Backpack Journey by Patrice: The Times of Cologne

Recently I had a chance to travel to Cologne – the city full of heritage and one of the oldest in the country. Although I didn’t have much free time for sightseeing, but still managed to check some interesting sites.

Cologne River

Have no clue why, but I’m intrigued by the etymology of the city name. The history has once again proved that women always get what they want. The town was founded as an outpost of the Roman troops on German soil. Agrippina – the future wife of Claudius, the Roman emperor, was born here and later asked for her home village to be elevated to the status of “colonia” — a city under Roman law. Later it was renamed Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensis, which means “colony of Claudius and the altar of Agrippina”. However, it was later shortened to Colonia Agrippina, then Colony, while locals called the city in their own way – Cologne. There are some miraculously preserved buildings from Roman times that create a memorable architectural flavour of this city.

Today the city confidently supports the reputation of important historical site. Cologne continues to be the largest centre of industry, trade, science and culture, not only in North Rhine-Westphalia, but the whole of Germany. With almost a million residents, the population doubles in size as tourists come to visit this beautiful land.

When you move away from the city centre, you immediately spot the beautiful buildings surrounded by some large parks. I didn’t have a time for a Zoo, but for those of you who are travelling with kids, I strongly recommend visiting it. Everything is easily accessible by public transport, so prepare to spend the whole day here. To me, local cafes are not as attractive as in the centre, so if you plan to spend a day in the park, just prepare your meals in advance.

Cologne City

I have been here a few years ago, visiting museums and some cultural spots. But this time I have decided to please myself with places that attract men from around the world.

Like every German city, Cologne is famous for beer with Kolsch being the most popular. Though it belongs to the group of lager, it still differs. All Kolsch breweries are private, and I’ve been told there are about 70 of them in Cologne alone! This does come as surprise, but each brewery has its own recipe and their manufacturing secrets.

Traditionally the barmen working in breweries are big masculine guys, a little rough, but very proud of their jobs. Yes, working for elite breweries is considered to be a very honourable duty. I have tasted of four or five beers that day, so you can imagine the joy I had visiting Cologne.

And, of course, the trip would not be complete without a visit to Glockengasse No 4711. Everybody who had an opportunity to go to school is familiar with the water of Cologne – the famous perfume known from the early 18th century (you can read the full story here, if interested). To be honest, the scent is rather weird, but I bought a couple of souvenirs for my perfume-addicted friends.

By the late evening I felt hungry. Thanks God, Germany started pay greater attention to nutrition. So these days in Cologne you will be able to find cafes and restaurants that suit all tastes and budgets. I ended up in a small bar that serves traditional pork sausage and cabbage. Amazing!

Basically all I need to do to enjoy the city is to satisfy my appetite!

Exploring My Vinyl Childhood Dreams

my vinyl records
We cannot stop the progress! I remember the days when i proudly showed my collection of vinyl records to my friends, while today this format has become a real rarity. Nevertheless, there are fans who claim that nothing can replace the vinyl record.

Once in Munich i was attracted by collectors of vinyl albums. They gathered every weekend in the central park. Every Sunday from early afternoon these people flocked with bags full of treasures to the main fountain. Some of them were buying new records, but majority was interested in exchange. Those days i found my first vinyl albums that are still with me: anything from «Bad Boys Blue» to Frank Zappa.

I bet these people can still be found in central park these days! However, these vintage records are rare to find. Vinyl is in price only to those who understand the quality of a sound. These people, called “real music gourmets”, have those high quality players that, sometimes, are more expensive than the price of a good German car.

For me, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of the vinyl records. My familiarity with the music player started with my aunt’s “The Beatles”. Later i have changed my equipment several times, but i still remember that “sandy” and soft sound of “Let It Be”.

According to experts, vinyl is all about “soft”, deep and warm sound. I’d say digital format sounds tougher. But, of course, everything depends on the quality of the disc: if it was new (not dusty), the sound was coming out with exceptional depth and was very close to the original.

