Visiting Gaudí’s most popular architecture – is it worth it?

Park Güell

Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) is one of Barcelona’s most formative architectures and is known as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism. He designed more than ten buildings in and around the capital of Catalonia of which seven are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I visited four of them. Was it worth it?

The staircase of Casa Battló

Back in 2014, I visited Barcelona for the first time. It was love at first sight. Almost no other city offers so much incredible architecture, art, culture and beautiful buildings. A huge credit for this goes to Gaudí. But also back then the entrance fees for its architecture were really pricey and for us as students just too much to pay. We only visited a part of Park Güell which was back then still for free (only the smaller part with its colourful benches and houses had an entrance fee). But I always wanted to come back to take a closer look at Gaudís work, and this year I did.

Park Güell, Palau Güell, Casa Milà, Casa Vicens, Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló, and Cripta Güell are the seven works of Antoni Gaudí which are nowadays part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I visited four of them. In general, I loved all of my visits and do not regret spending any of the money on them. But in my opinion, two are more worth their money and two you can also skip.

I visited four of the most famous works of Antoni Gaudi: Casa Batlló, Sagrada Família, Casa Vicens, and Park Güell.

Casa Batlló (1904-1906)

Entrance fee: from 35 Euros

Casa Battló is in the city centre of Barcelona and is one of Gaudí’s more famous works. The house itself was already built in 1877 by Emilio Sala Cortés but later Josep Batlló put Antoni Gaudí in charge to rebuild it. Gaudí fully remodelled the house by changing the façade but also the interior. Casa Batlló is neighboured by beautiful other buildings that were renewed in the same time period by other prominent architects. This specific period is called the Bone of Contention.
From the 1950s on Casa Batlló was no longer owned by the family Battló and in 1995 it was opened to the public. According to the official page, every year 1 million people visit Casa Batlló.  

My first impression
The ceiling in a pattern of a giraffe inside of Casa Battló

As in all architecture of Gaudí, I was very impressed by the construction technology. Already the façade of the building is stunning even when I always see skulls on the balconies (I was never sure if it was actually meant to be). Gaudí really knows how to form buildings and use the natural elements, light, and air in favour of his work. The design of his rooms is incredibly well thought out I was really amazed by his sophistication behind the composition and presentation of the house. In case you decide to visit Casa Battló you should make sure to listen to the audio guide. It will tell you much about Gaudís thoughts and plans for creating the different rooms. The house still appears modern nowadays and shows Gaudí as a genius who understood his work. My favourite room was probably one of the first ones with the ceiling in a pattern of a giraffe. But of course, also the whole staircase including its wavy glass front and the roof terrace was beautiful to see. I spent around two hours in Casa Batlló to have the full experience.

On the rooftop of Casa Battló
Is it worth it?

This is probably the visit I have to be most critical with. I visited Casa Battló right before Easter, therefore it was very busy. But to me, there were just too many people. At some point, I realised that I got increasingly exhausted and annoyed by being pushed around by other people, having not one silent minute to actually enjoy the architecture. I was highly disappointed about the organisation and that the employees did not take care that not too many people at the same time can enter. I felt the main goal was not about showing Gaudís incredible architecture and art but just getting as many people as fast as possible inside to make as much money as possible. And this is combined with the extraordinary high entrance fees. Casa Battló was nice to see but way too overpriced.

If you still want to go, choose the mornings, to make sure not too many people visit at the same time. But be aware that you have to pay another 10 Euros extra. The ticket gets also more expensive when you will buy them directly at the cash point so make sure to order them beforehand

Gaudí Dome

There are three different tickets, the blue one, the silver, and the golden ticket. I actually bought the golden ticket because I wanted to have the full experience but honestly, I just really overpaid the whole visit. In my opinion, the Gaudí Dome which is only included in the silver and golden ticket is nice but not worth the extra money you have to pay. The same is with the tablet you get for your visit, the normal audio guide will be more than enough. The original Concierge room is also visible from the normal entrance you just cross it faster but it is also not worth the extra money. All in all, it depends on your wallet and your interest. If you always wanted to do it – go for it. If you are on a budget, honestly skip it since it is the most expensive one.

Sagrada Família (1882-today; Gaudí: 1883-1926)

Entrance fee: from 26 Euros

The basilica de la Sagrada Família is probably Gaudí’s most famous work and is used very often as a motive on postcards. The project started in 1882 and was taken over by Gaudí one year later in 1883. He designed the basilica and worked on it until the year he died, well knowing that he will never see the result of the completed church. Actually, when Gaudí died in 1962 less than a quarter of the Sagrada Família was completed. Until today a lot of different architects worked on Sagrada Família, the completion was estimated for 2026 – on the 100th anniversary of Gaudís death. But because of several obstacles, like the Spanish Civil War but also Corona, the date cannot be met.  According to the foundation, the construction work won’t be finished before 2030-2040.  

