Heaven on Earth

In the Golden Triangle of Thailand

Mellow me out, North Sea

Why after my blogtrip ended, I returned as a friend

Why I fell in love in Tuscany

"Locanda al Colle" where I found paradise

Two new Supper Clubs in Berlin

Fancy a splendid dinner? Then try "Zuhause" and "Mud Art Berlin"

No sleep in Girona

Why I and other bloggers fell in love in and with this city

A perfect weekend break in Brussel

And why this is a serious threat to your weight

Days of Sweet Idleness

Or why Paradise can be found in Lower Bavaria

Paris in summer - a magical short trip

Or why I proposed to a complete stranger

Thailand - a natural beauty

Bangkok and Khon Kaen: Riding Tuk Tuks is even more fun at 42 Degrees Celsius

Dear Florida

Solo travelling one week in the sunshine State - and I loved it

International Gestures

Don't get me wrong - How to avoid the Courtesy Trap

Discover Istanbul

But be warned: you may fall in love for ever

Heaven on earth - in the Golden Triangle of Thailand

I am very grateful to be here and to experience this. I am sitting on a large sofa with colourful cushions on a wooden deck which belongs to my tent. Positioned on a slope of a mountain. I look at a tropical valley, lush and green, crossed by a river. Behind that are curved mountain ranges – away in Burma and Laos. I am in the Golden Triangle in Thailand, near Chiang Rai in the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. This is not a flapping one-man tent, but a rather more luxurious version. All amenities included. Luxurious outdoor shower, works of art in the room, all made of the best materials with a beautiful free-standing bathtub in the middle. The resort has five stars, or is it six or seven? I honestly don’t know, for that is not so important for me. And – by the way – the term resort doesn’t really fit - and certainly not the term hotel. It is a camp. I know only one thing: I feel extremely happy here. Very much at home. Alongside me are staying quite a few couples on their honeymoon, and they are all very happy. Happy with themselves and their holidays. And so am I, because I'm just very grateful for so much beauty.

The nature fascinates me. Plants that I otherwise know only from thick photo books, an air that is not so hot and oppressive as anywhere else in Thailand. Big colourful butterflies fly around and bring a smile on my face. At night I hear animals that I cannot identify, but they do not scare me. And then there are the elephants. I hear them calling out. They walk around the broad wood, eat grass and leaves and go swimming. The Four Seasons co- founded the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation which rescues elephants and cares about them and their keepers. Also located on the site is the Think Elephants International Foundation that researches the behaviour and the intelligence of the animals.



There are only 15 tents here. A spa in the middle of the jungle, the Burma Bar, worthy of that name as it is directly overlooking the river and the mountains that already belong to Burma. And an excellent restaurant that serves local and international cuisine. At first I thought the camp is located somewhere on the edge of a small town. In fact I had only looked up the postal address on the Internet, the camp itself is indeed located in the jungle, directly on the border with Burma and Laos.


When I get my tent and hear that it is the Butterfly Tent, I delighted. Butterflies are particularly important to me, I feel a connection to them. It’s a little too personal for this blog, but I'll tell you this much: I see more in them than just colourful airy fellows. The sight of them moves me to tears and have to swallow because it makes me so happy. My hostel, the butterflies - my constant companions for the next few days - and the lovely people at the camp made me forget all my worries, time and other constraints.

Im Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangel from Angie Reisefreunde on Vimeo.

The staff here are so attentive that I almost believe in miracles. Maybe it's the Thai friendliness but I think it is more. I hear that in Thailand there is a saying that means “A smile only truly comes from the heart when one has found the inner temple”. I guess they have probably all found it.

Or is it that they share this wonderful nature and the amazing facilities with guests who all experience unforgettable moments and are therefore constantly in a state of happiness? There’s a range of exciting and memorable activities. On the first day I went on a tour of the jungle with the cook Mon and her colleague Nok where they showed me herbs and fruits and explained what they are used for in Thailand and how to cook with them. It amused them immensely that I wanted to try everything. Especially when they gave me a sour or bitter fruit to try and I pulled faces...

Guests can also make a trip from here to Burma, or Myanmar, or go to the nearest old town of Chiang Saen and then explore the temples. Or take a boat tour or visit museums or take cooking classes. I opted for the elephants and became an Elephant Whisperer.

