Open the Gates to East Germany

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

This year will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall which, in combination with more medium and long-term factors, ultimately proved to be a catalyst for the end of communism.  Now a new visitors’ map has been launched to attract those who are or may be intrigued by the former internationally-secluded and secretive East Germany.

The “Welcome to the country without border” map introduces travellers to sites of change and commemoration in Berlin, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.  Each area is represented on the map with about ten sites and locations such as memorials, museums, leftovers of former border installations, bunkers or restored historical buildings and town centres. Each site comes with a short description on the backside of the map helping visitors to put together their own route through Eastern Germany.

Since the fall of the Wall in 1989, Germany has changed its look with many buildings, squares and city centres having been painstakingly restored. What used to be no man’s land in Berlin is now “Potsdamer Platz”. In Brandenburg, the restoration of Potsdam’s historical centre will be completed with the reconstruction of the “City Palace” in 2011. After its rebuilding, “Schwerin Palace” in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is now seat of the federal state’s parliament. Reopened in 2005, the famous “Church of Our Lady” in Dresden has risen from the ashes to being one of the city’s jewels after its complete destruction in World War II.

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Air Berlin City Tour Pass

air-berlinJust in time for school leavers and graduates, Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest airline has introduced the ‘Air Berlin city tour pass’ to give young people between the ages of 18 and 27 the chance to travel on five flights within a defined route departing from the UK for the special promotional fare of £173 per ticket.

Air Berlin is urging people to be quick as tickets are for a limited time only with 3,000 available in total. The special city pass is valid for travel during July and August 2009 on all UK to Germany routes. Example itineraries include:

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Corinthia Nevskij Palace Hotel Relaunch

Facade
Facade

When I visited St Petersburg in July 2007 I stayed at the Corinthia Nevskij Palace Hotel on Nevskij Prospect.  Nevskij Prospect is a long, wide boulevard lined with former palaces and Number 57 is one which was fortunate to be redesigned into a Corinthia hotel.  While one naturally expects the building to be vast and luxurious, on entering the lobby one cannot fail to be breath-taken by this chic hotel’s sheer scale and style.  However, with competitor hoteliers completing 100 million euro extensions and refurbishment programmes,  the 400-bedroom luxury Corinthia Nevskij Palace Hotel has undergone a complete refurbishment.  I was not convinced this hotel could get any better but evidently I was wrong!  The hotel looks more chic than ever before, so if the staff are still as a attentive as they were in 2007, this hotel may in fact be the best in the world.

The hotel, which now offers more facilities than any other luxury hotel in the city, was acquired by International Hotel Investments (IHI) in 2002. The Malta based investment, development and management company also acquired the vacant properties on either side of the hotel which have been restored their former glory and form part of the re-development.

Presidential Suite
Presidential Suite

The work included enlarging the grand foyer, refurbishing the Imperial Restaurant and bars and upgrading all the bedrooms. One of the adjoining properties, Nevskij 59, is now the executive wing with 107 executive suites, bedrooms and a 250sq m Presidential Suite, plus an Executive Lounge.  The Executive Lounge was a real bonus to my stay and I would advise spending the extra money to stay in an executive suite simply because you get to enjoy complementary food and drinks in sumptuous comfort, providing your feet with a welcomed break from pounding around the streets of St Petersburg.

The new Grand Ballroom offers the largest meeting space of its kind in St. Petersburg with a capacity of 600 theatre style and 500 for dinner. There are also 14 executive meeting rooms available with a capacity from 12 to 200.

At any one time, more than 1500 guests can be accommodated in the hotel’s conference facilities. Later this year a shopping mall and commercial centre will be opening in the second adjoining property, Nevskij 55.

Restaurant
Restaurant

Commenting at the official grand re-opening, founder and chairman of Corinthia Hotels, Mr. Alfred Pisani said: “Corinthia Hotels is committed to the long term future of St. Petersburg and is proud to have played an important part in providing the necessary infrastructure at the luxury level to attract increasing the number of visitors to the city.”

Her Excellency the Governor of St. Petersburg, Valentina Matvienko, His Excellency Professor Guido de Marco, President Emeritus of Malta and Mr. Vadim Tulpanove, Chairman of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg were also among the many dignitaries that attended the re-opening event.

Corinthia Hotels is a collection of luxury hotels in St. Petersburg, Prague, Budapest, Lisbon, Tripoli and Malta (2). A new major landmark 300-bedroom hotel in central London is currently under construction in Northumberland Avenue.