These days vinyl has strengthened its presence mainly because of the increasing number of people treating modern sound (so popular in the mass market) as boring. As for me, i enjoy my collection and will continue listening to the sound of my childhood no matter if the vinyl is trendy or not.

Crossing Europe by Train: My Advice to Travellers

Travelling by train is a good alternative to airplanes. First, it is a great relief for those who are afraid of taking a flight, and secondly, it is such a great opportunity to see the country and meet new people. Recently I have been talking about famous music festivals, so if you are planning a trip, I strongly advise you to go for a train journey!

train journey
credit: Hans-Rudolf Stoll

Europe is famous for its very extensive network of railways. Trains are very comfortable, so you can truly forget all the hustle connected with some other modes of transport. I remember the train I took from Milan to Venice; it was a silent, high-speed, and the best part – a half-empty train. I enjoyed the view on some rural landscapes, small picturesque towns, magnificent Alps, lakes and rivers. Truly amazing experience!

Besides you can significantly diversify your trip. Think of Paris, which is just a few hours away from Cote d’Azur, think of Amsterdam or London. An overnight journey would take you to Madrid, Vienna, Berlin or Rome. Such trains are similar to hotels, with an added benefit of changing your locations.

As for tickets, they can be purchased in advance. Start planning your route and this will pay you off later on. For example, the cost of a return ticket on the express train connecting Paris and Brussels with the Netherlands and Germany will not be much more expensive than the one-way ticket. Or if you plan to make several trips, you can buy a ticket for travel within one country, like the Benelux countries.

I have just come back from Switzerland, where I had a pleasant stay with my cousin and nephews. And I am telling you: everything in Switzerland, and especially trains, has a well-deserved reputation for excellence. Immaculately clean trains are going in all directions, making connections even in the smallest villages.

Vast majority of trains are operated by SBB (Swiss Federal Railways), although some routes are served by a number of private railway companies. SBB position as the largest railway company in the country and makes a great choice for many travelers. In addition to major international Rail Pass, SBB also offers several options of its own like Swiss Card and Swiss Pass that are only available to non-residents of Switzerland or the Principality of Liechtenstein. The only difference between them is that Swiss Pass also entitles you to obtain discounts at many private railway companies and allows a free entry to 150 museums throughout Switzerland.

Just get your ticket, sit back, relax and enjoy the views of magnificent landscapes. And for those, who have adventurous gene in their blood, I strongly recommend reading Nomadic Matt blog. I have used his Switzerland Travel Tips as a starting point for my last journey. May be he will inspire you to travel more! Anyway, just enjoy your life for the best!

My Advice for Those Learning to Play Guitar

Hey you! I have decided to write a short guide on how to learn to play guitar the best possible way. Some of you may be struggling to master the basic skills, but in reality, we are just over-complicating the staff. So, stay with me!

If you want to master the guitar, but there is no opportunity to go to music school and take lessons from the tutors, you can try to learn the instrument at home. To do this, you only need to arm yourself with patience and persistence.

The Basics

The most important thing is to choose the right tool. There are two types of guitars: acoustic and electronic. They have some differences, and I want to draw your attention to the strings, which are spaced at a greater distance on acoustic guitar, so that the novice can handle them with ease.

Hold the Guitar Properly

When selecting the instrument, you need to be comfortable holding it in your hands. Neither the size, nor shape or colour should be your priorities. Try holding the guitar correctly from the beginning: sit down, move the tool’s weight on your right knee, and hold the top deck with your right hand. At the same time, your left hand should remain free. This position should be comfortable, or give it a couple of days to get used to.

It is highly desirable that your guitar is set up properly. Just ask a store assistant for help, they should be qualified to tune the instruments they are selling or at least have a member of staff who is able to help. As you get more comfortable, you need to learn how to tune guitar yourself as this will be your regular task. They can be adjusted with a tuning fork, or with electric tuner – whichever is available to you!

Necessary Fingers Training

Why do you need such a workout? Fingers exercises are not only for novice guitarists, but also for experienced musicians who want to preserve their skills at the highest level. There are some great videos available on youtube like the one below.