Back to the camp. After my elephant training I let myself fall into my bathtub in the tent. Of course the camp staff had listened attentively when I mentioned that after such a hard training and with such a beautiful bathtub in the tent all I really wanted was a bath. Of course it was already prepared when I came back to my tent after dinner. Such a perfect service takes my breath away. The tub is already filled with pretty petals scattered all over it. Can this be true? Or let me give you another example: At the spa I mention to the staff that I will most likely doze off during the treatment as I still struggle a bit with jet lag and little sleep during the previous night. As I come back to my tent at night what do I find? Earplugs. Such service really is impressive. I feel extremely comfortable and in good hands.

The last night is very special indeed. The camp celebrate with their guests the traditional Loy Krathong. This is a festival of lights where pretty little boats decorated with lights are set on the water and then sail away supposedly taking away all your worries with them. We all meet at the Burma Bar and enjoy appetizers and cocktails, and I finally have some time to have a chat with the manager. Vikas comes from India has seen many places in his country and has lived in many cities. He has been here in this heavenly camp since September 2011. He is, like everyone else here, a very balanced person and tells me about the philosophy of the camp. Everything is designed to provide guests with a memorable experience, he says. And indeed, as it gets dark, Vikas asks the guests to turn round to view the river and the lights are turned off.

We can hardly believe our eyes as suddenly an endless flotilla of floating candles drift downstream past the camp and fireworks start in the near distance. Couples embrace and I keep thinking of all my friends and my sister and wished they were with me now to experience this beautiful scene with me. Slowly the lights continue to float down the river past us. Until the fireworks have finished. How wonderful. Then there is a feast in the form of vegetables and fruit for the elephants. And it starts to rain. We walk together with the beautifully-clad dancers, surrounded by singing and music, sparklers and firecrackers, in the direction of the restaurant. Then there is yet another surprise. Suddenly Thai music starts to play and we see a band in traditional costumes. They play and dance accompanied by two fireeaters. This is truly magical.

In the restaurant the magic continues. I sit at a table with Vikas and a very friendly young couple (Karla from Mexico and Frederik from Norway). The two are so much in love and happy to have found each other that I catch myself listening spellbound to their story that has a lot to do with travel and foreign countries. One could easily write a script about it. We toast to travel and love. Not much more is needed in life except good health. We let lanterns rise into the air, Karla and Frederik insisting we all four do this together. This touches me. It is an enchanting evening. With a classic Thai menu and finally a whiskey for me and Vikas, who is also a big fan of single malts as I am. Once I'm back in my tent, I find it hard to believe that this is my last night here. I find it even harder to say goodbye. The front desk clerk asked me the next morning, "Are you sure you want to leave the camp, Miss Angelica?" What can I say? No, I'm rather sure I want to stay here much longer. But the time has come to say goodbye and Vikas accompanies me down to the river as I leave the camp by boat. I sigh heavily with the romance of it all.

As we part I give Vikas a big hug and my heartfelt thanks. I get on my boat, and we wave goodbye until we can see each other no more. If this is heaven, I think, then we have nothing to fear from death.

For more pictures from the camp please go to Facebook.

Disclaimer: I travelled on this journey as a guest of the Four Seasons for which I thank them. But even if I had paid for the stay itself, my opinion of this camp would be no different.

By Angie with

Mellow me out, North Sea!


"Where is Miss Marple?" I wondered as I walked through the petite German nest called Bredstedt close to the North Sea. Tiny red brick stone houses, green hedges and white picked fences. It was autumn - Indian summer in Northern Germany. Not too cold though. Trees posed in red, yellow, gold and crimson. What a sight. I was about to start a program called "Nordsee-Hopping" that would lead me from this village to the island of Amrum and further on to a North Frisian Hallig, which is a tiny island without a dike - the name comes from the Celtic word hal, meaning "salt", a reference to the low-lying land in the region which is often flooded over with water by the tides. But back to my view, which was fulfilling my needs for tranquility and rest. I walked back to Paulsen's Landhotel where I was about to stay one night. It was small and cozy, I liked the cute a bit shabby chic interior and the friendly young stuff. The main house is one of those tiny red brick stone ones but there is also an annex that is new and completely made of wood. Red and white. Looking Swedish. Sous Chef Anette invited me into the kitchen and taught me how to cook a typical regional crab soup. It is quite simple and I was supposed to have it for dinner.


