The Livable Capitals: Santiago, Bern and Berlin

Santiago, Andes, snow, winter, skiiing, Cihle

As I listed the capital cities I have visited, I kept thinking which would could be the “most livable.”  Livable, for me, means not an intense place, not one with millions of tourists ruining summer months, with character, and some great redeeming feature (the ocean, the mountains, a great river running through it, an amazing spot in history, etc.).  There were several candidates (and some definite ‘nevers’…) but the top three I landed on were:  Santiago, Bern, and Berlin.

Santiago (Chile)

This may be cheating a little but I have lived in Santiago already.  Twice.  Sort of.  I lived there for 3 months over 20 years ago staying at an apartment in the area called Providencia near Tobalaba.  Then I spent a whole year traveling back and forth, spending 60-65% of the year down there (though this second time I stayed at a hotel, the awesome Marriott on Ave. Kennedy).

And I would happily do it again because Santiago is such a livable place.  Traffic aside, it has everything I would want in a place to live.  Quiet enough for a city, arts and culture, great food, neat things to do on day trips (beaches, skiing, wineries, hiking, etc.), friendly locals, interesting architecture and neighborhoods, and the magnificent Andes as a backdrop – my favorite feature of this city.

Andes, cordillera, Santiago, Chile, view, Marriott hotel, photo

A wonderful view to wake up to every day!

I would likely live in Vitacura or Las Condes: not too far from the city center towards the mountains but near the river, a nice mall, and close to many of my favorite eateries.  I used to go running along Americo Vespucio towards the river then meander through neighborhoods.

Santiago, Andes, snow, winter, skiiing, Cihle

Granted, that was not the prettiest of winter days but imagine the great skiing further up in the Andes!

Hopefully, my job would be towards that part of town to avoid the pretty nasty traffic though – I commuted from that area to “el Centro” and that was, on a very good day, a 45-min commute each way.

Bern (Switzerland)

I am not as familiar with the next two cities as I am with Santiago as I have only spent all of a day in each – severely limiting knowing, for example, in what of town I would want to live in.  In my one day visit to Bern its compactness and its location struck me.  Bern is hugged by the Aar River (I wonder if so named to make sure it sorted first in lists of rivers….) and surrounded by hills that look down upon it.  Its old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this capital city of around 200,000 inhabitants has been included in the top ten best quality of life cities as recently as 2010 (do I choose them well or what??).

Aar River, Bern, Switzerland, old town, architecture, charm, capital

The Aar River along the old historic center of Bern

I think Bern would be a great place to spend a year or two, anchored in central Switzerland.  It may not be an easy place to fly in and out of which would be a drawback for getting back to the States but nothing that a good connection in Zurich, Munich, or –heaven forbid- Charles de Gaulle in Paris wouldn’t fix.

I enjoyed walking its old streets, enjoying the architecture and its details, and sitting at an outdoor café sipping some good beer!Bern, Switzerland, old town, architecture, charm, capital,

Perhaps the compactness of the town would get to me after some months but I think I could get used to it quite easily – plus there would be so many places to spend time visiting in a radius of less than half a day’s drive.  A little more ambitiously, it would not be much of stretch to launch weekend trips elsewhere to places like Bavaria, Austria, northern Italy, and –for sure- the rest of Switzerland itself!

Berlin

Berlin is clearly a major city and those can be a little too much in terms of livability but, in my short visit there, I got a sense for the variety of neighborhoods and cosmopolitan vibe of the place.  That, coupled with the deep and painful history this city has had, would draw me in as a place I could live in.

Berlin, Germany, history, architecture, Brandenburg gate

The iconic Brandenburg Gate – one of the many reminders of the city’s deep history

There seems to be a lot of turning over old areas into new districts to draw people in (I presume, a younger generation) and it would be interesting to see how Berlin continues to morph over the next 20 years.

Berlin, Germany, river, beach chairs

Berliners seeking some sun by the river – OK, it isn’t the Caribbean but let ’em enjoy!

Berlin, Germany, dark sky, architecture

Newer and older residential buildings

Living in Berlin would give me ample time to explore its arts scene while also geeking out on its Cold War, WW II, WW I, and imperial history.  Of course, German beer and food would not be far behind but that I could find anywhere in Germany too.  I just hope I don’t become “ein Berliner” after eating all that food!  (Thanks, JFK, for the idea.)

Photo of the Week – Mainz, Germany

Mainz, Germany, square, plaza, architecture, platz, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

After taking a boat cruise down the Rhine to return to Frankfurt from Dusseldorf, we got off the boat at Mainz from where we would take a train into Frankfurt.  We had no idea that Mainz was going to be so charming and beautiful.  So we took a little longer strolling around (with our luggage!) until we finally made it to the Bahnhof.  Here is a snapshot of the beautiful square we hit along the way with colorful architecture.  This is a town I plan to return to and explore more in depth!  Auf wiedersehen, Mainz!

