would definitely recommend checking this spot out!

Chocolate Museum

There are a ton of museums in this city, so if that’s your thing, go check out this list! But if you like chocolate, you’ve got to see this place! It’s right along the water called Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. Inside you’ll see a gift shop, how to make chocolate and a 3-meter tall chocolate fountain. This museum closely works with Lindt… you know those amazing chocolate balls with mousse inside!? Ya those guys, so if you want to pay $20 or so to get in, it’s defiantly a fun place to be!

If you’re really wanting to go to Cologne, I would recommend doing it in early December so you truly get to experience what Cologne is known for… it’s Christmas markets! Again, I went in the summer, but I had a few coworkers when I lived in England, who would always head here for some classic German Christmas ornaments. Going to be honest, Cologne isn’t my favourite city in Germany, but you’ve got to knock it off the list right?

Comment below and let me know what you think of the list. Should there be more added to it?

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What to do in Luxembourg if you’re just passing through

I hope this doesn’t offend anyone from Luxembourg, but on the travel itinerary, it’s usually an add on, an extra pit stop when you’ve got some time to play with on the German, French or Belgian border. Maybe you’re on a European train excursion and one of the stops just happen to be in Luxembourg city… this has been my experience when talking to people who’ve visited this little country. The only other people I’ve talked with, who had been to Luxembourg on purpose, was for business… and Luxembourg is a business/banking hub!

I do have to come out and be honest though, this isn’t a blog post about how I knew it was going to be amazing so I stayed for a week and lived like a local. On the contrary, I arrived in Luxembourg the same way most people do… on a whim with extra time. We were staying in Germany on business, so we had a rental car and a few extra days of leave to blow. I wanted to go explore Belgium as it was close by, but I’d already missed an opportunity to go to Lichtenstein, and I wasn’t about to do the same for Luxembourg!

So for about 6 hours, I had the opportunity to pass through this little place… little but wonderful place. Here is what I would recommend you do when visiting Luxembourg for a day:

Explore the alley ways

You can truly get lost in Luxembourg’s rabbit warren of streets, but they’re so pretty that you really won’t mind. We found some parking right downtown (driving is a little tight – make sure you’re in a small little European car) and we wandered out from there. Truth be told, the city is very walkable… in fact, if you don’t have any knee/foot problems, you should be able to walk around the entire city. One thing I noticed about Luxembourg is the gorgeous architecture and the picture perfect doors! For some reason, I’ve always been a fan of artistic doorways, and Europe, in general, doesn’t disappoint! But Luxembourg (in my opinion), had some of the prettiest doors in Europe.

Go check out the river

If you’re in the city and head east, you’ll find the Azette river within 10 -15 min of walking. The cool thing about how the city was designed, is that it is built up along the banks of the Azette, therefore winding roads that make it down to the river bank provide a very picturesque cityscape. There are cute little shops and places to get ice-cream while you stroll along.

See the market

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Place Guillaume II (the town square) holds an open market where people sell jewelry, clothes, fresh produce, baked goods and a smorgasbord of trinkets. We actually picked up some really cool little pieces to add to our home décor. One of my favorite pieces was a pair of traditional wooden clogs. If you’re learning French, or you’re pretty good at it, this market is the best way to practice and bargain using your French language skills. In fact, I found that speaking French to the locals of Luxembourg City was actually a lot easier than speaking with those from France or Canada. For some reason, I found their French to be slowed down and much clearer than other native French speakers. This is why this market is an awesome place to interact with the locals if you’re interested in practicing your French (did I mention they’re also very patient!?). If you’re not a French speaker, no worries (neither is my husband) and he was able to communicate just fine in English… Gotta love the European education system!

Shop and get some chocolate

One of the cutest little streets we found for shopping was Rue Philippe II. I will warn you… shopping in Luxembourg will break your bank, but window shopping can be fun too, and this street provides! This is going to sound really stupid, but the first time I ever discovered Hermes was in Luxembourg… I saw a really cute purse in the window and thought… oh, I think I want to get that… little did I know this stunning accessory would put me back 15 thousand dollars! So obviously… I bought it!!!
Just kidding – I wish.
What won’t break your bank are the cafés, although still expensive (it’s Luxembourg City after all), you can get some delicious chocolaty treats and continue meandering through the city.

Visit some of the main attractions.

Luxembourg isn’t all just walking through alleyways trying not to go broke, it also has some pretty cool tourist attractions! Old Town can be quite stunning as the river winds its way through the town center, there’s a castle that you’ve got to at least take a picture of; Chateau de Vianden. Go inside Notre Dame Cathedral to see beautiful stain glass windows around the pulpit. Also… if you want a cool pic for Instagram, take a few shots around the “Philharmonic Luxembourg” – The city’s concert hall.

This country may not have the grandeur of its larger neighbors, but it’s still got a ton to offer. It’s hard for me to judge a place properly when I was only in it for 8 hours… that’s not long enough to judge an entire nation! Therefore, don’t take my word for it. Don’t just explore what I’ve mentioned… create your own adventure and explore out of the city, go on a hike in the countryside or even take a boat tour down the river Azette. This was a place I didn’t have enough time to truly soak in, so I’ve always planned on going back and properly giving this place the time and attention it deserves. Don’t be like me… give this country some proper loving!

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