The colourful windows of Sagrada Família
My first impression
The facade shows the crucifixion of Jesus.

To me, the visit to Sagrada Família was one of the highlights of my trip to Barcelona. It was stunning to visit such a huge basilica which is built for centuries and is still a changing architecture. You should download the app with the audio guide before your visit because it gives you a lot of information about Gaudís work. It explains for example the two different facades of the basilica. The difference exists between the soft outlines of the scene of Jesus’ birth from where your visit starts to the hard and angular one on the other side which shows the crucifixion. I love the play of colours of the windows which gave the church a really welcoming touch and the columns inside of the building which symbolises a forest. All in all, I spent 1.5 hours inside Sagrada Família and it was kind of hard to finally leave it.

Is it worth it?

To make it short, I would say yes. Sagrada Família was my favourite work of Gaudí from the four I saw. Even though I visited the Basílica right before Easter, different from Casa Batlló the church never felt too full. No doubt, there were many people, but I felt it was not too crowded. Sagrada Família itself is really big and offers a lot of space. This time I was really able to take the time to look around. Since most of the architecture is on the walls and windows above you, the other visitors are not really in the way of seeing something. Other than in the other buildings, I did not have to wait to see the architecture or take a photo. The church also offers an associated museum that explains the history, technic, art, and symbolic aspects behind the basilica.  

To me Sagrada Família had a better price-performance ratio than Casa Vicens and Casa Batlló. The entrance fees are still really high though but they will be used for the construction work of the basilica. If you are on a budget you can use the church service to visit Sagrada Família for free. But then you should really respect the other worshippers, stay for the whole ceremony, and do not take photos during that time. Also, make sure to come early since the church has a limited capacity.  

Casa Vicens (1883-1885)

Entrance fee: 18 Euros

Casa Vicens was Gaudí’s first project that he designed and built. It was finished in 1885 and built as a summer house for the family of Manuel Vicens. Later the house was expanded among others by Joan Baptista Serra de Martínez which extension followed Gaudí’s original style. Casa Vicens is located in the neighbourhood of Gràcia. In order to open Gaudí’s house to the public, the museum installed a modern staircase in place of the original one to connect the spaces with each other. If you visit Casa Vicens, you can first explore the first two floors with the rooms in their original design by Gaudí before you will learn more about the different other works on the third floor.

The terrace of Casa Vicens
My first impression
The smoking room of Casa Vicens

The house is just really beautiful with its colours and its numerous ornaments. Especially the first floor was wonderful to explore. I love the ceilings which were mostly covered in different flowers. The terrace and the smoking room were my favourite ones. The whole visit including taking photos, listening to the audio guide and watching a video about the house took around 1.5 hours.    

Is it worth it?
The ceiling of the lady’s room

To be honest, the entrance price was rather high. The house is also nice to see from the inside though, but after I have already been to Casa Batlló, it was just less spectacular. I do not regret visiting it at all, especially the garden, but also the entrance hall, the terrace, the smoking room, and the lady’s room waited with beautiful architecture and a lot of details. But honestly, if you are on a low budget or just come with little time you can probably skip this one as well since it was the less spectacular.

Park Güell (1900-1914)

Entrance fee: 10 Euros

In 1900 Eusebi Güell assigned Gaudí with the design of Park Güell. The park was officially opened as a public park in 1926. The park is more than 17 hectares big, and therefore one of the largest green spaces in Barcelona. It is divided into two areas, the monumental and the woodland zone. The park also contains the house from Gaudí in which he lived from 1906 till 1925, so until one year before he died. Nowadays his former residential building is a museum. In Gaudís Casa, tourists can see personal belongings and the self-made furniture of the architect. The museum’s entrance fee is not included in the park and therefore has to be paid separately.  

My first impression
On the benches in Park Güell

Park Güell is probably the place I spent most of the time at. More than 3 hours until sundown we walked through the large park to discover every corner. The park itself offers a great view over Barcelona (but you have actually an even better view from the hills behind the park) and a lot of beautiful architecture as the two houses with roofs which look like made out of sugar icing. The most famous is probably the dragon on the stairs and of course, the benches covered in colourful mosaics.

The famous dragon of Park Güell
Is it worth it?

In my opinion, the visit is worth it. Even though a few years ago, the whole park and later at least a part of the park was for free. Because of the many tourists, the city decided to charge money since October 2013. Nowadays, tourists have to pay an entrance fee if they want to enter park Güell. But the fee is with 10 Euros really okay and for the preservation of the park and the architecture. There is no time limit on how long you are allowed to stay in the park with your ticket but you can not reenter if you once left it. You should already buy the tickets beforehand because it comes that it is fast sold out, especially on weekends and holidays. 