Mainz, Germany, square, plaza, architecture, platz, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Square in Mainz

Crawling around Heidelberg

sunset, Heidelberg Castle, ruins, architecture, Heidelberg, Germany, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I have visited Heidelberg a couple of times and I have to say:  it is a fun town.  The second time I went, an expat living nearby took us into town to see the sights but also to sample all the beer styles on offer.  A pub crawl for sure!  I was invited by my friends Troy and Cybil to join them on this trip and I could not say “no” to go a second time (by the way, check out Cybil’s awesome photography at www.acybiloriginal.com).

Heidelberg sits on the Neckar River (which later connects to the Rhine) and its most famous sight is the Heidelberg Castle that overlooks the town and the river.  Day or night, it is an impressive sight.  But I like it the most at sunset. It is really in ruins since the 17th and 18th centuries (wars, fires and, yes, even lighting!) but it still is impressive in size and presence.

Heidelberg Castle, ruins, architecture, Heidelberg, Germany, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Heidelberg Castle close-up, notice the tower on the right in ruins

sunset, Heidelberg Castle, ruins, architecture, Heidelberg, Germany, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Heidelberg Castle in great sunset light

The town can be traced back a long way but it can mostly closely be tied to a 12th century monastery built in the area.  Heidelberg University is quite old and its early 15-th century library is the oldest public library in Germany.

Catholic Church, Jesuit, Heidelberg, Germany, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Details of the Catholic Jesuit Church

The old town is mainly baroque and is quite lively due to the town being quite appealing to tourists.  We first walked around town and made our way to the river proper passing the Old Bridge Gate.  At the start of the bridge, we saw the famous mandrill (like a baboon) guarding it and took the obligatory picture… (tou-ristssssssssss!).

Old Bridge Gate, Heidelberg, Germany, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The Old Bridge’s Gate as seen from the bridge

Old Brige, mandrill, monkey, Heidelberg, Germany, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Me with the mandrill guarding the Old Bridge

But all that was just interesting… the real fun began when our host started the pub crawl.  He was a friend of one of my friends’ parents but he wanted to show us German beer.  He did not call it a pub crawl but we visited pubs and restaurants and we almost had to crawl…  After a large lunch of wurst and sauerkraut (the REAL stuff!) and a beer, he started taking us to places that offered different types of beers. By the early evening, I was so stuffed with beer that when we went to a Thai restaurant for dinner (!), I did not eat a bite.

photo, beer, Heidelberg, tourists, travelers

Cybil, Troy and I. And some of the damage along the way. The day was still young here.

But the night was not over.  As the final spot, he took us to some bar that fencing groups hung out at – except they were nowhere to be seen that night.  The other group there that night was a group of local ladies in their 50s and 60s clearly on a night out on the town, drinking and doing shots of I-don’t-know-what.  They would look at us four and raise their glass in “cheers” mode, and drink away.  It was a fun experience.  To cap it all off, our friend ordered an Italian after-dinner potion called Averna which he claimed would help settle our stomach after all the eating and drinking.  He was right, that stuff really helped soothe our busy stomachs, so much so, that when we returned to the U.S. months later, we hunted the stuff down!

A final note is that when it came time to leave, our host could not figure what the way out of town was.  One of my friends and I had had a bit more to drink so we could not really tell anything.  It was my other friend, the one that was pregnant and 100% sober, who first noticed we were going past the same spots over and over…  We made it out of Heidelberg safely to our host’s house and I, for one, slept fitfully!

So don’t miss out on Heidelberg if you go to Germany just make sure you have a designated we-are-lost spotter in the group!

Great Drive Series – Frankfurt to Maastricht

Germany, drive, church, mountain, river, photo, Canon EOS Rebel,

Among the many ways to travel and explore, few things beat driving around yourself, whether it be Tuscany, New Zealand or across the U.S., there is a freedom that comes with being on your own, able to stop at will for a photo, to rest or… to relief yourself (yes, I said it …).

I have done some great drives and I thought I’d start a short series on these drives and, hopefully, hear back from you on your own favorite drives along the way.

Today, I share my drive to/from Maastricht, The Netherlands and Frankfurt, Germany over a dozen years ago.  I was in Frankfurt for business for a few weeks and decided to visit a college friend who was an ex-pat in Maastricht.  I rented my car in Frankfurt and made my way, in about 3 hrs, to Maastricht on the famous autobahn.  The autobahn between some cities in Germany fails to meet the wild expectations we have in the U.S. about fast speeds as there is too much vehicular traffic on some of the routes.  But some parts of the route I took where free and clear just for me.  That and along the Mercedes-Benz upgrade they gave me were the perfect pairing for a FUN drive.  On the outbound leg of the trip, I drove northwest towards Bonn and Cologne (Köln) on the A3 and then west on the A4 past Aachen straight into Maastricht.  I wish I had had time to explore Aachen, having been a residence of Charlemagne and where many Holy Roman Emperors were crowned back in the day.  For that matter also Cologne and Bonn.  So much too see and so little time…

Maastricht, Frankfurt, drive, map, A3, A4, autobahn, Germany, travel

The outbound route I took

On the way back I took a different route based on my friend’s suggestion as the landscape would be much more rewarding.  It was indeed!  I don’t recall the details of the route (which cut at some point across the incredible Mosel River) but maybe someone will recognize some of the locales from the photos and let me know more precisely where I went through!

