Germany Travel Tip – Potsdam’s St. Martin’s Day

On the 11th day of the 11th month each year special celebrations take place all over Germany. Also marking the start for the annual carnival season this day is widely known as St. Martin’s Day. Children walk the streets with self-made lanterns singing traditional songs, the St. Martin’s bonfire is ignited and traditionally a Martinsgans, Martin’s-Goose, is served to commemorate the life and legend of St. Martin.The public park of Potsdam, capital city of Brandenburg and very close to Berlin, is a good place to experience this old tradition and cozy restaurants are nearby, where you and your family can share a fresh, oven baked Martin’s Goose.

The history takes us far back to the 4th century and to the young Martinus, who served as an officer in the Roman army. One night he was riding on his horse through a town and was approached by a beggar asking him for warm clothes, since it was freezing cold. Martinus split his coat with his sword and gave a half to the beggar. Later Martinus quit his job in the Roman army and became a soldier of God and lived a life of an anchorite. When the story of his good deed spread he should become a bishop. Legend has it that Martinus was too shy to take this honor and tried to hide in a goose hutch. People equipped with lanterns, searched the half night for him and were finally alerted by the twitter of the geese. The geese were butchered and eaten, Martinus became Bishop Martin and was later canonized and still today his story is told and celebrations take place to remember the good deed of St. Martin.

Although this is a nice story to explain why a goose is on the menu on this particular day, there is a far more rational explanation to that. In the yearly calendar of the church- and farmers, the 11th of November marks the beginning of the winter and the 40 days lent before Christmas, where no fat food is allowed. It was also the day, when the farm laborers were laid-off, got paid and received a present and when the annual land lease had to be paid. As currency and presents a goose came in very handy, since money was not often used in the Middle Ages.

All that is left today, thinking of the goose, is the traditional way of preparing this festive meal. Basic rule is, the more aromatic the filling, the better the taste of the meat. In the north of Germany it is common to fill the Martinsgans with a mix of ground pork, onions, garlic and herbs while in the south soaked buns, chestnuts, roasted nuts, apples, plums, sugar, salt, vinegar and red wine are widely preferred. The goose is placed in an oven and constantly basted with its own stock to ensure the meat doesn’t dry out.

A good place to experience the traditional St. Martin’s Day is in the Public Park of Potsdam, Brandenburg. Celebrations start at 3:30 p.m., on the 11th November 2009. First you can watch or help tinker the lanterns later used in the romantic procession through the park. Before that the St. Martin’s Play, displaying traditional, colorful costumes is shown to all visitors, reminding of Martinus good deed. Finally a bonfire will close this event in the early evening hours and you might like to continue your St. Martin’s Day experience in the nearby restaurant. Beautiful located in the San Sanssouci Park, the Restaurant & CafĂ© Drachenhaus, Dragon-House, invites all guest to a delicious prepared Martinsgans. Starting at 7 p.m., a whole goose with green- and red cabbage, dumplings, potatoes and plenty of tasty brown gravy is served for a party of 4 people. Half a goose with all side dishes can be shared by 2 people. Reservations are recommended and you can contact them through their web site.

This is an example of what you can do in Potsdam while traveling in Germany. If you want learn more about Potsdam we compiled a more comprehensive Potsdam travel guide in collaboration with local residents that provides unique travel insider tips which you can use during your Germany vacation.

Flower Travel – A Bloom Time Guide

Want to attend the violet festival in France? Or see the blue poppies in Bhutan? Or view the carpet of wildflowers in Namaqualand, South Africa?

Yes? Then you need to know when these flowers bloom in those locations. Researching bloom times for your next trip is the pivotal point of including flowers in your itinerary. It’s the “when” of destination research and it is more than just which hemisphere and what season. The bloom times of flowering plants are affected by many things, including the climatic determinates of the previous season (late spring, excess rainfall, drought, etc.), however, they also have an established pattern for blooming in their location. Find that pattern and you will be seeing flowers wherever you travel.

Many parts of the world offer spectacular displays of floral beauty as commercially-grown crops or as wildflowers. For the do-it-yourself destination researcher, basing your itinerary on what’s blooming when means choosing locations that are known for their flowers–either their abundance or their uniqueness–and planning your trip around this blooming event.

Use Flower Crops as an Attraction on Your Trip

There is the beauty of fields of commercially-grown flowers that can stop even a floral ignoramus in their tracks. Lavender is a good example: lavender is grown all over the world, so if you miss the blooming fields in June in Croatia, France, the Channel Isles, England, and Washington State, you can still catch them in Japan in July, Tasmania in December, or New Zealand in January!

Flowers are a world-wide commodity. There are the tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths grown in Holland (April), Michigan (May), and Tasmania (October) for the cut-flower/bulb market. The florists’ roses bloom most of the year in Colombia and Ecuador. And the rose fields in Turkey and Bulgaria are the sources of the world’s supply of rose petals and rose oil–can you imagine the scented air surrounding those fields?

Perhaps not your primary destination, the following places would still be worth a stop if you are in the neighborhood, so to speak: the commercial fields of narcissus on the Isles of Scilly; saffron crocus in Spain and Iran; coffee plantations in India, Costa Rica, and many other countries; and pink, opium poppies in Tasmania. All provide a delicate, sweet fragrance to the air. And although not a commodity, the cherry blossoms in Japan are certainly a commercial success for the tourism industry.

Add Wildflowers into Your Itinerary

Time your travels to view Mother Nature’s spectacular displays of ephemeral beauty: wildflowers. Everyone raves about the wildflowers they saw on their trip, but if you haven’t done your research, you might hear the phrase, “You just missed the flowers!”

