nina on the go

Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

leaving...the most beautiful place I've called 'home'

This post is far more personal than what I usually write, harkening back to the beginnings of my blog...which is kind of ironic actually.

Bingen am Rhein, Germany
Me on a castle...where else?
Because I'm leaving. I have left. This home. The Rhine. After 9 years, of living in Bingen, a small city on the banks of the Rhine River, I have moved back to Canada. To Alberta. To family.

Dad and I in Banff
 And, I want to share with you my 3 favourite things about this place I've called home.

But first, that begs the question: Where is home? I've asked this here before, is home where your family is? Where your stuff is? Where your love is? Where your puppy is?

Sammy getting to know the neighbours
Or does it have nothing to do with any of these things really, but is where you grew up, where you feel yourself and what is familiar? I'm not sure, but maybe you can have more than one place that meets the definition of 'home' varying times in your life. And, sometimes you just know when you need to leave.

Honestly, I have felt without a home for quite a while now...or maybe the better description would be, without a place to belong. I have felt for some time that I should be somewhere else, even though where I have been living since December 2010 has been one of the most beautiful, exciting, and inspriring places...full of wonderful people and experiences, and one very special puppy. I have made the choices to come and now to go, and am fully aware and grateful for the blessings I have been given: dual citizenship, parents who led the way to travel, explore, and move, and the gifts of opportunity, which are not given to everyone...especially not every woman.

One of the coolest bachelorette parties ever...drinking, horses, castles, and more drinking!
My time on the Rhine has been an ever-changing mixture of hopefulness and heartache. My hopes...the dreams I had when I moved here, two very specific ones, did not materialize. At all. Life is like that sometimes. Not everyone gets everything they want. But, I'm lucky in so many other ways, and am thankful that I have a fairly hopeful disposition and have been able to take in the many, many positive things in my life and be open to those experiences. I remind myself daily of the blessings of people, places and puppies (puppy!), not to mention work, that I am surrounded by. I have had a rich time here. But, I will continue to hope.

As a boy...
...and a man (well, more of a teenager, really)
There's a German saying, "hope dies last". Is that also an English saying? Might be.

I'm moving towards family, due to circumstances beyond my control. But, the decision to move now is mine, and I know it's the right time. I'm moving towards new work, while still enjoying my old work (my company didn't want to let me go and I didn't want to let it go). I'm moving towards old friends, blessed that new friends are already excited for the time when I'll be back in Germany again to work. I will continue to travel, and experience the richness of the diversity and sameness among all of us. And, I will be with family. All good things. And, I will continue to hope.

My favourite Alberta night with my peeps!
My favourite co-worker :) Budapest, our office away from the office.
The Mä wine and travel buddies on Rhine
Living beside the Rhine for 9 years, spending much time on it, and riding over it many, many times, has been an inspiration. At any time of day, or year, this incredible river is a force, a lifeblood, a road, a beauty, and it has been a privilege to join the millions before me who have made it their home.

I have benefited from the incredible vines that the river nourishes on its sun-kissed banks in Germany's largest wine region, Rheinhessen, and its steep cliffs along the Middle Rhine Valley. Here, where tourists flock to, I have lived and loved. Here, where blood used to flow as men fought for control of this vital waterway, and erected castle upon castle displaying power and might, I have taken a zillion photos, planned weddings (not mine), and toured visiting friends. I've been blessed.

A wedding at Burg Reihenstein (Reihenstein Castle) - Trechtingshausen
A wedding in a park on the riverbank
...and reception high above the Rhine
One bridge which I've crossed hundreds of times, almost every single day twice, brings me to a standstill regularly. Whether it's because the water and trees are gleaming, or because the fog hangs low above the river, letting only the church steeple and castle tower peer out from above, there is history. At the back of the scene is always the stone bridge anchoring the view, the Drususbrücke, Germany's oldest, still standing, still-at-work bridge. 

This bridge has a mystical history. Built in the 1100's, close to where the Romans also had a stone bridge crossing the Nahe River, just before it flows into the Rhine, the Drusus Bridge was a gateway into the unknown. In the Middle Ages, it led into the dark and wild forests on the other side of the river. A small chapel built into the stone archway below the bridge, on the Bingen side, allowed travelers to say a prayer of protection and blessing before heading across into perilous territory. Nowadays, the chapel is only open on 'Tag der offene Denkmals' (Heritage Sites Open House), but it sure is a treat to enter, and the bridge a privilege to cross.

And, that brings me to my 3 favourite things about this area, the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, beginning at Bingen am Rhein.

1) The Castles

I always say to Canadians who are planning to come and visit, "only come if you like castles and wine...if you don't like either then you're wasting your time."

At the beginning of the valley, the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site, just around the corner from Bingen, the first castle is Burg Rheinstein. My mother loved this castle, called herself the 'Burg Prinzessin' (castle princess), dressing up in a long gown with flowers in her hair to get her photo taken here (no joke). So, I love it too.