The tickets have a time frame but the staff told us that we do not need to come at the time our tickets say, just the right day is important (but the official page says you have to enter within 30 minutes after your time is marked). They recommended that we come after 6:30 pm because then there are fewer people in the park. However, this tip was in April, when the sundown was already around 8:30 pm.

The park is open from 7 am till 10 pm but the tickets are, adapted to the season from 9:00 am till latest 7:30 pm. Before and after 8 pm the park is officially only allowed to be visited by local residents but not by tourists. But the park has no artificial lighting anyway and should therefore not only be visited at night since you will miss the beautiful details of Gaudí’s art. By the way, local residents located in the neighbourhood adjacent to Park Güell are allowed to enter the park every time during the opening hours at no cost. I still think it is really odd that not every citizen of Barcelona can visit the park for free though.

Last but not least,  one tip is to always buy the tickets in advance to make sure you can enter them in any case and also take advantage of a faster entrance. All sights have a special price for students but the difference is really low. Visiting Gaudí’s architecture is for most people probably a one-time only thing because the entrance fees are really high – therefore you have to decide on your own how much money the visits seem worth to you.

What about you? Did you already visit Gaudí’s architecture? Tell me in the comments if you share my opinion or if you feel differently.

You have read the blog post Visiting Gaudí’s most popular architecture – is it worth it? on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Chasing the Northern lights

Northern Lights in Tromso

The Polar lights are one of the oldest secrets of nature and probably on almost every travel bucket list. This guide gives you all information about the Northern lights you need. Also, I will share my experience with you and answer the question if a Northern light tour is worth its money.

Northern Lights in Tromso

Seeing the Northern Lights was forever on my travel bucket list. In March 2022, I finally had enough money saved to book a flight to Tromsø, one of the most Northern cities in Norway. Tromsø is basically on every top 10 list for the best places to see the Northern lights in the world.

💡 Information about the Northern Lights
The Northern lights are part of different legends, myths, and sayings. In the past, people interpreted them as signs of god or deceased persons. Mostly they were a bad prediction and therefore were totally different seen than today.
The polar lights are a natural light in the sky caused by a disturbance in the magnetosphere released by the solar wind. They exist on both poles of the earth. The ones in the North are called Northern lights or aurora borealis. The lights in the South are called Southern lights or aurora australis. The Northern lights are more famous because they are easier to reach since most regions in the North are still inhabited. The lights can have different colours, the most common ones are the green lights. But they can be also red, violet, and blue.

Where can you see the Northern lights?

Usually, you can see the Northern lights from the sixtieth degree of latitude. Rarely do they appear even on a lower degree of latitude till middle Europe. This can happen if there was a really strong solar flare in combination with the right weather conditions (winter and clear nights). But obviously, your chances get higher with travelling more to the North. Besides North Norway (including Svalbard), they can be also seen in Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, the North of Finland, Sweden, and Siberia. The Southern lights are best seen from the Antarctic.

When is the best time to see the Northern lights?

Northern lights are usually best seen from September to March every year (the Southern lights can be seen in the reverse time from March to September). After this time, the days get too long and the sky too bright. During summer the sun does not set, it is called the midnight sun. In winter it is the complete difference. Especially from November till January, the days are dark (almost) all day long. Some days the sun does not rise at all and the whole day is more in the dawn. During these three months, the hours of the sun lie between 0.1 and 3 hours of light. But without light, it is also difficult to explore Norway.
The Northern lights are usually the strongest at the beginning and end of their season, therefore in September and late March.

I was very exciting seeing the Northern lights for the first time.

❗️ 5 Tips for your own travel
1) Bring enough time
First of all, plan enough time to actually see the polar lights. Not only good weather conditions are important but you will also need some luck. We stayed around one week in Tromsø to have several nights the chance to see the magical lights. In one night we were actually lucky enough.
2) Check the weather and the moon calendar
Looking for the weather forecast is a bit of nice but mostly useless advice since most of you probably book the flights way beforehand when the weather forecast is still more of gambling. Nonetheless, you can check the usual weather prediction of the destination in the particular month beforehand. Has one month more rain days than another? How many hours of sunlight do you have per day?
While weather forecast is harder to predict, this does not apply to the moon calendar. You can already check in advance in which moon phase the moon will be during your stay. Since the Northern lights are best visible in a dark sky you should choose new moon for your travels.
3) Install an aurora app
You will find many different aurora apps in the app stores. They usually show you a KP index (as higher all the more Southern you can see them, the maximum value is 9 and also describes the strength of the geomagnetic activity), how cloudy the sky will be (of course here less is more), and a percentage which calculates how good your chances are to see the Northern lights in the next minutes, hours, days, or even weeks. It usually also has an alert to tell you that you could see the lights in the next minutes at your live destination.
For Norway, you can also use this page from the official page of Norway:
4) Be mobile
The Northern lights are like stars best visible if the surroundings are dark. Therefore, you should make sure to be mobile and leave the city and its lights behind. You should choose a wide and flat area. The direct emergence of the Northern Lights usually is very hard to predict. If you rent a vehicle, it will be easier to reach the (mostly isolated) places to have the best view of the Polar lights. 
5) Be prepared
Waiting for Northern lights can be an ordeal. Make sure you are prepared with warm clothes, some hot drinks, and maybe even some food. In case, you want to take photos, make sure to bring the right equipment such as a tripod and spare charged batteries (the camera loses a lot of energy in the cold). Put the camera already in the right settings. Turn off your autofocus, and choose a low exposure time. Sometimes the Northern lights just appear for a few minutes and start fading fast, in that case, you should already be ready.