It is important to do exercises in a right way, too. Start slowly at first and keep an eye on accuracy and precision. It will be easier to use metronome to keep the tempo. You will be able to play faster as you progress, but it is very important to play clearly and accurately at the first place.

You Will Succeed!

Train until you begin to put your fingers on the desired strings without much effort. You can then proceed to the chords. You will need to know about ten of them to be able to play some not very complex melodies.

It is important to practice at least two hours a day within the first month, so that your fingers get used to a new activity; later you will be able to train for longer periods. The more time you spend on it, the faster you notice the progress. So don’t give up and good luck!

Top European Music Festivals for Summer 2014

music festival crowd
credit: Martin Terber

Music festival season 2014 is getting closer and closer, tickets for some of them (for example, the legendary Glastonbury) were sold last year, the others are about to face the same fate. But worry no more! There are still places to go this summer. I have selected top three events, which, in my opinion, are worth a visit this spring-summer season. There are mainstream giants, as well as interesting alternatives that will attract indie-rock lovers. So, pack your bag and join me on the road of music lovers!

Primavera Sound – Barcelona, Spain

When: 28–31 May 2014

Web: primaverasound.es

Wonderful Spanish Primavera Sound festival has opened its branch in the beautiful Portuguese city of Porto two years ago. This year the festival will continue to operate in both cities, and, in addition to big stars like Arcade Fire, The National, Pixies and Foals, Barcelona will make a whole galaxy of post-rock monsters: Black Emperor, Mogwai, and returning after a 19-year break Slowdive.

The Primavera is undoubtedly one of those festivals that pay attention not only to the music, but to atmosphere itself. It is carried out directly in Barcelona, ​​in a place called «Parque del Fórum», and has seven operating stages, so you won’t be able to suffer from the lack of choice! There are dozens of other concerts and musical events taking place in different parts of the city, and the whole festival lasts for approximately two weeks.

Along with the heroes of Britpop, such as Pulp or Blur, here come the unknown, but no less interesting bands and musicians: for example, there is always a chance to see some American groups, rarely visiting Europe. The festival is held on the Mediterranean coast in the late spring: a perfect timing as the heat has not yet gained its momentum. Plus, the public transport comes handy when you want to reach those multiple venues within the city.

Rock am Ring – Nuremberg, Germany

When: 5–9 June 2014

Web: rock-am-ring.com

Rock am Ring is the most popular festival held in Germany with more than 80,000 people attending it in 2014. German fans are different from phlegmatic Belgians, and with the emphasis on the energetic rock and metal music, you need to prepare yourself for slam and bustle.

Festival line-up is full of big names like U2, Joe Cocker, 30 Seconds To Mars, The Prodigy and Green Day. This festival features a more favourable environment in terms of scenic location in southern Germany. The site is located next to the racetrack in magnificent Eifel Mountains, make sure you spare a few hours to enjoy the nature.

Rock fans are offered a great opportunity to enjoy some of the greatest performers. Beware that hard music provokes the corresponding behaviour :) Also you may find local prices to be significantly higher when compared to the rest of the German lands, so plan your budget in advance!

Meltdown – London, UK

When: 13–22 June 2014

Web: meltdown.southbankcentre.co.uk

Every summer the organizers of Meltdown festival invite someone famous to be the curator of this event. Artists, respectively, are allowed to invite their favourite musicians to perform, which invariably results in a number of interesting and unpredictable gigs. This year, the musical and artistic innovator James Lavelle will curate the 21st Meltdown. So, don’t miss a chance to listen to his favourite artists including David Bowie, Yoko Ono, Patti Smith and Jarvis Cocker.

On top of the great selection of music, a huge attention is paid to the festival of cinema and other forms of art. Some of the greatest London venues like Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall offered their stages to host several gigs.

I personally like the original concept, its serious and high-quality implementation, as well as the opportunity to enjoy some unique and rare performances. The festival lasts for a week, and prices are set separately for each concert. You should also understand that it is sort of “high culture” event compared to some other summer festivals, which may alienate those who love to dance and go wild.