Nordseehopping Paulsens Landhotel from Angie Reisefreunde on Vimeo.

Meals are served in a cozy sunroom and I sat there by candlelight as the waitress brought my food. Paulsen's Landhotel serves huge portions of regional and seasonal dishes with a modern twist, which is always my favorite cuisine. I had three courses, which were super delicious and well made - and great German wine. But because of my quite long train ride up here, the warm and cozy atmosphere, and the good food and of course the wine I went to bed very early. Was tranquility starting already? I think it did as next morning I felt relaxed and thrilled to proceed my journey. Finally I would visit Amrum, an island in the North Sea I have never been to before. The father of the owner of Paulsen's Landhotel drove me to the ferry, which was only a couple of minutes away. He talked to me in a special German dialect "Platt" - which maybe can be translated with "flat" - just like the landscape around here. I think I understood 80%, but still we had an interesting conversation.

When I told my readers that I will be up here, some recommended a "classic" that I need to do when I am at the ferry or on the ferry: Order a "Pharisäer". That is a hot coffee pimped with rum and topped with heavy whipped cream. Of course there is a story to it. The people up here loved to have their strong drinks. But the church was not too happy about it. As with the drinks came adultery and crime. So as usual, alcohol was deuced. But the people were foxy, poured their booze into their coffee and topped it with cream so there simply was no smell. There is another drink up here, which I prefer, it is called "Tote Tante" (dead aunt)  - a hot chocolate with amaretto. So my first Pharisäer at 11:30 am was too strong for me - and I didn't want to risk falling of the ferry so I simply drank it only half. Cheers!



90 Minutes later I was sober again and arrived at Amrum. In the tiny village of Norddorf I arrived at the hotel  "Mein Inselhotel"  - and found the owner and chef Gunnar puzzled. He and his wife Kerstin expected me one day later actually. Anyhow, I was greeted like a friend shown to my beautiful room and was surprised minutes later by Kerstin's offer to take me to the beach. Fab idea. And man, what a beach Amrum has. Forget everything you know abut the Nord Sea. This was paradise. Long stretched out white sand, dunes and a very calm ocean. The sun was dramatically showing up behind the dark clouds and a slight wind came up, blowing all my sorrows away when I walked with Kerstin along the shore. I loved it and we instantly became friends. Her soothing voice, her openness and cordialness made this so easy. 

Back home (see, not back at the hotel - back HOME) I was invited to join chef Gunnar in the kitchen to see what he was up to. He is a pro and prepared so we had some time to joke around. He also is a man of kindness. What a pleasure to stay here! Again also here, the owners prefer fresh, regional and seasonal ingredients only. Most of the vegetables come from the local farmer Mr. Schulte and you can taste that. After a superb dinner I stayed at the bar and we were talking all night. On the next morning I remembered vaguely that I asked Gunnar to show me how to drive his tractor which was parked outside. So, after a great breakfast and a strong coffee I felt fit enough to try my luck. Well see the video if you want a good laugh.


Nordseehopping: Amrum - Mein Inselhotel from Angie Reisefreunde on Vimeo.

As if the GOD of GOOD was willing to show me where heaven is, I met Kinka, a local woman who is not only a journalists for the local papers, she also does private sightseeing tours, is a georgeous photographer takes care of rental apartments and serves in a café. And she is really smart and a beauty! She was so kind to show me around the island, knowing every detail by heart and I mean by heart, totally devoted to her home, her HEIMAT as we say in German. I was impressed by her power and energy, which to me seemed to be typical for women of that island. Stunning. The end of this stay came clearly too quickly and again it was hard to say good bye and I was moved to tears when Kerstin and Gunnar brought me to the ferry and waved goodbye until the ferry was out of sight. I again was blessed to meet such wonderful people.