How do the Northern lights look like?

I once read everyone sees the Northern lights a bit different. I think, it is important to know, that the polar lights are not as strong with the naked eye as in the photos you know. It is way easier to see them on the screen of your digital camera. It was the same for me. I first saw the lights on my camera. But with time they got stronger. To me, the green intensity was less strong in reality than in the photo, but it was still visible as a glamorous shine, which looked like it was dancing over the sky. It was really magical to see them for the first time.  

The first photo of polar lights was taken in 1892 by the German astronomers Martin Brendel and Otto Baschin.

What can you expect from a Northern lights tour?

You will find a lot of different tour offers with a huge price range. Usually, the tour costs around 100 to 150 US$. The cheapest ones are usually large groups with up to 40 people. Take a look that the size of your group is not too big. In my opinion, this offers you a better experience. Choose a small bus with a maximum of 8 to 10 people and a guide who offers you some information about the Polar lights. Most guides will also help you with your (cellphone) camera settings in order to get the best photos. The tours usually also offer some different extras such as snowsuits, tripods, hot chocolate, some cookies, or even a whole meal. And usually, they also offer you their own professional photo material of the night so you can concentrate more on the actual event instead of trying to get the best photo of your camera.

Depending on the weather conditions and chances to see the Northern lights in different areas, the tour can take a different amount of time. The guide I chose told us that he calculates the chances in the different areas for the same day and therefore decides just a few hours before the trip where he actually goes. Sometimes he drives up to 2.5 hours to the borderline of Finland. Therefore, the tour can also take time from 2 to 9 hours, depending on how far the guide has to drive and at which times the Northern lights show themselves.

Northern Lights tour in Tromso, with a bonfire

Is a Northern light tour its money worth?

Altogether, I would recommend booking a tour but it certainly depends on how lucky you are with the weather on site. Sometimes the Northern light can even be seen directly over the city. However, most of the time, your chances will increase if you rent a car and take a look where the chances of seeing the Northern lights is highest that night. Especially if you are on your own and not particularly familiar with the area a tour can help you to release the stress of the previous planning. In addition, you will not need to be afraid of long journeys and tiredness on the returning ride. If it is your first encounter with the Northern lights the professional tour guide will help you to spot them faster. Because this is actually not as easy at first when the lights are only faint.

Most smaller guides are usually connected with each other in order to find the best spots of Northern lights. I had a really good experience with my guide since he was still totally hooked on the view of the Northern lights and wanted to share his passion as well as this unique experience with us.

A few final booking tips …

If you are thinking about booking a Northern lights tour now, here is a little tip for you: Schedule the tour at the beginning of your vacation. I understand the feeling of saving the best for the end but since you need some luck and good weather conditions putting it at the beginning of your travels will do you a favour. Because if necessary you will be able to postpone your trip. At least in Tromsø, there were so many tours offered that you could easily book one on the same day.
Ensure that your tour guide cancels a tour in case of bad (weather) conditions. Some tours have in their fine-written that they only cancel if it is too dangerous to drive around but not if in general the chance of seeing the lights is low (for example because it is too cloudy). This is especially important because you usually do not get any money back even If you were unlucky and did not see the lights. Some tours offer a second tour at half price if you were unlucky the first time.

❗️ Tip: For a cheap car in Norway
If you decide to chase the Northern lights yourself, in most regions you will be in need of a car to be more flexible and able to leave the city lights behind you. We rented the car from a car-sharing company which was in our case almost 60 % cheaper than the car rental places. We used Book a Wreck which is located at the airport of Tromsø. But you can find them also in other cities.

No matter what you decide, I wish you the best of luck and of course a lot of fun watching the Northern lights.

You have read the blog post Chasing the Northern Lights on My Travel Journal-Blog.