Almost every place on the planet has wildflowers; many have become the source of our garden plants and field crops. A meadow, hillside, or other open space filled with a variety of wildflowers is a great memory of your trip; different colors, shapes and heights add another dimension to the natural landscape.

Wildflowers are not limited to summer in the temperate zones. Alpine flowers are also wildflowers that grow closer to the ground at the higher elevations around the world and can include what we call rock garden plants. Flowering plants such as the sea pinks of Portugal, rock samphire on the Isle of Wight, and the varieties of thyme growing throughout the Mediterranean bring color and interest to their native, harsh environments.

Marshes are another open space that provides a bounty of wildflowers. The marshes of Estonia and Jersey in the Channel Isles support orchids, lilies, and primulas. Bogs in Iceland hold beautiful cotton grass while those in Norway feature a variety of orchids. And pastel-colored water lilies sprout year ’round in the lakes and ponds of Vietnam.

Coastal clifftops and dunes also provide a habitat for some of our favorite flowers. The sea lavender of the Azores, foxgloves of the Channel Isles, portulaca from the Galapagos, and the forget-me-nots of Alaska are just a few examples of these now-common garden plants.

Use Unique Flowers as a Focal Point of Your Trip

Timing your travels to include the floral display at your destination can increase your enjoyment of your trip. You might be visiting San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and admiring the Spanish Colonial architecture, but it’s the blooming jacaranda trees surrounding the buildings and throughout the plazas that take your breath away. Or you are in Tokyo in April and come across the Kameido Tenjin Shrine covered with 100 wisteria plants on 15 trellises that were planted 320 years ago. At either location, the perfumed air and the lavender-colored light from so many purple flowers will create a scene (and a scent) that you’ll never forget.

In certain latitudes, some flowers bloom almost year ’round (bougainvillea, jasmine, orchids), so you can be assured of a good floral display whatever time you choose. In addition, these places almost always have some unusual flower that you can plan your trip around. Here’s an example: The ylang ylang plantations on Nosy Be, Madagascar, bloom most of the year, so enjoying their intense aroma and beautiful flowers would already be on your itinerary when you travel to the island to see the black orchid, which only blooms from December to January.

Here are three examples of planning your itinerary around viewing flowers that are known for their uniqueness:
1) If you want to see the silversword in bloom in Maui’s Haleakala Crater–the only place on the planet where it grows–you will have to be there between August and December.
2) You are on safari in Kenya in January, when the white tissue flowers cover the Masai Mara, and you have made sure you include Tanzania in your trip planning in order to see the original African violets in bloom (only between September and March).
3) If you go to Kunming, China, in the spring you will see the Plum Flower Festival, which is also during the Chinese New Year. While you are there, be sure to see the 500 to 800-year-old camellia tree at the Golden Temple in bloom–in February.

Use Flower Festivals as a Marker for Your Planning

Festival times are one of the best ways to determine the flora of an area. If there’s a festival for a flower, then its bloom time is fairly predictable. So a good marker in planning your itinerary is finding out the month a flower festival is held in your chosen destination.

But, here’s the problem: there’s a flower festival somewhere around the world every month! The violet festivals in both France and Japan and the lilac festivals in New York and Michigan compete with the Mimosa Festival in France, the Crabapple Festival in Nanjing, the Rhododendron Festival in Australia, and the Iris Festival in Japan.

The solution? More travel, of course. You’ll just have to research your travel destinations more thoroughly to see the world in bloom.

Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling

To stay healthy while traveling the immune system must be strong before it is subjected to many air borne viruses. Travel plans alone can cause large amounts of stress on the body, causing it to become weak. The best defense against sickness is to prepare the body for a strong immune system. Below are helpful tips to keep you healthy before, during and after your traveling adventures.

Sleep is one of the biggest ways that people can protect themselves from viral attacks. The immune system becomes weak when sleep is deprived from the body and healthy cells become slower to repair. Sleeping a full eight hours per night is recommended for reaching a maximum level of health. Resting or taking a nap also lets the mind unwind from a stressful day, increasing its strength to tell the body when to fight. Try this during your trip as well.

Fruits and vegetables are a great source of antioxidant power. Antioxidants destroy the cells that make us sick. Eat these before and during your trip and to keep the urge to select junk food when you’re on the go. The highest level of antioxidants found in fruits include: raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges, red grapes and cherries. Vegetables include: kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli flowers, beets, red bell peppers, onions, corn and eggplant.

When overseas avoid raw fruit and vegetables, try to bring your own, or wash them with tap water as the food and water may be contaminated. Also, avoid raw or undercooked meat, poultry and eggs and dairy products from small independent vendors.

Staying hydrated by drinking lots of water is also an important way to stay healthy. Drinking caffeine and alcohol rob the body of hydration, so it best to leave these agents out of the picture. Being dehydrated causes the body to act sluggish and toxins need to stay flushed out of the system. Again, be careful of the water when traveling overseas. Bring water to a boil before drinking it. Buying bottled or canned is fine as well as treated water with commercial iodine or chlorine tablets.

Exercise is very beneficial for keeping an optimum state of health. It keeps your energy level up as well as your spirit and helps people to sleep better at night. Bring a fitness DVD or a small pack of work out tools and make sure to get out to tour the city. When reserving a hotel get one with a pool or a gym to stay active and your metabolism level high.

Vaccinations are a good way to keep from contracting diseases, especially from overseas. Mosquito repellent and bug sprays also help lessen the chance of infections. If you are sleeping outside try using a mosquito net around your bed as a tent. Keeping your hands washed or sanitized help keep from spreading germs. Bring a bottle of sanitizer or hand wipes with you. Also, have a blood test and stool analysis upon returning home to make sure that you have not contracted anything serious.