Burg Rheinstein - Trechtingshausen

And, at the end of the valley, approximately a 50-kilometre stretch of winding river and high, vineyard-covered hills, you will find the imposing Marksburg Castle. This is the only castle remaining which was never destroyed and never fell into disrepair. It is the perfect place to learn about the actual day-to-day runnings of a castle from the 1100's, with a fascinating tour explaining idioms which we have from the Middle Ages, such as 'caught you red-handed' or 'get off your high horse'.

Marksburg Castle - Braubach

2) The Wine

You can't go far here without seeing sprawling vineyards, stumbling across a family-run wine tavern, or bumping into a sun-soaked wine festival. The folks who live here know their vintners..they are neighbours and friends, and often provide the liquid courage and cozy ambience in the locals' favourite haunts.

Historische Weinwirtschaft (Historical Wine Tavern) - Oberwesel

Wine also goes a long way to helping create the crazy days of carneval, sustaining Germany's longest-running wine festival (Bingen's!), warming the hearts and hands of Christmas market revellers, and is most often the catalyst for friends to gather and enjoy a glass on a Rhine terrace, backyard or while watching fireworks (Germans love their fireworks!).

Wine can also be enjoyed directly among the vintner's own vineyards, for example, along the Rheinsteig, one of Germany's famous hiking trails. The route goes up and down along the Middle Rhine Valley, a route consisting of 21 stages along 320 kms. Among some of the vineyards through which the trail leads, there are wine stands where weary hikers can take a rest, insert some coins (and ID) and have a glass or share a bottle. Coming from Canada, I thought this was just the best thing since sliced bread!

And, if you are interested in hitting one spot where you can taste-test the wines from both sides of the Rhine here, then there's no better place than the Rhein Weinwelt at Rüdesheim. Here, you buy tokens and then go through various rooms, where the local vintners are displayed along with their wines. Insert a token, pour yourself a sip from the dispenser, and enjoy! It really is quite fun.

3) Boating & Biking

As I've mentioned, I have spent a lot of time either on the Rhine or riding along side it. I commuted to and from work for 6 years, riding along the gorgeous Rhine bike trails. It's been 8 days and I already miss it.

The views change each day, each season...always dynamic. Sometimes the waters rise too high, or get dangerously low, but the Rhine is never boring. The freighters are a constant, carrying everything from John Deere tractors (a sight which always reminds me of the Canadian prairies) to metal trash to oil, with entertaining names like 'Enjoy' and 'Patience'.

Coming here for a day or a week, the best thing to do is to get on the water. I booked a boat tour every day the first time I visited Bingen. There are hourly or day tours, and obviously also multi-day river cruises, heading down this stretch of the Rhine.

For many years, we would take our little motorboat to our favourite watering hole along the river bank. And, on hot summer days, we would jump in the boat and throw the anchor on the far side of the Mouse Tower island, and go swimming. It felt like a holiday every single time.

During my 9 years on the Rhine, I have been blessed to get to know some great forever friends...some furry, some German, and even one Canadian, who I oktoberfested with, laughed with and even touched Merkel with. #goodtimes

Canadians...on beer
And, I've seen much more of the world than I thought I would. There are so many corners to explore, near and far. I would encourage all of us to start or continue to go beyond our own neck of the woods...get to know each other, listen to each other's stories, and learn the lessons of the past. There are so many roads that have been traveled, and they so inspire me.

Now, I'm here, in Alberta, surrounded by snow and sunshine. And, if not for the coronavirus, last week I would have had an airport greeting like this one a few years and one nephew ago. So much love.

But Germany, I'll be back...there's lots of carneval, wine and Rhine to still to do and a puppy to visit. Home.

For now, I will look forward, focus on family, new work and the mountains. And continue to hope.

If you go:

Bingen is just 45 minutes west of Frankfurt, by car or train, in the middle of Germany. It is close to the Belgium and Luxembourg border, and sits at the beginning of the Upper Rhine Gorge.

Train Info:

Bingen am Rhein -

Rhine Gorge (Middle Rhine Valley) -

Reihenstein Castle
Rheinstein Castle
Marksburg Castle

Rheinsteig Trail
Rhine Castle Trail (Rhein-Bürgen-Weg)

Boat Tours:
Wine Tasting:

Friday, January 31, 2020

camden, london...a day of canal walks, the market, and charming hampstead

A lovely day in Camden Borough

...starting with a walk along Regent's Canal

Three weeks ago I spent a lovely London day exploring a part of the city which I didn't know...Camden Borough. I started the morning off with a walk along Regent's Canal, beginning just around the corner from Pancras Station, and heading towards Camden Town.

Along the narrow canal, I loved checking out the many whimsical houseboats, viewing the interesting waterfront architecture, and snapping the cute tunnel paths.

The Regent's Canal walk gets leafier and more colourful the closer you get to Camden Town and the market area.

The street art on tunnel underpasses, shopfronts, and stairwells is fascinating along the walk. Politically motivated (aka. Banksy) or social commentary or just plain artful, I loved the graffiti and took tons of photos.