My personal highlights and tips for Sintra

Palace of Pena

Ceilings of bird paintings, feeling like Alice and falling in love with palaces covered in sugar icing. This totally sounds like Sintra. If you also love palaces, castles, and mysterious gardens, Sintra is just perfect for you. Read about my personal highlights and get some tips for your own trip.

Sintra is around 25 km (15.5 miles) away from Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and therefore a perfect choice for a day or even a weekend trip. The beautiful town is full of palaces, gardens, parks and castles. I only had a day in Sintra and chose to visit the Portuguese renaissance Palácio Nacional de Sintra (Sintra National Palace), the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira and the romanticist Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace).

💡 Information about Sintra
Sintra is a small town with a bit less than 30,000 inhabitants (status 2011) and full of colourful palaces, intricate gardens, and ostentatious mansions. It is part of the Greater Lisbon region and is located on the Portuguese Riviera. The town also belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since it is located in the hills and mountains of Serra de Sintra, the weather is more pleasant in summer. This fact determined the nobility of different centuries to build their summer residences in Sintra. But the town was also a popular travel destination for wealthy artists in the 19th century who built expensive villas in the town.

❗️ Tip: How to buy tickets
Of course, every sight has also its own ticket office. If you visit Sintra in the high season, it can be also worth it to buy your tickets beforehand online or at the ticket machine in front of the tourist information, next to the train station. There are different entrance fees for adults and children plus most attractions also offer an extra family ticket

Palácio Nacional de Sintra – The royal summer residence
Palácio Nacional de Sintra

The Sintra National Palace is not only directly located in the historic city centre but also counts as the town’s landmark. Especially prominent are its two white towers. It is the best-preserved medieval residence and was used as a royal summer residence from the early 15th till the late 19th century.
I especially loved the colourful walls with the typical Portuguese tiles (called Azulejos) and wild patterns of animals, as well as the ceilings covered in golden ornaments, decorated with birds such as swans and magpies. The rooms are beautifully arranged and give a nice feeling of the life of the royal families of Portugal. The palace shows a lot of different artistic influences such as Gothic, Renaissance, plus Portuguese tiles as their own artistic styles which were affected by the Mudéjar art, an Islamic artistic influence. The entrance cost me 10 € (10.60 US$).

Quinta da Regaleira – The mysterious garden
Quinta da Regaleira
The Initiation Well

Quinta da Regaleira is a big property with a palace, a chapel, and a huge garden around with different wells, fountains, grottoes, small lakes, and towers. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, exploring the park with its labyrinthine ways which are in between even under the earth. Of course, gardeners take care of the park but it still felt a bit feral (in a positive way) with all of the strong colours of the plants and trees. I absolutely loved it. To me, this place was truly magical. Already the palace or I would maybe call it a villa is a bit extraordinary. It was built in Gothic style and decorated with many ornaments, pinnacles, and gargoyles. Also, the rooms inside are extensively decorated, I especially liked the wooden ceilings.
Another highlight was to see the Initiation well, which is located in the middle of the park. If you go down the stairs you will find a tunnel you can follow to also find the Unfinished well. Both of them never served water sources but were actually used for rites. I paid 10 € (10.60 US$) to visit the whole garden including the palace.

Palácio Nacional da Pena – The colourful palace
Palácio Nacional da Pena

Pena National Palace is probably Sintra’s most visited site and part of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, voted by its inhabitants a few years ago. To me, it looked made out of sugar icing with its gaudy and popping colours. The palace itself is influenced by many different styles mainly Romanticism, but also Gothic, Manueline, Islamic, and Renaissance. The palace is surrounded by a huge park which takes some time to explore. Pena Nacional Palace is located in the Serra de Sintra and offers, therefore, a beautiful view over the town and to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle). I was lucky enough to see a stunning sundown at the castle which brought even a bigger facet of lights.
You can also visit the rooms of the palace which offer as well colourful patterns, and tiles combined with wooden furniture. I paid a 14 € (15 US$) entrance fee including visiting the inside of the palace. If you only buy a ticket for outside it will be almost 50% cheaper, the ticket costs 7.5 € (8 US$).

🚌 How to reach Sintra
Question number one I asked myself is how to get to Sintra. The easiest way is to take a train from Lisbon. You can eighter way take the train from the station Rossio or Oriente. You can buy the tickets directly on the ticket machine at the station. In 2021, I paid 2.30€ (2.50 US$) one way. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes and the trains usually are going at least twice per hour.
There is also a bus going to Sintra but it takes more time. Going by car is not recommended because the streets of the town are very narrow and there are just a few parking spots in the town itself.  
The view of the Castelo dos Mouros from the Palácio Nacional da Pena
🚌 How to get around Sintra
Sintra is not too big, you can easily walk from the train station to the centre and even continue from there to the further palaces. There is also a bus, especially for tourists, which is therefore also a bit pricy (in 2021 it cost almost 7€ which equals 7.40 US$). Usually, it is more a question of time and your personal fitness level whether you want to take the bus or do a longer trip on foot. From the train station to the Palácio Nacional da Pena which is one of the furthest of the famous palaces, you will walk around 1-1.5 hours but almost the whole way is uphill since the palace as well as the Castelo dos Mauros (Castle of the Moors) is in the mountains of Serra de Sintra. But at least the Palácio Nacional de Sintra and the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira are easily accessible by walking without going up.

