Archive for May, 2010

The legendary Silk Road, which wind itself on land and over the world’s great waters has always been an interest of mine. More specifically, the places  along this historical trade route between my home and Ancient China, Tibet and India.

The route was used during the Han dynasty, in the first century through the Roman Empire until the Renaissance, to export silks, jewels and gems, rhubarb and glass, medicine, herbs, spice and perfumes, other rich textiles and even slaves. The main route starts inland China, Luoyang and goes west passing India and through Persia to Damascus. The rest of the trip is made by boat to Turkey, Italy and Greece.

One thing is true about this route: it is filled with unforgettable cultural adventures!

I’ve always wanted to travel it, but I know that even in historical times it was rare that anyone ever travelled the entire way. Agents used to transport the goods and silks only for part of the way, passing it on to the next agent on the route. The first thing to do in order to get ready to travel the Silk Road is gathering the literature: stories, art history books, anthropology studies, novels… There is no shortage of folklore and references to the Silk Road in literature.

The next thing is starting to make your itinerary. Deciding to do the journey in parts is a good idea, especially if you don’t have too much time to travel like me. Even now I wouldn’t put trekking through Iran or Iraq at the top of my list because of their current political situation, but if you want to pass through the least amount of countries possible, head this way: Syria, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Iran , Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China.

I’d love to start my journey from the beginning, working my way back towards Europe, keeping north of the Plateau of Tibet and hiking along the mountains. Read up on the countries and more specifically the regions you want to visit, some have tourist advisories, danger areas and required visas.

The only way to travel this route is with all of the necessary research. Knowing about the currency, culture, history (modern and ancient), geography and current affairs will make the journey much more rewarding. Some recommend picking up a Lonely Planet for each country, but to be honest I don’t want to weigh down my pack with guide books. Keep a notebook with the most important information or tear out (I know, I said it, I want you to rip out pages of a book) the pages that are necessary, keeping them in a small folder or inside a notebook. You also won’t be spotted as the “tourist” from first glance.

This is where I’m going to leave you, stranded at choosing an itinerary. What do you pack for such a journey? What would be your top choices for countries?

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Locals are by far the best tour guides. They can usually tell you in an instant more about the history of the city, its stories on top of the cheapest places to grab a burger or a pint than any guide book, no matter how reputable. It takes living in a city to really know it and if you’re short on time (aka, if you’re not living there yourself) then you should get in touch with a local to show you around. When I’m travelling I try and get off of the tourist trail as much as possible and if I manage to find a local to take me around for an afternoon, well that is just an added bonus.

How to find a local?

Sometimes it just takes ordering a drink/coffee and sitting at the bar in the afternoon. Bartenders are friendly in most places and I’ve always been able to get a few pointers out of them after chatting for a little bit. I have the most luck with Couchsurfing.com, a great site that lets you find travellers and locals  in cities around the world. This site is meant to connect people, if you need a place to sleep or if you just want to  meet for a drink and it does a great job. You need a profile and it helps if you spend some time filling it out properly. Then you just make a search and start sending emails out. You should get a response quite quickly.

So, back to Hamburg.

I wanted to put together a few tips for visiting Hamburg. I’ve only been once but I really enjoyed it, especially because I had a local to show me and my travelling companion around. We spend our days just hanging out, the normal stuff a local would do. We ate vegan burritos in St. Pauli and walked around the harbour, taking photographs of street art and cool architecture. With a little help, from some locals, I’ve come up with some top places/things to do/eateries/etc. for Hamburg so if you’re travelling that way and you don’t manage to find a local to show you around, you have a t least a handful of great places to check out! So here it goes…

Where to drink like a local:

Zoë Bar (Clemens-Schultz-Str. 96)

Described as the perfect place to meet friend and make friends. The drinks are cheap (a glass of red wine is around 2.60 €) and on weekends they screen films that you’ve likely never heard of before. The atmosphere is rustic and vintage, honest you could say.

Die Herren Simpel (Schulterblatt 75)

A classic breakfast joint where you can fill yourself after waking up for 4.90 €. Coffee is always fresh and always delicious. By the time evening rolls around this bistro has turned into a classy place for cocktails and glasses of wine. Wireless is free here too. The staff are fast and effecient and always deliver with a smile.

Pony Bar (Allende Platz 1)

This place is relaxed and no one seems to be in a hurry to serve you or to leave. The furniture is straight from the 1970s and since its located near the University of Hamburg, it’s always filled with students. A glass of Merlot costs 3 € here for a coffee with milk costs 1.90 €. There is a music room with live performances almost every night of the week.

Where to eat like a local:

Hatari (Schanzenstr. 2-3)

This restaurant serves typical German food but it is a no frills kind of place. They don’t serve over-priced tourist menus, they just serve German food for a reasonable price in big portions. A main course dish costs 7 €.

Ribatejo (Bahrenfelder Strasse 56)

Tasty and Mediterranean, there is no way of walking out of here unsatisfied. It is cosy and personal serving Portuguese dishes, including a wide range of tapas.

Where to chill/hang out/shop like a local:

Docklands (Van-der-Smissen-Strasse 9)

This 25m tall building gives the best views of the harbour, especially at sunset. It is free to enter but you have to make it up the 144 steps to the viewing platform. You can watch the ships come in and out.

Gängeviertel (Caffamacherreihe 43)

Somewhere between Valentinskamp and Caffamacherriehe you’ll find a dozen old houses that were once sworn to be torn down by a properous business man. Because of their historical important the houses are now being squatted by local artists and performers, recreating the old houses into living art galleries and creative spaces. Every night there are poetry readings, concerts, exhibitions and more for free. You can visit the buildings daily from 13:00 except Mondays.

Flohshanze (Neuer Kamp 30)

Each Saturday from 8:00 until 16:00 is flea market day. You can find loads of treasures here. It is a great place to go shopping or just gawk at teh kitch items.

Botanical Gardens (Ohnhorststrasse 18)

A perfect place for a walk and a chilled out afternoon. Even locals flock to these gardens on a nice day to enjoy them. The experience is interactive, smell and touch the flowers, one of them even smells like chocolate! Learn about which plants can be used for what, some are edible which you can try yourself! It is divided into different themes and once you’re done you can relax your senses at The Palme, a trendy café located next door.

This is it for now, but if you’ve been to Hamburg before, let me know what you loved, or even what you didn’t love. If you’re a Hamburg local leave me a comment if you want to add something to the list! If you have more suggestions for cities by locals, I’d love to do posts about this in the future.

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