Germany, drive, church, mountain, river, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, Germany, drive, mountain, river, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, Germany, drive, mountain, river, photo, Canon EOS Rebel,

I highly recommend taking the “road less traveled”.  In this case, not the A3!   Western Germany, near the border with Luxembourg and France, is simply a beautiful place to visit, explore and drive.  Get lost, take your time, and sample this area!

 

And Work Took Me Places…

A lot of my international travels have been part of or enabled by work.  Whether is being asked if in 24 hours I could leave for Helsinki to spend 3 weeks there in the middle of winter, or whether the miles accumulated by years of sometimes-weekly travel have allowed me to go out of the country for vacation, work has always been a key factor in my exploring.  I would say it is second only to my zest for travel and exploring!

As part of this reflection, I thought it would be cool to capture where all have I been to related to work whether for a one-day meeting to year+ assignments.  Here it goes!

GERMANY

In Germany, my discoveries were how great German food is (not just the ones I had known like wursts).  Also, my colleagues made it a point of making sure they were showing me places like beer halls and good restaurants and that hospitality -no offense intended- took me by surprise, especially when compared to other countries where I had expected a warmer culture.

Sulzbach/Bad Soden (outside of Frankfurt, Germany)

Dusseldorf (Germany)

Munich (Germany)

FRANCE

I have been to a good bit of France but for work these two sites were it.  In the Riviera, I enjoyed being by the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean and yet seeing the Alps at a distance, staying in Cannes or Nice, depending on the week and the mood!  Paris, well, what can I say.  An incredible city even if it was hard to develop social contacts due to the long hours at work and perhaps the language barrier (I spoke basic French then; medium after I left there and focused on learning the language).

Paris (France)

Sophia-Antipolis (France)

View from the terrace of the apartment building where I lived in Paris!

THE NETHERLANDS

Basically shuttling between client offices in both towns.  I was amazed at how small the country is and yet how exotic it felt to me.  Den Haag much more subdued than Amsterdam.  Amsterdam, just phenomenally interesting.  Getting to work with the Dutch allowed to see how their cultural traits are unique and how some of the stereotypes I had heard of showed up in work settings.

Den Haag (The Netherlands)

Amsterdam (The Netherlamnds)

OTHER EUROPE

The rest of the European work sites were of shorter durations than the ones above with the longest being 3 weeks.  But they all allowed me to explore each of the places and/or visit with friends who lived in those places.  Work definitely gave me a good opportunity to see more of Europe.  How else would I have spent 3 weeks in Helsinki had it not been for work?!

Geneva (Switzerland)

Oslo (Norway)

Vienna (Austria)

Helsinki (Finland)

London (UK)

Madrid (Spain)

View of Oslo Fjord

LATIN AMERICA

My experiences in Latin America have been phenomenal.  Perhaps the cultural affinity or the approach to life, especially in Brazil, but I have seldom been disappointed or failed to enjoy my stay.

Chile trumps all other places in L.A.  by sheer duration of my work experience there (over a year).  I had worked there many, many yrs before (check my other blog entries) and I got to see more of the country in that year.  What a beautiful country!

In Peru, I got to explore more off the beaten path locations by the nature of the work assignment.  I got to see many places the average tourist sees and many they would never get to.  And, I got to enjoy the food of Lima which is just outstanding!

Brazil offered me good food and great fun besides the work.  Spending weekends in Rio or going out for the nightlife of Sao Paulo, Brazil never disappointed.

Sao Paulo (Brazil)

Quito (Ecuador)

Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Santiago (Chile)

Lima (Peru)

Cuzco (Peru)

Puno (Peru)

Huaraz (Peru)

Panama City (Panama)

Mayaguez (PR)

Church in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago

AFRICA

Here I definitely got to see some diverse places from Muslim and Arab Egypt, to deep Africa in Tanzania, to cosmopolitan cities in South Africa (I visited Cape Town too but not for work).  I have enjoyed the unique experiences each offered whether it was visiting HIV/AIDS patients in the rural areas around Mwanza, to going for food in very local places in massive Cairo, to getting into the history of apartheid in Joburg.

Johannesburg (South Africa)

Cairo (Egypt)

Dar es Salaam, Mwanza and Stone Town (Tanzania)

At the Apartheid Museum in Joburg

CANADA

I got to spend a LOT of time in Toronto and had a lot of fun with a great crew of Canadians whose key contribution to my skill sets was to have me start calling a puck “puck” and not “the thing”.  I also learned that I needed better pacing drinking Canadian beer as it was stronger than the American variety.  Finally, I learned how to curl (as in the game/sport).

Toronto (Canada)

Montreal (Canada)

What has been your most interesting and rewarding international work experience??

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