My short conclusion: Is it worth it to visit Sintra?

This question is easy to answer: Yes! I loved my day trip to Sintra and was even a bit sad I had not enough time to stay another day. In my opinion, all the sights I visited were worth their money.
Depending on the count of the hours you will spend in Sintra, you should already think beforehand about which sights you want to visit and plan enough time for each. Keep the distances in mind, whether you take the bus or want to walk, some time for lunch, and of course the opening hours. With three sights my day was already completely filled. But you should also ask yourself if you are the kind of traveller who wants to visit palaces for more than one day in a row.

In general, the most common sights to visit are Palácio Nacional da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros, Palácio Nacional de Sintra and of course Quinta da Regaleira. But Sintra and the area around have way more to offer. This can be also nice if you do not like to have too many other tourists around you. You can visit more palaces as the Palácio de Monserrate, Palácio de Seteais or Vila Sassetti. Or if you have a car you can drive to the 7 km (4.35 miles) distant Franciscan monastery Das Convento dos Capuchos. If you plan more time around Palácio Nacional da Pena you can follow the different hiking trails or visit the highest point of Sintra’s mountains Cruz Alta.

You have read the blog post My personal highlights and tips for Sintra on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Berlin’s best spots for the Cherry Blossom-season

Cherry Blossom in Berlin

What the cherry blossom season in Berlin has to do with the Cold War, how Japan was involved in planting the trees, and where to find the best spots for the pink sea of blossoms – all of this I will tell you in the following blog post.

Every year between mid of April and the begging of May, Berlin blazes in a pink sea of cherry blossoms. The time mostly depends on the weather and how early in the year it is getting warm. In general, the trees bloom between two and three weeks.

💡 Information about cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms (also Japanese cherry) or in Japanese called “sakura” (桜 ) is the white or pink flower of the ornamental cherry tree and of particular importance in Japan. The blossom of the tree is considered to be the national flower of the country. In Japan, it describes the attributes of beauty, departure, and caducity. In Japanese, it is combined in the non-translatable word mono no aware” (物の哀れ) that describes the bittersweetness of a fading moment of transcendent beauty. The cherry blossom season in Japan markers the peak of the Japanese calendar and the beginning of spring.
The Japanese cherry is only used as an ornamental tree in contrast to cherry trees that are planted for the actual fruit.
A present from Japan

Germany received the cherry blossom trees in 1990 as a gift from Japan. East and West Germany celebrated their reunification on the 3rd of October. Therefore, the Japanese TV broadcast TV Asahi started fundraising for the planting of some cherry blossom trees. They received enough money for more than 9,000 trees, most of them were brought to Berlin.

Exchange of spies during the Cold War

The first trees were planted at the Glienicker Bridge in November 1990. The bridge links Potsdam (former East Germany) with (West) Berlin and was especially important during the Cold War since the USA and the Soviet Union used it to exchange their spies. Until today, the bridge is painted in two different shades of green and markers the borderline (nowadays it is just the borderline between two different federal states). The GDR (German Democratic Republic, East Germany), as well as the FDR (Federal Republic of Germany, West Germany), painted both around half of the bridge. The part of West Berlin is in a darker green shade. Not only because East Germany chose a slightly lighter green but also because West Germany started painting the bridge a few years earlier and therefore, the weather conditions stained the bridge.

The longest cherry blossom alley of Berlin

More than 1,000 trees seaming the TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenallee (cherry blossom alley) on the wall trail (Mauerweg) between former West-Berlin and the GDR (German Democratic Republic, East Germany). The alley is more than 100 metres (109 yards) long. Usually, there is also the Hanami Festival. Hanami (花見) is Japanese and means literally translated “flower viewing”. It describes the Japanese tradition of visiting the first cherry blossoms in spring and enjoying their beauty. In Berlin, the festival offers a picnic, Japanese food, and a cultural programme.