Banksy's Missile Girl

Since moving to the Rhine over nine years ago, I have become obsessed with boat names. Some are inspiring, beautiful or just funny, and I often wonder about why the family aboard gave that vessel her name. Here, along the canal, it was no different. Promise. Hope. Molly Anna. Little Drifter. Some are homes, some are cafes, and one is even a bookstore.

I met up with a friend along the canal for a delicious Venezualan lunch at Arepas. We ate scrumptious Pernil Arepas and Cachapas (braised pork shoulder, avocado, pico de gallo, spicy mayo, onions and fresh herbs), the first a corn flour cake, the second a pancake version...both excellent, good value and so filling.


Hampstead Town

An 8-minute ride on the Northern line from Camden Town and you're in Hampstead Town. This charming community boasts London's deepest underground platform (58 metres), gorgeous lanes and alleyways in every direction, and a very impressive list of affluence and celebrity making their home here.

I decided to check out some little antique shops along the high street. Similar to visiting garage sales or flea markets, antique shops show a side of local life that you don't normally get to see as a tourist. Antique stores hold essentially the junk of the wealthy, those items they don't want or have a use for anymore. I like that...and so I picked up an old tea cup and saucer, probably once owned by a super rich person :) When in Rome...

I took A Lady in London's advice and walked her favourite lanes in Hampstead Town: Church Row, Holly Walk, Flask Walk and Mansfield Place. Perfect recommendation. These take you on a beautiful tour of the residential area, up hills and past quaint (but surely expensive) cottages, boutique hotels and hidden pubs.

Church Row
Hampstead became fashionable in the 1700's due to its healing waters, causing upper class families to flock here. Over the following centuries, many in the intellectual, literary and art communities also made their homes in Hampstead, even though the town couldn't keep up its spa reputation against places like Bath and Cheltenham.

Holly Walk
At the top of Holly Walk you will find nice views over Hampstead's rooftops. You can't see the Heath, but it's close. Hampstead Heath is London's largest ancient parkland, according to Wikipedia, and has a great London lookout point from Parliament Hill.

I always photograph tiles like the one below, which hang above a house's front entrance. You will find these all over Europe, and as far as I understand it, they date back to the middle ages before there were house numbers, to let visitors know who the home's inhabitants were. In this case, did a polo player once live here...although polo came to London at a much later date.

Richard Burton, Aldous Huxley, John Keats, Sigmund Freud, John Constable and George Michael all made Hampstead their home, because of its proximity to London City, but its exclusive village feel. Fun fact, Hampstead has more millionaires than any other area in the UK. Whoa.

Flask Walk
I took my time meandering through the gorgeous lanes, taking photos of the interesting homes here, and enjoying a rare sunny January morning.

Mansfield Place
Then back toward High Street, where cute boutiques, cafes and pubs abound. It's the perfect place for a rest stop...a flat white or a pint, or afternoon tea.

And, this lady above one shop intrigued me. I don't know what she signifies, but the imagination could run wild about what stories this building might be able to tell...if only it could talk.

Then back to the centre of town and the tube station. By early afternoon I was ready to go back to Camden Town to explore the market and have a drink.

Camden Town & Camden Lock Market

Walking from the tube station toward Camden Lock Market feels light years away from the small-town vibe of Hampstead just 10 minutes away. It felt I had landed in 1980's New York or present day Berlin. Cool people of all walks of life are here to be seen. It is colourful and, anything but boring.

The market has a complicated history, and has changed and redefined itself many times over the past few hundred years. Its current state, since 1974 and called Camden Lock Market, boasts 28 million visitors a year! Although the actual Camden lock is not in use anymore, there are 3 dual locks on the canal which runs along the market area.

Camden Market includes the Stables Market, which is a covered series of large 'rooms' which once housed the Pickfords Stables and Horse Hospital dating back to the 1700's. The horses at Pickfords were responsible for pulling the barges up the canals, until the invention of the automobile changed the company into a van and lorry business.

Outside of the market I walked along Chalk Farm Road, looking for a bakery that was on my list to visit and taking many a pic along the way.

Soon enough, I found Luminary Bakery's Chalk Farm location. The staff were lovely, the atmosphere lively, and my scone incredibly good. I really like the story and continued mission of Luminary, which provides training and a supportive workplace for women needing a bit of sunshine in their life. I will be going back there whenever I'm in the city.

Luminary Bakery
And, to close, here is my number 1 tip for new visitors to London: skip the hop on-hop off buses and get an Oyster card and ride the real red double-decker buses! They cost a fraction and get you everywhere you want to go with the exact same view as the tourist buses. And, even if you're not quite sure where you're going, just get on and take in the views of this great city. That's what I do!

If you go:

-first of all, check out A Lady in London's blog for tips, ideas, great photos and guides to everything London. That's what I do.

-get an Oyster Card for the tube and bus network. It's so easy to use, easy to load and way cheaper than any other mode of transportation. You'll get the hang of the tube in no time!

-like any city which is popular with tourists, try to find spots for tea and pub lunches and great eats where the locals go. London is expensive at any time so going where the locals go will ensure that you're getting the most for your buck (pound).

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