For more information go to: www.corinthia.com

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Ljubljana, Slovenia

Market Band
Market Band

From Zagreb it takes just 2 hours and 20 minutes to get to Ljubljana.  Trains run semi-regularly from 5 A.M. to 11.35 P.M.  Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and like Zagreb, is a very pretty capital city.  The market is packed full of quaint little wooden stalls selling everything from cabbage to wine.

However, the main attraction in the city is the castle.  The castle can be reached on foot, by tourist train or by funicular, a return ticket for the latter costs 3 Euros for an adult and 2 Euros for a concession.

Vintage Car
Vintage Car

From the castle one can enjoy panoramic views of the city and the mountains which surround it.  Unfortunately, there is currently repair work taking place on the tower so views are limited.

Slovenia always has many events and festivals taking place across the country and last Saturday the Slovene Vintage Car Club were in the city, out in force.

The cars were a real delight, as were their owners who were happily sharing wine and food with the locals and tourists alike.

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What will you be taking away this summer?

Last summer I was stood in a queue in Zagreb train station on a Sunday morning getting ready to board a train to Sarajevo.  Balkan trains not being comparable to others in Eastern Europe, my travelling companion and I decided it best to stock up on snacks for the day’s journey.  We found ourselves standing in a queue with a vegetarian Australian girl.  When it came to the girl’s turn to order food from the bakery, she asked what vegetarian options there were.  She was met with a bleak response which to my travelling companion and I was not a surprise at all.  It was more of a surprise to find a solely vegetarian (although it did serve fish so I suppose it was really pescatarian) restaurant in Sarajevo.  The vegetarian Austalian was told by the young girl in the bakery that the only option was croissants.  After purchasing five croissants, the Australian boarded a train to Berlin.

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Is Turkey Part of Eastern Europe?

Last week Pegasus airlines flew me and eight other journalists to Istanbul to write about it being the capital of culture for 2010.  Pegasus, who have previously been flying out a few times a week from Stansted, are launching daily flights to Istanbul, among other destinations, from just £39.99.  For more information on flights go to: www.pegasusairlines.com/en

I am not sure if I truly believe Turkey is part of Europe.  After all it is a place entirely divided geographically and historically.  I once wrote an article for the Nico Colchester Competition, sponsored by Shell (which I did not win) advising the EU of serious concerns to be considered if admitting Turkey into the union.  That was some five years ago now, during which I have graduated from UCL and also been to Istanbul for the first time.

Is Istanbul, is Turkey part of Europe? Technically, geographically, yes.  Historically, partially.  Will it become part of the EU?  Quite possibly.  Regardless of my thoughts, or your preconceptions here are my best bits (or at least my best photographs!)

Flag on Taksim Square
Flag on Taksim Square

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Greenbee Classic Russia Tour

Greenbee was launched by John Lewis to provide insurance for your home, car, holidays, weddings and even your pets.  However, the website www.greenbee.com offers much more than just insurance and offers a specialist travel service including group tours to Russia.  From just £1630, Greenbee will whisk you off on an 8-day, flying to Moscow from London Heathrow with British Airways.

russia-flat

The tour group then stays at the Marriott Tverskaya Hotel for three nights.  During the first full day in Moscow, the tour group visits Red Square, Moscow State University, Novodevichy Convent, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and St Basil’s Cathedral.  If you want some time off in the afternoon there is the option of personal leisure time or a visit to Tretyakov Gallery.

On the third day, the tour visits Sergiev Posad, built around the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius, one of Russia’s most important religious and historical landmarks.  The final day in Moscow is spent at the Kremlin, Russia’s apex of political power.  Here you visit the Patriarch’s Palace, Cathedral Square and the Armoury Museum which contains the greatest collection of British silver in the world, in addition to treasures accumulated by the Russian state and church.

Church on Spilled Blood
Church on Spilled Blood

A four hour train journey takes you to St. Petersburg where the tour group stays at the Ambassador Hotel for four nights.  The following day, a tour visiting sights such as Nevsky Prospekt, Vasilevsky island, Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood and the Peter and Paul Fortress, is provided.  During the afternoon, the tour goes to the Yusupov Palace and attends a canal boat cruise.

The sixth day of the tour is dedicated to one of the largest museums in the world, the Hermitage, which contains a vast collection of European masterpieces.  The penultimate day in Russia is spent at Catherine’s Palace at Pushkin, followed by an afternoon visit to Peter the Great’s Summer Palace and gardens.  Finally, before jetting back to London’s Heathrow, a brief visit to St Issac’s Cathedral is made.

During the trip, should any of the tour desire to see an opera or ballet performance in either Moscow or St. Petersburg, tickets can be pre-booked through Greenbee Specialist Travel.

Fore more information, visit Greenbee.

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