❗️ Cherry blossom ticker
The city of Teltow in Brandenburg has its own cherry blossom ticker (Kirschblütenticker) to check if the blossoms are already blooming at the TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenalle, the longest cherry blossom alley of Berlin. The ticker is in form of a photo gallery with a current photo of the bud of a flower, renewed every second day during the season. You can check out the ticker here (the homepage is in German).
Cherry blossom meets German history

The cherry blossom trees are mainly planted along the wall trail (the former location of the Berlin Wall) and also marker some Historian places in Berlin. A lot of trees are under the bridge “Bösebrücke” which was the first open borderline between East and West Berlin on the 9th of November 1989, the day of the fall of the wall.

🚌 Where to find cherry blossom trees
📍 TV-Asahi-Kirschblütenallee (Borderline between Berlin-Lichterfelde and Teltow):
Take the S25 or S26 to the S-Bahn station Lichterfelde-Süd, from there you follow the Holtheimer Weg. After around 550 metres (601 yards) you should reach the cherry blossom trees.
📍 Under the bridge Bösebrücke” at Bornholmer Straße (Prenzlauer Berg/Gesundbrunnen):
The Mauerweg with its cherry blossom trees runs directly under the bridge of the S-Bahn station Bornholmer Straße (S1, S2, S25, S26, S8, S85).
📍 Volkspark am Weinberg or also called Weinbergpark (Mitte):
You can reach the Weinbergpark in around 5 minutes by foot from the U-Bahn station Rosenthaler Platz (U8).
📍 Zionskirchstraße (Mitte):
The Zionskirchstraße is just another 5 minutes walk from the Weinbergpark. If you follow the street in the direction of the same-named church you will find an alley of cherry blossom in the middle of the city.
📍 Schwedter Straße at Mauerpark (Prenzlauer Berg):
The Schwedter Straße on the Mauerpark lays between the U-Bahn station Bernauer Straße (U8) and Eberswalder Straße (U2).
📍 Strausberger Platz (Friedrichshain):
The cherry blossom trees are directly at the U-Bahn station Strausberger Platz (U5).
📍 Gärten der Welt (Marzahn):
Gärten der Welt (literally translated Gardens of the World) offer 22 different garden installations. The park costs an entrance fee and is best reachable with the U5 to the U-Bahn station Kienberg – Gärten der Welt.
Click here to visit the official page and to get more information.
There are a few more spots in and around Berlin, especially at the Mauerweg (Wall Trial) where you can find more cherry blossom trees. These are the more famous spots.
The public transport of Berlin is called BVG, click here to find more train connections.

First written on Wednesday, May 12th, 2021, you have read the blog post Berlin’s best spots for the Cherry Blossom-season on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Little Stories of Denmark  – Short stories, curiosities, and trivia

Tower in Denmark

Little Stories is a category I started on my Instagram channel and where I post short stories, curiosities or trivia. Here you can find all posts about Denmark. #littlestories

#2 A wall of shoes and its story

Which shoes did you wear when you travelled the world, fell in love, went to a job interview, or even when you stayed at home because of quarantine?

This Little Story is about a green wall full of shoes, an artwork from Copenhagen. The work by the Danish artist Jakob Amsgaard was part of a street art compilation on the green walls around the construction works of the new metro in Copenhagen. Since 2011, the fences around are open to artists and their art as a temporary urban lab.
Din sko, din historie, ny start” says the sign on the wall which translated means “Your shoes, your story, new start”. Tell me a story about your favourite shoes when were you wearing them? Shoes have a story along with their owner – but not everyone has shoes. This was the idea behind Amsgaard’s installation from July 2014. During eight hours people could donate their shoes to give them a new story and support not only creativity but also to show some solidarity. Donations and all excess shoes were given to Grace Kbh, an initiative for homeless people of the Blå Kors Danmark (Blue Cross). The artwork drew attention to the problem of homelessness in the neighbourhood of Copenhagen. 

The wall of shoes: Din sko, din historie, ny start

Follow me on Instagram to read more #littlestories:

You have read the blog post Little Stories of Denmark  – Short stories, curiosities, and trivia on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Urban Art in Berlin

Art is on the street – at least in Berlin. Nowadays, Berlin is one of the hotspots for Urban Art in Europe and is used by people from all over the world as a canvas.

The graffiti scene started in the underground of New York in the 70ties and came within a few months from America in the capitals of Europe. In West-Berlin, street art was mostly used by groups which were excluded from the society back then. But already at the end of the 70ties, the interest in urban art increased. Artists explored new techniques and styles. They used the street to leave their messages – very often political motivated – and took part in recreating their city. Especially the Berlin Wall was used as a screen. Urban art also established in East-Berlin however the artists were more limited here since their art had to conform with the Socialistic Realism of the GDR (German Democratic Republic).

Urban Art is the main term which combines street art, graffiti and general art in a public space.