The old ferry took me to the Hallig Langeness, which is the biggest of the German Hallig Islands in the Nord Sea. In Germany by the way, you do not call them islands - I only do this here to give you an idea. Langeness is 11km long and counts 100 inhabitants. That's it. Flat land. Nearly no trees, just acres, water. Nothingness. As there is no dike, houses found protection by human hands. All of the buildings stand on a dwelling mound so that when a storm flood comes in, the Hallig may be under water, but the houses are safe. Not really safe of course as there have been destructive floods in the past that killed people and destroyed house completely. But the ocean was calm when I sat my feet on Langeness. 


Nordseehopping: Hallig Langeness from Angie Reisefreunde on Vimeo.

I was picked up by Virginia, the owner of the hotel Ankers Hörn, the only four star hotel on such a Hallig. This is some sort of unique - they don't even have a police station here, let alone a real big supermarket. What they do have is a small mom-and-pop store, which is run by a (at first sight) peculiar looking long bearded guy. But he is witty and has a golden heart and a 150% commitment for his Hallig. There is also a tiny tiny museum, a café, another local pub, a woman who sells books in her entry hall and a family to sell pictures in their entry hall. C'est tout - that's it. Langeness.

"So what is there to do on a Hallig?" I wanted to know from Virginias husband Malte. "Nothing" he said. I paused. And then I realized. Nothing.  Just sitting, stopping and starring at the sea, at the emptiness, nothing to catch your sight, nothing to distract your thoughts from thinking about you, yourself, your life, your future. I understood and stopped and stared in silence. And I realized although that day was actually the end of my organized trip that I have to go back to Amrum, to the wonderful people that I met there - a least for two more nights. And so I did something I have never done before: I ended a blogtrip and returned to one of my cooperation partners as a friend. Back "home" to Amrum, to "Mein Inselhotel".

DISCLAIMER: I was genreously invited by the owners to join the NORDSEE-HOPPING program. My opinion remains, as always my very own. :)

By Angie with

Why I fell in love in Tuscany

“Well it’s not so far down paradise, at least it’s not for me” to quote one of my all time favorite travel songs, “Sailing” from Christopher Cross.  My trip to Tuscany has a lot to do with it, and I was listening to that song all day when I was on the way to Gate 70 at the Munich Airport to my Air Dolomiti flight to take me to an extended weekend to Tuscany. I've been boarding from these bus gates a couple of times now -but apparently I had missed this rarity so far: it is here where they have a real Italian bar, which is called Little Italy. On the TV, an Italian beauty was chatting rapidly and the guy behind the bar had that typical Italian gigolo style.  Serving hot and strong espresso and for the ladies he served an extra bright smile. Che bello.
 
A little later I was sitting in the ATR of the Italian Lufthansa daughter. Again Christopher Cross sang into my ears when the Alps showed up underneath me. Nomen est omen I thought, sitting on board the Air Dolomiti that purred quietly towards Florence. There I was about to pick up my rental car, and drive an hour to the sea to Camaiore for a stay in the “Locanda al Colle” north of Pisa. At that moment little did I know. The invitation came from "Charming Places" – organizer and tourismlegend Siglinde Fisher - because this guesthouse is one of the all times favorite of Anja Fischer who has taken over the management of this unique German tour operation company. Anja was sure the Locanda would also leave me speechless. I was excited and as always of course a bit skeptical. Could it be so easy to find paradise?
 
An hour after landing I arrived. Already at first sight the Locanda al Colle was very much to my taste. The house (a former farm) is situated on a hillside full of olive trees and lush vegetation. The name says it  - as the translation means “The guesthouse on the hill”. A cypress nestled gently in the wind. From here I could look across the valley of Camaiore and further to the Ligurian Sea. With a warm smile and bright eyes Arianna showed up and welcomed me. She showed me my beautiful room on the second floor. Already when walking the up the stairs I couldn’t believe the breathtaking interior style I passed. The owner really has an exclusive and very unique taste. The entire Locanda is full of amazing details and beautiful pieces of art that fit perfectly into the stylish and valuable furnished rooms.
 
