Siebengebirge – Seven Beautiful Hills

View of the Drachenfels with the castle from Bad Honnef

We have a saying in Germany: Why travel far? If you look closely, you can find the best close to home.

While I like exploring foreign countries and places, I also enjoy hiking in my current “backyard”. The hiking trails of the Siebengebirge start literally just up my street.

The Siebengebirge, or Seven Hills, is a mountain range next to the Rhine River, and of volcanic origin. The highest is the Ölberg (461 m, 1509 ft), so I guess I would not really speak of “mountains”. But they nevertheless make for a nice hike, especially if you start at the bottom and do not drive half way up.

I love the lush greens and quite solitude of the trails and the forest. There are so many different hiking trails, that even on an Easter weekend, you don’t run into too many people.

Yesterday, I finally got to hike up to the Ölberg – and the view was spectacular.

View from the Ölberg looking towards the Rhine with Petersberg and Drachenfels

There is a cute little restaurant on top of the Ölberg. It is very popular, so for a Sunday brunch, you would have to make a reservation. In the afternoon, though, I had no problem finding a table.

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Edinburgh – A City With A View

Castle On A Hill

Exactly at this time a year ago, I spent a few days near Edinburgh, Scotland. I didn’t have time to do a lot of sightseeing, but still managed to get around a bit and take in some beautiful views of the city.

There is, first and foremost, Edinburgh Castle, sitting in the middle of Edinburgh on a hill. You have a nice view of the city and beyond from up there.

Of course it was packed with tourists, so I didn’t go in – but the ice cream sold at the truck on the square in front of the castle was super tasty.

Since I also like to go off the beaten path a bit, I took a bus to Inverleith and walked to Inverleith Park. It is a place where people play all kinds of sports, or walk their dogs, or have fun with their kids. Plus, you have a nice view of the city as well.

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Washington, D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossom, Washington, DC, 2013, Jefferson Memorial in the background

It’s the time of the year when people have something special in mind when they visit Washington, D.C.: the cherry blossoms. In 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo gave the US about 3,000 cherry trees – after the first batch of about 2,000 trees from Japan turned out to be infested with insects.

The trees were planted around the Tidal Basin and are blooming every spring.

It was writer and National Geographic legacy Eliza Scidmore who originally had the idea of planing the cherry trees in the new park that was built at the end of the 19th century, to the West and the South of the Washington Monument.

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Savannah – A Southern Belle

Fountain at Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

The Spanish moss was my favorite in Savannah, Georgia. You can see it hanging from the trees in Forsyth Park (pictured above), but also, most beautifully, at Wormsloe Historic Site. Not far from Savannah, this is the place where the first settlers arrived from England in 1733. A “Spanish Moss Avenue” is leading to the ruins and a little museum, where you can learn more about life in the 18th century.

I only spent two nights in Savannah back in April 2016, but really loved the place, having never been to Georgia before.

There is a lot to explore in the city itself, with its beautiful houses, parks, and a lot of restaurants, some of them featuring Southern cuisine. (Yes, I did try fried okra, but have to admit, I am not really a fan.)

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South Dakota – Much More Than Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore, SD

On a must-see-list of the US is, of course, Mount Rushmore – the “majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln” carved in a mountain. It is definitely worth a visit, but there is much more to see in the “Mount Rushmore State” South Dakota I realized when explored the area in 2013.

Another impressive mountain is the Crazy Horse Moutain, where in 1947 Chief Henry Standing Bear and sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started an undertaking that is still going on today: Carving the likeness of the Lakota Leader Crazy Horse into a mountain.

You can take a tour close to the mountain, and I would also recommend attending the Legends in Lights laser show in the evening (from Memorial Day through September). It is quite the spectacle, when the mountain becomes a giant screen for a laser show.

And then there are, of course, the Badlands , a spectacular mountain range you can explore hiking.

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A Day in Innsbruck

The view north from the 7th floor of what actually is the city hall, overlooking the historic district of Innsbruck.

If you have a chance to spend a few hours in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria, here is what you can do: Have lunch overlooking the city (featurephoto) at the Lichtblick Restaurant . The food is awesome, locals eat here, and the view from the seventh floor of the building (that actually is the city hall) is spectacular, even if the clouds are low. If you look south, you can see the Bergisel ski jump.

The 360° Cafe next to the “Lichtblick” has an even better view, but smoking is allowed there, so I preferred to have lunch in the restaurant.

From there, it is just a short walk to the famous Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), the symbol of the city of Innsbruck. It is tiled with 2,657 fire-gilded copper shingles. Currently, you can only admire it from the outside, since the museum is closed until Feb. 19, for preparations for the 500th anniversary of the death of Emperor Maximilian I.

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“007 Elements” in Austria – A Must for James Bond Fans

Entrance to the ice Q restaurant and the James Bond installation on top of the Gaislachkogl mountain.

It’s all there: the Bonds, the villains, the girls, the locations, the weapons, and the gadgets. And “007 Elements” on top of the Gaislachkogl  mountain in Sölden, Austria, is called “cinematic installation” for a reason. It is not just an exhibition, it’s a 360-all-senses-experience, 3000 m (about 10.000 ft) above sea level.

Literally built into the mountain and opened only last summer, even the entrance is dramatic: You are walking through the “barrrel of a gun”, a reminiscence of the iconic opening scene of every Bond movie in general, and of  2015’s Spectre ,in particular.

Barrel of the Gun

From there, you walk onto a large balcony with a spectacular view (don’t go on a day when it’s too cloudy, the scenery is part of the installation).

View from the Gaislachkogl

Walk through the “Lobby”, where you get a brief introduction, into the “Lair”. The “Lair” is a 360-hall of mirrors, where you experience many of the famous scenes from the Bond movies throughout the decades.

Scene from Goldfinger

Inside the “Lair” – a hall of mirrors with larger than life projections of many of your favorite Bond scenes.

Proceed to the “Briefing Room” – and “Miss Moneypenny” Naomie Harris introduces you to the many exotic locations of the 007-movies.

“Moonraker”

Mountain Chase in Spectre

This includes, of course, the area around you: Sölden and the mountains of Austria. It’s dark and cold , so keep your ski clothes on, and yes, you may enter with your ski boots on your feet. Do you feel lost inside the mountain? Here is an overview of the layout of the installation, the gondola  and the ice Q restaurant.

Speaking of which: the restaurant’s architecture was the inspiration for the “Hoffler Klink”, where Bond meets Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) for the first time in Spectre.

Ice Q Restaurant

Dessert & Champagne, ice Q restaurant, Sölden, Tyrol, Austria

The famous Walther PPK

But before you enjoy the excellent food at the ice Q, (make a reservation, it can get crowded!), there is much more to see and experience inside “007 Elements”. And you are part of it. A “scan” of your arm is the entrance ticket to the world of spies. You get your own number (mine: 6067) and history: Apparently, I survived 16 bullet wounds, 24 amorous liaisons, and132 high speed pursuits, disabled 28 explosive devices, and completed 32 missions.

All this, the guns and gadgets, the technical equipment behind the scenes, is presented in the most futuristic manner – worthy of a Bond “museum”. More than once, you change the view of an exhibit with the movement of your arm.

The plane from Spectre

If you pay attention skiing down, you can see at least two of the cars used in Spectre on your way downhill (hint: they are on opposite sides of the mountain, so you would have to go down twice).

Hinx’ Range Rover from Spectre