Urban Nation Museum

The Urban Nation Museum (Bülowstraße 7) for urban contemporary art was founded in September 2017 in Berlin-Schönefeld (free admission). Not only the exhibitions but also the housing facades are changing approximately once a year. The museum enables a deeper look into urban art, its history, artists, and techniques. The Urban Nation initiative supports the exchange with the neighbourhood of Berlin – not only in its own museum walls but also with the project One Wall. The idea is to bring five artists to Berlin every year to repaint old house walls and create a colourful Berlin – a lot of the following murals were also painted by this project.


No wonder that the Bülowstraße around the U-Bahn stations Nollendorfplatz and Bülowstraße is full of urban art because this is where the Urban Nation initiative has its offices. The building right on the opposite side of the museum (Bülowstraße 101, corner Bülowstraße/Zietenstraße) was designed by the Berlin-based Ecuadorian artist Roberto Rivadeneira in October 2020. As part of the One Wall Project, he created a metaphor for colliding time periods and named it Because the moment simply is. But also the buildings next to it are covered with street art in different sizes and forms (Bülowstraße 94-98).

Next to the museum, on the same street side (Bülowstraße 11, 12) the works of the two Spanish artists Deih XLF (first photo below, left) and David de la Mano (first photo below, right) decorate the houses. The latter was painted afresh over another work of David de la Mano which was damaged through work on the houses. The artist prefers to draw silhouettes, trees and other monochromatic symbolisms. This also confirms itself in the new artwork. It is named Gray Habit and shows a black and white silhouette of a woman.
Altogether eight murals are at the facades of the houses (Bülowstraße 32) next to the U-Bahn station Bülowstraße. The paintings are from different artists as D*Face, and Word to Mother from England, the US-American collective Cyrcle, as well as Shepard Fairey, and the group Berlin Kidz. The newest is an additional painting of a naked woman with a red glove and a paper bag over her head from 2019. Portraying persons with the just mentioned paper bags in a critical context is a trademark of the German artist Christian Böhmer. His mural Speak Up. Stand Up. draws attention to the violence against prostitutes on the street of Bülowstraße.

Haus Schwarzenberg

Concealed in the backyard of the Haus Schwarzenberg (Rosenthaler Straße 39, next to the Hackesche Höfe) does a dream come true for urban art lovers. Here are all kind of colourful murals, paintings, graffiti, collages, and stickers. A closer look is recommended because there are so many messages, drawings and little details hidden. Some of the paintings are changing with time. Besides the art, there are a studio, a cinema, two bars, the museum of Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind, and a permanent exhibition about Anne Frank.

U-Bahn station Heinrich-Heine-Straße

Next to the subway exit of Heinrich-Heine-Straße is the entrance to the rock club Sage. The door itself is hidden through paintings. Sage shares its rooms with the KitKatClub, Berlin’s most famous fetish club. Right on the opposite of the entrance of KitKatClub is the mural Unter der Hand (freely translated: secretly) by the German artist CASE.

Just around 700 m further in the direction of U-Bahn station Moritzplatz (Heinrich-Heine-Straße 36) is another mural called Face Time by the artists Various & Gould right in front of a parking slot. The painting is a combination of the techniques of serigraphy and collages.

U-Bahn station Birkenstraße

The boy with the injured elephant is from the German street art duo Herakut and the two Swiss artists Wes21 and Onur. The mural carries the message As long as you are standing, give a hand to those who have fallen – and was created through the first edition of the Berlin Mural Festival. It is located next to the subway station Birkenstraße (Stromstraße 36).

RAW-Friedrichshain and East Side Gallery

A must-see on every sightseeing tour through Berlin is the East Side Gallery (Mühlenstraße 3-100) between the S-Bahn station of Warschauer Straße and Ostbahnhof. The historical monument is the longest (well) preserved segment of the Berlin Wall. In spring 1990, after the fall of the wall, 118 artists from 21 countries painted and decorated the east side of the wall. Most pieces show the Political changes around 1989 and 1990.

The RAW-Friedrichshain – or RAW-Gelände (Revaler Straße 99, next to the S-Bahn station Warschauer Straße) – is one of the most popular places for night owls in Berlin. Besides plenty of smaller clubs and bars around the corner, it is also a perfect spot for street art lovers. The walls exhibit all kind of art pieces. The RAW-Friedrichshain are former rail train halls which are used for an alternative culture project nowadays. It is also the home of the Urban Spree, a small art gallery with changing exhibitions (free admission) but also a location for concerts and festivals.


Holzmarkt25 (Holzmarktstraße 25, close to the S-Bahn station Ostbahnhof) creates its own village somewhere between the districts Mitte, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg. Besides a music school, a kindergarten, and different creative-working companies, it has its own bars, restaurants, and saloon for events. But more importantly, it offers nice spots to chill at the Spree, get a beer from the very own brewery – with the club Kater Blau next to it. The houses and walls of the alternative quarter are full of paintings and art.