I saw large and stunning images and beautiful old lamps everywhere.  Flowers. Gorgeous art. The first pictures that I posted on my Instagram account got reactions like "I want the red armchair" or "I would like the shutters." I've never had such reactions before. Also my room had an enchanting atmosphere. Through the apricot-colored curtains the Tuscan afternoon sun bathed everything in a warm light. Outside I heard cheerful birds sing. Beautiful. The bathroom in my room had old tiles and the biggest rain shower I've ever seen. 
And what bliss: no TV!

 

But I wanted to enjoy the beautiful last summer days outside. I shot some photos and then got stuck in the super stylish kitchen. Which is in fact the central meeting place of the Locanda, as a reception thankfully does not exist. Riccardo, the owner had arrived, we talked about the concept of his house. "This is a home, not a hotel." With nine rooms, it would be a bit small for a hotel - but he is right. The atmosphere took me and made me feel at home immediately. Up on the second floor, there is a kind of living room and beautiful illustrated coffee table books and magazines are neatly arranged and there is a self-service bar with selected drinks.
 
By the way: if guests want something other to drink than water, tea or coffee, they can just help themself, go to the fridge and take what they need – and make a simple note. That's very much a home. On the terrace, I found the cute dozing elderly Golden Retriever Ubaldo, who will celebrate his 16th birthday next week. Auguri! Riccardo showed me around at the house, and in the kitchen next-door Arianna prepared a quiche for breakfast for the next day. It scented wonderful! For many years Riccardo was a leading manager of a very famous Italian fashion company, he lived on several continents and brought back a very great taste home to Italy  - and a good hand in arranging and collecting pieces of design, art and style over the years. That he has traveled widely can be seen and heard everywhere. This man is classy. I wish I could take a leaf out of his book of generosity, kindness and hospitality.
 
I sat in the shade, having a piece of homemade cake and enjoyed the moment. Even the music was aesthetic, a quiet jazz dropped out the speakers. A couple of butterflies were surrounding me, as so often on my travels and made me smile. It all was so beautiful. Riccardo came back and gave me a recommendation for dinner that night. I should go to La Brocca which is owned by a couple that stopped their old careers to open up a restaurant. Rinaldo was formerly a Photographer Lina was once active in the design industry. Now they and their small team have pleasure in cooking – and making their hungry guests happy.  It all sounded perfect and off I went.

 
About 15 minutes further north the restaurant lied tucked away. The interior was charming, warm and full of funny details. The service came with a heart and an honest smile. Close to me were other German guests who live around here and they were happy to tell me that they made their way to La Brocca very often – and always love it. And obviously the team of La Brocca was happy to convince me, the hungry and thankful Blogger of their skills and knowledge and served me the best food that Tuscany has to offer. Otherwise I cannot explain why they served me about six or seven courses up in a row with a big smile. Or they wanted to challenge me and try how much I can eat. It all was excellent. Regional. Seasonal. Slow Food in the best sense.

Also in the Locanda al Colle the emphasis is on excellent food. Every day, Arianna bakes fresh cakes or pies for breakfast and the afternoon. Nom nom nom….And every Wednesday and Saturday evening, guests are invited to dinner. Then Gian Luca stands at the stove cooking great meals. I had the luck to accompany him for one whole day. He not only is incredibly handsome, but also extremely charming and funny. We had such a great day together. What a dream man! And wow, he can cook. He is only 24 and cooks rather with the heart, he said. To cook without the heart is just not the way for him. Many of his countrymen, he said, settle for anything less, and that upsets him. What an incredible person. When we entered the butcher shop Marchetti, in which he has learned from a whole family, I understood what he had meant. Here only the best meats are sold, lovingly prepared, processed skillfully. And they also serve and sell hot food and delicacies.

A few blocks away, we went to a fish shop for the best seafood and run errands for the evening. Gian Luca decided to buy a fish which years ago Americans have once mistaken for a small tuna "Short Tuna". The Italians got it wrong and since then they called the fish "Sortuno". Whether it is written this way I do not really know. But anyhow the story is great. And of course we also stopped for an excellent coffee before visiting the funny greengrocer. Whenever I'm in Italy I envy the people here: the beautiful weather, the sea, and then the many good shops that I have to research hard for in Berlin. And then the three wheeled cars, the APE, where mostly Grandma and Grandpa sit in and slowly drive through the small alleys. I mentioned this to Gian Luca and he couldn’t help laughing. "If you live here, then you are annoyed by the APEs, because sometimes you can not overtake them." You always want what you don’t have right?

Throughout the day, I was by his side in the kitchen, watched and filmed as Gian Luca prepared the five-course menu for the evening. As an Apperetivo (homemade puff pastry with homemade pickled sweet onions and Taleggio), then a Broccoli gratin with Sortuno and marinated and stuffed tomatoes, a pumpkin soup, then a pasta with octopus, a tender fillet of sea bream with regional green long beans and roasted potatoes and radicchio and for dessert, again a homemade puff pastry with a vanilla orange cream and a tasty fruit salad. And best homemade bread and wine. Gian Luca spent six hours in the kitchen preparing dinner. I was fascinated. I guess I would have had to spend two whole days to get it done. In between, we had a little picnic with champagne and bruschetta with homemade chicken pate. If I would have had any witchcraft I would have made sure that this day would have never ended. I want to be reborn as kitchen furniture at the Locanda. At least on Wednesday and Saturday.
 
A long table outside on the terrace was festively decorated and slowly all guests showed up. Americans, Germans, Swedish and the adorable Australian Neil, a friend of the family sat together and talked about life, love, good food and traveling. What a relaxed, open-minded and happy bunch of different people. Riccardo and Arianna were serving delicacies from Gian Lucas kitchen and a cozy Hmmmm was heard from all sides - international so that everyone could understand it. I took on the role as maître and announced the dishes and explained what all guests had in front of them – as of course I knew it by heart. With interesting conversations, good wine and a sad goodbye to Gian Luca the evening ended. What a day - every second I fell more in love with the Locanda and its team.

And here are some reasons why:

Locanda al Colle, Toskana from Angie Reisefreunde on Vimeo.


 
You may now understand why my last day came way too fast. At night it had rained heavily and even during the day more dense clouds appeared. I wanted to go to sea – which until then I haven’t had seen on this trip. Off-season, the sea is even more glorious, as the sea gets back its dignity and everything looks kind of retro. The cottage on the beach and swimming clubs, the lifeboat, which was lying lonely and abandoned on the white beach. I sat there quite a while watching the waves. Dozing, dreaming, thinking about many things. Including how thankful I am to be able to get to know so many wonderful people and places as a blogger. And then the rain came. I jumped in my car and decided to drive to Cinque Terre in Liguria, which is not far away. The dramatic coastline is certainly worth a separate trip, but to me it was enough just to sit by the sea, watching the surfers and having a coffee.
 
Back at the Locanda I sat on the terrace as I simply could not get enough of the view. The colors. The light. The Green. I wondered why Tuscany was gifted with beauty so much. Sometime, the beauty of the landscape is so immense that it is nearly too much to take. Somehow it all looks like a painting. Neil stopped by and we had a nice chat and sipped a glass of wine. At night we went for dinner to Pietrasanta with Riccardo and some friends, the nearest medieval town that is thoroughly stylish and beautiful. We had a table at Trattoria ilMarzocco, owned by a very likable man. He is half Sicilian, half Swiss and simply unique. The food was delicious, a mixture of Tuscan, Sicilian, and always different. Yummy!
 
My departure day was rainy. Tuscany was crying just like me, I thought, as I reluctantly packed my suitcase. Downstairs Riccardo and Arianna were waiting. I almost busted into tears. Am I the only blogger who despite constant goodbyes has a real problem with it? I had tears in my eyes – holy crap! But maybe it is because I am so lucky to discover the most beautiful spots on earth and just learn to know the most wonderful people. That is why saying goodbye is especially difficult. And especially difficult for me. So: Grazie and Arrividerci Locanda. Ci vediamo a dopo. It’s not so far down paradise, at least it’s not for me....


PS.: I think I will start playing the lottery to become a permanent resident. And for your info: the Locanda al Colle closes in early November and goes into a little well deserved winter break. However, is open between Christmas and New Year again - then doors open again end of March to start the new season. So see you then :)

As usual, you will find more beautiful pictures at the Facebook fan page ofTravel-Itch.
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Disclaimer: I was kindly invited by Siglinde Fischer Charming Places. My opinion remains, as always my very own. :)

By Angie with